Sunday, December 21, 2008

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!

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