Inside the Capitol

Tuesday, March 30, 2010

4-5 Governor Plans to Stick Around

Syndicated Columnist

SANTA FE -- When Gov. Bill Richardson vetoed the food tax, he noted in the first sentence of his veto message that it would be the last legislative act of his two terms as governor.
That sounds pretty final. What does it mean? Is he leaving town for one of those cushy million-dollar jobs we've been hearing about? Or is he just not going to call any more special sessions?
The indications I'm getting say it is the latter. Gov. Richardson says he doesn't want to call any more special sessions while House members are campaigning for office.
Not only is it time away from their businesses and campaigns, legislators are prohibited from soliciting campaign contributions while a legislative session is in progress.
So the governor worked out some provisions with lawmakers in case money runs too short. The immediate problem is getting through this fiscal year, which ends June 30. Next year's 60-day session can handle next year's fiscal deficit.
That won't be easy because that deficit is likely to be awfully big by then and only six months will be left before the end of that fiscal year to make cuts or raise more money.
Gov. Richardson says a combination of the taxes he didn't veto and the expenditures he did veto will help get us through. In addition, he is prepared to spend down our reserves.
On top of that, lawmakers gave the governor an unprecedented right to cut wherever he thinks best to balance the budget. Former Gov. Gary Johnson tried that once and legislators went to court to stop him.
And, if Richardson decides to leave before the end of the year, there is no constraint on his lieutenant governor regarding a special session at any time she desires.
That brings back the issue of whether Gov. Richardson will leave early. The chatter throughout the halls of Santa Fe government is that he's on his way.
But the governor himself is giving different signals. Consistent with his style, he is planning to leave on a high note, tying up loose ends and fulfilling as many campaign pledges and "bold visions" as possible. My information is very sketchy but I know it involves plans for next fall.
Obviously everything will not be a bed of roses come next fall. Many of the cuts made by the recent special session will begin to be evident.
Lines at motor vehicle departments may be longer, waiting periods for all types of licenses and court dates may be longer but most noticeable of all likely will be changes in the public schools.
Protected for the last several regular and special sessions, the point was reached when there wasn't any place left to cut. After all, public schools comprise nearly half the state general fund budget.
Athletics won't be cut as much as the scare tactics of last year suggested but there will be changes in areas such as schedules, travel and junior high athletics.
The little people will be hit first. Expect fewer cleaning staff and classroom aides. Teachers will be cut and class sizes increased. And yes, even administration will be hit, especially in the area of assistant principles. There's no word yet on assistant superintendents.
The most painful changes appear to be in the consolidation of schools and eventually of school districts.
I don't know if all districts are similar to Santa Fe but every time a school board member here suggests closing a school, a recall of that board member is not far behind. I learned that first-hand 35 years ago.
Things get even more emotional when talk turns to consolidating school districts. In the 1950s, New Mexico cut its school districts from over 600 to under 100. State police stood guard at all meetings of the state Board of Education.
Closing a neighborhood school is tough on students and parents. Shutting down a school district comes close to killing a community many times.
MON, 4-05-10

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

I'll be out of the office tomorrow through April 16. Will have laptop and cell 505-699-9982.

Monday, March 29, 2010

4-2 Traffic Cameras Are Bad Politics

Syndicated Columnist
SANTA FE -- Why are traffic cameras so controversial? We know that speeding and running red lights are dangerous so we have passed laws establishing penalties against people who do it.
So what's wrong with taking a picture of people who have broken the law? For some reason many people who would classify themselves as law-and-order types become downright angry at the notion of their right to privacy being invaded.
Those same people have no problem with a surveillance camera catching a law breaker. They usually also figure that if you're not the type to break the law, why object to things like warrantless wiretapping or home searches?
But in those cases, there is only a suspicion of lawbreaking. No one has persuaded a judge that maybe a law is being broken. In the case of traffic cameras, a machine already has clocked a vehicle traveling over the speed limit or having entered an intersection when the light was already red.
The only questions are the identity of the driver and the vehicle. So a camera peeks inside your windshield to take a picture of you and takes another of your license plate.
Is that picture an invasion of privacy? It takes a stretch to make the case. I am told people have no idea how often they are under electronic surveillance. And yet there is no outcry about big brother watching us. It's a good idea. It catches crooks.
Granted, traffic offenses aren't in the same category as burglary or shoplifting. But the more any of those offenses go unidentified and unpunished, the more they will occur.
That's why we try to add to the fear of getting caught. In the case of traffic violations, it is called changing driver behavior. Does it work? I've heard a Santa Fe city councilor say it does. I can't say I have noticed any change since traffic cameras were installed last year.
But in the Phoenix suburbs of Scottsdale and Paradise Valley, I have no doubt. Even with the many tourists in the area there are few traffic infractions. Even the most infrequent tourist gets the word that traffic laws should not be broken.
Along the path to changing driver behavior, a problem has occurred in the case of red-light cameras. Although side-impact collisions (the most dangerous) have declined, rear-impact collisions have increased.
Studies I have seen indicate that increase is less than the decrease in often fatal collisions in intersections.
But that little foot in the door has emboldened the masses of traffic camera opponents. "Research" shows that traffic cameras don't work, they say, often adding that they make driving even more dangerous.
It was these people that the New Mexico Transportation Commission must have been listening to when it voted unanimously two weeks ago to ban traffic cameras on all state and federal roads. Gov. Bill Richardson commended the action.
The commission says it doesn't have convincing proof that traffic cameras work. The panel gave no indication what sort of proof might be convincing. It may be that the best proof would be public opinion polls demonstrating public support for the cameras.
What it all comes down to is that no matter how much safer the cameras make our roads, they are not good politics. The public doesn't like them and probably never will. Politicians get elected to office running against traffic cameras.
Otherwise law abiding citizens can't stand the idea of being nabbed for a traffic violation. Traffic cops are reviled. "Why aren't you out catching crooks?" they are often asked.
Cameras catch even more violators than cops so they are hated even more. Now that governmental bodies are using cameras as revenue generators the public's ire is even greater. "You're waging war on drivers," is a common refrain.
So why are cameras so controversial? A lawyer friend tells me it often is because the identity of the passenger is revealed. And it sometimes is embarrassing.
FRI, 4-2-10

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


Sunday, March 28, 2010

3-31 War Not a Time for April Fools

Syndicated Columnist

SANTA FE -- Instead of my usual April Fools' column reminiscing about past political pranks or trying to pull one of my own, I am reminded of a promise made 10 months ago that is appropriate to begin fulfilling today.
On June 6, 2009, full-scale D-Day commemorations were held at Normandy and many other locations around the world.
Such commemorations normally are held in 10-year intervals but many veterans organizations announced the 65th D-Day anniversary would be their last because their numbers had dwindled to the point they could barely muster enough troops to make a showing.
Figuring that might happen with some of this year's 65th anniversaries of World War II observances, I promised to write columns at appropriate times to commemorate the major events of 1945.
To fully disclose my promises, I'll reveal that in 2005, I covered World War II events in the Pacific, where the New Mexico National Guard fought on Bataan and many other New Mexicans participated in taking back the Pacific, from Guadalcanal to Nagasaki.
I intended to gather those columns into a book as I had with my stories covering the effort to dig up Billy the Kid and his mother in 2003-4. But it didn't happen -- to the disappointment of many of my Bataan survivor friends.
So this is my fall back position. Every so often I will update one of the 2005 columns with info on present day commemorations.
I should have started last fall, covering the deployment of the New Mexico Guard to the Philippines in 1941. April 9 will be the anniversary of their 1942 surrender and the beginning of the Death March.
I realize I should have spent more time talking about the many brave New Mexicans who served our country in the rest of the world. I grew up in Deming and Silver City. Deming was home to the Headquarters Battery of the New Mexico Guard.
Col. Gurdon Sage, soon to become a general, was the state Guard commander. Sage owned the Deming Headlight newspaper. He succeeded Col. Clyde Ely of Silver City as commander. Ely had owned the Headlight and then purchased the Silver City Daily Press.
I was a child during the war but clearly remember mourning the losses of my playmates' families. I later worked at the state Legislature with Rep. Tom Foy and Nick Chintis, Death March survivors from Silver City. This column has been carried for many years by both the Daily Press and Headlight.
Thus my abiding interest in New Mexico's contributions to the War in the Pacific.
On this day in 1945, U.S. forces were preparing for the April 1st invasion of Okinawa. It wasn't lost on U.S. troops that this first battle to be fought on Japanese soil was being launched on April Fools' Day. Controversy surrounded the entire operation.
Officials in Washington wanted to fight a tactical battle but the Army's Gen. Simon Bolivar Buckner wanted to grind it out. Nearly 8,000 kamikaze attacks sank 36 American ships, the most in any battle. On land, it was the muddiest, bloodiest, most brutal combat ever experienced. It was worse than Iwo Jima.
U.S. casualties were the highest of any Pacific campaign. The Navy lost more men than in any other battle. And it was the only Pacific battle in which both commanding generals lost their lives.
But somehow Okinawa was overshadowed at the time by the Mount Suribachi flag raising picture in March, Germany's surrender in May, the massive fire bombings of Japan in June and July and the atom bombs in August.
The lesser attention to Okinawa was good news for our leaders in Washington. To those who did pay attention to what happened in Okinawa the losses were unacceptable and forecasted even worse to come.
Could we afford to lose even more Americans as we reached the Japanese homeland?
WED, 3-31-10

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


Thursday, March 25, 2010

3-29 We Could Use More Foreign Visitors

Syndicated Columnist

SANTA FE -- Do you know that the U.S. government doesn't have an agency to promote tourism from foreign nations? That's a big deal for New Mexico where tourism is the state's largest private employer.
New Mexico receives a big chunk of foreign tourists who want to see what the Wild West really looks like. They want to see Indians, Spanish churches, Billy the Kid Land, UFO sites, museums and galleries.
State Tourism Secretary Michael Cerletti says, "The United States is virtually the only country in the developed world without a national tourism office."
But that is about to change. Congress has just passed a Travel Promotion Act. The New Mexico congressional delegation was active in supporting the legislation.
At one time, tourism was an important part of the U.S. Commerce Department. In 1977, New Mexico's own Fabian Chavez was in charge of tourism as an assistant secretary of Commerce.
Chavez's adventures in that office, including a visit with Fidel Castro, are recounted in his recent book, "Taking on Giants," published by the University of New Mexico Press.
How can Congress add another service in the middle of a raging recession? It doesn't cost any taxpayer money. The Corporation for Travel Promotion will be funded by contributions from the travel industry and fees paid by foreign travelers to the United States.
It will be governed by an 11-member board of representatives from the travel industry. The corporation will be managed by an executive director and will be tied to the U.S. Department of Commerce.
Economists estimate the Travel Promotion Office will generate $4 billion annually from foreign travel. Sec. Cerletti says that will add nicely to the estimated $3.6 billion in business New Mexico already generates from foreign travel.
A similar proposal to this year's Legislature by the New Mexico travel industry for a small tax increase that would be borne by the industry. Instead lawmakers cut the state Tourism budget by 60 percent. Go figure.
Imposing fees on tourists to generate revenue to attract more tourists may sound a bit Draconian but it is definitely not what bothers foreign tourists the most about travel to the United States.
Our nation is one of the most unwelcoming in the world. Our transportation security seems based almost entirely on reacting to everything that has happened in the past.
Unfortunately terrorists are smarter than your average TSA thinkers. They never try the same trick twice. Consequently while we are devising elaborate new travel restrictions to add on to all the others, they are implementing a new plan.
In our many travels, we have not found travel between other countries inconvenient. But when we get on a plane headed back home, we get a taste of what foreign visitors endure.
We don't have to pay for visas or get photographed and fingerprinted but we go through an extreme security check. I have endured questioning and long delays because someone else named John Miller (that's my legal name) transfers large sums of money internationally.
The extreme part came when my 89-year-old mother-in-law was strip searched in Brussels. The security personnel noticed my obvious irritation and said, "Sorry sir, but your country requires it."
I fully understand they may have been singling out Americans in order to deliver a message to our country to cool it a little. And perhaps that's what we need to do.
Cerletti tells us the United States had a nine-percent market share of international travel a few years ago. It is now six percent. That's not helping our economic recovery.
Perhaps our nation's new travel promotion office could be of most service by paying a visit to the Homeland Security Department and suggesting ways to make the United States a more desirable place to visit for business, study or leisure.
MON, 3-29-10

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


Tuesday, March 23, 2010

3-26 New USS New Mexico Commissioned

Syndicated Columnist

SANTA FE -- Commissioning of the new USS New Mexico happens tomorrow, March 27, at Norfolk Naval Base, in Virginia.
Commissioning a U.S. Navy ship is a big deal. While the Navy provides the ship, crew and pier, it is up to the state's commissioning committee to assure the commissioning is a world-class event.
The commissioning isn't just a ceremony at the pier. It includes a party for the crew and families, a commanding officer's luncheon for the ship's sponsor, a platform briefing breakfast and a reception after the commissioning ceremony.
The USS New Mexico's commissioning committee is part of the Navy League's New Mexico Council. It worked for two years, with the help of our congressional delegation and governor, to convince the Navy to name its next nuclear submarine the USS New Mexico.
Since then, it has worked for more than five years to set up the commissioning and raise the money to pay for the functions. It is requesting donations of $25 or more from those interested in making this a world-class ceremony.
The state of New Mexico is donating two silver plates from the 56-piece collection of sterling silver by Tiffany which was given to the first USS New Mexico by the 1917 New Mexico Legislature.
Soon after, the first USS New Mexico was chosen as the flagship of our newly-organized Pacific Fleet. When war in the Pacific threatened in 1940, her base became Pearl Harbor. But in mid-1941, activity became even hotter in the Atlantic, protecting our Eastern seaboard.
And that is how the New Mexico missed the attack at Pearl Harbor. Following the December 7 attack, she was recalled to the Pacific and with her New Mexico-class sister ships, the Idaho and the Mississippi, were the primary source of surface defense of our West Coast.
By the summer of 1942, Pearl Harbor had been repaired and the United States was ready for action in the Pacific. The New Mexico's first action was in the Gilbert Islands, followed by the Marshall Islands, the Solomons and the Marianas.
Then came the retaking of the Philippines. The pre-landing bombardment of Luzon began on January 6, 1945, perhaps appropriately, the state of New Mexico's 33rd birthday. The sky was full of kamikaze planes. A suicide hit on her bridge killed the commanding officer and 29 others, with 87 injured. The remaining crew made emergency repairs and her guns remained in action until our troops got ashore on January 9th.
After repairs at Pearl Harbor, she headed to Okinawa for the invasion there. This time the enemy threat was from suicide boats. On May 11, she destroyed eight of them. The following evening, the New Mexico was attacked by two kamikazes. One plunged into her. The other hit her with its bomb.
In the resulting fires, 54 men were killed and 119 wounded, but she continued to fight. On May 28, she departed for repairs in the Philippines to be readied for the invasion of Japan. On August 15, while sailing toward Okinawa, she learned of the war's end. On September 2, she entered Tokyo Bay to witness Japan's surrender.
That is a proud history to be passed on to the next USS New Mexico, a fast-attack nuclear submarine. The Navy likes to name its ships after former ships that carry a proud history. It's good for building spirit.
An interesting coincidence occurred in 2006 when Cmdr. Robert Dain, a 1982 graduate of Albuquerque St. Pius High School, became the first commander of our new submarine. That isn't the way the Navy chooses its commanders but it is fortunate to have occurred.
Among those attending the commissioning events from new Mexico will be state Tourism Secretary Michael Cerletti, director of the state History Museum Dr. Frances Levine, Senate President Pro Tem Tim Jennings of Roswell and Sen. William Payne, of Albuquerque, who is Senate Republican whip and a retired Rear Admiral.
Donations to the Navy League New Mexico Council, a 501©3 organization, can be mailed to P.O. Box 91554, Albuquerque, NM87199.
FRI, 3-26-10

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


Sunday, March 21, 2010

3-24 NCAA & Tucumcari

Syndicated Columnist
SANTA FE -- The New Mexico State University and University of New Mexico men's basketball teams made New Mexicans proud this past weekend playing in the NCAA tournament.
Both were out of the tourney by the time the weekend was over but they fought hard and received favorable recognition. for their efforts and fan support.
One CBS announcer noted that the campus of Montana University, UNM' first opponent, had been declared by Rolling Stone as the nation's most scenic. The other announcer noted that the sun setting on the Sandias was quite a sight too. The same can be said of the Organs overlooking Las Cruces.
My vote for the most scenic campus goes to Pepperdine University in the steep hills overlooking Malibu Beach. It occasionally has some decent men's or women's basketball teams also.
UNM received some extra recognition for coach Steve Alford being one of four finalists for national coach of the year and for celebrities in the San Jose, CA, crowd such as Gov. Bill Richardson and former New Mexicans Colleen and Gavin Maloof.
It appeared the NMSU Aggies were going to get no respect in their game against Michigan State in Spokane, WA. No celebrities showed up. The announcers seemed only able to talk about State, which to them meant Michigan State even though the NMSU players had "State" on the front of their jerseys.
But by the time the Aggies staged their comeback from a 14-point deficit to a lead, the announcers and crowd became very excited about them.
President Barack Obama's bracket choices of the New Mexico teams not to survive the first weekend drew some consternation in the state. But he was correct. And he did well in his picks last year.
Maybe a president isn't too wise, however, to pick NCAA brackets. There are 65 teams in the tournament, 64 of which he has to pick to lose at some point. He can pick only one winner.
* * *
Have you ever heard "Tucumcari Tonite?" It is the New Mexico community's slogan on billboards along I-40. It also is a song title, as is Tucumcari Tonight."
Other song titles include "Two Gun Harry from Tucumcari" and "There's Nothing to Eat in Tucumcari" and "Two Miles Out of Tucumcari."
In fact, there are so many songs with Tucumcari in the title or lyrics that Bob Beaulieu, executive director of the Tucumcari/Quay County Chamber of Commerce, had trouble narrowing the field to 14 selections for a CD project called "Songs of Tucumcari."
Who would have guessed Tucumcari would be so popular? Is it because Tucumcari has more than 1,200 motel rooms, many attractions, or that it is the biggest community between Albuquerque and Amarillo?
Possibly. But the main reason could be that it is an interesting sounding name that works nicely into attention-grabbing music or films.
Some sources claim that Tucumcari is in the lyrics of "Route 66" but it's not in any of the versions I've heard. Bobby Troup likely would have included it between Amarillo and Gallup since he was pretty faithful in listing Route 66 cities and towns in order heading west to Los Angeles.
The CD is "an ingenious and clever way to spread the word," says Michael Cerletti, secretary of the state Tourism Department.
"I don't believe many communities our size can boast having their own CD," says Beaulieu. And I don't imagine that many communities of 6,000 are mentioned as often as Tucumcari it in music and films.
For now, at least, it appears the only place the CDs will be available for purchase is from the local chamber of commerce. You can reach it at 575-461-1694 or
New Mexico now has a Music Commission, created and appointed by Gov. Bill Richardson to promote New Mexico music and musicians. This would seem to be a great project in which it should become involved.
WED, 3-24-10

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


Thursday, March 18, 2010

3-19 Party Favorites Determined

Syndicated Columnist
SANTA FE -- The biggest surprise of last weekend's Republican and Democratic nominating conventions was the impressive winning margins racked up by the victors.
The large number of candidates in the hotly contested races had produced predictions of three or four candidates getting over the 20 percent threshold in those races. Instead only one or two received the required 20 percent.
Without many public polls for guidance, pundits had to rely on claims of candidates about their own polling or estimates of candidate strength at county conventions held earlier.
A poll conducted by Prof. Jose Garcia's political science class at New Mexico State University found Pete Domenici, Jr. with a substantial lead shortly after he declared his candidacy. The findings didn't impress convention delegates but June primary election results could differ.
The strength of Domenici's father, the former U.S. senator, was never among convention delegates, who tend to be more conservative than typical Republicans. His popularity came from moderates of all stripes.
It is safe to say that despite Domenici's four percent convention showing, he will turn in the additional nominating petition signatures to qualify for the June ballot.
The 47 percent showing of Susana Martinez was highly impressive considering she began her campaign nearly unknown outside Dona Ana County
Martinez held former state GOP chairman Allen Weh to only 26 percent of the delegate vote. Her hard work and organizing skills hold promise for both the primary and general elections.
Pete Domenici, Jr. will be the wild card in the Republican gubernatorial contest. His campaign contends that the convention vote was only a straw poll.
That is an unusual stance to take considering no one "polling" in only single digits at a convention has ever won a party primary election.
Over on the Democratic side of the ledger, former state party boss Brian Colon used his connections with delegates to achieve 35 percent of the delegate vote for the lieutenant governor slot. Lawrence Rael took 22 percent. Joe Campos fell two votes short of the required 20 percent.
Two days after the Democratic convention , following a recount and a review of the law governing nominating conventions, it was determined that Campos' 19.7 percent of the vote should be rounded up to 20 percent.
Campos is now on the ballot but contends that hurdles are constantly being thrown in his path. Charges are being heard that Colon is being helped by Democratic officials including Gov. Bill Richardson.
Richardson has not made an endorsement in the race but some critics charge that he is helping Colon financially and otherwise.
The two other candidates in the Democratic lieutenant governor's race, Sens. Jerry Ortiz y Pino and Linda Lopez, vow to obtain the additional signatures to be on the ballot.
It appears the state GOP has ruled against putting Adam Kokesh on the 3rd Congressional District ballot. Kokesh received 19.5 percent of the convention vote.
In the GOP lieutenant governor race, Brian Moore, of Clayton, received a surprising 41 percent of the vote. Kent Cravens and John Sanchez, both of Albuquerque received in the 20 percent range. Moore did quite well in the remainder of the state.
Sanchez took third place on the ballot and J.R. Damron of Santa Fe failed to make the ballot. Sanchez and Damron are the past two GOP convention choices for governor. This may show a Republican preference for new faces in the party.
As expected, former state Land Commissioner Ray Powell scored an easy victory over his opponents his attempt to seek a third term.
And over on the Republican side of that race, Matt Rush, in somewhat of a surprise, outdistanced his three opponents easily.
FRI, 3-19-10

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


tomorrow's column

I'm back. Will get a column for tomorrow to you this morning. Won't be able to do one for Mon. Back to normal beginning Wed.

Sunday, March 07, 2010

Dems Find Out About Taxes

FRI, 3-12-10

SANTA FE - Some Democrats are destined for problems in the June primaries. There are certain taxes that Democrats just can't touch. The first untouchable came along in 1935, during the Great Depression.
Democrats had gained control of the statehouse by that time and devoted a major legislative session to fixing the state's tax system. Many of our state's tax laws date back, or refer back, to that 1935 session.
The major consideration was the property tax, called an ad valorem tax, on the value of the property. In New Mexico, many poor owned property. The property had been given to the people, rather than to businesses, by the Spanish crown.
Those who managed to keep from losing their property to shyster lawyers from the East, wanted to assure they didn't lose it through continued arcane tax laws because they didn't or couldn't pay.
For that reason, New Mexico has always had low personal property taxes. If you don't believe that, I'll bet you never have owned property in another state. As a result New Mexico doesn't even bother collecting much property tax at the state level. It is a local tax.
Another tax Democratic politicians have learned to keep their hands off is anything to do with cars. In many states, the poor don't have cars. That's why more people couldn't get out of New Orleans after the flooding. Out here in the wide-open spaces, everyone needs a car.
That is why taxes on purchasing a car are kept low. The motor vehicle excise tax is much less that the gross receipts tax. And don't make me pay a lot for registration or a license. And keep those gasoline taxes low. (But make sure my roads are good.)
Democrats learned their tough lesson on the gas tax back in 1994. The state law had been changed allowing state officials to run for two consecutive four-year terms and Gov. Bruce King was the first governor to get a shot at that prize.
Economic times weren't very good. "It's the economy, stupid" had won the presidency for Bill Clinton two years earlier. Teachers were clamoring for raises. Some of Gov. King's advisers got the bright idea of tacking on a six-cent gasoline tax and earmarking it for school transportation, thereby freeing up a pot full of money for other school needs.
King knew it was politically unwise. But he promised to sign it if it passed. It passed. King signed it. And Gary Johnson became our next governor. "King's" gas tax had a lot to do with Johnson's victory. It almost propelled Lt. Gov. Casey Luna into a primary election victory over King.
Now Democrats seem to be learning to keep their hands away from taxing tortillas. The idea started out as a good one, they thought. If we're going to have to tax something, why not tax things that aren't especially good for you - like junk food, sugary drinks, alcohol and tobacco?
Besides that, Republicans complain less about a gross receipts tax because it hits everyone equally. But the poor folks point out that they spend a greater proportion of their resources on such a tax. And besides, junk food tends to be cheaper and that is what the poor need to buy.
When it turned out that white flour tortillas fell into the junk food category, it hit the fan. Republicans were thrilled. Poor folks were rebelling against Democrats. Not only are Democrats supporting a regressive tax, their nanny state is discriminating against our favorite food.
Everywhere they turn, Democrats are stymied. There hasn't been a tax increase in 15 years. Times are bad. Money is needed from somewhere to keep state workers working and social programs going. The obvious answer is a progressive income tax. Soak the rich. They aren't going to vote Democratic anyway. But that won't work because the Democratic governor says he'll veto any such tax.
It's a recipe for disaster.


3-8 Saving Fort Stanton

WED, 3-10-10

SANTA FE - Anyone interested in New Mexico's Wild West history will want a copy of "Fort Stanton: Legacy of Honor, Tradition of Healing." The illustrated history is a beautiful, paperback, coffee-table sort of book by Lynda A. Sánchez, with stunning photographic spreads by David Tremblay. There are over 200 color or sepia tone images that depict the magnificent country and the flamboyant characters who lived and worked at the fort.
All forts have stories but Lincoln County's Fort Stanton has a history more varied, colorful and lengthy than others in New Mexico. It is often referred to as the crown jewel of military forts in the Southwest.
Fort Stanton's long history is due in part to having been built of stone rather than adobe. It seems the adobe making was not going well and there was ample stone in the area so the fort was constructed of stone.
Fort Stanton was originally built to protect settlers from marauding outlaws and Apaches on the frontier but it soon became evident it was needed just as much to put down conflicts between Anglo settlers competing for government contracts.
Billy the Kid was the best known of the characters in Fort Stanton's history but other notables whose lives involved the fort were Lew Wallace, Kit Carson, Black Jack Pershing, George Patton and the famed Buffalo Soldiers.
By the mid-1890s, when the fort no longer was needed to protect settlers, it became a tuberculosis hospital for Merchant Marines throughout the world. From 1940 to 1945, it also served as an internment camp for the crew of a German luxury liner captured by the British in the Caribbean.
Lynda Sánchez takes you through a history of the area beginning with the Clovis culture through the Jornada Mollogon to the Mescalero Apaches. Next comes a recounting of the military beginnings of the fort. And then the Public Health Service years from 1899 to 1953, which were a part of the opening of the desert Southwest to the healing powers of dry air, which conquered the "White Plague."
Following the unexpected and sudden pull out of the PHS in 1953, Fort Stanton went through many uses. Briefly it was operated by the U.S. Indian Health Service. Then it was a hospital for the mentally handicapped. In 1995, newly elected Gov. Gary Johnson closed the hospital as part of his downsizing of state government. For a while it became a women's prison and then a rehabilitation center for drug and alcohol abuse.
During the period the fort was operated by the state, it slowly fell into disrepair as there never was enough money for maintenance.
Soon after Gov. Bill Richardson took office in 2003, he appointed a Fort Stanton Development Commission to suggest alternatives for the use of Fort Stanton. The commission, composed largely of residents from the area, proposed a plan involving a 600-unit subdivision. The plan didn't sit well with Sánchez and many others.
A battle ensued that halted any further thoughts of development and resulted three years later in the establishment of New Mexico's newest state monument. Credit for the new status of Fort Stanton goes largely to Sanchez, who has been dubbed Fort Stanton's Angel. Her passion for preserving our unique NM heritage has become evident to many who have come to know this determined historian.
Sanchez has produced a publication telling not only the history of the fort but including offerings by noted Lincoln County historians, such as Fred Nolan and Bob Utley, extolling the merits of the work Sanchez has done to preserve the magnificent facility in a manner far exceeding any rivals.
Utley, a retired top National Park Service official even proposes turning the entire area into a national historic park. He contends the fort and surrounding area qualifies for such a status.
The book is a great read. Sanchez covers the fascinating story of the captured German ship crew and other German prisoners who joined them later in the war and built imposing facilities that still are standing.
She also tells of the fabulous underground caverns beneath Fort Stanton and how they worked into the history of the area.


Johnson For President?

MON, 3-08-10

SANTA FE - Former Gov. Gary Johnson has been a busy guy. His website "Johnson for America" lists speeches and interviews for almost every day since the beginning of January. And the action will continue - for a number of reasons.
In a time of economic hardship for the country, Johnson's message of ridding prisons of their huge population of non-violent drug offenders seems worth considering to many who previously couldn't abide the idea. It not only would cut ongoing expenses, it would save the cost of building ever more prisons to house such inmates.
Then there is the notoriously expensive war on drugs, which we seem to be losing no matter what we try. Gradually Johnson's message is gaining some traction among those who wonder if there might be a better way.
Johnson's message is not totally on drugs. Limited government is becoming a more and more popular topic these days. Our former governor may forever hold the record of most vetoes by any governor - ever. During his eight-year term, Johnson vetoed an average of almost 100 bills a year. It was more than all other 49 governors combined.
Why wouldn't there be a tremendous interest in his ideas?
Johnson is being mentioned as a possible presidential candidate by Republicans, Libertarians and Tea Partiers. And he isn't discouraging any of it. Currently his effort is wrapped up in a non-profit organization, which prevents him from acting like a candidate. But this is now. The next presidential election isn't until 2012.
In reality, however, Johnson's presidential ambitions don't look good for any party. Republicans won't get close to anyone as libertarian as Johnson. They rejected Ron Paul in 2008 despite the huge sums he raised and spent trying to get on the GOP ballot. Johnson is considered more moderate than Paul but his position on drugs, alone, sinks him as a Republican candidate.
Johnson often is mentioned as the successor for Paul as the chief spokesman for the libertarian philosophy. He was actively courted by the Libertarian Party in 2000 to be its presidential candidate. But although Johnson walks the walk as well as anyone, some libertarians think he doesn't talk the talk as well as a spokesman should.
And then there's the Tea Partiers. Johnson has been mentioned as someone who would very much like to lead the movement. He and the Tea Partiers definitely share the trait of independence. But Johnson isn't angry enough.
He says he's angry. But he isn't as angry as the Tea Partiers. They are just plain anti-government. Johnson sees a need for government but in a very limited fashion.
The Tea Party isn't a well-defined movement yet. It may not even last. But the passion it has aroused suggests that it will. Its goals, although vague, are aligned primarily with the Republican Party, although it professes not to like the GOP much more than the Democrats.
Its similarities with libertarians seem the most disparate. About the only personal right Tea Partiers seem passionate about is the right to bear arms. It is becoming popular to take guns to rallies - big guns, to make big statements. The personal right to do drugs as long as no one else is harmed is out of the question for Tea Partiers.
Gary Johnson is a strong second amendment supporter. Concealed carry passed while he was governor. But Johnson doesn't seem the type to flaunt a gun at a rally. Johnson's big thing is running, biking, swimming, skiing and mountain climbing. Those aren't sports where guns are carried. He'll support 'em but he's not going to be comfortable flaunting them.
Then there's the Tea Partiers' focus on hating President Barack Hussein Obama. That's not Gary Johnson either. Johnson never ran a single negative ad in either of his gubernatorial campaigns. His race against Martin Chavez was hailed as the most pleasant political contest in New Mexico - ever.
Sarah Palin is probably the partiers' best candidate.


3-5 Dem Split

FRI, 3-05-10

NAPILI BAY, MAUI - Rep. Benjamin Rodefer, D-Albuquerque, wants to see a joint House-Senate caucus called to work out a budget for next year. The freshman representative says current discussions aren't even close to representing the will or intent of either Democratic caucus.
He's right. A similar situation occurred back in the 1970s and '80s when a liberal Democratic group called the Mama Lucys ran the House. One of its leaders was former Rep. David Salman, D-Mora, who recently passed away.
Although the Mama Lucys held a narrow majority in their caucus, a coalition of Republicans and conservative Democrats controlled most of the votes. And eventually, the coalition just decided to take over leadership of the House.
Later, the same thing happened in the Senate. And at that point, minority Republicans controlled both chambers of the Legislature in the early '80s. Primary election battles and party switches sorted out the confusion by the late '80s.
We're seeing a similar situation now at both the state and national level. At the state level, it seems very peculiar to see a Democratic-controlled Legislature supporting increases in the gross receipts tax, which proportionally hits the poor as a greater percentage of their income.
And at the same time, a Democratic-controlled Legislature is putting the stops on making our state income tax a graduated tax again. That is not what one expects to see from Democrats. And it could be very embarrassing for some in the upcoming primary elections.
Similar rumblings are occurring at the national level and it is hard to tell who will be the winner. But it brings back memories of 1994 when Bill and Hillary Clinton were having one heck of a time selling a health care plan. No one had the slightest inkling the result would be a Democratic loss of both houses of Congress. That hadn't happened in decades.
I certainly couldn't imagine such a thing. It was March 1994. I was sitting here on Napili Beach, about 10 steps from our lanai. I was shut off from the world, with no television and no telephone.
Just then a young woman appeared at my side with a message saying a member of Congress wanted to speak with me. The only way anyone at this hideaway could be contacted was to call and leave a message at the office. That message would then be tacked to my door.
But Rep. Schiff had told the receptionist to find me and deliver the message personally. What could be so important? I hurried to the nearest pay phone at a little convenience store nearby.
The congressman was waiting for my call. He said he wanted me to be one of the first news people in New Mexico to know Republicans would take over both houses of Congress in the November election.
He said a back bencher in the House had a plan. He said Newt Gingrich was a political science professor who had written a Contract With America that would guarantee voters the changes in government they always had wanted to see.
Among those changes were ethics laws, term limits and all manner of other limits on government. Challengers for Democratic incumbents had already been recruited. Senatorial candidates were pledged to serve only two terms. Candidates for the House were pledged to no more than three terms.
It sounded good. But would it work? "Just wait and see," said Schiff.
He was right. The "guarantees" were just what the American public wanted to hear. Republicans swept both houses of Congress. But then scandals on both sides of the aisle, including Speaker Gingrich himself, brought voters back to their senses. There is no magic formula or contract to guarantee good government.
We just have to try the best we can each election to choose honorable people no matter which party.
The term limit bill went nowhere in Congress. Only a handful of those who personally made the term limit pledge fulfilled their contract.


Monday, March 01, 2010

Hawauu ready For Tsunami

WED, 3-03-10

SANTA FE - Ever since I was a kid, I have wanted to experience an earthquake, a tornado and a hurricane. My mother always was embarrassed when I would mention it in polite company. My wife just ignores me There are other things that bother her more.
I attribute it to a lifelong desire to be Anderson Cooper. I got my opportunity to be in a hurricane. It was about 20 years ago on Sanibel Island, off the West Coast of Florida. Fortunately Jeanette was not there. Most participants had escaped early leaving only me and about a dozen others who knew how exciting a hurricane party can be.
I was not disappointed. It only was a Category 1 hurricane so no one got hurt. A friend who is even crazier than I drove us around the island watching palm fronds rub against power lines until transformer boxes got overcharged and exploded in beautiful greens and yellows.
Back then I didn't know about tsunami's or I would have had one of those on my list. But they just seemed too distant to ever fantasize about. Oh, I'd heard of a tsunami. One year, at our favorite island retreat on Maui, the resort manager announced we had a fellow guest who was an entertainer - all the way from Carlsbad, New Mexico.
That was impressive but it seemed unusual that the singer/guitarist wanted to perform at the end of the property farthest from the beach. I asked him about it and he said he was deathly afraid of tsunamis. He said he could visualize one coming at him between Molokai and Lanai, which at that time were framing a beautiful sunset.
I told him when I saw the wave hitting Molokai and Lanai, I could head up Pineapple Hill, which begins just across the street and outrun it. He said he was moving to the Ritz Carleton up the street.
The Mauian, where we stay was grandfathered in when the ordinance was passed requiring a 50-foot setback for hotels. We stay in the unit right next to the beach - a sidewalk's width away.
And so, early on the first morning of our stay in paradise, a knock on our door at 5 a.m. brought the news of an earthquake in Chile and an approaching tsunami. I said I'd never seen a tsunami so please wake me when it comes.
"No, suh," came the reply. "Mandatory evacuation, immediately. Take all your belongings. "We were given maps to the highest of the PGA golf courses at Kapalua. The route took us by the entry to the Ritz Carleton.
I figured if the Ritz was high enough for the guy from Carlsbad, who obviously had studied the situation, it would keep the tsunami from wetting my toes. We wheeled into valet parking. I flipped the attendant a nice tip and asked him to park it on high ground.
After a bit of searching, we found the ideal tsunami-watching location. It was called The Terrace Bar, overlooking the beach and with a large flat-screened TV in just the right spot.
Only one problem - the bar didn't open for several hours. I asked to see the manager and explained how he could take advantage of the situation by having a tsunami party and charging exorbitant prices. He agreed with all but one point. The drinks were free.
And that is when I began to appreciate Hawaii's handling of a tsunami. Subsequent conversations with locals, long-term vacationers and tourists like us brought some insights.
Many locals heard the news of the Chilean earthquake before 1 a.m. and began notifying their families. They were stocked up with food, water and gasoline by 5 a.m. when tourists were notified.
The tsunami sirens started at 6 a.m. Evacuations preceded in an orderly manner. A couple from Connecticut, renting a townhouse for three months, invited us to spend the night.
Fortunately nothing happened. But if it had, Hawaii would have been ready.