Columns appear here a week after they're sent to newspaper subscribers.
© 2020 NEW MEXICO NEWS SERVICES 6/29/20
Sheriffs vs. state: A standoff nobody wants to see
By Sherry Robinson
All She Wrote
New Mexico, in the early 1900s, was still a pretty wild place. Gambling was wide open, and the smallest outpost had at least one saloon. Movers and shakers understood that if we were ever to become a state, we had to clean up. The territorial legislature passed laws against gambling and prohibited liquor licenses for communities smaller than 300 people.
County sheriffs were expected to enforce these and other new anti-vice laws. The laws were unpopular with the public, and sheriffs knew they’d be difficult to enforce. But enforce them they did.
In “Desert Lawmen: The High Sheriffs of New Mexico and Arizona, 1846-1912,” UNM historian Larry D. Ball chronicled the county sheriff, from the days of American occupation to statehood. For years, the sheriff served the court, kept the peace, operated the jail, and even collected taxes in counties that stretched hundreds of miles across unmapped desert.
Zoom forward to the present. When most sheriffs said they wouldn’t enforce gun laws passed by the Legislature in 2019, Attorney General Hector Balderas reminded them of their legal obligation to enforce the law.
From the recent special session, a new law requires body cameras for all law enforcement agencies. It’s a first step in police reform and popular with the public. Opponents said it’s an unfunded mandate, which is true. Cop shops are expected in these difficult times to pay for the cameras. There is some help available, but realistically lawmakers will probably have to revisit body cameras come January.
What if sheriffs refuse to enforce this law too, a reporter asked House Speaker Brian Egolf last week during a news conference. Sheriffs, said Egolf, D-Santa Fe, have sworn to uphold the law. They don’t have the authority to defy the law for any reason.
“They’re sheriffs, not judges. They don’t get to determine what’s constitutional,” said the speaker, who’s also a lawyer. “If the courts have to get involved, the courts will get involved, and sheriffs will be made to comply. The law is the law.”
In “Desert Lawmen,” I find other periods when there were tensions between sheriffs and the state, but not defiance.
The Legislature would periodically pass bills requiring a new standard of conduct, usually in response to some scandal.
“When the territorial solons began to entertain such legislation, the sheriffs felt constrained to take some defensive measures,” Ball wrote. “They believed (and perhaps rightly) that the legislators did not always fully perceive the true circumstances and problems of these officials…”
They organized the New Mexico Sheriff’s Association in 1885 to obtain “additional legislation to aid the sheriffs… in the exercise of their office.” The organization disbanded by 1900, but sheriffs continued to lobby at legislative sessions.
After the 1880s, governors were more inclined to intervene in the sheriffs’ activities and removed a few for corruption. Gov. Miguel A. Otero stirred things up in 1905 when he took on the powerful Hubbell family in Valencia County and removed Sheriff Thomas S. Hubbell after an investigation revealed shady practices.
Some sheriffs, Ball wrote, “had acted as though they were lords of their domains, insulated from outside interference.” Citizens called for new police agencies, and in 1905 the New Mexico Mounted Police organized. The mounted police answered to the governor, not the county.
There was friction as the mounted police arrested local boys the sheriffs considered minor troublemakers.
“Like any long-term resident of one community, the sheriff had many ties with the inhabitants of his county,” Ball wrote. “They were his voters.” After about ten years, legislators stopped funding the mounted police.
So tension is nothing new but defiance is. Sheriffs would do well to remember their roots and not provoke a standoff that nobody – not the public, not the three branches of government – really wants.
Sherry Robinson photo
© 2020 NEW MEXICO NEWS SERVICES 6/29/20
Tulsa reconciliation didn’t need Trump
By Harold Morgan
New Mexico Progress
New Mexico has plenty of Oklahoma connections, most recently the closing for the summer of the Philmont Scout Ranch just outside Cimarron. In 1922 Tulsa oilman Waite Phillips made the initial purchase at the site and gave it to the Boy Scouts of America in 1938.
In the 1950s and 60s Phillips’ namesake oil company, Phillips Petroleum Company, headquartered in Bartlesville, west of Tulsa, was one of the large operators in the Ambrosia Lake uranium boom along with Kerr McGee of Oklahoma City.
The University of Tulsa has joined the crowds pounding University of New Mexico in football.
Pat Hurley, Herbert Hoover’s Secretary of War, was born near Tulsa and, as a New Mexico resident, had a thing about running for the Senate against Sen. Dennis Chavez. Another political connection comes through Rep. Brian Egolf, Santa Fe Democrat and Speaker of the House, who was born in Oklahoma City as I was. His grandfather, William Egolf, probably knew my parents at Classen High School in Oklahoma City.
This long-winded introduction is provided to say it’s worth stepping from our usual topic boundary of the New Mexico border to consider the Tulsa Race Massacre of May 31-June 21, 1921. White mobs destroyed the Greenwood district, an African American enclave north of downtown, killed as many as 300 people, and left 10,000 homeless. A long and moving Wikipedia article gives the details.
Somehow the massacre was scrubbed from the civic consciousness for around 70 years. My Tulsa source, a member of today’s civic elite born in Tulsa in 1942, remembers he didn’t begin to hear about the massacre until after college, around 1970. It wasn’t mentioned in the schools. The event got attention starting in the mid-1990s. “Riot” was the 1990s term.
My maternal grandparents were in the area at the time, if not in Tulsa. So was the maternal grandfather of my ex-wife. This makes it a bit personal. I better appreciate what some Navajo people told me at Bosque Redondo (near Fort Sumner) at the event commemorating the 150th anniversary of the June 1, 1868, signing of the treaty releasing Navajos from the concentration camp. They could feel their ancestors’ spirits, the Navajos said.
Tulsa has created what appears from the website to be an admirable truth and reconciliation commission.
Questions remain as to how and why the event was lifted from the civic consciousness. The why seems obvious: embarrassment, regret. But how? The Wikipedia article tried to blame planners, a group known for pursuing ideologies. The planner plan, which did happen, was to build a rail hub on the Greenwood site. But planners work for people such as mayors. Mayors in turn work for and are part of the core group that runs any community, especially smaller ones.
I speculate that the core group convened a meeting, maybe in a conference room at the biggest bank. Or the country club. Or the biggest oil company. The two or three leaders of the core said, “Boys, this is the way it’s gonna be.” The school superintendent, if not in the room, would be instructed that all mention of the massacre would be eliminated from the curriculum.
The legacy will change from silence. School curriculum will include the massacre by next year, Tulsa 2021 hopes.
Tulsans heavily favor President Trump, my local expert said. Even so, Tulsa’s reconciliation work didn’t need Trump’s recent visit that drew 6,200 in the humidity and heat to non-socially distanced quarters in the 19,000-capacity BOK Center.
Nor did even-hotter Phoenix need the President to pack a crowd into a mega church a few days later. Of course, it’s a dry heat in Arizona.