NM buried in known unknowns; policy organization could help

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By Harold Morgan

A few people truly worry about New Mexico’s long term. But they don’t know what to do. These isolated individuals emerged in the past few weeks in Farmington, Roswell, Las Cruces and Albuquerque from conversations with nearly 40 people who ought to be thought leaders in the state.

The individuals cover the state’s precious demographics, though most conversations have been with old White guys. But then I am an old White guy.

For recent conversations, the question has been whether the individual gets in discussions and/or is thinking about the long term for New Mexico. A few answered, “Yes.” Ah, but what to do.

I used to ask what the individual saw for New Mexico. That question generated the conventional wisdom: too much government, Central New Mexico Community College is doing good stuff.

The Albuquerque-Denver comparison has resurfaced. This is not especially useful. Denver is the major leagues (think Broncos, Rockies, Nuggets, Avalanche). Albuquerque is AAA. Compare Albuquerque with Tucson, Des Moines, Omaha.

Typical “future” thinking amounts to citing New Mexico’s position on “all the lists” and wailing.

Defining the problem is what we have not done. A position on a list says only a little.

A revelation from the director of a social services organization is that our continuing failure the past 10 or 20 years has created an underclass of people who are not in the system. These are the people, the police tell us, who steal cars as an 8-to-5 job.

Philosopher, sometime Taos resident and former Secretary of Defense Donald Rumsfeld can lend insight here. (I can just hear the far left: Rumsfeld?! He’s evil! Back off and pay attention.) Rumsfeld’s famous comment considered ‘known knowns… things we know we know… (and) known unknowns, that is to say, we know there are some things we do not know (and) also unknown unknowns – the ones we don’t know we don’t know.”

As to dealing with the various knowns, “It’s just hard work, that’s all,” Rumsfeld says.

One approach would gather modest charitable donations – say $5,000 – from the usual civic donors, use the money to create a new organization on a “trust me” basis with an independent board charged with doing unspecified but difficult good things and often saying, “No.” The idea stalled over parochialism, donor risk averseness and control. No “trust me” here.

We have no leaders, some argue. Examples: The “Community Connections” newsletter from Los Alamos National Laboratory a few days ago discussed impending LANL management changes. The LANL director did not sign the article.

Signing such messages is the director’s job.

One of Albuquerque Mayor Richard Berry’s many sins in his infamous ART transportation project is not attending contentious community meetings last year. Such meetings are the mayor’s job.

A wealthy man told me that maybe New Mexico having all these problems wasn’t all bad; the situation means the state wouldn’t grow. Build a fence around the moral abandonment and enjoy the sunsets.

The rest of us have a responsibility to do something, starting with defining the problem(s). That might be a challenge.

Question one: what is thought to be the problem or problems? Then what important elements define the problem.

What drives the problem? What measures the problem? Do we have useful data? Is important information missing?

A public policy institute would be a way. Such an organization would define, over time, a whole set of problems via systematic, thorough research, propose solution alternatives and insist, through a vigorous communications program, that leaders, starting with governors and legislators, pay attention.

A concept outline for a public policy institute is posted at capitolreportnm.blogspot.com along with a partial list of systemic issues.