Retake Our Democracy’s 2018-19 Electoral and Legislative Strategy

In 2016, we Retook the Roundhouse and were brimming with anticipation. But, in 2017, teams of Retake volunteer advocates attended hearings, met with legislators and offered testimony to committees, and we left disappointed but not deterred. With the Roundhouse solidly Democratic, we still passed very few bills. So, in March, a small number of Retake Our Democracy Roundhouse Advocacy Team members who had been active throughout the 2017 Session got together to sort things out and from that work, we have developed a comprehensive statewide strategy to ensure that in 2019 things are different and good bills don’t die; they become law.

We learned a good deal in 2017:

  • A Legislative Report Card was not so easy to develop.  We had planned to produce a Legislative Report Card comprised of how legislators had voted on each of our 60 bills- But too many bills died in Committee for reasons that weren’t easily captured in a report card and so there was precious little to report.
  • It isn’t just the GOP’s fault we are not getting what we want. We learned that it wasn’t Republicans alone who killed good bills, but that a handful of Democrats in each chamber introduced bills at the bidding of industry lobbyists and killed good bills by flipping in committee or just failing to show up.
  • Committees are often where good bills die. We knew we needed to better understand how the Roundhouse worked and we knew we needed to create a stronger majority in committees as with committees comprised of 6-5 and 5-4 Democratic majorities, it only took one flip to kill a bill.
  • We need a statewide network.  We also knew we needed a bigger base. Last year, in the hall after a hearing, Monica Youngblood looked at me with a smirk and said—“Are we supposed to care if Santa Fe has 100 people packing the room. My constituents aren’t here.”   And Youngblood was right and so we realized we needed to expand our base and develop a Response Network throughout the State.

We also knew that our team of ten or so volunteers was not experienced enough to build upon what we knew and couldn’t develop an effective strategy for 2018-19 without the guidance of experts. So we developed a structured interview protocol and spent 9 months interviewing leadership from 20+ progressive advocacy groups like Common Cause, Planned Parenthood, 350.org, NM Voices for Children, Prosperity Works, Sierra Club and others.  We also met with legislators like Speaker Egolf, Peter Wirth, Matthew McQueen, Bill McCamley and Liz Stefanics.

Over the course of nine months of conversations with legislators and advocacy groups, we developed a two-prong 2018-19 Electoral & Legislative Strategy.

Prong I–A 2018 Election Strategy: We realized that we needed to increase the Democratic majority in the House and especially in key committees. 5-4 majorities were simply too narrow and subject to defections. So, we plan to replicate Retake the Roundhouse from the 2016 Campaign, join forces with other progressive groups across the state and target a few districts to provide house party (fundraising), canvassing, and phone-banking support. We plan to target three kinds of districts:

  1. Welcome good progressive challengers in ‘Safe’ Democratic districts  especially where the incumbent habitually impedes passage of progressive legislation and/or carries bills for industry lobbyists. We identified House Districts 41 and 46 as meeting this criterion. Our other criteria was that a strong progressive candidate emerges to challenge the incumbent. And here we are pleased to announce that Andrea Romero will be challenging Carl Trujillo in District 46 and Susan Herrera another very strong progressive will challenge Debbie Rodella. Retake will be providing information about these races so you can better decide if you want to support the challenger or the incumbent. We feel that these kinds of challenges in safe districts encourage healthy debate without jeopardizing the loss of a seat in November.
  2. Identify vulnerable Republicans and support strong Democratic challengers in the general election. Here the Democratic Party has done excellent research and identified 9 House Districts where Republicans won narrowly AND where Clinton had won those districts. We need to do more research as we can’t work in that many districts. Criteria for narrowing the number of races will be:  1) strong Democratic challenger; 2) likelihood of success; and 3) benefit from defeating the GOP rep. The Roundhouse Advocacy Team is right now assessing which of these races we should target.
  3. Identify good Democrats who won narrowly in 2016 or who may otherwise be vulnerable to challenge.Three of the closest races were decided by only 558 votes.  Damon Ely in District 23 won by only 102 votes. Candie Sweetser in District 32, a champion for small agriculture; won by only 230 votes; and Rodolpho Martinez in District 39 (223 votes). We need to support these representatives.

With these three election strategies we hope to strengthen progressive representation in committees and make it harder to kill bills there.

Prong II– A 2019 Legislative Strategy.  For nine months, we met as a team twice a month and developed a two distinct components to this strategy, a list of high priority, must-pass bills and a statewide network we came to call a Rapid Response Network to lobby on behalf of those bills.

A List of Must Pass Bills. We began with phone calls to our advocate allies through which we identified 50 good bills. We knew we had to hone that list so we developed four criterion for guiding our selections: 1) introduced as a bill in 2017 but while not signed into law, was felt by our allies to be something that could pass with pressure and persistence; 2) could have a significant impact statewide; 3) aspirational while also a practical; 4) honored the perspective of distant, rural communities. We eventually narrowed the list to 29 bills organized into 13 issue areas.

While we were very happy with this list, we knew that for the list to be an effective lobbying tool, it required some form of statewide validation, a demonstration of strong support in every region of the state. We developed an online survey that was launched in 2017.  It asked respondents to identify how strongly they support each bill and which 5 bills are most important to you. Based upon respondent input and continuing conversations with our allies, Retake’s Roundhouse Team narrowed the list of MUST PASS bills to 17, all bills that had been introduced in prior legislative sessions and either being vetoed or being killed in committee.

The survey also asked respondents for their House and Senate District and for their personal contact information so we could share the results and keep people updated.  This list of 1300 respondents is being used now to recruit members to our Rapid Response Network.

A Statewide Rapid Response Network.  Working through other progressive organizations throughout the state, we plan to build chapters of progressive voters in key districts. We are building this network through dissemination of information through our lobbying allies and supportive legislators, State and County Democratic Central Committee members, sympathetic County Democratic Chairs, and other organizational networks. It took us months to develop an online communication platform that allows us to target communication to only Network members who have legislators who will be voting on key bills in committee or on the floor, but that system is now in place. People who sign up will receive Action Alerts whenever one of our MUST PASS bills are going to a committee where members have a legislator who sits on that committee. People can JOIN the Network by clicking here.  Action alerts will include the bill title, number, sponsor, a short summary, a link to the full bill, speaking points to make it easy to call and email your legislator and contact information. Alerts will be sent 24 hours before a committee meets, affording Network members time to call and email their legislator at a highly strategic moment–just before they vote on the bill in committee.

This is the two-prong strategy. We are in this for the long haul and expect to expand the network, refine our bill research, strengthen our alliances with progressive advocacy groups, and win some seats in the Roundhouse.

The impact of this strategy depends upon our getting large numbers of respondents from throughout the state. If we have 500 respondents mostly from Santa Fe, the platform will have little statewide credibility. But if we get scores of people to sign on for the Network, legislators from throughout the state will be on notice that voters in their district are paying attention.

We will get better at this as we move forward, but input yesterday from dozens of attendees was very clear: This is a very good and very strategic approach. We think we are on to something. But now it depends upon you.

JOIN the Statewide Rapid Response Network today. And then SHARE with your friends.

In solidarity,

Paul & Roxanne