FRIED LIGHT: A failed state in the making

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By Roger Snodgrass

New Mexicans must raise their voices about the quality of government they are getting at the state level. It may well be too late for anything but an all-out repudiation or a new constitutional convention. Very low-grade government like a vicious disease left untreated has taken such deep roots that ordinary therapy may be impossible.

The legislature is citizen averse.  They may woo the voters from time to time, but when it comes to making decisions, they act like we’re contagious.

Every question that has to do with ethics, citizen participation and open government is delayed, refrigerated or ignored.

This is not so much a party matter. The Democrats have been in power for the most part. They are ideologically favorably disposed to public participation, but apparently greater hypocrites on the matter. Republicans have been enablers and accomplices and have found cover under the prevailing incompetence. They’re usually not that big on the little guy either.

I have been attending the annual rites in Santa Fe for more than twenty-five years, as a citizen-observer, an activist-advocate and as a reporter, and I must say we are reaching new lows.

Often, while covering a committee hearing I feel like the protagonist in Stendhal’s classic French novel, “The Red and the Black,” who wrote about a political meeting, “The following is a quite colorless extract, for I have been obliged, as usual to oppress the absurdities, the frequency of which would have appeared tedious or highly improbable.”

After barricading themselves into an inaccessible building with a severe parking shortage from day one for everybody but themselves, the legislators seem oblivious each year while even those spaces are lost to the creeping privileges of the bureaucrats. A limited shuttle service turns the citizen into a stranded pumpkin at 7 p.m. Citizen abuse.

Meetings don’t start on time and there is no attempt to organize hearings so that one can simply hear an item of business of interest and move on. Only paid and paying lobbyists seem to know what is happening. After years of effort, conference committees where the last minute deals and erasures occur are unconscionably closed. Citizen contempt.

Not that the public meetings are pretty or satisfying.

I have been attending one particular committee faithfully for seven or eight years in which the chairman, in the words of a 19th century congressman, is one of those people who “never open their mouths without subtracting from the sum of human knowledge.”

One arrives at a meeting room in advance only to find the tiny space already filled for a meeting that won’t start for another hour or two. When the meeting begins at last, the item one hoped to hear has been postponed or cancelled without notice. Supporting materials provided to legislators are rarely available to the public. Citizen irrelevance.

Orlando Romero of the Pojoaque Valley, a long time acquaintance and colleague with whom I am often in agreement began a recent column, “Why do we have such a rampant case of politics as usual in this state?”

He went on, “The truth is that if New Mexico had a strong ethics law and if New Mexico had a system for distributing tax dollars equitably rather than through lobbyists buying their way to the Roundhouse for its pork, we wouldn’t be ranked among the Top-5 most corrupt states in the Union.”

While our state politicians are getting hauled to the slammer in bunches, petty family dynasties still flourish in plain view. As long as legislators are the enemies of ethics reform, we must object more forcefully or this state is going down.