New Mexico Politics

Word From The Mountain: Natural Law And Taylor Ranch

Wood Cutters, Grazers, Loggers. . . Not So Fast There, Peak Baggers

July 13, 2004 in New Mexico Politics,Rio Grande West,The Rockies | Comments (0)

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The 80,000-acre Taylor ranch in the south of Colorado’s San Luis Valley has birds, mammals, fish, fresh streams, high lakes, tree-lined meadows, and tall pine forests, all crowned by 14,047-foot Culebra Peak.

Last month in the town of San Luis a district court judge issued an order opening the mountain ranch to a group of local people for livestock grazing, firewood gathering and timber cutting. (more…)


Compulsory Union Dues? No Problem

There are worse things, in this age of credit-card penalties, cell phone ripoffs, etc.

June 23, 2004 in New Mexico Politics | Comments (0)

For decades the New Mexico Legislature fought about two big labor issues: “Right to Work” legislation, prohibiting compulsory union dues, and public employees bargaining legislation, giving state workers the right to form unions.

No more. Under Gov. Bill Richardson, both issues have been decisively resolved in favor of organized labor. About 8,000 classified employees in 13 state agencies have begun paying compulsory dues under a contract signed by AFSCME and Richardson.

There is little doubt in Santa Fe that the remaining 14,000 classified state employees will be organized under similar contracts by next year. And you know? Nobody’s complaining.

This is interesting because “Right to Work” once was such a hot issue that a gubernatorial campaign centered on it. The late Joe Skeen campaigned against Bruce King on the issue, promising to sign the legislation if it was passed. Democrat King confided in his memoirs that his only way out was to propose that the issue be put to a vote of the people.

Almost equally volatile was public employee bargaining. Opponents for two decades prevailed by raising fears of government-crippling strikes. But in in 1991, two wonderful representatives of labor, the late Neal Gonzales and Mary Sue Gutierrez, capped their long careers as lobbyists when the Legislature passed the Public Employees Bargaining Act.

It was signed by again-Gov. King. It had a 10-year sunset provision, and when the law was renewed in 2001, then-Gov. Gary Johnson vetoed it. With Richardson as governor, it passed and became law again in 2003.

Which brings us to the present: a strong Public Employees Bargaining Act, a weak right-to-work constituency, and a governor who owes a lot to organized labor, particularly the American Federation of State, County and Municipal Employees.

The labor agreement between AFSCME and the state, has an air-tight “Fair Share” section. It says that even if you aren’t a member of AFSCME you must pay your fair share of dues, as determined by the union under law. If you have completed the probationary employment period and don’t comply with Fair Share, you “shall be terminated,” to quote the unambiguous language of the contract.

First the union notifies you in writing that you have 15 working days to pay the full amount owed in arrears. If you don’t comply, the union notifies the State Personnel director to “commence the termination process.”

Sounds tough, and in the old days the anti-union legislators would have been screaming about individual dignity and freedom and so forth. But there’s hardly a peep so far about “Fair Share.” And why should there be? The employees are getting more back than they pay in dues.

Those old Right To Work arguments sound pretty hollow in these times of out-of-control involuntary extra fees, penalties and charges by phone companies, banks, credit card companies, and such, piled on without meaningful advance notice. Protest by not paying and your credit rating is at risk.


Tim Jennings Is The Man For NM Senate President Pro Tem

Will Bill Richardson fight the move to restore balance to the Legislature?

June 13, 2004 in New Mexico Politics | Comments (0)

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The most intriguing political movida so far by New Mexico Gov. Bill Richardson is the nomination of Senate boss Manny Aragon as president of New Mexico Highlands University. (more…)


There’s A Red Light Blinking On The NM Political Machine

And Bill Richardson seems content to ignore it

June 7, 2004 in New Mexico Politics | Comments (0)

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Gov. Bill Richardson of New Mexico is a miracle politician who, because he represents the Hispanic minority, can shmooze with Rush Limbaugh while flashing his impressive credentials as a Bill Clinton Democrat. New Mexicans will share his spotlight as chair of the Democratic National Convention in August, just as many basked in the warmth of his self-promoting tax cut ads last year in the Wall Street Journal.

Everybody in this misunderstood thinly populated Democrat-dominated state loves its star politician, it seems. And yet. . .

He had to have seen it: that little red political warning light in the results of the state’s Democratic primary election. But he ignored it, or seemed to. He diverted the attention of the state’s adoring media elsewhere, but, still. . . that little red light, it keeps blinking– over the name Roman Maes.

Maes is the powerful state senator (committee chair, among the top seven in Senate seniority) who was rejected in his bid for reelection by Santa Fe Democrats. The Santa Fe real estate broker reported over $70,000 to campaign for another four years in the no-salary part time job. He placed handsome ads everywhere — in the state employee newspaper, in the healing arts promoting weekly, in the two dailies.

He said politically correct things in interviews. (Although it was dumb to say Clinton’s “My Life” was his favorite book, before it was published, and the dueling restraining orders with an also-ran opponent were dumb.) He waged a slick campaign, then sat back and waited for reelection to a sixth term.

And he lost. The winner by a margin of 4 percentage points in the four-way race was John Grubesic, a political unknown with only $11,000 in contributions. While the election cost Maes around $25 a vote, it cost Grubesic roughly $3 a vote.

Oh. And Richardson had endorsed Maes, heavily.

This was no surprise, because the governor plays Washington hardball, supporting friends and torpedoing enemies without much regard to ideology. In his drive to control the Legislature, Richardson endorsed 10 other opposed incumbents who were on his side. Maes, among other favors, had sponsored the bill giving the governor power to fire highway commissioners at will.

So Richardson endorsed Maes, and the business-suited senator’s Democratic constituents received in the mail a color portrait of the two of them gripping and grinning. The governor’s national PAC for Hispanic candidates threw in $9,000 worth of “in-kind” political help.

Then the election and the little red light. Richardson was quick to tell the media that he called Grubesic to congratulate him. The governor said the main reason the government lawyer won was “he was a good candidate.” And the news coverage of the primary election focused on Richardson’s success in endorsing the other 10. A young Albuquerque Journal writer even called him the Shaquille O’Neill of politics. But. . .

Blink. Blink. Remember Maes?

The little red political warning light is not about the governor’s popularity or his mistaken endorsement. It’s about the malfunction of the quirky black box in the New Mexico political machinery that makes Anglo liberals think all Hispanic Democrats are liberals too.
Maes blew the black box with his arrogance of power. Close observers of the Legislature knew that he voted like a Republican on most issues, but the liberal voters in the district for 20 years had not paid attention.

But of late Maes, secure in the governor’s camp, seemed to feel free to do and say whatever occurred to him. He began partaking in the joy of conservative rhetoric soon after the new administration took office. And he declared war on the Santa Fe City Council.

Now, the Santa Fe government does a lot of dumb things, but it happens to represent a majority in the City Liberal. And Maes suddenly was reveling in his war against the majority, as if he had been placed under some sort of conservative spell by his Republican Senate colleagues – or as if he were restoring his youth as a member of a Las Vegas Republican family.

I happened to see him take the floor of the Senate one evening in February 2003 when the media were off on deadline. He ranted, apropos of nothing, that the Santa Fe City Council had lost support of the people. He ranted that the council’s “living wage” ordinance would destroy the economy and that its policies of restraining high-density subdivisions would eliminate worker housing.

He said the situation in Santa Fe was “dangerous.” And he went on to advocate, in so many words, a legislative overthrow of this perverse local government that, in his view, had become illegitimate.

One of the cooler election reporters, Wren Prop, got a quote from one of the offended city councilors, Karen Heldmeyer, who explained Maes was defeated because he had lost touch with the voters.

It was not a fuzzy issue, not just a matter of Maes saying the wrong things. He expressed his newfound sentiments legislatively. Probably his most publicized act was an amendment, late one night, that added Santa Fe to a bill by Sen. Manny Aragon aimed at Albuquerque.

The bill put a leash on city powers to control development within a five-mile-wide extraterritorial zone. The zone in Albuquerque is more of the same. But the zone in Santa Fe includes the scenic mountain backdrop.

The Aragon bill was supported by the Albuquerque Chamber of Commerce and other business groups complaining about the city’s Planned Growth Strategy. A companion bill by Aragon diluted Albuquerque’s power over its water system. The Santa Fe amendment was removed in the House.

Richardson signed Aragon’s bills, endearing himself to the Albuquerque business community, just as he endeared himself to KKOB centerpiece Rush Limbaugh, who had already praised his tax cut, with an unsolicited letter supporting the right to privacy of medical records in drug cases. Yes, Republican radio loves Bill Richardson too. . .

Blink. Blink. Remember Roman Maes, the Democrat who apparently thought he could talk and act like a conservative without alienating the liberal base of the Democratic Party.


Pork Politics Versus Health Care In New Mexico

Government is an unreliable refuge for victims of catastophic illness

April 30, 2004 in New Mexico Politics | Comments (0)

NM Gov. Bill Richardson plays Washington-class hardball, and so the Roundhouse fans must have enjoyed the way he vetoed the brain-injury bill, especially because the sponsor was known to have personal feelings about it. But the sponsor, Sen. John Arthur Smith, D-Deming, doesn’t see it as a case of payback politics.

True, he had led the unsuccessful fight against the governor’s grocery tax repeal bill and this individualism did not please the governor or his people. Smith, in fact, recalls how they hot-boxed him at one point during the 2004 legislative session — Richardson and three of his lieutenants (David Harris, Jan Goodwin, David Contarino) were in the room. “They were trying to arm-twist, but I wouldn’t have my arm twisted,” Smith told me.

And next Richardson tried pork. “He called me and thanked me for being honest and truthful on the food tax,” Smith said. “There was something said, like, ‘Would more capital outlay for your area encourage you?'” The 15-year senator, a real estate appraiser by profession, said no.

So Smith fought Richardson on the repeal of sales taxes at the grocery checkout counter, and the governor vetoed Smith’s Senate Bill 113. The bill and identical legislation by Rep. Gail Beam, D-Albuquerque, would have authorized an $8 million a year federal program – at a cost of $2 million to New Mexico taxpayers – to pay for long-term rehabilitation after traumatic brain injury.

Viewed from the Roundhouse grandstand, the political pieces did seem to fit together. But for Smith, who ought to know, retribution is not the story here. It wasn’t that simple.

He accepts, at least for now, the explanation by Human Services Secretary Pamela Hyde. “The governor believes, and I agree, that adding a new, multimillion-dollar Medicaid program before the comprehensive performance review of the current system is completed, would be irresponsible and costly,” she said in an op-ed piece.

Explanation: Hyde was talking about something known in the legislature as “recurring” expenditures. In other words, if you appropriate $2 million this year you probably will be expected to appropriate $2 million or more next year. This, in the legislature, is regarded as money of a different kind than capital outlay, which although it too comes from taxes is paid by bonding. This distinction is what allowed the legislature and the governor to deal out $475 million from the pork barrel this year while arguing that the state can not afford $2 million more for health care.

Another note: Longterm therapy for traumatic brain injury is no poverty program. Families with health insurance are as much at risk as the uninsured because insurance and health maintenance organizations will not cover longterm brain injury therapy. According to the Brain Injury Association, 1.5 million Americans a year suffer traumatic brain injury. This is six times the annual incidence of breast cancer, HIV/AIDS, spinal cord injuries and multiple sclerosis combined. The leading causes are vehicle crashes, falls and sports injuries, and all are increasing.
The Army disclosed late last year that U.S. casualties in Iraq showed a surprisingly high incidence of brain injuries – involving about 67 per cent as compared with the usual combat figure of 20 percent. An Army release blamed the new tactics of combat in which terrorists unleash high explosives rather than use firearms. The release noted that brain injuries, though invisible in themselves, show up in cognitive or emotional symptoms,

Patients who survive brain injuries often are released from the hospital in a couple of weeks after regaining consciousness. Insurance will pay for a few weeks of outpatient therapy, but the rest is usually left to family and and family, often with tragic consequences. Author Cathy Crimmins has written a moving account (“Where Is the Mango Princess?”) of life with her husband in the two years following his boating accident. A main theme is how brain injury can alter personality. Victims who appear normal in public can be terror tales at home and unmanageable at work. Like no other disease, severe traumatic brain injury attacks the soul. Immediate and continued treatment is essential. Yet the health insurers will not cover long term therapy. Crimmins calls it a hidden epidemic.

The vetoed bill would have entered New Mexico in a discretionary program under Medicaid called the brain injury “waiver.” Medicaid is for the poor, but with brain injury, families qualify when their income drops to 300 per cent of the poverty level. And, as Crimmins testifies, even an upper-bracket family (her husband was a bank lawyer) can exhaust its resources in a few months of therapy if the main salary earner is cut off or reduced to part time work.

The only reliable refuge is government. “It’s in the category of catastrophic cost that I think government ought to have a role in,” Smith said. “It’s something that nobody can afford, middle class or upper income. It’s not an expense you can handle. There’s no barrier in regard to financial background.”

Smith doesn’t have to be reminded. “I had a brother that had brain injury, and it wrecked my folks financially,” he said.

But this personal stake was never exploited by the governor, to his credit. “We’ve never had a governor that’s exercised legislative clout like this one. I don’t pick up the phone and call the governor, but I do know that you’ve got to be up front with him and never cross the line on personal attack. When you get personal with him, that’s the straw that broke the camel’s back,” said the senator, not taking anything personally.


Voter Tech 101: Democracy Is What Truly Counts

How to head off the crisis in November

April 23, 2004 in New Mexico Politics | Comments (0)

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“It’s not the voting that’s democracy, it’s the counting.” – Tom Stoppard”

The voting is supposed to get easier by 2006 when the Help America Vote Act of 2002 kicks in, and who would object to the parts of it that guarantee full accessibility to people with disabilities or without fluency in English? New Mexico is getting ready to buy a new generation of electronic touch-screen voting machines to comply.

It’s the counting that raises objections to these DRE (direct recording electronic) machines. If they’re no more secure than, say, the Internet, then democracy is in trouble. A group of New Mexicans whose spokesman is a Los Alamos computer scientist is protesting that the new DREs represent a step into technological uncertainty.

They are not alone. Apart from the alarmists exchanging theories on the Internet, a reliable report by the Congressional Research Service urges Congress to address the “emerging consensus that in general, current DREs do not adhere sufficiently to currently accepted security principles for computer systems, especially given the central importance of voting systems to the functioning of democratic government.”

Charlie Strauss of Los Alamos, who has been programming computers for 35 years, speaks for a group called Verified Voting New Mexico. He cautions the Secretary of State’s Office to slow down. A large majority of county clerks say they are not ready for new machines, he says, and, “systems already bought are not working as planned and may have to be replaced.”

He stays away from the controversies sometimes dismissed as conspiracy theory, such as the fight over Diebold Election Systems of Ohio, whose chief executive officer is a Republican contributor dedicated, as he stated in a fund-raising letter, “to helping Ohio deliver its electoral votes to the President.”

Beverly Harris, author of “Black Box Voting: Ballot Tampering in the 21st Century,” has targeted Diebold especially. In February she filed a lawsuit challenging the use of Diebold machines in California. The petition reviews technical tests by Johns Hopkins University computer scientists and by an independent firm hired by Maryland. Both found numerous flaws in Diebold security.

The testers showed how informed hackers could access the vote-counting servers in several ways by remote modems or, more quickly and directly, through the unprotected USB ports in the rear of the machines.

New Mexico has never approved Diebold, but the technical problems are the same, in form, for the manufacturers that have been approved: ES&S and Sequoia.

Strauss says his group is focusing on two chief technical problems: “unrecountable ballots and closed software made by private companies.” These have the same effect as closed meetings by governing bodies, namely, “undemocratic government and disenfranchisement.”
The group is lobbying for some form of what Strauss calls “a voter verified paper audit trail.” His preference would be a system in which voters make their choices on state-of-the-art touchscreen machines, but then print out their ballots on paper for counting by separate optical scanning machines. There are other possibilities, but he thinks two essentials for ballot security are: 1., the paper audit trail and, 2., separation of the ballot choice-making from the vote casting.

The CRS report says the separate-machines solution has the advantage that the software for vote-casting could be “open source and standardized,” meaning that anyone could check it for security problems or malfunctioning, while the ballot software could be “proprietary and more flexible,” meaning that manufacturers would be competitive and creative.

“The code used for vote casting and counting can be much simpler than that needed for the voter interface, making security potentially much easier to achieve than is currently the case with DREs, where both functions are housed within a single unit,” the CRS report says. So a busy polling place could get by with one highly secure vote-counter and several off-the-shelf ballot-makers, probably at considerable cost savings.

The CRS report is noncommittal about the paper audit trail, since there are several options for voter ballot verification, including “new electronic ways of voting.” One imaginative new way would be “encrypted” voting where the voter receives a coded paper receipt that, in various ways, could be matched later with the ballot that is part of the final tally.

The problem is that this and other new ways of voting might confuse voters, but the CRS report says voters could be taught. Strauss prefers the simplicity of paper, which after centuries of experience, “we know how to handle.”

Whatever, he says, “We need to make machines that don’t require trust.” The manager of a movie theater, for example, does not have to entrust just one person with the duty of making sure all of the audience has paid. Separate employees sell tickets and take tickets, he says.

Strauss suggests strongly that the state and counties freeze the process of buying machines to meet the federal mandates until what he calls “engineering” problems can been examined by, perhaps, an independent commission well versed in technology and removed from politics.


Welcome To Election Night Help Line

If the poll leaders are ahead, call Bombay

April 3, 2004 in New Mexico Politics | Comments (0)

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In a discussion of outsourced American jobs with Colin Powell at a college in New Delhi last month, a student wisecracked that the United States could use a little technical assistance from India on vote counting. “You’ve got backward stuff,” the student said, to laughter and applause. The Washington Post story explained that voting in the world’s largest democracy is all electronic.

The New Dehli student might be on to something. Maybe a toll-free technical assistance number — outsourced, as most are now anyway, to Bombay or Calcutta — could help solve the continuous election night problems in Bernalillo and Sandoval Counties along with the less frequent miscounts in Santa Fe, Rio Arriba or Dona Ana Counties.

If someone from Bernalillo County, for instance, had been able to call Bangalore on election night in 2000, New Mexico might have been spared the embarrassment of being mentioned in the same sentence with Florida. It took two days for the Bernalillo County Clerk’s office to figure out that somebody had failed to click a box on a computer menu, disabling the straight-ticket-voter option on the county’s optical scanner. About 60,000 absentee ballots were in limbo.

The current standoff in Sandoval County, however, is a reminder that behind every technological problem is a human problem. It took more than six weeks to count the vote in a legislative race there two years ago. And in the September special election the fate of the State Permanent Fund amendment was in doubt for a week because of mistakes, among them transposed tallies in Sandoval County.

It’s clear from news accounts of public shouting matches that what Sandoval County Clerk Victoria Dunlap and the county commission need is a facilitator, not a techie. Most recently, Dunlap has refused to appear before the commission to discuss this year’s upcoming primary and general elections. She sent a memo requesting that all communication be in writing to her or her – yes — lawyer. There are some world-class anger resolvers in Dharamsala, but I don’t think they have an 800 number.

At least New Mexico is not diverted by high tech “computer error” excuses. The state apparently is a generation behind places like India and Ohio in voting technology. True, a couple of counties are trying out “touchscreen” machines, which are the new standard, but most New Mexicans still vote – early or on election day — by pushing buttons on “Shouptronic” machines dating from the 1980’s or, in 11 smaller counties, by feeding pencil-marked ballots into optical scanners. Absentee ballots, a separate problem, are counted on optical scanners.

The pushbutton voting machines have been reliable despite early controversy over their maker, R. F. Shoup Co., long since absorbed by others. County clerks and their staffs, apart from the few well publicized exceptions, know the machines and the election drill and get the vote counted accurately and on time. This happens to be the main duty of the elected county clerks, and most of them do it honestly.
There have been some terrible exceptions. Dona Ana County Clerk Ruben Ceballos last November was convicted of five criminal counts of violating the New Mexico Election Code. Rio Arriba County Clerk David Chavez and his chief deputy were convicted of fourth-degree felonies involving unlawful opening of a ballot box.

And against this backdrop, other noncriminal incidents arouse public suspicion. In 2000 and 1996, uncounted absentee ballots in Bernalillo County were found in boxes days after the election. In another case, a poll worker took a the results home over night. Add to this the infighting: Dunlap has fired three deputy clerks, and former Bernalillo County Clerk Judy Woodward fought so much with her election bureau director, Jaime Diaz, that he filed a discrimination complaint against her.

One solution to these voter-unsettling messes, would be to do away with the elected county clerks, replacing them with a super efficient centralized election authority consistent with the trend of consolidating power in Santa Fe. No, no, says State Election Bureau Director Denise Lamb, that is not the answer. It is local administration and triple-audit canvassing that keeps New Mexico elections from getting stolen by one group or another.

The machines are not the problem, she says. “If we voted with black and white marbles, someone would figure out a way to cheat,” she says.

Lamb’s human-focused view is respected. She is the new president of the National Association of State Election Directors, many of whom are embroiled controversy over the big conversion to touchscreen voting machines. A vocal group of high-tech skeptics, dismissed by some as conspiracy theorists, has been filing lawsuits and going to the media with the idea that the next election can be stolen by hackers and unscrupulous programmers.

The opponents have not received much attention in New Mexico. Their specific target is the Diebold Co., whose c.e.o. is a vocal supporter of the relection of President Bush. Under Lamb and her predecessor and advisor, Hoyt Clifton, the state went directly from the old lever-operated mechanical machines to the pushbutton electronic machines, avoiding the punch cards that plagued Florida with “hanging chads” and such. There are only a handful of touchscreen machines being used here, and they are not Diebolds. Further, in the New Mexico system, machines are never interconnected, and the totals tapes are physically removed from the machines and delivered in person to the county officies on election night.

So for now the suggestion of the New Delhi student is not really relevant here, although some wayward clerks might find it useful to blame someone in India for their problems. And by the time New Mexico catches up electronically, all those outsourced jobs in Bombay, Calcutta and Bangalore will be in China.


Max Coll Was A Very Good Citizen Legislator. . . A What?

Everything based on experience elsewhere fails in New Mexico

March 14, 2004 in New Mexico Politics | Comments (0)

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New Mexico is a small state with a native distrust of government that for years has been expressed in its unpaid, amateur and infrequent “citizen” legislature.

Rep. Max Coll, D-Santa Fe, defined the legislature, representing the people of his district without a hint of personal gain and serving the people of the state without a suspicion personal ambition for higher office. He was powerful. Chairman of the House Appropriations and Finance Committee. Key member of the Legislative Finance Committee. Negotiator in the big final annual appropriations conference committee.

Coll began as a Republican representing Roswell in the Constitutional Convention of 1969, which led to his election to the House. He took leave in about 1973, went to law school, made some big changes in his family life, stopped drinking and moved to Santa Fe, where he has represented House Dist. 47 for 24 years, the first term as a Republican. He switched to Democrat, joined the liberal House coalition, and was reelected easily. Hey, parties should not mean that much to citizen legislators, right? Max never did have a close election, D or R. Even the year when his enemies launched a brutal and well funded attack campaign, he won by a ton.

Suddenly, at age 72, a few days before election filing day, he announced his retirement and just as fast, resigned.

Immediately appropriate political figures, including former Republican state chairman John Dendahl who attacked him like Zorro for years, were in the news praising Max. All but heavily Democratic Gov. Bill Richardson. His haughty press staff said twice, No. No. There would be no comment from the governor. Reporters could not help but wonder if Bill, the fulltime politician, had driven out Max, the parttime citizen legislator. After all, Bill had been harrassing Max in all sorts of political ways ever since Max stood up to Bill’s consolidation of executive power. But Max said, no, the governor was not the cause of his retirement, and the governor eventually had something nice to say about Max. And so it goes in mysterious New Mexico.

You wonder if Bill somehow will intervene in the June 1 primary to determine Max’s successor, without really wonderying why he was so popular. Good question. Why was Max Coll so electable? Well, Dist. 47 comprises the urban east side of Santa Fe, the mountain zone along the Old Santa Fe Trail and the U.S. 285 corridor, including the huge Eldorado subdivision. For most of his tenure he lived in Arroyo Hondo on a few acres with horses, a tractor garden and “watch geese.”

With adobe-style homes now selling to retirees from elsewhere at more that $180 a square foot, the district is real estate heaven, and “not in my back yard” environmental issues are predominant. But many of the constituents also are state employees concerned about government and the state budget. And Coll, who was both an environmentalist and a master of state finances, was a perfect fit.

Coll worked hard over the years, against Santa Fe City Council and interests, to regionalize the city water system. He was author of the bill to protect “historic communities” in the extraterritorial zone from both development and the city’s land-use dictates. Coll also brought home the bacon, acquiring special funding for scores of projects from the new library at Eldorado to schools to the paving of hundreds of miles of dirt roads and bike paths.

Dist. 47 is home to a lot of professionals. Coll has a law degree. The district has more art galleries and amateur artists than most big cities. Coll, now married to an artist, used to entertain himself during boring committee hearings by drawing cartoon sketches of witnesses. He has represented artistic interests against all odds. A potential veto of funding of his 2002 legislation for arts instruction in the public schools was one of the things Bill employed to harrass him.

The logic of politics elsewhere tells us that Richardson, the Democrat standing between President Bush and the unproved gas reserves of Otero Mesa, and Coll, once accused by Dendahl of being the emblem of the cause of the oil crisis, would be natural allies because, it would seem, they would have the same enemies. Uh-uh.

See, there are more important things in New Mexico. While berated by anti-enviro Republicans as a “typical liberal,” Coll was also generally acknowledged to be a fiscal conservative – a trait that reflected his background as a Roswell oil man with a brother who would serve as Republican state chairman.

As financial leader of the House, for instance, Coll constantly fought to keep state reserves high enough to keep the state’s AAA bond rating. In reaction to former Gov. Gary Johnson’s creative highway financing, Coll once said, “The governor wants to go into debt to build all these monuments to his ego then let the subsequent governors pay off the debt. His credit cards ought to be cut up.”

But he was more liberal on some things than Hillary Clinton. Coll’s notorious sponsorship of “New Mexicare” in 1993 still animates talk show Republicans, but it came out of his observation of the state budget more than his social philosophy. True, he said that medical care is a right, not a privilege. But he also predicted the Medicaid financial crisis a decade ago and also predicted that resorting to HMO management would not solve the problem.
What Coll and Rep. Luciano “Lucky” Varela, D-Santa Fe, proposed was a New Mexico “single payer” health care system similar to Canada’s. The state was in a better position than others for such an experiment because in addition to the high Medicaid caseload, a higher proportion of its work force was already covered by government medical programs.

The opponents successfully defeated the proposal before it even had a hearing because of the implicit tax increase. But Coll argued that “cost-shifting” in the medical industry is worse than taxes. Hospital supplies like mattress pads cost ten times as much on your hospital bill, he argued, because rolled into the price of the foam is your contribution to help pay off all the hospital’s uncollectable bills.

So the ideal candidate to replace Max Coll in Dist. 47 ought to be an environmentalist-artist-lawyer-accountant with a personal understanding of Republicans. Did I mention river runner? Coll’s passion is taking his big rubber raft on float trips through wild canyons, the pursuit of which he gave as the reason for his sudden retirement.

But there’s another factor in Coll’s successful representation. Something intangible but important. It may have endeared Max to his constituents more than any of the above. It’s the ethical factor. See, the district has a lot of transplants who are fearful of the mystery and perceived corruption of northern New Mexico politics, and Max Coll at times has been a crusader on ethical issues.

Not that he’s ever been a headline hunter. In my experience, many legislators with a lot less power and knowledge flooded the media with frequent quotes on whatever was likely to become a topic of the day. But over the years I found Coll reluctant to comment on legislative issues. He was accessible, but circumspect. I attributed this to his lack of interest in higher office as well as his common-sense understanding that effective lawmakers don’t tell tales out of school.

But he often attached to ethical issues like a dog to a bone. For example, Coll was the author of 1999 legislation that prohibited investment junkets. It was in reaction to a series of expensive overseas freebies accepted by PERA board members, Coll argued that they were in a position to reward, through investments of retirement funds or hiring of consultants, the same people picking up the travel tab.

Seven years ago, Coll’s running fight with the Senate leadership got so hot that senators including Senate Leader Manny Aragon and Shannon Robinson, both D-Albuquerque, walked out of the Legislative Finance Committee chaired by Coll. There were virulent explanations why, including Shannon’s that all Max wanted was to cut state appropriations so there would be money to “save the silvery minnow.”

Coll took a lot of this kind of personal ridicule, but he was always cool. A Republican governor, Garrey Carruthers, once said curly-headed Max “had his curlers on too tight.”

The Green Party once tried to put Coll on the ballot as its candidate for the same legislative seat he was running for as a Democrat, a dual-party process that is lawful in some states and is called “fusion” candidacy. “I guess that entitles you to be buried in WIPP,” Aragon said, with reference to Coll’s opposition to the the nuclear Waste Isolation Pilot Project.

The hidden issue in the fight with the Senate leader, however, may have been Coll’s threat to take conflict-of-interest action against his consultant contract with Wackenhut Corrections Inc., which was running some state prisons under contracts funded by the Legislature.

Another was Coll’s opposition to Indian gaming. He joined conservative Rep. George Buffett, R-Albuquerque, in a law suit to invalidate the gaming compacts. So, in 1996, Coll’s reelection was challenged in acrimonious media attacks funded by Pojoaque Pueblo. And Aragon appeared at a pueblo rally, saying of his Democratic colleague: “We’re gonna fight him, and we’re gonna beat him.” Radio ads and direct mail in Dist. 47 made inferences that Coll was a racist and quite probably an “evil spirit.” The producer of the media campaign was once on Aragon’s Senate payroll.
The attack ads had little effect because the voters knew Max, who had knocked on the doors of most of them. He was reelected in a landslide over Republican Greg Bemis.

And so it goes in Dist. 47. And in New Mexico, whose motto ought to be Gov. Lew Wallace’s famous observation that everything based on experience elsewhere fails here. As Max heads for the Big Bend or Grand Canyon, if he won the lottery, somebody ought to paste a sign on the stern of his big rubber raft that says: “CITIZEN BOAT — CLIMB ON BOARD”


What If Spanish Catholics, Not Anglo Protestants, Colonized The U.S.?

Well, we’d just call it New Mexico

March 4, 2004 in New Mexico Politics | Comments (0)

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Samuel P. Huntington, the author of “The Clash of Civilizations” who is coming out with a new book that among other things predicts the cultural takeover of the American Southwest, talks like an anthropologist, but his interest is power.

“With the collapse of communism,” he wrote in his 1996 bestseller, “culture replaced ideology as the magnet of attraction and repulsion, and Yugoslavia and the Soviet Union came apart and divided into new entities grouped along civilizational lines.”

Similarly, “As the Western power declines, the ability of the West to impose Western concepts of human rights, liberalism, and democracy on other civilizations also declines and so does the attractiveness of those values to other civilizations.”

So force, not persuasion, is way to go. It’s a neoconservative message. And an excerpt from Huntington’s forthcoming “Who We Are” carries the same message with regard to his predicted cultural clash in the American Southwest.

The forewarning came in the picture of people marching through Los Angeles waving Mexican flags and dragging upside down American flags. Huntington used the image in his 1996 bestseller “The Clash of Civilizations,” and it appears again in an excerpt from his next book.

The LA marchers were demonstrating against California Proposition 187, which restricted welfare for illegal immigrants. In his excerpt in the current Foreign Policy, Huntington adds another image from a 1998 soccer match between Mexico and the United States: the national anthem being booed and U.S. players being assaulted by fans.

“As their numbers increase,” he says, “Mexican Americans feel increasingly comfortable with their own culture and often contemptuous of American culture.” He defines American culture as “Anglo-Protestant,” as opposed to Latino-Catholic. And if immigration continues the way it has been going, the U.S. will be divided into “a country of two languages and two cultures,” Huntington says.

First the Mexican flags, then the soccer rebellion. Can invasion by Mexico be far behind? Huntington doubts it, but he does mention that Vicente Fox describes himself as president of 123 million Mexicans, 23 million of whom live in the United States. And, he says, “History shows that serious potential for conflict exists when people in one country begin referring to territory in a neighboring country in proprietary terms and to assert special rights and claims to that territory.”

The advance excerpt is already causing reaction as if it were full of startling new ideas. But Manifest Destiny has been around since the Yankee conquest of the Mexican territories in 1846. And it is not new for a Yankee thinker to ask, as Huntington does, “Would the United States be the country that it has been and that it largely remains today if it had been settled in the 17th and 18th centuries not by British Protestants but by French, Spanish and Portuguese Catholics?” No, he answers in a context of superiority. “It would not be the United States; it would be Quebec, Mexico, or Brazil.”

But if it were settled in the 17th and 18th centuries by Spanish Catholics and then conquered in the 19th century by Anglo Protestants, who remained in the minority until the mid 20th century, what would it be? It would be New Mexico.
To explain Huntington’s culture thing, check out his earlier book. Published before the 9/11 attacks, it predicted future wars involving huge cultural entities – among them, Islamic civilization and Western civilization — not nations. He was uncompromising about this, saying, “The underlying problem for the West is not Islamic fundamentalism. It is Islam, a different civilization whose people are convinced of the superiority of their culture and are obsessed with the inferiority of their power.”

A corollary was his rule of abstention: “The principal responsibility of Western leaders is not to attempt to reshape other civilizations in the image of the West, which is beyond their declining power, but to preserve, protect, and renew the unique qualities of Western civilizations.”

“Because it is the most powerful Western country, that responsibility falls overwhelmingly on the United States of America,” he wrote.
And now he finds that the most powerful Western country has a huge culture thing growing in the sunshine of its own Southwest corner. But to equate Latino-Catholic culture with Arab-Islamic culture is essentially misleading. In Latin America the church is not the basis of law and government. Religion is on the contrary a refuge from politics.

Which brings us back to New Mexico. Because of our diversity, we are a rich field for anthropology, defined as the scientific study of culture. After initial violence on both sides in the 19th century, a public civility evolved here that has been good for everybody in general. We respect the idea that people are born into a culture, that changing cultures is hard because your culture is everything you need to know to be a member of your society.

Anthropologists explore the difference between attitude — represented, for example, by the public posturing of flag wavers or soccer fans — and day to day behavior. Anthropologists study cultural change and the evolution of new cultures out of conflict, as in the Indo-Hispanic heritage of Mexico.

If Huntington is going to talk like an anthropologist, he ought to do some field work. But that’s not his purpose. He is making a political argument that cultural survival depends on cultural conformity and that, on the contrary, “In the final decades of the 20th century the United States’ Anglo-Protestant culture and the creed that it produced came under assault by the popularity in intellectual and political circles of the doctrines of multiculturalism and diversity.”

So in his view America is not all about diversity and the frontier experience, and so forth. It’s about “us versus them.” The consequences of this mentality are well known and long established. The ancient Chinese built a wall against the barbarians. The Soviets built a wall against the West. Israel is building a wall against the Palestinians. The U.S. borders, meanwhile, remain open, but if Huntington’s view prevails, not for long.


New Mexico And Arizona Are Not The Same

For example, they have different governors

February 20, 2004 in New Mexico Politics | Comments (0)

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Congress in a statehood compromise of 1906 enabled New Mexico and Arizona to be admitted to the Union as one Texas-size state called Arizona with the capital in Santa Fe, subject to approval by the voters of each territory separately.

New Mexico, which had been waiting for statehood for about half a century, went for the deal by a vote of 26,195 to 14,735. Arizona killed it, 16,265 to 3,141. Good thing.
On Feb. 3, 2004, Democratic voters of the nation’s 47th and 48th states declared their presidential preferences. Sen. John Kerry was the decisive winner in both states, followed by Wesley Clark, John Edwards and Howard Dean, in that order.

But no matter how the two big arid squares on the border blur together in the heat waves as seen through the media’s New York telescopes, they are not really the same.
Two things about the twin Southwest primaries set New Mexico apart from Arizona: the high energy of Bill Richardson and the low energy of the New Mexico vote counters.

The second difference was undoubtedly detrimental in terms the national attention that Richardson had promised for New Mexico. Kerry was the runaway winner here, but this was not evident until two hours after the 7 p.m. closing of the polls. Unlike other states, the New Mexico vote totals were unavailable.

CNN, providing the only continuous live coverage on election night, was able to declare winners in five of the states and to determine the dead heat in Oklahoma before the first word from New Mexico.

Wolf Blitzer, at the 8:20 p.m. commercial break, said, “We’re still waiting to hear what the story is in New Mexico.” At the 8:45 break, he said, “Still no determination in New Mexico.”

What was “the story?” Is there something about absentee ballots that blurs the vision and slows the left brain? Did the Democrats catch some bug in the office of the Bernalillo County Clerk?

Election night was contrary to everything the governor seems to be promoting: that New Mexico, like him, is decisive, efficient and in a hurry to get things done. It must have been an embarrassment.

The other point is more complicated in distinguishing New Mexico and Arizona. To begin with, our politicians are cross migrating. The Udall family of Arizona now lives mostly in New Mexico. Gov. Janet Napolitano of Arizona grew up in Albuquerque.

Now, Democrat Napolitano does not begin to receive the attention that the media give to Democrat Richardson. As he gains from the exposure personally, so does New Mexico. Maybe it’s our way of getting even with Arizona for having Major League baseball and NFL football.
By contrast Napolitano wrote a characteristic commentary, published the day before the election by the New York Times, in which she portrayed Arizona as an independent state where no party and no favorite personality is in charge. She argued that Arizona’s issues are America’s issues.

Arizonans, she said, are concerned about health care, particularly drug costs affecting the sizable population of retired people. She said Arizonans care about the economy, particularly improvement of what she called “dead-end, low-wage jobs with few if any benefits.” And she said they care about “an immigration policy that is fair and enforceable.”

Arizona went for Bill Clinton in 1996 and George W. Bush in 2000, she noted, arguing that a strong showing in Arizona, based on issues and not some favorite personality, would be a “powerful demonstration of electability in November.”

There is no comparable op-ed piece from Richardson. (His last Times piece was in August, about the power failure from the viewpoint of a former U.S. secretary of energy.) But generally, by contrast with Napolitano, he deliberately presents himself as a personification of his state.

His famous Wall Street Journal ad on his tax cut a year ago said, “Hey, we’ve been telling you it’s different in New Mexico.” And during the runup to the primary he promoted New Mexico as a Hispanic bellwether unlike other states. He brought the first Democratic presidential debate to Albuquerque and defined it as a debate on Hispanic issues.

Richardson’s image of New Mexico as “different” might be the truth. Al Gore, for instance, barely won the 2000 presidential electors here, setting New Mexico apart as a “blue” state in the all-red field of interior states that went for George W. Bush. Of course, Gore actually did win the popular vote nationally. So it can be argued that New Mexico continued its record of voting for the “winner” in almost every presidential election since statehood.

The 2000 presidential election, unfortunately, also was marked by seesaw tallies from New Mexico that were a miniature of the confusion in Florida. And on Feb. 3 it all seemed to be happening again.

The “Hey. It’s different in New Mexico” strategy might be the way to go. But in a state characterized by big scientific laboratories and super computers and Intel, and so forth, they at least ought to learn how to count votes like the others.