© 2023 NEW MEXICO NEWS SERVICES 1/2/23
Customers, Southwest Airlines pay price after execs ignore founder’s wisdom
By Sherry Robinson
Herb Kelleher once told a group of UNM business school students: “The business of business is people. If you don’t treat your people well and don’t treat your customers well, you won’t succeed.”
It was July 1997, and Kelleher, the legendary co-founder of Southwest Airlines, was in town. I had the great honor to interview him. He and Southwest were then known for good labor relations and the low fares that did for air travel what Henry Ford did for cars. The ticker was LUV.
My interest was Kelleher’s salary. Even then the average CEO made 250 times the amount of the lowest-paid company employee.
Kelleher was then making a modest $395,000. When I asked him about that, he said it was deliberate. “I’m not in it for the money,” he said. He added that he led by example and kept his own raises to 1.5%.
For years, Kelleher and Southwest were case studies for business students, wrote Inc. Magazine. Asked who comes first – shareholders, employees or customers – he famously responded that “employees come first and if employees are treated right, they treat the outside world right, the outside world uses the company's product again, and that makes the shareholders happy.” (I’m a shareholder, by the way.)
Kelleher retired in 2004 (and died in 2019), and the company’s never been the same. If he were still among us, he’d be saddened by his company’s meltdown in late December. Now everybody knows somebody who got caught in Southwest’s snarl of cancellations.
For New Mexico the threat is beyond cancellations. Southwest is the biggest carrier flying out of Albuquerque and El Paso. New Mexico’s economic development and business operations require reliable air transportation, so this stumble is so concerning.
News outlets and industry analysts have examined the travel chaos created by the company’s cancellation of thousands of flights. We know that Winter Storm Eliot played a role, but the bigger culprit was Southwest’s dated software system for flight routing and staffing. Airplanes were in one place and crews in another, but the software couldn’t track either one. Southwest had to phone employees.
A third factor is Southwest’s point-to-point operating structure. Instead of the hub-and-spoke system of the other airlines, Southwest flies to a string of places, and an interruption in one can throw them all off.
Southwest executives, who get paid big bucks to make these decisions, didn’t do their jobs, despite years of warnings from pilots’ and flight attendants’ unions and despite previous systems failures.
Writing for the website Seeking Alpha, industry analyst Dhierin Bechai rapped CEO Robert Jordan for sending Southwest’s spokesman out to take the heat instead of doing it himself. Not until six days into the disaster did Jordan step forward, and then it was with a video apology.
Jordan, CEO 11 months, replaced Gary Kelly, who ran the company for 18 years. Kelly was paid $5.8 million in 2021; Jordan made $3 million.
"The Southwest of old is gone," Casey Murray, president of the Southwest Airlines Pilots Association, told NBC News.
Pilot Larry Lonero posted on Reddit: Herb Kelleher was “a very operationally oriented leader. Herb spent lots of time on the front line” and kept a finger on the pulse of day-to-day operations. “That philosophy flowed down through the ranks of leadership to the front line managers. We were a tight operation from top to bottom. We had tools, leadership and employee buy-in.”
When Kelleher retired, the numbers people took over (Gary Kelly was an accountant) and the operation began to deteriorate. For two decades, employees had watched the meltdown “coming like a slow motion train wreck.”
In fairness, Kelly kept Southwest running through COVID and the Great Recession, and the company grew in 35 years from 7,000 to 60,000 employees.
Analysts say this too shall pass. Travelers will return. But Herb Kelleher’s LUV for employees is still worth practicing.
© 2022 NEW MEXICO NEWS SERVICES 12/26/22
50 years later, still trying to balance jobs and environment
By Sherry Robinson
In a 1971 interview with Tony Hillerman, newly elected Gov. Bruce King talked about two kinds of erosion.
On the family ranch in Stanley, he used to ride a horse trail that branched off the Santa Fe Trail. “When I was a boy you could jump your horse out of it anywhere. But when I got home from the Army, from World War II, it had washed ten feet deep and 30 or 40 foot across.” He knew it would take years to repair the damage and made a mental note that it should never have happened.
Then he told Hillerman, still a UNM academic with two published novels and not yet famous, about a graduation ceremony he attended in a rural high school. It was a happy day, “but you look at that diploma in that boy’s hand, you can’t help thinking what it really means. It means he’s going to have to leave home now because there’s just no job around there for him.”
The challenge he saw as governor was balancing environmental protection with jobs. “We want to set up a body of regulations that will protect what we’ve got here, keep it from being destroyed and wasted and torn up, but we want to get it done without making it harder for a man to get a job,” he said.
The issue then was strip mining, which had devastated West Virginia. King didn’t oppose the strip mining then under way for molybdenum in Questa and coal in the Four Corners, but he wanted the surface to be properly restored.
“We’ve got to deal with that problem with two ideas in our mind. If we let the land be ruined, it’s usually ruined forever,” he said. “But we can’t afford to forget the people who need a chance to make a living. You’ve got to decide how high the return has to be in terms of payroll to make it worthwhile to accept damage to the land.”
King established a commission to write comprehensive regulations for strip mining and timber cutting. He asked the federal government for a moratorium on development of coal-fired power in the Four Corners until better air quality regulations could be adopted.
“I’ve got four years in this office, and when I’m done with it one thing I’d like to have finished is a good, strong, sensible set of environmental laws” with property rights that didn’t “interfere too much with the economy.”
In his autobiography, “Cowboy in the Roundhouse: A Political Life,” King said he campaigned on education, which he thought needed improving at all levels. Teachers wanted a raise, and the shadow of a 1966 strike made him uneasy. He asked for a 7% increase; lawmakers approved 6%, and he took some heat.
When it became clear that schools around the state weren’t equitably funded, King’s administration pushed for and got an education funding formula to assure the poorest districts had the same support as rich districts.
If an agency needed fixing, King reached out to his vast network of friends and usually (not always) plucked the right person for the job. The “search committee” was in his head, and politics were personal. We’d all shaken hands with King at least once.
This was 50 years ago.
A pessimist might say we haven’t come very far. I say we have. King’s concerns moved through administrations and legislative sessions, and public servants addressed the latest wrinkle. That’s not failure, it’s reality.
In a state like New Mexico, we will always be trying to balance jobs and environmental protection. We will always need to improve education. Each generation thinks it’s seen the worst, but the struggle for balance is a constant. We stay vigilant, as the rancher keeps an eye on erosion.
© 2022 NEW MEXICO NEWS SERVICES 12/19/22
Honoring an industry giant
By Sherry Robinson
All She Wrote
Of all the honors John A. Yates received in his long life, he was most proud of being named Chief Roughneck of the Year by the Independent Petroleum Association of America in 1996. The same year, he was American Wildcatter of the Year.
As Santa Fe bureaucrats anticipate record oil and gas revenues next year, it’s sadly ironic that an industry giant could pass with little or no notice. On Nov. 21, John A. Yates died at home in Artesia at 93. He was a mainstay in a very tough business.
The Yates dynasty began with John’s father, Martin Yates Jr., and mother, Mary Emmons Yates, who are New Mexico legends. Martin drilled the first commercial well on state land in 1924 in an area experts considered worthless; Mary chose the spot.
Their four sons – Harvey, Martin II, St. Clair Peyton, and John – followed their father into the business. But Martin left them only shares of other companies, not a business for them to inherit, according to the obituary. The sons forged their own place in the industry. Each one became a wildcatter with separate ventures.
A wildcatter isn’t just somebody in the oil business. Mike Sheldon, of the Oily Stuff blog, defines wildcatters as “intrepid, hardworking, hard-playing oil explorers who came from little and risked everything to accumulate fortunes.” A wildcatter, he writes, has cojones and uses his own money. “Who cares? you ask. It’s just a word,” Sheldon writes. “Well, I care. History matters. Every day the oil and gas industry loses a piece of itself to internet experts who just a decade ago knew nothing about oil and gas… When journalists call the wrong people wildcatters, they are in effect cancelling 140 years of oilfield culture; they are confusing the use of other people’s money with courage.”
The Yates brothers developed some of New Mexico’s largest, most significant fields, which in turn spawned supporting industries – well servicing, pipelines, refineries – that have poured money into state coffers ever since.In 1960 John persuaded his brothers to operate together as Yates Petroleum Corp., a closely held oil and natural gas company headquartered in Artesia. The brothers and their offspring kept their individual companies.
John founded Abo Petroleum Corp. in 1968 and drilled in the Pecos Slope Abo Field, an area experts considered salt and sand. Ultimately, he drilled more than 400 producing wells in several years. That made him a wildcatter. Because a wildcatter also learns to sling heavy cables and pipes on the derrick floor, he also earned title of roughneck.
In 1996 John received the Chief Roughneck Award, “a lifetime achievement recognition honoring an individual whose accomplishments and character best represent the highest ideals of the oil and gas industry. It symbolizes the spirit, the determination, the leadership and the integrity of those who have left their mark in the business,” according to award sponsor U. S. Steel Tubular Products. John was appointed by five presidents to serve on the National Petroleum Council advisory committee. His other offices and honors are too numerous to list in this space.
The alternative weekly Crosswinds noted in 1996 that the Yates family didn’t use trust funds to convey wealth to the next generation. “In the Yates clan, you form your own firm, get out there, take a lot of risks—and maybe even lose your shirt,” the paper wrote. The Yates empire was more “a collection of individual fiefdoms,” sometimes allied and sometimes competing, and yet “family relations are described as extremely cordial and cooperative.”
In 2016 John was chairman emeritus of the company when it was sold to EOG Resources Inc. for $2.5 billion. The company had 300 employees and operated thousands of wells. It was the end of an era.
Critics always make it about the money, but John A. Yates and his relations loved the business – the adventure of exploration, the excitement of discovery, the satisfaction of harvesting a valuable product that creates jobs and greases the wheels of the nation’s economy.
Yes, things have changed. Yes, we must respond to climate change. But it shouldn’t keep us from saluting those who brought us this far.
© 2022 NEW MEXICO NEWS SERVICES 12/12/22
Hunger relaxes its grip on New Mexico
By Sherry Robinson
Too many people here live with hunger, and food banks need help. You knew that, but you may not know that the bigger picture of hunger in New Mexico is actually improving.
Food banks are more stretched this year. Inflation hits them too. Food costs more. So do the refrigerated semi-trucks they need to move food. But donations are down, and the money they receive doesn’t go as far, writes Mag Strittmatter, president and CEO of Roadrunner Food Bank, the hub of a system that reaches across the state. “We are finding that many of our costs are up to 200% higher than we have previously experienced.”
A year ago food banks hoped for help from the state. Senate Bill 65 would have provided a recurring $12 million for additional food purchases and delivery to food banks. The bill died.
But the governor launched the Food Initiative to build a food system that reduces hunger and improves access to food as it supports farmers, ranchers and food businesses. Lawmakers blessed it with $24.7 million.
Hunger is not just uncomfortable – it’s poverty’s steady companion.
We often hear about “food insecurity,” jargon for people who don’t know when they’ll be able to eat. According to the Map the Meal Gap study by Feed the Children, one in five New Mexican children is at risk of hunger, according to 2020 data, which ranks New Mexico second in the nation for childhood hunger. Overall, one in eight New Mexicans is at risk of facing hunger.
The study this year goes farther to tell us that childhood hunger rates are highest in Luna County, 32.7%; McKinley County, 29.9%; Catron County, 29.2%; and Sierra County, 28.9%.
There’s good news. The 20.5% of hungry kids is down from 24% in 2014, and the 12.9% of kids and adults is down from 17.2% in 2014. According to USDA metrics, New Mexico is the most improved state in the nation. This is what the legislative Health and Human Services Committee heard in October.
Another plus, heralded by the online news source New Mexico In Depth, is that food, health and agricultural organizations during the pandemic embraced new partners and became more resourceful. Many food banks already provided other services, but they began adding more produce and even created special boxes for people with diabetes. The Food, Hunger, Water and Agriculture Policy Workgroup ballooned from about 80 groups to 300. Groups that once worked alone began partnering. They combined health care with food distribution. Outdoor growers markets boomed, and ag groups found new markets.
In April the governor made $10 million available for innovative projects to get food to people, including those in the most rural communities. In October the state awarded funding to 40 projects in 26 counties, and half went to food banks.
This month she said she would ask legislators to fund free breakfast and lunch for all public school students – not pizza and chocolate pudding but fresh, healthy food. This initiative would replace the expiring federal money that’s provided free school meals for the past two years, and it would add 12,000 students who don’t currently qualify for reduced-price meals
Another piece of the $24 million would look at college students. UNM and the state Higher Education Department will survey students in 2023 to evaluate their food and housing needs, the first such study by a state. The department will also distribute $900,000 to food pantries on 15 campuses.
This would have helped the student I once interviewed who stayed alive when things got tight by stealing ketchup packets from fast-food restaurants.
Teachers say hungry kids don’t learn. People in the helping professions see the connections between food, health, education and future success.
“I will keep fighting food insecurity until hunger is no longer a reality for any New Mexican,” the governor has said.
© 2022 NEW MEXICO NEWS SERVICES 12/5/22
State looks for a few good regulators
By Sherry Robinson
As temperatures drop and heating bills rise, we’re watching the state Public Regulation Commission, which will soon shed its five elected members in favor of three appointees. That’s what legislators and voters want – for good reason.
In 2019 lawmakers, with broad bipartisan support, approved a constitutional amendment to restructure the PRC. Voters approved the amendment in 2020. Early this month a bipartisan nominating committee forwarded nine names to the governor.
“To do their jobs well, commissioners must have a rare combination of skills: technological expertise, legal acumen and a keen knowledge of regulatory matters,” argued Sens. Peter Wirth, D-Santa Fe, Steven Neville, R-Aztec, and William Payne, R-Albuquerque, in a 2019 op-ed.
The state’s most powerful regulator, the PRC controls electric, natural gas and water rates and regulates transportation and telecom. Its decisions can clobber business climate and economic development or open doors.
Commissioners are charged with making balanced decisions for consumers, the utilities they regulate and the state’s economic health. They need the brain of an engineer and the temperament of a judge. The subject matter is complicated and increasingly influenced by technological and climate change. It’s no place for on-the-job learning, but that’s what we’ve had.
We got to the amendment because of bonehead decisions, incompetence, ethical lapses and infighting.
Some commissioners have failed to read documents filed in cases – or if they did, they didn’t understand what they read. They ask questions of utilities, don’t read the answers, and then ask more questions.
In recent years the PRC rejected a utility’s own plan for replacing its coal energy and chose a plan that didn’t provide enough power; the company now faces a power shortage.
The PRC denied a project that economic developers wanted because they didn’t understand it. The commission got into a kerfuffle with the governor and Legislature over the Energy Transition Act and lost in court.
“The commission is more broken than I’ve ever seen it in 35 years,” an attorney for Western Resource Advocates, an environmental group, said in 2019. “It’s bad from top to bottom as a functional agency.”
That’s quite a statement considering its earlier track record. Between 2004 and 2011: A commissioner was accused of trying to sneak marijuana through airport security. In response to demands that she resign, she threatened to air her colleagues’ dirty laundry. A woman won $842,000 in damages for sexual harassment by a commissioner. A commissioner assaulted someone she believed was having an affair with her husband. A commissioner resigned after admitting to identity theft, credit-card fraud and embezzlement.
Commissioners then were only required to be at least 18, be New Mexico residents for a year, and not be convicted felons. They didn’t even need a high school diploma. Lawmakers and voters acted, but problems persisted.
Now for the first time since 1996 we’re returning to appointed rather than elected positions. Why? Because almost anybody can run for the PRC, voters can be snookered, and candidates can be swayed by contributors. Once in office, elected officials are nearly untouchable, but the governor can remove appointed commissioners at will. That’s accountability.
Not everyone agrees. Three Native American groups, fearing appointees would favor energy companies over residents, asked the state Supreme Court to block the constitutional amendment. They were particularly concerned about District 4 in northwestern New Mexico, saying residents would be disenfranchised. They lost.
Here’s the elephant in the room. The challenge would have kept District 4 Commissioner Theresa Becenti-Aguilar in place. I’ve reported in the past that she has done a poor job representing her constituents. Importantly, no tribes, notably the Navajo Nation, opposed the amendment.
Looking at the backgrounds of the finalists gives me hope that we will have, probably for the first time, well qualified people on the PRC.
© 2022 NEW MEXICO NEWS SERVICES 11/2822
The glacial movement of regulation
By Sherry Robinson
In 2009 SunZia Southwest Transmission Project held a public hearing in Deming to gather feedback on its plan to build a high-voltage transmission line from Lincoln County into southeastern Arizona. Its goal was to sell New Mexico wind energy in California. If planning and permitting went smoothly, the company could start building that year and finish in 2013.
The project would stretch from 515 to 550 miles, from an estimated $1 billion to $2 billion-plus and from 2006 to 2022 and counting.
In recent weeks SunZia secured state approvals in New Mexico and Arizona. If the federal Bureau of Land Management signs off next spring, the company could start building in 2023. If it does, the line will be a monument to perseverance and compromise. Its participants (MMR Group, Shell WindEnergy, Tri-State Transmission and Generation, Salt River Project and Tucson Electric Power) can write the book on regulatory obstacles.
What took so long? Right of way is a slow process. So is environmental study. Some people don’t want to look at a wind generator or transmission tower. Government agencies don’t talk to each other. Routing is a nightmare. As an Arizona environmentalist wrote in 2011, “We know we need renewable energy and transmission lines, but there is just no environmentally acceptable route for SunZia in southern Arizona.” He could add central New Mexico to that statement.
The BLM, which shepherded the process, wrote the environmental impact statement, which took years. SunZia hit a wall in 2013 when the federal Department of Defense objected to the route across the north end of White Sands Missile Range. The DOD wanted SunZia to move the line north of the missile range or bury it. SunZia insisted that burial would add $500 million to the project cost. In the years it took to resolve, then-Congressman Martin Heinrich, a Democrat, accused the DOD of moving the goalposts, and then-Congressman Steve Pearce, a Republican, accused SunZia and its supporters of threatening national security. SunZia negotiated with a succession of five missile range commanders.
Meanwhile, in 2015 newly elected State Land Commissioner Aubrey Dunn, a Republican, suspended SunZia’s right-of-entry permit and asked for more public comment as his office studied the project’s impact on 89 miles of state land. With that, SunZia returned to Plan A, crossing the missile range, but agreed to bury about five miles.
An independent study by the MIT Lincoln Laboratory concluded that the missile range and the transmission line could co-exist, Heinrich wrote in 2016. And an army official said, “The SunZia powerline makes America stronger.” That was still not good enough.
In 2018, the state Public Regulation Commission rejected SunZia’s application for line location permits. There simply wasn’t enough agreement among all the players for the PRC to say yes. The military still wasn’t happy about the line crossing the missile range, and Socorro residents worried about the impact on their migrating birds, reported the Albuquerque Journal.
SunZia went back to the drawing board and came up with a new route, north of the wildlife refuges and the missile range and near another planned transmission line. In 2020 SunZia was willing to reopen the cumbersome National Environmental Protection Act (NEPA) process, reasoning that even though it would add four years, it might ease state approvals.
Mind you, this glacial process was little affected by the Obama administration’s attempt to streamline the process in 2011. SunZia was one of seven pilot projects selected. To date, only two projects reached the finish line; one was abandoned, another is partially complete, and three are nearing construction, according to the online Energy & Environment.
“We just can’t take 10 or 16 years to build a really good transmission project,” Ken Wilson, of Western Resource Advocates, told E&E. “If that continues to be the norm, we’re not going to have an environment to worry about.”
© 2022 NEW MEXICO NEWS SERVICES 11/21/22
Energy Transition Act moves in fits and starts
By Sherry Robinson
All She Wrote
During debates of the Energy Transmission Act in 2019, some boosters made it sound like New Mexico could just switch from coal to renewable. Poof!
Making the law a reality hasn’t exactly been a snap of the fingers. Lately, legislators are challenged to help laid-off coal miners pay for insurance.
On Sept. 29, San Juan Generating Station, which had roared for 50 years, went silent. It employed hundreds of people in San Juan County, and their paychecks circulated through the local economy.
As a PNM spokesperson in the late 1970s, I led press tours and wrote about the plant. I always thought of the San Juan and its workers as a mechanical marvel, shooting electricity out to millions of homes. We were proud that the plant was as clean as technology could make it – I also spent a lot of time explaining the costly devices added to scrub emissions.
The idea that the operation would just end and send people home was hard to grasp. For years, renewables were so pricey they were out of reach. Suddenly, they were competitive, and climate change demanded a response. PNM announced in 2017 that the plant would close in five years. So the clock was already ticking when state lawmakers began debating the Energy Transmission Act, which heralded life after coal. Setting the state on a path toward renewable energy, the bill directed utilities to generate electricity using 50% percent renewables by 2030 and 80% by 2040. Sources would have to be carbon free by 2050. It promised $40 million for severance pay and job training, as well as community development projects.
The governor and Navajo Nation president hailed the bill. There was a sense that New Mexico could model energy transition for the nation. But Farmington officials, holding out for the possibility of carbon capture technology, opposed the bill and the closure.
Soon Escalante Generating Station northwest of Grants read the writing on the wall and closed. Three years later, the transition is moving fitfully but moving. Sarah Propst, secretary of the state Energy, Minerals and Natural Resources Department, told the online Energy and Environment News that utilities are on track to meet the state’s renewable portfolio standard.
However, supply chain snags have held up renewable projects intended to replace coal-fired power and provide jobs. For that reason, PNM operated its last coal unit longer than expected. Even now its reserve margin has been alarmingly thin – too thin, some argue. PNM, the Public Regulation Commission and some of the parties have also argued loudly over how the company would recover its costs. And conversion of the plant to carbon capture is still a flaming controversy.
Recently, unions asked the state for $6 million to reimburse out-of-work miners for their out-of-pocket health insurance costs, according to the online New Mexico Political Report. The legislative Energy Transition Act Committee will decide that question, as well as choosing which projects to back. Some of the proposed projects will create jobs more quickly than others.
Former state Rep. Tom Taylor, a Republican who’s helping direct the discussion on behalf of the Economic Development Department, prefers to use the impact money to move projects that will create jobs. To underwrite the miners’ insurance costs, he recommends an emergency allocation from the Legislature.
That suggests Taylor doesn’t think there’s enough funding allocated to help workers AND support replacement industry, which raises another question. Keeping in mind the state provided little to no help to other towns that lost an economic pillar (Roswell, Grants, Raton), how much is enough for Farmington?
Something said of the Energy Transaction Act in 2019 was that it would never be done. Lawmakers expected they’d need to keep adjusting it long into the future. Developments of the last few years suggest why.
© 2022 NEW MEXICO NEWS SERVICES 11/14/22
Restoring trust in elections and candidates
By Sherry Robinson
All She Wrote
In the last two election cycles, we’ve seen assaults not only on candidates but on the election process itself that have damaged trust in the institution.
Now comes the New Mexico Democracy Project, which in October asked candidates to take a higher path. The goal is to rebuild trust in candidates and elections.
Candidate Principles for Trusted Elections is a national initiative introduced here by a coalition that includes New Mexico First, the New Mexico Chamber of Commerce, the New Mexico Local News Fund, New Mexico Open Elections, and New Mexico PBS.
The principles originated with the Carter Center in Atlanta, with support of multi-partisan groups, “to encourage candidates, political parties, and voters to uphold five core doctrines of democratic elections: integrity, nonviolence, security, oversight, and the peaceful transfer of power.” Some of the first people to sign on were the three candidates for Georgia Secretary of State.
The five principles are simple and down to earth:
· Honest Process. Cooperate with election officials, follow rules and regulations, and don’t misrepresent the electoral process.
· Civil Campaign. Encourage a peaceful atmosphere before, during and after elections and as counting is in progress. Speak out against attempts to intimidate, harass, threaten or incite violence against opponents, their supporters, and election workers.
· Secure Voting. Respect citizens' rights to register and vote, free from interference, obstruction, or intimidation.
· Fair Oversight. Encourage political parties and others to train poll watchers on the election process and appropriate roles and behaviors, responsibilities, and obligations.
· Trusted Outcomes. If you suspect election irregularities, make your claims within the law and acknowledge outcomes after the results have been certified and arguments decided.
In New Mexico, endorsers included both candidates for State Land Commissioner – Stephanie Garcia Richard, a Democrat, and Jefferson Byrd, a Republican, as well as a host of candidates for the state House of Representatives and some local offices.
“A free, fair and open election process is the bedrock of our democracy,” said Garcia Richard. Said Byrd: “This is not a party issue. The people of America have questioned recent election results from both major parties. Honest elections are crucial to our Republic.”
It’s a valiant initiative coming at a time of suspicion, threats and disinformation. News outlets have reported violent threats against election officials and volunteers nationally and locally. The Justice Department now has an Election Threats Task Force; by August it received 1,000 complaints. A survey found that one in five election officials planned to bow out because they were weary of the pressure and harassment.
Thankfully, our elections here passed without major incidents, so far as I know. It helped that the Secretary of State, county clerks and their staffs went all out for transparency, providing information and even demonstrations of the voting machines and answering questions.
While I salute the Candidate Principles and our election officials for their outreach, I think we need more.
In this election it was somehow OK to nearly kill Speaker Nancy Pelosi’s husband and circulate jokes about it. And it was OK to send threatening letters with anti-Semitic symbols and a powdery toxin to two environmental advocacy groups and a union.
In 2019 and 2020 it was somehow OK to vandalize the state Republican Party’s Albuquerque headquarters.
Republican Liz Cheney said in a recent PBS interview that the two sides need to stop demonizing each other. It’s personal for her. “My father was demonized,” she said.
That idea shifts some responsibility to you and me, which makes it more powerful. What if we all did that? What if we said out loud: Michelle Lujan Grisham is not the devil. Mark Ronchetti is not the devil. With that and a broad embrace of the Candidate Principles, maybe we could have the elections that we heartily desire.
© 2022 NEW MEXICO NEWS SERVICES 11/7/22
Horse race reporting doesn’t serve candidates, voters or media
By Sherry Robinson
For several years academic media experts have warned reporters to avoid “horse race” coverage of political campaigns because it discourages voters, handicaps candidates and hurts the news organizations themselves.
Horse race reporting is too much focus on who’s winning or losing and who’s up or down in the polls and too little focus on the candidates’ stands on issues and policy, according to Harvard’s Shorenstein Center on Media, Politics and Public Policy. The center gathers and disseminates studies useful to journalists.
Horse race reporting relies heavily on public opinion polls, say researchers, and polls come with a lot of problems:
· The early frontrunner gets a lot of attention. Other candidates may get short shrift.
· Polling organizations have proliferated. Of the dozens out there, some are more credible than others, but reporters may not discern the difference. Or they report on polls that show the largest changes in public opinion.
· Journalists, untrained in statistics, may report changes in polling numbers when no statistically significant change has actually occurred. Or they may not understand how the margin of error affects results.
A Harvard scholar said the media’s fascination with early results riveted reporting on Donald Trump in 2016 and made him a leading contender in the nominating phase.
To a lesser extent we saw this here in Mark Ronchetti’s campaign for the GOP gubernatorial nomination. Ronchetti got a lot of coverage, although I think the other candidates got fair coverage. Horse race reporting also favors unusual candidates. We heard more about the meteorologist than we did about Rebecca Dow’s six years in the Legislature or Jay Block’s term as county commissioner.
This attention to early winners, scholars say, isn’t intended to improve their chances, but that’s the effect.
Such reporting tends to ignore third-party candidates because their chances of winning are small. In this election Karen Bedonie, the Libertarian candidate for governor, has gotten a reasonable share of publicity, but down-ballot, third-party candidates are out of luck. Some of this is due to a smaller media pool.
We’ve seen a tiresome duel of polls in the governor’s race – endless reports of a few points this way or that and what it might mean. Some news organizations are now sophisticated enough to analyze data from multiple polls and improve the precision of their predictions. But if voters hear their candidate has a good chance of winning or a poor chance of winning, they might not vote.
The authors of one study believe this is what happened in 2016, when Democrats and Independents were convinced Hillary Clinton would win, but turnout didn’t match their overconfidence. As I write this, Election Day is still ahead. Neither major-party candidate for governor has the election in the bag, and both are campaigning hard.
Another facet of racehorse reporting is a focus on political strategy instead of issues. While political junkies love hashing out tactics, these stories convince voters that campaigns boil down to gamesmanship rather than a desire to serve and concern for the public good, studies say. It makes for a cynical and uninformed electorate – young people in particular may be turned off – and it reduces trust in the news media.
In the current races, we’ve heard a lot about the Hispanic vote or the Asian vote or suburban women. Entire demographic groups morph into chess pieces.
Media scholars are right to worry that we’re neglecting issues, and yet in this election we’ve heard a full measure of what the candidates think about crime, abortion, climate change, and education. But not the economy. Ranting about inflation doesn’t constitute a discussion of the economy.Political campaigns are horse races, really, but I’m glad somebody is reminding journalists about our responsibilities and impact. The lesson for voters is, if you like a candidate ignore the horse race, hold that thought and go vote
© 2022 NEW MEXICO NEWS SERVICES 10/31/22
A blunt discussion of the state’s economy
By Sherry Robinson
The trouble with trying to talk about the economy is that, to most people, “the economy” is what’s going on in their lives right now, but economists look at markers and trends over time. Some politicians take advantage of that gap by using economy-ish statements to sound good and say nothing.
Let’s have a blunt discussion about the state’s economy, beginning with the numbers.
The state Department of Workforce Solutions tells us that unemployment in September was 4.2%, the lowest point since 2008. That’s higher than the national average of 3.5% and the states around us, and yet it’s trending in the right direction: April, 5.3%; May, 5.1%; June, 4.9%; July, 4.5%; August, 4.4%.
By September, it was less than half the pandemic high of 9.8% in May 2020.
Over the year, the state added 31,500 nonagricultural jobs, and most (28,900) were in the private sector. Eight of nine major private industry sectors reported more jobs. The strongest were mining (oil and gas), construction, and leisure and hospitality. Oil and gas jobs we expect, but the fact that construction and hospitality are up signals recovery from pandemic losses.
The number of physical business establishments increased 8.2% to 68,041 in every county between the third quarters of fiscal 2021 and 2022, according to the state Economic Development Department.
That’s progress, but employers still scramble to find workers. New Mexico’s worker participation rate, 56.8%, is the third lowest in the nation, according to the Federal Reserve Bank of St. Louis. The Legislative Finance Committee this summer said some 480,000 working-age people are benched. Blame it on the Great Resignation, the boomers’ Great Retirement, the worker exodus to other states, and lack of childcare. Also, the LFC learned that the number of working-age people on disability has jumped.
Our labor force participation plunged during the recession in 2010 and never recovered; it sank lower during the pandemic, according to the U. S. Bureau of Labor Statistics. One study found that lower-skilled, unemployed people found relief in disability programs and that qualifying became a little easier. A job may not pay enough to make up for the loss in benefits. This is an old problem.
Last summer journalist Ted Alcorn put his finger on another old problem – alcohol. His series in the online publication New Mexico In Depth has prompted legislators to look harder at a statewide “emergency hiding in plain sight.”
Now, a few words about political rhetoric.
As governor, Republican candidate Mark Ronchetti would like to share oil and gas revenues, which he calls “surplus money,” by reducing personal income taxes and handing out a cash dividend. Because he doesn’t understand government, much less budgets, he doesn’t realize this would result in a whopping deficit. He would also cut gross receipts taxes every year; cities or counties needing more would have to get voter approval. But local governments rely on the tax to pay for everything from police to trash removal.
Ronchetti doesn’t like the gross receipts tax. Nobody does, but there is no political will to do something different. Most of his economic development proposals are already in use. He would reduce red tape. Every candidate says that, but nobody does it. He wants New Mexico to excel in producing all types of energy, but we’re already doing that too.
What the incumbent governor says matters less than her record. Announcements of business expansions and relocations have been steady. Unlike her predecessor, she understands the economy and the economic development process and has a crackerjack Economic Development Department. To her large to-do list I would add better relations with oil and gas and real tax reform.
A political line we hear a lot is: Democrats have controlled state government for years, and we’re still poor. Well, Republicans have controlled Mississippi state government for years, and they’re still poor.
This shouldn’t be partisan. Where are the public servants who will work together to solve problems?