Inside the Capitol

Tuesday, November 30, 2004

Casino on Another Corner

SANTA FE – Not a week goes by without some segment of New Mexico’s ever-expanding gaming industry moving us a little closer to the casino-on-every-corner situation that we have worried about so often before.
Last week that corner was the busy intersection of Central and Louisiana in Albuquerque, where the State Fair is considering opening an easily-accessible casino.
Pushing the envelope, once again, just as every other gambling establishment in the state is doing, the Downs at Albuquerque wants to build a casino well away from its horse track by arguing that it still is on the premises of the state fairgrounds.
The casinos at the other four horse tracks in the state are closely connected to their grandstands. This casino would be nowhere near the grandstand, but it would be near a neighborhood that already is bothered by prostitutes and panhandlers along Central Avenue.
This will add other undesirable elements that show up near gambling establishments. And it will encourage other horse tracks to follow suit. It will also establish a precedent of casinos in busy downtown areas. The Picuris Pueblo, for instance owns the Hotel Santa Fe on busy Cerrillos Road, near the historic Santa Fe plaza.
Elsewhere, at the Ohkay Casino at San Juan Pueblo on the northern outskirts of Espanola, a new class of slot machines that technically aren’t slot machines by law, are making their first appearance in the state. It is likely they will escape the revenue-sharing arrangement contained in the gaming compacts that allow Indian casinos to exist.
The casino operator argues that the new machines are merely an attempt to give patrons more variety and that dodging required payments to the state never had anything to do with the decision. Yeah right. And watch how quickly that spreads to other casinos.
The Black Gold Casino in Hobbs opened two weeks ago. That’s the one that will be at the Zia Park racetrack. The track hasn’t been built yet and won’t be ready for racing for almost a year, but the law allows casinos to open right away.
The first two weeks of activity have been phenomenal, according to track officials. People stand outside in pouring rain waiting to get in and then stand in line at the 600 slot machines, waiting to play. On opening day, the parking lot had to be closed because it was full.
Reportedly most of the license plates were from Texas, which is exactly what the local folks had hoped. Restaurants and motels are full. The nearest casino is in Ruidoso, a three-hour drive from Hobbs, and even farther for the Texans.
Obviously there is no shortage of people willing to lose their money. Folks in Dona Ana County, who are trying to limit their casinos to the one currently operating at Sunland Park track, claim that the area cannot support more than one casino.
Unfortunately that is the wrong argument to be using. Southern Dona Ana County and the Las Cruces/El Paso/Juarez area from which it can draw, is many times larger that northern Santa Fe County, which already has three casinos doing so well that two more are preparing to open. And there are several more casinos within a 50-mile radius of the area.
The best argument against a proliferation of gambling is the undesirable elements that always follow, the gambling addiction problems that are created, and the local businesses, offering more wholesome entertainment, that are hurt.
I prefer to lose my money in Las Vegas, Nevada. They are the pros at gambling and entertainment. They have developed a means of dealing with the criminal and other unsavory elements that show up where there is gambling. And they can show you a great time, with much variety.
New Mexico, however, is just digging its hole deeper, increasing the number of problems it eventually will have to face.

Tuesday, November 23, 2004

Election Officials Must Like Jobs

SANTA FE – Election officials have one heck of a job on election night, but apparently that doesn’t discourage them from wanting more of the same.
Secretary of State Rebecca Vigil-Giron is term-limited from running again two years from now and plenty of county clerks want that job. The list includes Bernalillo County Clerk Mary Herrera, who has frequently noted what a toll vote counting takes on herself and her staff.
The office of secretary of state has never been a springboard to higher office. That is because traditionally it has been the one office that women are allowed to hold. In recent years, that rule has been broken by Attorney General Patricia Madrid, U.S. Rep. Heather Wilson and Lt. Gov. Diane Denish, but none of them stepped up from the secretary of state’s office.
At least two of them have tried. Vigil-Giron ran for Congress against incumbent Steve Schiff in the 1st district after one of her previous four-year terms expired in 1990. Stephanie Gonzales tried the lieutenant governor’s race in 1998, but was bested by Denish for the Democratic nomination.
But there is always hope. This year, Vigil-Giron took advantage of $19 million in federal election reform money, appropriated under the Help America Vote Act, to spend $2 million of that on voter education ads on radio and television That put her face and name on the TV screen as often as most major candidates.
That exposure may have some carry-over to the 2006 elections, but what office can Vigil-Giron seek? Unless she challenges an incumbent within her own party, she can’t run for Governor, lieutenant governor or U.S. Senate. Other statewide offices also are up for reelection in 2006. Robert Vigil, the Democrat incumbent, is running again for treasurer.
Domingo Martinez is finishing two terms as state auditor, so that seat will be open. Although it is not required, it helps to be a CPA when running for that office. Patricia Madrid is finishing two terms as attorney general, but Vigil-Giron is not an attorney.
She could run against Patrick Lyons, the Republican commissioner of public lands. She can come up with a natural-sounding drawl when talking with an Eastsider, but she still might have trouble looking at home among ranchers and oilmen.
Democrats always need a strong candidate to toss in the ring against Rep. Heather Wilson, in Albuquerque, just in case Wilson might falter. But AG Patricia Madrid also will be looking for an office to seek and Madrid is also from Albuquerque.
Another interesting development is taking place in the Santa Fe County Clerk’s office. Valerie Espinosa, a former employee at the secretary of state’s office, wants to surround herself with some high-powered aides. Observers suspect it has to do with future plans to seek the secretary of state’s office.
Already hired is former Secretary of State Shirley Hooper Garcia, who also has been Lea County Clerk. In fact, Espinosa worked for Hooper in the Secretary of State’s office 25 years ago.
Espinosa also wants to hire state Elections Bureau Chief Denise Lamb to be her elections chief. Lamb says she is taking a look at it. She may see the job as being a little less high pressure. And it could be that the retirement benefit is a little better.
Amid complaints of hanky-panky in vote counting came questions about where 1,000 Republican votes went in Los Alamos County. President Bush won the county, but only by 500 votes, instead of the 1,500 he normally could have expected.
Blogger Joe Monahan reports that apparently disgruntled LANL employees, who want to keep the University of California running the lab, were fearful that Bush might award a new contract to the University of Texas, which doesn’t offer nearly the employee benefits that California does.
Ironically, Gov. Bill Richardson, who was burned badly by the lab’s ineffective security, is lobbying to keep the University of California’s contract.

Wilson Wins Again in CD 1

SANTA FE – For all that Democrats invested trying to beat U.S. Rep. Heather Wilson in the 1st Congressional District, the results remained strikingly the same.
State Senate President Pro Tem Richard Romero again was the Democratic nominee. Two years ago, Romero also took on Wilson. He said he learned a great deal from that challenge, but said he hadn’t had sufficient time to raise the necessary money and mount the campaign necessary to win, while also fulfilling his Senate duties.
So Romero resigned from the Senate to devote full time to organizing a winning campaign and raising the necessary money. Gov. Bill Richardson, who had received considerable help from Romero while he was Senate leader, did his best to muscle other aspiring Democrat challengers out of the race.
The governor also gave Romero significant assistance from his Moving America Forward Political Action Committee. National Democrat organizations also stepped in with support, believing that Rep. Wilson could be beaten.
Romero’s campaign succeeded in raising a significant amount of money. His television ads were as vicious as Wilson’s. Sen. Kerry carried the congressional district at the top of the ballot. But Romero again was close to a 10-point loser.
Democrats are finding it difficult to accept, but Wilson is coming across as invincible, just as her predecessors, Steve Schiff and Manuel Lujan were. Democrats have never won the mostly-Albuquerque district since its creation in 1982.
The loss was costly to Romero, who gave up his Senate leadership position. That post was gained through a coalition with all Republican Senate members. But being able to claim an ability to work with Republican senators didn’t gain Romero many GOP votes in this election. And it hurt him with some Democrats who stayed home for the election.
That lack of enthusiasm was especially noticeable in the Albuquerque area’s South Valley, where the feelings ran to downright hostile, because Romero had ousted the King of the South Valley Manny Aragon for the top Senate post.
But even with strong South Valley Democrat backing, Romero still would have lost. The district should be a toss up, but with a strong candidate, the GOP has successfully won and defended that seat for 12 straight elections.
At their pre-primary nominating convention in 1996, Republicans put then-state Sen. Bill Davis at the top of the GOP ballot, when Rep. Steve Schiff stepped down for health reasons. U.S. Sen. Pete Domenici then stepped in and flexed all his political muscle to see that Wilson, who had finished second in the convention balloting, became the Republican nominee.
Perhaps Domenici sensed that the volatile Davis might not be able to continue Republican dominance of that district. Wilson had good credentials and has become a favorite of the House Republican leadership, putting her in position to gain power in that body.
Gov. Richardson’s backing of Romero for the congressional post, and Romero’s subsequent loss, also was costly to the governor. Joe Monahan reports in his blog that Eli Chavez, a South Valley Democrat is hopping mad at Richardson.
Chavez was the choice of Manny Aragon supporters to challenge Wilson in this election, but Richardson let it be known that Romero was his man. Chavez has gone public, calling Richardson “El Patron,” a title reminiscent of the day when patrons, such as Rio Arriba’s Emilio Naranjo ruled northern New Mexico.
Chavez has helped found a new organization called the United Democrats of New Mexico, with the goal of recruiting 60,000 Democrats. Its mission is to take back the Democratic Party from El Patron before the next election.
Time will tell how successful the Chavez effort will be. But it is highly likely that Richardson’s political losses in this election will embolden his opposition, both Republican and Democrat, in the 2005 Legislature. Expect a much more contentious session next year.

Vote Counting

SANTA FE – The counting is over. President Bush won the state by 6,000 votes. That’s a landslide compared to the 366 by which he lost four years ago. But it’s still less than a one-percent margin.
New Mexico was not the last state to finish counting. The presidential race was close enough that we were in the national spotlight because every vote counted and every vote had to be counted. Charges of election fraud here and nationally appear to be little more than partisan mischief, to put it politely.
Those charges came from both parties, depending on whether election officials were members of the other party or not. In New Mexico, the Republican Party accused Gov. Bill Richardson of conspiring with election officials to throw the state’s five electoral votes to John Kerry.
Gov. Richardson can and will be accused of many things in this election, but fraud is not one of them, unless the GOP comes up with some evidence. And they’d better do it quickly or they will have enough mud on their hands to detract from the focus on obvious Democrat shortcomings.
Bill Richardson will get most of the blame, and deservedly so. He was out front in the campaign for Sen. Kerry and should have had a better game plan, considering how well he handled his own campaign just two years ago.
By the end of New Mexico’s slow count, Richardson was frustrated enough that he lashed out at election officials of his own party and said reforms are needed. They are, but the new federal law establishing provisional ballots slowed the counting in every state this year.
Richardson appointed a bipartisan election reform task force last year, but it accomplished little because of partisan bickering. He might try again, but he’s running short of political capital and will have more pressing priorities soon.
The governor will be hurt considerably by this election. He threw himself into it, to the neglect of some pressing state needs. The great majority of all those people he registered to vote were hiding under rocks on election day. He is accused of concentrating too hard on urban areas and neglecting the rest of the state.
Sen. Kerry did very well in Albuquerque and Santa Fe, but that was about it. Even rural areas in the north didn’t turn out the big Democrat majorities they usually do. And the Hispanic majorities for Kerry were pitifully slim, considering that is where Richardson was concentrating.
Other Democratic governors were not able to deliver their states, either. Richardson came close, so that won’t destroy him on the national stage. But a failure to deliver the Hispanic vote in his own state will seriously damage any claim that he can deliver those votes nationally.
Because of being out of state the week before the election, I didn’t get to make my prediction in print, but here’s what I told those who asked. For some reason, the polls locally and nationally did not show the aggressive Democrat voter registration campaigns producing any increase in polling numbers.
I suggested that many of the newly-registered voters would be harder for pollsters to contact but predicted that would be taken into account. Therefore, the polls showing President leading by around three percent were likely pretty accurate.
Somehow Sen. Kerry just didn’t strike the right note with voters. President Bush, despite all the jokes about him, did. The president’s campaign had a strong message and Republican strategists outorganized Democrats in nearly every state, including New Mexico.
The election and counting weren’t without some glitches. Dona Ana County had its usual problems and, again, was last getting in its certified results.
And U.S. Attorney David Iglesias says he and a voter-fraud task force he established this year received over 100 complaints, some of which will be investigated and likely prosecuted.
Iglesias, a former GOP candidate for state attorney general, provides voters with an assurance of a balance to Democrat Secretary of State Rebecca Vigil Giron.

60th Anniversary Tribute to NM Guard

SANTA FE – The 60th anniversary of victory in World War II will be the last of the big celebrations. Few of the veterans of that war are still with us.
As a tribute to the brave men of the New Mexico National Guard, who fired the first shots of the war and became its most decorated unit, we will follow them through their four-year ordeal with frequent columns throughout the coming year.
This is the second in the series. Early this month, we looked at the years leading up to activation of our Guard in early 1941, as the 200th Coast Artillery.
On Jan. 15, 1941, some 1,800 troops were shipped out to Fort Bliss, Texas for training. Accommodations were Spartan. Supplies and equipment were almost non-existent. The nation was not ready for war and what few resources we had were being sent to Europe to “get Hitler first.”
By summer, Japanese troops were flooding into southern China, almost entirely surrounding the Philippines, the major U.S. territory in the South Pacific. U.S. officials know that if Japan took the Philippines, we’d have very little foothold to regain the Pacific. So the defense of the Philippines was begun under Gen. Douglas MacArthur.
In August, military officials announced that they had toured the nation seeking the country’s best anti-aircraft regiment. Somewhat amazingly, they gave their highest rating to a recently-activated National Guard unit from New Mexico, which still had not been completely supplied with guns and ammunition.
Admittedly, however, the spirit and resourcefulness of that cohesive unit was something the Army wasn’t accustomed to seeing. The men from the deserts and mountains of New Mexico had already demonstrated an amazing ability to accomplish their tasks by breaking book rules and taking shortcuts.
And so, our Guard won the right to “an overseas assignment of great importance.” By Aug. 30, they were shipping out from Angel Island, off San Francisco, to the Philippines. They were on the first American troopship to be convoyed in peacetime in Far Eastern waters.
Unloading the cargo holds of their ship on Luzon, the New Mexicans realized that their equipment was in no better shape than what they had been supplied at Fort Bliss. It was defective, outmoded and corroded. In fact some of it they had already rejected as unusable back home.
Not only were our troops not being supplied with the tools needed to accomplish their mission, U.S. officials were ignoring pleas from a new, moderate Japanese premier, looking for peace. Prince Fumimaro Konoye sought desperately to meet with President Roosevelt personally, but the president continually rebuffed him. On Oct. 16, Konoye’s government fell to War Minister Hideki Tojo, who now led the nation.
Since July, Tojo had been planning simultaneous surprise attacks throughout the Pacific to bring a quick victory over the United States and its Allies. Those plans moved into high gear once Tojo ruled the nation. Early in November, Japanese forces began sailing toward their assigned launching points.
Meanwhile, in Washington, Dwight Eisenhower, a favorite of President Franklin Roosevelt, designed a battle plan for the Philippines. It called for setting up a defensive line and holding it until Europe could be won. FDR liked it and sent Eisenhower to Europe, leaving Ike’s former boss, Gen. MacArthur, to defend the Pacific with nothing but promises that help would come.
The 200th Coast Artillery dug in to defend Clark Field on the island of Luzon, with one-fifth of the men and guns needed. The additional units and equipment never materialized.
Tensions grew. American reconnaissance planes flew daily to observe the massive Japanese buildup off Formosa. On Nov. 23, they went on full alert.
But troop morale remained high. As far as they knew, they were well prepared. The Japanese, they thought, didn’t stand a chance.
The story will continue on Dec. 8.

USS New Mexico

SANTA FE – New Mexico lobbied hard to convince the Navy to name its next nuclear submarine the USS New Mexico.
U.S. Rep. Heather Wilson, Sen. Pete Domenici and Gov. Bill Richardson led the political charge, but New Mexico members of the Navy League, who worked on it for two years, under the leadership of Dick Brown, sent hundreds of letters and petitions to the Navy secretary’s office.
Rep. Wilson urged the Navy to select our state because the former USS New Mexico carried a proud history of defending our country. The Navy likes to name its ships after former ships that carry a proud history. It’s good for building spirit.
It was quite appropriate that the USS New Mexico’s proud history defending our country took place in the Pacific during World War II, where more than 1,800 members of the New Mexico National Guard served and over 900 gave their lives.
There wasn’t much New Mexican about the USS New Mexico. It was a hunk of metal, probably none of which came from our state. And very few of its 1,000-member crew were New Mexicans. Nevertheless, the naming of ships has always carried a special importance for states.
The attachment of Arizonans to the USS Arizona has been amazing. When a new state capitol building was erected in Phoenix, the old capitol became a huge USS Arizona museum, even though it had little to do with the people of Arizona.
The USS Arizona and New Mexico were Battle Ship Nos. 39 and 40, honoring the nation’s two newest states and were authorized shortly after our states entered the union. Although New Mexico was admitted a little over a month before Arizona, somehow Arizona beat us in getting the next ship name.
The Arizona was launched at the New York Navy Yard in June 1915. A few months later, the keel of the New Mexico was laid. In the intervening period, an upgraded battleship was designed, which became known as the New Mexico class.
It was launched in April 1917, and was sponsored by Miss Margaret C. de Baca, who had been selected by her father, Gov. Ezequiel C. de Baca, our second governor, before his death, two months earlier.
Soon after, the New Mexico was chosen as the flagship of our newly-organized Pacific Fleet. When war in the Pacific threatened in 1940, her base became Pearl Harbor. But in mid-1941, activity became even hotter in the Atlantic, protecting our Eastern seaboard.
And that is how the New Mexico missed the attack at Pearl Harbor. Following the December 7 attack, she was recalled to the Pacific and with her New Mexico-class sister ships, the Idaho and the Mississippi, were the primary source of surface defense of our West Coast.
By the summer of 1942, Pearl Harbor had been repaired and the United States was ready for action in the Pacific. The New Mexico’s first action was in the Gilbert Islands, followed by the Marshall Islands, the Solomons and the Marianas.
Then came the retaking of the Philippines. The pre-landing bombardment of Luzon began on January 6, 1945, perhaps appropriately, the state of New Mexico’s 33rd birthday. The sky was full of kamikaze planes. A suicide hit on her bridge killed the commanding officer and 29 others, with 87 injured. The remaining crew made emergency repairs and her guns remained in action until our troops got ashore on January 9th.
After repairs at Pearl Harbor, she headed to Okinawa for the invasion there. This time the enemy threat was from suicide boats. On May 11, she destroyed eight of them. The following evening, the New Mexico was attacked by two kamikazes. One plunged into her. The other hit her with its bomb.
In the resulting fires, 54 men were killed and 119 wounded, but she continued to fight. On May 28, she departed for repairs in the Philippines to be readied for the invasion of Japan. On August 15, while sailing toward Okinawa, she learned of the war’s end. On September 2, she entered Tokyo Bay to witness Japan’s surrender.
That is a proud history to be passed on to the next USS New Mexico.

2008 Presidential Possibilities

SANTA FE Gov. Bill Richardson is mentioned occasionally by the talking heads in post-election interviews. But he has much competition in the jockeying for position in the 2008 presidential sweepstakes.
Numerous Democratic governors are getting in line. And some of them delivered their marginal states to Sen. Kerry. Speaking of John Kerry, neither he nor Sen. John Edwards is going away. Kerry will still be in the Senate and making noise. Edwards won’t, so he has to find a position that will keep him in the news.
And former Gov. Howard Dean still wants into the game. After months of seeing Kerry agree with the president on issues and being able only to say he would have done it better, many Democrats longed for the fiery Dean, who didn’t agree with the president on much of anything.
Gov. Dean is being mentioned for chairman of the Democratic National Committee, but DNC leaders say they only want someone who will stay out of the 2008 presidential race. That rules out nearly everyone at this point, including Gov. Richardson, who is mentioned fairly often. Campaigning for the post might be the best way for Big Bill to prove he really wants to remain here as governor.
Florida Gov. Jeb Bush is having the same trouble with reporters. His refrain sounds exactly like Richardson’s as he tries to convince the media that he likes his current job. Gov. Bush’s situation is even more tenuous than Richardson’s, because there aren’t very many Republicans being prominently mentioned for president yet.
That will come, as 2008 draws nearer. And since Vice President Dick Cheney says he isn’t up to a presidential run, there will be plenty of Republicans eventually jumping into the race. Right now, however, Jeb Bush and Sen. John McCain are about the only high-profile possibilities.
Either McCain or Gen. Colin Powell probably could have had the Democratic presidential nomination either this year or in 2000. Democrats are desperate enough that they will accept nearly anyone, based solely on winability. Both Powell and McCain are far too moderate for the conservative Republican groups that turn out the votes in both primary elections.
McCain has had an interesting transformation in our neighboring Arizona. Four years ago, Arizona conservatives circulated recall petitions against McCain for daring to oppose George Bush in the GOP presidential primary and for disagreeing with Bush on tax cuts. McCain couldn’t have won a race against anyone at that point.
But after 9/11, when McCain praised the president’s handling of the situation, Arizona conservatives backed off. And when McCain strongly supported the president for his war on terror and his war on Iraq, McCain held onto his Senate seat by the biggest margin ever.
But that doesn’t mean his party will reward him with a presidential nomination in 2008. He still scares them.
Gov. Richardson has been visibly irritated about President Bush’s claim of a mandate after winning by only three percentage points. Richardson notes that he won by almost 10 points and Republicans said that certainly was not a mandate.
New Mexicans can be proud of having a good turnout this year. Many poll workers around the state reported having lines at their locations for the first time, despite the high early voting numbers.
Part of the reason for the lines, however, was lack of familiarity with touch screen voting machines. The old mechanical machines were supplied with a plywood mockup so election clerks could show people how to use them before they went in the booth.
Another problem is the constitutional amendments and bond issues at the bottom of the ballot. Voters make up their minds quickly about the candidates but slow down to read the amendments and bonds. Newspapers carry that information, and often make recommendations on the editorial page. This column always discusses them too. But it’s still a bottleneck every year.

Friday, November 19, 2004

Big Gaming Pushing the Envelope

SANTA FE As the lure of big gambling increases, more players want to get in the game and those already in push the envelope trying to extract even more profits.
More than a decade ago, this column warned that once gambling got a foot in the door, there would be no stopping its continued growth. We had racetracks back then, but they weren’t making much money, especially after Indian gaming got its start in the late 1980s.
Govs. Garrey Carruthers and Bruce King dug in their heels and said there would be no more gaming. It hurt King badly in his 1994 re-election effort, as the tribes and pueblos that already were inching into the business went after him.
Gary Johnson won that gubernatorial race and one of his first acts was to sign Indian gaming compacts with all who wanted into the business.
Then came the racetracks, bleeding financially and arguing that casinos were their only salvation. They got ‘em, and now they’re profitable enough that Hobbs is getting a new track and Raton and Santa Fe want to reopen.
Over the years, the handful of Indian casinos has increased to 13 tribes, which includes 10 pueblos, two Apache reservations and a Navajo pilot project. And that is by no means the end of it.
Nambe, with no major highway access, bought frontage property from Pojoaque Pueblo and will build UFO-themed Stargate Casino. Since that was merely an exchange of Indian trust land, no special permission was required for Nambe.
Then came Jemez Pueblo, partnering with a Santa Fe developer on a proposal to build a casino near Anthony, on our southern border, nearly 300 miles off the reservation. That does take special approval from the U.S. Interior Department and chances of success appear slim.
But that didn’t prevent a copycat proposal from tiny Picuris Pueblo, high in the mountains off the “back road” from Santa Fe to Taos. Picuris is teaming with an Albuquerque promoter, and possibly the huge Mohegan Sun casino in Connecticut, to propose a casino near Chaparral, east of Anthony.
There even is talk about something happening at Santa Teresa, New Mexico’s border crossing, just west of El Paso and in the back yard of Sunland Park racetrack and casino, which is opposing any further casinos within 50 miles.
That surprise was preceded only days earlier by an announcement from the Fort Sill, Oklahoma Apache tribal chairman Jeff Houser that his tribe wants to reclaim part of its ancestral homeland in southern New Mexico.
The Fort Sill Apaches are descendants of the Chiricahua Tribe that roamed the southwest in the 1800s. The Chiricahuas were forced out of their homeland by the U.S. government, deported to Florida and detained as prisoners of war for years. They never were granted a reservation, though some later purchased land in Oklahoma.
Their leader, Jeff Houser, is a nephew of famous Indian sculptor Allan Houser, whose work appears on the grounds of our state capitol. Houser wants to take the route of seeking an act of Congress, which doesn’t require anyone else’s approval. He is hopeful Congress will agree to grant land as compensation for the government’s past acts.
While all this activity takes place on our southern border, a group of investors wants to build a new horse track and casino near the old La Mesa Park track south of Raton on I-25. Pojoaque Pueblo is moving along with its plan to reopen Santa Fe Downs south of town. And a group in Tucumcari is still expressing interest in a track.
In the northwest corner of the state, SunRay Park and Casino in Farmington asked state gambling regulators for permission to cash Social Security retirement checks. SunRay argued that the ban on cashing government assistance checks shouldn’t apply to retirement checks, which are earned. The Gaming Control Board didn’t buy it.
But that won’t end efforts to push the envelope.

2008 Presidential Possibilities

SANTA FE Gov. Bill Richardson is mentioned occasionally by the talking heads in post-election interviews. But he has much competition in the jockeying for position in the 2008 presidential sweepstakes.
Numerous Democratic governors are getting in line. And some of them delivered their marginal states to Sen. Kerry. Speaking of John Kerry, neither he nor Sen. John Edwards is going away. Kerry will still be in the Senate and making noise. Edwards won’t, so he has to find a position that will keep him in the news.
And former Gov. Howard Dean still wants into the game. After months of seeing Kerry agree with the president on issues and being able only to say he would have done it better, many Democrats longed for the fiery Dean, who didn’t agree with the president on much of anything.
Gov. Dean is being mentioned for chairman of the Democratic National Committee, but DNC leaders say they only want someone who will stay out of the 2008 presidential race. That rules out nearly everyone at this point, including Gov. Richardson, who is mentioned fairly often. Campaigning for the post might be the best way for Big Bill to prove he really wants to remain here as governor.
Florida Gov. Jeb Bush is having the same trouble with reporters. His refrain sounds exactly like Richardson’s as he tries to convince the media that he likes his current job. Gov. Bush’s situation is even more tenuous than Richardson’s, because there aren’t very many Republicans being prominently mentioned for president yet.
That will come, as 2008 draws nearer. And since Vice President Dick Cheney says he isn’t up to a presidential run, there will be plenty of Republicans eventually jumping into the race. Right now, however, Jeb Bush and Sen. John McCain are about the only high-profile possibilities.
Either McCain or Gen. Colin Powell probably could have had the Democratic presidential nomination either this year or in 2000. Democrats are desperate enough that they will accept nearly anyone, based solely on winability. Both Powell and McCain are far too moderate for the conservative Republican groups that turn out the votes in both primary elections.
McCain has had an interesting transformation in our neighboring Arizona. Four years ago, Arizona conservatives circulated recall petitions against McCain for daring to oppose George Bush in the GOP presidential primary and for disagreeing with Bush on tax cuts. McCain couldn’t have won a race against anyone at that point.
But after 9/11, when McCain praised the president’s handling of the situation, Arizona conservatives backed off. And when McCain strongly supported the president for his war on terror and his war on Iraq, McCain held onto his Senate seat by the biggest margin ever.
But that doesn’t mean his party will reward him with a presidential nomination in 2008. He still scares them.
Gov. Richardson has been visibly irritated about President Bush’s claim of a mandate after winning by only three percentage points. Richardson notes that he won by almost 10 points and Republicans said that certainly was not a mandate.
New Mexicans can be proud of having a good turnout this year. Many poll workers around the state reported having lines at their locations for the first time, despite the high early voting numbers.
Part of the reason for the lines, however, was lack of familiarity with touch screen voting machines. The old mechanical machines were supplied with a plywood mockup so election clerks could show people how to use them before they went in the booth.
Another problem is the constitutional amendments and bond issues at the bottom of the ballot. Voters make up their minds quickly about the candidates but slow down to read the amendments and bonds. Newspapers carry that information, and often make recommendations on the editorial page. This column always discusses them too. But it’s still a bottleneck every year.

Monday, November 15, 2004

Were Exit Polls Correct About Morality?

SANTA FE Election day exit polls showing Sen. Kerry with a lead have been widely denounced as either poorly done or as some sort of Democrat conspiracy. But all the “experts” are accepting another finding of those polls showing that moral issues are the most important to American voters.
If the polls incorrectly predicted the winner, might it be possible they also messed up on morality? Various explanations were given for respondents saying they voted for Kerry. Most often heard was that Democrats were more willing to answer pollsters questions.
If that’s the case, maybe it means that Democrats are interested in moral issues too. Republicans did a good job of taking the issue all for themselves, just as they’ve done with patriotism.
But maybe it had to do with how the question was asked. Some respondents said there were too few choices for answers and that they were worried about sounding immoral if they didn’t choose that answer.
Anyway, all the talk about America becoming a theocracy may be jumping to the wrong conclusion. Admittedly, there is some evidence to back it up. In all of the states where a ban on gay marriage was on the ballot, it won. Even in liberal Washington State.
Republican strategists brilliantly got the issue on so many state ballots because it brought out long lines of likely Bush voters. When the Massachusetts court ruled in favor of gay marriage, it surely sealed the fate of its junior senator’s presidential chances.
John Edwards’ claims early in the campaign about two Americas was stifled soon after his selection as the Democrats’ vice-presidential candidate. But election results certainly demonstrate two Americans in at least some ways.
Republicans have loved flashing the map with election results by county. It is a sea of red, with blue lines along both coasts and the Mississippi. George Bush won rural America and John Kerry won the cities. It wasn’t much different four years ago when Al Gore was the Democrat nominee.
Ever since then, Republican readers have sent me an analysis by some college professor noting that the areas won by Gore had more poverty and crime. That’s likely to be the case again, but this time Democrats will have some ammunition to fire back.
Scientists from a Santa Fe complexity theory business have postulated that George Bush represents simplicity, which they associate with stupidity and John Kerry represents complexity, which they associate with intelligence. To back their claim, they presented studies indicating that Kerry won the states with the highest average IQs and the highest percentage of college graduates.
So maybe our two Americas aren’t the haves and have-nots, as John Edwards argued, but stupid country folks versus intelligent but poor urban criminals. It doesn’t appear America is coming together.
Everyone is talking about Sen. Kerry’s off-mike comment that Bill Richardson had better deliver New Mexico. Since we didn’t hear what preceded that comment, many interpretations are possible. Was he kidding or was he serious?
Was it in the context of Richardson insisting on so much of Kerry’s time, including that election day interview? Or Kerry and Richardson may have been hearing the optimistic exit polls at about that time and may have thought Kerry would be president. Could Gov. Richardson have asked for a major favor?
As this is being written, Gov. Richardson seems to still be trying to deliver New Mexico to Kerry, which seems unlikely. Being able to deliver would make Richardson a bigger player in the 2008 elections.
It won’t put Kerry over the top, but then that may not make the governor too sad because it leaves the Democratic presidential nomination up for grabs in 2008.
Not many Democratic governors were able to deliver battleground states. One of the exceptions is Illinois Gov. Rod Blagojevich, who held a joint news conference with Richardson the day after the election, concerning flu shots. No TV reporter dared to pronounce his name.

X-Prize Major Players

SANTA FE The $10 million X-Prize was awarded this week to the first private business to send a manned rocket to the edge of space. It also included an impressive 150-pound trophy, suitable for placing in the reception area of Burt Rutan’s Scaled Composites, Inc.
As the names of NASA’s early space heroes begin to fade in our memories, we are beginning a new era of space pioneers, in the grand tradition of Charles Lindbergh, who flew the Spirit of St. Louis across the Atlantic to win the $25,000 Orteig Prize back in 1927.
As the government appears ready to direct its attention to new space achievements, such as a moon base and exploration of Mars, look for private industry to take over the field of commercial space travel.
The X-Prize was the first baby step in that direction. Future competition will involve a “grand prix of space,” called the X-Prize Cup, to be held in New Mexico beginning in 2006.
And all the big names among the new space pioneers will be here. By then their names will be household words. Here’s an opportunity for you to become familiar with them now.
Paul Allen is an old friend to New Mexico. Along with Bill Gates, he co-founded Microsoft in Albuquerque back in 1975. They moved to the Seattle area in 1979 to be closer to family and venture capital, but they didn’t forget New Mexico. Both have made investments in our state.
In 2000, Allen bought the former Georgia O’Keeffe estate in Santa Fe and last month announced he will build a computing exhibit for the New Mexico Museum of Natural History and Science. Allen owns the Seattle Seahawks football team, the Portland Trail Blazers basketball team and is a major investor in Hollywood’s Dreamworks.
With more than $20 million, Allen was the major bankroller of the company that built SpaceShipOne, the rocket plane that captured the X-Prize. Allen has been present for all of SpaceShipOne’s flights and was present for the awarding of the X-Prize.
Burt Rutan is the designer of SpaceShipOne, built by his company Scaled Composites, Inc. Rutan attained international renown in 1986, when his now-famous Voyager, piloted by his brother Dick, made a record-breaking nine-day, non-stop flight around the world on one tank of gas.
Rutan’s penchant is for designing light, strong, unusual-looking, energy-efficient aircraft at his Mojave Desert plant. He beat his 26 competitors handily for the X-Prize. They aren’t expected to give him much of a challenge for more than a year. That is why the X-Prize Cup competition in New Mexico won’t begin until 2006. A demonstration at White Sands Missile Range is scheduled for next summer, however.
Peter Diamandis is chairman of the X-Prize Foundation. He presented the $10 million check and trophy to Rutan and Allen. He co-owns Space Adventures, which offers various space-related adventure tourism packages. The company helped arrange the flights of Dennis Tito and Mark Shuttleworth to the International Space Station, at a cost of $20 million apiece.
Diamandis holds graduate and post-graduate degrees in astronautical engineering from the Massachusetts Institute of Technology and a doctor’s degree in medical research from Harvard. The degrees were to prepare him to become a NASA astronaut, but after becoming familiar with the NASA program, he decided it moved far too slowly for him.
So in 1988, Diamandis started his own firm, International Microspace to develop a satellite launch vehicle. In 1996, he founded the X-Prize with the goal of beginning an age of spacecraft development and competition like the Wright Brothers touched off at Kittyhawk.
Richard Branson may soon be the best-known of the space pioneers. The British entrepreneur has made billions through projects such as Virgin Airways and Virgin Records. He now has entered into a deal with Rutan to license SpaceShipOne’s technology to offer commercial spaceflights by 2007. It will be called Virgin Galactic. He expects it to fly 3,000 passengers in its first five years. Fares will start at $208,000.
And yes, he’s also the Rebel Billionaire of TV fame.

Gov Wants to Educate 4-Yr Olds

SANTA FE Gov. Bill Richardson is proposing to boldly go where wiser men know better than to tread. Pardon the mixed metaphor but it is illustrative of the mixed feelings surrounding the governor’s new initiative for the pre-kindergarten education of four-year olds.
Although the governor and Lt. Gov. Diane Denish are to be commended for their efforts to combat New Mexico’s poor literacy and achievement rates, they are running into questions about whether this is the best way to do it.
Some educators argue that scarce resources would be used better for strengthening existing education programs. Increased achievement standards and testing are demanding quick results. The increased state and federal financial support of schools that was to come with increased standards hasn’t completely materialized.
In addition Gov. Richardson has pledged to increase teacher salaries from near last in the nation to the regional average in a rapid time period. Moving on so quickly to a new and very expensive initiative significantly dilutes resources available for already established priorities.
The financial lesson learned from extending public school education down to the kindergarten level for five-year-olds should be very fresh in everyone’s minds. The state has been working at fully implementing kindergartens for over two decades. The big push of the last few years has been a drain on school budgets.
And it is continuing, with a $5 million statewide bond issue, passed by voters earlier this month, to provide kindergarten classrooms for school districts that haven’t been able to afford them. And that even includes the Albuquerque Public Schools.
If we are just now finding classrooms for all kindergarteners, where are we going to find them for an entire new grade added into public schools? And how will we pay for them?
Educators disagree on the value of trying to educate four-year-olds. We know it is important for children entering school to be ready to learn. And we know that some children haven’t had the enrichment experiences necessary to make them ready.
But readiness also is developmental and varies with each child. Some children are ready to read at four, while others aren’t ready to read yet at six, despite a rich background. And when they are ready, their learning curve usually is steep, allowing them to catch up quickly.
The governor’s pre-kindergarten initiative not only treads on existing school programs and resources and on taxpayers’ toes, it also is upsetting some parents who aren’t ready to give up their children to institutional settings at age five, much less age four.
Kindergarten programs started out being voluntary, and they still are, but parents report strong pressures in some districts to put their five-year-olds in school and some state lawmakers are beginning to suggest that kindergarten attendance be mandatory.
There also is conflict with existing pre-kindergarten offerings for children. Approximately half of four-year-olds are in such programs. Some of them are in programs for which their parents pay. Some are in state or federally-funded day care or Head Start programs.
These programs are working just fine and have found space. Private programs often are in churches. That will become another bone of contention when the government starts setting standards for employees and curriculum and starts wanting financial records.
And that will begin very soon. Even though this initiative is to begin as a public-private partnership with existing pre-kindergarten programs, the state will immediately want to start setting standards for schools that want to participate – and maybe for all schools serving four-year- olds, whether they want to participate in the state program or not.
The future for the state in the education of four-year-olds is full of uncertainties. Reportedly about one-quarter of the states are trying it and most are having problems, financially and with difficulties they hadn’t anticipated.
The state should wait awhile on this one so it can attend to other pressing needs first, while providing further details to the doubters.

Tuesday, November 09, 2004

Price of Poker Going Up

SANTA FE The price of poker is going up in southern New Mexico as a racetrack casino owner and a wannabe Indian casino owner keep raising the stakes.
Santa Fe art dealer and real estate tycoon Gerald Peters has partnered with Jemez Pueblo to propose an off-reservation casino near Anthony, on the Texas border. That has not set well with Stan Fulton, owner of Sunland Park Racetrack and Casino, 20 miles down the road, near both the Texas and Mexican borders.
Fulton, who already has given millions to the Gadsden School District and New Mexico State University, says he will cancel a provision in his will bequeathing half ownership and half the net profit from his gaming operation to NMSU if an Indian casino is approved within 50 miles from his racetrack and casino.
The off-reservation casino must be approved by the U.S. Interior Department based on its positive impact upon the pueblo and its lack of negative impact on the surrounding community. If approved, the governor must sign a gaming compact with the pueblo and the county commission must approve the zoning.
The federal government has said nothing so far, but we do know it has approved at least three off-reservation casinos in other states during the sixteen years since the Indian Gaming Regulation Act passed and that approval sometimes takes as long as five years.
Gov. Bill Richardson says the state already has enough gambling and that the issue isn’t even on his radar screen, but he does venture that Fulton’s casino condition is “unseemly.” In fact, he says, “Pressure works against those who try to assert it against me.”
Peters says Fulton’s claim that an Indian casino will cut his business in half is totally wrong, according to a study he commissioned. He challenged Fulton to a $1 million bet that Fulton won’t lose half his revenues by three years after the competition starts.
Fulton says the $1 million is chickenfeed. He says he’ll lose $100 million in the long run. “Let Mr. Peters put up at least $100 million,” says Fulton.
Peters already has begun seeking county commission approval. During his presentation, Peters pledged to provide health care for his employees for which he would pay at least half the cost.
Dona Ana County Commissioner Gilbert Apodaca responded that since the county is responsible for indigent health care, he would like to see Peters pay the full cost. Without batting an eye, Peters answered, “You’ve got a deal.”
Peters and Jemez Pueblo Gov. Paul Chinana have both been supportive of Fulton’s generosity to the local community. Peters notes that he too has a track record of charitable giving and will continue that practice. It will demonstrate, he says, what gaming competition can do for a community.
Meanwhile both sides try to line up community support in preparation for influencing Interior Secretary Gale Norton. Peters has received the endorsement of the Anthony-Berino Economic Development Corp., a private group of local business people, while Fulton has lined up an impressive group that calls itself the Committee to Protect Dona Ana County.
The group includes seven of the area’s legislators, several horse breeders and Bob Gallagher, president of the NMSU Board of Regents. Joe Monahan, a public relations pro, has been hired as spokesman for the group.
Fulton recently has announced further gifts, in the millions, for both Gadsden and NMSU. And don’t be surprised to see Peters continue to sweeten the pot. One thing these guys don’t lack is money, and plenty of it, from outside the gaming industry.
But within the gaming industry, the amount of money is obscene and it is leading to a very high-stakes game, in which the participants can throw around million-dollar bets and donations with abandon.
NMSU says its gift could net it at least $10 million a year as a partner in a gambling operation. Pretty good, if you can stomach the thought.

Election Wrap-Up

SANTA FE After the most painful presidential campaign ever, we were blessed with a merciful ending. Election day irregularities were at a minimum and President Bush’s lead in Ohio was enough to convince Sen. Kerry not to insist that all votes be counted.
Despite this being a very different world today than four years ago, the votes changed little. Few states switched from the Republican or Democratic columns.
It was expected that the electorate would be very different this time because of the massive voter registration drives among young people and minorities. But the 18-24 vote reportedly stayed at 17 percent.
And if Democrats were the ones registering most of the minorities, it did little good. Hispanics and Blacks both gave President Bush a higher percentage of their vote than four years ago.
Gov. Bill Richardson’s well-funded voter registration drive didn’t produce its intended results either, unless those young people and minorities are hiding in the votes yet to be counted.
Richardson’s PAC also did a lot of registration work in Colorado, where Democrats surprised by picking up both a U.S. Senate and House seat and by taking both houses of the legislature for the first time in many years.
We were told during the campaign that America has a new “Generation e,” standing for empowerment. Much is sure to be written about where that went after voter turnout efforts by Rock the Vote and pop music stars fizzled.
Had Kerry pulled out a victory in Ohio, we may have seen a situation similar to four years ago when one candidate took the popular vote and the other took the Electoral College. Since the results would have been reversed, it would have been interesting to see if the Republican Congress would have tried to abolish the Electoral College.
Much was said about the vagaries of the Electoral College again this year and Gov. Richardson was called upon by the national media to defend it on behalf of small states. Richardson argued that our founders intended small states to be protected, just as they are in the U.S. Senate.
In states with two senators and only one representative, the popular vote counts several times as much as the votes of large states. But without that, presidential candidates would completely ignore not only small states but also rural areas of large states.
Candidates would be forced to concentrate all their time in huge population centers. And that wouldn’t include Albuquerque. The special needs of small states and rural areas would be lost even more than they are now in any discussion of issues.
At this point, most New Mexicans likely would prefer not to be noticed by the campaigns. It was nice being able to see the candidates and their families in a very large number of the communities in the state. Many of the visits late in the campaign were to New Mexico towns that previously had been completely ignored.
But the flood of negative TV ads was sickening. Our household resorted to watching fishing shows on ESPN to stay away from the local ads. Albuquerque and Miami were reported to be the most heavily-saturated markets in the nation, while people in states such as Utah and Wyoming saw none of it.
Las Cruces reminds us again of a disadvantage of hosting a candidate’s entourage. The airport runway messed up by a heavy cargo plane during a presidential visit was originally estimated to be about $1 million. But outside engineers now put the cost at more like $2 million.
Early in the campaign, Arizona sometimes was included as a possible battleground state. But the first polls put an end to that. Thus Sen. John Kerry decided to stay an extra night in Santa Fe preparing for the last debate, rather than staying at a posh resort in Scottsdale. Arizonans were furious. Why stay in that little Podunk town?
At about that time, Conde Nast travel magazine issued its latest poll of most popular destinations. Santa Fe was second in the nation. Scottsdale didn’t make the list.

60th Anniversary of WWII Will Be Last Big One

SANTA FE Next year marks the 60th anniversary of the end of World War II. It will be marked by observances similar to those for the 50th anniversary a decade ago.
This is expected to be the last of the big celebrations because the remaining veterans who fought in that war are now well into their 80s.
As a tribute to the brave men of the New Mexico National Guard, who fired the first shots of the war and became the most decorated unit during World War II, Inside the Capitol will follow those men through their four-year ordeal on at least a monthly basis throughout the coming year.
Much of the material in this series will come from books written in the early 1990s: “Beyond Courage,” by Dorothy Cave of Roswell, and “It Tolled for New Mexico,” by Eva Jane Matson of Las Cruces. Maybe these columns will encourage you to run out and buy copies.
We begin this month with a look at the years leading up to activation of the New Mexico National Guard, early in 1941, and its training at Fort Bliss, Texas.
The New Mexico Guard holds the distinction of being the oldest continuous militia in the United States, dating back to the Spanish colonists of 1598. During the Civil War, it fought as the First New Mexico Cavalry under Kit Carson.
In 1898, the Territorial Militia again was federalized as the Second Squadron of the First U. S. Volunteer Cavalry, better known as Roosevelt’s Rough Riders. When some of their troops and most of their horses didn’t arrive for the assault on Kettle Hill, they fought on as infantry to capture the hill.
Forty years later the New Mexico National Guard still was a proud cavalry unit, the 111th. But times were changing. Germany and Japan both were exhibiting expansionistic tendencies. In 1939, Japanese bombs fell on American missions in China and the U.S. fleet moved into the Pacific.
The War Department announced that the 111th Cavalry must convert to another mission. Horses would not be used in the next war. New Mexico was given the choice between field artillery and antiaircraft coast artillery. For some reason, the desert rats chose coast artillery.
In April 1940, the New Mexico National Guard became the 200th Coast Artillery. That summer’s encampment at Camp Luna was sent a few 3-inch guns, but only for demonstration. Priority for weapons and ammunition went to our European allies. Before the end of the year, it was announced that the 200th would be federalized.
The swearing-in was held on January 6, 1941. The troops shipped out on January 15 to Fort Bliss in El Paso. The base hadn’t been expanded yet to accommodate the incoming Guard units so the troops slept in tents. Simulated guns were fashioned from boxes and broomsticks, using rocks for ammunition. It was an omen of what was to come.
The few units that did have equipment demonstrated amazing ability to accomplish their tasks by braking book rules and taking shortcuts. Unlike the regular Army, the men of the 200th were assigned tasks consistent with their backgrounds. And since everyone knew each other, there were few slackers.
Although it wasn’t widely publicized, U.S. officials had adopted a “Get Hitler First” strategy. Japan and the Pacific could wait. But as far as our troops were told, guns and ammunition were on the way and any danger from Japan was well in the future, if at all.
But soon Japan was flooding into southern China, almost entirely surrounding the Philippines, the major U.S. territory in the South Pacific. U.S. officials knew that if Japan took the Philippines, we’d have very little foothold to regain the Pacific. So Gen. MacArthur was dispatched to Manila as commander of the Asiatic Fleet to begin the defense and reinforcement of the Philippines.
Later this month, shipping out and setting up in the Philippines.

Albuquerque Airport Security

Syndicated Columnist

SANTA FE – The Albuquerque airport has the nation’s longest lines for security checks. That’s the consensus of about 50 friends with whom we recently flew out of Albuquerque.
Most of the people were frequent flyers, so should be fairly good judges. Their opinions are supported by recent comments from readers around the state and by flight attendants we talked to on our trip.
Not long ago, the news carried a story about Sen. Jeff Bingaman writing a letter to the head of the Transportation Security Administration describing his long wait in Albuquerque and asking for some resolution.
Nothing has come of that yet, but Bingaman should be getting support from fellow Sen. Pete Domenici and Reps. Heather Wilson and Tom Udall, who also have to fly out of Albuquerque. Members of Congress would seem to be our best hope for shortening those lines, so you should contact them if you would like to see some action.
Gov. Bill Richardson and Albuquerque Mayor Martin Chavez also should be doing something about the problem because of their interest in bringing new industries to Albuquerque and New Mexico.
Any company wanting to put a branch plant in the northern part of the state will have to be doing some airline travel and one experience in Albuquerque may likely discourage them, unless they have a company plane.
Corporate jets may be the reason Gov. Richardson hasn’t been “fighting for New Mexico” on this issue. News reports indicate he tools around on private jets out of the Santa Fe airport most of the time, so he may not be aware of the problem. And that may be why he is finagling so hard to get a big new state airplane in which to take his trips.
New Mexicans on the eastern and southern sides of the state would be wise to use Texas airports from what we understand. Houston gets some pretty bad reviews, but airports in El Paso, Lubbock and Amarillo reportedly have much shorter waits than Albuquerque.
Personal experience with the Albuquerque airport indicates that redeye flights are about the only ones for which a wait of well over an hour shouldn’t be expected. By daybreak, security lines are beginning to snake around like Disneyland and soon they extend down the escalator to wind all around the downstairs area and eventually to the driveway outside.
The TSA seems to have plenty of employees milling about all over the place. But near as I can tell, they mainly are for crowd control to keep angry passengers in line during their two-hour wait. More checkpoints obviously are needed and it shouldn’t take additional employees to staff them.
I have seen and heard information that Albuquerque leads the nation in delayed flights and in the number of people who miss flights wholly because of TSA incompetence. It sounds believable, but I don’t have it completely verified yet.
If travelers are so upset with the waits, why don’t they raise more of a ruckus about them? The answer seems to be that they accept the inconveniences as current travel reality and as evidence of improved travel security.
But so far, no terrorists have been caught in airport security lines. If they had been, we certainly would have been told. And the waits don’t have to be accepted as necessary or inevitable. They don’t happen at all airports.
The waits are longer in Albuquerque now than when the airlines handled security. The airlines suffer when people decide not to travel or to use a different means of transportation. They should be complaining, but they aren’t, possibly because they all are in financial trouble and want more help from the government.
Dave Clary of Roswell, a frequent contributor to this column, says an Albuquerque TSA employee told him the problem is not security; it’s that too many people want to fly.
That’s just what the airlines don’t want to hear.
FRI, 11-05-04

JAY MILLER, 3 La Tusa, Santa Fe, NM 87505
(ph) 982-2723, (fax) 984-0982, (e-mail)


SANTA FE The war on cockfighting has escalated. People for the Ethical Treatment of Animals has recruited actress Pamela Anderson to play the lead in its biennial effort to ban chicken fighting in New Mexico.
The former Baywatch babe wrote to Gov. Bill Richardson two weeks ago asking him to ban cockfighting in the state. She warned that “The whole country is watching, especially Hollywood, which your office actively courts for the film business.”
It is uncertain how much influence cockfighting has on the decision of producers to film in New Mexico. Their mostly-liberal leanings might suggest it would have some effect, but some recent New Mexico polling results may put that assumption in question.
Almost surely, Pamela Anderson’s opposition to cockfighting will have no effect on Hollywood decisions to film in New Mexico. But her injection into the 2005 Legislature’s deliberation on the question will make a difference, possibly a crucial difference.
The announcement of Anderson’s letter to the governor ran in top-of-the-page stories in many newspapers, along with a color picture of the sexy starlet. It doesn’t take a pundit to predict that there will be more announcements and that they will receive attention PETA could never expect get with its own news releases.
Another easy prediction is that Anderson will visit New Mexico’s Capitol at a significant time during the 2005 session. Some lawmakers already are looking forward to that.
Gov. Richardson has not announced his answer to Anderson. He’s been otherwise occupied the past several months and he may want to play hard-to-get for awhile.
Two years ago, when a cockfighting ban made its way farther through the Legislature than it ever had, Richardson indicated he might entertain requests to sign the measure. The bill passed the House for the first time ever, but died in the Senate.
PETA also has another factor working in its favor this year. The organization has conducted polls in the past revealing wide public acceptance in New Mexico for a cockfighting ban. But polls by advocacy organizations are looked at suspiciously, because responses are dependent on the way questions are asked.
This year the Albuquerque Journal asked the question in an August poll and learned that two-thirds of likely voters would support a cockfighting ban. That is likely to have an influence on a governor who watches poll results carefully. The results also show more Republicans than Democrats supporting the ban.
The question this year will be whether the governor decides he wants to have the legislation introduced. That’s essentially what Anderson was asking when she requested Richardson to outlaw cockfighting. The governor doesn’t have the power to do that.
My hunch is that Richardson will not initiate the legislation. Experience shows that passing a cockfighting ban requires a great amount of political capital, something the governor needs to conserve for his major priorities.
Why is it so hard to pass a cockfighting ban? Gamecock breeders are proud, hardworking people. They are a bunch of country folks who feel so strongly about preserving a tradition and a way of life that they’ve become very effective lobbyists. They’re from the sticks, but they sure know how to play defense.
They throng to the Capitol, packing committee hearing rooms. But they aren’t the cruel militants one might expect. They are polite, respectful, sincere and deeply committed to preserving their heritage. They portray cockfighting events as family affairs that are drug free and cleaner fun than their kids might be having otherwise.
Their effect on lawmakers is often powerful and positive. They appeal to some legislators by questioning whether government should be so involved in regulating people’s lives and businesses. They appeal to others by noting that cities and counties already can ban cockfighting, and many do.
It won’t be an easy decision for lawmakers. They must weigh an end of a tradition against cruelty to animals – because it’s both.

Dems Learn From GOP

SANTA FE More than a third of New Mexico’s votes are likely to have been cast by election day, according to officials. Not only are Republicans pushing early voting, Democrats are trying to get into the act this year.
After an intensive voter registration drive that netted them nearly 50,000 new voters, Democrats want to be sure those people don’t disappear, so they are helping them obtain absentee ballots and are carting them to early polling places.
Ever since the late 1980s, Republicans have enjoyed a tremendous early voting advantage. Especially in Albuquerque, Republican candidates often will lose at the polls on election day. But once the absentee ballots are counted, they win by comfortable margins.
In 2000, George W. Bush had a 9,600-vote edge over Al Gore in early and absentee voting in Bernalillo County, but lost the county by 4,212 votes. In statewide figures, Bush won by more than 27,000 votes, but lost the race by 366 votes.
Actually, the number of votes already in may be much more than a third of the final total. In 2002, 44 percent of the statewide ballots were cast early. In Bernalillo County, the figure was 60 percent.
No wonder the Bernalillo County clerk has so much trouble getting absentee votes counted. And the state Legislature still hasn’t provided any relief in terms of allowing at least the outer envelope to be opened prior to election day.
Sen. Rod Adair of Roswell says Democrat efforts since the late 1990s have been chipping away at the GOP edge in early voting. If Adair is right, and he’s an expert on such things, it appears the early vote will be even larger this year.
Most of the new voters are young – 56 percent are younger than 35. And almost a third didn’t choose a party. That could change some traditional voting patterns. Medicare and Social Security may not be such big issues this time, giving way to the war, in which young people are very interested. Democrats are hoping the 31 percent of the 110,000 new voters will join the 43 percent who registered Democrat to form some big majorities.
A big chunk of the New Mexico voter registration campaign this year was conducted by Gov. Bill Richardson’s Moving America Forward political committee. He reported paying $350,000 to a company to help with voter registration drives in New Mexico and Colorado. Much of the receipts for Richardson’s political committee also come from Colorado, including $250,000 from Denver entrepreneur Rutt Bridges.
Richardson’s Moving America Forward is not to be confused with, which has been producing some of the harder hitting TV ads aimed at President Bush. The governor’s political committee is mainly dedicated to registering Hispanic voters in swing states.
Political analysts agree that vicious political ads have been around since the early days of television, but this year are in a class of their own. The main reason is that the 2002 campaign reform law, known as McCain-Feingold, cracked down on campaign contributions to political parties and individual candidates.
The result was a diversion of large amounts of money to groups, known as 527s, after the section of U.S. law that makes them tax exempt and allows them to accept unlimited contributions. 527s have existed for decades, but since they are required to be independent from candidates, they have been the perfect vehicle for all the money freed up by “campaign reform.”
Of course, these groups are not independent, but if their relationships to the two political parties are sufficiently blurred, they can do the dirty work of the campaigns without it being blamed on the parties.
As for ads by the parties, political analysts say Republicans have been doing a vastly better job at legally maneuvering through election laws to avoid the limitations imposed on parties and presidential candidates.
As with turning out absentee votes, Democrats are finally awakening and taking notes.

Constitutional Amendments and Bonds

SANTA FE Constitutional amendments and bond issue questions at the end of the ballot often take voters by surprise since they don’t get much discussion. Here are Inside the Capitol’s slants on those ballot items.
The first thing you’ll notice when viewing the constitutional amendments is that the first two are missing. I actually went looking for them until I remembered that we voted on those in a special election over a year ago.
Those were Gov. Bill Richardson’s top priorities his first year in office. One of the amendments abolished the elected state Board of Education and replaced it with an advisory board under the governor. It passed fairly easily.
The second amendment sent some additional permanent fund money into public schools. Richardson campaigned throughout the summer of 2003 for that amendment, exhausting a large amount of his political capital in the process of securing a narrow victory.
Amendment 3 is on this year’s ballot. It allows for local runoff elections when no candidate receives a majority. Some of the state’s largest municipalities held runoffs until the state Supreme Court invalidated them because the state constitution does not allow them.
Since many candidates often enter local non-partisan races, the winner sometimes doesn’t receive a majority of the votes, making it difficult to govern when most voters did not support the winning candidate.
The proposed process involves a second election, which can be costly to the municipality and the candidates. Members of minority groups or a minority party sometimes can win in a big field but stand little chance in a runoff.
The amendment requires further legislative authorization and allows local governments to decide whether they want to opt for runoffs.
Amendment 4 extends the veterans’ property tax exemption to all members of the armed services who are honorably discharged. Presently, service has to be during a period of armed conflict, but since members of the military have no control over whether their will be an armed conflict during their service, it was thought fairer to extend the benefit to everyone.
Amendment 5 would change the name of the New Mexico School for the Visually Handicapped to the New Mexico School for the Blind and Visually Impaired. As you might guess, this has to do with political correctness, evolving word meanings and states of mind.
In 1950, our constitution was amended to change the New Mexico School for the Blind to its present name. Now we’re going back to “blind” because it describes a condition, as does “impaired.” It now is hoped that people with these conditions won’t consider them a handicap, thereby improving their well-being.
How long these words will continue to be considered sensitive to visual conditions, there is no telling. That we have to clutter our constitution and our ballots with such considerations is a shame. The Legislature should handle the responsibility.
The bond issues appearing on statewide ballots always are the same. Every year, the Legislature has three pots of money to spend on construction, equipment purchases and special programs. One is the surplus from the ongoing operation of government, usually caused by more revenue coming in than had been projected. Another pot is severance taxes collected on removal of our state’s mineral resources.
The third pot is statewide property tax bonds. Since those require voter approval, the most popular of all projects are required to beg for money from that pot, while lawmakers fund their pet projects out of the other two.
The projects that must go begging are senior citizen centers, higher education and public schools. Usually a fourth bond will be added for something that might be sufficiently popular to pass. This year, it is library books. In recent years, it has been the State Fair, armories, museums and historic buildings.
Despite valiant efforts by supporters, such items often lose. The winners usually are bonds having money for every part of the state.

Put Congress on Social Security

SANTA FE Sen. Kerry wants all Americans to have a health plan equaling that enjoyed by members of Congress. President Bush says that would cost trillions.
We’ll take his word for it. He’s probably right. A less expensive plan, floated on the Internet during every federal election campaign is to wipe out retirement benefits of every member of Congress and put them on Social Security.
That would get the system fixed very quickly because congressional retirement benefits are extremely generous. That’s because they get to set their own pay and benefits, unlike New Mexico lawmakers, who have to get the state constitution amended anytime they want anything for themselves.
Of course, if members of Congress were limited to the same retirement benefits as the people they represent, their Social Security fix would probably break the bank worse than Kerry’s health planwould.
Kerry’s plan is interesting. It certainly is a more popular way to say he is for government-paid health insurance. He may have come up with the idea after hearing the clamor to put Congress on Social Security.
It is a popular notion among both Republican and Democrat voters. But I have never heard a single member of Congress address the issue. The next time you go to a campaign rally, ask your member of Congress to join you on Social Security.
The H.J. Heinz Co. has found itself a win-win situation that is sure to have its directors laughing all the way through board meetings. All the presidential donations from the Heinz political action committee go to President Bush.
But every time Heinz Co. transfers another job out of the country, the Republican National Committee levels another blast at Sen. Kerry for being hypocritical. And Republicans on the Internet pick it up and spin it through cyberspace.
Of course, Kerry has nothing to do with the company’s decisions. He’s about the last person who would be asked to serve on the board of directors. But because his wife was once married to a Heinz and still uses the name, the ketchup spills over on Kerry every time Heinz Co. is criticized.
Another election oddity has occurred in Albuquerque, where Al “Hurricane” Sanchez has endorsed incumbent Rep. Heather Wilson. Sanchez, known as the Godfather of New Mexico Music, served in the New Mexico Air National Guard with Richard Romero back in the 1960s.
Also serving in that guard unit were Maurice (Tiny Morrie) and Gabriel (Baby Gaby), two younger brothers of Sanchez, who also starred in the Al “Hurricane” and the Night Rockers musical group. Alfred Sanchez and his son Al “Hurricane” Jr. both endorsed Wilson because of her work on education issues and for supporting music and art programs in the schools.
Like her predecessors in office, Wilson has had much crossover appeal. She is a protégé of Sen. Pete Domenici, who went way out on a limb, endorsing her six years ago even after she had finished second to state Rep. Bill Davis at the state GOP nominating convention.
Domenici has always had a reputation as a moderate in Congress, which has kept him out of several leadership roles he has sought. In New Mexico, he has gotten away with running as a conservative, even though Republicans know better, because they know he can pull in Democrat votes to win general elections.
In this year’s congressional race, Wilson is running into some trouble for her claims that she carries on the tradition of her predecessors Rep. Steve Schiff and Rep. Manuel Lujan. Wilson has claimed to have a very independent voting record in Washington and banks heavily on that in her commercials.
But the Democratic National Committee has called her on the claim, calculating that her votes have averaged about 91 percent with what the party asks her to do. The DNC says Schiff voted 71 percent with the party line and Lujan voted only 64 percent with the GOP.

Scaring Voters

SANTA FE This election is not good for America’s health. We’re talking mental health here because both sides are trying to scare voters into choosing them.
During the last few elections, Democrats have succeeded in scaring older folks about Republican victories meaning an end to Social Security and Medicare. It is an effective tactic because senior citizens vote. Now there is an effort to scare young people into voting Democrat because President Bush has a secret plan to reinstate the draft. Many of them aren’t even registered yet, but Democrats are trying.
And Republicans are heightening anxieties about terrorism by trying convince voters that the only way to keep terrorists from attacking again is to vote Republican.
Going after terrorists where they live seems to be the accepted solution by both parties for fighting terrorism. That’s surely because their constant polling and focus groups reveal that Americans are afraid and want someone to go somewhere else to wipe out terrorism.
That may be comforting, but it isn’t realistic. Terrorists don’t live and work in palaces as the Iraqi leaders did. They have the best hidey holes their imagination can devise. So we can’t bomb them into submission. That’s what makes Osama bin Laden so hard to find.
Terrorism is much more than the act of destroying property and killing people. It is the act of getting into the psyches of those who aren’t killed and making them worry they may be next. Fear-mongering only aids that goal and is harmful to the mental health of Americans.
Raising threat levels and warning of election day attacks is another part of fear-mongering. Since soon after the March bombings in Madrid, just prior to Spanish elections, the Bush administration has warned that al-Qaeda wants to launch large scale attacks to disrupt the presidential campaign.
In September, U.S. Attorney General John Ashcroft ordered the FBI and other federal law enforcement agencies to assign what could be hundreds of agents to help deal with any threats to the election.
Since then attorneys general in several states have urged local election officials to develop plans to deal with immediate and present dangers. And local officials have responded by moving polling places out of elementary schools and requesting police protection at the polls.
New Mexico Secretary of State Rebecca Vigil-Giron has been quoted in the national news speculating whether the warnings amount to a veiled Republican effort to suppress voter turnout. Historically, heavy turnout in U.S. elections has favored Democrats.
While both parties have been busy trying to scare voters, they seem very scared of each other. Or maybe they’re trying to project an image of complete harmony, while trying to create havoc for their opponent. Both parties orchestrated their conventions to exclude any controversial issues and kept protesters blocks away.
Following that, Republicans began locking out anyone from campaign appearances by either the president or vice president who didn’t sign a loyalty oath. Democrats protested loudly, but an appearance by Sen. Kerry in Santa Fe subsequently was limited to ticket holders, although signed statements of support evidently weren’t required for admission.
And toward the end of the campaign, both presidential candidates began appearing almost totally among their party faithful. In New Mexico Republicans stayed in the south and Democrats in the north. They obviously weren’t swaying many undecided voters. Evidently they felt adoring crowds made for better media events for voters watching and reading about them in distant states.
An interesting twist on the GOP loyalty oath requirement occurred recently when Gov. Bill Richardson excluded Rep. Dan Foley, a Roswell Republican, from a discussion with Chaves County farmers.
Foley was just as upset about his exclusion as Democrats had been when Foley took a lead in requiring statements of support for Dick Cheney, when the vice president appeared in Albuquerque.
Neither side has much respect any longer for the right of dissent.

Backdoor Draft

SANTA FE Three months ago, this column predicted the military will need to reinstitute a draft in order to provide the needed manpower for all the situations in which we find ourselves.
Recently, I have learned that I aided a vast left-wing conspiracy to scare young people into registering and voting for John Kerry. That wasn’t my purpose, although getting young people to register and vote is a laudable goal and an almost impossible task.
In the late 1960s, I was adviser to a statewide college student group that advocated the 18-year-old vote in New Mexico. It failed to attain the supermajority of the state legislature necessary to get the proposal on the ballot, but a member of the group went on to become president of the Student National Education Association, which helped lead the effort that passed a federal constitutional amendment giving 18-year-olds the right to vote.
I was proud. Their arguments about deserving the right to help decide national policies that drafted them to fight in Vietnam were compelling. But the low numbers in which they have showed up at the polls in subsequent years has been embarrassing and appalling.
And now it seems the draft is again motivating young people to flex their political muscles. Both presidential candidates and nearly all of Congress vow that another draft will never happen on their watch, so the passions the issue has raised may not be necessary.
The furor over reinstating a military draft is attributed to two factors -- an e-mail driven rumor mill and Rock the Vote, a group that claims to be a nonpartisan effort to boost voting among young people.
I happen to be on the other side of the generation gap from both those movements. With a large e-mail address book, I normally feel very connected to what is going on in cyberspace, but I haven’t received a single e-mail trying to scare me about the draft.
Now that I think about it, however, the majority of people in my address book are Republican and their average age is probably about 65. No wonder no one ever warned of an impending draft. The closest my e-mail ever came to the subject was comments about the 68-year-old retired psychiatrist who was recalled.
Rock the Vote is an organization to which I don’t pay much attention. Its organizers say young people in America deserve an honest and open debate about the possibility of a draft and since both candidates essentially are avoiding the issue, the group is making a big deal of it. Organizers say downloads of voter registration forms are at about 40,000 a day, nationally.
Does the Democratic Party have anything to do with either effort? Of course it does, just not officially. Both parties take advantage of whatever they can. Does anyone doubt a GOP connection to the Swiftboat veterans?
The concern that led me to predict a draft had little to do with politics. I looked at the backdoor draft we currently have and asked how either candidate could avoid a draft soon after the election.
President Bush’s answer is that increased technology eliminates the need for large numbers of ground troops. He says he’ll close bases in Korea and European countries that haven’t supported us and use those troops elsewhere. And his exit strategy is an Iraqi security force.
Sen. Kerry says he’ll increase our number of allies and convince them to help us out. These solutions may not work, but at least they both have addressed the issue a little more than Rock the Vote acknowledges.
I still, however, agonize over intelligence reports that the situation in Iraq is much worse than the White House is willing to recognize. The predicted post-9/11 patriotic enlistments haven’t materialized.
National Guard and reserve units are unable to meet their enlistment quotas. Call ups of inactive reserves are being seriously depleted by no-shows and medical disqualifications. And reenlistments are fraught with stories of extreme coercion.

What's Wrong With Voter ID?

SANTA FE What’s wrong with presenting identification in order to vote? Voter identification has become a very partisan issue and I normally attempt to keep from siding too strongly with one side or the other when things get polarized.
But it just seems to be common sense that voting is at least as important as cashing a check, driving a car, flying on a commercial airline, renting a video, buying alcohol or tobacco or checking out a library book, all of which require identification.
Democrats claim that requiring identification might discourage some voters, especially minorities, college students and the poor, from trying to vote. That may be true to a small extent but Democrats loose in the public eye on this issue.
Stories of voter fraud are much more rampant in our society than stories of people being deprived of their constitutional right to vote. Poll taxes and complicated reading tests disappeared many years ago. We heard some scary stories from Florida in 2000 about voters being impeded from getting to the polls, and some may have been true.
But the public is much more concerned about voter fraud, such as people voting more than once, dead people voting and ineligible people registering to vote.
It is highly likely that both Republican and Democrat scare stories are grossly overstated. Republicans have long pushed for state legislation requiring all voters to present identification at the polls. Our Democratic-controlled legislatures have always thwarted those attempts.
The argument this year is over a requirement that newly registered voters present identification at the polls if they didn’t register in person. Republicans say this means they had to register at the county clerk’s office. Democrats say as long as they didn’t register by mail, voters don’t have to show identification.
This leaves in limbo the tens of thousands of first-time voters who were registered by deputy registrars in malls, grocery stores, state offices, union halls, coffee shops, gas stations and parking lots in very aggressive registration drives throughout the state this past year. According to reports, there were over 120,000 new voters registered this year.
The problem for Republicans is that almost twice as many registered Democrat. If the figures were reversed, you shouldn’t have much trouble guessing who would be complaining.
In a suit brought by Democrats, a Democrat district judge in Albuquerque ruled that as long as a voter was registered by a person, and not by mail, no identification would be required. In a suit brought by Republicans, a district judge in Roswell ruled that everyone who didn’t register at the county clerk’s office in person must present identification.
The all-Democrat state Supreme Court broke the tie in favor of the Democrat judge’s ruling. Sen. Pete Domenici has now introduced legislation in Washington requiring voters who register through a third party to present identification. It might stand a chance at the Republican-controlled federal level, but nothing happens quickly enough back there to affect this election.
Obviously, Republicans think they can shave a couple of points off the Democrat vote in this closest of all swing states in 2000 or they wouldn’t be working so hard at requiring identification. I doubt it will make that much difference. Democrats say Republicans are just trying to create chaos.
But the most telling argument to me is that in the newly-fashioned state Democratic presidential primary last February, Democratic officials originally wrote their rules requiring their members to present identification before voting. That quickly became a major embarrassment and red-faced officials wrote that out of the rules. We just might see Republicans introduce that Democratic language in the 2005 Legislature.
Voter identification just sounds logical. Suggestions of fraud deteriorate the public’s faith, already softened by negative campaigning, in our election system.
Guaranteeing everyone the right to vote is vitally important, but c’mon guys, how hard is it to present one form of ID?

SaveSmart Not Smart

SANTA FE My attempt to at least partially defend Gov. Bill Richardson’s Save Smart program didn’t meet with much reader acceptance out there.
Richardson expects his initiative for a central purchasing collaboration among all state agencies under his jurisdiction to save millions of dollars that can be redirected to education, economic development and tax cuts. And he’s already proposing some major tax cuts for the 2005 Legislature beginning in January.
But readers I’ve heard from claim the state’s efforts to save from central purchasing will be no more successful than the federal government’s efforts that Richardson may have been trying to emulate. And they don’t like the pressure on local government, especially school districts, to join the program.
One reader noted that government is often the largest business and employer in small communities. Since its purchases are vital to those communities, it should be a good neighbor just like any other local business. It should buy locally if the price is reasonable.
Otherwise, government becomes part of a process that sucks economic activity to the center, starving and depopulating the rest of the state. Depopulation of rural communities is becoming a serious demographic phenomenon and this kind of policy aggravates that effect.
When small businesses have to close, state and local governments suffer from lost taxes and the economy suffers from lost jobs. Likewise, when purchases are shifted to outlets of big chains, profits go out of state.
The federal government’s experience with central purchasing has produced some disasters. One case is Halliburton. Going back at least as far as President Lyndon Johnson and his coziness with Brown and Root, the Pentagon has consolidated its war zone procurement of everything from construction to basic services into fewer and bigger suppliers, until it could justify the sole-source award to Halliburton in Iraq on the grounds that no other firm could offer all the goods and services on the scale needed.
That was much more convenient for the procurers than buying from hundreds of smaller firms that could provide all the products and services through individual, competitive contracts. And it obviously requires fewer government workers to run such an operation. But the end result has been that taxpayers have been held hostage by a sole source, which has proceeded to gouge the government without delivering the goods.
Another instance is the current influenza vaccine mess. Over the years, the government has found it more convenient to consolidate purchases, making it uninviting for small producers until there were just two sources of the annual vaccines. One had to shut down last week and the nation is left with only half the amount of vaccine it needs.
So maybe Save Smart isn’t as smart as it might appear.
The Richardson administration is going ahead with another money saving program that stirred controversy in the Legislature earlier this year. But it will produce much less financial benefit than previously planned.
Jan Goodwin, secretary of the state Taxation and Revenue Department, told a legislative interim committee last week that the administration will implement new contracts by the end of the calendar year to charge fees that could generate $800,000 a year from companies for access to an electronic database of state motor-vehicle records.
Currently, the state collects about $80,000 a year from vendors for the information. The increased fee would amount to about 75 cents a record. The nationwide average is $5.90 per record, with surrounding states charging even more.
But higher fees were strongly opposed in the 2004 Legislature by a powerful lobbying effort from the company that would have been most heavily impacted by the fee increase. Individuals will continue to have free access to a copy of their own driving record.

Hobson's Choice

SANTA FE How can political candidates cast so many horrible votes on issues dear to our hearts when they know it will damage their political careers?
How could people like U.S. Reps. Heather Wilson and Steve Pearce, with distinguished military service, cast votes that hurt our armed forces? And how could Richard Romero, a career educator, cast votes detrimental to our education system?
The answer is they really didn’t have a choice. Their predicament is commonly referred to as “Hobson’s Choice,” which really isn’t a choice at all.
Thomas Hobson was a 17th century English liveryman, who required every customer to take the horse nearest the door. The term has come to mean a situation in which a person with an apparently free choice actually has no alternative.
If every piece of legislation coming before Congress or a state legislature dealt with only one narrow issue, there would be no problem. But that’s not the way it works. The New Mexico Legislature requires that bills deal with only one subject. But within one subject can be many issues.
In Congress, its wide open. Omnibus bills deal with a variety of subjects. And then there is the favorite practice of tacking unrelated riders on a bill that is sure to pass. Those riders often are bills that already have failed or have never been debated. So members of Congress are faced with having to weigh the merits against the demerits of a great many bills before them.
That means the next time they run for office, their challengers can comb through their many votes and pick out distasteful features of otherwise meritorious bills. It is called opposition research and it has become quite a specialty in the political world.
A case in point took place in Congress last week. A bill authorizing the Pentagon to initiate another round of controversial military base closures was being pushed by the House leadership in order to avoid a pre-election showdown with President Bush over the issue. Many members of Congress had promised their constituents they would stall the process as much as they could lest a base in their district be closed.
But the bill also authorized an increase of 20,000 troops for the Army, 3,000 for the Marines, a pay hike for the troops and more body armor. With all the recent fuss on those issues, there wasn’t any choice but to let the Defense Department go ahead with preparing its list of recommend closures and realignments.
From listening to the ads on television, you may think you have little choice between equally distasteful candidates. But the next time you hear of a candidate casting some very suspicious votes, stop and think of whether they might have been faced with a Hobson’s choice.
Here in New Mexico, our battleground state status continues to attract presidential candidates like flypaper. President George Bush and Sen. John Kerry were both in New Mexico on Monday. Kerry stayed in Santa Fe another day to prepare for Wednesday’s debate.
President Bush has given quite a thrill to southern New Mexico with his many visits to towns that never have seen a presidential candidate before, much less a sitting president. The communities, such as Hobbs, probably already are firmly in his column, but the president is certainly energizing his base.
New Mexico isn’t new to hosting presidential candidates who want to escape for some quiet time to prepare for a debate. President Bill Clinton spent a few days in Albuquerque in 1996 to do a little prep work and play a lot of golf.
President Bush also escaped to Santa Fe a year or so ago, completely for a vacation at an old chum’s house in the Las Campanas gated community northwest of Santa Fe. He played two rounds of golf and drew some squawks from club members who had their reservations cancelled for security reasons.