The chairwoman of the Democratic Party of New Mexico deflected blame last year when asked why voters gave Republicans greater control of state government in 2014 than at any other time in history.
Deb Haaland, in a Q&A I published on nmpolitics.net, blamed “the unfettered influx of corporate money into the election process” and voters “who don’t necessarily take the time to research candidates on their own and rely on sound bites to sway their opinions.”
In other words, Democrats weren’t responsible for losing elections. It was disappointing—the same lack of self-examination that cost Hillary Clinton and Democrats the presidency this year.
But it appears New Mexico voters got fed up with their Republican experiment quickly. This month, they gave control of the state House and the Secretary of State’s Office back to Democrats and increased their advantage in the Senate.
My challenge to Democrats now is this: If you want to maintain power, stop focusing on the next election. Instead, develop and fight for a clear vision to improve New Mexico. Our people are hurting, and this is what we need from you.
Because the Republicans’ message those years was a winning one: Democrats had set the state’s agenda for most of the last eight decades, and they failed. The state was last or near-last in too many of the rankings that matter. Cronyism and corruption took precedent over the wellbeing of New Mexicans.
Our situation remains dire. Our state is broke. Our most significant export is our kids, who find better opportunities if they leave—and that contributes to our state’s downward spiral.
Across America, Donald Trump’s victory demonstrates that many voters view government as a bipartisan failure that’s not serving people. They’re tired of polished campaigns, cheap slogans, and a lack of substance and vision. They’re desperate for change and will try anything.
Recent elections here and in Europe make clear that the world is changing. People are increasingly dividing along racial and class lines. We must redesign government to keep up with the speed of the 21st Century and to be a unifying force.
Democrats need to develop a cohesive vision for how they will finally improve New Mexico. Some examples:
• It’s not enough to say Republican Gov. Susana Martinez’s vision for public education is wrong, to say we need to give teachers more control and pay them better. We’ve tried those things. Democrats need to think deeper. Retired educator Del Hansen recently laid out a plan for reform that includes deregulation, allowing school choice, and improving teacher education. It’s a substantive place to start.
• Taking money from the state’s permanent fund to expand early childhood programs—a proposal Democrats say will help New Mexico families and, over a generation, create a more stable population—is worth considering. But give us details on how you’ll use that money to enact change. Government has too often wasted money on ineffective programs. Throwing money at a problem isn’t enough.
• Democrats did an excellent job before this year’s special session to balance the budget of articulating why they believe spending cuts hurt people. But they haven’t developed a real vision for addressing our state’s budget woes and improving the economy. They must.
Instead of worrying about the next election, Democrats have an opportunity to be bold and visionary, to think long-term about how to make New Mexico a place where all people can thrive. I hope they take it.
Haussamen runs NMPolitics.net, a news organization devoted to hard-hitting, fair exploration of politics and government that seeks to inform, engage and build community. Reach him at firstname.lastname@example.org, on Facebook at /haussamen, or on twitter @haussamen.