17. Arriving at Thriving with Sen. Bill Soules
Michelle Rathman: Hello, and welcome to the Rural Impact, a podcast that aims to connect the dots between policy and just about everything rural that we can think of. I'm Michelle Rathman, and I just want to say it again, authentically mean this. I am very grateful to be here with you, and I'm thankful for those of you who are subscribers, we really do appreciate that.
And if you're just finding us today, welcome. Please be sure to visit theruralimpact.com and just hit that subscribe button because when you do, not only will you get these episodes automatically in your feed, wherever you like to listen, you will also receive our e- blasts that come out after every series. We recap the series, and we make sure that we include all the resources that we talk about here and things we think might be of interest to you to read and to get to know and understand.
So, with that said, gosh, can you believe it? We are now almost through the first month of 2024, and this is actually the second in our series. The first one of the year we're calling, 'Arriving at Thriving.' And really the focus of this series is to help us understand and help our listeners understand the role that government, and whether it's city, county, state, and federal government, the role that our government has in ensuring that communities, rural communities, in our case, are well resourced to ensure that the 10 vital services for surviving and thriving are available to them. Sustainable funding, sustainable programs, and what role they have. They don't have the entire role, but they do play a pivotal role as to whether or not there are appropriations and various funding and grants and whatnot available to make that happen.
So, we're not just talking about it in theory. We really want to work to not only introduce you to some really amazing resources that help do that, but to understand how you can advocate and speak to your policymaker. So, I'm going to go on here and say to you, if you did not listen to the first of this series, then I invite you to go back and listen to my conversation with the authors of, coincidentally, the book, '100% Community: Ensuring 10 Vital Services for Surviving and Thriving.' They are the brilliant Katherine Ortega Courtney and Dominic Capello. And their initiative took hold in New Mexico before the pandemic, and it's really groundbreaking work and they do talk about how 18 counties within the state of New Mexico are really working to close those gaps and open doors to those 10 vital services.
I invite you to go back and to listen to that conversation. And coincidentally, I am going to ask you at this point to make sure that you listen to this podcast all the way to the end, because we have an invitation for you. Dom and Katherine will be joining me for a “Power Hour” is what they call it.
I'm going to call it a masterclass. And so we're inviting civic leaders. So, if you are in counties, government, state government, if you sit on a public works or public health board, if you are a rural hospital commissioner on a school board, any one of those 10 vital services, and you sit in government and you are a leader, we're really encouraging you bring your teams as well.
We're encouraging you to attend this complimentary master class. Pack a brown bag lunch, and then maybe have a discussion about it afterwards. So that's our invitation to you. You can go to our website and really quickly save your seat for that event. There's not a whole lot of them, but we're going to try and fit as many as possible.
And hey, if we get more, then we'll just have another masterclass and make sure that we cover everybody. Okay, so this episode carrying on this conversation, I am so excited to share with you, you may or may not know him because depending on your state, a lot of folks don't know other states different senators, but I'm excited to share my conversation with Dr. Bill Soules, who is a member of the New Mexico State Senate and chair of the Senate Education Committee. And quite frankly, he champions data driven and cross sector prevention of adverse childhood experiences and adverse social determinants. Something that we know that we are talking about across all sectors today.
And so anyway he really does, he walks the talk, as you say, because he was instrumental in making sure that funding was available for 100=% communities in New Mexico and to tell us how he did it. He wrote a book called 'The Sausage Factory.' I love the title of that book. If you think about it, that's exactly what's happened.
So 'The Sausage Factory: How Lawmakers Can Ensure We Survive and Thrive.' And, I want to just say something from the heart. Since we are a full-on, full steam ahead and what I would say, and I think if we're being honest with each other, is a, you know, a pivotal election year for this country and not just, what we see happening on a federal side, but all the way to the county seat.
I think it's important for us to understand. You know, shift the conversation just a bit and understand how each of our office holders and seekers, what role do they believe they have? What do they think that they can do? Or what are they willing to do to talk to us about how they will ensure your community has those 10 vital services to survive and thrive and not just have it for one day, but to sustain it over time.
And so, again, I just want to thank you for being here for another episode, a new season, a new year of The Rural Impact. It is my pleasure to introduce you, Dr., Senator William Soules. With that, let's go.
Michelle Rathman: Senator Bill Soules from New Mexico's 37th district. It's wonderful to have you here with us on The Rural Impact. And I want you to know, I mean, this sincerely, I've been waiting for this conversation, looking forward to it for a very long time. Thank you for joining us today.
Bill Soules: Well, thank you, Michelle. I appreciate being able to be here and to talk about some of the good things we've got going on in New Mexico.
Michelle Rathman: Yeah, are, you light. You know, this is we're recording this now. It will be the second episode in a three-part series that we're calling, "Arriving at Thriving - the Role of Local and State Government and Removing Barriers and Vital Services." And I want to start by going backwards just a little bit, because I shared in the first episode where I, talk to Dom and Katherine, two people you know very well. They are the authors of an amazing book called, "100% Community: Ensuring 10 Vital Services for Surviving and Thriving," which we'll talk about later. But I also, I read the forward that you wrote for that. And I also read a blog that you wrote, "Bill's Blog" that you have on your website.
With a headline that reads, "How Our Lawmakers Priorities Will Guide Us to Either Stability or Insecurity in the Special Session." Now, that was back in July of 2020. So, I'm going to ask you fast forward to share with our listeners the gist of that message. And then, we're going to fast forward and, take that same mindset now in 2024. We all know it's a very big election year, but how do those words and those priorities and those issues compare 2020 to they do today? That's a mouthful. So, take it away for us.
Bill Soules: Well, 2020 in July, that was when we were full into all the stuff with the COVID as I recall. That had hit all through the spring. We were going into a special session because everything we had done on the budget was thrown into chaos as a result of COVID. The budget had to be redone. All of the money we thought we were investing in children and kids suddenly was in jeopardy as to whether that money was actually going to be there.
And so some of my concern was as we were redoing the budget and getting much more conservative over the money we'd been spending to protect children and families, that suddenly we've got to make major cuts because of the uncertainty.
And where were those cuts going to come from? Were we going to cut services to people that were going to need it most as we were going into what looked like an uncertain pandemic? And for who knew how long, which is exactly what was happening. I don't recall exactly the outcomes. We made severe budget cuts, but we were all into the unknown at that point.
But it was more just a reminder to people that the people who usually get hurt most when budgets get cut are those who can least afford to have their services cut.
Michelle Rathman: That is so true. And I think, although the model that you have, and we want to talk all about that is New Mexico. There are communities all across this country, in particular rural. I mean, I recognize that, there's rural communities within your state and non, and more urban communities, but the end of the day, the things you're talking about impact these communities, maybe in different ways, but certainly they do.
So maybe just give us an overview of the New Mexico government. Maybe a snapshot of the kinds of impacts, if you will, that occur when services aren't resourced, aren't provided or accessible. Yes.
Bill Soules: Well, I think every state is unique and certainly New Mexico has its own uniquenesses from Albuquerque, which is a very large urban area with all the urban problems of homelessness and drug abuse and the issues around crime that you get around some large communities. Clear out to, if you get out onto the Navajo reservation, there are numerous families that have no running water and no electricity.
When the pandemic hit, the Navajo nation was one of the hardest hit in the country. Whole families, grandparents were wiped out. Children were left homeless and orphans. At one point they essentially closed the entrances in and out of the reservation and through Gallup which is sort of the, it's not an urban area, but a community right on the interstate essentially closed the interstate exits to anyone except to get off and get gas and get back on, but not to go into the community because that was so devastating there.
One of the high schools, I believe, was turned into a triage center for the hospital. The hospital was overwhelmed. They were literally taking people to Albuquerque for treatment. It was so bad there. And we know that the pandemic did not hit everyone equally. Those who had the fewest resources were hit the hardest, were least likely to survive because of the lack of health care that was available to them, the other kinds of resources that were needed and necessary.
And so in New Mexico, we saw very different outcomes depending on where people lived as to how hard hit they were, for through the pandemic. I know the Hemis Pueblo, for instance, they closed off the Pueblo and you could not go in unless you were a resident there, stay on the road and keep going.
And numerous other places did similar types of things.
Michelle Rathman: You know, I travel a lot to many different rural communities and depending. I was just down in the South and they're like, nothing, we were open right away and I live in Illinois and, and so we removed that political, the polarization, but that's, we just focus on the public health crisis, and I think what I really appreciate. As I said before we started recording, what I really appreciate about your perspective and the work that you do, and where I think it's such an incredible model for us to follow, is that, we say on this podcast often all roads to quality of life are paved by policy and it's no more truer than the work that you're doing to bring up to your fellow legislators. How essential it is that where does the resourcing start and leaving people on their own or making sure they're well resourced.
So I want to talk a little bit about, well, a lot about your book, "The Sausage Factory," and I encourage people to read this and we're going to talk about why. How did the book come to be? I mean, you have a lot going on. You don't have to share all this knowledge, but I'm glad that you did. Who's it for? And why did you write it?
Bill Soules: I've worked a lot with Dom and Katherine who were on your show before and helped start The Anna Age Eight Institute, which has become the 100% Community. And through all of that, and there's some stories about how all of that came about, but through all of that, Dom continually told me, it's like, how do you learn this?
How do you know how all this works? How does anybody navigate this whole system that is the legislature? Which is a huge funding source for every state agency and communities across states. How do you manage all of that? You need to write this down. Nobody else has written about or talked about the inside workings and how to make the sausage factory work for you rather than just for the, the elite or the people on the inside.
And so it was a bit cathartic for me to get all this information out that I'd learned over 10, 11, 12 years that I'd been in the legislature now, but it was really to open it up so that other people had access to that knowledge to make it work for their communities and for people.
Michelle Rathman: Yeah, I think it's a great point. I, one of the things that I focus on very much this year, as we told our audience is that 2024 is a year where big decisions will be made about our future. And, more than anything, I think, the invitation for people is to make much more informed decisions. And to make more informed decisions about those who we trust with the keys to our lives, if you will, the funding that ensures that we have clean water, that our schools are resourced, that we have infrastructure for transportation, broadband, and so forth, is to really understand their positions. And I love the way you pose the questions.
So for example, in that blog that you wrote, what are some of the questions that you know, cause you have the whole discussion about who can fix this, but I think the, who can fix this can be answered quite frankly, by asking the right question. So, what advice do you have for our listeners when they've got someone before them saying, Hey, I, I want to run and represent you.
What should we be asking people like you in terms of how they will serve us? You know, where we live?
Bill Soules: Well, I think some of the main things and one of when I first ran one of the kind of slogans that I used is “I'm running for the legislature because children can't vote. They need someone up there who's going to represent them.”
And so it really is a question of when you get up to the legislature, regardless of which state, who are you beholden to? Who do you represent? Do you represent the people who gave you money to get you elected? Or do you represent the people who don't have money, but wish they could help you get elected?
And that's a really different point is, do you recognize those who don't have the means to be influential, but who need you to be influential for them? And I try and remember that every time. Every year before the legislature starts, I spend all day at one of the local high schools. And I'll ask the kids, so, uh, 'Who'd you vote for in the last election?'
They're like, 'well, we can't vote yet.' 'Well, how come?' 'Well, we're not old enough.' So who does represent you up there? You know, and they're kind of get this confused look and I kind of point at me. It's like, I'm up there to represent you. You need to make sure that your legislators understand what your needs are.
And I think most people don't realize how powerful their voice is if they get to know their local legislators.
Michelle Rathman: I think it's a great point because the focus, so often is on our federal elections. And of course, they make all the headlines and so forth. But on, programs like ours and others, we think it's really important. I mean, there's good models out there. We don't need to be reinventing the wheel, especially if there is really not one size fits all, but there's truly a pathway to make sure that communities have the resources they need.
And one of the things that you write in “The Sausage Factory” is that government requires repairs. It isn't broken yet. Contrary to what many people might be feeling right now, that government is broken. You go on to say governments and society function similarly, maintaining them requires continued effort in quotes, energy to ensure that the institutions conditions and beliefs do not fall and despair and dysfunction. If we do not constantly renew government with informed voters, updated laws and expectations and investments in infrastructure, those that I word, then the government and societies that supports begin to decay and then you go on to the next chapter talking about voting against our self-interest.
So talk to us a little bit about the tour of the factory. Cause it's one thing to say, just that blanket line, don't vote against your self-interest. And I think rural voters in particular really are left holding the bag of, on a broad scale, that it's because of rural voters that certain things happen, certain things don't happen.
But if we really want rural voters to advocate for resources that are required to survive and thrive, what has to happen? Take us on a tour of that sausage factory so that we understand the process.
Bill Soules: The process really is run by people, and the people are your locally elected officials, and it's important that you get to know, at the state level, that you know who your representatives are and who your senators are. And in most cases, they represent the local area. And if they don't hear directly from you, then they're representing someone else.
And so it's really important that way ahead of the legislative session that you make personal connections with those legislators about what matters. Know how much money is available and in which areas and which committees they serve on. People don't recognize how important when they make a personal phone call or write a personal handwritten letter to a legislator that those actually get read.
Sometimes people will get blanket emails. It's like, send this to all your legislators. All you have to do is push send and legislators don't read those. And we go delete, delete, delete, delete, delete as fast as we can.
As soon as we get one that has. A personal note attached to it. We are probably going to read those. We read every single snail mail, handwritten letter that somebody sends to us. Ones that are sent to us, but are just a form letter that you sign your name to. Those are about like the email ones that you just delete away, but having a personal
Michelle Rathman: stop you right, I'll be just, I'm sorry, I'll stop you right there. I really, really want our listeners to hear that because I am a part of advocacy groups and what you just described with all the best of intentions, that is exactly what happens. Is that people are given a template, they're asked to push it out.
And it's contrary to what you're saying, which is, you know, that relationship piece that it's an authentic constituent is what you're saying. That's reaching out to you on purpose with purpose. I love it. Mm hmm. Mm
Bill Soules: And when you talk to a legislator and let them know that you are a constituent and tell them where you live. We all as legislators, we share stories of people who say I'm a constituent and then they live in Albuquerque, and I live in Las Cruces. And it's like, you know, I'll be polite and listen, but you're not one of my constituents or, people say, I pay your salary, and, therefore you have to listen to me. Those don't go very far, but also have a real ask.
What do you want them to do for you and expect you to do? And also that most people don't recognize how far ahead, legislation and ideas need to go to be actually implemented. If you wait until the legislative session is started, most things are already pretty well marked and wired to go through, particularly on funding that things you talk about this for me, this January, when we're in session, there's little, that's going to change on the budget. The things you're telling me are things I'm logging for next year's budget and chances to change things then. And people don't realize how slow the wheels turn through the whole process.
And I think one of the other really big ones, when you're trying to influence legislation is the power of stories. People think they make decisions with their brains, but they don't. We make decisions with our heart, with our emotions, with stories, and then justify them with facts and with our brains.
That took me a little while to learn. When I first got to the legislature, I thought my superpower was introducing legislation that died in committee. Because, my background is data and statistics, and I had all the numbers, I had all the science, I had all the research behind it. And it was falling flat. Until I started telling the stories about how it affects real life.
And so stories from real people about how legislation affects them or about what their needs are. Particularly stories about children and schools and education tend to play very well with legislators as far as where there needs to be change. And if they're not hearing those stories, they're hearing stories from corporations and money to people.
Michelle Rathman: Well, I think that's a really good segue because when I think about some of the most pressing issues that are facing us at state level, I mean, I am hyper focused on what's happening in many different states, depending on, the communities that I'm working in. But in general, I'm, I have a curiosity. And because when you're talking about stories and you're talking about that which impacts our children and their ability in this day, the year 2024 to get out of survival mode, I think we would all be really kidding ourselves if we were to say that our children have recovered from, as we talk about the learning loss, right? The, the mental angst, the physical ailments, that whatever the lingering effects of COVID and so forth. And so when we’re talking about appealing to our legislators through storytelling and being mindful that there is an ear if you will for issues that affect children, I guess I wonder, what are some of the things that we need to be asking our legislators for when it comes to ensuring children have?
And that also means their parents because, Senator Soules, I wonder what it is like in New Mexico with all of the work that you've done, but we know that we have such child care challenges right now we have, the bookends, long term care and child care together are two pressing issues, funding our schools, paying our teachers.
These are buzzwords we hear, but what are some of the things that we can say to really compel our lawmakers to have much more tangible commitments and to show us the way for how resources can be made available because of our advocacy work?
Bill Soules: I think some of the real key things in this area is trying to get people to look long term. Too often we think about, for instance, in education or children that, 'Oh, we put money in there last year, we don't need to anymore.' Advocating for children is a long-term commitment. It's like buying savings bonds.
You don't buy a savings bond and expect to get full value of it next year. You have to wait for it to mature. And investments in education, you don't get improvements in education necessarily next year. You have to wait for that to roll through this whole system and make sure that those investments and particularly investments in early childhood areas and in prevention of child abuse, in prevention of ACEs, in making communities healthier so that children are healthier.
You don't get that return immediately, but you're making a long-term investment in community and in children for the economic growth and development five, 10, even 20 years out. Too often legislators, I think, think about the next election. How's it going to play to my constituents for my next election instead of recognizing my role is to set up the next generation to do well.
And I think it's one of my frustrations is I think too many legislators are looking down and back instead of up and out. And not recognizing how much we're able to influence the future and affect the future by setting things up right now that are going to have a long-term outlook and future instead of a short term, one year, two-year return on investment.
Michelle Rathman: You know, and I think what you've been able to do, we talk about bipartisan. What I believe is really valuable here is that the work that you've done, you have gained bipartisan support. As I was talking with Dom and Katherine, I said, listen, your work would continue, but the funding, and this is the number one question I hear Senator Soules is this all sounds great, but how do we pay for it?
And it can't be expected for one entity within a community to take full ownership, not just lead, but fund as well. So, tell us what some of those if you will, your secret sauce for gaining bipartisan support for these, more than concepts, but the realities of the need for putting children first and then putting your money where your mouth is, so to speak, to make sure that happens.
Bill Soules: Well, I think you give me way more credit than we deserve in that I am constantly frustrated that we aren't doing more and really putting children first. In the book, the second section, I pitch a child's bill of rights. 10 different things that we, I think we would all agree that all children ought to have food, all children ought to have shelter, all children ought to have access to health care.
And, there are 10 of those. And when I actually put that out as a constitutional amendment, went through the first committee easily and went to our rules committee where all amendments to the constitution would go. And I couldn't get the committee chair to hear the bill. And I'd asked, finally asked, well, “why not?”
It's like, well, if this were to go to the voters and they approve that, then that would force us to have to pay for all this, and this would be really expensive. And it really made me pause like, well, yeah, that's kind of the point, isn't it? But people are afraid that if you actually put children first, it's easy to talk about it, but actually doing it is really expensive.
The most expensive parts are affordable housing. I mean, that's one of the biggest crisis we have clear across this country. And that's billions of dollars to fix the housing crisis. But it gets back to, so do you really care about kids in, in, if we do, then the focus of the budget would be fixing the affordable housing, fixing food insecurity, fixing healthcare for children.
Michelle Rathman: Mm hmm.
Bill Soules: expecting parents.
There are a number of things that we know work if we are really interested in fixing those problems. And so.
Michelle Rathman: Priorities, priorities, priorities. Okay, before the one, one last question before we have to go and, I just think, there are a lot of folks out there who think there's nothing I can do. I'm, you know, my vote doesn't matter. I, no matter what things are, what we said earlier, things are broken and so forth.
But I think that there's something really interesting about the chapter 13 about running for office so you can invent a new recipe. And at some point, in time. I mean. Everyone, we're going to have to rotate these seats and, this process will continue until we decide it doesn't work for us anymore.
Right? Which we, you know, that, that's the end of democracy, I suppose, as we know it. But at the end of the day, what advice do you have for those who are saying, I have been thinking about running locally in my state. I mean, where do you, what kind of advice do you have for people just coming into the thought and how you move it from a thought to those first steps and taking action?
Bill Soules: Everybody gets there a little bit different system. I mean, a number of people get there because they've worked on campaigns. They've worked for the legislature. They see how the sausage is being made and they're like, “Oh, I could do this.” Other people come to it out of a frustration. That things aren't working the way they want the, and they want to make some change.
There are a number of groups, particularly and historically, we have been underrepresented by women. We need way more women in legislatures, in city councils and county commissions. All the way up to the federal level, but women historically also have been seen as the ones that have to be the caretakers for the family and have additional roles.
And it's more difficult for them to serve. And so we need to find ways to make sure that they get the childcare needs taken care of, and that we recognize all of those types of issues because those voices matter. And so talk to people who are already in office. Talk to them about how do I work on the campaign because many times the next person is somebody who has already been part of those processes.
Talk to the local party members. If you're a Democrat with the Democrats or with the Republicans and about your interest in how can I be helpful? How can I serve? Lots of people start on the local school board and get some experience that way or a county commission, but there are some that jump right in and run for federal office the very first time.
Think about who would I be representing? Who's going to fund my campaign and help get me elected? I think I talk about it in the book, but my first campaign, I didn't know what the heck I was doing. I didn't have a lot of money, but I had energy. And so my plan, I was going to knock on more doors and introduce myself to more people than my opponent.
And it helped that I was a high school teacher and had a whole community of parents and students and others who had known me over the years and who I was. And I think that was some of my secret sauce for getting elected, was being well known in the community through the stuff that I did at high school and with all the parents of kids who had me in class.
Michelle Rathman: You know, and Dom and Katherine shared that there are members of different 100%Communities, different New Mexico communities, where people who are on action team leaders who have now run and have won their seats in local government. I will also say, if you have, if you're going to run for a hospital board or county commissioners, my advice, and maybe you can echo this, attend meetings, understand how it works.
That's part, that's a big part of this is to be an observer. Understand how the process works. It's, it's one thing to want to be a disruptor, but be productive and that and understand the rules of regulations and so forth. Oh, my gosh. We're going to continue to watch for your work. Senator Bill Soules, thank you so much a gain.
Your insights are invaluable. We're going to have links to your book. We want people, it's a very quick, easy read. If you're with us on YouTube, you can see it here. I've got all my post it notes in it. This is the perfect year for you to be super informed in your voting decisions, because it is a matter of making sure we all have that, which is required for us to not only survive, but thrive.
So, thank you again for your patience and for joining us today. We really appreciate you having coming here with us today.
Bill Soules: Michelle, well, thank you. I've really enjoyed it, and if anybody wanted to do a book club with the Sausage Factory through the magic of Zoom, I'd be happy to try and help work and be a guest for that book club or to be there directly.
Michelle Rathman: Oh, my gosh, we're going to make sure people take you up on that and before we go into all of you taking the time to tune into The Rural Impact. We, of course, want to thank you.
We know that these are not light subjects. This is not the place to go to talk about light subjects, but we do hope that we've done our part in enlightening a little bit on the issues that matter to rural populations.
Remember, if you've not subscribed yet, head over to theruralimpact.com. Hit that subscribe button and receive your series recaps resources. Like what we talked about today information about upcoming conversations. And as a reminder, as a part of our 100% Community conversation and Arriving at Thriving, we will be hosting a power hour for county and city leaders.
So be stay tuned for that information. Again, it's great to be here with you. We'll see you and talk to you again on a new episode in the third of this Arriving at Thriving series on The Rural Impact. Take good care.