By Jennie Lusk
Ken Scott, chair of Albuquerque’s very active West Side Dems (WSD) organization, came to New Mexico from Georgia 15 years ago expecting to stay a year or two in this brown desert. Now, he wouldn’t live anywhere else.
For Scott, New Mexico’s multiculturalism, job opportunities, and willingness to accept differences are distinctive. So is the opportunity to make a difference politically.
“I owe a debt of gratitude to New Mexico,” Scott, now in his second term leading WSD, said. “I wouldn’t have had the opportunities I’ve had here anywhere else.”
Leaving Atlanta after his mother argued against following his father and uncles into a military career, Scott came to New Mexico for a job that offered support in earning his MBA. The New Mexico company surprised him by offering him the position on the spot. They also allowed him time to complete his studies, though he ultimately paid out-of-pocket for his first semester in the Finance program at the Anderson School of Management and paid the remainder of his advanced degree working as a graduate assistant (organizational behavior) rather than relying on his employer.
The job and its flexibility were just the beginnings of changes New Mexico triggered for Scott. His expectations of “normal” life had to shift in the move as well.
“When I came to New Mexico, I didn’t know what a distinct culture we have,” he said, noting that he was accustomed to Atlanta’s large African American community. His first Albuquerque experience of being the lone African American man in a store was striking, he said. “[Being the only African American man in a store] would just never happen in Atlanta,” he said, adding that in Albuquerque, though the African American community is small, it is close-knit.
New Mexico’s cultural diversity has attracted and sustained Scott, father of two daughters who love the state, despite the small percentage of African American New Mexicans here. “In Albuquerque, we are all exposed to a lot of differences—and not just Hispanic and Native American cultures,” Scott said. “There are Vietnamese and Chinese as well as African American communities. It’s rich here because there is such diversity, and because of it, people are much more accepting” than in the South, he said. The acceptance of diversity has meant that “I now have a soft spot for this land, in part because of the culture.”
While leading WSD, Scott runs his own business, which he hopes to turn into a hedge fund. He is also working to earn his Chartered Financial Analyst (CFA) certification, one of the hardest certifications in finance. His recent stint as the Bernalillo County Deputy Treasurer gave him a solid professional background, including for a potential run for County Treasurer in the future.
In the meantime, he is in his second term as the West Side Dems and is term-limited. The group that gathers, plans, and meets as WSD on a regular basis is “truly engaged, smart, and experienced,” Scott said. His goal in his last years as chair is to expand that group, and see even more engaged voters working within WSD. “The West Side is the fasting-growing area in the state,” Scott said. “We have a ton of opportunity to grow and get people to engage. I want to bring in people, adding to (rather than replacing) the core people who are doing everything [for WSD] today. We are lucky to have the core group, but all of us want to engage more people, to expand and diversify our membership.” Ultimately, he said, “I want the West Side to be so solidly blue that Republicans don’t even think of running here.”
Scott regularly tutors and mentors students as part of his engagement with the community, and that community engagement is at the core of his political engagement too. Contacts built through mentoring can become political allies as well. “I have had opportunities in New Mexico I would have had nowhere else,” Scott said, “so I want to pay that forward. If I see someone struggling to understand Algebra, I help. I want to help build the community and the state,” he continued. “Besides, paying it forward helps ‘build the bench’” of STEM workers.
The same holds for his leadership of WSD and advocacy for the Democratic Party. Scott’s service as WSD chair has already built the bench of WSD volunteers and, if his goals are fulfilled in his last years as chair, he will successfully build the bench of active Democrats in New Mexico’s fastest-growing area.