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Opinion

  • By Bob Hagan

  • We hear a lot that civility died in the recent election, but it survives here and there.
    Republican Janice Arnold-Jones and Democrat Alan Webber, former candidates for governor, proved that speaking recently to New Mexico Press Women.
    On New Mexico elections:
    “The truth lost,” said Arnold-Jones, a former state representative. “I have never seen such complete willingness to abandon the truth – on both sides.” She said Senate Majority Leader Michael Sanchez, the target of the governor’s political broadsides, “was a thorn in the side but a decent human being.”
    “Michael Sanchez was defeated by a scurrilous campaign,” said Webber. “It was a dark spot on the election.”
    He said the crime bills introduced in the special session “were a carefully laid trap to go after Democrats, in particular, Michael Sanchez.” The reality is that legislators “are too close to voters to be soft on crime,” he said.
    On New Mexico’s economy:
    Despite continuing bad news, the two describe themselves as optimistic. The way forward, both say, is to focus on infrastructure.

  • New Mexicans don’t especially like work, or at least work captured in official statistics.
    This work aversion is a continuing theme here. It’s something cultural, one of those rents in the social fabric that is central to our systemic troubles.
    The state Department of Workforce Solutions recently provided valuable additional insight by reviewing the propensity for work in our 33 counties. The measure is the ratio of employment to population (E/P). The ratio reports the percentage of the population age 16 and over that is not in an institution such as a jail and not in the military.
    The states stacking on top of Oklahoma lead in diligence. With 68 percent of its population employed in 2015, Nebraska has the highest employment-to-population ratio. Minnesota follows with 67.6 percent and Iowa has 67.3 percent. The other end of line finds West Virginia at 49.4 percent; Mississippi, 52.2 percent; and – ta da – New Mexico, 53.5 percent.
    “For the five-year period 2010 to 2014, Los Alamos County posted the highest E/P ratio, at 62.3 percent,” DWS said. For the 2010–2014 period, the national rate was 57.7 percent, with New Mexico at 53.9 percent.

  • For many businesses, philanthropic giving has an element of self-interest: It’s giving with the expectation of getting something back in the form of tax breaks and image building.

    But more and more businesses are discovering that unselfish giving has a value that’s immeasurable and that reverberates throughout the community, the workforce and the economy. 

    Community quality of life 

    Businesses that create and nurture an organizational culture based on gratitude can drive significant change that benefits everyone, not just their customers, especially if they can involve likeminded entrepreneurs.

    When a business spearheads a project that solves a local problem or provides a public service, such as building a bike path or setting aside company land for habitat restoration, it demonstrates an investment in the city or town in which it’s based and a commitment to making the host community a better place for everyone to live and work. 

  • Although women comprise a small fraction of tech professionals—just one in four, according to the National Center for Women & Information Technology —several nonprofits and startups are working to jumpstart women’s participation in computer science.

    In a previous column, I considered Grace Hopper Academy, a New York City coding bootcamp designed explicitly for women. GHA’s sister school, Fullstack Academy, takes that program online with a Remote Immersive program. Most recently, I examined how the Campaign for Female Education (Camfed) has expanded female educational access in sub-Saharan Africa using big data. But what about middle school girls here in the United States?

    Middle school is perhaps the most prudent place to promote female participation in STEM, according to several studies. Given that many girls rule out tech careers by high school, educators and administrators would be wise to pique student interest before it’s too late. A Philadelphia-based non-profit called TechGirlz takes that challenge seriously.

  • Gov. Susana Martinez will face a legislature firmly in the hands of Democrats after this election. On the other hand, she got rid of the chief thorn in her side, Senate Majority Leader Michael Sanchez.
    At this writing, the results are still new and not entirely final. Political pundits will be sorting out this election for a long time, but there are some takeaways.
    The big news here is that Democrats took back the House. After two bitter years of Republican control, we might expect to see some payback, but I hope they focus on the state’s business. Similarly, the Senate is a little more blue than red.
    The leadership shuffle in the House will probably make Rep. Brian Egolf, of Santa Fe, the new speaker. Keep an eye on the powerful House Appropriations and Finance Committee, where Gallup’s Rep.
    Patty Lundstrom has not only the seniority but the knowledge to be chair. And, fellas, women have been a little scarce in leadership positions.
    Incumbents often had the advantage, but not always.
    Newcomer Greg Baca overwhelmed Michael Sanchez after an expensive, ugly campaign. Advance New Mexico Now, a super PAC operated by the governor’s political adviser Jay McCleskey, dropped more than $370,000 on TV advertising alone, according to New Mexico In Depth.

  • Two Albuquerque credit unions are merging. The combination of Sandia Laboratory Federal Credit Union and Kirtland Federal Credit Union will have total assets of just over $3 billion, which makes for the largest New Mexico based financial institution and more than double the $1.4 billion In assets recorded by Los Alamos National Bank in September.
    Los Alamos National has had the “largest-local” title since its bigger brethren were sold to companies such as Well Fargo and Bank of America more than 20 years ago.
    Robert Chavez, Sandia president and CEO, will lead the combined company. Chavez is an alumnus of Sunwest Bank.
    The two credit unions have an enviable customer base (credit union customers are called “members”) that combines the people from Albuquerque’s research establishment (Sandia National Laboratories) and the military, which is most everything else on Kirtland Air Force Base.
    These people are steadily employed, decently paid and loyal. Bankers should be so lucky.
    After jumping the regulatory hoops, the deal is expected to be done by the end of 2017.

  • BY FINANCE NEW MEXICO
    Gary Peterson’s Albuquerque auto shop is a profit-generator with philanthropy at its heart.
    Peterson, a 22-year Air Force veteran, started One Community Auto in Albuquerque to refurbish rundown vehicles and donate the sales proceeds to a variety of charities, from Assistance Dogs of the West to veteran suicide-prevention and domestic violence prevention programs. He calls this aspect of his business “social entrepreneurship.”
    The company’s newest endeavor involves providing abandoned or wrecked cars to organizations that demolish them in training exercises.
    Cars for causes
    Peterson is under contract with the Air Force Training Academy at Goodfellow Air Force Base in San Angelo, Texas, to supply 250 vehicles to train firefighters how to safely extricate people from cars after accidents and other emergencies. His company also made a deal to provide cast-off cars that can be used for target practice.
    This novel business model is just what Peterson had in mind when he retired from the military three years ago: He wanted to start a business using the skills he acquired in the Air Force, but he wanted a large part of his earnings to support his philanthropic causes.

  • BY NATHAN SILLIN
    Practical Money Skills

  • Public art has been a force for economic development in New Mexico at least since the Great Depression, when the federal government paid hundreds of unemployed artists to create murals, sculpture and other artworks that grace federal buildings to this day. 

    Nearly a century later, many New Mexico cities are using public art projects to promote economic vitality by creating a foundation for community identity, centralizing disparate neighborhoods with a collective vision and attracting the attention of businesses that value culturally vibrant communities. One of those cities is Rio Rancho.

    “Public art speaks to our culture and how we value the places we live in,” said Daniel Chamberlain, an architect with FBT Architects and chairman of Rio Rancho’s volunteer Arts Commission. “It is a wonderful negotiator of vision. It’s a quality-of-life driver.”

    The payback can be enormous, Chamberlain said, even if it’s hard to measure. 

    Committed to the arts

  • During recent road trips, I heard two positive political ads. They’re so rare, it’s like spotting a golden eagle. The ads – in McKinley and Sandoval counties – were simple messages from the candidates, who described their backgrounds, said what they hope to accomplish and asked for the listener’s support.

    No mud, no slurs, no innuendos. I wanted to send them both a fan letter.

    We hear from political consultants that candidates go negative because it works. We’ve been told this so long, we reluctantly believe it, but it’s not true.

    In February, two researchers posted a study, “Going positive: The effects of negative and positive advertising on candidate success and voter turnout,” on the website Research & Politics. Their conclusion: “Our results suggest that it is never efficacious for candidates to run attack ads, but running positive ads can increase a candidate’s margin of victory.”

  • You can’t rig a presidential election.
    Of all the damage in this presidential election, perhaps the worst is Donald Trump’s allegation that the election is rigged.
    Some things will probably go wrong. Bad things can happen, but they will most likely be localized and not systemic. Our unwritten national agreement is that we try to prevent them, but when they happen, we accept the results. The “peaceful transition of power” is not just a slogan. It’s what preserves our republic.
    Our elections are so decentralized that it’s logistically unimaginable that anyone could pull off a successful national conspiracy. There are too many different processes, conducted in too many separate places. Any attempted conspiracy would be exposed long before it could be achieved. I don’t think I’m being naïve in saying that.
    Our elections are run by thousands of county clerks, with officials and observers from both major parties. The machines are from different manufacturers and built without the capability to be networked, so they can’t be hacked. Most states, including New Mexico, use paper ballots in addition to machine counting.

  • Santa Fe seemed full of visitors the last Friday of September. We had come to hang out with childhood friends from the very upscale Washington, D.C. suburbs. Their first New Mexico trip was a week of art and food in Santa Fe.
    Our friends rented a condo near the plaza, putting them in the national and local shift of what is called the short-term rental market. Santa Fe has limited competition by capping at 350 the number of short-term rental permits. Between individual investors offering the properties such as the one our friends found and national firms such as Airbnb, Santa Fe’s competition limit has been widely ignored. In May Santa Fe kicked the permit cap to 1,000.
    Permit holders cite unpaid lodgers taxes as one problem.
    Taos and Ruidoso have the same dilemma.
    The lodging choice of our friends and the regulatory situation show in the most recent tourism report, “The Economic Impact of Tourism in New Mexico.” The report comes from Tourism Economics of Philadelphia. It covers 2015 and is dated July 2016. The report starkly contrasts with the recent massively overblown proclamations of “economic death spiral” from the Legislature’s interim Jobs Council and its consultant, Mark Lautman of Albuquerque.

  • New people moving into the neighborhood left a loaded trailer parked in the driveway. In the night, thieves made off with the trailer but hit a speed bump too fast, lost the trailer, and sped away, leaving the trailer behind.
    Welcome to the ‘hood.
    We know New Mexico has a crime problem. In 2015, we posted the third-highest violent crime rate and second-highest property crime rate in the nation, according to the FBI.
    It’s a heated election year, and one party would like you to believe that it’s the only one that cares about crime. What we need in the Roundhouse is a thoughtful debate AFTER the election that gets at the heart of the problem, the solutions and the cost of the solutions.
    Keep in mind that in last winter’s legislative session, one of the big topics was proper staffing and pay for state corrections employees.
    Even at starvation wages for guards, the cost per inmate is $45,250 a year. So we can lock ‘em up, but with a budget still in the red, what can we afford?
    This discussion got sidetracked lately when a study done in Albuquerque concluded that a rise in the city’s crime rate directly corresponds to a reduction in jail population. This study is bound to get a lot of mileage from now until the regular legislative session in January.

  •  A woman I know lives alone and, at age 60-plus, has a chronic health condition. Often she doesn’t feel well. She thinks she would not be good company, so she doesn’t reliably return the calls of people who are trying to be her friends. 

    She’s isolated and depressed and has difficulty asking for help when she needs it. Eventually those friends may stop calling. Does that sound like anyone you know?

    Social isolation of the elderly and those with disabilities is an epidemic of our time. It’s receiving increasing recognition in public policy and public health circles. Isolation makes many frail elderly individuals miserable. And they develop health problems that add costs to our health systems. 

    Most people who have homes want to stay in them as they age; the studies confirm what common sense would tell you. But they (make that “we”) are all at risk for the frailties of old age, including losing the ability to drive and other skills basic to living independently.

  • New Mexico’s small population stretches over a big state, so we have taken higher education to the students, with 32 colleges and universities. Nearly every sizable community has a branch or an independent institution.
    For our students, who tend to be older and need to hold a job while they take classes, this is a good thing.
    But one of the bigger arguments in the recent legislative special session was how much to cut higher education. The institutions skated with relatively small cuts, but probably not for long. We’re not out of the hole, and come January, lawmakers will put everything back on the table.
    Recently, Higher Education Secretary Barbara Damron announced that the state’s system is unsustainable. Each institution has its own board, and they’re more dependent on state funding than experts say is healthy. New Mexico Junior College in Hobbs is lowest, at 20 percent, while Mesalands Community College in Tucumcari is highest, at 61 percent. The three biggest institutions get 35 to 40 percent of their funding from the state.
    As state revenues have tanked, so have enrollments, which had risen during the early part of the recession. Also, our population is shrinking as people leave the state. Graduation rates are poor (35 percent, compared with 40 percent nationally).

  • The two chile plants were big enough that the restaurant staffer carried one in each hand. He hung the plants upside down, each on a hook on the restaurant wall. Dirt clung to the roots. The chiles, each about six inches long and a pure red, were slightly shriveled. A very New Mexican image, except that the restaurant, Rafele, is in Greenwich Village in New York City. An owner of the restaurant grew the chiles on a farm upstate, I was told.
    Roasting and processing chile is another fall image, but one not seen so much outside the state.
    Since 1997 University of New Mexico alumni chapter members have gathered for group chile processing by the ton.
    I can’t imagine a ton of green chile. My images stop at a bag or two or the bushel we’ve done the past few years. My daughter’s 2016 chile image was the ten pounds that arrived in New Hampshire as a birthday present the night before she, husband and baby were set to fly to Albuquerque. But there were the chiles and process they did.
    UNM’s Washington, D.C., alumni group processed two tons of chile last year, says the alumni office. Maybe they were the bureaucrats who have fled Santa Fe for Washington the past 15 or 20 years as state government competence has eroded.
    Six other chapters gathered processing crews. Total production was six tons.

  • One item on your ballot this November is bail reform, an issue with so much support and study it’s a no-brainer. But House decisions muddled by campaign donations came close to killing reform in the last legislative session.
    The issue: Everyone has a right to get out of jail by paying a bond, but over time it’s given us a turnstile system in which the most dangerous criminals get out if they have the money, while many who pose no risk remain behind bars because they can’t afford bail – at a cost of $100 a day to the county.
    “We often release high-risk people who commit new crimes and hold people who are no threat to us at all,” said Supreme Court Chief Justice Charles Daniels in a talk before New Mexico Press Women. “We’re releasing boomerang thugs and packing jails with people who don’t belong there. They’ve become debtors’ prisons.”
    It explains why some of our worst crimes have been committed by people who had been in jail but bonded out.
    “How did we end up with a system where money decides who gets out?” Daniels asked.
    We inherited it. The system is so old it goes back to the earliest laws in England. The commercial bail-bond industry has grown steadily since 1900, and, judging by the number of bondsmen stationed near courthouses, is a booming business. Judge for yourself whether that growth is benign or malignant.

  • BY LORETTA HALL
    Guest Columnist

  • BY SHARON STOVER
    Republican candidate for House District 43