© 2022 NEW MEXICO NEWS SERVICES 5/23/22
Gun violence deaths merit serious measures
By Diane Denish
Corner to Corner
I listened last week as President Biden spoke softly but forcefully about the most recent mass shooting in Buffalo, N. Y.
Afterwards, I stopped at my local grocery store to pick up a few items, just like the victims of the Buffalo massacre did on Saturday. I looked around at the people of my neighborhood – moms with kids, probably a grandma and grandpa, the cashiers, a security guard. It didn’t take much for me to imagine a radicalized white supremacist stepping in the door with an automatic weapon. Chilling. While I recognized Buffalo was racially motivated, I also wondered about New Mexico’s gun safety laws.
First, some statistical reminders. According to Readers Digest Gun Violence Statistics, in 2019 New Mexico ranked 7th in the country for gun ownership. We were 4th in the nation for number of gun deaths per 100,000 and ranked in the top 5 for highest rates of gun deaths related to domestic violence.
But there was good news in 2019.
We had a new governor at the helm and New Mexico began to take some steps to prevent gun violence. The Legislature, New Mexicans to Prevent Gun Violence, and Coalition to Stop Gun Violence joined forces with a focus on reducing gun injuries and deaths.
First up: Senate Bill 5, Background checks for gun purchase. This requires private sellers and gun shows to do an instant background check. It passed and was signed into law.
Additionally, SB 328 was enacted. The domestic violence firearms relinquishment bill requires domestic abusers who are subject to a protective order to relinquish their firearms while the order is in effect.
Then in 2020, the Legislature passed and the governor signed SB 5, the Extreme Risk Protection Order Act. This allows individuals, including family members and/or law enforcement officers, to petition a judge to temporarily remove firearms from individuals who are a threat to themselves or others.
Despite broad support from New Mexicans for these common-sense gun-safety laws, Republicans voted no on all of them except for one lone yes vote on SB 328.
In New York, they have a similar law to SB 5. The red flag law prevents certain individuals from purchasing guns. In 2019, the Buffalo shooter made threats, saying he wanted to commit a murder-suicide. He was sent for a cursory mental health evaluation. He convinced investigators it was a “joke,” and no protection order was filed.
It's human nature to want to believe this kid was joking. He now admits he was lying so he could buy guns. Ten people are dead.
I’ve often wondered if the framers of the Constitution ever imagined that in a country of 327 million people, we would have 393 million guns. (The source again is the Readers Digest Gun Violence Statistics). Probably not. The dangers they perceived were different.
Today gun violence is the danger. No one is immune while shopping, socializing, going to church or a movie.
Having taken some important steps, we can do more.
We can rebuild the state’s mental health system that was destroyed in the previous administration, creating more resources for those who need help.
While the state is awash in money, let’s allocate $15 million to $20 million to fund an Office of Gun Violence Prevention and Intervention. The office can train law enforcement, families, educators, and first responders to recognize danger.
Collect the best data possible to improve response and intervention.
Provide support to nonprofit partners educating communities and doing events like gun buybacks.
New Mexicans to Prevent Gun Violence and others are working hard but everyone can play a role.
Working together, perhaps we can walk unafraid through the aisles of our grocery stores and into churches.
© 2022 NEW MEXICO NEWS SERVICES 5/9/22
New Mexico and Roe v. Wade
By Diane Denish
Corner to Corner
The recently exposed draft memo from the Supreme Court about Roe v. Wade dealt a gut punch to a woman’s right to privacy. It is a direct affront to women making private decisions about their health and reproductive choices.
Since 1972 when Roe v. Wade was upheld by a 7-2 vote, women have enjoyed the right we deserve, to make healthcare decisions without government interference. Today more than half of Americans, including New Mexicans, believe abortion should be safe, legal, and protected.
During the last week, the leak of the memo and the potential ruling have been thoroughly dissected. There isn’t much that hasn’t been said, but some things are worth repeating. First, ignore the Republican rhetoric that the story is about the leak. It is not. It is about the substance of the potential ruling.
Howls about protecting the secrecy of the court and breaches of trust or protocol are ignored when the majority of the court, citing archaic history, is willing to deny millions of women the right to privacy.
The opinion was written by Justice Samuel Alito who appeared to demean his predecessors – also a violation of court protocol. He used historical references to the 1600s, when women were being executed for witchcraft. Not a subtle reference.
Sen. Mitch McConnell feigned outrage about the leak to change the subject so as not to put Republican candidates at risk of losing in November. But voters understand the right to privacy is being denied to half the population.
Buried in the draft is a suggestion that we need “a domestic supply of infants” for adoption. That implies using forced pregnancies to create a boon to the for-profit adoption industry. It ignores the 400,000 foster care kids who need adoptive families now.
As drafted, the ruling would relegate authority to the states to protect or deny women abortion access and privacy. Male-dominated legislatures in half the states have already passed trigger laws outlining bans, restrictions, and possible punishment for women.
What does it mean for New Mexico?
In 1969 the Legislature passed a law making abortion illegal. There were few exceptions. If you had an abortion, you could be charged with a fourth-degree felony. If you performed one, it would be a second-degree felony.
It was common to hear stories of women traveling to Mexico to get an abortion although it was illegal there as well. Some had enough money to pay an American doctor willing to perform an abortion in violation of the law. Some tried self-induced methods causing sepsis, death, or sterilization. Passage of Roe v. Wade in 1973 muted the New Mexico law, but it remained on the books.
Fast forward to 2016. Advocates and elected officials began to anticipate the overturning of Roe V. Wade. The old law criminalizing abortion would then apply. Anticipation became a plan of action: Repeal the 1969 law.
After a failed repeal attempt in 2019 two things occurred. A handful of legislators who voted against repeal were defeated in the 2020 elections. In 2021 a newly constituted legislative body passed and the governor signed SB 10. Abortion was no longer illegal in New Mexico.
New Mexico will be a protector, not a prosecutor.
It is likely more providers of women’s health services will open in New Mexico, escaping restrictive laws elsewhere. Women will continue to travel from other states seeking access to care. The governor and the Legislature must plug any legal loopholes that jeopardize providers or patients. They should expand tele-health services for medical abortions across state lines and continue training medical residents in abortion care practices.
In New Mexico, the gut punch gets a counter punch. We will not go back.
© 2022 NEW MEXICO NEWS SERVICES 5/2/22
Parties’ flawed pre-primary events lead to hard feelings
By Diane Denish
Corner to Corner
New Mexico’s primary season is headed into full gear with TV ads, mail, phone calls, and a debate or two. Early voting is about to begin.
What most voters don’t see is the process it takes to get this far.
Prior to this broader media side of a campaign other things happen. Fundraising, gathering the required number of signatures to file, and the pre-primary conventions of the major parties.
This year Democratic statewide candidates needed 3,518 signatures from registered Democrats while Republicans needed 1,503 signatures from Republicans to file for office.
Once they file candidates may choose to pursue their party’s nomination at the pre-primary convention. Candidates must get 20% and will be listed in on the primary ballot in order of convention results. Alternatively, they can get double the required signatures, skip the conventions, and give up ballot position designation. Most don’t.
Having participated in several conventions as a candidate vying for the party nomination, I can say I loved the lead up to the convention: campaigning to secure delegate votes, visits to rural communities, going to county conventions. The up close and personal part of the process was humbling and inspiring.
So, I was conflicted when a recent Senate bill proposed the elimination of the pre-primary ballot designation.
Candidates work hard to contact every delegate before the convention. Some commit, some don’t. Then you make your best case to a crowd of delegates and hope some of the uncommitted folks go your way. Some want to “win” first spot on the ballot; others simply want to cross the 20% threshold.
In addition to securing delegate votes, candidates invest money in their convention presentation. Balloons, posters, stickers, T-Shirts, mariachi bands, audio and even a “peek” at the candidate’s first media ad.
This year, using a hybrid model of in-person and zoom meetings, Democrats elected over 1,200 delegates; 97% of those delegates cast ballots at the convention. It was smoothly run, clearly explained to participants throughout, and votes were counted and announced as planned.
Republicans elected around 700 delegates and announced that 1,000 delegates, activists, and observers attended the convention. In the end, the convention was plagued by muddled vote counting and flawed reporting in at least one race.
Mark Ronchetti, a Republican candidate for Governor encouraged delegates to vote for someone else, announcing he had more than enough signatures and didn’t really need the convention vote. He could qualify without the 20% designation. Having failed at the grass roots level, he proceeded to anger delegates who don’t like hearing “I don’t need your votes.”
Merritt Allen, a Republican, published an opinion piece, “Searching for the soul of the GOP,” describing tactics of the extreme right. For Republicans, the process led to infighting that became the headlines.
On the Democratic side, one candidate described inconsistent efforts in the early part of the process. Small county conventions were loosely run, confusing and with less communication. Larger counties with more resources ran more smoothly and efficiently.
The Democratic convention may also have also resulted in hard feelings. Ballot rules require your name to be on your ballot. After the vote, anyone can “review” ballots, which candidates frequently do. Many are disappointed to learn some folks don’t honor their word. What do the winners get? Not much. A one-day story if not overshadowed by chaos and candidate sniping. Does it mean they will win the June primary? No.
Inconsistent processes, shenanigans, bruised egos, divisions. Maybe that legislative proposal to eliminate pre-primary ballot designation wasn’t such a bad idea. Perhaps, a more old-fashioned way, like drawing numbers out of a hat?
© 2022 NEW MEXICO NEWS SERVICES 4/11/22
Night and day: Sandra Day O’Connor and Ketanji Brown Jackson confirmation hearings
By Diane Denish
Corner to Corner
In September 1981, I was a mom with three young children, facing a divorce. It wasn’t the best time for me. Yet I remember turning on my record player (yes, a turntable) and playing Helen Reddy’s “I am Woman Hear Me Roar.”
I played it over and over.
On Thursday, I did the same thing. This time it played on my phone, with EarPods.
Two occasions, 40 years apart, I was celebrating firsts! The first woman confirmed to the Supreme Court, Sandra Day O’Connor. Now, the first Black woman being confirmed. Justice Ketanji Brown Jackson confirmed 53-47.
I felt the joy among women everywhere. Certainly, in my own heart, the hearts of my daughters, and granddaughters. I could feel the spirits of women like Mary Walters, the first woman on the New Mexico Supreme Court and the iconic Justice Ruth Bader Ginsberg. I even imagined the secret delight of current Justices Sotomayor and Kagan. This was coupled with knowing that the ancestors of Harriet Tubman and Ida Mae Wells – who fought fearlessly against the bonds and brutality of slavery – were also celebrating.
In that moment, I thanked the suffragettes who fought for women’s right to vote – the reason the vote was announced by the first ever woman vice president – a woman of color. Justice O’Connor and Justice Jackson have different histories. O’Connor, a Republican, was born in El Paso, a fair distance from the family ranch in Duncan, Arizona, where she would spend her childhood. Jackson, a Democrat, was born in urban Washington, D. C. She grew up in Miami, where her parents were teachers in their early careers.
Both attended prestigious schools – Stanford Law for O’Connor and Harvard Law for Jackson. O’Connor graduated in a time when gender denied women professional opportunities. Her first job in a County Attorney’s office came only after she offered to work for no pay and agreed to share an office with a secretary.
For Jackson, professional opportunities were numerous. With outstanding credentials, she was immediately accepted as a law clerk in the U. S. District Court, then U. S. Appeals Court, and eventually clerked for Supreme Court Justice Steven Breyer.
Likewise, their confirmation hearings were vastly different. O’Connor’s hearing was the first confirmation to be aired on national television. Nominated by President Reagan, O’Connor faced gentle headwinds. A few Southern Senators, including Sen. Jesse Helms, R-North Carolina, and Sen. Don Nickles. R-Oklahoma, voiced displeasure to the president. Their objections centered on O’Connor’s views on Roe v. Wade.
In her hearings, however, they were respectful, cordial. No one twisted her record into something it was not; their questions were relevant and reasonable.
She was confirmed 99-0.
Justice Ketanji Brown Jackson’s hearings, also televised, were another story. She arrived with an infectious smile and an opening story, which told of her love for “equal justice under law.”
It didn’t take long for some senators to make it a blatant political spectacle. Initially there were compliments from Sens. Graham, Hawley, and Cruz about her accomplishments. But their questioning quickly became disrespectful, if not distasteful. They twisted her record – repeating debunked lies about her sentencing history. They interrupted, pointed fingers. Jackson remained polite and composed throughout it all.
Thankfully, at one point in the committee hearings, Sen. Cory Booker, D-New Jersey, reminded us of the joy and hope.
History was being made. A Black woman, highly qualified, taking her place on the highest court. He recounted the story of Harriet Tubman, who looked to the North Star as a harbinger of hope,
“Today,” he said, “You are my North Star, my harbinger of hope.”
For me, she was that woman in Helen Reddy’s lyrics…roaring for all of us.
© 2022 NEW MEXICO NEWS SERVICES 3/28/22
History isn’t supposed to be comfortable or painless
By Diane Denish
Corner to Corner
Three generations of my family recently gathered in Montgomery, Alabama. We were there to visit the Legacy Museum, the latest achievement of Brian Stevenson and his non-profit, the Equal Justice Initiative.
It was my grandchildren’s spring break – when many people are going to amusement parks and other entertainment venues. In a time when there is so much effort to avoid history because it might make us uncomfortable, we all agreed to carve out two days for a lesson in history.
Montgomery’s economy was built on the slave trade. Now its tourist economy is built on telling the story of that trade, lynching, the era of Jim Crow and the civil rights movement. In addition to the Legacy Museum, there is the Rosa Parks Museum and the National Peace and Justice Memorial commemorating the 4,400 documented lynchings in America.
Our visit was powerful, painful and educational.
The museum opens with the earliest days of slave trading, as 12 million Africans were ripped from their homes, stripped and chained. They were forced onto ships with squalid overcrowded conditions and little food. Two million of them died before ships reached America. Once in this country, Black people were enslaved for over two centuries. The slave trade, something we would see as human trafficking today, fueled the economies of the port cities and the South.
Using hologram technology or three-dimensional images, the museum brings to life a few of the hundreds of human narratives. These are not scripts; they are stories and writings discovered through the years. Mothers who were taken from their children, children who are searching for parents sold at auction. Husbands asking for a last moment to hold his wife’s hand before being sold and taken away. I stood tearful as I listened.
The story continues through Reconstruction. The passage of the Reconstruction Amendments (13, 14 and 15) in 1865 gave (ostensibly) formerly enslaved Black people the same rights and privileges as those of Whites.
Regardless of the newly granted freedoms the killing, brutalization, degradation, and disenfranchisement of Black people continued. Once slaves were no longer “owned” or considered “property,” White men searched for systematic ways to terrorize and control them. Lynching fit the bill. A lynching was sometimes advertised, drawing huge crowds, and became a public spectacle. One powerful exhibit holds the evidence of lynching. An entire wall is lined with jars of dirt collected, usually by ancestors, from an actual lynching site. Every jar has a name and a date. Men, women, children. Hundreds of them.
A digital map shows the number of documented lynchings of Black people, state by state. The Deep South, Texas and Oklahoma had hundreds. As you move to the Western states, there are fewer. Thankfully, New Mexico has none.
And although Black people could register to vote, required poll tests during the Jim Crow era prevented many of them from doing so. Only Black people were required to take the test.
We agreed we couldn’t pass the tests. The questions were impossible: How many bubbles in a bar of soap? Define the Latin term “Writ of Error Coram Nobis.” How many windows in the White House? As we continued through the museum, we learned what connects the slave culture of the past to the mass incarceration of Black people today. That’s a subject for another day.
All of us, ages 10 to 79 were quiet and somber as we left. Recently, long time reporter Dan Rather wrote, “History is not comfortable.” We agreed. This part of our history is painful, uncomfortable, and something no one should try to erase or ignore.
To learn more see https://museumandmemorial.eji.org/museum
© 2022 NEW MEXICO NEWS SERVICES 3/14/22
Closer look at state’s voting rights bill reveals missteps all around
By Diane Denish
Corner to Corner
If there was any doubt about the messiness of making laws in the middle of the night or the last day of a legislative session, it was erased by the death of The Voting Rights Provisions Bill, Senate Bill 8; Intimidation of Election Workers, SB 144; and Election Security Bill, SB 276.
I wrote recently about the final combined version of these bills, SB 144 sponsored by Sen. Katy Duhigg and Rep. Daymon Ely, Albuquerque Democrats. The bill died on the Senate floor after a two-hour and 40-minute filibuster by Sen. William Sharer, R-Farmington.
After that, I wanted to do more research to explore a specific provision. In doing so it became clear that SB 144 died from more than the political maneuvering by Sen. Sharer. The kitchen-sink, rush-it-through-at-the-end approach may have been part of the problem.
In the words of Alice in Wonderland, “I became curiouser and curiouser!” Here is the winding road of voting rights.
SB 6 started as a 246-page bill titled Election Security and Administration. It covered necessary revisions to the election code, such as training for officials and volunteers, access to polling places, securing ballot boxes and other security needs. This bill had bipartisan support of county clerks statewide. It passed the Senate unopposed and was sent to the House.
SB 144 was a simple two-page bill, which created a fourth degree felony for anyone who intimidated or threatened election workers or volunteers. It too passed the Senate with no opposition and moved forward.
SB 8 met a different fate in the Senate. It was a 45-page bill containing critical provisions such as granting the right to vote to felons who have been released, a permanent absentee voter list, and requiring drop boxes in every county. As introduced, it would have allowed 17-year-olds to vote in some elections, a controversial provision that was later dropped. SB 8 was permanently stalled by a legislative maneuver known as Call of the Senate.
Two of the bills went to the House, where things slowed down. A lot.
When SB 144, the two-page bill arrived in the House, it was referred to the House Judiciary Committee with nine days left in the session.
It languished on the committee calendar until Feb. 15. Late that day it got heard with less than 48 hours left in the session. The two-page bill quickly ballooned to 170 pages as the committee included as many provisions from the other voting bills as possible. Many of those provisions had bipartisan support, and a handful had strong opposition from the Republicans.
On a party-line vote, the committee passed it. With just 24 hours remaining in the session, SB 144 was reported out of committee on Feb. 16 and placed on the House calendar.
I tuned in to the final session at 7:15 a.m. on Feb. 17. Debate had begun at 6:51 a.m. on SB 144 as amended. Legislators had been up all night and the day before. They were weary. After a plodding, tedious, three-hour debate a 39-30 vote was recorded at 9:53 a.m. SB 144 headed to the Senate where it died on the calendar.
In talking to legislators who either supported or opposed this bill, none could tell me much about the final content of what they voted on. One said pointedly, “There has to be a better way.”
The crunch time, throw-in-the-kitchen-sink attempt to get everything in one bill resulted in getting nothing.
Whether it’s the slow down, the kitchen sink or the filibuster that killed the effort, the results are the same. Improvements with strong support were lost. Election workers are unprotected. Rural voters have fewer options. Felons who have completed their sentences remain disenfranchised. Indeed, there must be a better way.
© 2022 NEW MEXICO NEWS SERVICES 2/28/22
Legislative maneuvering kills voting rights bill
By Diane Denish
Corner to Corner
The chaos at the end of a legislative session is always something to watch. The most important and controversial legislation is finally on the calendar.
The rush to pass bills, however, is invariably accompanied by efforts of the opposition to block bills they oppose. With the New Mexico Voting Rights Act, Senate Republicans used every procedural tactic to block it.
This bill would have made absentee voting more available to rural, elderly, and disabled voters; established places for voters to securely drop ballots; and provided more protection for elections officials.
Here’s how it played out.
The original voting rights measure, Senate Bill 8, sponsored by Sen. Peter Wirth, D-Santa Fe, was a broad expansion of voting rights and access. Provisions included allowing 17-year-olds to vote in local elections, automatic voter registration, requiring two drop boxes per county for absentee ballots, and establishing a permanent absentee voter list.
Early on, it was delayed but then passed in the Senate Judiciary Committee. In the Senate it was halted by a procedural move known as a Call of the Senate. Having served 8 years as lieutenant governor, the presiding officer of the Senate, I understand the call. It requires every unexcused senator be present in the chamber for debate on the specific bill. Two Senators couldn’t be located: Sen. Jacob Candelaria, D-Albuquerque, and Sen. Greg Schmedes, R-Tijeras. This killed the bill, at least temporarily.
Meanwhile, in the House SB 144, sponsored by Democrats Sen. Katy Duhigg of Albuquerque and Rep. Damon Ely of Corrales, was making its way through the House. Called Intimidation of Election Workers, it was a two-page bill that passed the Senate unanimously.
The day before the session ended this bill was amended in the House Judiciary Committee to include voter rights provisions from SB 8, which remained stalled in the Senate. Notably it excluded some of the most controversial parts – 17-year-old voting and the automatic voter registration. Now a 170-page bill, it passed and went to the House.
With only five hours left, Republicans used every minute of the three-hour debate limit to question the amended version of SB 144, a familiar slowdown tactic. They had earlier used the same tactic on bills they supported. House Minority Leader James Townsend, R-Artesia, earlier boasted of their intentions. He announced that time is the one weapon the minority has when it comes to stopping legislation. Get over it, he said.
SB 144 passed the House 39 to30 and headed back to the Senate for concurrence. Just two hours remained in the 30-day session.
But the die was cast. As the Senate awaited the arrival of SB 144, the Majority Leader went to the order of business known as Announcements and Miscellaneous. The two-hour debate limit does not apply during this time, something else I learned as lieutenant governor. Normally this time is used to introduce guests, announce committee hearings, make a little joke, or commend another senator. Not this time.
When the voting rights bill arrived, Sen. Bill Sharer, R-Farmington, had already been recognized. He was on his way to a two hour and forty-minute litany. It included a distorted New Mexico history lesson, a baseball sports analogy, railing on rail, and commentary on forest thinning, taxes, highways, and more. Nothing to do with voting rights.
The bill died as he ran out the clock. His purpose? Joining the national Republican effort to keep voters from having improved access to voting. In New Mexico all it took was a Call of the Senate and a hot-air filibuster.
Its failure could discourage participation by challenged voters, and it leaves our election workers and officials unprotected.
© 2022 NEW MEXICO NEWS SERVICES 2/14/22
Making good policy on hydrogen requires more time
By Diane Denish
Corner to Corner
The legislative process is sometimes compared to sausage making. It’s messy. You might not want to see too much. When it comes to sausage, sometimes the ingredients that make it tasty turn out to be bad for your health.
Not all bills reflect the sausage-making comparison. This year the Hydrogen Hub Act, originally House Bill 4, might qualify.
Gov. Michelle Lujan Grisham originally proposed the Hydrogen Hub Development Act. It came as a shock to many in the public health and environmental community, given the governor’s efforts to address the climate crisis.
HB 4, sponsored by Rep. Patty Lundstrom, D-Gallup, was appropriately assigned to House Energy, Minerals, and Natural Resources Committee. After lengthy testimony and discussion, there was a bipartisan vote to table the bill. HB4 failed.
It wasn’t long before HB 227 emerged as a dummy bill, a tool of the Legislature used to resurrect stalled efforts. In this case, the Hydrogen Hub Act. Dummy bills are titled “for the public peace, health, safety, and welfare.”
Lundstrom worked to have it assigned to House Appropriations Committee which she chairs. Without explanation, House Speaker Brian Egolf, D-Santa Fe, pulled the bill out of committee and placed it on the speaker’s table until day 31. This stopped any chance of HB 227 proceeding. Those opposed felt relieved.
Remarkably, Lundstrom introduced a third version of the bill, HB 228, a slimmed down version with the subsidies for the oil and gas industry removed. This time, the bill was assigned to House Commerce and Economic Development Committee.
Legislative leadership sometimes does this – assign a revived bill, slightly altered, with same sponsor, to a different and friendlier committee.
HB 228 was given a hearing. After thoughtful questions from both sides, it passed out of committee 7 to 3 with a do pass recommendation. Now, it will be placed on the House calendar. As the session grinds to a close, it remains to be seen whether consideration will proceed and to what end.
In the meantime, hydrogen as an energy source is happening in other places with little regulation. Our competitors for federal hydrogen hub money have little concern about methane leaks, emissions, or the environment.
New Mexico is different. There are important questions to be answered. Given that there is no proven technology anywhere that prevents emissions when extracting natural gas to be transported and converted to hydrogen, are proponents overpromising? Are they trying to fit a square peg into a round hole to secure “green” status for a process that continues to pollute?
Is hydrogen the best strategy for diversifying and reviving the economy of Northwestern New Mexico? Or continued dependence on the oil and gas industry?
The process of carbon capture, storage, and sourcing hydrogen for electricity is expensive. Even with subsidies and loans, will rates increase for gas and electric consumers?
Would the $125 million appropriation in the bill be better invested in one of the governor’s other economic development areas specifically targeted to northwestern New Mexico? Projections suggest it would be smarter to invest in retraining programs that would result in 1,800 local jobs for remediation and cleanup of well sites.
If we invest in hydrogen conversion and development, are we going to require a substantial increase in funding for the Environment Department and Oil Conservation Division? An increase would ensure monitoring the state’s 530 oil and gas companies, create jobs to address the backlog of remediation plans, and, according to UNM’s Bureau of Business Research, result in $500 million in revenue.
Are the 30 days enough time to scrutinize, question and understand this effort? Like sausage making, the policy process can be messy. But unlike sausage making, smart policy takes time. In the end, the hydrogen hub proposal should, as the dummy bill says, be good for the public health, safety, and welfare.
© 2022 NEW MEXICO NEWS SERVICES 1/31/22
It’s too soon to tinker with the Early Childhood Education and Care Fund
By Diane Denish
Corner to Corner
Sometimes things turn out better than expected. That is certainly the case with New Mexico’s Early Childhood Education and Care Fund.
It’s something to celebrate.
In the 30-day legislative session of 2020, Sen. John Arthur Smith and Rep. Doreen Gallegos co-sponsored Senate Bill 3 to start the fund. It was an innovative approach creating reliable and necessary funding for the newly created Early Education and Care Department. It passed unanimously.
Like a business, New Mexico’s early education system of care needs stable funding to plan and grow. Today, thanks to the clear intent of SB 3 there is an ability for the Early Education Department to plan for and anticipate the growth of high-quality childcare, early interventions and family supports, expansion of New Mexico Pre-K, and increased education programs. And it can grow a professional early childhood workforce.
Hooray for that too.
No one, including the bill sponsors, anticipated the rapid growth of the trust fund that received an initial infusion of $320 million. But given robust oil and gas production, the surplus revenues designated for the fund will now swell it to $4.3 billion by 2025.
Wow! Now were cookin’! Let’s celebrate! But wait…
In the current legislative session, SB 118 has been introduced to change the distributions, the recipients, and the intent of the bill. The distribution change from $30 million a year to $40 million looks like a good thing, but as always, the devil is in the details.
It’s a short bill as legislative bills go. Four pages. Sometimes these are the most nefarious and deceptive. Just change a word here and a word there. Disguised as simple and uncomplicated, the bill hides substantive changes to the intent of the original bill.
That’s the kind of bill this is.
The initial change, as I mentioned, is the increase in the annual distribution. That’s the carrot before the stick. Farther down in the bill language has been changed to remove the word “early” and permit the Legislature to appropriate for “childhood education,” opening the door for different interpretations and all kinds of money grabbing.
Some lobbyists and legislators promoting the changes have created a feeding frenzy to fund programs not included in the purview of the Early Education and Care Department. They have adopted a “let’s take it from the trust fund” attitude, moving funding from where it is most valuable, in the early years, to other later interventions.
In another corner are legislators who claim the trust fund is “way over funded” and “there is too much money in Early Childhood.” The facts simply don’t support such statements. If we build the system correctly, providing high quality programs and services, there is a $500 million gap between where we are now and what is needed in the future.
In creating the trust fund, legislators acknowledged the gap. It was clear we needed to make up ground for the chronic underfunding of the early years. And there was an understanding that investing in the first five years creates the best return on investment for taxpayers. Early investments prevent expensive interventions as children grow older.
Ironically, changes to the trust fund are being proposed before it has made the first full distribution. Just 18 months since its creation, there has been no opportunity to see results or to grow into the dependable, stabilizing force, it is intended to be.
Legislators made a promise to New Mexico families and children when they created the Early Education Department, followed by the trust fund. The fund was a promise to invest in New Mexico’s children and families and their futures.
It’s turned out better than expected. Let’s keep it that way and celebrate.
© 2022 NEW MEXICO NEWS SERVICES 1/17/22
Political opposites can still see eye to eye on truth, democracy and rule of law
By Diane Denish
Corner to Corner
I just donated to Congresswoman Liz Cheney. Surprised? So am I.
As a lifelong Democrat, I can’t remember the last time, if ever, I donated to a Republican. I do remember on rare occasion having voted for one or more. But, honestly, in times when I felt like I couldn’t vote for the Democrat, I would skip voting in a race rather than voting Republican.
That underscores the obvious: Cheney is a conservative Republican; I am a moderate Democrat. We don’t agree much on policy, if at all.
We disagree strongly on a woman’s right to make her own health choices, including abortion.
We have different views on the Second Amendment – she opposes restrictions to gun ownership, restrictions to sell automatic weapons, and votes against most background checks and waiting periods – all things I support.
She is pro-fossil fuels. She resists efforts to replace extractive energy with renewable energy sources and any emissions regulations. When asked in 2014 what Republicans should do about climate change, she said “nothing.” On the contrary, I support drilling moratoriums to protect sacred sites and open spaces, strong regulations of and penalties for emissions, and believe climate change is real.
Cheney is a staunch supporter of the previous president’s tax cuts for the super-rich while I believe they should pay more taxes. Loopholes should be closed that currently allow individuals and corporations to avoid paying any taxes at all.
Aside from policy disagreements, we have a few personal similarities. We were both raised in political families, we are westerners, and we are mothers.
The over-used phrase “we have more in common than we have differences” doesn’t really apply to us when it comes to policy. But we have everything in common when it comes to her current fight as a member of the House January 6 Select Committee.
It’s simple: We agree that there is nothing more important than protecting democracy, defending the rule of law, and protecting the truth. We believe in a strong two-party system in which leaders are loyal to the Constitution.
Together we see January 6thas an attack on that Constitution and democracy – an event that must be understood through rigorous investigation. An inquiry based on facts, not conspiracies. Witnesses and participants should cooperate rather than thumbing their noses at requests for information and subpoenas.
For the record, I gave to her re-election for all those reasons. And because she is one gutsy gal. She has staked out her position. She has not avoided the tough questions nor yielded to the threats of reelection defeat.
For calling out the defeated president’s big lie about a stolen election, she has paid a price. Back home in Wyoming she was censured by Wyoming’s Republican Party and has drawn half a dozen opponents for her 2022 reelection.
For asking fellow Republicans to be “mindful of the eyes of history” and “to respect the rule of law” she was stripped of her leadership position in the Republican conference of the House.
With grace and grit, she has articulated the reasons for her participation on the committee and clearly stated the facts as they have become known. For this, some in the Wyoming press and national media have castigated her.
Without fanfare or resorting to name calling of her opponents within the party, she has effectively established herself as the leader of the moderate arm of the Republican party – loyal to the Constitution, the truth, and the rule of law.
It’s time for Democrats, Republicans, and independents who share her determination to protect democratic institutions to step up. My small contribution acknowledges my shared interest in saving the republic. Without that common interest across party lines there may not be a chance to argue policy differences. In fact, those differences may not matter at all.
Diane Denish served as lieutenant governor from 2003 to 2010 and also chaired the state Democratic Party.
© 2022 NEW MEXICO NEWS SERVICES 1/3/22
Raising teacher pay sends a message that New Mexico values teachers and students
By Diane Denish
Corner to Corner
My maternal grandparents were educators. My grandfather travelled to Carlsbad in late 1918 and was followed soon after by my grandmother. They came from West Virginia with plans to marry and to teach.
What lured them to New Mexico? The promise of their first teaching jobs and salaries that would help them get a good start in their married life. In 1937, when my mom was 13, they moved to Hobbs -- once again my grandpa following the promise of an excellent job in public schools.
I remember when I was in high school preparing to attend college, grandpa bragged to me about teacher salaries in New Mexico being among some of the best in the country in the 1940s, 1950s and early 1960s. Even though he had retired in 1950 from public schools, having been a teacher, principal and then superintendent, he was immensely proud of New Mexico’s reputation as a place that valued teachers and paid them well.
Looking back, he was a recruitment machine. He died when I was a sophomore in college, but his pride coupled with his belief that education was a path for everyone made an impression on me.
According to Business.org, teacher pay declined nationwide from 2010 to 2020. In 2019-2020 there began to be some small increases. New Mexico was no different, experiencing a series of cuts beginning in 2011. In 2019 Gov. Michelle Lujan Grisham and the Legislature raised teacher pay across the board by 6%. In 2020, even in the face of a budget crunch, the governor and legislators hammered out an additional 2% increase for educators.
Now, Gov. Lujan Grisham proposes raising teacher pay by an additional 7% again across the board in fiscal 2023. The proposal also raises minimum starting salaries in the three-tiered system to $50,000, $60,000, and $70,000.
The governor’s proposal will accomplish some important things:
1. It will make us more competitive with neighboring states of Colorado and Texas.
2. It will help us recruit newly minted college graduates and mid-career professionals to be teachers.
3. It will help retain a solid teaching force for the future and stop the growing vacancy rate.
But let’s not forget the most important message this proposal sends. It says we are willing to pay teachers and staffs for their tireless work on behalf of students. For meeting constantly changing requirements and overcoming daily challenges. For working to bring students to grade level. For being on the front lines of mental and physical health issues and being the keen observers of hunger, abuse, or even danger. For being the shoulder to cry on or the pat on the back when no other is available. And for perseverance during COVID-19 when they were nimble, creative, and available virtually. And for working consistently to overcome the deficits created by lack of in person schooling.
It broadcasts a message to current and potential teachers that New Mexico is committed to giving their children the best possible teachers who are well equipped to teach and inspire. It says we value their education, their experience, and their passion for teaching.
As I think back to those conversations with my grandpa about the lure of New Mexico as a place where teachers were well paid and respected, I am hopeful New Mexico’s policy makers are working to get there again. I would say to them: “Keep going. Let teachers know their work is important and they are vital to our future. Then someday you will have your own story to tell – with considerable pride.”