For the second time this month, the Bernalillo County Commission voted against adding a campaign public financing question to the November ballot. The provision would have asked Albuquerque voters to decide whether voters would be able to give some additional public money to publicly-funded mayoral and city council candidates through a voucher program called Democracy Dollars. With only four of the five commission in attendance at Tuesday night’s meeting, the vote came down to a tied 2-2 vote, meaning the proposal failed. The special meeting came after the commission voted 3-2 last week against adding Democracy Dollars and a provision that would lead to changing city election dates to the general election ballot in November. At the urging of Democracy Dollars supporters, four commissioners agreed to hold a special meeting to hear more public comment and reconsider adding the proposal to the ballot.
Last year as hardcore band Cipher took the stage in Philadelphia, the group’s frontman, Maurice “Moe” Mitchell, took a moment to call for unity. “The hardcore scene, and I grew up in the hardcore scene, was a rare space where people of all different race, class, gender, expression, create a community together,” Mitchell told the crowd. That rare message in today’s political climate is one that Mitchell seems to take with him everywhere, including as an organizer for Black Lives Matter and, more recently, as the national director for the Working Families Party. Mitchell came to New Mexico this week as part of a “national blitz” and said he plans to take what he learned in the grassroots world of progressive organizing and apply it to the more-distinctly-organized world of political campaigns. “When you’re coming from a very, sort of, top-down staff model, it can be very scary to give that much latitude to people you may not even know,” Mitchell said of how political groups are typically structured.
The Bernalillo County Board of Commissioners voted on Tuesday against adding a public finance proposal to the November general election ballot. The proposal, known as Democracy Dollars, would provide vouchers to citizens, who could apply them to publicly-financed candidates of their choice. While the commission only voted on whether the measure would be on the November 2018 ballot for Albuquerque residents, commissioners mostly criticized the merits of the proposal itself. Executive Director of Common Cause New Mexico Heather Ferguson called the 3-2 vote an “overstep” and “overreach” by commissioners. “What the commission decided to do tonight is to question the will of the voters who knew and understood the program they were signing,” Ferguson said.
Albuquerque voters are one step closer to voting on a change to the city charter that would increase city funds to some municipal candidates. At a press conference outside city hall on Tuesday, a coalition of local non-profits announced they collected nearly 28,000 petition signatures aimed at getting a public finance voucher program on the general election ballot in November. The proposed program, called Democracy Dollars and more recently dubbed Burque Bucks, would provide each Albuquerque resident a $25 voucher to contribute to the publicly-financed candidate of their choice. Former state senator Dede Feldman is a proponent of the proposal. The Albuquerque Democrat said political races get bogged down in high-spending corporations and political special interest groups.
If voters needed a reason to bring their reading glasses and a snack to the polls on Tuesday, it was probably because of the 1,900-word Healthy Workforce Ordinance, which filled the back side of the ballot. As precincts reported results throughout the night, the results flip-flopped, but in the end, the initiative failed 50.39 percent to 49.61 percent. That was a margin of 718 votes out of over 91,000 cast. In short, the ordinance said employers in the City of Albuquerque would need to provide employees with paid sick time for their own or a family member’s illness, injury or medical care or for absences from work related to domestic violence, sexual assault or stalking. Attorney Pat Rogers, who represented the business coalition that sued to void the initiative, called Tuesday’s vote a “testament to the Albuquerque voter.”
“Voters actually read the ordinance and determined it was a very bad proposal for employees in particular, as well as employers,” he said.
Albuquerque mayoral candidates have about a week to file their next campaign finance reports. For most, it will be their first reports filed this election. While many of the candidates speak highly of public financing, only one has qualified for it. New Mexico Democrats, for example, have pushed for more publicly financed races and campaigns since at least 2008, when the party added language to their state platform that says“all political campaigns should be publicly financed.”
The Albuquerque mayoral race is nonpartisan, so none of the candidates will be identified with any specific political party on the ballot. Related: Privately-funded ABQ mayoral candidates ready for first reporting deadline
Mayoral candidates Deanna Archuleta and Brian Colón are both prominent Democrats running for mayor who both opted to use private funds for their campaigns.
The Working Families Party tapped a former State Senator and Albuquerque City Councilor to head the organization in New Mexico. The progressive group made the announcement just before Labor Day that Eric Griego is the group’s new state director. “As an elected official and community leader, Eric had one of the strongest records in New Mexico of standing by working families even when others in both parties wavered,” SouthWest Organizing Project Executive Director Javier Benavidez said. Benavidez is also on the board of the state’s Working Families Party. The Working Families Party is active in nine other states and the District of Columbia.
As we have seen in the current presidential race and in recent local elections, big money still dominates the way we fund campaigns at all levels. From the Koch brothers spending millions in the Republican presidential primary to the Santolina developers spending tens of thousands in the recent Bernalillo County Commission Democratic primary, powerful wealthy individuals and organizations seek to influence elections by spending big money in campaigns. But we have a chance to reduce that influence in next year’s mayoral race. On an 8-1 vote, the Albuquerque City Council recently passed legislation to make the City’s public financing program workable again. Our thanks go to City Councilors Don Harris and Pat Davis* for reaching across the aisle to fix the current system, which was originally approved by about 69 percent of the voters in 2005.