Through a strange twist of fate -- probably coupled with a paucity of information concerning MeanMesa attitudes and outlooks -- we have been graciously invited to the Albuquerque equivalent of one of the, now infamous, pre-election, town hall meetings with candidates. Hosting the affair will be Albuquerque Interfaith, a group of local citizens with the progressive stance of valuing "faith" in all of its possible, positive manifestations.
Predictably, Interfaith certainly includes members with strong religious faith, but also invites those with "other styles" of faith -- faith in democracy, equality, justice and culture. Its idea is to consolidate all the advantages members of such a disparate collection might bring. The final product is a refreshing sort of zany, out-of-control, credible local voices with a thoughtful and constructive intention.
Of course, as is almost always the case with such opportunities, the devil is in the details. For starters, MeanMesa must concentrate on being on our very best behavior -- that means no neo-con baiting or inciting riots. Even a brief glimpse at MeanMesa history suggests that, by now, we should know better ...
The gathering has been described as a "listening session" where candidates will hear the concerns and issues of voters in an extended discussion before answering in a brief response toward the end of the meeting. This means that MeanMesa is now faced with the task of "cooking up" a question, and, in this case, not one of our usual "rabid dog" bitching rants. You know, something constructive.
So, what comment can be made? What question can be asked? The theme of the gathering is advertised as "Leadership * Faith * Democracy in Action."
MeanMesa's Question begins to find direction
It should be no revelation to MeanMesa visitors that we live in a society where every possible complaint targets the failings and foibles of our bureaucracy. In fact, listening to some of our fellow citizens, one might conclude that none of them will find social satisfaction and happiness until the entire social culture and organizational structure of the country descends to a state of disorganized anarchy, fractured, polarized and privatized into a "post paper" state.
Anyone who has visited an unfortunate place which found itself in this predicament will, of course, not agree. Still, there is the rather chilling inertia of such a poorly formalized ambition rambling all around us from tea baggers to neo-cons to hill billies devoid of any concept of the alternatives.
Clearly, MeanMesa's question is silently migrating to the topic of bureaucracy. Since the candidates who will be present in the meeting at all facing state races, the bureaucracy in question will be all about the New Mexico state government.
A Few, Very Brief Ideas about the history of Bureaucracy
From the very first evidence of civil structure in ancient Sumeria, one of the principle developments which made essentially everything else possible was the organization and imposition of a bureaucracy. For the full energy of a civilization to be directed toward the structure of a successful state, even the ancient rulers of Mesopotamia realized the necessity of this step.
The idea caught on -- for better or for worse, depending upon the rationality of its application. The Greek city states and the Roman Empire devised immense collections of control and management for themselves. During the Dark Ages, the Christian Kings of Europe relied on bureaucracies to collect taxes, build roads and feed their armies effectively enough to create all the troublesome details contemporary high school students find in their history books.
|Basillos II, "The Bulgarian Slayer" 928 - 1025 AD (image source )|
The Medieval Equivalent of New Mexico's State Government
Asking the Candidates -- State Bureaucracy and Life in New Mexico
The largest, most central elements in our state's bureaucracy can be determined by the amount of public dollars allocated. The quality of the results of such budget allocations represents the primary basis for voters as they consider the quality of the current government. Reviewing the value of what all we've bought is actually much more the foundation determining how we will vote than all the "catch phrases" and "talking points" of the billionaires' inflammatory, imported negative campaign ads.
The bureaucracy is a necessity for operating the State of New Mexico. Being contaminated with the toxic idea that our bureaucracy is a "necessary evil" or an "inescapable catastrophe" is, in MeanMesa's view, quite irrational. Instead, it should be considered just as a CEO considers the operating budget of his corporation. Without efficient day-to-day operations, the stock holders will be eating canned corn from Dollar General.
In fact, we can very reasonably take pride in the mechanisms we have created which keep New Mexico functioning as a modern state. Still, while canvassing, MeanMesa has encountered some very reasonable, common sense questions about this part of living in New Mexico, all representing something of a report card of public opinion about the state government.
The issues of voter concern, consolidated here, seem to be in mainly four areas. Let's review them.
Education represents a lion's share of the money that our state government spends. Yet, in surveys of schools and educational results around the country, New Mexico enjoys a positively dismal record. From the voters: "Lots of money, really bad results." Worse, regardless of all the political rhetoric directed at the topic, improvements seem to remain frustratingly illusive.
The accomplishments of successful administrations seem to be limited to repairing roofs, suppressing vandalism and gang crime and a few few teen pregnancies, but the stupendous cost continues just as predictably as 50% graduation rates. Voters don't know exactly how to solve this, but they are getting tired of paying massive amounts for basically more of the same outcomes.
As a poor state, New Mexico has fewer large public projects than most. Still, we build public buildings, repair roads and bridges and redesign and reconstruct hazards and other eye sores. Voters, however, don't see the comparative value in the money we spend this way. To them it seems that public projects are painfully over priced, extravagantly conceived, poorly designed and VERY inefficiently, non-competitively, bid, awarded and constructed.
Their complaint centers on management, and the targets of their criticism run the full gamut from interstate interchanges, new schools, street improvements on out to new administrative features passed in the State Legislature. The implementation of new state policies attracts a special frustration.
Voters reasonably think that these project expenditures are designed to "fill the pockets" of special interests first, delivering improvements to living conditions in the state as an afterthought. As common citizens it seems that "We get what's left."
Examples of this extend to stimulus projects financed under the American Recovery Act, for instance, the terrible seal coat surface on newly paved Silver between Carlisle and Girard in Albuquerque or the strange disappearance of stimulus dollars targeting weatherization for New Mexico rental residences.
Natural Resource Management and the Environment
The image of what exactly is happening with New Mexico's natural resources -- especially the oil and gas production -- is a source of both mystery and frustration to New Mexican voters. They think that the state should be getting some serious revenue from these operations -- New Mexico is the fifth largest hydrocarbon producer in the country -- but, again, they don't see "What we're getting for the money."
Frankly, neither does MeanMesa.
Further, voters don't think that the state's management of resources is transparent, directed to the benefit of the citizens or particularly effective.
Pure Bureaucracy -- the State's Administration
Hard strapped voters are legitimately outraged by continuing reports of state officials fraudulently "absorbing" public money. The scope of the scandals can be both large and small. The fraud at the court house construction was an outrage, but the hundred thousand dollars "missing" at the rural school board seems to be just as unsettling.
New Mexicans are generally regarded as "too busy" to track through all the details in spending bills, but they do hear about state revenue dollars which are being siphoned off by petty crooks. However, it is within the "legitimate" bills moving through the state house that the largest misappropriations reside.
The issue is simple. With our state's large budget, how can all these frauds continue to slip by the management? Voters are unwilling to accept the idea that there is simply too much to do to catch all this as it is happening.
Beyond the scandals, voters see state administrative management essentially in tatters. Policies which were ostensibly designed to help citizens are as impossible to navigate as Albuquerque's unsynchronized traffic lights at rush hour. State web sites which have been created to serve citizens are, far too often, miserly little half efforts designed, at least in the eyes of voters, as "plum contracts" for someone's brother-in-law.
Energy assistance. Medicaid. The court system. School district accountability. The DMV.
This list is a very, very long one. with every element riddled with infuriating remnants of the old "patron" approach to citizen services.
Finally, to the Question
"What plans to you have to bring New Mexico state government (the bureaucracy) up to modern standards found in other states?"
We've all done just about everything we can to continue to ignore the "elephant in the living room," but things have continued to get worse. The missing ingredient is to discard the old "survival -- oh, we'll muddle through it somehow -- model" and move very energetically toward a new "excellence model."
There is no possible, good reason to explain why our state is so locked in the past that our bureaucracy never improves.
For more, visit a MeanMesa posting from January, 2010, Ten new Years Wishes for New Mexico