Once again, strange and sometimes incomprehensible signs litter Santa Fe.
An election is pending and the city is pockmarked with poorly designed placards advertising candidates for office.
It is, frankly, distracting.
Not for drivers, who are already distracted by phone calls, texts, reading materials, pets, bicyclists, beer and suddenly winding up in the Santa Fe River, but for voters. What are we to make of this haphazard hoopla?
We have been told there are big issues at stake: public safety, city budgets, jobs, crime, annexation, police and fire services, economic development, affordable housing, public education, family values, the integrity of neighborhoods, the future of the creative economy, and the soul of Santa Fe.
Sometimes there appear to be stark divides between candidates and sometimes there appear to be no borders at all. Should we run down a checklist of our own gut reactions to these “identified” issues and then align with the candidate whose position appears most similar to our own? If so, on what scale are we to assess these values? A scale painted in placards and slogans? One fabricated from the enthusiastic promises of campaign rallies? Should our scale be dictated by what the media chooses to report?
Certainly there are valuable services provided by the media. It will come as no surprise that I am a believer in the integrity of the Santa Fe Reporter’s endorsement process (SFR’s endorsements for the March 2 municipal elections publish Feb. 24).
But there are fundamental issues at stake that are larger than those on which we are routinely invited to base our votes.
Government in the United States is broken. It is broken by relics of processes that no longer make sense, such as filibusters, the Electoral College and winner-take-all voting systems. It is broken by the undue power of legislative committees to kill important bills. It is broken by partisan divisiveness that fails to represent the commonalities of the people. It is crippled by the influence of special interests and the people’s lack of enthusiasm for participation in the political process. We see these failings played out on the national screen and in the state Legislature.
But our municipal government is broken as well. Santa Fe voters have demanded changes, such as campaign finance reform and ranked-choice voting, but the City Council has consistently inserted delaying mechanisms, as though the expense of implementing the government we ask for and pay for is one that can be held for some other time.
In 2008, 65 percent of Santa Fe voters approved ranked-choice voting. The option to select multiple candidates in order of preference is not as critical in our non-partisan (supposedly) municipal elections as it would be in state government, where Gov. Bill Richardson has aggressively opposed the idea. It is, nonetheless, a mark of the progressive ideals upheld by Santa Feans and we, the people, did vote on it.
In October 2009, the city clerk demonstrated that ranked-choice voting could be effectively used in the March 2010 election, even under the constraints the City Council tacked on to voters’ mandate, but there’s been silence since. Which of the candidates running for office this time will pledge—whether or not they are elected through ranked choice—that there will never be another city election that fails to use the terms voters have dictated?
Who among the candidates vying to be elected this March will pledge to crack open the city charter and break the stranglehold that districting has put on city politics? As it stands in Santa Fe today, only the mayor is elected at large and represents the entire city. But the mayor has no regular vote on the City Council and each of the councilors represents a district, rather than the city as a whole.
Neighborhoods and districts should have a representative, but they don’t need two. And having all councilors tied to districts has empowered NIMBYism and fractionalized the city. Having a city government that can make honest decisions about how to govern based on what’s best for all of us is the first step in genuinely fixing any problem or issue, including those touted as the key issues in this election.
Our local government, like our national government, wasn’t broken by the current incumbents and it stands no better or worse chance of being repaired by challengers to their seats. It is easy to feel shut out from the petty vengeance and bizarre morality plays that are acted out on the national political stage, but never has it been clearer and more pressing that our local governments ought to make the changes we need to see in our lives, our economies, our rights and our safety.
The question before us is not which candidates promise to provide those things through their governance. The question is which candidates promise to restore the ability to govern effectively. Only when consensus can be achieved and legislation enacted in the interest of people—not the partisans or the whiners or the naysayers—can our local leaders put us on the right path.
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