Monday, March 10, 2008

Seeking a Space for Global Poverty in the Public Discourse

Candidatesblog(Originally published in Bread Blog, March 9, 2008)

In this busy electoral season, there are ample opportunties to attend presidential and congressional candidate forums and debates. If you're lucky, there will be a competitive congressional elections in your district in 2008. (We in New Mexico have three seats in the House and one in the Senate up for grabs!).

The fact that the forums are being held does not guarantee that the issue of global poverty will be among the questions presented to the candidates. Often, it is up to us Bread for the World members and like-minded allies to ask the questions.

On March 8, I attended a forum sponsored by the Democratic Women of New Mexico, featuring four of the five Democrats competing in the June 3 primary to replace Rep. Heather Wilson (who resigned to run for the open U.S. Senate seat). The candidates were asked very important questions regarding education and the No Child Left Behind program, the U.S. involvement in Iraq, and the fight for water rights in the west.

But the forum seemed incomplete without the question that I consider as important as all those others:
"Would the candidates support increasing the percentage of poverty-focused development assistance?" Or "What can the U.S. could do to help move us closer to meeting the Millennium Development Goals ?"

Because time was limited, there was no opportunity for questions from the public. Fortunately, I came prepared for that eventuality. I brought my trusty tape recorder and Bread for the World hand-outs about this year's Offering of Letters, and sought each of the four candidates during a break. They were more than willing to answer the questions and all asked for more information. Read more about what they said Bread for the World-New Mexico blog.

What's more important, none of the four candidates knew much about Bread for the World, although they had heard about The ONE Campaign. This was my opportunity to make the connection, to begin a relationship that will be helpful on Lobby Day and on all other occasions when a Bread-supported issues come before Congress. It's very possible that any of these candidates could be occupying the office on Capitol Hill reserved for the New Mexico First Congressional District.

Now I think I'll go to the Bernalillo County Republican website to see if the two candidates seeking the Republican nomination will hold a forum soon. I'll be sure to bring my tape recorder and more Bread hand-outs and ONE white bands.

Sunday, March 09, 2008

Congressional Candidates (New Mexico District #1) Speak About Global Poverty

A total of seven candidates are competing for the seat being vacated by Rep. Heather Wilson in the New Mexico First Congressional District. Each of the two parties will hold primary elections on June 3 to determine who will represent them in the November electoin.

There are two Republicans: Bernalillo County Sheriff Darren White and state Sen. Joe Carraro. Five Democrats have thrown their hat into the ring. I caught up with the four of the Democrats who participated in a forum sponsored by the organization Democratic Women of New Mexico on March 8. Those in attendance were ex city councilor Martin Heinrich, former state health secretary Michelle Lujan Grisham, attorney Robert Pidcock, and former secretary of state Rebecca Vigil-Giron. The fifth candidate, Jessica Wolfe, did not attend the forum. She is a former staff person for Gov. Bill Richardson.

I asked the four candidates what their thoughts were on increasing poverty-focused development assistance and whether they were familiar with the Global Poverty Act and the U.N. Millennium Development Goals, which are the subject of our 2008 Offering of Letters. Incidentally, three of the candidates had heard of the MDGs but didn't know a whole lot about them, and one had not heard of the goals at all. They all asked for more information. (All got the Bread for the World position sheet on poverty-focused development assistance).

As I wrote in a related piece in the Bread blog, it is often up to us Bread members (and allies) to ensure that global poverty becomes part of the discussion during debates and forums this election season.

Please note that this post is NOT INTENDED to promote any of the Democratic candidates. Bread for the World and The ONE Campaign are non-partisan. I will try to find forums where I can get ahold of Sheriff White and Sen. Carraro and ask them the same questions.

In the meantime, here are excerpts of comments from the four Democratic candidates (all of whom agreed to wear The ONE white band). I listed them alphabetically.

Martin Heinrich
I think it's just a matter of priorities. We need to realize that when we do invest in developing nations and in reducing poverty, that has such an enormous impact on how people feel about us as a nation.

(See) where we’ve put ourselves in the past seven or eight years, basically destroyed generations worth of goodwill worldwide.

A dollar spent on education, a dollar spent on finding ways for people to provide themselves…these are things that come back to us in terms of less money spent on military engagements, less money spent on all kinds of other problems...It's just like in the United States, where we realize that for every dollar spent on things like prevention, you typically save yourself five, six, seven dollars down the line. It's the same worldwide. And it just hasn't been a priority of the last administration in Washington.

Michelle Lujan-Grisham
The basic premise is to make sure that it’s a priority, that we recognize that…the poverty of another nation makes us all at risk.
(Poverty) has an impact on security. It has an impact on terrorism...

We ought to be a leader, and part of being a leader in ending global poverty is ending poverty here at home. We still have some of the highest poverty rates around the world. We have children and older folks, even with social security, way below the federal poverty guidelines who are malnourished, who don’t have access to basic services and basic needs. We need to be poverty busters here at home.

Robert Pidcock
The resources are there, if we care enough to go find them.
It’s just a matter of how we allocate national resources. Do you choose to spend the money in a war like Iraq, do you choose to spend the money on subsidies for oil companies?

I think everyone of those programs would have to be looked at individually. I don’t think we can throw that in a basket and say we’re going to fund all of those at some certain level…because it would have to be looked at individually for a program like clean water, and then individually for each country…

Rebecca Vigil-Giron
(To address the problems of poverty), of course we have to work with the United Nations.
I have experience of working and having access to individuals throughout the world.

For the candidates in the Angolan election that I observed (in the early 1990s), it was about clean water, it was about clean streets, it was about providing education, these were the issues that the presidential candidates that were flying around the country addressed…we will bring clean water to you, we will bring education to your children, we will bring jobs….I mean, they were excited about clean water.

Albuquerque Workshop Draws Ecumenical and Diverse Crowd

Prof. Jennifer Moore talks about MDGs

They came to learn about the Global Poverty Act and the Millennium Development Goals and how they can organize their congregations and/or groups to write letters to Congress about these issues. This was a very ecumenical and diverse group.

Some had held Offerings of Letters for years, such as Trinity United Methodist Church, Aquinas Newman Center, St. Andrew Presbyterian Church, First Unitarian Church and St. Paul Lutheran Church.

Others like La Mesa Presbyterian Church, St. Michael, Church of the Good Shepherd (UCC), Iglesia Congregacional Unida, New Life Presbyterian Church, and All Angels Episcopal Church, have only had one or two letter-writing Sundays thus far.

Mia Jumbo (UNM drama class), Kyra Ellis-Moore & Dana Bell
Still others, like the drama class on hunger at the University of New Mexico, will have an offering of letters for the first time this year.

Regardless, the commitment was all the same.

And we also had the good fortune of having representatives of other organizations join us. They were there to learn and to give us support. Among them were The ONE Campaign, Esperanza de Joaquin, Global Health Partnerships and the Council for International Relations.

Tessa Moore, Jenny Moore, Dr. Darwin Palmer, Tom McDermott

We had some very special guests give us some valuable background: UNM Law Prof. Jennifer Moore (also a member of St. Andrew) spoke about the Millennium Development Goals; UNM School of Medicine Prof. Emeritus Darwin Palmer gave us an update on the global AIDS situation, Ann Githinji of Global Health Partenrships and former United Nations regional director Tom McDermott.
Tom is one of our speakers for our March 29 workshop.

Top Photo: Larry Brotman, Beth Kissling, Mark Stein (Church of the Good Shepherd)
Lower Photo: Kyra Ellis-Moore (St. Andrew), Marge Williams (Trinity UMC)