© 2018 New Mexico News Services 9-3-18
Gary Johnson’s PR doesn’t match his track record
By Sherry Robinson
All She Wrote
And he’s back.
Former Gov. Gary Johnson resurfaced as the Libertarian Party candidate in the Senate race, hoping to slow incumbent Sen. Martin Heinrich’s sprint to the finish line.
Johnson always jazzes things up, and his willingness to share his thoughts frankly is refreshing. But he also causes amnesia about who he is, what he’s done, and what he believes.
The commotion straight out of the chute was typical. Johnson supporters tried to pressure Republican candidate Mick Rich to leave the race so Johnson would have a better chance, as if a Libertarian platform is interchangeable with a Republican platform. It’s not. And Rich has a right to run his own race representing Republicans.
Libertarians may include refugees of the two major parties, but they aren’t just a meld of those parties – they have distinctive beliefs that may or may not resonate with yours.
Johnson is a fan of small government, a balanced budget, lower taxes, and the free market. He wants to curtail the growth of Medicaid and other entitlement programs. He would probably vote to confirm Brett Kavanaugh as a Supreme Court justice. But he thinks the current approach to the border is all wrong – the wall and National Guard troops are a waste of money, and we need work visas. Abortion, he says, should be a woman’s decision. And as the whole world knows, he would legalize marijuana.
As for Johnson himself, we’re hearing endlessly about his veto of 742 bills while he was governor. Stephen Despin, a supporter, recently wrote in an op ed that they were “wasteful spending bills… that would’ve harmed our economy, ultimately hurting the citizens of New Mexico.”
No, they weren’t.
Just a few of many examples: His first year he vetoed a bill, pushed by First Lady Dee Johnson, to waive college tuition for some young people in foster care. In 1998 he vetoed a bill to start a pilot program for state employees that would provide coverage for mental illnesses on par with coverage for physical illness. It had heavy bipartisan support and a congressional champion in Sen. Pete Domenici. In 2001 he vetoed an omnibus education reform package, two years in the making, that had broad bipartisan support. In 2002 he vetoed a bill to curb high-speed police chases.
Despin wrote that Johnson “cares what the citizens have to say” and “wants to hear their concerns… He displayed this as governor.”
“The single biggest thing said about Gary Johnson is, ‘He doesn’t listen,’” a source told me in 1995. In its annual report card, the Association of Commerce and Industry said he needed improvement in the areas of access and willingness to listen.
ACI said calls to Johnson or his staff aren’t returned. “The governor was elected to run state government like a business, which includes answering and returning telephone calls,” the ACI report said.
Despin wrote that Johnson isn’t left or right and is fiercely independent. “We need a guy like Gary in the middle.” Johnson has never been in the middle.
Former Gov. Garrey Carruthers, said in 2002, as Johnson was leaving office: “He’s an independent cuss – there’s no question about it. I think the Capitol would have collapsed from shock if Johnson ever uttered the word ‘compromise.’”
Notoriously ignorant about the government he ran, he once questioned the value of the Mexico Trade Office. His own economic development people said for the state’s $228,000, the office in one year generated $11.2 million in trade. This carelessness with details cost him credibility in his last presidential run, when he famously asked, “What’s Aleppo?”
Johnson presents himself as a swing vote and an alternative. If you want to vote for him, make sure you’re clear on his position.
© 2018 New Mexico News Services 8-27-18
Verizon “throttling” and doublespeak endanger firefighters and residents
By Sherry Robinson
All She Wrote
Some of us have anxiously followed the California fires as a preview of what might happen here. (There by the grace of God…) And we’ve learned new vocabulary words. One is “behavior,” and another is “throttling.”
Fire behavior is changing. Once limited to forest or plain, fires have spread into what experts call the WUI (wildland-urban interface) – the homes people build near tourist towns or away from cities. This year and last, fires have raced from the WUI to cities whose residents thought they were safe.
Now there’s corporate fire behavior, which brings us to “throttling.”
The telecom giant Verizon throttled (drastically reduced) data service of the Santa Clara County Fire Department as it fought the 406,000-acre Mendocino fire, the biggest in California history. Verizon crimped data flow to 1/200th of its usual speed because the department had exceeded its monthly allotment of 22 gigabytes.
The department’s command vehicle coordinates thousands of personnel and hundreds of fire engines, plus aircraft and bulldozers, said Fire Chief Anthony Bowden in court documents. When the department lost live video streaming, strategic plan communications, and other capabilities, including the ability to notify both firefighters and residents to abandon an area, it became dangerous.
The department’s tech staff asked Verizon to stop throttling for public safety reasons. Verizon took its time responding and then said the department would have to switch to a data plan more than twice the original cost. Temporarily the department employed a workaround using other providers, but Verizon’s throttling didn’t cease until the fire department coughed up more money.
It wasn’t the first time Verizon throttled service; the Santa Clara County firefighters also experienced throttling in 2017 and June fires.
On June 29 a fire captain emailed Verizon about throttling, only to be told by San Francisco accounts manager Silas Buss that the department should upgrade from the $37.99 plan to the $39.99 plan to get data speeds restored, according to court documents. On July 30, three days after the Mendocino fire began and as the department pleaded with him to stop throttling, Buss said it would cost $99.99. This despite being reminded by a fire official that Verizon had promised to never throttle public safety communications.
Initially, none of this appeared in news reports. Instead it cropped up in a federal lawsuit by 22 states, including New Mexico, against the Federal Communications Commission over net neutrality.
Verizon has apologized and lifted data caps on emergency first responders, but a California legislative hearing revealed that the company had no policy to protect service for first responders, according to the San Francisco Chronicle. Legislators also learned that when difficulties arise, firefighters had no recourse other than calling customer service. We know how that goes.
The company explained that while the fire department plan was “unlimited,” it included a provision for throttling when the department reached its allotment. So it wasn’t unlimited. Verizon admitted that its sales people hadn’t adequately explained that. It said company policy was to cancel throttling in emergencies, and it’s done so in the past, but that didn’t happen in this case.
“This was a customer support mistake,” Verizon said. The company rolled out new policies and promised it won’t happen again.
If all goes as usual, Verizon will throw Silas Buss under the bus and wipe its hands. But California’s experience goes beyond one zealous salesman. Verizon needs to take a hard look at the internal culture that encouraged his behavior – think Wells Fargo – and beyond that to whether its employees blindly follow company policy or exercise some judgment.
The damning emails are now part of a court case against the FCC and the public debate over net neutrality. They’re must reading for public officials. New Mexico firefighters, do you know what’s in your plan?
© 2018 New Mexico News Services 8-20-18
Alice in cannabis land
By Sherry Robinson
All She Wrote
When in Colorado…
Last week, I got some insight into legalized marijuana. Let me say up front that I made a really stupid decision and won’t do it again.
In a tourist town, my brother and I visited one of Colorado’s pot shops. He was interested in pain relief for severe back problems. Neither of us had been in one of these places before. At the entrance a large, cheerful man, who functioned as both greeter and bouncer, checked our ID, offered us bottled water, and directed us upstairs, where the “bud tender” checked our ID again.
The bud tenders are highly trained in their many products. There are tidy jars of dried marijuana with colorful names. One called “Cookie” used to be called “Girl Scout Cookie” until the Girl Scouts took issue.
“Their lawyer sent us a letter, and they were really nasty about it,” said the bud tender.
There are rows of colorful packages, vials and containers with oils, candies, salves, and lotions – each with a different effect. The bud tender answered questions and made suggestions. She did have a salve that had worked effectively for her own post-injury pain. My brother got a jar.
We kept asking questions. What’s this? What does it do? Do you have chocolate? We came away with a small bag of stuff. By that time a line had formed behind us. It’s a very happy business. Everyone leaves with a smile.
Back in our rented quarters, we examined our purchases. On impulse, I tried a small gummy candy. My 20-year-old self was egging me on; my mature self was oddly silent. I was expecting the kind of giggly high with munchies that I’d experienced many (many!) years ago. For an hour or so, it was something like that.
Then a wave of nausea throttled me. “I don’t feel good,” I told the group. I passed out. And threw up. In a restaurant. I came to in an emergency vehicle with young firemen ministering to me. Their team leader insisted I stay awake.
In the small hospital’s emergency room, I learned that two things put me there – dehydration and the candy, which they termed an “edible.”
Said the doctor, the medical tech, and the firemen: “We see this ALL the time.”
Tourists come to Colorado, decide to try dancing with Mary Jane, and get themselves in trouble. The edibles are riskier, explained a doctor, because you can’t control your dosage. If you smoke the marijuana, you know right away how high you are and can stop; the edibles just keep on coming. Like a runaway bus.
So just one aspect of legalizing recreational pot, noted my brother (whose job before he retired was insurance consulting) is a hidden healthcare and insurance cost. And first responders will be busier.
In fact, the number of marijuana-related visits to emergency departments in Colorado doubled after legalization, according to the American Journal of Health-System Pharmacy. Typically, patients are kids eating candies because their idiot parents left bags sitting out, people like me consuming edibles, and heavy users experiencing consequences.
Is this an argument against legalization? Not necessarily. There’s a learning curve. As it is with liquor, people must learn their limits. I think the bud tender could have done some cautionary explaining, since we were obvious novices, and the candy maker could have indicated its potency.
These were our conclusions the next day. My brother talked about how the money rolling into Colorado from weed sales is funneled to the schools. Imagine that tide lifting our schools or paying for early childhood education.
I won’t touch the stuff again, but I know it will be around, legal or not. Our lawmakers need to make the decision with their eyes open.
© 2018 New Mexico News Services 8-13-18
State’s biggest water grab tests laws, regulators and residents
By Sherry Robinson
All She Wrote
The case of Augustin Plains Ranch LLC versus just about everybody else hit another rock early this month, when the State Engineer turned down – for the third time – the ranch’s application for a breathtaking amount of water.
Speculative, said the hearing officer. Which is something opponents have said from the beginning. Opponents are so numerous the hearing officer had to designate who would speak or they would probably still be there testifying.
The latest application faced opposition by groups that normally don’t sit on the same side of the table: the Catron County Commission, agricultural organizations, tribes, residents and environmentalists.
Augustin Plains Ranch (APR) proposed to appropriate 54,000 acre-feet a year of groundwater from 37 wells for “municipal purposes and commercial sales” to parts of Catron, Sierra, Socorro, Valencia, Bernalillo, Sandoval, and Santa Fe counties.
But APR doesn’t say who exactly will be the customer or how water will be used – information it also left out of previous applications. Without a user or a contract, it’s impossible to evaluate the application. APR claimed that New Mexico law doesn’t require it to have a contract.
“This is a fundamental misapprehension of New Mexico law with respect to the evaluation of an application for a permit for a new appropriation of water, and raises the question of speculation,” wrote hearing examiner Uday V. Joshi, who concluded that facts and the law “support the conclusion that APR’s Corrected Application is speculative and should be denied.”
That’s exactly what State Engineer Tom Blaine did, which is something of a relief.
When Blaine opened the hearing process last year, he seemed a little too willing to entertain APR’s proposal. In comments to the San Augustin Water Coalition he was vague on the question of speculation and denied that the project would impair the wells of other users.
“Water is a market-driven resource,” Blaine said. Agriculture uses 70 percent of the state’s water. “If we take 10 percent of that water and use it for M&I (municipal and industrial), we could double the population of New Mexico.”
In the end the application fell on a basic tenet of New Mexico water law called “beneficial use.” That’s the requirement that water in our desert state must be used wisely and not wasted. Approving APR’s application would “deprive the public of its right to appropriate water for beneficial use,” wrote the hearing officer.
Michel Jichlinski, APR project director, panned the decision as ignorant, short-sighted, politically expedient, and driven by a “small group of dedicated opponents.” Small group? Seriously? He refers to the state’s water plan and says that only APR intends to do something with its water.
Maybe because Jichlinski is Swiss and hasn’t grown up in an arid place, the project makes sense to him. APR considers its project visionary and likes to compare it to the San Juan-Chama project, which delivers river water to the Rio Grande. But the San-Juan Chama is surface water, which is renewable (mostly), while APR wants to pump groundwater, which is finite. Do they not understand the difference, or do they think we don’t? APR has convinced itself but nobody else that the aquifer will recharge. Most of us know that requires rain.
This controversy has been useful in certain ways.
The hearing officer points to a legal gap the Legislature needs to address. New Mexico and Colorado water laws are similar, but Colorado has gone the extra mile with an “anti-speculation doctrine.” It prescribes how to evaluate applications that may be speculative. New Mexico needs a way to test for speculative applications.
This case has also been a caution to everyone to pay attention to your water. It’s no longer paranoid to think others have designs on it.
© 2018 New Mexico News Services 8-6-18
As tariffs slam NM businesses, where’s Steve Pearce?
By Sherry Robinson
All She Wrote
Back in a dreary economics class, I learned that tariffs were bad. Then it was a concept. Now it’s for real.
Repercussions of the Trump administration’s trade tariffs have reached New Mexico, and they’re surprisingly widespread: the newspaper you hold in your hands, the cheese on your pizza, the lumber for your next project, the parts for your car. Add to this list cotton, mattresses, vegetables and fruit. Even salsa.
Jeopardized trade in the state totals $76 million, says the U. S. Chamber of Commerce.
We’re relearning that the government can slap a tariff on something to protect a U. S. company or industry, but other countries can retaliate. Nobody wins. A tariff is basically a tax that we all pay. Unintended consequences are lost jobs, increased prices and scrambled supply chains.
Let’s start with an industry close to my heart. The state’s newspapers have been socked with higher prices for newsprint, a critical commodity, and supplies are very tight. Now their costs will rise more with a tariff, all because the Trump administration responded to the complaint of ONE hedge-fund-owned paper company that complained Canadian competitors were selling newsprint at unfairly low prices. Four other American newsprint companies oppose the tariffs.
Also hard hit is the dairy industry, which recently wrote the president asking him to suspend tariffs on Mexican products. In a letter signed by a long list of organizations and producers (including Select Milk Producers of Artesia) they said trade relations with Mexico were so good that they’ve become Mexico’s biggest foreign dairy supplier. They worry that competitors in the European Union will take advantage of the interruption to gain market share at their expense.
Last year, with no tariff under the North American Free Trade Agreement, New Mexico dairy producers exported more than $13 million in cheese to Mexico. In the absence of NAFTA, the tariff on cheese is 20 to 25 percent, and the loss for New Mexico dairies could be ruinous, according to Dairy Producers of New Mexico. They want the administration to get busy on a new trade agreement.
Home builders in the state are staggering under skyrocketing lumber costs. Natural disasters increased demand. Then the Trump administration hit builders with a 20 percent tariff on framing lumber from Canada to discourage home builders from buying Canadian lumber. But the domestic industry can’t supply enough, according to the National Association of Home Builders. The group calculated that tariffs have bumped up the cost of a new home by $6,388 – enough to keep some first-time buyers in their apartments.
Then there’s steel. Tariffs on imported steel and aluminum have caused steel prices to spike more than 40 percent for the Santa Teresa companies making parts for cars and appliances. Rising steel costs will also balloon the price tag on pipelines under construction.
Finally, the 30 percent tariffs on imported solar panels have been a dark cloud to the solar energy industry. U. S. solar panel makers plan $1 billion in new spending, but more than $2.5 billion in large installations were cancelled. Tariffs are not the answer, argues the Solar Energy Industries Association, because domestic panel makers still can’t meet demand. The tariff has cost thousands of jobs in the industry.
And where are our candidates for governor, who still wear congressional hats? Michelle Lujan Grisham, a Democrat, said, “The president has an obligation to uphold fair trade policies, but threatening trade wars against our allies is dangerous, short-sighted, and will make it harder for U.S. businesses to compete abroad.”
Steve Pearce, a Republican, said of tariffs, “I will not support putting our businesses at a disadvantage and raising prices on our consumers.” He promised to be “a vocal advocate” for New Mexico businesses.
Where is that vocal advocate?
© 2018 New Mexico News Services 7-30-18
Remember chronic pain patients when ramping up anti-opioid campaigns
By Sherry Robinson
All She Wrote
We can all agree that we have an opioid problem in the state and the nation, but can we be sensible about solutions?
Recently Dr. Richard Larson, executive vice chancellor of the UNM Health Sciences Center, recommended government-regulated restrictions on prescribing. In an opinion piece for The Wall Street Journal, he argued that “without strict government regulation, it won’t be solved.” His prescription? A three-day limit on outpatient prescriptions for acute pain and no opioids for adolescents.
Do we really want a distant bureaucrat overruling the judgment of our doctors?
The following week, the New Mexico Medical Board revoked the license of Dr. Walter Seidel Jr., forcing him to close his family practice in Ruidoso. The board took issue with the way he prescribed controlled substances and said he refused to cooperate with the board’s investigation. They declared him a danger to the public.
Maybe the board had good reason to end Seidel’s practice – I don’t know the details of the investigation – but his comment to the Albuquerque Journal was one I’ve heard before: “Look at all the patients in New Mexico who have chronic pain and are not being treated appropriately by their doctors because those physicians are afraid of the medical board.”
That brings us to the people with chronic pain.
If you break your leg. It will hurt like crazy for a brief period, and you may want some short-term pain relief. However, if you’re in a car crash, and your leg is crushed, it could hurt severely for the rest of your life. If you want to have a life, you may need strong, long-term relief in the form of opioids.
Woven into the furor over the “opioid epidemic” is the occasional plea from chronic pain sufferers like the woman who wrote a letter to the editor saying she needs relief for severe arthritis in her back and hands and complications from joint replacements but can’t take NSAIDs (ibuprofen, aspirin and the like) because of an ulcer. She wrote, “Please tell me what a person in pain is supposed to do for pain remedy?”
Between 2000 and 2008 I covered the ordeal of a conscientious pain doctor and her patients. Two observations that trouble me to this day were the helplessness of chronic pain patients, who have nobody to speak for them, and the railroading of pain doctors by the medical board and the federal government.
These patients had a variety of conditions. One had survived a plane crash, others had conditions like diabetes or arthritis or scoliosis, and some had complications from cancer treatment. Theirs were lives of overwhelming pain. If they sought relief, they were treated like drug seekers or hypochondriacs. If they were very, very lucky, they found a doctor who listened to them and prescribed the medication that returned them to a more normal life.
The only person besides their persecuted doctor to take them seriously was Sioban Reynolds, founder of the Pain Relief Network. Because she advocated for doctors and pain patients, the Drug Enforcement Agency and prosecutors hounded and ultimately bankrupted her. She died in a plane crash in 2012.
Ten years later, here we are again. Doctors are still afraid of the medical board. Dr. Robert Gardner, of Rio Rancho, wrote recently: “The collateral damage of the opioid crisis is irresponsible, inexcusable, inhuman and dangerous medical practices toward people with true chronic pain.”
Last week the governor and the state Department of Health announced a more reasonable path – a campaign called “There Is Another Way,” to educate patients and caregivers about safer options and alternative strategies.
Armed with knowledge, more people, like a former co-worker facing a medical procedure can use their heads instead of relying on regulators to just say no.
© 2018 New Mexico News Services 7-23-18
Yes, we should save 300 jobs and assure humane conditions in private prisons
By Sherry Robinson
All She Wrote
Rep. Eliseo Alcon, D-Milan, said what anyone in his position would say: “The village of Milan is really small, and economically we are really hurting. We have to figure out a way to keep people employed and alive.”
The subject was private prisons – namely, the two in Cibola and Otero counties – and their mistreatment of immigrants detained at the border. Legislators at a recent hearing not only examined the housing of immigrants but reopened the debate on private prisons.
Alcon’s statement placed him in editorial crosshairs.
“Oppressive systems survive by enticing us to put our self-interests above what’s right,” wrote Heath Haussamen, of the online news source NMPolitics.net. He took Alcon and Sens. Tom Udall and Martin Heinrich to task.
I know and like Haussamen, but I respectfully disagree.
In the 1990s, after the area’s uranium mines and mills had shut down one by one, people packed their belongings, and Grants and Milan were becoming ghost towns. At the time, the state proposed a new prison, but the chosen community didn’t want it. Cibola County leaders drove to Santa Fe to say, in a chorus, we want it.
That was the beginning of a new industry for the area. Today, three prisons (one state and two private) operate in the county.
Prisons weren’t the original goal. In the 1980s, Cibola County’s prominent business people organized and funded an economic development group. For years, there was no community in the state more aggressive in its recruiting. They won some and lost some and learned that for small towns, creating jobs is a steep climb.
Cibola County Correctional Center opened in 1993 as a county prison with capacity for state prisoners; in 1998 it was acquired by Corrections Corporation of America, now called CoreCivic. Two years ago, the Federal Bureau of Prisons declined to renew its contract, saying private prisons were less safe and less effective and hadn’t shown much savings. The facility was also cited in investigations for medical neglect. In one case, an inmate bled to death over a seven-hour period.
Corrections Corporation said the facility’s 1,200 minimum-security inmates would be relocated, and 300 locals would lose their jobs.
That would be a big hit even in Albuquerque, but if you live in a small community it would affect pretty much everybody you know. The county’s movers and shakers scrambled to save the facility. CoreCivic snagged a new federal contract to hold detainees for U. S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement. Terms: $150 million for five years, according to the Criminal Justice Project of the Asian American Journalists Association. The group also revealed that in 2015 New Mexico held 42 percent of its prisoners in private prisons – the nation’s highest rate.
At last week’s hearing, members of the legislative Courts, Corrections and Justice Committee heard complaints from former detainees about poor treatment inside the two jails, and that discussion became part of the larger debate over immigration.
“New Mexico could have taken a stand against the private prison industry’s profiting off the detention of immigrants,” Haussamen wrote. “Instead, we chose jobs.”
While some legislators, along with Haussamen, would like to shut down these facilities and drive a stake into the heart of private prisons, this is not necessarily an either-or decision.
Alcon is not wrong to want to preserve those jobs. Immigrant advocates and some legislators are not wrong to be concerned about conditions inside the two facilities. Committee discussion indicated that some legislators want to see more control by the state over private prisons. Good.
Nobody expects CoreCivic to provide a resort, but the company has shown that it won’t live up to its responsibilities, and the contractor, ICE, doesn’t care. The state should step in to assure humane conditions – and to save jobs.
Letter to the editor
Private prisons are bad for employees, inmates, taxpayers
There are two items which greater oversight of private prisons will never fix.
One is that it is contrary to their business model to have people get it together and become contributing citizens. The more people fail, the bigger their customer base. So even when they are "required" to have rehab services, they are as ineffective as they can get away with.
Years ago, I interviewed with the one in Estancia for a job teaching ABE. The job listing said that teachers had to be certified to teach ABE, so I tried to find out what it would entail for me to get that certification. UNM didn't know. CNM didn't know. The NM Dept. of Ed. didn't know. I brought it up during the interview, and what I was told was that they gave names of their employees to the NM Dept. of Ed., and those people were then sent "certifications." So, under that procedure, a high school dropout could get "certified" by the state to teach ABE. They also were only offering $10 an hour to staff that job. Does that look like "rehabilitation" to you?
The other problem with those companies is that they treat their employees like crap. They are supposed to have a certain minimum number of people on staff for any given shift. They force their employees to work many hours of overtime, rather than hiring enough people. The employees have to work 12-hour shifts, with no breaks. They have to eat any food they brought on the run. So, people are not at their best when dealing with the inmates, especially after working 72-80 hours in a week. Their pay is around $9.15 an hour.
With private prisons, you are always vulnerable to extortion. CoreCivic pulled out of Estancia because when they tried to raise their prices, the state refused to pay the increase. CoreCivic wants a guaranteed profit margin, either by housing a minimum number of prisoners or by the state making up the difference financially. With a state-run prison system, you will never have that problem.
Both CoreCivic and Geo funnel huge amounts of money to Republican candidates and causes. The Republican worldview, which says that there should be no safety net and no prevention, only punishment when people screw up, is obviously great for their business model.
As a Democrat, I object to my tax money going to a business which is antithetical to my worldview, which says that prevention is cheaper in the long run. Not only do you save money on incarceration, but when people succeed and become contributing citizens, the tax base increases.
So, just from a purely political standpoint, I am against private prisons. Forcing me to pay money to them feels like forcing me to pay churches' property taxes.
The jobs would still be there if the state took the prison system over and got rid of CoreCivic. Supposedly it would cost more, and it might, upfront, but the long-term benefit to society would outweigh the cost, since there could be a real emphasis on rehabilitation, which you will never get from a private company. We need to look at corrections from an investment standpoint, not just immediate bottom line. Private prisons are poison.
© 2018 New Mexico News Services 7-16-18
Lesson of education reform: Pick a system and stick with it
By Sherry Robinson
All She Wrote
New Mexico’s PARCC scores are out, and as usual, Los Alamos schools lead the pack by large percentages. The lesson here must be that every student should have parents who are lab scientists.
The scores for everybody else are nothing to write home about, although they have edged up steadily since the state Public Education Department began using this particular standardized test in 2015. Also, fewer students are opting out, which indicates a grudging acceptance of the controversial test.
Last week PED threw a party at an Albuquerque charter school, complete with balloons, loud music and dancing kids to announce that the gains were larger than they’ve been previously.
This year, 31.1 percent of New Mexico students in grades 3 through 11 are proficient in language arts, up from 26.4 percent in 2015, and 21.6 percent are proficient in math, up from 17.4 percent, according to PED data.
So one in three kids can read at grade level, and one in five can do math at grade level. Which is pretty dreadful.
No wonder the governor and PED Secretary Christopher Ruszkowski chose to emphasize percentages of improvement, along with absolute numbers: 11,012 more students are doing math at grade-level and 13,308 more students are proficient in reading since the first PARCC test in 2015.
Let’s not dismiss improvement. As several educators pointed out, they get students who don’t perform well, so every student they can bring along is important. If thousands more students are up to speed, that’s cause for celebration.
However, the question is still whether a different kind of education reform and a different test would show better results. We’ve been debating this since Ruszkowski’s predecessor, Hannah Skandera, arrived to muscle the state’s schools into shape.
In April, Sen. Howie Morales, D-Silver City, called for an end to PARCC tests. Morales, an educator who is running for lieutenant governor, said the tests were “a colossal and expensive failure for our state.” He called for the next governor to “change the state’s education policy to return to sensible assessment and teaching practices, and do away with this gold-plated experiment that has damaged our system of education.”
Morales argued that the millions spent on private companies associated with the test would have been better spent on such proven methods as smaller class sizes, professional development for teachers, and books.
“The Martinez administration and Skandera promised that PARCC and Common Core just needed implementation time to turn around student achievement. They told us that evaluation of teachers by student test scores would result in better teaching, which in turn would close the achievement gap between well-off and poor children in our state. They were wrong.”
Schools and parents object that the PARCC test takes too long – most of a month, actually, accompanied by a lot of disruption. Teachers say, “I could have been teaching.”
The governor and PED are hanging their hats on these small percentages of improvement as evidence that their ideas work.
Two school districts handpicked to appear at the PARCC party would bear this out. In the last year, the Farmington Municipal Schools and the Gallup-McKinley School District not only embraced PARCC and Common Core, they tapped PED for as many programs as possible. Farmington rose to become the second highest-performing large district after Los Alamos, and Gallup-McKinley’s improved proficiency numbers were among the state’s best.
Reading between the lines, I could hear these superintendents and charter executives asking next year’s administration to not throw out a system they’ve learned to use.
A lesson I learned covering education reform is that it’s a slow process. It can take 20 years, and yet New Mexico abandons its systems with each new administration. Maybe the lesson here is that we should pick a system and stick with it.
© 2018 New Mexico News Services 7-9-18
Reforming state’s liquor laws means reinventing the wheel
By Sherry Robinson
All She Wrote
Three years ago, Vic’s Bar in Española sold its liquor license to the corporate owner of Chili’s Bar and Grill for use in Santa Fe. The sale price was $340,000. Española’s mayor was pleased. Española has too many liquor licenses, he said, and liquor is the source of too many of the city’s problems. Sentiments are similar in Gallup.
That one transaction embodies all the problems of New Mexico’s arcane system of liquor laws, and illustrates the hurdles legislators face in reforming the system. The legislative Economic and Rural Development Committee signaled recently that it will be looking at liquor laws and liquor licenses with an eye toward reviving downtowns in smaller communities.
The state’s system of liquor licenses hasn’t been overhauled since 1981, and the success of New Mexico boutique breweries and distilleries presents an opportunity. But legislators will find that reform is a real cactus patch, and they face the same issues that complicated reform before.
By the 1980s, the quota system limiting the number of liquor licenses issued by the state had caused them to skyrocket in value, pricing small businesses out of the action and discouraging commercial development in some places. But getting rid of the quota system meant values of licenses would crater, and their owners were opposed.
In 1981 Gov. Bruce King signed a new law that capped licenses at one for every 2,000 people but imposed the same quota for the state as a whole, which meant licenses could be transferred between counties. This opened the door to concentrating licenses in the bigger cities. The act created beer and wine licenses not subject to quota. And after 10 years the state would own all licenses; license holders would be compensated with a tax credit up to $30,000 a year. King later signed making the licenses private again.
“It was the only really unethical thing I ever saw him do,” wrote former state Liquor Director Jim Baca.
Today liquor licenses are too pricey for restaurants and other small businesses, which becomes an obstacle to commercial development in some places. Liquor license holders are still touchy about the value of their licenses. And the quota system is still the root of all evils.
The Economic and Rural Development Committee wants to make full dispenser licenses, concentrated in the largest cities, more accessible in the hinterland and generally ease regulations that hamper our home-grown brewers, wineries and distilleries. But worries about alcohol abuse and DWI factor into any increase of licenses.
In 2013 a bill would have allowed rural restaurants (those not in Bernalillo, Doña Ana, Sandoval and Santa Fe) to receive nontransferable, yearly liquor licenses that couldn’t be used for package sales. The state Regulation and Licensing Department said it would be a driver of rural economic development.
The New Mexico Restaurant Association was divided. Licenses in rural areas are scarce, executive director Carol Wight told me, but among her members “we have people who have benefitted by having the only license in a county. For the state to issue more licenses would devalue the licenses they own.”
The bill died in committee.
Over the last eight years, bills with an economic stimulation flavor aimed at the liquor industry usually fail. Two succeeded. One allows the transfer of liquor licenses from communities where the dispenser isn’t viable. The other lets small brewers and winegrowers have an interest in a restaurant or a dispenser’s license. It was intended to encourage microbreweries to expand into packaging and wholesale.
So, yes, let’s raise a glass to change and hope legislators can get it right this time.
© 2018 New Mexico News Services 7-2-18
New Mexico is last on Kids Count report but Texas, Arizona also lag
By Sherry Robinson
All She Wrote
New Mexico media reported last week that the state is “dead last” on the annual Kids Count study that ranks child well-being.
Yes, it’s alarming, but what exactly does it mean?
Every year since 1990 the Annie E. Casey Foundation has published its report, and in all but six years we’ve hugged the bottom, trading places at times with Mississippi and Louisiana. We’ve been 50th in just one other year, 2013.
There are several things to understand about this study.
The Kids Count report is basically a measure of children living in poverty. That’s one category, but other categories are related: children without health insurance, children whose parents lack secure jobs, children in single-parent families.
New Mexico has a high percentage of poor people, so it follows that we will have a high percentage of children living in poverty.
“When you have a lot of poverty, you have a lot of bad outcomes,” said a report author in 2006.
Kids Count is also a measure of how we’re doing compared to other states. We may do better or worse than we have in the past in one of 16 categories, but the study doesn’t compare us to ourselves. Another state may excel in a category because of a new program, or it may plunge because of a regional economic downturn. So, whether we’re doing better or worse is relative.
However, the data generated allow us to see trends or patterns, like the impact of the recession and our painfully slow climb out.
Between 2008 and 2016, as the downturn deepened, the percentage of kids whose parents didn’t have secure jobs ranged from a low of 30 percent in 2008 to a high of 37 percent in 2010 and 2011; in 2016 it was still 36 percent. Kids with at least one unemployed parent ranged from a low of 5 percent in 2008 to 11 percent in 2010 before declining to 7 percent in 2016.
Here’s a revealing number: Low-income working families represent 29 percent of the workforce, and that number fluctuates little over the last ten years.
The 2018 report tells us New Mexico’s child poverty rate increased from 29 percent last year to 30 percent, which means that 4,000 more kids live below the 2016 federal poverty line ($24,339 for a family of four). And yet the national child poverty rate decreased 2 percent. Kids with parents who don’t have a full-time, year-round job increased 2 percent.
News stories invariably report states on the bottom three rungs, but look a few rungs higher: Texas, at 43; Oklahoma, 44; Arizona, 45; Alaska, 46; and Nevada, 47.
I think Texas, with its roaring economy, should be more embarrassed at being 43rd than we are at being last. In Texas, 1.6 million kids live in poverty, for a rank of 37th in that category.
Texas is 48th in the percentage of children without health insurance. New Mexico was 33rd.
One regrettable aspect of reports like these is that they become fodder for every political agenda. You can count on hearing candidates claim the reports prove one side or another has been wrong for years, even though the results haven’t varied much from one administration to another. And I’ve seen one vacuous source claim, based on the report, that New Mexico is a terrible place for a kid to grow up.
New Mexico Voices for Children, which released Kids Count, uses the report to criticize the many tax breaks since 2008 as handouts to corporations and argue for spending on kids’ programs.
The organization isn’t entirely wrong, but if we want to help kids, we have to help parents. Which comes back to job creation. Are the tax breaks are wasted? We don’t know because legislators and the administration won’t ask.
© 2018 New Mexico News Services 6-25-18
Pearce and public differ on immigration
By Sherry Robinson
All She Wrote
Immigration has been among the top issues for voters, but now the furor over immigrant children has made it the top issue, according to a Pew Research Center poll. That will be a headache for Republican Steve Pearce in his campaign for governor against Democrat Michelle Lujan Grisham.
In a comparison of Pearce’s positions and public sentiment, measured by polls, he’s often on the unpopular side of immigration issues. He’s also the only member of our congressional delegation who hasn’t visited one of the holding facilities for immigrant children, and he was slow to speak against separating immigrant children from their parents.
A recent Gallup poll tells us that a record-high 75 percent of Americans think immigration is a good thing for the United States. Just 19 percent of the public considers immigration a bad thing. Currently, 85 percent of Democrats and Democratic leaners and 65 percent of Republicans and Republican leaners see immigration in a positive light.
This has been true every year but one since 2001, Gallup said, and the one departure was the year of 9-11 .
A related question found that 29 percent, the lowest since 1965, think the nation should reduce immigration, while 39 percent think it should remain at the present level. And astounding 84 percent think “legal immigration” is a good thing for the nation.
And yet, Pearce just voted for a bill that would have curbed legal immigration and bolstered border security. The bill failed on the opposition of Democrats and 41 Republicans.
A second bill would slash the number of green cards being issued and award visas based on merit. The president endorsed the bill. Pearce opposes it, saying he would rather increase the number of work visas for guest workers.
Multiple pollsters recorded strong opposition to separating families at the border. A CBS News Poll in mid-June found that 90 percent of Democrats, 66 percent of Independents and 39 percent of Republicans found it unacceptable to separate parents and children.
A new Quinnipiac University poll said that two-thirds of Americans oppose separating immigrant children from their families, but 55 percent of Republicans support the policy. Every other demographic – political party, gender, education, age or racial group – opposes the policy.
Look at the numbers here: Most Republicans – Pearce’s base – are OK with the child separations, but independents are not, and he’ll need independents and some Dems to win.
DACA recipients are another big issue. A CBS News Poll this month said 80 percent of Americans wanted to continue the DACA program, which allows immigrants brought here as children to remain as long if they’re students, serve in the military, and have a high school diploma and no criminal record.
In a Quinnipiac poll 79 percent think DACA recipients should be allowed to remain and eventually apply for citizenship. A Pew Research Center poll found 73 percent in favor.
Pearce, however, opposed the original Dreamer bill. In 2013 he voted to deny Dreamers protections from deportation. By way of compromise, he introduced a bill last year to let Dreamers apply for a 10-year amnesty that could be renewed as they pursue legal citizenship, but he stopped short of offering citizenship. Lujan Grisham wants an expedited path to citizenship.
A bill to be decided this week includes a path to citizenship for Dreamers and their parents, $24 billion for Trump’s border wall, an end to the diversity lottery program, and limited family-based immigration.
Polls show that people still don’t like the wall. Three different organizations measured opposition at 56 to 59 percent. Pearce has said he opposes the wall.
We still have months to go, but if immigration stays in the public eye, Republican candidates have some difficult decisions ahead.
© 2018 New Mexico News Services 6-18-18
Separating children from their parents: We’ve done it many times before
By Sherry Robinson
All She Wrote
Screaming children torn from the arms of their weeping mothers. It’s the latest haunting image from the border. On the Internet, it sparks comparisons to Nazi Germany, but the Nazis murdered the children they caught.
For a more apt comparison, look at what we did to our indigenous people, here and across the nation. This is the experience of one New Mexico reservation. You can multiply the stories across all the tribes.
When the Indian wars ended, and people settled at the Mescalero Apache Reservation in the 1880s, the Indian agents pressured chiefs and head men to send their own children to the agency boarding school and to round up other children. If the chiefs said there were no suitable children in their camps, the agent sent the Indian police on surprise raids to snatch children away from their parents. Some people hid their children “and the police had to chase and capture them like so many wild rabbits,” the agent wrote. “This unusual proceeding created quite an outcry. The men were sullen and muttering, the women loud in their lamentations, and the children almost out of their wits with fright.”
If tribal police showed any reluctance to round up children, they were fired. The agent also withheld rations.
At the agency boarding school, employees cut the children’s hair, and they were “stripped of their Indian garb, thoroughly washed, and clad in civilized clothing,” reported the agent. They weren’t allowed to go home. And they got new non-Indian names. The one good thing about school was that Apache children suddenly had enough to eat.
Agents also sent children to schools in Albuquerque and Santa Fe, as well as Colorado, Kansas and Pennsylvania, where they were often used as free menial labor. Cases of appalling abuse later came to light. Periodically, children escaped. Chief Natzili told the agent: “We are in favor of sending our children to school, all who are of school age, but the little ones should be left with their mothers.”
Joseph Blazer, an Anglo who lived with permission on the reservation, found Natzili’s own son dying of tuberculosis; the boy got sick at school and was sent alone to make his way home. This dismal event further inflamed the Apaches’ resistance to boarding schools.
All of the schools were disease incubators, especially the reservation’s crowded, ramshackle dormitories.
The agents were relentless and ruthless. One wrote in 1894: “I do not think it good policy to take their children by force and put them in the school,” but if they enrolled with their parents’ consent, he sent the Indian police after them if they ran away. Another wrote in 1896 that he overcame their resistance through “firmness and a judicious use of the guardhouse and starvation of the parents. If then they can not be taught to be industrious and have all the warpath spanked out of them, it were high time to give up the effort.”
A third agent wrote in 1899 that he had 100 percent of the children in school. “We use compulsion in maintaining this high percent of attendance,” he wrote. “We simply place the parents in the guardhouse till the child is brought into school.” A few years later the agency doctor blamed the deaths of twelve boys on “the lamentable condition of the dormitory” and proposed burning it down. An inspector subsequently condemned the buildings.
I’ve heard Native American grandmas and grandpas talk tearfully about their boarding school experience, about their separation from families, and it’s appallingly similar to what’s going on now at the border. Historians and social workers have documented the pain and trauma to Native people. Now the authorities feel justified in doing it again to another group. It reflects on us all as Americans.
© 2018 New Mexico News Services 6-11-18
Election system favors political extremes, discourages moderates
By Sherry Robinson
All She Wrote
If you’re a political moderate and feel your choices in the coming election are pretty darn limited, a lot of people feel your pain.
The recent primaries bestowed victories on women. (Hurray!) They also blessed progressives and conservatives and left moderates in the dust.
In the much-watched Congressional District 1 race, progressive Deb Haaland trounced Damon Martinez, a moderate and former U. S. Attorney.
For State Land Commissioner, Stephanie Garcia Richard, another progressive, surged ahead of her opponents. George Muñoz, a businessman and moderate Democrat from Gallup, ran third, but the good news is he’ll still be in the state Senate.
In Northern New Mexico, Rep. Debbie Rodella, a moderate who served 25 years, lost to a progressive newcomer, Susan Herrera. Rodella, chair of the Business and Industry Committee, had campaign money; Herrera had volunteers and shoe leather.
On the Public Regulation Commission, moderate Dem Sandy Jones lost to progressive Steve Fischmann, a former Las Cruces legislator. And Lynda Lovejoy lost to Theresa Becenti-Aguilar, who previously held the seat. These two races were affected in part by a backlash against an industry super PAC donations to both.
One caveat: None of these elections was black and white. In Rodella’s case, voters were ready for a change. Lovejoy’s loss may have more to do with Navajo Nation politics. But overall, it wasn’t a good outcome for moderates.
A newspaper reader commented: “When the majority of the country is in the middle, and elections are supposed to be about giving people a choice, those of us in the middle have fewer and fewer choices. Our America has been hijacked and stolen by the extremes of the party elites dictating what candidates we can vote for.”
Cue Bob Perls and his New Mexico Open Primaries (nmopenprimaries.org).
Perls, a former legislator, writes: “Americans are deeply frustrated with partisan politics, gridlock and lack of cooperation to solve problems. Forty-two percent of Americans are independents. Why? Because they have come to believe that the two major parties no longer can govern effectively.” Party regulars, generally on the far right and left, choose the primary winners who run in general elections, and those candidates float in a reservoir of special interest money. Closed primaries are at the heart “of our polarized, dysfunctional political system.”
The solution, he says, is an open primary that allows everyone to vote regardless of party. Currently, you can only vote in a primary if you’re a registered member of one of the three major political parties. That disenfranchises 283,481 unaffiliated voters.
Last week Perls gained support from Secretary of State Maggie Toulouse Oliver, a Democrat, who wrote, “It’s difficult to say that we have a fair and equal voting process when a large segment of the voting population isn’t allowed to have a say in who the general election candidates will be.”
She advocates an open primary in New Mexico as a way to force candidates to listen to all voters, not just party diehards.
Another development is the growth of centrist groups, such as No Labels (nolabels.org), the Bipartisan Policy Center, and The New Center. They decry the endless partisan carping and try to bring Rs and Ds together to address national problems.
No Labels raised its flag here for the first time. Backed by a bipartisan group of billionaires, No Labels spends money to help elect moderates and defeat obstructionists. Its PAC, Forward Not Back, ran ads for Damon Martinez, prompting complaints from Deb Haaland’s campaign and the Republican Party chair about outside money, even though they’re all raking in outside donations.
In this primary, voters didn’t lack choices. In some races we had too many good candidates. The big question, given the lopsided process in place, is which candidate will represent everybody?
© 2018 New Mexico News Services 6-4-18
School lessons for adults who want to help
By Sherry Robinson
All She Wrote
When I started as a volunteer tutor four years ago, I wondered if I had the know-how to help a first grader catch up with his peers in reading. When school ended this year, I wondered if I’d need to throw myself on top of my student in the event of an active shooter.
The answers are yes and not yet. The program prepared us for one but not the other.
When I started, I, like all the other school volunteers, simply wanted to help. But I also wanted to learn because schools are much in the news, and I write about them. It’s been a fine adventure.
I learned that one little guy who doesn’t like reading but does like sports overcame his reluctance to read when offered books about sports at his reading level. Books like these are somewhat scarce, and for Hispanic athletes, they’re nonexistent, so at times I just wrote my own stories from web information about the lives of athletes. I leave in the hard stuff like divorce and poverty because my students experience both.
Once when my little sports fan was having a bad day, I happened to have a book about the baseball player Jackie Robinson. The book didn’t varnish the difficulties Robinson faced on and off the field, and it seemed to lift my young reader out of his own situation.
I learned that a third grade girl was already aware of herself as a person of color. Given the opportunity to choose a book from a box that happened to be sitting in the tutor room, she picked one about a minority girl who becomes a doctor. I started looking for books about Hispanic girls and, except for Dora the Explorer, those too were in short supply.
In great supply are books about little blond kids in two-parent families living in decent homes and doing wonderful things. I learned to avoid these because my readers can’t relate and lose interest. They enjoy books with some familiarity. I embraced animal books because kids like animals, and talking animals can have adventures and learn lessons without crossing ethnic lines.
Some of us have lost students because they were absent so often we couldn’t spend enough time with them to make a difference.
Four years in, I was surprised to discover that I volunteer in a failing school. From the hallway and classroom discipline I’ve seen, the caring teachers, two astute principals and an army of volunteers I would never have guessed. My son, a former teacher, says school grades are only a measure of parental income.
I can certainly see that in the difference between my grandson’s school and the school where I volunteer. My grandson has two educated parents who stay on top of his homework and reading. He reads (and tests) like a champ and, not surprisingly, attends an A school. My tutor student gets nothing at home, says his teacher.
“What’s wrong with them?” asks my husband. Well, some parents aren’t educated or didn’t like school themselves or work two jobs to pay the rent. Or they’re captives of drugs, alcohol or jail.
One day my student said the school had been on lockdown because a “bad guy” was spotted nearby. Another time, a teacher told me a student’s dad got out of jail and came to the school to see his kid; the secretary (!) told him he couldn’t enter because he was wearing gang attire.
After the latest school shooting, the principal instructed tutors what to do in the event of an active shooter. It wasn’t reassuring. This school and everyone in it are frighteningly vulnerable.
So, I return to my search for new learning activities and the morbid contemplation of my own actions in a worst-case scenario.
© 2018 New Mexico News Services 5-21-18
Rules for predatory lenders must reflect letter, spirit of law
By Sherry Robinson
All She Wrote
An elderly woman got a small loan from a storefront lender and couldn’t understand why she could never manage to pay off the loan even though she made payments.
Leonard Gorman, executive director of the Navajo Nation Human Rights Commission, explained the basics of principal and interest and renewal language in the loan agreement. Once she understood, she cried inconsolably.
Last year, when the Legislature finally reformed laws governing storefront lenders – also called predatory lenders or payday lenders – there was a sense of accomplishment that they had dispatched a nagging problem after years of complaints.
A recent hearing in Gallup made it clear there’s still work to do. Gorman blamed the lenders’ deliberately confusing communications for financial burdens on Navajos, but the small lenders trap Indian and non-Indian people alike.
This is one reason New Mexico is poor. Thousands of people can’t get out from under these debts with their spiraling interest rates, so they don’t participate fully in the economy.
During the 2017 legislative session, HB 347 passed. It made loans of $5,000 or less subject to the Small Loan Act, eliminated processing and handling fees, and capped APR at 175 percent. It banned payday loans, loans for less than four months, single payment loans, and balloon payments. However, it exempted tax refund anticipation loans and raised delinquent fees from 5 cents to 10 cents per dollar loaned. The law also mandated clear information for borrowers.
In February, the state Financial Institutions Division released its regulations for the law. Last week the agency held a hearing in Gallup, which has the state’s highest concentration of storefront lenders (50 serving a population of fewer than 23,000) in the state’s poorest county.
Consumer advocates, like the New Mexico Center on Law and Poverty and Prosperity Works, said HB 347 was progress. Eliminating payday loans was a big step, and interest of 175 percent beats 1,500 percent. But the cap is still too high, the terms of the loans are still unclear, and lenders need to do a better job of informing borrowers.
One of the nastier snares of the small loan business is the rollover. Can’t make a payment? No problem! Just roll it over and pay a higher interest rate and fees. Because borrowers often can’t repay the loan within the short term limit, after a rollover or two they’re in hock indefinitely with no end in sight.
Incredibly, the state’s new regulations don’t cover loan renewals. And they don’t require lenders to be clear about terms and costs.
“It is all too common in the industry for storefront lenders to mislead borrowers about the true cost of small loans through confusing contract terms, expensive and often useless add-on products, and by marketing loans that conceal long term costs,” says the Center on Law and Poverty. “Because of this intentional subterfuge, it is often difficult or impossible for consumers to calculate the true costs of their loans.”
Those of us with credit can borrow from a bank or credit union and come away with a clear understanding of the interest rate we will pay and the amount of time we have to repay. The law assures us the interest rate will be reasonable. The poorest among us don’t have the same understanding or assurance.
Gorman said, “We have the right to understand what we’re committing to when it comes to loan documents and legal documents.”
One bright spot in this dark picture is the rise of alternative lenders. A number of local governments now offer their employees small loans with moderate interest rates. They repay through payroll deductions.
The Financial Institutions Division needs to step up and make sure its regulations match the letter of the law. From the lenders and the government, words matter.
© 2018 New Mexico News Services 5-14-18
Interim nuclear waste? Not so fast
By Sherry Robinson
All She Wrote
In a contest between New Mexico and Nevada over which state has the most real estate described as the middle of nowhere, it would probably be a draw.
That middle-of-nowhere quality made Nevada attractive for a permanent nuclear waste dump at Yucca Mountain and New Mexico a site for not just the Waste Isolation Pilot Project but a proposed interim project on a thousand-acre tract between Carlsbad and Hobbs.
The arguments for and against are old and well familiar. They boil down to economic development vs. safety and environmental impact. We need to dig deeper.
Holtec International proposes to build an interim high-level nuclear waste storage facility that would hold 100,000 metric tons of spent fuel from the nation’s commercial nuclear reactors. It’s asking for a 40-year license from the U. S. Nuclear Regulatory Commission.
Supporters see the project as a source of steady jobs that aren’t vulnerable to boom and bust cycles and a good fit with existing industry. The governor and cities and counties in the region support the project.
The NRC under the Obama administration concluded that storing spent fuel in pools and casks is safe and secure. Nuclear plants have been storing this waste for decades, writes James Conca, the nuclear expert at Forbes magazine. He adds that “none of the waste is volatile, there are no free liquids to leak, we’ve been disposing of nuclear waste in New Mexico since 1999 (some of it very high activity), and we have transported many thousands of tons of nuclear waste, nuclear weapons and spent nuclear fuel over millions of miles of roadways – with no problems.”
Well, not exactly no problems, as we know from the last incident at WIPP.
On the other hand, at a recent hearing in Roswell, both ranchers and dairy operators said they’re uneasy about the project’s impacts on agriculture. Contamination of air or water could ruin them both.
Fasken Oil Company and others in the business object to building a waste site on top of the ever so busy Delaware Basin and its frenetic boom.
What many New Mexicans may not know is that another company, Waste Management Specialists, has also applied to build an interim facility at Andrews, Texas, just across the state line from Eunice. WCS is partnering with Orano, a French energy firm with a long track record of managing and storing nuclear waste in France.
Last week the U. S. House voted to revive the long-stalled Yucca Mountain project, even though that state’s Republican governor and legislators of both parties don’t want it. The same bill would create an interim storage site to hold the waste before sending it to Nevada.
How long might it take to open Yucca Mountain? Possibly decades, says the nuclear industry. If it does open, will the containers be stable enough to ship? If it doesn’t open, New Mexico could become the permanent site.
Either option involves a lot of transportation. The Dallas, Midland and San Antonio city councils have passed resolutions prohibiting railcars of nuclear waste from rolling through their cities.
There are still some nagging questions about these projects. Namely, if Nevadans of both parties are dead set against Yucca Mountain, which has been stalled for years, then where does that leave us?
When state and local governments (i. e. taxpayers) are stuck fixing a sinkhole in Carlsbad left by a private company that no longer exists and we’re still trying to clean up uranium sites on the Navajo Reservation, how confident are we that Holtec will be around to manage waste that will still be hot in a million years?
Finally, when low-level waste at WIPP made an unexpected mess that required months to remedy, is the process as simple and scientific as we want to believe?
Let’s not hurry this decision.
© 2018 New Mexico News Services 5-7-18
Silver lining possible in another downhill water case with Texas
By Sherry Robinson
All She Wrote
New Mexico’s latest water standoff with Texas isn’t going well, and the only way you’d know that is if you’ve been reading Laura Paskus.
Paskus, writing for the online publications New Mexico Political Report and New Mexico In Depth, has covered water so doggedly she deserves an award, if such an award existed. Instead, she gets this salute from a fellow writer.
In 2013 Texas sued New Mexico and Colorado over agricultural pumping from wells near the river in southern New Mexico, arguing that New Mexico wasn’t sending its mandated share of water downstream. If Texas wins, New Mexico could owe upwards of $1 billion in damages and be forced to curtail groundwater pumping in the Mesilla Valley.
From the outset, the case has been fraught with poor judgment.
In 2008 the Elephant Butte Irrigation District and El Paso County Water Improvement District No. 1 agreed to share water during dry years and signed a new agreement with the U.S. Bureau of Reclamation, which delivers water to farmers in both states from Elephant Butte and Caballo reservoirs.
Three years later, Gary King, then Attorney General, sued the federal government and the two districts, claiming the bureau was giving too much water to Texas. King should have thought twice about disturbing this sleeping bear. The last time we tangled with Texas, over Pecos River water, we lost. In 2013 Texas responded to King’s litigation with the current lawsuit.
In January, the U. S. Supreme Court heard arguments about whether the federal government should be allowed to intervene and pursue claims under the Rio Grande Compact. The government argued that New Mexico was hurting the bureau’s ability to deliver water under the compact and its treaty with Mexico.
For their court date, Texas and Colorado sent their big guns, Paskus reported – their solicitors general. New Mexico sent a private attorney, the only one there. Marcus Rael Jr. isn’t a water attorney and lacked experience before the high court, but he was Attorney General Hector Balderas’s former law partner.
In early March, the U.S. Supreme Court allowed the United States to intervene. This was a big plus for Texas. “Texas has the federal government on its side,” reported a Texas newspaper.
Paskus reported on April 30 that the Texas representative on the Rio Grande Compact Commission, Patrick Gordon, took the unusual step of writing to our State Engineer Tom Blaine. Gordon warned Blaine that if he approves a copper company’s plan to pump water, New Mexico would be on the hook for even greater damages if Texas prevails in the case.
New Mexico Copper Co. wanted to reopen an abandoned copper mine near Hillsboro and pump more than a billion gallons of groundwater a year. Last year, a state judge ruled that most of the company’s water rights are invalid. The company appealed and filed a new application with the State Engineer to pump 5,234 acre-feet a year. It proposes to lease water from the Jicarilla Apache Nation to replace lost river water. Grossly inadequate, says Gordon.
The project has also drawn opposition from some local residents, as well as the Elephant Butte Irrigation District and the New Mexico Pecan Growers because the mine’s pumping could affect members’ water rights.
Gordon told Paskus that Texas isn’t trying to take New Mexico’s water. It wants New Mexico to manage its groundwater to not affect deliveries of surface water to Texas.
If there’s a silver lining in this darkening cloud, it’s the Lone Star State’s new appreciation for controls on pumping. We know that for decades along the state’s East Side, Texas farmers have pumped aggressively, to the detriment of New Mexico’s farmers. If Texas wins the current case, New Mexico has an argument – or a new case.
© 2018 New Mexico News Services 4-30-18
ENMU’s library morphs into costly “student success center”
By Sherry Robinson
All She Wrote
This summer the venerable but run down Golden Library at Eastern New Mexico University in Portales will finish molting into the new Golden Student Success Center.
And what, exactly, is a student success center? Good question, but apparently it doesn’t involve books. The architects’ drawings show a spacious, modern facility with nary a book in sight.
This is a cautionary tale for institutions and communities contemplating a revamp of their libraries.
Golden Library, opened in 1952, was badly in need of renovation. The state passed two bond issues to fund the re-do, but state officials told the school’s administration that a “library” would get pocket change, while a “student success center” would be fully funded, according to a letter written by librarian Gene Bundy to the board of the Historical Society of New Mexico.
Librarians were ordered to winnow the library’s holdings – first by 50 percent, then more and more until they reached 80 percent.
During construction, the librarians relocated to another building, and the remaining books were stored in the basement of the Campus Union Building over the librarians’ objections. In December, a pipe burst above the collections and flooded the basement.
Hardest hit was Special Collections. Typically, this includes old and rare books, papers of prominent individuals and other records. Golden’s Special Collections also included ENMU’s own archives, state history, oral histories, and photographs, plus its prized Jack Williamson Science Fiction Library, one of the largest collections of its kind, Bundy said, and the only complete set of the student newspapers beginning in 1934.
This is literally the stuff of history and the material that historians, scholars and genealogists rely on for their work. Much of it is irreplaceable.
Adding insult to injury, the project architects, Improve Group in Albuquerque, gave little thought to books in the facility’s planning and design. “They never once asked what the collections were, how we operated, what we would like or need in the new iteration,” Bundy wrote.
“When we got the plans for Special Collections, we discovered, to our amazement, that to these architects, books are books. No more was there a Science Fiction Library and a New Mexico history area. All the books get shelved together! All the rare books get shelved together, the 3/4-inch book and the 26-pound book. No difference.”
On its website ENMU promises: “The Golden Student Success Center will house traditional library holdings and resources for on-campus and online students (and) will be a destination for social and intellectual interaction” featuring a commons area, café, study spaces, wi-fi, and after-hours help with registration, financial aid, advising, and counseling.
How is this different from the Campus Union Building?
ENMU may not be the only library with no stacks. A few other institutions are winnowing their collections to save money and space and trying to offer more online resources. At a Pennsylvania university, the faculty was alarmed to learn the library would discard up to one-third of books. The University of Texas eliminated 60 percent of materials at its fine arts library and was poised to store the rest off campus when an uprising by students, faculty and alumni halted the plan. As one student argued, “A library without books is not a library.”
I can understand the need to update libraries and accommodate expanded online research, but I have to wonder about Golden’s transformation. In my college days, student housing was noisy and distracting. For serious studying, we headed to the library. There’s nothing quite like a mass of books plus quiet to reinforce good intentions. Some things don’t change.
Maybe the $26 million Student Success Center will be a success. Maybe ENMU is chasing an expensive fad. Either way, it’s hard to imagine a campus without a library.
© 2018 New Mexico News Services 4-23-18
Construction, deployment demonstrate there’s nothing new along the border
By Sherry Robinson
All She Wrote
As the chief executive’s “big beautiful wall” goes up, beginning in Santa Teresa, one question is what to call it.
To the U. S. Border Patrol, as of April 9, it’s not just a wall, but “the president’s wall.” Before April 9, it was a fence. In recent years, it’s been a barrier, which sounds more impressive.
Over the next year, taxpayers will spend $73.3 million to replace 20 miles of vehicle barriers – three-to-four-foot posts and a taller mesh fence – with steel posts called bollards that are 18 to 30 feet tall. A five-foot anti-scaling plate at the top makes it harder to get over.
This is not one of the pricy prototypes erected in San Diego but a continuation of the fence already in place along one-third of the border. The old bollard fence “works for us,” said Chief Patrol Agent Aaron Hull during the April 9 groundbreaking.
The Border Patrol decided to start at Santa Teresa because it’s one of the busiest crossing points in the El Paso sector, which stretches from West Texas to the Arizona line. In fiscal 2017 agents apprehended more than 25,000 undocumented immigrants and seized more than 34,000 pounds of marijuana and 140 pounds of cocaine.
Not only do we have a new, uh, barrier, we have soldiers. Reportedly alarmed by a Fox News report of an immigrant caravan moving north through Mexico (it stopped in Mexico City), the tweeter in chief ordered troops to the border.
Like the bollard fence, past presidents have also used Guardsmen to help out along the border. Former President George W. Bush deployed 6,000 National Guard members in 2006 during “Operation Jump Start” at a cost $1.2 billion. They helped in some 176,000 apprehensions and seizure of more than 316,000 pounds of marijuana and 5,224 pounds of cocaine.
In 2010, during “Operation Phalanx” former President Barack Obama sent 1,200 National Guard troops to the border during a spike in cartel activity. They helped in nearly 18,000 apprehensions and the seizure of more than 56,000 pounds of marijuana during the first year. The cost was $110 million for that first year.
This year, the Border Patrol Academy in Artesia has doubled its 66-day training, increasing the hours in nearly every discipline and integrating Spanish language into the curriculum.
So the prospect of another National Guard deployment was greeted with mild enthusiasm, probably because apprehensions in the El Paso sector have plunged nearly 67 percent over the past decade.
Clint McDonald, executive director of the Southwest Border Sheriffs’ Coalition, said, “I don’t see a crisis as Washington says there’s a crisis.”
Police Chief Javier Guerra, of Sunland Park, can see the border fence from his office. His town is the second safest city in New Mexico. He’s said that he needs resources but not to combat border crime – his small force is busier trying to contain interstate crime.
Doña Ana County Sheriff Enrique Vigil said he’d prefer to use technology instead of a wall.
Vigil says publicly what Border Patrol officials and agents have said privately. According to a recent study by Democrats on the Senate Homeland Security Committee, the Border Patrol publicly supports the fence/wall/barrier but say privately that what they really want are more personnel and technology.
Bottom line: A 67 percent reduction is not a 100 percent reduction. But former Homeland Security Secretary Jeh Johnson said: “No level of border security, no wall, doubling the size of the border patrol, all these things will not stop the illegal migration from countries as long as a 7-year-old is desperate enough to flee on her own and travel the entire length of Mexico because of the poverty and the violence in her country.”
© 2018 New Mexico News Services 4-16-18
Here’s what it will take to get serious about DWI
By Sherry Robinson
All She Wrote
Ever wonder why DWI deaths in New Mexico just go on and on? Why DWI offenders can rack up a dozen arrests, get out of jail, and do it again?
It’s not hard to understand.
Combating DWI has four parts, says Linda Atkinson, executive director of the DWI Resource Center in Albuquerque: prevention, cops, courts, and treatment. All four have to be strong and work together, but instead of a chain, we have rusty bailing wire.
Prevention can include media campaigns, but the single most effective deterrent is the expectation of swift, sure punishment, Atkinson said while speaking recently to New Mexico Press Women.
Law enforcement has used such strategies as DWI checkpoints and saturation patrols, but our agencies are widely under-staffed, which means fewer arrests.
The weakest link in the chain is the judicial system, where the DWI conviction rate is 50 percent. The criminal justice system is broken, Atkinson says. DWI cases are pleaded down. Passing tougher DWI laws is pointless because the courts don’t prosecute to the full extent of the law. Two years ago, in an interview, Atkinson facetiously suggested to me that lawmakers should “legislate tougher judges and tougher prosecutors.”
At the time, Sen. Joseph Cervantes (currently a candidate for governor) said: “I’ve probably prosecuted 300 DWI cases, and I’ve never seen a judge give a maximum sentence. We can raise penalties through the roof,” and it won’t make any difference.
In January, Atkinson wrote in her blog: “Too many judges are politically disinclined to step out of the box to address the issue in their courts.”
To be fair, the courts, district attorneys and public defenders are so understaffed and the case load so high that the priority is to just get cases adjudicated, to keep the assembly line moving. Dismiss it on a technicality. Plead it down. So a repeat offender’s eighth DWI gets pleaded down to one.
“I’m not against plea agreements, but I am against giving the farm away,” Atkinson says. “We see offenders who’ve never been held accountable. We need meaningful sanctions.”
The fourth link, treatment, is either not used or used ineffectively. “Treatment is a primary intervention opportunity. It will work if it’s completed, but too many times it’s not ordered or not completed,” she says.
And treatment suffered a blow as the governor dismantled the behavioral health system. “It’s been huge,” she said.
Atkinson has spent decades studying DWI data and trends, crash statistics, and court outcomes.
Here’s a statistic the DWI Resource Center released in December: DWI crash deaths declined after 1983 but increased beginning in 2011 under Gov. Susana Martinez.
Gov. Toney Anaya began revoking drivers’ licenses, doing breath-alcohol tests and increasing DWI enforcement, which reduced DWI crash deaths from 69.8 percent of all traffic fatalities to 59.9 percent and saved 672 lives. The crash-death rates declined somewhat under Govs. Garrey Carruthers and Bruce King but took another dive when Gov. Gary Johnson closed drive-up windows and expanded DWI checkpoints, saving 873 lives and reducing deaths to 45.6 percent. Gov. Bill Richardson appointed a DWI czar and expanded State Police DWI enforcement; this saved 238 lives and reduced the rate to 41.8 percent. Gov. Susana Martinez reduced State Police DWI enforcement; the rate rose to 42.5 percent and cost 13 lives.
If we’re looking for states to model ourselves after, we don’t have to look far; Arizona, Colorado and Texas all have better laws, programs and enforcement than we do and the political leadership to make it happen.
Atkinson has worked with governors since the 1980s, but in Martinez’s first year in office, Atkinson criticized a pocket veto of a victims’ rights bill. Martinez reamed her during a private meeting and told agencies to not work with her.
Maybe the next governor will get serious about DWI.
© 2018 New Mexico News Services 4-9-18
#MeToo complicates workplace interactions between men and women
By Sherry Robinson
All She Wrote
In my husband’s workplace, years ago, a woman who was clueless about appropriate professional attire showed up day after day in tube tops. Men in the office begged female co-workers to take her aside and ask her to stop wearing the clingy apparel because it was distracting. Maybe for the wearer, that was the point. Nobody worked up the courage to speak, so her daily display continued.
(Laugh if you want at Hillary’s pantsuits, but for women of a certain age, the pantsuit solved a lot of problems.)
The tube top episode shows that most men in the workplace are decent people, and men and women work together just fine as long as everybody observes common sense codes of behavior. It’s something to remember as we navigate the turbulent waters of #MeToo.
After taking down some big players in entertainment, politics and media, the MeToo movement has paused. I’m hearing two parallel debates. A few brave feminists are starting to question the treatment of men in some of these cases – not all piggish behavior is equal – and some men, especially older men, are feeling uncomfortable and unsure of themselves in workplace interactions.
For a lot of women, myself included, it’s been high-five exhilarating to see years of abuse and bullying exposed and men held accountable who thought they were untouchable. We haven’t had any Harvey Weinsteins in New Mexico, but we’ve seen a few heads roll, plus a new system for complaints at the Legislature.
Leaders of feminist thought are starting to examine the movement itself. In a Harper’s Magazine essay last month, Katie Roiphe, a New York journalism educator, acknowledged “the sense of great, unmanageable anger” that’s understandable but “can also lead to an alarming lack of proportion.”
There’s a difference between a guy staring at a woman’s chest and an assault; one’s annoying, the other’s criminal, but women are currently angry about both. In the feminist Twitterverse, there’s no difference, which is why Roiphe argues that this chatter is bad for the movement and for women. She also takes issue with the resignation of a prominent editor over sketchy accusations.
Which brings us to male discomfort and the day-to-day social minefield of the workplace.
In a poll released last week by the Pew Research Center, 51 percent of Americans think it’s become more difficult for men to know how to interact with women in the workplace. That percentage rises to 66 percent among people over 65 and 64 percent among Republicans. Younger men and Democrats were in the 40 percent range – still substantial.
Even so, half of Americans see as a major problem men getting away with sexual harassment or assault, along with women not being believed. Just 34 percent thought firings of accused men before having all the facts was a major problem, and even fewer, 31 percent, are worried about false accusations by women.
Personal experience colors our views, so it’s notable that 59 percent of women (63 percent of white women and 50 percent of Hispanic and Black women) and 27 percent of men (34 percent of Hispanic men, 25 percent of white men and 22 percent of Black men) have been subjected to unwanted sexual advances or harassment at work or outside of work, and 55 percent of women say it’s happened in both settings.
Women and Democrats are more concerned than men and Republicans about sexual harassment going unpunished and victims not being believed.
We live in a heady time when undesirable old behavior is no longer tolerated. It will leave a lot of people feeling unbalanced for a time. And we’re weathering the early stage of a movement that’s still in need of a real process, not just Twitter rumors, to go with its overdue reckoning.
© 2018 New Mexico News Services 4-1-18
Voters aren’t happy, but will they crack down on campaign spending?
By Sherry Robinson
All She Wrote
At a candidate event last weekend, the questions quickly turned from the usual issues to fund-raising. How was she raising money? Who was an acceptable donor and who wasn’t? In other words, whose pocket would she be in?
The candidate explained carefully that most of her donations were from individuals, that she would accept donations from organizational Political Action Committees (PACs) as long as she already espoused their cause, and that she would not accept money from corporate PACs.
Normally, certain issues dominate during an election year, but I don’t remember such a focus on money. It’s because even less informed constituents are uncomfortably aware that the deluge of cash in election campaigns has delivered results we don’t like, both here and in Washington.
Last week Common Cause New Mexico released the results of its annual poll. Not only are voters in all demographics unhappy with the state’s direction, they want to see election reforms. The results were a surprise to pundits and to Viki Harrison, Common Cause executive director.
The big numbers show support of campaign reform:
90 percent would require all large political contributions from individuals, corporations, PACs, non-profits and unions to be made public; of those 78 percent are in strong support.
91 percent would require registered lobbyists to make public the bills or issues they’re hired to push.
86 percent would prevent former legislators from lobbying for at least two years after their term ends; 68 percent were in strong support.
70 percent support an independent commission redrawing legislative districts rather than legislators.
84 percent would forbid legislators from voting on bills that would benefit them financially.
Voters were more divided on the impact of PACs. When they learned that during the last election, PACs spent more money on political ads in some races than the candidates did themselves, 48 percent said they believe the PAC ads had a large impact on New Mexico races.
And 61 percent of voters (67 percent of Democrats, 60 percent of independents and 53 percent of Republicans) believe that limiting the amount of campaign contributions to candidates helps to prevent corruption.
The poll also plumbed voter unhappiness and found that 52 percent of voters (62 percent of Independents, 49 percent of Democrats and 48 percent of Republicans) believe the state is headed in the wrong direction. A slim 24 percent think it’s moving in the right direction.
In 2014, by comparison, 41 percent liked the direction and 38 percent didn’t.
Dissatisfaction varied in different locations: 61 percent, Albuquerque; 38 percent, northwest; 46, north central; 44 percent, south; 47 percent, East Side. The dissatisfied numbers were 55 percent for women, 48 percent for men; Hispanic and Anglos were both 52 percent; and age groups ranged from 58 percent to 46 percent with young people the most dissatisfied.
Common Cause this year asked specific questions about the Legislature. Remarkably, 65 percent want to extend the length of the legislative session, which meets for 30 days in even numbered years and 60 days in odd numbered years. This is an interesting idea. Our current timeframes give the sessions a breathless, marathon quality that doesn’t lend itself to good deliberation.
And 54 would pay legislators a yearly salary equivalent to the average New Mexico household. New Mexico is the last state with an unpaid legislature. This would increase the candidate pool. Right now we’re limited to the people who can afford to serve. In rural areas, the numbers may be small.
This year, you too can question candidates about their financial support. Some candidates will pick and choose their donors, and some will fill their baskets with anybody’s handout. In a hard fight, will principled candidates lower their standards?
© 2018 New Mexico News Services 3-26-18
Taking the 30,000-foot view of public education
By Sherry Robinson
All She Wrote
Tom Jennings, a petroleum landman in Roswell, is busier than he ever dreamed possible. That’s because New Mexico’s Permian Basin is not just booming again, it’s exploding, and that’s good for state revenues, the state permanent fund, and all the worthy programs supported by tax dollars.
Including early childhood education.
“I want to take care of children,” said Jennings, a Democrat and former Roswell mayor. “There’s nothing more important than education. But Democrats want to raid the permanent fund, and raiding the permanent fund now is crazy. If we hold steady for a while, if we’re patient, the permanent fund will get a lot of money. I think it’s the dark before the light.”
Paying for early childhood education is the issue that won’t go away. For eight years in a row, legislators have introduced measures to increase early childhood education and home visitation and pay for it by drawing money from the state’s permanent funds.
This year’s measure, House Joint Resolution 1, would have amended the state Constitution to spend an additional 1 percent from the $17 billion Land Grant Permanent Fund for early childhood programs. Had the Legislature approved, voters would have decided the question in November.
After lengthy and emotional debate, it died in the Senate because Senate Finance Committee Chairman John Arthur Smith, D-Deming, refused to hear it. The Conference of Catholic Bishops of New Mexico called Smith and other opponents racists. The church in turn drew flak for meddling in politics.
Let’s take a deep breath here. The good senator from Deming is not a racist. He is cautious about using the state’s money, and he should be. Opponents aren’t racists either. They believe in preserving the funds for future use – for our grandchildren, as they like to say.
And yet Archbishop John C. Wester is correct when he writes, “We cannot call 32 percent of children receiving pre-K a full effort. We cannot call fewer than 5 percent receiving home visiting a full effort.” He also points out, as others have, that “36 percent of our children under the age of 5 live in poverty while the state accumulates a Land Grant Permanent Fund of $17.2 billion.”
The archbishop calls the condition of our children “the true doomsday,” and adds: “Adverse childhood experiences are at epidemic proportions in New Mexico. If we calculate the hardship and cost to society for crime, educational remediation and an unprepared workforce, this is the doomsday scenario playing out right in front of us.”
No argument here, but we need to zoom out and take a 30,000-foot view. After writing about these issues for decades, I can tell you that the right and the left tend to stake out a position and fight for it madly even when the battle has moved on.
The governor and Republicans have wasted eight years trying to hold back third graders who aren’t reading at grade level. The battle cry is, “End social promotion!” Research shows that holding a kid back does more harm than good, and better schools have solved the problem in other ways.
Meanwhile, Democrats have seized on early childhood education as the silver bullet. Common sense and research tell us it would help, but is it the big solution it’s portrayed to be?
If we listen to educators – and we should do more of this – we would learn that our schools need help at all levels, that each school is different, that we have chasms between urban and rural schools and between reservation and non-reservation schools.
We’re about to change governors. It’s a good time to examine education from top to bottom, listen to teachers, and make a new plan – before we reach into the permanent funds. If we do, when the money begins rolling in as Jennings predicts, we’ll have an intelligent response.
© 2018 New Mexico News Services 3-19-18
Business needs, transparency rules find delicate balance at spaceport
By Sherry Robinson
All She Wrote
The spaceport finally caught a break after years of flak. Three breaks, in fact.
Even so, Spaceport America was in the crosshairs of a sustained transparency debate in the recent legislative session.
As media and watchdog organizations like to remind you, transparency and open records in government are vital to a healthy democracy. But as an old business reporter, I also understand how cautious and downright paranoid high tech companies are about their internal information. They’re secretive for a reason.
So when headline writers at the New Mexican exclaim, “Transparency takes hit,” after the passage of a bill protecting customer information at the spaceport, I’m afraid I can’t agree.
The bipartisan Senate Bill 98, called the Commercial Aerospace Protection Act, started out exempting Spaceport client information from the state’s Inspection of Public Records Act unless the company waives confidentiality. IPRA is the sacred cow of New Mexico journalists.
The state Spaceport Authority for several years has argued the need to provide some degree of confidentiality to high-tech aerospace companies, potential customers of the $220 million facility near Truth or Consequences. Spaceport Authority CEO Dan Hicks has said potential customers were apprehensive about competitors gaining access to plans and trade secrets under the state’s transparency law.
Some of the nation’s dozen spaceports offer such protections, and we’re competing against them in the $339 billion commercial space market.
“We have such an investment there that I think we need to do everything we can to make the Spaceport successful,” Sen. Mary Kay Papen, D-Las Cruces, told the Albuquerque Journal. “We’re trying to make sure we don’t damage our opportunity to be competitive and win.” Papen and Republican Reps. William Burt, of Alamogordo, and Rebecca Dow, of T or C, were co-sponsors.
Media and the New Mexico Foundation for Open Government (FOG) maintain that because the spaceport owes its existence to taxpayers, its records should be open. FOG has noted that Spaceport officials have in the past withheld records that should be public.
A similar bill last year died in a committee.
In a compromise worked out by House Minority Leader Nate Gentry, R-Albuquerque, and FOG, the bill was narrowed to exempt “proprietary technical or business information” as well as “information that is related to the possible relocation, expansion or operations of aerospace customers.” This would include security manuals, computer systems, visitor logs, security videos, data storage systems, advanced instruments and Spaceport facility technology. Companies would have to demonstrate “that disclosure of the information would cause substantial harm.”
The governor signed SB 98 and also approved $10 million for a new hangar and an increased operating budget.
After years of painting the spaceport as a money pit and boondoggle, legislators seemed to have a change of heart. Some credit Dan Hicks, who took over the controls in late 2016. It helped that the spaceport logged its busiest year on record last year.
Thankfully, we’ve gotten beyond griping about whether the state should have built the spaceport in the first place. It’s built. It’s there. It has assets that will help it succeed, but it won’t be a quick success. And it has needs for confidentiality like those of economic developers.
I believe in my colleagues’ (and my own) right to know, but I also think we must acknowledge that when we decided to open for business, to become a player in the commercial space industry, we also committed to business rules.
As Gentry said, it’s a delicate balance. We probably haven’t heard the end of this debate.
© 2018 New Mexico News Services 3-12-18
Pork project vetoes hit poor counties, Dem counties hardest
By Sherry Robinson
All She Wrote
Capital outlay – state spending on public projects – is “wasteful pork” if it’s somebody else’s project, but if it’s yours, it’s community development.
Our Republican governor, year after year, has found more “wasteful pork” in blue counties than in red counties, even though their requests are pretty much alike – water projects, police cars, street improvements, senior centers, and the like.
Gov. Susana Martinez is particularly heavy handed in her treatment of the state’s poorest counties.
This year, the governor wrote that the capital outlay bill, HB 306, contained pork instead of projects that “create jobs, address critical infrastructure needs, and have a long-term positive economic impact.” She criticized projects unlikely to be completed because they’re under-funded, poorly planned, or not well vetted. She blasted legislators once again for not reforming the capital outlay system.
McKinley County, the poorest county in the second poorest state, took a beating. The governor vetoed 55 percent of requests worth more than $1 million in capital outlay projects – about the same dollar total she vetoed in Santa Fe County, which is far richer and more populated. Fifteen requests got the ax: a Gallup senior center, and for Navajo chapters, a Head Start building, a warehouse, power lines, road improvements, vehicles, and a backhoe.
Guadalupe County, also among the poorest counties, lost $243,000, more than half of its requests, for improvements to its Pecos Theatre in Santa Rosa and upgrades to a water system in Anton Chico. You might argue that a theatre doesn’t sound urgent, but then you could say the same of $240,000 in playground shade structures approved for Alamogordo.
Cibola County, nearly bankrupt, lost $25,000 for a community park and $5,000 for telecom and information technology system improvements, both at Acoma Pueblo. But dozens of similar projects were funded elsewhere.
Looking at political leanings, the governor had a light touch when vetoing Republican county capital outlay: Chaves County lost $337,493 in projects; Eddy, $100,000; Lea, $200,000; and Lincoln, $95,000. Otero lost nothing. Compare this with Democratic counties: Santa Fe, $1,097,900; McKinley, $1,025,000; San Miguel $285,381; Taos $270,000; and Guadalupe, $243,000.
Notice that vetoed projects in Santa Fe County are three times the amount vetoed in Doña Ana County, home of the state’s second biggest city.
Does it matter that the Democratic chair and vice chair of the House Appropriations and Finance Committee, Patty Lundstrom and George Dodge, hail from McKinley and Guadalupe counties? Or that the House Speaker and Senate Floor Leader represent Santa Fe County?
The numbers say yes. It’s telling that San Juan County, a red county with the same demographics as blue McKinley, lost just $186,157 to vetoes.
The governor took a second swipe at McKinley and other blue counties in SB 94. During even-numbered years, the Legislature designates projects funded by general obligation bonds that must be approved by voters in the fall. Here the governor vetoed $5 million to build the Center for Career and Technical Education at the University of New Mexico-Gallup, so voters don’t get to decide, and it’ll be another two years before McKinley can try again.
She vetoed four other GO bond projects: infrastructure improvements and code compliance at Luna Community College in Las Vegas; renovations of the Joseph M. Montoya Building of the Northern New Mexico College in Española, $1.275 million; and infrastructure improvements at UNM-Los Alamos, $750,000. There was no explanation.
And yet, she approved the renovation of an automotive welding building at Eastern New Mexico University-Roswell, $3 million; infrastructure improvements at New Mexico Junior College in Hobbs, $2.5 million; a science building at ENMU in Portales, $8 million; a math and science building at Dine College in Shoprock (San Juan County), $5 million; and a campus career center at UNM-Taos, $4.3 million.
The sad part is that each dead project would have created instant, if short term, construction jobs, and in our struggling economy, that counts.
© 2018 New Mexico News Services 3-5-18
Annual debate over permanent funds’ use reveal fears and hopes
By Sherry Robinson
All She Wrote
One of the Legislature’s big arguments for the past eight years is whether to dip into the Land Grant Permanent Fund to pay for early childhood education and services.
Most legislators agree that early childhood education is effective and desirable, and the state has, in fact, invested more in it each year. What they don’t agree on is how to pay for it. The debate over the permanent fund and our youngest citizens goes deeper than partisan politics and says a lot about our expectations for the future.
This year’s measure, House Joint Resolution 1, would have amended the state Constitution to spend an additional 1 percent, about $150 million a year, from the $17 billion Land Grant Permanent Fund for early childhood programs. Had the Legislature approved, voters would have decided the question in November.
After animated debate, it narrowly passed the House and died in the Senate because Senate Finance Committee Chairman John Arthur Smith, D-Deming, refused to hear it.
The Land Grant Permanent Fund dates to statehood in 1912. Language in the enabling act instructed the new state to hold funds in trust for the benefit of public schools, universities, and other institutions, and 85 percent of its distribution goes to public schools; universities and hospitals also receive funding. More than 90 percent of the fund is courtesy of oil and gas. It’s the second largest such fund in the nation.
Voters have only approved two increases in the distribution – one in 1996 and one in 2003. The last increase passed narrowly, with most support coming from cities and most opposition from rural areas.
Supporters of HJR 1 said that, according to studies, early childhood education increases kids’ readiness for school and improves reading proficiency. Long term, it increases the number of college graduates and decreases the number of prison inmates and teen mothers. It would, they said, close the achievement gap between minority and Anglo kids.
Opponents argued that the fund is our cushion when we run out of oil, gas, coal and other mineral resources; increasing the distribution from 5 to 6 percent starting in fiscal 2020 would begin to reduce the corpus of the fund. A rule of thumb for financial advisors is to not exceed 5 percent.
That’s an argument I can buy. Another is that we don’t know how exactly this revenue stream would be used or even if we have qualified personnel for these programs.
One of the sillier arguments during the session turned on what the fund MIGHT do. One proponent argued that the fund will grow so much, we can afford the additional percentage. One opponent argued that the fund grew 150 percent in the last ten years and isn’t likely to do so well in the future; therefore, we should hang on to every dollar. Neither person owns a crystal ball.
The worst argument I heard (repeatedly) was that if we hadn’t increased the distribution in 2003, we would have $1.5 billion more in the fund. The money supposedly disappeared into education reform, and there was no accountability.
That’s not what happened. The new revenues went into creating the three-tiered salary system for teachers that was part of education reform. New Mexico teachers’ salaries were among the nation’s lowest, and we had a serious teacher shortage. If we hadn’t spent that money, the public schools would be in even worse shape.
I sympathize with those who would preserve the fund and understand their position, but they assume we’ll have nothing but oil and gas buoying the economy into the distant future. If we’re willing to keep losing kids to ignorance and hopelessness, it’s a self-fulfilling prophecy. An investment in early childhood education, on the other hand, is an affirmation that a better future lies ahead.
© 2018 New Mexico News Services 2-26-18
School security vs. school “hardening” and armed teachers
By Sherry Robinson
All She Wrote
Sen. George Muñoz got a bill passed in February to provide $40 million for school security. This was before the Florida school shooting that’s again heated up public debate.
Mind you, school security is a far cry from the school “hardening” advocated in a speech by NRA Executive Vice President Wayne LaPierre and (within hours and using the same words) the president. LaPierre’s idea is to arm teachers and transform our schools from "wide open, soft targets for anyone bent on mass murder."
Arming teachers has gotten little traction. Other than the rare former cop or war veteran, it’s hard to imagine a teacher in a gunfight, especially taking on an intruder armed with an assault rifle.
Then there’s hardening. Next time you’re in Albuquerque take a look at the federal courthouse downtown. Built after the terrorist bombing of the Oklahoma courthouse, the New Mexico structure is a fortress of stone and concrete with barriers that would keep bomb-carrying vehicles at a relatively safe distance.
We have many more schools than federal courthouses.
Lawmakers had an eye-opening discussion of school security, occasioned by Muñoz’s bill. The Gallup Democrat said that the day a school shooting took the lives of two students in Aztec, he had a conversation about security with Tommy Turner, superintendent of the tiny Mosquero School District in northeastern New Mexico. (Muñoz, a candidate for State Land Commissioner, had been on the campaign trail.)
For his schools, Turner had in mind a card-swipe system, a camera and 3M Safety and Security Window Film, which is bullet resistant and “buys time for law enforcement.” Cost: $200,000 in his small district alone, and $17 million statewide.
“It’s a shame we have to make a choice between roof leaks and security upgrades,” Turner said during a Senate committee hearing.
Muñoz introduced SB 239 to allow the Public School Capital Outlay Council to spend up to $10 million a year for four years on school security. It passed both houses unanimously and awaits the governor’s signature.
Superintendent Ann Lynn McIlroy, of the Loving Municipal School District, said her schools had aging security equipment.
“In our community we have 8,000 to 9,000 trucks running 100 yards east of the high school on highway 285. That’s a lot of traffic. I have no way to identify someone entering the building and no way to stop them. The school secretary is pretty vigilant, but we need film, key cards and an upgraded security system. We need another set of doors inside.”
A re-do of the front entrance would cost $1 million, she said, and that’s more than the district’s bonding capacity. “We would like the ability to buzz someone in.”
While small districts struggle with costs, some of the larger districts have addressed security. Stan Rounds, former superintendent of Las Cruces schools, said Las Cruces High School, which is new, has 100 cameras and a vestibule. Sen. Gay Kernan, R-Hobbs, said that in her city almost every building was secured. Munoz said Santa Fe schools used bonds to pay for safety costs. Gallup High School found a low-cost solution in having one access point with a security guard.
Sen. Nancy Rodriguez, D-Santa Fe, summed up the realities. “This bill is about priorities,” she said. And whatever the state spends on security will be deducted from other needs.
(Pause here for a long sigh from teachers.)
Teachers across the country reacted strongly to the armed-teacher proposal. The #ArmMeWith campaign on social media is a view into their world: Arm me with books, school supplies, smaller classes, time, social workers, they ask. Arm me with snacks to feed hungry students who can’t focus. Arm me with a working heater in my classroom. Arm me with mental health services. Arm me with a drinking fountain that works. Arm me with mold-free classrooms. Arm me with extra clothes for kids who don’t have any clean ones.
As Sen. Rodriguez said, this is about priorities. What are our priorities?
© 2018 New Mexico News Services 2-19-18
Legislators: We don’t want to be Congress
By Sherry Robinson
All She Wrote
Last year was about digging holes. This year’s recently completed legislative session was about filling holes – literally, figuratively and financially.
It was also about working together. “We don’t want to be Congress,” they said again and again.
During the 2017 session, budgeters frantically emptied the state’s reserves, school balances and other funds to fill a deficit caused by plunging oil and gas tax revenues. It was an unforgiving process.
In recent weeks, they’ve talked about “backfilling,” replenishing reserves and fund balances and restoring agency budgets.
Two of the big issues were crime and the unstable, man-made cavity beneath Carlsbad. Lawmakers finally stopped talking and approved funding to remediate the Carlsbad Brine Well. Even then I heard griping: Why should it be the state’s responsibility? Well, we’ve harvested boatloads of taxes from the industry for decades. We can’t suddenly wash our hands of its impacts. (Footnote: Debates about over-regulation suddenly fall flat when we have a spectacular failure of regulation, and in this case it was a failure of state regulation.)
Citizens of Albuquerque feel as strongly about their crime problem as citizens of Eddy County do about their hole in the ground, but it was a much harder sell. Although the governor supported Albuquerque’s plea for lots more money for the district attorney, the response was, everybody’s D. A is under-funded, as are the courts, jails and public defenders.
All the complaints are valid. But Albuquerque experiences its cavern as bullet holes, knife wounds, the vacuum where your car used to be, and a prevailing sense of vulnerability. The city has struggled to recover from the recession because companies are reluctant to locate in a high-crime city. In the end, Albuquerque got some relief.
What’s notable is legislators did their hole filling in a spirit that went beyond bipartisanship. Here’s an example.
During a committee meeting, Rep. James Townsend presented a bill to tax fuels at the rack or fuel terminal instead of taxing the distributor. However, it would have phased out an agreement the tribes and state negotiated in 1999. The state gives tribes a tax deduction for gasoline sold on Indian reservations; this allows tribes to tax it at the same rate as the state. The federal Department of Transportation calls the agreement “tax peace.” It gives tribes a source of revenue, but it’s tax revenue the state doesn’t receive.
Townsend found himself in a roomful of tribal leaders who opposed his bill. It would devastate tribal economies across the state, they argued. They use the tax to fund roads and, in some cases, police and fire protection.
Rep. Derrick Lente, a Democrat, is a young freshman legislator from Sandia Pueblo.
“You had a similar bill in 2017,” Lente said. “What’s the motivation for you to make changes?”
The grey-haired Townsend, an Artesia Republican, explained that he was trying to achieve efficiency by taxing a few points at the rack rather than many points of distribution.
“We have a roomful of tribal officers who can show they’ve used the tax efficiently,” Lente said. Some tribes have leveraged their tax revenues to receive loans from the state Mortgage Finance Authority.
Townsend said, “This bill needs a lot of work. The tribal deal has operated to the detriment of state roads.”
Lente said he appreciated Townsend’s honesty. The bill was tabled, but Townsend and Lente agreed to come back to the table in the future.
Townsend and Lente listened to each other and to tribal leaders. Townsend understood that the situation is more complicated than he expected, but both see room for negotiation.
We call it bipartanship when members of opposing parties agree on a bill. This was better. Each man left with a better understanding of the other’s position and a willingness to keep working.
If only Congress could do the same.
© 2018 New Mexico News Services 2-12-18
Kids like Jeremiah need long-term care, not feel-good legislation
By Sherry Robinson
All She Wrote
They’re called “throwaway kids.”
This is a term I heard from juvenile probation officers, and I met these kids myself doing volunteer work. They are the kids who come in last for parents on drugs, on alcohol and for single moms or dads whose life is about partying or the latest boyfriend or girlfriend. These are the kids who don’t have anybody who cares about them. They don’t stand a chance.
The latest sweet face to haunt us belongs to 13-year-old Jeremiah Valencia. He’s been in regular attendance at this year’s legislative session.
What we know from news reports is that his father is a career criminal, and his junkie mother hooked up with a sadistic monster who allegedly tortured and killed the boy.
Legislators are trying to mend situations like this by passing laws.
HB 100 expands Baby Brianna’s law to make intentional child abuse leading to death punishable by life imprisonment regardless of the age of the child. Rep. Sarah Maestas Barnes, R-Albuquerque, argued that “we need to do more to hold the most violent perpetrators accountable for taking the life of a child.”
Rep. Monica Youngblood, R-Albuquerque, used Jeremiah to justify a return of the death penalty.
The first bill, at this writing, passed the House; the second died in committee.
Stricter laws won’t make any difference to somebody acting in a drug-addled rage or a demented fit, but they make some people feel better.
If we’re serious about helping these kids, we need to dig deeper. Two measures come to mind. One is House Minority Leader Nate Gentry’s three-strikes bill, and the other is the early childhood education bill.
Gentry, R-Albuquerque, argued that after three convictions, the offender has demonstrated a pattern and should stay in jail. “The deterrent here is that they’re in jail,” he said.
Gentry’s bill died on arguments that we already have a three-strikes bill that’s never been used in sentencing and that any such bill is watered down in plea bargains.
The monster boyfriend had a long record of violent offenses. Would Gentry’s three-strikes bill have kept him in jail? If the laws we have aren’t working, what good is it to pile on new ones? Shouldn’t we be talking about judicial reform?
The other bill, HJR 1, would peel off more money from the permanent fund for early childhood education and services. Everybody agrees on the need, but they don’t agree on the source of funding.
There’s a bigger discussion we need to have. One refrain I’ve heard is, the family needs to step up. I’m happy that in somebody else’s world there is a family to step up. Too often, the family can’t or won’t step up or there is no family, so we expect cops, schools or social workers – the government – to bridge this gap.
Look at the debates that dominated this session: Law enforcement, education, corrections, and the judicial system are underfunded and under-staffed. We don’t have enough foster parents or social workers.
The thing I like about HJR 1 is the early childhood services people it would send into the community. Along with the help they could provide to young families, they would be another set of eyes. If we’ve learned anything in these wretched cases, it’s that we need more eyes.
It’s not reasonable to expect cops, schools and social workers to fill in for families. Let’s just admit that drugs, alcohol and modern living have torn through our communities the way epidemics and wars once did. We need long-term solutions like state-sanctioned, nonprofit group homes or some other form of care. Even an orphanage would have been preferable for Jeremiah and his sister.
The first step is acknowledging the extent of the problem. The second is deciding the throwaway kid is worth saving. The rest will follow.
© 2018 New Mexico News Services 2-5-18
Imminent collapse in Carlsbad gets pointy elbows instead of soft shoulders
By Sherry Robinson
All She Wrote
Imagine that you have a very real, very imminent disaster in the making that could swallow a chunk of your town in a sinkhole. Imagine that people with the power to do something about it are jawboning about who’s at fault, who has the biggest problems, who’s responsible, who should pay, and where the money should come from.
Imagine you live in Carlsbad, where new surface fractures and subsidence have appeared over the Carlsbad Brine Well, a man-made underground cavity created during 30 years’ use in oilfield operations. Two similar structures caused massive sinkholes. Experts predict a collapse within five years.
A sinkhole would take out U. S. 285, an irrigation canal, a mobile home park, railroad track, a church, many businesses and homes, and 25,000 acres of farmland. It would also contaminate an aquifer above the cavern.
Area lawmakers have a package of bills seeking money from various state funds for reclamation. A recent legislative hearing showcased public officials at their best and their worst.
“Right now there’s no more serious risk in New Mexico than the brine well in Carlsbad,” said Sen. Carroll Leavell, R-Jal. Along with the loss of life, the economic impact could reach $750 million. “This is a ticking time bomb. Delay is not an option.”
John Heaton, chairman of the Carlsbad Brine Well Remediation Advisory Authority, said the group developed a plan, issued requests for proposals and got bidders. The contract will provide a firm estimate. The missing piece, he said, is a funding source. The authority examined all possible sources of money, and the state is its best (and only) hope.
“We’re racing against time and gravity,” Heaton said.
A Carlsbad resident argued that the state of New Mexico permitted the brine well and regulated it, so the state is responsible. It can also be argued, correctly, that the state benefited from the industry so it should step up. And the industry paid into various remediation accounts for years to address such problems.
This is where the discussion gets interesting.
Two cabinet secretaries then explained that they can’t help because the remediation project would do to their funds what the sinkhole would do to Carlsbad. Ken McQueen, secretary of the Energy, Minerals and Natural Resources Department, said the Carlsbad brine well tops its list of orphan wells, but the department also uses its reclamation fund to pay salaries.
Environment Department Secretary Butch Tongate said his corrective action fund was swept last year to balance the state’s budget, limiting the projects it can address.
State Land Commissioner Aubrey Dunn has hundreds of orphan wells that need to be plugged.
The message from them all: Find another source of money. Said Heaton, we’ve looked everywhere.
In this discussion, Sen. Richard Martinez, D-Espanola, gets the Apples and Oranges Award for complaining that people in his district die every day because of drug abuse. “Nobody says put $35 million into my district.”
Sen. Bill Soules, D-Las Cruces, gets the Beating a Dead Horse Award for demanding to know, repeatedly, what industry was doing. Sen. Gay Kernan, R-Hobbs, answered repeatedly that industry had paid into these funds.
Martinez and Soules would be singing a different tune if chunks of their cities were about to disappear into a sinkhole.
Sen. Joseph Cervantes, D-Las Cruces, wants to see a firm end date for remediation. Other senators want to see more from the city of Carlsbad and Eddy County, like condemnation proceedings and bonding.
What we have here is state agencies pared to the bone and funds siphoned for other uses, leaving little recourse for real emergencies.
Still to come is a bill that would raise money from a gasoline tax. Expect a new round of jawboning about whether we can use a tax to stave off a disaster.
© 2018 New Mexico News Services 1-29-18
Justice: You get what you pay for
By Sherry Robinson
All She Wrote
Curry County, in the 9th Judicial District, has four judges, but its handsome WPA-vintage courthouse was built for one judge. One courtroom, sitting outside the building in a parking lot, is a security nightmare, said Chief Judge Drew Tatum, especially when as many as 60 people may be waiting.
“We’ve had fights break out between litigants,” he said.
Once a woman stood outside a judge’s office insisting that she needed to see him right away. She was armed with a bowie knife.
In the 6th Judicial District, Judge Jennifer Delaney had a man walk into her office in Deming right after she’d written a restraining order against him. She was able to talk the man into leaving. “It scared me to death,” she said. The court’s 11-year-old security system is obsolete, and yet “there are disgruntled people in court day in and day out, and they have access to staff.”
Judge Albert Mitchell Jr., of the 10th District in Tucumcari, said: “I need some security. My car’s been shot twice in the last 60 days, and I live in a nice safe little town.” Other vehicles in the courthouse parking lot have also been shot.
“On a typical day, there is no law enforcement in the building. My sheriff tries, but it’s a small force” with many other duties, he said.
This is a bit of the testimony before the Legislature’s two finance committees in the last two weeks. Years of budget cuts have left the state’s third branch of government, the judiciary, with high vacancy rates and thin or nonexistent security. The vacancy rates are, in part, the courts’ way of staying within tight budgets, but the vacancy rates also telegraph that they’re having trouble keeping or replacing experienced employees, including judges.
The minuscule budget increases recommended by the other two government branches, the Legislature and the administration, won’t help much.
By the numbers: Vacancies are 14 percent statewide; turnover is 35 percent (50 percent for lower level positions); civil cases, which are more complicated, are nearly three-fourths of caseload; more than half of civil litigants represent themselves; and judges’ pay is the lowest in the nation. Even Supreme Court judges make 40 percent less than the average lawyer.
In county after county, when a judgeship opens up, the one or two applications come from assistant district attorneys or public defenders – people with no experience in civil cases, and yet most cases before the court are civil. Judges worry about who will replace them.
“The people who elect us and come before us have crises, but the people who will give them answers will be the bottom one-fourth of lawyers,” Mitchell said. “We’re trying to get our best and brightest from the bottom one-fourth. District attorneys and public defenders are even farther down.”
Even if a jurisdiction, like District 5 in southeastern New Mexico, doesn’t have a high vacancy rate, the caseload is still high and most clerks are working second jobs, and that’s not unusual either.
Courts have felt the economic downturn in two ways – smaller budgets from the state and an avalanche in pro se cases (parties representing themselves). Rep. James Townsend, R-Artesia, asked several judges what the common denominator is in these cases. The answer was: People can’t afford a lawyer, people lack the wherewithal, people are poor.
Often those cases are foreclosures or collections that follow job losses or disastrous medical expenses, but increasingly they’re domestic relations. Even though most districts offer free clinics for self-litigants, they still bog down the system. “When pro se parties are in the courtroom, everything grinds to a halt,” Mitchell said, because the judge must to so much explaining.
People who stand before a judge have a right to expect wisdom, knowledge and experience. Do we tell them we can’t afford it?
© 2018 New Mexico News Services 1-22-18
Eight years of guv’s speeches: Rosy glasses and black eyes
By Sherry Robinson
All She Wrote
Gov. Susana Martinez just gave her eighth and final state-of-the-state speech. I’ve covered them all. She’s given pretty much the same speech year after year, and in her consistencies are strengths and weaknesses.
The first year her priorities were education reform, corruption, and repeal of the law allowing driver’s licenses for undocumented immigrants. In succeeding years she added increased penalties for child abuse, economic development, “job-creating infrastructure projects” like water and road projects, pre-K expansion, higher salaries for starting teachers, and tougher penalties for repeat DWI and violent crime.
Her education reform platform has had different planks, but in her first seven years it included ending social promotion (passing third graders who can’t read at grade level), curbing school administration spending, and raising pay for new teachers and “exemplary” teachers.
In her first year, she proposed and got letter grades for schools, calling it a “system that is uniquely our own” and a way to identify struggling schools. Educators call it demoralizing and ineffective.
After delivering campaign speeches for her first two State-of-the-State speeches, Martinez in 2013 turned her attention to the economy. After that, no matter how dreadful the news, she took the rosy view, leading Democrats to joke about her alternate reality. That year she began talking about diversifying the state’s economy. This would morph into claims in every speech that she had fought for diversification from Day One.
In 2013, Martinez bravely committed to Medicaid expansion, saying, “I didn’t support Obamacare, but it’s the law of the land… My job is not to play party politics but to implement this law in a way that best serves New Mexico.”
In Year 4, 2014, she said the focus must be on jobs and education. She wanted to make the Job Training Incentive Program permanent. That proposal is decades old. It’s still not a budget item because lawmakers like passing the popular JTIP bill every year to say they support economic development.
In education, she demanded reform over the status quo. By “reform” she meant her administration’s ideas; the “status quo” was anybody else’s ideas. Teachers’ unions are the villain in her play.
In 2014, Martinez said nothing about the Human Services Department, which had shut down 15 behavioral health providers based on questionable audits and accusations, later refuted, and replaced them with Arizona providers who mostly departed.
In Year 5, 2015, Republicans took the House for the first time in decades. Voters, she said, “chose progress over politics." That year, her theme was children, although she didn’t mention our usual dismal ratings from the Kids Count report.
The following year, her priorities were violent crime, education, and jobs. “Our laws are too lax, our justice system too weak – particularly when it comes to violent, dangerous offenders,” she said.
Martinez claimed in 2016 that behavioral health services had increased “to the highest level in state history,” even though a legislative interim subcommittee concluded a month before that behavioral health was still in crisis.
In Year 7, 2017, oil and gas revenues tanked, the state faced a $600 million shortfall, and Democrats took back the House. The governor chose to push get-tough crime bills and picked a fight with Dems for their budget proposals.
Last week, the governor offered her usual rosy appraisal of the state’s economy, even though recovery is still out of sight. She again pushed crime, education reform and jobs.
Eight years of speeches have common elements – consistency coupled with her habitual combativeness and the former prosecutor’s need for an adversary. Martinez has spoken often of “cooperation” and “bipartisanship,” but in seven years the governor has never summoned legislative leaders to discuss common ground, to ask, what can we get done for the state?
That’s what pundits will find when they look for her legacy.
© 2018 New Mexico News Services 1-8-18
New study: Like it or not, ACA is working
By Sherry Robinson
All She Wrote
Few subjects have been more controversial than the Affordable Care Act, dubbed Obamacare by its friends and enemies. Republicans last year did their best to dismantle it. Improbably, it hangs on – because a lot of people need it. In New Mexico signups during the recent open enrollment topped 50,000.
As the year opens, it’s useful to assess what it is that one party is trying to kill and the other is trying to save. Numbers help filter out political noise.
The Commonwealth Fund, a private, nonprofit foundation supporting independent research on health policy reform, published a study in December that measured the impact of Obamacare between 2013 and 2016.
The takeaway: The number of uninsured adults fell by 17.8 million, or at least 5 percent, in 47 states. New Mexico was first with a plunge from 28 to 13 percent. Twelve other states, including Arizona, saw double-digit drops.
The study sifted data for different groups and found:
In 2013 at least one of five working-age adults was uninsured in 22 states; by 2016 this was true only for Texas and Oklahoma.
The uninsured rate for children under 19 dropped in most states. While the Children’s Health Insurance Program (CHIP) and higher income eligibility levels for Medicaid helped, ACA brought it down at least 2 percent more in two-thirds of states.
The number of adults who go without care because of its cost is down 5 percent, from 18 to 13 percent in New Mexico, and 2 percent or more in most states.
The percentage of at-risk adults without a recent routine checkup and individuals spending a lot out of pocket on medical care declined by at least 2 percent in more than half of states.
Few states have improved access to dental care for adults.
States like New Mexico that expanded Medicaid have had the best results. Washington, D. C., and 32 states chose the expansion; another six states took an alternate route to expansion. Maine’s elected officials refused the expansion, but in November, Maine voters approved a citizen-initiated ballot referendum, a move we may see in other states.
Despite public demand and indications that ACA, flawed as it is, has worked, Republicans are still trying to do it in. The administration chopped funding for outreach during the recent open enrollment period and disrupted markets by refusing to pay insurers for providing reduced-cost plans. The unpopular tax bill carried a provision to repeal individual mandate penalties paid by those without health insurance, which could reduce the number of people with health insurance and increase premiums. (The Commonwealth Fund calculated that the premium increase for a 40-year-old in New Mexico would be $419 in 2019 and $200 by 2027.)
Four years ago conservative scholar J. D. Kleinke, of the American Enterprise Institute, predicted that Republicans would be unable to come up with anything better because Obamacare was nearly identical to Republican Gov. Mitt Romney’s legislation in Massachusetts. ACA’s tenets – the pro-marketplace health insurance exchange, accountability, personal responsibility – were conservative tenets. Its only problem, Kleinke wrote, was that President Obama would get credit for it.
Kleinke’s fellow conservatives trashed his analysis, but in five years nobody has come forward with an acceptable replacement. The obvious question is, why don’t they fix Obamacare? We all know the answer to that: Problem solving is frozen in Washington’s partisan paralysis.
What’s it worth to us as a society to have millions more people covered by insurance? We don’t know, exactly, but the potential loss of coverage to all those people was enough to kill the Republicans’ much touted “repeal and replace.”
© 2018 New Mexico News Services 1-1-18
Time to ask: “How is UNM athletics paying for itself and helping the university?”
By Sherry Robinson
All She Wrote
In 2017, the University of New Mexico got itself a new president, a new athletic director and a new athletic financial officer. They have their work cut out.
UNM athletics is such a mess that former State Auditor Tim Keller called the athletics department and its fundraising arms “an ungovernable ball of organizations.” A special audit noted nearly $700,000 in missing revenues, perks for insiders, mixing of public and private money, and years of blown budgets.
What other college sports program has drawn its own investigative journalist and a website devoted to its excesses? For about a year, Daniel Libit and his “NM Fishbowl,” instead of the usual fawning Lobo coverage, has scrutinized the program and demanded accountability. Now Libit, turning to other pursuits, calls on New Mexico journalists to stop acting like stenographers and step up to the plate. College sports should be covered like a public institution and not entertainment, he told the online NM Political Report. Students and taxpayers should hold the department to higher standards.
UNM also suffers, as I’ve often noted, from the last two governors’ use of UNM to reward political operatives with a soft landing, creating what some critics call a culture of cronyism. A house cleaning is in order, beginning with Executive Vice President David Harris, who was once Bill Richardson’s chief of staff. Harris has miraculously held forth since 2004 despite a faculty vote of no-confidence in 2009 along with then-president David Schmidly for a bloated, top-heavy administration. How is it that the university’s chief financial officer bears no responsibility for the current athletics scandal?
Libit suggests that colleges reevaluate athletic programs and their value to the institution and the community.
Architect John Hooker asks similar questions. (Hooker has a unique UNM pedigree: He’s an alumnus and the son of former UNM Architect Van Dorn Hooker.) He doesn’t propose doing away with sports but argues that the athletics program is not only expensive but competes with other academic programs that define a university.
“UNM’s reputation as a top-tier research institution is already weakened by the poor press of flat faculty salaries, controversial leaders, declining enrollments, the audit, and the ongoing doldrums in our… athletic conference, in that order,” he writes. “How is UNM athletics paying for itself and helping the university?”
“Why does UNM force every student from their first year through their doctorate, architectural, legal, medical and other professional degree to subsidize this program through mandatory ‘student fees’?” And, what is the benefit to UNM and its students from the programs and their well paid coaches? Are they intended to build pride within the university? Hooker would like to see a shift to competitive events that give more students an opportunity.
He thinks the new president and athletics director should ask students, faculty and staff for their opinions. Does the Lobos’ win-loss record last year make a difference to parents thinking about sending their children to UNM for a degree in biology or English or education?
“Perhaps UNM athletics is simply a delightful private club that benefits the coaches, their families and friends, and lucky fans who enjoy the games – as the recent state audit suggests,” Hooker writes.
In March, Garnett Stokes will take her place as the 22nd president and the first woman in the position. In a letter to alumni, she wrote about “the importance of building relationships with the citizens whom the institution serves.” She promised “a transition plan based on active listening, campus collaboration and a mutual expectation of excellence.”
Stokes comes here with valuable experience leading the University of Missouri through a turbulent time of racial unrest, budget cuts and plummeting enrollment. She will need all those skills and more. We wish her the best.
© 2017 New Mexico News Services 12-25-17
New Mexico’s 120 years in the movies
By Sherry Robinson
All She Wrote
New Mexico author Max Evans said: “The first movie I ever saw was in a little old place in Hobbs where they painted the ceiling blue and put foil stars on the ceiling. They showed a western movie. I fell in love with all films at that moment.”
Evans was speaking at an Albuquerque convention of Western Writers of America in 2012. The films fell in love with Evans. His first two novels, “The Rounders” and “The Hi-Lo Country” became movies. What’s less known is that Evans himself brought movies to New Mexico.
In December the New Mexico Film Office begins a year-long celebration of 120 years of film-making here that began with “Indian Day School,” shot in 1898. It’s 50 seconds of children leaving a schoolhouse at Isleta Pueblo.
The next effort, in 1912, was D. W. Griffith’s “A Pueblo Legend,” also shot at Isleta with Mary Pickford the unlikely choice as a Hopi Indian girl. In the next few years, the actor Tom Mix made short westerns in and around Las Vegas.
MGM, in 1930, shot “Billy the Kid,” which launched Gallup into its heyday of moviemaking for the next three decades. The town offered nearby picturesque scenery, it was on the rail line from Los Angeles, and stars could stay at El Rancho Hotel, where you can still enjoy autographed photos of the big-screen legends.
When westerns were big, New Mexico was too, and one of the biggest was “Lonely Are the Brave” in 1962, based on Edward Abbey’s “The Brave Cowboy.” Kirk Douglas (now 101!) always said it was his favorite out of the many movies in his long career. Douglas bought movie rights because he loved the central character, Jack Burns, a war veteran searching for the old west. Without blinking, Douglas hired Dalton Trumbo who’d been blacklisted during the McCarthy era, to write the screenplay, which Douglas pronounced “perfect.” It was shot in and around Albuquerque.
In 1965, Max Evans saw "The Rounders" become a film starring Henry Fonda and Glenn Ford as cowboys working for a tough, unscrupulous ranch owner. On the writers panel, Evans said “The Rounders,” written in 1961, was one of the most authentic movies ever made about the “actual West, the working West” and remains a favorite of ranchers and cowboys. Said the writer who started cowboying at age 12, “I loved it. I still do.”
New Mexico lost its piece of the movie when the Pecos got two feet of snow. Shooting moved to Arizona.
By then, westerns were starting their slow fade. Evans and then-Gov. Dave Cargo began courting Hollywood and jumpstarted movie making, which led to some two dozen Westerns between 1968 and 1973.
“The Hi-Lo Country,” based on life experience, became a movie in 1998. Like “Lonely Are the Brave,” it too was about the disappearing Old West after World War II.
When Evans returned from the service, the foreman had broken his magnificent but difficult quarter horse. “I rubbed the horse down and found healed-up scars. I knew he was spoiled. I sold him to a man (Big Boy Hittson) who became my best friend. He took that horse and turned him around and I admired him so deeply and he admired me because I was a deadshot.” Woody Harrelson played Big Boy; Billy Crudup’s character, Pete, was Evans.
Screenwriter Kirk Ellis wondered: “Your books have very strong women characters. How do you get into a woman’s head?”
Said Evans, “I just had a terrible attack of amnesia.”
In 2018 we’ll remember the movies made in New Mexico, along with their stars. Let’s also remember that New Mexico – its people and landscapes – have also been stars. And before there was a movie, there was a writer and a well-told story.
© 2017 New Mexico News Services 12-18-17
Regulatory pendulum swings again in FCC’s net neutrality decision
By Sherry Robinson
All She Wrote
The trouble with regulation is what I call the Rule of One, as in, there’s always one. It applies to the regulated and to the regulators.
Regardless of the industry, most of the regulated do their best to operate within the rules, but there’s always at least one company abusing the process, the consumer, the environment or its own employees. Once the abuses come to light, regulators come down on everybody, and no good deed goes unpunished.
On the other side of the fence, most regulators try to be conscientious but fair and don’t assume that every entity they oversee is up to no good. But there’s always one who doesn’t wear the mantle of authority well or applies the rules in ways lawmakers never intended. Often they have no idea what the impact of their actions will be.
I’ve reported on this see-saw for years and heard horror stories on both sides. It’s the reason we swing back and forth between lax and intrusive regulation. Now you can hear it in the arguments for and against net neutrality. And, of course, it’s political. Republicans favor less regulation; Democrats want more.
Last week that the Federal Communications Commission abandoned net neutrality rules debated for more than a decade in favor of what FCC Chairman Ajit Pai calls a regulatory “light touch.”
Net neutrality guarantees that internet service providers must treat all content equally. Big companies have argued that the rules stifle innovation and undermine investment in broadband networks.
The responses have been fierce. New Mexico’s Sen. Tom Udall, a Democrat, called the decision “a major blow to the internet as we know it,” and Attorney General Hector Balderas has joined other attorneys general in a lawsuit challenging the FCC’s decision.
New Mexico desperately needs better and faster broadband, especially in the rural areas, and business groups like the Hispano Chamber of Commerce have argued that steps like this could help. On the other hand, I wonder if the website supporting New Mexico News Services, which you’re reading (nmopinions.com), will get lost if service providers favor better financed web traffic. Other small businesses, nonprofits and schools have the same concern.
Tim Berners-Lee, who invented the internet, has said that from its beginning, the internet was designed to be neutral, open and transparent. “All internet traffic should be treated exactly the same regardless of source, content, or destination,” according to a newsletter from Southwest Cyberport (SWCP), an Albuquerque-based internet service provider. “Everything from email, webpages and streaming videos to spam and illegal downloads, seek out the fastest routes available without any interference.”
In 2006, large providers like Verizon and AT&T wanted to change from flat pricing to a tiered approach based on speed, reliability and security, so they could recover costs of content hogs like Netflix and Facebook; by the same token the big users could pay for faster service.
Under the FCC’s new light touch, premium customers might enjoy the fast lane, says SWCP, while “everybody else would have to make do.”
The communications giants are basically saying, Trust us. Rampant consumer opposition is grounded in an economy still trying to recover from the Great Recession, caused by abuses in the financial industry permitted under another light regulatory touch. The FCC decision also violates my Rule of One: While many telecom giants may do no harm and possibly do some good, which one will abuse its trust and its position?
SWCP points out that regulation is just one issue. Already, security fears are threatening to break the net into “firewalled enclaves.”
All of the scenarios are hypothetical, and it will take time before the new rules take effect and the challenges make themselves felt. Verizon and its fellow travelers have an opportunity to show us their good intentions. Meanwhile, SWCP advises, the best response is to stay informed.
© 2017 New Mexico News Services 12-11-17
Sexual harassment reformer shouldn’t attack another woman’s complaint
By Sherry Robinson
All She Wrote
It was a matter of time before “me too” caught up to our state Legislature, where misbehavior and sexual harassment have been an open secret for years.
Rep. Kelly Fajardo, a Belen Republican, did Roundhouse women a service recently when she shined a light on rampant harassment against young female staffers and lobbyists – and you can add young female reporters to that list.
But then Fajardo stepped in the muck by attacking a former legislator who complained about a Republican bigwig.
Recently, Fajardo pressed legislative leaders to mandate sexual harassment training for legislators, staff, lobbyists and others who frequent the Roundhouse during the legislative session. She called the complaint process a joke because complaints go to agency directors or the chief clerk, who are chosen by legislative leadership, so the likelihood of an impartial investigation is slim. Also, the procedure discourages filing a report, and the no-retaliation mandate is weak.
Fajardo called for broad protection, independent investigation, prompt review, mandatory counseling, and periodic surveys.
“During my five years as a state representative, I have personally experienced harassment in the Roundhouse,” Fajardo wrote. “I have also witnessed instances of harassment where colleagues and lobbyists have been subject to repeated profane comments and innuendo. I heard stories of sickening quid pro quo propositions where legislators offered political support in exchange for sexual favors.”
These were not misguided attempts at humor but “deliberate, often serial, offensive actions intended to intimidate, humiliate, or coerce.”
Fajardo demands to know the outcome of three complaints filed in recent years, and yet when former Rep. Stephanie Maez, an Albuquerque Democrat, raised a 2015 incident involving then House Majority Leader Nate Gentry, an Albuquerque Republican, Fajardo and Rep. Sharon Clahchischilliage, R-Kirtland, came unglued.
During the two years Republicans held the House, Gentry had aspirations of becoming House Speaker. After fellow Republican Rep. Paul Pacheco voted for one of Maez’s bills, Gentry created a valentine with her photo and wrote on it “XOXO” and “thanks for your vote Paul,” and then circulated it to members of the House Judiciary Committee.
It was a sophomoric stunt, and Gentry didn’t speak to Maez or lay a finger on her, so it wasn’t on the same level as the Groper in Chief. Still, Gentry wouldn’t have used the image of a male colleague. Maez had a right to be offended. She demanded an apology, didn’t get it, and brought up her complaint again last week.
Fajardo and Clahchischilliage responded with praise for Gentry and “the exceptional legislation he has championed on behalf of women.”
Fair enough. But then they call Maez’s complaint disingenuous, done “as a means of diversion from serious accusations” as part of her career “working for deeply partisan organizations that exist to attack political opponents.” They claim she’s “exploiting the current discussion for political gain,” and that it “undermines our efforts as women in pursuit of equal footing.”
Maez was then and is now employed by liberal political groups. Does that mean she has no right to complain about sexual harassment? Gentry may be an upstanding guy, but isn’t this incident typical of the sexist atmosphere that Fajardo wants reformed? Wouldn’t Fajardo object if Gentry used her photo in the same way? By accusing Maez of politicizing the discussion, Fajardo has minimized Maez’s complaint in the same way she believes the process has minimized other women’s complaints.
This flashpoint over harassment is still new. We’re likely to hear all kinds of complaints, large and small, and they need to be heard because they’ve been ignored or suppressed for such a long time. Eventually, everyone will calm down, and we can deploy new sensitivities. This personal attack by two women on another woman does more to undermine women than Maez’s complaint did in the first place.
© 2017 New Mexico News Services 12-4-17
Throwing money at The Wall
By Sherry Robinson
All She Wrote
New Mexico’s border crossing at Columbus small but brisk.
Tiny Columbus’s claim to fame is Pancho Villa’s raid in 1916, commemorated by a state park. Snowbirds hunker down in the campground to spend a comfortable winter. The only shopping is a Dollar Store close to the international boundary.
Across the border, the much larger Palomas gets a steady stream of Americans shopping at the Pink Store, getting dental work done or buying cheap over-the-counter drugs.
Border guards on both sides are friendly and professional. The atmosphere is relaxed.
You can’t visit the border without contemplating The Wall. The existing wall here of 18-foot steel columns is of fairly recent vintage. I try to imagine a new wall of the prototypes on display in California and envision a tourniquet that squeezes trade and relations between the two countries.
In October the U. S. Customs and Border Protection unveiled eight giant rectangles made of concrete or composites. If you live in Ohio, you might believe a wall of this stuff will keep us safe and hold the hordes at bay.
People here don’t believe it for a second. Farmers who operate on the border have said repeatedly they want boots on the ground – active, visible Border Patrol agents – and, in fact, the agency is a growth industry in Deming. It’s hard to go anywhere without seeing a uniformed agent. The Border Patrol itself is using a lot of technology and wants more.
The president has said he will choose the prototype wall, and that it must be as transparent as a fence. “As horrible as it sounds, when they throw the large sacks of drugs over, and if you have people on the other side of the wall, you don’t see them–they hit you on the head with 60 pounds of the stuff? It's over,” he was quoted as saying in a White House transcript.
I’m no expert, but I think drug mules are more deliberate.
Just two of the prototypes are transparent, but portions of the existing barrier along the border, some of it built under the Secure Fence Act of 2006, is already see-through. Undocumented Mexicans here hold emotional reunions through the fence with their loved ones across the border.
Then there is the cost. Estimates are all over the board. Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell has predicted the wall would cost $12 billion to $15 billion. The Department of Homeland Security, in a leaked report, pegged it at $21.6 billion. Even the president has ratcheted up from $4 billion to $6 billion to $7 billion to $10 billion.
Two weeks ago Newsweek reported that nobody in the administration has calculated the costs of real estate or counted the number of U. S. citizens owning land in its path who are likely to lose acreage to eminent domain. Two-thirds of the land is privately held or state-owned. And there is no timeline for land acquisition, according to a report by Democratic staff members of the Senate Homeland Security and Governmental Affairs Committee. Texans whose land was acquired 10 years ago for border barriers are still waiting for payment, the report said.
Congress must stretch its budget around some big items. For example, it must pony up for hurricane recovery. Katrina cost taxpayers $110 billion, and Harvey and Irma will be twice that. And there’s the war on terror, which has cost taxpayers more than $5.6 trillion, or $23,000 per taxpayer, since 2001, according to a new study from Brown University reported in the Wall Street Journal.
In three visits to Mexico over the last year, I’ve seen in the state of Chihuahua a growing middle class and a lot less poverty. We can give the Border Patrol the tools it needs or we can spend money on a pointless wall.
© 2017 New Mexico News Services 11-27-17
Tax policy is a walk through a mine field
By Sherry Robinson
All She Wrote
Trying to follow the tax-cut debate in the nation’s capital is a nightmare of being trapped in a roomful of accountants. Asked if the proposed changes are good for you and good for New Mexico, they answer, “Depends.”
It depends on which tax bracket you’re in and which credits or deductions or exemptions you’ve taken. So when Sen. Tom Udall, a Democrat, says, “This Republican tax plan is full of inequity,” and Rep. Steve Pearce, a Republican, says, it “provides relief for lower- and middle-income families,” they’re both correct. Sort of.
The nonpartisan Institute on Taxation and Economic Policy broke out the numbers by state. In 2019 three-fourths of the poorest 20 percent of New Mexicans (average annual income, $12,600) would pay $130 less, while 5 percent of the poorest would pay $20 more. By comparison, 99 percent of the richest 1 percent of New Mexicans (average annual income, $1.2 million) would pay $29,180 less, while 1 percent of the richest would pay $20,660 more.
Of New Mexicans in the middle (average annual income, $74,400 a year), 95 percent would pay $1,460 less while 4 percent would pay $990 more.
The House passed its bill, but the Senate bill is still changing. At this writing, the Senate version would eliminate deductions for state and local income and sales taxes, property taxes, mortgage interest, charitable donations, medical costs, and student loans. It would double the standard exemption, which might compensate for the lost deductions. It would also repeal the estate tax for the wealthy and give corporations a break. And, yes, the deficit will spike, along with the national debt.
(Funny the way jacking up the deficit is OK as long as it supports either party’s agenda.)
Under the bill that left the Senate Finance Committee on Nov. 16, 19 states (not New Mexico) and at least 29 percent of Americans would pay more in federal taxes in 2027, the institute found. The poorest three-fifths of Americans would pay more and the richest 40 percent would receive a tax cut.
Tax cuts for individuals would expire in 2025, according to the institute, and an inflation adjustment called “chained CPI” would gradually shift people into higher income tax brackets as several deductions, exemptions, and credits shrink. Finally, fewer people would receive tax credits under the Affordable Care Act to pay their insurance premiums.
You begin to see the complexity. One reason tax reform is so tricky is that every time Congress moves a number this way or that, it’s bad for some constituents and good for others.
Richard Anklam, executive director of the New Mexico Tax Research Institute, told legislators recently that tax cuts are not necessarily tax reforms. You might get a tax break but still face the same maddening tangle of rules on your tax form. He warned that removing deductions would increase income taxable by the state, so people might see a slight reduction in federal taxes but an increase in state taxes.
As for New Mexico, the state’s personal and corporate income taxes are based on the federal taxes and may be vulnerable to federal changes. Data presented recently to the legislative Revenue Stabilization and Tax Policy Committee indicate the state could suffer a revenue hit from tax cuts in the federal tax measures. Depending on how Congress goes about delivering its tax cuts, the bills could deliver more money to the state’s general fund. That’s because the state won’t feel changes in brackets or tax rates but will feel the loss of deductions and exemptions.
It’s a political see-saw. Whether you’re up or down just depends.
© 2017 New Mexico News Services 11-20-17
So-called monuments review was much ado about much ado
By Sherry Robinson
All She Wrote
The dreaded national monument review stirred up the dust and is now disappearing.
In April the administration called for a review of 27 national monuments, including two in New Mexico and two nearby in Utah, to examine “another egregious use of federal power,” as the president put it. After many protests and photos of Interior Secretary Ryan Zinke on horseback, what’s happened is: Not much.
The blowback was hotter than Zinke and the administration anticipated; public comments, overwhelmingly in support, topped 2.3 million. New Mexicans submitted the largest number of comments per capita (97,000). Supporters went all out to demonstrate that these monuments weren’t just an environmental fantasy – they were created after long study and public hearings, and all but Utah’s monuments enjoyed broad public support.
From the beginning, it was obvious that the main target was the 1.35 million-acre Bears Ears National Monument in southeastern Utah, established by President Obama at the end of his term. The two buttes that give Bear’s Ears its name lie just north of the Navajo Reservation.
We in New Mexico should care about Bears Ears because it’s within the Four Corners tourism orbit, and a place New Mexicans visit as well. New Mexico archaeologist Tom Windes, who has worked in Bears Ears for 17 years, recently told his peers: “There are a huge number of sites that are unrecorded. Many are being reported in detail for the first time. There’s incredible archaeology there.” He also said that a lot of the rock art has been shot up or chainsawed off.
What few people outside the area understand is that this is one more fight between the Mormons and the Navajos. The only difference is that this one includes other tribes plus environmentalists and archeologists. For years, Navajos in the Utah portion of the reservation have had to fight for everything – voting rights, roads, schools and infrastructure.
“Everything done in San Juan County is done through lawsuits,” said former tribal council member Mark Maryboy. “We’re the poorest of the poor. It’s the poorest county in Utah and the most racist.”
After a four-month review, Zinke submitted a secret report with his recommendations to the president, which was later leaked. He proposed shrinking Bears Ears and Grand Staircase-Escalante monuments in Utah. The latter, designated by President Clinton in 1996, halted the proposed Smoky Hollow coal mine, and the monuments have been controversial in Utah ever since.
Zinke’s report was loaded with generalizations about providing needed changes for nearby communities and the desirability of the smallest possible footprint. For New Mexico’s Rio Grande del Norte National Monument near Taos and Organ Mountains-Desert Peaks National Monument near Las Cruces, he didn’t suggest changing the borders but did vaguely recommend more public access, protection of traditional and tribal uses as well as hunting and fishing, and tribal management of designated cultural areas.
At Organ Mountains-Desert Peaks he ordered his agency to work with the Department of Homeland Security on “border safety” in the Portrillos Mountains Complex and the Department of Defense on nearby military installations. Zinke ignored Rep. Steve Pearce, R-NM, who wants the monument reduced to a postage stamp.
At the Rio Grande del Norte National Monument, Zinke said road closures had affected grazing, but he didn’t make any recommendations.
Tribes and environmental groups have promised to fight any changes in court, and there’s now a lively debate in the legal community about what powers a president has under the Antiquities Act.
In October President Trump told Sen. Orrin Hatch, R-Utah, that he would reduce the size of Bears Ears. Nobody else, including Pearce, got such a call, so it’s safe to assume that Hatch’s gripe with Bears Ears was the point of this so-called review. The dust devil has spun itself out.
© 2017 New Mexico News Services 10-31-17
Before reforming bail reform, we need to give changes a chance to work
By Sherry Robinson
All She Wrote
An electrician told me this week that he’s done more work installing security lights in the last few months than he has in the last five years combined. The occasion was an upgrade to our security lights after a rash of break-ins in our once quiet neighborhood.
Repeated polls show crime topping any list of voter or resident concerns. This is the backdrop to the current debate over bail reform and the constitutional amendment New Mexico passed. The reform hasn’t panned out as expected, and now the governor, prosecutors and some law enforcement officials want a re-do.
Last year, the Legislature passed and 87 percent of voters approved a constitutional amendment that gave judges authority to do two things: hold violent offenders without bail and free nonviolent offenders who were sitting in jail because they couldn’t afford bail. Supreme Court Justice Charles Daniels was the principal advocate of the amendment, which had broad support as a public safety measure and a money-saving move that would relieve our over-crowded jails.
Before the amendment took effect on July 1, the Supreme Court issued rules to facilitate changes. In the last month, prosecutors have complained that the rules have caused confusion; some judges require hours of testimony before they agree to keep someone in custody.
At the same time crime spiked, and the FBI ranked New Mexico first in property crime and second in violent crime.
The governor, a former prosecutor, has called on lawmakers to revamp the pretrial detention process and to repeal and replace the amendment and its rules. She accused the courts of using the new provisions to return criminals to the streets.
In Farmington, William “Scrappy” Wilson became the poster boy for that accusation. Released on August 2 despite the nine felonies on his rap sheet and current charges that included aggravated burglary and larceny, Scrappy died in a gunfight weeks later after shooting the state police officer who had just handcuffed him. The bullet struck the officer’s badge and vest.
San Juan County Sheriff Ken Christesen said, with a mug shot of the much-tattooed Scrappy in the background, “They’re putting dangerous criminals back on the streets. As citizens of this state and this county and the city of Farmington, (we) should be outraged that this happened.”
Rep. Moe Maestas, an Albuquerque Democrat, a former prosecutor, and co-sponsor of the reform legislation, sees the problems in the new rules but thinks the courts need some time to adjust to the changes and to fine tune their rules. He also said the underfunded, understaffed judiciary needs financial relief to keep up with new requirements.
UNM Law School Professor Leo Romero notes that before the amendment, New Mexico relied on “a growing money-bond industry,” in which the worst of the worst could buy their way out of jail. Judges and lawyers need time to adjust to a system that now relies on individual risk assessment, he wrote.
Attorney Blair Dunn has argued that the crime wave and the constitutional amendment are unrelated. “Gov. Susana Martinez is wrong, and repealing the amendment will do nothing to change our problem,” he wrote.
Dunn blames the court’s rules, saying Supreme Court judges “legislated from the bench,” and released “virtually everyone without bail.” This, he said, has created what cops call the “catch and release” system now operating. Dunn urges the Legislature to take rule making away from the state’s Supreme Court.
We have three choices: Repeal and replace, legislate, or let judges rewrite their rules. The first would take too long, and the amendment isn’t the root of the problems. The second requires lawmakers to second guess judges and pits one branch of government against another. The reasonable choice is for the Supreme Court to rewrite its rules. Then everyone needs to give reforms time to work.
© 2017 New Mexico News Services 10-23-17
State water regulators make waves as water grab moves ahead
By Sherry Robinson
All She Wrote
When three members of the Interstate Stream Commission resign abruptly, we need to pay attention. When they point fingers at the State Engineer, we need to be worried. The two agencies are our water watchdogs.
The ISC oversees New Mexico's participation in interstate stream compacts, protects and develops the state’s water and does water planning. The State Engineer regulates water rights and serves as ISC secretary.
The ISC has withered with an exodus of staffers blamed on both State Engineer Tom Blaine and the administration’s budget cuts. It’s an open secret in the water world that Blaine wants the traditionally independent ISC under his thumb.
Blaine meanwhile has opened the gate to the state’s biggest water grab.
The ISC in recent months has lost its director, Colorado River bureau chief, special projects bureau chief, general counsel, acting general counsel, and Middle Rio Grande Basin manager. It has just two senior staffers left.
When Blaine hired Deborah Dixon in early 2015, she was senior vice president at Bohannan Huston, a major engineering firm. "Ms. Dixon is an outstanding engineer who has valuable experience working in water projects in New Mexico,” Blaine said.
Blaine fired Dixon in June without a word to commissioners.
Earlier this month ISC Chairman Caleb Chandler of Clovis, former Chairman Jim Dunlap of Farmington, and Jim Wilcox of Carlsbad resigned.
Dunlap, who’s been actively involved with water since 1966 when he launched the first rural water district in San Juan County, said in his resignation letter to the governor that he had “great concern for lack of direction from the State Engineer and adherence to New Mexico state statutes,” along with the loss of senior staff.
Dunlap said Blaine refused to meet with the ISC board, and even the politically connected Chandler couldn’t get a meeting with the governor.
Meanwhile, Blaine has opened a hearing process for the most controversial request ever to land on the State Engineer’s desk. The Augustin Plains Ranch (a group of international investors) propose drilling 37 wells 2,000 feet deep and mining the aquifer to sell 54,000 acre-feet of water to the Albuquerque area via pipeline.
Former State Engineer Scott Verhines rejected the application, saying it was “vague, incomplete and speculative.” Blaine, however, viewed it as “incomplete” and told the company to make it complete or withdraw it. The company revised its application, and it’s now in the hearing pipeline.
When Blaine talks about this project, he talks out of both sides of his mouth.
Last year he told the San Augustin Water Coalition of residents that his office would ask if water was available for appropriation, and that the answer to that question would be yes. To objections that the proposal is speculative, he said, “It will take a lot to satisfy me.”
Asked if he will consider impairment to other users, he said “it can’t cause impairment,” but then said a dropping water table isn’t impairment if water can be replaced from another source or by deepening a well.
“Water is a market-driven resource,” Blaine said. He loves agriculture, he said, but it uses 70 percent of the state’s water. “If we take 10 percent of that water and use it for M&I (municipal and industrial), we could double the population of New Mexico.”
Discussing water basins, he tossed out the idea of a severance tax on water to help places that lose their water.
On Sept. 28, the State Engineer held a public meeting in Socorro. People packed into Macey Center at New Mexico Tech to ask questions, but Blaine, without notice, changed the meeting’s purpose to a discussion of process. He appeared to be trying to reassure residents. They were not reassured.
It’s unclear whether Blaine is a loose cannon or a focused weapon. Area water users are maintaining their guard.
© 2017 New Mexico News Services 10-16-17
Reining in healthcare costs requires political and market solutions
By Sherry Robinson
All She Wrote
Martin Hickey has been around the quadrangle in healthcare, working in public institutions (Indian Health Service and the VA) and private. He’s best known here as former CEO of Lovelace Health Systems, although he worked outside the state for three other companies.
Now he runs New Mexico Health Connections, a nonprofit health insurance cooperative founded in response to the Affordable Care Act.
In a talk before New Mexico Press Women last week, Hickey was frank about doctors, hospitals, and the healthcare system.
“Money has rained down on top of it,” he said, referring to healthcare, and yet outcomes are worse than cheaper systems in other industrial nations. We don’t have real competition between doctors or hospitals, and hospitals are money machines.
A physician, Hickey said he took his last exam in 1981, but he can still hang out a shingle anywhere. You may like your doctor, but you really don’t know how skilled he or she is because they’re never measured.
Some healthcare organizations have gotten better at measuring doctors, but the only people who know the results are other doctors, so “you have physicians working with other physicians, and most of the high-cost doctors will get better or leave.” Still, he thinks all doctors should undergo a yearly simulator test.
A hospital’s “primary purpose is money,” Hickey said. “We’ve gone crazy for murals and four kinds of marble in the lobby. Who’s paying for that? You are.”
And don’t assume for a second that nonprofit hospitals are kinder than for-profits. Nonprofit hospitals will be just as mean when they come after you for money owed.
Hickey describes a free-wheeling system with no real competition, no cost control and no oversight.
“Healthcare can generate its own demand. As a doctor, I can write an order, and a procedure gets done,” he said. “The system has evolved where if you do more procedures you make more money. Pharmaceutical companies can simply raise their prices.” What regulation we have is “convoluted and not well thought out.”
Hickey said: “We’ve never had a coherent healthcare policy in the United States – ever.
We need to figure out a way to get costs under control and get everybody covered.”
As he sees it, there are political solutions and market solutions. Which brings us to Obamacare.
Attempts to repeal the Affordable Care Act failed, and political solutions are out of reach because members of Congress are unable or unwilling to compromise. That leaves the market, but as he already explained, a lack of competition removes the usual mechanisms of supply and demand and consumer judgment.
One of the flaws in ACA is the mandate that everybody must buy insurance. “Twenty-something men are not going to buy insurance,” he said, because they believe they’re invincible, if not immortal. The penalty was not high enough to make them buy in, he said, and without them, the plan is unbalanced by sicker and sicker people, which raises the cost.
“We’ve got to enforce individual mandates,” Hickey said. “We did it with car insurance, we can do it with health insurance.”
He adds that ACA always had design flaws leading to rising rates. “Had it been set up like Medicare, we would have gone back to Congress for repeated fixes,” he said.
Hickey would like to see employers speak up and say, “No, I’m not going to take it anymore.” He describes employers who grew tired of paying more and more for health insurance and created workplace programs for exercise, weight loss and smoking cessation.
The solution, he said, is a market mechanism with regulation. “We’re also going to have to have political solutions.”
Hickey says he makes himself available to talk to politicians of all stripes about healthcare. Let’s hope they take him up on that.
© 2017 New Mexico News Services 10-9-17
State’s large scientific community joins parents to question proposed science standards
By Sherry Robinson
All She Wrote
Public Education Secretary-designate Christopher Ruszkowski hasn’t been in New Mexico long enough to understand the state. Otherwise, he’d know that we have a high concentration of scientists, engineers and technical people, plus a large contingent of retirees with impressive careers elsewhere. Their objections to PED’s proposed new science standards have swamped public discussion.
Whatever the outcome, Ruszkowski will forever be the guy who tried to dumb down science in the state. He may have a bright future in places like Kansas and Alabama, but in New Mexico he’s toast.
It began with the Next Generation Science Standards, a legitimate push to update knowledge and incorporate problem solving into teaching. PED rewrote the NextGen standards to avoid certain politically sensitive topics and produced its own science standards. The word “evolution” was replaced with “biological diversity.” References to the Earth’s rising temperatures became temperature “fluctuations,” and the age of the Earth disappeared altogether.
Ruszkowski said the change allows New Mexico’s science curriculum to reflect the “diversity of perspectives” in New Mexico. That assumes that these basic questions are matters of opinion. They aren’t. There’s Science and there’s Not Science, and Not Science strays into the realm of belief.
In recent weeks, letters to the editor have been blunt: David J. Raymond, a retired physics professor at New Mexico Tech, called the standards “a stealth assault on the integrity of science education in New Mexico.”
The age of the earth is the product of data and scientific study, he said, and “evolution is at the heart of modern biology.” Strong scientific evidence documents the human role in global warming. Implementing “these ill-considered modifications,” he said, “would make us look like a pack of fools as we struggle to attract high-technology industry to New Mexico.”
In a Los Alamos meeting, high school senior Kevin Parkinson said it’s important that students “get to learn the same information that I grew up hearing so that they can have the opportunity to know everything about the world – not just what some people think the world is.”
PED has refused to identify the source of its watered-down standards, saying only that it accepted input from several groups. Where’s the transparency?
Two Democratic legislators, Andres Romero and Bill McCamley, wrote recently that in the last regular legislative session they introduced a bill to require PED to adopt the NextGen standards. During a hearing a former PED staff member testified, “Toward the end of my tenure at the Public Education Department, I was tasked to edit and change some of the language in the standards to make them politically sanitized.”
The NextGen bill passed but the governor vetoed it.
Erin Taylor, a Las Cruces high school science department head, wrote in an op ed that four years ago she joined science teachers from across the state, along with lab and university scientists and others, to study the NextGen standards and make a recommendation. They unanimously recommended the new standards. Two years ago Taylor was part of another group that again recommended the standards, and the only alteration suggested was to add information about New Mexico’s geology and space history.
“Instead the PED, after an inexplicable delay, ignored the advice of pretty much everyone, from teachers, to the national labs, to industry,” and released its own standards, “which is NGSS gutted almost past recognition.”
In the past week, the Cassini spacecraft ended its astounding 20-year life, and we marveled at the scientific talent that kept it aloft. Will our young people be prepared to participate in similar endeavors based on PED’s proposed standards?
Attend the public hearing on Oct. 16 at 9 a.m. at the Jerry Apodaca Education Building or email your comments by that date to firstname.lastname@example.org.
© 2017 New Mexico News Services 10-2-17
Unexplained vetoes, free burger don’t move state’s economy
By Sherry Robinson
All She Wrote
Gov. Susana Martinez was having a bad couple of days last week. On Wednesday, she stiffed an eatery for her burger and fries. The next day a district judge ruled against her in a high-profile court case.
According to the Santa Fe Reporter, Martinez signaled her exasperation at not being recognized in Five Star Burgers, picked up her to-go order, grabbed the check and crumpled it into the trash. And didn’t tip. The governor’s spin machine claimed it was “an honest misunderstanding” and paid the bill after the media began calling. The restaurant’s manager recalled serving former Gov. Bill Richardson and said he always paid his checks and always tipped well.
The next day, a different kind of bill came due when a district judge ruled that ten measures Martinez improperly vetoed are now law. Several jump out because they had so much bipartisan support that the vetoes left us scratching our heads.
The Computer Science bill, SB134, allows high schools to count computer science as either a math or science credit toward graduation.
The bill had support from business groups, the state Public Education Department, and teachers’ unions. It sailed through legislative committees and the House, passing unanimously; the Senate approved it 33 to 4.
The governor vetoed it March 14 without explanation. At the time, New Mexico had the nation’s highest unemployment rate.
After the veto, Nyika Allen, president and CEO of the New Mexico Technology Council, said: "Our New Mexico students deserve better. This bill was critical for (employee) pipeline development and I am deeply saddened to see that the governor is not thinking about our developing workforce and the needs of our technology industry.”
Allen pointed out that the state had more than 1,500 unfilled computing jobs, and demand for computer science professionals was triple that of other professions.
A second vetoed bill was the bipartisan SB 24, which allows local governments to build or acquire broadband services. This measure was one of three recommended by the nonpartisan organization New Mexico First to help expand broadband access statewide.
“This bill was essential to give local and especially rural governments the authority and ability to help their communities improve their broadband infrastructure by creating plans of action and helping to defray high costs of adding this type of critical infrastructure,” said the Tech Council’s Allen.
New Mexico’s internet connection speed ranks 48th in the nation. Even a 7 percent increase in broadband access could create some 15,000 jobs, according to a Federal Communication Commission study.
SB 24 passed the House unanimously and the Senate by a vote of 37-1. The governor vetoed it March 15. The following day, she said she vetoed these two bills and others because “they are not necessary for the health, safety, and welfare of the citizens of this great state.” The veto message also expressed her frustration at not yet receiving a budget and not seeing her university regent nominees confirmed.
The court ruling also gave life to two bipartisan hemp bills: SB 6 allows research and development of industrial hemp in New Mexico, and HB 144 removes hemp from the list of prohibited controlled substances. (It’s related to marijuana, but can’t make anyone high.) Because hemp is a low-water, drought-resistant crop in high demand, sponsors believe it could be a boon to state farmers. Supporters included the New Mexico Cattle Growers and the Farm Bureau. The two bills passed both chambers, but HB 144 stirred up resistance among Republicans. Martinez vetoed both bills without explanation.
The governor has added a new chapter of pizza-gate and vetoed, for no stated reason, bills that could lift the economy. She likes to say that “our small businesses are the backbone of our state’s economy.” How do her actions square with that?
© 2017 New Mexico News Services 9-25-17
Santa Fe’s “Entrada” could give everyone a voice and bring us together
By Sherry Robinson
All She Wrote
While the rest of the country debates the removal of confederate symbols, Santa Fe is having a parallel argument over its “Entrada,” an annual re-enactment of the Spaniards’ return to the region after they were driven out by the Pueblo Revolt in 1680.
Native American people see it as a one-sided celebration of an event they’d rather not honor. Every year the protests get bigger and louder, and this year the police arrested eight people, including a tourist standing in the wrong place at the wrong time.
As a historian, I appreciate the fact that New Mexico history is so compelling and relevant that people are inspired to re-create the reconquest and also to protest it. But there’s a better way to do this.
We’re talking about some of the most significant events in New Mexico history. With a tip of the hat to scholars who’ve written fine books about the period, here’s an abbreviated refresher.
In 1598 Spain claimed land already in possession of Pueblos, Navajos, Apaches, Utes, and other tribes. The colonizers turned Pueblo people into virtual slaves under a system that owned people as well as the land and suppressed their religious beliefs. Spanish governors enriched themselves by seizing even friendly Navajos and Apaches as slaves. Conspiracies to drive off their conquerors began.
“All the hostile tribes surrounding the nations among whom the Spaniards are now settled think that the Spaniards are scoundrels and people who are concerned only with their own interests,” wrote Father Francisco de Velasco in 1609. “Many times these hostile natives (Apaches and Navajos) have selfishly persuaded the peaceful Indians that the latter should throw off the heavy Spanish yoke…”
In 1680 the Pueblos, with help from Apaches, Navajos and Utes, finally made good on years of threats. In a series of coordinated attacks, they killed priests, settlers and soldiers; destroyed missions and haciendas; and chased the Spanish all the way to El Paso. Twelve years later, Diego de Vargas came to reconquer New Mexico.
As John Kessell describes it in “Pueblos, Spaniards and the Kingdom of New Mexico,” the Pueblos initially welcomed De Vargas, just as the pageant portrays. Some pueblo villages were ambivalent, others opposed, and some pueblos were at odds with each other. De Vargas eventually had to retake Santa Fe by force and subdue the uncooperative pueblos one by one. It took years of bloody conflict. Spanish colonists also suffered greatly, and De Vargas got in trouble with his superiors.
So Don Diego isn’t a hero to Native Americans. Protesters have called on the city of Santa Fe to abolish the re-enactment, which they see as racist. The city attempted to corral protesters in a cordoned-off “free speech zone.” That’s not free speech. But a bunch of people hollering about racism and oppression doesn’t convey an understandable message.
Last year, a protester expressed a workable idea. “We need a new narrative. We need a counter narrative,” she said. Yes, we do.
Santa Fe’s Hispanic people have a right to commemorate an important event in their history, but it’s only part of the story. Native American people have a right to present their side in a public setting that’s not segregated and surrounded by police.
Come on, people. We have a great many creative individuals here. What if Native people were to tell their side of the story as part of the Entrada with the city’s sanction? (And money: the city of Santa Fe provides $50,000 for the reconquest festivities.)
We live in a time when we see divisiveness everywhere. Santa Fe has an opportunity to create an event that could educate, heal and bring people together.
© 2017 New Mexico News Services 9-18-17
Sen. Pete Domenici, statesman and workhorse, got a lot done for New Mexico
By Sherry Robinson
All She Wrote
Sen. Pete Domenici’s death last week at 85 loosed a cascade of memories. Everyone has a Domenici story.
Mike Ford’s two-year fellowship in Domenici’s Washington office in 1991 and 1992 was “one of the most enlightened times of my professional life,” he said.
Ford, an employee of the federal Bureau of Land Management, wasn’t politically inclined and unsure he had much to offer, but he interviewed with the senator on a cold, rainy day in December.
“I can recall vividly our first meeting in his office,” Ford said. “He was wearing a red UNM sweater and looked like a college professor. He had all this New Mexico memorabilia on the wall. We sat like two friends talking about family and baseball.”
The encounter was so casual, Ford didn’t expect much and was surprised to be called in for work on Monday. When Ford asked why he was hired, Domenici said, “Well, big fella, I am a United States senator, and we do have access to information.”
Politically, Washington was a different place. “Back then the political parties, especially in the West, made deals,” Ford says. “There wasn’t all this partisan hand-to-hand combat. Some of his best friends were Democrats.” One good friend was Arkansas Democrat Dale Bumpers, who called Domenici “Pedro” and liked to kid him about being Catholic.
Ford recalls going to small New Mexico towns with Domenici. “He was a regular guy. Whether you were in Carlsbad or Cuba (N. M.), he cared about everyone. There was no pretense.”
Former staffers talk about Domenici’s legendary capacity for hard work. A single woman I knew said she never had a date in the three years she worked for Domenici because she was always working. Ford kept a change of clothes and toiletries in his office for the all-nighters necessary during congressional sessions. “That was normal, working for him,” Ford says. “I was honored to be part of that.”
Of the legislation he was involved with, Ford is most proud of two bills. One transformed the privately owned Baca Land Grant in northern New Mexico into what became the Valles Caldera Preserve under the National Park Service. The second, the Federal Land Transfer Facilitation Act, allowed the BLM to sell surplus land for public purposes and keep the proceeds to buy other lands that were a better fit with agency needs. Ford, who is now the Nevada and Southwest director of The Conservation Fund, says the law expired, but a bipartisan coalition of organizations is working to get it reauthorized.
When Ford’s fellowship ended, he became director of Albuquerque’s BLM field office just as Interior Secretary Bruce Babbit was introducing range reform to change and update grazing laws. The office’s largest permittee was then-Gov. Bruce King. Domenici was representing New Mexico ranchers.
“Albuquerque was ground zero for range reform. It was a very difficult and contentious time,” Ford recalls, but because of his relationship with Domenici he could talk to ranchers. Domenici and Babbit didn’t see eye to eye. “I had the honor of trying to facilitate a discussion when things were going sideways. It was painful and difficult, but we all left as friends.”
What would Domenici do in today’s gridlocked Congress? He would still be Pete, trying to make deals and work for New Mexico, Ford said. He understood lawmakers would have honest disagreements but said you have to figure out how to get things done. “I knew he believed that and practiced that until he died. I learned from him what bipartisan really was. It doesn’t exist much anymore.”
Ford still has a photo of himself and Domenici in his office. “It was an incredible honor and privilege,” he says. “Once you worked for him you became part of his extended family. That’s how he treated people.”
© 2017 New Mexico News Services 9-11-17
Keep the Dreamers: Our workforce and economy need them
By Sherry Robinson
All She Wrote
When the president announced the end of the Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals (DACA) program last week, the first howl of protest was about the cruelty of sending people who are American in everything but birth to a country they don’t know. The second howl came from employers and educators.
For five years, the program has allowed 800,000 young people brought here illegally as children to get jobs and go to school.
The tech industry has been vocal all along about the need for immigration reform, but now we’re hearing from companies across the spectrum. Their dilemma is simple: Once they find good employees, they don’t want to lose them.
Nor do businesses care to lose 800,000 consumers. To good capitalists, everybody’s money is green. Colleges, seeing a dip in enrollment, want those students.
So both economists and business were quick to disagree with the nation’s attorney general when he said the Dreamers are taking jobs from Americans. Economists have found that refugees and Mexican immigrants have little or no impact on the employment of native-born workers in rich or poor countries.
Dreamers are not your average immigrants. They tend to be educated and skilled. They’re entering the workforce at a time when boomers are retiring in droves. And they’re a mass of young people in an increasingly older population. If they stay, they will buy homes (many already have) and pay taxes for a long time.
A second factor is low unemployment (in other states), which makes skilled workers harder to find.
In booming Colorado, for example, my brother just closed his business – not because business was slow but because he had a lot of business and with unemployment in the 2 percent range, he couldn’t hire the people he needed. He was doing more and more of the work himself. Finally, he just burned out.
I saw another shade of this employee shortage last week when I accompanied a young relative to a job fair. I was surprised at how many home healthcare companies were recruiting. One man told me his startup company had plenty of elderly clients – his challenge was finding employees.
This was disconcerting. As boomers age, who’s going to take care of us?
So you start to see the consequences in kicking out 800,000 young people who’ve been educated and trained here, who have jobs and homes and cars and kids and other family members here.
Which is why Microsoft’s president and chief legal officer said his company had just reordered its lobbying priorities. Tax reform was important to business, he said, but should be “set aside until the Dreamers are taken care of.” He also said the company would go to court to protect its Dreamer employees.
Republican Congressman Steve Pearce always positions himself as a friend of business, but he’s not on this issue. He has opposed the DREAM Act, which would have given Dreamers a path to citizenship. He has voted to deport Dreamers and to defund DACA. In a radio interview, he compared children fleeing gang violence in Central America, who were then being held in Artesia, to enemy war combatants. The Center for Civic Policy described him as an obstacle to immigration reform.
Now that he’s running for governor, Pearce claims he’s fought for immigration reform and criticizes Congress for not finding a permanent solution for Dreamers. He’s a member of the majority party in this do-nothing body. Where has he been all this time?
Job creators have said that travel restrictions and anti-immigrant tirades have damaged the pipeline of capable workers and future entrepreneurs. Eliminating DACA is icing on a very ugly cake.
© 2017 New Mexico News Services 9-4-17
Another mass shooting: Where’s the responsibility?
By Sherry Robinson
All She Wrote
Sitting in the library last week, I was more watchful than usual. One librarian was helping an elderly woman learn to use her tablet. Another was helping people find books. Did they start their day wondering if they might be shot?
It’s unthinkable that two Clovis librarians are dead and four people are wounded. Libraries, we thought, were such safe places. But then it was unthinkable a few years ago that anybody would shoot 20 little kids and six teachers in their school or gun down adults praying in a church. Those should have been safe places.
The unthinkable has become thinkable, and there are no safe places – especially our homes.
This is not going to be an anti-gun rant. I understand that people feel strongly about keeping their weapons. My question is, where is the common sense?
What we know about Nathaniel Jouett, the Clovis shooter, is that he removed two handguns from his father’s gun safe. We also know the teenager had been a meth user, was in trouble at school and was suspended several times. After the shootings, police seized shotguns, rifles, a .44 magnum, and more than 100 rounds of ammunition from a closet and bedroom. They also found several suicide notes in the boy’s room.
So you’re the father of a troubled teenager, and you keep guns in your home. Is that a good idea? And why were they accessible? One thing we learned from the dreadful Sandy Hook Elementary School massacre is that the shooter was mentally unstable, and yet his mother kept an arsenal of weapons in the home.
With gun ownership comes responsibility, but numbers tell us that some gun owners don’t take responsibility for their weapons.
The Gun Violence Archive (gunviolencearchive.org) now lists Clovis on its list of mass shootings, one incident among 244 mass shootings in 240 days as of August 28, the date of the Clovis shootings. In New Mexico we’ve had 335 shootings of all kinds and 90 shooting deaths in 2017.
A criminologist at the University of Alabama last year concluded that the United States has 31 percent of the world’s mass shootings but just 5 percent of the world’s population. And Americans are 10 times more likely to be shot to death than residents of other developed countries, according to the American Journal of Medicine.
Apparently, the death toll has spiraled high enough to get the attention of gun owners, who increasingly question the gun lobby’s chief apologist, the NRA.
In April, a poll of gun owners by Americans for Responsible Solutions PAC found that two-thirds of gun owners believe the NRA has lost touch with them and strayed from its original gun-safety mission to instead cater to gun manufacturers and lobbyists. The NRA is pushing concealed carry, deregulation of silencers and elimination of gun-free school zones, but few gun owners support that agenda.
The poll also found that gun owners “overwhelmingly support background checks and want to see elected officials do more to keep guns out of the wrong hands.”
Elected officials resist taking steps because money talks, and the NRA is a big spender. And yet, the poll found that 73 percent of gun owners are more likely to vote for candidates who support background checks for all gun purchases, and 66 percent are more likely to support a candidate who supports gun violence prevention policies.
(Americans for Responsible Solutions was founded by former Arizona Congresswoman Gabrielle Giffords and husband Mark Kelly after she was downed by gunfire at a political rally.)
So, gun owners, nobody’s trying to disarm you, but we ask again: What about responsible ownership?
© 2017 New Mexico News Services 8-28-17
Pistol Pete’s shootout at the NMSU corral
By Sherry Robinson
All She Wrote
Here we go again.
My first column this year was about Bob Frank’s resignation as president of the University of New Mexico. Hired in 2012, Frank was doing pretty well, especially compared to the two previous presidents, and expected to serve a second five-year term. He surprised everyone by announcing he would step down.
Because there was no obvious reason, regents tried to dredge one up. Their leaked report “described a man who was usually pleasant but could be sarcastic and rude,” I wrote in January. “Not exactly firing offenses and not exactly unexpected in a high-pressure position.
The report also cited ‘perceived unprofessional communication with the Governor and her chief of staff.’ Now there’s a firing offense.”
The drama has shifted to New Mexico State University, where Chancellor Garrey Carruthers surprised us by announcing his retirement next summer at the end of his contract. Then we learned that regents informed the highly respected Carruthers they wouldn’t renew his contract.
The uproar this time has been even noisier than Frank’s. First a bipartisan trio of legislators asked that he stay. Next, the president and vice president of the Associated Students of NMSU agreed and called on regents to fully explain their decision to students.
They all cite stability, consistency, leadership during difficult times, and progress.
“The last thing we need is another administrator who views NMSU as a steppingstone to a bigger job, who has to learn about the university from scratch,” wrote Senate President Mary Kay Papen, D-Las Cruces; Sen. John Arthur Smith, D-Deming; and Sen. Steve Neville, R-Aztec.
Carruthers has earned respect across the campus and “goes out of his way to interact with students and listen to their concerns,” wrote ASNMSU President Kevin Prieto and Vice President Emerson Morrow.
And six donors wrote that Carruthers had restored tattered relationships with the community and donors. “We feel that turning down his offer to finish what he started would be shortsighted,” especially “given the unreliable nature of the state’s financial support.” They note that “donors have put their trust in Chancellor Carruthers to do what is best for NMSU.”
The governor’s response: “These are just shameless politicians trying to delay a potential search in a transparent attempt to ensure that the next (NMSU) chancellor is chosen by regents appointed by the next governor.”
Five years ago, NMSU President Barbara Couture’s sudden resignation provoked howls over the lack of transparency and her golden parachute. Couture received $453,092 in severance pay, and she had a new job lined up. The undercurrent was that she didn’t make a dent in NMSU’s problems.
Carruthers didn’t have a fancy educational pedigree or years in higher ed administration, but he was a former governor and an Aggie and knew the institution well. By all accounts, he’s done an outstanding job.
So we ask again, as we did in January: Why?
Remember the governor’s irresponsible veto this year of higher education funding? Carruthers complained about at educational money getting “caught up in a political strategy.” He was the lead writer in an op ed by university presidents who discussed the veto’s collaterial damage.
“The message the veto sent to our 133,505 registered students and their families, while unintended, leaves them confused and wondering whether they should enroll in a New Mexico college or whether they’ll be able to finish their degree and graduate,” the presidents wrote.
Carruthers said the veto had hurt NMSU’s recruitment and retention of both students and faculty, and bond ratings and accreditations were in limbo. Carruthers was measured in his criticism, but he was understandably unhappy.
So we might blame executive vindictiveness. Or the governor is taking a page from her predecessor and planning a cushy landing on campus for favored staff members after she leaves office.
© 2017 New Mexico News Services 8-21-17
Hate groups have never flourished in New Mexico
By Sherry Robinson
All She Wrote
New Mexico, it turns out, isn’t a racist state.
According to a June tally by the Southern Poverty Law Center, which tracks hate groups nationally, New Mexico had one such organization with two locations: Aggressive Christianity, which SPLC termed a “general hate group,” in Berino, between Las Cruces and El Paso, and in Fence Lake, south of Zuni Pueblo.
For years, the SPLC has documented a rash of these groups in neighboring states, especially Texas, but New Mexico never has more than one or two. And they never last.
Yes, we have occasional friction or incidents, but if you’ve lived in states with real, daily racism, New Mexico is a remarkable place. In terms of tolerance, we’re up high on a good list!
And it’s been that way a long time.
As evidence, we have the curious history of the Ku Klux Klan here.
The KKK began in 1865 in the South to terrorize freed slaves and carpetbaggers and faded a few years later. When it erupted again in the 1920s, New Mexico had a dozen or so chapters, none particularly active, and they petered out in the 1930s.
Initially, the Klan liked to compare itself with the Masons, but in 1921, the grand master of Masons in New Mexico denounced the KKK. The Masons then had a lot of clout, and it was believed this would squelch Klan organizing. It didn’t. A year later, a second grand master (Lucius Dills, founding editor of the Roswell Record) condemned the Klan “and all other activities that seek or assume to substitute anarchy or mob violence in the stead of constitutional government and law.”
Belen had the first chapter, apparently started by a former postmaster, and its only public act was in 1922 when 15 members marched into a Methodist church in full costume and presented the minister a check for $26.
Vaughn’s chapter surfaced that year with a letter to the mayor assuring him that “we as a Klan are not in politics” and hadn’t taken a position in recent elections.
“The Klan does not take the law in its hand but gathers such information as may be needed… We are now in possession of some information on Kriminals, Krooks, Bootleggers, Gamblers, Adulterers, Etc. and stand ready to back the civil powers with this information or with the solid strength of our Mystic Order.”
In 1922 the “Mystic Order” claimed to have 100 members in Albuquerque, but nobody ever saw them. Prominent men were solicited for membership and told all their friends were members. The group’s first public act was to donate $17.05 to the Albuquerque Day Nursery.
However, in 1921 Sheriff Tony Ortiz found a racist sign in an Albuquerque neighborhood and immediately took it down and warned that anyone connected with such disturbances would be arrested. When the Klan staged a cross burning in 1928, Ortiz and two deputies appeared and ordered the members to unmask.
Roswell’s Klan organized in 1924, wrote historian Elvis Fleming, announcing its presence with a burning cross. The Klan had a float in a 1926 parade and donated $500 to the First Baptist Church.
Although the groups presented themselves as benevolent societies, nobody was fooled. The Albuquerque Journal demanded in 1921 that states take steps to break up and “punish these sheeted lynchers.” The state Legislature outlawed the public appearance of Klan members in full dress but not the burning of crosses on private property.
The nation’s two presidents weren’t conflicted. Because of President Warren Harding’s support of civil rights, the Klan started rumors that he was a member, but he and his successor, Calvin Coolidge, soundly rejected the KKK. And they never blamed Klan violence on the victims.
© 2017 New Mexico News Services 8-14-17
How many people will die while we debate UNM’s new hospital?
By Sherry Robinson
All She Wrote
Six years later we’re still debating whether UNM can build a new hospital.
This is not a UNM discussion or an Albuquerque discussion. As UNM Hospitals CEO Steve McKernan explained, “Almost every town in New Mexico is a one-hospital town, and it’s a critical-access hospital” that can’t treat seriously ill or injured patients.
Every hospital and clinic in the state relies on UNMH, which has the state’s only Level One trauma center. In a year, it will see more than 93,000 emergency visits and 7,000 trauma cases. Patients come from around the state.
Let’s look at the checklist:
Can they demonstrate need? Check. UNMH began in 1954 as Bernalillo County Indian Hospital and joined UNM in the late 1960s.
“At UNM we’re working in an old facility,” McKernan told New Mexico Press Women last year. “We worry the infrastructure could fail.”
Can they demonstrate demand? Check. “We have 308 adult beds,” he said. “We have patients in the ER waiting for beds.”
Can they afford it? Check. “We try to operate within a positive net margin,” McKernan said, and build up balances to meet the cost of new hospital. UNM would still need to issue bonds, and it has an AAA bond rating.
UNMH turned away more than 1,000 patients in the past year because it didn’t have beds, and a quarter of them were critically ill or injured, according to UNM Health Sciences Chancellor Paul Roth’s recent testimony before the state Board of Finance. Rural hospitals complain that they can’t get patients in because UNMH is always on Code Purple, meaning it can’t accept any more patients.
This should be a straightforward decision, but it’s been anything but. Blame politics.
The hospital gets internal approvals – medical staff and university administrators are solidly behind the proposal – and then runs into resistance from the governor’s political appointees, namely two of her regents and the state Board of Finance.
From investigative reporting by New Mexico In Depth and New Mexico Political Report, we know a lot about this troubled process. In 2011, the Board of Regents and the state Higher Education Department approved a new 96-bed hospital, but the Board of Finance simply never voted. The governor, who sits on the Board of Finance, had received a campaign contribution from Lovelace, which opposed a new hospital.
We also know that the governor’s appointees removed two regents from UNM’s Health Science Center board of directors because they supported a new facility.
“There’s clearly a resistance to it,” former regent Brad Hosmer told NMID. “The kind of questions and discussions that we see from Santa Fe… are skeptical, hostile, resistant, which I find puzzling.”
Last year, the state Human Services Department asked UNM for $50 million from the hospital to bridge a Medicaid gap. When HSD learned it would need approvals from university entities, it dropped the request, but soon after, Regents President Rob Doughty began an under-the-table process that ended the Health Science Center’s autonomy and brought it under UNM’s president.
Last week, Lovelace dodged the Albuquerque Journal’s questions about its position on the latest proposal for a 120-bed facility, the first phase of a 408-bed, $684 million hospital.
Doughty, who has consistently opposed a new hospital, recently questioned its impact on UNM. And the governor and her people on the state Board of Finance said they’re still opposed.
If the governor and her appointees are bowing to the for-profit Lovelace in this decision, is that what’s best for New Mexico? If they oppose a new facility so they can tap UNMH’s nest egg, is that good management?
And how does it look to the outside world that we’re willing to build new sports facilities for economic development, but we tolerate an aging, inadequate hospital?
© 2017 New Mexico News Services 8-7-17
State’s economy appears to be turning around, but some indicators are troubling
By Sherry Robinson
All She Wrote
Is it possible that New Mexico’s economy is finally starting to revive? If you follow the numbers in the last couple of months, you could get whiplash.
Some major indicators are up dramatically, but they’re both heartening and concerning. Bear with me for some statistics.
We’re finally on a good list. The U. S. Bureau of Economic Analysis recently clocked a healthy surge in gross domestic product for the first three months of 2017. New Mexico’s growth was 2.8 percent, the nation’s third highest. The leading contributor was oil and gas.
In late July the Legislative Finance Committee brought joy to state bean counters with the news that recurring revenues in May were up 32 percent ($141 million) from May 2016.
More good news is that gross receipts tax revenue in May was $39.3 million higher than the year before, and year-to-date it was up 6.2 percent. This means, among other things, that people are out spending money. For five months in a row, revenues have surpassed the same months in 2016.
The LFC had some bad news. Corporate income tax revenues of $3.1 million were down $15 million from May 2016, and year-to-date revenues plummeted by $65 million, or 56.9 percent, from FY16. Even with preliminary June revenues, corporate income taxes for fiscal 2017 were just $40.7 million. This is way below the forecast of $70 million. FY16 revenues, by comparison, were $118.5 million.
Production taxes from oil and gas climbed 29.2 percent, or $69.5 million year-to-date. The state Oil Conservation Division reports that oil production in May was up 4.4 million barrels. Natural gas was down somewhat in May but up 1.3 percent for the year to date.
Job news is mostly upbeat. Between June 2016 and June 2017, the state added 19,300 jobs, a 2.3 percent increase that’s double the number for May, according to the Department of Workforce Solutions. The private sector added 18,900 jobs, for 3 percent growth, the largest gain in more than a decade.
Labor economists say the hemorrhage of jobs in oil and gas has slowed, and construction picked up. Service industries, especially leisure and hospitality, were up 16,400 jobs, or 3 percent. Leisure and hospitality added 7,500 jobs, a whopping 7.7 percent gain. Of that number, the sector gained 4,300 jobs between May and June alone. Construction added 3,500 jobs, or 8.1 percent.
But manufacturing has lost 800 jobs in each of the last three months.
June’s unemployment rate was 6.4 percent, down from 6.6 percent in May. The May rate allowed us to shed the four-month ranking of highest unemployment in the nation.
The governor, relieved at some good economic news for a change, attributed the gross domestic product increase to tax cuts, streamlined regulations and “a relentless commitment to reforms.”
Well, no, not really. Taken together, the numbers tell us that what we have is a large gain in low-paying jobs and continuing loss of high-paying jobs.
We’re happy about the uptick in the oil industry (welcome back!), but it marches to a drummer outside the state’s influence, and we’re still heavily dependent on this sector.
We also know tourism is booming. Experts say New Mexico’s outdoor activities are still a big draw, and national park visitation is twice the national average. We hope Interior Secretary Ryan Zinke will factor this into his monument decisions.
Notice that corporate income tax revenue has sagged badly, and the most likely reason is economic development loopholes. If all those tax breaks are working, where are the high-paying jobs? And why do we still not know if they’re working?
Hang on to your confetti. It’s not time to celebrate just yet.
© 2017 New Mexico News Services 7-31-17
Medical, religious communities sing from the same hymnal on healthcare
By Sherry Robinson
All She Wrote
An emergency doctor is duty-bound to give the best care possible to each patient, whether it’s a drunk who rolled his car or a grandma having a heart attack. Their ethical code prohibits prejudice and value judgments from interfering with care.
The drama in Congress last week left us back at square one, although many of us heartily applauded Sen. John McCain in telling his fellow lawmakers to stop behaving like children and return to practices that have served the nation well from its beginnings – namely, open hearings, open discussions, and compromise.
If the power brokers listen to McCain, we can look forward to an unfettered flow of information from both medical professionals and number crunchers. In New Mexico, where the need is great but the funding isn’t, we struggle to balance the two. Is it possible to look at healthcare reform in a compassionate way?
The answer is yes. All along, physicians and clergy haven’t been far apart.
“Our nation's health care system serves too few and costs too much.” This was the opening comment in a 1993 statement from the U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops, who called for “a major national debate on how to assure access for all, restrain costs, and increase quality.”
The bishops prescribed five tenets: Coverage for all people from conception until natural death, a ban on federal funding for abortion, pursuit of the common good and preservation of pluralism, cost constraints, equitable cost sharing, and access for all.
“Our approach to health care is shaped by a simple but fundamental principle: ‘Every person has a right to adequate health care,” the bishops wrote. “This right flows from the sanctity of human life and the dignity that belongs to all human persons, who are made in the image of God.’”
The code of ethics for emergency doctors requires them to uphold patient welfare, rights, interests and privacy and provide access for all, according to the American College of Emergency Physicians. Other tenets include prompt and expert response, truthful communications, protecting patients from impaired, incompetent or dishonest providers, keeping up their knowledge and skills, and cost containment.
The bishops and emergency docs all see cost containment as essential because otherwise, widespread access is impossible. By cost containment, the doctors mean reducing redundancy and waste, and better communications, records management, and delivery of care. And they need tort reform to reduce unnecessary testing, hospitalizations, and treatment. (New Mexico already caps compensation in malpractice cases.)
What they don’t want is cost containment that reduces access or quality. Limited resources must be allocated to achieve the greatest good for the greatest number of people, they say.
Our crowded hospital emergency departments are ground zero in reform because this is where the uninsured come for treatment, and by law, emergency personnel can’t turn anyone away based on their ability to pay.
The American Medical Association is famously conservative, but it too wants access for all Americans. And it supports scientific evidence, affordable and adequate coverage for the poor, sufficient funding for Medicaid and other safety-net programs, and tort reform. The AMA opposes caps on Medicaid and anything else that deprives people of coverage. It wants to maintain such insurance market reforms as pre-existing conditions and parental coverage for young adults.
By these yardsticks, the state Human Services Department proposal to raise co-pay fees to Medicaid patients is a step in the wrong direction. Hardest hit would be the poorest people, the disabled, and kids, according to a letter from a long list of medical groups and social advocates led by the New Mexico Center on Law and Poverty. Co-pays delay care, force patients into emergency rooms, and create long-term costs, they write.
Healthcare reform is still a long discussion, and it’s best done in the open.
© 2017 New Mexico News Services 7-24-17
Electric grid is still reliable, but NM faces a future without coal
By Sherry Robinson
All She Wrote
When we touch the electric switch, we expect lights and humming devices. We give so little thought to how electricity gets there that the occasional power failure is a shock.
People in the electric industry pay close attention to the power grid, the colossal network of lines spanning the nation, and monitor its security and reliability.
When Energy Secretary Rick Perry ordered a study of whether government support for renewable energy is hastening the closure of coal and nuclear plants and threatening grid reliability, it agitated the solar and wind industries. Perry cited experts who claimed that renewables make the grid vulnerable on cloudy or windless days, so the fear was that the administration would use the study to promote coal and reduce support of wind and solar.
New Mexico – with an abundance of coal, natural gas, uranium, solar industries and wind power – has a big stake in this discussion.
Now a recently leaked draft of the Department of Energy study concludes that renewables have not affected grid reliability.
"Numerous technical studies for most regions of the nation indicate that significantly higher levels of renewable energy can be integrated without any compromise of system reliability," the draft says. Growth of renewables could require more transmission lines, advanced planning, and more flexibility to balance generation and meet demand, but because of technological advances, baseload power (coal and nuclear) "is not as necessary as it used to be."
Grid operators, like the Electric Reliability Council of Texas, don’t see a problem. Texas gets 15 percent of its power from wind.
The draft report also restated what everybody in the industry has known for years: Cheap natural gas is displacing coal.
The draft report’s findings are in line with an analysis by the North American Electric Reliability Corp., a not-for-profit regulatory body. It concluded that the grid is reliable and resilient despite the growth of renewable energy sources and the increasing risk of cybersecurity and physical threats. The power system is adapting, but vigilance is in order.
Even before the DOE draft appeared, renewable advocates released their own studies. One said that new technologies are making the grid more diverse and therefore more reliable, market forces and not government policies are the reason for coal and nuclear power plant closures, and the changing resource mix doesn’t threaten reliability. The report was funded by the Advanced Energy Economy Institute and the American Wind Energy Association.
New Mexico has lost coal mines, could lose more, and the coal-fired power plants near Farmington are approaching the end of service. The Navajo Nation alone could lose hundreds of jobs in rural New Mexico and Arizona.
One positive note: Lawmakers passed unanimously one of the more forward-thinking pieces of legislation this year. House Memorial 72, by Rep. Patty Lundstrom, D-Gallup, directs three state agencies to study the Escalante Generating Station west of Grants for future uses and report back. Tri-State Generation and Transmission Association hopes to operate the plant as long as possible, but it’s also looking ahead. Because the cooperative has invested millions in the site, and it’s located near rail and highway corridors, Lundstrom believes the assets would be attractive to other industries. The study could be applied to other power plant and industrial sites, she said.
Such approaches are more useful than the administration’s promise to revive coal. The only way to save coal is with subsidies, and that won’t sit well with the free marketers now running the government.
In my office is a small figure of a miner made of coal. I spent years writing about coal mines and coal-fired power plants, so it contributed to my livelihood too. Now we have to contemplate a future without coal.
© 2017 New Mexico News Services 7-17-17
Fake Indian jewelry by the thousands threaten New Mexico artisans
By Sherry Robinson
All She Wrote
Last summer, at the Santo Domingo Pueblo arts and crafts fair, I bought a carved wooden bear from a seller who said he was from Jemez Pueblo. He was sitting with fetish carvers from Zuni Pueblo. Imagine my surprise when I saw a shelf full of the same carved bears across the border in Mexico.
Recently, U. S. Sen. Tom Udall held field hearings on the issue of counterfeit Native American art. His goal was to hear from artists, experts and law enforcement officials about changes needed in the Indian Arts and Crafts Act of 1990 to better protect both artists and buyers.
This is not a trivial problem. In the past year, we’ve seen multiple indictments stemming from a federal investigation. The quantity of fake Indian jewelry pouring in from Asia is truly staggering. It’s risen to a level (one number used in the hearing was 80 percent ) that will kill our jewelry industry if we let it.
I was surprised to learn some years ago that New Mexico’s jewelry industry is the fifth or sixth largest in the country. This includes the individual artisan all the way up to sizable manufacturing operations in Albuquerque and Gallup. In addition, we have weavers, potters, carvers and painters. Because so many of these folks are artists, who resist being organized, they don’t have a trade group. If they did, it would be jumping up and down.
In 2015, the U. S. Fish and Wildlife Service launched an investigation. With the help of the FBI and other federal and state agencies, it busted about a dozen jewelry sellers in Albuquerque, Santa Fe and Gallup. It was the largest investigation of its kind. In one case I covered, a Gallup man allegedly took jewelry molds created by Native artisan to the Philippines and set up a jewelry manufacturing operation. Agents documented the jewelry entering this country and found it in shops across multiple states.
These operations have imported hundreds of thousands of items. Some of the accused are represented by some very fancy law firms – an indicator of the money involved.
What this means is that Native artisans who once made a living as jewelers are finding their outlets drying up as more fakes flood the market.
Counterfeit Indian jewelry has been around for decades but not in such quantities. And it used to be easier to spot. Now it takes a very discerning eye, and even experts can be fooled.
Consumers have options. In New Mexico, you can buy directly from Native artisans at crafts fairs, the Santa Fe Plaza, and the Santa Fe Indian Market coming up in August. This isn’t guaranteed 100 percent, as I learned with my bear; even Native jewelers may use turquoise that’s more plastic than stone or other questionable materials. (A friend advises to ask the artisan what would happen if you poke a hot needle at the stone.)
The other option is to support retailers who have been in business many years and have established relationships with their artists. A tipoff: Beware of the perpetual “going out of business” sale.
Something else I learned is that the retailers selling fakes are a minority of all sellers -- and they’ve been selling fakes for years. If they’re busted, they keep their nose clean for a while and then go back to selling fakes.
Which brings us to enforcement. We have laws that forbid misrepresenting and selling non-Indian crafts as Indian-made. In an era of lean government and demands for less regulation, scammers flourish. Congress can modify the law, but somebody has to be watching. And some scammers need to go to jail.
I cherish the Native art I own but decided to keep my wooden bear as a reminder to be more cautious.
© 2017 New Mexico News Services 7-10-17
Texting while driving may overtake DWI in deadly accidents
By Sherry Robinson
All She Wrote
Less than five seconds.
That’s how long it takes you, on average, to look at a text message. In those few seconds, you can drive the length of a football field. You can also kill somebody.
In 2015, Michael and Robin Jakino, a much admired Farmington couple, were enjoying an autumn motorcycle ride when Kristen Moon’s truck drifted across the centerline of U. S. 550 near Durango, striking the Jakinos’ motorcycle. Michael died at the scene; his wife was seriously injured and ultimately lost most of her left leg. Authorities say the cause was “distracted driving,” which usually translates as texting.
I hadn’t grasped the magnitude of texting-while-driving accidents until January, when I heard Transportation Secretary Tom Church say that of New Mexico’s 386 highway deaths in 2014, half were alcohol related, and 40 percent were texting.
Think of that. We know well our abysmal drunken driving statistics. Do we know that texting and driving now approaches DWI?
According to the state Department of Transportation, in 2015 driver inattention (including texting) was the leading factor in crashes and the third leading factor in fatalities.
In 2014 the governor signed a bill that prohibits texting on New Mexico roads while driving or even while stopped at an intersection. The exceptions are calling for medical or emergency help; the driver is also allowed to send or receive texts while pulled off the road.
“There is no text message, no Facebook post, no tweet worth a person’s life,” the governor said.
We weren’t exactly early adopters; New Mexico was the 42nd state with such a bill. And the fines of $25 for the first offense and $50 for the second aren’t much of a deterrent, although Albuquerque and Santa Fe have higher fines.
The Jakinos’ tragedy moved Sen. Steve Neville, R-Aztec, to introduce a bill this year to increase fines for texting and driving. The bill passed the Senate and died in the House. One strike against it was the courts’ argument that increasing penalties weakens a prosecutor’s bargaining position in plea agreements and would add to the courts’ workload.
The National Highway Traffic Safety Administration says that penalties for distracted driving must be well known to the public and have a high probability of being imposed. To be effective, these laws have to be part of a system that includes public awareness, active enforcement and publicity.
That may be one reason why the governor just announced a new anti-texting-while-driving ad. It shows a woman answering a text while driving who kills a child crossing the street.
The ad appears just as the Albuquerque Journal wrote that despite the increase in citations by State Police since 2014, texting while driving has increased. State Police Chief Pete Kassetas said the law is hard to enforce and officers cite drivers only when they see blatant texting or erratic driving. Even so, citations have jumped from 1,029 from July 2015 through June 2016 to 1,696 in the same period this fiscal year.
There’s another kind of enforcement. Since 2014, the state’s personal injury attorneys have pounced on a promising new area of practice. You know those “We sue drunk drivers” ads that shout at you from your TV set? They’ve added texting drivers.
“Injured in a car accident caused by driver texting? Call us today!!!”
“If you or a loved one has been injured in an auto accident, you need an attorney that will help you get fair compensation for your injuries. We will ensure that the distracted driver is held accountable for their reckless behavior.”
“Wrecked by a texter?”
We hope the state’s ads will leave more cell phones untouched by drivers. If not, the legal beagles will drag them to court, and we’ll all pay higher insurance premiums.
© 2017 New Mexico News Services 7-3-17
Inept management at HSD shows in lawsuits, festering problems
By Sherry Robinson
All She Wrote
People remember Brent Earnest as a competent and well-liked legislative analyst. Then he joined the state Human Services Department as deputy secretary under Secretary Sidonie Squier, best known for the behavioral health disaster and her hostility to legislators.
Squier decimated the state’s behavioral health system by accusing 15 providers of overbilling based on a deeply flawed audit. Then she halted their Medicaid funding, driving many out of business. When Squier departed in 2014, Sen. Jerry Ortiz y Pino, chairman of the Senate Public Affairs Committee, suggested Earnest as a replacement.
“A lot of us in the Legislature have confidence in his ability and think he’s a genuinely caring person,” he said.
Earnest got the nod but declared right off that he would uphold the same muddled agenda. The Senate confirmed him unanimously, probably expecting him to clean up the troubled department. Earnest just leaned into the wind and slogged on.
Ortiz y Pino in May called for Earnest’s resignation.
This was because of HSD’s other running disaster – a longstanding lawsuit over the department’s poor handling of SNAP (food stamp) applications. While Sidonie Squier owns the behavioral health mess, Earnest gets credit for the SNAP program’s advanced decay.
The lawsuit, filed in 1988, reached a boil last summer when nine HSD employees testified that it was a longstanding practice to inflate the income of people applying for emergency SNAP benefits. Federal law requires emergency applications to be processed within seven days. By inflating income or adding fake assets, HSD workers could change the applications to non-emergency status. It gave them more time to process forms, but desperate people weren’t getting food.
Three HSD administrators took the Fifth Amendment in court. District Court Judge Kenneth Gonzales later held Earnest in contempt for failing to follow a consent decree and appointed a special master, Lawrence Parker, to help HSD comply with federal law. In last week’s hearing Parker recommended a staff shakeup.
Gonzales wrote, “Secretary Earnest’s testimony is indicative of a general lack of awareness and managerial engagement over HSD.” He threatened a federal receivership if the department isn’t in compliance by January.
The recent hearing also revealed an April email directing HSD employees to stop interviewing and communicating with Medicaid and SNAP clients at 3:30 p.m. and to lie about the hours if asked. And, while HSD has reduced its backlog of SNAP cases, its Medicaid renewals have ballooned. Earnest said his department is making significant progress on both fronts and is trying to hire more staff.
The Center on Law and Poverty, which brought the suit, argued that needy people aren’t getting help because of HSD’s backlog. Most clients can’t even get questions answered because, by HSD’s own count, it answers calls 35 percent of the time for English speakers and 19 percent for Spanish speakers. If they come to the office, they wait for hours. HSD has more than 100 vacancies in the division managing federal benefits.
Judge Gonzales questioned the internal culture that allows this to happen. In Management 101, you learn it starts at the top. Two judges in this case have warned Earnest repeatedly, and because he can’t get his house in order, the SNAP program faces a federal receivership.
Meanwhile, in the behavioral health arena, HSD settled with a former Las Cruces provider for $484.87 after accusing it of $2.8 million in overbilling. The state is now the defendant in a raft of lawsuits filed by former providers.
We pay taxes so the least among us receive care. Thanks to HSD, its bosses and a culture of deceit, the most vulnerable go hungry and untreated.
© 2017 New Mexico News Services 6-26-17
In Trumpcare debate, who’s looking out for rural hospitals?
By Sherry Robinson
All She Wrote
If you live in rural New Mexico and you have a heart attack, where will you go? The local hospital? Think again. Even if you have insurance, your local hospital may no longer be there for you.
In all the arguments over the U. S. Senate’s Better Care Reconciliation Act, called Trumpcare, we’re hearing about the impacts on the poor and the disabled from Medicaid cuts. We’re not hearing about the collateral damage.
The New Mexico Hospital Association says that 29 of its 45 member hospitals serve frontier, rural, or small-town areas in one of the nation’s most sparsely populated states. These are places of “aging and declining populations… and fragile community economies,” the association says.
Stephen Stoddard, executive director of the New Mexico Rural Hospital Network, said in an email that the Senate bill will hurt the state’s rural hospitals. “One of the major concerns is that the Senate bill includes deep Medicaid cuts, plus the Medicaid expansion is being phased out over a four-year period from 2020 to 2024.”
The financial underpinnings of these small hospitals are challenging, to say the least. More people in their service areas are uninsured or underinsured, so they’re more dependent on Medicaid. Even the big hospitals count heavily on those dollars.
Medicaid covers the poor, the disabled and special-needs children – about 922,000 people in New Mexico, including 388,000 children. It pays for 72 percent of babies born in New Mexico, the nation’s highest rate. And it supports more than 50,000 jobs, mostly in the private sector.
Even now, reimbursement rates don’t cover the cost of care. Last July, the state cut provider reimbursements. Again.
“The Medicaid expansion in New Mexico ultimately helped rural hospitals because more of their patients were insured and some payment for their services could be received… (S)ome payment is better than little to no payment from most uninsured patients,” Stoddard said.
“Many of the New Mexico residents covered in the Medicaid expansion were previously uninsured, which means that rural hospitals have now been receiving Medicaid compensation for those patients, plus many of the newly enrolled Medicaid patients have been seeking medical care for things that they may have ignored when uninsured. The Medicaid expansion being phased out would mean that rural hospitals would lose the gains made through that program.”
Trumpcare would restructure Medicaid and shift costs to the states. Instead of matching costs four to one with states, the federal government would give states a lump sum. The Senate bill increases the lump sum but not enough to keep up with medical costs. The extra funding states received for the Medicaid expansion would become temporary.
Obviously New Mexico can’t shoulder more of the cost, so it would have to restrict coverage and services. And if Medicaid pays hospitals even less for patient services, and fewer people qualify for Medicaid, the uninsured population would balloon. Again.
Even before Trumpcare, 673 rural hospitals were in danger of closing because of previous cuts, Stoddard said.
“Nationally 41 percent of rural hospitals operate at a financial loss and if the current rate of rural hospital closure continues, 25 percent of rural hospitals will close in less than a decade,” he said. And because they’re often one of the community’s largest employers, they take jobs with them.
For all these reasons, the American Hospital Association told the Senate to “go back to the drawing board.” The association argued for coverage of Americans, especially the most vulnerable, and said deep cuts to Medicaid would only raise the costs of private insurance. This is because providers will have to make up for the costs of uncompensated care.
This is where we were before Obamacare.
“The reality is,” Stoddard said, “that expansion of insurance coverage is irrelevant if there is no one to provide care in rural communities.”
© 2017 New Mexico News Services 6-19-17
Early public lands debate resolved by compromise
By Sherry Robinson
All She Wrote
Public land debates aren’t new. Here’s what happened back when people still talked to one another.
President Theodore Roosevelt in 1907 appointed George Curry as governor of New Mexico Territory. He was trying to heal a rift in the state’s Republican Party, and he regarded Curry, a Rough Rider captain, as “one of the very best men I know anywhere.”
The source of rancor at the time was public lands.
Gov. Herbert J. Hagerman had tried to carry out what he thought were Roosevelt’s policies, according to a 1958 article in New Mexico Historical Review, but after he approved an improper sale of public land, Roosevelt asked for his resignation.
Curry, whose ranch abutted Lincoln National Forest, sympathized with users of grazing lands, who believed that federal regulations discriminated against ranchers. Agriculture was a far bigger piece of the territorial economy than it is now, so public opinion favored the ranchers.
Public lands became a hot subject after the U. S. Forest Service added substantial acreage to forest reserves and limited their use. Remember, this was at a time when intense logging was shearing the slopes bare.
Curry sided with locals, criticized federal agents and offered his resignation to Roosevelt. The president refused to accept it. Curry next looked into complaints from Lincoln County that the new policies were forcing settlers off their lands because they couldn’t afford the forest reserve’s new fees.
Curry wrote to Chief Forrester Gifford Pinchot that while he admired Pinchot’s work, Pinchot didn’t understand the West. New Mexicans, he said, opposed enlarging the reserves and favored reducing them. Furthermore, administration of the reserves was unfair to many people. He threatened to go to Roosevelt.
After Curry visited Pinchot in Washington, D. C. in 1908, Pinchot restored 109,000 acres of the Lincoln National Forest to public use. The Albuquerque Journal reported, “There had been a great deal of complaint and suffering among the people of Lincoln County because of the extension of the reserve, and the governor made the reduction desired by the people one of the chief efforts of his stay in Washington.”
Curry assured his constituents that the Forest Service policy “is to deal as fairly as possible with the people… when the facts are properly laid before it.”
Their meeting was the start of a friendship between the two men. Forestry policy – and conservation itself – became more acceptable to both Curry and New Mexicans. Curry came to believe that reasonable administration of natural resources was vital to New Mexico. He got personally involved in settling complaints over use and boundaries and worked with federal officials. He believed Pinchot would meet him halfway.
In 1908 Curry created the Territorial Conservation Commission, and made sheep rancher Solomon Luna one of his appointees, Curry’s way of bringing business interests into the discussion.
At Curry’s invitation, Pinchot addressed the Legislature in 1909, explaining what the agency had done and why. His talk, the Journal wrote, was “likely to bring the men who heard it into much closer sympathy…”
That year Pinchot ordered his districts to examine forest boundaries and make sure they didn’t include unsuitable areas. The work, he said, must be unimpeachable, and each district forester should be able to vouch for the correctness of the boundaries. Agricultural land must be excluded.
In 1910 the New Mexican editorialized that New Mexico had “slowly and unwillingly learned that the forest reserves are good for it and its people.”
The Journal wrote Pinchot “established the forestry system of the United States upon a firm basis and … awaken(ed) this nation to the need of forest protection and reforestation.”
Today, we could use some of their compromising spirit and old fashioned give and take.
© 2017 New Mexico News Services 6-12-17
We can learn from the troubled legacy of Hanna Skandera
By Sherry Robinson
All She Wrote
Two comments from Twitter say a lot about the announced departure of Public Education Secretary Hanna Skandera.
“Thank you Hanna Skandera for your leadership and relentless fight for kids. You will be missed.”
“Every public school teacher I know is ecstatic today.”
Nobody, it seems, is neutral on the subject of Skandera and her education initiatives. The administration and Skandera critics reach for numbers as markers of success or failure, but that doesn’t really tell the story.
Skandera gave it her all. She drove policies she believed would make a difference in New Mexico. Now that she’s leaving, it’s time to look at those policies and the way they were delivered.
High on her list was ending social promotion, which means holding back third graders who can’t read at grade level. (This is also called mandatory retention.) We were arguing about this long before Skandera arrived, but the push intensified under Skandera and her boss, Gov. Susana Martinez.
Years ago, I wrote about retention when it was all the rage and considered the key to better education. It started in the 1980s, picked up momentum with the No Child Left Behind Act of 2001, and took off with a 2012 study documenting that kids advanced to the next grade when they can’t read are four times more likely to not finish high school.
Then along came more studies concluding that holding kids back can actually hurt a student’s long-term achievement. So the pushback began, and we’ve been debating it ever since. Now it’s politicized. Republicans positioned themselves in favor of retention; teachers’ unions (and many teachers) and Democrats are opposed.
Fifteen state legislatures have passed mandatory retention laws, according to the National Conference of State Legislatures. Some states allow promotion to fourth grade if there’s intervention.
Current thinking among educational experts is that schools shouldn’t get hung up on retention or promotion but instead focus on learning before third grade.
In Florida, where Skandera honed her beliefs in retention, the number of retained students has dropped steadily as kids performed better, probably because the best teachers were moved to kindergarten, first and second grades, according to Reading Rockets, a multimedia literacy initiative. Some reformers now call for better instruction in the early grades, earlier intervention, and more training for teachers.
Another Skandera initiative is the teacher evaluation, which she handed down by administrative rule in 2012. The goal was accountability. Fine, but the result was a system so demoralizing that the two unions sued and even Republicans carried bills to change it. After five years of misery, Skandera in April agreed to a compromise proposed by a teachers’ group.
Skandera may be most remembered for testing. The warring parties agree that testing is necessary, but how much testing? Skandera gave us PARCC tests. Looking at the time blocked out on a school calendar, I was shocked at the amount of time they soak up. When parents and educators rebelled against the PARCC tests and states began dropping out of the consortium that produced it, Skandera became chair of its governing board.
We also have to look at how Skandera worked, and it was mostly top down. You won’t see the word “collaborative” used much until very recently. And while she always claimed to support teachers, you won’t find many teachers who feel that way.
Words are important. Skandera aims her flamethrower at “union bosses” as if they’re separate from teachers, but the unions have thousands of members for a reason, and they don’t take a position without a lot of input from teachers.
With Skandera gone, we have an opportunity to open a new chapter of education reform. Let’s start by not making teachers the enemy.
© 2017 New Mexico News Services 6-5-17
PED’s teacher evaluations stumble on transparency
By Sherry Robinson
All She Wrote
Late last year, we saw some light in the education wars with proposals to revamp the state’s teacher evaluation system. Various legislation would have altered the weight of testing in the evaluation or allowed teachers more sick days. At least two aimed for a complete rewrite.
The Public Education Department in 2012 handed down the evaluation system by administrative order, and it’s been controversial ever since. Teachers and their unions have complained that it relies too heavily on standardized test scores and that it’s unfair, punitive and demoralizing.
Teachers explain again and again that not all students are the product of a stable home life and that kids come to school with issues beyond what a teacher can fix during the school day. That’s why they preferred evaluations based on classroom observations.
During the regular legislative session, several of the evaluation bills rocked along with bipartisan support. The “teachers are human too bill,” with two Republican sponsors, would have let teachers use all ten of their allowed sick days without penalty. After passing both houses nearly unanimously, it was felled by a veto; the Senate voted to override but not the House.
In her veto message, the governor said teacher attendance had improved, and the bill would cost districts more for substitutes. Teachers said it felt like a slap in the face.
After the session ended and lawmakers were back home, the governor announced changes in the teacher evaluation system suggested by TeachPlus, a nonprofit group of 15 teachers from around the state who had polled their peers. Teachers would now be allowed six sick days instead of three before they’re penalized in their evaluations, standardized test scores would be 35 percent of the evaluation, down from 50 percent, and classroom observation would also be 35 percent.
“Our teachers have spoken, and we’ve listened,” the governor said in April. “These changes are for teachers and by teachers, and I know they’ll help build on the success we’re seeing in the classroom.”
“The Department was glad to work with and listen to teachers across the state,” said PED Secretary Hanna Skandera.
But then PED held a hearing on the changes on May 26, the last mandatory work day in many districts. The attendance: seven people. A union president said the hearing was “just a show, so they can say they had a public hearing on it.”
PED’s spokesperson responded characteristically by attacking the union official personally instead of explaining how the department selected the hearing date.
Tom Sullivan, superintendent of the Moriarty-Edgewood School District, sent PED a scathing email about “this totally flawed process,” which he called disingenuous at best “if not outright unethical.” He said the April announcement presented the changes as a done deal. “This was a predetermined outcome and I think it is disrespectful,” he wrote.
The TeachPlus group came up with a pretty good compromise. It balances the demand for no test scores in the evaluation with PED’s reliance on test scores. It bumped up sick days but acknowledged that kids do better with their own teachers and not subs. It gives PED the accountability it wanted and gives teachers more fairness.
Most importantly, the changes came from teachers.
Had PED held a credible, well attended public hearing, we could all feel confident that at least one troublesome piece of education reform was resolved, or at least less punitive. Instead PED shot itself in the foot. Maybe PED chose the date carelessly. Maybe it didn’t have confidence in the results. Either way, it’s one more example of the administration’s difficult relationship with transparency.
© 2017 New Mexico News Services 5-29-17
Do you want tax reform? Muzzle the governor and make it bipartisan
By Sherry Robinson
All She Wrote
Republicans are discouraged that instead of getting a gross receipts tax overhaul, we’re getting a $400,000 study. But realistically, their 430-page baby was way too much for a two-day special legislative session. The good news is that tax reform is on everybody’s radar, and I see the political will to get it done. What I don’t see, yet, is the necessary bipartisan cooperation.
Sitting through the long hearing for the bill, I heard strengths as well as unfinished business.
Rep. Jason Harper, R-Rio Rancho, deserves our thanks for taking on this monster. Harper told the House Labor and Economic Development Committee that he tried hard to be nonpartisan. “It's not a far right solution or a far left solution,” he said. “We met in the middle of the road.”
The bill would have removed most GRT exemptions, deductions and credits and applied the savings to reduce the rate from 7 percent to 6 percent. It also remedied a host of other problems with the tax, including its name, which is scary to outside companies thinking about moving here.
“Names really mean something,” Harper said.
The bill would also have taxed internet sales, healthcare providers and nonprofits and increased the motor vehicle sales tax and the healthcare premium tax.
“You'll love 80 percent of the bill and hate 20 percent, and depending on where you sit on the political spectrum, the part you love will be different,” Harper said.
Public comment indicated that the bill would cause big problems for healthcare providers, especially hospitals. Healthcare representatives argued that the state gives healthcare providers tax breaks for a reason: We still have shortages, it’s not easy getting providers in rural areas, and rural hospitals already operate on a wing and a prayer.
Others complained about a lack of data on the reform’s impacts. Harper disagreed, saying he worked closely with state number crunchers. A couple of lawmakers thought it could hurt the poor. Harper is certain it wouldn’t. “There was a time when I was on government programs with a very young family,” he said. “I believe in the safety net.”
Committee chairman Bill McCamley, D-Las Cruces, said he liked the overall concept but faulted various numbers and said the reform could leave the state deeper in the hole.
Hence, the study. As Sen. Bill Sharer, R-Farmington, said, the study is needed “because we don’t know what we don’t know.” And as Senate Finance Committee Chairman John Arthur Smith, D-Deming, noted, in the state’s current condition there is no margin for error.
Harper put his finger on the real problem: “I'm grateful for the governor's support, but it's a two-edged sword. I worry it will turn into a partisan debate.”
It’s already a partisan debate, which was clear in the party-line vote to table. Harper himself, as chairman of the House Ways and Means Committee during the short-lived Republican reign in the House, created friction, leaving Dems wary. And after this year’s veto tantrums, Dems aren’t moved to help the governor with her legacy.
Since then, partisan rhetoric went overboard. House Democrats in a news release called the bill a “tax plan favoring the well connected” and said it “balances the budget on the backs of the poor.”
Harper said in a statement, “I am disappointed that the Democrats have chosen to continue their dithering while New Mexico’s private sector collapses.”
Wrong and wrong.
If gross receipts tax reform is to succeed, it has to become a bipartisan effort and not just Harper’s crusade. Harper may need to hand the baton to someone else, and the Democrats should tap a business-friendly moderate. Then both sides have to plunge in, not to score political points, but for the good of the state.
© 2017 New Mexico News Services 5-22-17
Rep. Steve Pearce two-steps to a different beat on healthcare, Trump
By Sherry Robinson
All She Wrote
Political pundits are talking lately about a possible run for governor by Congressman Steve Pearce. If that’s true, he has a strange way of endearing himself to New Mexico voters.
Pearce was one of the Republicans to sign the American Healthcare Act. And while other Rs look for cover as the president’s controversies deepen, Pearce goes out on a limb to defend him.
The current version of the House healthcare bill isn’t likely to survive the Senate makeover, but it’s instructive to look at what Pearce thinks is appropriate for us.
The AHCA would repeal Obamacare, phase out increased federal funding for low-income people who got coverage through the 2014 Medicaid expansion. It would instead make Medicaid a cheaper block grant program. Millions of people would lose their coverage in the next ten years.
In New Mexico that translates to more than 265,000 people of the 900,000 currently on Medicaid, according to an analysis by economist Kelly O’Donnell, of UNM’s Robert Wood Johnson Center for Health Policy. It would also affect the children, seniors and disabled people who traditionally qualified. New Mexico would have to come up with an additional $427 million a year or reduce coverage.
Because healthcare has been a growth sector in the state’s economy, the economic impacts would be huge. New Mexico could lose $11.4 billion in federal revenue, 31,800 jobs, and $759 million in state revenues by 2026, according to the analysis.
O’Donnell concludes the measure would “drastically increase both the number of uninsured New Mexicans and the burden of uncompensated care borne by the state’s healthcare providers.”
We’d be back where we started before Obamacare, in other words.
The GOP bill also includes an $883 billion tax cut, with $274 billion going to the richest 2 percent, and it allows states to decide if insurers can deny coverage for pre-existing conditions. These two pieces of the bill have been fodder for internet and town hall rants.
Pearce faced hundreds of angry constituents in a March town hall in Las Cruces. Many worried about the repeal of Obamacare. Pearce, according to KRWG, suggested that some people would have to wait until age 65 when they could get Medicare coverage. The crowd chanted, “Shame! Shame! Shame! Shame!”
Pearce insists this is a better bill than the earlier version that he didn’t support and will deliver lower rates. He told the Albuquerque Journal that essential health benefits, such as vaccines and maternity care, were mandated under Obamacare, but under AHCA states would decide essential health benefits.
Pearce, the former businessman, doesn’t get that healthcare costs are a bigger hit on businesses than taxes, which is why Warren Buffett says “medical costs are the tapeworm of American economic competitiveness.” Chuck Collins, of the Institute for Policy Studies, notes that U. S. firms compete against countries whose healthcare systems reduce those costs for companies. Healthcare costs here consume 17 percent of the economy but far less in Germany, Japan, Britain and China.
The congressman has also protested the storm of controversy related to the president and Russia as a “total assault” by Democrats and the media, forgetting that prominent members of his own party also have problems with apparent Russian meddling in our election and suspected influence in the White House.
Pearce complained that “we’re going to keep finding stuff until we find something that will get to the level we want it to.”
Investigators investigate. They may or may not find anything. Investigations in the Clinton era turned up a blue dress but not the corruption they were searching for. This time we’re talking about national security. Shouldn’t we know, one way or another, if there’s fire behind that smoke?
Rep. Pearce needs to visit his district more often – all of it.
© 2017 New Mexico News Services 5-15-17
Communities rally deep support for their national monuments
By Sherry Robinson
All She Wrote
If Interior Secretary Ryan Zinke does more than a cursory study of New Mexico’s two recently created national monuments, he’ll be surprised at their broad and passionate support. They were not just a gleam in some bureaucrat’s eye.
The Río Grande del Norte National Monument, designated in 2013, was a natural for Taos County, where tourism IS the economy. Their tourist literature and websites feature the 240,000-acre monument like a bright star in a constellation of attractions. A year after the designation, Taos logged a 40 percent increase in visitors and a 21 percent increase in lodgers’ tax revenue.
That doesn’t mean it was an easy sell.
A story in the High Country News describes a typical environmental campaign started by outside groups, which could easily have failed in northern New Mexico. Then-Congressman Bill Richardson introduced a bill in the 1990s to create a national conservation area, but “many rural Hispanics felt that mainstream environmental groups had done little for their communities except restrict their access to critical resources on public land.”
In 2007, when then-Sen. Jeff Bingaman took up the cause, resistance hardened over concerns about restrictions on grazing and gathering of firewood and piñon. Conservationists took a deep breath and began listening to locals. The New Mexico Wilderness Alliance helped Bingaman’s office add to legislation the recognition of land-grant rights and protection of historic uses. And the alliance wisely hired John Olivas, a local hunting and fishing guide, as its community organizer.
In the end, years of public discussion produced a solid coalition of business people, chambers of commerce, sportsmen, ranchers, elected officials, Hispanic organizations, and Taos Pueblo.
With the recent executive order directing Zinke to review and possibly rescind President Obama’s monument designations, supporters are coming forward.
Mark Gallegos, Taos County Commissioner and Questa Mayor, “There was, and continues to be, strong support for our Río Grande del Norte National Monument. Our community depends on our national monument, and people choose to visit and live here because of it.”
Down south in Las Cruces, the Organ Mountains-Desert Peaks National Monument enjoys the same kind of sweeping support, although you’d never know that to listen to U. S. Rep. Steve Pearce.
In Doña Ana County conservationists began organizing to protect public lands in the early 1970s. Sen. Pete Domenici introduced the first legislation in 2005; bills followed and failed until the 2014 designation. In the following year, tourism doubled, and Las Cruces was listed in Lonely Planet’s “Top 10 Places to Visit.”
A whopping 83 percent of locals support the monument.
Las Cruces Mayor Ken Miyagashima says the 496,000-acre monument helped put his city on the map. “It would be tremendously shortsighted to undermine our national monument,” he said.
In an op ed, executives of the local convention and visitors bureau, the green chamber of commerce and a tourism business wrote, “After our community’s hard work and successes, we found recent calls from Utah Congressman Rob Bishop to take away our national monuments to be shocking, upsetting and completely against our community’s interest.”
Pearce, who predicted in 2014 that the monument would depress the local economy, still thinks 60,000 acres is plenty. But supporters wanted protection not just for the scenic Organ Mountains but for cultural and historical resources in the Sierra de Las Uvas and the Doña, Robledo and Potrillo mountains and drew the boundaries accordingly.
Gabe Vasquez, former director of the Las Cruces Hispanic Chamber of Commerce and currently Southern New Mexico coordinator for the Wildlife Federation, wrote that Pearce needs reminding “that he also represents the rest of Southern New Mexico.”
Nick Streit, proprietor of the Taos Fly Shop, speaks for many when he says: “Thanks to the national monument, we have seen our tourism and outdoor recreation sectors flourish… Why would you want to destroy that?”
© 2017 New Mexico News Services 5-8-17
Funding and experience improve the outlook for fire season
By Sherry Robinson
All She Wrote
Driving across the high plains recently, we spotted a fire stretched out across a field and thought somebody was burning weeds until we saw the fire truck speeding down the road from Fort Sumner.
It’s that time of year when we scan the horizon, a little anxiously. Recent rains have spared us the usual bad news. As I write this, there was a small fire in the Gila National Forest and a larger fire across the line in Arizona.
So we have the luxury of thinking about readiness, which means spending.
In the much anticipated appropriations bill, Sens. Tom Udall and Martin Heinrich helped snag $4.2 billion for wildland fire management by the U. S. Forest Service and U. S. Interior Department. This includes $2.05 billion the agencies can use to respond to forest fires; with carryover balances, they should have enough money for expected firefighting.
Udall got $407 million in emergency funding so the agencies don’t have to borrow from non-fire accounts. This is significant. What’s happened in the last few years is that Congress cut the Forest Service and Interior to the nub at the same time severe wildfires increased. Then the agencies had to tap funding they would have used for restoration and forest health, so preventive work didn’t get done. And that in turn leads to charges of mismanagement by the agencies.
“We need to end this cycle of 'fire borrowing' for the sake of our communities' safety and our forests' health and the protection of the watersheds that sustain our communities,” Udall said.
This is a short-term fix. Udall continues to call for a permanent solution – namely, treating the worst of the West’s wildfires like other natural disasters, paid for by federal emergency funding.
State funding for fire departments, often the first responders to wildfires, looks problematic at first pass, but it will be there.
The online New Mexico Political Report last week said fire departments around the state are seeing the end of the fiscal year around the corner (June 30) and wondering when they’ll get funding. Early in the session, the Legislature approved a solvency bill that reverts money from several funds, including two fire funds, to the general fund, and the governor signed it.
This was some accounting sleight of hand. The Insurance Operations Fund, Fire Protection Fund, Fire Protection Grant Fund, and Law Enforcement Protection Fund normally collect revenues a year ahead to meet expenses. Budget cutters shifted accounting methods to allow the state to take those revenues to pump up the general fund.
Fire departments will get their funding throughout the year as revenue is collected instead of at the end of the fiscal year. The change and reversion are one-time events.
Fire chiefs argued last winter that the annual payments gave them predictability and stability. Local governments wondered aloud whether they’d be able to meet expenses. Rep. Dennis Roch, R-Logan, argued that this was more than an accounting change and could jeopardize emergency services, especially in smaller rural communities.
Rep. Patty Lundstrom, D-Gallup and chair of the House Appropriations and Finance Committee, said the one-time change wouldn’t jeopardize funding for fire and police departments and amended the bill to ensure adequate funding. After the accounting transition, things will return to normal, she said.
The Public Regulation Commission, which oversees the state fire marshal, said it’s working on a distribution schedule.
At this writing, the Forest Service is conducting a prescribed burn in the Lincoln National Forest, and fire chiefs in Colfax County have banned fires. Fire professionals are bracing themselves.
We can hope that after some disastrous big burns, we’ve learned and are better prepared. Like the ad says, “We’ve learned a thing or two because we’ve seen a thing or two.”
© 2017 New Mexico News Services 5-1-17
We need state tax reform but let’s be clear that it won’t be easy
By Sherry Robinson
All She Wrote
Many of us cheered Rep. Jason Harper’s tax reform bill in the recent legislative session. The Rio Rancho Republican, an engineer, had taken on the state’s knotty gross receipts tax, a burden to business, consumers and economic development.
Harper proposed to dump most gross receipts tax breaks and levy one fair tax on everyone. It was significant that two Democratic heavyweights, the chair and vice chair of the Senate Finance Committee, signed on as sponsors.
But complicated bills face an uphill struggle in Santa Fe, and this one was no exception. Majority Dems incorporated pieces of the Harper bill and proposed a multi-year phase-in.
Now the governor has seized on tax reform as a way to balance the budget – and salvage her legacy.
The governor has been on the road bashing Dems for passing tax increases. She took another swing at them during the nonpartisan New Mexico Tax Research Institute’s annual conference when she called legislators childish. This from an executive who vetoed the entire higher education budget.
One of the first lessons you learn in mediation and negotiation is to treat all the parties with respect and get them to understand that each side in a dispute has a valid point of view that reflects their experience and values. Once they listen to each other, once they HEAR each other, compromise is possible. There is even an entire neutral language used in mediations to avoid giving offense.
These days, most lawyers are familiar with the basics of mediation and negotiation, so what happened with our DA-turned-governor? Her approach for six years has been to insult and bludgeon the opposition and then expect them to go along with her. How’s that working?
Democrats aren’t necessarily opposed, but they’re concerned that Harper’s tax reform proposal is too complex for a special session, which typically lasts a day or so. To avoid wasting time and taxpayer money, the administration and the Legislature would have to reach an agreement quickly; higher ed and legislative funding are set to expire on June 30.
Harper’s co-sponsors, Sens. John Arthur Smith of Deming and Carlos Cisneros of Questa, worry about unintended consequences. They want a phased-in reform. However, a business view articulated by the Greater Albuquerque Chamber of Commerce countered: “The reality is this kind of reform can only be done as a comprehensive package. If it’s cut into smaller pieces, it falls apart.”
Budget negotiations must either raise new revenues (tax increases) or cut the already tattered budget. Harper himself has said that the goal of his bill was not necessarily to raise revenues (although he’s not opposed) but to make the tax more fair.
Nobody knows how much the reform will raise and how much it will cost, as a memo from Legislative Finance Committee economists made clear a couple of weeks ago.
Then there is the reform itself. This governor has stuck like flypaper to her no-new-taxes pledge. Does she understand that removing a hundred or more loopholes will raise taxes for a host of nonprofits and companies? In one hearing Harper sat through four hours of objections to his bill.
Some companies were lured here with the promise of gross receipts tax breaks. And a new expense could be devastating to rural hospitals, many of which are struggling now.
That said, we do need tax reform, but let’s not kid ourselves that it will be easy.
I was originally going to argue on the side of caution and time, as the sensible Sen. Smith has done, and then two more sets of dreadful statistics and rankings came out.
We have reached the point that it’s time to do something, even if it’s wrong.
© 2017 New Mexico News Services 4-24-17
New Mexico’s dependence on government began in 1846
By Sherry Robinson
All She Wrote
Return with me now to a time when New Mexico depended on the federal government and didn’t want to pay taxes.
In 1850 Congress created the new Territory of New Mexico, which then included a big chunk of what would become Arizona. The president appointed James Silas Calhoun as governor, and he began organizing a civil government. The following year, the War Department sent Col. Edwin Sumner to take command of troops in New Mexico.
Sumner’s orders were to reform what Washington saw as a demoralized military presence and “reduce the enormous expenditures of the Army in New Mexico.”
Within days, Sumner began closing posts in the towns and relocating them closer to hostile tribes and away from the debilitating influence of the saloons and gambling halls. The Secretary of War had also suggested reducing the number of civilians employed by the army and reducing rations.
Sumner embraced his task.
“My first step was to break up the post at Santa Fe, that sink of vice and of extravagance, and to remove the troops and public property” to a new headquarters at Fort Union, 21 miles northeast of Las Vegas on the Mora River.
He also broke up posts at Las Vegas, Rayado, Albuquerque, Abiquiu, Taos and Socorro. He fired 134 civilian employees in Santa Fe and kept only a few needed to move supply trains, plus a few quartermaster clerks.
The impact was instantly devastating to local economies. Sales plunged by half. Large numbers of teamsters and mechanics were now out of work. Some formed themselves into a band of robbers, and citizens feared more crime, “as men will not starve,” one resident wrote.
Anxious citizens wrote letters and sent petitions to Gov. Calhoun or Col. Sumner to protest and also predicted that removing soldiers invited Indian attack and endangered lives. Sumner dismissed the complaints, saying locals had been living on “the extravagant expenditures of the Government.” Most troops had become “in a high degree demoralized” by the “vicious associations in those towns.”
At the new forts he created, Sumner ordered soldiers to do the building instead of hiring skilled workers, as the army had done previously. Most soldiers weren’t carpenters or masons. That and the haste Sumner urged resulted in shoddy structures built without foundations using green lumber. They soon needed repairs.
Sumner was also economizing on corn, which he thought was too expensive to feed to horses. When half-starved horses were too weak to do the work required of them, Sumner argued for fewer horses and more infantry. Anybody on the frontier knew that foot soldiers were useless in “checking Indians who are well mounted and whose animals are in the best order,” as Gov. Calhoun complained to Washington.
And the bad influences of drink, cards, and loose women simply followed the soldiers to new locations on the frontier.
Calhoun and the fledgling Legislature labored to create a new government, and while their first efforts were admirable, legislators were reluctant to tax. New Mexico had been governed by the military for five years. It was good for contracts and good for business, and nobody had to pay taxes. Lawmakers passed only a tax on merchants, which merchants refused to pay. So the territorial treasury was empty. With no money to feed the territory’s prisoners, Calhoun released them and pleaded with Washington to pay its appointees.
As I write this, New Mexico again leads the nation in unemployment, the governor plans to furlough employees, and our leaders wrestle with the budget. We often wonder how we came to be so dependent on the federal government, and this is part of the story. We should also learn from the penny-wise-pound-foolish decisions of Edwin Sumner.
© 2017 New Mexico News Services 4-17-17
Talking about accountability is easier than being accountable
By Sherry Robinson
All She Wrote
My assignment was to photograph the governor signing a bill important to Gallup with two legislators and the mayor at her side. On the way in to her conference room, a young aide appeared and told me I could take the photo but I couldn’t ask the governor any questions.
I tried to imagine her predecessors making that demand. Bill Richardson, Gary Johnson, Garrey Carruthers, Bruce King, Toney Anaya, Jerry Apodaca? Not a chance. As I recall, each one accepted that reporters come with the office, like ants at a picnic. They understood that the news isn’t always good, but they never passed up a chance to explain their positions.
At the bill signing, it was clear that this governor enjoys the ceremonial part of the job and the occasions when she can deliver good news. She meets and greets with enthusiasm and does a lot of hugging. The rest of the job has apparently grown tiresome.
At the time of the photo, the governor was a couple of weeks away from trial on the Santa Fe Reporter’s lawsuit against her for refusing to respond to questions and violating the public records act following its critical 2012 story about the administration using private emails to conduct state business.
During the three-day trial, Paul Kennedy, the governor’s contract lawyer, repeatedly referred to journalism as a “racket” as he attacked the newspaper’s credibility. And the governor’s spokesmen made it clear that the big media get first priority – something that many of us in the small media suspected – and saw their jobs not as providing information to the public but as representing the governor’s views.
Gov. Susana Martinez has also tangled with the Associated Press and the New Mexican over public records. In general, we can no longer get an official on the phone; instead we might get a call back from a spokesperson, if we're lucky.
And yet, on her website the governor devotes a page to transparency, saying: “We must operate state government in an open and transparent manner. That is why I have opened up the books of state government by making it easier to access public information. My administration will not use executive privilege to unjustifiably block public access to the activities of state government, as has been done in the past.”
In the recent legislative session, the governor vetoed a bipartisan bill to require more public disclosure about dark money, the big dollars flowing to political campaigns through PACs.
Legislators have their own hang-ups with transparency, which is why so many ethics bills have died. This year's much-lauded, bipartisan bill to create an ethics commission had transparency language stripped out. And a Republican bill to make public the spending from the governor’s contingency fund passed the Senate but died in the House.
On the other hand, the Senate took a huge step forward in deciding to record and archive committee meetings and floor sessions. What this means is that you can now watch a video on the legislative website and see exactly what happened to a certain bill and who said what.
This builds on a decision a few years ago to webcast hearings; the House went first, and the Senate followed. The governor sent her own people to videotape hearings and floor sessions and maintain an archive. At first legislators resented it; then they got used to it. This year the governor stopped the practice.
Other states have had archived video for years. It took a change of Senate leadership to make this happen. Unlike his predecessor, Majority Leader Peter Wirth is a transparency advocate.
Transparency shouldn’t be an arcane issue of interest only to journalists and good-government groups. What you don’t know can hurt you.
© 2017 New Mexico News Services 4-10-17
Governor’s storm of vetoes defies logic
By Sherry Robinson
All She Wrote
On the floor of the Senate one day, Sen. Bill Payne, an Albuquerque Republican, said that when he goes home, he hears people say, “You guys did this, and you guys did that.” The fact is, he said, every bill that comes forward during a legislative session is one requested by somebody – a constituent, an interest group, or another branch of government.
Sometimes there’s a broad push from several sectors. Often the studies by interim committees, meeting between sessions, produce legislation.
Regardless of the source, each bill and its sponsor run a gauntlet of committees whose members ask hard questions and often put the bill out of our misery. Floor debates can be brutal.
The process is designed to give everybody a voice and see that each proposal is thoroughly studied. Out of more than 1,000 bills introduced, just 277 reached the governor’s desk. Each one carries with it hundreds of hours of work and hard compromise by supporters, opponents and sponsors.
That’s why a veto is such a big deal. It’s why some vetoes provoke howls of rage and why this year’s tide of vetoes – more than half all bills passed – is unheard of.
Look at each bill and who wanted it, and you see that some vetoes are predictable – they were Democratic measures opposed by Republicans. That’s politics.
But look at other bills, and you’ll see that Gov. Susana Martinez thumbed her nose at her own party and at sectors like business and education that she claims to support. There is an angry, adolescent tinge to her storm of vetoes that stuns veteran Roundhouse watchers.
Here are just three of many examples.
Taxing Airbnb was a matter of fairness. Individuals with spare rooms or casitas who sign up with Airbnb now have nearly 9,300 accommodations in New Mexico – the equivalent of 50 La Fondas, according to the lodging industry. Hotels have big fixed costs and pay taxes; why should individual providers get a pass?
The bill had support from the hospitality and lodging industries, local governments and tourism groups. But the governor reasoned, if I can use that word, that Airbnb brings more people to the state and offers consumers a choice.
Similarly, in vetoing the revenue bill, she shot down a bipartisan proposal to eliminate the exemption for online sellers, mostly Amazon, even though 41 states have already taken this path. Like hotels, our brick-and-mortar stores have fixed costs that their online competitors don’t, and it’s a matter of fairness.
Both of these measures would have generated much needed revenue.
One of the most mystifying vetoes killed a bill to let schools count computer science as either a math or science credit toward high school graduation. The president of the New Mexico Technology Council said it was critical to open a pipeline of computer students to support the state’s tech companies. Currently we have more than 1,500 unfilled computing jobs.
The bill had broad bipartisan support that included the state Public Education Department, teachers’ unions and business. The governor offered no explanation whatever for this veto.
These and others among her 125 vetoes pale against her line-item vetoes in the budget bill that would eliminate higher education in the state as well as the state Legislature. While the veto of the revenue package and its tax increases was no surprise, the budget action was so over the top, it defies explanation.
It was also unnecessary. Lawmakers know they’ll have to produce a revised budget in a special session. What good does it do to deliberately provoke people heading into negotiations?
During Martinez’s first legislative session, I watched her go out of her way to pick fights with the Legislature and wrote that it’s hard to shake hands when you’ve always got your dukes up. Six years later, nothing has changed.
© 2017 New Mexico News Services 4-3-17
Judge Gorsuch rates applause for decisions in Indian Country
By Sherry Robinson
All She Wrote
Indian Country, surprisingly, supports the nomination of Neil Gorsuch to the U. S. Supreme Court.
The Native American Rights Fund and the National Congress of American Indians recently endorsed the nominee. NARF, in case you haven’t heard of it, has been at the forefront of Indian law for nearly a half century.
"Judge Gorsuch has significantly more experience with Indian law cases than any other recent Supreme Court nominee," NARF informed tribal leaders recently.
That high praise and a number of tribal endorsements (including the Navajo Nation), have transformed Gorsuch into something of a hero among Native American rights advocates, but it may be premature.
During his years on the 10th Circuit Court of Appeals Gorsuch has participated in 39 Indian cases, of which 28 involved significant questions of Indian law. Out of those 28 cases, tribal interests won 16, or 57 percent, NARF said.
The late Justice Antonin Scalia routinely opposed tribal interests, and the rest of the Supremes haven’t been receptive to tribal arguments, so Gorsuch compares favorably.
Most important to tribes is the concept of tribal sovereignty.
Tribal sovereignty is one of those concepts that freshman legislators and lawyers new to the Southwest trip over once. After being hit upside the head, they learn that federal courts view tribes as sovereigns with certain rights that include government-to-government relations.
Gorsuch, a Coloradoan, is clear on tribal sovereignty and, in fact, ruled with tribes on five of six such cases, NARF said. That’s extraordinary, said Thomas W. Fredericks, an attorney for the Mandan, Hidatsa and Arikara Nation. He wrote to the Senate Judiciary Committee that Gorsuch has experience in "living in and working in a circuit which has Indian Country and strong tribal governments." New Mexico is in the 10th District.
Tribes were cheered by Gorsuch’s opinion in 2015 that favored the Utes in a decades-long legal battle with the town of Myton, Utah. Gorsuch and his fellow jurists bashed the state of Utah and three counties for refusing to accept previous rulings and instead trying to relitigate them.
Gorsuch wrote that state court prosecutions of tribal members for offenses committed on tribal lands "strongly suggest" county officials were trying to undo tribal boundaries settled in the 1990s by the high court, the Deseret News reported. "Indeed, the harm to tribal sovereignty in this case is perhaps as serious as any to come our way in a long time," Gorsuch wrote.
The court threatened sanctions if Uintah County didn’t get the message and even reassigned the case to a different district court judge after expressing its dissatisfaction with one judge’s actions since 1978.
In a 2014 case, Gorsuch ruled that Wyoming prison officials couldn’t deny Andrew Yellowbear, a Northern Arapahoe, access to a sweat lodge. Tribes have taken this ruling as support of Indian rights.
Experts note that Gorsuch hasn’t had to rule on issues of tribal civil jurisdiction over non-Indians or the types of novel issues that end up before the Supreme Court. So the jury is out, you might say.
Sens. Tom Udall and Martin Heinrich are planning to vote against his confirmation. When I emailed Udall, ranking Democrat on the Senate Indian Affairs Committee, to learn if it makes any difference that Indian Country is supporting the nomination, he responded: "Absolutely it matters, and I hope that Judge Gorsuch will continue to be a judge who understands and respects the U.S. government's trust responsibilities with regard to Indian Country. But that doesn't outweigh the fact that Judge Gorsuch failed to convince me that he could be the kind of independent jurist we need at this time” when the president’s actions, campaign and businesses may be matters before the Supreme Court. “It's more important now than ever before that we have neutral clear-minded justices sitting on the bench."
© 2017 New Mexico News Services 3-27-17
When legislators tackle big reforms, movement translates as progress
By Sherry Robinson
All She Wrote
Lawmakers this year took on some major reforms of old issues hovering over the state like turkey vultures waiting for road kill.
Interest groups ranging from Common Cause to the Greater Albuquerque Chamber of Commerce proclaimed progress. Maybe not as much as we hoped, but progress.
The big reform bills were ethics, campaign finance, capital outlay, payday lending and taxes. Many were bipartisan.
Years in the making, the ethics bill began bravely by standing up an independent ethics commission with subpoena power, protected by the Constitution. When it emerged after pummeling in various hearings, it was missing language that required complaints and hearings to be public, and the Legislature, not the law, will determine the commission’s powers and rules.
Changes reflect legislators’ residual fear that the commission could become a political weapon.
So voters in November 2018 will decide on a constitutional amendment creating an independent ethics commission.
Common Cause and business groups cheered. New Mexico Ethics Watch booed, saying lawmakers gutted a strong bill.
Kudos to Rep. Jim Dines, R-Albuquerque, who patiently listened to input and welcomed suggestions. The hearings themselves were a marvel. Instead of trying to kill the bill, lawmakers worked with Dines to fine tune the bill.
Campaign finance bills are on the governor’s desk. One would address the avalanche of spending by independent groups after the 2010 Citizens United court decision. It’s aimed at “dark money” coming from nonprofits spending serious money on negative ads. Large independent donors would have to report the source of their money, but contribution limits would double to $5,000. A second bill would improve accountability from candidates using the state’s public financing system.
Kudos to Sen. Peter Wirth, D-Santa Fe, a longtime champion of campaign finance reform, and to Rep. Jim Smith, R-Albuquerque.
Speaking of turkey vultures, storefront lenders had their wings clipped. This reform eliminates some of the worst abuses by capping interest at 175 percent and ending payday loans, among other things. Consumer advocates like Prosperity Works wanted a 36 percent cap, but sponsors wanted to make sure lenders could keep their doors open to meet the needs of folks who aren’t bankable.
Kudos to Reps. Patty Lundstrom and Debbie Rodella, Democrats from Gallup and Española.
Capital outlay reform got thoroughly watered down and then died on adjournment. This was the year, we thought, that New Mexico’s goofy process of funding public projects would be overhauled. One bill bravely called for a legislative committee to rank and prioritize projects. That wasn’t acceptable, so the sponsor changed his bill to say an interim committee would study the system for three years and make recommendations.
New Mexico is the only state in which individual lawmakers decide projects. It’s been called one of the worst systems in the nation. The rub, still, is rural legislators’ fear that a committee won’t understand the needs of their districts.
Kudos to Sen. Joseph Cervantes, D-Las Cruces, for trying.
Finally, Rep. Jason Harper, R-Rio Rancho, riding his tax reform charger, made quite a valiant advance on the fortified position of the status quo before being unhorsed. Harper’s bill would have dismantled most gross receipts tax breaks to simplify the system and deliver a lower overall rate. The Senate watered the bill down so much that business groups backing the bill now want the governor to veto it.
We haven’t seen the last of this one; it may be part of budget discussions between the governor and the Legislature before a special session. Realistically, this complicated 347-page measure will require study between sessions. As one Senate Finance Committee member told me, “We don’t know what’s in it.”
So there you have it. In the legislative polka, we took a few steps forward, a few steps back, a few steps to the side. It’s movement.
© 2017 New Mexico News Services 3-20-17
State evaluation policy punishes teachers for taking more than three days of sick leave
By Sherry Robinson
All She Wrote
House Bill 241 was a bill with heart.
It would have allowed teachers to use up to 10 sick days, compared with three currently, before they were penalized in performance evaluations. Its sponsors initially were two Republicans; two Democrats and a third Republican later signed on. It had solid support in both chambers.
Supporters made the point that three sick days were simply not enough. What is a teacher to do if her kids get sick? Or if she is sick more than the allotted three days?
Three years ago, I became a volunteer elementary school tutor. That doesn’t make me an education expert, but I am an expert on being sick. Last year I was down with a series of bugs due to my limited exposure to the germy little darlings.
Last week, when I told one of my tutor kids she sounded like she had a cold, she said, “I’m sick.” Her parents and siblings all worked and couldn’t stay home with her. Now multiply that by 25 or 30 in a classroom.
“Teachers Are Humans Too” is the name of the bill introduced by Republican Reps. Jason Harper, of Rio Rancho, and Dennis Roch, a school superintendent in Logan.
Attendance accounts for 10 points out of 200 in a teacher’s evaluation. They can take three sick days of their contracted ten, but if they take four or more, they lose points.
The Public Education Department has said this “incentive” saved $3.6 million on substitutes last year and increased teacher time in the classroom. Harper noticed his kids’ teachers working sick because they worried about their evaluations.
Gov. Susana Martinez vetoed the bill, which had passed the Senate unanimously and the House 64 to 3.
“I believe in the importance of having our full-time teachers, not short-term or long-term substitutes, in our classrooms with the students who depend on their expertise,” Martinez wrote in an executive message.
She added that the bill would increase the costs for substitutes and noted that since 2012 the number of teachers missing ten or more days declined from 47 percent to 12 percent in 2016.
In the same message, Martinez chided legislators for blocking a bill that would allow qualified professionals to earn teaching licenses, a hint that she was feeling peckish that day.
The governor returned from a Utah ski trip, bashed lawmakers for not getting enough done, and then vetoed the sick leave bill.
It was unusual, to say the least, when a Republican co-sponsor of the bill successfully led a veto override in the Senate. Sen. Craig Brandt, of Rio Rancho, wasn’t happy about overriding the Republican governor’s veto, but he felt strongly about it. Brandt told me his email and Facebook page had exploded after the veto. With no discussion on the floor, Brandt got more than the two-thirds majority that he needed.
Not so in the House. Despite a spirited debate about how teachers felt the policy was punitive, about how the veto was a slap in the face, about how this wasn’t politics but human need, the override failed. Harper and Roch voted against their own bill.
Rep. Bobby Gonzales, D-Taos, made a good point. Gonzales, a former superintendent, said that before the Martinez administration established the evaluation system by rule, sick leave was set in contracts between districts and teachers. Some districts have sick leave banks in which teachers can donate time for others who may need it. Gonzales is still troubled by the memory of a teacher who died on the job and asks himself if it could have been prevented.
Much about education these days is controversial and hard to grasp. This isn’t hard to understand. As Gonzales said, “When you’re sick, you’re sick.”
© 2017 New Mexico News Services 3-13-17
Budget cuts: How low can we go?
By Sherry Robinson
All She Wrote
What were you doing Saturday night at 9 o’clock? Whatever the answer, it was probably more fun than floor hearings and committee meetings. That’s where your legislators were.
At this writing, we’re heading into the final days of the 60-day session. After weeks of long days, legislators are tired and a bit irritable. Their speech is slower, their voices hoarse. Committee chairs have trouble hanging on to a quorum as members dash in and out to appear before other committees and keep their bills moving. Doing the dance, they call it.
So when political blogger Joe Monahan on the left and Gov. Susana Martinez on the right blasted the Legislature for wasting time on bills to designate the state hamburger and state dance, they’re off the mark.
More than a thousand bills are being heard. They want to fuss over two?
Let them have their gag bills. It’s comic relief.
In a year of financial misery, legislators pounded out budget and revenue bills intended to stave off disaster. Remarkably, they’ve driven legislation addressing such big issues and long-standing problems as ethics, payday lending, tax reform, rural dental care, and minimum wages.
When the Senate voted Saturday on a flat budget and assorted tax measures, it was with resignation, as if taking medicine. House Minority Leader Stuart Ingle, R-Portales, said that in his 33 years in the Senate, he could recall financial trouble five or six times.
“The decisions always involve revenue,” he said. “That’s what keeps the state running. We’ve made some hard decisions here.”
The two finance committees had slogged through weeks of hearings in which every line in the budget bill was contested.
Rep. Patty Lundstrom, a Gallup Democrat, took the wheel of the powerful House Appropriations and Finance Committee this year with a looming deficit that would be illegal and cash reserves at record lows.
“What can be cut? It isn't easy,” she told me. “The advocacy groups talk about needs, and it's all real stuff -- clean water, health, education, roads. Who can we cut?”
Her budget bill went to the Senate Finance Committee, where long time Chairman John Arthur Smith, D-Deming, had been warning for weeks, “We are facing a significant crisis.”
On Saturday a few senators poked half-heartedly at the bill, but there wasn’t a single detail that hadn’t already been examined, and they knew it. When Sen. Cisco McSorley, D-Albuquerque, said they should have worked harder to fund education, he was informed that 44 percent of the budget goes to K-12. Add in higher education, and it’s 57 percent.
The last scene of this long drama hasn’t played out yet. The Democrats have their budget and tax bills, and the Republican governor, who has been strangely detached from this session, keeps saying she will veto tax increases.
(One of the complaints I’ve heard is that the governor doesn’t work with legislators; she just waits for them come up with plans, which she shoots down.)
If she looks at the revenue bill she would notice that the increases aren’t all that painful. If she reads the newspaper, she would see that school superintendents all over the state are howling about education budgets.
The handy thing about ideology is that you don’t have to think. Never mind the scary predictions about classrooms, Medicaid, courts, public safety and highways, and the possibility of another bond downgrade, the governor has promised to not give an inch.
Normally, at this point in a session, the governor and legislators would be negotiating a final package, and reportedly that’s happening. But when one party doesn’t budge, it ceases to be a negotiation.
Our Legislature is known to have blow-ups in the final days of a session when the stakes were much smaller. The governor has to decide between her legacy and her resume.
© 2017 New Mexico News Services 3-6-17
Bill tackles a stubborn problem in trying to curb truancy
By Sherry Robinson
All She Wrote
Legislators are trying to get their arms around truancy in the state. Discussion about the most promising bill, the bipartisan HB 437, illustrates just how complicated the problem is.
We have 54,000 kids who are habitually truant, which means they have 10 or more unexcused absences in a school year. That should take your breath away.
Studies and common sense tell us that these kids are most likely to drop out.
Four lawmakers whose political coloration ranges from conservative to liberal have teamed up to carry the bill: Reps. Patricio Ruiloba, D-Albuquerque; Jimmie Hall, R-Albuquerque, James Townsend, R-Artesia, and Sen. John Sapien, D-Corrales. On Saturday, the most conservative, Townsend, and most liberal, Ruilobo, sat together to sell their bill to the House Education Committee.
HB 437 calls for earlier and more intensive interventions. It requires schools to have a family resources program, work with agencies and community organizations, and notify parents. It would suspend drivers licenses.
Legislators used as models successful programs in Carlsbad and Albuquerque’s Atrisco Heritage High School.
In Carlsbad, at the third unexcused absence, a Community Truancy Action Committee swings into action to address underlying causes. It includes the state Children, Youth and Families Department, juvenile probation, police, anti-drug and alcohol groups, United Way, and local charities. A fifth absence means Truancy Intervention Court, where the organizations help students and their families stay on track.
The drivers license piece ran into the same objections here that it has before: Some students hold jobs to help out their families. They need to drive. But those jobs may be the source of the absences. On the other hand, the license can be a powerful motivator, which is why 27 states tie attendance and performance with driving privileges.
Committee members liked the bill but had a few reservations.
One teacher recalled that a student was always late to his first period class and took off before the last class ended. His janitorial job was the reason. A school official spoke to the student and the employer and got some adjustments in his schedule.
Another teacher complained that some parents think they can bring their kids to school whenever they want.
We tend to think of teenagers as truant, but the Public Education Department says that in the 2014-2015 school year, the truancy rate was 11.9 percent for elementary students, 10.3 percent for middle school, and 19.9 percent for high school. That’s 14.29 percent overall. In fiscal 2016 it rose to 16.3 percent.
Several committee members thought the bill was more punitive than necessary.
Townsend explained that the bill isn’t intended to be punitive but to direct help to students and families.
Rep. Linda Trujillo, D-Santa Fe, objected that her parents caught and punished her for skipping school. That’s the role of parents, she said. Townsend pointed out that not all parents are as vigilant as hers. He’s right about that. For a variety of reasons, a lot of kids have to get themselves to school.
Other committee members worried about the expense to schools and thought the bill was overly prescriptive.
Rep. Dennis Roch, R-Logan, is the superintendent of a 200-student district. When kids cut class, they often fetch up at the Subway. The restaurant then calls Roch to find out if it’s OK. Because small districts don’t have the truancy problems of bigger districts, he asked for some flexibility in the bill’s language.
The bill has support from schools and their administrators. A few modifications should take it to the finish line. Kudos to its sponsors for tackling a knotty problem.
© 2017 New Mexico News Services 2-27-17
The case of Gov. Susana Martinez vs. New Mexico courts
By Sherry Robinson
All She Wrote
What’s up with the governor and the state’s judicial system?
As she directed some of her angrier vetoes to the courts in the last few years, we had to wonder. This year, State Supreme Court Chief Justice Charles Daniels said the courts are “on life support.”
Remember that our founding New Mexico fathers intended the three branches of government – executive, legislative and judicial – to be on an equal footing.
Let’s look at a timeline.
Jan. 22, 2011: Daniels told legislators the judiciary had cut to the bone, closing some magistrate courts, reducing expenses, freezing hiring and leaving vacancies unfilled, even as workload increased because of the economic downturn.
Jan. 25, 2011: Daniels ruled against Gov. Susana Martinez, who tried to keep two environmental regulations from taking effect. “No one is above the law,” Daniels said.
Also in 2011 District Judge Sarah Singleton in Santa Fe ruled against Martinez’s attempt to have the Motor Vehicle Department verify the residency status of foreign nationals with New Mexico driver’s licenses.
2012: A judge in the Second Judicial District ordered Martinez to remove the names of most people on the state’s payroll information from the Sunshine Portal. She published the names elsewhere.
2013: The Associated Press sued Martinez and two agencies in state court for refusing to release records about her work and travel schedules, cellphone calls, and expenses of the security officers who travel with the governor. After two years, Martinez agreed to release monthly reports that detail spending on the security officers. Separately, a state district judge said the governor’s calendars were not public records.
2014: Martinez vetoed the continuance of a $4 court fee approved by the Legislature, which gouged the court’s budget. After the legislative session, a group of judges challenged her decision to strike down an 8 percent pay raise for judges. (Our judges are among the lowest paid in the country.) The Supreme Court partly overruled the veto and directed the state to provide the judicial pay raise in question.
2015: Drug courts got an additional $627,700, but Martinez line-item vetoed $750,000 to fund Magistrate Courts for the rest of the fiscal year. These 48 courts are where DWI, misdemeanor and traffic cases are heard. The court administrator predicted disrupted services and delayed lease payments. Sen. John Arthur Smith, D-Deming, observed that the governor’s line-item vetoes appeared to be “jabs” at the judicial branch.
The governor also vetoed an uncontroversial bill to improve court interpreter services. She vetoed the same bill again in 2016. As a district attorney in 2000, Martinez tried to disqualify non-English speakers from jury service and took her case to the state Supreme Court. Because the state Constitution protects English and Spanish speakers, the decision went against her.
2016: In the public works bill, Martinez vetoed money for improvements, systems or repairs at courts in Bernalillo, Santa Fe, Los Alamos, Rio Arriba, Guadalupe and Doña Ana – and an entire complex in Cibola County that’s under construction. But she approved a judicial complex in Lea County.
2017: In finance committees, judges described high vacancy rates, a dangerous lack of security, and a backlog of paperwork. Employees are buying their own pens. One district has no robes to offer new judges. The governor vetoed two attempts by legislators to provide relief, claiming lawmakers hadn’t properly vetted court expenses and agreed to just enough funding so the courts can hold jury trials and the Supreme Court can avoid furloughs.
By the numbers, the courts receive 2.58 percent of the state’s general fund budget; the national benchmark is 3 percent. Since 2009, the courts have lost 6.17 percent of their funding, even as the state’s general fund budget grew 6.24 percent.
Is the governor a budget hawk or just vindictive? You be the judge.
© 2017 New Mexico News Services 2-20-17
Finally, a real tax reform bill maps a road to the future
By Sherry Robinson
All She Wrote
Lawmakers have more tax measures moving along than I can remember in a single session. And it’s not just the usual furniture rearranging. One is bona fide tax reform, two more are mini-reforms, and others tackle individual challenges like roads.
HB 412 is the creation of Rep. Jason Harper, R-Rio Rancho, an engineer with three patents. Our taxes are so complex it takes somebody like that to wrestle with them. His co-sponsors are Democratic Sens. John Arthur Smith and Carlos Cisneros, the chair and vice chair of the Senate Finance Committee.
Tax experts think our gross receipts tax is one of the nation’s worst. It chews on every step of production, becoming a tax on a tax called pyramiding. The GRT started out decades ago at 2 percent; in some communities it’s now over 10 percent. It’s not only complex, it scares away potential relocations.
It’s such a bad tax that we lure new companies and placate existing companies by giving them a credit or deduction or exemption. We’ve handed out so many of these that we’ve reduced the tax-paying base, so it falls more heavily on individuals and remaining companies.
Harper’s bill is intended to fit the modern economy, improve the stability of revenues, restore uniformity and fairness, increase transparency, broaden the base and reduce rates. The bill has been called hard to understand, but it’s not.
HB 412 would remove nearly all exemptions, deductions and credits; eliminate the worst kinds of pyramiding; tax internet sales; take away exemptions from nonprofits; and treat nonprofit and for-profit medical providers and national lab managers the same.
Doing all this could deliver a gross receipts tax of 2.7 percent, maybe less.
However, it would reimpose the tax on food and healthcare practitioners, and even though the rate is lower and food-stamp recipients are exempted, this is a deal breaker for some lawmakers.
Harper doesn’t stop there. He would steer more of the liquor excise tax and motor vehicle excise tax back to programs instead of the general fund. Personal and corporate income taxes would have a single 5 percent bracket, like Utah. And he removes the provisions that strike property owners with “tax lightning” when assessments rise after a change of ownership.
Sen. Ron Griggs, R-Alamogordo, is a businessman and former mayor, which gives him a valuable perspective. His SB 343 would increase the motor vehicle excise tax and levy a new real estate transfer tax but cut the corporate income tax rate to 3 percent and eliminate taxes on interest and dividends for seniors.
It would impose a 3.75 percent tax on food and a 2 percent tax on medical services and direct the revenues to cities and counties, but would eliminate hold-harmless money given to cities for the loss of the food tax years ago. Low-income residents would get a tax credit.
A legislative analysis says Griggs’ “mini tax reform” contains more decreases than increases, which the state can’t afford right now. Griggs says he wants to start a conversation.
Sen. Bill Sharer, R-Farmington, is carrying SB 123, which would reduce the rate of the gross receipts and compensating taxes, mandate a 2.5 percent income tax above certain levels, and repeal the corporate income tax, the estate tax, the motor vehicle excise tax, and others.
Individual bills would raise the gasoline tax, capture Airbnb rentals with a new tax, and tax online retailers.
Some of the tax bills this year are for budget balancing, but Harper, Griggs and Sharer want to right the ship going forward. High fives to them for starting the conversation. I haven’t always agreed with Harper, but this bill is a brave, thoughtful piece of work. Or should I say, engineering.
© 2017 New Mexico News Services 2-13-17
Familiar complaints about drilling have an easy solution
By Sherry Robinson
All She Wrote
Outside a packed legislative hearing room, activists were handing out circular tags declaring the wearer a "water protector," a term borrowed from the Standing Rock Sioux protest in North Dakota. When a woman offered one of the tags to Daniel Tso, he respectfully declined.
Tso was the articulate expert witness for a measure to relieve a lit fuse in northwestern New Mexico over drilling near Chaco Canyon National Monument.
This year, a freshman legislator, Rep. Derrick Lente, D-Sandia Pueblo, introduced as his first action House Joint Memorial 5.
It asked the federal Bureau of Land Management to issue a temporary moratorium on oil and gas lease sales involving drilling and hydraulic fracturing in the greater Chaco area until the agency can complete its amended Resource Management Plan.
Lente said the memorial wasn’t intended as an affront to the oil and gas industry. It was a point others made as well. “This is not an anti-industry thing,” said one resident. “It’s a pro-community thing.”
In a hearing before the House Energy, Environment and Natural Resources Committee, Tso and other residents talked about what it's like living in the checkerboard area, a patchwork of public, private and tribal lands. When it comes to road maintenance or school bus routes, “nobody wants to take ownership,” Tso said.
Speaker after speaker described dirt roads torn up by the drillers’ heavy equipment to the point that recently, an ambulance trying to reach a heart-attack victim got stuck twice. A clergyman trying to get food and water to families found the road impassable and said company drivers have run locals off the road. School buses and residents must navigate roads with ruts two feet deep. Then there was the explosion and four-day fire in July.
Finally, there's the smell. Residents complained about a pervasive odor that some can smell inside their homes.
On the other side of the scale, representatives of San Juan County shudder to think of any more bites into the local economy, and industry organizations argued that additional regulations or a moratorium would hurt state revenues. They believe the 34,000-acre monument is well protected and point out that the BLM has stopped leasing land within 10 miles of the park, although if companies already hold leases they can drill.
They also question the extent of "the Greater Chaco Canyon" area, which could be up to 100,000 acres. In January the BLM auctioned drilling rights on four parcels totaling 843 acres in Rio Arriba and Sandoval counties, the smallest number in years.
The thing about this whole scenario is that it's too familiar. We've been here before. And it has a relatively simple solution.
Companies operating in the checkerboard need to be better neighbors and better corporate citizens. How hard would it be for the companies to blade those roads? (I’m not picking on the county here because counties are strapped.) Deal with the roads and you’ve gone a long way toward addressing complaints.
One chapter official complained, "My community, we get zero from this.”
Maybe companies can’t get rid of the smell, but what if they did a few things to help the Navajo chapters near where they’re drilling? I bring this up because a Lea County rancher told me once the oil companies gave him a length of pipe he needed; he had no complaints about drilling.
Lente’s bill failed on a tie vote along party lines, but it’s a short-lived victory for the industry. Lente has promised that he’ll be back, and Chaco residents are joining coalitions that are empowered by Standing Rock.
The industry can circle the wagons (and drill rigs), or it can reach out to these communities. Lente himself has offered to mediate. Finding the middle ground will make everybody happier than more legislation and lawsuits.
© 2017 New Mexico News Services 2-6-17
Jobs bills are moving despite partisan wrangling
By Sherry Robinson
All She Wrote
Lawmakers are more focused on job creation in this legislative session, but jobs bills still get high-centered on ideological speed bumps.
The Democrats this year offered a six-part plan that’s a shade better than their past packages. They would spend $63 million in capital outlay on infrastructure repairs and improvements, pass a modest minimum wage increase, increase broadband access, allow industrial hemp research, and try to open economic development incentives to home-grown businesses.
Of the bunch, only broadband would be a home run.
This year’s capital outlay has already seen partisan wrangling. A Republican lawmaker proposed giving up capital outlay to help stanch red ink, an interesting idea considering the problems with our capital outlay process. Democrats refused, and the governor bashed them for refusing.
Capital outlay is a different creature in the rural areas. While the cities might forego their public works money for a year, smaller communities rely on it for needed projects. And the spending is a form of stimulus. Just ask the state’s construction companies.
A minimum wage increase isn’t economic development, but it needs to happen. Our current rate is $7.50, and lots of states are higher.
LEDA and JTIP have been much discussed. Legislative budgeters struggled to keep funding for the two programs intact but decided that everybody should share the pain. LEDA (Local Economic Development Act), a closing fund that offsets a company’s costs for roads and utility lines, was slated for a small cut. JTIP (Jobs Training Incentive Program) supports training costs for expanding companies. Economic developers and Republicans wanted full funding, which the governor accomplished with a line-item veto.
Hemp is a low-water crop that’s used in products ranging from cloth and paper to bio-fuels. Thirty states have pilot studies or production. It’s related to marijuana but lacks the properties that produce a high. The governor has vetoed hemp legislation in the past.
The biggie this year is broadband. This refers to high-speed internet access, and it’s as essential to today’s business operations as electricity was in the last century. New Mexico ranks 46th in broadband connectivity, and 68 percent of people in rural areas lack broadband access. Lawmakers have tried repeatedly to get broadband legislation through.
The bill with the most traction is HB 60, which makes broadband projects eligible for LEDA funding. It passed the House unanimously last week. Economic developers and the business community enthusiastically support the bill.
SB 143, the New Mexico Infrastructure Act, would allow state and local governments to partner with private industry on broadband projects.
A third telecom bill would make a big difference here, but it could succumb to ideological harangues.
SB 53 would modernize the Telecommunications Act of 1985, written when everybody had a wired telephone and made long-distance calls. The bill would cast the same regulatory net over all telecom providers. Supporters expect this to encourage investment in broadband networks. Despite the endorsement of business, labor and the legislative Jobs Council, the bill has critics.
During a hearing last week before the Senate Judiciary Committee, I listened to some depressingly old thinking from a couple of senators, as well as two members of the state Public Regulation Commission, who have a deep fear of doing anything that might benefit CenturyLink (gasp!) or weaken regulatory authority.
Sen. Cisco McSorley, D-Albuquerque, who didn’t know the difference between CenturyLink and Ma Bell, called it another deregulation bill. The sponsor, Sen. Michael Padilla, D-Albuquerque, explained that it’s not a deregulation bill but would level the playing field and preserve regulatory authority. McSorley and Senate Majority Leader Peter Wirth, D-Santa Fe, voted against it. The bill passed.
It’s encouraging that broadband has a champion in Padilla, who is Senate Majority Whip. It’s discouraging that even Padilla can’t get through to his party’s die-hards.
© 2017 New Mexico News Services 1-30-17
Two New Mexico cities put values on display
By Sherry Robinson
All She Wrote
How do you want people to think about your community?
If you live in Carlsbad, the nation currently knows your town through a Facebook post. If you live in Santa Fe, the nation has heard about Santa Fe’s declaration as a sanctuary city.
In case you were abducted by aliens, Carlsbad City Councilor J. R. Doporto said on Facebook: “Just want to give a heads up to the women! You have rights! A right to cook and a right to clean. Today is Sunday and the NFL playoffs our (sic) on! I suggest you stop your b!tch!ng/protesting during this time. Because you also have a right to get slapped!”
For that, he lost his job.
Doporto has said he was just joking and claims his right to freedom of speech has been violated. His wife says he’s a good husband and father.
I’m not going to rant about the post – plenty of other people have done that. My concern – and I write about this periodically – is how New Mexico is perceived on the outside.
Doporto’s post made news all over New Mexico and, after Cox Media Group and the Huffington Post picked it up, across the nation. For a community that’s dependent in part on tourists, this isn’t healthy.
In an interview with KOB-TV, the councilman asked, “What is appropriate today as an elected official? I mean, you see Donald Trump tweeting every day. If I offended somebody I’m sorry.”
The rules for public servants don’t change, regardless of behavior in the Oval Office. The moment you take an oath of office, you represent your constituents, and your rights to personal expression take a back seat.
Which is why Mayor Dale Janway had to say Doporto’s comments, serious or not, don’t reflect his views or the views of Carlsbad. “We want to stress that the City of Carlsbad does not, in any way, condone domestic violence or disrespect toward women,” he said.
Notice that Doporto mentions Donald Trump and his tweets. Because the leader of the land tweets whatever crosses his mind – good, bad and bizarre – it’s had the effect of confusing some public officials about what’s appropriate.
Meanwhile, up north, Santa Fe also rocketed into the news when Mayor Javier Gonzales stood firm on his city’s status as a sanctuary city after Trump signed an executive order threatening to cut federal funding to sanctuary cities. Some news outlets even called Gonzales the face of the sanctuary movement. Gonzales has said it’s a key value for the city.
Long before Trump won the election, sanctuary cities were controversial, and bills were introduced in Congress to block federal funding to cities and counties that don’t cooperate with federal authorities.
We know some immigrants commit crimes, but there’s no good data showing whether immigrants commit more crimes than Americans. Opponents of sanctuary cities argue that immigration agents can’t patrol the streets, so they depend on local law enforcement to identify criminals. Supporters say the sanctuary status gives immigrants the comfort level to report crime and be witnesses. Las Cruces Police Chief Jaime Montoya said Trump’s policy could harm relations between police and the immigrant community.
Santa Fe has plenty of company – an estimated 300 jurisdictions, including Tucson, Dallas, Denver, Las Vegas and Los Angeles.
People who feel strongly about undocumented immigrants could avoid Santa Fe as a tourist destination, just as people who were offended by Doporto’s post might not visit Carlsbad. That’s hard to measure, but in general tourist destinations like to maintain a good public image.
The difference is that Gonzales upheld a value his town embraces, while in Carlsbad, Doporto blasted out a value his town didn’t share and publicly repudiated. It’s a lesson for public officials everywhere.
© 2017 New Mexico News Services 1-23-17
How poor do we want to be?
By Sherry Robinson
All She Wrote
Three little words will generate a lot of heated words during this legislative session: To be determined.
This is how the Legislative Finance Committee, meeting between April and December, indicates the source of money to help balance the budget in fiscal 2018. “To be determined” is shorthand for more cuts on top of cuts already made or new revenue in the form of tax increases.
Before you jump to a conclusion about that choice, take a minute to grasp where we are. The choices made in this session will decide how poor New Mexico will be in coming years.
All the usual clichés about “belt tightening,” “trimming the fat,” “low hanging fruit” and “right-sizing” no longer apply. In previous years, the governor and Legislature have made across-the-board cuts to state agencies, and those cuts continue. This year, they have to decide who gets hurt.
The proposed victims, according to proposals from the executive and legislative branches, are schools, higher education (big time), courts, fire departments, law enforcement, economic development, water, tribes, local communities, state employees and teachers, and wildlife.
Let’s see, did they miss anybody? Our unpaid legislators even cut their own feed bill, which funds the current session.
During a hearing last week, LFC Director David Abbey described possible sources of new revenue.
One is to begin collecting gross receipts taxes from online retailers.
“This is a level-playing-field issue,” Abbey said, referring to the unfair advantage online retailers have over brick-and-mortar stores. “It’s probably worth $15 to $20 million, and that may be conservative.”
Two other possibilities are raising gasoline sales taxes and excise taxes on the sale of vehicles.
The gasoline tax was last raised in 1993, from 16 cents to 22 cents, and then reduced twice to its current rate. Last year, when an increase was proposed, New Mexico had the sixth lowest gasoline tax in the nation. Gasoline taxes and other fees ranged from a high of 50.5 cents a gallon in Pennsylvania to 11.3 cents in Alaska. New Mexico’s 18.88 cents is far below the national average of 29.89 cents and lower than our neighbors: Arizona, 19 cents; Colorado, 22 cents; Texas, 20 cents; Utah, 24.5 cents.
This tax has come up repeatedly as a way to boost the state’s road fund and improve maintenance. This year one bill would do that but others would siphon off the tax to the general fund for budget balancing.
New Mexico’s motor vehicle excise tax is 3 percent. “Every state around us is 8 percent,” Abbey said.
He didn’t mention “sin taxes” on liquor and cigarettes. The state’s brewing industry foamed at the mouth over a liquor tax. Abbey also didn’t mention another proposal to tax junk food or to reinstate a tax on groceries.
Abbey did say his staff is now looking hard at specific targets, like museums and parks with low visitation and empty prisons.
Abbey discouraged looking at state employees as a possible target. State employment is down 3,000 jobs in the last seven years, he said.
“This is not the overweight bureaucracy of years past,” he said. And raises have become so small and infrequent that it’s become difficult to recruit and retain employees.
Which is one more reason the Democratic House and Senate will resist the Republican governor’s plan to make state employees and teachers put more into their retirement and take home smaller paychecks.
So, how much are we willing to take from our schools? How many cops and teachers, how much road equipment are we willing to do without? How much do we want to short the incentives our economic developers use to bring new jobs? How poor do we want to be?
There are only painful choices this year. “To be determined” is a mouthful.
© 2017 New Mexico News Services 1-16-17
Dogpaddling in the economic toilet bowl
By Sherry Robinson
All She Wrote
Grants Mayor Martin Hicks told a legislative interim committee last summer that the only remaining coal mine had laid off 150 people, the population has dropped to 8,500 from 18,500 when he was growing up in the town, and there are 22 empty buildings on the main drag.
But Cibola County has some possibilities in tourism and logging.
On the East Side, tiny Anton Chico has an old school building with a functional gym and kitchen that could be used to house small businesses. And the economic development group would like to take over a meat processing company, but the processor’s building is held by the bank. The organization needs help to enter e-commerce and find markets for area farm products.
All either town needs from the state is a little help – money and knowhow.
And so it goes.
We may continue to dogpaddle in the economic toilet bowl, but in pretty much any community in the state, there are possibilities. And, surprisingly, hope.
So what do we hear from our leaders?
The state’s chief executive offers a package of get-tough DWI bills. And in testy language, she defended her budget and picked a fight with the Legislative Finance Committee over their budget.
The governor would raid the school districts’ reserves to help balance the budget, calling the reserves a “slush fund.” The schools call it their emergency money. She called the LFC budget, which is substantially like her own, a “copout” because it proposes raising some money by cutting or tax increases.
On the subject of tax increases, even the conservative Albuquerque Journal indicated it could live with an increased gasoline tax or liquor tax.
The Democrats, flush with success at the polls, have said job creation will be a priority, and announced a listening tour around the state in December. They’re still sifting the results, but several bills, some from last year’s jobs package, have been pre-introduced: a set-aside for businesses that want state contracts (bipartisan), an increased minimum wage, broadband infrastructure development, extended solar market tax credit (bipartisan), use of $7 billion for economic stimulus programs, and legalization of marijuana.
The latter may actually happen this year because at least one measure is written as a resolution and doesn’t require the governor’s signature. Our governor and DA-for-life is opposed, but polls indicate public support. Who doesn’t envy Colorado its weed riches?
Rep. Jason Harper, R-Rio Rancho, who chaired the interim Revenue Stabilization and Tax Policy Committee, has come up with a plan to overhaul the state’s tax code for goods and services and begin collecting gross receipts taxes from online retailers. The idea is not to require the tax but to encourage online retailers to pay taxes. Utah struck a similar deal with Amazon.
Lately, we’ve seen retailers close their doors because they can’t compete with online sellers, and taxes are one more bump in the playing field. Harper’s bill could allow brick-and-mortar stores to compete a little more evenly with online stores. And the state would see additional revenues.
The governor, of course, is opposed because it doesn’t meet her boilerplate resolution to not raise taxes, and yet fellow Republicans don’t see it as a tax increase but rather collection of taxes the state should have been getting all along.
Harper is also the wizard behind the curtain of a larger tax reform bill – the one knowledgeable people have wanted for years. It would close more than 100 loopholes in our porous tax code and reduce the burdensome gross receipts tax. Harper hasn’t yet revealed his creation.
Writing before the gavel opens the next session, we hear the usual combative rhetoric, along with the whisper of possibilities and hope.
© 2017 New Mexico News Services 1-9-17
Proposal to replace education secretary with school board is short-sighted
By Sherry Robinson
All She Wrote
We’ve heard some interesting educational proposals lately, but one would be a giant step backward.
Sen. Michael Padilla wants to eliminate the position of education secretary and return education governance to a state board of education. We tried this. It didn’t work. That’s why education reformers years ago scrutinized the position and made a change.
Accountability – holding teachers and schools accountable – was a centerpiece of reforms initiated in 2000. In 2001 Think New Mexico proposed replacing the elected state school board with an appointed, cabinet-level secretary. Although it was one among many proposals that year for education reform, this step alone had long been sought by previous governors and business people.
In the old elected-versus-appointed argument, supporters of an appointed secretary say that many qualified individuals wouldn’t want the hassle and expense of running for office. The argument in New Mexico that carried the day is that governors can set goals and hold their cabinet secretaries accountable.
Supporters of an elected school board say it’s more democratic and encourages more citizen interest in schools. A second argument is that an elected board is shielded from politics – or at least less political – and can act independently. Third, an appointed secretary, protected by a governor, can implement unpopular policies.
In 2003 legislators passed the Public School Reforms Act, which had broad support from educators and business groups. The package included standards-based performance tests, a new three-tiered system of teacher licensure, and more authority for local schools.
In September that year, voters approved an amendment to create an appointed Secretary of Education. Then Gov. Bill Richardson appointed educator Veronica Garcia as secretary of the newly created Department of Public Education.
New Mexico got high praise for its reforms in the 2006 Thomas B. Fordham Foundation’s analysis of education reform. In particular, the report applauded Richardson’s move to replace the state board of education and replace it with an education secretary who answers to him.
“It was a bold move that let the state’s leaders and citizens know that education was a priority,” said the report, which also reported that Richardson directed Garcia to launch education reform quickly.
Nobody wanted to turn back the clock during Garcia’s tenure, but after six years with Hanna Skandera, the idea has legs.
Padilla, an Albuquerque Democrat, says this change would “take politics out of public education in New Mexico” by returning to a state board of education that would create and hire a state superintendent of public education. And he thinks this won’t be political?
Anybody who’s sat through even one legislative hearing can see that education is as polarized as it can be. Skandera, in aggressively pushing her agenda, deserves part of the blame, but we have to assume a state superintendent would also be on the firing line.
There is also the issue of credibility. One argument for appointed positions is that the governor can select the most accomplished candidate in the pool, but in this case the governor chose a person who, as teachers often point out, has no classroom experience.
In his announcement Padilla said that public education in the state can change every time a new governor is elected, pulling students and teachers in dramatically different directions. You could say that for all of state government, but we’ve learned to function in four-year election cycles.
If this is about getting rid of Skandera – and that’s how it looks – it’s short-sighted. Regardless of what the education secretary does, some will like it and some won’t. Keep in mind that Skandera has her supporters. But all of that is beside the point.
Cabinet secretaries are hired to carry out policy. Don’t like the policy? Appeal to or change the executive who ordered it. We can’t change the system every time power brokers disagree.
© New Mexico News Services 2017 1-2-17
Circus surrounding UNM president’s departure will cost taxpayers
By Sherry Robinson
All She Wrote
Another one bites the dust.
Bob Frank, who became UNM’s 21st president in 2012, expected to serve a second five-year term but left after a surprise resignation and a standoff with regents.
News coverage left the big question unanswered: Why did he step down before his first term ended?
After two really bad presidential hires, whose exits were broadly cheered, UNM seemed to right itself by appointing Frank, a former Lobo swimmer and an academic with solid administrative experience. His tenure was punctuated with the usual number of controversies, including a U. S. Justice Department investigation into UNM’s handling of sexual misconduct. But only one blow-up had the voltage to do damage. That was Frank’s role in a move structured and kept under wraps by Regents President Rob Doughty to bring the Health Sciences Center – and its hospital fund – into the orbit (and control) of the president’s office.
Even so, Frank hadn’t been socked with a faculty vote of no confidence like his predecessor. In fact, the Faculty Senate president noted increased graduation rates, new hires and successful ties to Albuquerque’s economic development under Frank.
So it was a stunner when Frank announced in September that he wouldn’t continue as president but would become director of the Center of Innovation in Health and Education at the Health Sciences Center, a new position, at a salary of $350,000, nearly as much as he made as president ($362,136). He didn’t say why he was stepping down.
Regents said they were “grateful” for Frank’s efforts and would begin a search soon. Some legislators observed that there was no overt reason for him to step down. Lawmakers, members of the public and the media all questioned his new big-dollar job at HSC.
While some suspected Frank was leaving because of higher education’s current tight budgets and the certain prospect of more cuts, that doesn’t strike me as the deciding factor. He’d already been through a round of cuts, and in this climate, shrinking budgets are part of the job.
It’s telling that his exit agreement required Frank and the regents to not criticize one another. In other words, there was friction.
Conveniently, the regents then revealed a report, which someone (wink, wink) leaked to the media, claiming “shades of a hostile working environment.” The report described a man who was usually pleasant but could be sarcastic and rude. Not exactly firing offenses and not exactly unexpected in a high-pressure position.
The report also cited “perceived unprofessional communication with the Governor and her chief of staff.” Now there’s a firing offense. The governor appointed Doughty, whose law firm has made more than $1.3 million from state contracts under this administration, according to several media accounts, so we assume he’s eager to please the executive. So, while Frank and Doughty may have been in league on the HSC takeover, they apparently weren’t afterward. And if the regents could fire Frank, UNM would avoid the cost of the unpopular golden parachute.
Former regent Mel Eaves told the Albuquerque Journal that Frank was “under the complete control of the governor and her regent appointees.”
Doughty and the regents dangled the sword of Frank’s alleged dirty laundry over his head for an unseemly three weeks during which Frank demanded to know who leaked the report and threatened to sue. He settled to avoid the headache of litigation and stepped down Dec. 31. It’s clear the regents’ – especially Doughty’s – hands are dirty.
Next, keep an eye on the hospital fund, which could be used to stanch the state’s red ink, to the detriment of the patients around the state who count on UNM.
And watch the head hunting. With this clumsy and unseemly purge, UNM will find it harder to recruit good candidates. Any with sense will demand an even bigger golden parachute.
© New Mexico News Services 2016 12-26-16
Latest stab at postal reform should include services
By Sherry Robinson
All She Wrote
Even in the age of texts and email, we still depend on the post office, and people who live in rural areas need it to work better. That’s the gist of a letter signed by 80 members of Congress, including Sen. Tom Udall, to congressional leaders regarding postal reform legislation.
The reduction in hours, elimination of overnight service, and longer delivery times have hit rural America especially hard.
House and Senate bills tackle a disastrous 2006 requirement that the U. S. Postal Service prefund retiree benefits 75 years in advance; the $5.5 billion a year cost is the main source of red ink. The bills would integrate postal workers into Medicare and change the payment schedule to avoid the $5 billion annual payments that add to USPS deficits. The bills call for converting millions of addresses to cluster boxes. Customers could comment if their post office might be closed. This is all according to the website Save the Post Office, edited by a college professor with no ties to USPS; he just likes his small town’s post office.
The Senate bill puts a five-year moratorium on closing post offices or reducing their hours and a two-year moratorium on closing other postal facilities.
In the past, belt tightening has usually meant closing the smallest rural post offices, a blow to these communities because they lose not just a postal facility but a community hub.
In 2011, when the USPS wanted to close Holman, in Mora County, locals circulated a petition signed by 167 people. “Holman is not a bedroom community, nor a retirement community, but a thriving local community, and OUR Post Office is an important center of community communications and contact,” they wrote.
The Holman residents prevailed, but in that sweep New Mexico lost post offices in Aragon, Capulin, Cuervo, Gladstone, La Loma, and St. Vrain.
That was mild compared to the purge of 1995, which targeted 12,000 post offices nationally and eliminated 15 here: Bellview, Crossroads, Cuchillo, Duran, Glenrio, Kenna, Las Tablas, Ledoux, Lumberton, Ojo Sarco, Ponderosa, Quay, Seboyeta, Stead and Willard.
“When the post office is closed, the flag comes down. When the human side of government closes its doors, we’re all in trouble,” said Sen. Jennings Randolph, of West Virginia.
Between 1986 and 1994 New Mexico lost post offices in Lingo, Valmora, Arenas Valley, Vanadium, Cedarvale, Trampas, Bard, Bingham, Bueyeros, Caprock, Flying H and Oil Center.
“No community has ever accepted a post office closure quietly,” wrote Carol Miller in The Daily Yonder, a publication of the Center for Rural Strategies. “Residents fight back, appeal to the postal service, ask their Congressional representatives for help, go to meetings and hearings and sign petitions. Some communities win and keep a post office. Many more communities lose.”
Miller’s community, Ojo Sarco in Rio Arriba County, did all those things, but their post office closed in 1995. At a final local meeting, the USPS representative told residents that their post office’s costs outstripped sales of stamps and money orders by $1,500 a year.
“Nothing brings home to a community how absolutely unimportant they are to the federal government more than losing a post office,” Miller wrote. “First you lose the post office, then you lose the zip code and, the final blow, for postal purposes you lose the very name of your town.”
This community emblem is replaced by cluster boxes and a drive to another post office to buy stamps and mail packages.
It’s a far cry from the intentions of our founding fathers, who saw the need to knit small communities and rural settlements into the nation’s fabric. To them the mail was an essential service and they never expected it to make a profit. We need to factor human costs into the equation.
© New Mexico News Services 2016 12-19-16
Nuking the messenger: State’s spokesmen should turn down their rhetoric
By Sherry Robinson
All She Wrote
The state’s head tax honcho hung up her green eyeshade and fled state government last week. Demesia Padilla’s tumultuous six years as secretary of the state Taxation and Revenue Department ended with her hasty resignation after raids on her office and a search warrant on her house.
The trail that led us here is paved by a lot of rabid, unprofessional invective by state public information officers.
Padilla was a CPA with her own accounting practice when the governor appointed her in 2011. In 2015 State Auditor Tim Keller’s preliminary investigation, which began with a hotline complaint, found that Padilla “improperly influenced, or attempted to influence, the TRD tax audit of a former client.” An independent auditing firm said “actions were taken to protect the Secretary from possible individual liability stemming from her previous work for the taxpayer.”
Keller and his office got a blast from the governor’s spokesman, Chris Sanchez: “Given that the highly partisan state auditor has a history of playing fast and loose with the facts in order to see his name in the paper, it’s important that we first get all the facts – something that the state auditor has failed to provide.”
Department spokesman Ben Cloutier, in a statement, called Keller “the most political state auditor in New Mexico history” and said the allegations “are nothing more than unsubstantiated claims that are being driven by disgruntled former employees, who either work for the State Auditor or were fired for sexual harassment and now they have an ax to grind.”
You could call this nuking the messenger.
The process began, not with a fishing expedition, but a hotline complaint. The State Auditor had an email from Padilla asking that the client not have to pay a tax penalty in 2014 because her firm had lost tax documents. A whistleblower provided audio recordings. There was “nothing political about the audiotapes and the testimony we received about abuse of power,” Keller said.
A week later Keller accused the department of obstructing his investigation by refusing to make certain witnesses available and complained about “campaign-style comments” that were “unprofessional and disrespectful.” The governor’s spokesman said Keller was “looking less like a state auditor and more like the grand marshal of a publicity parade.” When the governor ordered the department to cooperate, spokesman Michael Lonergan said the governor hoped Keller would “spend more time chasing down facts and less time chasing around television cameras.”
Keller said, “We refuse to sweep it under the rug because it involves a high-level cabinet official or because of fear or intimidation.” He passed his information along to the Attorney General, who had gotten a complaint about “illegal and financially questionable acts.”
The AG’s search warrant contained some bombshells: a client company’s employee who noticed a $25,360 payment to Padilla’s credit card, which was why the company ended her services; more than $128,000 in income outside her state salary, $47,000 of it from QC Holdings Inc., a payday lender; Padilla’s statement that she and her husband burned the client’s tax records and couldn’t produce them for investigators.
This time the governor said, “As a former prosecutor, I take any allegations of misconduct seriously and don’t believe anyone is above the law.”
I’ve often wondered how Lonergan, Sanchez, Cloutier and their fellow public information officers were trained. On my first PR job I was told: “Just tell our side of the story.” If I’d responded even once the way these people do routinely, it would have meant a trip to the woodshed.
Somebody needs to remind them that public information officers are state employees, paid by taxpayers to act like grownups and represent everybody, not just one party.
© New Mexico News Services 2016 12-12-16
Dismantling NAFTA would hurt New Mexico
By Sherry Robinson
All She Wrote
During his campaign, Donald Trump warned, “Hillary Clinton’s trade policies would devastate workers in the traditionally blue state of New Mexico.” The state lost more than 12,000 manufacturing jobs since NAFTA and the China trade deals took effect, he said. New Mexico ranchers lost out as U. S. exports of cattle to Canada and Mexico fell 59 percent in the first 22 years of NAFTA, said a campaign news release.
We’re now taking a hard look at the North American Free Trade Agreement. Has it been good or bad for New Mexico? What happens if the nation’s new chief executive pulls out?
It’s easy to count jobs lost and jobs gained, and tally the state’s exports, but taking the 30,000-foot view and understanding New Mexico’s long relationship with Mexico isn’t that simple.
The idea in 1994 was to reduce tariffs and eliminate other barriers between Canada, the United States and Mexico so that trade and jobs could increase for all three. It’s worked pretty much as envisioned, with exports rising briskly for all three countries.
But some regions, industries and companies have prospered and others haven’t, and it cost a lot of U. S. manufacturing jobs. Some of the voting in this election was about the losses. NAFTA became a political target for both Trump and Democrat Bernie Sanders, who called for repeal or restructuring.
First, some numbers. New Mexico lost 10,593 manufacturing jobs between 1994 and 2016, according to the U. S. Bureau of Labor Statistics. Manufacturing jobs slumped from 8.3 percent of all private sector jobs to 4.3 percent.
The U. S. Department of Labor counted 13,909 workers in the state who lost their jobs because of imports or offshoring and were certified for benefits under the Trade Adjustment Assistance Program.
We know the state’s chile crop has been steadily shrinking. According to NMSU, New Mexico had 34,500 acres in cultivation when NAFTA began, and is now down to a meager 8,100 acres last year. Across the border in Chihuahua, chile production is booming, with 78,000 acres under cultivation, up from 22,000 acres in 1994 when NAFTA was enacted. One-third of that will go to the United States. NAFTA isn’t entirely to blame. Drought and water restrictions played a bigger part.
On the up side, New Mexico’s exports have risen from $1.72 billion in 2014 to a projected $1.96 billion this year. Exports supported 12,000 New Mexico jobs in 2013, according to the U. S. International Trade Administration. Our biggest market (41 percent) was Mexico.
Exports, in fact, have delivered some of the state’s only good economic news in the last few years.
Nobody is exporting pure U. S. widgets. A widget can have parts from here and five other countries and assembled in a sixth country, all because NAFTA reduced tariffs, explained Jerry Pacheco, executive director of the International Business Accelerator of the New Mexico Small Business Development Centers Network.
“Enter President-elect-Donald Trump,” Pacheco wrote on Nov. 30. “Without understanding the intertwined nature of the U.S. and Mexican economies, which depend heavily on each other for their own economic health, he cancels NAFTA or weakens it. With the help of Republicans in Congress, he also manages to slap tariffs on Chinese imports. The Mexican government retaliates against new U.S. tariffs on its manufactured products, as does the Chinese government.”
The result is a cascading failure of the linked relationships, leading to plant closures, lost jobs, and a spike in illegal entry by unemployed workers. Spinning “political rhetoric into reality to appease supporters after you have made free trade, NAFTA, and Mexico a scapegoat in the presidential campaign” will fail, Pacheco said.
What we need, he said, is to tone down the rhetoric and pursue a sound trade strategy.
© New Mexico News Services 2016 12-7-16
Standing Rock is about much more than one pipeline
By Sherry Robinson
All She Wrote
What you need to know about the Standing Rock standoff is how much you don’t know. This confrontation, playing out in frigid North Dakota, has drawn thousands of people from across the country and the attention of New Mexico’s senators.
In April the Standing Rock Sioux Tribe camped in the path of a $3.8 billion pipeline project to protest plans to tunnel under the Missouri River, which the tribe says would jeopardize its water supply and destroy cultural sites. On Sunday, the U. S. Army Corps of Engineers rejected the current route.
It’s not over.
Here are five things you should know:
One: Organizers say they’re not opposed to the oil and gas industry. This is about protecting Standing Rock’s drinking water. The company insists the pipeline is safe. Protesters don’t believe it. Since 2010 regulators count 3,300 leaks and ruptures ranging from a few gallons to hundreds of thousands of gallons, according to the Center for Effective Government. Just last week, a natural gas liquids pipeline exploded near Kansas City.
Two: Standing Rock has drawn remarkable grassroots support. Regular people show up and build wooden shelters, install solar installations, or bring supplies, tools, firewood and food. The nearby post office is overwhelmed with packages shipped from all over. We’ve heard much in the last election about the unheard voices of Middle America. Standing Rock is also about unheard voices.
Three: At a time when law enforcement nationwide is under the microscope, the Morton County Sheriff’s Department has not covered itself with glory. In just one incident, as protesters tried to remove a burned truck from a bridge that blocked emergency vehicles, cops in riot gear shot unarmed protesters with rubber bullets (which can cause serious injuries), fired tear gas, used pepper spray, and for seven hours sprayed them with fire hoses in sub-freezing temperatures. Medics treated some 300 people for hypothermia and broken bones, and 17 were taken to hospitals.
Sophia Wilansky lost part of her arm to a concussion grenade, which she said was fired directly at her and exploded as it hit her arm. Law enforcement disputed that, but eye witnesses confirmed Wilansky’s account. Grenade pieces were removed from her arm in surgery.
Vanessa Dundon, a Navajo woman, may lose the sight in one eye because a tear gas canister was intentionally shot at her face from close range, she said.
The sheriff’s department said the protesters were “rioting,” and the fire hoses were used to douse fires. Videos clearly show officers spraying protesters, not fires.
Four: The documented brutality inspired up to 2,000 veterans to join the camps as “human shields.”
The first to arrive was Chris Turley, an Osage decorated veteran of the 101st Airborne in Afghanistan, who walked most of the 800 miles there. Another is Brandee Paisano, of Laguna Pueblo, who said she served her country overseas and is now doing that here.
The co-leader of Veterans Stand for Standing Rock is Michael Wood Jr., former Marine and former police officer. His group’s crowdfunding campaign raised nearly $1 million. National Nurses United donated $50,000 to support participating Navajo veterans from New Mexico and Arizona.
Five: The most compelling news coverage comes from the participants themselves who post videos online. We all can see a protester unintentionally tumbling over a police barrier and being shot at close range with rubber bullets as he lies on the ground. We can see a half dozen big men pile on 110-pound Red Fawn Fallis. And we can see shooters in Humvee gun turrets firing at unarmed protesters.
Standing Rock is about much more than one tribe, one pipeline and one protest.
© New Mexico News Services 2016 11-28-16
Show your good taste: Buy New Mexico
By Sherry Robinson
All She Wrote
My friend Nancy and I have settled into a happy groove with our Christmas gifts. She’s proud of her native Michigan; I’m proud of New Mexico. Over the years, she’s sent Michigan dried cherries, Michigan-shaped soap and artisan wares made with native wood. I’ve reciprocated with pecans, pistachios, peanuts, Native American jewelry, Pueblo pottery and other New Mexico-made products.
So if you’re staring at your shopping list and trying to fill in the blanks, remember that we’re rich in gift possibilities.
For starters, think local. Every dollar you spend in your local economy turns over three or four times. If you shop online or head for the mall across the state line, you’re supporting somebody else’s economy.
Your dollar carries a bigger impact if you buy locally made products. It benefits the retailer, and the artisan or grower.
If you like the convenience of online shopping, here’s a list of websites culled from an internet search. While I can’t vouch for them, each one is a New Mexico-based business selling New Mexico products.
The gift guide on the New Mexico True website features products certified to be made, grown or raised in New Mexico. Find sweets, salsa, jam, skin care, dish towels, jewelry, olive oil, clothing, furniture, pottery, toys, coffee, wine, and beer.
Made in New Mexico has a store on the Taos Plaza and a website offering New Mexico salsa, Hatch chile powder and salsa, arts and crafts, New Mexican foods, jewelry, Southwestern home decor, books about New Mexico, bath products, ristras, wreaths, coffee, jams and jellies, and candles.
The Chile Addict is a 31-year-old family-owned and operated business with an Albuquerque store and a website. Their long list of products include food, ceramics, chiles, ristras, clothing, and gift baskets.
New Mexico Chile & Ristra, in Glorieta, started with frustration at seeing poor quality chile misrepresented as Hatch chile at high prices, according to the website, which promises, “We are real friendly people behind this computer, and we appreciate and value your feedback.” The company appears to carry all things chile -- edible, ornamental and educational.
New Mexico Foods, of Peralta, is all about beef jerky. This woman-owned company has operated for 15 years.
The New Mexico Magazine Store offers jewelry, books, magazines, ornaments, posters, and art.
A lot of New Mexico artisans sell on the website Etsy.com. Pull the site up and enter “New Mexico” in the search.
In 1989, Susan Curtis founded the Santa Fe School of Cooking to celebrate and share regional cuisine. The school also offers cookbooks and food-related gifts.
From Las Cruces, Frank Beck offers Southwestern Gifts by New Mexico Artisans, which the website describes as an eclectic assortment of handcrafted gift items created by a local co-op. Wares include wooden bowls, belt buckles, greeting cards, cutting boards, balloon baskets, ceramics, jewelry, leather, metal, western art, and salt and pepper mills.
Taste New Mexico, founded by New Mexico native Anna Herrera Shawver, offers a broad array of New Mexico foods, treats, ristras, beverages, posole corn meal. https://tastenewmexico.com/
StateGiftsUSA was developed by Jim and Laura Hofman who enjoy travel and believe in buying local. They’re not in New Mexico, but they feature an admirable collection of New Mexico products with direct links to producers. Look for cookbooks, cheese, beef jerky, salsa, pecans, raspberry jam, cider vinegar, honey, garlic, chile, pistachios, pinons, bath products, baked goods, and coffee.
Bless someone in your circle with the flavor or style of New Mexico and support a New Mexico artist, grower or enterprise. The economy will thank you.
© 2016 NEW MEXICO NEWS SERVICES 11/21/16
A Democrat and Republican talk: Optimism about the state but the nation, not so much
By Sherry Robinson
All She Wrote
We hear a lot that civility died in the recent election, but it survives here and there.
Republican Janice Arnold-Jones and Democrat Alan Webber, former candidates for governor, proved that speaking recently to New Mexico Press Women.
On New Mexico elections:
“The truth lost,” said Arnold-Jones, a former state representative. “I have never seen such complete willingness to abandon the truth – on both sides.” She said Senate Majority Leader Michael Sanchez, the target of the governor’s political broadsides, “was a thorn in the side but a decent human being.”
“Michael Sanchez was defeated by a scurrilous campaign,” said Webber. “It was a dark spot on the election.”
He said the crime bills introduced in the special session “were a carefully laid trap to go after Democrats, in particular, Michael Sanchez.” The reality is that legislators “are too close to voters to be soft on crime,” he said.
On New Mexico’s economy:
Despite continuing bad news, the two describe themselves as optimistic. The way forward, both say, is to focus on infrastructure.
Webber advises state leaders to “stop doing the list.” By that, he means to stop wasting time on ideology-driven debates that will never reach consensus, like right-to-work.
“Focus on things that will help, like good cell-phone service and high-speed internet,” he said. “We should invest in more airplane service. You can’t do business if you can’t get here.”
Webber said that before the Wright Amendment ended in 2014, allowing Southwest Airlines to reduce flights from the Albuquerque airport, “a real chief executive would have sat down with Southwest Airlines.”
Arnold-Jones made a similar point. The runway at the Taos airport is too short, but it can’t be lengthened because funding for the project was swept during the special session to deal with the deficit. “I’m not in favor of state government paying for business, but I am in favor of it paying for infrastructure,” she said.
On the legislative special session:
“Nothing happened in the session to solve our state budget crisis,” said Webber. He blames the budget crisis on “a total failure to manage by the governor.”
“You need to expect better,” Arnold-Jones said. “When the governor calls a special session to fix the budget, the Legislature is responsible to fix the budget.” That didn’t happen. As for the crime bills, “if you have cut the district attorneys, courts and corrections,” new crime legislation won’t matter.
The special session produced new budget cuts on top of old budget cuts. “No company in America ever achieved economic success by cutting itself to ribbons,” said Webber, who is founder and former editor of the business magazine Fast Company.
Arnold-Jones and Webber differed on the presidential election.
“What we witnessed was a hate-filled election that brought the country down, not up,” said Webber. “I’m feeling angry because we’ve been sold a bill of goods. I’m concerned we’ll see a rollback of personal rights and freedoms.” He predicts President-elect Donald Trump will roll up record deficits and pay for it by taxing the middle class. “We’re in for some repercussions for New Mexico,” he said.
The upside is that “New Mexico didn’t vote for Trump because New Mexico is the future. We’re not frightened of people who don’t look like us.”
Arnold-Jones acknowledges the nation’s rural-urban divide. Going forward, she expects to see Trump’s pragmatism as a businessman. Regarding Trump’s reported comments about women, she said, “That’s the way guys talk.” In her public and professional life, she said, “I had to grow a backbone.”
Not all Trump supporters are racists, she said. “It’s not helpful for one group to say how another group thinks. We have to talk to people. We have rules and laws. We change very slowly. The answer is more talk, not less.”
I’d vote for that.
© 2016 NEW MEXICO NEWS SERVICES 11/14/16
Election 2016: Slime attacks, upsets and close calls
By Sherry Robinson
All She Wrote
Gov. Susana Martinez will face a legislature firmly in the hands of Democrats after this election. On the other hand, she got rid of the chief thorn in her side, Senate Majority Leader Michael Sanchez.
At this writing, the results are still new and not entirely final. Political pundits will be sorting out this election for a long time, but there are some takeaways.
The big news here is that Democrats took back the House. After two bitter years of Republican control, we might expect to see some payback, but I hope they focus on the state’s business. Similarly, the Senate is a little more blue than red.
The leadership shuffle in the House will probably make Rep. Brian Egolf, of Santa Fe, the new speaker. And keep an eye on the powerful House Appropriations and Finance Committee, where Gallup’s Rep. Patty Lundstrom has not only the seniority but the knowledge to be chair. And, fellas, women have been a little scarce in leadership positions.
Incumbents often had the advantage, but not always.
Newcomer Greg Baca overwhelmed Michael Sanchez after an expensive, ugly campaign. Advance New Mexico Now, a super PAC operated by the governor’s political adviser Jay McCleskey, dropped more than $370,000 on TV advertising alone, according to New Mexico In Depth. While it might be reasonable to blame the PAC for Sanchez’s defeat, we should note that other Democrats, like Deming’s Candie Sweetser, Albuquerque’s Elizabeth Thomson, Rio Rancho’s Daymon Ely, and incumbent Sen. Daniel Ivey-Soto, of Albuqurque, demonstrated that you can survive McCleskey’s slime attack and still win.
Something I won’t miss is Sanchez’s infuriating habit of keeping bills he doesn’t like bottled up on the floor. It’s only fair that if a bill has survived the committee process to reach the floor, that it should be heard and receive a vote. We can only hope that Sanchez’s successor feels that way too.
In other upsets, Democrat Nathan Small, a former Las Cruces city councilor, prevailed in his race with Democrat-turned-Independent-turned Republican Andy Nuñez. Democrat Joanne Ferrary took out Republican Terry McMillan in Las Cruces. Democrat Bill Tallman glided past Republican attorney Lisa Torraco in Albuquerque. Tallman may have gotten an assist from bad publicity related to one of Torraco’s cases. In September, the state Attorney General’s Office tried to remove Torraco as defense counsel from a child solicitation case, citing a conflict of interest.
A surprising number of the contests were so close that we should take to heart the advice that every vote counts.
Albuquerque Republican incumbent David Adkins squeaked past Democrat Ronnie Martinez by two votes. Democrat Daymon Ely, who is a former Sandoval County commissioner, bested incumbent Paul Pacheco by 72 votes in Rio Rancho. And Republican Ricky Little beat Democrat Willie Madrid by 109 votes. In the Senate, Democratic incumbent Bill Sapien pulled out a victory of just 148 votes over Republican Diego Espinoza.
I’m glad to see Sapien return because he’s one of the few moderates in the Roundhouse, and moderates are becoming scarce up there. Moderates are people who can forge compromise. You do remember compromise, right?
What can we make of former Gov. Gary Johnson? He and his supporters were encouraged to hit 3 percent national support and 9 percent in New Mexico. The Libertarians are hoping to draw disaffected Republicans and become a credible “third voice.”
The last word goes to former Lt. Gov. Diane Denish, an unflagging Hillary Clinton supporter, who wrote in Facebook: “(I’m) grateful for the woman who didn't quit, who woke up every day and worked hard for families and children, for me and for other women, for those with no voice… and who at every step exhibits grace, dignity, honor, determination and self reliance.”
© 2016 NEW MEXICO NEWS SERVICES 11/7/16
New Mexico employers have the biggest chance of being sued
By Sherry Robinson
All She Wrote
Creating jobs isn’t just a matter of offering carrots. Just as often, it’s about eliminating, or at least reducing, barriers. Here’s one.
New Mexico employers have the biggest chance in the country of being sued for employment discrimination, according to the Hiscox Guide to Employee Lawsuits. How big a chance? New Mexico employers are 66 percent more likely to be sued. And the average cost for small-to-medium businesses was about $125,000, according to Hiscox Inc., an insurance company.
Steve Kopelman, executive director of the New Mexico Association of Counties, recently shared the study with the legislative Jobs Council.
“We talk about economic development and job creation. This is an area not looked at very much,” he told me. “The Legislature should explore it.”
Public employers – communities, counties and schools – are particularly hard hit, shelling out millions for settlements and court costs instead of public safety or roads. That’s why the Association of Counties is working with the New Mexico Municipal League on a bill for the next legislative session to amend the state’s Whistleblower Act.
“It’s an issue I feel passionately about,” Kopelman said.
In New Mexico, court interpretations of language in the law have reduced protections for public entities that legislators originally provided, said Kopelman.
He cites several cases. One decision sends nearly all cases involving a public employee to a jury to decide if employees acted within the scope of duty, even if the act was criminal and unauthorized. Jury trials are far more expensive, so public entities settle cases to avoid going to trial. Other cases expanded government liability for operation and maintenance of a public building, made design defects a maintenance issue, and handed county governments liability for the actions of a tribal police officer.
The cases not only run counter to intentions of the original law, they generally expand liability for local governments.
In one instance, a driver turned off his headlights at night and sped through a stop sign. The court held the county liable for failing to respond to reports of speeding vehicles on a rural road and not adequately patrolling an area. “This case potentially puts an impossible burden on law enforcement in our state,” Kopelman wrote.
Kopelman describes the 2010 Whistleblower Protection Act as “well intentioned but deeply flawed.” This law prohibits retaliation against public employees, but it’s so broadly written that it can protect poorly performing employees. There are no caps on damages. One case was recently settled for $2 million.
Obviously, any new legislation will have to discriminate between the office slacker and the individual with legitimate complaints. And it will invite scrutiny.
A 2015 bill would have changed the Whistleblower Act. Local governments, the state General Services Department, and New Mexico State University argued that the whistleblower law opened the gate to anybody with a gripe. Legal costs spiraled by millions, and government wasn’t necessarily any better for it.
The 2015 bill proposed tightening the law so that employees could report only a violation of a code of conduct or government regulations. And employees would have to exhaust administrative remedies before filing an action, which meant confronting, again, the people they’d accused. Retaliatory action was narrowly defined as suspension, demotion or dismissal and not, say, a supervisor making somebody’s life miserable. The bill also limited awards of back pay.
Opponents included the ACLU, state employee unions, the Foundation for Open Government, and trial lawyers.
Kopelman admits that the bill “was a little too ambitious” and a new bill would be a scaled-back version. While the present focus is public employers, he’ll probably find support from business groups.
Kopelman is right that we need to relieve burdensome costs to employers, but let’s do it without throwing honest whistleblowers under the bus.
© 2016 NEW MEXICO NEWS SERVICES 10/31/16
Experts say positive campaigning works, negative campaigns don’t
By Sherry Robinson
All She Wrote
During recent road trips, I heard two positive political ads. They’re so rare, it’s like spotting a golden eagle. The ads – in McKinley and Sandoval counties – were simple messages from the candidates, who described their backgrounds, said what they hope to accomplish and asked for the listener’s support.
No mud, no slurs, no innuendos. I wanted to send them both a fan letter.
We hear from political consultants that candidates go negative because it works. We’ve been told this so long, we reluctantly believe it, but it’s not true.
In February, two researchers posted a study, “Going positive: The effects of negative and positive advertising on candidate success and voter turnout,” on the website Research & Politics. Their conclusion: “Our results suggest that it is never efficacious for candidates to run attack ads, but running positive ads can increase a candidate’s margin of victory.”
In fact, the research has been saying for some time that attack ads aren’t effective, but in the heat of the moment, a candidate might resort to them.
“Our findings indicate that the only beneficial results from campaign advertising are generated from advertising a candidate’s strengths and that there are no benefits from attacking one’s opponent, even if the opponent has decided to go on the attack,” the study says. “To the extent that candidates wish to use advertising to increase their margin of victory, the only way to do so is to avoid attacking one’s opponent.”
In places where a candidate is either losing or winning by a large margin, a positive message is most likely to increase their votes, according to the study.
The other factor is advertising. Campaign advertising, the two researchers say, is like an arms race. If both candidates advertise equally, the ads cancel each other out. If one can out-advertise the other AND stay positive, he or she has the advantage.
In my contested district, we received a series of negative mailers about the Republican incumbent that went in the trash. I wondered, why doesn’t the Democratic challenger tell us about herself? Then, like magic, there was a positive mailer, which we read. Since then, the candidate has alternated negative and positive mailers. Negative mailers are courtesy of the PAC Patriot Majority, funded by unions, and its offspring, Progressive Champions.
Down south in Deming, both candidates for state representative have spoken out against mud-slinging after some heavy-handed campaigning by the super PAC Advance New Mexico Now during the Republican primary.
Advance New Mexico Now is run by Jay McCleskey, who is Gov. Susana Martinez’s political consultant.
GOP candidate Vicki Chavez told New Mexico In Depth, an online news site, she thought the mailers hurt her because local people believed she orchestrated them. Legally, the super PACs operate independently of the candidate and are forbidden to coordinate with their campaigns.
In the last week, Chavez and her Democratic opponent, Candie Sweetser, pledged together to wage positive campaigns and discourage supporters from negative messages, but Advance New Mexico Now has sent mailers denouncing Sweetser.
The worst ads make it more obvious there’s way too much money flowing into campaigns.
Like a poke in the eye, we have the TV ads politicizing the heart-rending deaths of children in order to oust Senate Majority Leader Michael Sanchez. The voters who make that decision are in his Valencia and Bernalillo county district. TV views outside his district are wasted. Sanchez has responded with his own tough TV ads.
New Mexico In Depth deserves a high five for its Follow The Message project (ftm.nmindepth.com) that tells us who paid for the message and where their money comes from.
Without a change in the law, voters are at the mercy of big-dollar campaign consultants, and our only defense is information. Hardly a fair contest.
© 2016 NEW MEXICO NEWS SERVICES 10/24/16
How much justice can New Mexico afford?
By Sherry Robinson
All She Wrote
New people moving into the neighborhood left a loaded trailer parked in the driveway. In the night, thieves made off with the trailer but hit a speed bump too fast, lost the trailer, and sped away, leaving the trailer behind.
Welcome to the ‘hood.
We know New Mexico has a crime problem. In 2015 we posted the third-highest violent crime rate and second-highest property crime rate in the nation, according to the FBI.
It’s a heated election year, and one party would like you to believe that it’s the only one that cares about crime. What we need in the Roundhouse is a thoughtful debate AFTER the election that gets at the heart of the problem, the solutions and the cost of the solutions.
Keep in mind that in last winter’s legislative session, one of the big topics was proper staffing and pay for state corrections employees. Even at starvation wages for guards, the cost per inmate is $45,250 a year. So we can lock ‘em up, but with a budget still in the red, what can we afford?
This discussion got sidetracked lately when a study done in Albuquerque concluded that a rise in the city’s crime rate directly corresponds to a reduction in jail population. This study is bound to get a lot of mileage from now until the regular legislative session in January.
But last week a group of lawyers, judges and law enforcement officials said it’s just not that simple. Lots of factors affect the jail population and the crime rate, they said.
Although Democrats resisted a hasty discussion of crime during the recent special session, the two parties successfully passed a number of crime bills last winter, including bail bond reform, a child porn bill, creation of a criminal records database, “Racheal’s Law” to make permanent restraining orders for domestic violence abusers, “Jaydon’s law” to allow the court to consider juvenile records in setting bail or conditions of release, and “the Brittany Alert” to notify the public when a disabled person goes missing.
Failed crime bills included a tougher three-strikes law and a life sentence for child abuse resulting in death. Republicans tried to resurrect both bills during the recent special session.
The three-strikes bill would have added more crimes to the five for which a defendant would get a mandatory life sentence. According to a legislative analysis, the bill would cost $936,700 per inmate, or $55.3 million if the 59 offenders with three or more convictions got the 30-year sentence, according to the public defender’s office. Because the inmate is likely to fight the sentence, it would increase the load on the courts and increase the prison population. On the other hand, it would reduce costs to victims and potential victims.
The other bill would sentence a child abuser who kills a child to life in prison, regardless of the child’s age. This bill, like three-strikes, would increase costs to the Corrections Department and the courts, and yet the bill had no appropriation attached.
This is not an easy discussion. If somebody beats or starves a child to death, shouldn’t he or she be locked up for life, regardless of cost? If the answer is yes, where do we find that money?
If you’ve read this far, you’re probably thinking, isn’t it possible to lock up the worst of the worst and consider alternative sentencing or rehabilitation for others? Well, probably.
When lawmakers tackle these bills again, Democrats predictably will focus on prevention while Republicans predictably will focus on punishment. Out of their compromises will come some practical laws. That’s how democracy should work.
© 2016 NEW MEXICO NEWS SERVICES 10/17/16
Shrinking budget will force change on state’s higher education institutions
By Sherry Robinson
All She Wrote
New Mexico’s small population stretches over a big state, so we have taken higher education to the students, with 32 colleges and universities. Nearly every sizable community has a branch or an independent institution.
For our students, who tend to be older and need to hold a job while they take classes, this is a good thing.
But one of the bigger arguments in the recent legislative special session was how much to cut higher education. The institutions skated with relatively small cuts, but probably not for long. We’re not out of the hole, and come January, lawmakers will put everything back on the table.
Recently, Higher Education Secretary Barbara Damron announced that the state’s system is unsustainable. Each institution has its own board, and they’re more dependent on state funding than experts say is healthy. New Mexico Junior College in Hobbs is lowest, at 20 percent, while Mesalands Community College in Tucumcari is highest, at 61 percent. The three biggest institutions get 35 to 40 percent of their funding from the state.
As state revenues have tanked, so have enrollments, which had risen during the early part of the recession. Also, our population is shrinking as people leave the state. Graduation rates are poor (35 percent, compared with 40 percent nationally).
Traditionally, our institutions made tuition low, and we have seen relatively high participation. But as the state reduces support, the schools will be forced to cut budgets and/or shift more of the burden to students.
The Higher Education Department is working on a plan that will mean collaboration and consolidation.
Funding fewer schools seems like an obvious solution, but it will be a tough sell. These aren’t just schools. For communities, they’re a source of jobs, revenue, pride, entertainment, and worker training for new and existing employers. Legislators can be expected to go to the mat in their defense.
In 2011, New Mexico was 11th in expenditures per full-time student, spending 18 percent more than the national average, according to New Mexico Voices for Children. As the recession deepened, the state reduced spending by 20 percent, far more than other states. Schools raised tuition, and federal contributions increased. Tuition here is still relatively low; even then it’s out of reach for many New Mexicans, the advocacy group concluded.
In 2014, Voices pointed out that New Mexico had slashed higher education funding per student by $4,588, more than all states but two, and tuition had climbed about 25 percent. And yet median household income has taken baby steps. Students have resorted to loans, and we all know what’s happened. The stereotype is the graduate waiting tables and trying to pay off a boatload of student debt. Voices would prefer to see a combination of spending cuts and tax increases.
In a recent survey, respondents indicated they would support such a combination, but before then, we need some discussion about what we’re paying for.
As a single mom, I paid my own freight for the last two years of college, so I have some experience. Tuition wasn’t my big issue. I had trouble finding classes that fit around my work schedule, a common problem. On-campus daycare ALWAYS had a waiting list. It’s discouraging that our institutions have been so slow to get serious about evening courses and other needs of nontraditional students.
Higher education has some explaining to do. Does our 35 percent graduation rate mean that we have a lot of people in college who don’t belong there or just people who need more time to graduate? (I was one of the latter.) And why should higher education be saddled with the cost of remedial courses needed by half the students?
Damron will have to tread carefully on political toes, but if educational administrators are smart, they’ll get ahead of the curve.
© 2016 NEW MEXICO NEWS SERVICES 10/10/16
Vote for bail reform to fix system of turnstile thugs
By Sherry Robinson
All She Wrote
One item on your ballot this November is bail reform, an issue with so much support and study it’s a no-brainer. But House decisions muddled by campaign donations came close to killing reform in the last legislative session.
The issue: Everyone has a right to get out of jail by paying a bond, but over time it’s given us a turnstile system in which the most dangerous criminals get out if they have the money, while many who pose no risk remain behind bars because they can’t afford bail – at a cost of $100 a day to the county.
“We often release high-risk people who commit new crimes and hold people who are no threat to us at all,” said Supreme Court Chief Justice Charles Daniels in a talk before New Mexico Press Women. “We’re releasing boomerang thugs and packing jails with people who don’t belong there. They’ve become debtors’ prisons.”
It explains why some of our worst crimes have been committed by people who had been in jail but bonded out.
“How did we end up with a system where money decides who gets out?” Daniels asked.
We inherited it. The system is so old it goes back to the earliest laws in England. The commercial bail-bond industry has grown steadily since 1900, and, judging by the number of bondsmen stationed near courthouses, is a booming business. Judge for yourself whether that growth is benign or malignant.
Washington, D. C., a model for bail reform, has just 15 percent of pretrial defendants in jail because that 15 percent is dangerous to release. In New Mexico, 39 percent of pretrial defendants are in jail. That high percentage included 2,700 people who couldn’t post bond, according to the New Mexico Association of Counties.
“All the counties are paying a huge amount of money to keep people in jail,” Daniels said. “We have a statewide problem of over-incarceration.”
Bail reform has support from counties, district attorneys, the Greater Albuquerque Chamber of Commerce and the ACLU. The only opposition is the bail industry.
In last winter’s legislative session, lawmakers considered a proposed constitutional amendment allowing judges to deny bail to dangerous defendants and those considered a flight risk and to release offenders held only because they can’t afford bail. “It gives the judge the ability to say, ‘I don’t care how much money you have or how much your cartel has, you’re not getting out,’” Daniels said.
You might think the need for reform is not only obvious but urgent. And yet, here’s what happened in February.
House Speaker Don Tripp, R-Socorro, referred the proposed constitutional amendment to three committees, which is usually fatal because of time and politics. (The House often accuses the Senate of killing their bills with three referrals.) And Rep. Yvette Harrell, R-Alamogordo and chair of the House Regulatory and Public Affairs Committee, bottled up the amendment in her committee.
The Albuquerque Journal revealed that Tripp’s political action committee had received $2,500 from a bail bond company, and Harrell received $1,000. After the newspaper took Tripp, Harrell and the House to the woodshed, the House miraculously passed the amendment; the Senate had already passed it. The final measure had bipartisan sponsorship that included House Majority Leader Nate Gentry, an Albuquerque lawyer who supported the bill from its inception.
Supporters see it as a plus for public safety that will also save taxpayers about $18 million a year.
Now it’s up to voters on Election Day. Choose to keep the bad guys (and gals) in jail, but give poor, nonviolent offenders – and taxpayers – a break.
© 2016 NEW MEXICO NEWS SERVICES 10/3/16
Rising tide lifts Mexican and American boats
By Sherry Robinson
All She Wrote
Listo! Uno, dos, tres!
This was not how I was planning to spend my Monday evening. I had traveled with a small group of fellow historians to the Mexican state of Chihuahua to see Tres Castillos, a place where the great Apache Chief Victorio died.
Like New Mexico, Chihuahua has had lots of rain, and we were far off the paved highway on a dirt road rendered into mush by the moisture. Despite a valiant effort by our guide, the van was stuck.
So the men did what men do in matters mechanical. They gathered around the vehicle’s rear tire. They pondered. They mused. They studied. In two languages, sometimes mixed together, they proposed this remedy and that – in a few words and mindful of not insulting the driver. It has ever been so, regardless of nationality. Even if they were Martians, this is the protocol.
Large stones laid in the track made no difference. Neither did six men pushing. Nobody needed to speak Spanish to know they had to push at the count of three. (I was lending my weight to the effort by standing on the bumper over the spinning tire.) No use. A farmer with his tractor rescued us. By then, it was dark.
In a nearby village, one of our hosts grilled tortillas, meat and vegetables. We stood marveling at the place we were in, the good food and the hospitality.
We were supposed to be in Chihuahua City that night, and my plan was to find a bar and listen to the American presidential debate with Mexican people. Instead, we mulled our relations from conversations and observations on their side of the border.
About the time we were trying to dislodge the van, Donald Trump was opening with the statement, "Our jobs are fleeing the country. They are going to Mexico. They’re going to many other countries." In truth, we’ve exported jobs, but we’ve also increased jobs in the United States.
Trump said a friend who builds manufacturing plants told him Mexico is the eighth wonder of the world. “They're building some of the biggest plants anywhere in the world, some of the most sophisticated, some of the best plants,” he said. “With the United States, as he said, not so much.”
Mexico does have a growing manufacturing base, but Tesla is building the biggest factory in the world in California, which will make Boeing’s Washington plant the second biggest and Mitsubishi’s Illinois plant third.
We found Chihuahua surprisingly prosperous, with modern manufacturing plants and massive farms and ranches. Our neighboring Mexican state has more than 350 manufacturing and assembly plants, according to a recruiting website.
Ford is investing $2.5 billion in three plants in the states of Chihuahua and Guanajuato, creating 3,800 jobs. And the company plans to move its small-car production to Mexico, which Trump said will cost the United States thousands of jobs. Ford said it won’t cost any American jobs.
“We have to stop our companies from leaving the United States and, with it, firing all of their people,” Trump said. “They're going to Mexico. So many hundreds and hundreds of companies are doing this.”
Mexico has taken some of our manufacturing, although probably not hundreds and hundreds of companies, but the wall is no solution. During our stay, we could see the results in housing developments, shopping malls, busy highways and orthodontists – hallmarks of the middle class.
At the same time, illegal immigration has plummeted. Maybe it’s because the United States has made it more difficult to enter, but just as likely it’s because Mexican people can find work at home. Their success will make Trump’s wall obsolete.
© 2016 NEW MEXICO NEWS SERVICES 9/26/16
Killing the baby killers won’t stop abuse
By Sherry Robinson
All She Wrote
Baby Brianna’s mom got out of jail recently, after serving 13 years of her 27-year debt to society. We even have a law named for the baby killed at five months old that makes child abuse resulting in death a first degree felony. Stephanie Rene Lopez abused her infant and did nothing as the baby’s father and uncle treated Brianna like a sex toy. No matter what happens now, she will forever be known as Baby Brianna’s mom.
That’s the real punishment.
The governor and then-district attorney, in prosecuting Lopez and four other family members, pointed out every single one of the baby’s numerous injuries in court as jurors wept. So it’s understandable that she feels strongly about punishing people like this, so much so that she wants to reinstate the death penalty.
If it would make a difference, we should do it. But it won’t make a difference.
We had this discussion in 2009, when then Gov. Bill Richardson wrestled with his decision to sign a bill repealing the death penalty. Even though he heard from 12,000 constituents, and three-quarters favored the repeal, he remained conflicted.
The day he signed the bill, he stopped at the state pen to see its cells for himself and concluded that prison could be worse than death.
Arguments against the death penalty can be heard from both sides of the political fence.
Recently, Marc Hyden, of Conservatives Concerned about the Death Penalty, wrote that both red and blue states are moving away from it. Executions are at a 20-year low, and polls in three Republican states indicate residents prefer alternatives. He notes a study estimating that about 4 percent of people sentenced to death are innocent.
“For pro-life conservatives who believe that we should safeguard innocent life, not take it, the death penalty – and the inevitable errors that come with it – is simply unacceptable,” he writes.
Hyden argues that capital punishment costs millions more than life without parole. Why? Because our justice system requires extensive legal procedures that inflict more pain on the families of victims and criminals. Hyden calls the death penalty “another wasteful government program.”
How wasteful? About $1.5 million more than a life sentence, according to Margaret Strickland, president-elect of the New Mexico Criminal Defense Lawyers Association. This is the cost of “constitutional protections and mandates that are required in cases where the state wants to take the life of a citizen,” she writes.
Hyden and Strickland both cite a survey of police chiefs who rank capital punishment at the bottom of their lists for protecting their communities. It’s not a deterrent. Death penalty states don’t have lower crime rates. What is a deterrent? More cops and better training and technology, Strickland says.
The state’s Catholic bishops don’t mince words.
“The death penalty does not prevent the death of children,” they write in an op-ed. “The current financial crisis of the state damages the ability for state programs to deliver critical prevention services. These are the issues at hand for a special session.
“It is evident that the governor has chosen to use the deaths of police officers and children to drive a politically-motivated action to place the death penalty on a very short special session purely for the purpose of politics and campaign jockeying…The governor is attempting to create a distraction from the numerous crises taking place in New Mexico.”
Special sessions are reserved for urgent state business – like deteriorating finances – not the issue du jour. Anything else is properly held until the regular session. If we need another discussion of the death penalty – and we don’t – it can wait until January.
Stephanie Lopez may be out of jail, but she’ll never be free. Her real punishment is having to live with what she’s done.
© 2016 NEW MEXICO NEWS SERVICES 9/19/16
Heavy-handed response to pipeline protest galvanizes Indian Country
By Sherry Robinson
All She Wrote
New Mexico has 22 tribes and 34 pipeline operators. Watching the standoff in North Dakota, I’ve gotta say we would have done this better.
In April the Standing Rock Sioux Tribe set up camp in the path of a pipeline project, protesting plans to tunnel under the Missouri River. The tribe says the pipeline would jeopardize its water supply and damage or destroy cultural sites.
The camp, with 4,000 people and representatives of more than 100 tribes, is now bigger than most North Dakota towns.
North Dakota has suffered the same oil bust that we have, so Energy Transfer Partners has support from business and the state to build its Dakota Access Pipeline, a $3.8 billion, 1,172-mile project to carry crude to Illinois. The pipeline would be a huge economic boost and relieve U. S. dependence on foreign oil, the company says, and it’s safer than transporting oil by truck or train.
In its lawsuit, Standing Rock complains that the tribe wasn’t properly consulted. The company disagrees.
You might ask, don’t we have procedures? We do, and they failed at several stress points.
The project crosses mostly private land, and the company obtained its rights of way. A state regulatory agency held three hearings, and Standing Rock didn’t appear, a misstep on the tribe’s part but not as big as the blunders on the other side. A small percentage of pipeline crosses federal land, and the Army Corps gave it a pass.
On projects like this, the law requires the federal government to consult tribes on a government-to-government basis. That didn’t happen. The company and the corps made a half-hearted effort to consult the tribe late in the game, which wasn’t enough, considering that the pipeline would cross under the Missouri River at Lake Oahe, the reservation’s main source of drinking water. A leak or spill could be disastrous. A contractor responsible for permitting dropped the ball.
The Bismarck Tribune reported that two years ago, the pipeline was slated to cross the Missouri River north of Bismarck, but the Army Corps rejected that route because of its potential threat to the city’s water supply. Plus, that route would have had more road, wetland and water crossings. Around September 2014, the route was changed to its current course.
That news, in August, added gasoline to the fire. If the pipeline was a threat to mostly white Bismarck, why isn’t it a threat to the reservation? This comes under the heading of environmental justice, and it’s also covered by law. It means the Army Corps should have written an environmental impact statement instead of the simpler environmental assessment. And the EIS would require meaningful consultation with the tribe.
The flashpoint was on Labor Day, when the company dispatched bulldozers to dig up two miles of the route through culturally and historically sensitive land – despite the promise on its website to protect those sites.
Now Energy Transfer Partners is in the news around the world for using pepper spray and snarling dogs on people trying to protect their water and burial sites. I’ve interviewed all kinds of New Mexico business people, and I can’t think of a single one who’d do something that stupid.
Next North Dakota called out the National Guard and began arresting people for trespassing, including medics and reporters.
So, congratulations Energy Transfer Partners and North Dakota. Your thuggish response has galvanized the nation’s tribes. People and donations are pouring into Standing Rock’s tent city. As tensions began to boil last week, the federal government called for a time out. Somebody had some sense.
Here in New Mexico, we understand cultural sites and federal law. More importantly, we have better relations among our diverse citizens. North Dakota has decades of atrocious relations with its Native American communities – and doesn’t care.
© 2016 NEW MEXICO NEWS SERVICES 9/12/16
State snubs economic development project in rural New Mexico
By Sherry Robinson
All She Wrote
Wonder why we’re poor? Here’s the type of thing that happens here.
In 2014, the biggest thing in tourism and historic preservation was the purchase of the derelict Castañeda Hotel in Las Vegas by veteran developer Allan Affeldt, who successfully restored La Posada Hotel in Winslow, Ariz.
The Castañeda, like much of Las Vegas, is a rundown remnant of yesteryear that’s been the object of hopes and what ifs. In 1898 it was Fred Harvey’s first hotel; it closed in 1948. This is a project only “an eccentric investor like me” would want, Affeldt says.
In the hospitality business, you need a certain size to make the investment worthwhile. “The Castañeda was kind of an enticing project,” he says, but bathrooms are down the hall. To provide modern amenities, a restoration would reduce 45 rooms to 25. “It was hard to justify the investment given the size.”
Also in 2014, Affeldt bought a second historic Las Vegas property, the Plaza Hotel, out of foreclosure. He made improvements and turned it around. (I stayed there before and after. His team worked wonders.)
“I figured maybe by putting the two together, I could make it work,” he says. He needed New Markets Tax Credits and began negotiating with the New Mexico Finance Authority.
The New Markets Tax Credit (NMTC), administered by the U. S. Treasury Department, is supposed to stimulate investment and economic growth in low-income areas. The New Mexico Finance Authority funded 13 projects at $154.3 million in about the last 10 years.
Affeldt applied for NMTCs, and the Finance Authority scored the application favorably but awarded available funding to another project. He reapplied. By then Affeldt had done stabilization, structural and remediation plans and had letters of support from the state and city.
“Mysteriously, we got fewer points, and they never notified us. We contacted them and they said we didn’t meet the threshold. How could we not meet the threshold when we had done all that work? We were simply dismissed.”
Four applications and four rejections later, (he did receive a historic tax credit from another agency) and the Castañeda still sits. “It’s been very expensive,” he said.
NMTC programs, I learned, can have different missions, and NMFA’s program focuses on community and economic development. Two boards approved its criteria. Because of high fees associated with the process, most projects need to be $5 million in size to be cost effective.
Someone familiar with the deal told me that when Affedlt combined the two hotels in his application, he entered a Catch 22. Federal rules require the program to produce new economic activity. The Castañeda would do that, but the Plaza is considered ongoing activity, and yet, by itself, the Castañeda is too small for this program. Another hitch is that the Finance Authority took a loss – it’s only one – on the Plaza under its previous ownership.
Finally, there’s some doubt about whether Las Vegas will ever be a destination.
The agency is cautious. No criticism there. But we should ask: Is the NMTC program, as structured, working for rural New Mexico, where the deals will be small? How do we treat applicants? The program is ten years old and ripe for review.
Two deeper problems are the state’s low tolerance for risk, a product of 150 years of government spending, and our collective low self-esteem. We’re just not sure New Mexico is worth the investment.
Affeldt has other options, and he may have to get his project done in spite of New Mexico and its idea of help.
My money is on Affeldt. His La Posada Hotel is a beautiful, flourishing destination, even in hot, drab Winslow. In Las Vegas, energized locals have bought a dozen old properties, awaiting the Castañeda’s reopening and its catalytic effect. Stay tuned.
© 2016 NEW MEXICO NEWS SERVICES 9/5/16
Don’t mind your own business – they’re all our kids
By Sherry Robinson
All She Wrote
Here we are back in a sad, familiar place. We’ve lost another child to a brutal, unthinkable murder. Her face has been inside our heads since it first appeared in the newspaper, just like all the other faces of little ones lost to vile criminal acts. After the flowers, balloons and stuffed animals, come the hearings and task forces and inquiries and ordinances and laws and speeches.
And then we turn to other matters until the next time, which comes too soon.
But maybe this time we can begin the change, which starts with the truth, heard in frank testimony recently before Albuquerque city councilors and Bernalillo County commissioners.
Sgt. Amy Dudewicz, who works in the Sheriff’s Office special victims unit, said they get more child-abuse and neglect calls than they can respond to. Two UNM pediatricians said that for every child who makes the news, hundreds more are hurt. Albuquerque police have just three child-abuse liaisons reviewing more than 900 cases a month.
And this is in our largest city. Imagine the situation in rural areas.
Two politicians made sense.
U. S. Rep. Michelle Lujan Grisham observed that we have many programs to address successive family crises.
“The problem is, we touch a family during birth for a couple of months, and then we walk away,” she said. “Then during the first incident of domestic violence we touch them again, and we walk away. Then for the first drug abuse violation, and we walk away. And for the first truancy, and we walk away. And then for juvenile justice,” she said.
If all those efforts could be stitched together for at-risk families – and the social workers and first responders know who they are – “we could eradicate negative public health outcomes,” she said.
Sen. Linda Lopez said child abuse prevention has been a near constant subject during her 20 years in the legislature.
“This is our community,” she said with emotion. “Every entity needs to be engaged – schools, nonprofits, business. There are many undercurrents. Kindergarten teachers say that when some children come to school, it’s the only safe place they have.
“What are we adults doing to say, ‘No more’? It’s something we have to own and say, ‘Our children are our business.’ It’s somebody seeing and knocking on a neighbor’s door to say, can I help you.”
Note that these two Democrats aren’t calling for big expenditures but for more personal responsibility, better communication and links between existing programs. But yes, some money will need to be spent. It’s a matter of pay now or pay later. But we can do more with what we have, and we can’t afford to be distracted.
The governor has called for a return of the death penalty, and our young victim gives the idea traction. The clergy and various experts offer strong arguments against it. Let me add another voice.
Former social worker Barbara Alvarez wrote last week on the online New Mexico Political Report: “While death-penalty proponents say that this will deter other abusers, let’s remember that, when someone is in the grip of their drug of choice, or if they are caught up in anger or frustration, they don’t think rationally. Therefore, they aren’t going to say to themselves, ‘Hey, wait a minute. If I stab/rape/hit/stomp on or give this kid drugs, and they die, I could die. Nah, I’d better not.’”
The death penalty debate is a distraction and a false solution. Let’s stay focused on kids.
We were raised to think that minding your own business is a virtue. In these violent times, it’s not. When Linda Lopez says we need to own the problem, she means we need to step out of our comfort zones, consider every kid as our own, pay attention, and speak up.
© 2016 NEW MEXICO NEWS SERVICES 8/2916
Animal hoarders inflict misery on pets they claim to love
By Sherry Robinson
All She Wrote
We may think of animal hoarders as wacky people like the Cat Lady with six felines. But in New Mexico, police have entered dwellings with upwards of 50 cats and dogs. An Otero County man had 208 dogs.
The scene is uncomfortably familiar: Dozens of sick or starving animals with no food or water, a “home” with floors covered in filth, stacked cages of animals, and scattered carcasses. Local authorities pick up the animals and haul them to the local shelter, where many must be euthanized; others may be rehabilitated and adopted.
Invariably, the owner of the horror show claims to be an animal lover who rescues unwanted pets. The man with 208 dogs started out as Mission Desert Hills Sanctuary for Dogs, and descended into animal hoarding.
It’s a nationwide problem – so much so that it even has its own organizations and websites. One is the Hoarding of Animals Research Consortium (HARC) at Tufts University, which spent 10 years studying the problem. They learned that anybody can be a hoarder.
Veterinarian Debra Clopton, of Edgewood, insisted she loved her 49 dogs; last week, a jury convicted her of 22 counts of animal cruelty in Santa Fe District Court. Clopton testified that her doublewide trailer was a place for dogs with nowhere else to go. She said she was treating them successfully. Another veterinarian testified that the dogs were malnourished and had formed packs because of their living conditions. Neighbors had complained of constant barking and fighting.
HARC researchers say animal hoarders are often secretive and may be living a double life that comes as a surprise to co-workers. They may do without electricity or plumbing because a stranger entering to make repairs might blow the whistle. Often what gives them away is the smell. When authorities visit, the hoarders admit they have too many animals, promise to reduce the numbers and then start accumulating again.
Experts say hoarding is a mental illness, although they don’t agree on the cause. They use words like “dysfunctional attachment” and “compulsive and addictive behavior.” Hoarders are blind to the suffering they’ve created, according to HARC, because of “cognitive distortions,” like impaired judgment, difficulty understanding information about animal needs, faulty self-governance, psychological defenses, magical thinking, and lack of insight.
Every state has animal cruelty laws that require proper critter care, but failure to provide food and water or treat disease and injury is an act of omission rather than commission, so animal hoarding is a misdemeanor offense. And laws often originated long ago in relation to farming and ranching and may need updating.
For example, even if the law includes neglect, it’s written for one animal, not 49 or 208. The Animal League Defense Fund argues that stronger laws are needed when larger numbers of animals are involved. More specific definitions of “neglect,” “proper care,” and animal hoarding would help prosecutors.
New Mexico’s law could use some fine tuning. It includes under “cruelty to animals” the failure to provide necessary sustenance, but it should be more specific about neglect. It authorizes courts to order a person to participate in an animal cruelty prevention program or obtain treatment of a mental health disorder. The crime is a misdemeanor, but after four or more convictions, it’s a felony. That’s good, but it should address animal hoarding specifically.
Even with successful prosecution, the hoarder will just begin collecting animals again. Experts estimate recidivism at 90 percent. Debra Clopton had a conviction in Rio Rancho before moving to Edgewood. A Cibola County woman, who was sleeping in a car while 80 dogs had the run of her house, said she had 100 dogs a few years earlier in another location.
Experts of all stripes urge us to speak up. These cases often begin with a concerned neighbor.
© 2016 NEW MEXICO NEWS SERVICES 8/22/16
Movie industry draws rave reviews in blockbuster year but not from everyone
By Sherry Robinson
All She Wrote
Bundles of cables ring the Las Vegas plaza like a wreath. Movie set crews, all New Mexicans, maneuver vehicles, lights and props while locally hired security people and cops steer people and traffic around the shoot for “Granite Mountain,” based on the Arizona firefighters who battled an epic blaze to save a town.
The cast and crew seem to have the run of the Plaza Hotel, where we’re staying. For everybody, it’s good business.
A gallery owner tells us the movie makers are paying every store on the plaza for the inconvenience and lost business. “Obviously, it didn’t keep you from coming in, and it’s a nice gesture,” she says.
“Granite Mountain” employs 190 New Mexico crew members, 40 New Mexico actors, and about 1,300 New Mexico background talent, according to the state Film Office.
This is a snapshot of a New Mexico success story. Against a backdrop of dreary economic numbers, the movie and television industry dazzles. Direct spending into the state economy for the fiscal year ending June 30 was $387 million, up from $288 million the year before – a new record.
A new development is the organization of the Film Business Alliance of New Mexico. Until now, the industry voice has largely been the union, IATSE Local 480. The alliance is the first organization of businesses, and they want us to know the industry has 350 vendors and service providers in the state, ranging from restaurants and hotels to building supply stores. The group touts more than 17,000 media industries jobs.
“We need the Legislature to realize how many small businesses rely on this industry,” said executive director Joyce Smith, who owns two of those businesses herself.
This is a good idea because I still hear lawmakers carping about the industry subsidies. Movie makers get a 25 percent tax break on qualifying expenditures, primarily for New Mexico goods and services. TV series get an additional 5 percent.
Recently, the governor, who must be relieved to have some good news to share, held news conferences and described the industry as a “valuable partner” in “growing and diversifying our economy.”
“We knew we had to diversify,” she was quoted as saying. “We’ve worked to strengthen and stabilize the film incentive program.”
That’s partly true. This particular diversification began under former Gov. Bill Richardson. Gov. Susana Martinez began her first term attacking the industry and its subsidies, and in 2011 budget cuts, legislators capped film rebates at $50 million. Although she promised no further changes and assured film people – much later – of her support, the damage was done. Phones stopped ringing. Projects went elsewhere. Nobody understood how the cap would work or whether the rebates would be available. As it turns out, we’ve never reached the cap.
So, the governor can claim to have stabilized the rebates, although she was the one who destabilized them. And while the governor noted record film spending in the last two years, she didn’t mention that in 2013 it was $213 million, which slid to $162 million in 2014.
In her announcement, Martinez said she supported the industry by signing a bipartisan tax package in 2013 that, among other things, raised tax credits for television series filmed in New Mexico.
This is also partly true. The “Breaking Bad” bill drew Republican opposition in committee and passed the House on a party-line vote, with Republicans (including Rep. Nora Espinoza, now a candidate for secretary of state) voting against it.
The bill didn’t gain Republican support until it was heavily amended on the Senate floor to include a raft of tax measures friendly to other businesses. Then the Senate’s most liberal Dems, including Senate Majority Leader Michael Sanchez, voted against it.
The Film Business Alliance has its work cut out.
© 2016 NEW MEXICO NEWS SERVICES 8/15/16
Taxing stoners from seed to sale: California and Arizona to vote on marijuana law
By Sherry Robinson
All She Wrote
New Mexico has watched Colorado since it legalized recreational marijuana and wondered when – or if – we should get in the game.
Arizona isn’t hesitating. Voters there will decide in November whether to follow Colorado down that green path, and so will California, Nevada, Maine and Massachusetts.
Polls last spring showed 65 percent of Californians support legalization of pot, which is expected to produce a bumper crop of tax revenues. The stalwart opposition in the Golden State comes from law enforcement and pot growers.
Visiting family members in California last spring, we drove through Humboldt County, home of redwood forests and the state’s decades-old, illegal marijuana growing industry. I picked up a copy of the Redwood Times.
Columnist Tim Martin tried to console local growers on the radical changes ahead: “Cheer up, man. We’re not trying to work your turf. We just want to ‘build trust’ and ‘regulate the industry.’ We also plan to tax your cash crop and take a cut for ourselves. What could possibly go wrong?”
During a similar campaign in 2010, locals plastered bumper stickers on their vehicles that said, “Save Humboldt County – Keep Pot Illegal.” Some potheads predicted that legalized weed would cause the price to plummet, hurting the local economy.
“Sorry, Mr. Zig-Zag. That kind of bizarre thinking is based on unsound economic reasoning and one too many bong hits,” Martin wrote. “Marijuana must be legalized. It’s become so entwined with our local economy that it’s estimated a quarter of all the money made here comes from pot cultivation.” The county is so dependent on pot, “we’re going to tax you stoners from seed to sale.”
In tickling the local funny bone, Martin put his finger on a big driver in all these states.
Arizona has seen flat tax revenues and flat budgets, the result of two decades of tax cuts that will cost the state $4 billion in fiscal 2016, according university economists quoted by the Arizona Republic. Arizona has done a lot of cutting, and even education wasn’t spared.
During a recent trip, I was surprised to find Arizona’s tourist information center, just over the state line on I-40, closed permanently. These centers are important to state tourism, but Arizona has apparently decided to preserve its tax cuts by sacrificing other pieces of its economy. A new revenue stream would solve all kinds of problems.
Which is why, in November, more voters will decide marijuana issues, either recreational or medical use, than any other year to date. And because Colorado, Washington, Alaska, Oregon, and the District of Columbia have approved recreational use by adults, other states now have a track record to look at.
As my colleague Bob Hagan pointed out recently, the predicted dire consequences didn’t materialize in Colorado. Campaigns in California and Arizona claim that legalizing marijuana will take the air out of Mexican drug cartels, according to news accounts. Ads will also feature cops saying legalization will free up personnel and resources to fight violent crime.
Already, the terminology is changing. Proponents of legalization call laws against marijuana “prohibition.”
Opponents have arguments that are more sophisticated than old “Reefer Madness” films. They talk about creating a new Big Tobacco, about the potential for money influencing the vote. So far, it appears both sides are well funded.
California and Arizona are voting this year because their referendum laws allow petition-based measure on the ballot. New Mexico doesn’t have such a mechanism, so a constitutional amendment first has to pass the Legislature before going to a public vote. So far, legislators and the governor haven’t warmed to the idea, but a poll this year measured support at 61 percent of New Mexicans. Will the state budget be a tipping point?
© 2016 NEW MEXICO NEWS SERVICES 8/8/16
We fill budget holes instead of creating a dynamic economy
By Sherry Robinson
All She Wrote
David Abbey, the longtime director of the Legislative Finance Committee, has said the state is running on fumes, and he’s not one to exaggerate.
Because the recession hangs on and oil and gas prices dropped, tax revenues were down for 11 months of the last fiscal year by a whopping $543.3 million. Even though legislators cut budgets and swept spare change from every possible corner during the last session, we’re now spending money we don’t have.
That might be a fine American tradition, but it’s illegal. The federal government can run deficits; New Mexico state government can’t.
So Democrats, now joined by some Republicans, want a special session, but the governor is waiting for numbers from the entire year – as if one month’s revenues will make a difference – before calling a special session.
Nobody likes a special session, especially during an election year, when the inevitable ugly decisions could affect votes. But the longer they wait, the worse it gets. They’ve used cash reserves to plug the hole, so the account hovers at 1 percent of state spending, or $63 million, down from $319.8 million last year. Good governance calls for higher balances.
Members of both parties have been calling for a special session for more than a month, and still the governor waits. Postponing bad news won’t make it go away.
Maybe the governor doesn’t want to hear any I-told-you-sos. She line-item vetoed language in the budget that would have allowed her to make additional spending cuts if revenues were still tailing off. And members of the House Appropriations and Finance Committee warned that sweeping unspent balances would create a shortfall.
“We’re taking from nonrecurring sources,” Rep. Patricia Lundstrom, D-Gallup, said back in March. “The money doesn’t come back.”
Mostly, the chief executive wants to avoid a showdown on tax increases.
Even now – before a special session – the planned rate cuts to Medicaid providers will make doctor recruiting even harder and hurt hospitals in rural areas. This is the third such cut. The state’s colleges and universities are shedding jobs and programs. And, as I previously reported, the Cultural Affairs Department will reduce staffing at the state’s already understaffed historical sites. Those are a few of many planned reductions.
Legislators know there’s nothing left to trim. Senate Finance Committee Chairman John Arthur Smith has suggested tapping the Tobacco Settlement Permanent Fund for $230 million, but it won’t be enough. Lawmakers, he said, should be able to apply all remedies, including tax increases.
Although the governor has repeated her mantra of no tax increases, two prominent Republicans have said that taxation could be part of the mix. Rep. Jason Harper, R-Rio Rancho, chairman of the interim Revenue Stabilization and Tax Policy Committee, said in June that he would consider returning the gross receipts tax on food and increasing the state’s gasoline tax, now 17 cents a gallon. State Land Commissioner Aubrey Dunn said he expected a combination of taxes and spending cuts.
Democrats have also proposed a delay in promised reductions of the corporate income tax.
These are all band-aids. The economy is still weak.
Meanwhile, the governor, in a chirpy op-ed on CNBC, declared that “since day one, I’ve made growing and diversifying our economy one of my top priorities.” No, she hasn’t. If she had, our revenue picture might look different. She talks about cutting taxes and “slashing” red tape. The tax cuts may change in a special session. Red tape is unchanged, and so, alas, is our antiquated tax system.
Listening to governors speak at political conventions, I heard a few who understand their states’ economies. Until we have such leaders, we’re going to keep applying band-aids and visiting our kids out of state.
© 2016 NEW MEXICO NEWS SERVICES 8/1/16
This time, we need to get the right person as secretary of state
By Sherry Robinson
All She Wrote
The two candidates who would replace disgraced Secretary of State Dianna Duran are slugging it out.
Last week Democratic Party of New Mexico Treasurer Robert Lara filed a complaint with the Secretary of State’s Office against Republican candidate Nora Espinoza, saying she violated state campaign laws. Lara said he filed as a citizen and not as an officer of the Democratic Party.
According to the complaint, Espinoza, a Republican state representative from Roswell, used campaign money to pay credit card bills, made payments to organizations without specifying what services they provided, didn’t identify the occupations of many contributors who gave $250 or more by listing the occupations of many contributors as “Business,” “Business man,” “Business woman” or “Business person.” And she improperly listed couples as individual contributors. The alleged violations took place before Espinoza began her campaign for Secretary of State.
Lara’s complaint also said Espinoza failed to report an in-kind contribution by Rep. Zach Cook, R-Ruidoso, for his legal services.
In June Cook filed a complaint, also as a citizen, against Maggie Toulouse Oliver, the Democratic candidate, alleging that a 2014 donation from one political action committee to another should have been reported as an in-kind contribution because a note on the donation said, “TV ad buy–Maggie Toulouse Oliver.”
Espinoza accused Toulouse Oliver, who is Bernalillo County Clerk, of accepting illegal contributions and failing to report them. But none of the money flowed to Toulouse Oliver’s campaign, and by law, the candidate has no control over actions of the two PACs in question.
The Toulouse Oliver campaign called allegations against her “frivolous” and “clearly politically motivated.” Espinoza has denied having errors in her report and told the Albuquerque Journal her opponent’s campaign “files phony complaints” to shift the focus from her record and positions.
The secretary of state oversees elections and maintains state voter rolls, so a more pressing issue is voter fraud and voter ID. Espinoza, like Dianna Duran, is campaigning on voter fraud and wants photo ID laws for voters. Toulouse Oliver says voter fraud is rare. Duran wasted $10,000 of public money and a lot of time looking for fraud and found 19 (count ‘em!) noncitizens who voted. Meanwhile, Duran and a few others were fudging their campaign reports.
We’ve also heard Espinoza linked to the Church of Scientology. The left-leaning New Mexico Political Report said in June that Espinoza appeared in videos praising a Scientology-related group for helping her pass legislation in 2015 prohibiting schools and school officials from coercing students into taking medication. Her response was, “A secretary of state is not a public health officer, nor does she debate or vote on public policy issues of these types.”
The brickbats over alleged campaign violations are understandable, but why are we hearing about Scientology?
Each candidate is trying to show her opponent misusing the office she hopes to fill. Toulouse Oliver wants to make the campaign all about Dianna Duran, who resigned last year after pleading guilty to misusing campaign funds to cover gambling debt. Espinoza has said Duran isn’t in this race.
But Duran is very much a part of this race. Her actions, in first misusing campaign funds and then stonewalling and resigning ahead of impeachment hearings, cloud this campaign. It is about Dianna Duran, just as the campaign in 2010 was about Mary Herrera and the one in 2006 was about Rebecca Vigil-Giron.
This election is about getting the right person in the Secretary of State’s Office, and so we will pay more attention, if not to nitpicking over side issues, to character and judgment.
© 2016 NEW MEXICO NEWS SERVICES 7/25/16
Business media on Trump: reckless borrowing, towering ego, 4 bankruptcies
By Sherry Robinson
All She Wrote
Yes, but is he a good businessman?
Some supporters believe Donald Trump will get things done because he’s a successful businessman. Look at him through the lens of the business press, and you see a different picture.
Fortune magazine in a May profile credited Trump with amassing a fortune in real estate, helped by a booming market. Forbes, on its website, describes Trump’s successes: The Trump Tower in 1983, the mansion in Palm Beach he transformed into a private club, his book, his golf courses.
Forbes also listed his failures: Four bankruptcies (Trump Taj Mahal Casino Resort in Atlantic City in 1991, New York Plaza Hotel in 1992, Trump Hotels and Casino in 2004, and Trump Entertainment Resorts in 2009), along with smaller companies that crumbled.
Said Mitt Romney: “And whatever happened to Trump Airlines? How about Trump University? And then there’s Trump Magazine and Trump Vodka and Trump Steaks and Trump Mortgage. A business genius he is not.”
To be fair, there is no disgrace in having a bankruptcy. Venture capitalist David Durgin once told me that he considers bankruptcy a form of scar tissue that reminds entrepreneurs not to make those mistakes again. He himself had one such learning experience.
But four bankruptcies give business people pause. Democrats are running ads featuring workers and small businesses burned by Trump.
Fortune and Forbes both looked at his ill-conceived deals. In mid-1995 he launched a publicly traded holding company, Trump Hotels & Casino Resorts, which owned one casino, Trump Plaza. He added the Trump Taj Mahal and Trump’s Castle, by borrowing heavily at high interest rates. From the beginning, the Taj Mahal lost money because of its oppressive debt load. He snubbed an investment offer that would have stabilized the company because the investor wanted to change the name. The Trump name stays, he insisted; the investor walked.
Trump has also gotten in trouble by venturing into unfamiliar industries. In 1988 he bought Eastern Air Shuttle, a no-frills commuter. Trump slicked up the interior to deliver a luxury experience, but what customers wanted was convenience. Highly leveraged, Trump defaulted on his loans and creditors took back the company.
In 2006 he announced Trump Vodka. Slogan: “Success distilled.” Demand didn’t materialize. Also in 2006, he launched Trump Mortgage, which suffered from incompetent hires and capsized with the housing market in 2007, Forbes said.
Fortune found five themes in the Trump Way:
“He always comes first. Whatever the deal, Trump must be the star.
“He wants you to know how rich he is.”
“He sues first, asks questions later.”
“He’s taken on debt recklessly.”
“He thinks he’s great at everything.”
Trump has had a running spat with Forbes over his financial worth since 1982, always claiming his net worth is higher. When he announced his candidacy, he said his net worth exceeded $10 billion. Forbes called that a whopper and said it’s $4.1 billion.
On the campaign trail, Trump has criticized some proposals dear to business, such as trade agreements and the need for highly skilled immigrants. In his acceptance speech, he blasted corporate lobbyists. He said he would fund his own campaign, but Forbes says that unless he’s “willing to sell his most valuable holdings, he has nowhere near enough cash to fulfill that promise.”
The Wall Street Journal has editorialized, "Mr. Trump needs to convince millions of skeptical voters that he's more than an impulsive bully who poses too big a risk in the Oval Office.” It thumped him for his attack on Gov. Susana Martinez.
More recently, the WSJ speculates that Trump could be preferable because once he has his wall, he’ll sign anything a Republican Congress brings him. If that’s supposed to pass as an endorsement, it may be the best the editorialists could do.
© 2016 NEW MEXICO NEWS SERVICES 7/18/16
What’s your spare bedroom worth on Airbnb?
By Sherry Robinson
All She Wrote
It’s called the sharing economy, and it’s dismantling our economic models.
Need a ride? Text Uber to have a driver show up and take you there in his or her own vehicle. Need a vacation rental? Go to Airbnb.com to book everything from a castle to a couch directly from the owner. Need tools, sports gear, photo equipment, garden space? Somebody will rent them to you for a few bucks.
Last week the city of Santa Fe and the town of Taos reached an agreement with Airbnb to collect lodgers’ taxes from Airbnb hosts, beginning August 1.
Until now, people renting their homes or mother-in-law quarters or bedrooms have been invisible to the tax man, but traditional hotels, motels, and bed and breakfast inns pay lodgers’ taxes to promote their areas. This, in fact, was a complaint during legislative Jobs Council hearings last year.
Santa Fe has an estimated 1,000 short-term rentals operating, even though the local ordinance allowed just 350. The City Different estimated it was losing up to $2.1 million in lodgers’ taxes each year, along with uncollected gross receipts taxes, and hoteliers complained the underground rentals were unfairly competing. Santa Fe now allows 1,000 and requires a permit; violations can mean stiff fines. Santa Fe and Taos city officials look forward to new revenues to help balance the budget.
Compare this to Santa Monica, Calif., which has some of the nation’s toughest regulations and just convicted its first Airbnb host. Last year it outlawed rentals of fewer than 30 days but allowed people to rent a couch or spare room, according to the Los Angeles Times. Los Angeles may legalize and regulate the short-stay practice but cap the number of days.
Santa Monica is swimming against the current.
Still, there’s a down side, when one party or the other doesn’t live up to the bargain, despite checks on social media and Ebay-type rating systems. Maybe the rental isn’t up to snuff. Municipalities, like it or not, are involved in regulation. Santa Fe has budgeted several enforcement positions.
I expect more New Mexico communities to follow Santa Fe and Taos because these underground businesses operate all over. It would be no surprise to find such arrangements in Hobbs and Carlsbad during boom times. Airbnb said it has some 1,500 hosts in New Mexico who rented to 57,000 people in 2015. Airbnb said recently that it now has tax agreements with 190 cities, states and other jurisdictions.
It’s no accident that Airbnb started in 2008, as homeowners scrambled to make mortgage payments and cope with lost jobs. For some people, it’s been a lifesaver; others cheer the birth of a new market.
Lately, however, a few Senate Democrats (not ours) want the Federal Trade Commission to investigate Airbnb’s impact on housing, as high-dollar, short-term rentals replace long-term housing, exacerbating housing shortages and driving up prices. Airbnb counters that most of its customers are middle class people who simply make a little money on the side.
The impact will probably fall more heavily on the hospitality industry, and that’s not necessarily the Marriott. New Mexico has a lot of mom-and-pop inns.
Forbes has written that the sharing economy “blows up the industrial model of companies owning and people consuming, and allows everyone to be both consumer and producer.” The magazine predicts a growing trend.
New Mexico has stepped into this future, resolving its headaches over ride-sharing with an Uber bill in the last legislative session. These operations now offer the possibility of relieving a shortage of public transportation in small communities.
For New Mexico, with too few jobs, the sharing economy has real possibilities.
© 2016 NEW MEXICO NEWS SERVICES 7/4/16
Wars, hard times didn’t dampen celebrations in 1916
By Sherry Robinson
All She Wrote
One hundred years ago, thousands of General John Pershing’s soldiers at the front in Mexico celebrated the Fourth of July by standing at attention, facing the flag as scores of bugles played “To the Colors.” The ceremony ended with a salute. Troops were free to play baseball, but nobody had a baseball or bat. And there would be no firing of weapons or firecrackers.
1916 had been a year of sobering developments, and an editorial writer at the Albuquerque Journal called for solemnity, not “firecrackers and sky-rockets and doubleheader baseball games and sophomoric orations.”
On March 8, Pancho Villa and his raiders had attacked Columbus and killed 24 Americans. Within days, Pershing led a punitive expedition into Mexico to capture Villa. They didn’t, but by July, thousands of national guardsmen, “the flower of the youth of the country,” were on the border or on their way.
Mexico was incensed. The two nations faced off, and only the threat emanating from Europe prevented the United States from declaring war, according to the U. S. Army Center of Military History. Diplomacy restored normal relations, and troops were withdrawn in February 1917.
But on July 4, 1916, Europe was enveloped in World War I, “the bloodiest struggle that the world has ever seen,” and our relations with the belligerent nations were cause for grave concern, the Journal wrote. The United States declared war on Germany on April 6, 1917.
Even though the news was dark with threats, New Mexicans celebrated the Fourth with ardor, if not the solemnity called for by the Journal.
Roswell held patriotic activities but set aside its fireworks display in 1916 and donated the $500 it usually spent to a relief fund for national guardsmen. The president had called out the national guard of the three border states, and one of the first units to respond was Battery A from Roswell. Men of modest incomes left behind families who depended on them. The city wanted it known that it wasn’t an act of charity but simply the right thing to do.
Gallup and Albuquerque announced a Fourth of July road race with a $1,200 purse. The fastest time on the rough 174-mile road was then about nine hours. Private citizens at Grants and Laguna worked on the road beforehand to get it in shape. The cars: Two Buicks, a Paige-Detroit, a Hupmobile, a Haynes, a Chalmers, an Overland and a Reo. The Maxwell had the winning time at just under seven hours. Work continued on the road that summer.
“By another year, the road between here and Albuquerque should be a veritable boulevard,” predicted the Gallup Independent.
Silver City raised money from businesses to throw a festive bash, the most successful ever held in Grant County, said the chamber of commerce, with crowds estimated at 5,000 to 6,000. It included “a brilliant automobile pageant” of decorated cars, a free barbecue and a baseball game between teams of miners from Hurley and Santa Rita. That night, there was dancing in the streets.
Clovis didn’t celebrate the Fourth because residents headed to Texico-Farwell for a celebration that drew at least 5,000 people. The ladies’ band of Clovis performed, and locals laid the cornerstone for a building where tires and auto accessories would be manufactured.
In Rio Arriba County, 54 teachers had a picnic at the base of Puye Cliff Dwellings and that night enjoyed a fireworks display.
Tiny Ramah, in western New Mexico, celebrated with patriotic exercises in the school house, horse races in the afternoon and a big dance in the evening. “Many outside ranchers and Indians were in attendance,” a newspaper reported.
This year, the events of the world and state weigh on us, which is all the more reason to celebrate and to remember.
© 2016 NEW MEXICO NEWS SERVICES 6/27/16
Save New Mexico’s historic sites!
By Sherry Robinson
All She Wrote
New Mexico is about to fire Billy the Kid.
Coronado, Victorio, the conquistadores, and the U. S. Cavalry are getting the sack too.
Visitors come here to see these icons at the state’s seven historic sites. Just in time for peak tourist season, the state Cultural Affairs Department announced a draconian plan to kick out the very people who know the most about these sites – their managers.
The department announced a plan in late May to save money by reorganizing the Historic Sites Division, combing six sites into three regions with new managers. This would affect Jemez, Coronado, Fort Selden, Camino Real, Lincoln and Fort Stanton historic sites. Bosque Redondo and Los Luceros aren’t affected (yet). Another six positions department-wide are also on the block. But the department wants to hire 13 “critical employees,” including three PR people.
Terminations are effective August 3 if the State Personnel Board approves the plan at its July 21 meeting.
Let’s recall that during the legislative session, declining revenues forced lawmakers to shrink the budget and give the administration permission to do more cutting, if necessary.
It’s always a grim process, but in reducing costs, two principles ought to be at work. First, spread the pain evenly.
Historian Lynda Sanchez, who lives in Lincoln and volunteers at Fort Stanton, points out that the department has 15 divisions and 430 employees. Under the proposal, one of the smallest divisions would absorb half the job loss.
The second principle is, don’t eat your seed corn.
These sites aren’t just nice to have – they draw a LOT of visitors. Coronado Historic Site gets 25,000 visitors; Jemez, 20,000; Fort Stanton, 18,000; and Lincoln, 30,000.
The tourism industry likes to remind us of its $6.8 billion impact, and one of its missions is to inform the visiting public of our attractions. Many will ski, golf, shop and hike, and others want to see the scene of the Lincoln County War, the forts of the Apache wars, the trail of the Spanish entrada.
But the farther state facilities are from Santa Fe, the less attention they get from officialdom. The proposed reductions are piled on years of underfunding and neglect. The sites already operate with skeleton staffing and reduced hours. They survive because of active, dedicated volunteers.
Yvonne Lanelli, a volunteer at Lincoln Historic Site, has seen staffing shrink and morale slip, as educated, professional staffers were reduced to ticket sellers and left for other jobs.
“We volunteers weren't immune, either,” she writes. One departed staff member was also volunteer coordinator “and made sure we were appreciated and our enthusiasm channeled.” Lanelli said she once loved her time at Lincoln, “knowing I was contributing to the enjoyment of thousands of visitors from literally all over the world.”
Now she worries about “the visitors who make special plans to visit us from far away” and “the folks who make their living from our visitors.”
The proposal assumes that site managers are dispensable, but they “have immense responsibility,” writes archeologist Gary Hein. “They are the face of state government. They are the people who step in when necessary to guide tours, work on exhibits, provide interpretation, and anything else that is necessary to get the job done.”
Tim Maxwell, president of the Santa Fe Archeological Society, says, they’re also “some of New Mexico’s leading educators about our past. Our society fears this step will lead to further downsizing of the mission and resources of the Historic Sites Division.”
Granted, the Cultural Affairs Department has a complex mission in overseeing museums, historic preservation and archeology, especially in times of unforgiving budgets. My fear is that historic sites don’t fit Secretary Veronica Gonzales’s definition of “cultural.”
Contact Historic Preservation Officer Jeff Pappas, the plan’s author, at email@example.com.
© 2016 NEW MEXICO NEWS SERVICES 6/20/16
Who ya gonna call for wildfire management?
By Sherry Robinson
All She Wrote
The Dog Head Fire in Torrance and Bernalillo counties roared to life just as a couple of important bills were under debate in Congress.
A few upbeat notes: We’ve seen a fast response by helpers to raise money, pitch in at evacuation sites, and bring animals to the State Fair Grounds for safekeeping. Southwest Incident Management posts timely information on its website and has a Facebook page, so if you’re sitting in an evacuation center you know what’s going on.
Fire fighters are, again, our heroes. Locals have been lavish in posting their praise and thanks, except for one guy: “Who will reimburse me for all the days spent in a hotel, and all the food lost in my refrigerator/freezers since the power was cut????”
That provoked a response: “Give these people a break, for crying out loud! It's a natural flippin' disaster and people are working their butts off trying to keep others and property safe.”
Past burns teach us that the work should start long before the catastrophic fires with thinning and prescribed burns. We know that years of suppressing fires have left us with overgrown, “doghair” forests that are disasters waiting to happen. So government agencies are doing some prescribed burning and some thinning, but it’s sliver of what needs to happen. Meanwhile, the agencies are spending their money to fight bigger fires and have less remaining for preventive action.
One solution is to treat wildfires as natural disasters and fund their suppression from the same pot that pays for hurricanes and floods.
Recently, U.S. Sen. Tom Udall added such a measure to a budget bill, but last week Udall and other Democrats voted against the bill in the Appropriations Committee because it contained riders that would undermine what he considers bedrock environmental laws that protect air, water, health and endangered species. He did get a bipartisan agreement to increase wild land firefighting funds by $661 million. The bill passed the committee and now goes to the full Senate, and Udall is optimistic about a compromise.
Also before Congress is the Local Enforcement for Local Lands Act, by Utah Republican Reps. Jason Chaffetz and Rob Bishop. It would abolish the law enforcement divisions of the U. S. Forest Service and Bureau of Land Management and transfer their authority to state and local governments.
The bill is short on logic. The agencies’ cadre of law enforcement officers isn’t large, but even so, local police struggle to recruit and keep officers. Staffing up to cover more turf would be a challenge. The bill also allows local law enforcement to decide which laws to enforce on federal land. Will your local sheriff care about protecting antiquities or desecration of burial sites or large-scale theft of rock and cactus for landscaping?
This is another bill from the folks who would like to give federal lands to states and counties to manage.
In last year’s legislative session, Sen. Ron Griggs, R-Alamogordo, argued for giving federal land to the states. “There’s no reason BLM land couldn’t be controlled by the state. The State Forester already does a better job than the federal government,” Griggs said, citing no evidence whatsoever.
State Forester Eddie Tudor supported the idea, adding, “We’re a small organization. We’d have to figure something out about fire suppression.”
I don’t know about you, but that doesn’t give me a lot of confidence.
So far, these public-lands bills have died on the noisy objections of the hunting-fishing-recreating public, but the issue will probably return.
The Dog Head Fire won’t be the only one in what promises to be a miserable fire season. With each one, we have the opportunity to ponder public land management and Eddie Tudor’s dilemma, to “figure something out about fire suppression.”
© 2016 NEW MEXICO NEWS SERVICES 6/13/16
Not your parents’ national parks but beautiful just the same: Happy 100!
By Sherry Robinson
All She Wrote
We’re celebrating the centennial of the national park system this year, and this week the First Family visits Carlsbad Caverns. I hope they enjoy it as much as my family has.
For many of us growing up, the family vacation meant a road trip. Sometimes the destination was a national park. I saw the caverns the first time as a kid and passed it along when my son was old enough to understand what he was seeing. He loved it.
New Mexico has its share of treasures: Carlsbad Caverns, Bandelier, El Malpais, White Sands, Fort Union, Aztec Ruins, Capulin Volcano, Chaco Canyon, El Morro, Gila Cliff Dwellings, Manhattan Project, Pecos, Petroglyph, Salinas Pueblo Missions, Valles Caldera.
When we think of the national parks and monuments, it’s with a brush of nostalgia, but issues of 2016 will elbow their way in to the party.
As we know, Carlsbad Caverns was without its elevators until recently. Congress has underfunded the National Park Service for years, and the backlog of deferred maintenance has reached $11.9 billion; in New Mexico, it’s $113 million -- $44.4 million just at Carlsbad. Many sites are understaffed.
And yet our tourism industry counts on the 1.6 million visitors to New Mexico’s national parks and the $88.8 million they spent. The parks also provide 1,400 jobs here.
NPS, by order of its director, is about to open the door to corporate sponsorships, leading to speculation about “plastering our most treasured sites of America’s natural heritage with corporate branding and logos,” as one critic put it.
Whoa. We’re not going to see signs for “Budweiser Carlsbad Caverns National Park” or “El Malpais by Chevrolet.” These aren’t sports arenas, and we’re not talking about naming rights, ad language or logos. NPS and other sources say it’s really more about donor recognition.
Would anybody object, seriously, to stepping into cavern elevators bearing a modest sign thanking XYZ Co. for its sponsorship? With somebody’s name on them, we’d be assured of working elevators.
I’m a hiker. I wouldn’t have heartburn over a discreet, appropriate sign acknowledging business or individual support of trail or road maintenance. We do this now with highway cleanup. We’ve also gotten used to brief sponsor messages on PBS.
The Public Employees for Environmental Responsibility has said that the order would “transform the Park Service’s current passive posture of merely accepting donations to one where it would actively press corporations, vendors and other commercial interests for money.” Instead of relying on the National Park Foundation for fund raising, NPS would shift from “philanthropy with partners to co-marketing with corporate donors who expect something from park managers in return.” The order “inappropriately diverts public resources to private fundraising, unwisely entangles NPS in corporate marketing schemes and unadvisedly privatizes the national park interpretive function, among other untoward effects.”
Admirable sentiment, but the National Park Foundation raised $46 million in 2014, a fraction of what NPS needs.
The Consumerist notes that many businesses wouldn’t be interested, and PR professionals say this type of labeling could backfire for the sponsor. NPS says it’s had more interest from individuals.
The park system is also coping with drought, invasion of non-native species, pollution and big crowds at the more popular sites. Sexual harassment charges surfaced at the Grand Canyon. Groups like San Francisco-based Survival International say it was criminal to remove Native Americans from park boundaries, but it’s a little late to invite the Shoshones back to Yosemite.
OK, so they’re not your parents’ parks. They’re not even the parks of your childhood. But they’re still beautiful, unique and breathtaking. Many a bored teen may put down his or her phone to check out the scenery and learn the real meaning of “awesome.”
I’ve enjoyed all of New Mexico’s national parks and monuments, some more than once. You would do well to put them on your itinerary this summer.
© 2016 NEW MEXICO NEWS SERVICES 6/6/16
The backstory in Albuquerque's Trump riots
By Sherry Robinson
All She Wrote
Albuquerque police are trying to get to the bottom of riots during Trump’s recent speech and at this writing have arrested several people.
Despite all the news coverage, we still don’t know precisely what happened, but a picture is taking shape, and it’s not what you might expect. Maybe by the time The Donald returns, everybody will be better prepared.
When a candidate who’s disparaged immigrants and promised to build a wall to the sky comes to New Mexico, the most Hispanic state in the country, we can expect a strong reaction, including the scuffling seen in his other rallies. But lobbing rocks at cops and horses and smashing the doors of the Albuquerque Convention Center were not only over the top, the actions just weren’t us.
Local media reported that about 1,000 protesters were outside and just 30 were violent. Here’s what wasn’t reported: Advocacy groups had a voter-registration booth. Two organizations, South West Organizing Project (SWOP) and the League of United Latin American Citizens (LULAC), had volunteers in place to try and keep the protests peaceful. Without them, things could have been much worse.
MSNBC interviewed a protester identified only as Madeline who said she came with friends and family to “stop Trump’s hate with love.” She said the protest was peaceful and family oriented until Trump supporters began arriving and shouting insults at the protesters: "You're useless. Go to school. Get a job." Her friends, she said, work fulltime and go to school, “and this is the idea they have of us because they're fed this idea by Trump.”
Protesters returned the insults. One waved a Trump piñata, others waved American, Navajo and Mexican flags and anti-Trump signs.
The demonstration remained peaceful, Madeline told MSNBC, but “there was this one group of guys…” The AP reported that protesters with Sureños 13 gang tattoos muscled in, and it went downhill from there. They apparently had a different agenda – namely to show who controlled the streets of Albuquerque.
In the aftermath, SWOP has been on the defensive about its role, after a city councilor and an activist criticized the group for provocative language before Trump arrived. The group said in a news release that it opened its offices to local organizations and residents “to celebrate our communities and to say no to the violent, hateful, divisive rhetoric of this presidential campaign. Our message was simple: ‘We’re better together.’”
SWOP accused the police and secret service of staging the event to provoke confrontation between protesters and rally attendees. SWOP itself would “never condone any type of violence.”
It’s off the mark to blame SWOP or the police. SWOP worked hard to keep the peace, and elements of this combustion had nothing to do with political protest. The police were doing their jobs in an explosive situation.
Former Republican contender Marco Rubio said a few months ago that Trump “has fed into language that basically justifies physically assaulting people who disagree with you.” Lately, he’s saying that many of the violent protestors at Trump events are “professional protestors, not grassroots.”
For all these reasons, I hope the police do bring in the violent protesters – not just because they’re deserving of consequences but so we know whether they were locals, agitators or gang members.
Albuquerqueans are deeply embarrassed to be the subject of negative headlines, but they have lots of company. Google “Trump riots” and a number of cities pop up. California’s riots were worse than ours.
What does it say that wherever Trump campaigns, riots erupt? And yet his former and current opponents foment no such response?
Peaceful protester Madeline said, “I'm sorry this turned out the way it did.” Lots of people would say, amen to that, sister.
© 2016 NEW MEXICO NEWS SERVICES
Former Gov. Gary Johnson could be the anti-Trump
By Sherry Robinson
All She Wrote
New Mexico is in the spotlight with three high-profile campaign visits, but another big day looms. The Libertarian Party will choose its candidate for president at the end of May. Gary Johnson is getting national attention from the left and the right – especially from the right – as the anti-Trump. Some pundits speculate that Johnson could even draw disgruntled Bernie supporters.
Last week our former governor notched 10 percent support in a Fox News poll. Compare that with the 1 percent Johnson polled in 2012. It’s within striking distance of the 15 percent he needs to be part of televised debates. He sweetened his ticket with former Massachusetts Gov. Bill Weld as vice president. Weld is a Republican who was popular in a blue state.
The Libertarians will probably be the only non-mainstream party to appear on the ballot in all 50 states. Which is why their Florida convention – and Gary Johnson – will draw unprecedented scrutiny.
All this and he looks way better without a shirt than Vladimir Putin, said blogger Emily Zanotti.
A couple of months ago, New Mexico Political Report ran a somewhat dewy-eyed recollection of Johnson as an unknown contender when he ran for governor in 1994. Johnson inched out a win in the Republican primary, and then whupped Democrats, divided because of a spat between incumbent Bruce King and his former lieutenant governor.
“Johnson hired many young staffers who shared his vision of running government as a business,” the story said.
That’s not what happened. Johnson hired so many novices that his office was dysfunctional until then Sen. Pete Domenici strong-armed Johnson into hiring Domenici’s former chief of staff, Lou Gallegos. In his two terms, Johnson proved that you can’t run government like a business.
Every story about Johnson repeats the bit about his 700 vetoes. That sounds good only if you forget that each of those bills began with constituents who fought hard for the change or program or project. What I remember is that he didn’t listen to anybody, and he was incapable of compromise. He let the Indian gaming genie out of the bottle. And he pushed legalization of marijuana when we had more urgent issues.
Still, in the last six years, I’ve come to miss Gary. He had no handlers and no alter egos. His decisions, good or bad, were his own. He calls himself the honest man and says exactly what he thinks, and for that reason he makes a great former governor.
It’s that kind of candor (he called Trump a p***y) that voters want. But can they embrace a Libertarian? Johnson, who describes himself as a fiscal conservative and social liberal, would shrink government, end the drug war, curtail military intervention, and support gay marriage, abortion and gun ownership.
Currently, Johnson is polling at 14 percent in New Mexico, according to the online news site New Mexico Political Report. He’s got 16 percent of Republicans, 10 percent of Democrats and 19 percent of independents.
That number could grow, but voters may shy from another spoiler like Ross Perot or Ralph Nader.
Recently, Blair Dunn, son of State Land Commissioner Aubrey Dunn, made a case for supporting Gary Johnson. Trump “masterfully deployed his circus to set fire to the tent of the Republican Party,” and used “his house of horrors to scare potential Bernie supporters into supporting Hillary as if only she could beat Trump.” He urged “soon to be disenfranchised Bernie supporter or tentless Republicans” to consider Johnson. Dunn called Johnson’s track record “stellar.”
Stellar? We had an eight-year standoff between Johnson and the Legislature. In the end he’d alienated as many Rs as Ds. Johnson has matured as a politician. Whether he’s presidential material or not, I’m glad he has a bigger voice.
© 2016 NEW MEXICO NEWS SERVICES
Don’t let candidates stretch the facts about taxes
By Sherry Robinson
All She Wrote
As we get closer to primary elections, you’re going to hear two stories about taxes.
Story No. 1: New Mexico’s taxes are a dreadful burden on its citizens. Story No. 2: New Mexico’s big corporate tax giveaway in 2013 has eroded the tax base so much that revenues have plummeted and responsible public officials must raise revenues.
First, we’ve heard scare stories about our tax burden for years, and for just as long various studies have told us that we’re actually middling.
This year, WalletHub said New Mexico ranked 27th in state tax burden as a percentage of personal income. Our gross receipts tax burden is fifth highest in the nation. But the total tax burden, of 8.67 percent, is far lower than New York (13 percent), Hawaii (12 percent), and Maine and Vermont (11 percent). The lowest was Alaska, at about 5 percent.
On the other hand, WalletHub placed New Mexico 41st in the return for taxes paid. This is based on 20 categories of education, health, safety, economy, infrastructure and pollution. We took a big hit for our sorry economy. Yes, you can hold elected officials responsible for the ranking and the economy. Colorado’s return on investment was third, Texas was 15th, and Arizona was 19th.
We shine in proper taxes: Last fall, Kiplinger’s ranked New Mexico 12 lowest. Our median property tax ($1,160) on median home value ($159,200) was 12th lowest.
Story No. 2 has been percolating for months.
In 2013 legislators of both parties passed a tax compromise in the session’s closing minutes. The bill had a number of goodies for business, including a reduction in corporate income tax from 7.6 percent to 5.9 percent over five years. It also tightened some gaping holes in the High-Wage Jobs Tax Credit. The point was to make New Mexico more competitive in the race to attract employers.
Since then, the news is good and not so good.
New Mexico climbed from 38th to 35th in the Tax Foundation’s 2016 Business Tax Climate Index. It moved up to 27th after the top marginal corporate rate declined from 7.3 to 6.9 percent. When the rate drops farther to 5.9 percent by 2018, we’ll look even better, the foundation said.
On the down side, tax revenues dropped, in part because of the 2013 breaks but mostly because of falling oil prices and weakness in the economy. Groups like the League of Women Voters and some Democrats say the provisions should be delayed for at least a year to assure the state has enough revenue to meet expenses.
Richard Mason, writing recently for the League, suggests a comprehensive review of tax breaks. He also suggests reconsidering the previous administration’s reductions in capital gains taxes and income taxes for the rich. Public officials should raise the revenue needed for education and other services.
Recently Albuquerque economic developer Gary Tonjes argued, “It’s premature to criticize the new law before its benefits take full effect.”
Tonjes said our corporate taxes were so out of whack before the compromise that we actually rewarded companies for hiring workers in other states and firing them here: “Our tax laws were punishing employers for the things most New Mexicans hoped that they would do and rewarding employers for the things we prayed they wouldn’t. It was unbelievable.”
He probably speaks for most economic developers in saying we need to give the 2013 package time to work. Word is getting out, retention and expansion are looking better, but it won’t happen overnight. He also notes that taxes are just one factor in recruiting.
So, whatever you hear from the lips of candidates, remain calm. We are not the most put-upon taxpayers ever, and we should give the 2013 package a chance to work.
© 2016 NEW MEXICO NEWS SERVICES 5/9/16
NM oil producers find themselves in a David-Goliath price war with Saudis
By Sherry Robinson
All She Wrote
Last winter, as legislators were starting to shrink the state budget to match declining oil revenues, Dr. Daniel I. Fine was trying to put his finger on what’s normal for the oil industry these days. He came up with so many variations on normal, it seems there is no normal.
Fine, who is associate director of the New Mexico Center for Energy Policy at New Mexico Tech, predicted production in New Mexico would drop 100,000 barrels per day.
“That’s how serious this is,” he told the House Energy, Environment and Natural Resources Committee. “OPEC is targeting high-cost producers in New Mexico, Texas and North Dakota… We are the main threat. Every barrel of oil we reduce, they will produce the equivalent.”
I was trying to get my head around little ol’ New Mexico being a threat, as Fine continued.
In an oversupplied world market, he said, “Saudi Arabia is in a price war with the United States. The Saudis can continue like this for two years. We’re thinking, how do we return to normal. A colleague in Bahrain said, ‘This is normal: $25 a barrel.’ Our normal is a new normal, and we conflict with what is normal.”
Now we learn that the oil industry in New Mexico and Texas – the companies still standing after a withering two years – are organizing a grassroots campaign to limit foreign oil imports. They want the next president to set quotas on imports from the Middle East; Canada and Mexico get a pass. Quotas would be phased in but eventually would limit imports to 10 percent of demand.
They arrived at this decision after oil rich nations, meeting April 17, refused to freeze production after flooding the market with cheap imports to discourage U.S. producers.
Wait! Weren’t we told not too long ago that U. S. producers wanted to enter the world market? Apparently, they didn’t look before they leaped. In December, Congress lifted the crude oil export ban, which freed producers to export U. S. oil to an already over-supplied world market, contributing to even lower prices.
Fine has called this move “the most misguided example of politics at the fuel pump since the 1970s. Then it was retail price control and now it’s a free-for-all in the price of oil in the world market with West Texas Crude approaching 10-year lows.”
In the last two years, oil prices have plunged from more than $100 a barrel to less than $30. U. S. production is down 700,000 barrels a day, the rig count is in the basement, and we’ve seen the fallout for communities and the state.
“OPEC is threatened by new, competitive production from the U.S.,” he told legislators. That includes shale oil and oil produced by fracking. They’re also threatened by marginal production (stripper wells).
Our producers survived with the oil patch equivalent of adding water to the soup. As prices dropped, they kept producing from their low-cost wells and renegotiated contracts with service companies to shrink operating costs.
Producers consider the quotas a matter of survival that hearken back to a similar system used by President Dwight Eisenhower in 1959 to keep the industry healthy. They’ve made the good Dr. Fine their point man for the Panhandle Import Reduction Initiative, which they call “an effort to ensure national security, economic safety and stabilization and the return of jobs to our country.”
I understand the need and the reasoning, and it would help the state’s economy. But this will be a tough sell to consumers. For most, low prices at the pump are the only break they’ve gotten in an economy that has blessed only the richest with more money.
© 2016 NEW MEXICO NEWS SERVICES 5/2/16
Easy money, unsophisticated donors fuel election-industrial complex
By Sherry Robinson
All She Wrote
Graduates, if you’re still not sure what career path is right for you, consider becoming a political consultant.
Today’s political races and the tsunami of cash behind them offer great opportunities to make lots of money with nobody looking over your shoulder. Produce a winner or two and you can ride that horse a long time.
Lately, we learn that New Mexico’s high-profile political guru, Jay McCleskey, tops the list for mining the political mother lode: $373,000 between October and early April, according to New Mexico In Depth, an online news site. In November, NMID reported that New Mexico candidates and PACs paid more than $7 million in consulting fees and media buys since early 2011.
Known for getting Susana Martinez elected governor and Richard Berry elected Albuquerque mayor, McCleskey started young. As a student in a government class at New Mexico State University, he was involved in voter targeting for a legislative campaign. He then landed positions with the state and national Republican Party.
In 2000 he was campaign manager for John Sanchez, who ousted House Speaker Raymond Sanchez in a brutal campaign notable for its aggressive, below-the-belt tactics, a feat he repeated in 2010 with Susana Martinez’s campaign against Diane Denish for governor. He started McCleskey Media Strategies in 2011.
By 2011 the ruthlessness of his campaigns had inflamed not just Democrats but members of his own party. The attacks on former Lt. Gov. Walter Bradley during John Sanchez’s unsuccessful run for governor in 2002 were over the top, and so were the mailers in 2012 targeting rancher Pat Woods, of Clovis. Woods fought back and won his legislative seat.
Worse, others have emulated the attack ads, infusing the state’s campaigns with a meanness we hadn’t seen before and discouraging good people from running.
Some Republicans have complained off the record about McCleskey’s divisive impact on the party, along with his bulging coffers. Two days before the NMID report, former GOP state chairman Harvey E. Yates Jr., a critic of both McCleskey and the governor, announced plans to run for Republican National Committeeman. His concerns are job creation in New Mexico and civility within the party.
Tactics aside, every state has its McCleskeys. Author Andrew Cockburn, writing in the April Harper’s Magazine, calls the collective mob of consultants, strategists, pollsters and such the “election-industrial complex.” It’s a growth industry.
Candidates run for office idealistically to accomplish something or serve the public but then discover that they have to raise money. Lots of money. They don’t like it, but it’s reality. They and their supporters believe that if they spend enough money, they’ll win. But they waste their money on expensive TV campaigns that don’t necessarily persuade voters. The real effect, Cockburn says, is to “feed the consultant class.”
There are plenty of examples, local and national, of flush campaigns that failed (Jeb Bush and his $118 million super PAC).
The financial tide that lifted the election industry is, in part, a result of court decisions like Citizens United, but Cockburn believes it originated with the post-Watergate efforts to rein in campaign spending. Limits on party spending gave us super PACs, which can receive unlimited contributions by individuals and businesses. And because they’re not supposed to communicate with the candidates, they can blast out some TV ads and watch the money roll in.
A once elite cadre of professionals has proliferated, floating on rivers of money often spent by people who aren’t politically savvy, Cockburn writes. The super PACs have little oversight, and their organizers pay themselves very well. And yet research shows increasingly that the TV ads, robo calls and slick mailers are less effective than good old fashioned face-to-face campaigning.
Urgent campaign pitches rain down. Contributors, think harder about where and how your money is used.
© 2016 NEW MEXICO NEWS SERVICES 4-25-16
Tweeting DWI court hearings should provide useful information
By Sherry Robinson
All She Wrote
Gov. Susana Martinez is taking another swing at DWI. Last week, she announced a contract with Mothers Against Drunk Driving to observe DWI court hearings and publicize the results on Twitter. It’s strange but has possibilities.
With a two-year, $800,000 contract, MADD will place monitors in courtrooms in Bernalillo, Doña Ana, McKinley, Rio Arriba, and San Juan counties. They will gather information about DWI case outcomes and post them on social media.
One thing I’ve heard, from both experts and legislators, is that the criminal justice system isn’t working. We have laws on the books, but prosecutors and judges plead these cases down. We don’t know why.
The MADD monitors might help answer that question, depending on the information they gather. We need to know the judge’s thinking and what the mitigating factors are, and you can’t deliver that in a tweet. Tweets are good for the quick comment, the wise crack. They generate buzz for a moment and then they’re gone.
How are we supposed to learn what happens in court and spot problem areas? Call me old fashioned, but I want to see a report.
MADD has also said it will monitor the cases “randomly”, which raises the question of how accurate or representative their information will be. MADD explained that it will have four court monitors tracking about 200 randomly chosen cases a year. Random selection assures that no single judge or prosecutor will be targeted, the organization said. Its monitors won’t be lawyers or people who’ve lost someone to DWI and will receive training from the state Department of Transportation and the Attorney General’s Office.
Critics of the new program think it’s punitive, for both judges and offenders. Maybe. If we have judges taking the easy route, we should know. As for offenders, it’s hard to feel sorry for them, considering the loss of life and injuries here. If they don’t want to come to the attention of the authorities – and the public – they shouldn’t get behind the wheel impaired.
We already know that New Mexico has been at the wrong end of statistics on alcohol-related deaths and DWI. Booze is involved in 40 percent of all fatal traffic crashes in New Mexico, according to the Department of Public Safety; it’s the largest single factor in New Mexico traffic deaths.
We’re not standing still. Last year, we had 122 drunken driving deaths, a drop of 28 percent from the year before and 70 percent from 1979, when the state began tracking DWI fatalities. Crashes declined 81 percent, from 7,641 in 1979 to 1,481 in 2015.
But 122 loved ones are no longer among us. That’s still a big number. We’re not there yet.
Supreme Court Justice Judy Nakamura was speaking to New Mexico Press Women last weekend, and I asked her what she thought.
“I think it’s a great idea,” she said, and will add transparency to the process. It’s not new, she added. Former Gov. Bill Richardson also had court monitors. Much will depend on training, to assure the monitors understand what they’re seeing. Nakamura also has concerns about the tweets.
“The story turns on DWI dismissals and what led to them,” she said, and that story can’t be told in a tweet.
We’re reminded that this is one of several efforts, such as saturation patrols by State Police, new legislation that targets repeat offenders, a roundup of DWI fugitives, and TV ads.
MADD’s use of this sizable grant could polish or tarnish its halo. MADD’s executive director has said the program will inform the public how DWI is handled in courts and let courts know the public is watching.
It will be up to MADD to deliver meaningful information and not just sensational tweets.
© 2016 NEW MEXICO NEWS SERVICES 4/18/16
WW2 glider pilots braved primitive conditions during training in NM
By Sherry Robinson
All She Wrote
New Mexico’s air space has blessed us with three Air Force bases, but it didn’t just happen. Civic leaders pitched their communities as the nation was gearing up for World War II, and for a time the state was dotted with airfields.
Fort Sumner snagged an installation that became Fort Sumner Army Airfield. This one trained glider pilots.
This had to be one of the Army Air Force’s more unusual programs. The boxcar-like WACO CG-4A gliders could carry 15 men – a pilot, co-pilot, and 13 heavily armed troops called “glider riders.” It could also carry a Jeep, an anti-tank gun or medical supplies and food. On release, the glider coasted down and made something like a controlled crash landing. The pilots, trained as commandos, then became infantry troops. The Brits had similar aircraft, and they all saw service in the D Day landing.
“The center of glider training was Eastern New Mexico and West Texas,” said John McCullough, of Lubbock, during the New Mexico Historical Society conference last weekend in Farmington.
In a former Civil Conservation Camp north of Fort Sumner, 162 men began work in July 1942 to create the Advanced Glider School Training Base. Living in tents even with snow on the ground, they persevered and erected enough tar-paper buildings to conduct training programs. They wouldn’t get barracks until 1944 – more tarpaper buildings with a pot-bellied stove.
They washed their mess kits in two barrels; nearly half the men had dysentery, one veteran recalled.
They trained initially in Piper Cub and Taylorcraft planes with the engines removed, one veteran told McCullough. For night flying, smudge pots lit grass runways.
The WACO gliders were 90 percent wood because of metal shortages during the war. More than 4,000 of these wooden ships would be built during the war – the third-most numerous in the war, according to McCullough. They would carry the 82nd and 101st infantry divisions.
The trainees also flew Aeronca T-G-5 gliders, called “streamlined bathtubs.” One pilot wrote on a photo, “Only sissies need engines.”
The airbase was an economic spring for Fort Sumner: The army took over two empty stores, the closed theater reopened, three cafes had new business, and rentals were at a premium.
In May 1943, glider training was moved to Lubbock, and the Fort Sumner airfield then began training twin-engine pilots. When preparation began for the invasion of Japan, they began training in Thunderbolts, a fast, powerful aircraft that could carry a lot of ordinance.
The airfield was deactivated in 1945 but still has a hangar in good condition, which NASA uses to launch weather balloons. The tarmac is also in good shape, and two warehouses are still in use. One barracks was hauled across town in 1951 and became a motel, which is still open.
McCullough, a grad student at Texas Tech, has made repeated visits to Fort Sumner, written a series of articles in the De Baca County News, and urged locals to create a museum.
Fort Sumner has certainly done its part for history – it boasts the Bosque Redondo Memorial at Fort Sumner State Monument, the Billy the Kid Museum, and the Old Fort Sumner Museum. McCullough, who has attended glider pilot reunions, researched pilot training all over the country, and volunteers for the Silent Wings Museum in Lubbock, obviously has a passion for his subject. He argues that such a museum could be another source of tourism and revenue for the area. See his website at researchwars.org.
The state Tourism Department is targeting young visitors, which is fine, but boomers and their elderly parents have more money to spend. Regardless of the demographic, as Fort Sumner has already demonstrated, history sells.
© 2016 NEW MEXICO NEWS SERVICES 4/11/16
Ever heard of the Bankhead Highway? Me neither.
By Sherry Robinson
All She Wrote
“If any town in the United States needs roads worse than us, it has my pity,” a citizen told his county commissioners. “Farmers,” said the local paper, “have been wedged between two sand hills long enough.”
These were the first rumblings of the Good Roads movement in New Mexico. In 1915, farmers on the East Side threatened to take their produce to markets in Texas, where roads were better, if the Roosevelt County Commission didn’t do something.
The next time you get in your car, remind yourself that a century ago the nation’s roads were little more than dirt tracks and trails with no signs or bridges. In New Mexico, land owners fenced across roads, and drifting sand was a bigger hindrance than fences.
New Mexico joined the national Good Roads movement, which produced a network of highways, such as they were. We know Route 66 best, but a few years earlier and farther south was the Bankhead Highway, one of the first transcontinental highways.
It began in 1916 with the Bankhead Highway Association, whose namesake, U. S. Sen. John H. Bankhead, of Alabama, was a leader of the Good Roads movement. That year, Congress passed the Federal Aid Road Act of 1916 over the objections of citizens like Henry Ford, who didn’t think roads were a good use of taxpayer money.
Known as the “Broadway of America,” the Bankhead Highway connected Washington, D. C., to San Diego across the South and Southwest. Supporters knew this was the biggest thing since the coming of the railroad – a transportation link that would stimulate tourism and commerce.
At every meeting of the Bankhead Highway Association, local boosters agitated to get their town on the route, according to newspaper accounts in 1918. There was similar jostling in Washington over funding. New Mexico, the government announced in 1918, would receive nearly $4.4 million out of $562 million budgeted. Dollars would be disbursed according to road miles and population, prompting outcries of “pork” by smaller states.
Despite this political pushing and pulling, they got a road built.
New Mexico’s major proponents included S. M. Johnson, a Presbyterian minister and rancher in Ruidoso; businessman Francis G. Tracy, of Carlsbad, and New Mexico Highway Commissioner Charles Springer, of Raton. It was Johnson who got a Roswell-to-El Paso segment into highway plans. Springer is generally considered the father of New Mexico’s highway system.
By 1922, the Bankhead Highway had more paved road between San Diego and the nation’s mid-section than the other four roads under construction.
The Broadway of America wasn’t a single route. In New Mexico, the main road entered the state at Las Cruces from El Paso and continued west through Deming and Lordsburg. A branch entered New Mexico at Tatum and passed through Roswell. A northern branch linked Clovis with Roswell by way of Elida, joined the other branch at Roswell and went on through Tinnie, Hondo, Ruidoso and Alamogordo, where it turned south and linked up with the main route.
Roswell, in the 1920s, had a Bankhead Hotel, once described by author John Sinclair as “the stockman’s favorite.”
The main route, from Las Cruces to Lordsburg, passed over what had been New Mexico Route 4, designated in 1909. It would become U. S. 80 in 1926 and, in 1965, I-10. The Bankhead Highway’s legacy is that it not only delivered the convenience and commerce promised but its successor roads are still delivering.
At the recent West Texas Historical Association conference, I learned that author Dan L. Smith has tracked the road and its architecture and written a book; Texas celebrates its chunk of the highway on a website. In New Mexico, we’ve hardly heard of it. Texas misses no opportunity for self-promotion. We can learn..
© 2016 NEW MEXICO NEWS SERVICES 4/4/16
With job creation on a wing and a prayer, we inch out of the recession
By Sherry Robinson
All She Wrote
Two recent headlines say it’s time to talk about our economy. One is, “NM second in fed dependency,” written like that’s a bad thing. The other: “We must reduce NM reliance on oil revenues.”
New Mexico has a lot of pieces to its economy, and we’re getting a little smarter about promoting them. It’s late, slow and done on a wing and a prayer, but it’s movement.
One of those segments is federal spending, and last week the website Wallethub said New Mexico is the second-most federally dependent state after Mississippi. Last year we were first. This is because of federal installations, agencies and labs but also because we’re poor (Medicaid) and have an aging population (Social Security, Medicare).
Looked at another way, federal dollars create jobs (28,000-plus in 2015), and we could do better.
Terry Brunner, state director for the U.S. Department of Agriculture Rural Development, recently wrote that every year his agency returns unused federal funds to Washington for lack of projects, and so do other federal agencies.
“We also fail to see effective leveraging of state, federal, private and other funds to complete projects,” Brunner wrote. “New Mexico is not in a position to turn down resources, and leaders must get more creative in shaking every tree for available financing and put together public and private deals leveraged with multiple sources.”
Brunner participated in the legislative Jobs Council, which studied ten sectors, including the federal government, and identified possibilities along with gaps and obstacles. Participants said there was no coordinated effort to assess and track opportunities with the federal government.
Brunner also wrote that we need an “aggressive economic growth” plan. True. The Jobs Council was a first step, he said, but “without a battle plan, it’s hard to rally the troops to fight against our declining economy.” The last plan I remember was probably 20 years ago. Our “plan” is and has been to attend the party and hope somebody dances with us.
Oil and gas have danced with us for a long time. So have coal, copper and potash. When prices are up, the good times roll, and we never, ever remember that they cycle up and down. When they’re down, then “we need to reduce our reliance.” Nobody ever says that when they’re up.
Instead of reducing our reliance, how do we build up other sectors of our economy?
Tourism has enjoyed several good years, noticeable in the crowds of visitors to Ruidoso, Cloudcroft, Silver City and other magnets. Policy makers learned a lesson. In 2010, as the recession deepened, the tourism industry pleaded unsuccessfully with legislators to maintain their advertising budget. This year, during a brutal budget session, legislators increased money for the Tourism Department.
Agriculture doesn’t produce big dollars, but it anchors large expanses of the state. It could do better. We’ve said for years that instead of shipping our cows, onions, peanuts, chile, and pecans out of state, we should make products here. We have many successful food processors, but we should have – we need – more. How do we get there, and who’s thinking about that question?
One positive development here is the uptick in interest by young people. The people who feed us are aging – the average age is 60 (I met an 86-year-old rancher who was still holding forth.) We’re seeing baby steps toward financing these millennial, would-be farmers.
Ask the people in tourism and agriculture what they need and they say without hesitation: roads, broadband, cell-phone connections. There’s a little progress in broadband.
The governor and her economic development secretary went to California last week to sell the state, something they should have done in 2011.
A little progress, tardy responses, slowly dawning light. At this rate, we’ll be out of the recession any decade now.
© 2016 NEW MEXICO NEWS SERVICES 3/28/16
Giving voices to the voiceless: the mentally ill tell their stories
By Sherry Robinson
All She Wrote
If you’re mentally ill or addicted, getting help means getting in to see your CSW, your community support worker. Your CSW understands you, understands your history, knows which medications have or haven’t worked. If you can’t see your CSW, it’s like being in your own sci-fi movie where you’re untethered in deep space.
And if you even have a CSW, you’re one of the lucky ones.
This is a little of the cold reality of what we like to call our behavioral health system after the state’s 2013 suspension of funding to 15 providers after accusing them of fraud. They provided 87 percent of services for the seriously mentally ill, substance abusers and emotionally disturbed children. They had served their communities for an average of 37 years.
From news accounts we have an arsenal of smoking guns: Audits supporting the state Human Services Department’s accusations were doctored, the substitute Arizona providers were lined up BEFORE the audits, managed-care company UnitedHealth Group steered HSD to its conclusions and donated to the state Republican Party, the Attorney General cleared 13 of 15 providers of fraud, and a departing Arizona firm sued UnitedHealth saying its subsidiary OptumHealth accused the New Mexico providers of fraud to mask its inability to pay them.
Last week in a town hall, Generation Justice, an Albuquerque-based nonprofit that teaches young people to produce media, showed us the human side of the story. They interviewed 60 clients, social workers, family members, and experts. See their videos at generationjustice.org/nmspeaks/.
These young videographers gave faces to the faceless and voices to the voiceless.
Hope Alvarado is one. Born to a homeless mother and subjected to violence and abuse, she lived in shelters, on the streets, or occasionally with relatives. She attended and graduated from high school while homeless, with little support. “It was difficult,” she said during the town hall. “I felt I was slipping through the cracks. That was the situation through most of my youth: Who is there to help?”
The one bright spot in her life was Hogares Inc.
“I had no self-esteem. It was hard to find counselors to listen to me. Hogares was amazing. I found my first and last art therapist. She was the kindest woman I ever met. Art therapy was perfect. I could draw what I felt when I couldn’t talk about it.”
Some of her cousins were also at Hogares. When HSD upended Hogares and replaced it with Open Skies, Alvarado kept her CSW, but her cousins lost theirs. “They were completely lost.”
In the videos, student Emily Worzeniak and others say it’s hard to get counseling and what passes for treatment is often pill pushing. “I’ve been to four different hospitals,” said Stephan Walker. “All they did was give you meds and put you down.” Violet Martinez had four psychiatrists in two years. “A month on this drug, a month on that drug – just changing, changing, changing,” she said. Jeri Hollan is in recovery. “Sometimes there’s a three-month wait, but what if you have a crisis before you can get help?”
Sam Innis said: “I have a boatload of experience being turned away or being pushed to take treatment that I wasn’t OK with. I couldn’t develop a relationship with a provider.”
A woman identified only as Lorette said: “I have been psychotic five times. I could have killed someone.”
Desiree Woodland’s son killed himself. “I went with him to appointments, but he wasn’t getting better. He’d have a good intern, but they rotated them every couple of months, and he had to retell his story again. I’ve heard many stories of people having to start over and then giving up.”
When these people fall through the safety net, they are hospitalized or jailed, both more costly and less humane than effective treatment.
© 2016 NEW MEXICO NEWS SERVICES 3/21/16
SNAP work rules revisited: pros, cons and grey areas
By Sherry Robinson
All She Wrote
After writing a column about work requirements and food stamps, I got a long email from Gallup businessman Bill Petranovich. He supports the work requirements and shared his perspective.
“I understand the lack of available jobs,” he writes. “I think there are more and more chronically lazy folks who don't want to work or are pretty much content with their present situation, looking for any benefit they can.”
The subject was a rule that New Mexicans must work 80 hours a month, with or without pay, to receive Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program (SNAP) benefits, formerly called food stamps. (A court injunction recently halted implementation.) My argument was that lots of people are chasing nonexistent jobs. If there were jobs to be had, they’d have them.
Petranovich cites his own experience, plus conversations with customers, friends and other business people: “Employers have told me and others it can be difficult finding good help… They don't show up or work awhile and need a break.” And they want to start at $12 an hour.
He observes the number of women trying to support multiple children, the deadbeat dads, the jobless having child after child. Wouldn’t it be easier, he asks, to get on your feet and keep a job with one child instead of five?
“Ever wonder how these kids feel? Who is my dad? Where is my dad? How did I happen? Who cares???”
Petranovich notes students taking out loans for college who spend the money and then drop out and default on their loans, the drunks who have money at the first of the month, the veterans who all seem to have PTSD and want benefits, not jobs. “Did we have such after the second world war?” he asks.
“I don't mean to sound like some conservative redneck, but this is what I see and hear,” he says. “That is why I like the work requirement for SNAP. No jobs, OK. Some type of service is necessary. If instituted, perhaps people wouldn't be having the number of kids they do.”
I’ve condensed his remarks from two pages, but you get the idea. It sounds a little like a talk-show rant, and Petranovich admits he listens to talk radio, but it’s also a slice of the real world. I don’t disagree, exactly.
Some look at the system and see frauds and slugs. Others see the disadvantaged, the down-on-their-luck. Petranovich and I could probably agree that in between, SNAP recipients range from the deserving to the undeserving. The tricky part is, do you deny food to the children of the undeserving?
I tend to see the down-on-their luck because in my own small world, I know people who lost jobs and had a miserable time returning to the working world or tried to reinvent themselves with mixed success.
The safety net has broken and dropped middle class people into poverty with people who are stuck in the cycle of poverty. That’s a big discussion.
A few observations on the people who concern Petranovich and others: Most of us learn our work ethic from our parents. If nobody around you has a job, what will you learn? If nobody you know is successful in the world, what are your expectations? In that world, working the system is success, of sorts.
Petranovich devotes a good bit of his letter to the number of children born to people who can’t provide for them. Yes, we see their numbers in Medicaid and food stamps and also in child abuse and neglect statistics. Does it make sense to de-fund Planned Parenthood, one of the few organizations that addresses family planning?
The work rule should wait until there are jobs, or at least the possibility of jobs.
© 2016 NEW MEXICO NEWS SERVICES 3/14/16
Partisan, inconsistent line-item vetoes of pork bill deliver a confused message
By Sherry Robinson
All She Wrote
Last week, the governor’s biases were on display as she released the state’s annual pork bill and communities learned which of their public projects will receive capital outlay dollars.
In a multitude of line-item vetoes, she came down hard on Navajos, Democrats, courts, and acequia associations.
The governor chastised legislators in a nine-page message for squandering infrastructure funding and spending on local public works. She said some projects were underfunded or unwanted by local governments, and some spending was for items that will wear out before the bond is paid off. And legislators aren’t always working together, she said.
No argument there, but she also vetoed any request for $10,000 or less, saying it’s not enough to accomplish anything. That’s pretty arbitrary. Some small projects can cost that amount or less.
The big problem is that many of her vetoes are inconsistent, or they don’t align with her written message.
Zuni Pueblo has no backup generator on its main well. Three legislators pooled their capital outlay money to buy and install a generator ($190,000), which was vetoed while dozens of other well projects around the state were approved.
Half the Navajo projects in McKinley County, a blue county, got the ax. McKinley County itself lost 43 percent of its capital outlay. Neighboring San Juan County, a red county, lost just 6 percent of its capital outlay, and the only vetoes were Navajo projects. The requests were mostly for road repairs and power line extensions. Also vetoed was $30,000 for an Indian education resource center in the Bernalillo School District, which serves five pueblos.
One veto eliminated $50,000 in planning money to build a warehouse at Twin Lakes on the Navajo Reservation, needed for commodities food programs. And yet the Clovis regional food bank will get $70,000 to repair its walk-in freezer and cooler.
The governor insisted that her decisions had nothing to do with party, but the news website New Mexico In Depth reported that two-thirds of vetoes targeted Democrats’ projects.
All of the acequia and ditch requests tanked except for $94,000 to the New Mexico Acequia Commission, supposedly for statewide improvements, which is hardly enough. Those vetoes were in the blue counties of Rio Arriba, Taos and Santa Fe.
Then we have the courts.
She vetoed money for an assortment of improvements, systems or repairs at courts in Bernalillo, Santa Fe, Los Alamos, Rio Arriba, Guadalupe and Doña Ana – and an entire complex in Cibola County that’s under construction. But she approved improvements in Bernalillo and a judicial complex in Lea County.
Journalists have noted the governor’s grudge against the courts for decisions that didn’t go her way.
The pork bill is mostly a boring list of street repairs, sewer system upgrades and building remodels. That’s why some requests jump out. The governor singled out a wrestling mat for McKinley County ($10,000) as wasteful. But the sponsor of that request, Rep. Patricia Lundstrom, D-Gallup, sees 40 kids in the city’s wrestling program who don’t have a mat. In the state’s poorest county.
If this isn’t a good use of state money, why then is it ok to spend $100,000 for soccer equipment at UNM or $118,000 on target-range equipment in the Albuquerque schools? Why is it ok to spend $290,000 for a rodeo and soccer facility in Socorro but not ok to spend $143,500 for youth boxing and wrestling facility in Albuquerque’s South Valley?
While we’re on the subject of squandered money, the state will spend $229,000 on a memorial to victims of gun violence. We can’t do anything to stem gun violence, but by golly, we can build a memorial. Thank House Majority Leader Nate Gentry, R-Albuquerque, for this thoughtful addition.
We know our capital outlay system is flawed. The governor knocked legislators for not passing a reform bill, but she’s part of the problem.
© 2016 NEW MEXICO NEWS SERVICES 3/7/16
Job creation made headway in otherwise tough legislative session
By Sherry Robinson
All She Wrote
Jobs bills took a backseat to crime and budget wrangling in this legislative session, even though New Mexico has the nation’s worst unemployment. But as the smoke clears, we see some good bills emerging while others wait on the runway for next year.
Last week, Gov. Susana Martinez signed two bills. One of her priorities was the Rapid Response Workforce Program to quickly train workers a shortage of trained workers will keep a company from relocating. This is a challenge around the state. Endorsed by the bipartisan legislative Jobs Council, the bill passed both houses unanimously. By some miracle, legislative budgeters found $1.25 million to fund it. Kudos to the governor for championing this bill.
A second measure signed into law allows small and mid-size communities (up to 35,000) to use local funding through the Local Economic Development Act (LEDA) for retail projects. That might not sound impressive, but in small towns, a new store is economic development, and it’s important in larger towns that lack certain kinds of shopping.
More good news: The Tourism Department will have $300,000 more for advertising and $300,000 more for event sponsorship grants. And the public-private New Mexico Economic Development Corp. will get about $1.4 million more.
Even more good news: The State Investment Officer can invest in private equity funds that don’t have a staffed office in New Mexico. We’re talking about investors with an interest in New Mexico, who would likely invest here if they received a state investment, but found our local-office requirement an obstacle. This expands the financing prospects for home-grown companies.
At this writing, two bills sit on the governor’s desk. One is the first step toward statewide broadband infrastructure – a study that would focus on underserved areas. Sponsors asked for $950,000 and the budget has $400,000 for the study.
A second bill that passed with funding stripped out is a Jobs Council program focused on “solo workers.” These are self-employed people like consultants and artists who earn most of their income outside the state. Currently, about seven percent of workers are self-employed, and that number could triple, according to economic developers. Representatives of the state’s Small Business Development Centers testified that solo workers, who can locate wherever they have broadband, are particularly promising for rural communities.
Three other Jobs Council bills expired for lack of funding. They aimed at providing a better picture of our workforce and its training needs, important because state agencies don’t or can’t provide the kind of data economic developers need. Also circling the drain are the usual slew of tax credits that we can’t afford.
Possibly the most important bill to die was one to study job-creation programs and incentives, measure their success (or lack) and report back. A legislative analysis says: “Reporting of activities and results related to economic development programs and incentives in the state is minimal, fragmented, and often involves overlap or duplication. Without a significant improvement in reporting, it is impossible to judge the effectiveness or relative efficiency of most programs…”
Somewhat disappointing is the Job Training Incentive Program budget of $6 million. Business groups wanted $10 million. JTIP, in which the state and employers share costs to train workers for new jobs, is one of the oldest and most successful programs we have. The fund for this fiscal year is nearly empty, but the Economic Development Department can siphon money from next year’s funding.
Finally, here lies Right to Work. It died. Again. This yearly excuse for emotional speechifying wastes a lot of time and makes little difference in job creation. We have way bigger problems, and one is a trained workforce. Which is why back slapping is due all around for passing the Rapid Response Workforce Development bill.
© 2016 NEW MEXICO NEWS SERVICES 2/29/16
Even modest proposals explode in the volatile education atmosphere
By Sherry Robinson
All She Wrote
Education has become a tug-of-war – or maybe just a war – and this legislative session was no exception.
Democrats couldn’t convince their opponents to use the state’s permanent funds to support education, and Republicans didn’t make any headway in ending social promotion. Give them credit for trying hard.
Beyond those top-tier bills were several layers of lesser issues that did see compromise, and legislators deserve a pat on the back for finding a little more money in the budget for public education, even in a year when other departments saw cuts.
In 2003, we tapped the permanent fund to support teachers’ salaries, and that amendment to the constitution was controversial. The cities supported it, and the rural areas didn’t. This year that revenue stream was scheduled to drop from 5.5 to 5 percent, and Dems also wanted more money for early childhood education, so there were three proposed amendments.
Nobody argues the good of early childhood programs. Sponsors honed their proposals to answer criticism that the early childhood spending measure lacked a plan and added a sunset. They failed.
Republicans and Democratic budget guardian, Sen. John Arthur Smith, had their eyes on the downturn in oil prices, financial markets, tax revenues, and permanent fund balances and chose to keep the state’s piggy bank intact.
Social promotion – passing kids who can’t read at great level – has been a sticky issue for six consecutive sessions. Although supporters fashioned a bill that would hold back third graders only as a last resort, Democrats and one Republican, a retired teacher, were uncomfortable with using one test score to decide the question. Dems also argued that other states are backing away from third-grade retention.
As an opinion columnist, I’d like to take a position on both questions, but they’re wrapped in layers of politics, sharp disagreements between teachers and the state Public Education Department, education jargon, and shifting research conclusions. It’s like seeing a catfight and being afraid to stick your hand in to break it up.
I will say I’ve observed an unhealthy rigidity in PED and profound unhappiness among teachers. There’s no communication between the two, and so-called education reformers seem to see teachers as the enemy. We should all be troubled by this.
Legislators found a little common ground on lengthening the rest period for athletes who may have concussions, giving schools more flexibility in their Breakfast After the Bell Programs, and requiring schools to teach students how to perform CPR and other life-saving procedures.
One proposal that seems sensible became a political grenade. That was to hire retired professionals as adjunct teachers for middle and high schools as a way to address teacher shortages in science and math. Some supporters had lab scientists in mind. Not every community has such a pool, but rural areas have retired engineers, accountants and business people who could serve.
Teachers’ response: Yes, but can they teach? Good question. Bill supporters said adjuncts would take 40 hours of teacher training, which is more than substitutes now get. They would also have to pass the New Mexico Teacher Assessments in their subject area. There is an alternative licensing program, but it requires 12 to 18 college credits, and some retired professionals consider it an obstacle.
Democrats saw the bill as an insult to teachers. “PED is trying to demonize our teachers,” said Senate Majority Leader Michael Sanchez, D-Belen. Other Dems used the occasion to attack PED.
As a parent, I would have jumped at the opportunity for my kid to be taught by a scientist or engineer, and this takes nothing from teachers – he had great teachers. But in the current atmosphere, not only is there no negotiating, there is no talking. Any proposal from one side or the other becomes an enemy missile.
© 2016 NEW MEXICO NEWS SERVICES 2/22/16
Ethics reform runs aground on fears of politically motivated complaints
By Sherry Robinson
All She Wrote
This was the year we were supposed to see real ethics reform in Santa Fe, and it seemed that the stars had lined up.
Secretary of State Dianna Duran and Sen. Phil Griego delivered scandals that were still fresh in mind. The public was more than ready – a poll for Common Cause New Mexico found that 85 percent of respondents supported creating an independent ethics commission. Another poll found 82 percent of New Mexico business leaders liked the idea.
A Republican freshman, Rep. Jim Dines of Albuquerque, and a Democrat, Rep. Jeff Steinborn of Las Cruces, joined to carry a bipartisan bill.
House Joint Resolution 5 would have created a nine-member ethics commission whose members would be appointed by the Legislature, judiciary and administration. The commission could initiate or receive complaints and investigate alleged violations by state officials, lobbyists, state employees, contractors or would-be contractors. It could look into possible breaches of state ethics, campaign finance and procurement laws and hold public hearings to resolve complaints. Those making the complaints could not be anonymous.
The bill motored through committees and passed the House on a 50-10 vote, but not without concerns. Just as support was bipartisan, so were objections: Somebody could file frivolous, politically motivated complaints that could hurt an elected official’s reputation and be expensive to refute.
So in Senate Rules, the scene was set for a showdown. The rules committees of both houses are often where bills go to die, but supporters dared to hope. The committee surgically removed the vital organs of the bill, and an exasperated Dines withdrew the bill. (To see a copy, go to nmopinions.com.)
The Rules Committee’s surgeon was Sen. Daniel Ivey-Soto, D-Albuquerque. Just last week I called him the Senate nitpick. Scarcely a bill comes to his notice that he doesn’t try to amend. Sometimes his attention to detail improves the bill – even Dines would have accepted some of the changes – but just as often Ivey-Soto slows the process while he grills the sponsor for sport until even fellow Dems wonder whose side he’s on.
So this was Ivey-Soto being himself – with the encouragement of the committee. The result was to erase transparency provisions and make the measure “a toothless tiger,” in Dines’ words.
Repercussions were so swift and hot, Ivey-Soto and Rules Committee Chair Linda Lopez felt the need of a news conference. The nitpick said it wasn’t just him, that other committee members also contributed to the rewrite, that an ethics commission had to be “implemented in a way the public expects, and in this respect the details really do matter."
Yes, they do, especially the original details. The nitpick has also said several times that Dines didn't have to withdraw his measure. Yes, he did. People who believe in transparency would do the same.
Editorial writers and bloggers pounded frustrated commentary from their keyboards, as they should, but political blogger Joe Monahan took reformers to task, saying legislators have now killed an independent ethics commission for the tenth year.
“Obsessing each year over an ethics commission that has no chance of passing may be at the expense of ignoring other ways to get reform,” he wrote.
Heather Ferguson, of Common Cause, responded that the initiative isn’t futile, but apathy and hopelessness run so deep that some have lost faith in the state’s ability to turn itself around. Reformers, she wrote, will be back next year.
In the spirit of a glass-half-full, I’d say reformers got closer this year than they have before. But as I wrote in 2010, lawmakers “feel a big target painted on their backs, and the higher they are in the pecking order, the bigger the target.”
Until reforms address this fear, the ethics commission will go nowhere.
© 2016 NEW MEXICO NEWS SERVICES 2/15/16
Garcias are the faces of our great weariness with crime
By Sherry Robinson
All She Wrote
Leading up to the hearing Saturday night of the three-strikes bill, Roundhouse watchers were caught in political crossfire.
In this legislative session, Republicans unfolded a big crime package and hollered that anybody who didn’t support it was soft on crime and didn’t care about the state’s children. The Democrats hollered back that the crime bills were just a distraction from the state’s dismal economy, wouldn’t work, and would bust an already fragile budget.
So with this backdrop, coupled with the tiresome nastiness of national politics, the Senate Public Affairs Committee, with its majority of Democrats, took up HB 56, by a retired policeman, Rep. Paul Pacheco, R-Albuquerque.
An amazing thing happened on Saturday. During a long evening of tears and personal stories, our legislators laid down their rhetoric and spoke from the heart. The Ds and Rs were kind to one another. And they passed the bill.
HB 56l would enlarge the meaning of “violent felony” to include shooting at or from a vehicle, aggravated assault, kidnapping, child abuse, sexual assault of a minor and aggravated burglary. A third conviction for any of these crimes would bring a life sentence.
Just the day before, the Senate heard a letter from former Gov. Gary Johnson, who wrote, “Contrary to their intent, mandatory minimum laws like three strikes do little to reduce crime. They do, however, help drive prison overcrowding and demand substantial increases in corrections spending.”
Pacheco had said he wasn’t trying to put away a lot of people for life; he just wanted to target repeat violent criminals.
Testimony began with Veronica Garcia, mother of the beautiful four-year-old Lilly, who was killed in a road-rage incident. Lilly’s riveting photograph was an arrow to the heart, driving home the point that we can’t protect our children.
Corrections Secretary Gregg Marcantel spoke with passion, saying the prison system needs work, but it shouldn’t be an excuse to not support this bill. “Ten percent of the people are committing the bulk of the crimes,” he said.
A woman who served time for drug offenses said she had turned her life around and made the case for treatment rather than incarceration. A rape victim wept and struggled to speak against the bill, which she said would not prevent such crimes in the future.
And so it went. Even committee members had experiences as crime victims, as parents, as professionals working with crime victims. Nobody in the room, it seemed, was untouched, and all had profound reasons for their beliefs.
Committee Chairman Jerry Ortiz y Pino, D-Albuquerque, said: “We’re manufacturing criminals. Our prison system doesn’t work. When we send young men to prison for 30 years, they can’t function on the outside.”
However, it was Sen. Jacob Candelaria, D-Albuquerque, who put his finger on public sentiment: “Society is morally justified in imposing severe punishment on people who commit violent acts and do it repeatedly.”
We feel for Alan and Veronica Garcia and wonder if we too could lose a child or loved one in the same way? Who can blame them for going to Santa Fe and demanding that lawmakers do something? The Garcias are the faces of our great weariness with crime that seems to be out of control and our inability to rein it in.
Even Sen. Daniel Ivey-Soto, the Senate’s nitpick, was moved. He told the Garcias that in the press of legislative business he had held his little daughter for the first time in a week and, looking at them, felt guilty about it. The Albuquerque Democrat then made the bill palatable by amending the bill to zero in on offenders who had committed three violent crimes resulting in great bodily harm or intended to cause great bodily harm or committed crimes in a violent manner.
With that, “Lilly’s Law” passed on a bipartisan vote.
© 2016 NEW MEXICO NEWS SERVICES 2/1/16
Domestic terrorists or protesters: Whatever we call them, they lost in the court of public opinion
By Sherry Robinson
All She Wrote
At the first news of the Malheur National Wildlife Refuge occupation, some of us wondered if it could happen here. The way it played out, that’s not likely.
It began with Oregon ranchers Dwight Hammond Jr. and his son Steven being convicted by a jury of arson, but the sentences jumped from months to five years because of a federal anti-terrorism law passed in response to the Oklahoma City bombing. The sentences sparked a protest by ranchers and militiamen in Burns, Ore., and a few armed protesters led by Ammon Bundy took over the nearby refuge.
We’ve learned more about the players. In interviews, current and former employees of the wildlife refuge describe decades of hostility and death threats from the Hammonds.
“They said they were going to wrap my son in barbed wire and throw him down a well. They said they knew exactly which rooms my kids slept in,” said a former director.
They told the deputy manager they would put a chain around his neck and drag him behind a pickup. Three staff members had to relocate their families for a time, and they began meeting with the Hammonds only with a law enforcement officer present. Frightened, demoralized employees have asked for transfers.
During the occupation, two protesters accosted a woman wearing a BLM shirt and told her they knew what car she drove and would follow her home and burn her house down. Then they began parking in front of her house and tailgating her.
What really got public attention was the protesters’ request for supplies and snacks to be mailed to them through the local post office. The internet erupted in jokes, and people mailed them sex toys, glitter, nail polish and a barrel of personal lubricant.
Here in New Mexico last week, during a meeting of the House Agriculture, Water and Wildlife Committee, Rep. Bill McCamley, D-Las Cruces, brought up “the domestic terrorist situation in Oregon” and asked U. S. Regional Forester Cal Joyner when the government would remove them.
Committee Chair Candy Ezzell, R-Roswell, responded, “These are citizens of the United States, not terrorists. I’d prefer you not refer to them as terrorists.”
“For me, that’s exactly what they are,” McCamley said. “They have come from around the country and stolen federal land. When you use the point of a gun to show your political views, that’s terrorism… If these terrorists are allowed to stay on public land, which we all own, it’s a template for other takeovers.”
Ezzell, a rancher, may been sympathetic, but McCamley’s response was more typical of letters to the editor and internet chatter. Bundy and his bunch lost in the court of public opinion.
The forester sounded a conciliatory note in saying the occupation communicated unhappiness with decision making, and that he and his people needed to be in the community talking to the public. Working together, he said, federal agencies and ranchers could come up with grazing leases that would suit both sides.
In the rush to demonize federal employees, some forget that they carry out laws passed in Congress. There’s room for negotiation, but it takes two parties negotiating in good faith.
The refuge episode reminds me of student unrest during the 1960s and 1970s. The sit-ins and occasional violence got a lot of publicity. The rest of us might have agreed with protesters about war and social injustice, but we kept going to class and emerged as teachers, social workers, journalists, lawyers, artists and elected officials who could do more than shout or throw rocks through shop windows.
The ag committee has two ranchers – Ezell and Rep. Paul Bandy, R-Aztec. I can’t imagine either one among the militants in Oregon. That’s because they’re doing more important work by ranching and representing constituents in the Legislature.
© 2016 New Mexico News Services
Passing laws and avoiding mousetraps as campaign season 2016 opens
By Sherry Robinson
All She Wrote
In 2000, the Republicans painted a target on House Speaker Raymond Sanchez, who was as much of an irritant to Republican Gov. Gary Johnson as his brother, Senate Majority Leader Michael Sanchez, is to this one.
The GOP hoped to take control of the Legislature. Running against the powerful House Speaker was John Sanchez, a political newbie who didn’t appear to have a chance.
That campaign could be a chapter in political science textbooks.
An over-confident Raymond didn’t take his opponent seriously until it was too late. In November, John Sanchez unleashed a flood of radio ads accusing Raymond Sanchez of resisting efforts to toughen laws against sex offenders and child pornography. His campaign made phone calls and mailed letters to Raymond’s constituents asking them to call him if they think “families have a right to know if a convicted sexual predator is living next door.”
Raymond countered with his own radio ads saying the accusations were lies and mudslinging. He lost.
John Sanchez’s campaign manager, by the way, was Jay McCleskey, the governor’s Rasputin (or puppeteer, critics say).
The campaign actually began earlier that year in the Legislature, with Republicans pushing for a tougher Megan’s law. Raymond had carried the Megan’s law bill the year before. Megan's law was named for a New Jersey child who was raped and killed in 1994 by a neighbor who was a convicted sex offender. The law requires convicted sex offenders to register with law enforcement officials.
New Mexico’s law was similar to other states’ laws, but it didn’t require public disclosure about sex offenders convicted before the law took effect. Republicans wanted all past sex offenses to be disclosed.
The Speaker argued that the proposed change could be unconstitutional and was "more for politics than it is for protection."
A compromise bill passed. Raymond Sanchez won the legislative skirmish but lost his campaign. It’s not likely that his brother has forgotten.
This year, the governor and her party want to make this legislative session about crime. It’s an odd subject for a short session, which typically focuses on budget and money bills, and it just happens to be an election year for all legislators.
Some of these crime bills are on the level, and some are mousetraps set for this year’s campaigns, although Democrats also have crime bills.
HB 65 increases charges for possession of child pornography. Maybe not so ironically, the sponsor is Rep. Sarah Maestas Barnes, a Republican who holds the seat in Raymond Sanchez’s former district. Rep. Moe Maestas, D-Albuquerque, has said the focus should be on years in jail, not criminal counts.
It’s a lawyerly argument, but how will it sound in election ads, come fall? Republicans already pounced on the opposition in a news release, saying “the Democrat party doesn’t have a child’s interests at heart.”
HB 56 toughens up the state’s three strikes law. It too whizzed through the first committee on party-line votes. Opponents say it’s unnecessary because we have repeat offender laws on the books that work the same way. They want to see more prevention and rehabilitation, but that’s not nearly as persuasive in one of those thundering political ads as, “Lock ‘em up!”
Down the line, when we realize our prisons are costing a fortune and it’s not an election year, we start to listen to reformers.
Not all the crime bills are gotcha bills. Both sides support giving local governments authority to set curfews. HB 27, “Racheal’s Law,” allows rape victims to obtain no-contact orders against their rapists. Victim Racheal Gonzales fought for the bill’s passage last year and deserves support.
Legislators in swing districts will be weighing their words and trying to avoid mousetraps.
© 2016 NEW MEXICO NEWS SERVICES 1/18/16
Jobs Council’s nonpartisan brainstorming may seed future economic development
By Sherry Robinson
All She Wrote
Adversaries are already squaring off over hot-button issues in the legislative session that begins Jan. 19, so it might surprise you that there’s an oasis of agreement.
That’s the legislative Jobs Council. The agreement is due to ground rules that required unanimous decisions. Right off the bat, it eliminated pointless debates over issues that will never see a consensus.
The Jobs Council is three years old. It’s the brainchild of former House Speaker Ken Martinez, who envisioned a nonpartisan forum where legislators, community leaders, business people and economic developers could hammer out ideas.
That’s what happened.
Guided by veteran economic developer Mark Lautman, the council began with meetings in every county and every Council of Government district. Participants at this grassroots level were asked, probably for the first time: How many jobs do you need? How many jobs do you think you can create? What economic sectors are most likely to provide those jobs? What obstacles do you face in creating jobs?
The data from these exercises has been lovingly charted by council helpers.
It’s wonkish, yes, but consider how jobs bills usually come about. Every session, each party announces its own jobs package, rooted more in ideology than good practice. Republicans predictably want tax breaks; Democrats predictably think any government spending is good for the economy. From the dueling packages, a few bills limp through.
As a result, our tax system has so many credits and exemptions, we’ve dramatically reduced revenues to the state and local governments despite increased needs, and we don’t even know if our loopholes are working because we don’t want to annoy companies with requests for information. Public spending may add a few jobs, but they’re temporary.
If any of this stuff worked, we wouldn’t still be wallowing in the recession, so starting locally with basics made sense.
Disclosure: I had a minor role as note taker with the support staff. Some of my time was paid, but more was donated because I believe this process has a chance of working. It was heartening, even exhilarating at times, to see people come together in these big meetings to brainstorm about jobs.
This process was most useful to smaller cities and towns because they aren’t staffed to do this kind of groundwork. One of the council’s conclusions is that the state’s corps of economic developers has shrunk to the point that they can’t adequately identify and chase deals.
Other conclusions: We should recruit and encourage solo workers, the growing ranks of home-office businesses and independent workers. This is also a good option for rural areas. A bill this year would set up a pilot program.
Broadband came up repeatedly. For some counties, it’s a top priority; others have some capacity. A pre-introduced bill by Jobs Council members asks for $950,000 to study the options for statewide infrastructure and implement service to high-priority, underserved rural areas.
The biggest obstacle, say economic developers, is lack of a trained, qualified workforce. A bill will ask for a study of workforce needs and skill shortages; other bills will support middle-school physics, STEM programs at universities, and rapid workforce deployment.
Another bill demands that we measure the results of any new program to make sure it works. This kind of accountability should have been in place all along.
I’ve known Mark Lautman since we were both rookies in our professions. He’s one of those people who’s spent a lot of time contemplating the changes in his profession, in the economy and in New Mexico. Not everybody will agree with him – sometimes I don’t either – but in his methodical, examination of local economies we have the seed of finally understanding why we’re poor and doing something about it.
© 2016 NEW MEXICO NEWS SERVICES 1/11/16
Reformers take aim at state’s pork spending
By Sherry Robinson
All She Wrote
We have a charming custom in New Mexico called “the throw.” During Pueblo feast days, members of certain families carry into the plaza a laundry basket brimming with food and toss items to the crowd. You might catch an orange, a loaf of Pueblo bread or snacks.
The Legislature’s capital outlay, or pork spending, system operates the same way. Communities can come away from a session with money for roads, water systems, buildings, police vehicles or senior center crockery.
But it’s not as charming as the throw. In operation, it’s political, inefficient and wasteful. Experts have criticized us since 1977, the advent of the first Christmas tree bill, so-called because it had something for everyone. The American Society of Civil Engineers and Governing magazine say our system as one of the nation’s worst.
The money from this yearly exercise comes from borrowing (issuing bonds) against the state’s severance taxes on oil, gas, and minerals. It’s divided among the governor and 112 legislators, who spend it on projects, deserving and undeserving.
There is madness in this method.
It’s very political. Last year the capital outlay bill capsized in partisan warfare, as it has five other times in 20 years, and the House Ways and Means Committee struck projects from state agency priority lists in favor of goodies for their own districts.
Big, unsexy projects like sewer systems or parking lots can be slighted in favor of sports equipment and gazebos. Allocations made for big projects are often so small they’re meaningless, so a two-year project takes ten or doesn’t get built at all.
Recently, the Legislative Finance Committee reported that $1billion is sitting unspent, and hundreds of projects are incomplete. In 11 counties, more than 90 percent of funding earmarked for projects between 2012 and 2014 remains unspent.
The system is also unfair. New Mexico In Depth, a news website, studied capital outlay between 2010 and 2014 and found that by three different measures, the result isn’t equitable. Socorro County makes out royally while Los Alamos County is at the back of the line. Counties with state facilities do well. Poor counties don’t necessarily fare well; neither do counties with big populations.
Think New Mexico, a nonpartisan think tank, is calling for a transparent, merit-based system that would divvy up the state’s $300 million in yearly public works spending in a way that directs money to urgent priorities and not gewgaws.
The organization studied best practices in other states and recommends an independent commission to analyze needs and recommend funding, which is how Oklahoma, Utah and 17 other states determine public works spending. We already do this with public school infrastructure projects and to some extent with water, tribal and colonias infrastructure.
The proposed Capital Outlay Planning Board, made up of experts appointed by the governor and the Legislature, would gather the plans of state agencies and local governments, prioritize projects objectively, and fund the most urgent. It would no longer dribble funding to big projects but instead abide by a minimum, and local projects would require local matching money on a sliding scale. Lawmakers and the governor could still eliminate projects with a line-item veto but not add new projects.
The arguments are predictable. A planning board won’t understand us, small communities will say. A planning board won’t understand our districts like we do, legislators will say. Losing control of pork means losing leverage, so legislators are usually unwilling to change the system.
However, under the proposed system, legislators would probably represent their communities before a capital outlay board, which addresses both objections.
Some will say the old system is working better because of improved cooperation among lawmakers and local governments, which is true.
But we can do better. We can’t afford NOT to.
© 2016 New Mexico News Services 1-4-16
Requirements to get a job won’t make jobs magically appear
By Sherry Robinson
All She Wrote
Food stamps have been a battleground for two years.
On Jan. 1, with New Mexico’s unemployment the highest in the nation, a new rule kicked in that returns pre-recession requirements. Thousands of New Mexicans must work, with or without pay, to receive Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program (SNAP) benefits.
Nonprofits, religious organizations and the public objected to the new rules and some even sued. The state Human Services Department modified a few rules and pushed them through.
We’d like to think this move would create more wage earners, but that’s unlikely. Economic reality and systemic weaknesses will sandbag the administration’s wishful thinking.
The new rule requires most able-bodied, childless adults aged 18 to 49 to show 80 hours a month of approved work to qualify for SNAP, formerly called food stamps. Otherwise, they get just three months’ benefits in three years. On Oct. 1, people aged 16 to 59 and parents of children 13 and older will come under the rules. That’s 24,000 people, HSD estimates.
The idea is that these people can work without pay in a job that “gives a person experience in a job or industry, tests a person’s job skills, or involves volunteer time and effort to a not-for-profit organization,” the regulation says. They can also participate in state-supervised activities like filling out job applications and contacting employers.
“Requiring those receiving public assistance to look for work, engage in job training, or obtain employment is common sense. We are trying to lift New Mexicans out of poverty,” said an HSD spokesman in 2014.
Sounds like somebody swallowed the talk-radio blather about welfare queens and the chronically lazy living off the public dole. Some of those folks exist, but out here in the real world are thousands of people who’ve applied for jobs and applied and applied. If there were jobs to be had, they’d have them.
Out here in the real world, the bottom has fallen out of the middle class, and lots of people with solid work histories are searching frantically for work. They’re embarrassed that SNAP pays for their groceries, but they have no choice.
Out here in the real world, our new hero is the single mom working three minimum-wage jobs to pay the rent. Welfare reform replaced the welfare queen with the minimum wage queen.
Will the new rules even work?
My first point of reference is my dad, who was a small businessman. I can’t imagine him taking on free workers with the idea of possibly hiring them. It would have troubled his conscience; people need to make a living, he would say. He hired people if he could afford to hire them. If he couldn’t, free work would make no difference.
A second hurdle: The state asked for exemptions for ten of the state’s poorest counties, along with most of the Indian reservations. So all those people who went to the city looking for work and didn’t find it will return home, where there are still no jobs but at least they can eat.
Then we have program operations. A federal audit found that HSD failed to inform clients about requirements, couldn’t administer the work program, and improperly denied benefits half the time, according to the Center on Law and Poverty.
There’s a cold efficiency in that. The governor wants to save money, and the department’s program and its mismanagement are guaranteed to toss people off the eligibility list.
For those who think we can’t save everyone, who’d like to see a curb to the welfare state, it works, but let’s not pretend we’re “trying to lift New Mexicans out of poverty.” Hunger, already a reality for one in five, will grow.
Write a check to your local food bank.
© 2015 NEW MEXICO NEWS SERVICES 12/28/15
Governor’s DWI proposals could go farther, but not in an election year
By Sherry Robinson
All She Wrote
On Dec. 14, the governor announced her DWI proposals for the Legislature, and within days she was apologizing for an employee bash and her own behavior after she committed GWI, governing while intoxicated.
If you are one of the three people who didn’t hear the recording, you missed a tipsy Susana Martinez haranguing a desk clerk and two police dispatchers. Somebody complained about noise coming from a staffer’s hotel room, where the governor insisted six people were “eating peetzahhhh.”
After the internet joking subsided, local and national pundits began pronouncing her star fallen.
Maybe, but we still need to talk about DWI.
The governor wants legislators to toughen up DWI penalties – adding jail time for certain repeat DWI offenders, expanding habitual-offender laws to include felony DWI offenses, and cracking down on people who lend vehicles to a DWI offender with a suspended or revoked license. She also wants to have volunteers monitor DWI cases in some counties.
She also rolled out DWI initiatives: increasing the number of police officers patrolling the worst highways, patrol strategies targeting drunk drivers and bars that over-serve, bench warrant roundups of high-risk DWI offenders, and stepping up efforts to locate and arrest repeat offenders who have skipped out on parole or probation.
Yes, we could tighten our laws. We’ve done well in prevention but are still lax in our penalties, according to WalletHub. But the governor undermines her proposal by politicizing DWI and blaming those pesky Senate Democrats, something she’s done so often it’s lost its punch. Senate Majority Leader Michael Sanchez returned fire, saying the DWI package was simply a “diversion” to distract public attention from her overall record.
Martinez also blames the judges, saying her package will “hold the justice system accountable for failing to punish DWI criminals.” Most people won’t remember that she’s been starving the state’s judiciary system with repeated line-item vetoes. I asked a law enforcement representative recently how under-funding the judiciary affects policing and crime. The answer is that they’re all linked; cops are arresting drunk drivers but can’t get them through our overloaded courts.
A year ago the state Department of Health recommended that the judiciary and other agencies do a better job of screening and tracking DWI offenders. The agency also said the tracking system should be improved. Interventions should focus on young adults, Native Americans and Hispanics, it said. And because a lot of people start abusing alcohol at an early age, prevention should focus on reducing underage drinking, the report said; the best way to do that is by increasing the price.
The Health Department recommendations are certainly on target, but they require money. Increasing the cost of booze is beautiful in its simplicity. It could be done easily with a tax, but that wouldn’t fly with our candidate-governor who even now is campaigning for her next office.
We’re not lacking for DWI laws, but as Judge Alan Malott, of the 2nd Judicial District, wrote recently, our laws could use some fine tuning.
For example, New Mexico law requires an interlock device on your car for your first DWI conviction. For four or more, the device is installed for the rest of your life. However, the law also allows you to ask the court to have your license restored if you can show good cause. The law doesn’t define “good cause.” So each judge must decide who is safe to return to the streets with a license and no interlock, and the results can vary from one courtroom to another.
I’ve been writing since 2011 that the governor would see some results by setting aside politics and collaborating with lawmakers instead of poking the caged bear with a stick. But it’s an election year. DWI won’t be the priority.