Are nine decades of irrelevancy enough?

It’s a question the Land of Enchantment’s Republican politicos should ask themselves as 2020 approaches. In 11 months, all 112 seats in New Mexico’s legislature will be up for grabs — 42 in the Senate and 70 in the House of Representatives.

To say that the GOP has had a bad run of late at the Roundhouse would be charitable. The party’s initial electoral success after statehood in 1912 didn’t last. With the coming of the Great Depression and the cobbling-together of FDR’s powerful political coalition, Republicans lost their dominance of both chambers.

Ever since, with few exceptions — House/Senate control sporadically, a few “coalition” majorities with Democrats — the party, as a lawmaking force, has been a nothingburger. The causes of Republican impotency in the ’40s or ’70s are interesting to history buffs. But as one gets closer to the present day, a phrase comes to mind when pondering the shambles that is the NM GOP: You can’t beat something with nothing. The party’s apparatchiks and elected officials have not offered a clear, cogent critique of public policy in New Mexico. Because they essentially accept the premises upon which what passes for governance is founded in the state, they are unable to craft — much less effectively articulate — appealing alternatives.

So consider the following thought experiment. Call it the strategy of “three Cs” for the GOP: corruption, choice and capitalism. It may not guarantee success in 11 months. But anything is better than the flaccid “message” the party’s offered lately.

Greed, secrecy, nepotism — New Mexico can compete with the worst of them, from Louisiana to Massachusetts. In one maddening way, corruption is state law. The process by which revenue from severance-tax bonding is disbursed to legislators for reelection-enhancing “infrastructure” projects should sicken MAGA maniacs and Bernie bros alike.

The dean of the College of Urban Planning and Public Affairs at the University of Illinois at Chicago called it “the illustration about how not to do capital improvement planning.” Nearly as bad is the practice of local-government entities hiring lobbyists to “represent” them during legislative sessions. (State agencies are also significant combatants in Santa Fe’s influence thunderdome.)

And let’s not forget the inherent conflict of interest when a public-payroll employee (or pensioner) serves in elective office. Government in New Mexico is operated for the benefit of the folks who “earn” extravagant pay and perks in stable sinecures, not the advancement of the general welfare. Why hasn’t the GOP been able to target the state’s “swamp”?

Ah, right — Republicans benefit from that arrangement, too. Exhibit A: Brad Winter, a retired educrat who spent 22 years in Albuquerque’s school district as well as two decades as a councilor in the Duke City. A few years ago, he was appointed — by a Republican governor — to the vacant position of secretary of state. In 2016, Winter harvested more than $209,105 from his three sources of government income.

New Mexico has among the worst educational outcomes in the country, but the state’s GOP is AWOL on school choice. While it may not enthusiastically endorse big tax hikes “for the children,” it’s basically content to follow the bipartisan pattern of caving to the demands of teacher unions. (Earlier this year, a majority of the GOP’s House caucus voted to create the doomed-to-fail Early Childhood Education and Care Department.)

School choice is winning victory after victory, from coast to coast. It’s popular, and it works. Can someone please explain that to New Mexico’s Republicans?

The final “C,” capitalism, would be nothing less than a repudiation of the local, state and federal subsidies that are mislabeled “economic development” — a policy architecture that hasn’t moved the needle on New Mexico job- and wealth-creation. That means no more begging Washington for everything from plutonium-pit work to national-park designations. No more industrial revenue bonds. An end to special tax carve-outs for favored industries. The scrapping of “Spaceport America.” And no more giveaways to Hollywood.

Oh, drat. Here again, the GOP has a problem.

During the last legislative session, half of its state senators voted to more than double taxpayers’ annual freebies to Tinseltown. Despite the overwhelming evidence indicating that welfare for entertainment productions is an economic-development debacle, eight Republican legislators let hope triumph over hard-earned experience. Movie moguls and television tycoons were deeply grateful.

Boldness, vision, and principles? Okay, that’s probably asking far too much from New Mexico’s Republican pooh-bahs. But acting as an echo chamber certainly hasn’t worked.

For novelty alone, aren’t the three C’s worth a shot?

D. Dowd Muska is a New Mexico-based researcher and writer. He wrote this for InsideSources.com.

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(2) comments

Patrick Brenner

Dowd doesn't even bother to vote. I am highly skeptical of whether his opinion on this carries any merit.

Khal Spencer

I wish someone in the NM GOP was listening to Dowd. I've long tired of the lack of political breadth one endures living in one party states (NM and HI)

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