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Seated among other state legislators New Mexico Rep. Georgene Louis speaks at a forum at the Albuquerque Mennonite Church on Thursday. ActionNM held the forum for the legislators to discuss with the community political issues that would arise during the upcoming legislative session.
Seated among other state legislators New Mexico Rep. Georgene Louis speaks at a forum at the Albuquerque Mennonite Church on Thursday. ActionNM held the forum for the legislators to discuss with the community political issues that would arise during the upcoming legislative session.

ActionNM legislative forum draws big audience

About 75 chairs were set up for the event, which was held at Albuquerque Mennonite Church and featured a panel of state senators and representatives. Once the event got underway, about 115 people had come, and some of them had to stand.

Mandy Pino, who is on ActionNM’s Steering Committee, helped coordinate the event and said she was awed by the size and energy of the crowd.

“I was amazed. I’ve been in this room when we have 20 or 10 people, and I couldn’t believe it,” Pino said. “You could just feel it in that audience.”

ActionNM is a community action network coordinated in conjunction with the Albuquerque Center for Peace and Justice, UNM’s Peace Studies program and the Albuquerque community. Pino explained that the purpose of Thursday’s forum was to inform participants about issues of peace and justice that would arise during the upcoming 60-day legislative session.

Rick Meira, who served in the New Mexico House of Representatives from 1991 to 2014, moderated the panel and also said the turnout was unexpected.

“Tonight’s crowd was a pleasant surprise. I expected it was going to be a good group, but I didn’t expect it to be standing room only in a big auditorium,” Meira said. “I’m very pleased that they wanted to come, and I was also very impressed by their questions.”

The panel was made up of six state legislators, all of them Bernalillo County Democrats: Sen. Gerald Ortiz y Pino, Sen. Mimi Stewart, Rep. Sheryl Williams Stapleton, Rep. Christine Trujillo, Rep. Georgene Louis, and Rep. Javier Martinez.

Each spoke for about 10 minutes on bills they would be sponsoring, and the democratic values the bills reflect, as well as some bills they plan to fight against, Afterwards, there was a short question-and-answer session with the audience.

Steve Poland, who has lived in Albuquerque since the ’80s, said he attended the forum to further educate himself on issues important to him and to see how he can help.

“We’re very concerned with the apathy that a lot of state lawmakers show their voters,” Poland said. “We’re older voters, so we feel like we have some obligation to those who come after us. It’s very much an educational process.”

Poland said he worked in New Mexico schools for many years and believes that the education system could be doing much better. He said he doesn’t believe schools are getting the resources they need to properly prepare the state’s youth.

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“These are issues that really concern me,” he said. “I’m aware of the serious issues that New Mexico schools face, and I think it’s crucial, for our state to be successful, that we have a good education system.”

Attendees were given pledge cards on which they would be able to write their contact information to receive action alerts throughout the legislative session, which would inform them by email which legislators to contact that day, as well as how to do so.

They were also given information on how to find out who their legislators are, an obstacle that Ortiz y Pino says hinders many people from making their opinions known to state lawmakers.

“If people have an easy way to do something, they do it. If they have to look up a phone number, forget it,” she said.

Ortiz y Pino said it is essential that the single-issue groups in the community come together on issues of peace and justice and make an impact on the session by communicating with once voice to their state lawmakers.

He said that one thing they learned last year, when 83 people signed up for daily action alerts, is that a greater amount of participants yields a greater impact.

“If all of us speak with the same voice on the same issue, we’re amplifying that voice,” Ortiz y Pino said. “Issues of peace and justice are important to the whole populace. They really reflect what we feel in this country about democracy. With the advent of money and politics, (politicians) aren’t talking about taking care of people. They’re talking about money in their own purses. And so we’re really concerned about getting people a channel to express their voice.”

There were plenty of memorable quotes from each speaker from the forum’s panel which drew passionate responses from the audience. Here are some of them:

Rep. Javier Martinez

• “I believe when Democrats don’t stand up for democratic values, we lose.”

• “When (Gov. Susana Martinez) says that driver’s licenses are about public safety and that we need to get rid of them because of fraud and that it’s not about immigration — let me tell you, as a person of immigrant background, it is about immigration to my friends and my family and my colleagues. And her proposals are nothing more than an attack against New Mexico’s immigrant families and children.”

• “We have to figure out how to get access to healthcare to every single person in New Mexico. Why are we excluding immigrants? It makes no sense to me. California is about to do it. If California, the state that gave us Proposition 187 and Arnold Schwarzenegger, can do it, then we can do it.”

Rep. Georgene Louis

• “I think education is the core of our democratic values. If we are able to provide our children with a quality education, that is going to solve a lot of our problems.”

• “There’s a lot of access issues when we’re talking about access to quality healthcare, access to quality education, access to all of these preventative measures that can help the underserved. That’s one of my passions. I really want to level the playing field in our state.”

Sen. Gerald “Jerry” Ortiz y Pino

• “A lot of times when people say ‘we want bipartisanship’, they mean ‘I want you to knuckle under to my agenda.’”

• “A peace bill makes so much sense when you look at the level of violence in our society today.”

Sen. Mimi Stewart

• “I am still in this legislation because of education. It is so terrifying what is happening in our public schools that I feel like I can’t ever quit the legislature until I fix it. And it’s all coming from (New Mexico Secretary of Education) Hanna Skandera and (Gov.) Martinez.”

• “Teacher evaluations are ruining the daily life of our schools and the daily life of our kids.”

• “Texas has about 10 end-of-course exams that are approved by the public education department, Colorado I think has five or six. In New Mexico I think we’re up to like 60, including at the elementary level, so that they have a test score they can hang around the teacher during teacher evaluations.”

Rep. Sheryl Williams Stapleton

• “If we as elected officials look seriously at New Mexico issues, we end up working collectively and collaboratively.”

• “Let’s look at what usually happens in the legislature. Democrats normally get together and collaborate looking at New Mexico and say ‘OK, what are the issues and the concerns of our citizens, how do we represent our citizens and how do we make a difference in our legislation to accommodate the needs of New Mexicans.’ And on the other side, there’s a national mandate that comes down with mandates and directive of what should happen in New Mexico. And the national mandate essentially says ‘what you are doing in Detroit, you must do in New Mexico.’ That is where our battle begins.”

Rep. Christine Trujillo

• “We are truly a diverse group of legislators, unlike the other side.”

David Lynch is a staff reporter at The Daily Lobo He can be contacted at news@dailylobo.com or on Twitter 
@RealDavidLynch.

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