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When it comes to our public policy conversation, we have slurped our rhetorical Kool-Aid for a long, long time. We hustle the federal government for money while saying we should build the private sector while saying bad things about the government impact on the state.
For example, a few days ago President Barack Obama designated about 500,000 acres near Las Cruces as a national monument, to applause from Sens. Martin Heinrich and Tom Udall. Much of the land, though I’m not sure how much, is already federal and therefore hardly unregulated. Heinrich and Udall, good statists that they are, wanted the even tighter restrictions that would come with creating a wilderness area.
This is unequivocally good because, according to an economic impact study, “the national monument will generate $7.4 million in new economic activity annually and create 88 new jobs,” said the New Mexico Green Chamber of Commerce last year.
No word on the ranchers who having been using the land.
With the new monument, we see Heinrich and Udall nurturing the federal dollar. The anguish greeting the Senate retirements of Pete Domenici and Jeff Bingaman is recent on the scale of our relationship with federal money.
“Government dependence” perspective comes from the new and imperfect “New Mexico, A History” by Joseph P. Sanchez, Robert Spude and Art Gomez. (For more observations on “New Mexico, A History” see capitolreportnm.blogspot.com.) One of our first senators, Albert Fall, was a close Senate associate of Warren Harding, who became president in 1921 and whose appointment of Fall as Interior Secretary was greeted with loud cheers and instant confirmation, Amity Shlaes says in “Coolidge.” Fall tended some other money and was found guilty of bribery in 1929.
Long time Albuquerque mayor Clyde Tingley, governor from 1935 to 1938, “became one of (President Franklin) Roosevelt’s personal friends.” For one project, Conchas Dam, Tingley took a train to Nevada and met with Roosevelt.
During the Depression from 1933 to 1939, New Mexico was fifth among western states in per capita capturing of federal spending. New Mexico got more than 4,000 projects during the eight-year life of the Works Progress Administration (WPA).
The “most cherished contribution” from Tingley and the WPA was the Carrie Tingley Hospital in Truth or Consequences (then Hot Springs) and now in Albuquerque. The $290,000 from the feds provided nearly all the money.
Another important federal dollar nurturer was Dennis Chavez, a congressman starting in 1931 and appointed to the Senate by Tingley in 1935. Chavez died in office in 1962.
After World War II, on Chavez’ watch, came location and expansion of military and research facilities including Holloman and Cannon Air Force Bases, Sandia National Laboratories, and the Air Force Special Weapons Center, Los Alamos and much more.
The history brings a bigger picture to our politics and the government dependence dance. My favorite blogger, Ann Althouse, (althouse.blogspot.com), said of politics in discussing a ghastly book about President Franklin Pierce written by Nathanial Hawthorne that “is absolutely known to be ludicrous (nonsense), it helped get a man elected President, and it was written by one of the greatest writers in American history. It could be a good lesson in understanding (nonsense), which is to me the greatest challenge in following American politics…” (Althouse’s word, which began with a ‘”b,” is inappropriate here.)
Let’s dump the dependence (nonsense). Tender loving care of our world class federal science and national defense research sector should be the first priority in thinking about our economy. Our scientists do real work. Tender loving care of our military bases should get priority. Let’s maintain what we have. Then, and only then, think about the rest.