Sunday, September 21, 2014

I'm Voting for Beth Bardwell

I live in District 3, where the County Commission candidates are Beth Bardwell and Ben Rawson. Karen Perez ably represented us, but had to quit because her professional work situation changed.

This race presents a clear choice.

Bardwell is a lawyer who has worked for the City of Flagstaff and the Navajo Nation, and practiced labor law. After seven years as a lawyer, she went back to school at NMSU for a Masters of Science in Biology (1999). Since then she's been working to conserve freshwater and rivers in this area through water policy reform (at the local, state, and federal levels) and on-the-ground restoration work. She worked with EBID to create the state's first public-private partnership with the National Fish and Wildlife Foundation to develop a cooperative, market-based environmental water transaction program on the Rio Grande in southern New Mexico. She's also worked with Audubon and the World Wildlife Fund's Chihuahuan Desert Program.

Rawson, placed in his seat by Governor Susana Martinez, had limited relevant experience. Son of a conservative businessman and former State Representative, Rawson, 31, had been general manager of his father's company for ten years. His political experience before last August was limited to working as an intern during and after high school in N.M. Governor Gary Johnson's office and some work for Michigan Governor John Engler's office while Rawson was in school in Michigan. He has been a County Commissioner for a little more than a year.

I should to add that I like both candidates. If Rawson were facing a weaker Democratic candidate, I might vote for him. I have the impression that despite his lack of experience and the common belief that Martinez and his family had ambitions to see him in higher office, he's taking his work as Commissioner seriously. On less “political” issues, he's not hard to work with and he tries to collaborate in reaching consensual solutions.

But he's facing a superstar. Bardwell has extensive and very relevant experience. We're in a water crisis, and she knows water issues. She's spent 15 years trying to convince all sides to cooperate in finding mutually acceptable ways to conserve water and preserve a living environment. A law degree and legal experience aren't everything, but they ain't dog doo. And she has the kind of low-key personality that contributes to consensual solutions.

I'll post Sunday on my blog the answers each gave to a set of questions I asked. I won't discuss those here except to say that after Rawson mentioned that there was not yet a published budget, I asked about that. Another commissioner said Rawson didn't understand the process, because the budget doesn't get published until it's approved. The same commissioner said Rawson had been kind of an obstructionist on some issues.

Bardwell has been doing for decades the kinds of things a good commissioner might do: dealing with public issues, often issues in which citizens or companies have conflicting but legitimate interests, and finding the best result for the public.

Rawson has undoubtedly learned some business skills. Running the business, he's presumably learned something about making a profit. As a Commissioner he has focused largely on infrastructure and on budget issues, both of which are important. From what I've seen of him at public meetings and in private discussions, he's friendly, has a sense of humor, and seems to listen.

In short, both candidates seem personable and well-intentioned; both seem friendly, and concerned about constituents' needs; but Bardwell's politics appear more appealing to the majority of their would-be constituents, and she has an admirable wealth of experience and hard-earned wisdom we'd be foolish not to make use of.

[The foregoing column appeared in the Las Cruces Sun-News today, Sunday, 21 September.  It states myopinion.  In my view, Ms. Bardwell has incredibly valuable experience, and I also agree with her more generally on political issues.]
[I also wanted to offer side-by-side answers by the Rawson and Bardwell, without editorializing, to a few specific questions I thought might bring out their differences. Below, I've quoted their answers as accurately as possible.

As briefly as you can, why should a resident of District 3 vote for you?
[Ben Rawson:] I provide a needed balance on the commission. I am excited to be serving the residents there. I see government as service. That means responding when people call. I also like working on projects and getting them done. I know what it takes to run a business. I was born and raised here, and have my kids here, and want it to be a better area for them to stay in, hopefully.
[Beth Bardwell:] I think I have a breadth of experience and skills that lends itself well to local government. And my values and philosophy – I'm interested in social equity, fairness, and opportunity – Professionalism in government and transparency.

What's a telling fact about your opponent that should give a voter pause for thought?
R: I'm probably going to stay away from that one. The only thing that I would say is that I believe we already have her perspective well-represented on the Commission. I don't see any big character flaws that would cause someone not to vote for her.
B: I think that his unwillingness to meet his fellow commissioners half-way, or find common ground with the other commissioners, concerns me, because at the end of the day all you can do is what you can agree with fellow commissioners on.

What's a key question a reporter should ask your opponent?

Rawson Q: What different perspective would you bring to the Commission? I think it should represent all segments of the community.
Bardwell A: What I bring is, I'm very thoughtful and balanced. I'm willing to do the homework and gather input from a diverse set of stakeholders, and based on that try to find a path forward. Regarding the second point, having ideological viewpoints is less urgent than finding common ground, being pragmatic, and moving forward.

Bardwell Q: You talk about the increase in overall budget and the importance of budget oversight. What departments, services, or other costs to you want to cut? Or, what has the Commission done during the past year that you felt was not fiscally responsible/?
Rawson A: We've gone 24 million we're spending this year that we're not bringing in. We passed a budget last month, without seeing it. I'm the only one who voted against it. We still can't see it. There's something wrong with that.
I'd also say we're doing a lot of studies where there's an earlier study that's maybe three years old. We should be implementing the first study, not doing a new one already.

You've been a County Commissioner for a year: looking specifically at your record during that year, what in that record would you say particularly recommends you to a District 3 voter? [asked only of Commissioner Rawson:]
The Foreign Trade Zone, which used to be just Santa Theresa and the West Mesa. The FTZ allows manufacturers to come in and not have all the usual costs and fees on pieces of the product they're going to make. They still have state fees, but not the federal fees.

What would you say is the most serious issue the County faces right now – and how should we deal with it?
R: I'm going to mention two.
First of all, jobs and the economy are something we have to focuson. Looking at the City of Las Cruces last year, there were 200 new jobs. With all the high school graduates we have, there are no jobs, and they have to go somewhere else. We need a change of mind-set. I'll give you an example. Near the new Union Pacific tracks, there's a company that wanted to store train cars till they're ready to go on a truck. Staff turned them down because staff wanteed 30% of the area landscaped, because it was parking lot. It's out in the desert, and there's a water scarcity such that it doesn't make sense to water things. So, yes, that's what the book says, but . . .
Secondly, infrastructure. It's not as sexy as building something new; but we have roads and dams deteriorating, and we have to get a handle on that. Anyone in business knows that proper maintenance will save you a lot of money in the long run. We have dams deteriorating, and have to prevent things from occurring such as the floods in Vado.
B: There are a lot. And the problems are complex. If they were simple solutions, we'd have figured them out by now. But the leading problem is poverty in the County.

What should the minimum wage be in this county, and why?
R: Well, not trying to duck the question but I think that should be dealt with on the federal level. The City may go to $10.10. Suppose the County did the same. Then there'd be cities, such as Anthony, where it'd be different on opposite sides of a street. If it were national, or even if El Paso was also on board, it wouldn't be so bad. I will say that I don't think the $10.10 will impact local businesses here the way some have said in the media.
At the same time, the County would have problems. There are three levels of park techs under $10.10; so if you want to keep three levels, two have to go up to even more than $10.10 right away.
B: If the County could set up a ballot measure, that'd be best. It's important that we provide our residents with a liveable wage. There's lots of evidence that increasing the minimum wage is an effective way to decrease poverty and at the same time benefit the economy. It tends to rais employee performance, which helps offset the increased expense to a business. I understand small business's concerns, but I believe that raising thw minimum is right.
Now, if the city raises the minimum wage, the County should follow suit.

[Note: With the following questions, I specifically asked each candidate for a very brief answer – yes or no, then why or why not in a sentence or at most two. For the most part they complied; and if their answers seem simplistic of brief, please blame me not them.]

New Organ Mts. / Desert Peaks National Monument: good or bad for us?
R: Neutral. Our one challenge is dam maintenance. We need to work with them on the rules and regulations to make sure we can still get up there to work on those.
B: Good for us – it puts us on the map, valuing and prottecting our valuable resources and unique landmarks. I do believe it will increase tourism and bring in additional revenue for the County without impacting land use by ranchers.

Our water problem: how serious is it and what can county commission do about it?
R: It's getting more and more serious. Probably the best help is a desalinization plant at Santa Theresa, although that could be more a CRUA issue than a County issue.
B: Over the long term, it's very serious. The County Commission can provide leadership in identifying strategies and opportunities to secure a sustainable supply, whether through a desalinization plant for Santa Theresa and the border area or looking at our growth patterns and how we can reduce our water footprint.

Public Transportation and related GRT vote?
R: Well, we have a pilot project going through the end of December; and with a pilot project, that's to determine what the need is and how to fill it. Therefore I think the GRT increase is premature. I mean, if we're getting 1,000 a month passengers, that's about 30 per day. Maybe we should just hire three taxi drivers each day. What I mean is, we need to have a closer idea of the actual need.
B: I support it. I believe that it is a strategic investment in the county – integrated regional transit system will revitalize rural communities, attract new industry, and be a powerful economic engine for the County.

Capping interest rates: yes or no? Why or why not? If so, at what level?
R: I voted in favor of that. We're capping interest rate and fees. It would be better just to cap the interets rate and allow a fee on top of that for small, short-term loans. For example, if someone borrows $200 for four months. That means the company makes only $6 profit for making the loan. The 36% sounds high, but it isn't when you break it down.
B: I support it. I agree with the current proposal to ask the State Legislature to cap it at 36%. It'll help keep local low-income families stay afloat, and put more dollars in the local economy.

What Lynn Ellins did regarding marriage? What the New Mexico Supreme Court did?
R: Very bad. Not because of the marriage issue, but because of how he did it. We're a county of laws. He chose to stop following the law the way his predecessor had done and numerous county clerks around the state were. Then what about the NM Supreme Court? Neither good nor bad. We're there.They had the right. Personally I'm a little disappointed in the outcome, but I recognize that that's the direction the country wants to go on, and that's ok with me.
B: I support it. It's important to address inequality at any level of government, and that was a courageous act, and resulted in the very first shift in the state's views and laws on entitlement to marriage - - and who's entitled to declare their love for someone else through the act of marriage.

Tell me some political figure or philosopher from the past whom you feel is underrated. Not Washington or Lincoln, but someone who's maybe overlooked, who doesn't get as much attention from us as he or she should?
R: In the political world, we all have our ideas, but we still have to work together. I'd say Mark Twain, because he was very witty, he gave thought-out responses, and he injected some humor. Sometimes we get so serious that we forget to work with each other. So Mark Twain, and also the baseball player, Yogi Berra. They both kept the humor in things and worked well with other people.
B: Jimmy Carter. I think he was maligned and put in the back quarters of history as being a poor president, but in my opinion he was trying early on to deal with some issues we're grappling with today, such as energy efficiency. He was focused early on the right issues.

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