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Columns

  • Religion creeps back in

    As a kid, I remember my parents discussing whether they could vote for a Roman Catholic, John F. Kennedy. It was a hot topic at the time. They liked Kennedy and did vote for him. After that the issue of a candidate’s religion seemed to wane, at our dinner table and nationally.
    In this campaign, some have had to think about whether they could vote for a Mormon, Republican presidential candidate Mitt Romney. It appeared to be a lesser issue, compared to the front-page issues.
    Then a friend forwarded the photograph of a crusader demanding that a large number of groups “repent and believe in Jesus.” Here’s a portion of the list: “homos, druggies, gangsters, feminists, Mormons, Buddhists, Catholics, wife beaters, New Agers, Democrats, environmentalists, racists, government recipients, Jehovah’s Witnesses, perverts, loud mouth women, liberals and sports nuts.”
    My, my. So, in some circles it’s still a hot topic.
    Rob Nikolewski, of Capitol Report New Mexico, recently pilloried a couple of national magazines for religious bigotry in their coverage of Romney, and rightly so. To my knowledge, we haven’t seen anything similar in New Mexico. We’re pretty tolerant here, but part of the story is our history.

  • Water is life: Protect Rio Grande del Norte

    There is a well-known saying in the southwest: “Agua es vida,” or “water is life.” This isn’t just a reference to our limited supplies, but also to the cultural, spiritual and economic significance of water to our way of life.
    As the owner of a rafting company in Northern New Mexico, water is indeed my life. I take tourists and residents whitewater rafting, camping and fishing while exposing them to the culture, natural beauty and majesty that makes Northern Mexico so special. That’s why I support efforts underway to protect the Rio Grande Gorge as part of a potential Rio Grande del Norte National Conservation Area. But it is also why I was pleased to hear President Obama had designated a new national monument in Colorado recently.
    Chimney Rock west of Pagosa Springs isn’t a vital water resource. Instead, its ancient pueblos are held sacred by Native Americans. I’m hoping that if the President is willing to act to recognize and protect the important cultural significance of Chimney Rock, he’ll also act to protect the Rio Grande del Norte, which is sacred to us.
    Here in Northern New Mexico, families have irrigated from acequias for hundreds of years. We grow chiles, corn and apples.
     We rely on water from the Rio Grande to feed our families, but also to feed our souls.

  • The time to plan is now

    If you’re like most people, your plans for retirement include spending more time with your family, traveling, or catching up on hobbies and activities that have been put on hold during your working years. And, like most people, you’ve probably put money aside to fund your retirement. But what if your retirement suddenly includes an unexpected long-term care need?
    According to the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services in their 2011 Medicare & You booklet, about 70 percent of people over age 65 will require long-term care services at some point. And, with advances in medical technology and healthier lifestyles, people are living longer than ever before.
    The government has made it clear; it cannot afford to fund the nation’s long-term care costs. In fact, Congress tightened the financial requirements to qualify for Medicaid, the federally and state-funded program for those who live at or below the poverty level. And, recently rolled out a nationwide long-term care awareness program called “Own Your Future” which encourages people to better understand and plan for long-term care.
    All of this can certainly present a significant challenge, but there is something you can do. Plan now.

  • Trickle-down tragedy hits all

    On Aug. 31, the National Debt hit the $16 trillion mark.  I’ve often remarked that if people really understood numbers, they would never allow the government to amass such a debt.  But hey, it’s just a number, right?
    Yeah, 16 trillion is a number.  It happens to be a big number.  Big.  Really big.  Really really big.
    But I really really don’t have enough space in this column to insert enough reallys to make my point.  Let’s just say it really really is really really darn big.
    The problem with big numbers is that our brains simply aren’t wired to comprehend them.  Really.
    For example, in the night sky you’ll see lots of stars (in New Mexico that is — don’t try this in New Jersey).  There’s something like 8,000 stars visible to the naked eye.
     But there are 200 billion stars in the Milky Way galaxy alone.  That number dwarfs the 8,000 we see at night.
     And 16 trillion?  Well, you would need 90 Milky Way galaxies to have 16 trillion stars.
    No, this doesn’t do it.  Our brains can’t easily visualize galaxies.  How about something smaller, like an eyelash?  Sixteen trillion eyelashes would weigh about 3,500 tons!

  • Communication and competency

    Janice Arnold-Jones and Michelle Lujan Grisham, candidates for Congress from New Mexico’s 1st District, shared a stage recently to debate the issues. Before taking their places at separate podiums, they hugged each other.
    Both have a record of working on a bipartisan basis.  
    Republican Arnold-Jones worked across the aisle for eight years as a state legislator.  She developed a reputation for mastering the details of issues and insisting on open practices.  At this forum, she said that before she votes on a bill, she will read it – a practice unfortunately not done by all members of Congress.  
    She talks about the advantages of seeing issues from multiple perspectives and building relationships as a way to work on the issues.
    In response to a recent query from me about signing pledges related to taxes or other topics, Arnold-Jones wrote, “I do not sign any pledges because my only obligation is to the people of the First Congressional District …  I will not submit the people of New Mexico to extreme views that have left government in a stalemate.”

  • New Mexico trails most in work

    New Mexicans don’t work. More precisely, fewer New Mexicans participate in the labor force, on a percentage basis, than in most states.
    I don’t know why. I haven’t heard anyone ask, other than one or two labor economics nerds. The problem has to be cultural, deeply embedded in New Mexico society.
    Start the consideration with Nebraska, the state closest in population to New Mexico. Nebraska’s population was 1.83 million in 2010. Ours was 2.06 million. Culturally the two states are vastly different, which is the point of the comparison. Similarities are a larger city, Omaha, and a state capitol 60 miles away, Lincoln. Omaha beat Albuquerque in the Pacific Coast League division playoffs.
    During 2010, Nebraska averaged 71 percent of its population in the labor force. New Mexico scored 60 percent. With its smaller population, Nebraska offered employers 55,000 more people working or looking for work than did New Mexico.
    As Buffalo Springfield observed years ago, “There’s something happening here. What it is ain’t exactly clear.”
    In the jargon, then, New Mexico’s labor force participation rate was 60 percent. By July 2012, our rate was down to 57.9 percent. Nebraska was the nation’s leader at 71.7 percent, just ahead of oil-booming North Dakota at 70.7 percent.

  • Help from non-traditional sources

    Doris Sandoval works in an industry hard hit by the recession and lagging recovery, yet by following a strategic plan of borrowing through lines of credit, the owner of SSC Construction has kept her business going strong.
    SSC Construction is based in San Felipe Pueblo in northern New Mexico near Algodones.  The woman — and Native-owned company builds houses on tribal lands all over New Mexico and employs seven members of Sandoval’s family and numerous subcontractors.
    While most contractors struggled to find work and financing as home construction slowed and home prices dropped, SSC Construction received five lines of credit from The Loan Fund to underwrite various building projects in Native communities.
    The Loan Fund helps companies that can’t find funding through traditional sources such as banks. It looks for businesses that promote social change and build communities, and what the Loan Fund saw in SSC Construction is what it looks for in other businesses that approach it for funding.
    SSC’s history of contract completion and top-notch workmanship weighed heavily in its favor, according to Norma Valdez, one of the fund’s community development officers. T

  • Humble starts are a political staple

    SANTA FE — Log cabins are regaining popularity. It now is possible to buy kits to build your own log cabin — sort of like life-size Lincoln Logs.
    What’s the attraction of log cabins? Part of it has to do with the image, some of it rubbing off from Abraham Lincoln. Log cabins carry an air of hard working self-sufficiency and part of it has to do with politicians wanting to demonstrate they came from humble beginnings.
    Beginning in the middle 1800s, it became almost essential for presidential candidates to claim birth in a log cabin. According to National Park Service information, seven presidents claimed to have been born in log cabins. Add in vice presidents and losing candidates and you have an impressive number.
    Evidently William Henry Harrison, our eighth president, was one of the first to make the log cabin claim.
    It was only a partial truth. He did retire to a log cabin of his youth but he surrounded it with 16 rooms of more modern construction.
    Harrison was the first Whig candidate to win election to the presidency. He did it with some very creative political advisers. Harrison had been a general 30 years earlier. He was on the winning side of an Indian battle fought near the Tippecanoe River.

  • Heinrich, Wilson polar opposites on U.S. energy supply

    The two people who want to be your next U.S. Senator have a grip on two ends of the energy spectrum, but the middle is still virgin territory. One would offer carrots to renewable energy, the other would incentivize oil and gas. Neither fully embraces the range of sources.
    Democrat Martin Heinrich supported federal tax breaks and loan guarantees for companies developing renewable energy during his first two terms as a representative from the 1st Congressional District, while Heather Wilson did the same for oil and gas during her 10 years in the House. Both would move the nation toward domestic sources.
    Heinrich presents himself as the environmental candidate without acknowledging that solar and wind have environmental and land-use impacts. He says federal tax breaks for highly profitable oil and gas companies that already know how to produce their products have been unproductive.
    And yet production technology has changed a great deal and keeps changing – we have this research going on in the state. Isn’t that deserving of incentives?
    He also said that “coal and tar sands are the fuels of the past.” Not necessarily. Today’s coal is far cleaner than it was 10 years ago.

  • Dunn done good in the Senate

    SANTA FE — State Sen. Aubrey Dunn was a master tactician and understood state finances perhaps better than anyone else ever has. He died last week at 84.
    Dunn was business manager and part owner of the Alamogordo Daily News. He also had an apple orchard at High Rolls. At the Legislature he preferred to call himself an apple farmer likely because that was safer than saying he was in the newspaper business.
    Aubrey was a Democrat but if he were in the Legislature today, he’d probably be a Republican. It was shortly after his 1980 resignation from the Legislature that Democrats in the Southeastern part of the state started changing their registration to Republican or getting beaten by Republicans.
    Dunn was conservative. He thought like a business manager — or an apple grower.
    During the period he reigned as Chairman of the Senate Finance Committee, Democrats held a good 30 out of the 42 seats in the Senate.
    In the House, Republicans and conservative Democrats had formed a conservative coalition to take control. In the Senate that wasn’t necessary since most Democrats already were conservative and Dunn was in control of the money.