​​© 2019 NEW MEXICO NEWS SERVICES      7-1-19
Lujan emails obsess over McConnell. What about New Mexico and Gold King?
By Harold Morgan
New Mexico Progress
“I’m so humbled,” Ben Ray said in the first of two emails June 24. 
Oh, puhleeze, Ben Ray. Or should I say, Congressman Lujan. Or Rep. Lujan. Keep it respectful.
Borrowing from Winston Churchill, Ben Ray has much to be humble about.
He’s running for the U. S. Senate. He seeks to replace Sen. Tom Udall, who is retiring. There is an opponent – a real one – Secretary of State Maggie Toulouse Oliver.
I get emails from candidates, masses of them. Some I save. A compulsion, I suspect. Sometimes it’s worth taking a deep breath and looking at the saved group, just to see what is said. That’s today’s agenda. Full disclosure: I’m no Ben Ray fan.
Campaign emails, besides being a pain for recipients, provide insight into the candidate and the campaign, which tells about the candidate. I saved 14 emails sent between June 4 and 14. One day had two emails. June 24 generated three.
The first two emails, sent June 4 and 5, were preposterous at best and probably, it seems to me, not true. These two emails were duplicates, which seems sloppy. The absurd part was the claim, “My race was just named the most competitive Senate race in the entire country.”
The absurdity starts with New Mexico tilting Democratic, “not quite solidly blue,” but seven percentage points more Democratic than the nation, said fivethirtyeight.com in March.
Then there is the problem of needing at least two candidates to have a race at all. The only declared Republican is Gavin Clarkson, who managed to lose twice in 2016, a congressional primary and the Secretary of State race in the general election. From my distant view the guess is that the Republicans will offer a ghost candidate, Clarkson or whomever, to fill the Mick Rich role from 2018.
As Lujan’s primary opponent, Toulouse Oliver seems intelligent, personable, way liberal (that means “progressive,” I guess) and a record of running something, namely the Secretary of State’s office and the Bernalillo County Clerk’s office.
The June 18 and 19 emails were also duplicates. Punching the “send” button a second time must be easy. These two were about what must be a Democratic national obsession—removing Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell of Kentucky. The email says Lujan is “17 gifts short” of keeping his ads (which ads?) running. “Will you help me before midnight?” Nine of the period’s 14 emails were about McConnell.
The idea, the June 24 email said, is “to defeat Mitch McConnell’s Senate and elect me.”
Lujan’s resume includes night shifts as a blackjack dealer during what the Los Angeles Times called his “circuitous route through college.” His degree, from New Mexico Highlands, is in business.
My Lujan problem is substantive, well beyond dumb emails. It is his inaction over the August 2015 EPA spill of toxic waste from the Gold King mine into a tributary of the Animas River.
KOB TV’s Chris Ramirez introduced his August 13, 2015, interview with, “We ask Ben Ray Lujan how he plans to hold the EPA accountable.” Lujan’s response, ““We can always do better… there has to be full accountability with the EPA…” But was Ben Ray going to take action, lead the charge, fight for his constituents, be “the policing agent on the EPA,” as Ramirez put it? Naw.
Lujan’s other legacy stems from his father, Ben Lujan, being speaker of the state House of Representatives for 11 years.
For Ben Ray Lujan, it seems to be all about Ben Ray and Mitch. But what about the people of New Mexico? And the nation?
Much more fun to be Nancy Pelosi’s poodle.


Sherry Robinson photo

Columns appear here a week after they're sent to newspaper subscribers.

© 2019 NEW MEXICO NEWS SERVICES     7/1/19
Education activists need to give PED, reforms a chance to work
By Sherry Robinson
All She Wrote
            Plaintiffs in the education lawsuit, Yazzie-Martinez v. New Mexico, say the governor’s education moonshot fizzled. The state, they claim, needs to spend lots more money.
          Whoa! Not so fast. We’re three months out of a legislative session that pumped an extra $449 million into school budgets and moved a slew of education bills.
          Public Education Secretary Karen Trujillo was appointed and confirmed midway through the session.
          All we know at this point is that education reform in New Mexico has some glitches. This isn’t NASA.
            Elected officials this year moved heaven and earth, legislatively, to live up to the challenges of the Yazzie case’s conclusion that the state violated students’ constitutional rights to a sufficient education. They increased salaries, reworked the state funding formula, directed more money toward at-risk students, English learners, and rural schools, and started K-5 Plus programs.
          Also, the hated A-F grading system for schools went away, to be replaced by an online dashboard.
            Even as they debated reforms, lawmakers wondered if schools had the teachers – or if teachers were sufficiently trained – to implement them. They wondered if the depleted state Public Education Department had the staff to make sure districts spent the money appropriately.
            As they debated and before Secretary Trujillo had a chance to hang a picture on her office wall, the Yazzie plaintiffs’ attorneys were saying it wasn’t enough. What do they say is enough? $1 billion. Some legislators, however, have said new money should be phased in and not delivered in one lump because schools aren’t ready to shoulder a host of new programs and mandates.
            Last week, the New Mexico Center on Law and Poverty said in a new filing in the Yazzie case that students still lack the basics.
          “Unfortunately, our Legislature did not do nearly enough for our students this session,” said attorney Lauren Winkler in a statement. “As a result, school districts have been unable to provide additional programming and supports for at-risk students like bilingual education and social services. In fact, many districts have been forced to cut basic programs like reading intervention and drop-out/truancy prevention, and they cannot meet the demand for pre-K programs.”
          Funding and reforms haven’t quite gone hand in hand. School districts are climbing out of a deep hole just as the state is. They wanted and needed to increase teacher pay to keep their teachers and recruit new ones.
          But they didn’t have enough left for new instructional materials and technology, cultural and linguistic initiatives, extended learning (pre-K, summer school, after school programs), literacy specialists, counseling, and health care.
          Districts also found that program requirements were inflexible.
          None of this is fatal. Lawmakers can and will revisit the numbers and make adjustments. I trust the judgment of budget veterans who are reluctant to simply pour piles of cash into the schools all at once.
          We also need to give PED a chance to hit its stride. The state has zoomed from Hanna Skandera, a dictatorial education bureaucrat, to Trujillo, an educator’s educator endorsed by both parties. Lt. Gov. Howie Morales, himself an educator, handpicked a number of the new education hires in a display of cooperation between the executive and her lieutenant that we haven’t seen for eight years.
          But PED itself is understaffed to oversee reforms. The department, like the schools, is challenged to hire the kind of expertise it needs on what the state can pay.
          The plaintiffs and the New Mexico Center on Law and Poverty deserve our thanks for moving education funding to the launch site, and I’m glad they’re monitoring the state’s progress. But some patience is in order here.
          This year’s budget and legislation are the ignition in our moonshot. We will have lift-off.