Sunday, October 16, 2016

A Vote for Merrie Lee Soules is a Vote for Southern New Mexico

U.S. Congressman Steve Pearce's extremism is out-of-step with his constituents, while Merrie Lee Soules promises us vigorous, competent, and thoughtful representation in Washington. 

Mr. Pearce consistently lets his ideological views outweigh our interest. He helped shut down the government, costing taxpayers at least $20 million*, simply to make a political statement he knew would fail, although Pearce poses as a prudent fiscal conservative. Even most Republicans in Washington can't stomach the nuttiness of Pearce and the “Freedom Caucus.” [* A friend informs me I was too kind to Pearce here, and that the official estimate by the Office of Management and Budge was that this senseless shutdown in 2013 cost us $2 billion.]

For someone who's taken an oath to defend the Constitution, he's way too cozy with the Bundys and others who oppose Constitutional federalism, sometimes violently, and put their personal interests above the public's.

The well-armed Bundy Bunch took over Malheur Wildlife Refuge in Oregon last year. Already in default on public grazing leases, the Bundys wanted the refuge “returned to the state” so ranchers could do as they wished with it. (The group's slogans about freedom reduce to grabbing ranchers' freedom at the expense of birders', hikers', and environmentalists' freedoms.) That Malheur was federal land -- with authorities trying to balance the interests of campers, hikers, hunters, ranchers, and environmentalists -- meant nothing, because the Bundys loath the U.S. Government.

So, it seems, does Pearce, who voiced sympathy with the takeover: "[P]eople in the West are furious. They're furious going into this situation. We're fed up." (But he said he was “not taking sides on the Bundys”!)

In 2011, Pearce backed Otero County's dangerous and futile challenge to the U.S. Government's Constitutionally granted power to manage federal lands. Otero County threatened to “treat” 1,500 acres of National Forest, and to arrest any U.S. official who interfered.

Wyoming had unsuccessfully made the same weak argument to U.S. appellate courts in 2002. But Pearce egged these guys on, echoing their contempt for the U.S. Government and the Constitution. The U.S. sensibly caved on a minor point to avoid threatened violence, then won handily in the courts. Pearce irresponsibly boasted of his participation and encouraged “other local areas” to emulate Otero County – days before the Court of Appeal summarily trashed Otero County's legal arguments.

These are odd positions to take when you've sworn allegiance to the United States. The quaint legal positions of the Sovereign Movement make little sense and have been rejected by the courts. Even the Bundys, now being tried for their crimes, are mighty silent about their ideology. If I were a misguided “patriot” facing criminal charges, wonder how I'd feel about Pearce egging me on from the safety of the sidelines – then making political capital out of my passion?

Pearce's politics also trump his decency: Trump disparages Mexicans and Mexican-Americans, and Pearce has called Trump's comments on women “horrid,” yet Pearce supports Trump. He tries to save face with his constituents by claiming he doesn't “endorse” Trump, but merely “supports” him – whatever that means. More double-talk.

He says he can't support Hillary Clinton because of Benghazi. Pearce and his conservative pals cut budgets, endangered diplomats' security, then made Clinton their scapegoat.

Merrie Lee Soules is forthright, hard-working, and constructive. She's already fighting for us: her intervention in the El Paso Electric rate case helped save us millions. 

Soules brings progressive values and decades of real-world business experience to the possible job of representing us in Congress. She'll carry Las Cruces, and may appeal as well to politically moderate businesspersons who might be ready to exchange Pearce's costly shenanigans for a more thoughtful, evidence-based approach. 

Let's elect someone who'll fight for us, not banks and oil companies; who combines progressive values with business sense; and who weighs evidence rather than obeying ideological biases.

[The column above appeared in the Las Cruces Sun-News and other newspapers today, Sunday, October 16, as well as on the newspaper's website and  on KRWG-TV's websiteI welcome comments, questions, and criticism here and/or on those sites.]

[I should note that I left messages for Mr. Pearce early Monday, inviting him to comment for the column, but never heard back from anyone.  There are questions I'd have liked to ask him, and I'd have liked to give him an opportunity to address what obviously seem to me problems with his candidacy; but his previous comments on these matters are a matter of record.]

[I mention the Otero County incident.  Otero County -- perhaps with reason -- disagreed about forest management.  That was a matter within Federal discretion.  Some in Otero County disputed that, even disputed Federal jurisdiction, and threatened to take action -- which could have led to violence.  The Feds compromised by allowing Otero County to take down some trees in a public "kickoff event," but only within a small area where the Feds had already marked some trees to be taken down.  This avoided potential violence while the case moved swiftly through the courts.
Pearce left no doubt where he stood: in a piece published in The New Mexican on September 26, 2011, he urged other local governments to "follow Otero County's lead so as to regain an alleged 20,000 logging jobs he claimed were lost when the spotted owl was listed as an endangered species."  His piece explained the law and the facts in somewhat idiotic fashion:

1. Despite the unambiguous Supremacy Clause in the U.S. Constitution, Pearce pontificated that "I  have continually said that forest management can only be done successfully if local government is an equal with the federal government."
FACT: The Supremacy Clause, for easy reference, reads:

This Constitution, and the Laws of the United States . . . shall be the supreme Law of the Land; and the Judges in every State shall be bound thereby, any Thing in the Constitution or Laws of any State to the Contrary notwithstanding.
The Senators and Representatives . . . both of the United States and of the several States, shall be bound by Oath or Affirmation, to support this Constitution; but no religious Test shall ever be required as a Qualification to any Office or public Trust under the United States.

In short, legally the local government is not an equal to the federal government with regard to managing public lands.  The Constitution says so pretty clearly, adding that people in Pearce's position must support that Constitution.

2. Pearce wrote, "Recent events in Otero County prove that local governments are more than capable of managing their lands.  Their plan was legal and . . . initiated what will hopefully be the renewal of the timber industry in New Mexico . . . If we can get local governments to take the initiative and tell the federal government that enough is enough."
FACT: Some of his pals and allies threatened violence.  Had the Federal Government been less patient, people might have died or been injured.  Perhaps innocent people would have been hurt.  Showing more good-sense than Pearce and his pals, the Feds agreed under pressure to let Otero County officials do a symbolic "kickoff" in a one-acre parcel where the Feds had already marked trees for cutting.  Then the Feds quickly consulted the courts.

3. Pearce added "[T]he U.S. Constitution specifies which powers are given to the federal government.  The 10th Amendment of the Constitution states that all powers not given to the federal government belong to the states and to the people.  The right to determine how the forest should be managed belongs to states, counties or the people.  It is a local issue that directly affects our homes, our communities, and our safety."

FACT: Four days later, the 10 Circuit Court of Appeal rejected these arguments on summary judgment.  That means the court didn't even have to bother with an actual trial.  Pearce's legal arguments were that lame.  He should have known (must have known?) those arguments weren't an accurate statement of the law, because the 10th Circuit had tossed out exactly the same arguments in a 2002 case where Wyoming sued the U.S. (showing more cool-headed judgment right there than Pearce and his pals did), claiming the right to vaccinate elk to protect local herds of cows from bruccellosus.   The 10th Circuit explained that the Supremacy Clause means what it says.
So the question remains, why did Pearce incite and encourage all this anti-governmental rhetoric, which wasted court time and resources and could have wasted a few lives, when he must have known it was all legally frivolous?  (I assume he knew that because I give him credit for being smart enough to talk to a lawyer; but perhaps I err.)]

[Pearce also backed the recent Malheur Refuge takeover, at least implicitly.

It's worth recalling the "cause" that the Bundys and Pearce used to justify action: local ranchers Dwight and Steven Hammond had set a fire to protect their land from an approaching fire, and had thereby damaged federal land (and endangered firefighters they knew were nearby).  Mandatory sentence for their conduct was five years' imprisonment.  A friendly judge reduced Dwight's five years to three months (and reduced Steven's I forget how much), which federal courts later rejected.
I loathe mandatory minimums.  Reading the account, it's easy at first to sympathize with the Hammonds; but the 2006 fire was their second known arson, as they had also started a fire (on federal property or their own, depending on whose view you buy) that burned 139 acres of public land.

Further, the elder Hammond apparently had assaulted a federal refuge staffer in 1994; had made death threats for years against refuge managers; repeatedly violated terms of permits and moved herds across the refuge without giving the requisite advance notice; often allowed his cattle to trespass on refuge streams for days, trampling new willow trees that crews had just planted; and evaded serious jail time only because of the intervention by the local Republican congressman.

In January 2016, Pearce voiced sympathy with the takeover, without actually condoning it: "[P]eople in the West are furious.  They're furious going into this situation.  Now I'm not taking sides on the Bundys.  I think that's a sideshow.  I think the Hammonds are the ones who have been badly treated, and that's what we're expressing in the West.  We're fed up."  It's worth noting that the tone and substance are sympathetic with the Bundy's, who are at that point committing crimes against the U.S. Government Pearce supposedly serves; and "I'm not taking sides on the Bundys" states flatly that he refuses to take the side of the U.S. Government against criminals. (Note that he did not say "I'm not taking the Bundy's side" or "I'm not taking sides with the Bundys.")

On January 7. 2016, Steve Pearce released a statement on the Malheur Refuge takeover stressing that "we understand their frustration with increasingly heavy-handed federal agencies that continue to violate the rights of hardworking American farmers and ranchers.  He stated that he did not condone the takeover; but as far as I can tell, he certainly didn't urge the out-of-state ranchers to abandon their illegal control of the Oregon refuge. 

At a NM Cattle-Growers Association meeting, a Pearce ally said of these eventa, "Two men accidentally burned 140 acres of tumblewoods and they are in prison in Oregon for five years mandatory for setting the fire." Pearce himself spoke moments later, saying "we are in a fight for our lives," adding that the government will not and cannot secure the border, they do not desire to secure it, and they have not secured it."
[FACT: the border protection is working much better than it did in the past.]]

[Few sane citizens realize there's actually a "Sovereign Movement" which holds that for some arcane legal reason having to do with the paperwork ending the Civil War, elected county sheriffs are actually the highest legitimate law-enforcement officers in the nation.  (Some county sheriffs tend to like that idea, and I learned about this stuff while I was looking into our previous sheriff's hiring of a gentleman named Seeberger.)

[If I were a Bundy cohort, or misguided patriot, pleading guilty to a crime, how would I feel about Steve Pearce egging me on from a safe spot on the sidelines -- then making political capital out of my passion and anger?]

As a citizen of this Congressional District I'll vote for Merrie Lee Soules with great delight.  She's so superior to Pearce that one friend of mine, after witnessing their recent debate in Las Cruces, said he "almost felt sorry for Pearce."  She's a longshot.  Pearce has an abundance of money from banks and oil and gas companies and the National Rifle Association.  But each vote counts.  And Pearce's support for Trump, who appalls even most Republicans, ought to weaken his credibility, particularly here.

Tuesday, October 11, 2016

More Images from around Home

I've been too busy to post something like this recently, with a crazy legal case going on and Sunday columns to investigate and write and a bunch of other stuff; but here's a sort of quick-shot gallery of some of the images around home the past few weeks.

Living where we live is an important aid in staying who we are, or would like to be.  A trip outside to feed the birds or take a couple of pails of water down to the compost bin or take a leak on some nutrient-starved little plant turns into a moment of wonder.
The sun will be hitting some flower just the right way or the hummingbirds will be performing their aerial dances or the vinegaroons mating near the front door -- or a rainbow is decorating the mountains.
I tried a couple of treatments of this rainbow, and liked this one.

The cactus flowers below, I haven't tried transforming into faux toes.  Still, I guess I felt like they might be lonely, or feel slighted, if I didn't let them come join the others in the gallery.


These guys have taken off for Cabo or somewhere,
leaving the milder-mannered hummers who winter with us.

I'd rather no feeder, but a hesperaloe or California fuchsia, but getting three or four of these fellas together, and in focus, is always fun.

I don't photograph a lot of white-winged doves.  They're the big guys who get in the way of my images of house finches, pyrrhaloxia, black-throated sparrows, and quail.  (The quail are comical figures.)

But one morning the sun happened to catch this guy when most everything around him was dark.  
 Meanwhile, more hummers . . .
Anyway, here are a bundle of recent images I meant to post here a couple of weeks ago.  Time keeps moving way too fast.  I keep expecting to hear the astronomers or physicists or someone announce that things have sped up in the universe, but it could just be my own vast age.
The familiarity of the red rose doesn't keep me from appreciating it every time the light catches a blossom in a slightly different way. 
This is our view East, just before sunset.  It's also exactly where the full moon rises, at certain points in the year.


Like in Ireland

Like in Ireland
Early one morning just walking back up from the goat pen, where the compost and worms now live, the desert after some decent rains suddenly looked like Ireland or something, all this lovely green.

This is how the photo looked, without any playing around.

Rose at Sunset

Mexican Hat


Yellow Butterfly

Clouds above Mountains at Sunset

New Mexico Sunset #83

The Moon Near Full

Red Sky at Night?

Sunday, October 9, 2016

New Mexico Should End its Marijuana Prohibition

Bennett Hertzler lived in my college dorm freshman year. I didn't know him well. Sweet-natured, gentle guy. In a dorm sweep in the spring of 1965, police found a few marijuana seeds in his desk drawer. He went to jail for years. Miserable experience. He was never the same. Died young.

The War on Drugs grew out of the 1960's.

Many citizens were scared. White and black young people were going around together, and demanding fair treatment for all. Long-haired students listened to strange music and questioned why we were killing Vietnamese. The generation that had lived through the Depression and World War II, and worshiped safety and security, was shocked when its sons and daughters chose change and adventure. 

Now, even the Republican elder statesmen who advocated the War on Drugs acknowledge that it failed. But back then it was a convenient way to control blacks and progressives. Can't bust 'em for their thoughts or words? Catch 'em with a joint.

There never was a good reason for outlawing marijuana. It's more benign than alcohol. The country had tried prohibiting alcohol, for good reasons, but it didn't work. Made criminals of most young people, increased bribery and corruption, and lessened respect for law enforcement. Prohibition made drinking more fun.

Same with marijuana. 

In this year's special session, called so that New Mexico's “leaders” can discuss how to make ends meet with oil and gas income down, Bill McCamley is saying. “Let's legalize marijuana and tax it. It'll add 10,000 more jobs and $400 million to our economy, and probably add $40 million to the state's tax revenues.” (The Governor, having no good answer for our economic woes, is trying to distract us with capital punishment.)

Our urgent need for revenue is just one reason for legalization. We spend $33 million a year processing marijuana criminal cases, when we could be reaping $40 million in taxes.

Marijuana laws, even with lightened penalties for personal use, still destroy lives.

Marijuana does people no significant harm. I've known many people who've smoked grass daily for decades and have remained bright, thoughtful members of society. When I was younger, friends regularly got stoned and went to work. (I never could. Grass was great for manual chores, but try being a reporter when you keep laughing uncontrollably every time you try to ask a question. I gave the stuff up decades ago.)

The claim that marijuana “leads to stronger drugs” is a gross oversimplification. Most of us got hooked on chocolate and drank booze before we tried grass, so you could say the same about those “drugs.” If marijuana has led some people toward stronger drugs, maybe that's because laws undermined the credibility of parents and police and forced us into the arms of the bootleggers. When we could see grass did no harm (and impaired driving far less than booze did) the arguments against it sounded like “if you masturbate, you'll go blind.” 

Instead of destroying kids' lives and undermining parents' and cops' authority, why not reap some of the benefits Colorado and Washington enjoy? 

This shouldn't be a partisan issue. We all need that tax revenue. We all want the government not to interfere with our Constitutional rights to liberty and the pursuit of happiness without a real strong state interest to justify that interference.

Here, the smoker's fun can help the States' budget. 

Republicans refuse to hear McCamley's bill. Like kids screaming and covering their ears to avoid hearing that it's bedtime. Hearings on the bill would reveal how sensible it is!

So speak up to your legislator and our lame-duck governor.

[The above column appeared in the Las Cruces Sun-News this morning, Sunday, 9 October, 2016, as well as on the newspaper's website, and on KRWG-TV's website.  I welcome comments, questions, and criticisms here or on those sitesAlready a Dr. David Allen has added an interesting comment on the KRWG website regarding the importance of marijuana-related health research being "delayed by politics."  He adds a link to a paper on the endocannabinoid system -- a paper on which I have as yet no opinion, not having read it or having time to do so this morning, but it looks interesting.]

[Is it cynical to conclude that the bottom lines are, as usual, greed tinged with ethnic bias?  By any measure, sustained and significant use of alcohol does far more long-term damage to folks than sustained and significant use of marijuana does.  Demonstrably, as I mention in the column, driving interferes more seriously with driving than marijuana does, and its effects tend to strengthen with the passing minutes and hours, while marijuana's impairment lifts with time.   Yet alcohol is all around, advertised on TV and readily available.  (And I'm not suggesting we try to prohibit it again.  But I will note that in some parts of the country support for prohibition 100 years ago was based on the belief that prohibition would help control the blacks.)  Isn't the disparate treatment of these substances largely that big-money interests would be hurt by making booze illegal, while other folks are making so much money off marijuana's illegality that they'd rather keep the stuff outlawed?  The private prison industry and others would be hurt by legalization, and (again, as with alcohol prohibition) the bootleggers don't want to see any such change.]

[I mention that I don't see this as a partisan issue, but that Bill McCamley introduced a bill recently that Republicans refused to hear.  In briefly researching this column I learned that a bill to legalize marijuana was introduced in Texas last year -- by a Republican, David Simpson.  His essay The Christian Case for Drug Law Reform articulates his position, and should be interesting to any sincere Christian whose doubtful about this issue.  His bill passed the Texas House Criminal Jurisprudence Committee 5-1.]

[Will Texas outsmart New Mexico?  I sure hope not.]

[Early this morning as I walked back up to the house from the compost bin, I was greeted by a text message suggesting "Peter Goodman for President, Bill McCamley for Vice-President," but I replied that while grateful for the thought I'd leave that to Bill.]

Sunday, October 2, 2016

Football: great game, but . . .

How does it feel to be a 21st Century football fan?

I loved playing football and baseball as a kid. 

I've watched the NFL for decades. I was a New York City cabdriver when Joe Namath and the Jets shocked the world by beating the highly-favored Baltimore Colts. I moved to San Francisco in 1980 – just in time for the Niners' first Super Bowl, as Joe Montana helped rescue them out of years of mediocrity. 

But the facts are the facts about what the game does to its best players – including the way repeated concussions can destroy a brain. “Yeah, he got his bell rung!” coaches used to laugh. 

Jim McMahon, who threw his first college touchdown pass against UTEP, then won two Super Bowls, has early-stage dementia at 53. Star linebacker Junior Seau, 43, committed suicide after texting his family to have his brain scanned for damage. Thurman Thomas, who played in four straight Super Bowls, is 50, suffering from uncontrollable mood swings and sometimes getting confused about where he is while driving a road he drives every day. Doctors say Thomas's brain looks as if his head went through a windshield multiple times at high speed. Brett Favre says he wouldn't let his kid play football. 

I feel uncomfortable watching football now. Like Favre, though without his credibility, if asked, I'd likely discourage a kid from playing. But my warnings would be as ineffectual as the ones I got against driving too fast, drinking too much, falling in love too easily, or going to remote or dangerous places.

I wonder when the mild discomfort of watching younger men destroy their bodies and brains for our amusement, like modern-day gladiators, will morph into guilt. Will we soon conclude that by watching football we're abetting a nefarious scheme that destroys young men's lives in order to sell billions of dollars of beer, sugar-filled sodas, poisoned hamburgers, and what-not? 

I'm not taking a political position here. 

I'm trying to figure out where I stand in relation to the ugly truth that's emerging.

I follow the game with a little less interest now. Sure, the Niners, run by egotistical baboons, shot themselves in the foot by firing Jim Harbaugh. And I'm aging, perhaps even maturing. But I'm also uneasy about what the game does to people's health. 

Then there's the social cost. Football injures affect not only players, but their families – and ultimately, the rest of us. Many who suffer brain injuries will burden our over-stressed health system. Some will become public charges. Sure, the luckiest or most skillful players are extravagantly well-paid; but for every player with a zillion-dollar contract, there are thousands of kids who are unlucky enough to suffer serious brain injuries without getting closer to the professional game than a 30th-row seat. All to what end? 

Someday we'll face the ugliness head on. It was ugly when TV-advertisers reaped zillions of dollars by promising kids that smoking cancer-sticks was glamorous and cool and would help a kid get somewhere with girls. It's ugly that selling beer by associating it with sexy women objectifies women as sexual products in men's eyes -- and messes up young girls' self-images. 

So as the Aggies play their first conference home-game, and as everyone breaks out the Trojans and Bulldawgs banners, let me play crotchety old man. I haven't given up watching football. I haven't forgotten how glorious it felt to play the game, or how much I wished to be a better player. But if I'd played better then, perhaps I couldn't have written this as coherently today.

[The above column appeared in the Las Cruces Sun-News this morning, Sunday, 2 October 2016, as well as on the newspaper's website the newspaper's website, and will appear presently on the KRWG-TV website as well.  Please feel free to comment here or on either of those other sites.  And thanks for readingFor football fans, apologies for typing in "Green Bay Pakcers" instead of "Baltimore Colts" -- it was the Colts, with the great Johnny Unitas and coached by Don Shula, who lost to Namath and the Jets, to our delight.  Green Bay I think had won the first two Super Bowls by big margins, over Oakland and Kansas City, before the American Football League finally won one.]

[I'm not advocating anyone outlaw football tomorrow.  More, I'm musing on a present in which our awareness of its dangers, or our willingness to deal with those, lags way behind their importance -- and on a future when, if leagues and teams and coaches and schools and parents don't deal with the realities, football might be outlawed or a lot less popular.  I'm aware that some local schools and coaches don't abide by rules to protect their kids, but also that the kids are the last to insist on that.  I'd never have wanted to come out of a game of any kind for any reason!  Still not too keen on it.]

[I mentioned to a friend at Farmers' Market yesterday that today's column was on football.  He made a face and told me he loathed sports.  That's not an unreasonable position, particularly when sports so dominate academics and other concerns at so many institutions of learning.  But it ain't my position.  I'm addicted to playing sports and I'll watch professional baseball, maybe a little football, and maybe even a little golf on TV today.  But I also understand the downsides of sports, which are not limited to injuries.]

Sunday, September 25, 2016

My Takes on the 2016 Races for County Clerk and County Treasurer

The Doña Ana County Clerk and Treasurer races each present an obvious choice – the Democrat and the Republican, respectively. 

Deputy County Clerk Scott Krahling faces Maria Rodriguez. Deputy County Treasurer Eric Rodriguez faces former treasurer's office employee Jill Johnson. 

In each race the deputy's history is adequate grounds for decision. 

Mr. Krahling is a competent and enthusiastic deputy to Clerk Lynn Ellins. He's worked to ensure honest and relatively smooth elections. He also personally initiated a non-partisan task force to audit office procedures and make recommendations to the NM Secretary of State to enhance protection of personal data in the state system. Then he initiated a non-partisan “get out the vote” committee, headed by a noted Republican who had run against Ellins four years ago.

Eric Rodriguez was appointed deputy in January, after Treasurer David Gutierrez fired Deputy Clerk Rene Barba for refusing to promise that, if elected, he would appoint Gutierrez his deputy. That cost the County $$ to settle Barba's lawsuit. Barba had also refused to cover up Gutierrez's sexual misconduct: Gutierrez sexually harassed an employee, and the County shelled out, again, to settle her lawsuit.

Gutierrez's conduct would be a crime in most states. His refusal to resign insults all of us. Appointing Rodriguez suggests maybe Rodriguez made the promise Barba refused to make. No way you and I should keep paying Gutierrez. Rodriguez has not denied with sufficient certainty that he'd hire Gutierrez. That removes him from consideration. Absolutely.

Jill Johnson brings highly pertinent experience to the race for treasurer. She was an internal auditor with the County and worked in the treasurer's office. (Her whistleblower lawsuit was a third settlement Gutierrez cost us!)

Johnson spent 25 years with Caterpillar, in accounting and audit-related positions. At Caterpillar and at the County, she has consistently pushed for common-sense innovations. She improved the efficiency of the Treasurer's Office by working closely with IT to coordinate reports. She also made it possible for citizens to use debit or credit cards to pay. If elected, she'd work to enable monthly payments.

Eric Rodriguez is a charming young man. He was a bank teller and loan officer. If he had sworn never even to consider Gutierrez as a possible deputy, this race might be a tougher call, although Johnson would still have the edge in experience; but he didn't. He and Gutierrez were photographed putting up signs together during the primary. How much more might Gutierrez cost us in attorney fees, settlements, and abused female employees? 

A long-time paralegal, Maria Rodriguez has been appointed magistrate and administrative law judge. She seems a good person. A friend speaks highly of her paralegal work.

But her lack of experience in the clerk's office is troubling. She knows more than most citizens, but lacked real answers to several questions. She said New Mexico has a law requiring everyone to carry ID. I couldn't find it. She seems to favor requiring voters to have picture IDs, even though it might disenfranchise some people and voter fraud is as rare as unicorns. Her main campaign point is that an employee misused the state voter records system to copy personal information to commit a crime. That happened – facilitated by state records containing full social security numbers. I've seen no evidence the Clerk was careless. Krahling's response has been exemplary.

The next clerk takes office January 1, with a school board election February 7. Why trade Krahling's extensive experience and good ideas for someone who'd have to learn on the job?

Krahling sets a high standard that Ms. Rodriguez can't meet. Rodriguez (with Gutierrez looming behind him) sets a low bar Johnson clears easily.
[The column above appeared in the Las Cruces Sun-News this morning, Sunday, 25 September 2016, as well as on the newspaper's website and on the KRWG-TV website.]

[Couple of further notes from right after I sent the column in to the newspaper.  First, at Thursday's PVA session Eric Rodriguez said he will not appoint David Gutierrez to any position in the County Clerk's Office.  Second, I took a look at the recent John Birch Society event here, which is worth a column of its own, and found that Maria Rodriguez and her husband were listed among the generous supporters.]  

[Eric Rodriguez didn't mention Gutierrez's sexual misconduct or the three settlements Gutierrez cost us; Gutierrez is, after all, Rodriguez's mentor; but Rodriguez did assert unambiguously that if he became County Treasurer he'd not hire Gutierrez.  He seems a good kid.  I wish him well.  But for this race this year, Johnson -- though I disagree with her on a lot of political issues, vigorously -- still seems the better bet for the office, based on the breadth of her experience.

[The John Birch event was billed as "Support your Local Police" but was a front for the old right-wing hate group.  (Forty years ago, JBS opposed equal rights for blacks, and integration.)
The event had nothing to do with supporting police officers in any meaningful sense.  Rather, it concerned the JBS's paranoid fantasy that the feds are trying to do away with local and state police and have a federal police force.  (JBS asserts that a current program to fund further training of police is a sly step toward absolute federal control.)  The group also said Communists were behind the Occupy Wall Street demonstrations -- just as the group used to say the civil rights movement, aimed at integration and voting rights in the U.S. in the '60's, was Communist.   I was in that one.  It was a mostly bunch of good-hearted young people appropriately pissed off at racism and segregation and hoping to change things.  Communism was irrelevant.  It's even more irrelevant now, when it's been pretty much discredited everywhere.  But this hate group still wants to put everyone who disagrees with it in the "Communist" box so as to avoid actually confronting sometimes difficult questions.
Invitations to the event here a couple of weeks ago listed "sponsors" and "supporters" of whom some had no clue the thing was a JBS event.  (My friend and former client Earl Nissen says he has contacted several of these folks, and that so far two of the six "sponsors have said they had no intention of supporting JBS.  So have several "generous supporters."]  
[Naturally I asked Maria Rodriguez about her support of JBS.  She responded that she had no idea who John Birch was.  I told her, and told her a little about the group.  She said she just sought to get her name out there, since she's running for office.  I urged her to take a look at the JBS and let me know whether it's a group she supports or would disclaim any interest in.  She called back, still not knowing much about JBS, and said she hadn't intended to endorse any group.  Apparently JBS suckered her, as it did the others. I believe she had no intention of supporting JBS.  
[More generally, I'm curious who among the "sponsors" really supports the group and who doesn't.   I'm betting most of our local businesses and individuals are more decent than that, and were gulled into helping JBS because they felt, as most of just do, that police officers need support right now.  Personally, I think it's possible to support police officers, and try to help them, without being racist -- as it is to support better treatment of blacks without buying the idea that all police officers are racist.  They are not.]

[Ms. Rodriguez also elaborated on her view that people should vote for her because of the identity theft committed by employees in the clerk's office.  It did indeed happen while Mr. Ellins and Mr. Krahling were running the office.  However, the vulnerability and temptation were created by a statewide way of handling such information; no one has pointed me to any evidence of particular laxness by Mr. Krahling, let alone any involvement; and Ellins and Krahling acted definitely and appropriately in responding to the problem.] 

Sunday, September 18, 2016

Let's Listen to Each Other!

Too many people treat politics and government like a football game.

My team is my team no matter what. So what if the tight end attacked a 90-year-old man? They're the 'Niners, man.

Politics oughtta be different. Local politics above all. We're neighbors. But some people see everything in black and white. Or red and blue. 

Someone on Facebook called Julia Brown “the worst county manager ever.” I disagreed. I've criticized her in columns, but she's smart, and I suspect she's hard-working. (I lack enough first-hand information to decide how I'd vote on extending her contract; but with the imminent change of commissioners, a three-year extension doesn't seem wise. An outgoing school board did that with Stan Rounds, which upped the cost to the public when the next board told Rounds to take a hike.)

When I replied that Brown definitely wasn't “the worst county manager ever,” someone said I was in favor of her because we both went to PVA meetings (I usually do. She was there once or twice to announce something.), and that I believed everything Billy Garrett told me.

I like and respect Billy Garrett. He's a smart guy, knows a lot about local government, and works incredibly hard as county commissioner. But I've disagreed with him strongly and publicly. 

Commissioner Ben Rawson's political views differ strongly from mine. I didn't vote for him. I'm appalled by some of what he says, and how he says it, but he appears to listen to his constituents. 

Barack Obama seems a smart and caring fellow with an astonishingly good temperament for the Presidency; but I've disagreed strongly with him on many issues, notably the Trans-Pacific Partnership, and thought he relied too much on Wall Street types for advice on repairing our economy. I like that he's tried to avoid the pitfall of prejudging every foreign-policy situation based on ideology or a personal agenda; but recognize that such an approach can slip into uncertainty and lack of direction.

We're all imperfect. We're human. I try to listen to everyone with an open mind and make up my mind based on evidence. I still get things wrong sometimes.

Of course, some politicians make this hard. Reading Steve Pearce's recent op-ed about Rick Riscoria acting heroically in the World Trade Center fifteen years ago, I thought “I actually agree with Pearce about something!” Unfortunately, he segued into a partisan and misleading rant claiming that Obama created ISIS. Does he really not remember that the Bush administration lied about Iraq to start a war – and Congresspeople on both sides of the aisle, who should have known better, went along happily? I was disappointed, but not surprised, that instead of mourning our dead, Pearce turned a solemn subject into a dishonest bit of self-promotion.

And the temper of the times disfavors thoughtfulness. If you advocate better understanding between police and the communities they serve, you're labeled a cop-hater – even if you have friends in law enforcement and work with law enforcement officers every week. (Count me as one who thought it stupid and tasteless for Hillary to say that Donald's supporters were “deplorables.” Preferring Clinton to Trump doesn't require me to agree with all she says.)

I wish the paper could print this column without my name. Maybe we should read all newspaper columns without knowing who wrote them until we've finished reading. If we read the words, and assess the words, rather than spotting someone's name and going into attack mode, maybe we'd find some middle ground.

Think of it as working together to keep the stadium from falling down on both teams.

[The column above appeared in the Las Cruces Sun-News and possibly other newspapers this morning, Sunday, 18 September, and on the newspaper's website (where someone has already advised me that I am a pathetic columnist who is destroying the county) as well as KRWG-TV's website.]

[None of the above means I don't plan to vote for Hillary Clinton, don't think Donald Trump poses a unique threat to our democracy, or don't hold to values that tend to emphasize social concerns over pure capitalism, freedom over conformity or repression, as well as candor, openness in government, and the like.  I just get uncomfortable dismissing whole groups of people, or ignoring them.  I actually believe in free speech as central to our democracy, and in free, fair, and open discussion of ideas as a way to get to truths which may not be quite what anyone thought they were before the discussion.] 

[Locally, we cannot afford to let differing political opinions become feuds.  Doesn't mean we shouldn't each fight for what we believe is right.  I sure do.  But why should someone's unappetizing beliefs blind me to the good that person does or the laughs we have in the midst of disagreeing -- or the fact that I may learn something from him or her?  That's why I found the duplicitous municipal recall effort so unfortunate.  It crossed some line between disagreeing on facts and courses and used flat-out lies and vicious tactics.  I feel the same about "attack ads" that try to win election by last-minute false and scurrilous newspaper ads.  But I still can't afford not to take my best shot at civil discourse with the people responsible for those.
I've seen a couple of recent examples of folks from different places on the political spectrum working together: after an employee in the County Clerk's Office committed crimes, Deputy City Clerk Scott Krahling reached out to Russell Allen and other Republicans to participate in a committee to look at procedures in the office and see whether additional safeguards might be usefully implemented; and a similar bipartisan committee has worked on getting out the vote.  Some of my Democratic friends understandably criticized that, but it was probably a sensible move.  In advocating a Detention Center Citizens Advisory Committee, I found that it was championed on the Commission by Billy Garrett, but Allen and other conservatives, who are generally skeptical of governments and in favor of citizens getting a look at things, also favored the creation of the committee.]


Sunday, September 11, 2016

Further Thoughts on the County's Settlement with Chris Barela

The recent op-ed defending the County's $201,000 settlement with Detention Center Director Chris Barela was sincere and made some valid points. The County Commission genuinely feels it dodged an expensive bullet by settling with Barela. 

But questions remain.

In late 2013, it appeared that Barela had committed breaches of duty that might constitute crimes. Some were reported to authorities by a commissioner and others. Some had been reported to county management earlier, in detailed writings.

A state police investigation ensued. Too much time passed. Some say that the state police sat on it. At least one state police source suggested it was the District Attorney's fault. Eventually DASO investigated. 

Sheriff Kiki Vigil probably should have recused himself. He was already at odds with the County Manager and Commission. Two of his most generous campaign contributors ran private prisons, we later learned. (See March 2016 column.) I've learned since that Vigil articulated (and may still hold) an intention to take over the Detention Center. 

Vigil was not the ideal person to investigate Barela; and the showy arrest, and transportation of Barela to a distant county were unnecessary. 

Still, that investigation by two DASO deputies was thorough. While some of the apparently criminal conduct was time-barred and couldn't be prosecuted now, the investigation uncovered evidence of other possible violations. 

Barela is legally innocent of crimes; but we can still question his conduct and that of other public officials. 

Commissioner Billy Garrett's op-ed takes too much comfort from the grand jury's failure to indict Barela. If prosecutors felt some charges wouldn't sufficiently impress a criminal trial jury, that doesn't mean the alleged actions weren't taken. Statutes of limitations prevent criminal charges, but not administrative discipline. Further, as neither commissioners nor I sat on that grand jury, we don't know why it made certain choices, or even whether it heard all the witnesses it should have heard.
I can't make a reasoned decision on Mr. Barela's guilt unless and until I read the entire investigatory file. I won't rely on others' varying accounts of the facts.

A seasoned magistrate, who has a law degree and is not known (at least by me) to be aligned with any party in county government's civil war, signed the warrants. A seasoned and hard-working prosecutor believed this was a good case. These facts would have weakened Barela's false-arrest claim.

I know too much and too little. I know that Vigil had extraneous reasons to want Barela arrested and convicted, but did those reasons motivate the Sheriff's (mis)conduct? I know that other officials might wish to rub Vigil's nose in this mess by settling generously with Barela; but did those wishes help bring about the settlement? 

I watched the County fight tooth and nail against other employees. It offered no viable settlements to Jorge Granados or Kim Stewart. When two juries gave them ringing endorsements, the County appealed, on dubious grounds. (New Mexico Association of Counties was apparently making decisions in those cases, not the County. NMAC invoked a contractual exclusion to refuse coverage against Barela's claim, leaving the County on its own. Thus it's probably not fair to conclude that the County dealt more generously with Barela because he was one of the gang or knew where the bodies were buried.)

Did an overzealous Vigil screw this up? Did political considerations lessen prosecutorial vigor? Was embarrassing Vigil a motive for the settlement or just a happy by-product for some county officials?
I don't know. I do know that Barela is neither as evil as some detractors charge nor as guiltless as some supporters say. Most of us aren't.

[The above column appeared in the Las Cruces Sun-News and other newspapers this morning, Sunday, 11 September.  It's also up on the newspaper's website (supposed to be, anyway) and will soon be up on KRWG-TV's website.]
[September 11!  It snuck up on me this year, that this was the 15th anniversary of that terrible morning.  I was actually in the Library of Congress that morning, researching.  An underground passage away from Congress.  They told us we had to leave -- but not why.  But people knew.  As I motorcycled away from the Capitol, toward where I stayed, there was a humongous traffic jam, of course.  I was grateful for the motorcycle's small size and maneuverability.  At supper that night, we could see the smoke from the Pentagon, still.  For days, people tended to stay in their houses, and numerous military helicopters swarmed overhead.]
[The next morning I motorcycled downtown.  Almost no one was out, except police and military folks.  I had to park further from the Lincoln Memorial than usual.  Security.  But I could walk to it. It was dawn.  None of the usual tourists and joggers.  Just me and the cops and soldiers -- and this one guy, doing his job.  While everyone else was trembling at home, in fear of going down to where the bad guys might strike again, he was just doing his job:]

[I should have written about September 11th in this morning's column.  And a glance at the morning paper, in which Steve Pearce misuses the heroism of everyday people by suggesting it shows that everything is Barack Obama's fault, tells me I'll remedy that omission next Sunday.]