ALBUQUERQUE, NM – Fred Nathan Jr., founder of Think New Mexico, has always been a little serious.
âI’ll paint a picture for you: I was the only child in my elementary school who came to school every day with a briefcase,â he says.
A ârecovering lawyer,â Nathan started the think tank in 1999 in an unusual format – he is not associated with any political party or point of view and he doesn’t just think. Instead, he strives to translate his extensive research into a bipartisan endorsement of change.
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Nathan’s latest victory was the passage last year of the New Mexico Work and Save Act, which allows workers without access to a pension plan to contribute to a plan through payroll deductions. automatic.
Nathan says he was motivated to start Think New Mexico after working in the office of then Attorney General Tom Udall to pass landmark drinking and driving laws.
The death toll dropped nearly 20% over the next two years, “and it showed me how laws can reallyâ¦ save lives,” says Nathan, who won this year’s Humanitarian Award from the United Nations. Jewish Community Center.
But the seed was planted much earlier, when Nathan saw his mother become active in the pro-choice movement after her own experience trying to have an abortion in her home state of New York.
Nathan’s younger brother had a developmental disability and when his mother got pregnant again, his parents knew they couldn’t care for a fourth child.
However, Frances Elson Nathan couldn’t get a legal abortion unless she had letters from two doctors stating that she was insane. She was certainly not crazy, but she received the necessary letters, as well as a sense of outrage that low-income women probably did not have such relationships and had to resort to clandestine abortions.
She plunged into a life of activism, leading women’s teams in Albany to successfully lobby for the legalization of abortion, becoming active in Planned Parenthood and founding the state chapter of the National Abortion Rights Action League. , now called NARAL.
âI remember coming home from elementary school and sitting at our dining room table with my mom and a group of women as they pulled out a direct mail and talked about politics,â Nathan says. âMy job was to seal the envelopes which meant I couldn’t speak because my 10 year old mouth was busy. But I listened a lot.
So what was in the elementary school briefcase?
âOften it was empty or contained a candy bar. Sometimes there was a book. I have four very close friends from the time, and they always find ways to remind me of this. They never took me aside and told me. “You know, you look sillyâ¦ with the briefcase.” “
Is there a Think New Mexico project that you are particularly proud of?
âI would say our first project to make full-time kindergarten accessible to all children in the state. At the time – it was in 1999 – it was half-day kindergarten. It was really a misnomer, as it only lasted about 2.5 hours. I remember explaining to lawmakers in rural New Mexico that kids actually spent more time on the school bus to and from school than they did in class. The hero of the full-time kindergarten was truly Dee Johnson (now deceased wife of then-governor Gary Johnson) who became our greatest ally and I think she was very helpful in helping to change things. the governor advises. He had said he was going to veto, but he changed his mind.
How did you get to New Mexico?
âQuite by accident is the short answer. The first time was in the summer of 1977â¦ just before my first year of high school, and I signed up to work with a wonderful nonprofit organization called the American Jewish Society for Service. They sent me to San Miguelâ¦ west of Las Cruces, where they were building a park for a migrant community that had nowhere to play for their children. We had the weekends off and cruised around the state in that old school bus. Growing up in New York City, I was absolutely mesmerized by the beauty of the state and the friendliness of the people. In fact, I still am. And after law school, I decided to come back. My parents in the East said to their friends, ‘You know, Freddie, he’s going through one of his stages.’ And that was 34 years ago, so it’s been a very long step.
What’s on your bucket list?
âThere is only one thing on my bucket list. My dad worked until he was 90, and I probably will too. But maybe when I’m 80, I’d like to extend the Think New Mexico model and see if it could work in other states.
Do you have hidden talents?
“Nothing. I am color blind and deaf.
What is madness for you?
âI was raised by two parents from the depression era who taught me the difference between needs and wants. So splurging for me is two scoops of ice cream. Wait. I want to modify this answer. Two scoops of pecan butter ice cream.
Have you ever had the opportunity to see a direct impact that New Mexico has had on an individual?
Yes. For example, many of our summer interns now come from public schools and tell us that they were one of the guinea pigs – the first to come across full-time kindergarten.
Have you had failures that haunt you?
âOne that we’ve been working on for six years is New Mexico’s unique way of funding public infrastructure projects. We have failed to make this a more merit-based process to prioritize and fully fund the state’s most pressing infrastructure needs. It is clearly necessary and we have struggled to gain ground, but we persevere. We never give up, so we will continue to develop this idea until it is adopted.
What’s the best compliment you’ve ever received?
âThis humanitarian award, which I guess (shows that) every dog ââhas their day. It’s good that our work is recognized, but it’s especially meaningful when the award comes from a group like the JCC that has done so much for so many people. My wife has a lot of fun with it. It used to be, “Honey, please take out the trash,” what has now become, “Would the great humanitarian ready to get up off the couch long enough to take out the trash?” I will never live it down.