Sunday, April 12, 2015

Dona Ana Democrats Elect New Leaders

Liz Rodriguez-Johnson and Julian Alexander have been elected to lead the Democratic Party going into the 2016 election cycle.  Rodriguez-Johnson replaces Christy French, who served as party leader for several terms.  She defeated French, who asked delegates to re-elect her, by only six votes.  Bealquin Gomez, who ran for vice chair against Alexander, was beaten by 30 votes.

We wish the new team well.

Wednesday, March 18, 2015

Tracking Corporate Welfare? In New Mexico? Check this Out


The massive scale of the corporate welfare state in America is such that we are no longer shocked.  Subsidies are often given in the name of job creation, but in New Mexico large scale corporate welfare has had a bad track record, as Eclipse, Mesa del Sol, and other projects have gone sour, and as word leaked out that subsidies to the film industry were being badly abused. Subsidy Tracker version 3.0, software from Good Jobs First, has updated its data base, assembling records of over 160,000 awards doled out from 137 federal programs.  To download the tracker, click here.  For a pdf copy of its latest findings, click here.  The software allows you to track subsidies to corporations, broken down by state, time period, size of subsidy, company name, and many other variables.  For the first time the tracker names names and dates.  A guidebook to using the data base can be found here.

First Glance Key findings:  Still shocking but no longer surprising

1.  Corporate welfare tends to go to large corporations.  Out of $68 billion in federal grants and allocated tax credits, almost $46 billion (67%)  went to a group of 586 large companies.  Of these, 21 firms received half a billion or more, and six received over $1 billion.

2.  As we have learned from other sources, the huge banks got most of the bailout money after 2008.  In the Trillion dollar club we have four mega-banks, including Bank of America ($3.5 trillion), Citigroup ($2.6 trillion), Morgan Stanley ($2.1 trillion) and JP Morgan Chase ($1.3 trillion).  A dozen foreign and domestic banks slurped up 78% of the face value of loans, loan guarantees, and bailout assistance.  Twenty seven of the largest 50 bailout recipients were foreign banks.

3.  Many large federal contractors also receive corporate welfare checks of one kind or another.  Forty nine of the largest 100 federal contractors in FY 2014 have received loans, loan guarantees, or bailout assistance in addition to their contracts.

4.  Several of the top bailout recipients have paid hundreds of millions to regulators to settle allegations of such things as investor deception, facilitation of tax evasion by clients, and sanctions violations.

New Mexico: see also here from Subsidy Tracker

Intel in New Mexico has gotten over $2.5 billion in state and local subsidies since 2000.  This is almost half the total amount of state and local subsidies Intel receives from the five major states it operates in, surpassed only by Oregon.  In spite of the New Mexico subsidies Intel expended its plant in Chandler, Arizona (not Albuquerque), where subsidies are only about $82 million.

Forest City Enterprises, from Cleveland, Ohio, is second, with subsidies of half a billion in state land to develop Mesa del Sol, thanks to the TIDD program.  Forest City has recently been trying to sell its share of the project.

Third is Schott, a German solar company, at $132 million, part of the Mesa del Sol project.  In 2012 the plant closed down, leaving the state stuck for $16 million in taxpayer money.

Lions Gate Entertainment, at $99 million, mostly in grants and low-cost loans.  New Mexico has subsidized Lions Gate more than any other state.  New Mexico was paying back 25% of local expenses to out-of-state film, with no accountability.

Eclipse Aeroscape got over $99 million in New Mexico before going bankrupt.

Official New Mexico has little experience with entrepreneurship and the track record, not auspicious, suggests there is more politics in the concoction of these schemes than hard-headed business analysis.
The creation of a first-rate education system in New Mexico, a long-term project, would do more to attract business and produce jobs than another few billion spent on these high profile, low-return projects.

For other sources of information along these lines, see Influence Explorer

Saturday, March 14, 2015

(Not) Much Ado About Nothing: Thoughts After a Saturday Afternoon at the Session

The biggest media stories of the week--the resignation of Sen. Phil Griego and the non-confirmation of Matt Chandler--had little to do with the future well-being of New Mexico.  Rejecting Chandler as a regent of the flagship university had less to do with his vision of the future of higher education in New Mexico than it did with his partisan past, the partisan milieu at this point in the session, and resentment about the way the confirmation was handled by the administration.  The mild support AG Balderas and attorney (and former candidate for Lt. Governor) Brian Colon offered Chandler (in what appears to be a relatively benign non-partisan move) itself became something of a non-news gossip issue, giving rise to pointless speculation about possible political motives and consequences for such support.

Reasons given by James Koch for resigning from the UNM Board of Regents in protest of what happened to Chandler strain every sliver of credibility:  that a hard-bitten and crafty political operative, fully at home in the darkly-lit backrooms of campaign money and deals, and whose exceptionally long tenure at UNM itself was certainly not the product of earnest, wide-eyed innocence during the Richardson and Martinez administrations, would be so shocked, (shocked!) by the presence of politics (politics!) in the selection of a regent that he would have no option but to resign in protest, should earn this whopper first prize for the title of Fib of the Session.  Nominations for second prize, anyone?

The Griego demise was painful for Senate members.  They forced one of their own to resign.  And the emotional drain it produced hung over the hallways this afternoon like the stale, last day of a three-day rainy afternoon.  But in the end they did it right:  they got him to resign.  Yes, there were political and partisan motives for the timing:  this has been brewing a long time.  But they did the right thing, quietly, without the glare of klieg lights or pious self-congratulation.  Does this mean every conflict of interest in the future will be punished?  No.  Nor are there robust institutional mechanisms in place to deter other types of temptation.  But this time they did the right thing.

But what about the larger scheme of things?  What legislators and observers of all stripes seem to agree on is that this session doesn't make any difference.  Very little on the agenda has anything to do with effective governance.  Confirmation of an appointee, the fate of drivers licenses for immigrants, the fate of right-to-work, gimmicks and all--none of it will do a thing to move New Mexico out of the 49th-place stuck-in-the-mud mode we have suffered for many years.  The stomach, ambition, for serious change, is absent.  As BB King said once, "the thrill is gone." The passion displayed this year is for weakly symbolic issues that taste like warmed-over beans from last week's leftover dinner.  

This week is a case in point, and the criticism here is as much for those of us who pretend to cover the news as it is for those with official responsibility:  What we know this week is that Sen. Candelaria felt threatened by the administration over Chandler, and he told it to the press.  We know that Chandler was treasurer of a PAC that spent money against Rep. Garcia Richards; that some attorneys in Clovis are not fond of Chandler.  We know that the support Balderas and Colon offered to him was a "double eyebrow opener," whatever that means.  In fact we know more about the possible non-academic motives Balderas and Colon might have for endorsing Chandler, than we do about what record Chandler might have established as a board member or his views about where UNM should aspire to be 20 years from now. And none of us picked up on a remark made by Rules Chair Sen. Linda Lopez, who questioned why our flagship university would not reflect the ethnic diversity of the state in its composition of the 7-person governing Board of Regents.  If you need symbolic juice, is that not more important than Chandler's participation in a PAC?

What kind of leadership will we see in the final five days? Where will it come from?  It does make a difference.  Stay tuned.

Wednesday, March 11, 2015

SunZia: Another Out-of-State-Owned Scam in NM at Taxpayer Expense? An Evening in Deming

Said to be one of President Obama's top five renewable energy priorities, the SunZia $2 billion project to string up two giant 500 kv (extra-high voltage) transmission lines through some of the most pristine desert land left in the US was fast-tracked through the BLM and, since some of the swath goes through state lands, was headed for fast-tracking by previous Land Commissioner Ray Powell.  Then Aubrey Dunn was elected Land Commissioner.

As the SunZia Railroad Express was rounding what appeared to be its last curve on the track, Dunn brought the whole train screeching to an awkward stop, at least for the moment.  This action, which took guts, now puts the spotlight on him:  SunZia cannot build on state trust lands without authorization from the Land Office.

Last night Dunn sponsored a citizen's forum (one of several) in Deming, where about 100 New Mexicans, many of them ranchers, gathered to listen to presentations by SunZia Project Manager Tom Wray, BLM environmental coordinator Dave Goodman, and Renewable Energy Transmission Authority (RETA) director Jeremy Turner:  all three were proponents for the project, and each one, in subtle ways, wittingly or not, conveyed "it's a done deal, folks, get on board, we're just going through the motions here."  That backfired.

After a few polite comments in favor of the project by local citizens mostly suggesting jobs in poor counties justified their support for it, the negative comments began.  One after another rancher stood up; some chastised the fast-track, non-transparent decision making that characterized the process since it began six years ago; others regretted the environmental damage being wreaked on behalf of out-of-state investors; others lamented the profits would leave the state, with no income stream for the land trust fund.  Frances Williams, from Las Cruces, questioned the future market for the electricity, the use of taxpayer money for a private venture, and our lack of knowledge of who the investors were behind the screens--she got one of three spontaneous rounds of applause.  One rancher said the five-miles projected to go underground (at White Sands Missile Range) would entail digging four trenches to lay the cable, a five-foot concrete wall over the cable, and a twenty-six foot wide road for monitoring the electric activity below.  Many expressed disgust that the apparently "done-deal" decisions were made in Washington with no serious effort for input until it was too late.  Some looked straight at Dunn as they made these comments, or addressed him directly.

An environmental group (click here) in Arizona (The Cascabel Working Group) has been tracking this project, which they assert is the brainchild of a power company in Baton Rouge (Southwestern Power Group) that wants to be able to sell excess energy at its Bowie power plant in Arizona.  SWPG sold it to Obama since, according to the plan, wind and solar power generated in New Mexico will supplement the gas-powered plant.  Proponents have already spent about $1.3 million in lobby money.

Senators Heinrich and Udall are said to be for it, Rep. Pearce is against it.  When was the last time two Democratic Party tree-hugging politicians opted for an environment-damaging project funded by out-of-staters, while a lizard counter-baiter from way back sides with the tree-huggers?  There must be something more here than meets the eye.  Follow the lobby money?  Obamacharm?  The public needs to know a lot more about this project before the loco-motivated fast-tracking engine steams up again to hand over state land to a for-profit group that offers New Mexico little and hides behind a not-transparent process.  A good start can be found in Cascabel, whether you love trees or not.

Monday, March 9, 2015

Update: Presidential Hopeful Scott Walker Signs Right to Work Legislation in Wisconsin

Governor Scott Walker signed a right to work bill in Wisconsin today, making Wisconsin the 25th state to do so.  Walker is an all-but-announced candidate for the Republican nomination in 2016, polling ahead of other potential rivals.  Walker shifted in favor of signing the bill only this year, having suggested previously he was not interested in making Wisconsin a right to work state.

Right To Work: Much Ado, Little Evidence; Conservatives Split Over RTW in Kentucky

After more than half a century, the value or damage to a state's economy of enacting a so-called Right to Work provision is still being debated.  The Congressional Research Service, perhaps the closest one might get to an objective reading, in a study published two years ago, concludes (click here): 

Difficulties associated with rigorously studying the relationships between RTW laws and various outcomes are likely to continue to make it difficult to generate definitive findings about these relationships. As such, the ongoing debate on RTW may be driven by factors other than rigorous empirical evidence. 

In other words, there is a lot more political shenanigating and hot air here than there is fact-based analysis.  For a liberal view, click here:

...right–to-work” laws are associated with significantly lower wages and reduced chances of receiving employer-sponsored health insurance and pensions – are based on the most rigorous statistical analysis currently possible. These findings should discourage right-to-work policy initiatives. The fact is, while RTW legislation misleadingly sounds like a positive change in this weak economy, in reality the opportunity it gives workers is only that to work for lower wages and fewer benefits. For legislators dedicated to making policy on the basis of economic fact rather than ideological passion, our findings indicate that, contrary to the rhetoric of RTW proponents, the data show that workers in “right-to-work” states have lower compensation – both union and nonunion workers alike.

For a conservative view, here is the Heritage Foundation:

Americans overwhelmingly support right-to-work laws. Recent Gallup polling finds Americans support right-to-work laws by a 71 percent to 22 percent margin—better than 3 to 1. Independents support right-to-work laws 77 percent to 17 percent, Republicans support them 74 percent to 18 percent, and Democrats support them 65 percent to 30 percent.  Polling also shows that union members themselves support voluntary dues by an 80 percent to 17 percent margin. Voters also reward politicians who support voluntary dues at the polls. Not a single Michigan legislator who voted for right-to-work laws in 2012 lost in the next general election. Right-to-work laws remain controversial primarily among union officers—not the general public. 

Conservatives are Split in Kentucky over Right to Work

Kentucky, like New Mexico, is debating the merits of a right to work law, but conservative groups in favor of RTW legislation are split over whether to pass a RTW law through the state legislature or whether to pass the laws at the county level.  In a three-month period versions of right to work have passed in five counties, and four more counties are considering them.  The National Right To Work organization favors passing right to work laws exclusively through state legislatures.  They have spent years cultivating legislators on this issue only to find that powerful forces in Kentucky are divided about which approach to take.

In a story by the Washington Examiner (click here) on February 9, National Right to Work President Mark Mix was quoted as saying, "I got lectured for 15 minutes by Senator Rand Paul yesterday on this very issue, saying that we had made so many people mad about our position."

My Take?  RTW, alone, does not predict good or bad economic outcomes.  There are too many other factors:  the willingness of the business class to invest in long-term, coherent, development efforts, the commitment of the state to a solid education system, the presence or absence of a reasonable tax structure, etc.   With these factors present, economic development will take place regardless of the presence or absence of RTW.  Unfortunately, New Mexico doesn't have a lot of positive "other factors" to brag about.  The state should therefore focus on developing a bipartisan, broad-based consensus on a long-term economic development strategy, supporting serious education reform and a fair tax system, and not waste our time arguing over the nonsense of a largely symbolic issue.  If right to work should pass in New Mexico (and I doubt that it will) it will be because the power of labor unions, who have a vested interest in opposing it, has slipped even more, not because it represents a step forward for the state's economic well being.

Friday, March 6, 2015

Does Higher Education Perpetuate Income Inequality? How About Lottery Scholarships in NM?

A strong and comforting belief in America is that education, not the proverbial Colt 45, is the great equalizer.  Go to college, work hard, keep your nose clean, and you too will end up with the three-car garage, a healthy retirement account, and a modest-sized sailboat docked in San Diego Harbor.  Increasingly, evidence suggests that, far from providing access to equal opportunity and thereby leveling the playing field, government student-aid policies perpetuate and reinforce existing income inequalities.  Rising tuition, fees, and other higher education costs, combined with a severe decline in federal student aid (in real dollars) in recent years, have made it much more difficult for students and parents of modest means to go to college.

The key here is the probability that the poor will attend college, and that those poor who do enter college will graduate.  According to a recent study (click here) (by the Pell Institute for the Study of Opportunity in Higher Education and the Univ. of Pennsylvania Alliance for Higher Education and Democracy), only 45% of dependent students whose parents are in the bottom quartile of income will enroll in college between the ages of 18 to 24.  But of those students whose parents are in the top income quartile 81% will enroll in college, and the middle quartiles are in the 60-something percentiles.

But inequality also continues after college enrollment, affecting the probability of graduation.


In a blog (click here) published on February 24 Sandy Baum, from the Urban Institute, compiled the table above using data from the US Department of Education (click here), showing a BA six-year graduation rate of only about 25% for students from low income families, compared to a graduation rate of 59%-62% for students from high income families.  Again, the affluent finish more frequently.

What does government policy and financial aid have to do with it?  Pell grants, the federal program for low-income students, have not kept up with the cost of inflation, let alone the cost of attending college, which has risen much faster than inflation.  In 1975, according the Pell Institute study (page 19 and 20), Pell grants were high enough to cover about 67% of the cost of attending college.  In 2012 Pell grants covered only about 27% of the cost of attending college.

Incidentally, the Sandy Baum post (click here) was critical of some of the data used by the Pell Institute study, and there is a lively and healthy debate in higher education circles about the full impact of college training on social mobility in the U.S.  The book is not closed, and if the weight of evidence suggests things are worsening for the whole, there are many exceptions in which some low-income students do well in spite of the trends.

New Mexico

Since the lottery scholarship began in New Mexico students of all income levels have been eligible for the scholarship. With the demand for lottery scholarships at nearly $70 million, but a revenue stream of only about $40 million in a poor state (New Mexico ranks 3rd in the nation in poverty), many have advocated adopting a means test for eligibility to preserve lottery solvency and fairness.   As it turns out, according to NM Higher Education Department data, at least 29% (see NOTE below) of lottery scholarships in 2012 were given to students with family incomes higher than $84,000.  The average family income that year in New Mexico was about $59,000. By failing to adopt any kind of means test, in effect, the state's lottery scholarship program has (a) diverted very scarce money from where it is most needed to subsidize students who don't need it; (b) acted to perpetuate, reinforce, and perhaps even speed up, the trends toward inequality in educational outcomes discussed above.  Incidentally, income inequality in New Mexico is high and getting higher, arguably the highest in the nation--see here, and my blog of February 24.

One argument in favor of maintaining the income-neutral status of the lottery scholarship program has been that if relatively well off students don't get the scholarship, they might get their parents to send them off to better schools outside the state, thereby possibly losing the future talents of these students.  But even if we accept that argument (I have serious doubts about the magnitude of this effect), it still implies that the state needs the future talents of well-off students (who will get educated whether they get a lottery scholarship or not) more than it needs the potential talents of less-well-off students who might not otherwise get a college education at all.  What New Mexico needs is a higher proportion of our population having a college degree, and whatever the lottery scholarship can do to raise that number, is good policy.

Quiet discussions are underway in the legislature about adopting a means test this year for lottery recipients.  Let's see what happens!

NOTE:  29% is almost certainly an underestimate.  Applicants for the lottery scholarship are not required to fill out a FAFSA (family income) report required for Pell and other forms of student aid.  Lottery scholarship applicants who do not fill out the FAFSA, it can be presumed, are much less likely to qualify for Pell and other low-income forms of aid.  Using a conservative estimate, if half of those students who did not fill out the FAFSA are at the $84,000 and above income level, this raises the 29% to 34%.  Thus, a conservative estimate suggests that fully one third of lottery scholarships go to families earning $25,000 more than the average family in New Mexico.

Tuesday, March 3, 2015

New Mexico Third Among States in Speed of Ethnic "Diversification" What Does This Mean?

The Brookings Institution in Washington DC has posted an interactive map of the US, showing each county's racial and ethnic makeup by age group.  The map compares the proportion of the population 19 and under to the population 65 and over as an indicator of the speed of change.  You can find it here. You can see an arc of change beginning on the East Coast and following the coast Southward to the US-Mexico border region then along the coast all the way up to San Francisco.  Most of this dramatic shift is due to the increasing presence of Hispanic citizens in these regions.

New Mexico has long had the least proportion of white Non-Hispanic citizens.  Now it joins Nevada and Arizona as the states with the speediest trends in "diversity."  While all counties in New Mexico appear to be experiencing this change, the most dramatic shifts appear to be in the most urban counties:  Bernalillo, Santa Fe, Dona Ana, San Juan, Lea, Chavez.  This follows the classic American tendency for minority groups to congregate in larger urban areas, where jobs are more readily available, services are more widespread, and acceptance of diversity is greater.

What does this mean for New Mexico?  Will it affect the political agenda?  Do Hispanic citizens in New Mexico identify as a group?  Is the goal of most Hispanic or Native citizens eventual assimilation?  Will Anglos end up losing some of the political or economic power they now hold?  The future social structure in New Mexico, and to some extent the quality of life, 50 years from now, depends on the answers to these questions. 

I have told my students for many years that in New Mexico, ethnicity is an element is virtually all elections, and New Mexicans quietly talk about ethnicity (almost exclusively among members of the same ethnicity), and in elections often activate ethnic sentiments.  But you do not talk about it in public.  Why is there this taboo, which seems firmly embedded as part of a shared cross-cultural value?

The Chicano movement in New Mexico, which lasted for roughly a quarter of a century until the late 1990s, broke the taboo, openly addressing social inequalities toward Hispanics, creating a political agenda for action, and suggesting stronger ethnic identity among Hispanics as a partial solution.  But the term "chicano," imported by the Left from other states, never caught on with many Hispanic citizens in New Mexico, in spite of Anglo acceptance of the term, and the term "hispanic" gradually replaced "chicano" in popular language.  Now the taboo appears to have returned, at least in part, reaffirming its cultural strength and resilience over time.

The term "diversity" is also sensitive.  As the backlash against affirmative action grew stronger in the past two decades (sometimes with the support of the Supreme Court), the term "diversity" became increasingly popular among Liberals to suggest that the value being espoused in affirmative action is not social justice (addressing rigid social inequalities across racial and ethnic lines), but rather the simple act of enhancing cosmopolitanism (that is, having people of different races and ethnicities interact with each other) in an increasingly global society:  bring Black Americans (or Indonesians, Peruvians, and Trobriand Islanders) into the classroom (or the halls of corporate America) not to equalize racial outcomes in life, but to enhance the inter-racial learning opportunities for both black and non-black individuals in the classroom or boardroom, as a value in itself, justifying preferential treatment of certain applicants for admission to prestigious venues.  Bookings, a Liberal (Progressive?  Speaking of taboos, there appears to be a backlash against the use of the term "Liberal," often shared by liberals and conservatives alike) organization, uses the term "diversity" rather than "racial and ethnic composition."

Saturday, February 14, 2015

Income and Wealth Distribution in the US: Are you worth $4 million? Make $392K last year?

Your net worth (assets minus debt) had to be at least $3.96 million in 2012 to join the top 1% wealth club.  Is your family income at least $392,000?  That's the minimum it took in 2013 to qualify for the top 1% income club.

Has inequality been growing over time?  What proportion of income goes to the rich? Does it make a difference if Democrats control the White House or Congress?  We now have pretty accurate answers to these questions.  All data in this post are from the links below.

The bottom 90% of all families own only 22.8% of all the wealth.  The wealthiest 1% owns 41.8% of all there is to own, up from about 23% in 1978.  Switching from wealth to income, the top 1% of all income earners rakes in almost 20% of all income.  This has more than doubled since 1986, from a little over 9%.  At the high end of income, there were 16,300 families in 2013 (.01%) earning an average income of almost $25 million apiece, with an average wealth of over $371 million apiece.

From 1993-2013 total income in the US grew 15.1%.  Had this growth been shared equally, all income levels would have earned about 15% more in 2013 than in 1993.  But the richest 1% took up well over half (59%) of total income growth during this period.  After all was said and done, the poorest 99% increased their income by an average of 7.3% while the top 1% increased their income by an average of 62.4%.

But income for the bottom 90%, adjusted for inflation, declined a little over $200 from 1993 to 2013, even as total income increased 15.1%.  Had the bottom 90% gotten an equal share of the increase, each family would have been earning over $5000 more than the $31,652 they averaged in earnings in 2013.

During the Clinton years the richest 1% took 45% of new growth. During the Bush years from 2002-2007 the richest 1% took 65%.  And during the first four years of the Obama administration the richest 1% gobbled up a whopping 91% of  new growth.  Only during the Bush recession in 2001 and during the Great Recession of 2007-2009 did the wealthiest 1% suffer any losses. Democrats and Republicans may have disagreed on everything else, but no one until very recently questioned the consequences of all those tax cuts to the wealthy.  Certainly not Barack Obama.

New Mexico is not behind Mississippi here:  we are Numero Uno in two major categories:  the gap in income between the richest 20% and the middle 20% and between the richest 20% and the poorest 20%.  And we are in the top 10 states in the worsening of income inequality over the past few decades.  Link here for the data.

The best picture we have today of income and wealth distribution in the U.S. comes from the work of two economists, Tomas Piketty and Emmanuel Saez, who have been studying these issues for about 15 years.  Here are some links:  Piketty and Saez, "Income Inequality in the U.S., 1913-1998," to update excel files to 2013 click here and then scroll down to the Jan 2015 update link.  Emmanuel Saez and Gabriel Zucman, "Wealth Inequality in the U.S. since 1913:  Evidence from Capitalized Income Tax Data," and Emmanuel Saez, "Striking it Richer:  The Evolution of Top Incomes in the United States."


Wednesday, February 11, 2015

Hall of Shame: New Mexico Trails Mississippi Again

For the first time (2013) a majority (51%) of school children attending public schools across the country come from low-income families, according to a study released by the Southern Education Foundation a couple of weeks ago, using data collected by the National Center for Education Statistics (NCES).  In Mississippi 71% of public school children are low-income; New Mexico is second, only 3 points behind, at 68%.  New Hampshire is last, at 27%.

How did they define low-income?  This study classified students as being low-income if they are eligible for free lunch or reduced-price lunches at school, based on family income.  Students are eligible for free meals if they live in households where the income is no more than 135% of the poverty threshold.  They are eligible for reduced-price lunches if household income is no larger than 185%.  In 2013, for example, a student in a single parent household with an income of $19,969 was eligible for a free lunch, and for a reduced-price lunch in a public school at an income level of $27,991.  

Perhaps more interesting than the rankings themselves is the national trend.  In 1989 only 32% of the nation's public school children were from low-income families.  It climbed six points during the Clinton years to 38% in 2000, rose four points to 42% six Bush years later in 2006, glided up to 48% (in 2011) during the first term of Obama, and sits at 51% as of 2013.  Perfectly bipartisan race to the bottom.

New Mexico has also drifted down.  In 2000, compared to national school children low-income levels of 38%,  New Mexico, at 56%, ranked third in this category, behind Louisiana and Mississippi.  By 2006, compared to a national level of 42%, New Mexico had dropped six points, to 62%, still third in the nation, and then seven years later, in 2013, compared to a national average of 51%, New Mexico had dropped to 68%, now second only to Mississippi.

Bottom line:  as national income has flowed increasingly toward the richest 1%, the national low-income school population has grown in 25 years from 32% of the total to 51% of the total.  New Mexico has continued to trail the rest of the country with the proportion of low-income students growing from 56% in 2000 to 68% in 2013.  The gap has not narrowed.  While one out of two students nationwide is classified as coming from a low-income family, in New Mexico the corresponding number is two out of three.

Monday, February 9, 2015

Mike Runnels RIP Part II

Continued from Part I:  We stayed up until about 3 am that night, calling delegates, counting votes.  Mike was alert, highly intelligent, keen sense of humor, realistic about each vote, every inch the leader of our small group.  When it became clear we didn't have a chance, we went to bed.  Next morning speeches were given as the voting was announced by each county chair.  I gave seven of my eleven votes to Dorothy, four to King, roughly proportional to the preferences among my precinct chairs.    Several county chairs who promised me they would vote for Dorothy voted for David instead, without the courtesy of the heads up Maura had given me.  I regretted their weakness; but David won the nomination.

The campaign was disastrous.  The ABQ Journal broke a story that King, the day after Runnels died, changed his voter registration from Santa Fe to Valencia County, an unnecessary action that reinforced the image of carpet-bagging.  Then another David King appeared, asserting it was he who changed his registration. This was challenged by eyewitnesses who had seen the Governor's nephew in the clerk's office in Los Lunas that day, and, as I recall, a photograph confirmed this.  Now adding to the underlying weakness of David's candidacy the issue of character emerged.  It became the story of the year.

I got a call from a friend of David's hoping to soften me up.  We argued over David vs. Dorothy.  At one point he said, "Just because Dorothy is the widow doesn't mean she's qualified for congress.  I don't believe in the divine right of kings, Jose."  I replied, "no pun intended, Bill, right?"  He paused a second or two and burst out laughing.  "Point well taken."  We both laughed heartily, knowing we were still friends.

Facing a withering assault in the news media, King announced he would quit the race, generating another round of headlines and throwing the congressional race again into tumult.  Ben Alexander, the Democratic chair in Lea County, tried to put humpty dumpty together again, still denying Dorothy the candidacy, by convening party chairs, this time safely in Santa Fe at the then-Sheraton (now Lodge) hotel, less than a mile from the Governor's office.  There, a bit theatrically, he sought our "permission" to persuade David to resume the race.  Ben phoned David at the ranch in Santa Fe county, chastised him for pulling out of the race, and asked him to get back in "for the good of the party." David immediately agreed, as if on cue.  Zora Hess, a prominent Democratic fund raiser from Albuquerque asked me, "Jose, what is your problem with David's candidacy?"  I replied "The people of the district don't want him."  Always diplomatic with me, she did not reply.  But she might as well have said, "let them eat cake."

Joe Skeen announced he would run a write-in campaign against King.  Joe was a popular conservative Republican who had lost the governorship in a tight race against Bruce King two years earlier. Dorothy also announced a write-in campaign; this would split the Democratic vote between herself and David.

On election night as I drove to different precincts, I could see long lines at 7 pm. Voters had to pull out a metal tab with a piece of paper in order to scribble a write-in name on the voting machines.  It was clumsy and took a long time.  Precinct workers said you could hear the squeak of the tabs all day long as people wrote in names.

Skeen got the most votes and David became the third person in U.S. history to be the only person on a congressional ballot and still lose the election.  Republicans held that seat for 33 of the next 35 years.  They still hold it.  Bruce King called me on New Year's eve that year and said he wanted to let bygones be bygones.  I was grateful for that.  Suddenly a genius of political foresight, I got re-elected county chair the next year.  David King was later elected State Treasurer, switched to the Republican Party in 1998 while serving as village administrator of Angel Fire, and then was elected to two terms at the PRC.

My wife Olivia and I remained friends with Mike after that.  He become Lt. Governor two years later, but then, unable to control his demons, he suffered one personal setback after another, some quite public.  He was, however, elected District Attorney for eight years, ran twice for his father's congressional district, and traveled extensively.  His place in the pantheon of New Mexico politicians is not as prominent as it might have been, given his talent and promise, and he will be remembered as much for his disappointing performance in a strong political family as for his contributions to the people of the state.

Sunday, February 8, 2015

Mike Runnels RIP Part I

I spent a long night in Grants with Mike Runnels in the fall of 1980.  I was there as chair of the Dona Ana County Democratic Party.  Eighty or so members of the Democratic Party central committee had assembled at a hotel in Grants to elect someone the next day to replace Mike's father, incumbent Democratic Congressman (Southern District) Harold Runnels, on the November ballot.  The congressman had died of lung cancer a few weeks earlier.  He was so popular and conservative that the Republican Party had not fielded a candidate in the primary to run against him in the fall.  Thus, since no one else would be on the ballot in November, whoever won the party election in Grants was certain to replace Runnels in Congress.  The competing candidates in Grants were Dorothy Runnels, the congressman's widow and Mike's mother, and David King, nephew of incumbent Governor Bruce King.

David King's candidacy was ill-advised.  He had lived in Southern New Mexico only while attending NMSU.  His residence was in Santa Fe county.  He was very young, in his early 30s, and while he had done a credible stint as head of the state planning agency, the appointment had come from his uncle and he had never run for any office .  He was also a liberal, in a conservative district.  Big labor backed him strongly; this alone stirred resentment among conservative Democrats in Southern New Mexico, even more so among Republicans.  Dorothy was well known, articulate, and attractive.  It was hard to make a case that King deserved the nomination.  But since his uncle was the Governor, how could he lose?

 I argued strenuously against David's nomination.  I had asked each of my 72 precinct chairs the same two questions:  who do you, personally, think should get the nomination, and who do you, as a party leader, believe would be the best candidate in the election?  The answers ran about three to one against David.  One precinct chair, the head of the retail clerks union in Las Cruces, told me he would support King, but "if David gets into this he will be walking into a propeller," given the growing outrage.  I spent hours on the phone with my friend Neal Gonzalez, state director of the AFL-CIO.  He begged me to support David.  My political career, he said, would be over if I did not.

Many county chairs from the South agreed with my assessment, and some vowed to swing their votes toward Dorothy.  Although I was never in touch with her I was quickly tagged as leader of the Dorothy faction.  This put me in trouble with party leaders from the North, delighted at this windfall chance to replace Runnels with a liberal.  But they didn't have to live with the fallout, and David's nomination would only add to a growing resentment in the South against the arrogance of the North, an arrogance that had, in part, led to the overthrow of Walter Martinez as Speaker of the House a year and a half earlier to a coalition of 11 Democrats and 26 Republicans.

Arriving in Grants I was greeted at the entrance of the hotel by Maura Rico, Democratic chair of Hidalgo county.  She put her arms around me and said, tearfully, "I know I promised you my votes, but I've been offered jobs and my people in Lordsburg need jobs."  I assured her I understood.  I learned that Maura and others had been flown to Grants by Betty Stahmann, a close friend of David's, in a Lear jet.  These were not good signs for my side.  Inside the hotel I met with Matt Runnels, who had been a student of mine three years earlier, and Mike.  I had never met Mike or Dorothy.  Part II tomorrow.

Tuesday, January 20, 2015

Reies Tijerina, RIP


I knew Reies Tijerina, slightly.  I admired him, in spite of, and partly because of, his outrageous flaws.  Every day during the famous trial I would go to the courthouse and sit, spellbound, as the story of the courthouse raid unfolded.  I spoke to him occasionally at his headquarters in Albuquerque.

I first heard about Tijerina while in Quito, Ecuador, on a Fulbright scholarship.  One morning I picked up a newspaper and saw a picture of a tank in the lower right-hand side of the front page and a headline that read “Uprising in New Mexico.”  The story didn’t make sense, but my friend John Aragon, later to become president of Highlands University, was in Quito at that time so I called and asked him to fill me in.  The tank was National Guard, part of a manhunt; the “uprising” was a shoot-em-out at the courthouse in Tierra Amarilla; the cause was land grant ownership claims from decades before, promoted by a group calling itself the Alianza Federal de Mercedes.

The trial pitted the conservative Hispanic political establishment against a young upstart from Texas who stood them down while promoting downtrodden Hispanic populations of the North.  It also pitted the larger New Mexico social establishment, already nervous about Viet Nam, black power, and the Chicano movement, against the national forces of change during the crazy 1960s.  The national press corps, mostly favorable to Tijerina, took to the story like a herd of thirsty cattle sniffing the breeze of a distant pond of water. 

The presiding judge was Paul Larrazolo, son of former Governor Octaviano Larrazolo—the epitome of Hispanic establishment.  The courthouse raid had begun as an attempt to make a citizen’s arrest of Rio Arriba District Attorney Alfonso Sanchez, who had blocked some of the activities of the Alianza.  So the power structure in Rio Arriba County was in play as well, the same power structure that would later consolidate behind the leadership of patron Emilio Naranjo.  Sheriff Benny Naranjo, Emilio’s son, was one of the key witnesses in the trial.  Opposing this behemoth of political power was a band of rusty pickup-driving scraggly nortenos with names like Baltazar and Tobias, looking like characters out of the Milagro Beanfield War, and led by an impoverished, uneducated but ingenious Texan outsider and former Protestant preacher named Reies Tijerina.  He was also dangerous, and so were they.  The contrast was irresistible.

Tijerina defended himself in trial, brilliantly, with the help of Bill Higgs, a disbarred Harvard-educated lawyer from Mississippi who had worked for Martin Luther King, and Beverly Axelrod, who had defended Black Panther activist Eldridge Cleaver.  She was in New Mexico, I was told, chilling out after an impossible romantic, public, affair with Cleaver.  Key to the kidnapping charge against Tijerina was a moment during the raid in which Tijerina allegedly forced Sheriff Benny Naranjo at gunpoint to release prisoners from the courthouse jail.  The term kidnapping was carefully defined by the prosecution as forcibly holding or confining a person against their will, even for a short period of time.

Tijerina to Benny Naranjo (this is from my memory, not from a transcript):  Did I have a gun on you?  Yes.  Did I told you to release the prisoners?  Yes.  When I told you to release the prisoners did I pistol whip you?  Did I force you physically?  Did I follow you to make sure you released the prisoners?  No.  NoNoWere you afraid of me?  I was known as King Tiger.  Did you tremble with fear because of me? Are your afraid of me now?  (Tijerina grimaced in mock fear, facing Naranjo up close):  No, I wasn’t afraid of you, and I’m not afraid now.  Did you release the prisoners because I told you to or because you were afraid of me?  I went downstairs to release the prisoners because you told me to, not because I was afraid of you.  Tijerina had challenged Naranjo's self image in a very personal way.  No one but Tijerina could have made this work.  Naranjo's macho response pretty much destroyed the kidnapping case.  Tijerina was acquitted of all charges.He was later convicted of conspiracy in a separate incident.

On the day of his acquittal I went to the Alianza headquarters, arriving just as Tijerina got out of his car.  A group of Brown Berets surrounded him.  All of a sudden there was a fight.  One of the young Brown Berets had tried to punch Tijerina.  Tijerina admonished the young man, saying, “why would you want to fight me on this happy occasion?”  Tijerina’s brother Cristobal broke the tension, saying, “No es nada, una borrachera.”  It’s nothing serious, just too much liquor.  Not being part of the Alianza, I left the premises as the celebration began.

For an excellent set of pictures and notes taken by an eyewitness to much of Tijerina’s escapades, go to my friend Mark Bralley’s, website:  http://mgbralley-whatswrongwiththispicture.blogspot.com/

Monday, January 19, 2015

The Democratic Party: Early 2015

If the Republican capture of the House is, in part, a story of hard work, it is also in part a story of the other side’s decline.  The Democratic Party lost touch with its base.  It neglected to promote its most talented, ran out of new ideas, and in recent years sounded too much like the party of “no.”  Disoriented after long lapses without a compass, the party lost its capacity to foresee the present, much less the future, as it mistakenly took for granted a winning margin.

It can bounce back, in time, but:  as Confucius said, the beginning of wisdom is to call things by their proper name.  Three things that need naming:  first, the Democratic Party is no longer the default party.  Three of the past five governors were Republicans.  In 2018 the governorship will have been held by Republicans for 20 of the past 32 years.  The last Democratic governor with a truly distinguished record for advancing governance was Jerry Apodaca, 1974-1978.  The Secretary of State is Republican, as is control of the House.  The Senate leadership was picked by a coalition of Republicans and Democrats.  While the party has local momentum in most counties, margins are slipping, for many reasons.  After Toney Anaya (1982-1986), who tried, but failed, at policy reform, the party settled for protecting its most powerful constituents—labor, the petrified school and higher education system—at the expense of good governance, while favoring narrow business interests under the guise of economic development.  With hardly a peep of dissent while state government declined, party leaders gifted their moral authority to Uncle Bill, tolerated the vultures of corruption, and then rode a long surf-wave of ostrich-like denial.  The public is aware of this and, no, it doesn't trust; the default position is gone.

Second, inclusiveness is a concept the party needs to revive.  New voices, some dissident and unpopular, should be encouraged, not stifled; channeled, not driven out.  Lack of inclusion has contributed mightily to the mass denial of obvious failures in recent party history, and to defection at the polls. Without it, re-establishing connections between leadership and the base will be impossible.

Third, the party needs a big-picture policy game plan.  What needs fixing?  How will we fix it?  Thousands of citizens, city councilors, county elected officials, legislators, desperate to tell their story, already have the answers.  The party needs to tap this strength.  With a credible agenda, mobilizing—recruiting, training, and rewarding a cadre of young and earnest workers—will be easy.  Without one, credibility will lag.  Democratic House members, now in the minority role, have a special responsibility to identify things that need fixing, and communicate these with the public.  The best role model I know is outgoing Majority Leader Rick Miera, who always understood the bottom line was better government, who fought with both grace and passion, and never forgot where he came from.  Others, like Ed Sandoval, Jim Trujillo, Lucky Varela, Sheryl Williams Stapleton, come to mind as well.

None of this is too much to ask; the Party has faltered before and recovered, and it might even be fun.  Ask Nick Franklin, Tim Kraft, Chris Brown, or Brian Sanderoff.  They were the Jay McClesky’s and Rod Adairs of the early 1980s, architects of modern party organization in New Mexico, moving election practice  to data-driven, media-led campaigns—they gave it hell and had a blast.  And in the best dreams they dream at night they can still feel the nervous rush of the clock ticking down, they can smell the gathering crowd, and savor the aftertaste of hard-won success.

Monday, January 5, 2015

The Republican Party: New Mexico Early 2015


The return of the Republican Party to majority status in the New Mexico House of Representatives, after sixty years in the wilderness, is the political story of the decade--up to now.  Three points:

First, this is healthy.  Even if some policy directions taken by the new leadership should prove wrongheaded (and I don't necessarily predict this), new leadership in itself is welcome relief.  Shifts in leadership stimulate competition, transparency, and accountability.  They generate new ideas, new perspectives.  After decades of knee-jerk, tired and predictable power relations within a major branch of government, even youthful brashness and chest-thumping by some of the new victors, should it emerge, can create a healthy dynamic.  Yes:  Democrats, independents, this is good; get used to the competition.  It isn't going to go away.

Second, while this triumph is due in part to the colossal, accumulated failure of the Democratic Party--at the top, middle, and bottom levels--in recent decades, it is not entirely so.  A cadre of Republicans worked for decades to improve the competitive environment.  For example, it took hard work to counter the gerrymandering of districts:  Rod Adair, Pat Rogers, and others spent years leveling this field.  Others, like Jay McClesky, helped create a solid local fundraising infrastructure linked to the national party. Among the major longtime godfathers of success are Mickey Barnett and the late John Dendahl.  There are many others.  Without their work this power shift could not have happened.  Moreover, thankfully, leaders within the Republican Party have avoided the temptation to follow national party ideology, at least up to now, focusing instead on problem-solving at state and local levels rather than simple-minded one-size-fits-all formulas.  Another way of saying this:  while exiled in the hinterlands, many Republicans learned something about New Mexico.  This, too, is good. 

Third, on a more personal note, as I have interacted with some of the legislative leaders in the Republican Party (I am still a Democrat), I can say I am impressed by the aplomb, the energy, wit, and sincerity of many of them.  Don Tripp is not known for his Republican views, but for his moderation, tact, and common sense. If he were to exchange positions with, say, John Arthur Smith, a Democrat, unless you were truly involved you would not notice the difference in voting behavior.  Ditto for Larry Larranaga.  Conrad James, who regained a seat in the House this year, is another case in point:  I've seen him struggle to understand a complicated issue, from various perspectives, and make up his own mind.  Rod Montoya is a seasoned campaign pro, experienced in grass roots problem solving in the Lt. Governor's office, and full of energy.  There is talent here.

The achievement of the Republican Party last November was not a freak accident, a weird turn of events.  It was the result of years of hard work combined with the unsatisfactory performance, for many years, of those previously in charge.   For most of us politics is not about cheering for the party or lamenting the victories of the other team; it is about creating effective governance and New Mexico has a long ways to go in this department.  We wish the new leaders the best.

Sunday, January 4, 2015

Juarez Homicides Down in 2014

The Chihuahua Attorney General's office reported a total of 429 homicides in Cd. Juarez in 2014, down from 485 in 2013, and down drastically from 3085 in 2010, when Juarez was believed to be the most violent city in the world.  Chihuahua is the fifth most violent state in Mexico, and Juarez is still the most violent city in the state of Chihuahua.  The homicide rate for Juarez is about 33 per 100,000 population, about two-and-a-half times the national rate of 13.5.

By comparison, New Orleans, Detroit, St. Louis, Newark, and Baltimore, all have homicide rates higher than 33 per 100,000.  And among nation states, Honduras has the highest homicide rate in the world, at 90.4, followed by Venezuela, Belize, El Salvador, and Guatemala.  Spain has a homicide rate of 0.8 per 100,000.

New Mexico ranks 8th in the nation for homicides, with about 6 per 100,000.  All of the surrounding states--Arizona, Utah, Colorado, Oklahoma, and Texas have lower homicide rates.  The national average is 4.7.  The Utah homicide rate is 1.7.

The first homicide in Juarez in 2015 was of a female prostitute, whose hands were bound and she was beaten to death and then thrown to the street from a second story downtown hotel room.

Tuesday, December 23, 2014

Stay Tuned: The Blogging Will Resume

A funny thing happened about four years ago.  I tripped, stumbled, and fell into four years of public life.  It was inappropriate for me to continue blogging, although I got a great deal of satisfaction from it, so I put it aside while I served in the Martinez administration.  Now I am back from the labyrinth of bureaucratic life, and will resume blogging, with a renewed sense of purpose and some new ideas of what to cover.  Stay tuned!

Friday, December 31, 2010

My Last Blog Entry...For a While

One hundred years from now, on the eve of the second centennial of New Mexico statehood, New Mexicans will access video images of a woman dancing gracefully with a tall partner, alone on a dance floor in Las Cruces, surrounded by citizens celebrating her forthcoming inauguration as governor of the state. Some will comment on the old fashioned clothing worn by onlookers; others, intrigued by the persuasively elegant dancing, will browse through historical compendiums to find out how well she fared in governing the state.

Historians will record that on that evening, 40 miles to the south, Cd. Juarez was setting a new record in homicides, for the second year in a row, earning a statistical reputation as the most violent city in the world. New Mexico's financial situation was dire, the product of poor national performance and years of increasing corruption and cynical mismanagement. The state's educational system was ranked between 47 and 49 out of 50, in student performance, depending on the agency doing the ranking. Jobs were scarce, poverty was growing, and confidence was sinking. The dancing woman will be judged on how well historians believe she responded to these challenges. There will be room for some debate around the edges but the weight of evidence will be strong enough to render a fairly solid judgment; but on this side of the historical divide we cannot know what it will be.

Decades ago as a young man I found myself in an audience of people my age, listening to a panel of experts discussing the civil rights movement, then one of the two major political upheavals of the era. Young black students demanded faster change; older panelists cautioned them for patience--a classic generational confrontation. At the end of the heated session one of the panelists looked up at us and said something I still remember vividly. Fifty years from now, he said, you will look back on your life and reflect on the historic battles of your lifetime, and you will want to evaluate your own role as a citizen as these battles passed through your life. Most of you, looking back at the civil rights movement will say, "yes, racial relations needed fixing. Brave people traveled to Selma and Birmingham, and other battlegrounds, fighting for the cause of racial justice. I'm glad they did that." Another group, much smaller, will say, "yes, I remember Birmingham and Selma during the civil rights movement. I was there." I have never forgotten those words from the soon-to-be Supreme Court Justice Thurgood Marshall. They made a difference in some of the decisions I've made, and I've passed this advice on to many of my students. Each of us must make up our minds where "there" is, which side we are on, and what we will do about it.

I've enjoyed working on this blog immensely over the past two years, focusing increasing attention on the wars of Juarez. These are our neighbors and New Mexicans should be aware of what is going on there. I know something about these wars and I've tried, discretely, to pass some of this knowledge on to others. Lately, though, as you may have surmised from my low level of productivity, I've been occupied by other things. So it is my duty to announce to you now this will be my last entry, at least for a while. On Monday morning I will begin a public, official life, in which my opinions about most things, including Juarez, should be kept very private. Indeed, I am probably pushing my luck (I sought no approval for this entry) with about-to-be-constituted authority to slip this last blog in before my official start day. Let me end by saying there was just no way I could turn down the invitation by the dancing woman to join her for a different kind of dance, the dance of governance, and thereby throw my grain of sand into the movement of history in our time. Wish me well.

At the risk of repetition and straining the reader's patience, let me leave you with a poem I copied here two years ago, but which relevant today:

Defenseless under the night
Our world in stupor lies
Yet, dotted everywhere, ironic points of light
Flash out, wherever the Just exchange their messages
May I, composed like them of Eros and of dust
Beleaguered by the same negation and despair,
Show an affirming flame

WH Auden