Citizens disgusted with government in gridlock are working to develop a grassroots response with the formation of a Santa Fe group of No Labels, a national movement seeking ways to motivate lawmakers to compromise rather than stonewall.
They’re meeting 2-4 p.m. Saturday at the Heart of Mary Retreat and Carmelite Center, 49 Mount Carmel Rd. (just off Old Pecos Trail).
Dudley Hafner, one of the early organizers, said Santa Fe is probably the first location in New Mexico to meet to set up a formal action committee, although work is under way in Albuquerque, Las Cruces, Clovis and other parts of the state.
Some 125 people have signed up in the Santa Fe area and about 950 statewide as interested in No Labels, he said, adding that he expects maybe 25 to 30 to show up at Saturday’s Santa Fe meeting.
“I’ve tried very hard to get people not to use No Labels to preach their viewpoint about politics,” Hafner said. “It’s to fix the system.”
In other words, it’s not a third party. It’s not lobbying for a certain political agenda. Instead, it’s trying to make Congress and the presidency work again, to come back to the middle and find compromise solutions for the nation’s problems.
“I’ve seen the mess Congress is making out of all the things the government does,” said Peter Prince, an engineer who recently took early retirement from Los Alamos National Laboratory and has gotten involved with No Labels. “When I got in middle management, I saw the huge amount of money that was wasted.”
That waste didn’t come from people’s unwillingness to work, but from cuts in spending and other restrictions that made it impossible for people in government to do their jobs well, he said.
As an engineer and scientist, he said, he wants to see lawmakers look at the facts of a situation and come together to make a decision based on those facts.
The national organization outlines its purpose and background on www.nolabels.org. “No budget, no pay” is one of its most high-profile campaigns, seeking a requirement that members of Congress not get paid if they don’t pass the national budget and spending bills on time.
It also targets internal operations of the system, for example, seeking to allow a bipartisan majority to overrule a committee chair’s or floor leader’s decision not to bring a bill to the floor; to not allow “virtual” filibusters; to bring the President to the floor of Congress monthly for a question-and-answer session; to vote on all presidential nominations within 90 days, and more.
Former Gov. Jon Huntsman, a Utah Republican, and Sen. Joe Manchin, D-W.Va., have signed on as No Labels’ national leaders. They and other supporters will come together at a Jan. 14 meeting in New York City to try to build the movement.
No Labels has drawn fire from some bloggers and others for not taking positions on hot issues such as abortion and gun control, but supporters stress that’s not their role. Instead, they say, they’re focused on making the system work.
“Compromise to some … people is really a dirty word,” Hafner said. “But the Constitution and the Founding Fathers set it up so we’re required to compromise to really move forward.”
Hafner called the people he’s seen interested in No Labels as “problem-solvers” who “believe it’s best for the middle, left and right working it out together. Nobody has all the answers.”
The group has attracted a good Hispanic/Anglo mix, he said, while admitting most No Labels people whom he’s met have been 45 or older. Albuquerque members, though, are looking to get university students involved, he added.
The middle — the moderate Democrats and moderate Republicans — has increasingly disappeared from Congress, he said. And Hafner has some experience there. Before retiring in 1997 to Santa Fe, he spent 17 years as chief executive officer of the American Heart Association, a job that included lobbying Congress.
During that time, he saw members of both parties working together and hammering out legislation agreeable to both sides, he said, adding that he feels the polarization has developed since his time on the Hill.
He blames that polarization on the fact that “only 79 congressional districts in this country are considered a coin flip.” In the 375 or so remaining “safe” districts where one political party has a clear majority, candidates have to play to the more extreme base of their party to get elected, Hafner said.
He said his involvement in No Labels is “not about me; it’s about my great-grandkids.”
Hafner added, “I want people to realize they really can make a difference. I want them to own their own power.”
And how about the risk that, like many grassroots groups in the past, it disappears after a few months or years?
“All organizations run the risk of dying on the vine,” Prince said. “That won’t discourage me from trying. Failure is not something to fear.”