© 2023 NEW MEXICO NEWS SERVICES 11/6/23
So long to a friend and fellow traveler
By Sherry Robinson
All She Wrote
My friend and long-time colleague Harold Morgan passed away last month. Harold started writing for this small syndicate in 2004.
He spent a career in numbers as founding editor of New Mexico Business Journal and Sunwest Bank’s chronicler of New Mexico’s economy, although he once wrote, “Grains of salt should be issued with the first unveiling of all numbers. Full salt tablets should come with more complex numbers.” He loved wading into data in a search. As a tribute to Harold, I’d like to share some excerpts from his 17-plus years of columns.
In his first column on Feb. 4, 2004, he reported state job numbers: “It’s a performance just above mediocre and nowhere close to the claim, promoted in August by Gov. Bill Richardson’s staff, as ‘one of the most dramatic economic turnarounds in U.S. history.’"
A year later, he pierced the “tax-cut brouhaha” in the Legislature. Tax cuts were “offset by the Richardson administration’s long list of tax and fee increases.” This sword cut both ways. In 2017 he punctured Gov. Susana Martinez administration’s claim that they cut taxes 37 times by looking at each bill. He concluded, “With a few exceptions, the much celebrated tax cuts, overall, mean little to the state.”
Harold, an admirer of the late Republican Sen. Pete Domenici,” sadly reported in October 2007 that Domenici “departs the New Mexico political scene with grace and dignity, the same way he has served for 35 years as United States Senator.” Domenici was frank about the incurable brain disease that forced his retirement. “Confronting mortality is somewhere between strange and unpleasant for any individual,” Harold wrote. “Doing so in public, in front of television cameras, adds dimensions difficult to comprehend.”
Harold followed economic development closely. In 2011 he skewered Gov. Martinez and her economic development secretary, whose only proposals were recruiting companies to the state. “Recruiting is good and necessary, but for that to be the only topic massively misses the point,” he wrote. Recruiting had no impact on the smallest communities.
That year Harold surprised everyone: “Legalize marijuana. There! I said it! In public! Conservative me!” His reason was that “the social costs of legal marijuana, however high, would be less than the social costs of illegal marijuana.” He meant that illegal weed brought otherwise law-abiding citizens into contact with criminals. “In my brief, long ago marijuana flirtation, my supplier was a Washington-based federal prosecutor. This nicely defines the potential for societal rot.”
In 2012 Harold wrote that Martinez’s thin agenda lacked values. “Republicans must bring a framework of values to the conversation.” Run articulate Republicans for office, starting with grassroots positions. “But, remember, ground everything in values. Dump the extremism.”
Harold was the only business writer I knew who followed population growth. When he reported in 2014 that New Mexico topped 2 million people, he added that since 2011 more people had left New Mexico than had moved here. Why? Economic downturns and nonexistent job growth.
Civility was a regular subject. Deb Haaland, then Democratic Party chairwoman, said in 2016 that Martinez’s policy priorities were “exactly in line with the reckless and racist priorities of Trump and other Republican candidates.” Harold responded, “While it’s tough to argue Donald Trump is anything other than reckless and racist, pasting that label on Martinez is hardly civil.” He added, “Republicans say the same stupid stuff.”
When Steve Pearce announced his run for governor in 2017, Harold wrote: “I like Steve Pearce.” But he wondered if Pearce could win a statewide general election. “For sure he will be toast if he only presents voters the standard list of right-wing talking points.”
Harold’s last column was June 28, 2021. He stepped down for medical treatment and then decided to devote himself to a book on New Mexico’s uranium industry.
Nobody else covered the state’s economy in such depth and with gusto.
© 2023 NEW MEXICO NEWS SERVICES 10/30/23
One woman tackles robocall scams
By Sherry Robinson
All She Wrote
Barbara Mohon is my new hero.
This Santa Fe lady, a retired dental hygienist, took on the junk callers who pestered her daily and won in court.
She began with all the things we’re supposed to do – registering on the do-not-call (DNC) list, blocking them on her cell phone, and pressing the opt-out on pre-recorded phone messages – to no avail. Finally, she bought the fake health insurance just to identify the source of the calls and last year sued four men in federal court.
Mohon argued that the four violated the New Mexico Unfair Practices Act, which bars automated calls with prerecorded solicitations unless there’s an existing business relationship. The state also requires sellers to identify themselves within 15 seconds. And it’s illegal to call residential subscribers listed on the national do-not-call registry or to block caller ID.
They violated the federal Telephone Consumer Protection Act by making robocalls to sell “services they falsely claimed were ‘health insurance,’” according to the lawsuit. Federal law prohibits robocalls to cell phones without the user’s consent and calls to anyone on the DNC.
According to Mohon’s lawsuit, Texas residents John C. Spiller II and Jakob A. Mears, through their business, Rising Eagle, made “abusive robocalls nationwide” from at least June 2018 through January 2019. Michael Theron Smith Jr., of Florida, also made abusive robocalls through his business, Health Advisors., and Scott Perry Shapiro provided call lists.
None of the defendants ever responded to her lawsuit, so the judge granted default judgment of $570,000.
However, seven state attorneys general got there first. In 2021 the U.S. Federal Communications Commission hit Spiller and Mears and their companies, Rising Eagle and JSquared Telecom, with a record $225 billion fine for 1 billion illegal robocalls falsely claiming to offer insurance plans from well known companies. In August Smith and Shapiro were each fined $73 million.
The AGs’ combined case reveals the innards of this operation. The four defendants worked together to generate call lists and unleash a torrent of robocalls with little regard for federal law or the do-not-call list. At all times, their primary concern was keeping a pool of 30 agents busy peddling dubious insurance. When the Missouri AG sued, Smith instructed Mears to stop making sales there. They subsequently stopped calling Florida, California, and Illinois. In June Smith’s Health Advisors was dissolved, and Smith settled with Missouri, but he was still buying caller data.
According to the AGs, the defendants made 1.7 million calls to their states between January 2019 and June 9, 2020, and more than 308,000 were to numbers on the DNC. In September 2022, Smith complained to Mears: “We’re getting hit with lawsuits left and right… We have to find a way to not call these (expletive)s.”
Smith is shielded for a time because of his Chapter 11 bankruptcy case in southern Florida. It gives us a closer look at one key player. In 2021, he made $587,642. That dropped to $501,173 in 2022. He lived in a $2.3 million home, and his credit cards ran from five digits to six. He owned a Lincoln and a Mercedes. A single man, he paid child support to two women.
Smith and friends ran one of many such scams out there.
U.S. Sen. Ben Ray Lujan, chair of the Senate subcommittee on Communications, Media and Broadband, recently held hearings on the plague of robocalls and robotexts that defrauded Americans of $39 billion in 2022 and heard the feds don’t have a handle on them.
This case shows us that scammers can simply ignore federal laws with little fear of consequences, but states and the FCC can make a dent. And so can determined individuals like Barbara Mohon.
Mohon knows she probably won’t see a dollar, but she told the Albuquerque Journal that her case sends a message: Find honorable work or prepare to pay up.
© 2023 NEW MEXICO NEWS SERVICES 10/23/23
War in Ukraine, tweet by tweet
By Sherry Robinson
All She Wrote
Some time ago, I noticed a change in my Twitter (now X) feed that apparently reflected an uptick in what other people were following. Namely, posts from the Ukrainian war front. As a journalist, I was fascinated that soldiers tweeting from the battlefield were essentially covering their own war, and it was different from what we see on the nightly news – more immediate and very personal.
My favorite is the young officer Roman Trokymets, talking as munitions exploded around him. He was on leave, sitting with friends in a pizza parlor during a Russian missile strike. He last posted in July after his unit took over a Russian trench, pointing out booby traps at his feet. “We keep taking back our land. Everything good,” he said. He stopped posting, his sister said, because he suffered multiple concussions.
On Twitter soldiers show us light moments – preparing “birthday cake” (candy bars duct-taped around a big candle), caring for found dogs and cats who become part of the unit, dancing if someone has a musical instrument. More often, it’s drone footage of strikes on tanks and trenches, transport through pulverized villages, dashes through moonscapes on foot, and missile launches. Through it all, their president addresses his nation nightly with purpose and gratitude.
Ukrainian citizens capture a few normal moments – their holidays and culture – along with the wreckage of their apartments, grocery stores and cafes. They drop to one knee when a hearse passes carrying a warrior to his (or her) final rest in a cemetery with rows of flags. A young girl with a prosthetic leg wins a gymnastics tournament.
The message from one and all: We love our country, and we will win.
Last week our president addressed the nation on the need to support both Israel and Ukraine because it bolsters U.S. security. Initially, Ukraine, attacked without provocation by its neighboring superpower, enjoyed broad sympathy. Later, Americans agreed that the enemy of our enemy is our friend. We see that weakening Russia suits both nations and Europe as well.
But everything gets political, and opposition to the president has extended to Ukraine – that and the reluctance to get involved in another lengthy foreign war. In May 2022 New Mexico’s then-Congresswoman Yvette Herrell and 57 other Republicans voted against a bipartisan, $40 billion aid package for Ukraine. Herrell said she didn’t know how the money would be spent, even though the bill was specific. One piece was allowing the administration to buy weapons from contractors for Ukraine’s use.
Which leads us to another riveting aspect of Ukrainian tweets: Some regulars and followers are knowledgeable about the tools of war. In Ukraine, they can see how the vaunted Bradley Fighting Vehicle, for example, performs in a conventional land war. Because dozens of countries have contributed weapons and supplies, there’s running commentary about the hardware being used. Ukraine has become a testbed.
The big dogs of defense have a presence in New Mexico: Lockheed Martin (Javelin anti-tank missiles and HIMARS mobile artillery rockets); RTX, formerly Raytheon, (Patriot, Sidewinder, Javelin, Stinger, and other missiles); Boeing (launchers); and Northrop Grumman (artillery munitions). Defense contractors constitute an industry here.
Each delivery of weaponry is posted and lifts morale across Ukraine. One expert wrote, “It is so telling how even the least developed variant of a western weapon systems… causes havoc among Russian equipment and throws them off balance.”
From the front: “Another attempt by the occupiers to take us in numbers! They throw all their strength into the assault. However, this is not the first day we have been fighting. We know where and how they will go. They only manage to fight like a fish on ice. We destroy everything that moves hostilely.”
Each day soldiers improve their usage of these tools and shorten the war.
2023 NEW MEXICO NEWS SERVICES 10/16/23
NM scientists see promise of hydrogen in energy strategy
By Sherry Robinson
All She Wrote
Trying to follow the debate over hydrogen as an energy source is like watching a ping pong game: It’s good. It’s bad. It’s good. It’s bad.
So when the U.S. Department of Energy recently declined to fund the Western Interstate Hydrogen Hub (WISHH), which included New Mexico, but did agree to spend billions on seven other projects around the nation, it was discouraging news to the governor and hydrogen supporters but not to environmentalists.
One problem is that most of us aren’t engineers or scientists. Oil, gas, coal, solar and wind are easy to understand. Hydrogen isn’t. So I’ve been casting about for some reasonable explanations. The state Environment Department’s fact sheet boils it down clearly. Clean hydrogen is made in two ways:
1. Electrolysis uses electricity to split water molecules and capture hydrogen with oxygen as the byproduct. This is green hydrogen.
2. Steam methane reformation uses natural gas to produce hydrogen, and a second process captures the carbon byproduct, which can be stored underground in geologic structures, in storage tanks or in cryogenic tanks. This is blue hydrogen.
Each process has drawbacks. Electrolysis is expensive and needs water, which we all know is in short supply. Steam methane reformation releases some carbon dioxide into the atmosphere, and carbon capture is still unproven.
Why is it worth the trouble? Hydrogen can generate electricity, fuel long-haul trucks and airplanes, and store electricity, among other things. It could restore jobs lost to power plant closures and create new jobs. In fact, San Juan and McKinley counties are counting on it.
Those are the basics. However – and there are many howevers – a variety of factors change the picture. For example, produced and brackish water could be used. And, the fact sheet notes, the water use would be a small fraction of water previously used by coal-fired power plants.
The whole subject is steadily changing as the scientific community learns more, and a lot of that work is happening in New Mexico’s labs.
I can’t help but notice that scientists are comfortable with hydrogen and see a role for it in the transition to carbon-free sources.
Van Romero, vice president and physics professor at New Mexico Tech, wrote in July, “A true all-of-the-above, forward-thinking energy strategy will require investment in both green and blue hydrogen.” Carbon capture and storage, he said, aren’t new in New Mexico. His institution and the labs have studied it for 20 years and have an active project. Bravo Dome, in northeastern New Mexico, proves that CO2 can stay put for a million years.
Bravo Dome, which I covered in the 1980s, is a natural underground reservoir of CO2, which the oil and gas industry harnessed to coax more oil from wells. CO2 has other uses.
Duncan McBranch, program director for Mission Innovation at Los Alamos National Laboratory, reminded us in June that we can’t just leap instantly to electric everything. You see electric cars but not electric long-haul trucks because the batteries would be too big and heavy. Hydrogen is the solution. Thousands of trucks passing through the state on three interstates create “a strong business case for hydrogen trucking here,” he wrote.
Hydrogen made from natural gas (blue hydrogen) is cheaper than diesel today, McBranch said. If the CO2 is captured and stored (or used), it’s clean hydrogen. And “the technology for carbon capture is ready today and adds a small amount to the cost of hydrogen fuel.” Hydrogen from water (green) is cleaner, but it’s simply not available or affordable to the transportation sector.
“A carbon-neutral energy economy won’t happen overnight,” McBranch wrote, but “hydrogen builds a bridge to get there.”
© 2023 NEW MEXICO NEWS SERVICES 10/9/23
Juan de Oñate is with us once again
By Sherry Robinson
All She Wrote
Recent arguments about Juan de Oñate have been long on emotion and short on historical perspective. Sadly, Marc Simmons, one of New Mexico’s most respected historians, died last month, but it’s still possible to have a balanced discussion guided by Simmons’ words.
So let’s return to 1598. Spain was the most powerful nation in Europe, and it was the Age of Discovery. After brutal exploration and conquest, Spain controlled the Americas from Peru to Mexico and began to look northward. The king had a choice of candidates who wanted to lead and finance the journey of a caravan of soldiers and settlers into the largely unknown north. The reward for his investment was a title and the opportunity to get rich.
The chosen one was Juan de Oñate, son of a wealthy mining family in Zacatecas, who had proven himself as a soldier in wars with Mexico’s indigenous people. However, Spanish bureaucracy and local jealousies and intrigues ensnared Oñate and his 500 recruits for 28 months. It was financially and emotionally draining.
Making their way slowly up the Rio Grande Valley, the lumbering mass had peaceful interactions with pueblos all the way to San Juan Pueblo (Ohkay Owingeh), where they stopped and took up residence inside the pueblo. At each village the Spaniards held a ceremony in which the local people pledged their loyalty to the crown although the natives may not have understood what they were signing up for.
Acoma Pueblo, untouchable on its lofty rock perch, resisted. After a clash at the pueblo that cost the lives of Oñate’s beloved nephew and 12 other men, we might expect Oñate to lash out, but he didn’t. He prayed and consulted with priests and officers. They worried that if they didn’t punish Acoma severely, the other pueblos might rise up against them. The consensus was that under Spanish law it would be a just war.
The outnumbered Spanish, using stealth and superior weaponry, killed hundreds, destroyed the pueblo, and took 500 captives. At Santo Domingo (Kewa) Pueblo, Oñate ordered decades of servitude for all, and 24 men would have one foot cut off. This was a typical punishment among Europeans of the time – not something Oñate dreamed up to torment the Acomas.
Did the amputations take place? Simmons wrote in his 1991 book, “The Last Conquistador: Juan de Oñate and the Settling of the Far Southwest,” that they did. But as he continued to research, Simmons came to have his doubts. So did historian John Kessell. Both had seen a document describing Oñate’s plan to order severe punishments but then allow the priests to argue against it so the priests would look like heroes. Kessell wrote that “the historical record makes no mention of a one-footed Acoma slave. Cutting off a foot, after all, rendered a potential worker all but useless.”
Bottom line: Nobody knows. The surviving records are thin. A year or so later, the Acomas, footless or not, escaped, returned home, and within three years rebuilt their pueblo. Oñate was later tried for that and other violent acts and given a light sentence. He later cleared his name, recovered his fortune, and died a successful man in Spain.
Now we’re debating Oñate’s statue. Again. His modern critics wonder why he’s “honored” with a statue. The answer is, it’s more a recognition. History is objective. It records Oñate’s entrada, the difficult journey, privations in a remote outpost, rebellions by settlers, war on Acoma, and his resignation as governor. History also sees Oñate extending the Camino Real by 700 miles, founding a new Spanish province and the first municipality (Santa Fe), and launching mining and livestock industries.
Española and Albuquerque should bring Don Juan indoors and tell his story. In 2011 Kessell wrote, “No matter how Oñate’s brutal sentence played out, is it not time, four hundred years later, to forgive? Put bluntly, to get over it? Unforgiveness – enshrining one’s victimhood – does provide a satisfying power over the accused. By claiming moral high ground, unforgivers also grab attention. But they do so at a price.”
Activists are staying angry but to what end? Pueblo governments have stayed out of this fight. It’s not 1599 anymore. Their concerns are for the people of today.
© 2023 NEW MEXICO NEWS SERVICES 9/25/23
Who, exactly, is served by government shutdowns?
By Sherry Robinson
All She Wrote
Ten years ago, during a 16-day shutdown, tourists stood outside locked gates at national parks and monuments. Kirtland and Holloman Air Force bases furloughed nearly 1,500 civilian employees. The Federal Law Enforcement Training Center in Artesia closed, which delayed training for 350 agents sorely needed by the Border Patrol. The Department of Energy’s 1,000 Waste Isolation Pilot Plant employees kept working and got late paychecks, but a subcontractor that processed and shipped transuranic waste had to lay off 154 workers. At Sandia and Los Alamos national laboratories 18,000 contractors lost money.
U.S. Rep. Steve Pearce, a Tea Party member, said at the time, “At times, you must act on principle and not ask what cost, what are the chances of success.”
The costs were substantial. New Mexico ranked seventh among states most affected by the shutdown. Among other reasons, it was sixth in the number of federal employees per capita and fourth in federal contractors, according to WalletHub, a personal finance website.
Nationally, 850,000 federal employees were furloughed. Post offices, border checkpoints and federal law enforcement agencies were operating, but their employees didn’t see paychecks until after the shutdown ended. Small Business Administration offices closed and lending stalled. Banks couldn’t verify income data or Social Security numbers. The Bureau of Land Management furloughed 754 employees and stopped processing drilling permit applications.
Even so, Pearce opposed ending the shutdown because in his view underlying problems remained.
In the aftermath, economists said the shutdown took $24 billion out of the nation’s economy, consumer confidence fell, mortgage applications dropped, and economic recovery from the Great Recession slowed. Lost visitor income from shuttered national parks totaled some $500 million. The Tea Party morphed into the Freedom Caucus. In July, Virginia’s Rep. Bob Good said on the Capitol steps: “We should not fear a government shutdown. Most of the American people won't even miss it if the government is shut down temporarily."
Where was he in 2013? Or 2018?
Five years ago, New Mexico was second in impacts, behind only Washington, D.C, according to WalletHub. The 2018-2019 partial shutdown lasted five weeks. It was the third shutdown under Trump, who demanded more money for his border wall.
In New Mexico the military and the national labs were funded, but 5,800 federal employees were furloughed or worked without pay. At departments with large footprints in New Mexico, such as the U.S. Department of the Interior and U.S. Department of Homeland Security, “nonessential” employees were on unpaid leave. Tribal communities couldn’t count on the federal government for child care, road maintenance or help for needy families. In airports, TSA employees worked without pay, and some stopped showing up.
About 380,000 federal employees were furloughed, and another 420,000 worked unpaid. The shutdown reduced economic output by $11 billion for half the year, delayed more than $2 billion in loans to small businesses, and drove up freight rates (and consumer prices) because of delays at border crossings.At this writing, with the House paralyzed by discord, another shutdown looms.The Freedom Caucus is oblivious to economic impacts and financial hardships for families, but they might want to think about elections next year. Financial turmoil stays in the public memory, and shutdowns have not favored Republicans.
In New Mexico, Yvette Harrell is again running against Rep. Gabe Vasquez in Congressional District 2. In 2018 the House Freedom Fund, a political committee funded by the Freedom Caucus, endorsed her, according to the Associated Press. Herrell called the endorsement an affirmation of her values. She won her 2020 election and joined the Freedom Caucus.
If we have another shutdown, some of Yvette Herrell’s constituents will cheer, but how many? She can count on Democrats to inform voters of her ties to the Freedom Caucus and its impact on New Mexico’s economy.
© 2023 NEW MEXICO NEWS SERVICES 9/18/23
In the push for decarbonization, there’s room at the table for everyone
By Sherry Robinson
All She Wrote
Last week energy professionals met to talk about “building an advanced energy ecosystem in New Mexico.” Conference participants came from industry, the labs, government, unions and education. Alas, the protests outside the Albuquerque hotel got more attention than the learned people inside.
I’ve been writing about energy in New Mexico since the 1970s and have covered my share of energy conferences. They’re part dog-and-pony show and part education; the most productive exchanges tend to happen in the hallways when participants talk to each other.
The goal of this meeting was to unite all the players in decarbonizing New Mexico. Participants advocated using a range of technologies – including carbon capture, sequestration, hydrogen, nuclear and some that haven’t yet been invented – to phase out fossil fuels and end carbon emissions, reported the Albuquerque Journal.
The conference wasn’t about winners and losers, said Rep. Meredith Dixon, D-Albuquerque, who organized the meeting with New Mexico Women Lead. “There’s room at the table for everyone.” Dixon excluded environmentalists as presenters, saying she wanted an exchange among scientists. She’ll get some grief for that, but I applaud her goals.
I’ve always thought this approach makes the most sense, but we don’t hear it enough. The protesters outside believe only renewables will save the planet while some on the other end of the spectrum see any gain for solar and wind as a loss to oil and gas. They’ve all missed the message on the need for everything, and the unnecessary squabbling has cost time and resources better used in the real challenge.
One argument for the all-of-the-above approach sits in my garage. I can’t afford an electric vehicle. Yet. So I’ll buy gasoline for a while longer. My roof is devoid of solar panels for the same reason. But the price is of both is dropping steadily.
Sen. Martin Heinrich talked about pricing when he addressed the conference. In 1976 “the cost per watt of generating capacity from utility scale solar was $100. Today, it is well under 50 cents and continuing at a consistent, predictable decline.” Wind power and battery storage have seen similar cost reductions.
Heinrich, an engineer, was at home in this crowd, talking about S-curves, deviations and distributed technology.
“The unsubsidized levelized cost of solar photovoltaics dropped from around $300 to $400 per megawatt hour in 2009 to around $30 to $40 per megawatt hour in 2021,” he said. “The unsubsidized levelized cost of onshore wind energy dropped from around $100 to $170 per megawatt hour in 2009 to around $26 to $50 per megawatt hour in 2021.”
Even so, worldwide change will take some time.
That was the argument made by Karl Fennessy, vice president for corporate policy at ConocoPhillips, who said industry projections are that global demand for oil and gas will plateau in the early 2030s and remain steady until 2050. His company, meanwhile, is working hard to decarbonize its oil and gas operations.
That said, I sympathize with the protesters, and if I were 20 again I’d join them. We, their elders, have left them a mess, and we don’t have time to waste.
But I’m not 20, and I’ve seen a few things. I can’t agree with a protest leader that the conference focused on “old, false solutions.” We can’t know what scientists and engineers will come up with if they work together.
Heinrich pointed out that the state’s technology experts are working on “everything from enhanced geothermal systems and concentrating solar power to small modular nuclear reactors and electrolysis for generating green hydrogen.” Such advanced devices aren’t as far along as solar panels, but they could potentially decarbonize challenging uses like trains, planes and industrial processes.
Protesters have their role to play too. We need them to remind us of the urgent need for change.
© 2023 NEW MEXICO NEWS SERVICES 9/11/23
Lawmakers take the low road on cultural affairs confirmation
By Sherry Robinson
All She Wrote
Long-time education leader Viola Martinez said that in her 15 years as a museum trustee, she never felt compelled to take a stand until now.
“I always supported leadership” while serving on many boards, she told the Senate Rules Committee last week. But so many New Mexico people across the state are concerned about the Department of Cultural Affairs, she had to speak against reappointing Secretary Debra Garcia y Griego, who had removed multiple directors in “a chaotic and unprofessional manner.”
Margie Marino, director for six years of the Museum of Natural History and Science in Albuquerque, said she “was given five minutes to decide if I wanted to retire or get fired.” Marino, who had decades of experience, brought stability to the museum, Martinez said. These leaders and senior staff across the state “are the assets of any organization.”
Joining Martinez in opposing reappointment were four heavy hitters who spent their lives protecting the state’s heritage.
On the other side of the ledger were the secretary’s supporters, who say her running controversies indicate a strong leader, somebody willing to make the tough decisions. Garcia y Griego herself cites improved numbers for attendance, construction and new exhibits. The department’s vacancy and turnover rates are below the average for state agencies, she said. Supporters led with Jenelle Roybal, governor of Pojoaque Pueblo, who said former State Archeologist Eric Blinman had ignored pueblo wishes during a project and removed human remains and other materials and kept them at the Office of Archeological Studies (OAS). The pueblo complained to Garcia y Griego.
“Our experience is she is an adept and skilled listener,” Roybal said. The secretary immediately responded. In February she fired Blinman, who had held the post for 17 years, took his phone and laptop, and forbade him to enter OAS again or speak to OAS employees. Hundreds of fellow professionals protested in writing, and Blinman has sued in federal court.
Roybal neglected to tell the committee some key details. The work began some 20 years ago when the state transportation department contracted with OAS to do archeological clearance related to a highway project. Archeology practices and laws have changed since then, Tom Wilson, former director of the Museum of New Mexico, told me. Nobody who knows Blinman believes he would have acted unlawfully or unprofessionally.
In testimony, 28-year former employee Tisa Gabriel and respected historian Thomas Chavez took Roybal to task for her inappropriate personal attack on Blinman, who wasn’t present to defend himself. Gabriel told me afterward that Roybal’s statement was loaded with misinformation.
Chavez, former director of the Palace of Governors, testified, “The Department of Cultural Affairs is in its most dismal state since its inception.” The secretary’s departmental reorganization created a “top-heavy monolith” in which pay increases “do not reach the worker bees.” He questioned the accuracy of the secretary’s attendance and revenue numbers.
Wilson testified that under Garcia y Griego there had been “persistent complaints of toxic work environments and retaliation. If this was the norm… in prior administrations, then why have we not heard this outcry before?” He warned that this instability risks museum accreditation, makes recruiting top candidates more difficult, and troubles donors.
Before the meeting, Kent Jacobs, a Museum of New Mexico regent for more than 17 years, and his wife Sallie Ritter, cut $2 million from their bequest to DCA, citing firings, instability and poor morale.
Lawmakers were more impressed by the secretary’s crowd of employees and friends. The committee chair, Sen. Katy Duhigg, D-Albuquerque, never informed the opposing camp they could bring anyone other than designated speakers, changed her mind a few times about how many would be allowed to speak and for how long, and shifted days.
Thomas Chavez had argued, “The status quo is not an option.”
The committee voted 7 to 2 to recommend confirmation to the full Senate, proving once again that the status quo is the preferred option so far.
© 2023 NEW MEXICO NEWS SERVICES 9/4/23
Richardson had a big vision for New Mexico
By Sherry Robinson
All She Wrote
A teenager asked Bill Richardson, “What did you say to Saddam?”
“I said, ‘You gotta let these guys go, but if you don’t, don’t shoot me.’”
The crowd laughed.
On a hot summer Saturday in 1995 Bill Richardson walked with the parade in Mora, dodging fresh horse pies, grasping hands, throwing candy, hugging grandmas and mugging for everyone with a camera. Just back from Iraq, the New Mexico congressman had persuaded Saddam Hussein to free two Americans. Richardson was a national hero and the star of the Mora Fiesta parade.
I had a magazine assignment to shadow him for a day. That made three reporters tagging along, plus a People magazine photographer shooting the famous dimples.
Richardson, a Democrat, hadn’t missed this parade since he was elected to the 3rd Congressional District in 1982. And he never rode. “He’d rather be out with the people,” said aide Joe Sandoval.
Wearing a western-cut shirt, blue jeans and cowboy boots, he walked ahead of the Bill Richardson truck blasting mariachi music. A kid with a microphone announced: “Say hello to Bill Richardson, fighter for New Mexico!”
Richardson said, “This is the kind of politics I love – touching people.” He loved being a politician and didn’t understand why the word should be an insult.
Nobody could tell that he’d returned from Washington at 4 a.m. “That allows me to do two parades and a town meeting,” he said, plus several informal meetings, a testimonial for Bruce and Alice King in Moriarty and dinner with Navajo artist R.C. Gorman in Taos. He would end the day shaking hands at the Taos Fiestas.
For years he returned every other weekend and sprinted from event to event.
That’s how I’ll remember the man who left us suddenly last week at age 75. He played his many roles with joy. He was a long-serving congressman, governor, UN ambassador, Department of Energy Secretary, and candidate for president.
His accomplishments were many: the spaceport, the Rail Runner, reduced DWIs, better pay for teachers, and a tax cut, among others. I have nothing to add to the usual allegations of pay to play. My beef was his penchant for appointing politicos. He said he liked appointing politicians because they knew how to get things done. But they didn’t.
“The governor’s appointments went far beyond the usual cabinet positions to extend his reach deep into each bureaucratic warren,” I wrote in 2006. The result was to politicize state government down to its toenails, a condition that haunts us to this day. Former Gov. Gary Johnson said we got people who were loyal to Richardson but not necessarily to taxpayers.
On the other hand, as Richardson began his second term, economic developers no longer complained that nobody had heard of New Mexico. The state was visible because our governor was visible. A guy who had to overcome the label of “carpetbagger” in his first race loved New Mexico, and it loved him back. His approval rating soared. He won re-election because New Mexico was moving again after eight years of gridlock under Gary Johnson.
“He gets an A for communicating his vision for a better New Mexico,” I wrote in 2006. “Our chief executive loves this place the way you love your child, and he wants good things for it.”
As a business writer, I appreciated his embrace of business. Richardson earned a pro-business reputation during both terms as governor. He involved himself directly in economic development and pushed the Legislature for incentives. He told the outside world that New Mexico was open for business. NAFTA had Richardson’s name all over it.
When Richardson finished his second term as governor, I wrote. “He had a vision for New Mexico that was bigger than our own.” I still believe that.