Saturday, December 10, 2011

Seeking A Circle of Protection at a Crowded Restaurant Booth, A Law Office, Campaign Headquarters

There were 11 of us who met with the five candidates for the First Congressional District, but not everyone was at every meeting.  We scheduled these meetings as a follow-up to the Circle of Protection prayer vigil that we held at the end of October.  Here is the script.

We handed each candidate a folder with materials related to the Circle of Protection and a  letter with at least 90 signatures from people of faith in the Albuquerque area, mostly in the First Congressional District.  (But with redistricting, the boundaries might change, and some folks who are in adjacent districts might end up in the First District).

There were three to five people during each of the conversations with the candidates, and we were grateful to have a good cross-section of Bread members and supporters.  We were Roman Catholics, Presbyterians, United Methodists, Episcopalians.  Our group of citizen advocates was very diverse, including a couple pastors, a nurse, an educator,  a journalist, two military veterans, the development and outreach coordinator for a local Catholic Worker House, a consultant for an organization that sponsors economic development projects in Mexico, and the former director of the ARC of New Mexico.

In two meetings, we either crowded into a restaurant booth or put two small tables together to meet with the candidate. Another meeting took place in the conference room of a law office downtown after  hours.  Two other conversations took place in the still-unfurnished campaign headquarters of the candidates. 

We are very generally pleased with the outcome of  each of the meetings because the candidates-- former State Rep. Janice Arnold-Jones, ex-Albuquerque Mayor Martin Chavez, State Sen. Eric Griego,  Bernalillo County Commissioner Michelle Lujan Grisham, and Albuquerque City Councilor Dan Lewis--engaged with us in  honest conversations about hunger and poverty, our current economic system, the tax situation, and other themes.  More importantly, they shared with us their visions about the best way to address hunger and poverty in our country and overseas.

We have to remember that these are folks who work with us in our local community. Lujan Grisham is an attorney and Bernalillo County Commissioner; Lewis is pastor of Soulrio church; Arnold-Jones is a senior executive with EnergySolutions; Griego was recently executive director of the non-profit New Mexico Voices for Children; and Chavez recently served as as executive director of ICLE Local Governments for Sustainability.

In most of  the meetings, the candidate was receptive in some form to the Circle of Protection campaign.  The exception was City Councilor Lewis, who suggested that the best way to address hunger is to reduce the role of the federal government and let the local communities of faith and state and local governments take on this role.  This led to a very spirited (but polite and  honest) discussion.

Ann Sims offers her viewpoint to Dan Lewis
It was great to have committed anti-hunger advocates participate in some of our discussions. Pastor Kay Huggins (Second Presbyterian Church), Patty Emord and Ester Griego (St. Andrew Presbyterian Church), Ellen Buelow (Holy Rosary Catholic Community) and John Foley (Mesa View United Methodist Church) had led Offerings of Letters in their congregations.  Ann Sims, also led offerings of letters in a couple of congregations and served for six years on the Bread for the World board of directors.

Also joining us for two meetings was Rev. Donna McNiel, executive director of the New Mexico Conference of Churches. And Larry Buelow took part in our meeting with Counselor Lewis.

"When you talk about food issues, it brings it everything else, the access, the have a huge constituency of people who have that on their radar...and high on their radar...that is important to people in New Mexico,"  Ann Sims told Eric Griego.  Ann told both Sen. Griego and Councilor Lewis that public-assistance programs were crucial during a time of her life when she was a single mother.  Because of  these programs, she was able to afford to get an education and eventually became a nurse.

For Rene Ronquillo, who joined us for the meeting with Commissioner Lujan Grisham, this was her first experience in legislative advocacy.  "Although she was empathetic, I am confident that our meeting had an impact and we shared compelling information and stories that made her more aware," said Rene.  Mary Quinalty, a member of the Peace and Social Justice Commission at Aquinas Newman Center, was also present at that meeting.

C. Navarro, Martin Chavez, Rev, McNiel, Kay Huggins, Patty Emord
And we also made the candidates aware that we would be back in touch. "When you hear from Bread for the World, it's worth paying attention to us," Rev. Huggins said in the conversation with Martin Chavez.

And Rev. McNiel, elaborated: "Poor people don't have a lobby. Bread for the World is one of the organizations where folks speak up for people who don't have a voice."

And John Foley talked a bit about policy, urging Sen. Griego to look at the big picture. "When you pull the plug on a nutrition program, you're going to have commensurate adjustment in other areas like medical needs. Proper nutrition and medical go together."

Ellen Buelow spoke about the positive impact of the Earned-Income Tax Credit on addressing poverty.  If you recall, strengthening the EITC was the topic of our Offering of Letters in  2010."When we worked for the Earned Income Tax Credit, that really impacted a lot of families at Holy Rosary (Catholic Parish)."

Ellen also underscored the impact that feeding programs have had on the for low-income people on the West Side of Albuquerque.  "I saw grandparents bringing kids in, conversations of these little kids were about dads in jail, immigration problems. If we had not fed them breakfast, they would have not started their day," she told Eric Griego.

Several important themes came up during our conversations.  Here is what the candidates said:

Social Justice, Fairness, Safety Net, Poverty, Compassion
Mary Quinalty, Michelle Lujan-Grisham, Rene Ronquillo

People have forgotten the value of  a safety net-Janice Arnold-Jones

It's really about focusing on a level of safety-net investments. -Michelle Lujan Grisham

All this has to be seen through the lens of what's fair.  Dr. Martin Luther King's message was not so much about civil rights, but about social justice.  -Martin Chavez

The reason why I'm steadfast on these policies is because I was one of those kids. I grew in a single parent home... The only reason I went to school some days because I got a warm breakfast.  My mom went back to work because Headstart started. That's where I got meals and received care -Eric Griego

There's this misperception that the poor are somewhat at fault...  -Martin Chavez

I'm a great advocate of faith-based organizations.  Giving control to the local ministries and organizations, that know the needs,  know that they have a heartbeat for what the needs are...I hope you see me as a great advocate for world hunger and meeting local needs for people that are marginalized in our society, I believe that there is a current approach in our society that is hindering our ability to meet those needs.  -Dan Lewis

I don't have a simple answer [on how to best address hunger in New Mexico].  Honestly, I don't.  But here's a country with abundance.  Why is it that we have this discussion? -Janice Arnold-Jones

Some gap between rich and poor had always been acceptable in this country as long as there was an opportunity for upward mobility.  That mobility is gone.    -Martin Chavez 

Foreign aid 
I know how important USAID is. J am a huge supporter of foreign aid, and I think that's part of the reason why we're having such a tough time with national security because the US is not outside of certain countries,  -Eric Griego

I'm a strong supporter of foreign aid.  It's one of the cheapest investments we can make in terms of  our own national security.  -Martin Chavez

The Budget Debate and Economic Development
John Foley, Ann Sims, Eric Griego, C. Navarro, Ellen Buelow
We can quadruple the amount of foreign aid and protect all those programs (WIC, TANF, Food Stamps) if we look at the revenue side.. We can't have a cuts-only approach, we can't disinvest in people, we can't put the most vulnerable, throw them under the bus.  -Eric Griego

Because we've expected so much from the federal government, we overspent...We've gone into debt.  We cannot sustain the amount of spending that we have now. All I'm saying that we have to acknowledge that if we are going to help people in this country...What I'm saying is that we keep the dollars in the community. -Dan Lewis
We need to look at whether the tax system is fair -Janice Arnold-Jones 

We have a systemic breakdown.  In be addressing  the short-term and the long-term problems, without fully recognizing that poverty is front and center is an issue... I want to take care of the short-term issues, but it's always with an eye toward toward 100 years down the road.  -Martin Chavez

I would be remiss if I didn't admit that this is a very climate to operate in. We could do a better job showing unequivocally in this difficult climate to improve the economy and to do something about our current budget woes -Michelle Lujan Grisham

Food stamps are  a huge economic stimulus for the economy...People have to eat  -Eric Griego

I think we have a huge problem in our country: we are not competitive.  -Martin Chavez

The Political Process and Advocacy
Donna McNiel, Janice Arnold-Jones, C. Navarro, Ellen Buelow, Ester Griego
"Our political system was designed to create agreements. Politics has become very polarized." Janice Arnold-Jones

It's a collective effort.  Instead of pointing fingers at each other, we've lost sight of working together to resolve these problems. In states like New Mexico we have a higher poverty level than many states in the country  -Michelle Lujan Grisham

I don't believe that we need a government fix. I believe that it's local organizations and communities  By sending money back to local communities and giving local control to those communities to take care of needs. -Dan Lewis

You won't find me at the receptions...It's intoxicating because you get drawn into this Washington culture, good and bad.  The way to get me is to always to send someone from Albuquerque.  We'll have an open door.  I'll make sure I'm available to you here and in D.C.  -Martin Chavez

I think the danger that when we have an organization that comes to Washington and says 'we need more of this,'  that's part of the problem with Washington being so big....We've looked to Washington for the answer for everything   -Dan Lewis

E-mails are better from an environmental standpoint.  I'm strong environmentally, a lot of trees get saved.  -Martin Chavez


Anonymous said...

Thanks to all who made these visits. I regret that a physical happenstance prevented me from being at the meeting I had committed to. Great job, everyone!

Anonymous said...

Carlos, since these meetings were completed, the Journal published a timely article, page 1, " Contest for House Seat Wide-Open", referring to the US House seat vacated by Martin Heinrich. At a glance, it summarized the facts there are 3 Republicans and 3 Democrats entered into the race to fill the seat. Accomplishing all of these meetings is a big first step for the Circle of Protection. Bravo! I want to be a part of the follow-up, especially in support for Michelle Lujan Grisham, and anything you need help on. Mary Quinalty said...

Really good summary. Should be shared with the voters!