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Columns

  • Two speakers

     

        At the turn of the New Year, the Speakers of two Houses of Representatives were much in the news.

        In New Mexico the death of Ben Luján, longtime Democratic Speaker of the state House of Representatives occasioned glowing tributes to a man characterized as “a political giant” and “a statesman.”

        Back in the nation’s capital, the weakened U.S. House Speaker John Boehner’s inability to manage his fellow House Republicans, never mind the Congress itself, left not a few onlookers wondering how much longer his speakership could endure.

        House Speakers are traditionally elected by the majority party in that legislative chamber. In New Mexico there have been exceptions to that custom.  

  • Booming Lea, Eddy counties lead economy

    For 2012, Lea and Eddy counties brought the gain to the New Mexico economy. Albuquerque, Las Cruces and state government were the drain.
    Before taking a closer look at the state’s 2012 economic performance, a reminder of the disappearance of a previously important element in our economic performance is appropriate.
    Economy watchers, me included, formerly comforted themselves with the notion that while we lagged the nation during times of growth, we also performed better during national recessions.
    The quilt of mediocre steadiness is gone. Even if we could depend on national economic growth to drag us along, the slow growth of the national economy is little help to us.
    A comment about Albuquerque nicely applies statewide. “Albuquerque, meanwhile, is proving almost as resistant to recovery as it was against recession; it remained the only Mountain metro in the weakest national group,” said Mark Muro and Kenan Fikri, writing last month in the Brookings Mountain West Mountain Monitor.
    The following year-over-year numbers all apply to the time between November 2011 and November 2012. The Department of Workforce Solutions released the report the afternoon of Dec. 31. Except for numbers from Lea and Eddy counties, the numbers are for wage jobs.

  • Baiting the development hook with a different tax

    This year’s hot term in economic development jargon is the “single sales factor.”
    Some of the current buzz in economic development circles is that the single sales factor is the first concern of businesses considering locating in New Mexico.
    If we don’t have it, the rumor goes, they won’t look further. (They used to say that about workers’ comp, but that issue is off the endangered species list for the moment.)
    The single sales factor is at the top of the wish list Economic Development Department Secretary Jon Barela is calling the New Century Jobs Agenda, a package of mostly legislative proposals that EDD is hoping will boost our state’s persistently lagging private sector economy.
    If New Mexico is serious this year about economic development, our legislators have to pay attention to the fact that business wants the single sales factor, and 25 other states have it.  
    That’s the nature of the highly competitive game of economic development these days.

  • If you think this is crazy ...

     Over the past 20 years, more than 300,000 people have died from alcohol-related driving accidents.  
    Did you see politicians passing laws to allow “concealed bottles of rum” carry licenses?  Do you remember all the arguments claiming that more alcohol will reduce drunk driving?
     Of course not.  That would be moronic.
     Speaking of morons, NRA Chief Wayne LaPompous is shooting his mouth off again.  He and other “geniuses” think the solution to school shootings is to convert public schools to firearm depots.  
    Arm all the teachers with guns.  Patrol the hallways with a few mercenaries. Have a couple Humvees equipped with Browning .50 cal machine guns ride protective circles around the school play grounds.
     Fight guns with guns! Bullets with bullets! You can have my Barrett REC7 M4 5.56 NATO assault rifle when you pry it from my cold dead fingers!
     And the LaWackos out there proudly yell, “If you think this is crazy, well then, call me crazy!”
     Okay. But why stop there? Wayne, you’re stupid too!
    The Newtown Elementary School massacre has reignited the gun control debate and both sides are armed to the teeth with senseless rhetoric, contrived statistics and high capacity misrepresentations of the facts.

  • First gov was a man for his time and ours

    We’ve spent this past year celebrating the centennial of New Mexico’s hard-won statehood.
    As we say goodbye to 2012 and the centennial, let me introduce you to James Silas Calhoun, the first governor appointed after New Mexico became a U. S. Territory.
    Calhoun was the right man for the job, and if he were around today, he would have something to say about our current problems.
    My own celebration of the centennial involved studying Calhoun in detail and I can now declare myself the state’s only Calhoun expert, only because nobody else found him a worthy subject.
    Congress in 1849 makes today’s standoff look like a lawn party. Lawmakers fought sharply over each state proposed for admittance to the union.
    Would it be a free or slave state? Talk of rebellion hung in the air with the cigar smoke. President Zachary Taylor wanted California and New Mexico to become states and tried to help the process along by sending secret agents.
    One was James S. Calhoun, of Georgia, who arrived that spring as New Mexico’s first Indian agent. Calhoun was an ardent Whig, as was another politician from Illinois, Abe Lincoln.

  • Regulators take aim at property rights

    Federal overreach and the unending growth of Washington’s power has been a real problem for decades. That may be a trite sta
    tement these days with Washington now in firm control of Americans’ health care, but a real-world example from right here in New Mexico should give us all pause.
    In 2005, Peter and Frankie Smith purchased 20 acres of property located 19 miles south of Santa Fe.
     The retired couple found much of the land in desperate need of maintenance, stating that when the property was first purchased, truckloads of garbage and debris littered the area.
    During the cleaning process, the Smiths smoothed out a portion of an arroyo in order to safely remove the trash.
    What may seem to be good stewardship of one’s land and an effort to “Keep America Beautiful” has gotten the Smith family into a very big fight with a very powerful, albeit largely-unknown in New Mexico, federal agency called  the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers.
     The agency, rather than being pleased with the cleanup effort, viewed it as a transgression, stating that the couple had violated the 1972 “Clean Water Act.”
    The letter sent by the federal agency claims that the Smiths had violated the act by “dredging and filling a water of the United States.”

  • LA needs a real start-up incubator

    Efforts last year to create a local facility, termed a workspace “with the convenience and sociability of a neighborhood café” in White Rock may have taken an unusual twist.   I’m referring to that facility there known as “The Hive,” and in the press recently about its continuing challenges.  
    It was originally termed a “live experiment” in converting an underutilized building into a “community of freelancers, entrepreneurs, independent inventors and innovators, startups, small businesses, big company telecommuters, field workers, and other laptop nomads who are tired of working alone at home or in crowded and noisy coffee shops.”
    While that’s one heck of a blue-sky statement, and in my time working with technology startups I’ve seen a lot of “blue-sky,” just maybe … after a year of this “experiment,” what we need is something more focused and deliberate.  

  • A dash of absurd, class

    The final days of any passing year are traditionally a time to reflect upon the jumble of people and events that shaped the preceding twelve months – the absurd and the laudable.
    The dysfunctional U. S. House of Representatives notwithstanding, my own nominee for the “Notably Absurd Award” would be the New Mexico Finance Authority, whose former officials managed to make it a top scandal in 2012.
     It began when news broke that NMFA controller Greg Campbell had submitted a phony (and late) audit on the agency’s 2011 financial affairs to the State Auditor, as required by law.
    Let it be noted that connoisseurs of the absurd routinely caution that it is always unwise to promulgate phony audits, but that it is downright dumb to submit phony audits late, if only because tardiness calls attention to itself.
    Campbell pled guilty to forgery and securities fraud and was sentenced to five years probation.
    In recent days State Auditor Hector Balderas released a PricewaterhouseCoopers investigation into l’affaire NMFA.
    That investigation cost New Mexico taxpayers $1 million-plus and prompted Balderas to note that Campbell’s supervisors, including CEO Rick May, bear “significant responsibility” for the environment that allowed Campbell to contrive his phony and belated audit.

  • Utilities squeeze out extra dollars

    A new technical whizbang called E-911 was being introduced by the phone company. It was baloney, the senator told me. E-911 was going to be a new way for emergency responders to know exactly where a phone call was coming from. When a call came to a 911 call center, a message would pop up automatically showing the phone number, which could then be linked to an address.
    This was 1991 or so. The phone company, US West in those days, was asking the state for approval to add 50 cents to everyone’s phone bill to cover the cost. The senator told me the technology had been developed anyway, and the 50 cents was pure profit to the phone company.  The increase was approved.
    Caller-ID was introduced shortly afterwards, making the same technology available to everyone (for a much heftier price than 50 cents), demonstrating that the senator was probably right. The technology was there. But E-911 succeeded in squeezing more money out of you and me.

  • Happy trails to the retiring Sen. Bingaman

    In February, when Sen. Jeff Bingaman announced his retirement from Congress, the state Senate passed a memorial saluting Bingaman’s 30 years of service.
    Nearly every senator, from both sides of the aisle, had something to say about the unassuming, hardworking Democrat.
    Sen. Carroll Leavell, R-Jal: “He’s been a great statesman for New Mexico. I didn’t always agree with him, but he was accessible and always listened.”
    Sen. Dede Feldman, D-Albuquerque: “He didn’t grandstand. He didn’t come to a position until he’d considered all the facts.”
    Sen. Rod Adair, R-Roswell: “He is unfailingly courteous in every situation. That’s a rarity in Washington and in politics. It should be a goal for all of us.”
    Sen. George Muñoz, D-Gallup: “He was a helper, and we love him for it.”
    Sen. William Burt, R-Alamogordo: “He’s the most even-keeled person I’ve ever met.”
    Sen. Tim Jennings, D-Roswell: “He sat and listened and kept his mouth shut. He put the state above all issues. I don’t blame him for wanting to come home.”
    Jennings’ response addressed the first reaction many had, which was, “How can he do this to us?”