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Senate debate brought back better political times

Watching Wednesday’s Senate debate was refreshing. It was substantive, civil, respectful and informative. Both candidates mentioned former Sen. Pete Domenici, my former boss. Also mentioned were former Congressman Manuel Lujan and Sen. Jeff Bingaman. It made me recall three principles that have been lost. If we are to be reunited, they need to be resurrected after the election:

No. 1: The role of the party who lost was that of loyal minority, not an intractable resistance. Both parties accepted the results of the national election and would work together until the next election. There was an unwritten rule that elections have consequences and that the winning party was entitled to the expeditious confirmation of its nominees to run the government.

No. 2: There was an agreement between both parties that there was certain “must pass” legislation every year, which included a federal budget and 13 appropriations bills that funded the government. There was also an agreed-upon agenda of problems that needed to be addressed legislatively for the benefit of the country, and all members from both parties were welcome to bring their best ideas to the table. Legislation was developed through the committee system, on a bipartisan basis for 18 of the 24 months of a congressional cycle.

There was actually a piece of paper upon which these must pass topics were written. One majority leader kept the list in his inside jacket pocket. These must pass initiatives were not allowed to be held hostage for political party posturing, and the congressional session didn’t end until those solutions had been signed into law.

The last six months before an election were universally recognized as “the silly season.” Everything became tinged and tainted with politics. The policy staff would take a backseat to the campaign staff. The objective shifted from what is best for the country to what is calculated to get us re-elected.

No. 3: Campaign finance reform, aka McCain Feingold, unfortunately made the silly season the year-round campaign season – the only season. The debate of ideas stopped. The must pass list was forgotten. The single obsession is fundraising. The race for dollars, in obscene amounts, is nonstop. The cost of campaigns skyrocketed. Meanwhile, the American people are getting less and less from their congressional delegations. The only beneficiaries of this new order are the media, who have abandoned fair and balanced reporting. Their ratings and revenues soar the more divisive they can make us feel. The solution might be a fundraising/spending moratorium a certain number of days before an election.

Wednesday’s debate was déja vu to the days of Bingaman, Domenici and Lujan – leaders who put New Mexico first. The candidates demonstrated their policy differences. Either will do a competent job. As former Rep. Mo Udall, D-AZ, once said after losing an election, “The voters have spoken, the bastards.” I hope we all will remember the forgotten principles and not behave like bastards.

Denise Ramonas was a staff member for U.S. Sen. Pete Domenici for 23 years and a former clerk in the New Mexico House of Representatives.

FOR THE RECORD: This has corrected Manuel Lujan’s service in Congress. As well as former Rep. Mo Udall of Arizona.


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