Inside the Capitol

Sunday, April 27, 2008

5-7 Aussies

WED, 5-07-08

AUSTRALIA - G'day from Australia, Tasmania and New Zealand, where we've spent the last 10 days getting to know our southern brethren. They are brethren in that they seem so much like us.
Or maybe, more accurately, like we were 150 years ago. That's about the head start we had on them in taking over our vast country. Most of Australia's population is on the eastern and southeastern coasts. According to many we talked with, The West begins about 100 miles inland.
Aussies have the can-do, pioneering spirit that our forefathers had while conquering our vast frontiers. They are very proud of their country and are optimistic about its future. European sophistication has not reached them yet, so they are very real people who say what they think.
Many of them are descended from the prisoners who largely colonized the English territory. In 1788, England was very busy fighting wars and developing profitable businesses in the Caribbean and elsewhere.
That didn't leave many able-bodied men of any character to send halfway around the world to develop and hold onto a new colony on an island so big it later became categorized as a continent.
So it emptied its prisons. It didn't send everyone. Murderers and others prone to violence wouldn't make good colonists. To prevent mutiny, prisoners were given some choice. If they served out their terms without getting in any more trouble, they could have a piece of the new land and a new start.
And some of the convicts weren't such bad guys. People were thrown in prison in those days for being Irish, advocating unions, disagreeing with King George or the Church of England. Women also were guilty of such minor crimes. And everyone knows, colonies need women too.
Most of the arrangements worked out. Some were sent back. Some stayed in jail forever. But the large majority got out, some early, because of special talents.
Aussies contend this national history has made them stronger and more independent, with a strong work ethic and a trustworthy nature.
Political correctness hasn't made it down here yet. Many Aussies are on this ship and several Aussie comedians. The humor is much more raw than that to which we have become accustomed.
There is no race, age or social status that is off limits. And sexual jokes abound. Aussies seem to laugh the loudest, but then, they're a pretty exuberant bunch. Camilla Parker Boles seems to be their favorite butt of jokes.
Although Aussies see themselves as very upstanding people, they still have a certain underlying contempt for authority. I'm told that Ned Kelly, a Robin Hood sort of criminal, is usually named as the biggest national hero. They like Billy the Kid down here too.
During the many bus tours we took, we saw only tidy countrysides and no slums. Aussies tell me the tour companies were just being careful not to pass through such places. Maybe so, but I can't think of many countries where it has been possible to avoid slums.
The Blue Mountains, outside Sydney are a source of pride, mainly because they are about the continent's only mountains. We were told the gas given off by eucalyptus leaves causes the blue appearance. If they could see the endless blue ranges of our Rockies, they might get the idea that the color is caused by the same thing that makes their ocean appear blue.
Or they could just go to New Zealand and see some real mountains. We spent a day cruising through Fiordlands National Park, one of the more beautiful sights in the world. They were quite proud of their recent acceptance as a World Heritage Site.
The park ranger, who boarded our ship for the day, told us the type of beach forests in the park are found only there and in Tasmania and Chile, leading to the conclusion that all were part of the same area of Gondwanaland before it separated.

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Friday, April 25, 2008

5-2 resend

FRI, 5-02-08

SANTA FE - Senior citizens remember when May 1 was May Day, a cute little celebration that I suspect began as some culture's rite of spring many centuries ago. In elementary school, we cut out flowers to make May baskets and then wound a Maypole.
A Maypole was a tall pole with long strands of different colored crepe paper attached to the top. Everyone took one end of those strands. Then boys skipped around the outside going one way and girls on the inside going the other and the May pole ended up looking very festive.
Somehow, as little kids, we never quite got the idea. But then we'd go to the gym and a high school music class, dressed in spring colors, would do it right and the long pole would look beautiful.
As a pre-schooler, I remember my mother making May baskets, probably with real flowers and some cookies and candy. My wife Jeanette says she remembers helping her mother make May baskets, which they took to little old ladies.
My mother had a different tradition. She'd load me and several baskets in the car and we'd go to homes where there was a little girl my age. I would take a basket to the door step, ring the bell and then run around the side of the house to hide.
I doubt the little girl and her mother had much trouble figuring who had left the basket because there was my mother standing on the front walk. I'm not sure what happened after that, because my part was over.
I suppose my mother went in for a glass of iced tea and the little girl and I would eat what was in the basket. Evidently, my mother wanted me to get an early start noticing girls.
That didn't work very well until I got to first grade and laid eyes on Carol Measday. From then I had girl friends for the next 16 or so years when Jeanette and I married
We've seen 47 May Days since then and likely observed each by reminiscing about the May Days of our childhood but we never have celebrated them. That isn't done anymore.
With the rise of the Soviet Union and the beginning of the Cold War in the late 1940s, May 1 became dominated with shows of military might by Russia and other communist countries. They took over the May 1 date and American May Day celebrations were a casualty.
Ironically, the May 1 communist demonstrations had their beginnings in America. . In the 1880s, factory workers began protesting unsafe working conditions and 16-hour days. Across the country labor groups adopted different days and ways to air their grievances. May 1 and September 1 were popular times.
When Congress decided it was politically wise to acknowledge the power and plight of workers, it decided a national holiday would be a popular move. Congress noticed that the May 1 worker demonstrations tended to be more angry and to emphasize class struggles.
So it was an easy choice to make the first Monday in September a worker holiday. Canada followed suit. Other countries went with the May date. That definitely included communist countries.
And so a fun little May Day turned into a much blacker day for Americans to contemplate the Soviet menace. It is certainly not worth fighting to get May Day back. And it's not as though we lost a Labor Day celebration. There likely weren't many labor observances in New Mexico in the late 1940s. I know there weren't any in Deming.
Cinco de Mayo, four days later, provides much better reason to celebrate and is loved by beer companies, its main promoter. In addition, many communities have their own festivals, at about the same time, each with an appropriate local theme.
So May Days will remain merely a fond memory for us oldsters while completely fading from remembrance of younger generations.

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5-5 Unusual Reasons for Holidays

MON, 5-05-08

DOWN UNDER - Cinco de Mayo is a good example of the seemingly unexplainable nature of how some events come to be celebrated annually and widely while others don't. And we found another major example way down here.
The event celebrated by Cinco de Mayo was a pretty big deal at that time and in that place. The United States had fairly easily snatched away half of Mexico 15 years earlier. One of the French Napoleons figured it shouldn't be difficult to take the rest and strengthen France's holdings in the Caribbean area. Besides, America was busy fighting with itself in 1862.
The French landed at Veracruz, expecting a cakewalk to Mexico City. But Mexican Gen. Ignacio Zaragoza, with an army composed largely of locals and Indians unexpectedly beat them back at Puebla. The governor-general proclaimed a national festival in honor of the glorious event.
Even though such proclamations have been made often throughout history, few of them stick. It is surprising that this one did because shortly thereafter, the French regrouped and marched to Mexico City, subsequently taking over the country.
Mexico still celebrates Cinco de Mayo although not to the extent it celebrates its independence from Spain on September 16, 1821, after 11 years of fighting. In military terms, the victory at Puebla was inconsequential. But it was a moral victory for a nation that wasn't winning many battles at the time. So its celebration survived.
In the United States, however, the situation is reversed. Cinco de Mayo is the big celebration. Why? My answer is that beer distributors have latched onto it as a great time for a big party to usher in the summer season. It falls between Easter week and Memorial Day. Neither are times for boozing it up.
So timing is everything, which may explain why some bigger events go virtually unnoticed. September 16, for instance, falls shortly after Labor Day, the last big party of the summer. School has started and football has captured the national imagination. That may explain why we also don't celebrate other September events like Victory in Japan and Constitution Day.
We celebrate the end of World War I on Nov. 11, but don't even recognize the end of World War II in Europe or Japan. Is it the dates? April and September. Is it that we don't want to hurt the feelings of Germany and Japan? Is it because we dropped the Big One to end the war?
We have just celebrated ANZAC Day down here at the bottom of the world. ANZAC is the Australia, New Zealand Army Corps, which fought 93 years ago to capture Constantinople, open a way to the Black Sea for the Allied Navy and to knock Turkey and the Ottoman Empire out of the war.
It was planned as a bold stroke to surprise the enemy and quickly turn the tide of the war in the Middle East. But the April 25, 1915 invasion met with fierce resistance and by the end of December, the Australia and New Zealand forces withdrew, having suffered over 8,000 casualties.
Although the campaign was a failure and although Australia and New Zealand have won many battles over the intervening years, April 25 is celebrated as "one of the most important occasions" in the history of Australia and New Zealand, according the opening speech at a pre-dawn ceremony held aboard our cruise ship this morning.
In preparation for ANZAC Day, poppies, real and artificial, have been offered for a contribution at all our ports of call this week. Proceeds go to disabled veterans. Most passengers proudly displayed the poppies on their shirts.
I remember poppy days in the United States years ago. What happened to them? Were they a casualty of the War on Drugs, since poppies are involved in opium production? It certainly isn't because the U.S. Government is taking care of all the needs of disabled vets.

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5-2 Demise of May Day

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Wednesday, April 23, 2008

4-30 NM's First Thanksgiving

WED, 4-30-08

SANTA FE - Today, April 30, marks the 410th anniversary of New Mexico's first Thanksgiving. Next November, America will celebrate the measly 387th observance of the celebration at Plymouth, Massachusetts.
That's fair. Winners write history. But it would be nice if they, at least, would recognize other similar celebrations, especially when they are older.
The current President George Bush got that off to a good start the day before Thanksgiving last year when he paid a visit to Berkeley Plantation on the banks of the James River where a similar celebration was held on Dec. 4, 1619, almost two years before the 1621 Pilgrim celebration.
The president's visit was in conjunction with the 400th anniversary of the founding of Jamestown. It would be appropriate for the president to visit Santa Fe the day before Thanksgiving this year to celebrate this city's 400th anniversary.
Maybe Santa Fe's 400th organizing committee should consider an invitation to the president. It might work. Santa Fe will be celebrating its 400th birthday for the next three years. So if this president doesn't come, the next one still is a possibility.
The reason for Santa Fe's lengthy celebration is that about a decade ago historians discovered evidence the city may have been founded at least three years earlier than the traditional 1610 date.
But instead of grabbing onto 1607 and claiming that Santa Fe is at least as old as Jamestown (which hasn't existed for centuries) our capital city still is planning a celebration that probably should have been held last year.
And so, Santa Fe's celebration will extend from 2007 to 2010 in order to accommodate all views. That isn't out of character for the nation's oldest community. If it is to preserve its heritage, any change must be thoroughly considered.
Santa Fe and Jamestown aren't the only additional claimants to the first Thanksgiving. St. Augustine, Fla. celebrated its first Thanksgiving on Sept. 8, 1565, so it beat the Pilgrims by 56 years.
Santa Fe and St. Augustine, however, suffer from being founded by Spain and from celebrating with a Catholic mass. Hispanics and Catholics have been marginalized in our nation's early history. Since I am neither one of those, I can make that statement without being accused of whining. It's merely a dispassionate observation about how history works.
But it doesn't mean we can't try for some recognition. Hispanics are America's fastest-growing minority and any president would be smart to give them some deserved attention.
New Mexico's first Thanksgiving wasn't held in Santa Fe. It was celebrated on the banks of the Rio Grande (Rio Bravo, back then) near the present city of El Paso. Don Juan de Onate ordered a mass followed by a huge feast to give thanks for having crossed safely into the kingdom of New Spain.
The event never has been celebrated in our state, to my knowledge. But some El Pasoans began observing it a decade or so ago. They even took a group, dressed as conquistadors, to Plymouth, Mass. to stir up some notice for Onate's first Thanksgiving.
Joint celebrations in El Paso, southern Dona Ana County and Santa Fe next November wouldn't be a bad idea. Onate's Thanksgiving celebration, somewhere near the New Mexico-Texas border, by far was the grandest of all the early feasts.
Onate, a rich man, brought a four-mile caravan, with over 80 wagons, 10,000 head of livestock and 560 people. They dined on roast meat, fish and native vegetables. St. Augustine's menu was bean soup. Jamestown is thought to have roasted a pig. And we know about the Pilgrims' turkey.
A date change for a nationwide celebration is out of the question. President Abraham Lincoln declared the fourth Thursday in November a national holiday and that is where it will stay.
But Thanksgiving isn't a date. It is the concept of giving thanks for our bounty, no matter when how meager it might be.

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Tuesday, April 22, 2008

4-28 Simplify Elections

MON, 4-28-08

SANTA FE - Last month I suggested that all elections, from the local water board to president of the United States be held at one time. It would make voting so much easier. We wouldn't have to remember that there are different polling places for different elections.
Think of the turnout if people voted only once every two years instead of practically every month. Santa Fe held 10 elections last year. Voters are suffering from election fatigue.
Even the experts can't keep up. Talking heads on television often get mixed up and disseminate bad information. A national political consultant recently told me he went to a local Democratic caucus meeting and the rules turned out to be completely different from what he expected.
And then there's the presidential nominating procedure, which screams for standardization. It is completely crazy and has the rest of the world laughing, I guarantee you.
My wife and I currently are on a 30-day cruise with passengers from 25 countries. They are pleasant about our situation but can't understand why we would do such a thing to ourselves.
Their assessment is that television station owners have created the system to make them fortunes from advertising. I don't think that's the way it happened, but it actually makes more sense than what really happened.
I ended the column with a plea for someone to figure a way out of this. The day the column appeared I received a call from Daniel Ivey-Soto, our former state elections director. He said that soon after he left the secretary of state's office, some county clerks asked him to work on legislation that would consolidate all non-partisan elections.
The idea makes good sense. Federal, state and county elections are partisan and all occur at the same time, except for presidential primaries, which are a problem of their own. It is the myriad local non-partisan elections that clog up the system.
Ivey-Soto tells me non-partisan elections include city council, school board, college board, water district, wind district, erosion district and conservation district elections. There also are bond elections and constitutional amendment elections. No wonder it's all so confusing.
Ivey-Soto says there is a minor problem but he tells me it can be resolved. There is no law against a person serving on more than one non-partisan board and many do, especially in small towns. That means a person might appear on the ballot more than once. It may take a minor change in state law to assure that can still happen when elections are consolidated.
The advantages of combining all non-partisan elections appear to far outweigh the disadvantages. A very major advantage is cost savings. Elections are costly to run, with significant staff, equipment, supplies and rental costs.
Poll workers are difficult to recruit and the closing of voter registration books 28 days before an election creates problems, including what to do about voters who move within the state and get caught between election cycles.
Currently there are complications involving in-person voting, early voting and absentee voting. Those difficulties easily can be ironed out with only one partisan and one non-partisan election to handle.
Some interests will argue that their non-partisan election is too important to be combined with others. Public schools especially argue that point. But, as Ivey-Soto points out, the only reason school board elections were created separately was because our original state constitution gave women the right to vote only in school board elections.
Schools like their separate elections because school employees often can control a separate election and get a bond issue passed or a favored candidate elected.
The election system is getting out of hand. It is time for simplification. Good luck to Ivey-Soto and others in coming up with some reasonable proposals for lawmakers to consider.

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Saturday, April 19, 2008

4-25 Hanagan Emerges in Ireland

FRI, 4-25-08

SANTA FE - Pete Hanagan, that jolly old codwobbler New Mexicans remember as head of the state Oil & Gas Association for many years has resurfaced from under his bridge in Limerick, Ireland with a book aptly titled "Unprovenanced Chinwaggery."
Pete has spent the better part of the last 10 years on the Emerald Isle, enjoying the Irishness of his ancestral homeland. He was born far away in Roswell, New Mexico, 79 years ago, but the Irish never left him.
And where better to settle than Limerick? Pete always was a great storyteller and that is what his book is about. Essentially, it is a memoir of 50 short stories, anecdotes, episodes and escapades. If you want a complete history of Pete, you'll have to ask his friends and enemies. This book is all about what Pete wants you to know.
He's concocted a diabolical way of accomplishing that goal, leading off with an obituary of his own choosing. Who else would have thought of that? Don't leave it to your family to write your obit. No telling what they might say.
Quite honestly, it surely would be insipidly boring. "Beloved husband, father and grandfather." That sort of drivel. But since an obituary is most people's only time to gain public notice, why not get the things said that you deem important? That's the way Pete looks at it.
Hanagan ends his obituary with a request for a joyous happy-hour mini-wake at the Pink Adobe Restaurant in Santa Fe. He says he has left instructions to automatically serve bloody marys to all attendees. He doesn't say he will pick up the tab and he may not have envisioned outliving the "Pink's" ownership by Rosalea Murphy and her family.
The opening sentence of Pete's book sets the tone of all that follows. "For a long time I have thought about writing a swashbuckling tale whose main character would be full of his peculiar puckish ego, his legendary mulishness, his barmy mannerisms and his exaggerated belief in his ability to spin a good yarn in a prose style of ideal limpidity."
But, says Pete, the further he got into the project, it would be no more than fantasized biography, so why not write it in the first person? Whether one writes his or her own obituary, it is a good idea to leave a record of one's story for future generations. Few ever think to do such a thing.
Hanagan became quite a legend in Santa Fe with his Third House Caucuses held at the beginning of each year's legislative session, They were invitation only, exclusive events open only to the top lobbyists in Santa Fe, The Third House is legislative parlance for the corps of lobbyists that descends on Santa Fe every year for the legislative session.
There are over a thousand of them as compared with 112 elected legislators in the House and Senate. Each year Hanagan would send invitations to the top ones for a rip-roaring party. No legislators were invited and no lobbying was allowed. Besides lobbyists don't do well lobbying other lobbyists.
But Hanagan grew tired of that life and decided to move on to lecturing on the law, first at the University of Limerick and then at the university of Guadalajara. He and his new family lived for a while in San Miguel de Allende, Mexico, for a while, before moving to Ruidoso and thence back to Limerick where he's living with a son from each of his two marriages.
I can recommend Pete's book for anyone who knew him or about him. It is engagingly written in the Irish's colorful version of the English language.
You will be entertained by Pete's accounts of escapades as C.A. Jones, Rev. P.J. Masa and the proud owner of a prestige license plate proclaiming him "GOV."
Pete's book can be ordered for $26, plus postage of $7, payable to Peter Hanagan, at

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4-18 delay

Sorry about the 4-18 delay. I sent that column a week ago but somehow it didn't make it thru cyberspace. I have a better connection now, down near New Zealand. Will be sending another column later today.

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4-18 delay

Sorry about the 4-18 delay. I sent that column a week ago but somehow it didn't make it thru cyberspace. I have a better connection now, down near New Zealand. Will be sending another column later today.

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4-23 NM's Biggest Murder Story

WED, 4-23-08

SANTA FE -- Some brave souls now have courageously ventured to look into the blackness surrounding New Mexico's biggest political murder.
We aren't talking about who killed Billy the Kid and where his bones now lie. We're talking about the 1949 murder of an 18-year-old, politically connected Las Cruces waitress, Cricket Coogler, Who did it and why?
Everyone knows about the cover up that embarrassed and shocked Dona Ana County and the entire state. It led to the conviction of politicians and lawmen, the withdrawal of the Mafia from the state and the election of New Mexico's first Republican governor in 10 terms.
But almost nothing is known about Cricket's death. Except, one night she drunkenly weaved from bar to bar in downtown Las Cruces muttering about how it would be her last night and refusing rides in several cars, including one with a state license plate and a police car, only to get in an unknown car, never to be seen alive again.
Her corpse was found in a shallow grave a week later, battered and beaten. Had Dona Ana County Sheriff Happy Apodaca investigated the murder using standard police methods, many speculate he easily would have found a surprise murderer.
But possibly Apodaca thought he was covering up for various politicians who had reason to want her dead. Whatever, the totally botched investigation prevented any knowledge of what really happened.
Consequently, 59 years later, we are as much in the dark as ever. There always were myriad questions. But now there are even more. Why has no further light been cast on such a high profile crime. With Cricket being involved with so many people, many of whom interacted with her the day of her disappearance, why have there been absolutely no loose lips?
Gov. Ed Mechem, of Las Cruces, was elected in 1950, vowing to clean up illegal gambling in the state and find the killer of Cricket Coogler. He accomplished his first task, but failed at the second and seemingly brushed it off.
Noted journalist and author Tony Hillerman reports that Gov. John Simms, who succeeded Mechem, said when he walked into the governor's office for the first time, there was one file lying on Mechem's former desk. It was labeled "Cricket Coogler." He says Simms never revealed the contents and the file was never seen again.
Why has everyone been so quiet? Why has almost no one ever wanted to talk about Cricket's death? Why has no one, in or out of law enforcement, ever taken a crack at the case?
We know the Mob left the state soon after the murder and that gambling houses were shut down. We know politicians were involved from the local level all the way to Washington. We know J. Edgar Hoover and the FBI were very interested. We know that President Harry Truman pardoned the convicted politicians. We know local businessmen were involved with Cricket.
But why has no one revealed or discovered why these things happened?
Three efforts finally have been made this decade. In 2000, Charlie Cullin presented "The Silence of Cricket Coogler, a series of video interviews of jury members and others connected with the case. It was narrated by then-Santa Fean John Ehrlichman, with analysis by Tony Hillerman, Jack Flynn and others.
It was an excellent contribution to the story of how Coogler's death has affected New Mexico. As evidence of how difficult the information had been to compile, it took Cullin 11 years, many rejections for interviews and constant fundraising difficulties.
In 2006, Peter Sandman finally found a publisher for a book, "Murder Near the Crosses," providing background for the events and a defense of his father, Roy, one of those convicted for the murder investigation.
In the past month, the University of New Mexico Press published "Cricket in the Web," by Paula Moore, a look at the facts of the investigation through the eyes of a Las Cruces native.
It gets us the closest yet. But reputations are at stake. There needs to be more.

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Friday, April 18, 2008


FRI. 4-18-08

SANTA FE - Buying votes in New Mexico? Who's ever heard of such a thing? Well, it depends on what sort of votes are being bought, but nearly everyone in the state has heard of such a thing.
Maybe we never have heard much about Republicans buying votes. That's why the charge from former Gov. Dave Cargo and others that Rep. Heather Wilson was buying votes at the Bernalillo County GOP preprimary nominating convention seemed like quite a revelation.
As it turned out, the big news was that the GOP still charges a poll tax and Wilson was paying the fee for some of her supporters for whom that would have been a hardship.
The Republican Party argues that conventions cost money and a charge per delegate is a method of covering those expenses.
The point is valid but the memory of undesirables being turned away from the polls in a previous century because they could not afford the fee to vote is sufficiently strong in some minds to recoil at the thought of having to pay to vote. Later, we learned that Bernalillo wasn't the only county to charge a fee to delegates.
Then came news that 3rd Congressional District Democratic candidate Don Wiviott was paying for people's rooms to come to Rio Rancho to vote for him at the state Democratic preprimary nominating convention.
That sounds a little worse, But not surprising. Democratic candidates have been doing that for years. I would be surprised to hear of Rio Arriba County delegates ever paying for their rooms. Rep. Bill Richardson spent a fortune on that over his 14 years in Congress.
Shocking or not, the financial assistance given to party convention delegates by Wilson, Wiviott and Richardson was not unlawful. Those were party conventions and the parties make the rules.
Now then, dollar bills or pints of whiskey handed out at the polls on election day. That's different. There are laws against that. It still happens but it is subtler, more behind the scenes.
We're now into a brave new world of vote buying. Drunks on street corners no longer are the beneficiaries. Now it's the fat cats in the boardrooms of your local television studios, who rake in money that would embarrass your local wino.
And they don't do much more than the wino to qualify for the largesse. They just happen to be in the right place at the right time. A millionaire politician shows up at the door with a political ad in one hand and a fat checkbook in the other.
The deal is made. All quite legal. No one gets hurt, except the sensibilities of those unwise enough to sit in front of the boob tube for hours. Me? I've already left on an extended cruise of the South Seas. I'll still be able to log on to my favorite newspapers and bloggers. I just don't have to listen to commercials in order to get the news. Come join me. The water's great.
Here's what those of you who don't join me will be seeing. Don Wiviott, from the 3rd congressional District is already on the air. He's vowed to spend a million of his own money on the campaign. More than half will go to television advertising. Senate candidates Steve Pearce and Heather Wilson will be on screen soon. The race will be close. Wilson is behind in the polls, so expect a lot of negative ads.
Ed Tinsley, from the 2nd Congressional District has reportedly purchased $320,000 on Albuquerque TV for May. Aubrey Dunn, Jr. has loaned his campaign $300,000, much of which will go to TV ads.
This isn't going to be easy-listening time, folks. This is the big show. All three congressional seats and one of two senate seats are up for grabs. It is a major opportunity for both parties and they know it. New Mexico has been flagged for major party money and attention. And they're already here.
Apparently, this one didn't send last week.

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Wednesday, April 16, 2008

4-21 Bataan

MON, 4-21-08

SANTA FE - Rep. Tom Udall's office reports it has collected 18 co-sponsors for his bill to award a Gold Medal to World War II veterans of Bataan.
Some 1,800 members of the New Mexico National Guard were among the 12,000 servicemen deployed to the Philippines in 1941, six months before the outbreak of the war. New Mexico's 200th Coast Artillery was the first to be fired upon the day the war began and the last to go down fighting four months later.
Their delaying action stalled the Japanese advance toward Australia long enough for America to mobilize its defense. All American and Filipino troops retreated to the Bataan peninsula for their final stand. After being surrendered by their superiors, the survivors were subjected to a death march back up the peninsula to prison camps where many died.
During their holdout, our troops were promised reinforcements, and shipments of new equipment. But none ever arrived. Our men were deemed expendable because an underprepared defense system could not react quickly enough.
America owes these brave men much more than a Gold Medal for their sacrifice. Only 900 New Mexicans returned at the end of the war. A third of those died in the following year from their physical and mental torture.
Many more cosponsors are needed before Rep. Udall's bill can be heard in committee. Gold Medal designations require cosponsorship by something like two-thirds of the House and Senate, so we're just getting started.
Among the 12,000 troops on Bataan were servicemen from many states. Many were National Guard regiments just like ours. In times of war, the National Guard tends to be our first line of defense. As in the Iraq War, America had no draft at the beginning of World War II even though we knew it was coming. When we got in trouble, Guard units were the first to be called. It's part of what we hear called a back-door draft.
The National Guard is designed primarily to protect our states in time of emergency, but they can be federalized. The agreement between New Mexico and the Department of the Army is for only a quarter of our troops, at most, to be deployed overseas because they may be needed to deal with natural disasters in the state.
But the state was notified last August that by 2010, half of our Guard force will be in Iraq.
That tells volumes about U.S. war plans for our future. There is also a promise that none of our troops will have to do a second tour. But we know about promises. We're talking here about involuntary second tours. Many New Mexico Guard troops already have served more than one tour in Iraq on a voluntary basis.
A previous column encouraged writing letters of support to your New Mexico U.S. House members so they can show the letters to their colleagues and encourage them to sign on as cosponsors.
It is beginning to work. With the signature of Rep. Steve Pearce, all of New Mexico's three-member delegation is on board. But much more is needed. Conchita Lucero of Albuquerque reports that letters have been written to all 435 House members. That effort is beginning to show some success.
Contacts by veterans and families of veterans in other states is crucial. This can be accomplished most effectively if New Mexico veterans groups get the ball rolling by contacting units of their organization in other states. There likely is no state that did not have men fighting on Bataan.
I recently received a moving letter from the Baldonado family of Las Cruces expressing pride in their family members Jose M and Juan T. Baldonado, who not only survived the Bataan Death March but returned to build their lives after Bataan, something that many found difficult or impossible.
That letter, and others I have received, will be forwarded to Rep. Udall's office for use in recruiting cosponsors from other states.
Keep those cards, letters and e-mails coming.

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Sunday, April 06, 2008

4-16 How About Those Taxes?

WED, 4-16-08

SANTA FE - So what do you think about paying taxes now? Especially income tax? Do you hate taxes? Have you ever thought you might just be a negative person and that you should feel good about helping the poor, the elderly, the sick and infirm?
Maybe you should be feeling good about helping provide a strong military and strong public safety. Maybe you should feel good about helping our nation educate its children to keep us the world's one superpower, about the consumer protection services you help fund and the nutrition and assistance we provide to other countries.
Ever think about that? Naw. I don't either. Polls show nearly all of us believe
government squanders our money on bridges to nowhere. And that it collects an excessively unfair amount from us personally. We all claim to be unhappy with our tax rate, whether it's high or low. Whether we're rich or poor.
Our current state and federal administrations have cut many taxes in the past several years, but are we any less unhappy about paying them? Of course not.
This year's major tax revolt appears to be another one to protest against paying taxes to support a war. That's nothing new. It goes all the way back to the Quakers not paying taxes in colonial times if they were going to be used for war. The moral to that particular story is that the government always wins.
Then, there's the matter of specific taxes for war. It was done in 1968-70 to help support the Vietnam War. Several months ago, two Democrats introduced legislation to support the Iraq War with a special tax.. Congress hasn't gotten excited about it.
In World War II, we had a very different method of financing the war. The government sold war bonds. Since that was a "good" war, Americans lined up to buy the bonds, even though they had a 10-year maturity and poor interest.
Major advertising companies donated their time to make ads for the war bonds. No product ever had been promoted as strongly. Movie and sports stars donated their appearances in the ads. Soldier heroes were brought back from the front to appear in the ads and at huge victory bond rallies.
During the war, eight bond drives were held, raising $186 billion dollars. Yes, that's right - billions. The population of the nation was only 170 million at the time. Nearly everyone gave, even kids.
There were victory bond drives at school once a week. I took my dime to buy a red stamp that I pasted in my war bond book. When we got $18.50 worth of stamps, we traded them for a bond that would be worth $25 in 10 years.
Secondary school students bought 25-cent stamps that were green. They let adults play too Bonds came in bigger denominations for them. We could have done much better in the commercial market, but this was patriotism and all Americans were anxious to do their part.
How far would you expect a war tax or war bonds would get today?
Somewhat akin to the government's use of patriotism to raise taxes is its fondness for funneling social policy through the tax apparatus. - subsidizing home ownership, helping the poor, encouraging alternative energy, helping industries in distress and promoting long-term stock ownership. Most other countries don't try to do as much with their tax system as we do.
We've created a real mess. The cost of preparing a tax return these days, in terms of time spend and securing the assistance needed is estimated at between 10 and 20 percent of the money it raises for the government. There must be an easier way.
Congress has looked at solutions - a simplified tax, a flat tax, rejecting any "help" from lobbyists. One good suggestion is requiring all members of Congress to do their own taxes. Or let the government do it for us. It has nearly all the data on us already.
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Friday, April 04, 2008

real gone

5.5 weeks this time. This is another South Pacific cruise but this time we go to all the garden isles instead of the WWII battlefields as we did three years ago.
I plan to keep up with columns, except when conditions prevent it. That often seems to happen once or twice but that's about it. I like these opportunities to cogitate and do some think pieces, so I'm looking forward to it even though I'm not the travel planner around this house.
Back in office May 15. You can always contact me by email.