Community Forum Asks Citizens How to Improve State Government

Elaine Baumgartel (Right),
Community member David Walker shares his table’s identified issues and proposed solutions. After small discussions, each table was asked to share their “one big idea” with the rest of the forum. Walker’s table singled out civic education for young people.  (Photo By Christian Marquez / NM News Port)

The People, Power and Democracy Project hosted a community forum on April 4th to encourage community discussion about state issues — partly so local media can be more informed.

The event was called “How would you improve state government?” and asked participants to brainstorm “what makes you mad,” and then offer proposed solutions.

“One of the goals is for us as journalists to really interact with and hear from members of our audience on the issues to cover,” said Elaine Baumgartel, news director for KUNM-FM, one of the media partners behind the People Power Democracy Project.

“We had never done anything like this before, so we had high expectations around getting people face to face in a table discussion about things they really care about,” said Trip Jennings, executive director of New Mexico in Depth, another media partner.

Janice Arnold-Jones, shares her hopes for the state moving forward. Arnold-Jones advocated for a paid citizen legislature among other election reforms. Photo by Christian Marquez / New Mexico News Port

The resulting small group conversations covered a wide range of topics from systemic issues like poverty, unemployment, healthcare and the minimum-wage, to ideas like having a paid legislature, teaching civics in school and reforming elections by creating open primaries.

Former city councilor and state representative Janice Arnold-Jones made a plea for voters to demand more from candidates during their campaigns.

“When you are looking at people who are asking for your vote, I hope that you are asking them: ‘How do you see this state? How do you see this city? What do you want it to be?’” Arnold-Jones said.

While some came ready to share their thoughts on issues, other community members were there to listen and become more informed.

“I’m here because I’m somewhat ignorant of even how a lot of our politics work, so I would like to be more involved,” Sylvia Navarato said.

Kathy Wimmer listens as a community member explains his concerns with local government. Wimmer represents NMPBS, one of the media partners on the project. Photo by Christian Marquez/ New Mexico News Port

“I think that it was really eye-opening to see what it was that people wanted to talk about. The overall issue of ‘what is good government?’ means a lot of different things to a lot of different people,” said Kathy Wimmer, associate producer of New Mexico in Focus at NMPBS.

The People, Power and Democracy Project is a reporting collaboration  between KUNM, New Mexico in Depth, New Mexico PBS and the New Mexico News Port. Now in its third year, it focuses on state government, political transparency and the influence of money in New Mexico politics. It gets the majority of its funding from the Thornburg Foundation, based in Santa Fe. Project stories are shared by the partners and can be found archived here.