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






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© 2019 NEW MEXICO NEWS SERVICES    8/12/19
Cultural attractions show long-term visitor decline
By Harold Morgan
New Mexico Progress
New Mexico’s cultural attractions seem to have missed the Instagram popularity driving huge increases in national park attendance the past few years. The park situation was discussed here in May. (See nmopinions.com.)
This conclusion comes from reviewing visitor numbers at the eight museums and seven historic sites run by the state’s Department of Cultural Affairs. (Most of the historic sites used to be called state monuments.) The visitor total for the 2019 budget year that ended June 30 was 992,574, down 2 percent from 1,014,041 but still above 939,159 in 2017.
The number of people visiting these institutions is worth some thought in the short term just to review year-over-year performance. More important, however, is the long term. Cultural Affairs could reasonably be considered the custodian of New Mexico’s Enchantment, that ambiguous mix of exoticness defining the state as much as does anything.
Four museums are in Santa Fe: International Folk Art, Indian Arts and Culture, Art, and History. The others are Natural History and Science and the Hispanic Cultural Center in Albuquerque; Space History in Alamogordo and Farm and Ranch in Las Cruces. The sites are Coronado (Bernalillo), Lincoln, Jemez, Fort Sumner/Bosque Redondo and Fort Stanton. Fort Selden, called “seldom” in honor of its system-low number of visitors (4,370 in FY 2019), is in Radium Springs.
Santa Fe has the most museums, but the Albuquerque pair dominated on the people side with 490,000 visitors during 2019. In Santa Fe, the four, together, attracted 254,000. The differences are a lot more people in Albuquerque, suggesting that locals are a much bigger piece of the museum pie. In Santa Fe, the reasonable guess is that tourists are the bigger group.
The Sacramento Mountains have a cluster of four attractions with the Museum of Space History in Alamogordo, Lincoln, Fort Stanton, and the Farm and Ranch Heritage Museum in Las Cruces. White Sands National Monument, roughly in the center of the cluster, drew 603,008 in 2018, a 46,823, or 8 percent increase over 2017. Around 209,000 made it to the other four.
Overall attendance seems to vary a few percent one way or the other with bigger effects from major shows, such as the heavily hyped Da Vinci event at the Natural History Museum in 2018. Year-to-year reporting misses the long term and, with it, understanding the effect on the enchantment.
It’s nice that the Santa Fe four drew 254,000 last year. In 1989 the four attracted 432,436. That’s a three-decade drop of 178,436, or 41 percent. (I have the old numbers handy in a report produced for Sunwest Bank.) The Museum of Space History is down 50 percent. Coronado attendance dropped 85 percent.
What happened? No clue. In theory the History Museum, which opened in 2009 and swallowed the Palace of the Governors, should have lured more people.
The White Sands visitor increase offers a thought if not an answer. White Sands is a giant sandbox with grills. That’s a long way from Indian Arts and Culture of Art or History. What is our job here, our mission?
Side note: The Albuquerque Journal quoted a Cultural Affairs official as saying, “Fort Sumner/Bosque Redondo celebrated the 150th anniversary of the signing of the Treaty of Bosque Redondo last June, which made FY18 numbers unusually high for them.” Two problems here. The site itself, Bosque Redondo, “celebrated” nothing. It was a commemoration, a remembrance, by Navajo and Mescalero Apache people of five years in a concentration camp. The tribal people at the event made the distinction quite clear. No wonder they feel disrespected by the mainstream White society.

 © 2019 NEW MEXICO NEWS SERVICES     8-5-19
Oh, those high salaries
By Merilee Dannemann
Triple Spaced Again
 I used to say to myself, “New Mexico, love it or leave it.” I was thinking about salaries.
I have changed my thinking.
This is New Mexico, I thought. New Mexico is a special place and we are all lucky to be here. People who have an opportunity to make more money somewhere else should stay and contribute their talents here. Since most New Mexicans don’t make much money, we can’t afford exorbitant salaries and should not have to pay them, especially to some out-of-state hotshot.
If you have had similar thoughts, perhaps they go something like this: Why should this person get so much more money just because they’re coming from out of state? If we’re going to pay anybody such a high salary, shouldn’t it be a New Mexican? By doing a national search, are we saying that New Mexicans are not good enough?
Not the most productive way to think.
Recently Gov. Michelle Lujan Grisham fired the secretary of the Public Education Department, and the governor’s office announced there would be a national search.
The fired secretary, Karen Trujillo, is a New Mexican who was a teacher, principal, and education researcher hired from New Mexico State University. The education community had embraced her. The hostility of that community toward Martinez-era education Secretary Hanna Skandera had been colored by a tinge of resentment because she was one of those out-of-state hotshots.
The governor had intended to do a national search for secretary of the Corrections Department. Eventually, after several months with the position vacant, she promoted Alisha Tafoya Lucero from within.
An appointment for Corrections had been announced in January, but the nominee withdrew. The nominee, Julie Jones, had been head of the prison system in Florida, a system whose problems were similar to ours but on a much larger scale.  
New Mexico’s corrections system needs massive improvement. It’s possible that the experience of a leader from a larger and more complex system, plus that leader’s outside perspective, might have enabled our corrections system to take a great leap forward. With no disrespect to the new secretary, we have missed that opportunity for now.
A long time legislator commented to me that if we are committed to genuine corrections reform, we should find the best expert available. But why, the legislator said, would someone come to New Mexico to take the top spot, if, in another state, that person could earn double the salary and have twice the number of deputies to support an ambitious reform program?
Recently the governor announced across-the-board salary increases for cabinet secretaries. Indignant gasps were heard and a few editorial pages rattled. Those secretaries are now earning $131,000. I hate to say it, but in some states that is not an executive salary.
In Albuquerque, there’s been controversy about how big a raise to give to the superintendent of schools, who was hired from within. Her last couple of predecessors, men recruited from out of state, earned more than she is earning now, but turned out to be duds. They earned more than she will be earning if she gets the maximum raise under consideration.
There have been a few expensive disasters at our universities, particularly distasteful because of the grandiose contract buyout provisions.
Do you remember William Bratton? He became the Police Commissioner in New York City at a time when the city was desperate to solve its crime problem. He instituted major changes of policy that resulted in a dramatic turnaround. Someone who can produce results like that is worth far more than what he is paid.
So it is not productive to be resentful of high salaries. Sometimes they pay off. In the case of critical departments like Education and Corrections, they are worth an educated gamble.
Maybe we need a really expensive out-of-state consultant to advise on the selection process.
Contact Merilee Dannemann through www.triplespacedagain.com.

© 2019 NEW MEXICO NEWS SERVICES    8/12/19
Looming deadline for Gila River diversion may signal future water decisions
By Sherry Robinson
All She Wrote
            The much-debated Gila River diversion project may be running out of time. The proposal has set water experts against each other and burned time and money for 15 years.
            Gov. Michelle Lujan Grisham campaigned on pulling the plug. Recently, she appointed new members to the Interstate Stream Commission. In her water plan last year, she wrote, “Dysfunction, political infighting, a staffing exodus and budget cuts have all undermined the mission of the ISC and the State Engineer.”
          The governor also reappointed John D’Antonio as State Engineer, a position he held from 2003 to 2011. The office was decimated by 25 percent vacancies, and his predecessor was something of a loose cannon. During the confirmation process, a senator asked jokingly if D’Antonio could be confirmed for 30 years.
          D’Antonio has said diplomatically that the Gila is “a very complicated issue,” and that it was important to keep an open mind.
          New ISC appointees all have long backgrounds in New Mexico water management. It’s unclear if they’ll toe the governor’s line on the Gila project or display some independence.
           In a nutshell, a 2004 settlement gave the state’s four southwestern counties of Luna, Grant, Hidalgo and Catron the opportunity to divert 14,000 acre-feet of water a year, provided they deliver that amount of water downstream. The federal settlement act provided $66 million for water projects and 10 years to decide how to spend it.
            In 2014, the ISC voted to take the first step toward diversion, but stakeholders weren’t agreed on any of a dozen options.
            Opponents, including former ISC Director Norm Gaume, have argued that because of climate change the state would gain so little water that it doesn’t justify the high cost, and it would destroy the state’s last wild river.
          American Rivers, a conservation group, this year called the Gila the nation’s most endangered river. (With gravel berms directing water to several ditches, the Gila isn’t entirely wild.) Trout Unlimited has called for protection as a wild and scenic river.
          Supporters, like the San Francisco Soil and Water Conservation District in Catron County, maintain that this is the only new water the state is likely to get, and its value will only increase. Failure to act means letting the water go to Arizona.
          Last month, the New Mexico-Central Arizona Project Entity (CAP) shrank the proposed project to fit within the federal funding available, about $50 million. The project would still include Gila River diversion and some storage ponds, but it would deliver less water. Costs to users would drop dramatically.
          This is one of many such reductions. The CAP three years ago decided against a $1 billion diversion and in recent years has modified plans several more times because of cost and technical challenges. Even though the proposal is a shadow of its former self, supporters say it would help farmers and water users in the region.
          Now the proposal faces a deadline that it’s unlikely to meet. The U. S. Interior Secretary must make a decision by the end of the year, but the environmental impact statement must be finished, and that’s not going to happen. Without an agreement to extend the deadline, it would be the end of the line.
            This year the governor line-item vetoed nearly $1.7 million for the diversion.
          Meanwhile, the ISC and the State Engineer have been trying to meet contract obligations as they move toward the governor’s water priorities. The governor’s spokesman said recently that shift would accelerate with new appointees on the ISC.
          D’Antonio was State Engineer when the former senators Pete Domenici and Jeff Bingaman did the legwork to give New Mexico a shot at this water. He’s previously talked about a solution that will work for everybody. We can hope that’s possibile.

 © 2019 NEW MEXICO NEWS SERVICES    8/5/19
Mass shootings, fueled by internet ignorance, get closer and closer
By Sherry Robinson
All She Wrote
            He was wearing ear protectors, just like people do at a shooting range. And he complained beforehand that his AK-47 assault-style rifle wasn’t powerful enough.
          “It’s not designed to shoot rounds quickly,” said the presumed El Paso shooter in an online post. “So it overheats massively after about 100 shots fired in quick succession.”
          Even though he killed 20 and wounded 26 Wal-Mart shoppers, he was frustrated that he couldn’t kill even more people.
          We’ve been debating gun laws in the state and nationally for years, with little progress or resolution.
          Probably the single most contentious bill among several hotly debated bills in the last legislative session was a bill requiring background checks of private gun sales and closing loopholes for online or gun show sales. Another bill tries to keep guns out of the hands of people with domestic violence convictions or protective orders against them for domestic abuse.
            The governor signed both into law, and opponents have mounted petition drives and court challenges.
            Don’t worry, I’m not about to re-debate these two laws.
            But we need to consider the changing nature of these crimes.
            As more than one news outlet has observed, we’re seeing a wave of young white men who spend so much time on the internet that they lose touch with reality. Websites that glorify the unthinkable give them not only an outlet for all their dark urges but an audience of like-minded individuals.
            The El Paso shooter drove nine hours from Dallas to El Paso.
          “This attack is a response to the Hispanic invasion of Texas,” he wrote before the shootings. “They are the instigators, not me. I am simply defending my country from cultural and ethnic replacement brought on by an invasion.”
            Somebody from Dallas probably knows El Paso only as a border crossing, but the city is a regional commercial center that has far more retail outlets than it needs for its own population. That’s because Mexican citizens cross the border in large numbers to shop; then they return home. El Paso also draws shoppers from a large area of Texas and New Mexico.
            The gunman also doesn’t know his own history. The “Hispanic invasion” started in Texas and New Mexico centuries ago, and they didn’t displace white people, they displaced Native Americans. White people were the newcomers, and in Texas they displaced both Hispanics and Native Americans.
            With every mass shooting, we have the same arguments. Democrats want to see better gun control, and the presidential candidates advance various proposals.
            Gun-rights advocates inevitably bring up the Second Amendment. Let’s see, during the Revolutionary War, the weapon of choice was the muzzle-loading flintlock musket, which was slow and inaccurate. The founding fathers were visionaries, but it’s unlikely that they saw the assault rifle or the internet coming.
          Republicans like to blame mental illness, but they never finish the discussion. Yes, mental illness is a factor, but we do a lousy job of treating mental illness in this country, which is why hardly a week passes without another deadly encounter between a disturbed person and cops.
          This is not an indictment of cops. Because the safety net fails the mentally ill and their families, cops, who are not trained mental health providers, are the last resort.
            Just days ago, in my middle class neighborhood, where everybody knows each other, one man shot another inside a home. That’s too close for comfort, I told my husband.
            This mass shooting in El Paso is also too close for comfort. El Paso is family.
          As the incidents get closer, as the killings increase, as the impact radiates through families and communities until we all know a victim or become a victim, the defenders of gun rights will feel more pressure to come up with real solutions.