• Gregory Z. Smith

Elected Office and Politics

Updated: Jan 11, 2019

Where Is the Right Side of this Issue, and Where Is It in the Larger Scheme of Things?

Campaigning is some distance from the top of my list of favorite things to do. Nonetheless, talking with people is something I enjoy, and it is my favorite part of politics. Left to my own devices, campaigning would be less about signs in yards and knocking on doors, and more about my record in office and opportunities to actually meet and visit with the people I have been or would be representing.

There seems to be a dual nature to politics: the times when we have to make sure people know we are running for office and the actual work of the office. There are times when it seems that those dual sides are dueling with each other. Sadly, many citizens have a further, limited perspective on what we can do and often believe we either have more power or less power to effect change than we actually do.

We operate in a representative democracy. Our elected officials typically have limits on their ability to make autonomous decisions, especially in situations like ours in Las Cruces where a seven member council votes on policies. In most instances, a simple majority (in our case, four) is all that is needed to pass something. In some instances, a two thirds, or "super majority" (in our case, five) is needed. Most of the time, the issues are routine or the solution appears fairly obvious, and we have unanimous or near unanimous votes. Occasionally, even when it is not required, we have a super majority in favor of an action, and about as often, we have near tie votes when four of us vote one way and three of us vote another.

If it were up to me, more of our votes would require super majorities for passage just so that it is clear a solid majority supports or opposes controversial issues.

Additionally, we have to operate within our own charter and rules, and within state and federal law. So, it can be frustrating when we see something we feel would be fairly simple to accomplish, but we have to get the mayor or at least three others on the council to see its importance before it can go on an agenda. Similarly, it can be frustrating for our constituents when what needs doing seems patently obvious, but the councilor or mayor cannot "make it so" by unilateral command.

On the nature of being elected to represent a constituency, there are several perspectives. Mine is that I try to ensure that voters know who I am, what my priorities are, and how I listen to constituents and experts. Once they have indicated their trust in me by voting for me, I work to continue to earn that trust by sharing my thoughts and listening to theirs on controversial topics, before and after those topics come to the council. I also listen via email and personal visits, such as the meetings each week at Milagro Coffee y Espresso and Spirit Winds. While we simply do not have the resources to scientifically survey our constituents regularly, I am very open to input on the issues that come before us.

On some issues, I am uncertain how I will vote until I've heard the presentations and the discussions. On others, it is very helpful to hear from those most impacted by the issues we are voting upon, and the fact that someone has taken the time to share their thoughts can be very powerful. Some issues may have compelling community and personal reasons for voting a certain way, but the existing laws indicate we must vote in accordance with the law and not according to those other compelling reasons. Occasionally, a large crowd shows up or sends emails, and members of that crowd can seem to believe we are compelled to vote as they wish simply by their show of numbers. However, that is frequently less compelling than the actual arguments that can be made, which is one of the reasons I disagree with allowing applause or booing when arguments are being made before the Council.

Another reason that supportive and oppositional noises are best kept apart from our deliberations is that all members of the public should feel safe sharing their thoughts. Even loud sighs and rolled eyes can be inhibiting to the free exercise of First Amendment rights.

In short, as an elected official, I have to combine my own understanding and feelings on an issue with whatever research or expert testimony can be included and with what members of the community bring to the discussion. That is at least a three way balance that sometimes has a preponderance of weight on one of the sides for certain issues. In every instance my vote is what I believe in good conscience will bring what is best for our community.

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