Hooray, We’re Not Wisconsin

On the same day as the New Mexico primary, Wisconsin voters voted not to recall their governor.

Pundits have been busy analyzing the tea leaves about that election.  I’m considering the meaning for New Mexico.  I think simply:  thank goodness we can’t do that here.  The New Mexico state constitution does not allow for recall of a governor.

It is sometimes discussed among us policy wonks whether New Mexico should have “recall and initiative” like some other states.  Recall is the opportunity to kick an elected official out of office by popular vote; initiative is the ability for citizens to put a proposal on the ballot directly, without going through the legislature.

We have merely to look at other states to sigh with relief that, for all our shortcomings, we don’t have those headaches.

It has been suggested that the attempt to recall Wisconsin Governor Scott Walker was a badly conceived idea, because recall should be reserved for malfeasance or criminal behavior, and this was a case of policy differences.  Some Wisconsinites who don’t like the governor reportedly voted in his favor for this reason.  Less publicized, since 2011 Wisconsin has also had recall attempts on 10 state senators and the lieutenant governor.

In New Mexico, we can get rid of a sitting governor or other state-level official only by impeachment, which is done by the legislature.

You may wish it was otherwise when you think of politicians you especially dislike, and occasionally so do I; but on the whole, the fact that we can’t do it has probably kept New Mexico from wasting its energy in numerous nasty political fights.

Our constitution allows recall of county officials and school board members.  That’s enough.

California, on the other hand, has had (according to Wikipedia) 118 attempts to recall governors, including the successful recall of Gov. Gray Davis in 2003.

California is also the poster child for initiatives, constitutional amendments passed by direct action of citizens.  Poor California is increasingly crippled by the disparity between the cost of government and the near impossibility of raising taxes, created by the famous Proposition 13 of 1978, which severely restricted the state’s ability to raise taxes.

Initiatives don’t have to fit into a workable system.  If the initiative passes, the system itself has to adapt, and in California, that doesn’t seem to be happening.  In New Mexico, our closest equivalent is proposed constitutional amendments, which, before going to the voters, must first pass the legislature – the same body responsible for producing a balanced budget every year.

In today’s era of big money politics, initiatives no longer are grass-roots activities.  They have been taken over by special interest groups and political professionals.  Last week in California, an initiative proposing a new tax on tobacco products was defeated after opponents, reportedly funded largely by tobacco companies, spent a reported $47 million. And note:  it was called Proposition 29.  I haven’t read how much was spent on the 28 propositions that preceded it on California ballots – or how many more there were. How educated were the voters on all of them?

New Mexico has a provision (in Article IV, Section 1) allowing the citizens to annul a law passed by the immediately preceding legislature.  The provision is extremely clunky, which in today’s political climate is OK with me.  In fact, the whole clunkiness of our legislative process is something of a relief.

But that means that if we want to get something done, we have to elect legislators who will help us do it.  We give them enormous power.  While presidential and congressional candidates are battling it out on your TV, this is a reminder to focus your attention on your local low-profile legislative races and candidates during this election season.   Buy a candidate a lemonade and have a chat.

            Contact Merilee Dannemann through www.triplespacedagain.com.

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