Wednesday, December 31, 2008

Valle del Sur Major Stories of 2008

The following are what we believe are the major stories of the year, as these affect the Valle del Sur.

1. Rapid Growth: The major story of the year, by far, was the continuing $5 billion expansion of Ft. Bliss, as dirt began to move and the implications for growth in the Valle became clear. Related to this is the construction of the largest maquila plant in Mexico, by a Taiwanese industrial firm, Foxconn, which began in July at San Jeronimo, next to the Santa Teresa-San Jeronimo border crossing. These two projects assure rapid growth in the Valle del Sur into the forseeable future, in spite of the recession affecting the U.S. and Mexico. That is the good news. But as we have stated repeatedly here, the political system in New Mexico is not equipped to handle this kind of growth. At the local level, the Valle del Sur has a long history of fragmentation, with little or no long-term planning at the regional (i.e., South Valley) level. Splitting up capital outlay funds from the legislature into small-scale, ad-hoc community projects--a swimming pool here, a building there, a park somewhere else--is simply not serving the interests of long-term development. County government has all-too-often treated the South Valley as a step-child, jealous of any sign of independence and anxious to impose its will with little or no consultation. Rapid growth gives us little margin for error. Either we gain control over it ourselves, or we will end up being controlled by special interests in another state or country. The political class inside the region must unite behind a regional priority agenda that is communicated to Washington and Santa Fe, and use every ounce of political leverage to make it happen.

2. The Withdrawal of Valle del Sur Rep. Joseph Cervantes from the Congressional Race: In late December, after a strong start in what appeared to be a shoo-in primary election for him, Rep. Joseph Cervantes withdrew from the congressional race, citing family obligations. This opened up the race for the other candidates, none of whom had any legislative experience, and none of whom had strong connections in the South Valley.

3. Martin Resendiz Elected Mayor: In March, after a hard-fought battle, Martin Resendiz was elected to succeed Ruben Segura as Mayor of Sunland Park. Resendiz obtained 800 votes while his opponent, Juan Fuentes, received 464 votes. Segura announced in December he would not run for re-election. In the same municipal elections, Horacio Favela was elected to replace Resendiz, who vacated his position as municipal judge to run for mayor. However, Favela was charged four days before the elections, in magistrate court, with false voting and was later suspended without pay by the New Mexico Supreme Court pending the outcome of a subsequent grand jury indictment on six felony counts, including false voting, falsifying election documents, and falsely swearing in a municipal election.

4. Teague Wins Primary: Harry Teague, from Lea County, defeated his Dona Ana County-based opponent, Bill McCamley, by 1684 votes in the Democratic primary election for Congressional District No. 2. Although McCamley won Dona Ana County by nearly 2700 votes, he lost the South Valley vote by 54 votes, largely because of dissatisfaction with his support for the Spaceport tax the year before.

5. Gadsden Independent School District Financial Mess: In October GISD officials disclosed that they had overspent by $3.9 million, a debt that had accumulated over the past four years during which time, contrary to New Mexico law, no audits of the District had been undertaken. Teachers and employees were told to choose between eliminating 97 positions or accepting a one-week non-paid vacation, to make up the shortfall. Then, suddenly, GISD officials announced they had found a better solution, acceptable to statewide education officials: GISD would be able to take $3.9 in "unspent" funds used in the construction of Chaparral High School two years ago and apply these to the deficit. This was a highly unusual financial sleight-0f-hand, which reminded other school districts that GISD is headed by a state senator, Cynthia Nava, perhaps eligible for solutions not available to other districts. When the New Mexico School Board Association presented GISD with its annual award for best school district, there was a strong outcry against what appeared to be a lack of accountability for district officials, due to what many perceived to be a strong conflict of interest between Nava's role as GISD superintendent and her other role as state senator, chair of the senate education committee.

6. Valley Environmental Groups Frustrated With State Inaction: After years of complaining about environmental disasters in the valle, such as the landfill in Sunland Park, and the Helena plant in Mesquite, environmental activists were highly discouraged by what they consider to be false promises and inaction by state agencies responsible for protecting the public. In the case of the Sunland landfill, for example, the state in 2008 allowed Camino Real a one-year extension on it's ten-year contract, permitting it to apply for a renewal, rather than shutting it down. Camino Real is basically a dumping ground for garbage from El Paso. Citizens acted out their frustration on October 18, at a rally for Presidential Candidate Obama in Sunland Park, when they organized a protest against Governor Richardson, causing him to exit with police protection before finishing his remarks.

7. Anthony Takes First Steps Toward Incorporation: Late in 2008 citizens presented the county with petitions to incorporate Anthony as a municipality. This is the first step in the process of incorporation. A vote on the issue is expected to take place in July of 2009, so this story may be one of the biggest stories of 2009 for the Valle del Sur.

8. Election 2008: The South Valley's growing political clout was evident in various ways during the 2008 election. For one thing, the Obama campaign opened a headquarters in Anthony, New Mexico, the first time a presidential campaign has done this. For another, the South Valley was a prominent actor in the surrogate game during the elections, with visits by Hillary Clinton, Henry Cisneros, Rep. Silvestre Reyes, John McCain, Joe Biden, and others. With 23,918 registered voters, it is not hard to understand why. If the South Valley were a county by itself, it would be 13th in voter registration size out of 33, larger than San Miguel County, only 1800 voters shy of Rio Arriba County and 1000 voters shy of Taos County voter registration numbers. Within the next election cycle or two the South Valley will surpass both of these and begin to catch up to Lea County.

"We came as conquerors...Hispanics won't vote for a black president." (Fernando C. de Baca, Bernalillo County Republican Chair)

"I don't know a single Hispanic voter over 50 who will cast a vote for Obama." (Sen. Mary Jane Garcia, Democrat, Dona Ana County)

Moreover, the South Valley gave Obama a 68.2% margin, fully 10 points ahead of the 58% vote margin it gave to Kerry in 2004. With a population that is 84% Hispanic, this statistic alone explodes the myth that Hispanics will not vote for a black person. National statistics also prove overwhelmingly that Hispanics of all ages preferred Obama to McCain.

The task of the Valle del Sur in 2009 is to convert these important electoral accomplishments into action on the economic development front, so that we don't become pawns to special interests in El Paso and Cd. Juarez. We need to cooperate with our neighbors, yes, but on an equal footing.

Thursday, December 25, 2008

Relatores Bounced from Sunland Park Council, Marquez is vindicated

After months of uncertainty, a district judge found that Erika Isabel Relatores did not live in Sunland Park and was therefore ineligible to sit on the City Council. Judge Jim Martin ruled that write-in candidate Angelica Marquez, who lost to Relatores by 22 votes but challenged her victory, may now exercise the official duties of that council seat. She will also begin earning $500 per month. This action strengthens the influence of Mayor Martin Resendiz, inasmuch as Marquez is part of the faction that includes City Council members Daniel Salinas and Jessica Avila as well as the mayor. Relatores, on the other hand, was part of a slate of candidates that included Juan Fuentes, who lost the mayoral race to Resendiz.

The next Sunland Park City Council meeting is scheduled for January 6 at 7 p.m. in City Hall.

Sunday, December 21, 2008

Prospero Ano Nuevo: To Ironic Points of Light: A Toast!

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
Beleagured by the same negation and despair
Show an affirming flame.
W. H. Auden

In welcoming the New Year, let us pause to acknowledge the importance of leadership. I hereby offer a toast to a few people I know who showed "an affirming flame" during the election cycle. There are many, many people who deserve a toast, so please don't get offended if I neglected someone. Use the Comment section to add other worthy people to the list of toasts.

Para Luis Avila, regional coordinator for Obama in Anthony, who taught us que si se puede. In spite of all the inflexibilities, misunderstandings, and confusion of the campaign (isn't this true of all campaigns?) Luis kept up the faith, sometimes acting alone, showing the flag with enthusiasm, energy, and good humor. And it paid off! Un brindis! Salud!

Para Pat Banegas, Anthony Sanitation District, for his mentoring of a new generation of South Valley leaders and his abiding concern for the welfare of the Valle. Un brindis! Salud!

Para Oscar Butler, outgoing county commissioner, for his passion for the underdog, his political courage, his exceptional political skills, and his long record of success as a commissioner. Gracias, Oscar: Te brindamos! Salud!

Para la familia de Chope Benavides, for your example to the world of all that a family might be, but hardly ever is. May you continue in prosperity and health! Un Brindis! Salud!

Para Rose Garcia, Tierra del Sol, for her significant achievements in housing, for her loyalty to the autonomy of the Valle, and for her quiet, affirming flame. Un brindis! Salud!

Para Manuel M. Leyva, San Miguel, for his uncompromising faith, not only to his religion, but for his devotion to the Valle and his faith in its people. Un brindis! Salud!

Para Victor Montoya, Anthony, for linking Anthony with the wider political system during the elections. May you be successful in the coming year in incorporating Anthony as a municipality. Un brindis! Salud!

Para Our Elected Officials--Saldana-Caviness, Butler, Garcia, Cervantes, Nava, and Papen--for the hard work they do behind the scenes, often when nobody is looking and no one else cares, on our behalf. Un brindis! Salud!

Para Harry Teague, who showed us in the Mesquite forum he could fight, and who proved to us he would work, in his quiet, unassuming way, to earn our vote. Un brindis! Salud!

Para Ruben Segura, for his years of service to the people of Sunland Park, and for his vision for an independent source of news for the Valle del Sur. Buena Suerte, y un brindis! Salud!

Para Benito Trevino, who worked tirelessly in Berino for Obama and who brought in the highest percentage for Obama in the entire South Valley. Un brindis! Salud!

Para Arturo Uribe, Mesquite, another si se puede type, for showing the Valle that collective action can bring a polluting plant to its knees, and for challenging political leadership to pay attention. Un brindis! Salud!

Para Luz Vargas and her group of activists in Sunland Park, for showing the Valle that Texas polluting plants should be held accountable for the damage they do to New Mexicans, and for upbraiding the governor for his silence on the landfill issue. Un brindis! Salud!

Finally, Para la memoria de quien fuera Leo Orona, de Mesquite: por su vision de lo que pudiera ser el Valle del Sur, y por su incansable esfuerzo para realizarla. Un bridis en silencio.

Feliz Navidad, Valle del Sur: The Achievement and the Challenge

Politically, the Valle del Sur is in a better position today than it was last year. As we count our blessings this Holiday season, this is a cause for celebration.

The margin of victory for Obama in the Valle was nearly 5000 votes, 41 percent of the margin of victory for Obama for the county as a whole, and double the margin for Kerry in 2004. Were the Valle a county all by itself, this would have placed it 9th among all 33 counties, not shabby at all. Turnout was higher than in 2004, and Democratic performance was better. These numbers can no longer be ignored by the political class either in the rest of Dona Ana County or in the state as a whole.

Lest anyone think 2008 was a fluke, the $5 billion expansion of Ft. Bliss is exploding into the Valle, bringing rapid growth in spite of the recession. The recession will hurt growth from Mexico, but in the long run rapid growth along the U.S.-Mexico border is inevitable. The Valle is stronger today than it was yesterday but not as strong as it will be tomorrow.

In the New Mexico Senate, two of the most powerful senators, Mary Kay Papen, Chair of the New Mexico Finance Authority Oversight Committee, and Cynthia Nava, Chair of the Education Committee, represent the Valle del Sur. At least at the moment, power is held in the Senate by persons representing the South, with Sen. Tim Jennings, from Roswell, President of the Senate, and Sen. John Arthur Smith, from Deming, Chair of the Senate Finance Committee, in addition to Papen and Nava. Citizens of the Valle should be concerned about threats to this power structure: as reported here, a group of Nortenos is hoping to overthrow Jennings and impose power from the North. Every time this has happened in the past the South has suffered.

In the New Mexico House the Valle has one of the most promising politicians in the state, Joseph Cervantes, as well as veteran Mary Helen Garcia, Chair of the Economic and Rural Development Committee. Unlike the Senate, the House is controlled from the North, often to the detriment of our interests, and Cervantes was stripped of his chairmanship of the House Judiciary Committee because he challenged this state of affairs; in the long run, however, this will help his credibility.

Congressman-elect Harry Teague got even more votes in the Valle than Obama. He spent time in the Valle, and is increasingly aware of our problems. He also seems genuinely interested in helping us out. He should be a solid asset for us and we will need him.

These are solid achievements. The Valle deserves to be proud of them, and for the moment let us celebrate. But there are serious challenges ahead.

The challenge for the Valle del Sur is to convert these gains into tangible action.
The Valle is still one of the poorest spots in New Mexico: our needs are great. But after squandering our money in the North for several years, the state coffers are empty. We need to get our share of what is left.

Out community leaders need to create a region-wide list of priorities and communicate these to our representatives. If we don't do this for ourselves, interest groups in El Paso and Albuquerque will do it for us.
We need to start thinking about our regional needs, not just local capital outlay projects. Only with a unified vision and coherence will we be able to control our future.

Our representatives need to communicate clearly and publicly to power just what our needs are and to demand attention.
If we don't have our act together we cannot convert our electoral success into concrete action for our benefit.

But for the moment, let us pause and celebrate for a job well done in 2008!

Feliz Navidad! Prospero Ano Nuevo!

Sunday, December 14, 2008

The Schizophrenia of the Two Hats

Lurking just beneath the surface in the public outcry and anger over the GISD scandal is the conflict of interest inherent in the two incompatible hats being worn by Cynthia Nava: School Superintendent and powerful State Senator. From her point of view, of course, wearing each hat and being able to put one on and take one off, must have seemed very convenient, at least for a while. For example, the New Mexico School Boards Association, in giving the award to the GISD was almost certainly thinking about the Senate hat worn by the GISD Superintendent, Cynthia Nava. As a powerful state senator, Chair of Education, co-chair of the Public School Captial Outlay Oversight Task Force, and vice chair of the LESC, she might well be grateful for a positive gesture from a statewide education lobby group toward her school board (which hires and fires superintendents, and does very little else) at a moment the school board and Superintendent Nava were under heavy fire. And the gratitude they might have been thinking about was almost certainly not gratitude they might receive from Superintendent Nava, but from Senator Nava.

Similarly, when statewide officials appeared to give thumbs up to the fiction that unused capital outlay funds could retroactively be applied to ongoing budget shortfalls, they were almost certainly motivated by a concern to ease the pain for Senator Nava (with powerful education committees under her control), not Superintendent Nava. Would any other superintendent in the state get such favorable treatment? And the School Board be given an award to boot?

It is unfair to the public and, as we are finding out, to Cynthia Nava herself, to allow the schizophrenia of the two hats to co-exist. Fact is, the public just won't buy the conflict of interest, not even in her own District. It is all too clear now that accountability--to the kids, the teachers, the parents, and the people of the state of New Mexico who pay the bills--has been crippled beyond recognition.

In fairness to Sen. Nava, it takes two to tango, and if state officials have winked at questionable actions by GISD officials, this is more of a commentary on their ethical make-up, double standards, and servile attitude to power than it is about Nava. Like the Sun-News editorialized the other day, "how can Auditor Hector Balderas let a district go for so long without completing an audit? And where was Education Secretary Veronica Garcia when the district was spending four years digging itself in the hole?" Are there others out there who should be questioned about this as well? These officials are paid good money to make sure taxpayer money is monitored in the best interests of the people of the state. The schizophrenia of the two hats extends well beyond the wearer of the two hats, and is in all probability more damaging to the public than the schizophrenia of the wearer.

None of this started with Cynthia Nava. Just in Dona Ana County alone, there were serious conflicts of interest, almost certainly thought out with great deliberation, when the County hired state senator Fernando Macias to be county manager. Wearing those two hats must have been a ball: could the county commissioners afford to fire a state senator? If a county elected official were unhappy with the treatment his office received from the manager, would they complain about the very person they might be lobbying in Santa Fe for favors during the session? A great deal of mischief took place under this arrangement, including the false arrest of Mayor Ruben Segura when he refused to bend to the county's efforts to monopolize the development of water resources in the Southern part of the county. Rumors of corruption still circulate in connection with some of the county commissioners of that time period.

Other counties have conflicts as well. Senator Pete Campos, from District 8, which includes Guadalupe, Torrance, and parts of San Miguel, Santa Fe, and Mora counties, was also a superintendent of the Las Vegas Public Schools until he became President of the Luna Community College in Las Vegas earlier this year, another serious conflict of interest.

The Campos story has another twist. Campos is rumored to be in line, should Carlos Cisneros succeed in becoming President Pro Tem of the Senate to replace Sen. John Arthur Smith, from Luna County, as Chair of the Senate Finance Committee. As I mentioned in a blog about this below, should Cisneros succeed, the power now enjoyed by Southern Senators--Tim Jennings, John Arthur Smith, Mary Kay Papen, Cynthia Nava--will be lost to the North. And if the books at Luna Community College start looking like they need an audit, or if he decides his campus needs special appropriations, do you really trust President Campos to restrain from using his clout with Senator Campos, Chair of Senate Finances, to make nice things happen?

The Nava case, if anything, proves that it is a bad idea to exempt public school officials from the doctrine that state government workers cannot function as state legislators. Superintendents are important state government officials and taxpayers should not have to put up with the kinds of games that can be played on all sides when state legislators wear one hat too many.

Rewarding Failure? GISD Award Angers Public, Teachers

The 2008 School Board of the Year Award presented to the Gadsden Independent School District by the New Mexico School Boards Association earlier this month in Albuquerque, appears to have angered concerned teachers, parents, and public.

In October the District was found to have gone four years without obeying a legal requirement to conduct annual audits, and was $3.9 million in the hole. Employees were asked to choose between eliminating 97 positions or accepting a one-week non-paid vacation. Then, mysteriously, the $3.9 million was "found" in a similar amount that, magically, had not been used in the construction of Chaparral High School two years ago. The legality of spending unused capital outlay funds in this fashion is highly suspect, for various reasons, and had every appearance of an ad-hoc, politically motivated face-saving gesture by state officials who might have the power to legalize the expenditure, but not to legitimize it. Whose face was being saved? Sen. Cynthia Nava's, GISD Superintendent, who also happens to be Chair of the Senate Education Committee, co-chair of the Public School Capital Outlay Oversight Task Force, an interim committee, and vice chair of the Legislative Education Study Committee of the legislature.

All of this led to severe criticism of school officials (see my blog of November 14, here) in the news media and among parents and teachers in GISD. But the granting of the award to the School Board seemed to be precisely the kind of symbolic gesture that underscored the enormous hypocrisy the state public school system establishment had put on display in dealing with GISD problems. Now, it seemed, the NM School Boards Association was currying favor with Senator Nava by giving Superintendent Nava and her School Board a badly needed lift. If so, it backfired.

In a story this morning on the front page of the Las Cruces Sun News, writer Ashley Meeks quotes Cynthia Miranda a twenty-plus year veteran of the District: This award "is an embarrassment, when we were about to lose our jobs....Where did all this money go? Because it's not in the classrooms. It is not in the classrooms....This school board has to be held accountable." Another teacher, Sabby Navarro is quoted by Meeks as saying, "We just don't think (the award) is a good thing. We're not really happy." She said she doesn't think the administration "actually understands how bad the budget is....They sort of forget about it." There are rumors circulating in the Valley that parents are meeting in parts of the District to discuss potential action against school officials.

Monday, December 8, 2008

The Battle for the Senate Presidency: What's In it for US?

The Jennings-Cisneros Fight as a Democrat-Republican Thing:

The most common argument I hear against Jennings is that Democrats should not be consorting with Republicans, giving them power when the public voted in three new Democrats to the Senate just weeks ago. Attractive at first glance, this argument fails the most basic test of credibility for two powerful reasons. First, should Jennings win, power will remain strictly among Democrats, whether in the form of committee chairs or key assignments. Republicans will vote for Jennings not because he promises them power, but because they prefer his leadership in the Senate to that of Cisneros and his allies, for other reasons. Second, allegiance to the Democratic Party, while it sounds good, often gets trotted out only when convenient. Manny Aragon had no qualms about joining in with Republicans when it brought him to the Presidency of the Senate in 1988, but he complained bitterly about lack of loyalty to party when Richard Romero ousted him from that position by joining with Republicans in the Senate in 2001. The Jennings-Cisneros fight is not about party loyalty, and you should be suspicious about the motives and candor of anyone who makes this argument.

The Jennings-Cisneros Fight as a Conservative-Liberal Thing:

This argument has more credibility. Jennings and his closest allies are more conservative than Cisneros and his. Thus, the argument goes, liberal Democrats would like to replace Jennings with a more liberal President. But while this may appeal to some liberal senators, whose numbers increased slightly in the November senate elections, it should not be overstated. Sen. Cisco McSorely, perhaps the most liberal senator of all (and an advocate for Cisneros) showed no loyalty toward fellow liberal President Manny Aragon in 2001 when he joined Richard Romero and conservative Republicans to throw Manny out. And Jennings was certainly not too conservative a year ago even for the most liberal of senators when they nominated him in caucus and voted unanimously for him on the floor. So the move to replace Jennings is motivated by more than this.

The Jennings-Cisneros Fight as a North-South Thing:

From what I have read in blogs and newspaper reports, several senators from the North are arguing that, with Jennings out, power would be restored to the North. This is true. The South at this time has three key positions: Jennings, president of the senate, is from Roswell. John Arthur Smith, Chair of the powerful Senate Finance Committee, and Mary Kay Papen, Chair of the New Mexico Finance Authority Oversight Committee, are from the south. Should Jennings lose and these two positions go to nortenos, power will in fact have been transferred from south to north. There will be no sureno left in a key position. So there are powerful north-south dynamics going on here, and Southern senators who have not yet decided whom to support for President should carefully consider the prospects of a senate controlled by nortenos. Every time this has happened in the past Southern Democrats and the interests they represent have been ignored by power structures in the north. And if nortenos feel comfortable arguing to take power away from the south, surenos should feel equally comfortable arguing to maintain power in the south.

The Jennings-Cisneros Fight and Governor Richardson

There are persistent rumors that Governor Richardson has decided to side with Cisneros. Recent op-ed pieces filled with rage against Jennings, written by John Wertheim, who has been anything but independent of the Governor, suggest this may be true. If so it raises serious questions about the motivations of both the governor and the Cisneros faction in seeking a change in the leadership of the senate. The senate, under both Ben Altamirano and Tim Jennings, while often going along with the Governor, has been relatively independent, compared with the House. It was Sen. John Arthur Smith, and fellow senators, for example, who told the Governor last summer that the state’s economic condition did not warrant a tax rebate to citizens pushed by the Governor, a stance that has proven to be right on target, and which saved taxpayers a lot of money. Why would the governor, who is scheduled to leave the state during the session, want to help control the outcome of this fight? If he has good reasons, he should come out in public and state them. And senators should make up their minds who to vote for on the basis of what is good for their constituents, rather than pressure from the Governor.

Where do we stand?

There is no single or simple explanation for the struggle to control the senate. Some senators may be motivated to elect a liberal, some to elect a northerner, some may have personal likes or dislikes among the contenders. And there are some reasons, good or bad, we may not even be aware of. There is also good old-fashioned self-interest: some senators will benefit if Jennings is overthrown, and some will benefit if he stays. A lot will boil down to a question of individual trust. Southern senators, however, had better have very powerful reasons before they vote to hand their power back to the north.

Saturday, December 6, 2008

The Battle for the Senate Presidency: What's in it for us? Part I

The following is background for the convenience of readers who may not be entirely familiar with the obscure rules of the state senate, and the state of affairs in the battle for the senate presidency as it now stands. This will be followed by an analysis of what the fight means for the Valle del Sur.

Last Sunday state senate Democrats held a tense caucus at the Isleta Casino near Albuquerque to select leaders for the next session. Michael Sanchez, of Belen, was retained as majority floor leader, and Mary Jane Garcia, Dona Ana, and David Ulibarri, of Grants, were retained as whip and caucus chair, respectively. The interesting part of the meeting concerned the nomination for President Pro Tem of the Senate, and the casino was an apt setting for the high-stakes poker game than ensued. After a secret vote, with the ballots seen and counted only by two senators, it was announced that Carlos Cisneros, from Taos county, had beaten Tim Jennings, the incumbent President, from Roswell. No vote totals were announced and the ballots were destroyed.

The President of the Senate is a powerful position, inasmuch as the President is chair of the Committee’s Committee, which makes all committee assignments. In addition, the President has a good deal of procedural and administrative authority in directing traffic during a session, and will preside over the Senate, or delegate this job, whenever the Lt. Governor is absent. While not as powerful as the Speaker of the House, who makes all committee assignments and refers bills to committees, the President normally has a great deal of discretion over what happens during a session, and is the most powerful person in the senate.

The vote for Cisneros is not necessarily the end of the story. Unlike the other leaders, the President of the Senate is chosen by the entire body, including both parties. The selection of Cisneros in the caucus was only a nomination and the first item of business when the senate convenes in January will be to elect the President on the floor of the Senate. Each senator’s vote will be publicly recorded. Between now and then members are free to change their minds and, of course, with Republicans voting, the possibility exists that Cisneros will not win the presidency. It is even possible, although highly unlikely, that Democrats and Republicans might form a coalition to elect a Republican to the leadership seat.

Normally the party with the most votes sticks together in these affairs. The caucus nominee for President will receive all of the votes of the majority party on the floor vote, even those who opposed the nomination in the caucus. There is a logic to this unity, since it denies the minority party a role, and hence the possibility of rewards, in the selection of key members of the body. If it all works like it should, even those party members who voted against the winner in the caucus are rewarded more than the members of the minority party, so they have a stake in preserving the unity of the party even after losing out in the initial caucus nomination.

Sometimes, however, internal divisions are such that winning leaders get greedy, ignoring loyal members of the winning side, or rewarding members of the minority party instead of, say, those members who voted against the caucus winner. In these cases disgruntled senators can, if they choose, select a different leader from the majority party or they can join forces with the minority party and get enough votes to control the leadership of the whole body. The last time this latter happened, in 2001, Senator Richard Romero and 2 other Democrats joined in with the Republicans to toss out President Manny Aragon. Before that, Manny Aragon joined in with four other Democrats and 21 Republicans in 1988 to become President.

Sen. Tim Jennings has made it known he intends to hold onto his job as President by joining with the 15 Republicans who are left in the Senate. In order for this to happen he will need at least 7 Democratic votes, including his own. There are 42 members of the senate.

Tuesday, November 25, 2008

What does all this mean for the Valle del Sur? Part II

The New Mexico Senate is currently embroiled in a struggle over the leadership of that body. Sen. Tim Jennings, from Roswell, is challenged by a faction of Northerners that would elect Carlos Cisneros, from Santa Fe and Taos, as President Pro Tem. Evidently, the election of new liberal senators earlier this month has convinced some that power has shifted from the coalition of moderate Democrats and Republicans that elected Jennings, enough to warrant a challenge. The showdown will probably be over this coming Sunday.

I remember the Northern coalition of legislators that produced House Speaker Walter Martinez, from Grants, back in the 1970s. The coalition was called the "Mama Lucy Gang," a reference to a restaurant frequented by the major players in the faction. Walter lost his Speakership after conservative Democrats from Southern New Mexico, frustrated by the habit of the Northern liberals to ignore them and their bills, formed a coalition of 10 Democrats and 26 Republicans and placed Gene Samberson, from Lea County, in as Speaker. The rebels were known as the "cowboy coalition," and governed the House from 1979-1982 and then again in 1985-1986. At the time of the overthrow there were howls of protest that, horrors, some Democrats would actually vote with Republicans, but I also remember the very real frustration of most Southern Democrats in the House who suffered at the hands of Martinez simply because they were from the South.

The South Valley helped remedy this injustice in the form of Rep. Ralph Hartman, from Anthony. He and Rep. Bud Hettinga and Rep. Russell Autrey (also from Dona Ana County) did a lot of the legwork to put the cowboy coalition together. After the overthrow of Martinez, Southerners could once again, as if by magic, get their bills passed. A similar situation developed in the state senate a few years later.

Then, as now, the South Valley tended to be ignored by the state, or worse, insulted. In Hartman's case, Martinez literally gave him a broom closet for an office, an insult that bothered him, but not as much as Martinez's refusal to help him pass needed legislation for the South Valley. I was county chair of the Democratic Party when that coalition was formed in 1979. In spite of many appeals from people all over the state, I never once criticized Hartman or the others for breaking with the nortenos to control the House

The bottom line for a legislator is getting things done for your constituents, not satisfying some sort of perverted party loyalty by voting for people who may not support your agenda, but offer you perks instead. The late Ralph Hartman did a lot for the South Valley, and it took political courage for him to stand up to the nortenos who thought they could bully him.

Today, after more years of neglect, the South Valley needs all the help it can get from Santa Fe. The challenge to Sen. Jennings will have local repercussions whether it succeeds nor not. Let us hope our legislators will think about the good of the county, rather than their own marginal and possibly short-term advantages.

Monday, November 24, 2008

What does all this mean for the Valle del Sur? Part I

It seems all but certain that Governor Richardson will leave New Mexico, as everyone supposed, in January. Diane Denish will have, if she chooses to use it, a free hand in selecting a new set of cabinet officers, deputy secretaries, and many other appointments. One of her major first decisions will be exactly how to handle these: should she start fresh, with new faces? Or should she remain a caretaker for Richardson's agenda? At this point we can only guess, but after six years and an electorate demanding change, some fresh faces might seem appropriate.

Relations with the legislature are likely to change for the better. The Senate, at least the faction with the most votes, tended to be relatively independent. In the House, subservience to the Governor reached embarrassing levels as many legislators acted as though they were elected as a kind of cheering squad for the governor. There were many reasons for this, including the Governor's well-known personality and political skills, but it revealed a lot about how fragile the legislative branch has become. With Richardson gone, political courage might just make a comeback, and Denish doesn't seem to be the kind of person who would be petty toward well-intended, positive dissent. This means serious leadership in one or both Houses may re-emerge, but a larger question is just how much serious leadership potential there remains among the ranks of the state legislature. Will someone step up to the plate? Vamos a ver.

What does this have to do with the Valle del Sur? Not necessarily very much, although it will be necessary for political leaders in the Valle to press for solid appointments, including persons from down here in solid executive positions. Furthermore, the Valle del Sur has a number of talented legislators whose opportunity to play important leadership roles in the legislature on behalf of the citizens of the South has just been enhanced. May they rise to the occasion. We wish all of you well.

Sunday, November 16, 2008

Emilio Naranjo, R.I.P.

Emilio Naranjo was not the last patron in New Mexico. But he was the last patron who ruled uncontested, during his time. And he was the only New Mexico patron of his generation who enjoyed a national reputation.

His reputation went national in 1960 when he supported Lyndon Johnson, and then Jack Kennedy, for president giving Kennedy a huge margin toward his narrow victory in New Mexico. Kennedy, who loved political bosses, never forgot the favor and Lyndon Johnson rewarded him in 1965 by appointing him U.S. Marshall. But he had already been around New Mexico state circles for many years. He was elected chair of the Democratic Party in Rio Arriba County in 1953 and Sheriff in 1958. At one point he was state director of the Department of Motor Vehicles. His son Benny became Sheriff in 1965 when Emilio resigned that position to become federal Marshall.

Naranjo was a young man (born in 1916) when political change came to the Hispanic North, in the form of the Roosevelt election of 1932. Within the next eight years the North would switch from being heavily Republican to being heavily Democratic. Naranjo single-mindedly set about controlling the levers of power in that county, and did not relinquish his control until the mid-1990s, when he was defeated by Arturo Rodarte in a primary election for state senate. His power was fully consolidated in the late 1970s with his appointment in 1977 and election in 1978 to the New Mexico Senate and his appointment in 1978 as county manager. He was also Democratic Party chair in Rio Arriba County. But he was convicted of perjury that same year in a case in which he was accused of planting marijuana in the car of his 1976 opponent for Sheriff, Moises Morales. The conviction was overturned by the Supreme Court in 1980, allowing him to resume his senate seat, but thereafter his reputation, if not his power, suffered from a feeling among observers that his ability to deliver votes to Democrats gave him special privileges within the political class of New Mexico, a commentary more damning about the political class of New Mexico, perhaps, than about Emilio Naranjo.

The essentially conservative nature of Naranjo's power base was revealed clearly during the Tijerina phenomenon of the late 1960's. Tijerina, who accused the Forest Service of violating the terms of the Treaty of Guadalupe Hidalgo when it expropriated land grant territory, was a true rebel, willing to shake up power structures through unconventional tactics and appealing to national sympathy. The power structure Tijerina most resented was Naranjo's, which steadfastedly cooperated with the law enforcement agencies that eventually brought Tijerina down. Naranjo's son Benny, Sheriff of Rio Arriba at the time, was pistol whipped by Reies Tijerina during the so-called Tierra Amarilla Courthouse Raid of 1966, and ordered at gunpoint by Tijerina to free the prisoners in the courthouse. Tijerina was acquitted of charges stemming from this incident, in a trial in which he acted as his own attorney. Likewise, the Raza Unida Party, a left-of-center movement trying to organize Hispanics in the Southwest under a party banner, found its Rio Arriba activists and candidates under attack during the mid-1970s, particularly from the Sheriff's department. Raza Unida leaders accused Naranjo of election manipulation and of fomenting police brutality.

I knew Naranjo casually. When we were both county chairs we would exchange minor favors on votes at statewide conventions, and we maintained a cordial, somewhat formal, relationship. He came and spoke to one of my university classes on politics in New Mexico (his son Larry, now a city councilor in Rio Rancho was in that class), and I would hear about him from students of mine from Rio Arriba county. My last meeting with him, in 1992, did not go well. I went up to his home (a mobile home) near Espanola with Sonny Rivera to see if I could persuade him to encourage Indian participation in the forthcoming 400th anniversary commemoration of Onate's arrival in New Mexico in 1598. Naranjo had acquired funds to have Sonny Rivera, from Mesquite, NM, sculpt a bronze statue of Onate. Naranjo was adamantly against my proposition, and it was clear to me that, for better or worse, that was the final word. There was no appeal.

In truth, Naranjo was a talented politician, well liked by many, with a large following, and he knew how to get things done. That the kind of power he wielded could surface in a county in New Mexico is explained by contradictory things: on the one hand it speaks of the power of his charisma and the fierce loyalty it inspired. These are highly positive, and they rightly inspire a deep pride in Rio Arriba county. But on the other hand that one man could acquire such power speaks volumes about the isolation of the people of Rio Arriba country from the wheels of power in Santa Fe, 30 minutes away, and about how policy and taxpayer funds are distributed through the political system of the state. These inspire much less pride.

Friday, November 14, 2008

Legendary Patron Emilio Naranjo Dies: Stay tuned for a personal commentary

Word has come that Emilio Naranjo, 92, former state senator and legendary political leader in northern New Mexico died yesterday, November 13. I knew Naranjo personally and will write a brief commentary, so stay tuned.

Las Cruces Sun News Criticizes Nava, State Government

The Las Cruces Sun News, in a strongly worded editorial, criticized GISD Superintendent (and State Senator) Cynthia Nava, State Auditor Hector Balderas, and Education Secretary Veronica Garcia for neglecting the financial situation at GISD for four years until a $3.9 million shortfall threatened "a disruption to and lessening of the educational experience."

Dismissing Nava's claim that the shortfall developed before she took over as superintendent, the Sun News states: "it's not like she is new to the district. She held a high-level administrative position during each year that the books went unattended."

Expressing doubts about the announced solution to the shortfall (taking funds from capital outlay monies left over from the building of Chaparral High School), the editorial points out that Chaparral High was opened in the fall of 2007. "They've had almost $4 million left over all this time, with no plans for how to use that money?"

The editorial goes on to ask, "how can Auditor Hector Balderas let a district go for so long without completing an audit? And where was Education Secretary Veronica Garcia when the district was spending four years digging itself in the hole?"

Thursday, November 13, 2008

Saludos, Don Benito: The Berino Vote in 2008

The South Valley voted 68% for Obama in 2008, significantly above the 61% vote for Kerry in 2004, giving Obama a 4843 vote margin over McCain. Obama outperformed Kerry in every precinct in the South Valley. But this was far short of the 81% margin enjoyed by Governor Bill Richardson in his 2006 campaign, and Richardson outperformed Obama in every precinct except one: Berino, where Obama got an astonishing 83% of the vote, ahead of the 81% Richardson got in 2006.

Of all the political leaders in the South Valley, Benito Trevino, of Berino, was the most active volunteer for Obama, and he and a group of Berinenos worked tirelessly for Obama and other Democrats, such as Harry Teague. Looks like the hard work in Berino paid off. Saludos a Don Benito y a sus companeros: Felicitaciones!

Gadsden School District Bailed Out by State

The Gadsden Independent School District, the third largest school district in the state, will apparently not have to choose between laying off 98 person or forcing everyone to take unpaid leave. Those were the options presented last week by school officials to employees of the district facing a $3.9 million shortfall after the district failed to comply with legal obligations to conduct annual audits and fell in arrears. Employees were allowed to vote on these options and the results were to be announced this week.

Now it appears the state will make up the shortfall by using funds left over from the construction of Chaparral High School, according to a story by Diana Alba in the Las Cruces Sun News today. GISD school superintendent Cynthia Nava, also a state senator, had earlier proposed going to the state legislature for the funds.

Part of the district's initial proposed solution to the shortfall included accepting a gift of $1 million from Sunland Park casino owner Stan Fulton, who has opposed putting a casino in Anthony. Fulton has made many donations in the region in recent years, largely for educational projects.

This bailout plan may become controversial, as other school districts may begin asking how state officials were able to find the legal authority to transfer capital outlay funds designated for other purposes and seek, perhaps, to do the same.

Tuesday, November 11, 2008

The New Mexico Hispanic Vote in 2008: Do we know what happened with turnout?

According to a report based on exit polls taken on election day, released by the Pew Hispanic Center ("The Hispanic Vote in the 2008 Election"), 41 percent of those who voted in New Mexico on election day were Hispanic. Similar exit polls in 2004 showed Hispanics in New Mexico comprised only 32 percent of the electorate. Since the proportion of Hispanics in New Mexico grew only very slightly during the past four years, at first glance it might appear that Hispanic turnout rates in 2008 were significantly higher than Anglo turnout rates in New Mexico.

On second glance, however, it could be that since New Mexico has early voting, Anglo voters disproportionately voted early, compared to Hispanics, leaving a higher proportion of Hispanics to vote on election day. Exit polling on election day would therefore overestimate the Hispanic vote proportions.

According to the same study, 69 percent of New Mexico Hispanics voted for Obama, compared to the U.S. average of 67%. Even in Florida, a majority of Hispanic voters (57 percent, many of whom are Cuban-American or Latin American) voted for Obama, a major change from 2004, when Florida Hispanics voted 44 percent for Kerry. The highest proportion of votes for Obama among Hispanics was in New Jersey, at 78 percent, followed by Nevada, at 76 percent, and California, at 74 percent.

Sunday, November 9, 2008

What's in a Name? The Evolution from Hispanic to Latino

On election night I did a brief commentary for a Boston radio station. They wanted to know how the "latino" vote would go in New Mexico. Happy to accommodate, I used the term "latino," and rattled off my stats, instead of using the more locally used term "hispanic."

In my lifetime, the terms used to designate people of Spanish-speaking heritage have evolved. In the 1950s people from northern New Mexico called themselves "Spanish Americans" or "hispanos." In some areas of the north the term is still popular today, but not exclusive. But chicanos from the South came in two major varieties: there were "Mexicans," and "Mexican nationals." Mexican nationals were braceros, who came on short contracts to do agricultural labor. The term "Mexican" referred not to nationality but to ethnic background,although it suggested stronger attachment to a nation than usually was the case, and the term suggested poverty and low status. Highly educated people in those days frequently used the term "Mexican American" as a signal of inclusion into the All-American melting pot, and as a signal they did not share prejudicial attitudes toward the group.

By the late 1960s and early 1970s there was a strong movement, particularly among the young, to switch to the term "chicano," a self-conscious effort for internal unity behind a single term, and one which carried a political message of ethnic pride and political struggle to overcome prejudice. After a long period of tension between people of Hispanic heritage (is that the right term?)the term "chicano" came into the mainstream, adopted by Anglos as well as (choose one of the following: mexicans, mexican americans, chicanos, hispanics, latinos).

Then in 1980, for political reasons, the Census Bureau adopted the term Hispanic, precisely as a way of statistically unifying people of Hispanic heritage (which by now included many Puerto Ricans, Cuban-Americans, and people from south of Mexico, as well as people who preferred terms like "chicano" or "Mexican American") behind one relatively value-neutral, socially acceptable term. Gradually the term "Hispanic" gained steam and was the overwhelming choice of just about everyone by the 1990s, as the term chicano began to fall out of favor.

But by this time the term "latino" began creeping into the vocabulary of Californians, and it gradually spread East. The advantage of the term "latino" appears to be that it carries the flavor of culture, and even of various distinct cultures, while still being politically neutral, in comparison with the more abstract, bureaucratic-sounding "Hispanic." Moreover, it harks back to the term "Latin America," which is more specific and which includes the millions of people who came to the U.S. from South of Mexico, while remaining neutral about nationality.

When Boston radio guys start using the term "latino" can we in New Mexico be far behind?

Saturday, November 8, 2008

Voter Turnout Proportion in New Mexico Lower than in 2004, U.S. figures show higher turnouts

Secretary of State Mary Herrera predicted a statewide turnout of 80% in New Mexico in the general election of 2008, in a story to the Associated Press. Other election officials estimated a turnout of just 73%. Actually, the figure was more like 67%. According to a report issued on November 6 by American University's Center for the Study of the American Electorate, 798,986 people voted in New Mexico this year in the general election. This represents almost exactly 67 percent of the 1,192,989 registered voters on October 31 of this year.

67% is not bad, although it is lower than the 70% that voted in 2004. That year 775,301 persons voted in New Mexico, 23,685 fewer than voted this year. This year voter registration drives appear to have been successful in registering a record number of voters, but apparently a smaller proportion of them voted in comparison with 2004. These are preliminary figures, but if they hold up they would indicate that the predictions of record turnouts did not materialize.

The above stats are based on voter registration figures. At the national level several states do not publish voter registration figures, making cross-state comparisons impossible to calculate. Instead, some analysts calculate the voting age population in each state, which can be adjusted to eliminate persons not eligible to vote because they are not citizens or are incarcerated, on parole, mentally incompetent, etc. The Center for the Study of the American Electorate, in a preliminary study of the 2008 elections, estimates that in the U.S. 208,323,000 persons were eligible to vote (not necessarily registered) and that, of these between 126.5 million and 128.5 million will have voted after all the votes are counted. By this calculation turnout this year was between 60.7% and 61.7% nationwide, compared to 60.6% in 2004 and 54.2% in 2000. This is below many estimates of voter turnout set at about 136 million voters, or 64% of eligible voters.

The New Mexico figures according to this methodology are as follows: 1,346,000 persons were of voting age and U.S. citizens, and 798,986 people voted, for a turnout rate of 59.3%, almost exactly one percent higher than in 2004.

Thursday, November 6, 2008

Elections Over: Time to forge an agenda for the Valley. Suggestions welcome

Now that elections are over, this would be a good time to start forming an agenda for the Valley. This needs to be a collective effort, not just from one person. In this spirit, I will be happy to publish suggestions sent to me and signed, as long as they aren't too long and the language is appropriate for young readers.

Let me start out the discussion: 3 Botttom Line Items

1. Let us all agree to get Anthony ready for incorporation as soon as possible. It is overdue, and the county, our local legislators, and the people of Anthony should work together to make this happen. We should be realistic about the budget the city might have, but incorporation will provide a focal point for development and funds can be raised from other sources.

2. The South Valley needs to form a seamless coalition of citizens, locally elected officials, and our Washington representatives, working together to mobilize funds for development. This should be easier to accomplish now that Harry Teague is going to Congress.

3. We should encourage public forums to discuss Valley needs and try to keep everyone informed about what is happening. Transparency is essential to keep the Valley united.

Wednesday, November 5, 2008

South Valley Improves Turnout, Performance

The South Valley improved its turnout rate compared to the 2004 presidential election. In 2004 the turnout rate was a mediocre 56.3%. This year it was fully 3 percent higher, at 59.4%. Even more importantly, Obama's performance--he got 68.2% of the votes cast between him and McCain--was fully 10 points higher than the 58.4% that Kerry got in 2004. This netted Obama a margin of 4843 votes compared with a margin of 2214 delivered to Kerry. By comparison, Dona Ana county as a whole gave Obama 57.9% out the Obama-McCain totals.

Overall, Dona Ana county gave Obama an 11,363 vote margin over McCain. 43.3% of these votes came from the South Valley. In this sense, the South Valley's margin compared to the rest of the county was proportionally lower than in 2004 since in that year the South Valley produced a margin of 2586, more than 100% of the 2214 vote margin of victory in the county.

This is the first time a presidential campaign has had a field office in the South Valley, in Anthony, staffed by Luis Avila, who worked tirelessly to identify Obama supporters, register people to vote, and get out the vote in early voting, absentee balloting, and election day voting. The data suggest he did an excellent job.

Myth of the Racist Hispanic Exploded

Whether at the national, statewide, or local level, the theory (or wishful thinking) that Hispanic citizens are closet racists and would not vote for a black man for President has been proven wrong.

Sen. Mary Jane Garcia, from Dona Ana, speaking on the record from the National Democratic Convention, told the Rocky Mountain News “I don’t know one single Hispanic over 50 who will cast a vote for Obama.” She added that “there have always been conflicts between blacks and browns,” suggesting he would have a difficult time winning the state. And Bernalillo County Republican Party Chair Fernando C. de Baca went even further: "The truth is that Hispanics came here as conquerors. African-Americans came here as slaves. ... Hispanics consider themselves above blacks. They won't vote for a black president." The latter comment was bitterly denounced by many Democrats, including House Speaker Ben Lujan, and De Baca was forced to resign as party chair in Bernalillo county.

Now that the results are coming in, it is clear that it was largely because of Hispanic votes that Obama was able to win Nevada by a whopping 12 points and Colorado by 7. In New Mexico largely because of Hispanic votes, Obama won by 15 points. Even in Sen. Garcia's own county, Obama held strong leads in precincts that are heavily Hispanic. In the three Anthony precincts, for example, according to preliminary figures, Obama carried the election by a whopping 89% of the vote. Polling of Hispanic populations during the elections had pretty much shattered the myth anyway, indicating that in New Mexico Hispanics were supporting Obama by a stronger margin than they supported Kerry four years ago, and that Hispanic citizens were lining up behind Obama in other states in high proportions as well. So much for that myth.

An more detailed analysis of the South Valley vote this year will appear here when the precinct totals are available.

Obama, Udall, Teague Win in Dona Ana County

OK: We know Obama won the nation and New Mexico; we know Udall won the state and Teague won his Congressional seat. But how did each do in Dona Ana County?

The most surprising result from preliminary results (updated at 11:41 on Nov. 4)is that both Udall and Teague got more votes in Dona Ana County than Barack Obama. This is highly unusual, since the Presidential candidate almost always runs well ahead of other candidates on the same ticket, since some people only vote for President. But in the preliminary results released last night, Obama had 33786 votes in DAC, while Udall had 35347 votes, and Teague had 34838, in both cases well over 1000 votes ahead of Obama. In contrast, in 2004, John Kerry had 1325 votes more than Gary King, who was running for Congress.

While these figures are still provisional, and there are still some numbers missing, if they hold up once the vote is certified, they suggest that Teague and Udall may have run more effective campaigns in the county than Obama. This is particularly surprising, given the high number of paid staffers working for Obama compared to the other two campaigns, and the relatively low priority given to Dona Ana County by the Udall campaign.

Sunday, November 2, 2008

Elections in the South Valley: Part III

At the local level all incumbents—Dolores Caviness-Saldana, Mary Helen Garcia, Joseph Cervantes, Cynthia Nava, and Mary Kay Papen—have no opposition in the general election, and only Caviness had any opposition in the primary. In most cases this is due to the generally solid performance of these elected officials, but it is also due in part to the weakness of the Republican Party. The lack of incentive to campaign, however, should not lull representatives into complacency. The South Valley is changing. The old formulas for representation—capital outlay money for a swimming pool here, a building there, funding for a program in this community or that, running interference for a business being hounded by the bureaucracy, etc.—may not be robust enough to cover the kinds of challenges that lie ahead. Perhaps most important, given the growth that is exploding from Texas, leadership needs to view the South Valley as a single comprehensive unit, and plan accordingly. It is no longer enough to view the Valley as a collection of 12 communities relatively isolated from one another. What happens in one corner will affect another. This calls for forging a deeper region-wide identity, rather than 12 separate local identities. It is hard to imagine this happening without strong leadership from the incumbents listed above: without them exercising their considerable convening powers to get the right people at the table, without their insisting that local governments conduct themselves in a transparent fashion, and without their keeping the public informed about realistic options at critical moments of decision.
The incumbents have something extraordinary going for them: people trust them. And in an era in which “pay to play” politics in New Mexico is on the front pages of the newspapers almost daily—the Metro Court Building scandal that took down Manny Aragon, the Housing Authority scandal, the State Treasurer’s scandal, the Land Office scandal, and who knows what other scandals might be coming down the road, this is a major asset they have going for them as potential catalysts for positive change. If they set their minds to doing what needs to be done in the South Valley, they have what it takes to get it done.

The Elections and the South Valley: Part II

Congress: With El Paso spilling into the South Valley and parts of Cd. Juarez spilling north, there is a huge amount of work to be done to take control over this growth, absorb it, adapt it to our local culture, and keep it working in the interest of the local population and welfare. This will not be easy. Given the relative poverty of the region it seems likely that outsiders will come to believe that the South Valley might be bought and sold for very little. But the South Valley is now the location of the biggest economic development project in New Mexico history, and the next congressman needs to make the South Valley a priority. This means keeping track of what is happening, assisting in the mobilization of federal funds by pointing out where monies might be available, and encouraging a smooth interface between local, state, and federal agencies as these react to the imperatives of growth. Much of this can be accomplished by an alert staffer based in Las Cruces, but it will also take all the muscle our now-very-junior New Mexico delegation in Washington can muster. I began this campaign supporting Joseph Cervantes for Congress, and when he withdrew from the race I stayed out of the primary election. After observing Teague and Tinsley campaign this season I believe Harry Teague is temperamentally closer, and more sympathetic, to the culture of the South Valley, and more likely to be able to get things done in a Congress controlled by Democrats. Let's give Harry Teague a good margin to work with in Dona Ana County and the South Valley.

The Elections and the South Valley: Part I

Washington may seem a long way from Cazares' grocery store in Anthony, or Severo's bar in La Mesa, but this year presidential elections might make a difference in the Valle del Sur. After 28 years of trickle down economic policy it is just possible--not certain--that a different overall approach to governance will emerge, should Barack Obama become president. This isn't a partisan statement. Remember, after eight years of enjoying the blessings of Democrat Bill Clinton in the White House, in 2000 Anthony had a per capita income of $6674, compared to a national average of $21,587. This was a lot closer to the per capita income in Cd. Juarez ($3714) that year, in a Third World country twenty miles down the road where the cost of living is a lot lower, than it was to the New Mexico average of $17,261. And after 8 years of Ronald Reagan, 4 of GHW Bush, 8 with Bill Clinton, and 2 with "W," the average weekly wages in 2003 for non-management workers in private industry were about $6000 lower (in 2003 dollars) than in 1973, when adjusted for inflation. The last five years have been even worse for most workers. At the same time, during the 28 years since Reagan was elected, an enormous economic expansion more than doubled the nation's production in real dollars; in per capita income terms, income increased by over 68%. Problem is, this expansion of wealth did not benefit most workers, whose wages actually fell, in real dollar terms. For the most part it benefitted the top 1% of wage earners, whose tax rates just kept falling steadily after 1980 even as their salaries got bigger and bigger. And, forget it, places like Vado and Anthony and Sunland Park were largely abandoned by U.S. national policy under Democrats as well as Republicans. The recent collapse of the financial markets, accompanied by massive welfare checks to some of the strongest advocates of trickle down policy and deregulation to"keep government out of the markets," has angered millions of Americans who appear eager to punish the Republican Party for its leading role as an enforcer of the doctrine of trickle down all these years. There is, yes, a possibility that people in the South Valley may get some tangible relief from the damage these and other policies have inflicted on the vast majority of Americans. But be prepared: you may have to make your voices heard to prevent a return to politics as usual, and you may have to fight for the limited funds available after our government and Wall Street squandered all credibility through their actions and then told us that about $10 trillion or so just disappeared into the unregulated black hole of derivatives, hedge funds, credit default swaps, selling short, and other marvels of trickle down economic policy in practice. Vote Obama.

General Clark to Visit VFW This Afternoon, Denish Campaigns with Teague

Last minute campaigning continues. General Wesley Clark, former commander of NATO, will be in Las Cruces at the VFW Post 6917 this afternoon from 2:00-4:30, campaigning for Barack Obama. For information call (575) 915-0614.

Yesterday Lt. Governor Diane Denish campaigned with Harry Teague in Anthony at the Economic Development fair at the water and sanitation district. She was accompanied by State Treasurer James Lewis and Democratic Party chair Brian Colon. They campaigned for several hours in the region.

Friday, October 31, 2008

Tomorrow's Post: Jose Z. Garcia Comments on the Meaning of these Elections to the South Valley

On Sunday, November 2, Jose Z. Garcia will comment about the meaning of the 2008 elections to the South Valley. Will he endorse candidates? Will he talk about the Guv? Will he talk about the campaign? Log in on Sunday, or subscribe to the email version, and find out!

Teague, Denish, in Anthony on Saturday

U.S. Congressional candidate Harry Teague will speak at the Anthony Water and Sanitation District, 155 North fourth St., in Anthony on Saturday, November 1, at 9:00 a.m.. He will be accompanied by Lt. Governor Diane Denish.

Denish and Teague have known each other since childhood, and went to schools together. There has been some speculation that, should Barack Obama become President, and should Governor Richardson be offered a job in Washington, Diane Denish would automatically become the Governor of New Mexico. This would probably materialize by mid-January, 2009.

Thursday, October 30, 2008

Judge Wingenroth Unclear About Metro Court

In a forum in Anthony last night, Judge Kent Wingenroth was unable to answer the question, "what is a Metro court?" except to say that it represented a "metrolizing" of the county. Perhaps because he is unclear about what a Metro court is, he was also unable to answer a direct question as to whether he is in favor of a Metro court for Dona Ana county or not. At one point he said he was an "advocate" of the magistrate court system, but at another point he suggested a Metro court would be "OK."

A Metro court, according to New Mexico statutes, is an option counties may choose when they reach a population of 200,000. This entails merging county and municipal courts into one court system and under existing statutes this would also require that judges in Metro court be attorneys and that the court become a court of record. The only county with a Metro court in New Mexico is Bernalillo county, which has had a Metro court for nearly 30 years. It is anticipated that in the 2010 census Dona Ana county will record a population surpassing 200,000. The League of Women Voters has been quietly advocating for a Metro Court for some time.

Subscription Feature Added

Beginning today readers can subscribe to La Politica and have updates emailed directly to the email address of their choice. This should make it more efficient for you to read posts as they come out.

Wednesday, October 29, 2008

Goddard Won't Name Names in Anthony

Rep. Joseph Cervantes asked Sid Goddard last night to name names after Goddard, a candidate for County Clerk, asserted that he had proof that two county commissioners had voted twice "a few years ago." "Voting twice is a fourth degree felony," said Cervantes, suggesting that it would be entirely appropriate for him to name the persons who had voted twice. Goddard refused to do so, asserting that the commissioners in question had voted twice before he (Goddard) had become county chairman of the Republican Party and that the statute of limitations had expired. Cervantes, who headed the House Judiciary Committee until two years ago, indicated that he had held hearings about voter irregularities precisely because there were persistent rumors about voter fraud, but very little evidence to confirm it. In spite of repeated requests for those with specific information to step forward there were none. This encounter took place last night at the candidates' forum at the Women's Intercultural Center in Anthony.

Earlier, Goddard and Ellins responded to questions from a moderator about their qualifications to be county clerk. Goddard stressed his experience in the merchant marines and as a manager at a Toyota plant, while Ellins stressed his legal background and his experience in the last two years as director of the Bureau of Elections in Dona Ana County.

Jim Schoonover, the incumbent county treasurer running for re-election, was absent from the debate, as was George Murphy, running for Magistrate Judge. David Gutierrez was present and defended his terms in office as treasurer. Judge Kent Wingenroth stressed his willingness to work with the public, especially with young people.

Tuesday, October 28, 2008

Teague, Tinsley Mano a Mano in Mesquite: Sparks Fly

Harry Teague and Ed Tinsley went mano a mano against each other at the Firehouse in Mesquite on Tuesday evening, with a couple of tense moments as members of the audience argued with one another over a comment from a woman in the audience about "No Child Left Behind" directed at Harry Teague.

The fireworks at the firehouse started near the end of the debate when a woman in the audience propped her child ( maybe 7 or 8 years old) up on a chair and attacked Teague for asserting, moments before, that the No Child Left Behind Act was a failure. "If it weren't for No Child Left Behind my child, who has special needs, would never have gotten the care he needs," (or words to that effect) she shouted. At that point members of the audience, joined by Arturo Uribe (whose organizations sponsored the event) asked if she had a question to ask. She then turned on him, angrily, and, pointing to the McCain T-Shirt she had on, said that just because she was wearing "this t-shirt" didn't mean she should not be allowed to speak. Some members of the audience kept asking if she had a question and for a moment lines were clearly drawn as Teague and Tinsley supporters waited to see what would happen next.

At that point Teague stood up and asked members of the audience for a show of hands about the success of the No Child Left Behind Act, and about ten arms went up. The next speaker, a resident of Mesquite, gesturing at the woman with the child, asserted that he had taken care of a special needs person for 18 years without any help from the No Child Left Behind Act.

Moments earlier sparks flew when Teague, criticized by Tinsley for some of his attacks on the Republican candidate, shot back that he, Tinsley, had attacked him insinuating that his lack of formal education disqualified him from being a Congressman.

For most of the debate the discourse was civil as candidates fielded questions about gun control, immigration policy, environmental policy, health care, taxation policy, and other issues. Teague defended his position on gun control, the subject of a negative ad against him, by saying he had spoken sarcastically years ago when he said he was "not a gun fan," adding on that occasion that he "only" owned 7 or 8 guns. On the subject of immigration, Tinsley reiterated his position that he was against granting citizenship for unauthorized workers, but was in favor of permits to legalize the temporary entry of workers in certain areas such as farm work. Teague, on the other hand, reiterated his position that workers who come to the U.S. should have access to citizenship provided they pay fines they might owe for violating migration law and comply with regulations for attaining citizenship.

Both candidates admitted they knew little about the environmental issues surrounding the chemical plant in Mesquite or the land-fill situation in Sunland Park. Both of these issues have caused widespread concern in the South Valley. Teague said his philosophy in dealing with environmental problems was to bring "all of the parties" to the table to work toward a common solution; Tinsley vowed to learn about the problems and to offer "transparency" in solving them.

Both candidates had their share of vocal advocates at the debate, waving placards in the air and applauding strategically. It was clear that Teague supporters outnumbered Tinsley supporters, perhaps not surprising, given the relative strength of Democrats in the South Valley.

Monday, October 27, 2008

Teague, Tinsley, debate at forum in Mesquite tomorrow evening

Reminder: The final debate between Congressional candidates Harry Teague and Ed Tinsley will be held tomorrow, Tuesday, October 28, at 6 p.m. sharp at the Firehouse in Mesquite (No. 1 Firehouse Road). The debate is sponsored by the Mesquite Community Action Committee and Southern New Mexico PACE, and will be moderated by yours truly, Jose Z. Garcia. The schedule for the candidates is tight, so you should try to get there at least a few minutes before 6 p.m. so we can start on time.

The format will be as follows: I will ask questions of the candidates, who will be given two minutes to answer, and then two minutes will be given to the other candidate to reply and then one minute for rebuttal. After four rounds of questioning the audience will have an opportunity to ask questions.

This is the first opportunity since the primary for voters in the South Valley to see both candidates at once. One of them will represent your interests in Washington D.C. beginning in January.

For more information call 575 233 3084

Is Your Vote in New Mexico Still Important?

Yesterday afternoon, preparing for a TV appearance about the elections in New Mexico last night on KVIA (7) El Paso, I figured I'd better understand the math behind the recent appearances in New Mexico of Joe Biden, Sarah Palin, Hillary Clinton, Barack Obama, and John McCain. So I went to the David Leip electoral college map at: and and
All were showing the most likely scenario on election day to be 306 electoral votes for Obama, with Ohio almost too close to call. We always knew Ohio would be a battlground state and both sides would fight tooth and nail for it. And no Republican has ever won the presidency without winning Ohio. So let's take Ohio's 20 electoral votes off the table for a moment and assume the Rs will win it in the end. This leaves the map with 286 electoral votes for Obama, exactly 16 more than needed to win. This, in fact, has been perhaps the most steady electoral map of the past three weeks. Now: how can McCain pick off 16 electoral votes?

The most likely target to start off with is Virginia, 13 electoral votes, which has not voted for a Democrat since 1964, but which has been trending toward Obama in recent weeks. YET: in the past 5 days new polling shows Obama's lead narrowing down to below the margin of error in Virginia. So it may seem doable to the Republicans. Expect some action in the last week in Virginia.

So let's assume McCain spends time, money, and energy in Virginia and is able to win it. Now: where do you find 3 more electoral votes? A jim dandy might be New Mexico! 5 electoral votes! Voted for Bush in 2004! Lost to Gore by 366 votes in 2000! But New Mexico is trending to Obama, to the tune of 5-7 points. Yes, but the last public polls available were two weeks ago: where is NM today in this shifting arena? My guess? Both camps polled and found the lead in NM has narrowed to within the margin of error. If the Leip-RealClear-Pollster maps are correct, and Virginia can be brought in, New Mexico could make the difference between winning and losing the whole ball game!

Does this math help explain the sudden onrush of top candidates to New Mexico?

Yes, it does. But that is not the end of the story. In order for this scenario to develop, McCain needs to win in Nevada (nudging toward Obama with a 3 point lead), North Dakota (normally Republican, but nudging toward Obama), Missouri (often Republican but Obama has a 2 point lead), Florida (not yet in the bag for McCain) and Indiana (too close to call). Now we are talking about a lot of "ifs" strung together, but these states are normally with the Republicans: IF McCain can take all of these (and don't forget Ohio, which we conceded too readily to McCain a couple of paragraphs ago!) New Mexico is in play.

Bottom line: because of all these problems McCain is having in normally Republican states, Obama is highly likely to win the election, most likely with far more than 306 electoral votes. But because shifts in voter preferences in most states are not likely to be dramatic between one election and another, the most conservative scenario for both the Obama and McCain camps would have these states trending back to the more normal R column. Thus, in both camps, look to Virginia and New Mexico and send the troops down there with ten days to go.

Valle del Sur: Su Voto Importa! Salganse a votar! This may be, statistically, the most important vote you will ever cast!