Sunday, November 27, 2016

The Undefeated - a Visit with Merrie Lee Soules

I had lunch with Merrie Lee Soules recently.

She wasn't wallowing in whatever pain she felt over losing a hard-fought Congressional Race to the oil-and-gas funded incumbent. 

She was already working on her direct testimony before the PRC opposing El Paso Electric's continued efforts to game the system in ways that cost you and me. EPE has plenty of money and plenty of lawyers. Citizens and customers have the City, the County, and four intervenors. She's one. EPE is expected to seek extra money for additional power plants. One source alleges that EPE has overcharged $100 million on fuel costs in the past three years. 

Ms. Soules spoke not of where she'd been but where we New Mexicans are going. She expressed concern that the Democratic legislature might be too accustomed to playing defense, and not quite ready to pass all the right measures and worry later about whether the lame-duck governor vetoes some of them. Or all of them. And she was a fount of useful ideas to get our economy going again.

These included taking full advantage of our potential as an international crossroads, rather than quivering in fear because we live near a border; ending oil and gas subsidies; getting money circulating to improve the economy, partly by improving the minimum wage; and legalizing marijuana, a much discussed boon to New Mexico's economy.

When I finally asked about the campaign, her beaming face confirmed her words, that she had “no regrets” – except that failing to win might have “let down” some folks. “It was a new adventure every day.”

What did she learn?

 “My heart really is in southern New Mexico.” She marveled at “how vast, how beautiful, and how diverse this district is.” She added that the campaign experience was so rich and varied, “I wished we could make a reality TV show out of it.”

What moments stood out?

The All-Pueblo Council of Governors. It struck her that “in this meeting of nations, there are the heads of sovereign nations meeting together to work together in the interest of their people, their culture, their lands. What an amazing privilege to be there!” 

A Mescalero Apache woman invited her to a Feast / Celebration. The day before the parades and dancing her guide escorted her into teepees and arbors set up to celebrate five young girls reaching womanhood. Ms. Soules was introduced to people and helped to understand what was going on and why. 

In Rodeo, a small boot-heel community, “There was a convention of 200 people there, to celebrate the life of a recently deceased herpetologist. They'd been out all day gathering samples. The main presentation concerned snake venom research.” 

She said that pretty much everyone she met while campaigning was deeply committed to doing the right thing for New Mexico – whatever they thought that might be. “We had big differences of opinion; but it wasn't good and bad, black and white. Everyone seemed intent on doing the best for their community and state – as they conceive it.”

She found our Congressional District “filled with people who have stories to tell, fascinating people, good people. It's been a blessing.”

Our talk increased my regret that we'd all lost the opportunity to have Ms. Soules representing us in Washington. (Vastly underfunded, she carried this county handily, but lost the election decisively.) That's our loss. She's a tough-minded businesswoman with a big heart, with our interests foremost.
The fact that she's wasting no time and is already deeply involved in her next fight on our behalf only illustrates the magnitude of our loss.

[The column above appeared in the Las Cruces Sun-News (or so I assume, not having wandered out to the mailbox yet) this morning, Sunday, 27 November 2016, and will appear presently on the newspaper's website and the KRWG-TV website.]

Sunday, November 20, 2016


What I think changes the world, for each of us, is being grateful.

We are so often not. We are so often focused on what we've lost, or think we've lost; or what others have that we suppose might make us happier; or on people we suppose to be enemies. There is a lot of pain to be had, in a huge, indifferent universe that barely notices us, with time and technology speeding far beyond what we can comprehend. We are insignificant creatures clinging briefly to this planet.

Yet that is also an incredible privilege. Just walking down to the compost bin with a couple of buckets of water as the sun sets, as nameless feathery grasses glow in the rich light, glancing at the reddening mountains, thinking over a day full of friends, I am suddenly grateful. Then at the front of the house I watch the love of my life hula-hooping to the mailbox to get the mail and the morning paper. The comic joy of it cannot be captured in the photograph I instinctively shoot. 

I do not know what this world is. I don't fully trust those who feel certain they do, although it's certainly fine with me if you want to thank God or Allah or the Great Spirit. But do thank someone, or something. Science has taught us that folks who laugh freely and hard every day live longer. It may also be so with gratitude. Certainly it feels better to recognize how lucky you are than get obsessed with the transitory nature of it all, or a tragic presidential election.

I do have two theories I like to play with. One is that this earth is a toy that a child is playing with in some other world that's much more complex than we can imagine. At any moment s/he may toss it away; so live as fully and as well as you can, each moment. As Dogen put it, “At each moment, do not rely on tomorrow. Think of this day and this day only, because the next moment is uncertain and unknown.”

I first read those words on a train crossing northern China. As I read them, the train screeched and shuddered to a sudden halt. Immediately below my window, a blue-clad peasant lay dying. Hit by the train. Urine was spreading on the ground under him or her. Villagers or officials and trainmen gathered a few yards away, exchanging cigarettes. Dozens of fellow passengers nearly crushed me trying to get a better view.

The universe had illustrated Dogen's words in a unique way.

My second theory is that the denizens of some more sophisticated world take human form on this Earth for periods of time. I have not quite figured out whether they do this merely as a game – a far more complex and challenging one than the best-crafted video games – or whether there's a deeper purpose. Perhaps they do it to improve themselves. Perhaps they sign up for particular human lives, forgetting their “real” world the moment they're born here, and must remain here until they accomplish some particular thing, or reach some particular plateau of wisdom or goodness, when they are suddenly released back to the world from whence they -- we? -- came. 

It seems as least as reasonable as the Christian or ancient Greek concepts.

But if you believe something else, fine! 

What matters is to recognize that each moment, as a highly imperfect being in this highly imperfect world, is beautiful. And not to assume you or I deserve any credit for that.

[The column above appeared in the Las Cruces Sun-News this morning, Sunday, 20 November, as well as on the newspaper's website and KRWG-TV's website.  I hope folks enjoy it.]

[This column kind of wrote itself.  I came back up from the compost bin and sat down, and it just happened.]

[I doubt I'd ever have written any such thing before meeting my wife.  She knows about gratitude.  In fact, early in our relationship, in a city far from here, she took me to the Gratitude Cafe.  I don't know as I so consistently recognized life as something to be grateful for, until now.  She's not only made me more grateful for life, but she's also a great example.  I was not thinking when I wrote this column that this week would be Thanksgiving.]

[Dogen (Dogen Zenji, or Kigen Dogen), by the way, was a 13th Century Japanese writer, poet, and philosopher who was dissatisfied with Buddhism as it was practiced in Japan, traveled to China to find a more authentic version, and founded the Sōtō Soto School of Zen.  Zen, of course, emphasizes being truly present and mindful in the moment, each moment.

Some years ago, when I was playing around with such things, I fashioned this, and a copy hangs on a wall here:

Thinking about how we get here reminds me that much earlier, when I lived on a boat off San Francisco, I photographed one morning my good friend Gary (who lived on the next boat over, and who died last year) and his daughter; I liked the way the early-morning sunlight accentuated the difference between his lined face and her fresh one; and as in those days I often photographed the dawn or a rainbow or whatever, then matched it with a poem, I made this:

                 Dawn loves my daughter.
                Neither she nor the new sun
                speaks of the past lives
                through which they found their ways here.
                Yet I hear them whispering.


Sunday, November 13, 2016

How Bad Will It Be?

We're in deep manure.

Fortunately, I live in Doña Ana County. Trump's snake oil didn't sell here. We elected good people to the statehouse: Nathan Small, Angelica Rubio, Jeff Steinborn, Rudy Martinez; and, finally, Joanne Ferrary beat the Doctor! We defied oil companies and banks. 

But millions of voters were sufficiently angry or distressed to toss the U.S. Government in the toilet. They had reasons. (Had Clinton won, I'd still be urging both parties to take seriously the disaffection expressed in votes for Bernie and Trump.) 

People knew Trump was an unqualified wack-job. But they disliked Hillary and “the Establishment.” They wanted to punch both in the nose. They liked Trump for being a bull in a china shop; but they (and we) live in that china shop. 

What happened? Polls weren't rigged. Trump's polls and Fox News also indicated Trump was losing. Some voters dissembled. They held their noses and voted for Trump, but weren't comfortable saying so. Others decided late.

Most Trump voters I know are neither racist nor stupid. I talked to several, though most avoided saying how they'd vote. Some were women. One was a Hispanic friend I play pickleball with. He doesn't hate anyone (except me when I win) but has family working the border. Some religious friends said God uses even bad people for His purposes. I suspect some cast a “protest vote,” comfortable that Trump wouldn't actually win.

People voted less for Trump than against Washington – and Hillary, the wrong candidate. Thirty years of conspiracy theories and partisan attacks on her didn't help; but the distrust runs deeper. Her husband had an almost pathological need to be loved or admired. Great politician. Hillary was reserved, private. Running for President meant being someone she wasn't. People sensed that. (Al Gore was smart and qualified, but uncomfortable following the family's political tradition. George Bush was unqualified, but comfortable. People liked and trusted him. As with Romney, folks never warmed up to Hillary.)

It's ironic. Clinton isn't particularly dishonest, for a politician. Trump's rarely in the same zip code as the truth. 

Misogynism was probably involved. A man who mocks and gropes women won handily among men. And Comey's October Surprise probably pushed Trump over the top. A previously ethical guy who may live in infamy. But in a complete democracy, with no electoral college, the narrow popular-vote winner (Clinton) would be hiring cabinet members.

One important takeaway is the deep divisions between city folk and country folk, blue counties and red. Wholly different realities. We need bridges!

Our country and the world will suffer, ruled by an impatient narcissist who knows nothing about government. Will he do crazy things or just let himself be guided into bad policies by the very right-wing advisers he trusts? (His own instincts aren't ideologically pure.) Generations will have to live with his Supreme Court justices and ostrich-like view of climate change. Putin will play him like a Stradivarius. Will our children emulate his greed and discourtesy? 

Trump talked as if he'd bring back criminal libel laws, to control the press. Which you'd figure our Constitution would prevent, but with a Republican Congress and a Trump Supreme Court?

I hope and believe Trump won't be historically bad. Hitler was elected too. By angry people who didn't all share his racism and paranoia. I don't think Trump's quite such a hater; and our democratic traditions are deeper than Weimar Germany's.

Still, November 8th was a nativist step back from tolerance and understanding. Voters struck back against corporate globalism; but the corporations will do fine. 

New Mexico is my refuge. But I'm scared.

[The above column appeared in the Las Cruces Sun-News this morning, Sunday, November 13, 2016, as well as on  the newspaper's website  and on KRWG-TV's website.  I welcome comments, criticism, and questions here or on those sites.]

[My working title for this post was "How Bad Will It Be?", and I'm in a rush this morning, so I'll stick with it; but I don't really answer it in the column, because obviously I can't.
I do say it won't be Hitlerian.  Trump doesn't have Hitler's long-standing political resentment.  He doesn't hate ethnic groups the way Hitler does.  But he did exhibit prejudice against blacks in his businesses. And he has obviously found it convenient as a political candidate to say horrible things about other ethnic groups.  But I think it comes more from expediency than from deep-seated hatred.  He's not obsessed.  
Unfortunately, he comes to the Presidency with a unique sort of power: very few debts, even to other Republicans, and a victory that clearly was his own, not the party's.  The conventional Republicans who loath him mostly didn't give him a lot of help, and both he and they know that, so he has some independence.
He's closest now to some of the really farthest-out right-wing people on the spectrum. That's whom he may trust.  And that bodes ill.  But his own politics are more moderate, to the extent that he's thought about politics at all.  Yeah, he loves the rich and powerful; but his attitudes on gays and abortion and other social issues were moderate before he started seeking the Republican Presidential nomination.  Will he hunker down with his Alt-Right advisers or execute yet another change?  Does he secretly hope for the approval, admiration, and respect of the political pros the way he once hungered for respect from the upper-crust New Yorkers when he moved from Queens into Manhattan against his father's advice? I think he'll be more agreeable to letting them run a lot, so long as they genuflect and express their awe of him as a Great Man.
Either way, it'll be bad: time's running out on doing anything about the climate, and whether he pals around with Breitbart or Ryan we won't do anything for another four years; the Supreme Court will get worse and be worse for at least a decade; gays will lose out big-time, if Pence has anything to do with it, as he likely will; women's rights are likely to suffer, although we can hope his family may neutralize some of the right-wing influences on him in that area. 
Further, his election will encourage the haters among us.  I've heard women, immigrants, blacks, gays, and Muslims express their fears, and those fears are more than reasonable.  I share them.

Sadly, Trump will exemplify for our kids greed and arrogance. Most people who loathed Obama's policies recognized his personal grace and decency. Most people who voted for Trump recognize his negative personal qualities.]

[I mentioned the oddity of religious folks supporting Trump, and their explanation that God will use him.  I've never gotten a very clear answer from anyone when I ask how they know God plans to use Trump for good -- as opposed, say, to the devil using him for evil.  But I've been given plenty of examples of people who weren't the greatest in different ways (Churchill being a drunk before God used him to save England; Lincoln something undesirable, I forget what, before being used to save the Union; also the Apostle Paul (who wanted to kill Christians, at first), Cyrus in the Book of Isiah.  Or Samson, or Gideon.  One friend wrote me in a facebook message that "When God chooses one, they are changed and captive to fulfill his will. We all have shortcomings and some worse."  Well, Trump's shortcomings exceed those of most folks, but nothing God can't deal with -- if He chooses to.  He might decide we deserve what we get because we responded to a campaign based on hatred and intolerance and threats of violence.  Or he might have been trying to warn us with Trump that he wanted to use Hillary -- also a very imperfect person, as most of us are -- for His purposes, despite her shortcomings.   I'll try again to figure out how we can tell who God means to use.]

[The analogy of this election to Gore-Bush.  I do think personal connection moves a lot of voters, who either don't care about the issues or care more about feeling good about saying "That's my President."  The Gore-Bush difference was enlightening:Gore came from a powerful political tradition, and went into it as another might go into a family business; but he was never fully comfortable with it, kind of like the pre-med students I knew in college who really wanted to be poets or actors but couldn't cross their parents; and it showed, he seemed awkward somehow.  George Bush was a reformed alcoholic, the son no one had ever had any hopes for, the "good guy" who'd never make anything of himself, and when he ran for President he was surprised and happy to be emulating (even surpassing) his father's political success, when everyone had thought Jeb might do that.   A lot of folks found him charming, but couldn't relate to Gore.  Bush, like Reagan, seemed more open and friendly and comfortable to be around.  Trump, in a different way, was too.

Someone asked me election night "How do we get through this?"  First, by waiting to see how things go.  Second, by not letting our political grief affect our daily lives too deeply.  Also by being alert, watchful, and prepared; by keeping in closer touch with people with good hearts; by being ready.  If there's a contradiction there, sorry.  Life is full of those.  Like cancer, this will pass.  Or it won't.  Either way, we will do the things we can do to treat it (speaking out, despite undoubted efforts to shut us up; attending more diligently to making things better in our wonderful state and wonderful town until we can do something to help our wonderful country) and try to live each moment the best we can, without thinking about the sword hanging over our heads.  

For others' reactions, everyone from Garrison Keillor to Coach Popovich has screamed "Aww, fuck!" in more elegant language than that. New Yorker editor David Remnick calls Trump's ascension An American Tragedy, and closes:
"It is all a dismal picture. Late last night, as the results were coming in from the last states, a friend called me full of sadness, full of anxiety about conflict, about war. Why not leave the country? But despair is no answer. To combat authoritarianism, to call out lies, to struggle honorably and fiercely in the name of American ideals—that is what is left to do. That is all there is to do."
I also particularly liked Aaron Sorkin's [creator of West Wing] letter to his daughter.  Though, speaking of daughters, one friend told us that while she was excited about the local victories of our friends, her three-year-old daughter said, "Mommy, it's okay to feel happy and sad at the same time."

Also see Michael Moore's Five Point To-Do List or recover Michael Moore's Five-Point Morning After To-Do List on Facebook

Sunday, November 6, 2016

Last Thoughts before Tuesday

We're hearing coyotes again, howling furiously before dawn and after sunset. Fewer hummingbirds are wintering over this year. The golden eagle visited with us for an hour Saturday. None care about the election; many humanoids don't either, for understandable reasons; but it will affect all of us.

Either you see the many serious ways that Donald Trump is an inappropriate and dangerous Presidential candidate or you don't. The lengthy New York Daily News editorial lists the grim facts better than I could.

Clinton is surely imperfect, but she's highly competent and experienced. And her girlish idealism still shines through sometimes.

Many decent people feel so aggrieved by their lives that they'll accept Trump's racism and sexism because he's a giant middle-finger they can give the system. If the system ain't working for you, why not toss in a huge monkey wrench? Mainstream Democrats and Republicans should learn from the huge support that folks gave a septuagenarian socialist from Vermont and a greedy, narcissistic TV clown from New York.

But Donald can only compound our problems.

A vote for Gary Johnson (a Koch Brothers' dream) or Jill Stein is a vote to risk a Trump Presidency that would set us back years. It's a vote for sexism and ethnic prejudice. It's a vote to keep ignoring climate change, and let corporations do as they like with our air, land, and water. (I wish hummingbirds and eagles could vote!)

James Comey's October surprises shouldn't influence you. There was no criminal prosecution over Hillary's emails because no one had intended to betray the U.S. or pass classified material to enemies. That won't change because the FBI reviews Anthony Weiner's copies of emails the FBI has probably seen already. 

Sure, Hillary violated a rule – as had previous secretaries of state; but Donald's whole life is a tapestry of greedy rule-bending, bankruptcies that hurt people, and prosecutions for racist actions. And he faces an imminent trial for defrauding students with the Trump University scam. 

I urge you to vote for Merrie Lee Soules. She'd be a breath of fresh air in Congress. 

Closer to home, Susana Martinez, Jay McCleskey, the oil and gas industry, and their allies are trying to give Martinez a pliable Legislature that will do her bidding without any critical thinking. Sadly, that's how the Republicans have behaved for six years. Unless you like her style – avoiding key issues and playing politics, without even trying to keep the State's credit rating from going down – you might wish to vote for the Democrats for the Legislature. 

There are strong reasons to defeat each of those Republican legislative candidates. Terry McMillan, reportedly a fine doctor, not only does the bidding of oil and gas but shortchanges us on a key part of the job, interim committees, because of the demands of his medical practice. Democrat Joanne Ferrary has a history of public service and is capable and experienced. McMillan's approval of the smear campaign against her is another point against him.

Democrat Nathan Small is a wonderful person capable of representing this area with particular integrity and ability, while his opponent, incumbent Andy Nuñez, faces a serious ethics investigation and seems to be compounding his problems with his frenetic efforts to deny everything and repeatedly amend his financial reports. 

Rudy Martinez was a strong representative in District 39. Current incumbent John Zimmerman follows the oil and gas playbook and gets terrible ratings on conservation. 

County offices? As I wrote weeks ago, I voted for Republican treasurer candidate Jill Johnson and Democrat Scott Krahling for clerk.

But whomever you like, do vote!

[The column above appeared in the Las Cruces Sun-News this morning, Sunday, 6 November 2016, and on the newspaper's website, as well as (presently) the the KRWG-TV website.]

[I won't add a bunch of further comments here.  I do urge folks to vote for Merrie Lee Soules for Congress, Mark D'Antonio for District Attorney, and John Vasquez for the County Commission.  Ms. Soules mixes a businesswoman's skills with a progressive's heart, while the less said about her opponent, Congressman Steve Pearce, the better.  I don't know John Vasquez well, but he seems a solid sort of fellow, progressive but independent.]
[I think Hillary will win, both here and nationally; but FBI Director Comey's October Surprise has helped make it close.  While I understand the impulse to vote for an outsider, any outsider, rather than conventional leaders from the two political parties, I do fear a Trump Presidency.  Add his incompetence to his temperament, narcissm, greed, and impulsiveness, and you have a pretty poor choice to deal with the many problems of the world.    Add to that the folks around him -- from the "Alt-Right" extremist wing of the Republican Party -- and you have a mix for disaster, particularly if we also have a Republican Congress.  Too, we would get a disastrously one-sided Supreme Court and lose valuable time to mount a last-minute challenge to the worst effects of global weirdness.   It would also (although many, many Trump supporters are non-violent and non-haters) give license to some of the worst and most xenophobic elements of our society.  Further, the Russia connection is not a joke.  Putin is not only the leader of a major country we need to keep in check, but he's a vicious and greedy dictator who's stifled dissent and robbed his own people blind.  That Trump admires him is a further clue to Trump's own character; and that Putin is actively supporting Trump is significant.  I don't think he and Trump have talked to each other or connived together or anything; but I can guarantee Putin ain't supporting Trump because he has our national interest or the world's welfare at heart.  (If you haven't followed this, here's a recent piece on called Why Putin Helps Trump and What It Means.  I have found thehill a useful source recently, because it has contributors from all over the political landscape, including some passionate supporters of Mr. Trump.  Some of its contributors infuriate me.  Some are highly credentialed.)  Whether Mr. Putin sees in Mr. Trump a kindred spirit who can be led if you play him the right way (which I see too) or simply fears Hillary I can't say; but Putin's clear interest in having us elect Trump is one more good reason not to!]

[And, again, the Democrats have a quite good set of folks running for the Statehouse.  The Republicans have folks who range from "mediocre but well-meaning" to outright bad; and what they have in common is a commitment to oil and gas (and similar) interests at the expense of the environment and the interests of average voters like you and me.]

[I just noticed that the Sun-News endorsed Pearce this morning.  (Note later in the day: my wife reminds me that this endorsement was made a few weeks ago, just reprinted today; I must have noticed it the first time -- although I've been awfully busy.  Senior moment, maybe?)  Much as I like and respect the Editorial Board (at least, two members I know and work with; I have no positive or negative opinion of the third, whom I haven't met), and grateful as I am to be a columnist, I obviously disagree, and inserted an on-line comment.  The Sun-News emphasizes that Pearce keeps getting elected and that he has more experience in Congress than Soules. 
Initially, the editorial is a little dishonest on one point.  The editorial purports to explain "why he keeps getting re-elected" but omits the key reason, which is the massive bankroll he gets from oil and gas and other such interests, from inside the district and elsewhere. 
As to experience, if I were trying to get to Santa Fe I'd prefer a relatively inexperienced driver over one who would capably drive me to Phoenix instead, and smoke in the car the whole way. Pearce's conduct regarding the budget (and being willing to stop the government, costing us a lot of money, to make a political statement he knows will be ineffective) shows the nation's interest and ours are not at the top of his priority list, and it ain't fiscal conservatism.  Further, Pearce is in effect a climate-change denier, following the old tobacco industry playbook by saying perpetually that "we need more study of the issue" then bringing in completely unqualified and discredited hacks to pretend they're scientists and spout the oil-and-gas script.   (Pearce also appears to be Trump supporter who's a little appalled by Trump but hasn't the political guts to say so.)
I don't know what the Sun-News folks were thinking of, but it's hard to believe good government was a major criteria.  But of course, I'd vote for my cat or a stray coyote against Pearce.]

Sunday, October 30, 2016

State Rep. Andy Nuñez Could Be in Serious Legal Trouble

The New Mexico Secretary of State's Office (“SOS”) is investigating charges that State Senator Andy Nuñez embezzled campaign funds and broke election laws. 
On September 30, citizen Linda Alvarez filed a detailed complaint, including dozens of pages of documentation. The SOS wrote Nuñez that he was alleged to have violated “the Campaign Financing Law and possibly other state statutes,” inviting him to respond within 15 days. The law strictly limits campaign expenditures. Nuñez sent in a one-page response. The SOS is now doing its own investigation of his campaign reports. 
Nuñez denied embezzlement of campaign funds, or any other misconduct, but didn't confront most detailed allegations. He said he had never asked anyone for a campaign contribution; added that his accuser hadn't understood legislative per diem; and explained why he (or his campaign) hired and paid $15,000 to his daughter and grandson. (His daughter “has to come to Hatch [from Las Cruces] to not only file my reports but to send Thank-You letters” and his grandson put up signs for him.)

Alvarez accused Nuñez of using campaign funds to pay expenses incurred while he was a lobbyist, not a legislator. Nuñez lost his reelection bid in November 2012. He became a lobbyist for two irrigation districts. He apparently used campaign funds to attend several legislative and committee meetings during 2013, and some events in 2014. The SOS said that if Alvarez's allegations were true Nuñez's conduct would be illegal.

Nuñez's letter asserted that he'd “never used Campaign funds to subsidize my lobbying work, or as my position Mayor of Hatch.” 
The law reauires candidates to do their best to report the professions and employers of campaign contributors who provide more than $250. Nuñez lists under “Occupation” the word “Friend” for Don Tripp (three 2016 contributions totaling $6,000), Garry Carruthers ($250 in 2014), and other familiar names; but any casual newspaper reader knows Tripp is a State Representative and Carruthers is NMSU's President. Nuñez responds: “My entries as friends and is entered and has never been questioned.”

Alvarez alleged he'd paid his daughter and grandson “more than $15,000 for their 'help' on his campaigns.” Nuñez replied that this was true, because his daughter “has to come to Hatch [from Las Cruces] to not only file my reports but write Thank-You letters,” while his grandson “put up signs for me because he is capable and has a pickup and can do the work.”

Nuñez's letter didn't explain why reimbursement amounts for his expenses were usually round numbers – $200 or $400, rarely $349.23. He told me he rounded expenses downward, for convenience, taking less than he actually spent. Ken Ortiz from SOS commented that “for true transparency and best practice, he should be reporting the exact expenditure, down to the penny, and should be retaining receipts to substantiate them.” The SOS cannot force Nuñez to provide substantiation; but it can ask, and if he refuses it can fine him for violations and/or refer the matter to a DA or the AG.

Nuñez's letter did say “I have employed Legal Counsel to take Ms. Alvarez to court for calling me an embezzler of $32,000.02.” He added he had “included a list of her court records to show that this is not her first attempt to accuse someone of illegal activities.” SOS stated it received no such list, adding that Alvarez court cases would be “irrelevant to his campaign reporting.” Nunez's lawyer, T.J. Trujillo, says he's waiting to hear from the SOS, but “we don't feel the allegations have any merit at this juncture.”

It'll be interesting to see how this matter progresses.

[The column above appeared in the Las Cruce Sun-News this morning, Sunday, 30 Ocrober, 2016, and is also available on the newspaper's website and KRWG-TV's website.  I welcome questions and comments on any of these sitesBelow, I've copied in two relevant statutory provisions and added more specific information on what Nuñez's own campaign reports (and his many changes to them) seem to show.]

[Perhaps the biggest allegation leveled by Ms. Alvarez is that through a series of loans by him to his campaign and reimbursement to himself by the campaign for expenses Mr. Nuñez embezzled $32,000.02 from the campaign account.   I'll leave the state officials to figure that one our.  Or I'll interview Ms. Alvarez at some point.  
I can make the following observations: 

(a) it appears likely that some of the expenditures in 2013 and probably 2014 were not proper campaign expenditures under 1-19-29.1 (below);
(b) Mr. Nuñez didn't try to follow the requirement to include people's occupations in his reports if they gave him more than $250 in a campaign; 
(c) depending upon how many receipts he kept, he could be in a little trouble -- or a lot -- for all the expenditures for which he just gave round numbers.  While he sounds convincing when he says to me that he just rounded down, for convenience, the election overseers, like the tax people, are likely to want to see records, to ensure he didn't round UP -- or make up some expenditures out of whole cloth.  Either he has all those receipts or he doesn't;
(d) the $15,000 to daughter and grandson is another round number, and maybe a large one for the work he describes in his letter to the Secretary of State.  In most legislative campaigns, volunteers put up signs; and usually the candidate or a campaign treasurer, often a volunteer, fills out the reporting forms. Filing his reports, if his daughter's a CPA, could add up to  $___ per election.  Putting up the signs (not buying them, just putting some up) would seem a minimum-wage sort of job.  Depending on how many elections the $15,000 covered, his payments could be a little generous or way out of line
(e) Ms. Alvarez also alleged a "cover-up," noting that during the past three months Mr.Nuñez amended each of his official reports from recent election cycles, amending one of them ten times.  The amendments are public record.  Nuñez filed his Second General Election report for 2014 in October 2014. He amended it once in September of 2015 and then a whopping six times in September-October 2016. His Third General Election Report in 2014 was amended eight times, seven during the past two months. His Fourth? Nine times, eight in the past three months. Similarly his reports from 2010-2014 were amended numerous times in 2016.

By contrast, the ten reports filed in 2014 by Representative Jeff Steinborn have been amended a total of 0 times. Same for State Senator Ricky Little. State Senator Nate Gentry filed ten reports in 2014-2015, and amended five – but most within a month or six months, not in the fall of 2016.
Ms. Alvarez lists numerous payments to himself that she says disappeared from the reports in this amendment process.  She says they total $34,770.02.  I didn't check them all.
I did check the 2014 4th General Election report, covering mid-October to the end of November.  As submitted, it showed $7,420.36 in expenses.  As amended (final 2016 version), it showed $4,804.36.  (That shaved off better than 35% of the original amount.)  The two missing items in the final amendment were a $2,000 "debt payment" to himself on November 15th and a $616 mileage reimbursement to himself on November 29.]

[New Mexico      1-19-29.1 (Campaign funds; limitation on use) is very clear:

A.   It is unlawful for a candidate or the candidate's agent to make an expenditure of contributions received, except for the following purposes or as otherwise provided in this section: 

(1)   expenditures of the campaign;
(2)   expenditures of legislators that are reasonably related to performing the duties of the office held, including mail, telephone and travel expenditures to serve constituents, but excluding personal and legislative session living expenses;
(3)   [irrelevant];
(4)   [irrelevant];
(5)   expenditures to eliminate the campaign debt of the candidate for the office sought or expenditures incurred by the candidate when seeking election to another public office covered by the Campaign Reporting Act;
(6)   [irrelevant]; or
(7)   disbursements to return unused funds pro rata to the contributors if no campaign debt exists

It doesn't take a law degree to understand that when you are unseated effective January 1, 2013, expenses to go to meetings and legislative sessions during 2013, to lobby for a client or as mayor of a city or for personal reasons, are not campaign expenses under the law; nor should similar expenses in 2014 qualify, although if I were his lawyer I'm sure I'd argue he was taking such trips in aid of seeking election to the Legislature in November 2014.]
[1-19-31 (Contents of Report) provides:

A.   Each required report of expenditures and contributions . . . shall include:

(1)   the name and address of the person or entity to whom an expenditure was made or from whom a contribution was received . . .; [and] (2)   the occupation or type of business of any person or entity making contributions of two hundred fifty dollars ($250) or more in the aggregate per election.
Pretty obviously, Mr. Nuñez made no great effort to follow this portion of the law.]

Sunday, October 23, 2016

Breakfast with the NRA

Last Saturday I attended a National Rifle Association breakfast for local Republican legislative candidates.

An NRA lobbyist jetted in to tell a few lies and fire up the troops. The NRA desperately wants Republicans to control our Legislature, and will put up big bucks to keep making big bucks on gun sales.

When the lobbyist mentioned that Representative Rick Little was on the Safety & Civil Affairs Committee, “one of the places a good gun bill or a bad gun bill will go,” Little quickly added “and get killed.” A pocket-sized NRA handout made clear there are no good gun bills – except one that broadens the concealed-carry law or cuts the prices for licenses. 

The arguments against well-crafted gun laws – and I grant that not all legislation is well-crafted – are “slippery slope”: if you let the government require background checks or try to prevent terrorists from having guns, soon they'll be knocking on your door to confiscate your gun. 

No sensible person could deny that many unnecessary deaths involve guns. That doesn't mean get rid of all the guns: that's unconstitutional, impractical, and probably unwise. But automatically rejecting every proposal to improve the situation is good only for gun manufacturers. 

If the U.S. Constitution had mentioned automobiles, would a National Automobile Association be screaming against DWI laws and speed-limits? You'd laugh if someone claimed that outlawing drunk driving is part of a plot to confiscate our cars. If I drunkenly drove through the Plaza de Las Cruces, could I argue in court that outlawing drunk driving violates my Constitutional right to travel? 

But all our Republican candidates toed the NRA line: no gun-law is a good gun-law. Rep. Terry McMillan said he got “the chills” over “a group that systematically tries to disarm the citizenry.” He claimed he started buying guns when Obama was elected, and “rumors were flying” about guns being outlawed. Does acting on wild rumors recommend him?

The lobbyist, calling our county “ground zero in the fight for our Second Amendment rights,” bragged that the NRA had gotten a big turnout to speak against the Las Cruces City Council resolution favoring background checks. She said they'd gotten only “24-hour notice on July 4th weekend.” In fact, the Council gives at least 72-hour notice of meetings – and sets the agenda in an open meeting the previous Monday. 

The lobbyist stood in front of signs for Donald Trump and local Republicans, none of whom disclaimed support for Trump. I sat near an elderly man who told me he was a devout Christian. I pointed to the big Trump sign and asked how he, as a Christian, regarded Trump. He confided that “I don't think my vote will be missed. I'm going to vote for the Constitutional Party candidate.”

One candidate mentioned the fraudulent scheme to recall our city councilors. Bankrolled mostly from outside the city, and run by an outsider, its agents consistently lied to voters to procure signatures. The recall ultimately lost because the councilors had strong constituent support; but Andy Nuñez (currently under an ethics investigation) said of his opponent Nathan Small, “the recall effort just shows you what kind of guy he is.” Actually, Andy, it shows me that you'll say any old misleading thing for a vote. A fraudulent recall effort by outsiders rebuffed by Small's constituents says only good about Small.

The visiting NRA lobbyist criticized “the determination of people who live far from here to tell you how to live.” Ironically, she “jetted away” before I could praise her perfect description of the recall effort – and NRA's lobbying.

[The above column appeared in the Las Cruces Sun-News this morning, Sunday, 23 October 2016, as well as on the newspaper's website and on KRWG-TV's website.  I welcome comments, questions, and criticism here or on either of those sites.]

[What do I have against the NRA? I have many friends who joined when it was an organization concerned with helping hunters and other gun-owners.  Some of them feel betrayed by its transformation into a lobbying organization controlled by gun manufacturers and devoted to maximizing their profits. Further, the group maximizes those profits (and its political influence) by one of the oldest tricks in the book, playing on people's fears then convincing those people you are their potential savior.  I have friends with many guns.  I'm not advocating we take away all guns; but the NRA take-no-prisoners approach, in which nothing that could possibly interfere with gun-makers' huge profits is acceptable, is no good for any of us.
Had the NRA remained as it was, it could have performed valuable service, not only to hunters and other gun-owners but to all of us.  Some gun-laws are well-intentioned but not very practical.  Experts, including the NRA, could have helped us select the more promising among various possible steps; but by taking the gun-manufacturers' position, that every attempt to ameliorate the situation is by definition part of a plot against our freedoms, the NRA has become a major part of the problem.]

[Some readers may wonder how I happened to be at the members-only NRA breakfast.  Each member was allowed to bring a guest.  I was a guest.]

[I mention in the column the allegations that AndyNuñez illegally and unethically used campaign funds for personal purposes.  The investigation led the Las Cruces Sun-News, which had endorsed him, to reverse its endorsement of Nuñez.  That suggests the seriousness of the thing -- and says eloquently that even folks who find his politics acceptable recognize that his dishonest conduct is not.]
[Any voter uncertain about the allegations ought to read details of the actual complaint to the Attorney-General against Nunez.  He allegedly dipped illegally into campaign funds for personal expenses -- and did so not even while he was a legislator, but during the two years he was a lobbyist.  That is, he put thousands of dollars of campaign funds to use while not even a legislator, using them to work for a water-district client that also has a strong interest in what the Water and Natural Resources Committee does!  He also spent $4,230 of campaign funds to repair his personal pickup truck -- and paid a parking ticket, bought a new drill from Sears, and bought some chile ristras -- misspelled as "restras."
Mutual friends say he's a charming fellow; but this conduct, combined with his attempt to attack Nathan Small using the fact that Nuñez's own political allies from outside Las Cruces mounted a scurrilous campaign to trick voters into recalling Small, suggests he should stick to being Hatch's mayor.]

[McMillan complained at length that he's been the target of misleading ads attacking him personally, or attacking his practice of medicine.  That's wrong.  (And, as I mentioned, a friend -- a staunch Democrat -- has consistently told me McMillan's a great guy, as a doctor.  I hadn't seen the ads; but when I saw Joanne Ferrary briefly, and mentioned them, she said they'd come as a complete surprise to her.  Of course, the irony here is that last time around McMillan was helped back to the Roundhouse by a bunch of extremely misleading fliers attacking Ferrary.  So far as I recall, he didn't speak out against those -- although there was little time to do so, as they were timed to affect the election without allowing time for5 anyone to respond or investigate.]

[The real problems with McMillan are different.  First of all, he votes with his party like a robot, and has voted against some good measures that would have helped New Mexicans.  I guess I'd also argue that what he said at the NRA breakfast . . . .
Most importantly, he's so busy with his practice that he misses all or most of the committee meetings between sessions -- where, in fact, much of the real work gets done.  DS quote.  Even one of McMillan's fellow candidates, at the breakfast, praised himself for attending committee meetings, and testified to their importance -- without, perhaps, realizing that he was effectively criticizing McMillan.]

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.