How great ideas take years to become law or, often worse, tepid bills that accomplish little

Today we examine the dynamic that transpires whenever a bold new idea begins to be discussed in the legislature and how business interests’ iron grip on leadership leads to compromise or, more often, surrender. We also offer info on canvassing for Gabe Vasquez (it’s gorgeous out, what is your excuse?), and a brief comment on the pathetic saga of Sen. Daniel Ivey-Soto. Ugh.

Ivey-Soto Saga Plunges Into the Toilet

Early Friday, The Santa Fe Reporter broke a story, “Probable Cause,” on the infuriating tale of Senator Daniel Ivey-Soto. As The Reporter makes clear, the evidence has piled up concerning claims of sexual harassment against Ivey-Soto. As readers will recall, we believe women when they make claims of sexual harassment, or as revealed in The Reporter, sexual assault. From The Reporter:

Hnasko’s [the attorney charged with conducting the investigation] 29-page report includes explosive, never-before-reported allegations, including one claiming that Ivey-Soto pinned Sen. Katy Duhigg, a fellow Albuquerque Democrat, down on a couch in 2019 while she tried to pull away from him. And the list of those Hnasko interviewed in his investigation reads like a who’s who of powerful lawmakers, other elected officials, and lobbyists. Many of them shared negative experiences and thoughts about Ivey-Soto; a few spoke well of his character.

Santa Fe Reporter, “Probable Cause,”

But while the report was completed on July 18, there has been no action and the report has not even been sent to the Ethics Committee, its next step, if there is a next step. So, while the jury is still out as to whether or not Ivey-Soto will be held accountable for sexual predation, there is abundant evidence of Ivey-Soto’s penchant for verbal bullying that we’ve seen on display in many floor debates and committee hearings.

We report on this because this is the kind of sordid behavior that causes many to turn away from political activism or even engagement. Thomas Hnasko’s report was submitted to the Investigative Subcommittee of the Interim Legislative Ethics Committee on July 18. As cited by The Reporter: “The report concludes there was reason to believe Ivey-Soto violated the state’s anti-harassment policy twice, but not a third time. It’s not clear what happened from there or what, exactly, led Ivey-Soto to declare his exoneration in a newspaper op-ed.” From there, the report was to have been reviewed by legislative leadership who would determine if the allegations should be sent to the Ethics Commission. The appearance of inaction since July could easily have led Ivey-Soto to believe the complaints were not advancing to the Ethics Committee.

Your move, Legislative leadership. You need to illustrate that legislators take seriously the claims of women being sexually harassed.

Canvassing for Gabe Vasquez in ABQ

On a far more upbeat note, it is gorgeous outside and there are abundant opportunities to canvass for a tremendous candidate. Gabe Vasquez is ahead by a nose in CD 2. He needs to firm up support with the help of your personal contact, and while canvassing for Gabe you will also be able to encourage votes for other Dems on the ballot. Here are options, and please forward this to your contacts:

Not able to canvass? There are opportunties to make calls from your couch. These calls are critical to getting out the vote. 

Why Bold Ideas Stall in the Legislature & Congress

Retake tends to support mostly ground-breaking, transformative legislation. We are detecting a trend wherein merely broaching big ideas brings out corporate or industry lobbyists armed with dispiriting misinformation designed to seed doubt among legislators and their constituents about the feasibility of each initiative. Let’s take a brief look at some of the bills we have supported recently:

  • Capping small loans at 36%: The banking industry planted the idea that without predatory lenders, there would be no loans available to those with poor credit and desperate need. Stop the violins, the predatory lenders idea of lifesaving loans are loans with rates with 175%, with all kinds of fees, penalties, and refinance opportunities designed to create a lifetime of ever increasing debt when taking out a $500 loan. I’ve never seen a more obvious example of the influence of lobbying than when during a House Judiciary Committee hearing a befuddled Rep. Eliseo Alcon stumbled through explaining “his” amendment to the bill that would have capped loans at 36%. He finally gave up and handed the amendment to the lobbyist seated next to him and asked him to explain it. No doubt the lobbyist was better able to do so, as he very likely crafted the amendment for Alcon. With these kinds of obstacles, it took three sessions to penetrate the fog and pass legislation to cap loans at 36%.
  • Community Solar and Local Choice Energy: Either bill was designed to offer alternatives to the Investor Owned Utility (IOU) monopolies like PNM and Xcel Energy. Wary legislators came to hearings with questions spawned by monopoly misinformation: Existing IOU customers will wind up paying for community solar programs’ use of ratepayer transmission lines (false); new community solar customers will suffer brownouts (false); and other false claims designed to urge inaction, caution, or the dilution of the proposed legislation. Community Solar also took three sessions to pass, and what did pass was heavily amended and diluted by industry. And even though it passed, PNM and other New Mexico IOUs tried petitioning the PRC and, because they were denied, they’ve now gone to the Supreme Court to delay implementation.
  • The Green Amendment: Here again misinformation is fomented in advance of hearings: If passed NM courts will be clogged with spurious lawsuits and local governments will be subject to huge awards for any environmental malfeasance or neglect for which they are responsible. Neither claim is true, as lawsuits under the Green Amendment would only force jurisdictions to take action, not extract monies for prior or current failures to act. Government that has failed to protect us could be forced to protect us, not to pay damages. But these spurious arguments are raised in every hearing.
  • State Public Bank: Once more, misinformation to mislead: A Public Bank will compete with community banks who already address the need for capital for small business borrowers. Again, not true, but in every hearing the claims are repeated ad nauseum.

It doesn’t seem to matter a whit how much expert testimony counters the false information, over dinner and drinks or just in the Roundhouse halls, the seeds of doubt have been planted, nourished, and have taken root, thanks to an ubiquitous supply of highly paid lobbyists. And when repeated often enough, falsehoods becomes unshakeable truth.

On Tuesday night during our Zoominar on Health Security in NM, we heard from Sen. Jerry Ortiz y Pino and Rep. Day Hochman Vigil about how the same lobbyist messaging strategy is at work in relation to the Health Security Act, with lobbyists plying legislators, and no doubt the Governor, with misinformation and seeds of doubt. The false messaging is that the HSA is unrealistic, untested, and risky, and why take a risk on something so “pie in the sky” when you can make minor tweaks to the system to improve outcomes and even lower costs. This is an argument I’ve heard even from progressives.

I can almost hear the conversation: “Madam Governor (or Mr. Speaker, Madam Pro-tem, Madam chair) we all want better health outcomes and lower cost healthcare, but we can achieve that safely by just massaging the current system. If you throw out the whole system, what happens when the HSA doesn’t work, doctors flee NM (as we heard in Tuesday’s Zoom, the reverse would occur), and people die in hospital hallways for the absence of an attending physician? You don’t want that as your legacy, do you? How about some of your people and some of our people get together and craft something that will safely make some progress toward the goals we all share?”

Change a few words and you have PNM at the table with the same dynamic, but the ETA is the topic or the Constitutional Amendment to let the Governor [with input from industry] appoint PRC members. This same conversation is replayed countless times with committee chairs and legislative leadership. It goes on and on. What doesn’t go on and on is significant progress toward justice.

In this week’s radio interview with Grant County Commissioner and Gila Regional Hospital board chair, Alicia Edwards (see video recording at the end of this post), I shared my hypothetical conversation of a lobbyist with the Governor and she said it was spot on, going on to note, “If you have almost no time or capacity to do independent research, you may lean on a lobbyist to provide information.” She also noted that most politicians are easily moved by reference to their legacy. Below we provide a short and entertaining video that illustrates how the influence of corporate money and lobbyists control government.

The truth is, any industry is going to place shareholder return above the interests of consumers, and they and their lobbyists will do everything possible to plant seeds of distrust in every piece of legislation or policy being considered or discussed if it is deemed a threat to profit. And these seeds are sown well before an idea is even introduced as a bill. That is how corporations work, and that is how capitalism works. And as long as corporations are using their lobbyists, campaign donations, and misinformation campaigns, the ability of our legislature or the U.S. Congress to function in our interest is jeopardized. And ultimately, if our federal, state, and local government can’t operate on our behalf, but instead are servants of capitalism, our entire democracy (such as it is) is in jeopardy.

The only way to get any of the transformative legislation we support through the legislature is to organize a very well-informed group of advocates who then meet with their legislators and do the work of lobbyists, but instead of offering misinformation, drinks, and dinners, you offer straight information and your support — you have their back when they stand up for you on your issue.

So, let’s keep our eye on the prize, canvass and call for good candidates, and bone up on the issues so we can coach those legislators to do the right thing.

And while we are thinking systemically, another factor that could facilitate more rapid adoption of big ideas would be to fund paid staff for legislators so they are able to do their own research on bills instead of too often relying on lobbyists. It will also help to have more great legislators with spine and the capacity to see through smoke and mirrors, rather than just buying into the “objective summary of concerns with bill X, Y, or Z ” as crafted by lobbyists to serve the interests of the corporatocracy. So make this weekend a canvassing and calling weekend.

We will revisit today’s theme in our next post, using an article by David Brooks and a blog from Heather Cox Richardson as our point of departure. In the mean time, we offer this week’s KSFR interview, recorded Thursday, but airing Saturday at 8:30 am.

Much of the interview with Grant County Commissioner Alicia Edwards focused on the state of healthcare in NM, and Edwards offered one of the clearest explications I’ve heard of the challenges facing our healthcare system in general and rural healthcare more specifically. The video below includes the full conversation, as we went 15 minutes over the radio show limit, which is unfortunate for radio listeners as in the last 15 minutes the discussion got particularly interesting. I highly recommend watching.

Alicia Edwards, a Progressive Voice from Rural NM

In solidarity & hope,

Paul & Roxanne

Categories: Local-State Government & Legislation

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2 replies

  1. Dinner and drinks. Thinking off the top of my head, so this might come across as a bit raw and maybe not completely thought-through: what if a Retake (or other) advocate could get little cocktail hour meetings with uniformed legislators who otherwise would not have non-corporate information? A little take-home one-pager to go along with the friendly banter. Might this not be an effective way of using very limited resources? The cost of dinner in SF would be prohibitive, but I can see enough of us ponying up for a couple of beers to sway an undecided/uniformed lawmaker on key legislation. Q: does an individual representing an advocacy group have to register or be certified to offer any kind of benefit to a legislator?

  2. Some good ideas, in your September 15 reply, Mr. Baroody, but you probably already noticed the “uniformed” legislators and lawmakers — I want to see their uniforms!
    (As a person who creates more than her own share of typos, I’m guessing that I know how you feel. But take my response as a compliment since this proves I read your comment!)
    By the way, this “Bold Ideas” essay by Retake was good –– no surprise –– and the Youtube video, “Corruption is Legal” based on Princeton data, was great, too! Slick and smart and fun! Should be shown in 7th grade through high school and beyond!
    Thanks to all the Retake gang, as always!

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