We have a great opportunity to elect a real Democrat to the Senate & displace a DINO who throttles progress in NM. Plus, news on Betsy DeVos diverting relief funds from public schools to wealthy private schools.
At the end of the post you will find links to yesterday’s Retake Conversation on KSFR with Sen. Antoinette Sedillo Lopez, and our coming Zoominars with Common Cause, Ethics Watch, and Dede Feldman (May 19), and with NM Voices and Rep. Javier Martinez (May 26).
DeVos Funnels Covid Relief Funds to Wealthy Private Schools & Colleges
US Education Secretary Betsy DeVos has brazenly introduced regulations on how K-12, colleges, and universities can spend relief funds, opening the door to hundreds of millions of dollars that Congress intended to go to cash-strapped public schools to be spent on wealthy private schools and to reimburse tuition for parents of children in those private schools. The NY Times lays out with specific numbers how district after district, if they follow the new guidelines, will wind up diverting funds from high-needs public schools to wealthy private schools. The report also provides comments from several school Superintendents saying that they intend to ignore the money grab for wealthy private schools. Representative Robert C. Scott of Virginia, the chairman of the House education committee offered a typical comment:
“This program design is indistinguishable from a standard voucher scheme and is the latest attempt by this department to promote privatization initiatives against both the wishes of the American people, and the intent of Congress,” Scott wrote to Ms. DeVos.NY Times: “DeVos Funnels Coronavirus Relief Funds to Favored Private and Religious Schools”
Click here to read this well documented NY Times article.
I can’t tell you how many times in the last three and a half years either Roxanne or I, more often both, have commented: “I can’t believe they can do this? Isn’t anyone going to do anything about this?” And yet, it keeps coming in one wave after another, one moral offense after another. In “normal” times any one of these actions or comments would generate a nationwide outcry.
- Trump fires one Inspector General after another and anyone who has anything critical to say about him or his administration, completely disabling independent oversight of administrative actions;
- Trump withholds the FDA’s 69-page guide that lays out how and when states should open, forces the FDA to trim it to six Trump-approved pages, resulting in a guide with no guidance whatsoever;
- Trump encourages states to reopen despite only NY meeting Trump’s own criteria for re-opening, crowing “We are back.” He responds to a reporter’s question about what happens if a spike occurs, with “we will just stamp it out.”… Yeah, like we’ve done such a great job of stamping out Round I. What’s more, what Trump entirely overlooks is that “a spike” is not just a jump in numbers, but is the death of thousands, perhaps tens of thousands more Americans.
As if this weren’t enough, while visiting a PPE manufacturer on Friday, Trump noted: “They’re [nurses and doctors] running into death just like soldiers run into bullets, in a true sense,” the president continued. “I see that with the doctors and the nurses and so many other people. They go into those hospitals, it’s incredible to see. It’s a beautiful thing to see.” What he omitted in his admiration, something duly noted with a torrent of responses from health professionals, is that if those courageous doctors and nurses had the necessary PPE, they would not be rushing into death, they’d be rushing in to care for patients.
I wish I had a tangible action other than for you to click here to get to our Election page. That page has information on how you can use Swing Left or Vote Forward tools to make calls and send letters in swing states. And if you know ANY person who might have voted for Trump, please reach out and have a conversation. The Election page linked above also provides information on how you can support Teresa Leger Fernandez in her effort to capture the Democratic nomination for US House of Representatives in CD-3.
While Trump’s regime is both dangerous and dicey, we have a more fixable problem here in NM, a problem that got a bit easier this week: fixing the NM State Senate. Onward.
Replacing Senate Pro-Tem Mary Kay Papen: a Key Piece in Fixing Our Senate
With Tracy Perry withdrawn from the race, there now is only one progressive candidate challenging Senator Mary Kay Papen. The remaining Democrat candidate is the widely respected and well-known Executive Director of the Las Cruces Green Chamber of Commerce, Carrie Hamblen, who was one of the leaders advocating for making the Organ Mountain Range a national monument. In short, she has name recognition, a track record, and is now in a head-to-head race with Papen.
In Friday’s post, “Senator John Arthur Smith: Dr. No of the NM State Senate,” it was easy to point to the myriad reasons for voting for Smith’s challenger, Neomi Martinez Parra. Smith is brazen in his comments, has dozens of public votes that disclose his conservative positions, and he sits in a clear position of power as Chair of the Senate Finance Committee. It was easy to lay out why he needs to be replaced.
It is a bit more difficult with Sen. Papen. First, as I learned from several one-on-one conversations with her this session, she is a charming person and a fierce advocate for children’s mental health. In the 2020 session she even voted for the Extreme Risk Firearm Protection Order Act, twice voted for tax credits for electric vehicles, and also voted in favor of a bill calling for the use of pet food fees to pay for pet neutering and sheltering, three of Retake’s priority bills.
But by no means were all of Papen’s votes in 2020 good votes.
- She voted against HJR 1 the Permanent Funds for Early Childhood Act (again).
- She voted for SB 274, a tax giveaway that benefited the top 3% of New Mexicans and would have deprived our state of over $200M in tax revenue between 2021 and 2026. Fortunately, Senator Wirth never called it for a vote on the Senate floor and the bill died.
- She also voted no on SB 95, which would have created a Radioactive Waste Tax Force. With plans to expand radioactive storage in southern NM, this issue is a vital concern to southern NM voters, yet she turned her back on those concerns. She was joined by the GOP and five fellow Senate DINOs — Senators Munoz, Smith, Ramos, Sanchez, and Martinez — to defeat a bill that with solid Democratic support would have easily passed.
And in 2019 Papen’s impact was even more pronounced, when she voted “NO” on each of the following bills, again all Retake priority bills:
- HB 51 Decriminalize Abortion
- SB 76 Prohibit Coyote Killing Contests
- HB 85 Union Security Agreements.
- SB 8 Firearm Sale Background Check
- She also voted with Sen. Clemente Sanchez to table SM 5 Study State-Owned Bank in Senate Rules, killing the bill.
While Senator Papen’s bad votes are reason enough to support Carrie Hamblen, Sen. Papen’s power does not rest with her votes. Her district is more progressive than the one Senator Smith represents, and so she must make some good votes, as she did in 2020 (above), to get re-elected.
But once ensconced in the Senate, Papen joins a coalition of the entire GOP Senate and five or six Democrats In Name Only who vote for her to serve as Senate Pro-Tem. As Pro-Tem, Sen. Papen is chair of the obscure Committees’ Committee. While few understand the workings of the Committees’ Committee, the chair has tremendous impact on what can and can not be accomplished in the legislature.
Papen appoints Committees’ Committee members, and the resulting composition is a Dream Team of corporate shills — conservative GOP and conservative Democratic Senators, with the required inclusion of Sen. Wirth, Dem. Floor Leader, and Sen. Mimi Stewart, Dem. Whip. Last year, Papen also appointed Sen. Liz Stefanics. Normally, a committee of 8 Dems and 3 GOP should have little trouble advancing Democratic priorities, but five of the eight Democrats frequently align with the GOP: Senators Smith, Muñoz, Sanchez, Campos, and Papen. These DINOs are found in most every effort to derail legislation that is found in the Democratic Party Platform and supported by all other Democratic legislators.
This committee appoints the chairs and makes committee assignments for all the Senate Committees, and the result is astonishing. Fully ten of the fourteen standing Senate committees are either chaired by conservative, corporate Democrats or stacked full of corporate DINO members. And folks, that makes all the difference in what can get through the NM State Senate. In effect, if a bill does not enjoy the support of Senators Papen, Smith, Sanchez and Muñoz, now joined by Senator Ramos, it is dead on arrival, having no chance of getting to the Governor’s desk. How does this work?
First, committee chairs decide which bills are heard and which are not. Any bill involving tax and revenue must go through Senate Finance, chaired by Senator Smith, and any bill having to do with regulation of corporations or business taxes must pass through Senator Clemente Sanchez (Corporations and Transportation). Most every important bill must pass through one of these committees. And, for example, Senator Smith has made a habit of killing increases in Permanent Fund allocations to early childhood for almost ten years, he routinely tables the Health Security Act, and he demands reductions in proposed increases to the minimum wage. Nobody has to take a bad vote or leave fingerprints. They simply wait for Senator Smith to not assign the bill for a Finance Committee hearing, and another good bill is dead.
Second, everyone in the legislature and all the progressive lobbyists who are trying to craft bills understands that to have any hope of passing, the bill must get the approval of Senators Smith, Sanchez, Papen, Muñoz, and Ramos. As a result, bills are tailored to get their approval. For example, the Energy Transition Act was essentially written by PNM attorneys, ensuring that it would be approved by Corporate Democrats. Efforts to reform our horribly regressive tax codes are not even introduced, as there is an understanding that these bills are Dead On Arrival. Bills like the minimum wage increase may pass through the House only to be butchered by Senator Sanchez in Senate Corporations and Transportation. Ditto on regulation of the gas and oil industry. And we all remember what happened to HB 51 as the Senate DINOs joined with Republicans to prevent NM from decriminalizing abortion.
So, make no mistake about it, without ever casting a bad vote, Senator Papen allows the Corporate Democrat coalition to almost totally control the legislative process. Eric Shimamoto did a brilliant job of laying this out in his video Fix the NM State Senate. We will be including this important video in every post on Senate races over the next week.
Follow the money and you have a clue to Sen. Papen’s priorities and her true constituency. Her top eight campaign contributors in 2016 were El Paso Electric, Pfizer, Sen. Peter Wirth’s Campaign Committee, Devon Energy, PNM Resources, NM Health Care Assoc., ConocoPhillips, and Western Refining. Only 9% of her donations came from individuals, and she received a 100% rating from the Association of Commerce and Industry.
Papen’s challenger has a different constituency. She has been endorsed by Conservation Voters New Mexico, Planned Parenthood, Forward Together, Sierra Club, Olé, Working Families Party, Progress Now, and, of course, Retake Our Democracy, with more endorsements likely coming now that she is the sole progressive challenger.
And so, we ask you to get active in support of Carrie Hamblen. If we can elect her to the NM State Senate and combine that with two or three other progressive wins, we can completely change the composition of the Senate and a flood of new progressive legislation will be transformed to the law of the land. Click here to find contact information on her campaign and how you can help.
Retake on KSFR: a 45-Minute Retake Conversation with State Senator Antoinette Sedillo Lopez
In the 2019 Legislative Session, Senator Sedillo Lopez valiantly introduced a fracking moratorium bill (SB 459), and she opposed the Produced Water Act, one of only two Democrats with the courage and wisdom to vote “no” on this bill. We discuss her first two years as a state senator and what it’s like to be a progressive voice in the far-less-than-progressive NM State Senate. We also talk about The Green Amendment, how the Produced Water Act could be improved, and what needs to get done between now and January if we want to pass progressive legislation. Sedillo Lopez is such a positive spirit. This interview is worth your time.
Zoominars are Coming!
Tues., May 19, 6:30-8 pm, Conversation About Gas & Oil Influence in NM Legislature featuring Heather Ferguson, Executive Director, Common Cause NM; Dede Feldman, former NM State Senator and author; and Kathleen Sabo, Executive Director, NM Ethics Watch. We will discuss their recent study “The New Mexico Oil and Gas Industry and Its Allies: Oceans of oil, oceans of influence.” We don’t get what we want and what the planet needs because the deck is stacked in the NM state legislature by the gas and oil industry who spend millions on campaign donations, lobbyists, and entertaining. They control not just what can be passed in the legislature, but even if a bill will ever be heard in a legislative committee. Click here to register. You must register to get a seat in the “Zoom room.”
Tues., May 26, 6:30 – 8 pm. Conversation with NM Voices for Children About the NM State Budget Crisis, with Amber Wallin, Deputy Director; Bill Jordan, Government Relations Officer; and Paige Knight, Research and Policy Analyst. Rep. Javier Martinez, chair of the House Tax & Revenue Committee, will also join us. We will discuss the dire state of the NM state budget due to plummeting gas and oil prices and the economic impact of Covid-19. You must pre-register for this Zoominar. Click here to register.
Paul and Roxanne