© 2023 NEW MEXICO NEWS SERVICES 2/27/23
Jimmy Carter’s first visit to New Mexico
By Diane Denish
Corner to Corner
In 1974 I was a young mother working at the Democratic Party of New Mexico as its Executive Director. Bruce King was governor.
One day in the early fall, a young man named Tim Kraft came through the door. He was high energy. We made small talk and then he said, “I think you should buy a $10 ticket to a luncheon with the governor of Georgia.”
I said, “Why would I do that?”
He replied with enthusiasm, “His name is Jimmy Carter, and he’s going to run for president.” That was Jimmy Carter’s first visit to New Mexico. He and Gov. King had met as first-time governors at the Democratic Governors Association and became friends.
Jimmy Carter began thinking about running for president soon after he was sworn in as governor of Georgia in 1971. According to his biographer Kai Bird, who wrote “The Outlier: The Unfinished Presidency of Jimmy Carter,” Carter began trying to position himself for vice-presidential consideration for the 1972 Democratic ticket. Luckily, that didn’t happen. 1972 was a disaster for Democrats in the Nixon vs. McGovern race. McGovern only prevailed in the District of Columbia and Massachusetts.
Carter began to look toward 1976. In conversations with small groups and close associates he tested the waters. He was surrounded by a smart, intuitive staff, including a young man named Hamilton Jordan who believed Carter could win even in a crowded field.
Most political pundits and newspapers gave Carter little attention. In an early poll in the crowded field, candidates, including former Sen. Fred Harris, Jimmy Carter tied for 12th. The field also included U.S. Sen. Morris Udall, D-AZ, Henry “Scoop” Jackson, D-WA, Gov. Jerry Brown of California, and Gov. George Wallace of Alabama.
Even Carter’s friend Gov. King didn’t give him much of a chance. In his book, “Cowboy in the Roundhouse,” he describes a conversation with Carter, who asked him what he would run for next. King said he would likely just go back to his ranch. Carter on the other hand announced he would start by running for president.
King suggested he try for vice president. Then King threw his support to Henry “Scoop” Jackson of Washington state who was the darling of Democratic conservatives. King thought Jackson was a “lead pipe cinch” as Jackson’s wife was a native New Mexican, and he had the backing of retired Sen. Clinton P. Anderson.
Alice King, on the other hand, agreed to raise the $5,000 to help Carter qualify in New Mexico. It was that decision that gave Carter joking rights for years – always reminding Bruce that Alice was smarter than he was.
In hindsight, what really catapulted Carter, a virtually unknown peanut farmer from Georgia to the Presidency? Likely lots of factors: an early decision, hard work, extensive travel, a nation exhausted after Vietnam and Watergate, and a smart, dedicated staff. His team is credited with understanding the 1976 revised caucus primary system better than other candidates. Their strategy of getting delegates in almost every state paid off. Carter won the convention overwhelmingly.
Former Sen. Harris, now a New Mexico resident for 40 years, had a simpler view: “I always thought that when he made his first inaugural speech as governor of Georgia and declared “The time for racial discrimination is over,” that showed the world what kind of courageous and principled man he was and eventually got him nominated and elected president.”
That description, “courageous and principled,” has proven to be true throughout Carter’s life. Looking back, I’m grateful I bought a $10 ticket to see the future president.
© 2023 NEW MEXICO NEWS SERVICES 1/30/23
Baby steps to gun safety
By Diane Denish
Corner to Corner
In 2013, about this time, I attended a fundraiser for U.S. Sen. Tom Udall. It was called “Three Perspectives: Past, Present, Future.” Recently retired U.S. Sen. Jeff Bingaman, newly elected Sen. Martin Heinrich, and Udall were all there. The event was less than a month after the Sandy Hook Elementary School shooting, when many Americans were still in shock about the horror of 20 first graders and 6 teachers being massacred in their classrooms.
It was a relaxed atmosphere with an equally relaxed question-and-answer format. Many questions were focused on economic issues as Obama embarked on his second term. Perplexed that no one had asked about guns, I raised my hand. Udall recognized me for the final question.
I asked Heinrich and Udall if they would support President Obama’s recently announced gun safety regulations. These included expanded background checks for all gun sales, bans on high-capacity magazines, and reinstating the assault-weapons ban. Heinrich didn’t respond and punted to Bingaman. Udall talked of improving mental health services.
Even though I was aware of the highly charged politics around any gun measures in Washington and the pressure from the National Rifle Association, I thought that the Sandy Hook massacre would generate bi-partisan support for new measures. I was wrong.
Later in the spring, both senators voted for a watered-down version of Obama’s agenda but even the weakened version failed to pass.
Fast forward or maybe just slow walk to 2023 and progress.
Nationally, President Biden and Congress made a baby step for gun safety with the passage of the Safe Communities Act. It closes the boyfriend loophole, expands background checks for ages 18 to 21, including accessing juvenile records, and establishes new criminal penalties for strawman purchase of firearms.
The president has vowed to continue to work across the aisle to pass additional gun safety laws including reinstating the assault-weapons ban. During the 10 years of the previous ban there was a decrease in mass shootings.
In 2020 New Mexico joined 19 other states and passed an Extreme Risk Protection Order (Red Flag Law), which allows temporary confiscation of firearms from those who might be a threat to themselves or others. This year, with sensible gun bills, New Mexico lawmakers want to address increased gun safety.
House Bill 9, sponsored by Rep. Pamelya Herndon, D-Albuquerque, requires gun owners to properly secure firearms to make them inaccessible to minors. It carries criminal penalties. According to survey of 145 school shootings by the Center for American Progress, 80% were committed with guns taken from students’ homes. Forty-five percent of suicides among children 17 and younger are committed with a firearm in the home.
HB 100 would require a 14-day waiting period for purchasing firearms. Data show that a waiting period prevents impulsive or angry purchases and are effective in preventing adult suicides.
SB 116 would raise the age from 18 to 21 to purchase automatic or assault weapons. Some advocates would like the age limit to be higher, but this is a step forward.
Sandy Hook didn’t inspire meaningful legislative action. It took gun violence in Uvalde, Buffalo, Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School, theaters, and churches to get the first meaningful gun safety bill in 30 years.
And yet, we still live with these unbelievable statistics: 124 people every day killed by gun violence, 2 million guns purchased every month, 43 mass shootings in 2023 so far, 472 firearm deaths in New Mexico in 2022. More than half (52%) of suicides in the state are carried out with firearms.
It’s a slow walk to real gun safety. Ask our legislators to take the next step.
© 2023 NEW MEXICO NEWS SERVICES 1/16/23
NM should join other states in paying legislators
By Diane Denish
Corner to Corner
In November, my daughter was elected to the Oklahoma House of Representatives. I was there to celebrate with her. The next morning, we wondered what the next steps would be. After all, the campaign was over, her opponent had conceded, and her new adventure was just ahead.
We didn’t wonder for long. The first call was from the Oklahoma House personnel office. The purpose was to get necessary information for the payroll system. Oklahoma pays their legislators. They also receive per diem during the session and are required to make a minimum 4% contribution to a state retirement plan. (The first salary was established when the constitution was written in 1907.)
This spurred my thinking about New Mexico, the only state in the country that does not pay a legislative salary. States bordering New Mexico pay salaries ranging from $7,200 a year to $40,000 plus per diem.
To be clear, New Mexico legislators get per diem and mileage for the session and for interim committee meetings they attend.
This year, New Mexico may take the first steps to establishing a legislative salary. Recent reports indicate Rep. Joy Garrett, D-Bernalillo, Rep. Angelica Rubio, D-Doña Ana, and others will make proposals addressing this issue. Currently, Article IV, Section 10, of the state constitution outlines legislative pay in the form of per diem and mileage. It also states in subsection C, “No other compensation, perquisite or allowance.” So these proposals, called Joint Resolutions, will change this provision if approved by voters.
No doubt, there will be a robust debate about legislative pay and how to determine it. Some current proposals include:
· Establishment of an independent compensation committee jointly appointed by members of the executive and legislative branch. This committee would be charged with using census data for household income to establish a salary. Their decision would be binding.
· Charge the already established Ethics Commission with determining salaries using some of the same guidelines.
· Require the compensation body to meet every two or four years to review compensation with the ability to raise or lower the compensation level by no more than 10%.
Other ideas that may be considered but have yet to surface in the proposals are requiring compensation committee members to have specific experience or expertise to design and review compensation plans and requiring legislators to make a minimum contribution to the Public Employees Retirement Account in addition to receiving a salary.
As with all legislation, there will be questions raised and innovative ideas proposed during the committee process and the floor debate. Because these bills are likely to be filed early there will be ample time to make it to a final vote. If a joint resolution passes, the next big step will be to convince voters that legislators deserve to be paid. This will be the task for legislators.
Most studies show that voters give legislatures as a whole a low approval rating but in contrast give their hometown legislators much higher marks. Each legislator will need to take this proposal and their personal stories to their home districts. No doubt they will face tough questions.
New Mexico and Oklahoma are worlds apart when it comes to politics.
Oklahoma is a solid red state while New Mexico is one of the bluest. But on the issue of legislative salaries Oklahoma has it right. Fifty-five years ago, they established an independent compensation board. Over the years Oklahoma voters have both approved and rejected increases in pay.
Oklahoma’s success can be a model for New Mexico. Give voters a well-crafted plan and let them decide.
© 2023 NEW MEXICO NEWS SERVICES 1/2/23
Early childhood services can transform parenting if we think big
By Diane Denish
Corner to Corner
As an advocate for early childhood services, this is the first time I recall an ongoing and, more importantly, recurring conversation about investment in early childhood. In mid-December, a headline in the Albuquerque Journal shouted: “New Mexico may spend record money on early childhood programs!”
I hope so.
I wrote earlier about the progress made for New Mexico’s children and families by investing in the first five years. Passage of the four-year-old Pre-K Act in 2005 established the mixed-delivery model of community and school-based programs and kicked off two decades of work to give kids the strong start they deserve. New Mexico’s approach was then and should be now a comprehensive one. Improve parenting skills through home visiting, provide quality early childcare, and access to three- and four-year-old Pre-K.
The Early Childhood Education and Care Department (created in 2019) and the Early Childhood Trust Fund (established in 2020) are keys to continuing to build a system that serves a broad spectrum of New Mexico’s families regardless of location, circumstances, or income status.
Contrary to what some believe, home visiting and parenting resources are not just needed for those who live in poverty or who may have behavioral health needs.
This belief was reinforced for me during my first term as lieutenant governor when I had the opportunity to testify at a Legislative Finance Committee meeting. The discussion centered on home visiting services. One member of the committee suggested that such services should be limited to families in poverty.
Next, Rep. Jeanette Wallace, a Republican Representative from Los Alamos, told her story. (Rep. Wallace died in 2011,) Speaking softly, she told of her mother’s inability to parent – physically punishing her after teacher conferences even when her performance was good. She concluded by saying, “It didn’t matter that my family was economically stable and secure. I can’t remember a single happy day in my childhood.” Her testimony created a hush in the room. For me, it was an endorsement of why services should be provided to all families who want them regardless of circumstances.
The question now is how we continue to provide the continuum of services for all New Mexico families.
As funds become more available through the Early Education Trust Fund and the Permanent Fund resolution recently approved by New Mexico voters and Congress, let’s avoid two things: talk of using it for “other purposes” and false choices of either this or that. Let’s discuss how to fund it all! Here are some of the best ideas being circulated to use the money:
· Build the workforce. Fund the quality early childhood education and training programs in community colleges and universities. Santa Fe Community College, Central New Mexico Community College, Doña Ana Community College, New Mexico Highlands, and Western New Mexico University are a few good examples.
· Make more scholarships available for educators to enhance their practice and obtain higher degrees.
· Reduce administrative barriers for childcare assistance for parents and Pre-K providers.
· Right size salaries between private and public providers. Provide necessary support for the Pre-K parity program launched in 2021 to better align these salaries.
· If needed, increase one-time funding to rural providers who may have to do more with fewer resources or be the only provider in their community.
· Fund expanded days and hours of Pre-K to better support families and providers.
· Fund first-born and other home visiting programs for those who ask in addition to those who are referred by professionals.
These are just a few of the ways we can use the windfall of money we are about to experience. Let’s dream big, for every child and every family.
© 2022 NEW MEXICO NEWS SERVICES 12/19/22
On national stage, tortoise gets more done
By Diane Denish
Corner to Corner
In my home office hangs a quote: “The turtle only progresses with his neck out.” It was given to me by my uncle, a businessman, when I first ran for office in 1994. It’s true in business and in politics.
There is also a fable about turtles: The Tortoise and The Hare. The plodding turtle vs. the hasty hare.
These days, when I think of these turtle wisdoms, I am reminded of President Biden.
There have been no shortage of comments or jokes, many from his predecessor, about Biden and his abilities. Remember when the former name-calling president dubbed him “Sleepy Joe”? Biden’s opponents still drum up conspiracy theories about his cognitive abilities or gaffs.
Meanwhile, in turtle fashion, Biden has plodded along, step by step, ignoring the ridicule. He has shown a mastery of the long game. Here is how that has paid off:
Early in 2021, he negotiated the bipartisan $1.2 trillion infrastructure act. For New Mexico, this means $2.5 billion to repair roads, bridges and highways. And in a state where almost 11% of residents have no high-speed internet, it gives us $100 million more to invest in broadband and connectivity. When fully implemented this will be a game changer for at-home workers, rural communities and the elderly.
Biden successfully negotiated the passage of the American Rescue plan. This included monetary relief for families and businesses, extension of unemployment benefits, and an increase in the child tax credit from $2,000 to $3,000 ($3,600 for children under 6) during the pandemic. In New Mexico and across the country the last accomplishment has cut child poverty almost in half.
The passage of the CHIPS Act in 2021 and its funding in 2022 will directly impact New Mexico as the president seeks to recharge the semiconductor manufacturing industry. Intel alone stands to benefit from this legislation by receiving $100 million.
When it comes to the health of Americans, his accomplishments have perhaps received less media attention but have substantial impact. Biden took on big pharma and won, capping prescription drug prices for seniors. He negotiated a $35 co-pay for insulin for those on Medicare. And he signed the executive order to implement a 2017 law that authorized FDA approval for over-the-counter hearing aids, saving some hearing-impaired folks $2,000 to $3,000.
Months ago, he rallied 30 NATO countries to push back against the Russian invasion of Ukraine. That alliance is still strong. Notably, he did it without a lot of chest bumping and confetti. He did it by meeting with countries one on one.In June, the first gun safety legislation in 28 years was passed. This legislation enhances background checks for ages 18 to 21, incentivizes states to pass red flag laws, and closes the “boyfriend loophole.” While most Americans and New Mexicans support even stronger laws, this is a good first step.
Plodding along, he created 9.5 million jobs and reduced unemployment to 3.2%. And he is the first incumbent president to not lose any Senate seats of his own party in a midterm since 1934, thanks to his message reminding us that democracy was on the line.
Just this month, he brought Brittney Griner home, passed and signed the Respect for Marriage Act, and started tackling “junk fees” charged by banks, concerts, and airlines. All this and still time to attend the lighting of the national Christmas tree!
‘Tis the season to be grateful. Let’s be grateful for a president who is plodding along, sticking his neck out and taking care of business. Thank you, Mr. President. Merry Christmas to all.
© 2022 NEW MEXICO NEWS SERVICES 12/5/22
Changing of the guard: New generation of leaders
By Diane Denish
Corner to Corner
On Nov. 17, House Speaker Nancy Pelosi announced she would not run for a leadership position in the Democratic Caucus for the new session of Congress. Given the recent attack on her husband Paul by a right-wing extremist and the razor thin victory giving Republicans a majority in the House, it wasn’t totally unexpected.
Pelosi, in her gracious and eloquent style, recounted her path from homemaker to House Speaker, her proud accomplishments with Democrat and Republican presidents. She reminded her colleagues of their shared values. She emphasized the fragility of the republic, making a brief but veiled reference to Jan. 6. And she underscored the voters’ rejection of violence and insurrection in the recent mid-terms and in her words “in doing so, gave proof that our flag was still there.” Still there indeed.
Then after thanking those who made her success possible, from family to staff and colleagues, she passed the torch, saying that “the hour has come for a new generation of leadership.”
We now know that the new leadership for Democrats in the U.S. House is young, diverse and experienced. Hakeem Jeffries, D-NY, is the first Black congressperson of either party to hold the top leadership position. Three of them including Jeffries, Katherine Clark, D-Mass., and Pete Aguilar, D-CA, have an average age of 52 – 30 years below the average age of their predecessors. They have just the right amount of experience in the House—eight to ten years. And Rep. Jim Clyburn, D-SC, rounds out the team with 30 years of experience.
This is leadership that represents the changing demographics of the country.
We don’t yet know who will be in the Republican leadership so we will wait and see.
Meanwhile in Florida, Maxwell Frost, the first-Generation Z (ages 18 to 29) congressperson was elected. Frost, who turned 25 in January, won with 60% of the vote in a four-way race. In a recent interview, he was thoughtful, articulate, and at the same time enthusiastic. What caught my attention was his understanding that many of the Generation Z issues are cross generational – healthcare, education, climate change impacts, and gun safety.
At home in New Mexico, transitional leadership is also occurring. Rep. Javier Martinez, D-Albuquerque, will follow House Speaker Brian Egolf, of Santa Fe, who chose not to run for re-election. Martinez’s team will be Rep. Gail Chasey, D-Albuquerque, Reena Szczepanski, D-Santa Fe, and Raymundo Lara, D-Doña Ana, seasoned members combined with a newly elected woman of East Indian descent.
Perhaps the more interesting changes are on the other side of the aisle. Ryan Lane, R-Aztec, will be minority leader. Lane, who was just re-elected to his second term, replaces Rep. Jim Townsend, R-Artesia. It’s a welcome change, as Townsend had become an obstructionist and was viewed as having little desire to work across the aisle. Lane, however, talked about ways to work together on issues such as tax reform, crime, and education. He set a different tone than Townsend and his sidekick Rod Montoya, R-Farmington, who was defeated as Republican whip by Rep. Jason Harper of Rio Rancho. Rep. Gail Armstrong, R-Magdalena, the new Republican caucus chair, is respected by both sides for her open, calm, and cooperative style.
Whether it’s Speaker Pelosi passing the baton to a new generation, Floridians electing the first Gen Z congressman, or New Mexico House Republicans taking a fresh approach with younger, more open leaders, there is no question there is a changing of the guard. Let’s cross our fingers and wish them well as they confront the challenges of the present and make decisions that will impact generations to come.