Youth Leading Sustainability Efforts in Jemez Pueblo Invited to the White House

By Anthony Fleg, Native Health Initiative

Emmet stands with current Walatowa Governor Michael Toledo in Washington D.C.

Service work often rewards with intangible benefits: meeting great people, satisfaction in knowing that you are working for a better world.

However, Emmet Yepa, a local youth leader received a very tangible reward for his service last week when he was invited to meet President Obama at the White House because of the work he has done to protect Mother Earth.

Emmet, who comes from the Walatowa (Jemez) Pueblo, was one of eleven American Indian youth nationwide to be selected by the White House as a “Champion of Change” for his work to create a recycling program in the Walatowa Pueblo. The program asked youth to tell the President about their service and leadership work they are doing in their communities.

“I am really honored to be accepted for this trip, and want to learn from this so that I can bring information back to our youth in New Mexico,” said Emmet as he headed to the nation’s capitol. He talked about the other founding members – Tianie and Lindsay Toya and Mark Panana – of the Walatowa Green Stars, his family, and the Walatowa community who he would be representing in his trip.

The Champions of Change ceremony took place December 1st at the White House, and each youth was given a chance to speak about the work they are doing. (click here to see video of the event). The following day, the eleven youth attended the Tribal Nations Conference at the Department of the Interior, meeting with Obama privately before he spoke to the assembled leaders.

 

“He is such an amazing, powerful and humble individual,” commented Emmet from that meeting.

In fact, Emmet says that the most powerful part of the trip for him was the Tribal Nations Conference. “It was a great feeling being with the leaders of the Indigenous Nations of this country…It made me think that I want to have the Green Stars further into the process of getting a recycling center. I want to be able to say that I accomplished more than I expected before I head off to college, for our Pueblo and for Mother Earth.”

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Barb Wold, pioneer in online activism passes away

By Matthew Reichbach

Barb WoldBarb Wold was undeniably the leading voice of progressives in New Mexico in the online arena. Wold passed away Sunday at the age of 64, leaving behind her life partner MaryEllen Broderick.

Wold was a progressive activist who founded the popular blog Democracy for New Mexico and ran the influential website for years. Wold often credited the Howard Dean campaign for getting her involved in online politics — and no one in the state, on the left or right, did it with the passion and tenacity of Wold.

Wold truly was a pioneer in New Mexico for blogging and showed that online activism could have an effect on the real world. Wold became a force in the Democratic Party from her writing at Democracy for New Mexico and other political efforts. Democrats in the state quickly learned that speaking to Democracy for New Mexico and attending the monthly DFA-DFNM meetups were essential to reaching the progressive base of the Democratic Party.

Wold saw dozens of New Mexico blogs come and go since launching Democracy for New Mexico on July 31, 2004. One reason is that Wold was able to put up new content on a regular basis for years, where many tired of the grind of blogging about New Mexico politics for little, if any, pay. Wold continued to publish content on the site throughout her battle with cancer — even posting a piece on Sunday.

When the Democratic National Convention Committee announced one blog from each state would receive a press pass to the Democratic National Convention, Democracy for New Mexico was a no-brainer for New Mexico’s press pass. One of my fondest memories of Wold was from the day before the Democratic National Convention kicked off in Denver.

Wold, Broderick and journalist Peter St. Cyr formed our own New Mexico caucus at an empty Morton’s Steakhouse. There was talk about politics, as one might expect from the company and the reason for being in Denver. But there was talk about her hometown of Chicago, about the state of the New Mexico blogosphere and a number of other topics with nothing to do with politics or even New Mexico.

 

I can recall a number of times writing something or focusing on a story that Wold did not believe was fair or important and receiving an email or a direct message on Twitter about it — Wold wasn’t the type to back down from a fight, as many reporters and political types in the state could attest to. And Wold was never unprepared for a discussion about anything to do with politics. Or any other subject, for that matter.

When I began playing softball, Wold told me about playing 16 inch softball in Chicago, a variant of softball where the fielders don’t use gloves. When I saw it being played on the short-lived TV show The Chicago Code, I had to let Wold know.

It is these kind of anecdotes that I will remember when I think of Wold in addition to her effect on the politics in the state.

Broderick wrote a better post about Wold than I could ever hope to write and encourage readers to go read it — if they have not already. Here is an excerpt of the post:

Barb was diagnosed with metastatic colon cancer on Sept 9, 2011. She was brave and honest in facing this news. Barb and I had many hours to spend together over the past months to share in incredible ways, only deepening our bond. She died real suddenly yesterday, she had a small breakfast, and was on facebook, had checked out the blog, and basically we were just being. I left the house for 10 minutes and came back to find her gone in her chair at her table with her Ipad open. And what really cracked me up is when I looked at what she was last looking at on her Ipad, it was the Bern County Blue Review. I swear to God!

 

A Look at the Record: Will Supreme Court ruling against Martinez veto increase business costs?

By Matthew Reichbach

The state Supreme Court ruled Wednesday that Gov. Susana Martinez’s line-item veto of a bill to shore up the unemployment fund was illegal. The court ruled that by stripping out a $128 million tax increase but leaving in nearly $80 million in cuts in the state unemployment fund, the part of the law that “was an unworkable piece of legislation,” according to Justice Edward Chavez.

The Supreme Court sided with six Democratic members of the state legislature including Speaker of the House Ben Lujan (D-Nambe) and Rep. Mimi Stewart (D-Albuquerque) in ordering the law “be reinstated as passed by the Legislature.” Stewart was the sponsor of the bill.

“Because the effect of the partial veto was to exempt most employers from making what would otherwise be mandatory contributions to the unemployment compensation fund for calendar year 2012, we hold that the partial veto was invalid,” Chavez wrote.

The Supreme Court had previously decided not to rule on the legislation and instead said the legislature and governor should work together to find a compromise on the bill. The legislators and Martinez could not come to an agreement and the special session ended without any unemployment bill passing.

Significantly, the court did not agree with one of the two legal arguments made by the plaintiffs, which was that the bill is not an appropriation bill, therefore it is not subject to the governor’s line-item veto power. Chavez wrote that “for the purposes of this Opinion, we assume, without deciding, that House Bill 59 is a bill appropriating funds.”

Rather, Chavez said the court looked to the question of whether or not the veto made the bill unworkable or changed the intent of the bill first. And it was on those grounds that the veto was invalidated.

What it all adds up to is that the bill will go into effect with the language passed by the state legislature.

Dispute over increased business costs

Martinez spokesman Scott Darnell told the Santa Fe New Mexican’s Steve Terrell, “Gov. Martinez used her line-item authority in the same way Governor Richardson did in 2010 and disagrees with the Court’s decision today. Unfortunately, Democrats will get their wish to raise taxes on small businesses to fund unemployment benefits, even though the unemployment rate in New Mexico has fallen from 8.7 percent in January to 6.6 percent today.

However, at the time the bill was on the Governor’s desk awaiting her signature, representatives of both the Greater Albuquerque Chamber of Commerce and the Association of Commerce of Industry (ACI) supported the measure and voiced opposition to a threatened veto.

The Albuquerque Journal reported ACI President Beverlee McClure as saying, ““By vetoing this legislation, she (the Governor) in effect forces a … (huge) increase on our employers. ”

The increase about which McClure was concerned is detailed in the Greater Albuquerque Chamber of Commerce’s 2011 legislative agenda document, “Priority Issues for Economic Stimulus“:
The Chamber supports these efforts to prevent Unemployment Insurance Trust Fund insolvency because a move to Schedule 6 would put a significant financial burden on business. While an increase to Schedule 2, or 3 in an emergency, is not ideal, it is necessary to prevent a mandatory move to Schedule 6, which would be even more of a burden on business.
The 2010 veto by Richardson to which Darnell referred was never challenged and ruled upon by the Supreme Court.

 

Justice Department announces review of voter ID laws: What’s in store for NM?

By Matthew Reichbach

United States Attorney General Eric Holder announced Tuesday that the Department of Justice is reviewing some new laws that could restrict the voting rights of citizens.

The Associated Press reported that the DOJ is investigating the voter identification laws in South Carolina and Texas as well as changes made in Florida which makes it harder for groups such as the League of Women Voters to register voters.

The Wall Street Journal reported:

“We will examine the facts, and we will apply the law,” Holder said in a speech at the Lyndon B. Johnson Presidential Library and Museum in Austin. “If a state passes a new voting law and meets its burden of showing that the law is not discriminatory, we will follow the law and approve the change. And where a state can’t meet this burden, we will object as part of our obligation under Section 5 of the Voting Rights Act.”

Another focus could be reductions in early voting dates in some states.

In addition to South Carolina and Texas, six other states have passed more restrictive voter ID laws which some say will impede some — mostly poor, minorities and the elderly — from voting.

The Brennan Center for Justice found that voter ID laws are not only expensive for citizens but also expensive to state governments. Moreover, it found that a large percentage of Americans do not have government-issued photo ID.

“Studies show that as many as 12% of eligible voters do not have government-issued photo ID,” the Center wrote. “That percentage is even higher for seniors, people of color, people with disabilities, low-income voters, and students.”

Another Brennan Center of Justice study found that new laws could make it more difficult for up to five million Americans to vote.

A perfect example of this can be found in the case of 96-year-old Dorothy Cooper of Tennessee, which has grabbed national attention. She has missed voting only one presidential election since 1936. But now, thanks to a new voter ID law just passed in her state, she probably will not be able to vote again.

The Texas voter ID law is also controversial for a number of reasons. For example, it allows voters to use a concealed carry permit as a form of valid ID —  but not a college ID.

Could New Mexico be next?

Secretary of State Dianna Duran has made implementing voter identification one of her trademark issues since elected last year.

Duran made headlines when she claimed that 117 foreign nationals were registered to vote in New Mexico and that she had proof that 37 had voted in recent elections in New Mexico. However, when asked to provide evidence, Duran refused and possibly violated the state’s Inspection of Public Records Act.

Duran issued a report in November that,  according to veteran political reporter Heath Haussamen, reads “more like a commentary than an investigative report.” The report, according to Haussamen, “included no supporting documentation. No evidence to back up its claims.”

Last week, Haussamen said on Twitter he had extended an invitation to Duran or her staff to respond to his criticisms.

Three separate voter ID bills were introduced during the 2012 legislative session, but none made it out of committee before the end of the session.

National pushback against voter suppression

Yesterday, the ACLU filed suit against the state of Wisconsin over its newly enacted Voter ID law.

Last week, NAACP issued a call to pushback against attacks on voting rights and the impact of voter suppression attacks on communities of color.

In the rural South, many people of a certain age have no birth certificate because they were born to a midwife, thus for them, the barriers to getting a state issued ID without a birth certificate are especially daunting. In addition, many others are dependent on rides to the polls provided by church-organized Sunday voting drives, which have been shut down in some states.

Here’s a new video produced by the NAACP:

 

Round 3 on Drivers License Debate Coming

By Matthew Reichbach

Governor Susana Martinez promised today to bring back the controversial and time-consuming issue of repealing a law that permits undocumented immigrants to receive New Mexico drivers licenses. Significantly, both the pro- and anti-repeal sides on this question claim that their respective positions better protect the public’s safety.

Martinez, and proponents of the repeal, claim that immigrants from other countries come to the state for the purpose of getting drivers licenses, making this an issue of national security as well as public safety. Conversely, opponents of repeal say that letting undocumented immigrants, who live and work in New Mexico, earn drivers licenses makes the roads safer through accident and fatalities reduction, lower insurance rates, and simply providing law enforcement with a complete database of who is driving and what their driving record is.

The Senate and House could not come to an agreement during the 2011 regular session on a bill and the session ended without one being sent to Governor Martinez’s desk. The Senate version would have allowed undocumented immigrants to earn drivers licenses, but would have clamped down on fraud. That bill would also have required foreign nationals to have their fingerprints taken in order to receive a drivers license.

This fall’s special session saw Martinez once again bring the repeal up in the face of heavy opposition. The primary purpose of the special session was ostensibly the daunting once-in-a-decade task of redistricting. Nevertheless, Martinez put the drivers license issue, along with several other non-redistricting related items, on her call.

Despite her action, the legislature did not take up the drivers license issue during the special session, although there was extensive media attention on the issue, both in the state and nationally.

Now, once again, the issue will be back for a third time under Martinez.

Washington is the other state that issues drivers licenses without regard to the applicant’s immigration status. Utah has adopted the approach of creating a two-tier system, with undocumented immigrants allowed to receive a “driving privilege card.”

Martinez has rejected such a two-tier system.

Sen. John Arthur Smith (D-Deming), who supports the Governor on repeal, nonetheless is concerned that the debate on such a controversial question would dominate the upcoming session– one limited to just 30 days with a focus on passing a state budget .

“I’d hate for it to dominate. I personally think we have more pressing problems,” Smith told New Mexico Capitol Report’s Milan Simonich.

Protests and dissent as EIB looks at rolling back environmental protections

By Matthew Reichbach

As the Environmental Improvement Board looks at rolling back environmental rules instituted under former Governor Bill Richardson, protesters from the Occupy Movement and environmental groups have made their voices heard opposing the changes.

The existing environmental rules that the Martinez-appointed board is considering repealing relate to carbon dioxide emissions. Industry groups including Public Service Company of New Mexico (also known as PNM) and the New Mexico Oil and Gas Association, back the repeal of the rules.

Occupy Santa Fe attended the hearing and used a “mic check” to have their voices heard.

During the “mic check,” which involves a large group repeating what one person says to amplify the speech without using megaphones, the Occupy protesters talked about concerns with coal-fired power plants.

“Coal burning electricity causes cancer, asthma, neurological disorders and lung disease,” the protesters said. “Elders and children are most at risk.”

David Van Winkle, Energy Chair for the Rio Grande Chapter of the Sierra Club, testified at the meeting and urged the EIB to not to roll back the environmental protections.

“The existing fleet of fossil fuel based electricity energy sources, specifically coal-fired power plants like the San Juan Generating Station produce significant air pollution,” Van Winkle told the EIB according to a transcript sent by the Sierra Club. “While pollution reduction improvements have been realized at San Juan due to the 2005 Consent Decree actions, carbon and nitrogen oxide pollution continue at high levels.”

Van Winkle urged renewable resources, including solar and wind, as well as energy efficiency as better ways to “serve [the] energy needs” of New Mexico.

A study by New Energy Economy, an environmental organization, found that, “Far from being costly for consumers and the New Mexico economy, we find that the compliance scenario creates jobs and saves money for electricity consumers while reducing greenhouse gas and other pollutant emissions in New Mexico. In our estimation, implementing such a compliance scenario would help to mitigate future increases in electricity bills in New Mexico.”

Industry groups say that complying with the new environmental rules would significantly increase the cost of electricity in New Mexico and that cost would be passed on to consumers.