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.

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