Leaders in name only

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By Hal Rhodes


New Mexico is an enchanting land that finds itself bereft of leadership in a time of economic woes.

Earlier this year the Washington Post put this headline above one of its stories: “Population growth in New Mexico approaching zero — and other bad signs.” In the three and a-half months since that story, there have been other headlines in other publications citing more recent economic numbers documenting that New Mexico is actually losing population and losing jobs.

But the crux of the original Post story remains the same: New Mexico has the greatest income inequality in the nation. Even more chilling, it has the greatest increase in income inequality. It also has one of the least prepared workforces in the U.S.

On top of that, the “number of New Mexicans who are marginally attached to the workforce or involuntarily in part-time as opposed to full-time jobs is high…second only to Nevada…”

Meanwhile, the state’s governor is revealed in a recent Mother Jones article as a trash-talking candidate who three years ago didn’t know what WIPP was or what potash is or that it is bad form if not downright vulgar to call your opponent “that little bitch.”

Susana Martinez may wield a tart tongue, but she’s not given to apologies even when apologies are due.

Forget about Diane Denish, the governor’s opponent in 2010 she called “that little bitch.” Ms. Denish is a savvy gal and doesn’t need Martinez’s apologies. Besides, political civility is as rare as it is transient.

Hard-pressed New Mexicans, on the other hand, could use and surely deserve a sincere “I’m sorry” for finding themselves surrounded on all sides by neighboring states where job growth, improving economies and an influx of new residents are the norm.

It’s a sharp contrast to economic atrophy, which afflicts its own state.

Rather than an apology, however, what New Mexicans have been getting lately are reelection campaign TV ads in which their governor pats herself on the back for having overcome one of the biggest budget deficits in state history upon taking office, even as she goes on to assure us that things are great and they’re going to get even greater.

Cynicism is hardly the word for it. 

What we have here is a canard. There was no budget deficit when she took office, although she huffed and puffed as though there was one. New Mexico’s Constitution prohibits budget deficits and, although there have been near misses from time to time, the state has never actually experienced one.

Second, there’s a heavy dollop of unmitigated blarney in the governor’s self-congratulatory advertisement, inasmuch as evidence suggests that nothing the governor has done seems to stem the state’s economic decline.

It’s a statistic fact. The numbers tell the tale, from child health, nourishment and well being to unrelenting poverty in parts of the state to literacy and educational achievement.

It is one of our most fascinating ironies: New Mexico ranks among the top tier of states for the number resident Ph.D.’s and yet it is among the bottom rung for high school graduation.

These are tenacious trends in New Mexico history and no one person — not even a governor — is apt to change them with the snap of a finger. A governor could, however, declare the equivalent of war on dead last, bottom of the barrel.

It has been said that parts of New Mexico never recovered from the Great Depression. It can now be said that much of New Mexico has not recovered from the Great Recession. How is it that other states, including neighbors, are bouncing back? Have New Mexicans haplessly inflicted upon themselves leaders in name only?