Many NMPolitics.net readers say the City of Las Cruces should have let the local tea party hold a candidate forum at City Hall.
Some who expressed that opinion are no fans of the Las Cruces TEA Party, but said the city shouldn’t have rejected the group’s request after letting two other organizations hold forums in the council chambers at City Hall. The city’s decision, which came mid-election cycle, resulted in one group active in local politics being treated differently than others.
“Bad, bad, bad,” Bernie Digman of Las Cruces wrote during conversations NMPolitics.net facilitated on Facebook.
“The Tea Party is one of my least favorite groups. I find them odious and mean-spirited and filled with paranoia and fear-mongering,” Digman wrote. “However, the members pay the same taxes as the rest of us and deserve equal treatment.”
Arturo Uribe of Mesquite agreed.
“I believe they should have allowed the Tea Party access if they are a non-partisan group, and then make a decision after this election,” Uribe wrote. “Does kind of look as if we are excluding one group over others.”
The city let two nonprofits — the League of Women Voters and the NAACP — hold candidate forums in the council chambers in advance of the upcoming Nov. 3 election. The TEA Party is also a nonprofit.
The city decided to “discontinue outside events at City Hall” after approving the first two requests because of concerns about “the frequency of forums and the potential effect on operations,” spokesman Udell Vigil told NMPolitics.net. 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.
City Councilor Gregory Z. Smith, who is currently running for re-election, took a stab at explaining the city’s decision during the Facebook conversations, saying the League of Women Voters has held forums at City Hall for 26 years, while the NAACP has only held them there for two years.
“However, after the NAACP had a forum at City Hall, some claimed the city was allowing partisan use of facilities,” Smith wrote. “That is something the city absolutely wants to avoid; so, because there is no policy yet in place, City Manager (Robert) Garza decided that no additional forums would be allowed.”
The TEA Party ended up holding its forum at a local church. Smith accepted the group’s invitation to participate.
The policy change was “not directed at any particular group or philosophy,” Smith wrote on Facebook. “Anyone other than LWV or NAACP will be turned away.”
That explanation seemed to satisfy some.
“Thank you for clarifying how long each group has been allowed to hold its forums at City Hall,” wrote Barbara Alvarez of Las Cruces.
Others weren’t satisfied.
“Wouldn’t a moratorium beginning on the first of the year have made more sense than an arbitrary decision to bar groups after giving permission to others?” asked Craig Richard Bullock of Las Cruces.
“The city needs to back up and scrap the new non-policy-in-waiting,” wrote Del Hansen of Las Cruces. “After this election season, they can draft a policy. I’m no fan of the TEA Party, but this is not good administration.”
Rachel Owens Pulaski of Las Cruces wrote that the city let “two very liberal groups” use the council chambers but “not a conservative group.”
“No matter the city’s ‘reasoning,’ it looks discriminatory and most likely would lose if a lawsuit was filed,” Pulaski wrote. “Taxpayers pay attention, it would be your hard-earned money used to pay off such a lawsuit.”
Claudia Anderson of Farmington wrote that the city “blew it, if only because of the bad optics.”
“They may indeed be looking to change the rules, but until the rules are actually revised there was no valid reason to not allow the forum,” Anderson wrote. “One need only look at the Freedom Caucus in the House to know that the Tea Party is indeed as valid an organization as NAACP.”
Anderson wrote that she was sympathetic to the TEA Party in part because, as a Democrat living in heavily Republican San Juan County, she’s “been there done that.”