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Columns

  • Making the ballot but not Duran's way

    New Mexico Secretary of State Dianna Duran got her comeuppance in a case before the state Supreme Court a couple of weeks ago.
    She was adequately represented in the case by a private attorney of her choosing (paid for with taxpayer dollars, of course) when she appeared before the five justices. Nonetheless, she lost in a unanimous ruling, five-to-zip.
    As state law and custom have it, when the governing bodies of New Mexico counties approve measures for voters to consider in a general election, it falls to the Secretary of State to see to it that those measures are duly and properly placed on the general election ballot.
    The Secretary of State, after all, is the state’s chief election official, responsible for preparing and superintending printing of the ballots that await voters in their polling places come Election Day.
    So when the county commissions of two New Mexico counties, Santa Fe and Bernalillo, passed and submitted to Secretary Duran a pair of non-binding measures asking voters whether they would support decriminalizing the possession of small quantities of marijuana, the two counties’ commissioners had every reason to assume the Secretary of State would do her duty by putting the questions on the November ballot.

  • Public banking gets a hearing at symposium

    With tighter credit standards that have resulted in fewer loans since the recession of 2008, some are backing an effort to open a publicly owned and managed bank in New Mexico. These advocates are holding a symposium in Santa Fe on Sept. 27 to educate the public and decide how to proceed.
    State Rep. Brian Egolf (D-Santa Fe) has pushed for a statewide public bank for years, arguing it would keep more money at home and make it easier for businesses to secure capital. Fellow legislators have rejected the idea for two successive years, so backers have scaled down the idea to a publicly owned bank in just one New Mexico community: Santa Fe. They have the support of the city’s mayor, Javier Gonzales, who sees it as a resource for cash-strapped local businesses.
    Some local bankers are skeptical, citing capital availability, but little loan demand from business owners reluctant to take on more debt before they see a strong turnaround in the economy.

  • Know risks before cosigning a loan

    Shakespeare probably said it best: “Neither a borrower, nor a lender be, for loan oft loses both itself and friend.” Four hundred years later, people still wrestle with whether or not to help out a loved one by loaning them money or cosigning a loan.
    Perhaps you want to help your kid qualify for a better student loan rate or assist your widowed mom with refinancing her mortgage. Before you cosign anything, however, make sure you understand the risks involved.
    Here are just a few of the things that can go wrong and questions to ask before committing yourself — and your good credit — to what could be a decades-long commitment:
    First, understand that the main reason you’re being asked to cosign a loan is because lenders don’t think the borrower is a good risk. By cosigning, you’re guaranteeing that you’ll repay the full loan — plus any late fees or collection costs — should the borrower default.
    If that doesn’t scare you sufficiently, read on:
    • Even one late or missed payment can damage your credit.
    • In most states, the creditor can — and probably will — go after you for repayment without first trying to collect from the borrower, because they know you’re more likely to have the money.

  • Protect pets from rabies

    Although the rabies virus is commonly known for causing a life-threatening disease, many people are unaware of what exactly it entails and how to prevent its transmission. In honor of World Rabies Day on Sept. 28, here is some information to help further raise awareness about rabies and how to help protect your family and pets from this deadly disease.
    Rabies is an infection affecting the central nervous system, or brain and spinal cord, of humans and animals. This infection is caused by a virus that is transmitted primarily from bites wounds, scratches, or tissue from an infected animal. It is nearly always deadly if not treated before the beginning of symptoms.
    “Symptoms include fever, lethargy, seizures and ultimately paralysis,” said Dr. Stacy Eckman, lecturer at the Texas A&M College of Veterinary Medicine and Biomedical Sciences. “This paralysis can include paralysis of the muscles that control swallowing, leading to a ‘fear of water,’ or ‘hydrophobia’ that is often described with rabies.” Behavior changes leading to abnormally aggressive behavior may also occur.

  • A dream not yet realized

    Last week, I read Thalia Gibbs-Jackson’s letter to the editor with great interest and equally great sorrow. In my lifetime, I’ve witnessed a lot of racism and every now and then, I make the mistake of thinking that things are getting better in this world.
    I suppose with age comes blind hope, but the simple fact is that we haven’t come as far in the past 50 years as one might think. In fact, at times I think we’ve regressed.
    First, let me say that my criticism of racist attitudes is not meant to single out Los Alamos. Whether Democrat and Republican, rich or poor, educated or not, anyone can be a bigot. One thing positive you can say about racism is that it is an equal-opportunity social disorder.
    Sadly, it’s all too human to have these feelings. We all have prejudices that are tattooed into our psyche at a very young age and which can take a lifetime to shake off.
    My earliest memory of racial differences goes back to Kindergarten. I was playing in the apartments courtyard and I saw a black kid standing on the other side of the road. I walked over and yelled out, “Chocolate bar!” He yelled back, “Vanilla bar!”
    We then both ran home crying.

  • Changes needed for outdated Los Alamos County Charter

    On Nov. 4, we will be asked to vote on two questions on the ballot related to the County Charter, a document that was adopted by the voters and that has served us well for many years.
    I am a longtime resident of Los Alamos. I grew up in Los Alamos, have served on a county board and on the County Council, and I have spent quite a few hours of my life since 2010 serving on the Charter Review Committee (CRC), where we went through the current charter very carefully before recommending to the council the changes now before you.
    The people who crafted our current charter, passed in 1968 when Los Alamos was completing the transition from a government-run community to a self-governing, home-rule community, were friends and acquaintances of my parents. They did important work and I respect their efforts.
    However, the time has come to make some changes to the charter and I will support the two questions when I go to polls. The first question, which has to do with the structure of government, goes into a little more detail about the duties and responsibilities of the council chair, specifies that the council chair must be elected annually, and strengthens the recognition of the council chair as the head of the government.

  • Hamburgers and tax policy

    Filet mignon is more expensive than Hamburger Helper. If government imposes a tax based on a measure of dollars, wealthier people pay more. That’s called progressive taxation, and most of us agree it’s the right way to tax. Except when we don’t.
    New Mexico’s tax policy right now is a mess and is primarily hurting local governments, which rely heavily on gross receipts and property taxes. That’s why you are hearing about proposals — for example — to reinstate the gross receipts tax on food.
    When our gross receipts tax covered food, low-income households were protected in two ways. First, the tax didn’t apply to food purchased with food stamps. Second, low-income families received a rebate on their income tax, intended specifically to compensate them for taxes embedded into food and other purchases. If you believed these safeguards worked, the food tax was paid mostly by people who could afford it. Wealthier people who ate expensive food would pay the most.
    But the tax was always controversial. No matter how you try to explain or justify it, taxing food just does not sound good.

  • New book offers substantive, inclusive conservative framework

    Midwestern backyards lack fences. Why the custom is different from the concrete block walls of New Mexico or El Paso’s rock walls, I don’t know.
    Community benefits of the openness include homeowners accommodating one another when choosing a boundary for mowing. Open space allows kids to wander from house to house via backyards. Woods (small groves of trees) might fill the back parts of lots. Paul Ryan had these things when growing up in Janesville, Wisconsin, where he still lives, just down the street from his childhood home.
    Ryan climbed the political ladder from junior class president to semi-accidental congressman elected in 1998 at age 28, to Republican policy guru to candidate for vice president in 2012. An important step for Ryan was the decision to spend a semester in Washington, D.C., which became a job with Wisconsin Sen. Bob Katsen, who “was a wonk, which is to say he was my kind of guy,” Ryan said. (All quotes are from Ryan’s memoir and policy manifesto, “The Way Forward, Renewing the American Dream,” published in August.
    That job led to an entry-level position with Empower America, the Jack Kemp-Bill Bennett think tank. The rest, as they say, is history. Kemp’s thinking permeates Ryan. For those who forget, Kemp was kind of an ultimate economic policy wonk politician.

  • In favor of transparent government

    By Democracy succeeds when citizens trust their government. Citizens can only trust their government when it operates in a transparent manner — when citizens can see how funds are spent and decisions are made.
    To achieve transparency, government has to purposefully work to make relevant information available to citizens in a timely manner, in ways that are convenient for them, and in formats that are useful and informative. That means something more than just publishing agendas and summaries, or transcripts of meetings. Local governments that are leaders in this area actively invite an informed, engaged electorate to participate continuously; not just at election time.
    The Los Alamos County government has many strengths in this area. The county website has a fantastic section that clearly communicates the priorities and decisions that are embedded in the county budget. It’s so good that our county routinely receives national awards for it. The LA County Line and other emails available to the public contain information about county events and issues. The Open Forum is a blog that allows citizens to comment on upcoming decisions. Those are all great starts.

  • DOE needs to loosen its leash on labs

    Go local.
    That’s just one bit of advice from the Brookings Institution to the United States Department of Energy on the subject of tech transfer. Those are two sweet words to New Mexico companies and economic developers.
    Brookings recently dinged DOE for the sluggish pursuit of technology commercialization at its 17 national laboratories, including Los Alamos and Sandia. The labs could be key players in regional economies, the report says.
    Could be.
    For decades, reports here have cited the labs as a significant resource, but probably an equal number ask why we don’t have more to show for their presence. To their credit, our two labs have taken steps to work with private industry and universities. We even get a footnote in the report applauding the New Mexico Small Business Assistance Program, which gives small businesses with a technical challenge access to lab expertise.
    However, if you’re looking for more tangible results, you’ll be disappointed.