Inside the Capitol

Monday, March 10, 2008

3-14 Military Museum Controversy

FRI, 3-14-08

SANTA FE - some legislative issues never really surface until after the governor vetoes them. Such was the case with a bill to create a veterans military museum in Dona Ana County.
The measure passed with only three dissenting votes in the 112-member legislature. Without a little bit of conflict, such legislation seldom gets much attention in the press. But when Gov. Bill Richardson vetoed the museum, that is a story.
The sponsor, Sen. Lee Rawson of Dona Ana County, said Richardson's veto is not the big issue; it is his lack of honor. Those are strong words, even for politics. There is the presumed charge that Richardson is not an honorable person and also an underlying military connotation to heighten the support of veterans.
But evidently not all New Mexico veterans supported the Dona Ana County museum. The governor's office says veterans across the state expressed concern that Rawson's bill designated a specific location when other communities also would like to be considered.
Over 30 communities across the state currently have military monuments. Some have been pushing actively for a military museum. Richardson says he told Rawson he would need to consult with those communities. Instead, a Richardson statement says, 'Rawson rammed this bill through without any consultation."
The governor says he will convene a task force to fully consider the most appropriate location for a state veterans museum. That task force, he says, will include veterans from across the state, including Dona Ana County. Richardson says he strongly supports building a museum to "honor" New Mexico's veterans and rich military history.
There are many good locations around New Mexico for a military museum. On July 4, 2005, a veterans' memorial monument was dedicated in Santa Fe to honor all New Mexico veterans and the five military branches in which they served. The memorial is located just north of the Bataan Memorial Building.
A Bataan military museum is located in the old armory where New Mexico National Guardsmen were gathered in the summer of 1941 following their activation. Needless to say, Santa Fe veterans have held hope for a state military museum. Rio Rancho veterans also have been angling for a New Mexico Military Museum of History.
Veterans in southern New Mexico point out that only two of the state's eight museums are located south of Albuquerque, making the south a prime candidate for the next museum.
Las Cruces would be an excellent location and Richardson says it will be strongly considered. Rep. Jeff Steinborn of Las Cruces says locals will "pull out all the stops" to demonstrate it is clearly the best location.
Folks in Lincoln County are promoting Fort Stanton as the most logical site for a military museum. The buildings from the fort have been preserved all these years and the state already owns them. The fort has ties to World War II, Indian wars, buffalo soldier history, the Bosque Redondo, the Lincoln County War and two military cemeteries on site. Also, colorful Gen. Black Jack Pershing was stationed there.
Museums are costly projects. The state has to reject frequent offers for the donation of private museums because the cost of operation is high. But New Mexico should have a military museum because of its abundant military history. New Mexico militias date back to 1598.
In 1841 and 1862 we successfully defended ourselves against invasion by Texas troops. Our Rough Riders served with distinction in the Spanish-American War and our National Guard held off the Japanese in the Philippines long enough for the United States to mobilize for World War II.
Longtime readers of this column know of its advocacy of a movie similar to that of Texas, glorifying our history. The Texas IMAX film concentrates mostly on its glorious defeat by Gen. Santa Anna at the Alamo. New Mexico has two glorious defeats of the Texans it should be bragging about, but never does.

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