New Mexico Congress member Deb Haaland has been nominated to serve as US Secretary of Interior. Lots of New Mexicans are happy about this. I’m not.
My concern is not with Haaland. I wish her all the best. I especially wish the best for the vast lands and natural resources managed by the Department of Interior: for the national parks, public lands managed by the Bureau of Land Management, fish and wildlife and the 578 tribes affected by the Bureau of Indian Affairs.
My concern is about the vacancy she will leave in New Mexico’s First Congressional District. Assuming she is confirmed by the Senate, we will have an election to fill her seat in Congress.
Partisan emotions are running dangerously high. The last thing New Mexico needs is a special election.
If Gov. Michelle Lujan Grisham had received a cabinet appointment, a different law would have applied. The lieutenant governor would simply take over for the rest of the term. A further order of succession is spelled out in the state Constitution.
If Tom Udall had been appointed, as had been speculated, no election would have been needed. Udall has (perhaps much to his relief) already retired from the Senate.
The special election will happen only if Haaland is confirmed by the Senate for her Cabinet position. From the date she resigns her seat in Congress to the date the election results are certified — two to three months — New Mexico CD1 will not have representation in the US House.
The nominees to replace Haaland in Congress will not be chosen in a primary but rather by the central committees of the major parties. That’s a lot of power to give a small number of people. I’m steeling myself in case I’m disappointed with who is chosen.
But I’m relieved there won’t be a primary. Right now, when the whole country is facing multiple crises, we don’t need a public process in which members of the same party take pot shots at each other.
The special election could potentially be bad enough.
In November, our most hotly contested race was Congressional District 2. That race battered us with $30 million of contentious advertising, most of which was spent not by the candidates but by third-party organizations, some anonymous and mysterious, not from New Mexico and not caring in the slightest what kind of wreckage they left behind. The advertising barrage drove me into the arms of Netflix.
Then we saw Georgia. In the Senate runoff election (New Mexico does not have those), more than $500 million was spent. Day after day, I was quietly grateful that I don’t live in Georgia.
Elections are very big business. Somebody is making huge profits by keeping voters as riled up at the opposing party as possible. Political operatives are getting very rich by destroying our democracy.
That underlying profit motive is a piece of the explanation for what we saw in the treasonous assault on the US Capitol on January 6. The same kind of rhetoric that made some people angry enough to commit sedition is the language that is used to keep voters angry and donating.
New Mexico CD1 is just one seat in Congress, but it will be a special election at a moment when the Democratic majority has been narrowed and that seat could make a difference. There will be lots of pressure and lots of money. And lots of clever language meant to make you hate your fellow Americans.
I want to keep reminding myself that political profiteers are trying to brainwash me. I want to remember to shout “Don’t do that!” back at my TV. I invite you to do the same.
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