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Today's Opinions

  • 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.

  • America’s environmental shakedown

     

    From 2009-2012, Department of Justice data shows American taxpayers paid nearly $53 million in so-called environmental groups’ legal fees. 

    The U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service has asked for a six-month delay in making a final determination on whether to list the Gunnison sage grouse as an endangered species — moving the decision past the November elections. An E&E report states: Colorado elected leaders “fear the listing could have significant economic impacts.” 

  • Teacher simply wrong on threatened violence

     

    Column as I see ’em …

    Lynne Higdon should know better.

    Higdon, a teacher, blasted this newspaper Tuesday in the letter to the editor for publishing the name of a student arrested for allegedly threatening to shoot fellow students and presumably school staff.

    Higdon compares the student’s alleged threat — he’s 18, which also makes him an adult — to those who make but have no intention of carrying out the threat of punching someone.

  • No reason to amend First Amendment

     

    At 45 just words, the First Amendment has been a bulwark in protecting unpopular speech in the United States for more than 200 years. Whether that speech involved flag burning, the KKK, or unpopular political speech, the Amendment’s clear and concise statement that “Congress shall make no law…” has been an exceptionally-American statement of principal.

    The First Amendment remains a clear statement by the American Founders that “democracy” or popular rule must be restrained in our republican form of government. Popular speech needs no special protections.

    From reading the media these days, one might believe that political speech undertaken by the Koch Brothers, the Tea Party, and other politically-active Americans are less popular than the KKK. None other than Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid has called the Koch’s “un-American” for engaging in the political process. 

  • The 60s were just yesterday

     

    Just over 100 years ago, New Mexico joined the union, becoming the 47th state. A region rich with culture and history, New Mexico boasts a proud tradition of support for civil rights.

    Nearly 50 years prior to achieving statehood, New Mexico (in 1866) repealed its anti-miscegenation laws that prohibited marriage between blacks and whites. Three decades after New Mexico did become a state, 34 states still had laws prohibiting interracial marriage.

    You’ve got to be proud to live in a state that was 82 years ahead of the rest of the country in civil liberties.

  • 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.”

  • Invisible voters

     Independent voters are coming together in New Mexico to play a role in the mid-term elections, but it’s not the role we are usually cast in by the media as “swing voters.” Instead, on primary day June 3 we’ll be working to be visible at a time when we are most invisible.
    Primary elections are a critical juncture in the democratic process. They are often the most competitive. But in New Mexico, independents are not allowed to participate. It is one of 18 states in the country to do so. Other states have put in place restrictions forcing independents to join a party in order to receive a ballot.
    As taxpayers, independents help pay for the primaries, which only benefits those members of the two major political parties and in which voter turnout is usually low. (An issue to consider is that if the two political parties ran and paid for their own elections and conducted them by mail, the turnout might be higher.)
    A recent Gallup poll shows 42 percent of Americans identify as independent (19 percent in New Mexico and more than 25 percent in Bernalillo County), making the issue all the more urgent as a large and growing segment of the electorate is marginalized in its voting powers by partisan primary systems.