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Columns

  • How do you pick good judges?

    Around this time in an election year, I feel a little sorry for judges.
    Right now, those running for judicial office are having a tough time because of the rules governing judicial elections.
    You’ll see a few judicial candidates at every political gathering, behaving ever so politely, hanging around with hopeful looks on their faces as if they’re waiting for someone to ask them to the prom.
    Judges run for office under a wacky system, the result of a 1988 state constitutional amendment that was called judicial reform. I voted for it, persuaded by earnest lawyer friends, but I sometimes wonder what sort of pig in a poke we bought.
    Judges often start by being appointed to fill vacancies. When a sitting judge retires, candidates for the position apply to a judicial nominating commission (judges love to retire at the most inconvenient times). The commission makes recommendations to the governor, who chooses a judge to serve until the next general election.
    To keep the judgeship, the appointed judge then has to run for office. Other candidates may run for the same position both in the primary and the general election, so the appointed judge can be knocked out of office after the appointed term.

  • Dispute between judges, governor shows courts' ragged condition

    Vetoes ruffle feathers, but one of the more curious rows is between the governor, who is a career attorney and the courts.
    This year Gov. Susana Martinez vetoed an 8 percent pay increase for the state’s judges. Even though the National Center for State Courts declared New Mexico judges to be the nation’s lowest paid, Martinez sees it as a fairness issue. Other state employees got only a 3 percent increase, she has said, while judges got the 5 percent increase intended for them plus the 3 percent for all state employees.
    Last month a group of judges and the associations representing them, along with two legislators, sued to overturn the veto.
    New Mexico’s courts have become threadbare in recent years. During the governor’s first legislative session in 2011, Supreme Court Chief Justice Charles W. Daniels pleaded for enough funding to keep the doors open. Budgets were down, caseloads were up, and the courts had cut costs in every possible way, even laying off good, experienced employees.
    The case backlog was growing, along with lines in the courthouse. Daniels emphasized that a functioning judiciary is so basic to our democracy that it’s written into the Constitution.

  • College loans come back to haunt

    For several years now, I have served on a scholarship selection committee at the University of New Mexico for graduate students on such career paths as college teaching, law, public administration and the Foreign Service.
    It has been a rewarding, if sometimes frustrating experience — so many qualified students with meritorious goals in competition for limited financial assistance, lots of need without the wherewith to help them all. Still, I and others on the committee could take some comfort in knowing that other resources were often available to students we were unable to help.
    In New Mexico, there are at least a handful of other privately funded scholarship and fellowship programs. There are also the quasi-publicly funded lottery scholarships at each of the state’s universities, although that program itself has now made the needy list. And then there always college loans to which students may turn when all else fails.
    Unfortunately, all else fails all too often for all too many these days.
    As the Project on Student Debt, an initiative of the Institute for College Access and Success, recently noted, “Seven in 10 college seniors (71 percent) who graduated last year had student loan debt, with an average of $29,400 per borrower.”

  • Small business, branch offices, tumbleweeds

    Recent national news about New Mexico starts with the radiation leak at the Waste Isolation Pilot Plant near Carlsbad. Then tumbleweeds bury a home in Clovis.
    The non-status of our economy generates doublespeak and dredging in the memory. A senior administration official observed recently that there is “no growth in the labor market.”
    In fact, jobs are disappearing.
    Memory dredging began with wondering what was the last truly massively transformative economic event. The best answer seems the appearance during and just after World War II of what became the national laboratories (Los Alamos and Sandia) and White Sands Missile Range. The labs remain here, whining about government dependence notwithstanding.
    Skiing positively affected many communities starting around 1950, but in a low-key manner.
    Another answer might be the uranium boom in the Grants Uranium Belt starting with Paddy Martinez’s discovery in 1950. That long since went away and Grants went back to sleep. Or the Intel plant, just in Albuquerque.
    Today a real transformation builds around energy in Lea and Eddy Counties. We have a beginning transformation in Santa Teresa in southern Doña Ana County.

  • Roming friends, lend me your ears

    I pledge allegiance to the flag of the United States of America. And to the republic of Richard Stands.
    One nation, under god, with liver tea and justice for all.
    So, who exactly is this Richard Stands dude and is he the sicko who invented liver tea?
    Don’t you hate it when people mix words and bloodgeon the English languish like that?
    When all is set and done, I have the upmost respect for grammar and find it expotentially annoying when the misuse of words reels its ugly head.
    Welcome to the wacky world of acorns. That is, eggcorns. An eggcorn is “an idiosyncratic substitution of a word or phrase for a word or words that sound similar or identical in the speaker’s dialect.”
    Whoa is me! That definition is diarrhetic to stay the least! It’s a far gone conclusion that one has to take these things with a grain assault.
    OK, language is bad enough without having to listen to people use it. But eggcorns do not represent our inability to say what I’m trying to write, nor to write what I’m trying to say. In fact, eggcorns reflect how we think, and as such they sometimes reveal amazing creativity.
    Does Holland day sauce wet your appetite? Do you curve your hunger with cold slaw? Are you a social leopard or a coal hearted typo?

  • Learn about, keep an eye on credit reports

    One of the few positive outcomes of the 2008 financial crisis was that it helped shine a light on the importance of understanding and staying on top of your credit profile.
    Along with that heightened visibility, however, has come a great deal of confusion and misunderstanding – particularly around the all-important credit score.
    “The consequences of not maintaining a sound credit score can be very costly,” says Anthony Sprauve, senior consumer credit specialist at FICO. “A low score can bar you from getting a new loan, doom you to higher interest rates and even cost you a new job or apartment.”
    Five factors are used to determine your credit score: payment history (usually around 35 percent of your score), amount owed (30 percent), length of credit history (15 percent), newly opened credit accounts (10 percent), and types of credit used (10 percent).
    Fortunately, if your credit score has taken a hit, you can initiate several actions that will begin improving it almost immediately. Just be aware that it can take many years to recover from events like bankruptcy or foreclosure.

  • Albuquerque pair gets help to streamline product production

    When Karen Converse of the New Mexico Manufacturing Extension Partnership met André and Keith West-Harrison, the Albuquerque men were manufacturing skin- and body-care products and marketing them to spas and salons from the garage of their Albuquerque townhome.
    The self-described “chefs” used a KitchenAid mixer to blend their specialty natural and organic lotions, bath salts and balms. They then packaged and labeled the products for sale under their clients’ brand names.
    When demand for their private-label products outgrew the pair’s minimalist operation, they contacted New Mexico MEP for help raising their production processes to match the business’s sophisticated marketing profile.

  • How can towns form sense of community?

    What gives a town a sense of place?
    This was a question that occupied Elizabeth Barlow Rogers after writing her book, “Learning Las Vegas: Portrait of a Northern New Mexican Place.”
    As an Anglo from New York, she was definitely an outsider in Meadow City, as it’s sometimes called, but she considers that an asset – no political irons in the fire, no old family feuds, and untainted objectivity.
    The local sense of hospitality, especially to an older woman, made her a frequent guest in living rooms where generations looked on from family portraits hung on the walls.
    Rogers had conversations, not interviews, she said during a talk before the Historical Society of New Mexico last weekend.
    A sense of place, she concludes, derives from history, public spaces, the built environment, and public art. It’s an interesting exercise to think of your own town in those terms.
    Las Vegas is steeped in history, and with 900 buildings on the National Register of Historic Places, it has a look and an inventory of interesting properties that draw movie companies.

  • Start doing your pre-primary homework

    James Lewis has a sterling reputation among New Mexico’s state-level elected officials. His service as state treasurer has been unblemished by any hint of political scandal. But most of us haven’t a clue about what the Treasurer’s Office does. Maybe we should learn a little bit before the upcoming primary election.
    Lewis is term-limited and will step down at the end of this year. The State Treasurer position is one of a number of state-level offices up for election in gubernatorial election years that don’t get much attention from voters.
    These independently elected positions — treasurer, auditor, secretary of state, attorney general and land commissioner — are important factors in the checks and balances of government, balancing the power of the governor.
    That’s especially important in New Mexico, where the Legislature is in session for only one or two months each year. It’s not a comment on the current governor or any other particular governor, but on the general notion — in the words of a famous old proverb — that power corrupts.

  • Reality of tax devils, details and risks

    Devils and details have a long history here. So it is again, with some tax changes passed by this year’s legislative session.
    Two of these are Roswell-specific due to Roswell’s very nice economic niche in doing things with aircraft such as renovation, storage and taking them apart. The aircraft business stems from Roswell taking advantage of the huge amount of concrete poured in service of B-29s, B-36s, and, later, B-52s and B-47s stationed at what was Walker Air Force Base through 1967. (I went to kindergarten at Walker.)
    One change expands deductions for aircraft parts and service, the other creates a deduction for aircraft sales. They are examples of the “corporatist” business-government partnership that the occasional Nobel Prize type argues stifles innovation and growth, which is not the point now.
    The tax changes have what is called a “reporting requirement,” something supposed to track the effect of the special-interest tax legislation.
    The details: Lack of a penalty for non-reporting suggests that few will comply. Who does the reporting? If it is done monthly, which seems the case now, it will be done by the business’s clerical staff, which, however competent in mechanics, will be less able to deal with fancy stuff as compared to the professional, the CPAs, who get involved annually.