Reflecting on the much-televised and social media-shared turmoil on Capitol Hill January 6, Corrales’ Marg Elliston pointed out that the 2018 Women’s March protesting Donald Trump’s inauguration was much larger.
She was one of those marchers, and returned home to become chair of the Democratic Party of New Mexico, a position she has held for the past three years. Elliston has announced she will step down from that position at the end of April. Previously, she chaired the Sandoval County Democratic Party for five years. Corrales Comment asked her to reflect on that experience and preview challenges ahead, as well as to give her views on the attempt earlier this month to storm the U.S. Capitol to overturn the presidential elections.
“What happened last week in the Capitol is heart-breaking,” she said. “They did try to undermine our democracy, but the transition in power is still rolling on despite this domestic terrorism.” She does not feel that America’s democratic system is really threatened. “Our democracy is working so far. I would point out that we just had the largest voter turnout in our history.”
And while the citizenry needs to be vigilant against an authoritarian tendency, our democratic values remain strong, she suggested. The New Mexico context for the pro-Trump movement is provided by actions taken by Republican Party leadership in this state, Elliston said. “Steve Pearce and the Republican Party continue with their misinformation and conspiracy theories. They challenged results of the 2020 elections; they impounded ballots that had been certified’ they sent in squads of people to analyze those ballots for fraud, but none was found. They still haven’t given us an honest account for what they saw. They tried to sue the Secretary of State for a huge amount of information, although that lawsuit somehow just withered away..”
At any rate, she said, “The Republican Party in New Mexico has still not acknowledged Joe Biden as our next president. I’d like to see them step up and say we had a free and fair election in 2020 and commit to work together to address the tremendous challenges we all face.”
She was asked to explain how the nation, and New Mexicans, became so divided. “I don’t know how to answer that… it’s been going on for years. We have more technology now that fomented those conspiracy theories that have been floating around. We need to focus on what is equitable and fair in our economy and our society. The problems we face in those areas are at the heart of some of that divisiveness… not all, but a lot of it.”
The retiring state party chairwoman blamed some of the divisiveness on the significant “urban-rural divide in New Mexico. I’m very concerned about that. I think a lot of Trump’s support is coming through that divide. So I think there are some important things we need to consider when we’re looking at what is happening in rural areas compared that what’s happening in the urban.
“There’s a huge disinvestment. We have a lot of towns in New Mexico that are struggling because people are leaving. I was struck with that when I went up to Clayton and Roy. Mechanization has ruined small towns just like it has ruined steel mill towns and places like that. You don’t need cowboys on horses to go out and take care of cattle because everybody has got these little four-wheel devices. There are just not as many people needed to run a big ranch. So towns that used to serve the ranching community are drying up. Just like we don’t need coal mines any longer, because increasingly we’re not using coal.
“It would be great if we could find some way to parachute in a thriving economy for those areas because those towns are great and they have a wonderful spirit of community pride. But the economy has kind of left them behind.”
That abandonment, she said, has left people in those communities susceptible to conspiracy theories. “They’re not getting help from the folks in charge, and they start railing against elites, whoever they may be, and they cling to their guns.” Elliston recapped her accomplishments as party chair, pointing to Democrats’ wins in all statewide races and increasing margins in the State legislature. And she is particularly proud that women are even better represented in public offices in New Mexico. “We’ve been pretty darn successful in doing that. There is now a majority of women in the N.M . House of Representatives. Our party leadership now has a lot of women at the county level…. and for good reasons: we work hard and we’re really dedicated to making a difference in our state. The guys who are used to running things are feeling a little left behind, too. But we don’t talk about that out loud too much.”
Since she was appointed to the state party chairmanship, she has fulfilled her promised to work in all 33 counties statewide. A big part of that year-round effort was to attract younger voters and organizers.
“It’s really great to get the perspective of young people who need a job. A lot of them don’t necessarily have time to volunteer for political work as some of older and retired people do, but they are eager to be involved and they have lots to say about the world that we are leaving them— which isn’t in very good shape right now.” Elliston said the younger Democrats are especially interested in the mounting climate crisis, economic fairness and ending structural racism.