An open letter to Gov. Martinez and AG King

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To Gov. Susana Martinez and Attorney General Gary King:

I’ll be blunt: the 2014 campaign for governor feels like canned reality TV.

Attorney general, what does the state of Governor Martinez’s heart, Latino or otherwise, have to do with your vision for New Mexico?

Trip Jennings
Trip Jennings

And, Governor Martinez, what does it say about your confidence in your record that you’re criticizing a 27-year-old vote by the attorney general to raise taxes as a state legislator?

New Mexico needs a leader with a strong vision, an ability to communicate it in simple, inspiring terms that unifies, not divides, and the know-how to make it happen.

All I see is politics as usual.

OK, OK, I know what you’re going to say. Negative advertising and “gotcha” attacks are what work with voters and many media outlets. Conflict is as old as the human species, and the storyline sells.

No question, the system by which we elect political leaders in this country rewards 30-second sound bites and slick marketing, not substantive policy discussions and truth-telling.

Most voters, including many of us in the media, are too overworked or overwhelmed – or in some cases, not interested enough – to put in the time and effort to understand the truly complex issues buffeting our state well enough to vet each and every claim by a campaign, much less seek to comprehend the philosophical ideas undergirding the policies and programs you propose.

So, yes, a case can be made for the we’re-all-guilty school of thought. It’s why things stay the same, year-in, year-out, and why political games trump serious conversation.

Governor, it’s why you’ve booked more than $2 million in ad time on local TV stations. You want to define the attorney general on your terms through negative advertising so he doesn’t have the opportunity to tell his own story. Also, maybe you want to dampen enthusiasm for the top of the Democratic ticket so Democratic-leaning voters don’t turn out in droves, which could help the GOP in down-ballot races.

And Attorney General, it’s why you’re trying to plant doubts in voters’ minds about the governor, especially about her stewardship during a rough economic patch. A challenger lagging in the polls goes on the attack. By focusing on New Mexico’s sluggish job growth and anemic economy you hope the governor suffers a drop in popularity.

Like I said, politics as usual. If you ask me, however, New Mexico deserves better than politics as usual.

New Mexico struggles with persistent poverty; many thousands of children and adults go hungry each day; a too-small private sector generates too few high-wage jobs; and not enough youth are graduating from high school, which leads companies to think twice about locating high-wage jobs here.

Just last month, the U.S. Census Bureau report showed that more New Mexicans were living at poverty or below in 2013 than the year before.

Add to that a serious recession that just won’t go away. In the summer of 2013 New Mexico recorded the smallest percentage of New Mexicans participating in the labor force since the mid 1970s, according to the New Mexico Department of Workforce Solutions. (See page 9 of the Power Point presentation.)

Take a moment. Soak all that in.

New Mexico needs a leader who thinks deeply, profoundly and long-term; in other words, a rarity in today’s toxic political environment – someone who knows how to govern as well as play partisan politics.

I’m betting I’m not the only one who feels this way. In fact, I’m pretty sure I’m not.

Last month, I covered an event at the Indian Pueblo Cultural Center in Albuquerque where several dozen people gathered to celebrate the formation of New Mexico People’s Solidarity Alliance – Native Americans, Hispanics and African Americans coming together to demand that all elected officials, regardless of partisan affiliation, focus on the long-term, entrenched problems affecting too many New Mexico communities and too many New Mexicans, especially people of color who are affected disproportionately.

Speaker after speaker returned again and again to entrenched poverty, hunger, low education rates, and a lack of well-paying jobs. There were rousing speeches and stirring rhetoric.

To be honest, I’m skeptical of rousing speeches and stirring rhetoric after years of covering hollow election-year and legislative session speeches. The proof is in the doing, not the saying. Besides, only time will tell if the coalition is for real and whether what speakers said last month will be converted into action – specifically, the promise to challenge all elected officials, regardless of party affiliation, including leaders in their own communities.

However, one thing stood out to me – the speakers were not only acknowledging the profound and meaningful challenges that affect many New Mexico’s communities; they were focusing on them.

People in communities across the state are frustrated over long-term poverty, hunger, low education rates and a perennial scarcity of well-paying jobs.

I bet they’re frustrated with politics as usual too.

I know the two of you mention poverty, hunger, education and New Mexico’s small private sector on the campaign trail, but it feels rote to me, like they’re props.

Sometimes you even act as if you’ve cornered the conversation. I hate to burst your bubble, but most every thoughtful person I know in New Mexico wants to see the state grow the number of well-paying jobs, educate its youth better and reduce hunger and poverty.

Tell us your vision for attacking these challenges, but don’t stop with where you want New Mexico to end up. Tell us how you’re going to help us get there. This does not mean cherry-picking a couple of policies that are more Band-Aid than anything and re-packaging them as a silver bullet to deep, entrenched complex problems.

Also, acknowledge that at some level, all of these challenges – the lack of well-paying jobs, poverty, an undiversified economy, hunger and low education rates – are interconnected.

Then prove to voters that you understand this and that your vision is thoughtful enough to acknowledge the severity of these challenges at the same time it is hopeful enough not to rely on cynical use of shallow ideological talking points.

Using ideological talking points only makes you seem like a cardboard cutout.

I’ll say it again. New Mexico needs a leader who thinks deeply and profoundly and creatively about the state’s long-term health. Maybe each of you is already doing this, but it’s not apparent from the campaign trail.

So here are a few requests from a frustrated voter as you go forward. Maybe they’ll help you to raise the level of debate beyond politics as usual.

  • Stop using ideological, one-dimensional answers to say how you will address New Mexico’s challenges.
  • Speak to us humbly. You don’t know all the answers. I know it. You know it. Many voters know it too.
  • Speak to us honestly. I know this is a liability during election season. But the truth is, New Mexico’s problems are not due to any one politician, or any one party. The severe challenges affecting New Mexico have defied the best efforts of both Democratic and Republican administrations over the decades. So spare us the blame game.
  • Make us believe you’re confident enough in your vision to run on it and not on how bad your opponent is.

In the end, this election is not about you. It’s about New Mexico and the future.

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