© 2023 NEW MEXICO NEWS SERVICES 4/24/23
By Diane Denish
Corner to Corner
This month, there have been recollections of two historic events in the U. S. – events that changed how we think about anti-government extremists and responses by law enforcement.
First was the 1993 standoff at the Branch Davidian compound in Texas. The FBI attempted to arrest the Davidian leader, David Koresh, for stockpiling illegal weapons. The initial encounter resulted in 10 deaths, including four federal agents. This began a 51-day standoff that ended when the FBI raided the compound on April 19, 1993. Koresh and 75 Davidians were dead, including 28 children.
Two years later, on April 19, 1995, Timothy McVeigh parked a Ryder truck in front of the Murrah Federal Building in Oklahoma City. At 9:02 a.m. the bombs inside the truck went off, killing 168 people. Of the victims, 108 worked in federal agencies, 19 were infants and toddlers in the childcare center, and the others were customers in the Social Security and other agencies. McVeigh later admitted he targeted the building and the date to avenge the law enforcement response at Waco and Ruby Ridge.
Ruby Ridge, Idaho, may have been the beginning of a new era of anti-government violence in the U. S. In 1992 the FBI attempted to arrest Randy Weaver for stockpiling and selling illegal weapons. The early effort went awry, three people died, and a standoff ensued. After 11 days, the leader Randy Weaver and his family members surrendered.
Having visited the Oklahoma City National Memorial Museum in March, I paid close attention to the Oklahoma City commemorative events in that state. The museum exceeded my expectations. The outdoor display of empty chairs in a small field of trees, one chair for each victim, is bordered by a shallow body of water along what was the street where the Ryder truck was parked. Even in the center of downtown, there is something serene and powerful about the display.
The inside museum is a walk-through of McVeigh’s story, the response to the bombing, the investigation, and arrests. And it is the story of the victims, one by one. Most have a small personal item – a stuffed animal, a golf club, a badge. Emotional and transfixing.
The tour was a review of things I heard in 1995, but some surprises emerged. First, Timothy McVeigh, a military veteran, was radicalized by Waco and Ruby Ridge, but over the years, he was more influenced by The Turner Diaries, a novel written in 1978. The main character wages a race war and takes part in the overthrow of the U. S. government. The pages of the book were in McVeigh’s possession when he was arrested. Clearly, the book and the events of 1992 and 1993 stoked McVeigh’s anger.
Second, McVeigh’s arrest was a coincidence. About an hour after the bomb exploded a state trooper stopped him in the getaway car for not having a license plate. The trooper had no idea what caused the explosion at the Murrah Building. As McVeigh exited the car, the trooper spotted a weapon under his coat. In 1995 having a concealed weapon was a felony in Oklahoma; the trooper arrested him on a charge of illegal possession of firearm. A few hours later forensic evidence tied McVeigh to the bombing.
These details made me recognize the differences since 1995. Today, most states couldn’t arrest someone with a concealed weapon. And although the Turner Diaries is still popular, proliferation of right-wing, anti-government, social-media and misinformation radicalizes extremists much faster. The result is still the same: stoked, pent-up anger, just waiting for a target. January 6th was one, but I still wondered: What is the next target?
© 2023 NEW MEXICO NEWS SERVICES 4/10/23
Children, families see more wins than losses from session
By Diane Denish
Corner to Corner
In every legislative session there are wins and losses. Legislators work hard for months to craft bills that may get stalled in the House or Senate or don’t survive the governor’s veto pen.
Reviewing this year’s legislative session, I was curious about some of the wins and losses for kids in New Mexico. And, just a reminder, a win for kids is usually a win for families as a whole and the same for losses.
Let’s start with the disappointing news. Vulnerable and abused children lost when HB 11, the Children Youth and Families Department Child Advocate Bill, died on the Senate floor. They took another blow when the governor vetoed SB 426, the Attorney General Office of Civil Rights. Both bills were designed to improve and monitor CYFD, investigate complaints, and essentially provide one more tool in the toolbox to help protect children.
Families and childcare providers lost when the governor, in her review of the comprehensive tax package, vetoed the gross receipts tax exemption on childcare services. This exemption was part of broader tax reform and was designed to help the growing childcare provider network.
But from my vantage point, there are more wins than losses. Here are some of the highlights: The tax bill included an expanded child tax credit of up to $600 per child depending on income levels. Child tax credits are a proven method of reducing child poverty and helping families succeed. Unlike some tax credits, this escaped the governor’s veto pen.
The Healthy Universal Free Meals Act, SB 4, was sponsored by Sens. Michael Padilla, D-Albuquerque, and Leo Jaramillo, D-Española, and signed by the governor. This bill makes meals free for New Mexico public school children. It is one of the Legislature’s best investments this year because data show that hunger and food insecurity are major obstacles to kids’ ability to learn and perform.
The next big win for kids and families is icing on the cake for everyone.The Legislative Finance Committee, chaired by Rep. Nathan Small, D-Las Cruces, escalated the distribution from the Early Childhood Trust Fund, which was established in 2020. The distribution will increase from $40 million to $156 million with $100 million of it going to expansion of three- and four-year-old pre-k.
Why is this important? Because we now understand that full-day, full-year pre-k provides the most benefits for kids, parents, and taxpayers. For parents, full-day programs eliminate the before and after childcare hassle that families struggle with and provide safe, quality care. For childcare workers and professionals, it builds the ladder of wage increases necessary for a well-trained workforce.
For taxpayers it’s the best investment in the future workforce. Science tells us the first five years are when 85% of the brain is wired. It’s when kids learn executive and emotional skills, problem solving and the basics of math and reading. All of this leads to a smart, productive workforce of the future.
Most importantly, expanded early learning gives kids the jump start they deserve in education. It opens the door to the world of learning for them and their parents. It launches them on their educational journey with the skill sets they need to work hard, stay in school, and stay out of trouble. Now the governor and the Early Childhood and Public Education departments have the money necessary to deliver results. They must build community partnerships, grow the workforce, provide quantity, demand quality, build bridges, and eliminate bureaucratic roadblocks.
As Kate Noble, the CEO of Growing Up New Mexico, said, “It’s the opportunity of a lifetime.” I call that a win for New Mexico.
© 2023 NEW MEXICO NEWS SERVICES 3/27/23
After the presidency Jimmy Carter continued leaving his mark
By Diane Denish
Corner to Corner
Most people believe that a president’s legacy is established during their tenure as president. For some that is true, but for President Jimmy Carter much of his legacy was established during the years of his post-presidency.
His long reach includes New Mexico.
Carter won the 1976 presidential race with 297 electoral votes over then-President Gerald Ford’s 240 votes. Ford had assumed the role of president when Richard Nixon was forced to resign after the Watergate scandal. Ford’s pardon of Nixon was controversial and widely believed to have kept him from being re-elected.
Jimmy Carter won 10 of the 11 Confederate states. It was the last time a Democratic presidential candidate won the state of Texas. New Mexico voted for President Ford as did every other state west of the Mississippi except Texas.
Carter’s presidential years were highly criticized, but most historians agree that he brought the issue of human rights into the national conversation. I remember vividly his 1977 address on the energy crisis, when he asked average Americans to conserve and sacrifice. And as a young mother I listened when he said, “We must decide the kind of world we want to leave our children and grandchildren.” He was ahead of his time on human rights, national healthcare and energy policy.
His foreign policy successes included his direct involvement in negotiating the Camp David accords between Israel and Egypt and the Panama Canal Treaty in 1977.
Carter made a trip to New Mexico in 1979 at the invitation of Gov. Bruce King (elected again in 1978) and Alice King. They hosted an early morning coffee at the Sheraton Hotel in Albuquerque. No donation was required, just a chance for those who had supported Carter in 1976 and a lifetime opportunity to be in the presence of a sitting president. He was warm and genuine.
Carter lost in a landslide in 1980. High inflation and the inability to get 50 American hostages in Iran released were major factors. At the end of his term, he returned to his home state of Georgia. But in a sense his mark on the world, the country and even New Mexico was just beginning.
In 1982 he founded the Carter Center, and through the center for 40 years Carter has continued his focus on human rights, eradicating disease, and promoting democracy worldwide.
Carter’s long-time goal of eradicating Guinea worm disease is becoming a reality. The debilitating disease affected millions of people worldwide in the 1980s. In 2022 there were only 13 cases remaining worldwide.
Carter tells the story of traveling in Nigeria in 2017 when a class of school-age children held up a sign reading, “Watch out, Guinea worm! Here comes Jimmy Carter.” He noted that was as good as getting the Nobel Peace Prize. Through Habitat for Humanity he inspired millions of volunteers everywhere to help build houses for low income families. Carter personally participated in building one or two homes a year.
In 2020, using its experience in 39 countries and 110 elections to protect democratic elections, The Carter Center launched an effort to rebuild trust in U.S. elections. In 2022, New Mexico First, a nonprofit was selected as one of 50 nonpartisan organizations to be part of Candidate Principles for Trusted Elections. Through this effort, candidates at every level, former and current elected officials, and regular citizens were invited to endorse these five candidate principles: integrity, non-violence, security, oversight, and the peaceful transfer of power.
In short order, New Mexico First secured public endorsements from Democrats, Republicans and Independents.
So even as President Carter was considering his own future, he was still leaving his mark on the world – including New Mexico. Thank you, Mr. President.
© 2023 NEW MEXICO NEWS SERVICES 3/20/23
Back to the drawing board with paid family medical leave
By Diane Denish
Corner to Corner
Congresswoman Patricia Schroeder, a trailblazer for women, passed away recently at the age of 82. She retired in 1996 at age 56, having served 24 years.
Schroeder championed the passage of the Pregnancy Discrimination Act barring employers from terminating women because they were pregnant. In 1993, after multiple attempts, she was a driving force behind the bill that guaranteed 12 weeks of unpaid leave to care for a family member.
Now, 30 years later, the U.S. remains one of seven countries in the world without some form of paid family leave. Only one in four workers has access to paid leave through private or public employment.
To bridge that gap, 13 states have enacted paid-leave laws. Nine are active, and four have future activation dates. These laws differ widely in specifics, including amount of pay, time off, and even how they are passed. Some are legislatively enacted, and some are passed through ballot initiatives, as in Colorado.
Family leave is generally defined as time off to care for a newborn or adopted child, a parent, spouse, partner, or another relative as defined by state. Medical leave is the term used to cover time off for a health condition that makes it impossible to work.
This year, New Mexico Democrats made a serious push for paid family medical leave with the introduction of Senate Bill 11, sponsored by Senate Pro-Tem Mimi Stewart, D-Albuquerque, and others.
The bill would have created 12 weeks of paid leave for employees to bond with a child, provide care for a relative, and take measures to protect their families from domestic violence. Those too sick to work would also have medical leave. The bill passed two Senate committees; it passed the full Senate by 25-13.
In the House it was assigned to the House Commerce and Economic Development Committee with 11 days remaining in the session. It was there that paid family medical leave came to a screeching halt. The deciding vote to table the bill was cast by Rep. Marian Matthews, D-Albuquerque, a pro-business Democrat who votes 90% of the time with Democrats. Paid leave has increased support at the federal level with a recognition that it helps to recruit and retain employees. Three Democrats and three Republicans in the U. S. House are working on the issue.
In 2022, New Mexico had a bipartisan task force comprising business, labor and advocates working on a bill.
So, what happened to SB 11?
SB 11 would have created a fund to pay for paid leave administered by the Department of Workforce Solutions (DWS). Employees and employers, through a payroll tax on wages, would have paid into the fund beginning in 2026. Funds would have been available for use in January 2027.
An initial appropriation to DWS of $36.5 million would have funded standing up the mechanics of administering the fund. Smaller general fund allocations would have been made in the future, assuming DWS could hire the additional employees needed for the program.
Critics claimed it would kill small business.
Sponsors touted its success in other state programs that differed from what was proposed in New Mexico.
For Matthews the fiscal analysis of the bill presented a problem. With a conservative 4% uptake rate the fund would be sustainable. But with the broad eligibility in SB 11, New Mexico health factors such as diabetes and liver disease, the usage rate might climb as high as 10%, rendering the fund insolvent. By then, the state would have invested over $50 million dollars in administration of the fund. To keep going, rates on employees and employers would have to be raised.
Pat Schroeder made multiple attempts. We should too. Back to the drawing board for an improved approach.
© 2023 NEW MEXICO NEWS SERVICES 3/13/23
Why can’t UNM’s Board of Regents look more like students?
By Diane Denish
Corner to Corner
The University of New Mexico is New Mexico’s flagship university. The main campus is the higher education home of approximately 22,000 students who are 44% Hispanic, 33% white, and 23% other minorities.
Students at the UNM Valencia County branch are 75% Hispanic. Seventy percent of students at the Gallup branch are Native American, and 57% of the Taos branch are Hispanic.
Data compiled about student age shows 94% of the main campus student population is under the age of 50 while 83% are 18 to 35. The majority of students who attend UNM branches are under 25.
UNM’s Board of Regents is a different picture when it comes to representation. Disappointingly, the governor’s recent nominees are ages 73 and 76. With the departure of the only Native American on the board, five of the seven regents are white and near or over age 70. In 2019 and 2021 the governor also nominated two members who were 70 or older and one in his mid-60s. This left only one member under 60 and the student regent who is now 27.
Older students on main campus are a rarity. Just 135 are over age 64. When a regent’s term ends, it is the governor’s prerogative to appoint or reappoint regents. The only requirement for appointment is to be a qualified elector in New Mexico. Although it appears to play a role, there is no requirement to be a political donor. There is no age requirement or limitation.
This discussion is not to diminish the experience or wisdom of older members. With business and government backgrounds, they’re highly educated, accomplished and well known among political leaders. But they are just too much alike.
A majority of the board members are three generations removed from the youngest students who are entering a rapidly changing world of career choices, technology, political upheaval, economic challenges, and even questions of whether a college degree is worth the price.
These facts should stimulate a necessary discussion about the possibility that our flagship university’s (and all four- year institutions’) governing boards should have more diversity – generational diversity, as well as diversity in ethnicity and experience. How do we combine the experience of an older, experienced, politically connected candidate who brings traditional business values and service with a younger generation of candidates with new experience and different perspectives?
It's hard to fathom that there are no younger candidates to consider. We read every day of the entrepreneurs, scientists and business owners who are succeeding in our communities. They too love UNM or their university. Hispanics, Asian Americans and African Americans make up a large part of the growing small business, technology, film and healthcare sectors. Native Americans are a driving force in protecting our natural resources and advocating for equitable educational opportunities for Native Americans. How do we find these potential candidates?
The governors and their staffs could recruit and seek out potential candidates with a goal of “looking like New Mexico.”
Or as proposed by Sen. Jeff Steinborn, D-Las Cruces, there could be a nominating committee to screen and send a list of candidates to the governor. This would allow for a thoughtful look at overall board compositions and open the door to more diversity of age, ethnicity and thought. The governor would be required to appoint from the list submitted.
Regardless, we should aim for a board that reflects not just student populations but New Mexico. A mix of generations, ideas, ethnicity to better help achieve the goal of improved student outcomes and opportunities.
In 2024, Gov. Michelle Lujan Grisham will have another chance as terms expire. Let’s hope she casts a wide net to achieve diversity.
© 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.