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Leaving the party after 39 years

Bernie Digman (Courtesy photo)

On the 15th of September I finally went down to the county building and walked into the office that handles elections and voter registration and left the party I’d belonged to for 39 years.

I’d been thinking of doing so for a long time. Part of hanging on to the failed relationship was the hope that with just a little more time the party would regain some of the standards and principles and ethics it once claimed were bedrocks of its foundation. It just wasn’t going to happen, and I reluctantly faced up to the truth and the reality.

I’ve been married to the same wonderful woman for almost as long, and she’s the only wife I’ve ever had, so I’ve no idea if leaving the party is like leaving a spousal relationship in the most minor way. It was a little bittersweet. I have no intention of leaving the wonderful spousal relationship. But in the case of the party it just became too much of an obvious choice for who I am and what I do and what my values have been.

Mostly it became an obvious choice for what the party has devolved into.

Who I am

I’m a veteran. I served in the Army from ‘73 through ‘76. I’d been drafted and, partly because I didn’t want to be the last man killed in Vietnam, I signed up in hopes of staying as far away as possible from what, even then, I knew was a futile war. It worked.

I’m a business owner. I employ 10 to 15 part-time staffers in a small retail food establishment and have managed to stay in business in Las Cruces for about 15 years, sometimes in the face of strong protestations from my CPA. I’m totally familiar with the requirements put on small business by governments and the ephemeral rewards of keeping the doors open in the face of a host of obstacles.

I’m an investor. Mostly through luck and a very successful spouse and a generous family I am involved in the stock market and oil production on a very modest scale as well as real estate. I’m one of those who gets a bit concerned with the wild fluctuations of a stock market that partly decides when I get to relax some and spend more time with the grandsons. I have more than a passing familiarity with the oil business and the myths many folks hold of how it works.

I’m a community volunteer. I have spent years in the past on boards and as chair of a few of the local organizations such as the Red Cross and La Piñon. I’ve also logged about 15 years as a volunteer firefighter in my local fire department and have awakened my wife too many times to count to get up in the middle of the night to go out and assist my community. I’ve washed a lot of trucks, given a lot of kids rides and been witness to the sadness and tragedy all firefighters experience in this line of service.

Because of my veteran status and the support of a wife way more intelligent than me, I am also a college graduate of a New Mexico school. Not only did I manage to get a college degree, I obtained a two-year diploma from a trade school. I’m an alumni both of the old Albuquerque T-VI in diesel mechanics as well as UNM, where I earned a bachelor’s degree in political science and economics.

I’m a gun owner. My father and mother came from the darkest of hollows in West Virginia to New Mexico, where I was born. Hunting, fishing and “putting by” were what they did and what we did growing up. My father taught me early how to use firearms and how to respect what they mean.

I’m a father and grandfather. My family represents the iconic climb on the economic and educational ladder many think is part of the American Dream. My parents never graduated from high school. All three of my parents’ children graduated from college. Our son and his lovely wife graduated from college, one with a law degree and one with a PhD.

If punch cards were given out for party qualifications, I think my card would be pretty much complete. Probably only a few items would raise eyebrows to a lot of regulars in the party.

I’ve been a contributor to the ACLU for decades and a card-carrying member for the past 10 or so.


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I’ve never understood how one could be a member of the party and not also support the work of the ACLU, but that’s another story for another time. I have found almost all the work of the ACLU to be in tune with my patriotism, public service and private business interests.

The birth of a cult

So why have I bored you with all the details and too much information about my background and affiliations? I do so to illuminate, just a little, the picture of who I am, how like others in the party I am, and what my interest and involvement has been in my country and community.

Thirty-nine years is a long time for any human endeavor. We aren’t talking geologic time, so almost four decades means something. But, like I said in the beginning, the reality and truth will overwhelm the past accomplishments eventually. Whatever was good can be replaced by what is not good. Things that stood for something and represented shared values can be replaced by the base and ugly and false.

That’s why I gave a lot of thought to the move before I walked into the county elections office and changed my party affiliation from Republican to independent.

When I look at the current leaders of the Republican Party, I don’t see anyone who resembles what they once stood for and advocated. What I see now is a group of leaders who seek power for power’s sake, not for what good they can accomplish.

What I see now is a Republican Party that would rather see vast numbers of my fellow Americans suffer than sit down in civil discourse and work for the common good. What I seen now is a Republican Party that panders to the basest fears of race, class, religion and sexual orientation rather than seeking to strengthen one of the world’s most diverse cultures. What I see now is a Republican Party that does not consider those citizens with opposing views of how best to improve our country as the loyal opposition, but that views any opposition to their raw desire for power as treasonous and worthy of ridicule, mocking and scorn.

What I see now is a Republican Party that no longer views the country as a whole that requires common actions that would raise the standards of living for all, but a Republican Party that views the country as but a collection of votes to be exploited and pandered to in order to instill the “fear voting” that seems to be their new currency of elections. What I see is a Republican Party that does not believe that those less fortunate are a burden for the country to share and to work together to lift, but a Republican Party that sees those less fortunate as a group to be held up to public fears and to be blamed for the actions of those who actually have had the power and resources to make lives better yet have chosen another path.

Probably most saddening is that I see a Republican Party that is being driven by a few toward positions that are the most destructive for our country.

The Republican Party I used to know is being driven toward religious intolerance, ethnic divisiveness, cultural bigotry and intellectual bankruptcy by those who are not conservative, are not religious and are not in the least patriotic. When a party begins to believe that not coming to the aid of citizens in distress in order to win elections is a better strategy for our country than compromise and civility, we are seeing the collapse of a party and the birth of a cult.

A glimmer of hope?

I’m hoping that my new “independent” status will bring a glimmer of hope. I ultimately believe in the collective wisdom of Americans over the long haul. I’m hoping, as the Republican Party moves further and further away from civility, compromise and conservatism, that those who, like me, have kept the faith for decades will finally take the step and leave the broken promises and hollow platitudes that have become the hallmarks of that relationship.

Best of luck to us all.

Bernie Digman is a native of New Mexico who has lived in Farmington, Albuquerque, Gallup and Las Cruces, where he and his wife own Milagro Coffee y Espresso, Inc. He’s still an active member of the Las Alturas Volunteer Fire Department and spends time traveling and with their son, daughter-in-law and two grandsons in Minnesota.

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27 comments so far. Scroll down to submit your own comment.

  1. Mr. Digman,

    Congratulations on seeing the bipartisan divide that prevents any of us from achieving the improvements that we all so deperately desire. Hopefully you will achieve some of your goals in the future. Best of luck!

    P.S.- I am constantly reminded of a classic Max Fleischer cartoon in which Olive Oyl was president, and both parties refused to agree in unison to any one of her progessive proposals… and that was 80 years ago!

  2. Welcome to Indyland, brother. I came from the other way round, but this endless Punch and Judy show sticks in my craw. I call it swinging deadlock. The incurable partisans play it the same each cycle, while the political attention deficit disordered swing back and forth in a misguided effort to throw the bums out. Somehow the same bums seem to stay in office, playing musical committee chairs, and living high on the Congressional dole for two or three decades before cashing in their off-shore escrow accounts.

  3. Dr. J. If you looked at the No Labels website, it’s hard to see how you reached the conclusion that the organization has no platform, no ideals and no positions on any issues. The organization’s premise is that Americans have shared values that are getting lost in the noise generated by hyper-partisanship. It views hyper-partisanship as an obstacle to dealing rationally with urgent national issues that won’t go away by themselves and won’t be solved by hurling insults across the Great Left-Right Divide. It identifies four examples of such issues on its website — national debt, our lack of a coherent national energy policy, an education system that isn’t educating our children, and an electoral process in dire need of reform — and clearly states the organization’s position on all four issues. With regard to electoral reform, for example, it states that it will work for open primaries, non-partisan redistricting, and campaign finance reform and explains why it considers each important. Perhaps for you, the issue of open primaries is “subjective pap”. For Mr. Dingman, a newly minted Independent who won’t be able to vote in the next primary, I suspect that it is not.

    Karla: I read both of your posts and am still trying to figure out what it is you think you added to the discussion of Mr. Dingman’s essay that warrants telling anyone else that his/her comment “isn’t thoughtful”, “doesn’t add a single, solitary, specific point to the debate”, and “clutters and diminishes the discussion.” Was it the part where you dismissed his entire essay as “standard left-of-center rhetoric” or the part where you imply that he lifted his comments from somewhere else?

    Your comments underscore why I think the No Labels agenda is an important one. For you, the fact that Mr. Dingman left the Republican Party can mean only one thing: he’s a leftist. And that, in turn, can mean only one thing: there can be no merit in anything he has to say. Too bad. You missed a pretty good essay by putting your blinders on.

  4. Karla,

    As I see it, what you are missing is INTROSPECTION. Do we really have to have a picture drawn, or do you really think there is nothing wrong with what the GOP has been doing for the past 11 years. They have said in so many words that their chief goal is to make Obama a one-term president and it is apparent that the good of the country as a whole (and not just for the wealthiest 0.01% of it) matters little in comparison.

  5. This article will be the subject of Keith Whepley’s 4pm program on AM570 today for those interested. I will also be on.

  6. Well, “KJ,” let’s see your idea of an “article” about why you are a “Republican.” “Just the facts, mam.”

    I’m just guessing about the “Republican” part.

  7. I agree with you Dr. J. The comments about this “article,” as well as the article itself, say more about the state we are in than anything else. The comments have the same value-free, content-free, cliches as the article. Far from being something to delve into or rally around, the “no-labels” crowd is pretty easily identifiable. I’ve never been fooled by people talking about “not wanting to ‘label’ anything.” After all, language, and words, mean things. After you have patiently asked people probing questions about what the “no labels” cliche means, you discover that they don’t want to be identified for believing the kinds of things, or advocating the kinds of things they support. The bottom line of it all is the same as the bottom line of the article in question: it isn’t thoughtful, it doesn’t add a single, solitary, specific point to the debate at all. On the contrary, through catch phrases and cliches it cluttters and diminishes the discussion. Sad.

  8. Karla, let me give you specifics since you are woefully and probably willfully uninformed:

    OBAMA:
    1 – Country was losing 800k jobs a month when he came into office, he passed a stimulus bill, and has created jobs every moth since then…so, he helped save us from going into possibly a depression

    2 – He saved over a million jobs by bailing out the Auto industry, and now they are making record profits

    3 – Passed financial reform creating more oversight of Wall Street and Credit Card Companies

    4 – Passed a Romney-like health bill that provides healthcare options to 35 million people that didnt have any

    bonus items:
    * He actually killed Osama Bin Laden, unlike Bush who failed to do so, and declared it was no longer important
    * Secured a massive amount nuclear weapons material from former soviet bloc countries (not highly publicized)

    Republicans:
    1 – Failure to compromise resulted in our Country’s credit to be downgraded
    2 – Have tried to roll back environmental protections that would result in tens of thousands of premature deaths
    3 – Have tried to privatize Medicare, while giving more tax breaks to the rich – IN THE SAME BILL
    4 – Tea Party ideologues spat on black Members of Congress after the election, when they were heading into the Capitol
    5 – Declared that their first priority was to defeat Obama

    So, Bernie had it dead right…His fomer Party has sold out the interests of our country.. all so they can win an election. They are neither acting like patriotic Americans, or leaders.

  9. Absolutely an EXCELLENT article. I for sure welcome you the groundswell of “Independents” or DTS’s as called in New Mexico. The entire two party system especially in New Mexico is completely non-functional. It is my honest belief that only Independents should be elected next time around in ALL elections especially across New Mexico. It is high time to clean house and throw all the others out with the bath water. I commend the writer in using the analogies he did as well as listing the background of who he is and where his roots come from. Basically, the heartbeat of this state as well as this country can be heard, allbeit rather faintly at the moment, but the groundswell is building. One should keep their ears to the ground and listen to the roar of those Independents riding into every town across this state and across this nation to take back what has been lost….GREAT ARTICLE.

  10. ppall505, this no lables group looks like an organization for fund raising for themselves, they have no platform, no ideals, no positions on any issues just a bunch of gobblydegook about common ground, common sense solutions, etc. but nothing on issues they favor, so what do they believe in? Just saying you want common sense solutions is vague, and non-specific and of course these highly subjective terms they use could mean anything to anybody, it only takes shape when your political philosophy is applied to the term. Their “Talking Points” are just vague catch phrases and subjective pap, they want DC to solve problems? Now that’s unique isn’t it? The left and right wing both think they do that, no labels is going to change something? Ha! Not much except grubbing money from disenfranchised voters and delivering no results, kinda like ‘Vegas. Withot any positions on issues this group is just meaningless junk mail.

  11. Bernie, I’m a life-long Democrat but am as sorry as you are to see what the Republican Party has become.

    One of my children, now in his 30s, surprised me the other day by saying something that implied that the major pieces of legislation enacted in the 1960s were the work of Democrats. I surprised him even more by telling him that the Civil Rights Act, the Voters Rights Act, and all of the laws ushered in The Great Society are the examples that can think of of bipartisanship in action. Yes, we have come to associate the name Lyndon Johnson with those pieces of legislation, but Everett Dirkensen the Senate Minority Leader and other Republicans in Congress worked with him every step of the way. What other bill can you think of besides the Civil Rights Act that actually had the co-floor leaders from the two parties working together to facilitate its passage?

    I do not believe that the country can pull itself out of the downward spiral we are in without either an event that will convince the Republican Party that it needs to re-establish itself as a center-right party or the emergence of a third party to replace the old Republican Party. I personally hold out very little hope that the former will occur and am therefore plan to take a very active role in the process that Americans Elect has initiated to give people who believe that politics is about working together, not about tearing down, a place to go.

    If you haven’t hear of Americans Elect or No Labels yet, take a look at what they stand for and what they are trying to do in 2012. You may find that there is a movement afoot that has your name on it and a way for you to select a presidential candidate in 2012 whom you will actually want to support.

    http://www.nolabels.org/who-we-are

    http://www.americanselect.org

  12. I must be missing something. I don’t see a single comment from Mr. Dingman that reflects anything other than standard left-of-center rhetoric, accusing the Republicans of terrible sins. In fact it looks like he just lifted the comments from other sources who say the same thing. It doesn’t contain anything specific, just cliches, like from a Michael Moore movie or something. If he has a specific objection he should articulate it, if he can.

  13. Ms. Wedum

    Thanks for your comments. Dr. James is a freshman. But a fast learner. You may not agree with the legislation, but until you met the man and talked to him… got the measure of him II suggest you not be too judgemental. I can think of just a few (hundred) pieces of rather marginal legislation that Democrats have put up over the years. I bet you can too? As you can see by my post, I think all sides could best be reprsented by some new blood. We are politically stale up at the Roundhouse currently. Would you agree?

  14. Yes, a courageous choice Mr. Digman, and one I have struggled with as a lifelong Democrat who feels his party has acted the same way you describe the Repubs. I am certain both parties are moving far away from where they used to be to attract people like us. I would not leave as you have, for I feel it is better to fight for a return to the true values Democrats used to have from within the party rather than cutting and running, which to me just leaves the party to the extremists. But, to each his own approach to this nasty and increasing horrible world of politics in America.

  15. Heartbreaking and true. Thanks for that, Bernie.

    After being a registered Democrat for 23 years, I changed my registration to Independent last year. Even though the Democratic party represents values that are often close to mine, the party as expressed in their approach to actual governance seems — currently — to be an imitation of the political style of the entrenching Right. (And “style” seems to matter much more to both political parties than “substance” right now.)

    I do worry that shifting to the “middle” might give short-term advantage to the extreme right, but if enough of us move to that lonesome middle we may yet pull the car out of the ditch.

  16. As a dyed-in-the-wool Democrat (actually, I call myself a Kenneth Starr Democrat: it was his witch hunt that severed my last affection for the GOP), I would really like to see a resurgence of the Republican Party of the past. Its primary concern was fiscal responsibility, a tenet it has ignored for over a decade. It was socially conservative, but not sociopathically conservative. I think of people like our own David Cargo, and statesmen like Everett Dirkson and Jerry Ford (The Ev and Jerry Show), Nelson Rockefeller, et al. I think of what the party did to Arlen Spector, the very last great Republican, in my mind. They were rational people. Their fiscal message was an important one. They have been systematically rooted out of the party.

    The current crop of presidential wannabees is a clinking, clanking, clattering collection of caligenous junk, to coin a phrase. They are an embarassment to the party and to the country.

    The Democratic Party is now the only party that can seriously claim to be fiscally responsible, despite the raucous rhetoric we’re hearing. You’ve changed from R to I; we’d like to invite you to change it to D.

  17. I admire Mr. Digman for his honesty and courage to face up to what has happened to the Republican Party. I, myself, became independent over 20 years ago after being a democrat for many years. Money and politics corrupt representative government on all sides and at all levels. It’s discouraging to say the least, and I’m sure many feel powerless to do anything about it.

    “Vote new ones in!” you say? Naw, they just get co-opted by the same system.

  18. When I look at the current leaders of the Republican Party, I don’t see anyone who resembles what they once stood for and advocated.
    Who stood for the Republican Party 39 years ago? I would think that the president at the time, a fellow named Richard Nixon, might have some bearing on what the Republicans stood for back then. Let’s see something he stated back then.

    Let’s look at the strong societies. The Russians. Goddamn, they root ‘em [homosexuals] out. They don’t let ‘em around at all. I don’t know what they do with them. Look at this country. You think the Russians allow dope? Homosexuality, dope, immorality, are the enemies of strong societies. That’s why the Communists and left-wingers are clinging to one another. They’re trying to destroy us.

    I fail to see how that tone is in any way different than the current Republican tone.

  19. While I am a Democrat I share the sentiments Mr. Digman expressed as to my own party. The only reason I have not become an independent party member is that our politicians have seen to it that Independents don’t get to vote in the primary elections. Overall though, I find that the politicians of both major parties to be strikingly similar – he said (with my edits) “What I see now is a Democrat Party that no longer views the country as a whole that requires common actions that would raise the standards of living for all, but a Democrat Party that views the country as but a collection of votes to be exploited and pandered to in order to instill the “fear voting” that seems to be their new currency of elections. What I see is a Democrat Party that does not believe that those less fortunate are a burden for the country to share and to work together to lift, but a Democrat Party that sees those less fortunate as a group to be held up to public fears and to be blamed for the actions of those who actually have had the power and resources to make lives better yet have chosen another path.” On the grand scale I see more similarities to our current president and the last president than I see differences. That’s the part that scares me the most because I thought the last one was . . . . well, I was not impressed. I am still not impressed even though we changed presidents. They both sound and act the same and the PEOPLE of these United States are still in trouble.

    What I fear most right now is that the American voters will continue to vote for the crazy politicians we have in office now at our own expense. We have got to get those people out of ‘their comfort zone’ and make them go look for a job and get to work earning a living . . . . sort of like the those of us who vote.

  20. MJM, you wrote: “For example an individual by the name of Conrad James…He is a deep thinker..(not just because he has a Ph.D. and works Sandia Labs…and was smart enough to marry a fine lady with an M.D. Who works at UNMH ..and has a a great family)…”

    I don’t see that James’ legislation matches his credentials. In his first session, he introduced HB380,
    NO SCHOOL HEALTH CENTER REPRODUCTIVE SERVICES

    “BE IT ENACTED BY THE LEGISLATURE OF THE STATE OF NEW MEXICO:
    SECTION 1. SCHOOL-BASED HEALTH CENTERS–REPRODUCTIVE
    HEALTH SERVICES–PROHIBITION.–No school-based health center shall offer or provide reproductive health services. As used in this section, “reproductive health services” includes advice
    or health care related to contraception, abortion, sexually transmitted diseases or reproductive processes and functions.”

    See
    http://www.nmlegis.gov/lcs/_session.aspx?chamber=H&legtype=B&legno=%20380&year=11

    Fortunately this idiotic piece of legislation never even wasted the time of the legislators in a committee hearing. It is a good example of, as Mr. Digman states, “What I seen now is a Republican Party that panders to the basest fears of race, class, religion and sexual orientation rather than seeking to strengthen one of the world’s most diverse cultures.” (my emphasis)

  21. Bernie:

    I miss our discussions about politics, investing and local issues that we used to have there at Pan Am Plaza. I can see exactly what direction you are headed. If you remember, I had you pegged as ‘a liberal’ until you corrected me back in 2007.

    If it were not for losing the ability to vote in a Republican primary, I would also register as an Independent or better yet, just plain old conservative with a touch of Libertarian.

    Party affiliation, simply stated, is a party “preference.” A political party is all about “values.” If the societal values of a particular party meets your need, then it is reasonable to say that you should register with that party. The Republicans do not meet my needs at this time.

    MY question would be, “How do I register Conservative?”

  22. While I am a lifelong Democrat, I share Mr. Digman’s dismay over the recent evolution of the Republican Party from a center-right party concerned with business and limited government into whatever it has become today. I used to make a point of finding at least one Republican to vote for in each election. That ended about six years ago. Our only hope is that the voters start rejecting the extremists so that the GOP has to change back into the Grand Old Party, not the Gang of Partisanship.

  23. I said a prayer this morning in church for Senator Lamar Alexander.

  24. Every complaint Mr. Digman has about the Republicans I see in the Democrat party. But I actually volunteered to serve in combat.

  25. Bernie, thanks for the thoughtul essay. I know most Americans are sick and tired of these right wing politicians putting politics before the best interest of our country…I just hope they dont fall for the bait and switch to see clearly who is the party that is sending us into the ditch.

  26. Mr. Dingman.

    I can sure appreciate your decision. It is one that I too contemplate from time to time.

    Then reality sets in. The Democrats and Republicans have gamed the system several years ago to prevent third parties from competing in New Mexico. And it certainly is time to get some independent representation.

    That said, the Republicans have offered up some fairly independent thinkers to their newly ellected House representatives. Democrats not so much. For example an individual by the name of Conrad James…He is a deep thinker..(not just because he has a Ph.D. and works Sandia Labs…and was smart enough to marry a fine lady with an M.D. Who works at UNMH ..and has a a great family)…

    There are others too. Conservative yes..but indempendent. Not perfect.

    I think there are some really smart Democrats/ Independents too. For example Mr. Cervantes. Smart man and a good attorney I hear. And Mr. Nunez switching to Independent. Well that took some guts. Mr. Smith is ok too but should look for a replacement…

    There is so much dead wood with all the old farts that are there to serve there own egos. Like Speaker Lujan.

    Neither the Dems nor Repubs have any bench strength….and watching the Special Session was an exercise in futility! A million $ for what?

    I do hope for change….Starting with Mr. Lujan and Mr. Sanchez. I hope they have the sense to let others take a shot. Republican or Democrat.

    At the Executive Level in this State Ms. Martinez is hobbled by Democratic Control in the llegislative branch…and our Judicial Branch is very liberal.

    And you wonder why things are more difficult here than surrounding states…

    Just wait till we see federal budgets cut…

    It ain’t gonna be pretty.

  27. Mr. Digman thank you for this article. After watching what has occurred with the change in administration and their alleged priorities, I actually downloaded the “Platform of the Republican Party of New Mexico” (Protecting the American Dream) to see what it said. (As amended March 13, 2010). I wanted to read the intended purpose and see if the actions matched the words. I am disappointed in both (actions and words) and (both parties–for that matter).
    If the framers of the constitution, in creating a judicary branch, disapproved of judges meddling in politics and parties –how is it the supreme court is going to decided redistricting that is politically driven? Is it possible a computer program can divide an equal number of citizens into proper districts without politics being involved? And why can independents not vote in primaries, if an independent is not running?

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