Candidates at the door

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By Merilee Dannemann

It must be spring – spring in an election year.  The first candidate of the season has beat the hummingbirds to my front doorstep. She is walking my neighborhood, petition and voter registration list in hand, asking for a signature.
She’s running for the Legislature. What’s her top priority, I ask. Changing the tax law that reduces income tax for rich people – the one enacted when Richardson was governor.  
Here’s the problem, I say. Before this tax rate change, New Mexico had the highest income tax in the region for the wealthy. Rich people can choose where they live, and will choose states where the tax rates are favorable. States compete for them.
Long ago, I thought New Mexico was so enchanting that our tax rates wouldn’t matter, but I grew up.      
Rich people are good for the state. They bring not just wealth, but business opportunities, jobs, and support for the arts. The top prize, where New Mexico loses every time, is where companies choose to locate corporate headquarters. That’s where the big philanthropy is.
The ostensible purpose of the change in tax rates was to encourage rich people to move here. Did it work? I have previously discussed this with a seasoned legislator, who told me there isn’t any data on this question.
What we need, I tell this candidate, is the right data. When we don’t have it, we’re flying blind, which our Legislature does a great deal of. I invite her to come in and sit down. I tell her about issues that concern me, my usual themes:  regulations, small business, state agency structure, workers’ compensation, and the fact that state agencies get plenty of data, but often it’s not what policy makers need.
She does not know this detailed analytical stuff. We spend half an hour. She is gulping information. We thank each other.    
Surfing through political web sites, I read about another legislative candidate who trumpets that he is in favor of education. Oh, good. Is anybody against education? Or economic development, another favorite?  From a potential first-year legislator, this statement doesn’t mean much.   
Some new ideas are really new, but more often they are old ideas that have already been tried and keep getting reinvented. There’s that lack of data again. Besides, if a rookie legislator wants to introduce a proposal on education that hasn’t already been tried or killed, the bill has very little chance to get past the first committee.
 On the big subjects, all a newbie can do is vote on bills written by the older hands who have both influence and experience.  
This year’s political season was held back by delays in redistricting. Now that district boundaries are settled and state conventions have been held, we know who are local candidates are.
 So now is the time to think about what you will say when candidates knock at your door. Now, while they are hungry for your vote, is your best chance to learn what they care about and educate them about issues that matter to you. And give them data.
An incumbent state senator has a party to kick off his re-election campaign. This senator sponsored a couple of bills that caught my attention in the 2012 session. We even exchanged a few e-mail messages.
I go to his party so I can chat with him just enough to remind him. He’s surprised that I actually came with an active interest in specific legislation. Most people don’t, he says.   
It’s a beautiful afternoon, other local candidates are basking in the glow, and everyone is enthusiastic. I’m so glad campaign season starts in the spring.    
Contact Merilee Dannemann through www.triplespacedagain.com.