Who are these folks? Residents unable to name local lawmakers

By Marlena Hartz: CNJ staff writer

Those seeking fame and name recognition should stray from the realm of state politics.

Here in eastern New Mexico, the men and women of the state Legislature are widely unknown, despite the approaching 30-day legislative session, which will send local lawmakers to Santa Fe, where they will dole out millions of dollars in taxpayer money.

When challenged to list their legislators, many local residents failed. They rattled off jumbled lists of federal lawmakers, or more commonly, nothing at all.

Former Texas resident Maggie Butler settled in Clovis more than two years ago, but she could not name a single New Mexico legislator. “I’ve been here long enough to know this,” said Butler, who memorized Lone Star state senators and representatives only because photos of the lawmakers were passed around her church congregation during prayer sessions.

The list composed by Bard resident Yvonne Bone began and ended with U.S. senators, rather than local legislators. “That’s horrible I can’t name them. I am ashamed,” said Bone, an assistant teacher.

Her son, Barton August Bone, 14, didn’t fare well either. The fatigue-clad eighth-grader apologized stoically after a moment of thought. “I am sorry. I cannot name them at this point. We are studying U.S. history, not New Mexico history,” Bone said, his twin brother offering the same response just seconds later.

But who is to blame for the broken lists? Residents don’t fault themselves entirely, and neither do senators and legislators.

He is spotted in a crowd sometimes, but for the most part, state Sen. Stuart Ingle, R-Portales, slides by unnoticed. The farmer and rancher doesn’t mind. He may don a suit and tie for legislative sessions, but the formal attire, he said, is really all that distinguishes the senator at work from the senator in the field or at rest.

“I don’t worry about if people recognize me,” Ingle said.
“I am here to serve the people,” he said, “and I want to be the most approachable man up there. And you have to always remember, the instant you don’t have a vote, there won’t be a soul up there who knows you.”

Correspondence with constituents waxes and wanes, according to state senators and legislators. Though prior sessions have elicited floods of e-mails and letters numbering in the thousands, Rep. Anna Crook, R-Clovis, said feedback for this session has been lukewarm. The representative of 12 years said she may pass off e-mails and letters from those outside her district, but she attempts to answer each and every one from her constituents.

“It is important to listen to your constituents. People work hard. It’s about trying to not overburden them with taxes, trying to make our state business-friendly,” Crook said.

Can the gulf between common constituents and legislators ever be bridged? It seems unlikely, by some accounts.
“Young people are always forgotten,” said 26-year-old Ricky Gray, a furniture salesman. “They (legislators) don’t have a clue about issues that surround the younger generation.”
Yet, Gray doesn’t vote. He has in presidential elections, but never locally. He shrugged his shoulders, insulting himself, rather than the political system. “I guess I don’t vote because I’m lazy,” he said.

Others are far more critical.

“I quit being interested (in state politics). Now, it’s all about money,” Clovis resident Marcella Bailey said.

Bone, her sons by her side, said she faithfully votes, every time she is given the opportunity. She hopes her sons will do the same one day. But still, she fears those who win legislative seats are there because of “who they know,” not because of their beliefs or commitments.

Sen. Ingle holds dearly to another notion.

“Sometimes people don’t realize how important their vote is, what a difference it can make,” Ingle said.