Commentary: Carla Sonntag's recent op-ed (New Mexico Business Coalition) alleged that “lawsuits funded by deep-pocketed special interest groups [were] aimed at ending the [oil-and-gas] industry altogether.”
Dictionaries define “special-interest group” as “a body of persons, corporation, or industry that seeks or receives benefits or privileged treatment, especially through legislation.” Like the industry-funded lobbying outfit Ms. Sonntag runs, which has opposed raising the minimum wage and tried to weaken unions.
The phrase doesn't mean what Ms. Sonntag pretends it means. Can even she believe that folks who contribute to environmental groups “seek or receive privileged treatment?” Does she mean clean water to drink or clean air to breathe is special treatment?
I contribute to the ACLU, SWEC, and the Environmental Defense Fund. These groups aren't advocating for “special interests” but our common interests in fair legal proceedings and a healthy environment.
If you wade through Sonntag's snide rhetoric, she's attacking an effort to cut emissions 91% by 2050. With global temperatures rising, trying to do that in 32 years might be prudent. Proponents are not, as Sonntag claims, “trying to destroy the source of many jobs and livelihoods in New Mexico.” Her carping that environmentalists get contributions from rich people is ironic from someone whose source of income is wealthy businesses and corporations who (unlike contributors to environmental groups) are concerned only with personal profit.
If Ms. Sonntag used more logic and less name-calling, she might be more convincing. The people pushing the steep emissions cuts are trying to help save us from imminent danger. Yes, a side-effect of moving away from fossil fuels would be more jobs in other segments of the energy industry and fewer jobs in fossil fuels. (And more modest profits for the people who pay Ms. Sonntag's salary?)
Even fellow Republicans don't consider Ms. Sonntag a truth-teller. Harvey Yates and the New Mexico Republican Party accused her of false and libelous statements in emails attacking a candidate for party chair. The party said the “deceitful” statements showed “a lack of integrity.” Yates said private investigators had traced the emails to accounts set up by Ms. Sonntag and a son. Ms. Sonntag replied that she hadn't been involved in party politics for years.
Sonntag sued the party for defamation in January 2017, demanding an apology, a court order, and damages. She dismissed her lawsuit in April, issuing a press release that mentions neither any settlement payment or any apology. She also stated that she'd “filed the lawsuit to obtain a report from the RPNM.” (The lawsuit's discovery phase would automatically provide her the report.) She claims that the report “proves . . . the Republican Party had no basis to attack me.” If so, the report would be strong evidence that would encourage a plaintiff to continue the lawsuit. Sonntag waved the white flag.
Sonntag understands that words matter – when they refer to her.
Folks like Ms. Sonntag give business a bad name. Opposing any and all modest efforts to improve wages, water, or working conditions undermines credibility and strengthens the impression that businesses are bad. They're not. They're part of a healthy economy. Unfortunately, because they involve maximizing profits, they sometimes oppose too aggressively improvements that might cut into profits. Or pay folks like Ms. Sonntag, to try to convince us that fighting climate change will destroy our economy.
Using our words honestly is a great step we all can take to improve the quality of public and political dialogue.