Learning lessons from the past

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By Kirsten Laskey

New Mexico’s economy is in a weakened state. There’s been job cutting, hatches have been battened and belts have been made tighter. Although it may feel unexpected and surprising, a sour economy has visited the state before.

David Kammer, through the New Mexico Endowment for the Humanities, will discuss this historical period during his lecture, “New Mexico’s New Deal: A 75th Anniversary Perspective,” at 7:30 p.m. Tuesday at Fuller Lodge. The talk is part of the Los Alamos Historical Society’s lecture series.

Kammer’s talk will focus on three New Deal agencies that greatly affected the state.

These agencies were the Works Progress Administration (WPA), the Public Works Administration (PWA) and the Civilian Conservation Corps.

Their programs included irrigation projects along the Canadian River, constructing courthouses, libraries, schools and developing trail systems in National Forests.

“I would think the importance (of the New Deal) in New Mexico was highly significant,” Kammer said.

He explained New Mexico ranked fifth in the amount of New Deal money that came into the state on a per capita basis.

Plus, with the large amount of Federal land, it was natural that there would be a high number of CCC programs in the state, Kammer said.

The programs helped bring New Mexico, which was a relatively new state when Theodore Roosevelt came to office in 1933, brought the state into the 20th century, Kammer said.

At the time, he explained, there were only two state agencies, transportation and public welfare, that had offices in the state, which includes 31 counties.

People hoped that Red Cross, Salvation Army and churches would help solve their problems, Kammer said.

One of the key players for the New Deal programs in New Mexico was Governor Clyde Tingley. Tingley’s wife had tuberculosis so they moved to the state so she could recover.

He was elected governor in 1935 and served for four years.

“He was a strong supporter of Roosevelt,” Kammer said.

Tingley felt the New Deal would only be around once so he was quite active in local communities, school board and other organizations to use the WPA to put people to work.

With New Mexico currently facing a somewhat similar situation with its economy, there are lessons to be learned from the New Deal.

“I think certainly people learned the value of cooperation and learned that the federal government in time of great need came in and provided stimulus where private capital … wasn’t able to do so,” Kammer said.

He added, the New Deal’s “legacy is significant in terms of … public spaces. I think that legacy is particularly rich.”

Kammer said he is eager to share this piece of New Mexico history with the public.

“I always enjoy sharing what the New Deal has done for New Mexico and having an opportunity for them to see what the New Deal has done even today,” he said. “The fact we’re living through different economic times today, looking back (we) have a little more bearing of what is going on today.”