Thursday, August 01, 2013

Passionate Political Summer For ABQ As Abortion Plan Gets Them Out Of The Hammocks, Plus: More On Campaign '13 

ABQ politicians have been put in the caboose and the people have taken over the locomotive. The wild and wooly turn of events in City Election '13 has confounded the expectations of everyone and where we end up now is anyone's guess. One thing is certain--there's more political passion than we've seen in years in a city election--and it has nothing to do with who will be the mayor or next city councilors. It's that golden oldie of the social issues agenda--abortion--that is making this such a topsy-turvy year.

Today the passion play gets a new act as nine community groups band together to announce they will fight the late-term, anti-abortion measure that could be placed on the October 8 city election ballot:

An alliance of community organizations and women’s advocacy groups will launch “Respect ABQ Women,” a campaign to defeat the anti-abortion ballot measure that will likely appear on the Albuquerque ballot. The Respect ABQ Women campaign understands this ballot measure is part of a national effort aimed at making it impossible for New Mexico women, and women across the country, to access safe and legal abortions.

The groups steeping up include the League of Women Voters of New Mexico, New Mexico Religious Coalition for Reproductive Choice, National Organization for Women (Santa Fe Chapter), Planned Parenthood of the Rocky Mountains The Southwest Women’s Law Center, Southwestern Women’s Options, Strong Families, Young Women United and the ACLU of NM.

Those are also groups full of Democrats. Dem mayoral candidate Pete Dinelli will be at the kick-off today. He is against the proposed City Charter amendment that aims at halting abortions after 20 weeks of pregnancy, even though only a tiny sliver of all abortions occur in that time period. Mayor Berry says he does not think the measure would be enforceable if passed, but he says if it is on the ballot he will vote for it as will  Republican Paul Heh.

All eyes are now on the city clerk and city council. The clerk must verify some 12,000 of the 27,000 petition signatures turned in as belonging to registered city voters. Then the nine member council must vote when to put it on the ballot. Will it be October 8, the day of the mayor and city council election? Council President Dan Lewis says it will and that's what the anti-abortion groups are demanding of the Republican-controlled council. Another option is a special election. The most unlikely path is the Council approving the law without an election, although that is an option.


The proposed anti-abortion amendment to the City Charter would draw to the polls many anti-abortion activists who will also vote Republican in the mayor's race. That's a given.

What concerns Mayor Berry is what would it mean for Democratic turnout? If it bolts upward, suddenly Pete Dinelli as a strong mayoral contender looks more plausible. The formation of this coalition of anti-amendment groups is a danger sign for the incumbent, even as he remains the prohibitive front-runner and flirts with a 60% approval rating. As Santa Fe New Mexican reporter Inez Russell Gomez puts it:

This is one of those cases of be careful what you wish for...They poked a sleeping hornet's nest with that measure.

And the question is whose hornets will be most dedicated to getting their troops to the polls if this measure makes it to the ballot. And could Dinelli, a Hispanic Catholic, capitalize on the issue and turn voters who are against the abortion amendment into voters for him? Or could Berry keep his Dem support, despite the amendment? Or could Republican Paul Heh become the mayoral Godfather of the amendment and eat into Berry's support?

National polling shows most voters--including women--favor a late-term abortion ban. But election turnout and how the issue is positioned are key. Opponents will try to convince voters that this is part of an agenda to eventually restrict a woman's right to choose even in the early months of pregnancy. Supporters will hammer the late-term theme. 


The Dinelli Tuesday economic speech--shadowed by the outbreak over abortion--did not impress several of our Alligators whose thoughts we melded with our own Wednesday. Some push back now from a reader close to the mayoral contender:

I strongly disagree with your characterizations that Pete "let Berry off the hook." From his speech:

"I'm tired of a Mayor who keeps saying no and has no vision for our city. What we're doing isn't working and we're in such a slump that we need unprecedented effort to revitalize our city. Since Mayor Berry took office we've had zero percent job growth and are at the bottom of regional recovery. Young people are leaving our city and the brain drain must stop. I'm tired of the stale rhetoric and failed policies of the last 4 years. Hands off and don't rock the boat approach isn't getting the job done. I will never let ABQ become NM's Detroit..."

You also likened the Dinelli plan to Mushy centrism. A bold plan that's going to stir the pot is mushy centrism? He's happy to talk about why making a major investment in transforming our air, rail and highway cargo capacity to make this community an industry leader is important for our future. Those are high and low tech. full and part-time jobs and many long-term careers.


It can get messy when the people play with petitions, but that's their right. The anti-abortion amendment will be the third proposal forced on the ballot by city voters in recent months. It's true that the petition collecting is led by interest groups, but no one is forcing anyone to sign anything. This year we had a special election to change rules for city elections and the sky did not fall. Another one--on raising the ABQ minimum wage--was placed on last year's general election ballot. And now the abortion matter.

ABQ has been politically lifeless during this economic downturn and while none of the ballot measures address what many see as the city's most serious problems, they do get people involved and that's a start. No need to change the rules and make it tougher for the people to petition their government. The problem around here is not that we're having too many elections, it's too few people voting in the elections we do have.


The Independent Source PAC may have lost its union funding, but its director Michael Corwin is still tracking the Martinez administration. He comes with a take on the awarding of the racino lease for the ABQ Downs and the administration's shut down of 15 behavioral health providers.

This is the home of New Mexico politics.

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