Which one of these political scenarios didn’t take place in New Mexico in the last two years?
A conservative special interest group is using a “tax pledge” during the state’s worst economic crisis in a century as a litmus test to attack candidates.
Organized labor officials have threatened sitting legislators at committee meetings with 2020 redistricting—implying that unions will re-draw our political boundaries.
Legislators and their staffs were harassed by a pro-choice special interest group in their offices and threatened with “bad ratings” if they didn’t change their views to align with the group.
A pro-life organization is requiring pledges from candidates that they will support any legislation from the group, no matter what it contains, for endorsement.
Surprise! They all happened. This is what political discourse has devolved to in 2020: privately funded bullying. And they all, right and left, call it “grassroots” organization.
When I hear someone has a “grassroots” campaign, I am immediately grateful to live in a desert climate hostile to lush lawns. Because grassroots groups hide behind that label and private dark money to bully candidates, lie to voters and manipulate communities to embrace (or at least stop openly opposing) their views.
It’s the Soros money, the Koch money, the Hollywood money, the corporate money and lots of other money from individuals who will sink to the lowest common denominator to try to steer our elections to their causes. It’s black or white with these folks and woe betide you if you presume some gray areas on the issues. Remember the meanest kid in eighth grade? Better than even money that the consultants raking in the campaign expenditures for “strategy” learned everything they know from junior high locker rooms and college campus hazing rituals.
Grassroots bullying tactics have penetrated every level of our government. The City of Albuquerque has even held classes for residents to teach “community activism,” i.e., how to scream and yell at zoning meetings until you get your way. Plenty of political non-profits hold regular classes to teach campaign tactics and “grassroots organization.” Because I guess if you spend four hours in a conference room learning how to bully, lie and slander the opposition via PowerPoint, the bullying, lies and slander are somehow morally justifiable.
(At this point, I need to make a disclosure: as a former Pentagon action officer and current government contractor, I am very, very good at PowerPoint. Please don’t make me use my powers for evil, or you will feel the wrath of my slides.)
We see the manifestation of grassroots bullying again in this year’s campaign mailers and ads. My better, if more liberal, half, covered a lot of that in last week’s column. I’ll take it a little further: Political campaigning has become a year-round perennial jobs program. The last two presidents have campaigned continuously since their inaugurations. This requires all sorts of continuous spending: message development, video, printing, media buying, field directors, etc. Our “community organizers” are often just trying to stay employed. The more they can show they have influenced an election or legislative vote, the more money they will get from special interests.
We could change this. Instead of political organizations suing over laws or regulations they don’t like and didn’t have the votes to overturn, they could file defamation lawsuits for the most egregious lies that are bantered back and forth on Facebook every day. We could curtail the campaign season to 30 days before primary and general elections, as some countries have done. Candidates could stop completing special interest loyalty questionnaires and stand on their own beliefs. Voters could turn their learned activism toward demands for the strengthening of campaign finance reform.
Let’s xeriscape our political landscape in New Mexico and allow our elected officials to use their personal ethics and judgement to shape their decisions. Expecting them to follow blindly where the partisan bullies push them only weakens governance and lawmaking in our state and our country.
Merritt Hamilton Allen is a PR executive and a former Navy officer. A political conservative, she lives amicably with her Democratic husband and Republican mother north of I-40 where they run two head of dog, and two of cat.