Sunday, October 11, 2015

Will the Real Las Cruces Please Stand Up?

In November's municipal election, voters will choose between two views of Las Cruces: a place we invest in, to improve quality-of-life for all, and the “shrink government, cut taxes to an absolute minimum” litany of the Tea Party and the local Chamber of Commerce.

At the recent Domenici Conference, named for our long-time Republican U.S. Senator, the experts were unanimous: you want to grow your economy? You gotta invest, particularly in infrastructure and education. 

Former North Carolina Governor Jim Hunt stressed investing in a “more technologically-invested future” and strengthening public education. He added that for decades his state suspended a food exemption of the three-cent sales tax. It wasn't popular, but the programs it funded were. He recommended we consider raising taxes.

The good-government ideas articulated by Hunt (no wild-eyed progressive) sound similar to what our City Council has been trying to do. 

It's pretty much what they've been getting reamed out for doing, by the Tea Party (government must shrink until you need a microscope to find non-military functions) and the Chamber (local government must not raise taxes or regulate, and the local Board of Education should shut up and do what Hanna Skandera tells 'em to do). 

I play pickleball in Meerscheidt Rec Center weekdays – as I played noon-time basketball four decades ago. The place has grown. On Saturdays, uncountable kids play sports nearby, while their families laugh and cheer. Across across from the soccer fields is the Aquatic Center. Some people live for their daily swim. Meerscheidt is also central to the lives of disabled folks who gather there for part of the day, of middle-aged and older folks playing pickleball and volleyball, and of younger folks playing basketball. Munson Center is enriches the lives of seniors in numerous ways. 

If it costs a few extra pennies a day to have a city that cares about such things, I'll pay it. If I ran a business and were thinking of locating here, that sort of thing would matter a lot to me, because it would matter to my employees, and I'd want to attract and retain the best people I could. 

But certain business interests have made clear that they wanted to “take back Las Cruces.” 

Business used to own the City Council, which largely did the bidding of developers until the Philippou fiasco finally soured most citizens on that way of doing business. The current council cares deeply about doing the right thing: safety, services to city residents, a healthy environment, and the like. That involves building codes, environmental concerns, and rational zoning decisions. 

The first step in “taking back Las Cruces” was the vicious and dishonest effort to recall three city commissioners. When constituents who'd been tricked into signing asked to remove their names, the recall group sued, and made the City waste a bunch of lawyer time. The City won. 

The second step is trying to elect city councilors who will do the bidding of business. Part of the strategy seems to be finding malleable Democrats, because this isn't a Republican city. The strategy fooled a pro-business Republican: seeing no Republican running in his district, he signed up to run – then discovered “I'd unintentionally set up some conflict in my own party.” He withdrew his name, apparently to avoid battling against the Chamber.

Next week's column will discuss specific candidates.

Make no mistake: the Chamber of Commerce wants to “take back” the City from the rest of us – and will try to take back the County next. What kind of Las Cruces do you want?
[The column above appeared in the Las Cruces Sun-News this morning, Sunday, 11 October, and will appear later today on the KRWG-TV website.]

[As soon as I sent this off I wished I'd included a clarification of how business and the city should interact.  Businesses, collectively, are an important aspect of any community and, obviously, of any local economy.  I am not "anti-business" and do not believe a municipal government should be anti-business.  That would be absurd.
Business is an important interest group and the local economy iss an important consideration in local government.  But not the only one.  Not a dominant one.  Cities should try to avoid unnecessary red-tape and fees and bureaucracy.  City personnel should be courteous and cooperative with all.  That's  a pretty basic propositions.  But local governments should not be controlled by business.  That leads to corruption, to giving too little weight to safety and health concerns, and often to a short-term profit outlook that not only short-changes other values but frequently minimizes longer-term profits.  As I suggest in the column, reasonable efforts to improve the quality-of-life and environment of a city or state can also pay off economically.  
That is to say: I disagree with having the Chamber of Commerce run things but also disagree with the Chamber of Commerce having no voice at all.  Business interests should be listened to, but their view is self-interested and can sometimes be short-sighted as well.  The current Greater Las Cruces Chamber of Commerce 's views unfortunately seem dominated more by small-government ideology than by the rational interests of its members.]  
[A further complicating factor here is drought and an uncertain water supply, even if one doesn't accept the science related to climate-change.   We live in a goddamned desert.  I love it, but it wasn't designed for a huge human population.  It will not, in the long term, support a huge human population, as well as agriculture and a significant bovine population.   We need to revisit the common assumptions that growth is good and that maximizing growth is a civic ideal.  Building houses is a noble and useful trade; but adding further strain to our water supply just as the supply itself seems likely to diminish is not a negligible factor.

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