Ten More Doors: Passing the Torch to a New Generation of Democratic Women

Last year, when I wrote my memoir, Ten More Doors: Politics and the Path to Change, I couldn't stop thinking about young women who want to make a contribution, run for office, or start an enterprise-- just like I did back in the day.  That why I am delighted that New Mexico's first woman Commissioner of Public Lands, Stephanie Garcia Richard, Emerge graduate, fierce campaigner and champion of the environment, wrote the Foreword to the book, which is now available at local bookstores or directly from me at dedefeldman.com/tenmore.

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Foreword to Ten More Doors: Politics and the Path to Change

I remember a particular summer day in Dede and Mark Feldman’s Jemez mountain home, food overflowing their tiny kitchen, at least two dozen curious voters perched with paper plates on knees to hear from me—the newly minted Democratic legislative candidate for the surrounding district—as I tentatively began to tell them all how I was a force to be reckoned with. I told them how I would defeat the popular, ten-term Republican legislator who currently represented them. I told them how I would stand up for the forests and the canyons as well as the people. I lost that race but went on to win many more, nally achieving statewide office. Senator Dede Feldman and her husband Mark had taken a chance on me, an unknown, no-name candidate with no political experience. They went out of their way to give me a voice and an audience in the beautiful home that Mark built. I will never forget their early encouragement and support— both financial and moral. It meant so much to me back then that Dede, this well-respected paragon of progressive politics, saw something in me that was worth backing.

It is that memory—that summer evening—that came back to me full force as I read the pages of this memoir. And as I read, I kept asking myself how does Dede’s story fit into the larger story of New Mexico politics. Who is she, anyway? An out-of-stater, progressive-before-her-time, Anglo woman from the East. A reformer. A fighter. A mentor.

You see, being a woman in electoral politics when Dede did it was tough, because there weren’t many who had come before her. The organization, Emerge New Mexico, whose particular mission it is to train and run Democratic women candidates for one had not yet “emerged.” The landscape for women candidates and women office holders was still uncertain. We hadn’t had a woman in Congress yet, or our first woman governor, let alone more than one! There weren’t those she could look to in order to model herself as a female candidate or office holder to show her “how it was done.” For me, Dede is that woman who came before: the trailblazer, the way finder; one of the few that made it more possible and probable for candidates like me and countless others to succeed.

Politics in New Mexico has roots going back centuries; primaries here are often called “blood sport.” With so much colonialist history, years of intergenerational trauma, battles, and revolts, New Mexico has its own unique brand of what it means to run, win, and serve. Dede stepped into all of that with grace and a voice—like my own mother, a loud insistent voice—honed by years of journalism and tough campaigns. Though I never had the privilege of serving with her in the New Mexico State Legislature—I won my seat for the first time the same year Dede retired—I always knew her not only as a strong supporter of other ambitious female candidates, but as someone who had taken on the tough fights—prescription drug prices, health insurance, campaign finance reform—and even won some of them! I remember the newspaper articles, the photos of her alone on the floor, pressing for a tax on tobacco or transparent committee hearings, often running into a brick wall made up of the old guard, who thought they knew better. I knew her as a model, and a mentor. Someone who I looked up to and wanted to be. When Dede walks into a room— even today, though no longer in public office—people accost her in crowds to ask her opinion on this or that political topic of the day just to hear from her.

Today, as an advocate against big money in politics, Dede continues the struggle for a fairer, more equitable political system. Though no longer in the senate, she continues as a citizen reformer for the organization Common Cause, where she fights for seemingly unwinnable goals, inching ever for- ward toward a more just future.

Her voice is as assured and strong as ever. She continues to be a fierce campaigner, always pushing ideas before their time, never backing down. Dede is always moving forward, one step at a time.

It is my hope that this memoir will seal Dede’s legacy on the list of New Mexico progressive reformers and spur a younger generation of activists to see the value in perseverance and good, old-fashioned stubbornness—no matter how many people say, “It can’t be done!”

Stephanie Garcia Richard New Mexico Commissioner of Public Lands March 2021