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Columns

  • Putting the public first when it comes to public information

    Some years ago, I was present at a Legislative Finance Committee meeting in Silver City. Legislative committees hold some meetings each year outside Santa Fe, to help make government more accessible to citizens around the state.
    Attending the meeting were committee staff plus the usual suspects, state officials and lobbyists. Following committees around the state was part of their job.
     They could have been back in Santa Fe for all the difference the location made. Not a soul from the local community was in attendance, until a dozen or so senior citizens walked in, chaperoned by a staff member of their retirement home.
    The secretary of the Department of Finance and Administration was testifying. As is customary, he was facing the committee, had his back to the audience, and was talking in technical language about technical matters.
     To these visitors, he could have been speaking Klingon. The committee chair never acknowledged the visitors either or changed procedure in any way to accommodate them. They sat in bewildered silence.
    Various state boards and commissions also tramp around the state with their professional followers in tow. Local residents have a chance to participate, or at least watch and say howdy, but rarely do.

  • Character, credibility, cash

    Linda Alvarado brought a basic, overall message to the Domenici Public Conference in Las Cruces last month: “Entrepreneurial ideas are what has made America great.”  
    Myrtle Potter echoed the message, though not in quite the exact words.
    Starting from deep New Mexico roots, their paths have differed. While Potter now owns consulting and media companies, she rose in the corporate world of health care to be president and chief operating officer of Genentech, a biotechnology firm. Alvarado’s company remains as it began—Alvarado Construction Company—with some sidelines gathered along the way, including franchise restaurants in four states and a piece of the Colorado Rockies baseball club.
    In the overall public policy conversation about entrepreneurialism, the sense commonly is that the discussion is about people starting their own companies. The policy gurus focus much more narrowly on “high growth and disruptive new businesses... creating new markets and revving the engines of our nation’s economy.” This is a quote from an Innovation magazine article about Startup America, an Obama administration-blessed, foundation-funded program to help “young, high growth companies.”
    New Mexico is considering joining the Startup America program, the article said.

  • A calm view of Obamacare

    Some of that global warming could be the hot air expended on Obamacare this campaign season.
    What’s interesting is that when Jim Hinton, CEO of Presbyterian Healthcare Services, speaks in public, he never sounds too worried. Neither do his peers at Lovelace Health System. And yet these two organizations will shoulder the lion’s share of Affordable Care Act reforms for New Mexico.
    Presbyterian and Lovelace have both supported expansion of coverage for the uninsured. Presbyterian even backed former Gov. Bill Richardson’s effort to create state-funded universal care.  As for ACA, says Todd Sandman, a vice president at Presbyterian, “We think there’s a lot of good innovation in the law. It rewards quality. It doesn’t mean every line is how we’d write it.”
    Says Stephen Forney, Lovelace’s vice president and chief financial officer, “We always take a very long view of the system and the market in New Mexico so we’re prepared. We’ve had our eyes on health care reform for a long time.”
    That said, there’s anxiety out there about how ACA will translate at all levels. Forney wants to see “the rules written so we all know what we’re supposed to do.”

  • PACs pollute political process

    Political Action Committees (PACs) are conducting phone surveys and sending out mailers—and may do other campaign activities in the future.  These activities are independent of candidates, usually emotion-laden, and often misleading.   
    PAC activities are neither sponsored by, nor coordinated with, any candidate or candidate committee.  By law, fundraising and spending by candidates must be transparent. Candidates report all donations and spending and reveal who paid for campaign activities.  PACs act independently of candidates and collect money and spend it as they want.  
    I have had no contact with any PAC.  I first became aware that PACs were active in this race when a local voter participated in a phone survey and questioned the slanted call criticizing my opponent.  She emailed me.  I assured her that my campaign was not responsible for the calls and that I deplored the technique.   Soon after, others told me about phone surveys where similar techniques were being used against me.
    It is disturbing to both candidates and voters to be subjected to inflammatory and misleading political ads.  Unfortunately, I expect to see more such activities by PACs.

  • Wilson: Abandoned by GOP?

     In recent weeks, national Republican officials have delivered what were widely interpreted as back-to-back blows to former GOP Congresswoman Heather Wilson’s bid for the Senate seat being vacated by longtime Democratic U.S. Sen. Jeff Bingaman, who is retiring in January.
    First the Republican Senatorial Committee announced that it was reclaiming $3 million it had earmarked for Wilson’s race against her Democratic rival, Dist. 1 Congressman Martin Heinrich.
    Then, insult to injury, the Republican National Committee let it be known that three top RNC staffers who had been working in New Mexico on behalf of the party’s candidates preliminary to the general election were being transferred to Nevada and/or Colorado.
     To hardened political observers, the message seemed clear: National Republicans were cutting their losses in New Mexico and transferring resources to other states where their odds look better.
    It’s a cynical business, politics, and with most polls showing Wilson not doing all that well this time around that could be exactly what we have going on here.
    But if that is the game being played by national GOP Pooh Bahs, the former congresswoman was apparently not told about it because she continues to shell out money sufficient to fill our television screens with campaign commercials

  • Thanks for the coffee

    My mother taught me that I should always thank people when appropriate.
    Over the past year, I’ve had countless occasions in which a hearty thank you was due, but it’s not always possible to thank the person face to face. And so I’d like to take this opportunity to thank some people that I haven’t had the pleasure of thanking in person.
    The other day, while sitting at Starbucks, my friend and I watched yet another dead-from-the-neck-up Los Alamos resident ignore the one-way signs and Do Not Enter signs as he turned into the parking lot.  My friend and I simultaneously said, “How much stupid can some people fit into one head?”
    But when I remarked that I’ve seen people do K-turns and U-turns right in front of the cafe, my friend told me that I was exaggerating. He agreed that people speed, use their cell phones while driving and even eat sandwiches while driving, but he refused to believe that anyone would be dumb enough to do something like that.
    And so I bet him a coffee that we’d see someone do exactly that before we left for the day.

  • Johnson trying to make inroads for Libertarians

    SANTA FE — Admit it. Wednesday night’s presidential debate would have been bearable with Gary Johnson added to the mix.
    As it was, moderator Jim Lehrer’s instruction to the crowd to remain silent throughout the debate was unnecessary. Within minutes the crowd was comatose and so were millions of Americans nodding off in front of their TVs.
    How nice it would have been to have former New Mexico Gov. Gary Johnson to liven the conversation with straight talk instead of carefully nuanced talking points.
    The sameness of it all has practically killed political conventions. National TV networks almost totally lost interest this year. By four years from now, what once were exciting nail-biters may be down to one-night pep rallies.
    Neither President Obama nor Gov. Romney got much of a bump in the polls after the conventions this year. It’s probably because no one watched enough of the coverage to form an opinion.
    Meanwhile, Libertarian presidential candidate Gary Johnson is receiving an unexpected amount of coverage from newspapers, magazines and blogs because there always is something interesting to say about him.

  • Money-saving tips on open enrollment

    Over the next few weeks, millions of Americans will receive their 2013 open enrollment materials. Although it’s tempting to simply check “same as last year,” that can be a costly mistake – especially if your employer is offering different benefit plans next year or your family or income situation has changed.
    Plus, an important feature of health care flexible spending accounts, which many people use to reduce their tax bite, is changing next year (more on that below).
    Here’s what to look for when reviewing your benefit options:
    Many benefit plans – especially medical – change coverage details from year to year. If you’re offered more than one plan, compare features side by side (including plans offered by your spouse’s employer) to ensure you’re choosing the best alternative. Common changes include:
    • Dropping or replacing unpopular or overly expensive plans.
    • Increased monthly premiums for employee and/or dependent coverage.
    • Increased deductible and/or copayment amounts for doctor visits, prescription drugs, hospitalization, dental or vision benefits, etc.
    • Revised drug formularies.
    • Doctors and hospitals sometimes withdraw from a plan’s preferred provider network.

  • ‘A moral adventure’

    Enraged, many times, has been the reaction on the part of former Sen. Pete Domenici to hearing priests from his Catholic Church talk about business and entrepreneurship. Domenici shared this bit of his history as a way of saying how pleased he was to have found a priest — Rev. Robert Sirico — to talk to Catholic New Mexico about entrepreneurship via his Domenici Public Policy Conference.
    The presentation from Sirico was part of moving the Pete V. Domenici Institute for Public Policy at New Mexico State University in the direction of helping New Mexicans understand free enterprise and entrepreneurship. The rationale for moving toward entrepreneurship is simple, Domenici said. It is the dearth of entrepreneurship on the part of New Mexicans.
    The conference was Sept. 19 and 20 in Las Cruces. Sirico was the only male on the Sept. 19 program. Sirico heads the Acton Institute of Grand Rapids, Mich. The Institute’s mission, its newsletter says, “is to promote a free and virtuous society characterized by individual liberty and sustained by religious principles.”
    Domenici charged Sirico with teaching Catholic priests the capitalist system.

  • A view on charter items

    Our community has seen a lot of press recently about the four charter amendment ballot questions.  Citizens should vote NO on all four for three reasons: they embody logrolling, further disenfranchisement of voters and more petition exclusions.
    REASON 1: LOGROLLING.  The county has bundled 21 ordinances into four ballot questions, arguing that 1) there wasn’t space on the ballot to list them separately, and 2) they were all related within each question, such that none could stand on its own without affecting all the others in the bundle.
    LAGRI pointed out to council “limited space on the ballot” was not grounds for preventing the citizens from voting intelligently on individual and disparate issues; there was no haste to bring these proposals to the voters; and that these proposals could be presented in the special election being planned in the spring for the other charter amendment proposals (e.g. utilities, clerk).  It was also pointed out that a regularly scheduled separate municipal election, as practiced in every other New Mexico municipality, would reduce overload such as this on the general election ballot.