Sunday, March 18, 2012

Regarding comments by the Republican State Chairman on my comments

I thank Republican State Chairman Monty Newman for his comments on my two columns concerning Steve Pearce. Dialogue and debate on these matters can only help all of us arrive something like the truth.

Unfortunately, he chose to ignore my basic point: that while Mr. Pearce presented himself in Las Cruces as "an environmental moderate" he was no such thing. Whether you agree with him or not, he is toward the extreme, even among members of a conservative U.S. Congress, in voting against environmental protections.
There are reasons he is consistently ranked so low by groups concerned with our environment.

Chairman Newman led off with some personal invective (taken in good spirits here), then listed some votes by Pearce (most unrelated to environmental concerns) and asked whether I found fault with them.

He cited a vote on the Unborn Victims of Violence Act, and asked whether I "advocate for getting away with murdering an unborn child in killing a pregnant woman." Uhh, no. I never even thought about advocating any such thing.

Leading off with that vote illustrates our different priorities. Executing a murderer twice, or sentencing him to prison for two lifetimes instead of one, might be very satisfying; but I care more about repairing this country’s ill economy and polluted environment, getting people back to work, improving schools, making our system fairer, and the like.

He continued, "Does Mr. Goodman support partial birth abortions, or does he believe that we should remove ‘under God’ from our pledge of allegiance." Abortion deserves a separate column at some point – as an issue that provokes emotional responses and great divisiveness.

As to ‘under God," which got added to the pledge in 1954, I don’t much care. Those who like to say it or not say it should suit themselves. On balance, I’d stick with the original pledge, and the basic principle that church and state are separate. Public schools aren’t for teaching kids to believe in gods or not to believe in gods.

These are the votes Chairman Newman leads off with in trying to defend Representative Pearce. Are these the highlights of Pearce’s service in Congress? That’d be like a highlight film on a high school basketball player that shows him tying his shoes and tossing a sandwich wrapper toward a wastebasket.

The Chairman also cites votes by Representative Pearce against the stimulus and against the cap and trade bill, as if they were unquestionably right.

Well, as a U.S. citizen and a New Mexican, I’d have voted against the war with Iraq, which was based on a lie and helped get us into the economic hot water we’re in. I probably would have voted for the economic stimulus bill which, although it was watered-down in an attempt at bipartisanship, helped keep us out of either a full Depression or a worse Depression than we’re in.

Of course Chairman Newman doesn’t mention Rep. Pearce’s vote on February 17 against extending the payroll tax cut. Even when most Republicans realized the absurdity of their opposition to it, Pearce shouted "Nay!" It passed 293-132. While Rep. Pearce steadfastly opposes making billionaires like the Koch Brothers pay something closer to the tax rate any other civilized country would charge them, he says the deficit means we can’t afford to extend the tax cut for less wealthy working folk. I’m not smart enough to follow that logic.

Chairman Newman also didn’t mention Representative Pearce’s recent votes to suspend the cross-state air pollution rule, to repeal energy efficiency standards for incandescent lightbulbs, to repeal EPA emissions regulations for cement manufacturers, for the Air Quality Impact of Drilling Act (weakening the Clean Air Act), and against repeal of certain funding restrictions on the ESA. The consistently anti-environmental slant of his voting record makes it misleading for Pearce to call himself "an environmental moderate." (Again, I don’t say the oil and gas industry is always wrong, or that environmental protection advocates always right; but I do say that Representative Pearce (a) gets a bundle of money from oil and gas interests and (b) consistently votes against environmental protection advocates on just about everything.)

The Chairman also took a familiar line more often taken in national affairs: that if I disagreed with him and with Mr. Pearce, I must not really be New Mexican. (Perhaps there’ll be a Legislative Committee on un-New Mexican Affairs one day.)

In fact, a new survey suggests Mr. Pearce is the one who’s out of step with New Mexico. A 2012 survey by The Colorado College found that a majority of New Mexicans disagree that "We need to allow companies greater access to our natural resources, by ensuring them the ability to drill, mine, harvest timber, and extract other resources from our public lands" and disagree that "One of the best ways to create jobs is to cut back environmental regulations that are weighing down New Mexico businesses."

The survey also asked, "As part of efforts to improve the state economy and generate jobs as quickly as possible, some people have proposed reducing protections for land, air and water that apply to major industries. Would you prefer that New Mexico reduce protections for land, air and water that apply to major industries OR that New Mexico maintain protections for land, air, and water that apply to major industries." New Mexicans answered "maintain protections" by 79% to 17% – and another 1%, unprompted, said "Increase protections."

I’m a New Mexican and I love New Mexico. That’s why I’d like to see it represented in Congress by the best possible people.

[The above column appeared in the Las Cruces Sun-News this morning, Sunday, 18 March.]

The Colorado College western states survey to which I refer, and which coincidentally was the subject of another op-ed column in this morning's Sun-News, is worth a look. 

Meanwhile, apologies to folks who follow this blog expecting more photographs and odd observations of nature and the like.  There have been extenuating circumstances.  In any case, it's spring -- as the winds are loudly testifying at the moment -- and the blog will start being more varied again. 

Monday, March 5, 2012

Being Here

This week I don’t feel like complaining about the inanities of politicians or the fact that our greed and selfishness is destroying our society and environment.

I’m alive, in Doña Ana County. It’s pleasantly warm – but months away from blistering heat. And there’s a lot more than the weather to love about living here.

Yeah, the light caressing the Organ Mountains, the night silence broken only by occasional howling of coyotes, the vastness of the sky, and the relative emptiness of the streets are all part of it, as is the presence of friends we love.

But there’s more. As we drove home from El Paso the other day, I started wondering: What is it about this place?

With a little time to kill before Chope's opened for supper, we wandered around La Mesa just before sunset, shooting photographs. Met a nice fellow who was restoring a building more than 150 years old; it was where the priest and nuns used to stay before the church was built. His wife was doing the tile work, including mosaic archways and accents.

I can’t prove it, but I feel as if a higher percentage of people here are people who commit themselves wholly to what they do. They have to. If they want something done, they can’t necessarily rely on someone else to do it.

At Chope’s we filled up on the good, spicy food and enjoyed the familiar feel of the place -- and its history. When Cecilia, one of Chope's four daughters, came out to say hello and asked us if we were enjoying our meal, I was thinking about the fact that her grandmother was making enchiladas for farmers, in this very place, in 1915. (When Chope's was remodeled years ago, the family made sure to include a lantern in memory of Chope's mother, who would hang a kerosene lantern when she had food available.) Chope was born in the house – in 1940, I think.

You know people differently in a smaller town. You know them over time, seeing them at different stages of their lives and likely meeting their kids and/or parents, too. In a place like Las Cruces, the people you see today you’ll see again tomorrow, or next week. Maybe that also makes people more honest and open.

The next day we wandered out to Leyendecker to hear about three years of research some NMSU folks have done on hoophouses (a kind of simple, inexpensive greenhouse to facilitate growing vegetables in our winters). A surprising number of people from southern New Mexico had come out to inspect and learn. The material was interesting, but so was the audience. A diverse group of unusual people clinging to odd bits of land around the valley. All seemed highly interested in growing food, growing it right, and learning and sharing what they could about growing year round and with limited resources.

There's an ability – and responsibility – to help shape this place into what a community ought to be. I felt that living here in the mid-1970's. I never felt that way in the other places I've lived.

Afterward we stopped at Habañeros. From the outside, it doesn’t look like much; but inside, the young married couple who run it make you instantly welcome with sincere smiles and a small bowl of "welcome soup." The decor is simple but pleasant, with colorful paintings on the wall, and the food is tasty, fresh, and imaginative. It’s one of the places you don’t notice until you do, and then you put it high on your list to return to.

In a big city, you know pieces of people. You see some people in your office, others on the tennis or basketball court, others in social gatherings, but never all of those people all together. In Las Cruces, you see a lot of the same folks everywhere. The day I started work here as a reporter in 1974, I walked into the city attorney’s office and discovered I’d met him the previous Friday, at the NMSU chess club. When we went to a poetry reading a few weeks ago, one of the four poets was County Commissioner Billy Garrett, and another was Dick Thomas, husband of City Commissioner Sharon Thomas.

The next evening we went to a 50th wedding anniversary. I was moved to marvel, not for the first time, at some couples’ ability to live together a lifetime and still obviously love each other passionately. (We live next to one such couple.) The Anniversary Couple were the Thomases – who’d eloped as youngsters and still love each other.

I took a lot of photographs. I didn’t have time to think much. But later I mused on the wonder of it, the way all these fine folks we've been meeting up with these past few days just happen to be on this particular parcel of the planet, raising children, doing good work, and trying to create a better world – all of this with a certain independent spirit that seems to mark the folks who grow up or find their way here.

I do enjoy the Organ Mountains. There's also a lot more than weather to love about living here.
[The foregoing column appeared in the Las Cruces Sun-News yesterday, Sunday, March 4th.]

The Church in La Mesa -- 1853?

Doorway - La Mesa

P.S.: There is one difference between the column as it appeared in the paper and as it appears above:  somehow in writing it I must have wavered between referring to Dick Thomas as "husband of City Commissioner Sharon Thomas" and saying "Dick Thomas, whose wife is . . ." and mindlessly split the difference, referring to him as her wife and failing to catch that howler in proofing the column.  (Thanks to Reymundo for pointiing it out!)