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Lessons from recent local elections

Peter Goodman is a commentator based in Las Cruces, New Mexico.
Courtesy photo.
Peter Goodman is a commentator based in Las Cruces, New Mexico.


These are turbulent times.

Last Tuesday’s election reflected that. In the mayoral race, City Councilor Kassandra Gandara, who seemed like an incumbent, had a narrow initial lead, but ultimately lost after five rounds of ranked-choice vote-counting. That majority, narrowly beating an earnest, well-meaning, and experienced candidate, speaks to widespread discontent here.

Sussing out the sources of that discontent, and addressing them, is the challenge facing us all, local officials and aged Sunday columnists alike. Obviously, the economy, the unsettling times, homelessness, partisanship, and petty crime were factors. Maybe some questionable police shootings, and the contradictory need to train and support police officers while reining them in, played some role. I’m sorry to see Gandara go. I like her and thought her intentions good for the city, although I question the ethics and legality of a sort of Las Cruces “executive committee” about which councilors not on it know little or nothing. I wish Mayor-Elect Eric Enriquez the best.

I voted for Councilor Johana Bencomo, listing Gabriel Duran second, and welcome her re-election,. I wonder how long-ago mayor Bill Mattiace will affect the council. Tessa Abeyta has worked hard and done some good; but Mattiace’s long-standing popularity (and perhaps a reaction against an all-woman council) prevailed, by 50 votes.

I’m glad the Las Cruces School Board will stay sane. Nationally and locally, education is under attack by folks who would whitewash U.S. history and who think it’s a waste of time trying to make kids who are different in any way feel comfortable and motivated to learn. How, and how much, the controversy over an unused library book affected the election I can’t say.

Standardized tests have long rated our state education low. That’s fact. I don’t know the answer. Neither do any candidates. Our best hope is to elect people who not only know education and care about kids, but are open to evidence-based changes and improvements. Most kids are “different” somehow, particularly here. School prayer or saying slaves didn’t have it so bad won’t help.

Nationally, it was a fairly good election for progressives. Voters enshrined women’s reproductive rights in Ohio’s Constitution. Virginia’s state senate stayed Democratic, and the house of delegates flipped Democratic. Despite Mr. Biden’s political weakness.

Conventional wisdom says that women’s reproductive rights are the banner that will lead Democrats, including President Biden, to 2024 success. I have mixed feelings.

Women’s choice has been a key issue for me since I was 21. I welcomed Roe v. Wade. I welcome now the intense focus on repairing the damage done by the present version of the U.S. Supreme Court. Republican heartlessness and intransigence on the issue is badly out-of-step with how most people feel, and Democrats should stress that.

But many citizens feel real and deep discontents. Despite Biden’s relative success with the economy, people are stretched thin. Our system hasn’t changed. Corporate greed and power still keep the system skewed toward the rich, while Republicans have long won elections by telling voters it’s all the fault of the poor. That’s exacerbated by two wars, a dangerously changing climate, a homelessness epidemic, and a recent pandemic. Democrats must articulate persuasive thoughts on those subjects. Blind support for Netanyahu’s Israel will prove a heavy weight for Democrats.

Folks still dismiss the rage fueling Trump Mania as racist resentment. (Some is.) Democrats and journalists must recognize that citizens feel more justified forms of anger that Republicans help misdirect.

Peter Goodman's opinions are his own and do not necessarily reflect the views of KRWG Public Media or NMSU.