COMMENTARY: What do New Mexicans want? A fair minimum wage, gun-sale regulations that keep weapons out of dangerous hands, interest caps that end rampant 400-percent loan rip-offs, campaign-finance reform, and term limits. The poll numbers are overwhelming.
What are leaders in the New Mexico House of Representatives pushing for 2016?
Some legislators will do just about anything to brush aside the public’s wishes.
The script is so predictable that most voters have checked out. The problems are too big, the politicians make it too confusing, and we don’t really know what’s going on behind the scenes anyway.
Why bother casting a ballot? Self-serving insiders lay out the path while the rest of us pray they don’t lead us over a cliff.
Focusing government on public interests instead of special interests is a daunting task. We need solutions as big as the problem, but straightforward enough to get our heads around. In a democratic society, everybody deserves attention.
So here are some ideas to ensure regular folks get heard in the lawmaking game:
- Make voting easier. If we truly value the public voice, let’s make it easier for people to speak with their vote. That means automatic registration at age 18, voting via the internet, and text alerts when polling opens and is about to close.
- Enact a statewide initiative process. Legislators say California’s initiative process proves that voters making law when their representatives refuse to is just plain anarchy. Nonsense. A sensible initiative process that requires a super majority of 60 percent, prohibits unfunded mandates, and adheres to sound campaign funding practices is a necessary remedy to New Mexico’s gridlocked and frequently corrupted Legislature.
- Allow campaign contributions from individuals only. Politicians no longer represent people. They represent the corporations and associations that finance their campaigns. Unfortunately, corporations do not have the right to vote, often represent foreign interests, and are focused on profits instead of the larger public welfare. Prohibit corporate, union, and trade-association campaign contributions to candidates and political action committees. Require prominent disclosure of a corporation’s name on any independent political advertising it funds.
- Eliminate the Electoral College. The Electoral College has become an excuse for presidential candidates to ignore voters in states that are predominantly Democratic or Republican. Electing presidents by popular vote will force candidates to pay attention to every voter in every state.
- End Gerrymandering. Periodic redistricting is intended to ensure every vote carries equal weight. Instead, the Legislature has twisted the process into a partisan incumbent-protection exercise that strips voters of real choice. Design a redistricting process that prevents legislators from re-electing themselves.
- Require new laws to clearly state legislative intent. Nobody needs legislation that takes teams of attorneys to sort out. Clear statements of legislative intent help the public know the rules of the game and better guide courts on how to interpret new laws. They also make it more difficult to deceive the public with bills that pretend to be ice when they are actually boiling water.
I hope you’ll take time to discuss these proposals with your elected officials. They sorely need a reminder that responding to all voices is what our democracy is about.
Steve Fischmann is a former state senator from Las Cruces.