Sánchez’s persistence helps turn a pipe dream into early education milestone

By Phill Casaus  Nov 12, 2022

All great insurgencies have their moments of doubt, uncertainty, defeat.

Undeterred, they continue and endure — wiping away dust and blood and disappointment and derision. And just when they seem extinguished, stamped out like a Marlboro beneath a boot heel, they come back for more.

Think Continental Army at Valley Forge. Think Rocky Balboa — Apollo Creed through Clubber Lang through Ivan Drago.

Allen Sánchez knows a little something about ‘em. For 11 years, he was the foamy voice behind the effort that would become Constitutional Amendment 1, the against-all-odds pipe dream that after Tuesday’s overwhelming “yes” vote will gush hundreds of millions into early childhood education in New Mexico.

C’mon. A decade ago, there couldn’t have been a bigger underdog than Sánchez and his coalition of advocates, arm-twisters and truth-tellers. Maybe they had facts and emotion on their side, but they were also banging against a mountain range of power and politics, two realities that usually turn dreamers to cynics.

Oddly, all Sanchez could see was hope.

“It was inevitable,” he said, a couple of days after more than 472,000 members of the state’s electorate OK’d the use of money from its cherished $26 billion Land Grant Permanent Fund to be used on high-quality early childhood education and New Mexico’s beleaguered public schools. “It’s inevitable.”

Sánchez, president of nonprofit CHI St. Joseph’s Children, a cornerstone partner in the effort, acknowledges having the patience of Job was job one in the push to get the amendment on the ballot. It was never going to be easy, quick or convenient. But even that reality had its charms; it meant no short-term hurdle, hearing, procedural trick or recalcitrant legislator or governor could be allowed to dissuade him from the eventual goal.

Year after year, the push would get knocked flat. Year after year, Sánchez and his group returned.

“They would ask me, ‘What’s changed that you’d want to introduce this legislation again?’ Sánchez recounted. “And I would say two things are constant change: The children’s outcomes continue to get worse, and the trust [the permanent fund] only gets bigger.”

Sánchez said it helped that CHI St. Joseph’s Children doesn’t fundraise in New Mexico nor get government money. So, it had the ability “to be advocates and not lobbyists. An advocate will hold a legislator accountable. It’s much harder for a lobbyist to hold somebody accountable because they have to come back for another ask and another ask and another ask.”

Still, the advocates had to hit metrics, he said — at least one win a year, no matter how big or small. Getting the amendment through the House of Representatives was big. Clearing a reluctant Senate was even bigger. But even esoteric victories — Sánchez laughingly recalls when the “1,000 Kid March” was closer to a 100-kid march — were mile markers because it meant people were getting it.

All along, the coalition worked to educate not just the Roundhouse but the state about the dangers that face New Mexico’s children — and the possibility of changing that depressing downward arc if New Mexico codified a consistent revenue stream for early childhood education, plus created programs that provided vital help to little ones and their families.

Ten years ago, nobody knew what Adverse Childhood Experiences — ACEs — were, or how corrosive they can be in a kid’s life and future. There likely are many who still don’t understand the term or the effect. But they aren’t in the Legislature.

“We started going to hearings,” Sánchez said of the annual excursion through the legislative show, “and we gained some real support.”

The years passed, the politics changed, the effort stayed true to mission. Along the way, opponents either drifted away, were voted out of office or went silent. In their place came converts, and not just in the Roundhouse. By this fall, passage seemed all but assured, and Tuesday put the exclamation on it: The amendment passed with 70 percent of the vote. Landslide.

All of which means Allen Sánchez can look back at the last 11 years, breathe a sigh of relief and shed tears of joy. But he also knows it was all part of the process.

“I mean, yeah, it’s nice and I enjoy it; I’m happy that people give me credit,” he says. “But it’s very humbling because I’m just following the roadmap. That’s all I’m doing. I’m just following the roadmap of the organization. And if you do that, because the collective wisdom is greater than the individual, it goes on. So I’ll do this as much as I can for as long as I can, but I go to bed knowing that when I can’t go there, there’ll be somebody who will be just as qualified to take my place.”

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