By U.S. Rep. MICHELLE LUJAN GRISHAM
People often forget how much government is a part of their daily lives. From dealing with road repairs to making sure our water is safe to drink, government affects our lives every single day. Throughout my career, I’ve always believed that our government should work to solve, not create, problems for the people we are serving.
Over a decade after leaving state government, I still get calls directly from New Mexicans who need help navigating bureaucracies in Santa Fe. Too often they’ve been given the runaround and are on the verge of losing hope. They come to me knowing that I’ll stop at nothing to get real results.
I’ve heard countless horror stories about New Mexico’s Motor Vehicle Department. New Mexicans are forced to wait for hours only to wait months or jump through unnecessary hoops to try to obtain a driver’s license or ID, and are too often left empty-handed.
The Legislature created a two-tiered driver’s license system. First, New Mexicans can obtain driver’s licenses that meet the federal REAL ID requirements, necessary for certain federal purposes like accessing a military base. Alternatively, those who do not need or want to obtain this license have the option to obtain a driver’s license that is not federally compliant without meeting requirements that would otherwise make a license difficult or even impossible to obtain.
There is no question that the MVD has made the process of obtaining a REAL ID compliant license, and even a noncompliant driver’s license, confusing. MVD agents are not properly trained and, in many cases, have given applicants incorrect information. Other times, MVD staff have required documentation, such as a Social Security card or birth certificate, that isn’t required by law.
This has created unnecessary — and in some cases unlawful — barriers. It’s gotten so bad that those affected have had to sue the state. Denial should never be the default answer from state government. We deserve better.
As governor, I’ll focus on making the MVD customer friendly and stop the government from unlawfully denying driver’s licenses and IDs, making it easier for applicants to get the documents they need.
I will improve the culture at the MVD, stressing customer service and ensure the staff does everything in their power to provide licenses to deserving applicants. That means implementing standardized proper employee training to make sure the law is followed and not manipulated.
I’ll also reinstate a renewal-by- mail system that would allow individuals to easily renew valid ID cards and authorizations as they have in the past. This is especially important for people living in rural areas, who would have to travel hours to the nearest MVD.
Charlie, a plaintiff in a lawsuit against the MVD, spent more than a year trying to obtain and ID that is not federally compliant while homeless. He was incorrectly told he needed to provide a birth certificate, and after working for a year to produce that document, he was then falsely told he needed a matching Social Security card.
Under my administration, we’ll be clear about what documentation is actually required so people like Charlie can obtain an ID without unnecessary burden or harassment, allowing him to focus on more important things like finding work and permanent housing.
For decades, I’ve worked diligently to make government work better for New Mexicans. Whether holding the Social Security Administration accountable, reforming nursing homes or ensuring that veterans receive the benefits they earned, I know what it takes to make sure government works for the people it serves.
I’m committed to reforming the MVD and making sure it works for, not against, the people it is supposed to serve. That’s what New Mexicans deserve.
U.S. Rep. Michelle Lujan Grisham, D-Albuquerque, represents the 2nd Congressional District in the House of Representatives. She is a candidate for governor in the Democratic primary.