A Proposal from the Taos County Democratic Party Chair
This morning at Collected Works, a fine bookstore in Santa Fe, the Chair of the Democratic Party of Taos County spoke to a small Sunday morning crowd. Her proposal was astonishingly simple: a portion of the budget, state and federal, should be reserved for citizens to decide among themselves how to spend, in their own communities.
Erin Sanborn was elected to run the Party in Taos three years ago. She has a background in conflict resolution and international cooperation, and practiced her trade in government and non-government venues before and after she moved to Taos with her family 15 years ago. She seems familiar with the world of funding foundations in the non-profit universe and mentioned three specific foundations: The national Sunlight Foundation, which focuses on making government spending more transparent, The Story of Place Foundation, in Santa Fe, which has worked on a bottom-up citizens approach to improving a section of St. Michaels Drive, and the Regenesis Group, which organized the Story of Place Foundation in 2009. Google up the Sunlight Foundation: It has cool tools to tell you what your tax payment last year went for, at the federal and state levels.
Two premises of these organizations are, first, that people, when called upon to participate in setting funding priorities for their communities, know better than elected politicians what the needs really are; and second, they can sit down and negotiate successfully among themselves on these priorities. Sixty years ago, these premises were fundamental to the Conservative movement in the US, which hoped to move the country toward greater local control. This was before the Conservative movement was swallowed up by fancy economists (mainly, Milton Friedman) at the University of Chicago, and by Libertarians, and the culture warriors of the Republican Southern Strategy that has come to personify contemporary Conservatism. Today, these ideas, to our indoctrinated ears, sound more like socialism or something out of a Bernie Sanders ad than the kind of ideas Barry Goldwater, who ran for President against Liberal Lyndon Johnson in 1964 used to espouse, along with his buddy, the actor Ronald Reagan before he was Governor of California. In truth these ideas are non-partisan, and part of well-established democratic (small d) theory. They seem radical only because both political parties abandoned them, unfortunately, for different doctrines long ago. These foundations appear to be trying to prove if given a chance, they work better than the current top-down use of taxpayer money.
Sanborn has proposed handing over the capital outlay money allocated each year to each senator and representative, to citizens in each community to dole out, presumably through highly transparent grassroots consultations. Virtually all legislators admit the current capital outlay system is in desperate need of serious revision. She confessed she had not gotten very far with this proposal when presented to Bill Richardson or to party leaders on both sides in the legislature.
It is amazing that a Democratic Party Chair, especially one from the Hispanic North, would acknowledge in public that party structures at the local level no longer act to produce a local, citizen-driven public agenda. Community organizations have understood this for a long time, but they, too, have a long way to go.