In State Government, Transparency Goes Both Ways

By Tracy Dingmann

The Albuquerque Journal makes a compelling argument today in calling for more sunshine in the Roundhouse.

In an editorial called “Lawmakers, Let’s Put the Sunshade Away,” the Journal takes the state Senate to task for passing a rule that bans people from taking audio or video of committee meetings (news media excepted).

It’s an argument we at Clearly heartily support. Committee meetings are public. Under the First Amendment, the New Mexico Senate has no business prohibiting anyone from taking audio or video of public meetings conducted in our State Capitol.

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Down Low Dealings at PNM Regarding Rate Hikes

By Tracy Dingmann

Six local watchdog groups have filed statements in opposition to PNM’s plan to raise rates for electric service in New Mexico, saying the company negotiated the rate hikes in secret and without input from customers and other parties opposed to the rate hike.

The state’s largest electric utility had announced recently that it would seek a rate hike of as much as 25 percent on residential customers.

Subsequently, executives from PNM, along with members of the Public Regulation Commission and staffers from the office of the New Mexico Attorney General carried out negotiations regarding the rate hike and came up with a figure that appeared much lower.

Now representatives from six citizen’s advocacy groups say the groups negotiated the hike behind closed doors and did not take input from the people who will most be affected – the customers. The groups also say the negotiated agreement contains measures that will make it very easy for PNM to charge customers more again in a few short years.

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Science or Fiction – It’s All the Same to Harrison Schmitt

Harrison Schmitt

By Claus Whiteacre

The first order of business last Thursday afternoon in the Senate Finance Committee was discussion of the proposed budget for the state Department of Energy, Minerals and Natural Resources. Analysts did the basic presentation, but at the end, secretary-designate Harrison Schmitt got to chime in.

Given the fawning welcoming of Schmitt by Senate Finance Chairman John Arthur Smith (D-Deming), it appeared that Schmitt would have an easy go of it before the influential Senate committee.

Schmitt, 75, started off with a walk down memory lane, starting from when he was a child growing up in Silver City and ranging on to his scholastic adventures, his advances at NASA as an astronaut and finally, to his single term as U.S. Senator.

For a while there, I thought I had walked into a book promotion tour, but Schmitt concluded by saying his recap was merely to present his qualifications to the committee.

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Which Path, Governor?

By Tracy Dingmann

On Monday, Jan. 31, Governor Susana Martinez issued an executive order requiring state police officers to inquire into criminal suspect’s immigration status and “report relevant information to federal immigration enforcement authorities.”

It was the latest in a troubling stream of executive orders to come from Governor Martinez’s office since literally the moment she took office.

Like the other executive orders emanating from her office, it sought to aggressively reverse key decisions made by her predecessor, Gov. Bill Richardson. And like the rest of her executive orders, it appears to be extremely vulnerable to legal challenges on purely constitutional grounds.

Add Monday’s executive order to the rest of the group and I think it’s time for the people of New Mexico to ask sincerely – which path are you taking us down, Governor?

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Camino Real Decision Shows New Mexico is Open For…Out of State Trash?

By Tracy Dingmann

Environmental groups and residents of Sunland Park, N.M. were swift to express their keen disappointment today at the state of New Mexico’s decision to grant the Camino Real landfill a 10-year permit.

Residents of Sunland Park have long said they don’t want the landfill in their midst and say they are worried about known and unknown factors affecting their health and quality of life. The landfill sits atop one of the largest aquifers in the Southwest and is suspected of affecting the purity of the drinking water it provides.

“We are extremely disappointed that Governor Martinez and Secretary-designate Martin chose to side with corporate polluters instead of protecting families in Sunland Park,” said Michael Casaus, a senior field organizing manager with the Sierra Club. “Elected officials should step up their efforts to protect New Mexico’s precious clean water supplies, instead of increasing profits for out-of-state corporations.

“Over 90 percent of the waste that ends up in this landfill comes from outside New Mexico, primarily from Texas. This ruling sends a clear message that not only is New Mexico open to business, as Governor Martinez proclaimed in her recent State of State Address, but is apparently open to out-of-state trash as well,” said Casaus.

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NMED Approves 10-Year Permit for Camino Real Landfill (w/Document)

By Tracy Dingmann

Word comes from Santa Fe today that the New Mexico Environment Department has approved a 10-year permit for the Camino Real landfill in Sunland Park, N.M.

The decision by the Martinez Administration caps a decades-long struggle by the people of Sunland Park against the landfill, which takes in most of its trash from Mexico and the nearby Texas city of El Paso. People who live in the community say they don’t want the landfill in their midst and fear it has adversely affected their health. For more background on the landfill, go here.

Clearly New Mexico will have more information on the story, including comments from some of those involved, later today.

Here is a copy of the decision made today by Environment Secretary designee F. David Martin.

I’m Confused

Governor Susana Martinez

By Tracy Dingmann

I sat in the Roundhouse and listened to Gov. Susana Martinez’s State of the State speech yesterday. Our new Governor spoke very clearly and enunciated quite carefully, but I still came away confused.

I heard her speak about how excessive and reckless spending by our previous Governor got New Mexico into the financial conundrum that it is in today. But I didn’t hear her say anything about the collapse of the global economy that’s put virtually every other state there, too.

I heard Gov. Martinez talk about plans to fix New Mexico’s dire budget situation by eliminating “irrational red tape ” and declaring the state “open for business.” But open to what kind of businesses? Not to film companies – in her speech, Gov. Martinez all but called them a bunch of grifters.

“Irrational red tape” apparently, refers to the environmental regulations aimed at protecting our state’s air, water and land from pollution by oil and gas companies and other large industrial or extractive concerns. These companies had loudly bemoaned the regulations put in place by the previous administration. In her first days in office, Gov. Martinez swiftly put any such pending rules on hold. In her speech, she promised to do her best to overturn the ones that remain.

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MLK Today, Legislature Tomorrow

Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr.

A Guest Post by Anthony Fleg

On the eve of the 2011 legislative session in Santa Fe, the Martin Luther King, Jr. holiday gives us a moment of pause, a moment to reflect as New Mexicans about what we hope to see come out of the two-month session, and how we will individually and collectively affect the process. Using some thoughts from Dr. King’s vast repertoire of proverbial wisdom, I hope that you will find inspiration today to fuel your service and advocacy tomorrow and beyond.

“Our lives begin to end the day we become silent about things that matter.” – MLK

I often hear friends and colleagues lament that “politics is just not for me,” in the same way they might discuss foods and movies they dislike. The important distinction is that our political system does affect all of us. It can protect our natural resources and sacred places, or it can do just the opposite. It will determine over the next sixty days whether the budgets of our schools and social programs are slashed, or whether we instead decide to go after un-tapped revenue from corporations to solve our state’s deficit.

These are not small, insignificant decisions. We will all live with the effects, good or bad, from decisions over the next two months. Get involved! If you are one of those likely to shrug off politics, my first, simple suggestions would be to check out the very user-friendly NM legislative website where you find your legislators, look up specific bills, and even watch proceedings from the Roundhouse and then to go up to Santa Fe and see the legislative process for yourself. Those who do see quickly that it is not the scary world they had imagined, and that in fact, all of us can make more of an impact than we think.

“Human progress is neither automatic nor inevitable… Every step toward the goal of justice requires sacrifice, suffering, and struggle; the tireless exertions and passionate concern of dedicated individuals. ” – MLK

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In the Wake of the Giffords Shooting, Civility and Self-Reflection Should Be Our Guide

By Tracy Dingmann

U.S Representative Gabrielle Giffords tweeted the news Saturday to her constituents far and wide:

“My 1st Congress on Your Corner starts now. Please stop by to let me know what is on your mind or tweet me later.”

And why wouldn’t she let everyone know? The third-term congresswoman from the 8th District of Arizona flew back from D.C. nearly every weekend and was proud of her strong record of constituent service. Colleagues say the 40-year-old Congresswoman was driven by noblest aspects of the American democratic ideal.

In March of 2010, when Giffords’ office door was smashed in the wake of a contentious partisan debate over health care reform, she told MSNBC:

“Our democracy is a light, a beacon really around the world, because we effect change at the ballot box, and not because of these outbursts — of violence in certain cases, and the yelling, and it’s just … you know, change is important, it’s a part of our process, but it’s really important that we focus on the fact that we have a democratic process.”

But what happened instead of “Congress on Your Corner” last Saturday was an American nightmare.

Outside Gongresswoman Gabrielle Giffords' office on Jan. 11, 2010. Image courtesy Meredith Shiner, POLITICO.com

In a premeditated attack, a madman shot Giffords in the head and fired on the crowd.  A congressional staffer who worked for Giffords was killed, along with a child, a federal judge, and three senior citizens, all of whom were exercising their democratic right to talk to their congresswoman. Fourteen others, including Gifford, remain seriously or gravely wounded.

As The Nation editor Katrina Vanden Huevel wrote so movingly in “The Arizona Horror:”

This was an assassination of democracy, an armed assault on citizens gathered to exercise the most precious of American rights—the right to free speech and assembly. Rep. Giffords was doing the essential work of politics, meeting with her neighbors and constituents outside of a grocery store in a “Congress on Your Corner” gathering. This small “d” democratic act is so central to our Constitution and our republic that its protection is enshrined in the First Amendment, the same amendment that Giffords read aloud on the opening day of Congress.

Nothing is more corrosive to democracy than the use of violence to terrorize the public square, to shut down speech, to slay those seeking its exercise.

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