Bob Perls says state's democracy is broken and needs fixing

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FARMINGTON — Former state lawmaker Bob Perls says he has never met current state representatives Rod Montoya and James Strickler — the two Farmington Republicans who represent districts 1 and 2, respectively, in the House — and maintains he isn't specifically targeting them for defeat in November.

But that's not stopping him from trying to recruit independent candidates to run against them in the general election this fall.

Perls, a one-time Democrat who became disillusioned with the party many years ago before embarking on career as a U.S. foreign service officer, now leads Unite New Mexico, a nonprofit, nonpartisan organization dedicated to promoting competitive elections in the state. He will lead a town hall meeting of the group at 3 p.m. Saturday in the Suns Room at San Juan College, 4601 College Blvd. in Farmington.

Perls hopes to educate San Juan County residents about Unite New Mexico's mission during his visit, but he also hopes to come away with some more tangible results — commitments from at least two local residents to run as independents in races in which an incumbent faces no opposition. He said 60 percent of incumbents in state House races in 2018 have no declared opponent so far, a figure he claims is the highest in the nation and one that far exceeds the national average of approximately 25 percent.

He said the state figure is a good indication that democracy is broken here, and he believes Unite New Mexico's goals can help return it to good health.

"We're hoping to become the main advocacy group for independent voters and independent candidates in New Mexico," he said during a phone interview Wednesday from Corrales, where he lives. "There are a lot of barriers to being an independent voter or an independent candidate in New Mexico."

Perls is hoping to reach out not just to registered independents on Saturday, but also to Republicans, Democrats, Greens and Libertarians, and explain to them why they should support the aims of Unite New Mexico.

"I'll be answering questions about why our politics are broken and why the two-party system doesn't work anymore," he said.

He also hopes to head back to Corrales with the names of some individuals who will be willing to run as independent candidates against major-party incumbents later this year or in 2020.

"We're specifically looking for nonpartisan, what we call nonaligned candidates to go run for office," he said. "Electing another Democratic or Republican isn't going to solve the problem."

Perls believes if his organization can get three to five independents elected to the state House and two to three independents elected to the state Senate, those nonaligned candidates will be in an excellent position to promote the adoption of legislative compromises that too often elude both bodies now.

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"Right now, it's just gridlock," he said. "It's gridlock in Santa Fe; it's gridlock in Washington. You've got two warring factions throwing tomatoes at each other and not getting much done."

Unite New Mexico is holding a series of town hall meetings across the state over the next few weeks to promote its agenda and recruit candidates. It also is alerting those would-be office seekers about its planned candidate resource center, an entity designed to help them navigate the complicated process of seeking office.

Perls envisions the center, which does not yet have a physical location, serving in much the same manner as the party apparatus does for Democrats or Republicans. Nonaligned candidates would be counseled on the requirements for filing for office and filing campaign expenditure reports, perhaps even receive coaching on how to mount an effective campaign.

He thinks San Juan County is fertile ground for what his group is preaching, but not uniquely so.

"Honestly, I think every county and every state is uniquely fertile ground (for this message)," he said. "People are deeply frustrated with the failures of the two-party system."

Perls described San Juan County as a place with a center-right-leaning electorate, and that is one of the reasons so many elections go uncontested here.

"The chances of a Democrat taking on a Republican incumbent candidate successfully here are slim," he said. "But if you came up with the right nonaligned candidate who is articulate, who is thoughtful, that person can be successful running against a Republican."

Perls envisions the same approach being successful in other parts of northern New Mexico where Democrats are solidly entrenched and Republicans often are reluctant to run.

"It's not about targeting Republicans or Democrats," he said. "It's about targeting seats with no competition."

Call 505-330-7272 for more information about Saturday's meeting.

Mike Easterling is the night editor of The Daily Times. He can be reached at 505-564-4610.

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