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Columns

  • Lunacy governs late campaign attack ads

    They are routinely dishonest, ugly to the eye and offensive to the ear. If that were not enough, they cynically contrive to insult the intelligence of the voters they are designed to seduce.
    Yet, with few exceptions, political strategists skilled at manipulating voter opinion insist that negative campaign television ads work to the advantage of the candidate or party who commission and/or pay for them.
    Simply put, candidates who are subjected to an endless barrage of negative (aka “attack”) TV ads will almost certainly pay a price on Election Day. They may not automatically lose, but at a minimum they will likely see their share of the vote diminished.
    It shames us all that some voters can be so gullible, and it degrades the democracy we profess to cherish.
    This year in New Mexico something akin to lunacy must surely be a governing principle underlying many of the negative ads being leveled against some candidates.
    One of the most unhinged has to be a disingenuous, off-the-wall negative spot brought to New Mexicans’ TV screens by Aubrey Dunn Jr., the Republican candidate for state land commissioner, attacking Democratic incumbent Commissioner Ray Powell Jr.

  • Obligation Bond funding positive for EMS classes

    A colleague of mine at University of New Mexico recently told me that the upcoming election was “the most uninteresting” he could remember in all his years of observing New Mexico politics. It may be, if the polls are to be believed. But UNM and its campus in Los Alamos will have a great deal at stake when voters cast their ballots between now and Nov. 4.
    “Bond Question C,” of the state “2014 Capital Projects General Obligation Bond Act,” asks voters to accept or reject $141 million worth of funding for capital improvements to colleges and universities across the state. UNM-LA’s share of these funds would be $500,000, which we would match with $250,000 of our own for a $750,000 renovation and upgrade of our Emergency Medical Sciences lab and training area.
    No one in Los Alamos needs to be reminded of the importance of emergency services. UNM-Los Alamos stepped forward to fill those needs in 2012, with the implementation of its Emergency Medical Services degree program. Demand for the courses is strong, and we anticipate more growth as we move to further strengthen this key strategic component of our curriculum.

  • Changes to charter will shift control, cause collateral damage

    The proposed changes to restructure the Department of Public Utilities (DPU) have the potential to cause collateral damage that may not be evident as voters consider their positions on this charter change issue.
    I have the perspectives of former county councilor, former chair of the Utility Board and of a senior manager for a public power utility in Nebraska, and also had the opportunity to participate on the first Charter Change Committee when we initially discussed the issue.
    Since most of the obvious pros and cons will be discussed at the public forum, I want to share one perspective relative to my opening comment. As I have previously noted, electricity is considered by most folks to be as essential as air, water and food. Los Alamos has elected to provide not only its own electric power, but also water and gas. The ability to successfully fulfill this mission has been demonstrated for many years. One element of this success, a most vital one, is strategic planning.

  • Reconsider methods?

    The Pajarito Trail Fest was run on Oct. 4. The course, on public land, was marked with small pink flags. Fifteen minutes after the last runner passed, the race organizers had removed every trace of their trail markings.
    The continuing Los Alamos Pace Races stand in contrast. The courses, also on public land, are copiously marked with a white powder, perhaps chalk or flour.
    The race organizers make no attempt to clean up after themselves, and race markings, particularly the ones on rock, can be seen on Los Alamos trails for literally years after the race is over.
    The Trail Fest and others have shown that a race can be run without being a litterbug.
    For the public benefit, could the Pace Race organizers and participants reconsider their methods?
    Stuart Trigman
    Los Alamos
     

  • County Charter and BPU are a long way from resolution

    The issues raised by the proposed changes to the County Charter regarding the Board of Public Utilities (BPU) have been the subject of multiple letters to the editor. Those against this amendment seem to strike an overriding theme: some county council will abuse a strengthened oversight function over the BPU to the ultimate harm of the electorate; specifically, it could increase transfers from utilities to the general fund, resulting in higher taxes disguised as increased utility rates.
    As a current member of the county council, I know all too well that trust may be earned but cannot be legislated, much as competence or objectivity cannot be legislated either. The fact of the matter is that the county charter, either current or future, cannot ensure that there will never be untrustworthy, incompetent and/or biased councilors who may in turn choose untrustworthy, incompetent and/or biased members of the BPU, a board that controls a $90 million budget, nearly half the total county budget, and who cannot be removed except essentially if convicted of a felony. However, what the charter can do is to make any abuse by a public official as transparent, difficult and ultimately punishable by the electorate as possible.

  • 'It's the jobs, stupid' still good political advice

    A reader writes about a recent column: “What was obvious was your dislike for (Gov.) Susana Martinez. Why not just devote the whole piece to this? Face it, she has done a decent job and will be reelected, probably by a pretty good margin.”
    Dislike has nothing to do with it. Yes, let’s devote a column to this. No, she hasn’t done a decent job. And her reelection will be a measure not of support but of dollars spent against the inept campaign of her opponent.
    The cast of “Saturday Night Live” was once called the “Not Ready for Prime Time Players.” This is how I think of both Martinez and Barack Obama — both bright, promising people with narrow experience when they took office. Had they worked their way up instead of vaulting into the spotlight, the outcomes would be different for the state and the nation.
    Combine that with money and flimsy spending rules and you get a campaign as substantial as cotton candy.
    In 2010, the candidates were sniping at each other over Martinez’s birthplace, Diane Denish’s Christmas cards, and who was soft on perverts. Martinez campaigned against Bill Richardson.

  • Supporting charter amendments is responsible choice to make

    Nearly two years ago, the County Council decided that the utilities section of the charter required an in-depth review. Because of previous work done by the 2010 Charter Review Committee, the council understood that there was possible weakness in the charter that could create oversight and accountability problems for the Department of Public Utilities (DPU). Therefore it created the Charter Review Committee — Utilities (CRC-2). As a CRC-2 member, I realized the work would be challenging. I also realized that I was going need to immerse myself in the issues. I am glad that I made the investment and I would like to explain my rationale for supporting the major areas of change as follows.
    Dispute Resolution: The presence of a clear path of action in the case of a dispute between the council and the Board of Public Utilities will make each accountable to reach a reasonable solution and will tend to avoid destructive personal agendas that damage the organization.
    Communication: Poor communication is a primary concern related to accountability and liability. Providing specific direction related to communication in the charter will serve to mitigate accountability and liability issues going forward.

  • Messing around with election ballots

    Sometimes New Mexico just embarrasses itself. The latest election ballot nonsense — with non-binding advisory questions on the ballot in several counties — is one of those occasions. These antics are too stupid for serious people to take seriously. And too offensive to earn anyone’s respect.
    Last year, I heard a few leading Democrats say they were working to get an amendment to the state Constitution to decriminalize marijuana on the 2014 election ballot — not because it was the right thing to do, not because New Mexico was ready to deal with the unintended consequences of legal marijuana, but because this would get large numbers of Democrats out to vote.
    They were probably right. Democratic voters are notorious for forgetting to show up in non-presidential years. Voting for their elected representatives and even their governor won’t get Democrats to the polls, but pot will.
    These political leaders were willing to damage both our state’s constitutional process and the Constitution itself, and to invite New Mexico to become the next stoner capital of the nation, to win one election. Not our proudest moment.

  • Utilities board and department need to modernize the system

    They’re caught in a 1960s time warp.
    If you’re paying attention to the ongoing battle over the utilities charter amendment, Question 2 on the upcoming ballot, you may wonder at the fervor of those who oppose the amendment. All are former members of the utilities board (Wismer calls them Utilities Board Alumni, or UBA), or former managers of the utilities department.
    Three Charter Review Committees (1994-1995, 2010-2013) recognized problems including accountability and liability, ambiguous language, the need for a process of dispute resolution between the council and a too-independent utilities board and the lack of consistency with state law. Each committee recommended changes to the charter. The council adopted most of the recommendations of the committees and added a few more of their own.
    The UBA, current board members, and present and former utilities managers were consulted by each committee and the council and overwhelmingly and consistently opposed every change — insisting in the face of every indication to the contrary that the charter is just fine as is. What’s going on here?

  • Questions from 2010 asked again

    A $554 million award to the Navajo Nation was the civil society headliner of a couple of weeks ago. The money, expected to be paid by year-end, will come from the federal government in settlement of lawsuit filed in 2006 charging the feds with mismanagement of tribal trust assets. Public discussions about what to do with the money were set to start Oct. 6 in Chinle.
    An unasked question is why the feds still hold tribal assets in trust to mismanage. PERC Reports, a publication of the Property and Environment Research Center (perc.org), a Montana think tank, raised the question two years ago and answered a resounding, “No.”
    The question is one of those fundamentals about the institutions of civil society. As we tend to matters of daily activity, such questioning seldom happens.
    In April 2010, as the primary election approached, I posed three institutional questions to the six candidates for governor. Four years later, only the answers from now Gov. Susana Martinez matter. Here they are again.