Wednesday, December 24, 2008

ROUNDHOUSE ROUNDUP: INDEPENDENTS UNITE

A version of this was published in The Santa Fe New Mexican
December 25, 2008


Here’s a little Christmas gift from a New York City-based organization for the rapidly growing group of voters in New Mexico who declined to affiliate with either the Democratic or Republican Party.

The Committee for a Unified Independent Party has launched a national petition asking President-elect Barack Obama to initiate federal legislation “to create open primaries for election to federal office in all 50 states that guarantees full access for independent voters.”

New Mexico, according to CUIP, is one of only 17 states in which independents — or “declined-to-states” as we’re known here — are barred from voting in state primaries.


Notice, I used the first person in the previous paragraph. As I’ve disclosed before, I’m a proud DTS. I probably ought to make clear also that I’m not affiliated with CUIP or any other political organization.

I’ve beat this drum before. The fact that the state primaries are paid for by all taxpayers, yet only Democrats and Republicans are allowed to participate seems a clear case of taxation without representation.
Not everyone likes independent voters
I’m talking about the primaries that occur in June every even-numbered year and not about the February presidential caucuses that the state Democratic Party has run — and paid for — in the previous two presidential elections. That’s the party’s event, and they’ve got the right to include or exclude anyone they want.

But if they wanted to be really cool ...

The Democrats, thanks mainly to the appeal of Obama to new and infrequent voters, were able to register loads of new voters in New Mexico (and elsewhere) this year.

But independents made some great gains, too. Registered DTS voters in New Mexico rose from 164,986 four years ago to 184,846 by Oct. 31, according to the Secretary of State’s Office.

And here in Santa Fe County, DTS overtook the GOP. As of Oct. 31, there are 16,891 declined-to-states, compared with 16,590 Republicans in the county. The Dems still have everyone beat by far, with 61,603 registered voters in Santa Fe County. Other parties such as Greens and Libertarians have a combined total of 2,620 registered voters in the county.

The petition to Obama implies the owes the independents, pointing out that 33 states allowed independents to participate in primaries and caucuses:

“Independent voters were proud to be a vital element of your winning coalition during the presidential campaign of 2008. Your appeal to Americans — that the country must move beyond partisanship and toward a more participatory and open political culture — resonated strongly with independent voters, who have been voicing these concerns for many years. Your invitation to all Americans to reshape our country’s future — without regard to political affiliation — was a refreshing change for independents and Americans of every political persuasion.”

For the record, Obama lost the closed New Mexico Caucus to Hillary Clinton by a tiny margin. Perhaps independent voters could have won the state for him had they been allowed to participate.

But I still like my taxation-without-representation argument better. That’s an argument I believe would hold up in court.

I wouldn’t hold my breath waiting for Obama to get behind the legislation CUIP is calling for. And I really wouldn’t hold my breath waiting for the New Mexico Legislature, which remains firmly in the hands of the Democrats, to correct this injustice.

But it’s Christmas, so we can wish.

Still no feeding frenzy: In fact there’s been surprisingly little attention paid by the national media to the grand jury investigation of certain political contributions to Gov. Bill Richardson and how that might affect his confirmation as commerce secretary.

A grand jury in Albuquerque, meeting, as all grand juries do, behind closed doors, is hearing testimony about CDR, a Beverly Hills financial firm that won state contracts totaling almost $1.5 million. According to The Associated Press and other media organizations, the grand jury is looking at whether Richardson or his staff pressured the state Finance Authority to award the contracts to CDR.

But there have been a couple of major news organizations to run stories about the grand jury in recent days. The New York Times on Thursday did a story that laid down the basic facts, including the standard comment from the Governor’s Office — the administration is cooperating with the investigation — and denial of wrongdoing from CDR.

On Tuesday, NBC Nightly News ran a two-minute-plus report that also had the basic elements of the story. It included footage of Richardson bolting from last week’s news conference and comments from Melanie Sloan, head of the Washington, D.C.-based Citizens for Responsibility and Ethics in Washington.

“There’s only a few months between the donations and the award of the contract, which is generally what your campaign finance lawyers and ethics lawyers will tell you to avoid,” Sloan said. She was referring to a $75,000 CDR contribution to a Richardson political action committee, which was made only three weeks or so after CDR won the contracts.

Plugs: I’m off next week, so there will be no Roundhouse Roundup next Thursday. But if you need a fix of my political insights, be sure to listen to a 2008 year-in-review panel discussion on KUNM, 89.9 FM. It airs at 11 a.m. Sunday.

On Dec. 31, I’ll be talking about the year in politics with Diane Kinderwater on her show Issues and Answers on Channel 11. The show will air at 4:30 p.m. and will repeat several times during that next week.

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