Diary of a Congresswoman

Teresa Leger Fernandez:
So it’s been a really good day, actually in many respects, but it’s also definitely a moment in time where we have both aspects of what’s happening in DC and across the country occurring in a single day. So part of my day was, I’m on the Ed[ucation] and Labor committee. We had just an introduction to each other meeting today. And as the chair goes through what our agenda was and what we’ve been doing, me and a couple of the other freshmen are texting me to say, Oh my God, he’s giving my campaign speech, right? These are all the things we ran on and that we’re going to get done and pretty excited. And they’re in the Biden rescue package, and we’ve been talking to the Biden campaign about them, and we’re going to do this. I mean, talk about it, title one funding idea, which is the disability, which we never fully fund, student loan, strengthening, labor, everything.
And so it’s so exciting because these are the substantive policy things that we need to be working on. And it’s very exciting. Another part of my day was taken up with hours worth of security briefings. And how do we keep ourselves secure? And you know, how do we put on the gas masks and how do we just keep ourselves secure in DC, at home? What are the threats? These are the credible threats and they’re ugly and they’re scary. So it’s just that juxtaposition of the place that we’re at. And that’s what makes this moment both promising, because there’s the promise of what we can get done, and scary, because we know that there are those who are aligned precisely because they don’t want us to get these things done. Our conversation today was about expanding opportunity, making sure that poor kids and minority kids and kids in disadvantaged places get access to the kind of schooling they want.
That’s about expanding opportunity. That’s about empowering, right? That’s about protecting these little children that we love. And labor unions and all kinds of other good stuff, and $15 and all that wonderful stuff. And then this other one is, what do we have to do to protect ourselves from those who don’t want to see that power and participation is expanded to everybody, who don’t want brown kids and black kids and native American kids and kids who are not what they think is the right kind of kid to really have what they need. I mean, it’s the white supremacists and that’s the extreme right and the terrorists who don’t want this. And so it’s just that usually it should just be an ideological, do we have the votes to be able to get it through, but now it’s do we have the votes and are we going to be safe enough to get it through? I mean, that’s the overlay that is so different now, but yeah, that was my day is a little bit of the promise and the opportunity. A lot of the promise and the opportunity was really wonderful. And then definitely the scary nature of having this wonderful project called democracy under such attack.
Mary-Charlotte Domandi:
I think there’s an important distinction and I’d love to hear your take on this. What I see is that the Republican party has been for many, many years intent on basically moving wealth upwards so that it’s more in the hands of business people and those who are in already the 1% and that kind of thing. And to do that, they have courted the white supremacists and the group that became and is represented by the insurrectionists, who really aren’t served by those policies at all. And so there’s really a distinction between—there’s the question of what’s good for whom in terms of these things that you’re trying to get through.
Well, yeah, I mean, I think that that’s the whole thing, that in order for the plutocrats to maintain control, you actually have to restrict democracy. That’s very clear. You have to make sure that those who would pursue an agenda of inclusiveness and expansion of opportunity or not elected, and don’t get elected. The only way you are able to have a continuation of this accumulation of wealth that serves only a few is if the majority are not actively participating and are not actively informed about what are the policies of each of the parties and how are they serving you. And so that comes to us needing to actually describe what our policies are in a way that is translated into, this is how it serves you. You cannot get elected if you actually say what your policy is. If Donald Trump had stood up and said, I am going to do a tax break, that’s not going to benefit any of you that, but that is going to make my billionaire donors and friends, bigger billionaires, nobody’s going to vote for you. You have to describe it in a way that is not true. And then you have to limit who participates in the democracy. And so that’s why I think that democracy itself is the key underpinning to everything. And expanding democracy so everybody participates. But even when you get that to everybody participates, it’s also so everybody’s informed. So it requires both participation and information. And in both those places, there has been a huge restriction of the ability of many Americans to participate, and sometimes they’re different ones. Sometimes the restriction of participation is aimed at minority communities. And sometimes the restriction on accurate information is aimed at white communities. So the strategy is almost inverse for both of those two different communities. I truly believe that, which is why I think that HR1, the electoral work, the democracy work is such a fundamental basic for us to move forward.
And what I’m really happy about is the Democratic caucus thinks so too. That’s why the first four number bills, the speaker’s, are electoral bills, or electoral reform bills. I mean that tells you what the priority is. The other thing that’s interesting is there’s something we did in the rules committee. And I don’t know if I mentioned that when we passed the second day. So the first day we got sworn in and we elected the speaker. The second day, either the second or the third day of work, was passing a rules package. What the democratic caucus did was in that rules package, they did everything so that we could vote with mostly and on and on and all those things. But we also created select committees. These are not standing committees. These are select committees. They actually don’t pass legislation, but they do the study necessary so that when you want to address a problem, you then address it holistically and then set out everything so that the little different pieces of actually legislation can go to whatever the standing committee is with jurisdiction. So when you look at what those select committees are, there’s a select committee on the pandemic. There’s a select committee on the climate crisis. There’s a select committee on modernization or something, right, but then there’s a new select committee now on inequity. It’s the select committee on economic disparity and fairness and growth. That tells you what the priorities and focus of the democratic caucus is going to be because they are saying, this is such an important issue that we need to make sure that we don’t just have a lot of individual bills and the different committees, but that we have a thorough understanding of it, that we can then put the different bills, which will go to different committees that they need to be worked on. But I love the fact that we did this. I was thinking of serving on this committee and because of other assignments I’ve gotten, I’m going to pull back my name. But this is exactly what New Mexico needs. We need the kind of federal legislation that will help us pull up an out of being 50th.
You know what you’re just saying now, combined with what you were saying before, it’s making me reflect on something that I’ve been thinking about for a long time. And that is that so much of what has been the racial white supremacy ideology in our country—it benefits the people on top and it divides and conquers the white people from the black and brown people who, if they were to actually sit down at their dinner table together and discuss what their lives are like, have a whole lot more in common. And if they were to come together would be an unstoppable force for democracy and equity. And so it’s so ironic to me.
Exactly. And that’s the whole, I mean, we’re going to celebrate MLK day, Martin Luther King. So much of the work was around democracy and civil rights and stuff. But when he starts talking about the need to address the economic equality and the issues that they share, and here we are, how many decades later, and we still haven’t been able to make that connection that he started calling for in his later speeches. And so we need to get there, but this is the kind of work that the democratic caucus is committed to. And I need to say, I’m a member of the progressive caucus, but the select committee, this was adopted by everybody in the democratic caucus. So the fact that there is a progressive caucus and a problem-solvers caucus, and this caucus, you know, they’re just different approaches. But one of the things I want to highlight is that the entire caucus is committed to this. And that’s just what we did. We said, these issues, climate pandemic, economic inequity, have to be addressed in a way that is urgent and that is focused and that is comprehensive.
I look forward to hearing how you and the Democrats in Congress really start to connect things like climate change and inequity. And I’ve been thinking about that because of my work in the food system, because when farmers are treated properly and when wages are a little higher, people can afford good food and farmers can afford to produce it. And those things then mitigate climate change. So it’s, all these things are interconnected.
Everything is interconnected. And, and, and that’s why I think having these select committees that their job is to try to look comprehensively and holistically at the different pieces. And I will say when the agriculture chair was up, both people who were vying to become chair of the agriculture committee, we asked them, I mean, I asked both of them, where are you with regards to regenerative agriculture? Where are you with regards to making sure that agriculture is one of the ways in which we address the climate crisis? The ag committee actually does issues around food. That’s where you get food stamps and nutrition, the snap benefits. Both of the individuals who were running were very committed that’s Oh, no, we need to do that. We’ll see. But those were commitments they made. So there is definitely an understanding, Oh, we didn’t get to talk yesterday, but yesterday, oh, it was so much fun! Yesterday I got to be with my people. Yesterday I got to, I did a lot of in-district meetings, but I got to hang out with the acequia association, which are some of my favorites. And so we had just a wonderful time talking about, you know, we speak the same language and they were, you know, it was, it was a lot of fun, because some of the work I did before, they still use like one of their opinions with regards to transfers of acequias parciantes water rights out of a system still holds that we worked on when I was acequia commissioner. But then we were able to talk about the different legislation and how the people on that call were making their living on very small farm holdings, but doing it and really committed to the land and the preservation of the water and worried about the drought and worrying about climate change. And so those are definitely things that my constituents really want me to work on.
And I shared with them, I’m sharing with everybody, which is bring to me the problems and bring to me ideas and opportunities you have. So we talked about existing legislation that I’ll be reintroducing some of the legislation that didn’t make it through the last cycle, but also new ideas because they’re the experts. You’re the farmer. You’re opening the gates, you know, what are the things you need when you interface with the federal government? I’m sympathetic because of my past experience as acequia commissioner, and the fact that I still have land, that’s served by acequias. But you know, they know that better than anybody. So it was great. Yeah. It’s, it’s been, it’s been a really good two days following the impeachment vote because unity and healing only come after accountability. Right? And so we’re able to now do the work. This is the work we need to do to take all the air out of what those violent people are doing. And also convince those who, you know, might’ve voted for president Trump are not violent in any way, but they’re afraid and they want to see some change and they want to see their lives get better. We need to do the work so that they can see, you know, it’s not about an individual. It’s about making the system work for you. And that’s our job.