No Speech for You!

seinfeld_soupnaziWith each passing day, life inside the confines of the Albuquerque Journal must be getting weirder and weirder.  In addition to having little in the way of a firewall between their political agenda and their news reporting (and in some cases openly flaunting this journalistic taboo), the Albuquerque Journal has now anointed itself the sole arbiter of what a person or organization can say.

Really.

The Albuquerque Journal has transformed itself into the Speech Nazi.  If you’re going to say something publicly, you better not step out of line.

Say something that comports with the Journal’s political agenda and you’re engaging in free speech.  Say something the Journal disagrees with and you might be “straying” into the yet-to-be defined “political arena.”

In today’s lead editorial, the Albuquerque Journal dug up the past and again displayed their unwillingness, or their inability, or both, to comprehend First Amendment law.  It’s truly puzzling, especially from a newspaper that purports to vigorously defend the First Amendment.

The lead…

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More thoughts on Charter Task Force

Sitting through a two-hour meeting is not usually my idea of fun. But I have to say that attending the highly-charged City Charter Revision Task Force meeting on April 23 was pretty fascinating.

Charter Task Force meetings are usually sparsely attended, but this one was packed. In the audience were representatives of at least a dozen non-profit organizations who showed up to speak in opposition to a proposed amendment that would severely affect their public education and advocacy work by forcing them to register as measure finance committees – the city’s equivalent of political committees.

The move at the city level was similar to a failed effort during the recent state legislative session that sought to force nonprofits to register as political committees.

Both city and state measures are widely considered to be retaliation against several nonprofits, including the Center for Civic Policy, for communications sent out last year to educate the public about the voting records of elected officials.  Some of the elected officials later lost their reelection bids.

So much was said, starting with the long line of advocates who spoke passionately about how the proposed amendment would negatively affect their organization’s mission and bottom line, not to mention limit their own free speech.

Then came a report from the city attorneys, who said the amendment was redundant and unnecessary.

Finally, the charter task force members got to speak.  Developer Chuck Gara said he spearheaded the amendment in the name of election transparency, not as an attack on non-profits.

A visibly frustrated Gara said he had called on the city attorneys several times to write an amendment that would allow him to keep “a couple of bad apples” from ruining “the whole bushel.” At the same time, Gara said, he had no desire to censor nonprofits or hamper their missions.

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City Charter Task Force: What the Journal Won’t Tell You

coaI had the honor of serving on Albuquerque’s City Charter Revision Task Force, along with 13 other dedicated individuals. Our group ranged across the political spectrum with diverse interests and was most professionally chaired by former State District Court Judge Wendy York.

Based on the Albuquerque Journal’s story and editorial this week, you’d think all we did over the past eight months, consisting of 17 full Task Force meetings and numerous subcommittee meetings, was argue over the issue of nonprofits – the topic with which the Journal is so clearly obsessed.

Amazingly, the Journal failed to mention – in both its news story and its editorial – that the Task Force actually killed the proposed nonprofit amendment to the City Charter sponsored by Chuck Gara for lack of support and because of gaping holes in its application and constitutionality.

That’s right. Gara’s amendment was withdrawn. Only after the amendment’s withdrawal did the Task Force cast a symbolic vote to request the City Council look at the nonprofit issue, just as the Council will consider the tens, if not hundreds of governance issues, when it takes up the Charter next month.  But if the Journal is your only news source, you could hardly be blamed for believing that the Task Force’s sole accomplishment over these past eight months was sending this nonprofit issue up to the Council for “action” — even though the amendment was killed.

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A Transforming Force — Enlace Communtario

Maria Eugenia Leon -- a promotora at Enlace Comunitario

Maria Eugenia Leon -- a promotora at Enlace Comunitario

Successful social programs don’t always take a whole lot of money.

Sometimes they just take a bit of thought and a whole lot of heart.

Consider the promotora program at Enlace Comunitario, an Albuquerque-based nonprofit that provides services and counseling to those in the city’s Spanish-speaking immigrant community who are victims of domestic violence.

The promotora (literally, promoter) concept has its roots in the culture of Central and South America, where trusted members of communities are trained to work as health paraprofessionals among their own people, identifying health programs and guiding people toward healthier lifestyles.

Increasingly, governments and agencies in the United States are using the promotora model of health education as a lower-cost, culturally-sensitive way to improve health and overall quality of life in migrant communities all across the country.

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Week in Rewind: More on TIDDs, Monahan’s ego, Animal Spirits, Blockgate, NM’s New Media, Bogus Polls and Val Kilmer too

Just now recovered from the legislative session. Here’s a buffet of the past week’s posts to re-taste and savor.

Downfall of the SunCal TIDD revisited: It came down to the wee hours of the session — David vs. Goliath and you know how that one came out.  Read all about it.

Environment Wins in Final Hours of NM Legislative Session

What about the other TIDD bills?

We still don’t know how much SunCal spent on all those TV spots, slick mailers and its army of high-priced lobbyists.  It was curious how, with each successive SunCal ad, the estimated number of jobs the development promised to produce would coincidentally keep going up and up and up — inversely tracking with the economy that was going down and down. But 33 House members didn’t go for the $408 million taxpayer handout.   At the end of the day, maybe all those lobbyists  just didn’t take Nick Naylor’s advice to “argue correctly.”  (From the movie, Thank You for Smoking).

Veteran Roundhouse reporter, Jay Miller (Inside the Capitol) offered his authoritative postmortem on the legislative session – including a harsh verdict on who was to blame for the demise of some ethics reform measures:

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Senator Michael Sanchez: Manipulations, Maneuvers and Manny

While nothing surprises me much at the Roundhouse these days, Senator Michael Sanchez pulled a major shocker out of his hat yesterday afternoon on the Senate Floor.

With Lt. Governor Diane Denish out of the chair and Senator Tim Jennings presiding, Senator Sanchez moved Senate Bill 652 for discussion, literally leap-frogging it ahead of hundreds of other bills onto yesterday’s Senate calendar for immediate action. Even Jennings, a stalwart ally of Sanchez’s, was momentarily stunned, saying something to the effect of, “I don’t believe we go that high, Senator.”

So what was SB 652? It’s Senator Bill Payne’s bill to allow candidates to sue nonprofits and others who they feel are illegally intervening in their reelection campaigns. In other words, the Politician Protection Act — Round 2.

The Senate passed the measure 29-10, with Senator Sanchez voting against the bill, but only after orchestrating its hearing and passage.

Blasting bills from the bottom of the list to the top is certainly not unprecedented but definitely unusual. And who has the authority to manipulate the process like this? Senator Michael Sanchez. These procedural maneuvers are reminiscent of the master of maneuvers, Senator Manny Aragon.

Another fine example of the hidden hand of Senator Sanchez at work.

Tightening the Noose on Nonprofits: The Hidden Hand of Leadership

martinez1Representative Ken Martinez (D-Grants) was oddly absent in House Voters and Elections Committee Tuesday morning when it gave a “Do Pass” nod to a committee substitute for HB808, one of the bills designed to impose new burdens on local non-profit organizations that engage in public education work on legislative issues.

Although formally sponsored by Rep. Paul Bandy (R-Aztec), that seems to be a front, according to the testimony of Bandy’s expert witness, Phil Baca of the Attorney General’s office.  “I drafted this bill for Rep. Martinez,” Baca told the committee.

Martinez, along with Senate Majority Leader Michael Sanchez, has been leading the effort to rein in the free speech rights of non-profits in New Mexico.  Martinez and Sanchez are co-sponsors of another bill, HB891, the aptly tagged “politician protection act.”

But the new version of HB808 appears to be the real focus of the action now.  The bill does an end run around the election code by instead amending the state tax code, thereby going directly after the tax exempt status of any non-profit organization that merely mentions the name of a “clearly identifiable candidate” (i.e. any member of the legislator or a statewide elected official) during a window starting 90 days prior to an election.

That effectively means that for three-fourths (eight months) of an election year, nonprofits would be guilty of a violation by uttering an elected official’s name for any reason in a printed or electronic communication – whether to praise, criticize, thank or even discuss an issue.

So if the bill passes, nonprofit advocacy group that try to generate phone calls to legislators would be in trouble.  The provisions of the bill don’t apply to corporations, like SunCal, however.

By ducking the vote, Martinez appears to be borrowing a page from Senator Sanchez’s book.  Sanchez is renowned for conveniently absenting himself from Senate Rules Committee at key moments of decision on ethics legislation.

The Sanchez-Martinez’s bill, HB891, is scheduled to be heard this afternoon in the Consumer and Public Affairs Committee. Let’s see if Ken shows up.

It’s all in a day’s work for the hidden hand of leadership.

For more on this story:

NM Independent