I haven't yet donated to Wisconsin because my contributions have all been local. I am campaigning in NM State Senate District 5 for a candidate who does not accept corporate donations and has worked all his adult life for clean air and water, good education, affordable health care and social justice. His name is Alfredo Montoya.
The incumbent has raised $100,000 in corporate donations to maintain his seat in this remote rural county. But Alfredo has something he hasn't got. Me. Lots of me's. A small army of dedicated volunteers.
Rio Arriba County is 5,896 square miles, approximately the same size as Connecticut and Rhode Island combined. Seventy percent (70%) of our 41,000 residents are pre-Mexican- American War Hispanics; 18% are Native American.
For some reason, about six weeks ago, the small Rio Arriba farming communities of Chimayo and Truchas were booted out of State Senate District 5 during the redistricting process. The neighboring town of Los Alamos was districted in instead.
There are about five Republicans living in Rio Arriba.
Los Alamos is primarily Anglo, boasting more PhDs than any other US County. There are also more millionaires living in Los Alamos than any other place in America.
And, until a few weeks ago, most of us thought it was entirely Republican.
As it turns out, almost 50% of the residents of Los Alamos are Democrats. Nobody bothers to ask them to vote because Los Alamos and the neighboring, demographically similar but staunchly Republican community of White Rock used to comprise one district. When Los Alamos and Rio Arriba merged, Alfredo decided to run.
He was prompted by fracking. As a five-term commissioner in Rio Arriba, he stood up to powerful gas and oil interests, preventing them from fracking in our precious watersheds and agricultural lands. But he was unable to secure the help of our current state senator to introduce legislation making it easier for communities to regulate the activities of gas and oil within their borders.
Alfredo, my friend Marti Griego and I have been knocking on doors in Los Alamos for weeks. Most people are happy to open their doors. They appear delighted that somebody cares enough to come to their town and ask them to vote.
Ironically, that is also how the residents of remote, rural, impoverished Rio Arriba feel. Nobody ever asks us to vote either.
We didn't know what to expect when we first began arranging house meetings in Los Alamos for Alfredo. To our surprise, and despite the fact that the town is entirely dependent on the continuing existence of Los Alamos National Laboratory, not one person (keep in mind we are speaking only with Democrats) has expressed a desire to beef up our national security. They've asked whether Alfredo supports schools and teachers (he does), whether he supports Health Care Reform (he does), and whether he will fight for a clean environment (he will). They care about the same things we do down in the Valley. And above all, they care about clean campaign financing.
Yesterday, was a busy day. In the morning, Alfredo spoke at the opening of the Espanola Community Market, a local food coop that has been a long time in the making. According to our local extension agent, Rio Arriba County produces more farmers than any other county in New Mexico. And yet, farm wages barely register as an economic sector as measured by the census and we are listed in the Robert Wood Johnson County rankings as a food desert. The director of the Los Alamos Coop came down from the hill to celebrate with us. They were able to raise a million dollars and we are struggling to get to $100,000. But, as with our political campaign, we have made up for lack of money through volunteer labor. Rio Arriba still thrives on a barter economy.
The collapse of Rio Arriba and Los Alamos into a single state senate district may be one of the best things that has happened in our community and to me personally. It breaks down racial and socioeconomic divisions, causing Democrats in very diverse communities to understand how much we all have in common.
Yesterday, as I was finishing my canvassing in Los Alamos, I stopped at the home of Dr. Somebody Smart (I haven't asked permission yet to use his name), a scientist who specializes in gas and oil extraction. He was working in his garden.
"Dr. Smart?" I asked.
He turned around, surprised. "Yes?"
"I'm here on behalf of my boss of 18 years, Alfredo Montoya. I'd like to ask you for your vote on Tuesday. Do you have time to speak with me?"
"You came all the way up here to talk to me? And you know my name? Yes, by all means, please tell me about your candidate!"
It turned out that Dr. Smart's personal passion is reigning in the abuses of the oil and gas industry. He gave me his card. "You've got more than my vote," he said. "Tell Alfredo that if he needs any advice about limiting the environmental waste caused by the gas and oil industry, I'm happy to help."