Executive Director of Think New Mexico—a Santa Fe-based think tank—Fred Nathan is a self-described “recovering attorney.” Since Nathan founded Think New Mexico in 1999, the group has worked to repeal the food tax, provide universal kindergarten and create the Strategic Water Reserve. Its current campaign is to reform government ethics.
SFR: What differentiates Think New Mexico from other think tanks?
FN: Most think tanks develop white papers and then cross their collective fingers and hope something good happens. We’re not quite that optimistic, so our office is here in Santa Fe, across the street from the Roundhouse and, when we come up with a proposal, we draft the legislation and see it through to implementation.
Think New Mexico was instrumental in the three-year fight to repeal the food tax, which was repealed in 2004—but now it’s back on the table. Why?
It’s only back on the table because one organization, the Greater Albuquerque Chamber of Commerce, has put it on the table. You would hope that [GACC] would have a better grasp of economics: This will not generate new wealth; it will destroy it. It’s the equivalent of a new tax of $460 on a family of four.
If the food tax is regressive, isn’t your proposed tax on soft drinks and candy regressive, as well?
That’s a very fair criticism of the junk-food tax: that it falls disproportionately on those who are least able to afford it. We otherwise wouldn’t be proposing this but, given the options, this makes a lot more sense, especially in a state where more than 25 percent of the population suffers from obesity and we also have a huge epidemic of diabetes.
Do you drink soft drinks?
Very few. I eat a lot of candy—chocolate mostly. I’m a chocolate addict, so this tax would also fall heavily on the Nathan household.
You’re a registered lobbyist who has donated more than $3,000 to Gov. Bill Richardson, yet your ethics bill calls for banning political contributions from lobbyists.
Correct. It would apply to me and my staff the same as lobbyists for alcohol and tobacco, and I’m willing to make that sacrifice.
Is giving up campaign contributions a sacrifice?
I don’t think it’s ever helped me pass a bill, but there are certain elected officials I admire and want to support.
Which is more important: Electing good people or influencing them later through lobbying?
Getting good people in office. If we had that, the corrupt lobbying wouldn’t matter as much.
Given your experience with government, would you ever consider running for political office?
Every now and then I get annoyed with the quality of our democracy, and the idea’s occurred to me. [But] I think I’m more effective doing the things I’m doing right now.
To be an effective elected official, you sometimes can’t speak your mind, and I never pull my punches in this job.
Suppose you had to run: What would you run for?
You get into a lot of trouble when you answer hypothetical questions.
I think you’re totally groomed for politics with that answer.