Former state Senator Dede Feldman is a force to be reckoned with. After retiring from the Legislature in 2012, the former journalist-turned-politician still hits the streets advocating for stronger voting rights legislation and helping other women who may want to enter the field of politics. It’s a support system she never had. The Paper. sat down with Feldman to talk about her new memoir, Ten More Doors, how she decided to enter the boy’s club of politics in New Mexico, what’s changed in municipal elections and where she sees some things still need progressive change.
The Paper.: You used to be an investigative journalist for an alt-weekly publication called the Seer’s Catalog in Albuquerque during the 1970s that I don’t think many people have heard of. Can you tell us about your work?
Sen. Dede Feldman: N.M. has a strong history of alternative publications. I had just moved here with my husband from Pennsylvania. It was the golden age of journalism because we were working in the limelight of Woodward and Bernstein and the Nixon trial. We saw how good journalism made a difference in public policy, and there was a lot of faith in “The pen is mightier than the sword.” We covered Native American rights issues and nuclear energy, among other things. We also covered a lot of political scandals.
How did you make your way into politics, and was it a hard path?
I started my own small PR company, and I was the press secretary for Tom Udall and a few other folks. Working with other candidates, I started thinking that maybe it was something I could do. So I ran for Albuquerque City Council in 1995, and like so many women on their first campaign, I lost. By nine votes.
Elections were very different in 1995 than they are now. Like I talk about in my book, I was an Anglo woman from the East Coast, and I lived in the North Valley. All the people in the valley were Democrats, and their candidates were Democrats too. A lot of issues were not seen as partisan issues, say like taxation and public funding of projects. That was just a voter issue. Democrats and Republicans actually talked to one another.
When I ran, it was before support groups like Emerge existed to help teach women how to run for public office. I was on my own. We had something I called ‘The Bitch and Moan Party,’ where women would get together and we would write each other checks. We really didn’t have the role models that young women in politics have today.
What do you think still needs to change in municipal and state elections in New Mexico?
I think the State Legislature should be paid. Since they’re not paid, and most have no staff, they count on support from lobbyists and campaign contributors. Most are older and are affluent, because they have to be financially stable enough to take off two months at a time and leave their day job. That means a lot of willing and younger working people can’t afford to run.
I think this election cycle has taught us something about public financing, and that is the system works. If a man who is a law enforcement officer who is supposed to be upholding the system, forged documents and was not successful, then it’s working. It also points out possibilities for reform. I hope the City Council works on that; but I think all of our systems can always have room for improvement. It’s politics. So you fight for change, you get the change, and then you fight to keep the change.
Ten More Doors is available from any local bookstore, on Amazon or directly from her website at dedefeldman.com.