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SANTA FE – New Mexico’s once-famed Spaceport America, the only purpose-built spaceport in the world, has lost its luster. No longer does it have two of the planet’s best pitchmen, Sir Richardson Branson and Gov. Bill Richardson, promoting it.
Richardson is gone and Branson is entertaining offers from other states and nations. The United Arab Emirates has purchased a big chunk of Virgin Galactic and has an agreement to build a spaceport in that country.
Meanwhile New Mexico has a new governor who began her term saying private money should finance the remainder of the spaceport and now has warmed to the point she is saying she would like to take a space ride and she will sign any future appropriations the Legislature passes.
But Gov. Susana Martinez is not out promoting our spaceport to aerospace companies around the nation and world. The only proposal she really has put a hip into is an effort to deny driver’s licenses to undocumented immigrants.
Martinez has gone all out with that effort, including spending PAC money and getting involved in legislative races. She says it will make us safer but it certainly doesn’t attract jobs or improve our lagging economy.
For the past two years, Sir Richard has been Spaceport America’s chief proponent. His was a much admired and needed loyalty. But now that loyalty is beginning to wane. He says, “We’re not getting what we signed up for.” Branson says he was promised a bustling spaceport with many tenants. Virgin Galactic still is the only tenant as other companies get snagged by more aggressive competitors.
The fault is with both the governor and legislature. The governor is providing no personal assistance and the legislature has been an absolute roadblock with its failures on two occasions to pass informed consent legislation. The states and nations leading the pack passed such legislation long ago.
New Mexico trial lawyers are getting the blame for sabotaging the spaceport. Evidently they think they can make a buck representing a space ride passenger harmed by a product made by a supplier to an aerospace company.
The future passengers signed by Virgin Galactic are paying $200,000 apiece for the ride. Few, if any, New Mexicans likely are on that list of future passengers. Even fewer are likely to hire a New Mexico lawyer to represent them. But one can always hope, I guess.
As it stands now, New Mexico is on the verge of losing an investment of over $200 million and a great tourist and educational opportunity. If the New Mexico governor and Legislature eventually get their acts together, we may attract some companies that haven’t already made a decision on location.
Otherwise, even with so many factors going for it, Spaceport America may become a good candidate for that $1 billion ghost town that some unlikely promoter is trying to get a New Mexico county to sponsor.
On the list of other recent disappointments for our state is the failure of Congress to pass the Manhattan Project National Historical Park legislation. It appeared headed for victory on the consent calendar in the U.S. House when noted liberal Dennis Kucinich, of Ohio, objected that it would glorify a terrible weapon that killed so many.
The vote was 237-180 but it required a two-thirds majority to pass in the expedited process that was used. Cost of the project was a concern to some but this park wouldn’t have been expensive. Los Alamos, Hanford, Washington and Oak Ridge, Tennessee already recognized the significance of the bombs’ creation and have preserved important areas.
Sponsors will try again in the upcoming lame duck session of Congress. But who expects anything of substance to come from that?
The film industry’s recovery also has been a mild disappointment. We are told business is improving but haven’t seen any figures. And there still aren’t as many star sightings around Santa Fe yet.
Jay Miller is a syndicated columnist based in Santa Fe.