Election system favors political extremes, discourages moderates

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By Sherry Robinson

If you’re a political moderate and feel your choices in the coming election are pretty darn limited, a lot of people feel your pain.

The recent primaries bestowed victories on women. (Hurray!) They also blessed progressives and conservatives and left moderates in the dust.

In the much-watched Congressional District 1 race, progressive Deb Haaland trounced Damon Martinez, a moderate and former U. S. Attorney.

For State Land Commissioner, Stephanie Garcia Richard, another progressive, surged ahead of her opponents. George Muñoz, a businessman and moderate Democrat from Gallup, ran third, but the good news is he’ll still be in the state Senate.

In Northern New Mexico, Rep. Debbie Rodella, a moderate who served 25 years, lost to a progressive newcomer, Susan Herrera. Rodella, chair of the Business and Industry Committee, had campaign money; Herrera had volunteers and shoe leather.

On the Public Regulation Commission, moderate Dem Sandy Jones lost to progressive Steve Fischmann, a former Las Cruces legislator. And Lynda Lovejoy lost to Theresa Becenti-Aguilar, who previously held the seat. These two races were affected in part by a backlash against an industry super PAC donations to both.

One caveat: None of these elections was black and white. In Rodella’s case, voters were ready for a change. Lovejoy’s loss may have more to do with Navajo Nation politics. But overall, it wasn’t a good outcome for moderates.

A newspaper reader commented: “When the majority of the country is in the middle, and elections are supposed to be about giving people a choice, those of us in the middle have fewer and fewer choices. Our America has been hijacked and stolen by the extremes of the party elites dictating what candidates we can vote for.”

Cue Bob Perls and his New Mexico Open Primaries (nmopenprimaries.org).

Perls, a former legislator, writes: “Americans are deeply frustrated with partisan politics, gridlock and lack of cooperation to solve problems. Forty-two percent of Americans are independents. Why? Because they have come to believe that the two major parties no longer can govern effectively.” Party regulars, generally on the far right and left, choose the primary winners who run in general elections, and those candidates float in a reservoir of special interest money. Closed primaries are at the heart “of our polarized, dysfunctional political system.”

The solution, he says, is an open primary that allows everyone to vote regardless of party. Currently, you can only vote in a primary if you’re a registered member of one of the three major political parties. That disenfranchises 283,481 unaffiliated voters.

Last week, Perls gained support from Secretary of State Maggie Toulouse Oliver, a Democrat, who wrote, “It’s difficult to say that we have a fair and equal voting process when a large segment of the voting population isn’t allowed to have a say in who the general election candidates will be.”

She advocates an open primary in New Mexico as a way to force candidates to listen to all voters, not just party diehards.

Another development is the growth of centrist groups, such as No Labels (nolabels.org), the Bipartisan Policy Center, and The New Center. They decry the endless partisan carping and try to bring Rs and Ds together to address national problems.

No Labels raised its flag here for the first time. Backed by a bipartisan group of billionaires, No Labels spends money to help elect moderates and defeat obstructionists. Its PAC, Forward Not Back, ran ads for Damon Martinez, prompting complaints from Deb Haaland’s campaign and the Republican Party chair about outside money, even though they’re all raking in outside donations.

In this primary, voters didn’t lack choices. In some races we had too many good candidates. The big question, given the lopsided process in place, is which candidate will represent everybody?