Saturday, April 26, 2008

Voting Records Matter

How U.S. House and Senate Members from New Mexico Voted on Some Recent Anti-Poverty Initiatives

In New Mexico, we have already begun to experience one of the most intense political seasons we've had in a long time, with all three of our sitting members of the House of Representatives giving up their seats to seek the U.S. Senate left vacant by the retirement of Sen. Pete Domenici.

None of the candidates running for the open House seats has had any experience in the U.S. Congress. One has served in the New Mexico Senate, some have held cabinet or executive posts in state or county government, and others have worked in the private sector . Others have served in legislative bodies like city council or county commission. While we may have an inkling of how they would vote on anti-poverty and hunger-related issues in the U.S. Congress based on their political philosophies, we have no legislative track record on which to base that assessment.

In contrast to the U.S. House races, we have more than enough information on how the three Senate candidates, Reps. Heather Wilson, Steve Pearce and Tom Udall, voted in regard to the issues that are important to Bread for the World members and anti-hunger and anti-poverty allies. Similar information is available for Sens. Pete Domenici and Jeff Bingaman.

Below are three measures that I picked to look at the records of our elected officials. You can also obtain voting records on hunger and poverty from Project Vote Smart, Friends Committee on National Legislation) and other sources. Keep in mind that some of the links below are in .pdf format and may take a little bit of time to load.

Shriver Center

The Shriver Center, based at the University of Maryland, Baltimore County, recently published
a Poverty Scorecard as part of its State of Poverty Campaign.

"In consultation with our national advisory board and other antipoverty experts we selected the most significant votes on poverty issues in the U.S. Senate and House in the 2007 calendar year. The votes we selected include affordable housing, budget and tax, civil rights, early and higher education, health care, immigrants, labor, legal services, prisoner reentry, and rural poverty," said the report released earlier this year.

The scorecard gave Rep. Wilson 60 points (a B grade), Pearce 21 points (D), and Udall 100 points (A+) . Based on the formula used for anti-poverty legislative initiatives in the Senate, Sen. Domenici received 29 points (D) and Sen. Bingaman 100 points (A+)

Bread for the World

Bread for the World also put out its own rating for 2007 for all members of Congress, but its tracking record was limited to votes in two areas related to recent Offerings of Letters: The 2007 Farm Bill and global poverty initiatives.

In the House, Wilson voted for Bread's position on one of four initiatives, Pearce was 0-for-4, and Udall was 4-for-4.

Wilson and Udall voted against an amendment that would have cut $3 billion from an appropriations bill for foreign operations. The amendment failed, which means the cut in funding was approved, potentially affecting poverty-focused development assistance. Pearce voted for the amendment. Wilson and Pearce voted in opposition to Bread for the World's position for two other measures affecting poverty-focused development assistance, while Udall's vote was favorable.

In the one vote on the 2007 Farm Bill, Udall voted to support a bipartisan amendment to improve the farm safety net by replacing the current commodity based programs with a revenue-based safety net (developed by USDA experts to better protect family farmers). Wilson and Pearce voted against the amendment.

In the Senate, there were three votes that Bread used to create a scorecard. Bingaman voted with Bread for the World on two of the three initiatives, while Sen. Domenici was one for three. All three were related to the 2007 Farm Bill. Ironically, the one measure that Bingaman opposed was supported by Domenici.

The Jubilee Act

The most recent tracking of the voting records for the members of the House occurred just a couple of weeks ago when The Jubilee Act (HR2634) came up for a vote. This lead sponsors of the legislation were Rep. Spencer Bachus, a Republican from Alabama, and Rep. Maxine Waters, a Democrat from California. The initiative primarily addressed debt relief for the world's poorest countries.
According to language in the bill, Its purpose "was to provide for greater responsibility in lending and expanded cancellation of debts owed to the United States and the international financial institutions by low-income countries, and for other purposes."

The measure was approved by an overwhelming margin, with Udall and Pearce both voting yes. Rep. Wilson was one of 15 House members who did not cast a vote. See full
Roll Call

Companion legislation has been introduced in the Senate (S. 2166), where the bill enjoys strong bipartisan support and 26 co-sponsors. A Senate hearing on the Jubilee Act (S. 2166) was Thursday, April 24. As of that date, Sens. Bingaman and Domenici were not yet part of the list of cosponsors.
The Jubilee USA site has a handy form to send an e-mail message to our two senators asking them to co-sponsor this bill.

Tuesday, April 22, 2008

Hunger on the Stage

There are many ways to get the message out about hunger in our community and in our world. One class at the University of New Mexico's Department of Theater and Dance put together a play about hunger. Students in the class, entitled "Hunger: A Theatrical Exploration," engaged in discussions, made connections and responded to various perspectives on “hunger” to create a full-scale production, entitled Hungry Machine.

The piece will be presented on Thursday, May 1, at the Out Ch'yonda Performance Space, 929 Fourth St. SW (Barelas) in Albuquerque, at 6:00 p.m. Suggested donation is a bag of non-perishable food.

The class, part of UNM's Research Service Learning Program (RSLP), is taught by Anna Saggese and Riti Sachdeva.

There will be a table to write letters about the Millennium Development Goals and the Global Poverty Act.

Sunday, April 20, 2008

Food Costs Hinder School Nutrition Efforts

By Pam Roy
New Mexico Food and Agriculture Policy Council

On April 14, the (Santa Fe) New Mexican newspaper featured an article called Food Costs Derail Push for Healthier Meals in U.S. Schools It was originally a Washington Post article. We plan to respond to this article and hope you will too.

Below are some compelling reasons why it is important for us to a work with the State of New Mexico to invest in our school meal programs and take care of one of our most precious resources -- our children.

The threat to the future health of our children from a poor diet has never been greater. Like other children across America, the percentage of New Mexico’s children who are obese and overweight (24 percent of the state’s high school students) is growing.

According to the Robert Wood Johnson Foundation, the risk of being diagnosed with type 2 diabetes is now 30 percent for boys, 40 percent for girls, and even higher for Hispanic and Native American children.

Unfortunately, only a quarter of children ages 2 to 11 even consume three servings of vegetables a day. If we don’t reverse these risks by improving our young people’s diets, we are in danger of raising the first generation of American children with a lower life expectancy than their parents.

There is a solution. We know that healthy eating habits formed during childhood decrease the risk of chronic disease. We also know that children will increase their consumption of fresh fruits and vegetables when those foods are available, affordable, and tasty.

At Farm to Table and the NM Food and Agriculture Policy Council our five-year goal is to turn back the rising tide of poor diet by serving at least one additional serving of fruit or vegetable per school day to every New Mexico student. And to strengthen our farming communities and increase farmer incomes, we will purchase that food from New Mexico farmers.

We know that:

  • Over 212,000 NM children participate in the free or reduced-price school meal progra
  • Lower income children like these eat less produce due in part to its relatively high price—fresh fruits and vegetables have increased by 40 percent in the last 15 years compared to a 20 percent decrease for high sugar and fat snack food
  • Schools receive a federal reimbursement for food equal to only $1 per meal.
  • When combined with the high level of food inflation of 5 percent, schools cannot afford to purchase additional quantities of healthy food
  • Obesity currently costs New Mexico an additional $324 million for health care
  • Lifetime medical costs are $10,000 higher for the moderately obese than for individuals at a healthy weight
  • The less distance that food must travel, the less carbon emissions – NM food going to NM students reduces global warming
  • A survey of 150 NM farmers found that 64 percent would like to sell to schools; the same survey also found that schools representing 185,000 NM school children would like to buy from local farmers
  • If every NM consumer purchased only 15 percent of their food from the state’s farmers and ranchers, it would increase annual farm income by $392 million.
  • The 2007 Legislature allocated $85,000 to Albuquerque Valley schools which purchased NM apples, melons, and carrots for 6,000 school children.

Please contact your community policymakers, schools, parent associations and local organizations and media to voice your concerns about the need to increase spending on school meal programs.

For more information please contact the NM Food & Agriculture Policy Council at 505-473-1004. Thank you for your interest and for taking action.

Wednesday, April 16, 2008

An Inspiring Sunday

On March 30, I had the privilege of being present at St. Thomas of Canterbury Episcopal Church in Albuquerque on the day of its Offering of Letters.

There were many remarkable memories about that day.

First of all, the guest preacher was Robin Stephenson, the field organizer for Bread for the World's western region. Robin delivered a touching and very meaningful sermon, speaking from the heart but also presenting all the relevant facts related to our 2008 Offering of Letters.

St. Thomas Parishioners write letters

Secondly, the church had the distinction of being the very first congregation in New Mexico to hold an Offering of Letters in 2008. The OL became a reality thanks to the efforts of parishioners John Barton and Maria Smith, who became interested in the Millennium Development Goals and decided that this year was right for the congregation to become involved in promoting the MDGs and supporting an increase in the amount of money the U.S. devotes to poverty-focused development assistance.

But what I remember the most from that day is the commitment of two members of the congregation to writing letters: Beth Hatch and Cheryl Fogle. Unlike many fellow parishioners, Beth and Cheryl did not write the letters on the spot. But they asked to be sent the information by e-mail.

Wait a minute, aren't we supposed to encourage folks to write letters on the spot rather than taking them home? Actually, there was a good reason that they had to wait to write their correspondence at home. This is where their computers are. You see, Beth and Cheryl are both blind. But like you and I, they can easily write their letters from their computers, which have special software. They can either have their messages to Sens. Jeff Bingaman and Pete Domenici and Rep. Heather Wilson printed out on MS Word or send them via e-mail.

"We want to do what we can to help others," Cheryl said.

Parishioners at St. Thomas of Canterbury wrote 32 letters that Sunday. They were blessed the next Sunday, April 6, by Rev. Carole McGowan before they went in the mail on April 7.

Sunday, April 06, 2008

There are No Straight Lines

One of the charms of living in New Mexico is that our surroundings are all part of many different paintings. But sometimes it takes a visitor from out of state to underscore the point that we're living in the midst of a work of art.

And imagine if that visitor paints water colors and starts talking about how are landscape touches him or her.

Well, that happened to us on a recent weekend. We took our visitor to the Georgia O'Keeffe Museum in Santa Fe and the Santuario de Chimayo on Saturday and to
the Kasha-Katuwe Tent Rocks National Monument on Sunday afternoon.

"There are no straight lines" the visitor remarked in reference to Georgia O'Keefe paintings.

And the theme came up again
during our visit to tent rocks as the visitor observed the patterns of lines on the layered walks in the canyon that lead to the cone-shaped formations that give Tent Rocks its name.

Indeed, the feeling of art permeates New Mexico and other parts of the Southwest.

The reason is that our surroundings are not monolithic, whether they were made by the Creator directly or through a human being.

Our buildings are round (or rounded) and our crosses are crooked.

And our sky has a depth of blue that is found nowhere else but in the ocean.

And yet, the many shapes and shades of beauty stands out amid a lack of clutter.

Like a museum, we can see different things every time we step back, each time taking it all in a spirit of deep gratitude.

That's what prayer is all about.

Saturday, April 05, 2008

The Millennium Declaration: Taking A Step Beyond the MDGs

Tom McDermott, our speaker at our Offering of Letters workshop (St. Bede's Episcopal Church in Santa Fe) on March 29, gave us valuable background and insights about The Millennium Development Goals (MDGs). The MDGs go hand in hand with the Global Poverty Act , which Bread for the World is promoting as part of its 2008 Offering of Letters campaign. Specifically, we are asking Congress to increase poverty-focused development assistance by $5 billion.

The MDGs are a very viable blueprint in our efforts to reduce global poverty, said Mr. McDermott, who once served as bureau chief for the United Nations in the Middle East and North Africa.

But he noted that the MDGs are only one element of the overall Millennium Declaration, a comprehensive document that goes beyond the MDGs. For example, the declaration deals with such issues as human rights and disarmament and expands greatly on each of the eight goals. Here is a very powerful excerpt, which deals with Goal Number 1:
We will spare no effort to free our fellow men, women and children from the abject and dehumanizing conditions of extreme poverty, to which more than a billion of them are currently subjected. We are committed to making the right to development a reality for everyone and to freeing the entire human race from want.
Consider this other statement in the declaration that addresses Goal Number 8:
We believe that the central challenge we face today is to ensure that globalization becomes a positive force for all the world’s people. For while globalization offers great opportunities, at present its benefits are very unevenly shared, while its costs are unevenly distributed. We recognize that developing countries and countries with economies in transition face special difficulties in responding to this central challenge. Thus, only through broad and sustained efforts to create a shared future, based upon our common humanity in all its diversity, can globalization be made fully inclusive and equitable.
Finally, these words from two separate sections of the declaration make a strong statement:
We will spare no effort to promote democracy and strengthen the rule of law, as well as respect for all internationally recognized human rights and fundamental freedoms, including the right to development.

We will spare no effort to free our peoples from the scourge of war, whether within or between States, which has claimed more than 5 million lives in the past decade. We will also seek to eliminate the dangers posed by weapons of mass destruction.
It was really great to learn about the full declaration as a backdrop to our work in promoting the MDGs.

Another plus of the workshop is that we were able to make a connection with two volunteers from another partner organization in The ONE Campaign, Heifer International. Kathy Trickey and Jennifer Johnson decided to attend our local workshop after learning about Bread for the World at a national forum sponsored by Heifer International.

Representatives of three churches in the Third Congressional District also attended the workshop, St. Bede's Episcopal Church and First Presbyterian Church in Santa Fe and Bethlehem Lutheran Church in Los Alamos.

Here are some pictures:

Heidi Ernst Jones and Lydia Pendley, St. Bede's Episcopal Church

Jennifer Johnson (Heifer International), Dave Fry (Bethlehem Lutheran Church-Los Alamos) and Tom McDermott.

Robin Stephenson, Bread for the World field organizer western region

Congressional Quarterly Writes about New Mexico Congressional Races

Congressional Quarterly (CQ), a publication that writes about matters related to Capitol Hill, recently wrote an article about the elections in the three congressional races in New Mexico. The article, entitled, Three's a Crowd in New Mexico House Races, lists the candidates in each race and offers a general forecast in each district. CQ lists the elections in the New Mexico First and Second Congressional Districts among the "House Races to Watch." The races are more defined now that many would-be candidates have dropped out.
See how things have changed since last November.

The First Congressional District (Heather Wilson's seat) is considered the most competitive of the three elections and is described a "No Clear Favorite" race. Martin Heinrich, Michelle Lujan Grisham, Robert Pidcock and Rebecca Vigil Giron are seeking the Demoratic nomination and Darren White and Joe Carraro are competing for the GOP nod.

The Second Congressional District (Steve Pearce's seat) is described as "Republican favored." This means whoever wins the Republican nomination will be favored to win the seat, based on voter registration, polls and recent trends. Notice that CQ said "favored" as opposed to "safe," which means that the general election could still be competitive. There are five candidates seeking to become the GOP nominee: Aubrey Dunn, C. Earl Greer, Ed Tinsley, Monty Newman and Greg Sowards. Harry Teague and Bill McCamley are competing for the Democratic nomination.

CQ describes the Third Congressional District (Tom Udall's seat) as "Safe Democrat," meaning that a Democratic victory is fairly certain. The field of Democrats is quite crowded: Ben J. Lujan, Don Wiviott, Benny Shando, Harry B. Montoya, Jon Adams and Rudy Martin. The two Republicans seeking the seat are Marco Gonzales and Dan East.

Incidentally, CQ rates the Senate race to replace Sen. Pete Domenici as "Leans Democrat ." This rating is probably based on recent polls. As you probably know, Tom Udall is the sole Democrat seeking the seat, with Rep. Heather Wilson and Rep. Steve Pearce seeking the GOP nod.

Our primaries for the three U.S. House seats and the U.S. Senate are just around the corner on June 3. On June 4, we should know which of those candidates will be representing his or her party in each of the races.

And if you'd like to follow developments in each of those races, I recommend that you read the blog New Mexico Politics with Joe Monahan.
Other good blogs are Democracy for New Mexico, New Mexico FBIHOP and Heath Haussamen on New Mexico Politics.