Civil engagement, not attacks
Devoted readers of Sherry Robinson’s columns on New Mexico business, politics and public policy have come to expect razor sharp insights and well-grounded perspectives.
Regrettably, these powers of discernment mysteriously deserted her in a recent column, “Stemming the tide of muck,” in which she mischaracterized the civic engagement work of our two non-profit organizations, the Center for Civic Policy (CCP) and the Southwest Organizing Project (SWOP).
In that column, Robinson took issue with mailers produced by our organizations over the past four years. These are mailers that have carefully documented and discussed how legislators voted on tax, budget and health care issues of importance to average working families and small businesses – issues on which our organizations have long track records of advocacy.
But her column wrongly described these mailers as “unfair attacks” on “elected officials.” The only specific example described was a mailer that addressed state Sen. Phil Griego’s voting record on a particular bill – Senate Bill 9, the Corporate Fair Tax Act — as well as his consistent opposition to related bills in prior years.
Long championed by Sen. Peter Wirth of Santa Fe, this tax reform approach has the aim of closing the loophole that has been allowing large, out-of-state corporations, like Walmart and Wells Fargo Bank, to avoid reporting profits earned by their affiliates to the state of New Mexico and thereby not pay any state income tax. This siphons needed revenue and puts our fully taxed local small businesses at a distinctly unfair competitive disadvantage – even to the point of driving many out of business. No other western state, even those with purportedly superior reputations for being more business friendly than New Mexico, permits this practice.
That’s why the mailer to Griego’s constituents urged them to call him and request that he support the next bill when it is reintroduced next year.
Oddly enough, Robinson went on to write that, “In the purest sense, I can understand allowing nonprofits to alert members or the public about an issue they think is important, to say, please call your legislator and support this bill or oppose that one.”
That, of course, is precisely what we were doing. Indeed, we would be derelict in our organizational missions if we did not perform this service.
We would submit, however, that her lumping together this legitimate civic engagement work of our organizations with the campaign activities of the new breed of Super PACs, which the Supreme Court’s recent Citizens United decision unleashed, is an unfair and inaccurate characterization on her part.
This is ironic inasmuch as during the last session our organizations lobbied on behalf of the successful memorials that put the N.M. Legislature on record calling for a constitutional amendment to overturn Citizens United.
A word about this work we call civic engagement.
Both of our organizations have long track records of working to involve underrepresented communities in New Mexico with their democracy. Workaday New Mexicans don’t have well-heeled lobbyists looking out for their interests. They don’t account for the bulk of the campaign contributions. Yet they are heavily impacted by state tax policy and budget priorities.
Connecting them with the decision-making process that sets those priorities and affording them real opportunities to participate in it is what civic engagement is all about.
For example, on the Corporate Fair Tax Act, CCP and SWOP worked tirelessly to engage constituents of legislators on key committees that historically have been obstacles to reform. Thousands signed petitions and hundreds contacted their legislators about the issue. Public opinion polls reflected this growing sentiment for reform with over 70 percent of New Mexicans in favor of closing the loophole.
And this year, we finally passed a bill.
Unfortunately, Gov. Martinez sided with Wall Street, not Main Street New Mexico, and vetoed it shortly after the legislative session.
So we will be back next year. The work of civic engagement must continue so that Main Street will have a voice in the corridors of power when it matters most.
(Stephanie Maez-Gibson is chief executive officer for the Center for Civic Policy and Tomas Garduno is executive director for the SouthWest Organizing Project.)