Let’s face it, this is a tough time for democracy reformers in Washington. We relish our role as watchdogs on the new administration, and Team Trump certainly is giving us plenty to bark about. But we understand that because the White House and the congressional leadership are hostile to most of our agenda it’s difficult to get things done.
So I was particularly pleased last week to get away from the national capital for a few days to meet Common Cause activists – and some new recruits – in Arizona and New Mexico.
I made some new friends – thanks to hosts Olena Lacy and Peggy and Jared Klein in Scottsdale and Steve Lipscomb and Miranda Viscoli in Santa Fe. And I came away cheered by the enthusiasm of our grassroots activists and their success in moving reform in their states.
The partisan divisions so evident in Washington can be found in the states, but the gaps between Democrats and Republicans aren’t so unbridgeable. People on both sides of the aisle still want to get things done.
In mostly “red” Arizona and mostly “blue” New Mexico, Common Cause Vice President Paul Seamus Ryan and I found bipartisan support for the National Popular Vote Compact, which would guarantee that the winner of the national popular vote for president also wins the presidency. NPV has passed one house of the legislature in each state and its support is growing, fueled by the knowledge that two of our last three presidents were elected by a minority of the voters.
We also found plenty of concern about partisan gerrymandering among Republicans in Arizona, where it helps their party, and among Democrats in New Mexico, where it works for them. Both sides understand it’s fundamentally wrong.
We know we can win reform battles in the states because we’re doing it. Common Cause New Mexico Executive Director Viki Harrison and her crew got nine of their 11 priority bills through at least one house of the state legislature this winter.
Our biggest wins – passed in both chambers - were a state constitutional amendment creating an independent ethics commission (it passed the House UNANIMOUSLY and the Senate 30-9) and a resolution rescinding three earlier votes in support of a national constitutional convention under Article V of the U.S. Constitution.
Pushed nationally by ALEC and other far-right groups, the Article V convention is the most important threat to our democracy most Americans have never heard of. We’re pleased we could alert New Mexico lawmakers that the lack of rules and precedents governing a convention could turn it into a runaway train and a threat to fundamental rights. The way to change the Constitution is through passage of an amendment in Congress, after a full debate, and then ratification by three-fourths of our states.
I returned to Washington rejuvenated and full of good ideas from the folks we met about how to spread their success across the country. We’ve all got plenty of work to do.
Issues: More Democracy Reforms