A Manufactured Crisis

There’s a saying where I come from that warns those seeking to stir up trouble in peaceful and productive situations: Don’t start nothin’, there won’t be nothin’.

Folks with common sense on the receiving end of these words take the cue to weigh the consequences of instigating a fight just for the sake of fighting. Usually, the statement is enough to diffuse a situation and secure the peace. But sometimes an issue is important enough that the parties involved step over the warning and simply throw down.

It'd be nice if New Mexico's elected officials used this efficient approach to conflict. But alas, many of them seem content to snipe at one another for political points rather than implementing solutions. New Mexico's ongoing legislative battles over undocumented immigrants having access to driver's licenses, and the recent showdown with the feds over Real ID compliance reeks of political grandstanding of the worst kind.

In light of the fact that New Mexico, and half the states in the union, are still considered noncompliant with the Department of Homeland Security's Real ID deadline set for Jan. 15, the agency recently announced that it has delayed compliance enforcement for Real ID on air travel to 2018. This means that all state-issued driver's licenses, New Mexico included, will be accepted as identification for domestic air travel.

Hence, the fear-mongering, blame-gaming and political wrangling which foretold civic collapse and an air travel apocalypse (done by the same folks entrusted with solutions) should now end, right? Wrong!

Our legislators are still at it. In fact, no sooner had the news broken about extending the travel-compliance deadline than the games began, again. Dueling statements from Gov. Susana Martinez, Republican House Speaker Don Tripp and Democratic House Minority Leader Brian Egolf appear to have devolved into a verbal relay of I know you are, but what am I? Each of them claim that now it's up to the other side to compromise—something they haven't pulled off in the many years since the federal law was adopted in 2005 and it was clear that our state's ID policies didn't meet it. I offer this a reminder: By definition, elected officials are all expected to compromise. So I'll say what I'm sure many New Mexicans are thinking: Stop stating the obvious and do your job.

Real ID compliance and immigrants having driver's licenses are not mutually exclusive outcomes. It is baffling to me why our officials seem so determined to make nothin' somethin' to score political points. Figure it out. Governance should be for the greater good for all the people in this state. Surely there are plenty of other problems that need our officials' attention (child poverty and hunger, homelessness, schools that are in trouble, a recent spate of high-level political corruption and on and on …).

Here's the Thing: The rhetoric and rancor of the past several years over undocumented immigrants having access to New Mexico state driver's licenses is a clear case of starting nothin' for nothin', for personal political gain. If we must call it something, let's call it ridiculous. The decision by the feds to extend the deadline for Real ID enforcement points to the fact that they are finally willing to confront the problems that strict enforcement of the original deadline would have created. Though it's still uncertain at federal facilities and national labs (read more about this in Thomas Ragan's news story on page 11), the latest move from Homeland Security gives our officials time to find the political will to once and for all address this particular administrative and logistical challenge. Several solutions already exist, they need only be implemented with cooperation.

Andrea L Mays is an American Studies scholar and a Santa Fean. Her twice-monthly column addresses 20th-century and contemporary culture and politics through the everyday experiences of living in Santa Fe. Write the author: andrea@sfreporter.com

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