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

© 2019 New Mexico News Services   2-11-19
With no apparent strategy, House Republicans throw themselves at every fight
By Sherry Robinson
All She Wrote
            New Mexico’s House Republicans in this legislative session complain that the majority Democrats aren’t listening to them. The Democrats say they’re listening, but they have a mandate.
            In 2014, when Republicans gained a majority in the House, it was the Dems’ turn to complain that they were pushed aside.
            So how does the majority party become more gracious and how does the minority party muster its limited numbers to make a difference?
            There are no answers today or in 2014. Whoever’s in power makes their plays and forgets that voters in this state tend to swing back and forth, looking for a happy medium but finding only extremes.
            Former Gov. Susana Martinez and the Republicans took flak for pushing wedge issues, like not passing third graders who couldn’t read and taking drivers licenses from undocumented immigrants.
          Now the Dems are busy pushing their own wedge issues – abortion rights, gun control, legalized marijuana – only nobody’s calling them wedge issues. The difference is that they have the votes to pass them and, presumably, a new governor willing to sign them. But, hey, that’s politics and the democratic process.
          What’s the minority party to do? Some might embrace the sage advice to choose your battles, work on bipartisan bills that help everybody, continue to espouse your positions, and bide your time.
          Instead, under the grumpy leadership of Rep. James Townsend, R-Artesia, the Rs have decided to oppose everything, to throw themselves into every fight and go down in a hail of words.
          Last week this played out in the procedural battle over a bill requiring background checks in gun sales. During hours of drama, as reported in the Albuquerque Journal, Republicans used a “call of the house,” in which lawmakers must return to the floor and the door is locked, but Rep. David Gallegos, R-Eunice, went missing. The House found a way to go on without Gallegos, but Rs threatened to leave in a group, which produced another call and locked doors.
          For all that, the bill passed 41 to 25. It might be great political theater, but it accomplished nothing and took time from other bills that deserved attention. I also think these episodes damage lawmakers’ ability to work together.
          More revealing was the vote on a bill to replace Columbus Day with Indigenous Peoples Day. Columbus Day has been a thumb in the eye of tribal members for years. The substitution is a simple solution that a number of cities and states have already adopted.
          You might think House Republicans would tiptoe around anything that smacks of racism, given the accusations that cling like duct tape to the president.
          But no, they voiced their objections at length, led by Rep. Rod Montoya, R-Farmington, who noted that he’s Hispanic and his wife is half Navajo. He worried that the change would offend all the people who immigrated to this country in search of a better life. He also thought it was divisive.
           Rep. Larry Scott, R-Hobbs, saw the bill as a rejection of history, which is often violent. Rep. Candy Ezzell, R-Roswell, said, “I get perturbed when we segregate one group. When we change history we take away our children’s right to know” the events that shaped us.
          Normally I would agree with their concern about history. I thought it was a mistake for Albuquerque to remove a cannon and flag from Old Town that symbolized the Confederate presence here during the Civil War.
          This bill isn’t trying to change history. It recognizes that Christopher Columbus isn’t everybody’s hero. And if we don’t want to single out any one group, we should give up St. Patrick’s Day, Chinese New Year, and Cinco de Mayo.
          The Rs missed an opportunity to display the kind of forbearance they want from Dems. And they proved it’s still wise to choose your battles.


Sherry Robinson photo

© 2019 NEW MEXICO NEWS SERVICES    2-11-19
20,000 people each year find mineral magnificence at Mining Museum
By Harold Morgan
New Mexico Progress
We talk a lot about the New Mexico landscape -- the surface, that is. And we talk a lot about the sky, the clarity of the light, the sunsets.
But we don’t talk much about what is under the surface. That figures. Mostly we can’t see what is under the surface. 
The Mineral Museum at the Bureau of Geology on the campus of the New Mexico Tech addresses this matter. The museum has an amazing collection, observed my wife on our recent Socorro visit. She toured the museum while I dug into the uranium mine files of economic geologist Virginia McLemore. The collection is outrageous, she said, (in a positive sense) with the color and the shapes. Overwhelmed by the dazzle, the requirement for viewing became focusing on each item.
The 5,000 mineral specimens (rocks to most of us) in the main gallery come from all over the world. Mostly they represent New Mexico. Around 20,000 people visit each year. The total collection is more than 19,000, including 89 meteorites, says curator Kelsey McNamara, whose job places her in charge of the collections. McNamara’s other title is, X-ray Diffraction Lab manager. 
The home of the bureau and the museum is Headen Center, a three-story, 85,000-square-foot building opened in 2015. Across the atrium from the museum is the publications store, a money-making operation endangering the wallet of any map lover.
While putting the bureau building where it is might have been a function of a vacant site, the building also is the first Tech building seen by visitors coming to the campus.
Giving any one specimen the title of “most wonderful” is certainly a judgment call, but a 30-pound piece of Smithsonite from the Kelly Mine near Magdalena would be in the running for its size, color and history.
The mineral world apparently likes Smithsonite. The website displays 19 specimens and lists 19 dealers in the United States and Europe. Smithsonite, the internet tells us, is named for James Smithson, founder of the Smithsonian Institution. It is zinc, which is found in the body and used in making brass.
The Smithsonite specimen, discovered around 1890, was donated to the museum in 1928 after a fire destroyed the initial collection, McNamara says.
Finding minerals isn’t a walk in the park, nor is it a stroll across a mesa and discovering a rock. People who are devoted to discovering minerals work at it.
Donations are a principle source of new specimens for the museum. So is money. Cash donations allow museum staff to attend events such as the annual Tucson Gem and Mineral Show, which bills itself modestly as “the largest, oldest and most prestigious gem and mineral show in the world.” The show, handy to Socorro, offers opportunities to enhance the museum collection.
For other collections, at San Juan College in Farmington, the School of Energy has the Sherman Dugan Museum of Geology, an excellent collection of fossils and minerals. The University of New Mexico in Albuquerque offers the Silver Family Geology Museum, which is part of the Department of Planetary and Earth Sciences.
In the museum world, attendance is perhaps the big non-financial measure of success. That 20,000 or so annually find the Mineral Museum from I-25 testifies both to the quality of the museum and the broader interest in minerals. More so when it happens without support from outlets such as the state Department of Cultural Affairs website, which touts the state historic sites, some of which attract far fewer people.