Saturday, February 6, 2016


Ken Giove

 I arranged to meet Ken Giove at the Village Inn on Mesa Street and when I arrived he offered to take me on a tour of Sunland Park in his SUV.  Giove has had a long career doing various things, including a stint with the Merchant Marines, 23 years in the Border Patrol, owning a restaurant cleaning business, and in the past few years since retiring in 2010 attending Sunland Park City Council meetings and involving himself in the affairs of the city.  His wife is from Sunland Park, and his job with the Border Patrol kept him near the border, so he is not exactly a newcomer to the region.  By all accounts from other candidates he has done his homework and has a strong understanding of the history of the city council, its problems and its promises.

Giove drove me through various neighborhoods in Sunland Park, pointing out planning screw-ups, code enforcement problems, city facilities, and the like, while patiently answering my questions about water, the border crossing, relations with the state, and other topics.  His overall take is that Sunland Park needs to lay out an internal infrastructure--computerize city records, organize the public works department, get software programs installed so that departments can readily exchange information, update and modernize city ordinances, and so on--that will enhance the city's ability to improve the quality of life of the residents, while at the same time trying to build a consensus around major issues affecting Sunland Park's relationships with its neighbors, and planning and executing strategies for getting there.  In spite of spending years studying Sunland Park he was quick to point out things he didn't understand, lapses in his historical understanding, and details surrounding city council actions in the past.  He seemed particularly preoccupied at the time with finding ways to fix the senior citizens center, a theme that would be repeated again and again in my interviews with the other candidates.  Almost certainly this is one of the issues voters care about this year.

Jesus Nuñez

Mr. Nuñez was born in Durango, Mexico, but has lived in the region for 30 years and is a U.S. citizen.  Mr. Nuñez is a shipping and receiving administrator for NCH marketing Services in El; Paso.  He graduated with a two-year degree in industrial engineering a the Technological Institute of Durango, and has worked in El Paso for six years.  He is familiar with what building materials cost, with the strengths and weaknesses of different technologies, skills that could be put to good use in evaluating proposed city projects.

Nuñez appears to have gotten interested in Sunland Park as a result of the poor image the city developed after 2012.  As he put it, people are proud to be from Sunland Park, but they are not proud of the leadership there.  He used the term "professional" in various contexts to describe what he feels is often lacking in the city's leadership.  Sunland Park councilors, he said, do not work as a team.  Professionals know how to work together, as do athletes engaged in team sports:  some people work offense, others defense, each player has a role and all work together to win.  He has attended city council meetings in Santa Fe where, he said, the council works as a team, and he feels he could contribute to making this happen if elected.  He knows a good deal about how stuff works, given his industrial engineering background, and he is particularly interested in committing Sunland Park to design its future around sustainable energy concepts, such as low-energy electricity, solar energy, and so on.  In the long run investing in updated technology will save the taxpayers money, he said.  I found him to project a relaxed, professional demeanor.

When I inquired about his motivation to run for this position, he said he had initially hoped to be elected so he could work with Ken Giove, whose work on the council he admires and would like to emulate.  But the redistricting process wasn't finished until this year, and it turned out his residence now falls within Giove's district, forcing him to run for the same seat.  "I am not running against Giove," he said.  "I am running for myself."

Friday, February 5, 2016


Olga Arguelles

Ms. Arguelles has been a health care worker for many years and is a substitute teacher at Gadsden School District.  She was a student teacher at NMSU and then got cancer and had to drop out one year before graduating. "I got to know a lot of people in Sunland Park as a health care worker," she said, "and I have never disconnected from the community."  She stated clearly that if elected she will support Mayor Javier Perea's major initiatives.  "There are too many personal agendas on the council, and people asked me to run," she said.  She has known Perea since her daughter went to school with him.

Describing what Sunland Park needs, Arguelles used the term "recuperación" (in Spanish) several times.  "Hubo tanta falta de respeto en las juntas que había que traer policía," she said.  "Era como una familia después de un divorcio."  "The lack of respect shown at meetings was such that it was necessary to bring the police to assure order.  It was like a family after a divorce.  We need a period of recuperation."

Asked what she sees as the major problems facing the city, she mentioned schools, health care, housing, "y sanar las heridas de los negociantes." (heal the wounds of the business communicty).  Not all of these can be solved by the city council, but we can prove that we can act as a united community once again ("volvernos a unir").  She is in favor of the international crossing, and would like to be able to get a better deal for Sunland than the contract the city was forced to sign with CRRUA, under pressure from Governor Richardson.  "We need to see what we can do," she said, "but we may not be in a position to fight it."  Speaking of the new redistricting of the city council, finished last month, she asserted that the city was badly gerrymandered and redistricting was needed.

I asked what, if she won, she would like people to say about her, say, ten years from now.  "I fought, I had integrity, I gave it my best, and I knew (she said with a smile) when to get out."

Isabel Santos

Ms. Santos is an incumbent city councilor, having been elected in 2012.  She also worked in the City from 2008-2011.  "Daniel Salinas (the mayor who resigned after the lap dancing incident) fired me," she said with a hint of pride, "even though I had seniority."  She prepares carefully for every meeting, she said, studying the agenda, doing research, and asking questions." I know what the issues are when I go into the meetings."

One of her concerns is the water supply.  We were forced to sign the contract with CRRUA, she said, but services have not improved.  They raise rates frequently, the water has unacceptable levels of arsenic, most of us buy bottled water for drinking, and our water is being controlled from the outside.

Santos has a number of complaints about the way the city agenda is prepared.  It is written by the department heads, handed over to the city clerk, and the clerk and the mayor write the agenda, instead of it being a collaborative effort with council members.  Often things that the council has already disapproved are placed on the agenda for action again and again, until votes change and the item is approved.  She cited as an example the vote to redistrict the council.  "Ken Giove was able to get the item placed on the agenda ten times," she said, "The mayor wanted to redistrict now because people in Sunland Park (referring to the Southern part of the city) don't like him, and he needed to get votes from the new areas."  As examples why he is disliked, she said he voted in favor of the rate hike at CRRUA and has had difficulty getting support from the state. 

Coalitions within the council shift according to the subject matter at hand, she said.  But she appears to identify on many issues with Jessica Avila (the old District 6), and Sergio Carrillo.  Ken Giove, she says, is closer on most issues to the mayor than he is to Avila, Carrillo, and herself.  Carrillo is often at odds with the mayor, she asserted, in part because he fights for his district in the southern part of the city as opposed to the north.  She said she feels alienated from other councilors, and is frequently bypassed in decision making.
She said for the campaign she would spend only whatever money is returned to her from the IRS, and that will be very little.

Carolina Renteria

Carolina Renteria began by explaining (we spoke only Spanish) that she originally had no intention of running for the seat.  She is more comfortable, as a long-term community activist, proposing candidates.  But when the candidate she had proposed, Alma Alvarado, became ill and decided not to run, she was asked to sign up for the job and did so at 3 pm on the day of the deadline to file.  Her opponent, former City Clerk Elizabeth Gamez, filed for the position 15 minutes before the 5 pm deadline.

Ms Renteria also made clear she is running because she feels Mayor Perea, the incumbent, needs more support on the council.  She ran for city council in 2008, losing to Daniel Salinas, she said, by 26 votes.  In that election she spent a total of $800, but will spend little if any money this year.

She has concerns about various issues affecting the city:  she is strongly in favor of the proposed international crossing at Sunland Park; she wants to get the senior citizens center back into operation, with meals served as they once were; she objects to the high cost of water and garbage services; she wants to hire a sports director for the sports complex; and she wants the city to hire a grant proposal writer.  She also believes council meetings should be held in Spanish, inasmuch as the predominant language of the community is Spanish, and many citizens would feel more willing to express themselves and come to meeting if they were held in Spanish.

Born in El Paso but a long-term community activist in Sunland Park, and associated with the Democratic Party, Renteria supported Susana Martinez for governor in 2010, but now regrets having done so.  Martinez, she says, personally promised her she would support the Sunland Park international crossing but then turned against it.  (I am translating here):  "Governor Martinez dropped her support for the crossing because she says we are corrupt, but in fact she always identified with Santa Teresa and all of her local visits are to Santa Teresa, not to here."

Elizabeth Gamez:

Elizabeth Gamez is a former Sunland Park City Clerk.  I tried numerous times to contact her, and left several messages on her voice mail, but was unable to establish contact.

Thursday, February 4, 2016

Interviews with Sunland Park City Council Candidates for District 6

Fernando Clemente

Mr. Clemente is a biologist with a degree from the University of New Mexico in Wildlife Science.  His wife is an accountant, and he has three teenage children.  He was kind enough to stop by my house one afternoon when he was in Las Cruces, where I interviewed him.

Clemente sees the City as being part of an eco-system that merits close attention in order to enhance the quality of life of the people in the region, to conserve this attractive natural setting for future generations, and to serve as an attractor for people and businesses to locate here.  As a member of the city council he would bring a professional environmental perspective to enhance the planning of the region.  For example, he believes school children should be taken to the Parque de Segura as part of the normal curriculum, to learn about their own natural environment, to see the interplay of humans with nature, and to foster a respect for conserving its beauty.

When asked about his view of the management of the city, Mr. Clemente asserted that as he sees it the council does not always act in a professional manner.  Some council members come unprepared.  Council interaction often reveals a lack of mutual respect among members.  Rather than being a deliberative body, sometimes the meetings are simply opportunities for council members to show off.  In his conversations with citizens he finds that many people are disappointed in the council, frustrated that not enough attention is paid to what the people think is needed.

"It is not enough to elect good council members," he said.  "Voters need to be part of process, engaged, in order for it to work.  Citizens need to be proud of the city and to feel part of the team.  I can't solve all of the many problems in the city, but I can try to get some things better."

Clemente sees clearly that he can make a contribution to the city's development by adding a professional voice to the interaction among council members, and by helping citizens see and manage a connection between the natural beauty of the environment around Sunland Park and the development of the built environment for future generations.

Don McBride

Mr. McBride is the plant manager in a Cd. Juarez maquila operation, RR Donnelley, which employs 200 people and specializes in specializes in reducing lead times in the supply chain for hard-drive manufacturers such as Hewlett Packard.  He has been working in Mexico for 26 years, mostly in Cd. Juarez.  He is a turnaround specialist, and in one job he helped a declining blood pressure cuff manufacturer increase sales from less than three million to 40 million per year.  Like Clemente and Nunez, McBride exudes a relaxed, self-confident but understated professional demeanor.  Also like Clemente, McBride has done his homework, attending city council meetings and assessing his potential contributions.

When I asked him what Sunland Park needs, he immediately responded that it needs vision.  The city is emerging from its previous identity as a colonia on the border.  El Paso is spilling over into New Mexico, the region is growing quickly and the city faces multiple challenges.  To stay above water, the city needs to understand where it is going.  To create that vision, and to forge a consensus around it, will require leadership, citizen engagement, and stronger communications.  As an example, he cited a need for the business community and the city to develop stronger ties, and for the Northern part of the city to communicate with the South.  He suggested creating a sister-neighborhood program, modeled after the sister cities program, to foster a stronger sense of belonging to a single community.

McBride sees the council as developing not only the vision for the city, but also to develop strategies for getting there.  He believes the city manager, a key position, should be the tactical operator for the city.  As for the image of the city, he said, "once we prove we've turned the city around, we will get all the favorable attention we need."  If Mr. Clemente challenges us to see Sunland Park in terms of its relationship with the river, and preserving the natural attractiveness of the area, Mr. McBride challenges us to begin now to begin putting the pieces together to make vision visible.

Tuesday, February 2, 2016


Sergio Carrillo, Candidate for Sunland Park Mayor
Sergio Carrillo was elected to the Sunland Park City Council in March 2012.  He has a degree in music education and is currently a substitute teacher at Gadsden School District.  He has served as mayor pro tem for the past three years, and sits on the CRUA board.  His salary as council member is $8400 per year.  He is vacating his seat to run for Mayor.  

I located Mr. Carrillo on McNutt Avenue, waving signs for voter registration at passing cars.  We agreed to meet at the nearby MacDonald's on Sunland Park Drive, across the railroad tracks in El Paso.  I began my interview with him by asking him what motivated him to run for Mayor.  Carrillo responded with several points, all of them indicating he is frustrated with the current leadership at city hall.

Among his arguments:  (a) communications between the Mayor and Council members are poor.  Council members need more updates from the mayor about the affairs of the city and the mayor should work more closely with council members; (b) relations between the Mayor and the staff should be improved.  City staff are not held accountable; tasks the Council has directed the staff to perform are ignored, and deadlines aren't met; (c) he believes, like Mayor Perea, that after the scandals of 2012 the city needs to engage the public more to regain trust.  Government, he said, "is getting people together.  The key to engaging people is doing the nuts and bolt."  What the city needs is "better streets, lights, and parks;" and too often small steps toward improving these are often not taken.  He believes that until these items are taken care of, such as getting the parks up to ADA (legal requirements for the disabled) standards, people won't be convinced that the big ticket items, like long-term planning, the border crossing, and water issues, are being taken care of. (d) There is lack of transparency sometimes in how things are run.  

As an example of a lack of transparency, he cited the recent redistricting of the council districts, which he opposed, not because he was against redistricting, but "because of how it was done."  A proposal to redistrict was brought to the council.  It failed.  Carrillo voted against it on the grounds that the cost of redistricting was not provided.  When the proposal failed, a petition to proceed with redistricting was circulated but, Carrillo argues, the petition was not certified by the City Clerk and shown to the council prior to its circulation. When the petition had sufficient signatures the services of Research and Polling were enlisted without the city issuing an RFP, which Carrillo asserts was required.  They redrew the maps and brought the results to the council.  Council member Jayme proposed switching the numbering of districts 2 and 6.  This would have the impact of altering the rotation of city elections so that district 6, formerly district 2, would have to vote in 2016.  Carrillo voted against the motion to accept the new map, but it passed.  Carrillo cites this (I have not examined the minutes to verify all details he mentioned) as an example of a characteristic lack of attention to detail, in this case abiding by the rules, on an important issue, which adds up to a lack of transparency which he hopes to remedy.  "My whole purpose in serving on the council has been to promote transparency," he said.

Carrillo is most comfortable talking about "nuts and bolts," a term he used often.  His conviction is that the way to regain the trust (he takes loss of trust in the municipal government as a given) of the community is one small step at a time, fixing up potholes, improving a playground or park, listening to the daily complaints and suggestions of citizens, etc.  This is one sense of what he means by the terms "nuts and bolts."  The other sense of this term appears to be to improve processes (he mentioned personnel procedures, minute-taking, code enforcement, and the like) to make them more transparent,  He clearly wants fellow council persons to cultivate the habit of following rules to the letter, and to make certain debates take place within a set of rules known and understood by all.  Once this culture has been established he believes the questions about Sunland Park's relationships with the external world--the state, El Paso, Cd. Juarez, Santa Teresa, and issues such as the border crossing and the future of CRUA, will be more likely to be solved in a rational manner.

Monday, February 1, 2016


Javier Perea, Sunland Park Candidate for Mayor
 Javier Perea was appointed Mayor in 2012, after Daniel Salinas, who was elected to the position that year, was not allowed to serve.  He has a degree in business administration from NMSU.  His salary as Mayor is $26,000 per year.  This will be his first electoral campaign.  I interviewed Mr. Perea in his office last week, beginning with a wide-open-ended question which he snatched up like a basketball player above the rim going for a slam dunk:  

(a) Sunland Park is one of the fastest growing cities in the state, growing from about 14,000 in 2010 to about 16,000-17,000 today.  It is the Northern part of the city, where the new district is, that is growing fastest.  The recent redistricting of city council seats, which produced the new district, was needed in order to equalize the number of voters in each district.  (b) The financial situation of the city has improved greatly in the past two years.  Audit findings have been reduced from 40 to 5, and the city is no longer on the at-risk list.  (c) the demographic character of the city is changing, and it may even lose its status as a "colonia" (a designation used for areas not up to minimal infrastructure standards).  (d) Sunland Park is one of the safest small towns in the US, in violent crimes.  (e)  Improvements in the fire department have resulted in lower insurance rates.

I had to struggle to absorb all of this, given the pace of his speaking, jotting down what I could but probably dropping a point or two.  Next, hoping to avoid another slam dunk, I asked him about the status of the proposed international crossing for Sunland Park.  This is a sensitive subject, for many reasons.  Racino owner Stan Fulton gave Sunland Park a donation of $12 million cash a few years ago when Ruben Segura was mayor to use toward getting the crossing planned, approved and under way.  As the city's finances came into question the state has insisted on giving prior approval of expenditures from this fund.  An international crossing requires state approval and a presidential blessing.  The presidential approval in turn requires an environmental study and all kinds of other hoops to jump through.  Governor Martinez at first seemed in favor of the crossing, but the conventional wisdom in Sunland Park is that she is now opposed.  There are rumors the state of Chihuahua, favorable at first, is also backing away.    The city is paying $90,000 to a border crossing specialist to move the project along, and there is some criticism that, given the growing opposition from the state, this is a waste of money.  Finally, the apparent loss of support from the Governor toward the crossing is seen by some as a consequence of, and a reminder of, the scandals of 2012, especially the poor financial condition that brought about state intervention, which damaged the image of the City.

Perea responded that insofar as relations with the state, the City signed a contract paying $575,000 to the Border Authority, an entity of the state, a few years ago for assistance in the crossing, but that there is no evidence the City has "anything to show for it." Thus, although Perea didn't say this directly, he was implying the state has a share in whatever blame might be tossed about in terms of the delay of the project.  In spite of this, and the apparent loss of support from the Governor, the City is moving along with the project, and has put out an RFP (request for proposals) for firms to bid on taking over the project.  As for what appears to be growing opposition from the state, Perea indicated the negative image of the City after the scandals of 2012 contributed to this, making it all the more urgent to turn this image around.

Changing subjects, I asked what was at stake in the upcoming elections.  Perea responded that there needs to be a change in both the culture of the council and in the culture of the city staff, and that continuity is needed with the direction the city has undertaken so far.  He hopes if elected to stimulate more community engagement with the City through creation of more committees; he wants to undertake a more comprehensive plan for the city's future; he wants to continue working on an "entertainment corridor," building on the existing racino and on part of the vision Ruben Segura had for Sunland Park; and he hopes to find ways to increase the city's budget. At various points in the interview he stressed the need for greater citizen involvement.

Friday, January 29, 2016

(Coming up this weekend:  Interviews with the candidates!)

"Arriving there, mingled with the human leaf storm, dragged along by its impetuous force, came the dregs of warehouses, hospitals, amusement parlors, electric plants; the dregs made up of single women and men who tied their mules to hitching posts by the hotel, carrying their single piece of baggage, a wooden trunk or a bundle of clothing, and in a few months each had his own house, two mistresses, and the military title that was due him for having arrived late for the war."  Gabriel Garcia Marquez, Leaf Storm (La Hojarasca)

Sunland Park lies in the wake of a leaf storm that swept through long ago.  Like all winds its force was invisible to the naked eye but everyone could feel it and you could see the tumbleweeds of hope and the dust and sands of flowering ambition blowing across the landscape, saturating every nook and cranny of the village, ineluctably altering the dreams and lives and calculations of people for miles around.  The storm itself was never given a name that stuck, but the name of the man responsible for it, Charlie Crowder, is known to all.  And it is the dregs and remnants of the storm unleashed by his vision that are still in play in the politics of the region today.  At one moment while the storm was raging the vision appeared to materialize in the form of an oasis, with a green golf course and palm trees but that turned out to be a mirage, and today the golf course where Lee Trevino once played is a dried up patch, brown, a not-quite-living symbol of what might have been.

The life force that kept the grass green and sustained the leaf storm was water.  But politicians bashed and ripped apart with bludgeons and crowbars the delicate architecture for water that Crowder, under the watchful eyes of the state engineer, had masterfully crafted over the years.  And Sunland Park too often was in the path of the bludgeons.  Sunland Park mayor Ruben Segura was arrested by county authorities for the audacity of  laying pipes for transporting water the city owned.  A developer who promised far more than he delivered to players throughout the region acquired some of Crowder's water in a shadowy legal maneuver backed by the state, governed by Bill Richardson at the time.  Later Richardson threatened to take over the city's finances until the mayor and council capitulated to his demands, signing away the city's water rights for a joint powers agreement that cripples the autonomy cities normally have to control their development.

Pieces of the dreams Charlie Crowder dreamed did materialize in spite of all of this.  There is an international crossing at Santa Teresa.  The port of entry on the US side was assembled by two private citizens, Myles Culbertson and Jack Pickel a quarter century ago, on their own, when state and federal governments dragged their heels.  Crowder himself, when the Mexican side delayed, built the twelve-mile road connecting the crossing to the nearest Mexican highway.  He rented equipment, crossed the border and built it as Mexican authorities looked the other way.  Union Pacific recently finished an intermodal facility for regional traffic.  Maquila plants on the Mexican side are recovering from the Great Recession and buses transport workers to them in 24-hour shifts.  The largest computer plant in the world lies just a few dozen feet from the international boundary line at Santa Teresa crossing.  And the killing sprees that made Juarez the most violent city in the world have subsided.  But when the leaf storm ended Crowder had lost land and water and Sunland Park was as impoverished as ever.

In 2011 the mayor of Sunland Park, Martin Resendiz, admitted he had signed 9 contracts to an architectural design company, committing the city to over $1 million, while intoxicated after five hours of drinking with the contractors at Ardovino's, an expensive restaurant in Sunland Park.  A city council member, Daniel Salinas, admitted he was present at the time, intoxicated.  Resendiz resigned several months later, and mayoral functions passed to Salinas, who was mayor pro tem at the time.  But in February 2012 Salinas--now a candidate for mayor--was arrested, along with city manager Jaime Aguilera, on charges of extortion.  They were accused of videotaping mayoral candidate Gerardo Hernandez with a lap-dancer and then threatening to release the tape unless Hernandez dropped out of the mayor's race.  On March 6 2012 Salinas was elected Mayor, but he was not allowed to serve while under indictment.  Aguilera and Salinas pleaded guilty to reduced charges later on.  In April 2012 Javier Perea, a 24-year old business administration graduate was named mayor of Sunland Park.  But Attorney General Gary King would not let him serve until technical details concerning his appointment were resolved to his exacting standards.  Perea was reappointed in August of that year.  By that time the state auditor had uncovered sloppy accounting practices and violations of state law and municipal spending regulations.  The state took over Sunland Park's finances after suspending two city officials on May 14, and sent an official from Santa Fe to review the books.

It has become socially acceptable within the New Mexico political class to ridicule Sunland Park.  Eyeballs roll upward; an air of disbelief is feigned; a knowing smile forms on one's lips.  Never mind that in El Paso, less than a mile away from Sunland Park City Hall, as the above events in Sunland were unfolding FBI agents unraveled massive corruption among county and school administration officials going back for years.  County Judge Anthony Cobos, a former El Paso City Councilman, was arrested in 2011 and pled guilty in 2013 of receiving bribes in return for contracts in both elected positions.  In 2011 El Paso County Judge Dolores Briones pled guilty to embezzlement of federal program funds and was sentenced in 2013.  In 2011 Travis Ketner, El Paso County chief of staff was sentenced for receiving bribes as a public official.  All in all, FBI investigations of public bribery around that time resulted in 39 federal convictions involving not only El Paso County government officials, but also several El Paso school districts, and well over $2 billion in contracts.  Juxtaposed against the cosmic scale of corruption which shook El Paso's political class to its very foundations, election mischief with a lap dancer and contracts signed by a mayor liquored up by contractors, pales by comparison.  But Sunland Park, not El Paso, remains the butt of jokes in New Mexico.

In Sunland Park today pot-holes punctuate some of the streets and tumbleweeds flicker nervously in the wind, pinned against the fencing of a dirt schoolyard.  Foolish planning decisions and code enforcement lapses are evident to the discerning eye in some of the neighborhoods.  It is for street sweepers, bomberos, basureros, police officers, and the like to clean up the messes made by the natural forces of wind and rain and snow, the gnawing passage of time, and the messes dusted up by political mischief.   The council, working with the mayor, must determine which of these messes needs to be cleaned up first.

But the council more desperately needs to determine what Sunland Park wants to become ten, twenty years from now.  The leaf storm left Sunland Park surrounded by a powerful, growing city to its East; a thriving, fascinating, often labyrinthine city of two million a few dozen yards to its South; a dynamic port of entry to the West; a chronically negligent and sometimes hostile county government to the North, and a state government that never seems to get it, except at picture-taking time.  What kind of relationship should Sunland have with El Paso ten years from now?  Who can help us get there?  How do we think smartly about our relationship with Juarez and the state of Chihuahua?  How do we relate to the Santa Teresa project?  What about the unincorporated village of Santa Teresa?  How do we exert the political clout we need to gain the attention of Dona Ana county for our needs?

These are urgent, but not easy questions, and there is no single correct answer to any of them.  What matters is for the council to struggle with them, learn from them, argue them out, come to a consensus, and move forward.  People of Sunland Park:  The leaf storm, as it vanished over Mount Cristo Rey and looked down at Sunland Park one last time, anointed you with a sacred trust.  Choose your leaders wisely, y vayan con Dios.  Jose Z. Garcia, January 29, 2016. 

Sunday, January 17, 2016

A Proposal from the Taos County Democratic Party Chair

This morning at Collected Works, a fine bookstore in Santa Fe, the Chair of the Democratic Party of Taos County spoke to a small Sunday morning crowd. Her proposal was astonishingly simple:  a portion of the budget, state and federal, should be reserved for citizens to decide among themselves how to spend, in their own communities.

Erin Sanborn was elected to run the Party in Taos three years ago.  She has a background in conflict resolution and international cooperation, and practiced her trade in government and non-government venues before and after she moved to Taos with her family 15 years ago.  She seems familiar with the world of funding foundations in the non-profit universe and mentioned three specific foundations:  The national Sunlight Foundation, which focuses on making government spending more transparent, The Story of Place Foundation, in Santa Fe, which has worked on a bottom-up citizens approach to improving a section of St. Michaels Drive, and the Regenesis Group, which organized the Story of Place Foundation in 2009.  Google up the Sunlight Foundation:  It has cool tools to tell you what your tax payment last year went for, at the federal and state levels.

Two premises of these organizations are, first, that people, when called upon to participate in setting funding priorities for their communities, know better than elected politicians what the needs really are; and second, they can sit down and negotiate successfully among themselves on these priorities.  Sixty years ago, these premises were fundamental to the Conservative movement in the US, which hoped to move the country toward greater local control.  This was before the Conservative movement was swallowed up by fancy economists (mainly, Milton Friedman) at the University of Chicago, and by Libertarians, and the culture warriors of the Republican Southern Strategy that has come to personify contemporary Conservatism.  Today, these ideas, to our indoctrinated ears, sound more like socialism or something out of a Bernie Sanders ad than the kind of ideas Barry Goldwater, who ran for President against Liberal Lyndon Johnson in 1964 used to espouse, along with his buddy, the actor Ronald Reagan before he was Governor of California.  In truth these ideas are non-partisan, and part of well-established democratic (small d) theory.  They seem radical only because both political parties abandoned them, unfortunately, for different doctrines long ago.  These foundations appear to be trying to prove if given a chance, they work better than the current top-down use of taxpayer money.

Sanborn has proposed handing over the capital outlay money allocated each year to each senator and representative, to citizens in each community to dole out, presumably through highly transparent grassroots consultations.  Virtually all legislators admit the current capital outlay system is in desperate need of serious revision.  She confessed she had not gotten very far with this proposal when presented to Bill Richardson or to party leaders on both sides in the legislature.

It is amazing that a Democratic Party Chair, especially one from the Hispanic North, would acknowledge in public that party structures at the local level no longer act to produce a local, citizen-driven public agenda.  Community organizations have understood this for a long time, but they, too, have a long way to go.