Tuesday, November 29, 2011

Novemberpix - a sampling of the month's crop of new images

This is one of my favorites from the month -- or two of them.  I'd made the high-contrast image of a sunset viewed from our home, then snapped a shot of the birds on a wire at some friends' home by the river, North of Las Cruces.  The birds seemed to deserve a zappier setting, so I gave 'em one.

The next one ain't all that beautiful, but seems worth posting because it's something I hadn't ever seen before, "in all my born days," as some hick character used to say.   Among the grasshopper cast of thousands we saw this fall, one leapt sraight into an ocotillo spike, and managed to impale himself!  Suicidal after being spurned by a prospective mate?  We don't know.  Anyway, the image at right gives you context -- no smoke, no mirrors, just a curiosity.

Well, we all have our lapses in concentration

Here's a moonrise, from earlier this month:

Moonrise the following night, from a few miles north of home

Another nearby wind-mill the next morning

A sword in the canyon

Trick or Treat?!
A resident of the canyon

The mouth of the canyon

The Organs in disguise

Our friends north of town live right by the river.  Just upriver from their house the salt-cedar form a natural hallway, and the six of us walked up through it to have a look at their fruit trees, then walked back down-river in the near-empty riverbed, and just before snapping the birds on the wires I shot a few images of the view south toward the Organ Mountains.

Coral Vine
The next day we went down to the Chihuahuan Desert Gardens in El Paso -- mostly to hear Gary Paul Nabhan (about whom more later, as Holden Caulfield used to say), but also because I hadn't yet been there -- and I liked these three images from the ones I've had a chance to play with since then.  Nothing spectacular, but pleasant.

Thanksgiving, after dining with friends, we walked in the riverbed againm near Mesilla.
Old Friends

 Later I thought about how many years each of us had been standing by this river, staring up at the Organs thinking about whatever we were thinking about.   Forty years ago I walked two dogs here every morning! 

Clouds cloaked the Organs again.

Well, and here's how it looks outside right now.

Sunday, November 27, 2011

Time-Warp II - An Old Guy Looks at the Occupy Movement

"Why compare OWS to the Sixties?" my wife asked.

Well, because that was the last time people took to the streets in large numbers to advocate change; but it’s a good question. In the long-running war between the 1% and the 99%, 1890-1912 and 1930-1941 were also times when the 99% made progress. Some of that progress got undone by pro-business eras that followed, but other accomplishments (Social Security and unemployment programs from the 1930's; and from the early 1900's the direct election of Senators, enforcement of anti-trust laws, the 40-hour work week, some attention to safety in mines and factories, and federal inspection and regulation of food and drugs) grew so familiar that people forgot they were once controversial – at least until the recent Republican attacks on social security.

My last column discussed the 1960's. This one notes some impressions of OWS, based on time spent with the folks down at Albert Johnson Memorial Park and on reading about what’s going on elsewhere.


Don’t expect anything comprehensive. It’s too early. My first-hand knowledge of OWS is limited. Most importantly, OWS so far is a movement determined not to define itself. That’s one difference from the 1960's.

In the 1960's, as in the 1930's, doctrinaire leaders or would-be leaders struggled to fit everything into their particular ideology. They argued at length. OWS seems determined to have neither leaders nor ideology. I see apparent leaders working to help others emerge, and to listen to all points of view. By having no set ideology, OWS may minimize internal squabbles and maximize its public appeal. OWS also seems aware of its own uncertainty on just how to fix things. As one local OWS person said, "We create the atmosphere for change." He noted that as sympathizers moved $35 million to other institutions last month, Bank of America and Wells Fargo rescinded new ATM fees.

A by-product of OWS is that the park becomes a sort of old-time town square, lively with discussions of political and economic issues. I’d urge anyone with a mind to stop by – not merely to satisfy curiosity about OWS but to exchange ideas with some of the people committed to it. My visits to this tent village have been invigorating. The folks I’ve met there don’t agree on everything – and are willing to listen. I even had a lively discussion with a local businessman who’s somewhat involved with the Tea Party.

I see several differences between Occupy and the Sixties Movement.

First, this movement is global. Although the youthful rebellion of 1968 struck a lot of European and Latin American nations, not just the U.S., it was no global movement. Issues differed, and communications were not what they are in the age of Internet and cell-phone video, texting and tweeting.. OWS is aimed at the financial inequities of our country; but it’s not unrelated to the Arab Spring, and the "Occupy" movement exists around the world.

Second, it has the support or indifference of the average person. As cars passed the tents the other day, a few of them honking in support, an older OWS supporter noted that in the 1960's they’d have been throwing garbage or rocks at us.

During the Cold War, people, particularly southerners, believed the lie that civil rights workers were working for the Communist Party and thus for the Soviet Union. People believed that anti-war protestors were a danger to the U.S., particularly to soldiers our government had mistakenly placed in harm’s way. Many saw us as dangerous enemies, and some acted accordingly. Police, some of whom were veterans or had friends or brothers in the war, believed we were helping the people who were shooting at those friends or brothers. Many hated us.

OWS may seem silly or misguided to some; but no one believes that the occupiers are helping Soviet Russia dominate the world or are in league with Al-Quaeda. The police officer evicting a group from a park may dislike disorder or get nervous surrounded by an angry group, but s/he doesn’t hate us. Saying "we’re all being duped and exploited by the 1% who have the real wealth and power" hardly makes you seem "the Enemy" to an underpaid cop watching politicians "fix" tickets and other problems for people with means. S/he may not support you, but s/he’s unlikely to hate you.

None of this guarantees success. Politicians bought and paid for by the 1% have won many elections by telling the 99% "We won’t allow abortions," "We’ll be tough on illegal immigration." and "We’ll keep gays from marrying," convincingly enough that many of the 99% cheerfully vote against their own basic interests. Who cares if the Koch Brothers own the candidate if s/he’ll stand up against immorality, non-whites, and the scapegoat of the moment?

Occupy strikes at the heart of the 1%’s power.

In the battles we fought and more or less won in the 1960's, we didn’t win anything that was essential to the 1%. Integration and ethnic equality weren’t going to make much difference to the income of the 1%. The war? Defense Secretary McNamara and others had secretly concluded it was an unwinnable mistake. The War wasn’t essential to the 1%’s wealth.

Occupy is an awakening. People are fed up with the deep unfairness of our economic system and by the use of our supposed democracy as a puppet show that keeps the 1% prospering and the 99% placated, subservient, and not too clear on what’s actually happening. Frank discussion and dialogue may awaken more people, which could only help to effect real change.

Occupy folks don’t claim to know exactly h ow to fix things – and that’s probably good, at least for now.


[The foregoing appeared today, Sunday, in the Las Cruces Sun-News, and is the second of two related columns. The second, published two weeks ago, appears immediately below, since I've been unforgivably lazy about posting here of late.   I had also planned to inclue additional comments on OWS in this post, but I'll add 'em some time soon.  Meanwhile I recommend the piece in the most recent New York Review of Books on OWS in New York, which I read after completing the column above.] 

Sunday, November 13, 2011

Time-Warp I -- The Sixties and Occupy Wall Street

The current "Occupy" movement reminds me of the 1960's, primarily in Lancaster, Pennsylvania and Las Cruces. This Sunday and in my next column, I’d like to explore some similarities and differences – starting with an admittedly personal view of the earlier Movement. In two weeks, I’ll try to compare that with what I know of Occupy Wall Street.

In the summer of 1965 I went South as a civil right worker. I was an 18-year-old college freshman. I had no political views beyond a vague liberalism. I’d happened to grow up with some black kids. I felt that what was happening in the South was wrong. I was also the kind of kid who liked to do things that seemed dangerous. (What I saw down there is separate column or blog.)

When I returned to college that fall, a very few people there were saying that the war in Viet Nam, of which I was dimly aware, was wrong and stupid. They had contributed money to support civil rights work. Since I’d actually gone down there, they figured I must be quite committed politically. In fact, I doubted the U.S. could be so wrong in its foreign policy.

I read everything I could find about Viet Nam and its history and the U.S. conduct there. I learned that the war was both wrong and stupid. I said so, publically, and was threatened and harassed a bit, almost as we had been in the South.

Opposing the war was a pretty lonely experience. We were a tiny, embattled minority always threatened with violence. (Very little actual violence occurred.)

Then more and more young people started opposing the war. Some thought as we did. More were attracted to the energy and excitement they saw in the Movement. Some had screamed the loudest at us six months earlier. Looking for answers, they’d thought they’d found them in Young Americans for Freedom, then realized they hadn’t.

Initially, we recognized that a couple of things were very wrong: discrimination against ethnic minorities, in the South or elsewhere; and a pointless war that was destroying a small Asian country and many young men from the U.S. Fighting those wrongs felt a lot more important than going to classes.

We came to see more systemic problems. The most important was the persistence of poverty in our Great Society.

At the same time, we were reacting against the excesses of the previous generation. Our parents, buffeted by the madness of Depression and World War II, craved security above all. They spent the 1950's building economic security for themselves and supporting whatever it took to build national security against international dangers – some of those real, some of those mere hysteria. We were the undeserving beneficiaries of all that, of course, and I recognize now that we had the economic freedom and felt the emotional freedom to protest, despite the risks, because of what our parents had built.

But their drive toward security had costs: you didn’t worry too much about the people being left behind, because you needed to make it for yourself; and you didn’t speak up about things that were wrong. You didn’t speak up because you’d been part of some pretty important national battles, against Depression and against Nazi Germany, and had learned to feel part of something, to subordinate your personal needs and feelings to the more urgent national need. You also didn’t speak up because conformity was a hell of a lot safer if you wanted to progress at work or join the Country Club.

We found their conformity stifling. Thus along with fighting political battles, we felt with extra strength the need each generation feels to experiment, to rebel, to seek our personal freedoms. Part of that search was the so-called Sexual Revolution. Part of it was also drugs. The antiwar Movement and generational revolt coalesced in "Flower Power" – but at the time there were intense disagreements among us about whether drugs and the freedom to use them was part of what we were fighting for or was a selfish (even stupid) distraction from our real goals.

Thus the colorless 1950's helped beget the 1960's – just as our excesses would help beget a generation that saw the dangers and risks of our ways and retreated from them.

Within a very few years, the clarity and unity of our early opposition to discrimination, poverty, and war grew and changed. Seeing and fighting discrimination against blacks helped us recognize and fight discrimination against women and later against gays. Rejecting the previous generation’s ways with more than the usual force led us down a marvelous diversity of paths. It became all right, or more than all right, to find your own way, whether back to the land or into the cities to help the poor or organize for a particular cause, or into the arts.

All this was nearly a half-century ago.

We have come a long way since then, in many ways. The war ended, although more because of the toughness of the Vietnamese fighting for freedom than because of anything we did; and in many southern towns where blacks were beaten up for trying to vote, blacks are mayors now. More generally, discrimination based on ethnicity and skin color is just a shadow of what it was, although it still exists; our society has learned that people who love their country can speak out against questionable wars without being traitors; and we’ve eroded a lot of distinctions based on gender, sexual preference, and native language.

But in one of the most basic areas, economic equality, we ain’t done so well. Things improved for a decade or two, but during the past thirty years the disparity between rich and poor in this country has grown rapidly; and, as in the 1920's, we are facing economic dislocation and perhaps depression.


[The foregoing appeared today, Sunday, in the Las Cruces Sun-News, and is the first of two related columns. The second, two weeks from now, will discuss the current "Occupy" movement, and how it compares to the Sixties.  ]

     The 1960's, like "the Gay Nineties" and "the Roaring Twenties," seem to get mentioned disproportionately often.   The bring something vividly to mind in most everyone, even folks born decades later.

     However, I'm not sure popular history or most old folks' memories see the Sixties very clearly, in part because history (and the memories of some participants) focus too much on the drugs. 

      One piece of that time that space didn't permit me to portray very vividly in the column is the feel of living in the United States (outside a large city, at least) and opposing the war.  

      We stood out: hair a mite longer than the Beatles', facial hair, blue jeans and denim work shirts, and a few other basic clues could get you beaten up by strangers, even if you hadn't said anything.  You walked with the unsettling knowledge that the police, that last-resort protection we all have in the back of our minds, were not on our side.

       That was made vividly clear the first time we held a small peace vigil in Lancaster, Pennsylvania.  It was a conservative town.  The very small group in the vigil was attacked by a motorcycle group.  It was far from a deadly attack, but it wasn't trivial, either.  At least one friend of mine was injured by a motorcycle driven up onto the sidewalk and into the group.   When the police arrived, they greeted the motorcyclists as old friends.

       A police car took two of my friends to the police station to make a report.   Driving down one of Lancaster's many alleys, the driver stopped.  He turned to my friends, in the back of the car, eyed them coldly, and said, "You're the ones we ought to be getting.  And we will."  On another occasion, when folks threw a rock through my window in Lancaster, the police arrived and, instead of showing any interest in the damage, kept cross-examining us about why we had no furniture in the downstairs part of the house.  (Years later, in Las Cruces, I was a well-known local reporter, although I had hair so long it was braided nearly to my belt.  A cop stopped me; but when I got off my motorcycle and removed my helmet, he recognized me, and may even have known I played basketball with the police chief.  He immediately apologized for stopping me.  I said that was fine, but asked why he'd stopped me, since I knew I'd been well within the speed limit.  He stammered a bit, then pointed and said there was a smudge on my license plate.   I knew damned well he'd stopped me because I looked like the hippie motorcycle bum I was, then realized I wasn't defenseless.)

       Mostly it was small stuff.   A close friend of mine went into a diner.  The waitress, spotting his moustache and longish hair and denim work shirt, spilled hot coffee all over him, purposefully, to the cheers and laughter of the diner's other patrons.  The same friend, visiting me here in Dona Ana County a few years later, liked the inexpensive but quiet adobe home I was renting down by Brazito, and tried to find one for himself and his wife.  Told that a particular gentleman had an empty house to rent near Mesquite, my friend went there.  The man's wife told Jim her husband was out back, and to go around the house.  Jim did -- but when the potential landlord, who happened to be branding cattle, caught sight of Jim, he rose and started toward him threateningly, raising the branding iron as if to brand Jim, who wisely ran for his car.   Driving back to Las Cruces once from the East Coast, I picked up a hitchhiker in West Texas.  He had a Mohawk sort of haircut that looked so weird I almost thought twice about picking him up.  Turned out he'd had a normall, if somewhat long, head of hair until the Sheriff had spotted him hitchhiking, arrested him, and given him the haircut he now had. 

       More often, we faced only insults, threats of violence, and obscene telephone calls.  Violence was rare.  However, the constant awareness of that possibility, compounded by uncertainty as to what the police might do (or whether, in fact, they might use the drug laws to get rid of a troublemaker or two by planting drugs on us), created an anxiety akin to that one feels when watching a movie in which the protagonist is carrying secret documents through a country occupied by enemy forces.

       Or we faced retaliation against our livelihoods.  I shared a house with a poet in Lancaster who was fired from his teaching post at the college for stating (in what was meant to be a private studnet-faculty forum but got written up somewhat sensationally in the concervative local paper) that he "admired the courage of young men who burn their draft cards."  Here in Las Cruces, a promising young astronmer was sacked by NMSU in 1969 for running an underground newspaper critical of the military and the university administration.   (A year or so after I came to Las Cruces, when I was a graduate student, I had a part-time job tutoring scholarship athletes on the football and basketball teams.  A lowly post -- but not too lowly for a certain NMSU vice-president to ignore.  He complained to Lou Henson, and said that the University shouldn't be helping support someone like me.  Henson asked an assistant coach what I was currently doing for the athletic department, and whether I was doing it competently.  Satisfied by the answers, he refused to fire me.) 

        It was also pretty interesting, of course.  Being a very small group disliked by most of the populace gets the adrenaline rushing, and (similar, in a pale way, to comrades in war) created some especially deep and lasting friendships.      And it was strange and thought-provoking to feel so roundly hated in one's own country, for speaking up for what one thought was right.

       That, above all, is the aspect of those times I can never quite get across to people who weren't there.


Tuesday, November 1, 2011

Some Thoughts on the Las Cruces Municipal Election

Las Cruces seems to be headed in a lot of good directions: toward a government based on careful planning, not one dominated by business interests; improving quality of life while living within municipal means; and toward sustainability, which can cut costs and improve the environment at the same time.

Despite tough times the city has in reserve twice what’s required. It has such a good credit rating that it was able to refinance some debt and free up $10 million for capital improvement projects. That’s a lot of paved roads and repaired sewers.

Despite a woeful national economy in which jobs are falling away like autumn leaves, Las Cruces has recently added or is in the process of adding between 500 and 2,000 jobs.

Forbes Magazine ranks Las Cruces 14th on its national list of "The Best Small Places for Business and Careers." In job growth, Las Cruces ranks 9th. In 2009 Forbes listed Las Cruces 16th. (Santa Fe ranked 17th.) Forbes credited Las Cruces with job growth of 2.3%, and projected job growth of 2.2% , higher than Santa Fe’s figures. In 2010 CNN-Money ranked the city 14th on a list of good places for jobs.

The city has also tried to do some things that are just plain right, such as improving the community-police relationship, instituting curb-side recycling, and encouraging use of renewable energy.

Across-the-board progress, including hiring some very promising individuals to key positions, has occurred under Mayor Miyagashima and the present City Council. It’s a good record that makes it hard for challengers to argue there’s some pressing need for change.

As displayed in the recent Sun-News debate, Councilwoman Connor agrees with Miyagashima on most issues. She recently said she voted with him 95% of the time. Her campaign seems to be based primarily on the fact that she’d like to be mayor. She knows the city and represents a point-of-view that should be represented on the Council, and it’s perhaps unfortunate she’s giving up her council seat. Connor’s platform advocates things the city already seems to be doing: adding jobs, improving public safety, and cutting down on red-tape that interferes with reasonable efforts to start or expand a business.

The major contested issue is probably impact fees – fees required by cities on new or proposed developments to help fund capital improvements necessitated by the developments. The fees reduce the economic burden on citizens, who would end up paying in taxes for the paving and sewers necessitated by the new development. With declining federal and state support, fairly-calculated impact fees would seem essential to prudent governance of a city. Connor opposes them. She also opposed the forward–looking Sustainability Plan.

The city can continue forward with Ken Miyagashima or turn back with Dolores Connor toward a city run for the convenience more of developers than of citizens. Miyagashima seems a middle-of-the-road sort, a businessman who won’t hamstring business but won’t genuflect to it.

Michael Huerta’s candidacy adds an interesting dimension, but a disappointing one. He can be a very engaging young man. He’s highly articulate. Electing someone so young, and someone who is openly gay, would tend to show outsiders that this is a tolerant city.

Unfortunately, Huerta knows little about city government and appears to care less. He apparently never attended a city council meeting until he announced for mayor. His rhetoric is short on specifics. In Tuesday’s Sun-News debate Huerta attacked his opponents energetically, but often either didn’t know or didn’t care about the facts.

For example, Mr. Huerta boldly proposed selling the municipal gas utility for $45 million. When I asked some knowledgeable people who are not involved in the election, they were shocked. Selling the utility to a private entity would have a huge impact on customers, particularly businesses and the university. Zia Gas, the probable purchaser, charges far higher rates than the city. Based on current rates, a household paying $30 a month for city gas would pay $50 per month to Zia, and a household paying $40 per month would pay $70 to Zia. Someone paying $47 to the city would pay $85.37 to Zia, an 81.6% premium. This would hardly be a favor to the lower-income folks Mr. Huerta often says he wants to help.

The system is encumbered by $81 million in joint utility revenue bonds. It’s the capital-intensive water and wastewater utilities that need that money, but the people buying bonds require the gas revenues to be pledged to repayment too. If for some reason the city sold the gas utility, the city would have to pay off the bonds. The water utility would have to issue new bonds, probably at a much higher rate without the gas revenues to reassure bond-holders. Thus the actual profit to the city might be considerably less than Mr. Huerta suggested.

This appears to be one more remark thrown out to make political points, without any thought. Unless Mr. Huerta has a detailed study that shows a rational basis for it, he should withdraw it or do a little investigating.

City Councilor Nathan Small is what Huerta should try being for awhile: a smart young man who has immersed himself in the mechanics of running a city, lobbying for the city, and getting things done for people. I’ve never spoken personally with Small; but whenever we see him, he’s organizing people to improve his district, explaining how the city helped to bring a new business to town or advising people about an important workshop or meeting. He knows the nuts-and-bolts of municipal government.

When I asked another councilor about Small, the response stressed another strength: "He understands government from top to bottom, and whom to lobby about something at the state or federal level. He’s very smart about that." His fellow councilor went on to echo what we’ve seen: "He’s constantly at work bringing in jobs, fixing drains, getting things done."

No offense to Mr. Diaz, but Small seems an astonishingly good city councilor. If he has a fault, it’s that he fights hard for his district – which might not seem a fault to his constituents.

Miguel Silva should also be retained. He has a business background that he has used effectively to work with businesses in Las Cruces. When there were too many "excessive force" complaints, he was an early and lonely champion of auditing the Police Department. There was strong opposition. He prevailed, resulting in a comprehensive report and ultimately in the hiring of a police chief with community policing experience. His opponent reportedly walked out of the Sun-News candidate forum, and offered mostly platitudes in response to questions from Heath Houssamen at nmpolitics.net.

[The column above appeared in the Las Cruces Sun-News this morning, Tuesday, 2November. Because of space limitations and deadlines, the column as it appeared was slightly different than the above, notably in omission of the discussion of Michael Huerta’s proposal to sell the municipal gas utility. In any case, it represents my views, and not necessarily the newspaper’s – as evidenced by the fact that they publish it under a heading "Their Views." That’s even more true of this blog, which isn’t published by the Sun-News.
As I often do, I want to make a couple of points here that I lacked space to include in the column. One is to provide more detail on Michael Huerta and the PAC supporting him. A second is to add some discussion of the Silva-Chadborn race, for which I ran out of space in the column.]

Michael Huerta

At first, Michael Huerta seemed like an appealing candidate. He speaks with passion and says things that sound good on first hearing. People are charmed by him when they meet him.

Unfortunately, he has no relevant experience; some of the things he says don’t hold up on examination; and others are just silly.

His main experience is participation in campaigns for Hillary Clinton, Steve Pearce, and Harry Teague, as well as (very briefly) Pat Davis, who ran for sheriff up in Bernalillo Colunty. He has no experience in local government, and no experience in actually running any government.

Huerta’s record also includes a $5,000 small claims court judgment from last year that he apparently paid off shortly before announcing for mayor. Four years ago, he ran for student body president at George Washington University, where he came in fifth in a five-person race before dropping out of college. In 2008, he ran successfully to be a delegate at the National Democratic Convention in 2008, beating several more experienced politicians. It is not clear that he ever so much as attended a city council meeting before he decided he wanted to be mayor.

His statement at the Sun-News debate that the City should sell its gas utility appears to have been said because it would sound good. When one of the other candidates questioned it, Huerta didn’t provide any reasoned argument or facts, but simply said, "I got that from someone who used to be a supporter of yours," or words to that effect. I think he repeated it twice.

In fact: (1) it isn’t a very progressive idea; (2) the effect would be to increase gas prices, almost doubling them for many customers; (3) its secondary effect would be to discourage businesses, since the increase would be largest for them; and (4) it would make less money than he claims, because of the need to refinance joint utilities debt a a higher interest rate.  Bottom line: the municipal gas utility helps support other utilities while keeping prices down for its citizens who use gas, which is most of them.

Michael Huerta and the Total Newport PAC

On 8 September, Heath Haussamen reported that a Political Action Committee from Rhode Island was going to help Michael Huerta become Mayor of Las Cruces.

Discussion initially focused on whether this was legal or ethical. Was it fair that this PAC, which claimed it would put enough money and organizing into the race to "drag Michael Huerta kicking and screaming to victory," might have a major influence on the mayoral race here? I got interested in the story, and investigated.

(One point that gets lost in much of the discussion is one on which Michael Huerta, his supporter in Newport, and I all agree on, as do many legal and constitutional law experts: the Supreme Court made a wrong and dangerous decision in Citizens United v. FEC . The decision struck down limits on a PAC’s financing of ads helping an election candidate, and essentially said that as corporations are people, such limits violated the First Amendment and restricted free speech. The effect of the decision will be to allow the big-money folks, who already control too much of our electoral and governmental processes, to have an even more power. Money will be even more nakedly the deciding element in more and more elections, as some recent examples have already shown. )

I quickly learned that the fellow running the Rhode Island PAC was anything but the big wheel he purported to be. I’ll spare you the details, but every indication is that he has little money and little access to money. If the PAC puts any real money into this election, it will be money from out-of-state individuals known to Michael Huerta who use the PAC as a way of helping Huerta without being seen to do so.

Huerta has consistently denied involvement.

That denial appears not to be accurate.

His self-described campaign coordinator, Georgi Blumenthal, knew Bobby Oliveira from the 2004 Dean Campaign. For some reason, she was in touch with him about the Huerta campaign, and he responded by forming a Rhode Island PAC (which filed its first papers in Rhode Island September 9, listing Ms. Blumenthal as treasurer) and made various statements about the Las Cruces mayoral race, some of them extremely odd.

When news of the PAC surfaced, Mr. Huerta first said he welcomed all support, then back-tracked a bit to say that the support by the PAC was inappropriate and that he rejected its support. He said the PAC didn’t belong here, that he had learned about Mr. Oliveira only when Mr. Huerta called to interview him about the PAC, and that he had severed all connections with Ms. Blumenthal immediately as soon as he learned of the PAC. Ms. Blumenthal supports that claim.

Mr. Oliveira’s Facebook posts strongly appear to contradict both Mr. Huerta and Ms. Blumenthal.

On August 23, Oliveira writes "all right, time to get some work done before bed," and Blumenthal replies by asking, "The work for me?" This was the night before the date of her friends’ letter to Oliveira, which she denies she knew about. This week she claimed that Oliveira didn’t get involved in the Las Cruces mayoral race until a few days before Labor Day, and that he hadn’t done any other work for her in August.

On August 24, Oliveira writes, "OK, proposal got sent to the kid in Las Cruces . . . I only ran the headquarters for 13 Winning mayors in Massachusetts. . . . Let’s see if our boy wants to play." The next morning he writes, "Looks like we’re in the Las Cruces race . . . through a huge New Mexico sized backdoor." He and Blumenthal then discuss New Mexico law and the Citizens United decision by the U.S. Supreme Court.

Mr. Huerta has repeatedly said he learned of Oliveira only later, when Mr. Haussamen asked him about the PAC.

Mr. Oliveira ‘s apparent reference to Huerta as "the kid in Las Cruces" echoes comments he made a few years ago when Newport city councillors selected a 29-year-old Republican as mayor. According to published reports, Mr. Oliveira said, "He lives with his mother."

When I asked Ms. Blumenthal, she said that Oliveira’s first involvement with the Huerta campaign was later, closer to Labor Day; and when I asked whether Mr. Oliveira had been doing any other kind of work for her in August, she said that he had not. When I tried to ask Mr. Huerta about these posts last week, he shouted, "I’m not talking to you about that!, I’m not talking to you about that!" and hurried away.

I try to keep an open mind. I will be interested in the explanation, when it comes, of why "the kid in Las Cruces" doesn't mean the 25-year-old Mr. Huerta.

Mr. Huerta asks us to believe that although Ms. Blumenthal was a close advisor, a more experienced activist than he, who was working hard to get him elected, she contacted Mr. Oliveira about forming the Rhode Island PAC without even telling Mr. Huerta about it.  That seems highly unlikely in any business or political situation that an underling would go so far without at least tacit approval from her boss.  It seems more unlikely in this context, where Ms. Blumenthal is an experienced Democratic activist of whose skills and experience several people have spoken highly to me.

Silva vs. Chadborn

If I could select a city councillor from scratch, I wouldn’t choose either of these folks; but there’s a clear choice between them. Silva knows city government and has clear ideas about things the city should do. I don’t agree with them all. For example, both he and Chadborn oppose impact fees, which so far seem like a good idea to me. But he has thought-out positions he can articulate.

As I understand it, Chadborn walked out of the candidate forum at the Sun-News office, leaving folks to wonder if she’d do the same if she didn’t like the way a City Council meeting was going. Her answers to Heath Haussamen’s set of candidate questions might be a clue as to why she walked out: she may not have much to say.

If you live in District 1, I’d urge you to look at "Cruces District 1 council candidates discuss issues" at www.nmpolitics.net [the precise URL for this post is http://www.nmpolitics.net/index/2011/10/cruces-district-1-council-candidates-discuss-issues/ ].

Chadborn appears capable solely of platitudes.

For example, asked "What does the city need to do in the next four years about growth and development, and what would you do as a councilor to make it happen, Silva discusses a Comprehensive Plan, the time required to revise it and change zoning and planning regulations; suggests starting an Economic Development Council of business and civic leaders; mixed-use zoning and more flexible planning; and continued work on Main Street and development of Downtown. Chadborn’s complete answer is:
"As a councilor, I would listen to the taxpayers about what they want to see happen, and help them to achieve their goals."

For another example, on political action committees and whether the City should do something about their participation in local elections, Silva shows a little knowledge of the legal situation and at least advocates seeking a solution. Chadborn just quotes the constitution and says people should "follow the rules" – without addressing the question of what those rules are, should be, or could be.

For a third: Haussamen asked the candidates, with regard to the city’s efforts to focus on quality of life and sustainability, what each would do tho ensure the city plans for its future, adding, "Please identify specific initiatives or propsals you want to implement in the next four years."

Chadborn’s complete answer, which is spectacularly unilluminating, is:
"Fiscal responsibility is the key, so that the residents are ensured that infrastructure concerns, public safety, and other general services are provided. Freedom of opportunity is the highest quality of life and as councilor I would facilitate freedom and opportunity."

Presumably she approves of motherhood and apple pie, too, and the Little League.

Silva, by contrast, at least answered the question, citing specific initiatives he supports, such as obtaining the Country Club for a park and some mixed-use development, developing the open space behind the Las Cruces flood dam, finishing Downtown Main Street, and modifications to the Sustainability Plan.
And on perhaps the biggest issue facing Las Cruces, which is maximizing the chance that we’ll have enough water for the future, Silva acknowleges its importance, calls for regional agreement on the situation, assesses the short-term situation, and calls for using less water and reclaiming water we do use. He’s not highly specific, but at least understands the nature of the problem and how to start trying to solve it.

Chadborn simply says, "Aside from oversight and accountability, I haven’t seen any specific measures I could support. Everyone involved needs more information." Well, Jeez, glad we got that cleared up!
At least Silva knows something and can articulate positions. If he hasn’t got solutions, he at least has some idea how to approach solving problems. Chadborn either doesn’t have ideas or doesn’t think they’d sit well with a majority of voters, and thus keeps to herself about them. Whether she knows much about the details of running the city is questionable, since she doesn’t display such knowledge and hasn’t a record to run on.