Inside the Capitol

Tuesday, September 02, 2008

9-5 Panels Pick Vet Museum and Racino Sites

Syndicated Columnist
SANTA FE -- Two state panels made some important decisions late last month. A veterans panel voted to locate a veterans museum in Las Cruces and the state Racing Commission voted to award the last state racino license to Raton.
Amazingly, even though there was stiff competition in both contests, the decisions were unanimous. Which raises the question: why bother?
The question is especially valid in the case of the state Veterans Museum. Las Cruces had been angling for the museum the past seven years. Sen. Lee Rawson of Las Cruces introduced legislation early this year to appropriate $1.5 million to get museum construction started.
But Gov. Bill Richardson vetoed the bill, saying there hadn't been sufficient discussion of the location. He appointed a panel of 20 veterans from around the state to make that decision.
Proposals were heard from Las Cruces, Carlsbad, Las Vegas, Fort Stanton, Rio Rancho and Angel Fire. Reports indicate all the presentations were good. A large delegation of Las Cruces officials made a presentation loaded with facts and figures.
Fort Stanton also had an outstanding presentation, centered around a state-owned fort that would eliminate the need to construct a multi-million dollar building. Reportedly other proposals also were impressive but officially all 20 panel members supported Las Cruces.
It appears to be a major slap at Gov. Richardson, a very loud message that his veto last March was unwarranted. But then, things are not always as they seem. Possibly the total panel felt Las Cruces deserved the museum because it had the initiative to get the ball rolling and had been lobbying it for so long.
Maybe there were feelings for Sen. Lee Rawson, the major sponsor, who had a number of his money bills vetoed. Rawson is the Republican Senate whip and one of Richardson's major critics.
Or maybe it was just a strong desire to demonstrate unity. And while it does that, it also leaves those supporting other points of view feeling they haven't even been heard.
Let's hope Las Cruces wasn't chosen based on it being the best of the competitors for museum attendance. The New Mexico Farm and Ranch Museum in Las Cruces, right off Interstates 10 and 25, has had dismal attendance, as has El Camino Real International Heritage Center, to the north on I-25.
Interstates may not be good places for museums. People use them to get somewhere fast. Sightseers driving the mountain roads of Lincoln and Taos counties are much more likely to decide to stop and look.
Data from the state Department of Cultural Affairs indicates attendance at museums throughout the state is falling and has been for some time. Columnist Harold Morgan suggests that before building more museums, we should understand what is happening with the present bunch.
The award of the last racino license to Raton by unanimous vote was a little less surprising. The other five racinos in the state were all lobbying the Racing Commission to choose Raton because it is farthest from them.
The commission had said its decision would be based on what was best for New Mexico and for horse racing. It appears what was best for casino business also was a factor.
As with the Veterans Museum, one of the unsuccessful racino competitors already had the facilities ready to go. Pojoaque Pueblo owns Santa Fe Downs and has a large marketing department promoting its huge gaming resort 30 miles to the north.
Pojoaque may have proved the most economically successful, but why award the racino to a pueblo when it is an Indian gaming compact that that limits the number of racinos?
Anyway, congratulations to Las Cruces and Raton for their victories. It was the second major accomplishment for Las Cruces in a very short time. Sen. Pete Domenici recently decided to give all his papers to New Mexico State University.
And cool Raton will be a needed location for more summer racing in New Mexico.
FRI, 9-05-08

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



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