The City of Las Cruces is letting two nonprofits — the League of Women Voters and the NAACP — hold candidate forums in the council chambers at City Hall before the Nov. 3 election.
But when the Las Cruces TEA Party, which is also a nonprofit, made a similar request, the city said no.
The TEA Party is instead holding its forum at a church on the south side of Las Cruces Thursday. But that’s not ideal, said TEA Party President Bev Courtney.
“I just wanted to make it a central location and make the TEA Party seem legitimate,” Courtney said of the desire to use the council chambers. “We feel discriminated against because we are also taxpayers.”
City spokesman Udell Vigil said City Hall is “not a free venue for non-governmental special events.” He said a “minor exception” has been granted to the League of Women Voters, which has been holding candidate forums in city buildings for the last 26 years and will hold another next Wednesday.
Similarly, the city let the NAACP use the council chambers for candidate forums in 2014 and earlier this month.
The city decided to “discontinue outside events at City Hall” because of concerns about “the frequency of forums and the potential effect on operations,” Vigil said. That decision was made after the city agreed to requests from the League of Women Voters and NAACP but before the TEA Party made its request, he said.
The moratorium will remain in place until the city comes up with a new policy. In the meantime, the League of Women Voters and NAACP are being “grandfathered in,” Vigil said. That’s why they’re allowed to hold forums this year and the TEA Party is not.
No timeline is in place for creation of a new policy. The city hasn’t yet decided whether such a policy should come from administration or the city council, according to Vigil.
Courtney, who has been involved in the TEA Party for five years, said the group is commonly denied access to public spaces that others are allowed to use. She believes that’s because of the TEA Party’s ideology.
On its website, the Las Cruces TEA Party calls itself a “non-partisan group dedicated to promoting the principles of limited government, fiscal responsibility and restraint, as well as individual freedoms and liberties guaranteed to the citizens of the United States by the Constitution and the Bill of Rights.”
“We don’t have any money. We’re not paid. We don’t pay people anything. We’re just your everyday, common working person, and retired people,” Courtney said. “They’re concerned with the direction the left is taking us.”
Agenda 21 is a real U.N. plan, developed at a summit in Brazil in 1992. It’s a non-binding and voluntary plan for sustainable development worldwide. And Courtney believes it’s the reason the city won’t let the TEA Party use the council chambers for its forum.
“We are blocked and excluded from public events every which way I turn, so it’s basically causing our voice to not be heard,” Courtney said.