Thursday, March 15, 2012
Librotraficante Caravan Stops in New Mexico Bringing Free Speech to Arizona
From our Southern Correspondent Stephen Jones.
The Librotraficante Caravan made a stop at the Mesilla Cultural Center just off the Mesilla Plaza in Thursday morning. The Caravan was in southern New Mexico to bring awareness to the attempt by Arizona politicians to wipe out Hispanic cultural studies in its schools and ban books relating to Mexican American culture and history in Arizona’s second largest school district. The Caravan is transporting “banned” book titles, dubbed by the group “wet books,” back into Arizona to be distributed through makeshift cultural libraries.
“They tried to erase our history, so we’re making new history” proclaimed Tony Diaz, a writer from Houston, who is the chief organizer the effort. Denise Chávez, director of the Border Book Festival, and over a hundred other New Mexicans, including Doña Ana County Commissioner Billy Garrett, were on hand to greet the caravan as it passed through Mesilla on its way to Arizona.
The Librotraficante Caravan was organized to protest the decision of the Arizona State Legistature and the Tucson Unified School District to abolish Mexican American cultural studies programs and remove Hispanic literary, history, and civil rights titles, along with other works deemed “objectionalble” by Arizona politicians, from Tucson, Arizona area schools. Among the titles removed from Arizona schools were The House on Mango Street by Sanda Cisnero, a MacArthur Grant Literature award winner, Bless Me, Ultima by famed New Mexico author Rudolpho Anaya, the The Dictionary of Latino Civil Rights History, and even such classic works as Shakespeare’s The Tempest.
The Librotraficante Caravan launched its travel from Houston, Texas, to Tucson, Arizona, carrying a payload of contraband books with the intention creating networks of “Underground Libraries” and leaving community resources in its wake. One of many responses to Arizona’s unconstitutional laws prohibiting Mexican American Studies, the Librotraficante Caravan has captured the imagination and hearts of activists, writers, educators, and students from all walks of life who want to preserve freedom of speech.
“Every great movement is sparked by outrage at a deep cultural offense,” said Tony Diaz, founder of Nuestra Palabra: Latino Writers Having Their Say, which has led the charge, “When we heard that Tucson Unified School District administrators not only prohibited Mexican American Studies, but then walked into classrooms, and in front of young Latino students, during class time, removed and boxed up books by our most beloved authors – that was too much. This offended us down to our soul. We had to respond.”
“With their record of anti-immigrant legislation, politicians in Arizona have become experts in making humans illegal. We did not do enough to stop that, thus that anti-immigrant legislation spread to other states such as Alabama and Georgia. Now, these same legislators want to make thoughts illegal. If we allow this to happen, these laws, too, will spread. Other branches of ethnic studies will be prohibited, and other states will follow suit” Diaz added.
A large group of writers have embraced the caravan, many participating along the route, including Sandra Cisneros, and Rudolpho Anaya. Others include Guggenheim Fellow Dagoberto Gilb, whose work recently appeared in the New Yorker and Harpers simultaneously, best selling author Luis Alberto Urrea, with multiple titles found on the banned book list, Other literary giants participating in the Librotraficante Caravan. Mesilla’s Denise Chávez, author of Face of an Angel. Chávez, who hosted the caravan in Mesilla, organizes the Annual Border Book Festival; Lalo Alcaraz, creator of the syndicated comic La Cucaracha, and who coined the phrase “Self Deport”; and Rene Alegria, founder of Boxing Badger Media, who attended one of the impacted high schools in Tucson. In addition to southern New Mexico’s Border Book Festival, institutions hosting the caravan along the way include the Guadalupe Cultural Arts Center in San Antonio, Texas, and the National Hispanic Cultural Center in Albuquerque, New Mexico.
Monday, June 27, 2011
US Supreme Court Upholds Public Campaign Financing, Strikes Down One Element
The U.S. Supreme Court today reaffirmed the constitutionality of public financing of campaigns in the case Arizona Free Enterprise v. Bennett (also known as McComish v. Bennett), while striking down one mechanism used in these types of programs by a 5-4 vote, saying it violated the First Amendment. The foundation of public campaign finance systems remains strong -- and it is more important than ever that we preserve and extend those reforms -- campaign finance group Common Cause said in its response to the ruling.
The case has been closely watched by public financing advocates who feared the high court would use the case to rule broadly on the constitutionality of programs that provide public money to candidates. Of late, the court has issued sweeping rulings striking down campaign finance restrictions as violations of free speech -- for instance, in the notorious Citizen's United ruling -- and which give massive power to corporations to affect elections. Instead, the court issued a relatively narrow ruling striking down only one provision in the Arizona law that provided additional funds to publicly funded candidates running against opponents who outspend them outside the system.
Impact on New Mexico Law
Common Cause noted that New Mexico boasts three public campaign financing systems -- two municipal systems, one in Albuquerque and another in Santa Fe, and a state system for Public Regulation Commission candidates and appellate judges.
“This ruling maintains the constitutionality of public financing as a method for curtailing the unfair influence of wealthy interests over our democracy,” Steven Robert Allen, executive director of Common Cause New Mexico, said. “It’s true that Arizona Free Enterprise affects one element of public campaign financing as it exists in New Mexico, but the core of the systems have been upheld.”
In all three New Mexico systems, candidates who wish to use public financing must prove support for their candidacy by collecting $5 contributions from voters in their districts. If the candidates reach a certain threshold, they receive a block grant to run their campaigns. In all three systems, the amount of this initial grant is set at a level sufficient to allow candidates to get their message out and to run a basic campaign. This part of public campaign financing remains untouched by the Arizona Free Enterprise decision, Common Cause explained.
However, these programs also allow for the distribution of additional “matching” funds to publicly financed candidates if a privately financed candidate outspends them. This is the concept that has been struck down in the Arizona Free Enterprise case.
“Even with this decision, publicly financed candidates in New Mexico will still receive generous grants to run their campaigns,” said Allen. “The question is whether we need to replace the matching fund provision that was struck down by the court with an alternative.”
Pending Fair Elections Now Act Addresses Issue
In that regard, public financing advocates anticipated this ruling as far back as two years ago, according to Common Cause. In the interest of addressing the majority’s anticipated objections, the Fair Elections Now Act was developed and is now pending in Congress. Common Cause explained that this act was written to meet the criteria laid out by the high court today. As with the New Mexico programs, it allows participating candidates to obtain public funds by voluntarily agreeing to limit their acceptance of large, private donations. Yet unlike New Mexico’s programs, the Fair Elections Now Act also allows candidates to accept small donations of $100 or less which are then matched on a five to one basis.
Federal Complaint Filed Against Albuquerque Law
Last week, the conservative political action committee New Mexico Turn Around filed suit in federal court against City Clerk Amy Bailey to block the provision in Albuquerque’s public-financing system that provides matching funds to participating candidates who are outspent by privately funded opponents. The suit alleges that the matching funds provision violates the First and 14th Amendments to the Constitution.
The PAC stated it wants to spend money opposing City Council candidate Rey Garduño -- an incumbent who has qualified for public financing -- but will not do so because the matching funds he would get would allegedly "neutralize" the PAC’s spending. New Mexico Turn Around noted in the complaint that it might want to get involved in other council races, too where public financing is in place for candidates.
Councilor Garduño, a Democrat who represents District 6 in the Southeast Heights, qualified for approximately $29,000 in public campaign money this year. He'd also be eligible for matching funds beyond that if any opposing candidates or privately funded groups spent more than that amount in total.
Of Critical Importance
As Common Cause's response emphasizes, whatever course is taken, it’s critically important that we change the way we pay for our politics in this country by moving to a publicly-financed, small-donor system that gives the public a voice back in government. Obviously, for American democracy to survive and flourish, wealthy corporate interests can’t be granted greater influence over the political process than ordinary American voters.
It’s up to lawmakers in New Mexico to ensure our elections are of, by and for the people -- not bought and paid for by special interests. Fair Elections laws prevent wealthy interests from exerting an unfair influence over policy-making at the local, state and federal level. Such programs allow ordinary citizens to have a voice in the political process, ensuring that elected officials pay attention to the people who elected them, not just the special interests that bankrolled their campaigns.
“We need to protect and expand public financing in New Mexico,” says Allen. “The future of our democracy depends on it.”
Note: For background, click to see our previous posts that relate to New Mexico Turn Around, the PAC that filed suit to stop the matching-fund provision:
- NM Rep. Dan Silva Got Help with Legal Fees from GOP-Linked PAC Big Oil Targets Six State Legislative Races
- Republican PAC Donated to Dem House Challengers, DPNM Urges Candidates to Return Funds
- Democratic Legislative Leaders Demand Immediate Return of GOP Funds Accepted by Dem House Candidate Matthew Archuleta
- Susana Martinez Repays Robert Aragon with Appointment to State Finance Board
Monday, January 10, 2011
Guest Blog by Kathryn Carroll: On Rep. Gabrielle Giffords, My Congresswoman
This is a guest blog by Kathryn Carroll, who is a twenty-six year resident of Tucson, Arizona. Prior to moving to Tucson, she resided in the Hudson Valley of New York, where she served two terms as an elected member of the Town of Poughkeepsie Town Board. She has also been involved in the state and local chapters of the Democratic Party of New York and Arizona.
Representative Gabrielle Giffords is my Congresswoman. I am very proud to say that I have voted for her in all three elections that she has been a candidate in the 8th Congressional District of Arizona, and served as a volunteer in her last two campaigns. She is the best Representative that this District has ever had, and I have lived in this District for nearly 26 years.
Congresswoman Giffords does not fit the mold of most members of Congress who many complain show up at election time when your vote is needed, and then forget about their constituents until election time rolls around again. No one will argue that Gabby Giffords, as she is affectionately called, is one of the hardest working members of Congress. Her constituents are, and always have been her first priority. She returns to her District almost every weekend and when Congress is not in session to conduct town hall meetings and meet with constituents. The carnage that took place on Saturday was just such an event which she calls "Congress on Your Corner." You all have no doubt read and heard the details of this tragedy and the innocent lives which were taken as a result of one deranged individual who, from reading passages on his social networking sites, took the rhetoric and hatred spewed in what has become a politically charged atmosphere which preaches hatred and distrust of all government actions.
The 8th Congressional District of Arizona had been a Republican stronghold for over 20 years, starting with the election of Republican Congressman Jim Kolbe, who took office in January, 1985, to what was then the 5th Congressional District, just six months before we arrived in Tucson. Redistricting resulting from 2000 census, when Arizona gained additional seats, turned it into the 8th District.
During the 22 years that he served this District, Representative Kolbe faced token Democratic opposition and was easily re-elected in spite of the fact that this District has arguably the highest Democratic enrollment in the entire state of Arizona. In December, 2005, Kolbe announced that he would not seek re-election in 2006. Gabby Giffords, who was serving her second term in the Arizona State Senate, did what most politicians do not do. On January 9, 2006, with one year left on her term, she resigned her seat and announced that she would seek the Congressional seat being vacated by Kolbe. She resigned because she felt that she could not do justice to her constituents by serving in the Senate while seeking another office. This ethical action is a far cry from your newly elected Governor who just completed an eighteen month campaign while collecting a taxpayer-funded salary. However, comparing the ethics of my Congresswoman to your new Governor would yield volumes, and, furthermore, Martinez does not belong in the same sentence, let alone article with the gracious, ethical, fair-minded and classy Gabrielle Giffords.
Gabby won both the 2006 and 2008 elections rather handily with token Republican opposition. Her re-election campaign this past year, however, was much different. The Republicans and the tea partiers were determined to win back this seat. The Republican primary brought out numerous candidates who represented various ideologies of the Republican Party, including an unknown tea party-backed candidate by the name of Jesse Kelly. From the beginning it was evident that it would be a very nasty campaign, but it went beyond decency and civility once the tea party candidate won the Republican primary. The Republicans and the tea party right-wingers were relentless in their attempts to trash her voting record and paint her as a far left-wing liberal, primarily because of her support for the new health care legislation. The truth of the matter is, Gabby Giffords is perhaps one the most centrist Democrats in Congress - even a little too far right of center for many of us progressives. All one has to know is that she is a member of the Blue Dog Democrats to realize that Gabby Giffords is not a raging liberal, as the Republicans tried, without success, to pin on her voting record. To her credit, she never backed down, but instead maintained a gracious and cordial tone to her campaign.
There were signs during the campaign which gave pause for some to wonder if her safety might be in danger even then. There were numerous incidents, such as opponents wielding weapons at rallies, and, like other Democrats throughout the country, her district office was vandalized following her vote for the health care legislation.
However, perhaps the most egregious and appalling indication was a campaign event scheduled to take place on June 12, 2010 by her opponent, Jesse Kelly, which advertised on the Pima County Republican website and elsewhere as:
"Get on Target for Victory to November - Help Remove Gabrielle Giffords from Office - Shoot a fully automatic M16 with Jesse Kelly."
If it was intended as a joke, it was a very bad joke, and had no place in a civil society or a democratic campaign. What was perhaps most appalling is that the Republican Parties of both Pima County and Arizona voiced not one word of disapproval or opposition to the tenor of this event, or the message it was intended to deliver. Not the Republican Senators McCain and Kyle, the Republican Governor Brewer, nor any Republican local or state elected officials voiced any outrage. The event was eventually canceled after the local Arizona Daily Star pointed out that Jesse Kelly was evidently not bothered by the Sarah Palin controversy involving her detailed list of targeted races which she marked in crosshairs and urged her followers to "reload" and "aim", as he was planning his own "shootout". Congresswoman Giffords was one of Palin's "targeted" districts.
When word came Saturday that she had, indeed, been shot with a semi-automatic rifle, we could not help but think back to how her opponent invited all to "help remove" her from office with a "fully automatic M16". It appears that this one individual took him very seriously, but his weapon of choice was a semi-automatic Glock 9 equipped with an illegal extended magazine.
When Gabby's 75-year-old wheelchair-bound Father was wheeled into the University Medical Center on Saturday following the brutal attack on his daughter, he was asked by a New York reporter if his daughter had any enemies. His response was quick - "Yes, the Tea Party".
As Representative Giffords lies in a drug-induced coma fighting for her life, we can only hope that she will have a full and complete recovery with no debilitating life-long brain damage, but the predictions for anyone with a brain injury is that the rehab will be long and painful. Will it take this kind of tragedy and the loss of six innocent individuals, all of whom were present only to meet and talk with their Congresswoman, change the discord in this country? Predictions are that those responsible for the high pitched rhetoric will continue without skipping a beat, because those who spew this hatred live in total denial that their public words and actions might have consequences. The reality is, they will never accept any responsibility for the root causes of what prompted a deranged government-hating individual to put into action the veiled threats of the Sara Palins, the Glenn Becks, the Rush Limbaughs and Jesse Kellys of this world on a warm January morning in Tucson, Arizona.
This is a guest blog by Kathryn Carroll, who retired recently as a licensed real estate broker following a 40 year career both in New York and Arizona. Prior to that she worked in administrative positions, including IBM and Dartmouth College. She writes, "my love affair with your beautiful State of New Mexico began several years ago and continues to this day."
BW Note: Arizona Rep. Raúl Grijalva posted on his Facebook page today that folks wishing to send well wishes to Congresswoman Giffords, her family, or the victims and their families, should please email email@example.com.
To submit a piece for consideration as s guest blog, contact me by clicking on the Email Me link at the upper left-hand corner of the page.