Sunday, May 21, 2017

Will We Witness a Presidential Impeachment in 2017?

When we elect a six-year-old President, a six-year-old runs our country.

Donald Trump is behaving just like the emotionally immature and barely literate clown he seemed to be last year. 

This week alone he's fired FBI Director James Comey and said things he shouldn't have to the Russians; and it appears that before firing Comey, Trump urged him to stop investigating Trump's and Michael Flynn's Russian connections – and asked Comey for personal loyalty.

These problems aren't staff's fault or a conspiracy by loathsome journalists. Trump is doing as he pleases, ignoring sensible advice, and desperately trying to gain everyone's love and admiration by acting tough and bragging a lot. 

Urging Comey to end investigations Trump fears, then firing him? Sounds a lot like criminal obstruction of justice. Trump's minions say Comey's lying; but although I disagree with Comey's judgment in dredging up the Clinton email problem on the eve of the election, he's an independent person (registered Republican most of his life) respected by Washington folks of all political views.
Babbling to the Russians? National security officials give Trump detailed written briefings. Since that's too much reading, he demands they reduce those to a page of talking points – and then he blithely ignores those. 

Statements defending him are carefully worded. Trump and his family formerly acknowledged that Russian investments were important to Trump's real estate deals in the U.S.; but now, as folks wonder if Trump's connections and obligations have given some unsavory folks power over him, Trump shouts, “I don't own anything in Russia. I have no loans in Russia.” Which, as he knows, ain't the point.

When he goes off-topic to show off to the Russians, revealing information that the Russians can easily discern the secret source of, his minions say he didn't discuss the mechanics of gathering the information or say where it came from – which, again, ain't the point. 

I don't think this can last. 

There's substantial evidence that Trump's committed “high crimes and misdemeanors.” Those could even include treason. At least publicly, the evidence isn't conclusive yet. There should be a full investigation, neither motivated nor hindered by politics. 

Will Republicans allow that?

I think so. As evidence mounts and Trump's lies grow sillier, it'll be hard for them not to. (Note: former FBI Director Robert Mueller just became a special prosecutor.)
Republicans like enacting laws from their political agenda; but Trump's inability to sit still or shut up for a moment is interfering with that too. Trump is a clear danger to our country, which has enough real problems without creating unnecessary ones every couple of hours. Having a loony president would likely be fine with Republicans if he'd follow directions; but Trump won't, or can't. Trump can't be trusted to talk discreetly to foreign leaders. He can't resist making his Russia-related problems worse by telling obvious lies and trying to intimidate the FBI. Even if Trump isn't beholden to some very bad people, any sensible observer has to wonder whether someone this immature and impatient will screw up something that can't be fixed. 

I'm not saying Trump can or should be impeached because he's dangerous.

I'm saying that Republicans who'd prefer to sweep all this under some massive rug might put their country first or feel political pressure to do the right thing. Trump's typical bullying response to legal problems may backfire. Republicans facing worse than the usual midterm election losses may calculate that facing town halls about Trump's misconduct is just too damaging.

I have no desire to see a President Pence; but folks might feel a lot safer.

[The column above appeared in the Las Cruces Sun-News this morning, Sunday, 21 May 2017, as well as on the newspaper's website and KRWG's website.  A spoken version will air on KRWG Radio a couple of times on Wednesday.]

[For those wondering about Robert Mueller's likely conduct and level of integrity as Special Prosecutor: a friend of mine just shared his own small professional experience with Mueller, who impressed him greatly; and in Politico, a reporter (and biographer of Mueller) published a long, interesting and reassuring story, "What Donald Trump Should Know about Bob Mueller and Jim Comey"
In part, the story recites details of a famous episode in which Comey stood up to Vice-President Cheney, during the George Bush administration, to prevent officials from conning or bullying the Attorney-General into re-approving an illegal program that infringed folks' civil liberties.  Comey was the Deputy AG.  He knew AG John Ashcroft was ill in his hospital room.  Mueller played a key role in Comey's being able to forestall administration misconduct.  It's worth a read.  I particularly enjoyed this bit of description of a White House meeting concerning the illegal program:

Comey didn’t hesitate to force the issue of STELLAR WIND, standing up to the vice president. During one White House meeting, Comey said he couldn’t find a legal basis for the program.
“Others see it differently,” a scowling Cheney replied.
“The analysis is flawed—in fact, fatally flawed. No lawyer reading that could reasonably rely on it,” Comey said, his hand sweeping across the table dismissively.
Cheney’s counsel, the famously aggressive David Addington, standing in the back of the room, spoke up: “Well, I’m a lawyer,” he snapped, “and I did.”
Comey shot back, “No good lawyer.”
The room went silent. ]

[I wrote this earlier this week, before a lot of things happened.  Then in no special order I put some links or excerpts in here as I ran across them:]

[Tuesday evening, Rep. Mark Walker (R-N.C.) flat-out said what most Republicans on Capitol Hill are thinking: This isn’t fun. This is the opposite of fun.  “It’s been frustrating, no question,” he told reporters of the recent revelations. “We want this to be moving forward,” referring to the GOP agenda.
This story on Wednesday afternoon reported the first Republicans beginning to mumble about impeachment.

Amber Phillips noted that instead of the great assistance Republican lawmakers hoped from a Republican president, "Instead, they have a president who almost daily besieges them with scandals to respond to — or not respond to."   She also notes that this is "the first time in Trump’s still-nascent administration that he has virtually no Republican supporters on Capitol Hill in his latest controversies. A sizable number of Republicans in Congress supported him on his travel bans and his decision to fire Comey (and not immediately fire Flynn). But on the latest revelations, they just can’t find a way to justify their president's actions."
She added that "many lawmakers’ nerves are frayed just having to respond to this. The unanswered question is: When will the frustration of having a controversy-ridden, unpredictable president start to outweigh the benefits of him being a Republican?"

Here is Brent Budowsky's prediction that appointing Robert Mueller as special prosecutor leads directly to Trump's resignation in lieu of impeachmentdministration/334033-why-trump-will-likely-resign-as-mueller-pursues
On the other side, in this piece by BBC writer on U.S. politics Mark Plotkin predicts no impeachment because of the gutlessness and political record of    Ryan and several Republicans on the House Judiciary Committee.  That committee would initially consider the matter and potentially draft articles of impeachment, and Plotkin discusses the individuals on it and predicts they'll choose politics over their country.  I think they might; but, as noted, I'm not so clear that at some point political interests may line up with the country's best interest on this one.
Here's a good statement of why progressives should be careful what they wish for on impeachmentachment-trap-be-careful-what-you-wish-for.  I also saw a good statement on why we shouldn't fear Pence, and will have to find that again and post it here.  Oh, here it is -- from The New Republic: "Don't Fear President Pence - Liberals, Welcome Him" .

Saturday, May 20, 2017

More Images from Out Back -- May 2017

Here are some recent images from around our little high-desert home.  (Posts of images from earlier this year include: March 25April 1, and  April 3.  I also posted images from here on March 3, 2016 and posted Desert Spring Faux Toes on May 19 and A Few More Images of our Friends on May 26 .

Desert Spring appeared as a column in the Sun News on June 5, 2016 (sans images), and featured bull snake, roadrunner, Texas horned lizard, and bat-faced cuphea. (That last is a tiny flower.)  Then August in the Desert, another Sunday column with images added in the blog version, features vinegaroons (which many of you have likely never seen, but which hang around here a lot in certain months), hummingbirds (two of them beak-to-beak in mid-air),
rainbows, butterflies,dragonflies, and cactus flowers.  Then on October 11 "More Images from around Home."  I have wondered if putting together a bunch of images from the same seasons in different years could yield a fair description of what it's like here; but in 2015, the first post with images from here didn't go up until Sunday -- on May 11.  The next was "Roadrunner Follies" on August 15 -- with a link to an August 23, 2011 post called "The Courting of Roadrunners."
At any rate, here are some of the recent images I've gotten time to play with. 




What one might not immediately realize about these two images is that they are actually the same photograph treated very differently in the editing process.  Over the course of several evenings, I shot photos of theses ocotillo at or just before sunset, and liked quite a few of the resulting images.



Just above, too, I've included two different treatments of a single sunset image.  Like 'em both.  As I've mentioned elsewhere, we call these "Faux toes"  Photos made into faux paintings or other media.    They're fun to do.

Sunday, May 14, 2017

Commission Ducks Transit Issue -- Citizens Chant "Shame!"

Tuesday's county commission meeting started with Commission Chair Isabella Solis urging citizens to respect commissioners and ended with citizens chanting “Shame!” 

At issue: should the County provide $350,000 toward continuing bus service throughout the south county?

The transit folks were to make a presentation. The chamber was full of people wanting to speak. Suddenly none of this was permitted.

The Chair asked for a motion. Commissioner Garrett made one. Some thought Commissioner Gonzales, whose district includes many who use the buses, would second. He didn't. Meanwhile Commissioner Vasquez had disappeared – apparently to avoid facing the issue. (He hasn't yet explained.)

An unseconded motion dies. No vote. No discussion. No public comment. Gonzales stayed silent. Vasquez stayed away. Garrett tried to withdraw the motion, to permit discussion. Commissioner Rawson said the commission should move on. 

The room erupted in shouts of “Shame! Shame!” I went to the microphone to urge the commission, if it wanted respect, to extend respect – by letting folks speak. 

Solis is right: we should show commissioners respect – or at least civility. “Civility” and “courtesy” differ from “respect.” Respect is something we feel. I respect the commissioners for taking on a tough job and for hoping to do right. I respect Garrett and Rawson for standing up and defending their positions when asked. When newer commissioners duck questions, I can't respect that. I hope they learn better soon. Meanwhile, we should express our disappointment courteously. Courtesy should be mutual.

I'm appalled that the commissioners simply refused to hear their constituents. Garrett called their conduct “disrespectful, whatever your position.” Some came from the south county, at some inconvenience. Bus dispatcher Leticia Lopez said, “I hear the cries of need every day from people who ride the buses.” She described a lady from Mesquite with two children, whose mother was dying of cancer in Juarez. They take the blue line to Anthony, the purple line to El Paso, then the metro to Mexico. “Before us, she had no way to go even to Anthony.”

Commissioner Gonzalez, these are your people. You coached many of them. You taught them history. You requested their votes as an upstanding man who cared about them and their communities. 

I haven't heard good reasons not to listen to the bus company. Rawson says he opposes the measure because “the voters rejected it.” Voters rejected $10 million to start something – not $350,000 to keep something going, with the state paying more. (Further discussion on today's blog post.) The buses seemed a good idea, seem to be gaining riders, serve a need, and have drawn funding from other sources. Our poorer citizens need transportation – and our rural areas have plenty of poor people.

That doesn't mean the system is perfect! I hear meaningful criticisms and questions, not just from commissioners. But elected commissioners should face this issue like grownups, listening to the arguments, asking appropriate questions, and making reasonable decisions. (They probably should approve the funding but suggest improvements.) 

Whether the bus company and its riders are right or wrong or some of each, sticking our fingers in our ears and running away, as Vasquez and the others did, is not fair or meaningful consideration of an issue. (Vasquez has scheduled three community meetings this week.)

Proponents note that the requested amount is only $1.75 per county resident. I'm delighted to pay $1.75 so that residents of the South County have low-cost transportation to schools, jobs, medical facilities, and family. Friday I sent a check for $17.50. That should cover me -- plus Rawson, Solis, Gonzalez, Vasquez, Enrique Vigil, and four neighbors.

[The column above appeared in the Las Cruces Sun-News this morning, Sunday, 14 May 2017, as well as on the newspaper's website and on KRWG's website -- and a spoken version airs on KRWG a couple of times on Wednesdays.]

[Further reflections on "respect," and Chairperson Solis's request for it: as I mentioned, I feel we ought all to be civil and courteous to each other as much as we can; but I'd urge the Commission to gather respect by conducting business with more apparent thought, more openness and transparency, and more consideration (and respect) for constituents.   As the Sun-News recently editorialized, government is an open, loud, and sometimes messy business.  Commissioners should not have run from reporters, immediately after sacking Julia Brown a few weeks ago.  They should have faced those reporters, even if fear of a lawsuit would limit what they could say to explain their action.  They should have listened to the citizens who'd come to speak on transit, and to the transit folks, either during initial public comment or when the agenda item came up.  They should have listened both because they might have learned something (as Commissioner Vasquez has said he did when riding the buses and talking to folks, which was a good thing on his part) and because people who've come all that way to speak on an issue that matters to them deserve that respect.  If (as some fellow commissioners believe) Solis had prior knowledge that there'd be no second, she should have permitted such discussion during public comment; if she didn't know, then when the agenda came up and she discovered the fact that these folks would be tricked out of their chance to talk to their commissioners, she could have and should have allowed discussion then.  And Commissioner Rawson should not have encouraged her to move on.  Yeah, it would have cost an hour's time; but that's part of what commissioners get paid for.]

[The column mentions that District 5 Doña Ana County Commissioner John L. Vasquez has scheduled three community meetings to address issues of constituent concerns.  Here's further information:
Meetings are scheduled at 6 p.m. on Monday, May 15, at the Doña Ana Community Resource Center, 5745 Ledesma Drive in Doña Ana; then Tuesday, May 16, at the Radium Springs Community Resource Center, 12060 Lindbeck Road; and finally, Wednesday, May 17, at  the Village of Hatch Community Center, 837 Highway 187 (West Hall Street) in Hatch.
Commissioner Vasquez has invited New Mexico State Sen. Jeff Steinborn and State Representatives Rudy Martinez and Nathan Small to each of the meetings.

Here, he's doing something he should do.  I hope the three are well-attended.]

Sunday, May 7, 2017

Congratulations to New Soil & Water Conservation District Boardmembers!

Congratulations! Environmentalists Kevin Bixby and Craig Fenske won election to the Doña Ana Soil & Water Conservation District board Tuesday. That's good news for progressives and moderates – and plants and wildlife.

Tuesday's win was one step in long process of change. The winning campaign gained impetus from popular concern sparked by the election of Donald Trump. The election matched strong opponents and two very different styles of campaigning.

Soil and water district boards exist to protect natural resources for all of us, and for wildlife. They do that elsewhere. Valencia's created a fine wildlife refuge near Belen. Here, the board has focused on assisting ranchers, promoting extremist ideology, and (recently) flood control. Containing floods is an important duty, but the board is also charged with preserving water, helping wildlife, and preventing or controlling soil erosion. 
In the past, these were small elections. They're held at odd times. Most people ignore them – which may have suited board-members. (This year the Legislature passed a bill calling for consolidated elections to avoid such situations, but Governor Susanna Martinez vetoed it.) The DASWCD board eventually drew attention for its anti-government, anti-wildlife pronouncements and neglect of most of its duties, eliciting a resounding defeat in a 2014 referendum, when 85% of voters rejected the mill levy the district sought to finance its operations. DASWCD's opposition to the new national monument drew strong challengers in the 2015 board elections. 
This week's election was noteworthy. It pitted Republican money against word-of-mouth and door-to-door canvassing by volunteers. One progressive group that provided some of those volunteers did not exist until after the 2016 election results. The Steve Pearce-related PAC Goal West financed extensive mailings, which may be why absentee ballots strongly favored real-estate developer Kent Thurston and incumbent board chairman Joe Delk. Right-wing money was a significant factor in electing Donald Trump and will play a major role in future elections. The energy and spirit of volunteers won't always be sufficient to counteract that.

It also pitted Bixby, founder and CEO of Southwest Environmental Center, against Delk, who says “environmental cartels” diminish Christians. Couldn't be a clearer contrast. Similarly in the Las Cruces “zone,” conservationist Fenske, a former extension agent, defeated Thurston. Some Delk/Thurston supporters say this was a popularity contest, but it felt like a battle over protecting of our natural resources for everyone. (Delk might be a fun guy. I hope to hear his band play some day. But I strongly preferred Bixby to him for a job focused on conserving water and other resources.)
Bixby and Fenske bring new skills to the Board. Both have extensive experience cooperating with federal, state, and local governments, not avoiding them. Both have experience fund-raising and grant-writing. The District has suffered from inadequate funding and misdirection. Bixby and Fenske can help right the board's course – and perhaps help bring in funds to allow the District to do real good for all of us. 
Fenske called the win “a community effort.” Bixby thanked “everyone who came out and voted in this election. Democracy's not a spectator sport.” He added, I look forward to helping all the people of the district--farmers, ranchers, city dwellers, young, old, conservative, liberal. We all have a stake in taking care of our land and water, and making sure we have a livable planet in the future.

Going forward, let's hope: that DASWCD will bring its board-selection system into compliance with law; that it will be more open and transparent; and that a more varied mix of community members will learn to work collegially to better serve the public and the environment.

[The column above appeared in the Las Cruces Sun-News this morning, Sunday, 7 June, 2017, as well as on the newspaper's website and, presently on KRWG's website.  A spoken version runs on KRWG Wednesdays, I think at 7:45 a.m. and 4:45 p.m., and possibly at other times.]

[With various people opining on what DASWCD is supposed to be doing, maybe I can help by reprinting a relevant New Mexico statute:

73-20-26. Legislative determination; purpose of act.  
A.   Considered and resolved by legislative determination, it is declared that:   

(1)   the land, waters and other natural resources are the basic physical assets of New Mexico, and their preservation and development are necessary to protect and promote the health and general welfare of the people of the state;   

(2)   the improper use of land and related natural resources, soil erosion and water loss result in economic waste in New Mexico through the deterioration of the state's natural resources; and   

(3)   appropriate corrective and conservation practices and programs must be encouraged and executed in New Mexico to conserve and develop beneficially the soil, water and other natural resources of the state.   

B.   It is declared to be the policy of the legislature and the purpose of the Soil and Water Conservation District Act [73-20-25 through 73-20-48 NMSA 1978] to:   

(1)   control and prevent soil erosion;   

(2)   prevent floodwater and sediment damage;   

(3)   further the conservation, development, beneficial application and proper disposal of water;   

(4)   promote the use of impounded water for recreation, propagation of fish and wildlife, irrigation and for urban and industrial needs; and   

(5)   by the application of these measures, conserve and develop the natural resources of the state, provide for flood control, preserve wildlife, protect the tax base and promote the health, safety and general welfare of the people of New Mexico. ]

Sunday, April 30, 2017

Julia Brown's Firing Was Foreseeable, but Abrupt

We're seeing officials jump into high positions and take immediate and drastic actions based not on observations made in their new posts, but on ego or ideology, or what they've heard (or covertly promised) before taking office.

In Washington, that could destroy the fabric of our civil society – or worse. 

In our county, we'll survive the sacking of County Manager Julia Brown. 

I've criticized Brown. I've praised her. So has at least one commissioner who voted to fire her. 

Last fall, I criticized the old commission for extending her contract by three years. The next commission might fire her, as Sheriff Vigil was urging. One year seemed more prudent. But the extension didn't put us on the hook for the whole three years. There's a six-month severance package. Brown was an at-will employee. Terminable for no reason. So long as her civil rights weren't violated, which a lawsuit may explore, we'd owe six months' salary not years'. The commission also sought to raise her salary over three years to be comparable to salaries of similar county managers in New Mexico. 

A critic of that decision could argue that tripling her severance package from two months to six, while perhaps fair, was “very disrespectful to the incoming commissioners – and the voters.”
I've criticized Vigil for threatening to get rid of Brown. But I'm not sure her firing was entirely his doing. I'd heard some complaints about Brown unrelated to Vigil. So had commissioners. Also, Vigil has repeatedly urged the commission to drop its appeal of a court decision upholding a union arbitration. (I think I agree with him. Deputies deserve raises. Soon!) The case has been on the agenda for several closed sessions. If Vigil completely controlled three commissioners, maybe the commission would have done his bidding on that by now.

Firing Brown was abrupt and ill-considered, but no great surprise. The three new commissioners almost fired Brown in February. Apparently the new commissioners had decided on that before taking office, but Vasquez changed his mind. Therefore the commission told Brown it would evaluate her. Brown responded by proposing some items she thought reasonable to include in a performance review. The commission never even responded – except by firing her. (Only Billy Garrett dissented Tuesday.) 

It's wrong to fire someone without an evaluation, barring some very serious misconduct. Ms. Brown committed none. Running our county is complex, particularly coming in, as she did, when some extremely bad management had created distrust and torpedoed employee morale. Commissioners say Brown was stellar at much of what she did, but could have improved on some points. That calls for evaluation and clear direction – not an abrupt firing.

Several – including a couple of courageous DASO employees – spoke up for Ms. Brown Tuesday. No employee criticized her. A DASO employee called the firing “political corruption at its finest,” and Deputy County Clerk Lynn Ellins called it “insanity.” Sadly, the three new commissioners made no explanation, then fled like frightened rabbits from reporters. Had they nothing to say in their defense? At least Ben Rawson faced questions. And (despite his vote) thanked Ms. Brown for all she's done.
We'll be paying for this in many ways, including a probable retaliation claim. We may not get such a skilled replacement.

Afterward, Brown lunched at Mariachi's. Returning, she was startled by an atrium full of county employees greeting her by cheering loudly and clapping, as she received a big bouquet flowers. (See Patrick Hayes's video.) The sight of employees publicly cheering the person their bosses had just fired speaks eloquently: she will be missed.

[The column above appeared in the Las Cruces Sun-News this morning, 30 April 2017, as well as on the newspaper's website the newspaper's website and KRWG's website, and a spoken version will air Wednesday on KRWG Radio.]

[I note in the column that I've both praised and criticized Ms. Brown.  Less than two years ago, I tended at one time to think she should either be terminated or be given an evaluation including some strong comments on certain points.  However, I have come to understand why commissioners value her professionalismBut I also know that some folks see Brown's ouster as the first shot in a civil war within county management.]

[People often ask me whether Ms. Brown is likely to win if she files suit.  I answer that I'm not her lawyer, and that there's a lot I don't know.  Speculating as an outsider?  As an at-will employee, she'd have little basis for a simple employment claim, unless they violated a required step in reaching their decision.  With other county employees, I'm pretty sure such a summary action, without first evaluating the employee and giving her an opportunity to improve, would violate the personnel manual, which is taken by courts as a term of employment.  (I should note that Ms. Brown was evaluated twice prior to the seating of the three new commissioners; and that I'm hearing from various sources that although she was orally advised of the commissioners' views, she was given no written evaluation.)  You follow procedure.  I doubt there's any such thing in her contract.  She can be fired at will, just as Trump can fire Flynn.  Or the Sheriff can fire his undersheriff.  And that's true for a reason: it's a political office, and the elected officials can choose whom they want to manage the city or the Defense Department.   The wisdom of a particular firing is a political issue, assuming all required procedural steps were taken and no contractual promise broken.

However, just because you can fire someone for no reason doesn't mean you can fire someone for an illegal reason.

One example is the Whistleblower Act.  I've worked on a few such cases.  Even if someone is an at-will, or even a temporary employee hired to teach or clean for a year, with no legal right to being re-hired the next year, you can't fire (or decline to re-hire) that employee because he reported to the police or your board or the newspapers that you'd embezzled $100,000 or ordered employees to pour mercury in the river.   (Ironically, a suit on those grounds has been filed against the County by some Sheriff's Department employees Ms. Brown disciplined or terminated.  They have counsel who are very experienced at pursuing employment claims against the County.)  

Similarly, even if you could fire someone for no reason, you can't fire someone because s/he's of a certain ethnicity or in retaliation for making claims on her own or others' behalf of ethnic or sexual discrimination.  

But to appraise anyone's possible claim, a lawyer needs to ask a lot of probing questions and then often do some legal research.  I won't speculate just now on whether Ms. Brown will sue or how that lawsuit might go. She's a lawyer herself, and I'm sure she's been consulting some lawyer who specializes in employment claims -- other than Daniela and Bret, who will be saying bad things about her as part of their work for other clients.   If she files a complaint, I'll look at that before opining.  For now, I'll merely hope that the commissioners ultimately select an able and experienced county manager.  And that Ms. Brown enjoys her retirement. ]  

Sunday, April 23, 2017

VOTE for change on the Dona Ana Soil & Water Conservation District Board!

VOTE TUESDAY, MAY 2 in the Doña Ana Soil & Water Conservation District election. 
SWCDs were founded in 1935 as a response to the dust bowl. On April 2, 1935, scientist Hugh Bennett was asking the Senate Public Lands Committee for more money, and getting some opposition – until a huge dust storm swept over the Capitol. 
State and federal laws give SWCDs the power to do real good. Noting that “the land, waters, and other natural resources are the basic physical assets of New Mexico, and their preservation and development are necessary to protect and promote the health and general welfare of the people of this state,” our Legislature charged SWCDs with fighting soil erosion and flood damage, furthering water conservation, promoting use of water for fish and wildlife (as well as human) needs, and conserving and developing the state's natural resources.

Unfortunately, the DASWCD board opposes true conservation measures. They haphazardly try to protect ranchers from any inconvenience, but do little toward the other goals. They opposed the new monument. And wolf reintroduction. One year they spent a portion of their small annual budget to hire someone to oppose a BLM planning document – although they hadn't identified any specific objection to it: as longtime DASWCD Chair Joe Delk said, “There's no telling what's hidden in the nooks and crannies of the words therein.” They even passed a resolution on Agenda 21, a well-meaning and idealistic wish-list put out by a U.N. Agency, favoring sustainability and better economic opportunity for all. It's nothing mandatory, but gets used to create fears that local governments will swear fealty to UNESCO or something. 
The DASWCD also uses an unconstitutionally unequal voting scheme to keep the board from fairly representing us.

By contrast, in Belen we wanted to watch birds. Before dawn, we snuck into a great wildlife refuge on the outskirts of town. Later we realized Valencia County's SWCD was responsible for not only the refuge but a visitor center and education programs! There too, the chairman is an old rancher; but he understads the importance of conservation, to everyone. Our SWCD could have that kind of meaningful impact too.

The May 2 election involves two board seats. 
Zone 4 (City of Las Cruces) contains most of the district's population. Environmentalist Craig Fenske opposes land-developer Kent Thurston, whom the current board would like to see elected. As a county extension agent in Washington, Fenske worked closely with SWCDs on education. He says he first learned of SWCDs “as a child from my grandfather, an Iowa farmer and an early adopter of conservation practices.” Thurston has a record of pushing the County's Extra-Territorial Zoning Authority to allow higher-density residences on his land, not one of pushing conservation.

Zone 3 includes Talavera, Las Alturas, and points South (East of Highway 478). Kevin Bixby is challenging Chairman Delk. Bixby, founder and CEO of Southwest Environmental Center, has a long and thoughtful history of caring about our environment and acting to protect it. Delk has written that that “environmental cartels” seek “to elevate a secular spiritualism while suppressing and diminishing the presence and importance of Christian men and women.” He envisions SWCDs as “a bastion of conservative leaders” to oppose those “environmental cartels.” 
Delk says he's “a child of an all-powerful God,” but ignores the Biblical idea that in giving us this marvelous world God directed us to be faithful stewards of it.

Bixby advocates “simple, cost-effective things like rainwater harvesting and tree-planting” to help people and the environment. 
Please take time to vote for a more balanced and conservationist board that truly represents us.

[The above column appeared in the Las Cruces Sun-News this morning, Sunday, 23 April 2017, as well as on the newspaper's website [] and on KRWG's website; and recorded (and modified) versions of these columns air on KRWG Radio on Wednesdays at 7:45 a.m. and 4:45 p.m.]


Anthony Municipal Complex, 820 Highway 478
Chaparral: Betty McKnight Community Center, 190 S. County Line
Las Cruces: Dona Ana County Government Center, 845 N. Motel Blvd.
Las Cruces: Good Samaritan Village Social Center, 3011 Buena Vida Circle
Las Cruces: Sage Cafe Community Center, 6121 Reynolds Drive
Mesquite: Vado/Del Cerro Community Center,  180 La Fe Ave.

OPEN 7 a.m. to 7 p.m.

Note: Only Zones 3 and Zone 4 board-members are up for election this year: 

ZONE 3 is the area south of Highway 70- between Highway 478 (west) and the county line (east)
ZONE 4 is the City of Las Cruces.

There's no question about the responsibilities the DASWCD is intended to take on:

New Mexico Statute 73-20-26, "Legislative determination; purpose of act.", provides:

A.   Considered and resolved by legislative determination, it is declared that:   

(1)   the land, waters and other natural resources are the basic physical assets of New Mexico, and their preservation and development are necessary to protect and promote the health and general welfare of the people of the state;   

(2)   the improper use of land and related natural resources, soil erosion and water loss result in economic waste in New Mexico through the deterioration of the state's natural resources; and   

(3)   appropriate corrective and conservation practices and programs must be encouraged and executed in New Mexico to conserve and develop beneficially the soil, water and other natural resources of the state.   

B.   It is declared to be the policy of the legislature and the purpose of the Soil and Water Conservation District Act [73-20-25 through 73-20-48 NMSA 1978] to:   

(1)   control and prevent soil erosion;   

(2)   prevent floodwater and sediment damage;   

(3)   further the conservation, development, beneficial application and proper disposal of water;   

(4)   promote the use of impounded water for recreation, propagation of fish and wildlife, irrigation and for urban and industrial needs; and   

(5)   by the application of these measures, conserve and develop the natural resources of the state, provide for flood control, preserve wildlife, protect the tax base and promote the health, safety and general welfare of the people of New Mexico.   
Nowhere does the foregoing limit the group's charge to "supporting rancher's, whether or not the ranchers' activities promote conservation."  Nowhere did the Legislature invite the group to oppose most or all legitimate conservation proposals.

[Below, I'm reprinting Mr. Fenske's emailed announcement of his candidacy.  It's gratifying that he has actual experience working with soil and water conservation districts to help them fulfill their real functions:
[Fenske Campaign Announcement:]
Dear Friends and Neighbors,
I am delighted to announce I am a candidate for the Dona Ana Soil and Water Conservation District.  After the last election I committed to get involved and take action at the grassroots.  “Think globally, act locally” runs through my head and I decided this is a great way for me to “act locally”. 
I first learned about Conservation Districts as a child from my grandfather, an Iowa farmer and an early adopter of conservation practices.  As a county extension agent in Washington State I partnered with the local conservation district on education projects.  As the coordinator for Keep Las Cruces Beautiful for the City of Las Cruces I started the Tree Steward program, lead recycling education programs in Las Cruces schools and partnered with the community to organize cleanups and neighborhood beautification projects.  I am eager to apply my experience with our local conservation district to improve our quality of life in the Mesilla Valley.
In other parts of the country and even New Mexico, conservation districts are doing great things: 
  • La Ciudad SWCD in Bernalillo County, for example, has programs to promote backyard tree planting, stream restoration, master naturalist training, and rainwater harvesting.
  • In the Valencia SWCD the Whitfield Wildlife Conservation Area has been put into a permanent conservation easement with the USDA Natural Resources Conservation Services Wetlands Reserve Program for restoration and protection of the area. The VSWCD views the area as an excellent opportunity for conservation education for Valencia youth as well as drawing on ecotourism to bring an added economy to Valencia County.
But not here. Our conservation district has taken a different approach, choosing to squander its limited resources passing meaningless resolutions against things like the Organ Mountains-Desert Peaks National Monument, wilderness and Mexican wolves, while doing absolutely nothing to help people in our community care for our land and water. 

The election is Tuesday, May 2.  I've attached a flyer with details about where and when to vote, and a map showing the district boundaries.

I am asking for your support: 
  • If you live anywhere within the Las Cruces city limits (Zone 4), you can vote for me.
  • If you live in Zone 3 which includes Talavera, Las Alturas, south Main Street, and Chaparral, you can vote for Kevin Bixby, a great conservation candidate. 
  • Please tell your friends! Alert your networks! Spread the word on social media! Email the attached flyer! 
  • Check out our website:

I mention Joe Delk in the column. An earlier column discusses his apparent violation of the Open Meetings Act in his haste to oppose a government agency, and provides a link to  his comments about "environmental cartels, which can be found  here .
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