Inside the Capitol

Sunday, September 30, 2007

10-3 Santa Fe and Charleston?

WED, 10-03-07

SANTA FE - We went looking for Santa Fe in the middle of the Deep South. And found it.
We weren't looking in Saint Augustine. It was settled much earlier, and by the Spanish. But nothing remains of those early days. And that which has been recreated looks out of place among the city's modern buildings.
We were looking for a place with the same feel as Santa Fe. We sought a city with a long, proud history, a city significant in its region that typifies its region.
We wanted a city that has loyally maintained its history and culture against encroachment by the modern world; a city that attracts thousands of tourists, despite its high prices and elitist attitude; a city that offers distinctive culinary delights to tempt visitors; a city that values its arts, architecture and religion.
We found it in Charlestown, South Carolina, a city founded by the British well over 300 years ago. It has never been anything but English, and Southern. It often is called the last bastion of Southern gentility.
Charleston is a town in which we felt strangely at home despite its rainbow houses, pitched roofs, heat, humidity and different accents. We felt much at home in this similar size town with its many churches, museums, tourists, speed bumps, fancy restaurants, plaqued homes, art galleries, opera, narrow streets and no tall buildings.
A very knowledgeable tour guide proudly told us of the city's history, traditions, and building restrictions. In the 70-block historical district, buildings can only be restored, not renovated. When we asked for a carriage ride to a different part of the historical district, we learned of another commonality with Santa Fe.
The city council, in its great wisdom, recently decreed that in order to curb the number of horses and buggies touring the most popular areas, a lottery would determine where each driver goes -- after collecting the fare -- making it very unlikely a visitor can see all three routes without repeating one at least once.
Despite a micromanaging city council, residents remain easygoing and basically in love with their city. The same attitude exists in Charleston as in Santa Fe: Why should I want to go anywhere else? I'm already here.
Another revelation of our carriage ride was that nearly all the historic houses were behind iron gates with hidden gardens never seen by outsiders. It was very similar to Santa Fe with its private courtyards behind adobe walls.
An amusing sidelight on this subject is that what we call a portal in Santa Fe is a piazza in Charleston, a city with no Italian influence. We were familiar with a piazza being similar to a Spanish plaza but later found that in some places in the South, it is a verandah. Our guide, who said he had taken a very difficult test for his license, had no idea a piazza was anything but a Southern term.
Another amusing item about South Carolina, in general, is its state flag. It is dominated by a simple palmetto, a small palm tree. Its significance is that it was used on the outside of forts in the massive Charleston harbor, including Fort Sumpter, site of our nation's first victory in the Revolutionary War and recipient of the first shot fired in the Civil War.
The trunk of the palmetto is spongy and gives when hit with a cannon ball. It is said that soldiers used to run out at night and retrieve cannon balls that had bounced off or lodged in the walls and fire them back at the enemy the following day.
Also on the South Carolina flag is a crescent hanging in the upper left hand corner. It faces the wrong way for a moon and apparently has something to do with defense of the state but no one is quite sure what it means.
Charleston often has had to defend itself, against natural disasters, Brits and Yankees. And it has always bounced back, just as New Mexico has, twice against Texas twice and once against Pancho Villa.

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Wednesday, September 26, 2007

10-1 Abq Makes A-List

MON, 11-01-07

SANTA FE - Albuquerque says it has made the A-List when it comes to attracting blockbuster film projects. That appears to be correct, so let's give the Duke City a big hand.
That's big enough. Let's not overdo it. This is a cutthroat business and other states are hot on our heels, especially Arizona, which is hopping mad about losing "3:10 to Yuma" to us.
New Mexico can be very proud of its film promotion efforts. Since Gov. Bill Richardson revitalized the business with big incentives, communities throughout the state have prospered, while enjoying big stars in their midst.
But now Albuquerque has hit the big time with three A-List stars, and an A-List writer, director and producers here to film a high-tech comic book movie completely in Albuquerque.
The big attraction is the mammoth new Albuquerque Studios at Mesa del Sol, with eight sound stages, four of which are 24,000 square feet. The movie's technology is so cutting edge that it will completely take up two of the big sound stages, while other films use the remaining ones.
This is all to the good for Albuquerque's new studio, which some had predicted would fail because the noise from Albuquerque's nearby Sunport would scare away directors. We've heard no mention of that problem thus far.
As disclosed earlier, Arizona's film promotion effort has switched into high gear after losing a movie with a story set in its state. Evidently "3:10 to Yuma" was scheduled to be shot in Arizona until the producers heard about New Mexico's incentives. So the Arizona Legislature got busy and passed some incentives of its own.
The trick about incentives is making them work for both sides. Arizona lawmakers thought ours were a little generous, so they took a somewhat different approach. Both states are now busy with film production. Arizona claims New Mexico currently is its biggest competitor and says that New Mexico is winning.
Other states are in the game too, but one reason New Mexico and Arizona appear destined to continue their growth in film projects is the apparent revival of Westerns. Once hailed as the nation's great, truly indigenous art form, Westerns began to slip in the late 1970s as directors and studios switched their affections to action-adventures and science fiction.
But today, Westerns are back in town. Last year's Brokeback Mountain signaled a return to big budget oaters with a need for a lot of New Mexico and Arizona scenery. But don't expect them to follow the old singing cowboy who loves his horse more than his girl. Those tired themes helped put Westerns in the closet for a while.
Expect more modern themes. The Western still is the story of America, and since America is changing, so will Westerns. We'll likely be seeing, for instance, Westerns addressing the death throes of the Old West and its moral certainties.
But Westerns will still have cowboys and beautiful scenery. For one thing, the rest of the world is still enthralled with the American West and doesn't want to see it go away. Foreigners still want to go to Western movies and still want to travel to the American West.
So get ready to see some A-List stars, who never have put on a pair of boots in their lives, suddenly going to riding school. We may even see some revivals of New Mexico outlaw, Billy the Kid.
The true story of his life has never been put on film and it's as good a story as has ever been told, complete with good guys, bad guys, tormented youth, murder, revenge and tragic death.
So be prepared to see more movie stars around town, no matter where you live in New Mexico.

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Lottery Hits

FRI, 9-28-07

SANTA FE - Good news. The New Mexico lottery has been able to meet the new standards prescribed for it by Gov. Bill Richardson and the state legislature.
Last year about this time, we learned that the percentage of money going to New Mexico's lottery scholarships was pitifully low compared to other states. About 23 percent of New Mexico's lottery proceeds have been going to fund tuition scholarships for New Mexico college students, while other states have been funneling in 30 percent and more of their proceeds.
That news came to us last year from Think New Mexico, a think tank composed of distinguished New Mexicans interested in improving our state. They told us that far too much lottery money was being spent on administration of the process and that we were even more out of line in what we were paying a contractor to provide the terminals and operate the lottery.
In July, with a cutback on administrative and advertising costs, the lottery in its first month of operating under the new law, upped its earmarks for scholarships to 27 percent, the goal for the first year.
Soon the lottery will be with a new vendor for its machine operation, which will be charging about six percent less, so New Mexico should easily be able to achieve its second-year goal of at least 30 percent of lottery proceeds going to college scholarships.
This huge boon for college students can be credited almost entirely to Think New Mexico. Few others were criticizing the situation. The lottery board wanted to change vendors but wanted to put the savings into even higher salaries and more lavish game promotions. New Mexico is fortunate to have such a powerful public interest group.
And powerful this organization is. Other groups meet and decide on priorities to push in the Legislature, but Think New Mexico gets it done, with a board of influential business officials and political leaders.
In its first year, this young think tank successfully campaigned to make full-day kindergarten accessible to every child in the state. The next year, it was the elimination of the state's regressive tax on groceries.
And now, here's an advanced look at what is coming next. In the 2008 Legislature, Think New Mexico will go after the state's powerful title insurance industry. They are the folks who charge you an arm and a leg when you want to buy a house.
Why is home title insurance so high? It began in 1985, when the industry talked the Legislature into letting the state superintendent of insurance set a single rate schedule for the entire state.
This elimination of competition has been healthy indeed for the industry. Think New Mexico estimates bringing back competition will drop rates by at least 30 percent and save New Mexico homeowners about $40 million a year. According to the organization, the industry's average loss ratio is 4.6 percent of premium. By comparison, the average payout for property and casualty insurance is 80.4 percent.
Think New Mexico wants to move its title insurance reform package through the coming 2008 session of the Legislature. But it won't be easy.
This will be a short, 30-day session, making it difficult for controversial measures, which also will be made to appear very complex by opponents. In addition, the subject doesn't relate closely enough to the state's budget to escape being fought on grounds that it is not germane.
Title insurance lobbyists are likely to argue that deregulating rates simply will allow large companies to form cartels to keep rates high. That's a commonly heard charge against New Mexico gasoline dealers.
To counter that possibility, Think New Mexico will propose having banks and mortgage brokers negotiate the rates, which they can then pass on to home buyers.
It appears Think New Mexico has found another winner. It is a needed reform necessary to making home ownership possible for thousands of working New Mexico families.

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9-28 Lottery Hits

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Tuesday, September 18, 2007

Hasta la Vista

Gone for five weeks this time, partly US, partly foreign -- Barcelona, then follow Columbus' approximate route back by ship. I'm taking computer and plenty of material and ideas. Will be limited only by time and Internet access. Expect to be in only one remote spot this time ( middle of the Atlantic, but if we don't fall off the edge, cruise line promises good access, even for cell phones, 505-699-9982 ). If you email, address should this hotmail one, not msn.

9-26 English Language in Danger?


Syndicated Columnist


SANTA FE -- Is the English language in danger of being overtaken by Spanish as immigrants pour in across our southern border? Not hardly. Immigration causes some problems but this isn't one of them.

   A decade ago, the efforts were for English-only or official English laws, but those ran into charges of racism. The U.S. Senate now talks about making English either our national language or our common and unifying language.

   The only possible good coming out of all this talk is that Congress is so bad at solving real problems that it might as well concentrate on problems that don't exist.

   America is the most open society in the world so it is natural that some of us would fret that our language and culture will be hijacked by foreigners. But it never has come close to happening.

   I chuckled on Columbus Day that a century ago we agonized over Italians not learning English as quickly as the Germans did 100 years earlier. But back then Benjamin Franklin warned that Germans were going to "germinate" our country and never fit in.

   And now Italians have become so well accepted that they have a national holiday of their own. Columbus Day isn't officially an Italian holiday but they started it and they've made it as much their own day as St. Patrick's Day is for the Irish.

   The truth is that the United States has become known as a graveyard for foreign languages. Older immigrants often don't learn our language well. But their children do. They're usually bilingual. And by the time the next generation comes along, they speak only English.

   That is sure to make many Americans happy. But it shouldn't. A monolingual nation can't be as competitive in a global economy. This summer, my wife and I were in Belgium, a nation with three official languages, none of them English.

   A guide told us that if, during our two hours to stroll around the town, we got lost, we could ask directions of anyone because English was everyone's fourth language. Sure enough, we had a chance to test it and it worked.

   So don't lose too much sleep about Spanish language billboards or about the Spanish language and culture taking over our nation. All immigrants know that learning English is the way to get ahead. And nearly all of them came here to get ahead.

   On the other side of the coin, English will not be the global language anytime soon either. That's about as far-fetched as the Spanish language taking over the United States.

   The world holds three times as many native speakers of Chinese as native speakers of English. Although English is the second most common native language, we are losing ground to languages from countries with higher birth rates.

   In 40 years, English is projected to cede second place to the South Asian linguistic group and soon after, we'll be passed by Arabic and Spanish. The proportion of native speakers of English is projected to drop from over 8 percent in 1950 to less than 5 percent in 2050.

   The strength of English is among those who adopt it as a second language, often for business or technological reasons. A large majority of science and technology is communicated in English, mainly because we developed it.

   English-speaking countries dominate world trade so it's good business to speak English. It's also good for tourism in non-English-speaking countries. And I don't have to tell you about the worldwide marketing of American products, movies and television. We're everywhere.

   The Internet is overwhelmingly English, for now. Air and sea traffic is controlled in a simplified English. There are many variables affecting how widely English will spread but it is likely to be a simplified English that may have many different dialects.

WED, 9-26-07


JAY MILLER, 3 La Tusa, Santa Fe, NM 87505

(ph) 982-2723, (fax) 984-0982, (e-mail)


Wednesday, September 12, 2007


I'll be out of the office thru Mon. Taking my laptop. cell: 505-699-9982.

9-24 NM Tech is Hot


Syndicated Columnist

      SANTA FE -- Imagine a school where going to class is the best part of college.

   Popular Science magazine recently selected New Mexico Tech's Energetic Materials Research and Training Center  as one of five labs in the country that does just that.  But, hey, why wouldn't blowing up stuff in class be a lot of fun?

      Newsweek magazine also has rated New Mexico Tech, at Socorro, as one of the 25 "hottest" schools in the nation, based on interviews with students, administrators and faculty.

   Tech got high marks for minimal admissions red tape, reasonable cost and one of the nation's prime research centers for fighting the War on Terror.

   And why shouldn't fighting the War on Terror be hot? Everyone wants to do it. The federal government has billions of bucks to pour in.

   The New Mexico Institute of Mining and Technology knows how to play the game. If the feds want to dish out money for fighting terrorism, why not develop programs that do it?

   Tech has been in the explosives business for over 50 years and it has had a president the last 14 who is exceeded by no one in his ability to find money.

   For years, Tech was led by a string of eminent scientists. That may sound logical for a leading research university, but how much do scientists know about running a university and finding money?

   Not much, evidently. In 1993, the school was short of both students and money. That's when it hired Dan Lopez, who wasn't a scientist. Needless to say, it was a controversial decision.

   But Dr. Dan was the perfect fit. As an employee of the Legislative Finance Committee and secretary of the Department of Finance and Administration, he had learned where the money is and how to get it.

   During his tenure, Tech has tripled its number of students, added $120 million of improvements to the campus and brought in dozens of new federally funded programs. The flashiest of those new programs has been purchase of the Phelps Dodge company town of Playas, in the state's boot heel, for use as an anti-terrorism training center.

   No university president in the state and few in the nation can claim the successes of Dr. Lopez. But then few college presidents are as affable, energetic, creative and conscientious as he is.

   Sen. Manny Aragon had many of the same strengths going for him when he was chosen to head New Mexico Highlands University. He knew where the money was and had the contacts.

   Many of us counseled him to follow the course of Dr. Lopez and we asked Lopez to give advice to Aragon. But Manny had other priorities.

   Those of you who have read this column the past 20 years may remember that I have written often about college presidents. My father was president of what is now Western New Mexico University, in Silver City, so I have some background.

   In addition to J. Cloyd Miller and Dan Lopez, I hold University of New Mexico President Tom Popejoy in highest regard. Other presidents of our state universities have been very good and many very bad.

   I was pleased at a recent reception for new UNM President David Schmidly to hear many people say he reminds them of Tom Popejoy. That is a very hopeful sign. Like Miller and Lopez, Popejoy wasn't an academic. He had other people for that.

   Popejoy was a very good administrator, who got things done -- on campus, with alumni and inside the Capitol. He had been a good football player at UNM, who got a job in the business office and then worked his way up.

   People used to chuckle about 'ol Tom, who was just a jock. When he retired they hired a series of academics to replace him. And somehow Popejoy just kept looking smarter and smarter as the years passed.

   We know President Schmidly has the academic background. Let's hope we see a lot of Tom Popejoy in him too.

Mon,  9-24-07


JAY MILLER, 3 La Tusa, Santa Fe, NM 87505

(ph) 982-2723, (fax) 984-0982, (e-mail)


Tuesday, September 11, 2007

Round the Roundhouse for state employees

RTR column for Sept07


      SANTA FE -- The 2010 governor's race is shaping up as one of the most unusual in the state's history. Never before has public polling for any New Mexico race begun over three years before the election.

      But there was good reason for the Albuquerque Journal to conduct a poll. Lt. Gov. Diane Denish has been an announced gubernatorial candidate for almost a year already.

      With her political career presently entwined with Gov. Bill Richardson's, as soon as the governor announced as a presidential candidate, Denish felt it important to announce that she is ready to step up anytime.

      If Richardson were to become president, vice president or were to accept a top appointment in January 2009, Denish would become governor upon his resignation. Or if Richardson were to decide to seek and win New Mexico's U.S. Senate post next year, Denish would move up to governor in January 2009.

      Actually, no politically aware New Mexican has had much doubt since Richardson and Denish first began running for their present positions in late 2001 that they didn't have plans for higher office.

      What makes Denish's early announcement for governor more exciting is that it forced Albuquerque Mayor Marty Chavez to tip his political hand early. Chavez has not yet announced for governor but he has formed an exploratory committee and raised some money.

      Currently Denish is far ahead of Chavez in fundraising and in statewide campaigning. Gov. Richardson, although he likes to keep a firm hand on the ship of state, has allowed Denish much latitude in promoting programs she thinks will help her candidacy and traveling statewide in her official capacity.

      Denish has not ignored any part of New Mexico, traveling to communities, large and small, on behalf of children, economic development, health care and other issues.

      The Journal poll showed Denish ahead by a 50 percent to 30 percent margin over the still unannounced Chavez. She also led in every part of the state, including in Chavez's Albuquerque back yard.

      Denish has paid close attention to all parts of the state, taking advantage of having lived in many locations. She was born in Hobbs, where her father was a leading businessman. Among Democrats, southeastern New Mexico provides Denish's biggest lead.

      She also lived in Farmington years ago, before moving to her present home in Albuquerque. She has had a home in Santa Fe ever since becoming lieutenant governor and recently has purchased a house in Hillsboro, NM.

      Yes, Hillsboro. It's an old mining town on the road over the beautiful Black Range between T or C and Silver City. I imagine I'm probably the first to reveal that information.

      I was told Diane might not be pleased for you to know it, but hey, hers is a public life and southwest New Mexico is the only area of the state where she hasn't lived. She can't ignore the good folks down there.

      *     *     *

      Many employees from the state Tourism Department will be headed to Pasadena, CA, right after Christmas to promote New Mexico in conjunction with the Tournament of Roses Parade. You'll remember that our state had a float in the parade two years ago on which the governor and first lady rode -- in a cold, pouring rain.

      Since it only rains once every 50 years or so on New Year's Day in Southern California, participants are looking forward to better weather. Gov. Richardson and Barbara won't be riding the float this year, since Bill is a presidential candidate.

      *     *     *

      Bob Johnson, of the Foundation for Open Government, died late last month. He was a familiar figure in the halls of government, although not always beloved. He often gave state and local government employees headaches over the interpretation of laws concerning open meetings and inspection of public records.

      Bob was good at his job and extremely conscientious about ensuring that the public has access to information about its government. He worked closely with the Attorney General's Office to educate state and local officials about how to comply with those laws.

      *     *     *

      Also leaving us recently was Bob Huber, a UPI reporter back in the 1960s. then in the '70s, he had a legislative reporting and analysis service. He also wrote this Inside the Capitol column for awhile.

      Bob moved to Portales in the early 1980s and wrote a humor column for the Portales and Clovis papers. He evidently dropped all his contacts in the journalism world about that time because I haven't been able to learn much more about what he had done the past 25 years.

      If anyone can fill in the details, I'd certainly appreciate it.



Monday, September 10, 2007

Stealth Census Probes Deeply


Syndicated Columnist

      SANTA FE -- Ten years ago, the 2000 census had been a major news topic already for more than two years. This time around, most of us haven't given it a thought. But many Americans are about to be giving the census much more attention.

      For the past two years, the Census Bureau has been sending 1 in 40 Americans a 67-question monthly survey. Few people are complaining so there has been little publicity. Unofficially, it is being called a stealth census.

   The first results of those surveys are about to be released, so we may be hearing more about the stealth census soon.

      The census has been a big headache for the past 20 years or so. The problem is undercounting. Every since the first census in 1790, national leaders have known there are people out there who aren't getting counted.

      And that's a big deal to members of Congress and to every state and local official in the nation. You see, Congress reapportions itself after every census. The members of the House of Representatives remain at a constant 435, divided proportionally by state.

      And therein comes the rub. Every time a census is taken, some states gain representatives in Congress -- and other states lose. All those states close to either gaining or losing a member of Congress want to make darn sure the count is as close to fair and accurate as it can be.

      It is important to a growing state like New Mexico because having an additional member of Congress means more representation, plus one more person to bring home goodies from Uncle Sam.

      A fair and accurate census count also is important to municipalities and counties because a lot of federal money is distributed on the basis of population.

      Countless solutions have been tried to achieve a more complete count. The 1980 census hired thousands of additional workers to scour street corners and alleys to count the homeless. People who live in the country were given street addresses to make them easier to pinpoint.

      But there were still too many uncounted. So in 1990, computers were brought to the rescue. Washington wizards somehow figured out a way to estimate how many people they miss. That formula then was applied to the actual count from the census takers and resulted in something called the statistical estimate.

      It shouldn't take much imagination to picture the controversy that resulted. Lawsuits, brought by the losers disadvantaged by the statistical count, argued that the Constitution doesn't allow computerized corrections.

      The 2000 census managed to get many problems ironed out. So now the census bureau is busying itself with providing more information. Those of you who have received the "long" census form in the past realize that no longer is the government just counting people. It is putting us into innumerable categories.

      At first those categories were designed to target federal money to those in need of additional governmental services, such as minorities, the poor, children and the elderly.

   Those categories are important to a state like New Mexico because we have more people in needy categories than any other state. Thus our state receives the most dollars back per dollar we pay in federal taxes. And since such categories are the most undercounted, New Mexico has the biggest stake in as complete a count as possible.

   Recently the government has been adding many more categories into which it pigeonholes us. First, new categories were added to help local governments decide where to put schools, roads, stores, hospitals and restaurants. Then additional categories were designed to describe local populations to those who wanted to start a business.

   So now, we no longer will have a 53-question "long" form, It will be an even longer American Community Survey, designed to learn even more about us.

   Not everyone is happy with all the prying. Some will consider it an invasion of privacy. The Census Bureau says America is changing and we need a yearly survey to keep with those changes.

FRI, 9-21-07


JAY MILLER, 3 La Tusa, Santa Fe, NM 87505

(ph) 982-2723, (fax) 984-0982, (e-mail)


Friday, September 07, 2007

9-19 Conspiracy Coumns Bring Responses


Syndicated Columnist

      SANTA FE -- Recent columns about some of New Mexico's famous conspiracies brought lively reaction, as expected.

      Concerning the Army's conspiracy to cover up whatever happened at Roswell in 1947, I received complaints that I dismissed the possibility of extraterrestrials being involved.

      I also received a call saying I was way off base assuming it was a group of military brass sitting around a conference table at Roswell Army Air Force Base who concocted the capture of a flying saucer.

      That meeting did happen, I was told, and Gen. Roger Ramey, who issued the weather balloon explanation the following day from his headquarters at Fort Worth, Texas, was at the meeting.

   But the flying saucer decision was made by top brass at the Pentagon. Had the decision been made in Roswell, the military careers of everyone at that table would have been over.

   But those careers did not end. Col. William "Butch" Blanchard, who took the public rap for his elite bomber wing misidentifying a weather balloon as a flying saucer, went all the way to the top.

   When he died of an unexpected heart attack in 1966, he was Army vice chief of staff and a sure bet to take over the top position. He also was a four-star general. That's as high as generals go, except in times of world wars.

   Why top officials in Washington decided to handle the situation the way they did is still unanswered. My assumption is that with all the secret testing being done in the area, something had gone astray. But the door was left open for many other theories.

   I thought I'd done a pretty good job of explaining the latest developments in the investigation to determine whether Sheriff Pat Garrett might have conspired with Billy the Kid to kill someone else and claim it was Billy.

   But Steve Sederwall, the chief investigator in that case, found so many areas of disagreement that I have offered him the opportunity to tell his story in a guest column.

   There still isn't much more to tell you about new developments in the alleged conspiracy by the government to secretly remove gold bars and other treasure from Victorio Peak, just inside the White Sands Missile Range boundary from the future site of Spaceport America.

   The one thing I can report is that 10 years after sending a Freedom of Information Act request to the U.S. Treasury Department for its records concerning Victorio Peak, I have received a response.

   Despite being conscientious about filing accurate income tax returns, an unexpected 8 a.m. call from the general counsel's office of the Treasury Department is nevertheless disconcerting.

   But the assistant for international affairs immediately began apologizing for the delay in answering my request. He said he had found 55 pages in the "Treasure" file relating to Victorio Peak and did I want him to copy and mail them to me.

   I inquired about the cost and he embarrassedly said that in deference to the delay, there would be no cost. He also said I might not find anything very useful since only one name had been redacted in the entire 55 pages.

   The material contains letters from attorney F. Lee Bailey, Rep. Harold Runnels, investigative columnist Jack Anderson and presidential assistant John Ehrlichman. It also contains a map of the missile range showing Victorio Peak.

   Further analysis may reveal items of interest. Meanwhile, I'm left to wonder why the international affairs division of the Treasury Department handles Victorio Peak questions. Does that validate stories of it being Aztec gold or Maximilian's gold or that the gold was shipped out of the country?

   Finally, I heard expected disagreement from Alamogordo with my hunch that the United Nations does not secretly control World Heritage Sites. White Sands National Monument wants to join Carlsbad Caverns, Chaco Canyon and Taos Pueblo in that coveted, tourist-attracting category.

   And I also heard from former National Park Service employees assuring me there is no truth to the stories.

WED, 9-19-07


JAY MILLER, 3 La Tusa, Santa Fe, NM 87505

(ph) 982-2723, (fax) 984-0982, (e-mail)


Thursday, September 06, 2007

9-17 Great Time to Sell a Ranch


Syndicated Columnist

      SANTA FE -- It's a great time to sell a ranch, a friend in the business tells me. In fact the fields in most of New Mexico are so green  there has seldom been a better time.

      He may be right. We've traveled to northeast, northwest and southwest New Mexico the past few weeks and have marveled at the beauty. It was much the same last year too. It's time we caught a break with some decent precipitation.

      We enjoy short trips in the summer. There's no worry about getting caught in a snow storm. Produce stands offer tempting treats. And summer festivals abound.

   We happened on the Hillsboro Apple Festival on our way to Silver City on Labor Day weekend. Booths lined the highway from one end of town to the other. We understand this will be the last year because the apple trees are giving out.

   But there are still good reasons to schedule Hillsboro on a trip. Crossing the beautiful Black Range to get to Silver City is scenic, cool and historic. And much of that history occurred in and around Hillsboro.

   It was the county seat of Sierra County during the gold mining days beginning in the 1880s. It boasted stores, a public school, churches, hotels, restaurants, saloons, a bank, newspaper, an assay office, three stamp mills and many other businesses.

   Hillsboro was the location of the state's biggest murder trial. It was even bigger than the 1881 trial at Mesilla in which Billy the Kid was accused of killing Sheriff William Brady. Albert Jennings Fountain unsuccessfully defended Billy in that case, in which the Kid was sentenced to hang.

   In the 1899 Hillsboro trial, Oliver Lee of Alamogordo was charged with killing Col. Fountain and his eight-year-old son as they were returning from a trial in La Luz, in which Fountain was prosecuting Lee and others for cattle rustling.

   Reporters flocked to Hillsboro, reportedly as many as at the O.J. Simpson trial, as national and international news outlets competed to get the story. Lee was defended by Albert Fall, who later became one of New Mexico's first U.S. senators, along with T.B. Catron. Lee was found innocent.

   It was great for Hillsboro's economy but it was one more strike against New Mexico in its effort to become a state. Sheriff Pat Garrett's killing in 1908 further slowed statehood. New Mexico was still just too Wild West.

   The trip to southwest New Mexico also provided an opportunity to stop at Manny's Buckhorn in San Antonio for a generous green chile cheeseburger. They pat their meet by hand and don't peel the potatoes for French fries until you order them.

   Truth or Consequences was also on that route. It became the county seat of Sierra County in 1938, when Hillsboro was fast becoming a ghost town. Hillsboro now has bounced back to about 225 residents as artists and writers have moved in next to the ranchers and miners.

   T or C also is bouncing back with a promotional campaign featuring the town as a spiritual experience, the best kept secret in New Mexico and the gateway to Spaceport America. It also claims the name Truth or Consequences causes new residents to become more fully aware of themselves.

   The Fountain Theatre in Mesilla, built in 1905 and still owned by the Albert Jennings Fountain family, is New Mexico's oldest movie house. It is said that in the 1930s, it was not uncommon to see the entire Fountain family, including children, on stage performing. It is a prominent part of New Mexico's rich history.

   The most recent Billy the Kid film, shot entirely in New Mexico, was scheduled to have its American premiere at the theater on September 15, but at the insistence of Lincoln County "Requiem for Billy the Kid" has been moved to the Spencer Theater, north of Ruidoso, on November 4.

   The Fountain would have been very appropriate, but so is Lincoln County, where Billy spent much of his time and where the filming occurred.

MON, 9-17-07


JAY MILLER, 3 La Tusa, Santa Fe, NM 87505

(ph) 982-2723, (fax) 984-0982, (e-mail)


The Madam and the Outlaw


Syndicated Columnist


      SANTA FE -- Millie and Billy. Few towns in the world have the opportunity Silver City does to promote a madam and an outlaw as its most famous residents.

      Mildred Clark Cusey, immortalized in award-winning New Mexico author Max Evan's book "Madam Millie: Bordellos from Silver City to Ketchikan," and William Antrim, better known as Billy the Kid, give Silver City two of the most colorful characters imaginable to publicize their town.

      Feelings aren't unanimous in the community that this is what the old mining town should be doing. It's much like the situation in Roswell, where embarrassment exists that residents will become known as a bunch of UFO freaks.

   But a decade of tourism success as the World UFO Capital is beginning to convince the dubious that maybe there are some advantages to gritting their teeth and going along with the joke.

   Silver City isn't there yet, but the four-year-old Millie and Billy Ball, sponsored by the Mimbres Region Arts Council, is evidence that the idea is taking hold.

   The Arts Council isn't just any organization. It regularly is honored as New Mexico's top arts organization. The ball is held yearly in June. Tickets are $100 and include a barbecue dinner and $10,000 raffle. Attendees are invited to dress in period garb of the 1870s and 1880s for Billy or the 1920s to 1970s in honor of Millie.

   Millie, the madam, has a better reputation around town than Billy, the gunslinger. Millie was a generous donor to local events and charities. She ran as decent an operation as a brothel can be. My very proper mother had kind words about their meetings at the beauty shop and dress shop.

   Billy didn't shoot his first man in a cafĂ© at the corner of Broadway and Bullard as local lore had it when I lived there. But he was a juvenile delinquent as a teenager, running the streets after his father disappeared into the hills hunting gold and his mother died of tuberculosis. Surprisingly, Billy is said to have produced and starred in minstrel shows to raise money for his high school class.

   The visitors center in Silver City features cardboard cutouts of a young Millie and Billy that are used for picture taking at the ball. Next door to the center is a log cabin similar to the one in which Billy lived.

   When I lived there, we knew Billy's mother was buried in Memory Lane Cemetery, but we weren't quite sure where, because her grave was unmarked. Now, it not only has a gravestone, it has a historical marker.

   So do other graves in the cemetery. In fact, the county is full of historical markers, something it would be nice to see throughout the state.

   Fairview Cemetery in Santa Fe is full of famous gravesites. But they are unmarked and overgrown with weeds, including the grave of T.B. Catron, head of the Santa Fe Ring and one of our state's first two U.S. senators.

   We paid a visit to Silver City on Labor Day weekend to take in its annual Gem and Mineral Show. In return for a few hours of shopping, I got to show our group some of my favorite haunts from a half century ago.

   While in Silver City, I picked up a copy of Desert Exposure, a monthly magazine for Southwest New Mexico. The issue featured winners of a writing contest. The Grand Prize winner was Phillip "Pep" Parotti, a high school friend who recently moved back from a teaching career at Sam Houston State in Texas.

   It was an essay about high school pranks at Mildred's mansion on Hudson Street. Most any boy who grew up in Silver City has a similar bag of stories. It was a rite of passage.

   My story is of the night we bravely threw a can of cat food on Millie's back porch. She reported to police that it had broken a stained glass window and she had seen "Y. Toy" on a black delivery truck. Herb Toy took the rap for several of us who likely would be grounded to this day had our parents been notified.

FRI, 9-14-07


JAY MILLER, 3 La Tusa, Santa Fe, NM 87505

(ph) 982-2723, (fax) 984-0982, (e-mail)


Tuesday, September 04, 2007

9-12 Our Smallest County: Still Fighting


Syndicated Columnist


      SANTA FE -- We visited Harding County last week to take the ashes of my wife's mother, Genevieve Duncan, to her final resting place in the Roy Cemetery.

      Things haven't changed much over the years. The grazing land was a beautiful green around Wagon Mound where we turned off I-25. It remained that way until we climbed out of the Canadian River Canyon and made our way into Roy past much drier fields.

      As we prepared to place the gravestone, a light rain began to fall. Soon lightening and a heavy rain sent us scurrying to our vehicles. Maybe it was a good omen. Genevieve always had a way of making things happen.

      Back in town, we stopped by the village clerk's office to visit Mary Helen Menapace who knew both Genevieve and her husband Wayne when they taught school in the 1930s.

      That was during the beginning of a long decline for the county. Only a decade earlier, in 1921, Harding County had been created out of parts of Union and Mora counties. The region was a bustling part of the Eastern Plains Homestead Area and had a population of nearly 5,000.

      In the 1920 elections, residents of the area flexed their political muscle and through hard work elected both members of the state House of Representatives from Mora County and both representatives from Union County. And they elected the one senator from Union County.

      Bolstered by a delegation composed of five of the six legislators representing the two counties that would have to give up territory, residents of the proposed new county hit Santa Fe with arm-twisting enthusiasm.

      Genevieve's father, Roy Brock, got himself appointed to the County and County Lines Committee and the Reapportionment Committee. That helped pave the way for successful House passage of legislation creating a new county.

      A majority of the delegation was Republican, in a Republican-controlled Legislature. Gov. Merritt Mechem also was a Republican. With the added advantage of proposing their county be named after the newly-elected Republican President Warren G. Harding, success was theirs.

      Unfortunately for Brock, subsequent events started going south quickly. Dry land farming methods that had been successful in Iowa, didn't work in arid New Mexico. Like so many other farmers in the area, Brock couldn't prove up his homestead and lost his land at Mills. He moved in to Roy and reactivated his pharmacist license. But then he lost his bid for re-election from his new county.

      Harding County was having its problems too. The unified effort that brought it into existence evaporated when it came time to choose a county seat. Roy and Mosquero, the two largest towns in the county were competitors on all fronts. Mosquero succeeded in becoming the county seat but the two fight about it to this day.

      Symptomatic of that split, Genevieve's father is buried in the Mosquero cemetery. That meant Genevieve had to chose between being buried next to her father in Mosquero or her mother in Roy, where her grandfather also is buried.

      Scarcely 10 years after Harding County's birth, the Great Depression, followed by the Dust Bowl, knocked the county into a tailspin from which it still is trying to recover. Large numbers saw their livelihoods blow away during the '30s.

      Each decade since the 1930s has seen Harding County lose 500 to 1,000 residents. Its population in 2000 was 810. A 2005 estimate puts it at 740, our state's smallest county. But Harding County is still kicking, despite occasional reported efforts by Union County to get it back.

      An early warning of hard times ahead for the county might have been the rapid fall from grace of its namesake, President Harding. Soon after attaining office in 1921, Harding's immense popularity began to plummet.

   He was the victim, not of his political enemies, but of the greedy friends whom he appointed to office. One of these was Secretary of the Interior Albert Fall, one of New Mexico's first two senators.

WED, 9-12-07


JAY MILLER, 3 La Tusa, Santa Fe, NM 87505

(ph) 982-2723, (fax) 984-0982, (e-mail)


Monday, September 03, 2007

9-10 Guv Won't Ride 2008 Float


Syndicated Columnist

      SANTA FE -- New Mexico will return to the Rose Parade this year. And no, Gov. Bill Richardson will not be riding on the float again. Political candidates evidently create too many problems for the parade committee.

      State Tourism Secretary Michael Cerletti says the governor wasn't planning on the ride anyway. Of course we all believe that, but might the governor be available for an interview just in case the TV folks might ask?

   The reason the state is returning to the parade after a one year absence, according to Cerletti, is its value to tourism promotion in the Southern California market, where advertising is prohibitively expensive.

      Cerletti says the numbers confirm what many New Mexicans have noticed for years. California tourists are beginning to give Texans a run for their money. It didn't hurt that two years ago the Rose Bowl featured teams from California and Texas.

      New Mexico's 2006 Rose Parade float cost around $160,000 but sponsorships defrayed much of that. Cerletti says the sponsors definitely got their money's worth, plus it was a very enjoyable experience.

      Sponsors again are being sought by the Tourism Department. They will receive tickets for the parade and the Rose Bowl game, their business name in every department publication, access to media functions and other events connected with the parade and many other goodies, depending on the level of sponsorship.

      The Tourism Department also holds numerous events throughout the Los Angeles area targeting specific markets, such as travel writers, spa writers, golf writers and representatives of the home states of the two teams competing in the 2008 Rose Bowl.

      Businesses interested in the possibility of being a sponsor are asked to contact Deputy Tourism Secretary Craig Swagerty at 505-827-7910.

      Volunteer workers also are needed to help decorate New Mexico's float. A professional float building company prepares the superstructure of the float ahead of time, along with a detailed instruction manual for the decorating. Supervisors from the company use the manual to direct volunteers provided by each entrant.

      Some 40 New Mexicans traveled to Pasadena at their own expense for the 2006 Rose Parade float decorating. It was an enlightening experience to see how those marvelous creations go together.

      The company that builds New Mexico's floats also does about 10 others, all in one big tent. That enables workers to see the process of putting together a number of the entries.

      It wasn't all drudgery. People pay for guided tours around the edge of the tent housing the floats. Several New Mexicans managed to find work near the constant line of viewer traffic so that they could promote our state and answer questions.

      Celebrities also dropped by occasionally to prepare themselves for covering the parade on the numerous local and national channels that cover it.

   New Mexico's favorite celebrity was national weatherman Al Roker who chatted with our group at length and then raved about New Mexico during the parade. He also expressed dismay that we didn't win.

   Albuquerque newspaper and television stations also had reporters in Pasadena to cover the New Mexico volunteers.

   Another pleasant surprise for the New Mexicans was a visit from Gov. Bill Richardson at the headquarters hotel. It was scheduled as a five-minute "Howdy and thank you" appearance, but the governor sat down and chatted with everyone for over 30 minutes -- while dinner guests waited somewhere.

   Many of us have had the opportunity to build a parade float but this experience is truly unique. No napkins, cardboard or paint are allowed. Everything must be organic. Even the colors have to be natural.

   The early work is done with materials such as beans, wood chips and dried flowers. The roses go on last and each has its separate vial of water.

   If you are interested in being a part this year, call Marian VanderSys at the Tourism Department, 505-827-7417.

MON, 9-10-07


JAY MILLER, 3 La Tusa, Santa Fe, NM 87505

(ph) 982-2723, (fax) 984-0982, (e-mail)