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Opinion

  • I come from a long line of Republican matrons. These were ladies whose courtesy toward those with political differences at odds with their own was nonetheless genuine and sincere.
    Mind you now, neighbors were courteous to one another, irrespective of partisan differences.
    Still, they were born and bred to hold their tongues, keep the peace when in the company of persons with political opinions significantly different from their own.
    One of my grandmothers even learned to tolerate the brash young Democrat her pretty daughter, Elizabeth, brought home during spring break from college and who shortly joined the family as her new son-in-law.
    They may have exchanged diverse views on social and political matters, but they were muted and circumspect, never confrontational. The president, “Ike,” was always spoken of admiringly and with respect for his courage and wartime heroism.
    Mrs. Eisenhower, the first lady, was routinely admired for the fussy little hats with which she adorned herself. Otherwise, she was simply Mrs. Eisenhower, the “first lady” who as far as my parents were concerned was known to be a “smoker.”
    As a child that was a shocker.

  • If you’re mentally ill or addicted, getting help means getting in to see your CSW, your community support worker. Your CSW understands you, understands your history, knows which medications have or haven’t worked. If you can’t see your CSW, it’s like being in your own sci-fi movie where you’re untethered in deep space.
    And if you even have a CSW, you’re one of the lucky ones.
    This is a little of the cold reality of what we like to call our behavioral health system after the state’s 2013 suspension of funding to 15 providers after accusing them of fraud. They provided 87 percent of services for the seriously mentally ill, substance abusers and emotionally disturbed children. They had served their communities for an average of 37 years.
    From news accounts we have an arsenal of smoking guns: Audits supporting the state Human Services Department’s accusations were doctored, the substitute Arizona providers were lined up BEFORE the audits, managed-care company UnitedHealth Group steered HSD to its conclusions and donated to the state Republican Party, the Attorney General cleared 13 of 15 providers of fraud, and a departing Arizona firm sued UnitedHealth saying its subsidiary OptumHealth accused the New Mexico providers of fraud to mask its inability to pay them.

  • One number and one question.
    Those are where the New Mexico economic discussion goes.
    The number is the ratio of employment to population. The question is why we are so low.
    A second number lends insight. That is the percentage of our population on Medicaid, which is approaching 50 percent. That half our population needs a form of welfare is astonishing, but the situation goes back to work. If more people were working for more money, there would be less Medicaid.
    Employment occupied 53.5 percent of the population in 2015. Our average employment ratio for 2014 was 56.6 percent, a decline from 2013. The definition is what you would expect. The Pew Research Center defines the ratio of employment to population as “a measurement of employed people as a percentage of the entire adult civilian non-institutional population” 16 and over. Nationally the ratio is 59.8 for February and has been nudging fitfully up since mid-2011.
    For employment-to-population, we placed 48th nationally, our usual position. Two of the other states in the bottom four—West Virginia and Kentucky—have coal as a simple explanation for their troubles. Check with Barack Obama on that issue. Mississippi’s explanations appear more complicated, although, from what I have read, racial legacies are a big part.

  • Warning to everybody who goes to work: New Mexico finally has a workers’ compensation drug and alcohol law that almost makes sense. If you are irresponsible enough to drink or use drugs at work, or before work, or you are an employer who allows that sort of behavior, it’s time to shape up.
    WORKERS: If you get injured at work, do not refuse to take a drug test. If the test shows you were drunk or stoned, your workers’ compensation cash benefits will be reduced. If you refuse to take the test, you’ll get no money.
    EMPLOYERS:  If you do not have a drug-and-alcohol-free workplace policy, you need one. The law takes effect July 1, but don’t wait to do this. Model policies are available online, or contact your insurance carrier (contact information should be in a poster on your wall that you should have put there). You can also check with the New Mexico DWI Resource Center (dwiresourcecenter.org).

  • Boos for the state chairwoman and bunches of Bernie babies with signs, cigarettes and slot machines. All appeared at the Democratic Party pre-primary convention March 12.
    For their pre-primary convention, Democrats needed a bigger room than Republicans. Around 1,200 people attended the Democratic show at Isleta Casino. The Republican convention drew about 500. For the Democrats’ meeting, people came and went, nametag or not. The Republicans had people at the entrances, looking for nametags. No nametag, no entry.
    Draw your own conclusions about inclusiveness.
    The cigarettes and slot machines came with the location – the “Bingo Showroom” at Isleta Resort and Casino south of Albuquerque. The cigarettes and slot machines were next door in the casino. As the program got a little tedious – no criticism, such events get tedious – conventioneers drifted to the casino and the slots.
    With no contested races, Chairwoman Debra Haaland observed that the purpose of the convention became making new acquaintances and renewing old acquaintances.
    Haaland began her remarks by saying, “I want to talk today about the need for unity in our party.”

  • New Mexico ag secretary: Let’s appreciate what farmers, ranchers put on our plates – and into our communities
    Milk, beef, chile, pecans…Cheese, lettuce, spinach, grapes…Alfalfa, cotton, corn, onions and more – what’s not to get excited about as spring approaches? Agriculture is alive and well in New Mexico, and the food and crops mentioned here are just a sample of the diverse culture of production that makes New Mexico special.
    On Tuesday, we celebrated National Agriculture Day across America. In New Mexico, I’m asking you to stretch the occasion out for the full week. Ag Day/Week asks us to recognize the important contributions farmers and ranchers make to our dinner plates and local communities. The food on your plate doesn’t just happen. After many months of care and nurturing by people who truly care about our health and safety, the crops grown become our breakfast, lunch, and dinner (and don’t forget snacks). Additionally, our communities thrive from the stable economic impact of agricultural production, as well as the green space it creates.

  • Last week, the governor’s biases were on display as she released the state’s annual pork bill and communities learned which of their public projects will receive capital outlay dollars.
    In a multitude of line-item vetoes, she came down hard on Navajos, Democrats, courts, and acequia associations.
    The governor chastised legislators in a nine-page message for squandering infrastructure funding and spending on local public works. She said some projects were underfunded or unwanted by local governments, and some spending was for items that will wear out before the bond is paid off. And legislators aren’t always working together, she said.
    No argument there, but she also vetoed any request for $10,000 or less, saying it’s not enough to accomplish anything. That’s pretty arbitrary. Some small projects can cost that amount or less.
    The big problem is that many of her vetoes are inconsistent, or they don’t align with her written message.
    Zuni Pueblo has no backup pump on its main well. Three legislators pooled their capital outlay money to buy and install a pump ($190,000), which was vetoed while dozens of other well projects around the state were approved.

  • BY JIM HALL
    President, Los Alamos School Board

  • Having spent a good share (or worst part) of this winter observing largely from my sick bed those events which have thus far shaped the 2016 race for the Republican and Democratic presidential nominations, let me say outright that Trump’s rump is too much to bear.
    But, then, even in the most tranquil of times, Trump’s bum would likely be too much to bear.
    When one is fighting fevers and surgeries, the thought of our fellow citizens nominating a presidential candidate with a derriere more nearly the girth of William Howard Taft’s than anyone to have sought the presidency since 1912 is hardly appealing.
    Are these the same American Republican voters who just four years were mounting the barricades on behalf of a fellow named Mitt Romney?
    Or for the reelection of an incumbent Democratic president bearing the exotic nomenclature, Barack Obama, a young man who had yet to complete a full term as a United States Senator from the hoary state of Illinois?
    The doctors had told me that reducing the fever and removing some squamous cell skin cancers from the top of my head would perk me up nicely and perhaps even cure what ailed me.

  • BY NATHANIEL SILLIN
    Practical Money Skills

  • Those of us deeply involved in “consequential matters,” such as politics, the Legislature, the potential $417 million shortage for estimated Medicaid expenses, the non-performance of the state economy, sometimes need reminding that life exists outside the arenas.
    The national political overlay doesn’t help, what with Hillary Clinton’s lies, Bernie Sanders’ delusions, Donald Trump’s destructive offensiveness, the youth of the two senators and John Kasich’s decency.
    A massage therapist in Albuquerque feels doubly pressured. She finds Trump scary and fears the effect on her customers when Albuquerque Mayor Richard Berry’s bus rapid transit fiasco destroys Central Avenue in front of the building where she has been for 17 years.
    A recent Sunday had, as bookends, regular life on Saturday and the governor on Monday.
    For us, regular life meant the sunny and warm Jemez Springs Cabin Fever Festival Feb. 21. Festival vendors included artisans from four pueblos – Acoma, Zia, Jemez and Taos.
    Cars lined the main street. The Bodhi Mandala Zen Center filled its grounds with cars parking at $2 each. Restaurants overflowed with people. After checking the legendary Los Ojos Bar, we ambled a few blocks south for a dandy pastrami sandwich at the Highway 4 Café.

  • BY CATHY SORENSON
    Community Development Officer, The Loan Fund
    Finance New Mexico

  • The workers’ compensation coverage requirement in New Mexico has always been a mess. Finally somebody is paying attention to it.  
    A state Court of Appeals decision last year yanked away the exemption that protected farmers and ranchers for decades from concerning themselves with this convoluted language.  After the decision, the Workers’ Compensation Administration told them they would have to start buying workers’ comp insurance.  The state Supreme Court has temporarily stayed the requirement, pending its review of the case. But now, in case the Supreme Court doesn’t bail them out, they are grappling with it (paragraphs 52-1-6 and 52-1-7 of the statutes).     
    Most businesses with three or more employees are required to buy coverage, and that ends the discussion for them. (Construction is the exception, requiring all employers to have coverage, regardless of the number of employees.)
    But for very small businesses, the question of what constitutes “three” is a serious matter.  (My slogan: There are many ways to count to three.) So is the question of what constitutes an employee. These issues are not simple.
    Farmers and ranchers are looking to change these paragraphs. If you operate a very small business, or are employed by one, any changes will affect you.  

  • Jobs bills took a backseat to crime and budget wrangling in this legislative session, even though New Mexico has the nation’s worst unemployment. But as the smoke clears, we see some good bills emerging while others wait on the runway for next year.
    Last week, Gov. Susana Martinez signed two bills. One of her priorities was the Rapid Response Workforce Program to quickly train workers – a shortage of trained workers will keep a company from relocating. This is a challenge around the state. Endorsed by the bipartisan legislative Jobs Council, the bill passed both houses unanimously. By some miracle, legislative budgeters found $1.25 million to fund it. Kudos to the governor for championing this bill.
    A second measure signed into law allows small and mid-size communities (up to 35,000) to use local funding through the Local Economic Development Act (LEDA) for retail projects. That might not sound impressive, but in small towns, a new store is economic development, and it’s important in larger towns that lack certain kinds of shopping.
    More good news: The Tourism Department will have $300,000 more for advertising and $300,000 more for event sponsorship grants. And the public-private New Mexico Economic Development Corp. will get about $1.4 million more.

  • Consideration of history in New Mexico usually stops around Socorro and the year 1900, with passing mention of Roswell for aliens, Lincoln and Billy the Kid for murder, and perhaps White Sands for the Trinity atomic bomb test in 1945.
    OK, that’s an overstatement. But a brief survey of my four-volume New Mexico history book collection finds them well short of mentions of Clovis, Hobbs, oil, Silver City and more.
    The history of New Mexico is taught in the public schools, more often than I thought. Seventh-graders get a year. State history appears in elementary school and high school. How well the history is taught could be another story.
    Thinking of our history was spurred by three comments.
    For a Smithsonian magazine article, Richard Grant is in Jones County Mississippi, “to breathe in the historical vapors…” The article is “The Raging Rebellion of Jones County.” Historical vapors are well breathed in New Mexico, too.
    In a newspaper review of a book about Romania, “Trapped by the New Iron Curtain,” Edward Lucas chides the author, Robert Kaplan, for saying, “I liked having the place to myself.” People complain about New Mexico’s growth, which has reversed the past two years, with the same whine.

  • BY TERRY JARRETT
    Attorney, Hush & Blackwell LLP

  • BY STEPHEN S. HAMILTON
    Attorney & Mediator, Montgomer & Andrews. P.A.

    Finance New Mexico

  • Education has become a tug-of-war – or maybe just a war – and this legislative session was no exception.
    Democrats couldn’t convince their opponents to use the state’s permanent funds to support education, and Republicans didn’t make any headway in ending social promotion. Give them credit for trying hard.
    Beyond those top-tier bills were several layers of lesser issues that did see compromise, and legislators deserve a pat on the back for finding a little more money in the budget for public education, even in a year when other departments saw cuts.
    In 2003, we tapped the permanent fund to support teachers’ salaries, and that amendment to the constitution was controversial. The cities supported it, and the rural areas didn’t. This year that revenue stream was scheduled to drop from 5.5 to 5 percent, and Dems also wanted more money for early childhood education, so there were three proposed amendments.
    Nobody argues the good of early childhood programs. Sponsors honed their proposals to answer criticism that the early childhood spending measure lacked a plan and added a sunset. They failed.

  • BY BOB HAGAN
    Special to the Monitor

  • Republican faithful filled the ballroom at Albuquerque’s Crown Plaza hotel for the pre-primary convention. The crowd was around 500 plus staff and security.
    The room’s fullness on a sunny Saturday less than two days after the legislative session ended is worth noting. In some previous years, one veteran observed, the room had not been full.
    As people entered the hall, bunches of buttons and brochures introduced them to Judith Nakamura of Albuquerque, appointed last fall to the New Mexico Supreme Court. Because Nakamura was appointed to fill a vacancy on the court, to keep her new job, she must run in the 2016 general election. The run requirement is in Article VI, Section 35 of the Constitution, one of those long, detailed parts of the Constitution that add length and require amendment to make even small changes.
    Nakamura gave a vigorous speech, something often lacking in judge candidates. The buttons and brochures suggest her campaign is well underway. Judicial campaigns come with restrictions unknown to other campaigns. Basically judge candidates can only say how much the law infuses their soul.