Commentary: On November 30th I attended a Meet and Greet in Las Cruces for Peter DeBenedittis, self-described “True Progressive” vying for the nomination as the Democratic candidate for New Mexico governor in the 2018 elections.
Full Disclosure: I am a self-described independent radical progressive. I believe capitalism must be replaced with an economic system that guarantees a decent standard of living to every American, but as a realist I understand that the American Left has no capacity in this period to carry out such a program. Furthermore, I believe that our political system also requires revolutionary change. The DNC/RNC political duopoly must be ended. Third, fourth, even fifth independent parties with fresh ideas and perspectives are essential to revitalize our democracy. I am not a Democrat. I did, however, change my registration temporarily in 2016 in order to vote for Bernie Sanders in the primary. At the time, Sanders’ vision was the most progressive this nation has seen from a viable presidential candidate since Norman Thomas ran as a Socialist in 1948 (Jill Stein is definitely to the left of Bernie, but the duopoly froze her out). I certainly would have voted for Bernie had he won the primary.
I listened closely to Peter D, as he refers to himself. I certainly subscribe to his major policy initiatives: Single payer health care for all; A $15 minimum wage; 100% renewable energy; Legalizing recreational marijuana and expanding the medical marijuana program. I was especially pleased to learn that he intends to work toward the creation of a publicly owned State bank. There are enormous benefits to the State placing all of its funds and investments with a bank owned by the people of the state. Not the least of which is the interest to be saved on loans and bonds now placed with private banks. Interest paid to our own State bank just goes back into State coffers. Currently, the only public State bank belongs to the people of North Dakota. It has been in operation for 100 years and helped North Dakota weather the worst of the 2008 recession. California is studying the creation of a State bank, as is New Jersey. Santa Fe too, is well along in their study phase.
I have no doubt that DeBenedittis’ stated program is preferable to the three other candidates he will face once he wins a spot on the ballot, which he has every confidence he will achieve. He will not be taking any corporate money to fund his campaign, depending solely on individual donors as Bernie did. And if the Democrats retain control of the legislature, a DeBenedittis Administration holds great hope for positive change for the people of New Mexico.
There were several aspects of DeBenedittis’ presentation that gave me pause as a progressive. First, he gave short shrift to his rationale behind favoring the legalization of recreational marijuana. He did mention the positive effect it would have on the economic activity in the state, but did not specifically discuss the tax revenue that would bolster the state’s anemic income. Next, he described an element of his primary campaign strategy as “going after the low hanging fruit”, meaning already registered Democrats. When it was suggested that, as insurance, he directly appeal to the many Democrats who left the Party after the 2016 primary and election, and to the many independents who are progressives who voted for Bernie, DeBenedittis was less than enthusiastic. This writer believes that the candidate is handicapped by never having held elective office and by not having political experience, considering his opponents’ backgrounds. It seems that he can use all the votes he can muster. Concentrating mostly on the low hanging fruit is a risky strategy.
Another attendee recommended that the candidate visit the colonias, where the rate of voting is very low, and whose people would disproportionately benefit from his progressive program. For a campaign that advertises putting “People First”, it was disappointing that this notion, too, was not met with much interest.
Dr. DeBenedittis spoke a good deal about his intention to promote entrepreneurship. He saw this as one important function of a State bank. Curiously, however, he touted the “gig economy” as the model such business innovation should follow, indicating that companies like Uber and Air B&B were the wave of the future. Speaking with him one on one at the end of the meeting, I cautioned that progressives would be turned off by his stance on those companies and the gig economy idea overall. He agreed with my criticism of them as highly exploitative of both their workers and customers. Nevertheless, he argued that their business model is becoming a prevalent one and there is no going back. He did, however, thank me for my input.
My takeaway is that DeBenedittis is a Pessimistic Progressive, a rather contradictory condition. He makes no criticism of capitalism. In fact, he appears to have accepted its permanence and its increasing exploitation of workers. When I asked him why, as a progressive, he did not see a need to fight the evils of the gig economy, he merely took a stance of resignation. This position alone puts the lie to his True Progressive label. Sure, the candidate is more progressive than his opponents. And in the short run, if elected, he will probably do some good. He seems to be a decent, sincere man with a good heart. But as history has shown, progressive programs within an anti-progressive political and economic system are very difficult to sustain. The attacks on every New Deal program put in place by Franklin D. Roosevelt began on the day they were passed, and continue until today. Much has been lost over the years. Today, the Trump tax plan promises to do great damage to Social Security, Medicare and Medicaid.
The people need and demand progress, not oscillation. Stability, not insecurity. For a governor to settle for temporary reforms is teasing, not leadership.
The future will not be won with half measures.