© 2023 NEW MEXICO NEWS SERVICES 8/28/23
Ronchetti, McCleskey size up Republican presidential candidates
By Sherry Robinson
All She Wrote
Republicans got a look at their party’s presidential candidates last week during a televised debate, and three prominent New Mexico Rs had plenty to say about it.
Mark Ronchetti, former candidate for governor, and his wife Krysty host a podcast, “No Doubt About It.” They invited political consultant Jay McCleskey to join them in a lively critique of the debaters.
Ronchetti was a political newbie, but he and his wife earned campaign savvy the hard way during his two runs for high office. I’ve criticized McCleskey in the past for hardball tactics. He’s been controversial even among Republicans, but, like him or not, he’s carved out a place in New Mexico politics.
On the debate performances, they agreed on Florida Gov. Ron DeSantis and former governor and former U.N. Ambassador Nikki Haley.
All eyes were on DeSantis. He holds a distant second place after the former president, but he’s been treading water in polls.
“DeSantis had to stop the bleeding tonight, and I think he did,” said Ronchetti. “He had some good moments.” McCleskey agreed. “One thing people need to understand is that presidential campaigns are expensive. If you lose donor support early, you’re done.” DeSantis was effective enough to keep the donations rolling in, McCleskey said, and so was Haley. He noted that entrepreneur Vivek Ramaswamy was aggressive in getting his share of air time.
The young Trump wannabe sparked criticism from Mark Ronchetti: “He’s too slick. He has a solid delivery, but “once you look into him it gets shaky… Vivek is a phony. His approach is not going to wear well.” Ramaswamy tends to say the first thing that comes to mind that will deliver a punch, but “he’s said bonkers stuff about 9-11. He’s obnoxious and was obnoxious the whole time.”
McCleskey observed that Ramaswamy will have some appeal, but his biggest problem is he’s appealing to Trump’s base. He added that voters will change their opinions as they get more information, and Ramaswamy’s comments on camera could be used against him.
The candidate recently suggested during an interview with The Atlantic that federal agents may have been on board planes involved in the 9/11 attacks. Could Ramaswamy have been more cautious during an interview with the left-leaning magazine? The implied question led to a moment of candor.
“People who support you most will get you in the most trouble,” Ronchetti said. His own supporters might worry about interviews before an unfriendly audience, he said, but that’s when he’s careful to stick to his talking points. However, before a friendly audience, a candidate can be too eager to agree, “and that will get you in trouble.”
Ronchetti apparently referred to his interview with Legacy Church Senior Pastor Steve Smothermon last summer, in which he said he wanted to ban abortion. Previously, he said he would permit abortion up to 15 weeks and in cases of rape, incest and risk to the mother. Smothermon went public with the interview, which hurt Ronchetti’s campaign and contributed to his loss.
On abortion – and most other subjects – Krysty Ronchetti thought Nikki Haley shined. Haley explained the legislative process and the politics of the issue. Republicans simply don’t have the votes in Congress for a federal ban on abortion. And they’re not going to get traction on punishing women. She appreciated Haley saying, “We need to stop demonizing this issue… Can’t we all agree to ban late-term abortion?”
The best line of the night, she said, was Haley’s “Strong girls become strong women who become strong leaders.” That resonated with the Ronchetti daughters.
Abortion, the three acknowledged, is one of the Democrats’ issues, but it’s fraught for Republicans. Both sides would do well to heed Krysty Ronchetti and Nikki Haley on abortion.
© 2023 NEW MEXICO NEWS SERVICES 8/21/23
Virgin Galactic shows the world that safety is everything in adventure tourism
By Sherry Robinson
All She Wrote
When the Titan submersible imploded in June, killing its CEO and four passengers near the Titanic wreckage, I wondered if it would deal a blow to adventure tourism, namely Virgin Galactic and its flights from New Mexico’s Spaceport America.
It didn’t. Virgin’s VSS Unity flew on August 10 with its first three paying tourists and has many more lined up.
The difference in the two companies and their preparation is night and day. It’s a lesson to anybody who plans to shepherd tourists on risky excursions.
From news coverage we now know that the Titan was not just unsafe but a disaster waiting to happen. Experts warned for years – some of them telling CEO Stockton Rush to his face – that his submersible had design flaws. He dismissed them all and fired his own director of marine operations when he reported serious defects.
Now consider Virgin Galactic.
CEO Richard Branson in 2005 told New Mexico, if you build it we will come. Under Gov. Bill Richardson, taxpayers spent $225 million to build Spaceport America in southern New Mexico.
Branson optimistically predicted the company’s flights would begin in 2011, but the timetable stretched from one year to the next because it was new technology, and nobody really knew how long it would take. Virgin’s executives cautioned again and again that they wouldn’t fly passengers to the edge of space until it was safe.
The company was testing and retesting the SpaceShipTwo rocket in Mojave, Calif. The repeated delays stoked skepticism about the project’s viability. “The technology has its own timeline,” an officer told the Albuquerque Journal.
Meanwhile, the Legislature debated whether to protect Virgin’s suppliers from liability in event of an accident, which added to the uncertainty. There were disputes over rent. Virgin needed FAA approvals. Spaceport directors came and went. Lawmakers debated funding.
On Oct. 31, 2014, SpaceShipTwo broke apart during a test flight; one pilot died and another was seriously injured. It was devastating to Virgin Galactic employees and to the business. It took three years to manufacture another spaceship and resume test flights. Not until 2019 did Virgin move space vehicles and employees to Spaceport America.
Even then the pace remained deliberate. In May 2021 VSS Unity successfully flew into space from the spaceport. Two months later it soared into suborbit with Branson and Virgin Galactic crew members on board.
They still weren’t finished. Virgin improved the spaceships’ durability for repeated use. This summer three Italians conducted on-board experiments during a successful flight. And finally, just weeks ago, the first bona fide tourists got the thrill of their lives when Virgin Galactic delivered on its promise of space flight for everybody.
It was a historic – and flawless – event. Throughout its painstaking development of the program and the spacecraft, Virgin has been stubbornly consistent in keeping safety its first priority, even when delays hurt its credibility with legislators and the public.
As I was starting this column, federal investigators reported that a 2021 balloon crash was the result of pilot error and that pilot Nick Meleski had used cannabis within hours of the mishap and also had cocaine in his system. Meleski, an experienced balloon pilot, flew into power lines. Two Albuquerque couples and Meleski died.
In the Titan and balloon calamities, Stockton Rush and Nick Meleski had one thing in common – hubris. Rush would hear no criticism of his submersible. He and four people died. Meleski had notched so many balloon flights, maybe he didn’t think a little weed would impair him. He and four people died.
Richard Branson is usually described as an eccentric billionaire. That may be true, but he’s no fool. He understands that without utmost attention to safety there is nothing.
© 2023 NEW MEXICO NEWS SERVICES 8/14/23
Dems tout Bidenomics in plans of two manufacturers
By Sherry Robinson
All She Wrote
In the years I covered economic development, manufacturing was always the gold standard because of its high wages. So two announcements in a week, which also coincided with the president’s visit, felt almost like the good old days of the 1980s when we had a lot of those announcements.
First there was Arcosa Wind Towers Inc., a manufacturing company, rolling out the red, white and blue bunting for President Biden as the company and Democrats celebrated Arcosa’s new manufacturing center near Belen.
CEO Antonio Carrillo told the small, enthusiastic and, no doubt, carefully selected audience: “A year ago Arcosa had no work. We were really struggling.” Then Congress passed the Inflation Reduction Act, and a few months later Arcosa received a $1.1 billion order for wind towers, the largest order in its history. Now Carrillo needed to expand, and a shuttered Solo Cup facility will be busy again.
“This is a great example of how policy has a direct impact,” Carrillo said.That’s exactly the point Biden wanted to make on the first anniversary of the Inflation Reduction Act. He tied that law to his Infrastructure, Investment and Jobs Act and CHIPS Act. In New Mexico it translates as $160 million for the Eastern New Mexico Rural Water Supply Project to pipe water from Ute Lake to Clovis and Portales and $25 million to rebuild the Uptown Transit Center in Albuquerque.
He told New Mexicans and the rest of the country that his mission is to invest in America.
Then he talked about Bidenomics, the real reason for his visit to the Southwest and the subject of future presidential trips across the nation. In conversations directly with the public, he intends to explain his plan for the economy to voters who are more aware of the price of toothpaste than they are of landmark legislation.
Biden wants to say goodbye to Reaganomics and trickle-down theory – the idea that if you give tax breaks to big business and the rich it will trickle down to everybody – in favor of “building from to bottom up and the middle out.” “When the middle class does well, everybody does well,” he said. Bidenomics, according to the White House, is targeted public investment that can attract more private sector investment, especially in infrastructure, computer chips, clean energy and climate security.
The Wall Street Journal and Republicans have used “Bidenomics” as a derogatory term; Biden has embraced it as a shorthand way of referring to his economic legislation. The Inflation Reduction Act invests in clean energy and manufacturing. The bipartisan infrastructure plan invests in transportation. The CHIPS Act incentivizes domestic semiconductor manufacturing.
Both sides are spinning Bidenomics to suit win over voters. Republicans think the economy is performing poorly, and it’s all Biden’s fault. Biden argues that the economy has grown since he took office, and inflation is dropping. “Our plan is working,” he said.
Three days after Arcosa’s party, Maxeon Solar Technologies announced it will build a $1 billion manufacturing plant in Albuquerque to make solar cells and panels. The nation’s solar cell makers all moved offshore after the 2008 recession; Maxeon is the first to return, according to the Albuquerque Journal. We have the Inflation Reduction Act (plus state and local incentives) to thank for Maxeon’s 1,800 new jobs. It’s the biggest private-sector move since Intel put New Mexico on the map in 1980.
However, Bidenomics is wrapped in politics, as was Reaganomics and all the other presidential economic policies. Peel away the wrapping and ask, is it working? Maxeon and Arcosa would say yes. Numbers are mostly encouraging. Construction spending on new factories is up. Manufacturing jobs are at a 15-year high after growing by nearly 800,000 during Biden’s first term, according to the Associated Press, but hiring has slowed recently.
Bidenomics has another year to prove its value.
© 2023 NEW MEXICO NEWS SERVICES 8/7/23
Fixing New Mexico’s dangerous roads
By Sherry Robinson
All She Wrote
Wherever you live in the state, you’re probably convinced you have the worst roads. But southeastern New Mexico has, hands down, the state’s lousiest roads, and it has the data to prove it.
Enter a private-industry group that has crafted and funded solutions that can now benefit other counties as well.
In 2021, New Mexico was fourth nationally with 22.3 fatalities per 100,000 people, according to the Insurance Institute for Highway Safety. It was the state’s highest count ever and more than 50% higher than the national average, said Michael Smith, managing director of the Permian Road Safety Coalition. He testified recently before the legislative Transportation Infrastructure Revenue Subcommittee meeting in Hobbs.
Now look at the Permian Basin. Lea, Eddy and Chaves counties, with just 9% of New Mexico’s population, have 11.5 % of the state’s roadway deaths, Smith said. Complicating factors are bad roads, poor driver behaviors, distances that increase response times, and industry impacts.
In 2016 a group of energy company representatives began meeting to talk about impacts of the oil and natural gas industry. Road safety quickly dominated the conversation. Everybody seemed to know somebody who’d been injured or killed in a crash. In 2018, nearly 300 people died on the roads of the Permian Basin.
In 2019 the group launched the Permian Road Safety Coalition as a not-for-profit organization in New Mexico and Texas.
Sheriffs, fire chiefs, county emergency coordinators, and EMS directors told the coalition they needed equipment that was beyond the budget of small counties. First responders often had to watch citizens die while waiting for an ambulance to reach a remote accident.
The coalition listened to first responders and developed a compact kit that would allow responders first on the scene to help accident victims immediately. It included the Jaws of Life, used to cut victims from smashed vehicles. They began with $240,000 and after two grants totaling $4.4 million from the Permian Strategic Partnership, the coalition provided kits to 82 departments across 27 counties of West Texas and Southeast New Mexico.
Next the coalition provided clothing and protective gear to fire fighters, compressed-air foam systems for use in brush fires caused by vehicle accidents, and lighting to prevent injuries to responders from oncoming traffic while responding to accident scenes.
These steps alone have reduced fatalities 20% over the last three years, Smith said. But helping first responders is just one piece of the puzzle. The other two are changing driver behavior and road improvements.
Half of recent local road deaths are from not using seatbelts and distracted driving, Smith said; the southeast had the worst numbers for seatbelt use. The coalition is trying to educate drivers and wants MVD to do the same.
Smith pleaded for the state to improve N.M. 31 and 128 and U.S. 380. The state Department of Transportation reports deterioration approaching failure, and yet these deadly roads are crucial to oil and gas. In House Bill 223 this year legislators listed them for reconstruction.
He explained that even though construction is planned and projects get funded, sometimes they’re unfunded or delayed. It’s no way to treat the industry providing nearly half the general fund budget.
Smith’s testimony teaches us that you don’t have to wait for the state to solve your problems. The coalition’s process, brainstorming and results are admirable. And the coalition’s work can benefit the state. Its information gathering and equipment sourcing save three years of legislative studies, and its safety kit can and should be replicated in all rural areas.
It’s unfortunate that the Southeast has to remind Santa Fe of its contributions to state coffers in the context of road requests. It shouldn’t be necessary. In the same universe where roads to tourist meccas are well maintained, the oil patch roads should also be well maintained. That universe shouldn’t end at U.S. 380.
Letter received from Harold Houston: I followed a job from Texas to NM in late 1956 and have remained here. Having friendly people, little crime, a reasonably friendly climate, and no sandstorms like I left behind in Texas makes it a nice place to live even if we do get the short end of the stick from the state in everything. I repeat, EVERYTHING. Eddy county gets a little better treatment and Chaves even more so but still poor compared to the central part of the state.
In the mid '70's the state rebuilt the road from Lovington to Maljamar. The state road department did the dirt work and it took them an entire year of holding up shovels to do it. Then a contractor came in and applied the topping in less than two weeks. It has no shoulders, just steep drop offs, and has remained that way all these years with a couple of chip sealings and now some patching done by state employees and when they do a patch job it's just as rough as it was before they arrived. Years ago an armored truck ran off the road and turned over on it's side. The state's solution was to drop the speed limit to 55 mph and as long as traffic can move on it will remain like it is.
Three years ago they were supposed to start rebuilding main street and part of Avenue D in Lovington, both state highways, and be done in two years. Nothing happened for a year. Now, close to finishing its second year of construction the intersection of main and D are torn all to pieces and the rest of the road is just waiting. Constuction will cease for winter and hopefully they will finish sometime next year while we have to travel in maze like conditions to get around in town.
What ever the state does to the roads in Lea County will be the least they can figure out how to get by with and it will not only take a long time it will be completely worn out before it's ever redone again. We have learned from experience that all the state wants from us is our money with as little return to us as possible. We don't have the votes to change anything and never will so we have learned to live with it.
We are referred to as either "Little Texas" or "The Third World" by the northern "elites" but we fit the the third world moniker better because Texas has good roads.
© 2023 NEW MEXICO NEWS SERVICES 7/31/23
Outdoor Recreation Division deserves kudos, but don’t neglect state parks
By Sherry Robinson
All She Wrote
Carl Colonius, an outdoor recreation planner for the state Outdoor Recreation Division, sat down before the Legislative Finance Committee recently, prepared to talk about trails. He found that lawmakers want to know about more than hiking. They’re eager to learn about the full range of outdoor recreation enjoyed all over the state.
In the conversational silos of state budgeting, they weighed outdoor recreation only from the Outdoor Recreation Division’s perspective, which they support. Days later, another silo of state government revealed the bare bones, neglected state of state parks.
Colonius talked about trails because the LFC was meeting in Farmington, which is rightfully proud of its river walk. He didn’t mean high-country trails winding through aspens but trails as human transportation inside towns. Trails, he said, are gathering places that encourage physical activity and draw a wide variety of people. They add to a town’s vitality in a way that will draw new businesses. Speaking alongside Colonius, Farmington economic developer Warren Unsicker said his city’s eight miles of trails are assets helping rebuild the population after economic downturns. With help from the Outdoor Recreation Division, Farmington has added signs and increased marketing as it plans to extend the river trail to Aztec and even add a River Wave for surfing.
It’s part of the city’s turnaround. Farmington’s huge inventory of houses at bargain prices drew new people from Colorado and California who found the city a nice place to live. Last year home prices rebounded, Unsicker said.
“Outdoor recreation is big business,” Colonius said – big enough to now be measured by the U. S. Department of Commerce.
In New Mexico the economic output of outdoor recreation last year was $2.3 billion. Outdoor recreation employment grew a healthy 5.3%, and compensation to New Mexicans increased 7.6%. The division supports outdoor recreation businesses with help in branding and marketing. The Outdoor Equity Fund makes grants to nonprofits and schools that introduce kids to the outdoors. Last year 57 groups received funding that benefited 22,000 kids.
The Trails+ program makes grants for planning, engineering and development of recreation infrastructure, such as parking lots, pullouts and latrines. Funding has increased from $500,000 in 2021 to $7 million last year.
This year the Legislature provided a $10 million, and the grant cycle is still open. The program has projects in 22 of 33 counties plus tribal lands, but not so much in southeastern New Mexico. Colonius admitted he needs more “traction” in the southeast.
LFC Chair George Muñoz, D-Gallup, complimented Farmington on creating options for locals so they don’t need to seek recreation in Durango, but he observed, “We need to expand our vision. There’s no single way to do it. Recreation can be many things.”
The Outdoor Recreation Division is already on it. The question they hear most often from communities and tribes is how to develop outdoor recreation that’s right for their residents. So the division hired a consultant to survey opportunities and gaps across the state and develop plans. It’s called the New Mexico Uplift Initiative.
The division deserves credit for standing up useful programs, helping recreation businesses get off the ground, and adding infrastructure. However, state parks also need the LFC’s love. They provide long-standing, essential infrastructure for New Mexico’s outdoor offerings, and yet many parks have one lone, over-extended employee and aging facilities.
The state hasn’t raised park fees in 20 years, wrote Sarah Cottrell Propst, secretary of the state Energy, Minerals and Natural Resources Department, in an op ed the same week as the LFC meeting. Her department is also studying how to improve state park operations and facilities while remaining affordable.
Infrastructure is infrastructure. How is it that lawmakers ramped up one program in the Outdoor Recreation Division by a whopping $3 million this year while state parks go begging?
© 2023 NEW MEXICO NEWS SERVICES 7/24/23
Ambitious Farm bill will be a heavy lift
By Sherry Robinson
All She Wrote
Modernization and current conditions are two themes as Congress constructs this year’s Farm Bill. Inflation, safety nets and climate change will all inspire changes.
The Farm Bill, a product of the New Deal in 1933, comes up every five years. The current law will expire in September, and it’s not likely that Congress will finish crafting the new bill by then. That’s not necessarily a bad thing. In this big, kitchen-sink type bill, it’s better to take the time it requires.
“The renewal provides an opportunity for producers and consumers to make decisions about commodities to grow, conservation practices to invest in, and requirements to establish the nutrition programs that are important to so many people,” said Jeff Witte, secretary of the state Agriculture Department, in an op ed.
The first Farm Bill tried to shore up prices for surplus crops by paying farmers to reduce production. The bill still includes the Federal Crop Insurance Program that helps farmers by protecting against losses in yield and revenue.
Over the years, the bill has also taken on everything from hemp to farmers markets.
The broad-shouldered Farm Bill also carries SNAP, the Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program, which helped 435,659 New Mexicans in fiscal 2020. Two-thirds of recipients are kids, seniors and disabled people. The $51 million in average monthly SNAP benefits also support New Mexico farmers, food processors, distributors and retailers, Witte said.
The Emergency Food Assistance Program buys nutritious foods and makes them available to state agencies for distribution to low-income people. Roadrunner Food Bank writes that last year it distributed 12 million pounds of food.
Farm Bill 2023 will determine funding for all these programs and more for the next five years, and as usual money is a big debate.
For agriculture, there are two drivers. One is the ag industry itself, which is busily lobbying. The other is interest groups that see the bill as a way to shape agriculture in the future.
Growers, slammed by inflation and higher production costs, want to modernize crop insurance, according to the Farm Journal. Livestock producers want more money for animal disease prevention, a disease traceability system, and disaster preparedness.
The New Mexico Farm & Livestock Bureau wants Congress to keep nutrition and agriculture programs joined, make sure the USDA is adequately staffed to deliver programs, and improve wolf depredation compensation. Witte told Colorado public radio that climate change is a big part of the Farm Bill.
"There's going to be some opportunities for our landowners to really look at improving their own operations and hopefully participate in some of the climate-smart projects that will bring a return to the farm," Witte said.
The U.S. Department of Agriculture already underwrites 141 projects that reduce greenhouse gas emissions through farming, ranching or forestry practices.
A question that deserves more attention is whether Farm Bill programs benefit big corporate operations more than the family farm or ranch. That’s a big deal in New Mexico.
“It’s clear farm bill subsidies have created inequality for young and small land farmers like those that are part of the (National Young Farmers Coalition),” writes Megan Gleason in Source New Mexico. “Over the last 25 years, more than 79% of federal farm subsidies went to just 10% of farms and individuals that qualify, according to a study by the Environmental Working Group.”
The federal Inflation Reduction Act has a program to help young farmers buy land, but the young farmers coalition wants it included in the Farm Bill to ensure it lasts.
The 2023 Farm Bill has a lot of big, moving parts. Lawmakers reportedly agree on a lot, but striking a balance and then funding this ambitious bill will be a heavy lift.
© 2023 NEW MEXICO NEWS SERVICES 7/17/23
Research, technology ride to the rescue of water supplies
By Sherry Robinson
All She Wrote
The conversation about cleaning up municipal wastewater, brackish water, and produced water from oil and gas extraction is starting to change. For years, the oil and gas industry and some tech companies have said, we have water we can reuse. Environmentalists argue it can’t be done, and even if it can, who wants to drink that stuff?
And now, apparently, it can be done, and more people are willing to drink this water. It’s a function of evolving technology and sheer need.
Doubters should have heard the upbeat presentation made recently by Professor Pei Xu, of New Mexico State University, who is also research director of the New Mexico Produced Water Consortium.
New Mexico needs new water, she told the Legislative Finance Committee, and the usual strategy, water conservation, can only take us so far.
“Municipal wastewater is generated every day,” she said. “We can use that water, but it must be treated.”
Brackish water, which has a higher salinity, can also be treated and reused. New Mexico, unlike many states, has brackish aquifers scattered across the state.
And according to the consortium, New Mexico's oil and gas industry generates as much produced water every day as the state’s municipalities consume.
These waters can all be treated to meet different needs, such as agricultural or industrial uses, Xu said.
“We have desalination technologies, and they’ve been implemented” in a limited way, she said. “We can get fresh water.” The challenge is cost and dealing with the waste.
NMSU and its partners pursue all levels of research from basic all the way through testing to verify water quality to technology commercialization. In the long term, they expect to develop new materials and technologies. The consortium works with federal and state agencies, other universities, industry, 17 national labs, Australia and Israel. The water program is a national leader, Xu said.
One pilot project is with El Paso Water, the city’s utility, which operates the largest desalination plant in the nation. Right now the project extracts about 80% clean water, so it must contend with the 20% wastewater; the goal is no waste. Current work is focused on converting salts into usable chemical products.
Other projects involve reducing salinity of brackish water using wind and solar power and recovery of potable water from wastewater. They’re taking place at the federal Brackish Groundwater National Desalination Research Facility in Alamogordo.
“Doing research is not cheap,” Xu told the LFC. State funding is used for federal matches. LFC Chairman George Muñoz, D-Gallup, asked Xu how much money they need.
“We need $1 million a year for research,” she said.
“We’ve got funding,” he said. “We just need to get it to you.” Legislators budgeted for desalination in the last session.
That was an unusual exchange. Muñoz’s duty is to parcel out money carefully. LFC support underscores the need across the state for desalination and the new water it promises.
The city of Las Vegas, because of last year’s forest fires, must contend with increased contaminants along with the usual challenges of supply and climate change. Now, according to Source New Mexico, an online news outlet, Las Vegas is working with the state Environment Department on water reuse.
The department says about 78% of New Mexicans rely on ground water, which can be precarious. The department would like communities to have more than one source of water, and recycled water counts. Las Vegas plans to use some of its federal reparation to treat wastewater. Muñoz sees desalination plants helping support the Navajo-Gallup Water Supply Project. I don’t have space here to list the communities the process could help.
Water experts caution that recycled water is no silver bullet and can’t replace existing supplies, but in a dry future, it can stretch supplies a little farther.
© 2023 NEW MEXICO NEWS SERVICES 7/10/23
Remembering the nation’s first female county extension agent
By Sherry Robinson
All She Wrote
It’s not every day that an old friend becomes a museum exhibit.
The New Mexico Farm & Ranch Heritage Museum in Las Cruces recently opened an exhibit, “Beyond the Farm: Groundbreaking Agriculture,” to honor seven people. One was the late Jessie Fitzgerald, the nation’s first female county extension agent.
When I met Jessie, I was a rookie reporter in Grants, and we were part of a circle of women friends, all with challenging jobs. Not until much later did I learn Jessie came from a historic family and had herself made history.
Jessie Fenton Fitzgerald grew up on a homestead in the Jemez Mountains. Fenton Lake was named for her family. Her mother home-schooled Jessie, and she finished high school at Menaul School in Albuquerque. In 1950 she married Dick Fitzgerald, and for eight summers Jessie and Dick both worked as cowboys.
On the Baca Ranch, now part of Valles Caldera National Preserve, Frank Bond needed a ranch foreman. Hiring a woman was unheard of, so he hired Dick.
“Daddy hired Richard Fitzgerald in order to have Jessie. She was one of best horsemen in the world,” said Mary Ann Bond Bunten.
Jessie and Dick had a small ranch in Cebolla. When the marriage ended, Jessie moved her two young sons into an old dugout in Española and looked for a job. Despite her skills and knowledge, area ranchers and even the local feed store wouldn’t hire a woman.
She then ran 4-H clubs all over the Jemez Mountains, working with County Extension Agent Jim Sais. She needed a job, and Sais offered her summer work as an aide with New Mexico State University’s extension program. Sais encouraged her to complete a bachelor’s degree so she could work in agricultural research or teaching. She wanted to be a county ag extension agent and wouldn’t be dissuaded.
No woman had ever held that job, but Sais arranged for Jessie to meet NMSU Assistant Dean of Agriculture Josh Enzie, who thought it was entirely possible. At age 37 she returned to school. During summer breaks she worked at Ghost Ranch in northern New Mexico as a dude wrangler and volunteer on wilderness rides. She helped many a rider gain confidence with horses.
In 1970 Jessie earned her bachelor’s degree in agricultural and extension education in 1970. The official story is that Jessie immediately became the nation’s first female county ag extension agent. Well, no.
Her friend Linda Grilli Calhoun recalls that at NMSU she and Jessie ran into a friend, Ted Arviso, who worked in NMSU’s personnel office. He asked if she’d been hired yet. She hadn’t. All summer, the office said they had nothing available.
“Because of the civil rights laws, they couldn’t just come out and say they weren’t going to hire her because she was female,” Calhoun said. “They were just hoping she’d get discouraged and go find something else.”
Calhoun told Jessie and Arviso the school’s stonewalling was illegal and offered to put Jessie in touch with the ACLU. Arviso apparently informed personnel, and suddenly they had an opening. NMSU offered her a job as extension agent on the condition that “if it turns out to be too much for you, you’ll resign without a fight.”
Jessie was the agent in Grants for 22 years, earning many honors. When she retired in 1992 there were hundreds of female ag extension agents. She died in 2013 at age 83.
Calhoun recalls that Jessie always believed the ripe apple was green first; all accomplished people were once beginners, so each of us should pass on what we know.
I have a faded, hand-written sign in my office that once hung in Jessie’s office: “TRIUMPH is TRI with a little UMPH added.”
© 2023 NEW MEXICO NEWS SERVICES 7/3/23
July 4, 1946: celebrating in post-war NM
By Sherry Robinson
All She Wrote
July 4, 1946, was the first Independence Day after the end of World War II. Because a lot of events were canceled during the war years, the nation was just starting to return to normal. In some ways 1946 bears a resemblance to this year, when some activities came back to life post-COVID.
With the war’s end there was jubilation and relief, but the military was still reporting losses. That July 4, the Navy Department published a list of 231 New Mexicans known dead and missing for the Navy, Marines and Coast Guard. First on the list was Jacob David Alire, of Española.
In pre-war New Mexico every community of any size had a Fourth of July rodeo, but in 1946, the number of rodeos around the state was less than half the pre-Pearl Harbor levels, one newspaper reported. A handful of communities held rodeos – Silver City, Magdalena, Capitan, Clovis, Albuquerque, Gallup and Mescalero.
Magdalena, west of Socorro, had a four-day celebration with a parade, rodeo and horse races. “Beauty won’t be the determining factor to the cowhands when they choose their rodeo queen,” wrote a correspondent. “The men of the saddle want their queen to be singled out on horsemanship alone.”
McGaffey, now a ghost town but then a mountain community, revived its rodeo after a three-year shutdown, but the McGaffey Rodeo Association held its event in nearby Gallup because of fire danger in the Zuni Mountains. The Albuquerque Journal reported somewhat breathlessly that Navajos would participate in the rodeo. The Journal also seemed a bit surprised that “at Mescalero the Apaches run everything.” Mescalero that year had a rodeo and baseball games.
Baseball was a centerpiece of several celebrations. In Albuquerque the Dukes were playing a doubleheader against the Lubbock Hubbers at Tingley Field, located in the Barelas neighborhood. And Clovis was hosting a much anticipated game between the Clovis Pioneers and the Amarillo Gold Sox. Albuquerque also had stock car races and a golf tournament but no fireworks because of dry conditions. And the Conservancy Beach, later called Tingley Beach, was closed because of contaminated water.
In Carlsbad locals looked forward to the fireworks display on hiatus since 1942. The town’s fire department took on the responsibility, but they had to raise $500 (yes, two zeros) to cover the cost. Spectators watched from the beach and park on the west side of the Pecos River, while the fireworks were on the east side.
For many years after the American Revolution, Independence Day was commemorated with patriotic speeches. Long speeches. In time this tradition faded, but not in the town of Bernalillo in 1946. There the local Veterans of Foreign Wars Post 4243 staged an old fashioned program with patriotic speeches, a baseball game between the Sandia Air Base team and the VFW team, a dance, and a parade featuring VFW members in uniform, the sawmill workers union 2864, and the Spanish Mutual Protection Society.
Those who wanted to get out of town now had that option because gas rationing and limitations on travel ended. Anglers could return to their favorite fishing streams in distant mountains, but they couldn’t light fireworks because the national forests were too dry.
New Mexicans welcomed a return to normal on July 4, 1946, but they knew they and the nation would never be the same. The Albuquerque Journal editorialized: “With the war over, we have the task of preserving our form of government, and working to secure the peace of the world, and the freedom of other people saved from dictators who sought to conquer them. We should rededicate ourselves to these tasks.”
Post-war, it was a new world. Post-pandemic, we’re also forever changed.
© 2023 NEW MEXICO NEWS SERVICES 6/26/23
Getting internet service to rural NM takes more than ‘doing the math’
By Sherry Robinson
All She Wrote
Spools of fiber-optic cable are becoming a more common sight around the state since the federal government started funding internet projects. That’s a good thing, right? Maybe not, if you listen to naysayers.
In April the U.S. Department of Agriculture announced that New Mexico would receive $40 million for three rural broadband projects, courtesy of the Bipartisan Infrastructure Law. That brings the total to 18 projects worth more than $200 million.
For people in remote places with slow or no internet service, it means they can enjoy all the services and amenities that people in cities take for granted.
This round of funding sends $23.8 million to Western New Mexico Telephone Co. to build a fiber-to-the premises network that will deliver high-speed internet access to 206 people, five businesses and five farms in Catron County.
Peñasco Valley Telephone Cooperative will get $13.9 million for 550 people, 11 businesses and 48 farms in Chaves, Eddy, Otero and Lincoln counties, according to the USDA news release.
And ENMR Telephone Cooperative will get $2.6 million for one farm and 27 people in De Baca, Guadalupe, Harding, Quay, San Miguel, Socorro and Union counties.
All three utilities will make the service affordable to customers by participating in Affordable Connectivity Programs (ACP). A program of the Federal Communications Commission, ACP subsidizes the cost of internet up to $30 per month, so that service is free or inexpensive.
New Mexico has an ACP enrollment rate of 38% of eligible households, which ranks us 7th in the nation, according to the Southern New Mexico Journalism Collaborative. And the state’s Office of Broadband Access and Expansion is working to drive enrollment higher.
A few letter writers took a dim view of spending $40 million to get cable to 783 people, 16 businesses and 54 farms. They had “done the math,” they said, and it didn’t make sense.
One critic argued that the government was spending many thousands per customer when, for the same price, they could receive years of service from HughesNet Satellite or Starlink. He then points out that HughesNet costs $149 a month for service he describes as “kind of slow,” plus the user must install a router, while Starlink costs $700 the first month and $110 a month after that.
So let’s say the government paid for satellite service. We’re talking years. The fiber-optic is there forever, like your electric line.
Kelly Schlegel, director of the state Office of Broadband Access and Expansion, responded in an op ed that it’s easy to opine from the comfort of the city, but we’re talking about real people who face real consequences when their internet goes down.
“Many ‘less expensive’ alternatives that critics suggest our rural neighbors should accept without complaint simply aren’t viable options for reliable internet in every circumstance,” she writes. Fiber-optic, compared to the alternatives, is the fastest, most reliable technology over time, said Schlegel, who spent 40 years in the tech industry. And the utility partners have skin in the game. They have to match 25% of the federal grant. It’s a lot for small providers, but then they have a stake in making this work.
A little internet research reveals that many Starlink customers swear by it, but customer service and communications with the company are abysmal. In many rural areas, it’s simply not available. It’s expensive, and the company raised its rates twice in its first two years of operation.
HughesNet Satellite Internet also provides fast internet in rural areas, although it’s not available in some areas, and it restricts the amount of data that can be used each month. It can also be prone to service outages.
Maybe in the future rural customers will have their choice of providers, but right now they have nothing. These projects have the best chance of connecting them soon with affordable, reliable service.