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Power to the People

In a clear demonstration that the Republican Party is now a party of and for the people, Freshman Representative Greg Payne (R) has gone ahead and introduced HJR7, Law and amendment Initiative Process:

Section 1. It is proposed to amend Article 4 of the constitution of New Mexico by adding a new section to read:

“A. The people reserve the power of initiative to amend the constitution and laws of New Mexico.

B. The initiative is the power of the people to propose statutes and amendments to the constitution of New Mexico and to adopt or reject them. A constitutional amendment proposed by initiative requires a petition signed by a number of qualified voters equaling not less than eight percent of the votes cast for all candidates for governor at the last gubernatorial election, and a statute proposed by initiative requires a petition signed by a number of qualified voters equaling not less than five percent of the votes cast for all candidates for governor at the last gubernatorial election.”

Considering the initative history outlined by IRI, it is appropriate that this resolution to join all of the other Western states and make us the twenty-fifth state with an initiative process was introduced by a Republican:

In 1910 statehood was just around the corner, and New Mexico voters elected delegates to a convention that drew up a constitution for the proposed new state.

Of the 100 delegates, initiative and referendum supporters included 23 Democrats, 19 Democrat-Populist “Fusionists,” and at least a dozen independent Republicans: a majority of at least 54 percent. The Albuquerque Journal noted, however, that “every one of the candidates whom the Journal attacked as bosses, railroad attorneys, and corporation lawyers have [sic] been elected to the Constitutional Convention.”

The Republican Party, which dominated the convention with 58 delegates, set up procedures so that its leaders – the anti-I&R; “Old Guard” – ran the meeting. The independent Republicans were enticed to drop their push for I&R; by a promise of support for their pet proposal, a constitutional provision mandating popular election of state supreme court justices and corporation commissioners. Once this was done, the Democrats and Fusionists knew that the Republican leaders could prevent I&R; from even coming up for a vote. Rather than lose on both initiative and referendum, the Democrats and Fusionists decided to drop initiative and push for a referendum provision alone.

Well, times have long since changed, and the power now sits with the Democrats. Lord Acton said, “Power corrupts, and absolute power corrupts absolutely,” and it would seem that the Santa Fe New Mexican’s blogging reporter Steve Terrell believes this to be true of our legislators:

After all, for [Payne’s] idea to become a reality, it’ll have to go through the Legislature, which is made up of a lot of people who have invested a lot of time and money to amass what power they have. Many, probably most, aren’t inclined to give up that power. In effect, Payne’s asking the foxes to voluntarily give up their guard post at the hen house.

This is one resolution that you’re going to want to watch very closely for a number of reasons. First, it will be interesting to see whether or not New Mexico’s progressive blogging community here and here mobilizes to support the resolution. There is nothing is more progressive than an initiative process.

Next, observing whether or not our legislative leadership kills the resolution in committee will say a great deal about how addicted to power they’ve become. The bill is currently referred to the House Rules and Order of Business Committee chaired by Representative Nick Salazar (D) and the Vice-Chair is the powerful House Majority Leader, Representative Ken Martinez. The committee convenes at the discretion of the Chairman.

Also worth noting will be the attention, or lack there of, given by the mainstream media and their editorial boards to this issue. This legislation has an unparalleled opportunity to change politics in New Mexico. Our elected officials would no longer be able to suppress democracy and subvert the will of the people through legislative maneuvering.

Lastly, if it does make it to a floor vote, you’ll want to pay close attention to our citizen legislators and their rationale for voting against it. Many will provide a Madisonian fear as their foundation for rejecting an initiative resolution. But make no mistake, a “nay” vote is the same as loudly proclaiming “I have no faith in my fellow New Mexicans. The Power is mine, and I’m not about to share it.”