Sunday, October 28, 2012

This Election Matters

Let’s step back from the sound-bites and examine the core differences between Democrats and Republicans in 2012.

On the Economy, the Republicans still voice the "trickle-down" theory that goes back at least to the 1890's: if the really rich have more money to spend, it’ll "trickle down" to the average joe. And jill. The wealthy will invest money in ways that employ the rest of us.

Economic studies and a century of experience have shown it just ain’t so.

If you give a wealthy person $10 million, s/he might invest it in a factory, but probably won’t: s/he might buy a yacht made in Taiwan or some astonishing jewelry, or invest outside the country (perhaps through an offshore entity to minimize taxes).

If you give 10,000 middle-class people an extra $10 each, almost all of it goes straight into the U.S. economy. It goes to the grocer or car repair guy, who pays some tax and spends the rest here. It circulates, providing income to many U.S. citizens or businesses and contributing to the public treasury.
Nevertheless, Republicans refuse to extend middle-class tax cuts unless the cuts for the very wealthy are also continued.

Bill Clinton left office with a surplus. The Bush Administration left with a huge deficit. Blame that partly on arcane and speculative manipulations by financial folks, whose crazy schemes Democrats are somewhat more ready to regulate than Republicans are; and there are other contributing causes.

A major cause of our economic predicament was Bush’s idea that you could give rich folks (and others) a massive tax break, start two costly wars, and somehow come out all right.

Consider the longer context.

There are parallels with the 1920's: a decade of greed and speculation, during Republican Presidencies devoted to unfettering business, crashed in October 1929.

There followed Roosevelt’s "New Deal" and a strong effort to get people back to work. Helped by World War II, our economy improved and stayed pretty powerful throughout the 1950's and 1960's.

In 1961, at the end of Eisenhower’s eight-year Presidency, the top marginal income-tax rate was 91%; it was 70% when Nixon resigned in 1974; now it is a mere 35%!

It’s no coincidence that figures also show a massive increase in economic inequality in this country since 1974. Further, new studies link equality to economic development. Increased economic inequality isn’t just unfair, it’s bad business for a nation.

Sadly, there are fewer and fewer Republicans like Eisenhower or Dirksen or Nelson Rockefeller – or even the elder George Bush.

More and more, Republicans are extremists, or people who bow to the Far Right to get campaign funds and primary votes. Locally, we get a district attorney seen applauding a mention of the Confederate Flag at a Tea Party meeting; a rigidly right-wing congressman; and a state senate candidate (Alberson) from the Tea Party who touts her belief in public education but won’t let her children experience it – and believes education should be based on literal interpretation of the Christian Bible.

Our country and our state have a lot of tough decisions to make. How can we protect the environment without unduly hamstringing the economy? Help those who need help without creating an underclass of dependent people? Guarantee workers a decent life while remaining competitive in the world? What mix of drilling and alternative energy can ultimately free us from dependence on foreign oil?

Solutions aren’t always obvious, and they don’t flow magically from ideology. Finding the answers requires an honest search – not a telephone call to find out what Grover Norquist or the Koch Brothers says the answer should be. Nor can we find details in the Bible or the Koran.

Meanwhile racism, in an interesting way, plays some role in the present Presidential race. Obama is a fairly middle-of-the road liberal. His positions on issues were slightly to the right of Hillary Clinton’s; but liberals saw him as further left because of the power of his eloquence and the color of his skin. In folks whop hopefully viewed him as more liberal than he was, because he was"black," there was a scent of racism; and there’s racism in the Far Right’s nonsense about him fomenting socialist revolution or plotting to make us Moslems. One conservative lady recently said, "Michele Obama just doesn’t look like a First Lady." Yet she’s intelligent, articulate, and caring, appears to be a wonderful wife and mother, and dresses better than any First Lady since Jacqueline Kennedy.

Obama is a smart and ambitious man who cares deeply about doing a good job, both for the country and because he doesn’t like to screw up. He has done a pretty good job, too, under all the circumstances. His mixed ethnic background and varied childhood experiences gave him a broader perspective than most of us have in our youth.

Romney, the etch-a-sketch man, seems to want to accomplish what his beloved father failed to do, but he lacks his father’s character and compassion. When he views the world he sees the upper class and upper-middle class, wants to free them from nagging high tax-rates and regulations, and trusts that this will be good for the country as a whole.

[Much of the foregoing appeared as a column in the Las Cruces Sun-News today, Sunday, October 28.  I wrote it hurriedly, to replace a column on NM Constitutional Amendment #5 that might have been redundant after the Sun-News published a column on that issue Thursday.  (That one is also on the blog, if you page down to the next post.)  There's a lot more to say about the present election.]

Further observations:
Folks have been saying in every election for two hundred years that the Republic's future hangs in the balance, and the United States has continued to exist, despite some rather bad choices as president (e.g. Buchanan, Harding, and the second Bush.  Actually, it may be too early to claim we've survived the damage done by George's eight-years.).  I'll just say that it will be very difficult for us to survive another four years of Republican Rule just now.

We barely survived what the Bush Administration did to the economy.  Four more years of that kind of nonsense would weaken the country significantly -- not only because Romney wants to lower taxes for the rich at a time when we have a record deficit, but because it would exacerbate the growing economic inequality that hampers us now.

Four more years of Republican Rule so soon after the eight-year Bush Administration would mean a Supreme Court that would: (1) prevent real progress on most fronts for at least another decade, (2) possibly take us back to a time when young girls died frequently in botched illegal operations that couldn't be conducted at medical facilities, and (3) continue the work of the Roberts Court to strengthen corporations at the expense of the rest of us on a variety of fronts, some obvious (Citizens United) and others known mostly to lawyers in various specialties.

Romney himself should be a little scary, not just to women but to all of us.  His willingness to re-invent himself to please whoever seemed able to help his ambitious plans for himself means there's no real center there, no strong character.  All politicians, to some degree, play to their audience and contradict themselves; but Romney's made it an art form.  Things he said to get elected in Massachusetts flatly contradicted things he'd said and done as a Mormon "Bishop"; most of what he said during the Republican Primary Season flatly contradicted and often tried to deny his record as governor in Massachusetts; and most recently he's re-invented himself again by starting to deny much of what he's spent the last two years saying. 

Four more years of Republican Rule right now would also weaken environmental protections, weaken regulations aimed at keeping our food and drink somewhat safe, weaken regulations designed to keep banks and other finance specialists from the kind of speculative risks that helped destroy our economy recently, and guarantee we wouldn't even try to deal with globabl warming.

Four more years of Republican Rule would likely end the progress we've made during Obama's term in developing a viable foreign policy in a difficult post-Cold-War world.  Romney has shown he hasn't a clue, and he's shown that he's not too likely to appoint folks who can really help him.  The world is just beginning to respect and trust us a little, after the madness of Bush's people; but Romney doesn't sound like he values that improvement or understands how to continue it.

For months now it has appeared likely that Ohio will be the critical state.  It's possible but highly difficult to point to a way Romney can reach 270 without winning Ohio; and no Republican Presidential candidate ever has prevailed without winning Ohio.  We can hope that with the workers of Ohio Romney's willingness to let nearby Detroit go bankrupt and his general upper-class bias (and his very real contempt for them) will make a difference.

But either way, the uses the Republican right (and the Koch Brothers and their ilk, and the New Mexico oil and gas industry) are making of their new freedoms under Citizens United bode no good for democracy, or for future Democratic prospects.  However, maybe folks will learn somehow to shrug off all that stuff the way they do most TV commercials.

As to the discussion of local races, I'm in New Mexico Senate District 37, which Bill Soules and Cathy Jo Alberson are contesting.

I voted for Soules.   He seems alike a capable thoughtful guy, respected by some of my neighbors who know him well.   He has sensible positions on the issues, and some experience. The blemish on his record is that he and his fellow school-board members were convicted of holding a meeting that violated the open meetings law.  Mistake.  He says he'd been assured it was legal.  He's otherwise been a good neighbor and an active and productive citizen.

Heloise Wilson's letter in today's Sun-News ably articulates a parent's and grandparent's view of Soules as school principal here: a kind, caring, innovative man who improved education for those under his charge, but did it with a heart.  [The letter's at - just page down through the first few letters to "Supports Soules."]

Alberson is a right-wing zealot without meaningful experience.  (Apparently she's also a bit dishonest: in listing her memberships in organizations on her web-site, she slyly omits her memebership in the Tea Party and on the board of a group of parent educators who believe in teching the literal Bible.)  Michael Hayes discusses her in a column the Sun-News and, in more detail, at

Let me state clearly that I'm not against home education.  My in-laws home-school their kids in New Hampshire, in a remote area, and those two kids amaze me.  Locally, I know a couple who raise cattle and home-school their son, and he's smart, respectful, creative, and cheerful, and seems at ease with various adults wherever I've seen him.  I am against someone who asks for our vote and conceals her core believes and activities, as Ms. Alberson appears to have done.  I'm against someone who states, as the first qualification on her website, that "I am an educator" -- but apparently has no professional experience in that field.  I'd also be against anyone for whom a high priority was to turn public education to the service of any specific religion.  "Public" means for all of us.

So I am against Alberson.  One of our problems is that the the Tea Party already so dominates the Republican Party that meaningful government is more and more difficult.  Another is the effort by oil and gas to dominate New Mexico politics, and they're active in support of her, with the Reform New Mexico Now PAC's usual vicious and misleading material..  (Whoever chose or created the terrible picture they use of Soules is highly competent, though.  It makes him look truly weird, which he doesn't in person.)   Alberson's appears to be another who'll do the bidding of NMOGA in the Legislature, although her highest priority appears to be making abortion illegal.  

Thursday, October 25, 2012

Vote for an Independent Public Defender's Office in New Mexico

Quick, on this year’s ballot, what’s New Mexico Constitutional Amendment #5?

Most folks don’t know. But we should. Kudos if you do. If you don’t, you’re not alone. I didn’t know until two lawyers I respect sent me e-mails about it.

Amendment # 5 would replace gubernatorial oversight of public defenders with independent oversight by a public defender commission and would create an independent public defender department. The commission would appoint the chief public defender and oversee the department, but wouldn’t interfere with lawyers’ professional judgment in individual cases.

The U.S. Constitutional right to a fair trial by jury is a fundamental protection we each have against possible abuses by state or federal prosecutors. That right cannot be adequately protected by a public defenders’ office administered by the Governor of New Mexico.

Governors are elected. While campaigning, they often promise to be "tough on crime." There’s nothing wrong with that. But if you were wrongly accused of a crime, and lacked funds for an attorney, would you want to depend on a public defender appointed by that "tough-on-crime" governor? Suppose your appointed attorney couldn’t fully investigate the case or hire a necessary expert witness because that governor hadn’t sought sufficient funds for the public defender’s office?

There’s an inherent conflict of interest. The governor oversees the district attorneys’ offices statewide. The governor decides how much to ask the Legislature to budget for the public defender’s office each year. Might there be a powerful temptation to ask for an annual budget of $1.29 for the public defender, to guarantee more convictions?

Prosecutors can and do seek budget increases and capital improvements. Governors support them – and would face political trouble if they didn’t. Public defenders can’t even tell the Legislature what they need, except through the governor.

This is not about Governor Martinez. It may seem so because she is a governor who has spent most of her professional life prosecuting criminals, has appointed fellow prosecutors as judges, and has remained close to her former associates in the Dona Ana County District Attorney’s Office; conceivably, folks could be prosecuted by someone Martinez hired as an ADA, defended by someone she appointed as a prosecutor, and judged by someone she appointed from among her former ADA’s; but Governor Richardson was equally unenthusiastic about the change. Governors ain’t wild about releasing any of their authority. (Most of us aren’t, whether it’s in our homes or in our jobs or on our softball teams.) Clinging to power is a non-partisan instinct.

Amendment No. 5 is a matter of fairness. There’s little opposition, at least openly.

In our country folks are not guilty unless and until a court determines they are in a fair trial
. That’s a fundamental distinction between our system and the governments of Hitler, Stalin, and Saddam. A key part of that equation is the fair trial, and this Amendment will help preserve that. Let’s be tough on crime without tossing into jail folks who would be acquitted in a fair trial.
* * * * *

I’ve already voted for all five amendments, thanks to early voting.

One of the last items on the ballot stalled me. I got to it and realized I’d intended to research it further on line before deciding how to vote, but I hadn’t gotten around to it.

So how did I want to vote on Bond Question C, the bond for higher education? Normally I’d likely favor such a measure. Higher education is critical – to the young folks who oughta get the educational opportunities I had at NMSU, and to taking our best shot at maintaining a significant position in the world.

But NMSU was extraordinarily stupid in dealing with Barbara Couture, the DACC nursing accreditation problem, and the athletic conference issue. If it’s true that DACC administrators knew losing accreditation was reasonably likely but didn’t warn the students – didn’t DACC essentially defraud those students? College football is such a shark-pit these days that it’s easy to end up on the floor when the music stops in the musical conferences game. That’s where we seem to be.

Even if the Regents were right to tell Couture to get lost, and even right to pay her a huge wad of money to get lost, they were comically stupid in the way they did it, probably in the timing, and certainly in the lack of transparency. Whatever the true story is, we don’t know it, which leaves the "Sound-Off" column full of one-liners about the Regents, and most of us wondering how anyone could do the thing so awkwardly just months before asking us for money.

On the other hand, as one professor remarked the other day, "It’s for capital improvements, and at least the Regents contract out the work." Too, the bond issue is not just for New Mexico State. And whatever the rights and wrongs of how the Regents handled Couture, do we want to penalize the students?

So of course I voted in favor. After standing there for a minute or so. Gritting my teeth, holding my nose. But I voted for it.

[Earlier this week I sent this in to the Las Cruces Sun-News sas next Sunday's column; but then on Thursday the paper ran a "Their View" column by a retired public defender analyzing Amendment No. 5 and making the same recommendation I did, so I offered the paper a replacement column for Sunday that wouldn't be so redundant.  Thus I'm posting this here.]
[The paper also printed a column (after I'd sent mine in) by J. Paul Taylor on the Bond Question I discuss in the latter part of the column above.  We reach the same conclusion, to vote for Bond C,  but his column is a whole lot kinder and more gracious -- with no impolite comments on recent events involvng NMSU.  I'm not as nice a guy as he is.  (Few humans are.)  But I also felt that my recommendation would be marginally more credible if I stated up front that I shared some of the feelings that other citizens say will make them vote against Bond C.  I just don't think those feelings should keep us from doing the right thing.]
[I also enjoyed his column, in which he discusses the specific projects Bond C would help with at NMSU.]


Sunday, October 14, 2012

A PAC Invades Las Cruces

Big-money PACs have reached Las Cruces, abusing their power as badly as we feared.

One well-meaning, progressive citizen running for State Representative is suddenly the target of a "Super-PAC" from outside our county.

Joanne Ferrary is running in District 37. She’s a do-gooder who got her MBA atNMSU and worked 16 years for the Traffic Safety Bureau, pushing for DWI reform, thenand has continued to work to decrease DWI fatalities. Only thing is, she may be more effective than most do-gooders. She helped get key legislation passed, and DWI fatalities have dropped. (She doesn’t and couldn’t claim credit for that, but contributed significantly.)

Late last month, voters started receiving vicious e-mails from something called "Reform New Mexico Now." The mailings spout such blatant lies that no candidate could put his name to them.

Her opponent, Terry McMillan, says he doesn’t control the PAC, that it’s independent, and that he wishes there were no PACs. I believe him. On the other hand, the PAC is funded by the oil and gas industry and run by political allies of Dr. McMillan’s. The two big donations that started the PAC came from Mack Energy (which contributed $22,000 to Susana Martinez and $1,000 to Dr. McMillan in 2010) and Chase Oil, which gave Martinez $75,000 and the Republican Party $24,000 in 2010.

McMillan courted oil and gas support from the start. When he ran in 2010, fellow Republican Lee Rawson sent lobbyists an e-mail promising, "His [McMillan’s] candidacy should be particularly appealing to those of you representing energy, mining, medical, and business issues!" It continued, "The more you know the candidates, the better your clients will be served." (Rawson had been rejected by District 37 voters in 2008 while under fire for alleged misuse of taxpayer funds. Also heavily supported by oil and gas, Rawson had allegedly used public funds to pave a road in front of his family business.)

McMillan told me that the first he heard of this e-mail was "at the Sun-News debate [in 2010], when my opponent brought it up. Jeff Steinborn."

Rawson’s account differs. Although he says that McMillan didn’t see the e-mail in advance, he confirms telling McMillan at the time that, "I’d sent a note up there. His goal too is, he wants to meet those guys. I didn’t just send it up to those guys and not tell Terry anything. That’d be like an ambush."

The PAC’s address is the address of Susana Martinez’s political director, Jay McCleskey. (You gotta wonder how a guy with McCleskey’s police record became a former prosecutor’s "top advisor." DWI’s, leaving the scene, and battery on a woman are well-documented facts.)

The PAC apparently started by breaking the law. It registered with the Secretary of State on May 29. It said it had received its two big oil company contributions on April 24. The law says a PAC must register within ten days of receiving a contribution greater than $500.

No problem. The PAC filed an amended report changing the dates of the two major contributions to May 21 and May 24. Careless the first time or lying the second? I’m betting Lie. If someone gave me more than $100,000, I’d have a real good idea when I received it. The PAC says the date was a typo.

McCleskey and McMillan’s oil company pals are sending absurdly negative and misleading ads to help McMillan keep his seat. That should make the rest of us feel like getting out of our seats and walk some blocks knocking on doors for his opponent, Ms. Ferrary.

As I was finishing this column, I spoke to McMillan again. The PAC had made a crazy allegation that Ms. Ferrary was going to raise New Mexico income taxes by $350 million. I’d not heard of any such proposal, and Dr. McMillan confirmed that he hadn’t either.

He also told me he’d just heard a local radio ad against him from a new PAC called Patriot Majority USA. First I’d heard of it, though a Sun-News story appeared on-line that evening.

My first reaction was annoyance. I don’t want PAC’s telling lies on behalf of either side. I then looked at the group’s website. The site listed the group’s priorities, which sounded generally good, and said the PAC was formed, largely by labor unions, to combat the Republican PAC. (I’ve found no website for that one.)

I hope this new PAC won’t descend to the level of the other one. Looking at the web-site, there’s some hope of that.

And of course I hope the Supreme Court some day overturns Citizens United.

Meanwhile, the Court may have saddled us with PAC’s that make elections even more of a circus than were, but we don’t have to listen.

I’d urge voters to tune out the kinds of vague allegations against candidates – Ferrary, McMillan, or anyone else – that PAC’s can toss around so freely.


[The foregoing column appeared in the Las Cruces Sun-News today, Sunday, 14 October, with one slight wording change.]

To facilitate readers' further review of the substance discussed in the column, I wanted to provide some links to sources here.
First of all: I still haven't found a web-site for "Reform New Mexico Now", but . . .
The web-site for the "Patriotic Majority" is           .
The column also refers to Jason "Jay" McClekey, who deserves a separate column some day. 
I'd advise anyone who's interested to take a look at Independent Source for details, and even a link to some of the police reports and civil pleadings involving McCleskey.  See
As near as I can tell, the record includes:

-- at least one DWI (with speeding, no registration, and no insurance);
-- at least one "leaving the scene of an accident" (which usually means defendant left to avoid a DWI charge) and "criminal damage to property" two weeks after pleading guilty to the DWI -- and although th;
-- battery on a woman (a younger woman, smaller than he), although that charge apparently was never tried and thus did not result in a conviction (but the police report is pretty deatiled and credible; and the police report indicates that McCleskey, smelling of alcohol that night and slurring his words, apparently lied to the polic officer about his whereabouts); and
-- in a civil case, using his superior resources to bully his female adversary (a much younger woman he'd met on the Internet and impregnated).
It's an unappealing picture, and his reported problems with drink, vehicles, and apparently violence are only a part of it.  His more recent record includes:
-- apparently running "Reform New Mexico Now," making him responsible ethically or morally for its vicious and wildly inaccurate mailings to voters;
-- getting taped making
-- working (until Martinez got elected) with a group run by the same fellow who runs the group in Florida that is under investigation for voter registration fraud.  (There's no hint that he was involved in the Florida situation, and no evidence that he was involved in any voter registration fraud here.  He says he had no involvement with that side of the operation.)

McCleskey's personal problems and brushes with the law are irrelevant, except that his carelessness with the truth (talking to police officers or courts, or through PAC mailers) and apparent contempt for women are also visible in the PAC's mailings.   His redeeming feature is his potential for helping voters see that maybe Susana Martinez ain't a wonderful choice for her current position.