Most Town Hall recommendations say general things in general ways

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By Harold Morgan

Nearly 175 New Mexicans and a couple of Texans gathered in Albuquerque recently for the 100th New Mexico First Town Hall, with the topic “Learning from our Past. Planning our future.”
People from metro Albuquerque and Santa Fe — what I call the north-central urban area and home to half the state’s two million people — dominated the town hall. Of the 163 people listed in the participant packet, 25, or 15 percent, were from outside the north central area. Of those, six came from northeast counties working on a regional economic development approach.
Two participants from Houston (that’s the one in Texas) must have registered late because they were not listed. The Texans work for energy companies.
The two-day town hall produced 14 recommendations. Five have to do with education. Three deal with the economy. Single topics covered are health care, water, and teen substance abuse.
These 11 say general things in general ways.
Two take the pie well into the sky — creating a more engaged citizenry and a vision plan. I can just see town hall implementation chairs, political stalwarts Toney Anaya and Ed Lujan, laying the engaged citizenry bit on an interim legislative committee. They will have to talk about stakeholders, change agents and advocates. Such are the trials of public service.
Only one recommendation is truly out there—something about doing away with income inequality via an e-reader in every kid’s backpack.
The recommendation topics were substantially driven by the town hall process. New Mexico First powers that be decided to talk about education, economy, energy and health. A background report covered those topics, as did a panel beginning the meeting. The report and the panel proved again the rule about the controlling person being the one writes the first draft.
While New Mexico First staff chief Heather Balas officially and sincerely, I believe, welcomed out-of-the-box offerings, structurally, it wasn’t to be.
Thus, my pitch for constitutional revision unsurprisingly got nowhere in the town hall deliberations. I did talk about the idea to many people, including former governors Anaya and Garrey Carruthers. That was good. For the town hall I prepared a one-page listing of 12 reasons for constitutional revision. That is posted at www.capitolreportnm.blogspot.com.
The town hall broke participants into seven groups that started with strengths, weaknesses, opportunities, threats (SWOT, in the jargon) analysis of the given topic, such as the economy. Groups had the usual elements — the “talkers” who never shut up, people who spoke usefully, and a few very quiet ones. Over the two days, the analysis moved to most urgent needs with regard to the topic and then to recommendations, which got three hours of detailed crunching the second afternoon.
I expect that the word-smithed recommendations will be posted at nmfirst.org.
Gov. Susana Martinez’s lunch address contrasted completely from the town hall’s visionary future planning mode. She stuck to familiar themes — third graders should be able to read at grade level, gross receipts tax pyramiding is bad, and the Union Pacific multi-modal transportation facility near Santa Teresa is good.
In a refreshing change, Martinez gave credit for the UP deal to many people, dropping her previous approach of claiming sole credit.
Conference conversation lacked an element common to similar settings —p eople claiming specialness based on their demographics, such as last name or birthplace. With a few exceptions, it was just New Mexicans looking to the future. A wise and veteran observer suggested this might reflect the Albuquerque-Santa Fe Anglo dominance.
But can we have a planned future and remain free? Friedrich Hayek, that great economist and apostle of liberty, likely would say no.
Harold Morgan
New Mexico Progress