Friday, August 5, 2016

Special Session on the Table to Fix 2016, Not 2017

On August 24 another state revenue forecast is due, and if the present trend continues, the state will be in worse shape, financially, than anticipated in the last forecast, which predicted a $500-600 million shortfall for FY 2016 and 2017.  Apparently the Governor has agreed to call a special session to fix the smaller 2016 shortfall, but not the 2017 shortfall.  
This is an election year.  There has been talk lately, given presidential candidate Trump's mounting train wreck of a campaign, of the New Mexico House flipping back to the D side.  No one is anxious to be on record voting for cuts to programs.  But FY 2016 has already ended and by law it must be fixed, and can be fixed without much pain.  But the day of reckoning for 2017 is likely to be more painful, and can be postponed until early in the legislative session, in January.
Pessimism is the New Mexico Political Virus of 2016

The state's political class has been in a doom-and-gloom mode for months, now, complaining about the Martinez administration's poor performance on economic development, continued failure at all levels of performance in our institutions of education, the exit of some good jobs and college-educated people from the state, the lack of progress on many fixable problems, and so on.  Pessimism and optimism are contagious, and pessimism is the New Mexico political virus of 2016.  
My take is different. New Mexico's decline has been slow, and it began decades ago.  The failures we see today are no worse than the failures of our business and political classes ten or twenty years ago.  What may be new is that we no longer believe we have the will to improve; we believe that partisan bickering has become a substitute for the hard work of governing, and that this condition has become permanent.  But as Shakespeare once wrote, the fault, dear Brutus, lies not in the stars, but in ourselves that we are underlings.  As Donald Trump and Bernie Sanders proved in the past year, voters have the capacity to shake things up when they decide enough is enough.

Tuesday, August 2, 2016

In an amazing turn of events, the Trump campaign for President appears to have reached what may well be a dead end with very limited and highly unpleasant exit routes.  The Khan family challenged Trump during a highly visible moment during the Democratic National Convention, pointing to the Constitution and reminding the nation that Trump has never made any sacrifices to country, let alone the heroic actions of their son in his fatal act of courage.  Trump answered back in his usual never-back-down tone, All of this has backfired on Trump, in spades.

The pressure on Republican leaders everywhere to repudiate Trump's attacks on the Khan family and, by extension, his threat, should he become President, to ban all Muslims from entering the U.S., is likely to be unbearable in the next few hours.  It is hard to imagine any Republican seeking office to risk endorsing Trump's attack on a family whose son died a hero's death, in uniform, protecting his soldiers..

Trump's poll numbers appear to be, finally, collapsing.  Yesterday reports went out that the Trump campaign had asked Republicans in Congress to help him out, but there appear to be no takers.  In fact, Rep. Richard Hanna, a Republican, publicly announced today he would vote for Hillary Clinton.

Also today President Obama, whose approval ratings are reasonably sound, flatly asserted, in front of the Prime Minister of Singapore, that Trump was "unfit" to be president and challenged Republican leaders, asking why they should continue to endorse him.  This is an unprecedented step for a president during the television age, and Obama stated as much, seemingly challenging partisan opponents to deny the validity of his claim Trump is unfit.

The problem Trump faces may well be fatal to his continued candidacy.  If he apologizes and retracts much of what he has said it raises serious questions about his judgment over the past few days: Trump could have apologized any time this past weekend, with perhaps only minor damage to his support base.  But if Trump refuses to back down it raises even more severe questions not only about his willingness to admit to a serious mistake but also about his empathy for a family's loss, and whose only consolation lies in the memory of his heroism.  Would you like to be in the corner Trump appears to be in?

Monday, July 18, 2016

State Revenues Are Low:  Special Session, Anyone?  Not Likely Until the Election is Over

With gross receipts, property, and gasoline tax revenues down in New Mexico this year, it looks like expenditures for FY 2016, which ended on June 30, will fall about $100-$135 million short.  One possible fix would be to raid the Tobacco Settlement Fund, which has about $230 million in it.  But this would leave only about $100 million in the fund, and as of now estimates of revenues available for 2017 will not cover somewhere between $300 and $500 million of the budget passed in the 2016 legislative session.  Since the state cannot run a deficit, something has to give.  

But this is an election year, and neither the Governor's Office or the Legislature want  to be on record either raising taxes to cover the shortfall or cutting programs, the only options open to them.  A legislator who votes to cut programs may feel the wrath of affected voters in November, and voting to raise taxes is just as risky.  And with the House of Representatives up for grabs this fall, the stakes are even higher than normal for members of both parties.  The longer we postpone the reckoning, the more painful it is likely to be, since state agencies are already near the fourth week of FY 17.  If three months pass in the fiscal year (this would be October 1) without a special session, a quarter of the budget will already have been spent, making cuts or hikes in taxes even higher.  But this is an election year.  Expect a lot of talk about a special session, but in the end the likely outcome will be postponement until the elections are over.

I would be nice to think the legislature might try to fix the rickety tax structure to meet what appears to be the new reality of a flagging state economy.  After all, in spite of knee-jerk protestations to the contrary in some quarters of the political arena, New Mexico taxes are in fact not noticeably higher than those of most other states:  Property and gas taxes are much lower than most states, as are corporate taxes, leaving only gross receipts taxes relatively high.  It would be nice, too, if the legislature insisted on greater accountability to the public for the fruits of taxpayer-funded expenditures.  Education, for example, gobbles up half the budget with very little in the way of results to show for it.  New Mexico's education system languishes at the bottom of the barrel in performance, both in public and higher education, and evidence suggests it is getting worse.

Thursday, June 16, 2016

Three NM Environment Blogs Worth Reading Today

Three blogs today deal with two important environmental issues facing New Mexico, oil and gas pollution and the water table in the the Albuquerque metro area.

Two blogs deal with oil and gas pollution in our oil patches.  ProgressNow NM (click here) has a map of each state purporting to show areas of high oil and gas pollution.  The New Mexico map (click here) shows the Northwest corner and the Southeast corner as being in danger zones for public safety, and claims 145,000 New Mexicans reside within these areas. (click here) has an op-ed piece by a state senate candidate, Aubrey Dunn (the son of the incumbent NM Land Commissioner) who opposes a proposed rule (the so-called "venting and flaring" rule) by the BLM to curb such pollution.  To get down to the nitty gritty of this issue will take a little more than reading these two blogs, but it shouldn't take more than 10 minutes to click from these sites to more information.  Dunn is running for Senate District 13, in Albuquerque, which extends roughly from I-40 north to the Sandoval County line, bounded on the east and west by the river and I-25.

The other issue, from (click here), deals with a proposed change to the Albuquerque Bernalillo County Water Utility long term plan for water management.  The writer, Dennis Domrzalski, of the Albuquerque Free Press, (where the piece was originally published), suggests the proposed dropping of a key sentence from an update to the strategic plan might originate from lobbying by the Santolina project on the West Mesa.  The article also suggests the proposed changes to the language of the long-term plan could result in a drastic drop in the water table, which has risen 50 feet since 2009, the result of decreased groundwater pumping.
These are major issues affecting large numbers of people in the state, and they deserve your attention as a citizen.

Tuesday, June 14, 2016

What's Up in Sunland Park?  (Part II)

The Las Cruces Sun News a few days ago quoted City Manager Bob Gallagher as saying the city has recovered financially, and was given an unmodified report; that is to say, a clean bill of health, by an independent auditor.  The city will also begin the 2017 fiscal year next month with about $5 million in reserve funds.  This is strikingly different from the fiscal situation a few years ago when the Department of Finance and Administration took over the city finances in the wake of statements from then-state auditor Hector Balderas that city councilor Daniel Salinas had spent $42,000 in border crossing funds for prostitutes, Mayor Martin Resendiz's admission he had signed nine contracts totaling over $1 million with lobbyists while inebriated from an afternoon of drinking, and a city official admitting to multiple charges of voter fraud.  Hard to believe this was only four years ago.

Equally impressive, the Sunland Park municipality is making a number of infrastructure improvements this year, some which will be visible, others not.  On the non-visible side, fiber optic networks are being installed in city buildings, allowing broadband communications between different departments, and software programs will link together community development, codes enforcement, animal control, public works, building inspections, clerk, fire, and city management departments.  This should strengthen internal communication flows and create a stronger sense of community among city workers.  Forty years of records are being scanned in digital format, making it easier to access records when needed.

On the visible side, the old bank building in the city complex is being remodeled, and a public works building is being designed.  Solar panels for the city buildings are scheduled to be installed in August, and a contract to replace city hall roofs is scheduled to be put out to bid this summer.  A concession stand will be built at the Sportsplex for liquor sales at the park.  The senior center is back up and running, with a new kitchen, a high priority for citizens, promised during the city election season and delivered now.  In short, these changes are laying down an infrastructure that will make the city able to plan and execute more efficiently, rather than move in a reaction mode from crisis to crisis.

None of this--and there is more on the way--could have happened without effective communications and consensus-building among city council members about priorities.  There is more to be done.  the council needs to raise the quality of city personnel performance, and council members need to develop stronger ties with city residents who lost confidence in the city after the lap-dancing and other scandals.  But given the shape of the city four years ago, it took a concerted, sustained effort to get the city up to this speed.  Many city councils in New Mexico would envy the accomplishments of Sunland Park in the past couple of years.

At a city council meeting on June 7 the council was unanimous in agreeing to send a letter to the Governor asking for her support for the border crossing project, and to continue to press toward a presidential permit to build the crossing.  At the same meeting I was impressed with the maturity with which the arsenic issue was handled:  the water quality has been restored and protocols are being put into place to prevent a repeat.  From the looks of things the council is making a full-court press to address major strategic issues, such as the border crossing, and improve the city's day-to-day administrative capacity to make a difference in the quality of life of the residents.

Monday, June 13, 2016

What's Up in Sunland Park These Days?  (Part I)

Since city elections on March 1 the newly constituted Sunland Park City Council has been working together on city business for about one hundred days.  How well is this working?  What's going on?

One clue was offered by the discovery that arsenic levels in the water supplied by CRUA for several months exceeded national safety standards.  After the problem was identified, in part though the diligence of state representative candidate Paul Maxwell (who lost to the incumbent) city council members conferred with CRUA staff, consulted with Senator Mary Kay Papen and state and local officials, and were able to address short term issues while glancing ahead for long-term solutions.  At a city council meeting on June 7 the drinking water was declared safe, now that a treatment plant out of commission for a year is back up and running.  However, many residents have been cautious about the water for years now, and Councilman Giove proposed providing free water for seniors who visit the senior center, now operational again.

So far the arsenic problem has been managed by the council without grandstanding or hand-wringing.  This is particularly impressive since the temptation to vent must have been strong.  The creation of CRUA as at the expense of Sunland Park (over 90% of CRUA's assets used to belong to Sunland Park), and was justified largely on the grounds that the city was unlikely to manage its water utility effectively.  CRUA's performance as a utility has if anything been worse.  Among other things, CRUA staff members apparently had knowledge arsenic levels were unsafe but failed to inform residents.  If this does not incur criminal and other legal liabilities for the board, it should.  Executive Director Brent Westmoreland, who took the job only in November, has acknowledged inheriting severe managerial issues.  Will heads roll at CRUA?  Stay tuned.

One casualty of the CRUA issue (there may have been others) was the defeat in the primary election of county commissioner David Garcia.  Just before the election Garcia told an audience of residents in Sunland Park (click here) that the arsenic problem was the fault of the citizens, for failure to pay more attention (!?).  Garcia sat on the CRUA board that failed to show concern about the unacceptable levels of arsenic in the water, until news reports brought it to the public's attention.  As he serves out the remainder of his term the honorable thing is for him to step down from the CRUA board, given his statements about who is to blame.

Bottom line:  the arsenic issue showed that among the adults in the soup of the scandal are the Sunland Park city council members, who showed a lot of poise in a situation that could have been explosive.  For now the water appears to be safe to drink, but serious follow-through by the council will be needed.

Part II is coming next!

Tuesday, June 7, 2016


Paul Gessing has one of the sharpest eyes in the state for spotting wasteful, inept, and counterproductive spending policies in New Mexico.  Even if you aren't a Libertarian (I am not) it is usually hard to argue with his outrage at some of the things our lawmakers are spending your money on.  The first link below takes you to a fascinating recent discussion of some of these.  The second one, from Good Jobs First, is a subsidy-tracker that tells you, for example, that Intel has received over $2.5 Billion (yes, the Big B) of your money in subsidies, which is ten times (yes, ten) more than California taxpayers have spent subsidizing this California-based company.  If you click on Intel there are further links to how much they spend on lobby efforts.  You might also be interested to know that Comcast, the cable monopoly, has received over $5 million of your money to make movies in New Mexico.  Comcast is expected to be allowed to take over Time-Warner, greatly increasing its monopoly power, which is nicely explained here.

Saturday, June 4, 2016

Unsafe Arsenic Levels in the Water?  Five Candidates at Sunland Park

The question of the evening was simple:  What is your take on the news that arsenic levels in the water CRRUA supplies to Sunland Park and the surrounding areas have exceeded safety standards?  Sparks flew, and some of the answers were astonishing, but you be the judge!

(Notes:  (1)  CRRUA is the public water utility that manages the supply of water in certain areas of Dona Ana County.  According to verified reports levels of arsenic have been measured and shown to be unsafe in Sunland Park.  Inaction by CRRUA officials prompted a request by two city council members of Sunland Park, Olga Arguelles and Ken Giove, for assistance from Senator Mary Kay Papen.  She, in turn, met with Ryan Flynn, NM Environment Secretary, this week, requesting an investigation and update about the status of the water.  A report should be forthcoming this coming week.  (2) What follows is a brief summary of the responses given by the candidates, based on notes I took as they were speaking.  The event was recorded, so verification of the accuracy of my writing may be possible.  (3)  Two of the five candidates currently serve on the board of CRRUA:  David Garcia, in his capacity as county commissioner, and Bealquin Gomez, in his capacity as state representative.

Dr. David Garcia, incumbent county commissioner, member of the board of CRRUA:  The responsibility (for the poor quality of the water) is basically that of the people of Sunland Park.  They need to be more attentive to what is happening.  As of now the pumps are working.  We need more time to study the facts.  If we were to change the membership of the board of CRRUA this would not affect the quality of the water.

Raymond Lara, candidate for state representative:  CRRUA needs to be more transparent.  They should consult with citizens and explain to them how the agency works.  In response to a question from the moderator about the relevance of CRRUA transparency to the quality of the water Lara replied that had CRRUA been more transparent the situation would not have arisen.

Bealquin Gomez, incumbent state representative:  I am a board member of CRRUA.  I got $175,000 to fix the system.  The process is working.

Reymundo Gonzales, candidate for county commissioner:  The problem is the complacency of CRRUA.  Issues of water quality have not received enough attention within the organization.

Dr. Paul Maxwell, candidate for state representative:  This is a major problem, a crisis.  The governing board of CRRUA has tolerated serious violations of water quality standards for more than three years.  The issue is leadership at the top.  (Looking at Gomez and Garcia):  You knew about the poor quality of the water and did nothing.  CRRUA has failed the people.

Among those responding to the incumbent members of CRRUA present, a news writer in the audience, Gerald Smota, said:  The function of leaders is to lead.  From the time CRRUA sent a letter warning the public on April 21, you knew there was a problem.  You represent the citizens through your participation in CRRUA.  You are the responsible ones. 

City Councilwoman Carolina Renteria asked:  What has the governor and state done to improve the quality of the water?  How much money has the state provided to Sunland compared with Santa Teresa?  Replying to this comment, incumbent state representative Bealquin Gomez, also a board member for CRRUA, said, There are two years left of her administration.  Until then, nothing.

The forum, which took place at the San Martin de Porras Church in Sunland Park, had an attendance of about 30 persons.  Among the people in the audience were Olga Arguelles, Carolina Renteria, and Ken Giove, all members of the city council of Sunland Park, and Isabel Santos, a former councilwoman.  Each of these contributed to the conversation.  Mayor Javier Perea was not present. 
El Arsénico en el Agua:  Cinco Candidatos, Cinco Respuestas
Foro de Candidatos para Comisionado del Condado y Representante Estatal 

La pregunta de la tarde fué muy sencilla:  ¿Cuál es su reacción frente a la noticia de que el agua de Sunland Park y sus alrededores está contaminado con niveles de arsénico inaceptables para la salud de la población?  Las respuestas:

(Notas aclaratorias:  (1) CRRUA es la junta directiva regional que maneja el suministro de agua en varios lugares del condado.  Segun fuentes confiables las concentraciones de arsénico llegan a superar en un 35% lo permitido por las autoridades.  (2) Lo que sigue es un resumen de lo que dijeron los candidatos, hecho por mi, en base a las notas que tomé.

Dr. David Garcia, titular, comisionado del condado y miembro de CRRUA:  la responsabilidad, a fondo, reside con la población de Sunland Park, por no haber prestado mas atención. Por ahora las bombas estan funcionando, y necesitamos mas tiempo para estudiar la situación.  Si cambiáramos los miembros de la junta directiva de CRRUA, ésto no afectaría la calidad del agua.

Raymond Lara, candidato para representate estatal:  CRRUA tiene que hacerse mas transparente.  Deberían consultar con los ciudadanos para explicarles como funciona el suministro de agua.  Frente a una pregunta del moderador sobre la relevancia de los procedimientos de CRRUA con la solucion de la contaminación del agua, el Sr. Lara respondió:  Esto no hubiera ocurrido si el pueblo hubiese sido consultado desde el principio.

Bealquin Gomez, titular, representante estatal:  Soy miembro de CRRUA.  Yo consequí $175,000 para que se arreglara el sistema.  El proceso esta funcionando bien.

Reymundo Gonzales, candidato para comisionado del condado:  El problema es la auto-complaciencia de CRRUA.  La organización no ha prestado suficiente atención a la calidad del agua.

Dr. Paul Maxwell, candidato para representate estatal:  El problema es grave.  Segun fuentes fidedignas la junta directiva de CRRUA ha tolerado violaciones serias en la calidad del agua desde hace mas de tres años.  Ha habido una falta de liderazgo político.  La junta directiva de CRRUA bien sabía lo que estaba pasando con la calidad del agua, y no hizo nada.  La junta directiva de CRRUA ha fallado al pueblo, poniendo en peligro nuestra salud.

Comentando sobre las respuestas de los candidatos miembros de la junta directiva de CRRUA, un periodista sentado con el publico, Gerals M. Smota, dijo:  La funcion de lideres es proveer liderazgo.  Desde que se mandó la carta del 21 de abril al püblico, ustedes sabian que habia un problema,   El pueblo de Sunland Park no tiene ninguna responsabilidad.  Ustedes representan a los ciudadanos frente a la junta de CRRUA.  Ustedes son los responsables.  

Carolina Renteria pregunto,  ¿Qué ha hecho la gobernadora, es decir el estado, para mejorar la calidad del agua?  Que cantidad de dinero ha puesto el estado en Sunland en comparación con Santa Teresa?  En su respuesta, el titular representante, Bealquin Gomez, dijo:  Todavia le quedan mas de dos años para cumplir con su mandato.  Hasta entonces, nada.

El foro, en la iglesia San Martin de Porras del Sunland,  tuvo una concurrencia de unos 30 miembros del püblico.  Entre los miembros del püblico, figuraron tres miembros del consejo municipal, Olga Arguelles, Carolina Renteria, y Ken Giove, mas la ex-consejera, Isabel Santos.  El alcalde, Javier Perea, no estuvo presente.  Cada uno contribuyó a la conversación con una pregunta or comentario.

Sunday, May 29, 2016

Foro de Candidatos:  3 de Mayo, Sunland Park
Iglesia San Martin de Porres, 1855 McNutt, 6 PM

El día viernes 3 de mayo comparecerán los candidatos para la cámara de representates del estado y los candidatos para comisionado del condado, en un foro para el público en la iglesia San Martin de Porres en la Avenida McNutt.  Aparecerán los candidatos postulándose para representante, Bealquín Gomez (titular), Raymundo Lara, y Paul Maxwell.  También estarán presentes los candidatos para comisionado del condado, David García (titular) y Ramón Gonzalez.

Esta es SU oportunidad para evaluar los méritos de los titulares actualmente en servicio, en comparación con los aspirantes que desean prestar servicio en beneficio a nuestra comunidad.

Qué tienen que decir estos candidatos sobre la calidad del agua que bebemos?  ¿Qué vision, si hay alguna, tienen los candidatos para un futuro mejor para los habitantes de Sunland?  ¿Para quién nos conviene votar?

Senadora Papen Se Reúne con Secretario Ambiental Para Asegurar Que el Nivel de Arsénico en el Agua Suministrado por CRRUA a Sunland Park No Sea Peligroso

A raíz de una petición por parte de dos miembros del Consejo Municipal del Sunland Park, la Senadora Mary Kay Papen se reunió con el Secretario del Departamento del Medio Ambiente de Nuevo México, Ryan Flynn, en Santa Fe el jueves pasado para pedir que el Departamento haga un análisis del agua suministrado a la población de Sunland y sus alrededores.  Según los consejeros, Olga Arguelles y Ken Giove, se les habia llegado información de que algunos exámenes previos encontraron niveles de arsénico en el agua inaceptables para la salúd.  Por esa razon, Arguelles y Giove tomaron el paso de solicitar una intervención por parte de la senadora, para asegurar que el suministro de agua sea saludable.

El Secretario Flynn le aseguró a la senadora Papen que haría lo necesario para medir el nivel de arsénico e investigar la capacidad física y operacional de CRRUA para suministrar agua potable y saludable para la población de Sunland Park.

Senator Papen Takes Action to Address Arsenic Water Concerns

At the request of two Sunland Park city councilors concerned about the presence of unacceptably high quantities of arsenic in water supplied to the Southern part of the county by the Camino Real Regional Utility Authority (CRRUA), Senator Mary Kay Papen met with Secretary Ryan Flynn in Santa Fe on Thursday, May 26, and requested that the NM Environment Department test water supplies for arsenic content in various locations in the Southern part of the county.  Senator Papen was assured by the Secretary he would follow through with testing, and would ascertain whether CRRUA has the physical and operational capability to assure residents of the safety of water supplies.

Ken Giove and Olga Arguelles met with Papen last week, asking her to take this action, inasmuch as previous tests have indicated that arsenic levels in some areas have exceeded acceptable levels.

Saturday, May 28, 2016

With No Sanders-Trump Debate, Is the Party Over?

There have been two powerful ideas generated during the 2016 presidential campaign.  We rarely get any new ideas in a presidential year, but these two have resonated deeply in the American public, and even more amazing, the men espousing them have received more than two of every three votes cast in the primaries so far among the three top candidates.

The first idea is that the obscene redistribution of national wealth (socialism for the rich) to the top one percent during the past four decades should be placed front and center on the political agenda, and both parties should be held accountable for allowing this to happen.  No question is as fundamental to any political community than how the pie is distributed and it is the young who have responded with the most fervor to this message.  Sanders has a corollary:  in order to re-balance this outrage the people need to reverse the pointy-headed Supreme Court decision that invited Corporate America to purchase politicians and policies with virtually no restraint or accountability.  Bernie Sanders has been undeviating in presenting this idea, and Trump, freely admitting he has purchased politicians and favors, has hinted that Sanders is right about the corollary, if not about the disgrace of the pie shrinking for the bottom 99 percent.

The second idea is the insight that political correctness can be a fig-leaf for failure. The true genius of Donald Trump this year is not his ability to get free press coverage, but his ability to link his flagrant violation of the norms of politically correct discourse to the deeper frustrations Bubba has about the direction of the country.  To speak honestly, he seems to say, is to violate politically correct speech.  Which is the greater outrage, Trump's use of language to describe members of the political class, or the failures of the political class itself in protecting your pocketbook and America's greatness?  In picking as targets iconic establishment figures Trump signals his disdain for the political class, for its failures and its vapid pretensions.  These fools, he seems to say, are the reason why "we don't win anymore."  This is a political critique of our current system, attributing cause and effect, and Trump states it more sharply than any politician in recent times.

There is, however, a second, more emotional, message that mixes into the first.  In his flagrant violation of  the norms of the political class--calling Carly "ugly," Hillary "crooked," Jeb "low energy," Ted "a liar," again and again--and in using the language Bubba himself might use, Donald Trump for a moment, magically, becomes an empowered Bubba himself, with a Harley emblem on his chest, flipping a bird at political correctness and the political class. Trump's followers want Kelly Megyn or Paul Ryan or Hillary Clinton to be outraged about his language.  Their consternation is Bubba's revenge.  This emotional linking of Trump to Bubba's anger is powerful stuff--Bernie doesn't come close--not to be underestimated, and Hillary will have more than her hands full finding a way to crawl out of the failed-political-class box Trump will place her in.

Without a debate between Sanders and Trump the public will not have an opportunity to compare the two major ideas of 2016, side by side, a huevo! like they say in Mexico.  And with one of the two ideas gone from the general election contest (Hillary will never focus on One Percent), the contest threatens to become another over-scripted television reality show, artificially propped up with breathless updates of the latest polls, and predictable insults from Trump in between.  Back in our familiar comfort zones, our minds will, in the words of John Stuart Mill (see yesterday's blog), once again bow to the yoke and we will vote in sync with our statistically calculated demographic cohorts.

This is unfortunate, because until now, the public has shown itself surprisingly responsive to the lure of new ideas, the roar of the greasepaint and the smell of the crowd.  This primary season, for once, showed us all what American politics might be, but almost never is.

Friday, May 27, 2016

Trump and Political Discourse in America in 2016

They ask themselves, what is suitable to my position? what is usually done by persons of my station and pecuniary circumstances? or (worse still) what is usually done by persons of a station and circumstances superior to mine? I do not mean that they choose what is customary, in preference to what suits their own inclination. It does not occur to them to have any inclination, except for what is customary. Thus the mind itself is bowed to the yoke.  John Stuart Mill, On Liberty   III-6.

Donald Trump has disregarded the rules of political discourse, lashing out against the discipline of "political correctness" as practiced in America today.  It was not enough that he violated the rules, flaunting his blasphemies time and time again.  Adding insult to injury, he openly berated powerful media personalities and the businesses they work for (Kelly Megyn, Roger Ailes) when these reminded him of the rules.  And he scoffed not only at efforts to curtail his use of language against rivals ("little" Marco, "ugly" Carly), but also at news media efforts to disavow his policy proposals (the thirty foot wall, the ban on Muslim immigration) when these fell outside the box permitted in bipartisan discourse.

The dirty little secret of campaign 2016 so far is that the Republican nominee-to-be has flipped a bird at the political class.  And the public, in gratitude, has rewarded him with the nomination for doing so.  Millions of voters have come to see this bird-flip as the most attractive idea of the 2016 election year (Bernie's One Percent is the only serious challenger),   At some point soon the public will come to focus on the content of his policies and we could just end up with the most honest debate about policies between candidates in many decades.  There is also the possibility of this becoming a farce posing as an presidential election.  But that is always the case:  was the re-election of Obama anything but a farce?  We will have to wait and see.

Are Trump's policy proposals simply part of the bird-flip, or do these have an independent life of their own?.  We will find out soon.  Until then we should probably infer only that his policy proposals are part of the bird-flip, metaphors pointing to desired policies, rather than dead serious proposals.  I suspect as we dissect his followers, we will find they want pretty much the same as everyone else:  an honest shot at a good job and a renewed sense that life in America is reasonably fair, a sense that we can reverse the recent rigging of the system at the currently obscene levels.  Perhaps more than most they also want the freedom to express in their own language and cultural style their frustrations with the dysfunctional political system we all agree we live in.  Fascism?  There are parallels to Germany in 1928, yes.  But asking a biker in Paducah to be consoled for his frustrations by the stilted jargon of a Jeb Bush or Marco Rubio is about as effective as telling a black woman in 1968 that she needed to write to her congressman rather than defy an order to refrain from crossing a bridge.  And for the talking heads to tell Trump he cannot entertain the idea of building a thirty foot wall is simply an indicator of how impoverished our own stilted political discourse and imagination have become, how much we have yielded to the self-appointed censors whose greedy motivations we have no reason to respect.

The quote above from John Stuart Mill was written as Mill worried that the greatest threat against freedom in England at the time was not an overbearing government, but society itself, as the mass media of the day and the political class of the moment began catering to the socially insecure but increasingly powerful members of the industrial, as opposed to aristocratic, class.  Aristocratic norms and tastes spread throughout society mindlessly as upward mobility came to be associated with having the proper tastes.  Mill thought this trend was dangerous, as many people literally became slaves to social convention, rather than masters of their own interests.  The line "the mind itself is bowed to the yoke" is a powerful reminder of the costs to the self of adhering mindlessly to social conventions.  Whatever else we might think of Trump's suitability to be president, we owe him a debt of gratitude for not bowing at the yoke of what is "politically correct" in the eyes of those those who nearly bankrupted us less than a decade ago, who, with the full approval of the Supreme Court purchase politicians and their votes in Congress on a regular basis, and whose greed is what is truly out of bounds.

Thursday, May 26, 2016

Oscar and Jeff Square off at the Blue Moon Bar:  Part II

Jeff Steinborn and Oscar Vasquez Butler are both itching for a chance to take on incumbent State Senator Lee Cotter in the fall and snatch back Senate District 36, which is so highly gerrymandered (click here for a map of the district) it has never developed an identity or, perhaps, even a sexual orientation, of its own.  This is basically a Democratic seat except for Picacho Hills, which is upscale Republican, and a few precincts scattered to the East of Picacho Hills in relatively new upper middle-class neighborhoods.  It covers lots of mutually incompatible territory, lumping voters from the farming communities near Elephant Butte Dam (Garfield to Hatch) down to the aging yuppielands near Picacho Hills and working class urban residential precincts in the heart of Las Cruces.  No one can adequately represent all the different and often conflicting interests of the voters of this district, and the incumbent is likely, as in the past, to rely on the ignorance or inattentiveness of local voters to escape cross-pressure scrutiny on specific votes.  Cross-cutting cleavages could be the middle names of this district, and when voters are paying attention, you will make enemies no matter what you do.

Mary Jane Garcia held onto the seat for many years essentially involving herself with statewide, not local, interests (except for capital outlay), and as a cheerleader for Governor Bill Richardson and the state Democratic Party.  She was defeated soundly in 2012 by a virtual unknown, Lee Cotter, after getting caught taking campaign funds for travel expenses while asking for reimbursements for the same trip from the state.  She had been dogged by other ethical accusations for many years.

For a brief background on each candidate, click here for the LC Sun News official version.
Oscar Vasquez Butler

Jeff Steinborn

Butler is familiar with the lack of coherence of this district, since he represented a very similar one as a county commissioner, stretching from Caballo Lake in the North down to the South Valley.  In spite of a great deal of essentially condescending (or simply racist) social pressure, Butler was known for his strong advocacy of people living in colonias (by definition, substandard housing neighborhoods), and helped mobilize county attention to the programs and funding available.  While doing so might have been unpopular in establishment circles, he managed to become chair of the Dona Ana County commission, and President of the NM Association of Counties--so he knows how to get along with fellow office-holders.  He was never, however, so ingratiating as to become an establishment figure within the Democratic Party--always a bit of outlaw in him stemming from his days as a volunteer for Cesar Chavez.

Steinborn has also been around a long time, having been elected to the House first from 2006-2010; and then again in 2012 and 2014.  Like Nathan Small, he has been associated with the Liberal organization known as the Progressive Voters Alliance.  Also like Small, Steinborn works for the New Mexico Wilderness Alliance, as Southern NM Director.  Also like Small, he is best known for his leadership in creating the Oregon Mountains-Desert Peaks National Monument.  But he is also known for his help with many civic activities, such as Big Brothers Big Sisters, Boys and Girls Club, Klein Park improvements, Radium Springs Community Center, and so on.  Click here for his website for more background. 

Turnout is critical in a primary election, and in this aspect of the campaign Steinborn may have an advantage.  He is skilled with social media, election technology, and is likely to make serious efforts to get his identified voters to the polls.  On the other hand, if overall turnout is decent, Butler probably is closer to the cultural core of the district, giving him an advantage, turnout notwithstanding.

There isn't much statewide interest in this campaign.  The winner of the primary is expected to beat Cotter in the general, for a net gain on one seat for the Democrats.  But there are other senate seats said to be in contention:  Democrat John Sapien, for example, has a primary opponent and the general election is likely to be competitive, so the D's could lose a seat there, offsetting a defeat, should it materialize, of Cotter.  Another seat said to be in play is that of Bill Soules, Democrat, said to be in a tough race against a Republican challenger.

One element that remains unknown in the general election is the Trump factor.  It remains to be seen whether the anger Trump taps into against the political class goes down to the New Mexico precinct level.  There are some initial signs that it does, at least in some areas normally solid for the Democratic Party.  With Bernie, who directs existing anger not toward people, but toward policies, apparently out of the picture, and with Hillary continuing to slump in national polls due to questions about her character, a surge for Trump among voters of both parties could have a significant impact on the down-ballot elections.  But this is beyond predictability at this point in time.
House and Senate Primary Races in the North of Doña Ana County:
Voters Will Have Experienced Representation:  Part I Nunez and Small

Last night at the Blue Moon Bar in Radium Springs, candidates for House District 36 and Senate District 36 spoke to a gathering of voters.  Andy Nuñez will be the Republican candidate for District 36 and Nathan Small will be the Democratic candidate.  Neither faces opposition in the primary election.  In Senate District 36 Lee Cotter, the Republican incumbent, will face either Oscar Vasquez Butler or Jeff Steinborn, who face each other in the primary.

Andy Nuñez
Nuñez has been around a long time, and is well known to voters of District 36 (click here for a map), having served in that position for many years as a Democrat, as a Republican, and as an Independent.  This year he is running as a Republican, in a district that tends to vote heavily Democratic, but which knows him well.  Party identification will probably not make much difference in this race except among the least informed voters.  He has specialized in water issues, and is usually seen as a friend of the farmers of the North valley of Dona Ana County.  He also serves as mayor of Hatch.
Nathan Small

Nathan Small, from Las Cruces, was one of the first persons elected from within an organization that calls itself the Progressive Voters Alliance.  He served two terms on the city council, and is known for his contributions to the Organ Mountains Desert Peak National Monument.  He was named citizen of the year by the Las Cruces Hispanic Chamber of Commerce in 2012.  He is employed by the NM Wilderness Alliance.  It is hard to imagine someone with such strong Liberal credentials standing up to the popularity of Andy Nuñez in such a conservative district, but Small is one whose hard work, experience in elections, and likeability make him a serious competitor in this race.

There is a sub-text to this race, probably more important to the political class than to the voters.  Democrats would love dearly to retake the House this year, having lost it in the last election for the first time in many decades.  Nuñez is well known in the House, and many legislators of both parties would welcome him back.  But his presence would add one more Republican to the mix, making the task of dumping Don Tripp as Speaker more difficult.  Small is therefore one of the candidates the Democratic Party would dearly love to get elected, and funding sources will probably be mobilized all over the state to that end.  This year, however, voters have shown deep disdain for the preferences of the political class (Hillary and Jeb Bush being primary examples the political class a year ago thought would waltz breezily into the nominations) and if this disdain holds for HD District 36 it might not be a big factor.  I've known the district since Walter Parr won it I believe in 1976, and it has gone for Democrats and Republicans alike since then.  Voters will look each candidate in the eye and vote as they please, not as they are told and not because of the labels attached.

Another element in the race is the traditional conservatism of the district, dominated not by the voting strength of the farmers, but by their powerful influence.  Small is at least nominally a creature of the Progressive Voters Alliance, a Liberal political action group that has been around since the Kerry campaign in 2004.  Andy is a Conservative's Conservative, fiscally, socially, and vocally.  The very word Liberal brings a scowl to his face, even if tempered by the more cautious term Progressive. So there are a number of cross-currents running through the main stream of this race.  

One moment last night captured these crosscurrents.  Asked the Marijuana question, Small, Steinborn, and Butler all proved they could thread the needle of this question ("on the one hand... but then on the other...")  Not Andy:  "I am against marijuana, legal, illegal, industrial, medical, or any other way," he said.  Is there a part of this answer you don't understand?

Next:  Vasquez Vs. Steinborn

Wednesday, May 25, 2016

Esta noche se dará un foro en el Blue Moon Bar de Radium Springs, a partir de las 6 p.m.  Los candidatos, cuyos distritos abarcan el norte del condado de Doña Ana  serán:

Para senador del estado:  Jeff Steinborn y Oscar Butler Vasquez
Para Representante:  Andy Nuñez (Republicano) y Nathan Small (Demócrata)

El evento está auspiciado por el Southwest Organizing Project Action Fund.

Se pudrá consumir cerveza u otro tipo de licor durante el foro

Friday, May 20, 2016

The Decision is to Extradite Chapo

The Mexican Foreign Ministry announced on Friday the extradition of Chapo Guzman to the U.S. will proceed.  This may take several months of appeals but it can certainly take place within the term of office of President Pena Nieto, who will leave office at the end of 2018.  Chapo is currently in a Juarez prison, but might be returned to fight his appeals nearer to Mexico City, closer to the bureaucracy that will handle the appeals.

Thursday, May 19, 2016

From the One and Only Blue Moon Bar:
Your Choice for County Clerk
Maria Rodriguez, Republican
Scott Krahling, Democrat
County clerks buy the voting machines, they designate polling places and election day staff, they keep voter registration files, and count the votes, and in all of this there is a lot of room for mischief.  Heather Wilson, running for the US Senate, went early on election day to a key precinct where she expected to get a big wad of votes.  Instead, they ran out of ballots in the first ten minutes, forcing voters to wait or come back later, and in other key Republican precincts where she needed to win big.  It was all fixed up in a couple of hours, apologies all around, but turnout in R precincts was not as high as expected.  Voter suppression?  Of course not.  There have also been cases in which the clerk drastically cut down the number of polling places and voters were forced to stand in line for hours.  Voter suppression?  Of course not.  You might also remember the scandals of missing money in the Secretary of State's office (this office monitors elections), indictments, and a recent jail sentence for a Secretary of State who had a gambling problem.  This is not just a New Mexico problem.  In Ohio, usually a key state in a presidential election, dozens of blatant voter suppression techniques almost certainly changed the outcome of a presidential election not that long ago.

I was hoping Maria Rodriguez would come packing a six-gun or Scott Krahling might challenge Maria to a game of pool with two shots of tequila on the line or at least a Blue-Moon Bar-appropriate exchange of obscenities:  No dice:  we got a polite civics lesson from each instead.

At a forum last night at the Blue Moon Bar, sponsored by the Southwest Organizing Project, the Democratic and Republican candidates for County Clerk presented their views to a crowd of about 20 voters who braved the hail and rain to attend.  

Krahling is the current Chief Deputy Clerk, in charge of elections.  He also served at a county commissioner from 2009 to 2012.  He exudes a calm, professional demeanor and seems sincere in his commitment to make voter registration and voting as easy as possible.  (Full disclosure:  Mr. Krahling was a graduate assistant of mine at NMSU a few years ago).  As an example, he cited the Oregon system, where citizens are automatically registered to vote when they apply for a driver's license (they can opt out via mail if they want to) and similar systems in other states. 

Rodriguez was appointed Magistrate judge in Dona Ana County in 2004 by Bill Richardson, when Ann Segal resigned to take another job.  She filled out the unexpired term to the end of the year.  Richard Silva, elected in 2004, replaced her.  She also served as a paralegal in the US Attorney's Office in Las Cruces, and with two federal magistrate judges as well as the DEA and the federal public defender.  While Krahling emphasized providing more access to voting, Rodriguez stressed the need to make sure registration and voting procedures conform strictly to the letter of the law.

The different emphases are classic:  nationally and in New Mexico Democrats tend to benefit when voter turnout is high and registration is easy, since more New Mexicans identify with the Democratic Party, and Republicans benefit more when registration levels and turnouts are low.  In political circles in New Mexico there is a current debate about whether Hillary (if she secures the nomination) will increase or decrease Democratic voter turnout, in comparison with Donald Trump.

Hispanic citizens in New Mexico tend not to like Trump; they outnumber Anglos in New Mexico, and vastly outnumber Anglos in the Democratic Party.  This bodes badly for Trump.  On the other hand, Trump has generated unaccustomed enthusiasm in many states, raising turnout among Republicans.  In a close election, even minor shifts in voter turnout can swing an election, and there are dozens of mischievous ways the election machinery can affect turnout.