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Opinion

  • I was raised a union bigot.
    Unions were evil. My dad hated unions. I don’t know why.
    My perspective has evolved. Unions are useful. Nor are unions bad. However, monopolies are bad.
    One important lesson came from John Dendahl, then running a small unionized technology manufacturing firm in Santa Fe. Years later, Dendahl was the take no-prisoners chair of the state Republicans.
    A union contract defines the rules, Dendahl said.
    His company had not had a strike. In Albuquerque, a large electronics manufacturer claimed (correctly, I suspect) that the workforce included commie agitators and got much grief from the union, the same one as at Dendahl’s firm.
    As I remember, there were complaints, eventually substantiated, about sloppy handling of toxic materials.
    These memories arise in the context of “right to work” proposals (House Bill 75, sponsored by Rep. Dennis Roch, R-Logan, and, Senate Bill 183, a duplicate of HB 75, sponsored by Sen. William Sharer, R-Farmington) being considered in the Legislature. Roch is an educator. Sharer is a businessman.
    The proposals would prohibit requiring union membership as a condition of employment.

  • Gas prices remain below $2 a gallon in most of New Mexico, providing citizens of our state with some extra cash for their winter fun. Don’t get used to it. The Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) is in the process of implementing three rules that a new study by the Rio Grande Foundation and Beacon Hill Institute at Suffolk University says will substantially drive up the cost of electricity in New Mexico.
    This comes on top of recent, dramatic increases in electricity prices, thanks in part to New Mexico’s aggressive renewable portfolio standard (RPS). With the state’s largest utility PNM looking for a 12 percent rate hike, the RPS forcing utilities to purchase more costly “renewables,” and the Obama Administration’s proposed regulations, the electricity rate hikes faced by New Mexicans are only just beginning.  
    Of course, all New Mexicans want a clean environment; most appreciate the EPA’s intentions. Nonetheless, it’s clear that with the exception of a radical fringe, few are clamoring for new federal regulations that threaten the state’s struggling economy.

  • Editor’s note: This column first appeared at “The American Spectator.”

    On the morning after Christmas, James B. Edwards passed away. Few Americans under the age of 40 — unless they are South Carolinians — had probably never heard of Jim.
    Here’s the official biography: James B. Edwards was President Ronald Reagan’s original Secretary of Energy. At the age of 17, in 1944, Jim joined the U.S. Maritime Service to serve his country during World War II. Several years later, while still a Navy Reserve officer, he became an oral surgeon.
    In the mid-1960s, concerned about the direction of our country, he got involved in politics, first behind the scenes, then serving a term in the South Carolina State Senate. He surprised the experts in 1974 by becoming the first Republican governor of South Carolina since Reconstruction.
    Limited to one four-year term by the state constitution, Jim worked to promote the presidential candidacy of Ronald Reagan. After Reagan’s election in 1980, he tapped the oral surgeon from South Carolina to be his Secretary of Energy with the mission of shutting down the Department of Energy.

  • A frequent lament of New Mexico’s business community is the loss of brainpower and energy that results when young people move out of state to pursue economic opportunities they can’t find at home.
    This exodus isn’t unique to New Mexico and, by itself, isn’t cause for alarm. No matter where they live, young people almost always leave their home state after completing their schooling or training, even if they obtained that education tuition-free at New Mexico universities.
    Exploring the larger world and all its offerings helps young adults mature into self-aware global citizens — an asset to any community they choose to settle in.
    What most concerns economic-development advocates is how to make New Mexico that destination of choice for our dispersed millennials — the generation now in its 20s and 30s.
    The High Desert Discovery District (HD3) — the first private, nonprofit high-tech startup accelerator in New Mexico — is dedicated to cultivating a climate of innovation and possibility that entices young professionals and entrepreneurs to return to the state and contribute to its economic prosperity.

  • Who would have thought that Nancy Sinatra and Wisconsin Governor Scott Walker would have a common area of political doctrine, one whose metaphysical ideology would be based on boots?
    As Nancy so poetically belted out, boots are made for walking. And Governor Walker wants those boots to walk all over you.
    With the 2016 presidential race on his plate, Scotty took to the stump to proclaim his “patriotic willingness to put boots on the ground” in Syria. It was a tough choice, but since it wouldn’t be his feet in those boots, he consented to the possibility of committing to ground warfare with ISIS.
    He must be a “Star Trek” fan. The Ferengi Rule of Acquisition No. 34 is “War is good for business.”
    I suppose his decision was based on his training received when he earned his master’s degree, a claim he made in a recent interview.
    Don’t bother looking it up. He doesn’t have a master’s degree. In fact, he doesn’t have a bachelor’s degree either. He dropped out of college.
    Nor does he have any military experience, at least not outside video games he might have played in an arcade.
    Beam yourself up, Scotty! The people on this planet aren’t stupid enough to believe your lies.

  • As I watch this year’s legislative session, I am concerned with the misinformed claims made by Republican Governor Susana Martinez that have made Right-to-Work/anti-worker legislation her top priority.  
    When I think of all the issues we face here in our state in building a healthy economy I am appalled that the governor will be attacking our working families.
    When the governor says Right-to-Work (RTW) is one of several hurdles New Mexico faces in attempting to become more economically competitive with neighboring states she couldn’t be more wrong. Talent and the cost of doing business are more important when factoring whether or not a company will do business in New Mexico or anywhere else in the United States. Businesses look to see what a state has to offer them and the families they will bring with them when they come.
    Businesses look at the labor market and how well the labor force is trained before committing to bringing their business to a site.

  • The push for state takeover of federal land provoked a big push back. Last week, the roar of hundreds of angry hunters, anglers and others filled the Capitol Rotunda and sent me scampering out of the press gallery to see what was going on.
    A standing-room-only crowd of camo-wearing folks rallied to say they won’t stand for the loss of one acre.
    “I don’t want to see any public land sold,” said a gun-store owner, to loud cheering. “I also have an issue of wasted money for studies other states have already done.”
    They wore stickers saying, “Keep your hands off MY public lands.”
    The source of all this excitement is Senate Memorial 6 by Sen. Pat Woods, R-Broadview, which asks the state to study federal land management and ownership and evaluate the impacts of federal revenue streams on the state and local communities. Reportedly, Rep. Yvette Herrell, R-Alamogordo, plans to introduce a similar measure.
    Last year, counties received $37.7 million in federal payments in lieu of taxes (PILT), and the state received $9.5 million from the Secure Rural Schools program.

  • “You could be that one person to make a difference in the life of a teen,” challenged Jason Sole, author of the book “From Prison to Ph.D.” Sole carries a heavy rap sheet from his past.
    A former drug dealer and gang-banger, Sole put in years of hard work and found the courage and resilience to turn his life around.
    He is now a proud family man and an assistant professor of criminal justice. He manages his own consulting business and tours the country as a motivational speaker, a gang prevention specialist and a trainer for the One Circle Foundation.
    Sole attributes much of his success to the mentors in his life — the people who believed in him and his ability to realize his full potential.
    Sponsored by the Los Alamos JJAB and funding from CYFD, Sole recently traveled from Minnesota to Los Alamos to lead a training program for facilitators of the Council for Boys and Young Men. Twenty-four professionals from New Mexico and Colorado gathered to participate.
    “This was one of the best trainings I have ever attended,” said Michelangelo Lobato, counselor at Chamisa Elementary School.

  • A first-time global financial literacy study shows that the keys to successful personal finance education are student perseverance and an openness to problem solving.  
    That’s one of the main findings in the inaugural financial literacy portion of the Program of International Student Assessment (PISA) test, which evaluated the skills and knowledge of 29,000 15-year-olds in 18 countries and economies in 2012.
    Final results were released in September, and PISA officials announced that the assessment of financial literacy will be offered as an optional component in 2015 testing.
    PISA was launched in 2000 by the Organization for Economic Cooperation and Development (OECD), which promote policies that support economic and social well-being around the world.
    U.S. students earned an average score of 492 out of a possible 700, which ranks those teens between eighth and 12th place among all 18 participating countries and economies, according to the PISA study.
    Other findings from the U.S. results:

  • We got smaller last year.
    Wouldn’t it be nice if the statement introduced a celebration of statewide weight loss? Not exactly, though our total weight may have been less on July 1, 2014, than a year earlier. Any weight loss would be because there were fewer people in the state, 1,540 to be exact.
    Specifically, the Census Bureau estimates that New Mexico lost 1,540 people (or 0.06 percent) during the 2013-14 year. The estimates were released Dec. 23.
    Six states presented similar attractiveness to the their population. On a percentage basis, four outperformed us: West Virginia (-0.18 percent); Illinois (-0.08 percent); Connecticut and Alaska (both -0.07 percent).
    This single population performance number reflects four elements: births, deaths, people moving internationally and people moving from state to state.
    Statistically, births and deaths are simple. Each event generates a piece of paper, a certificate. These are filed with the state and counted, accurately, one presumes.
    About 16,500 New Mexicans die each year, a figure that grows a few hundred each year, based on the past four years. The number of births, around 27,000 annually, declines about 500 each year.
    Necessarily, the number of people moving must be estimated. Techniques are well established. An estimated number really occupies a range.

  • The death of Reies Lopez Tijerina in an El Paso hospital late last month occasioned a good deal of comment and commentary.
    Tijerina invited comment and commentary, even sought it.
    His main claim to fame occurred almost a half century ago when he and a band of followers stormed the Rio Arriba County Courthouse in Tierra Amarilla, wounding a jailer and police officer and taking a reporter and the sheriff hostage.
    It was a big deal. “Tijerina’s Rio Arriba Court House raid,” it came to be called, and he ended up spending a couple of years in federal prison. But that was sometime later and unrelated to his Court House rampage.
    Tijerina and his fellow raiders initially got away by escaping into nearby Kit Carson National Forest. His grievance was the injustice he considered New Mexico’s original Hispanic settlers to have experienced when their land grants were abrogated or outright taken from them.
    It made him quite a celebrity, even something of a hero to many young Hispanic and Latino activists who seized upon the land grant issue and made it “a cause celebre.”
    This was in the late 1960s and early 1970s, when ferment and activism was abroad in the land.

  • American politics are dominated by those with money. As such, America’s tax debate is dominated by voices that insist the rich are unduly persecuted by high taxes and that low-income folks are living the high life.
    Indeed, a new survey by the Pew Research Center recently found that the most financially secure Americans believe “poor people today have it easy.”
    The rich are certainly entitled to their own opinions — but, as the old saying goes, nobody is entitled to their own facts.
    With that in mind, here’s a set of tax facts that’s worth considering: Middle- and low-income Americans are facing far higher state and local tax rates than the wealthy.
    In all, a comprehensive analysis by the nonpartisan Institute on Taxation and Economic Policy finds that the poorest 20 percent of households pay on average more than twice the effective state and local tax rate (10.9 percent) as the richest 1 percent of taxpayers (5.4 percent).
    ITEP researchers say the incongruity derives from state and local governments’ reliance on sales, excise and property taxes rather than on more progressively structured income taxes that increase rates on higher earnings. They argue that the tax disconnect is helping create the largest wealth gap between the rich and middle class in American history.

  • A strain of common belief says super-sized contributions to election campaigns weaken environmental safeguards. All things considered, is this so?
    All things considered, no one knows. Things to consider are scattered too widely to judge as a whole.
    When data are scattered widely, we naturally focus on what we see first. But we can zoom out to see more.
    Begin at home. Big corporations make large donations to U.S. election campaigns. Pollution from big corporations is easily seen. Ergo, some say that worse pollution stems from hefty campaign contributions.
    These puzzle pieces start the idea that the quality of the land, air and water would be better sooner if corporate money had less influence in politics.
    A wider scan sees more to puzzle over.
    Corporate money has much less influence in Chinese politics. Yet, pollution is plainly worse in China than the U.S.
    The 2008 Summer Olympics in China’s capital city, Beijing, proved the point to the world. The government shut down plants in the region during the games to improve air quality.
    At a glance, we see worse harms in fumy places where corporations and capitalism alike are held in less regard than in our country. Harm simmers in many kettles of governance.
    And there is more to take in. A still wider scan brings to light more complications.

  • There was considerable concern within the nuclear energy community about Michael Mann’s cyber-thriller “Blackhat” before its release.
    Much of the pre-release angst was generated by the trailers, which showed a catastrophic nuclear accident had blown open a gaping hole in a large, domed containment building. I went to see it the first day it hit the local cinema, and early on I suspected that the nuclear energy community’s angst was literally much ado about nearly nothing.
    My first inkling was when the control room was shown. I almost laughed because it had wall-to-wall windows overlooking a vast, steaming open pool of water.
    First, there are no windows in actual nuclear power plant control rooms. Also, the depicted control room looked much like a high-tech press box at a modern professional football stadium.
    Regardless, I was curious about the hot-water pool. I wondered if that was supposed to be the reactor.
    My speculation was soon verified. There was a series of long, vertical metal pipes deep within the pool — the supposed core. Surrounding these pipes were several rotating fan-like devices. It seems that these were supposed to be the circulation pumps.

  • Do you ever get the feeling that things will never change?
    With Groundhog Day approaching this weekend, it wouldn’t surprise me if I woke up and found myself back in the 1960s — flag-waving nationalists beating on foreigners, police beating on civil rights marchers, religious fundamentalists beating on homosexuals, bigots beating on minorities.
    Hang on. I need to check the calendar to make sure I’m not actually back in the ’60s!
    Monday, Punxsutawney Phil will once again look for his shadow, then predict the inevitable extension of winter for another six weeks.
    Actually, shadow or no, it’ll be 48 more days of winter, not six weeks (I checked to see when the Equinox occurs).
    But today, Jan. 30, is just as important a date as Feb. 2.
    In 1648, Netherlands and Spain signed a treaty — Peace of Munster — ending the Thirty Years War, a terribly destructive series of conflict in Europe that resulted in over 10 million deaths.
    It was a war to end all wars and its end brought forth an era of peace that reigned throughout Europe for years and years and years.
    Well, of course, there was that little skirmish between Portugal and Spain (Restoration War) for another 20 years. And then another 22 years of killing during the Anglo-Dutch War.
    Ah! But then there was peace!

  • The cargo ship recklessly headed towards the coast of Italy. The crew had abandoned ship and the Italian coast guard scrambled to intervene.
    After regaining control of the ship the coast guard discovered a troubling reality: 800 illegal immigrants were hiding in the hull of the ship. These men, women and children — most of them coming from Africa — were exhausted and terrified by the ordeal.
    Later that day — December 31, 2014 — the ship was brought safely to the Italian harbor of Gallipoli where the migrants got off.
    Scenes like this play out almost on a daily basis.
    Two days later, the same scenario occurred with another cargo ship that was carrying roughly 450 illegal immigrants.
    Illegal migrants from Africa, Syria, Palestine, Afghanistan and Iraq are desperately trying to cross the sea to reach Europe.
    There is a lot at stake for everyone involved and 2014 saw record numbers of immigrants. On January 13, 2015, the European Union Commission (EUC) released a statement that said in 2014 “more than 276,000 migrants illegally entered the EU, which represents an increase of 155 percent compared to 2013.”

  • Political speeches are a hazard of reporting.
    The great journalist
    H.L. Mencken once wrote of a speech by President Harding, “It reminds me of a string of wet sponges; it reminds me of tattered washing on the line… of dogs barking idiotically through endless nights.”
    His main complaint was that Harding’s speeches were devoid of ideas and nothing but stump speeches loaded with platitudes.
    I can’t say I’ve ever heard a speech that bad. I remember Sen. Pete Domenici as direct, Sen. Jeff Bingaman as cerebral, Gov. Bruce King as smart and folksy at the same time, Rep. Heather Wilson as sensible, House Speakers Raymond Sanchez and Walter Martinez as eloquent.
    Gov. Bill Richardson was clear and understandable, although he sometimes bullied people from the podium.
    Former Senate President Manny Aragon, during a speech about the state’s huge needs and the difficulty in stretching the budget, grew so emotional that I half expected him to weep. This was before he decided his own needs trumped everyone else’s.

  • Income inequality is back in the news, propelled by an Oxfam International report and President Barack Obama’s State of the Union address. The question is whether government needs to do something about this — or whether government needs to undo many things.
    Measuring income inequality is no simple thing, which is one source of disagreement between those who think inequality is a problem and those who think it isn’t. But it is possible to cut through the underbrush and make some points clear.
    We can identify two kinds of economic inequality, and let’s keep this in mind as we contemplate what, if anything, government ought to do.
    The first kind we might call market inequality. Individuals differ in many ways, including energy, ambition and ingenuity. As a result, in a market-oriented economy some people will be better than others at satisfying consumers and will hence tend to make more money.
    The only way to prevent that is to interfere forcibly with the results of peaceful, positive-sum transactions in the marketplace. Since interference discourages the production of wealth, the equality fostered through violence will be an equality of impoverishment.

  • The state capitol is once again filled to the brim with legislators, lobbyists, state agency executives, legislative staff members and thousands of assorted visitors.
    If you’ve never been there, it’s worth a trip to see your representative democracy in action. With any luck, you’ll catch a hot debate or at least see a good show at the noon hour in the rotunda or a lively demonstration outside.
    The capitol is just a few blocks from the train station and an easy walk for the able-bodied if the weather is good. Parking is a problem, but drivers can sometimes find a parking spot in the new parking lot just west of the building. Hint: Some parking becomes available after the lunch hour when presentations in the rotunda are ended.
    Even on a dull day, you can enjoy the capitol’s art collection, which is spectacular. The art collection, managed by a foundation, has its own website, nmcapitolart.org, so you can read about it in advance.
    Part of the collection is in the new North Capitol annex and worth walking to see if you have spare time.
    Unless you call ahead, you might not see your representative or your senator, at least not up close. Legislators are very busy during the session.

  • It’s time for your lawmakers to get to work. There is much to do this year, and we’re ready for the challenge.
    There is a lot of excitement in Santa Fe — the result of last year’s election. For the first time in 60 years, the people of New Mexico have chosen Republicans to lead the House of Representatives. It is an honor that we do not take lightly, and we promise to fight every day to advance our state.
    A lot of people ask me, “What does it mean now that Republicans are in the majority?” No matter who I talk to, whether they are Democrat or Republican, my answer never changes: Our goal is to put New Mexico’s families first.
    After all, the voters have spoken — they want an end to the politics as usual in Santa Fe. They want their leaders to reject the political dysfunction and gridlock that has become the hallmark of Washington, D.C. In the end, political games hurt our families and derail progress.
    Some may we have a daunting task ahead of us — they say it’s impossible for Republicans and Democrats to work together.
    I disagree. I believe we can come together. And we can start by working on common ground and finding ways to create good jobs for all New Mexicans.