COMMENTARY: The Great Economic Recession posed challenging issues for the City of Las Cruces. One of these issues created a storm of differing ideological views overwhelming city resources and dominating media discussions. Suddenly, a relatively peaceful town was divided and maddened by this full-frontal assault.
This all started when NM CAFé presented the city council a citizen’s initiative petition to increase the minimum wage. The ensuing chaotic aftermath from this action caused political rife within the entire city.
Conservative groups around town activated using tea-party supporters, political maneuvering, and monetary incentives in an attempt to change the entire political make-up of the city council through a PAC called New Mexicans for a Better Tomorrow, using a campaign manager hired from Illinois named Jeffrey Isbell.
This recall attempt was an alarming move sponsored in most part by many in the business community in an effort to bring in new city councilors who were friendly to the Greater Las Cruces Chamber of Commerce and oust minimum-wage friendly, progressive-type city councilors.
After the initial shock of trying to grasp the reasons to turn the town upside down by maneuvering of power-driven people, many citizens, including progressive organizations, strategically handled any tactical maneuvers of this conservative movement by staying one step ahead of them. The recall ultimately failed.
The city was barely over the recall shock before the next wave of politically motivated attacks came barreling down on our quiet town again during the general election, this time in the form of a federal super PAC called GOAL WestPAC. This outside, aggressive PAC’s stockpile-of-ammunition attack included flooding citizens with negative mailers, robocalls, and telephone calls all aimed to discredit the existing and progressive-backed city council candidates during the general election campaign.
Many citizens thought the negative tactics and infusion of outside money to garner votes during the recall and then again during the general election was wrong. Letters to the editor were written by people furious at the Koch-like tactics of flooding the campaign with false propaganda that confused people’s points of view during election time. A Facebook site was created called Close the Cafe — again, to circulate alarmist statements to try and motivate believers and lull non-believers into their camp. Simply put, some tied to the business community had decided it was time to change city politics in a relatively fast and furious timeframe using whatever tactics money and deception could buy.
Because this campaign was hard to acknowledge and highly questioned by the city, the media and many citizens and progressive groups became very active by motivating community members to push back the attacks and hold their ground. An extensive grassroots campaign ensued.
Many people went door to door to catch ill-gotten signatures of the recall, while others wrote letters to the editor and posted Facebook remarks on their own page called Las Crucens Against the Recall. At the end of the general election campaign, a negligible amount of money was used for the first time from a PAC called ProgressNowNM to help with the progressive and community backed candidates and incumbents.
I think the efforts made by all these people and groups to protect the city from these political-minded attacks by some people tied to the business community during the recall and general election should be lauded and commended for the mobilization and tremendous effort made over a long period of time, using many resources. It was in itself very exhausting.
Looking back at these events — like Jeffrey Isbell has done in his recent commentary suggesting local conservative groups could organize and mobilize voters and candidates as well as the progressive groups in town have done — is an erroneous proposition.
First, the passion of the councilors, the city, media and people who fought against the conservative movement cannot be matched, as it evolved over many years and includes a myriad of philosophies of people who have the common belief in the power of populism, grassroots campaigning, and maintaining a pragmatic approach.
Second, protecting the integrity of the community without jeopardizing the character and wellbeing of its citizens will always be the utmost importance with citizen-motivated counterattacks. This was tried and true with this first and hopefully last assault on our normally peacefully community. Personally, this is one of the reasons I was drawn to Las Cruces and the Mesilla Valley. What ensued with the “war” this community experienced is in my opinion bad for business and growth.
Finally, the approach by some in the business community to the recall and general election just had no soul. Many people worked passionately to protect the integrity of their city last year and the year before. Many hours were spent with much emotion. People today are now wary of such attempts again. Trying to organize a conservative base again, as Jeffrey Isbell proposed in his letter, would only backfire, as the last attempt only solidified the grassroots organizations in the community that will forever keep a watchful eye on the politics of the city.
In conclusion, the whole “war” was an obvious and vicious takeover, like in corporate raiding, without any concerns for the good city councilors involved in the recall who had done nothing wrong. It subjected the community to months of negative philosophical slinging that ultimately wore everyone out and resulted in a large vacuum of grudges and distrust of the business community.
Honestly, in my opinion, with the money spent, what a misbegotten approach to change! Change can happen through the channels of elections without using short-sided goals. If the business community would like to see change, then a conservative base can be useful as part of a checks-and-balances system through pragmatic and legitimate channels without mudslinging, super PACs, and outside campaign managers.
Las Cruces is a nice town. Let’s see progress using a community approach that benefits the whole and not the few. I think we all love this town and it is possible to work together.
Sharon S. Smock is a member of SWEC, APV, PVA, and other environmental and political minded organizations. Her background is in environmental assessments. She has a degree in conservation of natural resources and further studies in geography and political science. She enjoys the outdoors, writing, animals and traveling. She and her husband adopted one special needs son.