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News and views from New Mexico's grassroots
Updated: 33 min 55 sec ago
Residents of Albuquerque learned in 2008 that a jet fuel leak from Kirtland Air Force base had migrated off the base at some point in the previous two decades, moving underground through the adjoining southeast quadrant of the city. At the time, the size of the plume was downplayed, but it soon became clear that the size of the spill was massive. Now estimated at 24,000,000 gallons, in fact no one really knows how big it is or how fast its moving. Or, for that matter, what is necessary to clean it up before a significant portion of the city’s water supply is contaminated. From La Jacarita:
Yet in 14 years, nothing significant has been done to remediate the spill, which is moving in the direction of Albuquerque’s five Ridgecrest wells that furnish approximately 20 percent of the city’s drinking water.
Three-quarters of the plume is off the base, and so far no one is addressing what will happen if the contamination shows up in the wells. McCoy said the Air Force has no contingency plan in place if the water does become contaminated.
The Water Utility Authority (WUA) has said it will shut down the wells, but where will they find new sources of water, and how will they treat massive amounts of water to use for industrial purposes?” he asked. “NMED doesn’t have any authority over the city wells once it hits. That goes to the Water Utility. They are stakeholders under the Resource Conservation and Recovery Act (RCRA). They could bring a citizens suit against KAFB right now if they wanted to.”
In December 2012 the WUA passed a resolution asking that the KAFB work with its contractor and the NMED to accelerate efforts to put an aggressive plan in place by the end of 2013 to clean up the soil and water and for a contingency plan if city wells are hit. Maggie Hart-Stevens, board liaison with the base and a county commissioner, has questioned Kirtland statements that the plume is “stable,” no longer moving and will simply go away from natural processes. The WUA is putting in a well with the U.S. Geological Survey to get its own data.
Our calls to the WUA were not returned in time for publication.
Perhaps the lack of aggressive enforcement has to do with the Air Force claims that it has an economic impact of $7.8 billion. Could that tidy sum be the rationale for Governor Susana Martinez’s urging NMED to deal gently with the KAFB? According to an article in the Albuquerque Journal dated June 11, 2011, the Governor wrote a letter to Air Force Assistant Secretary Terry A. Yonkers blaming the “previous leadership” for the state’s poor working relationship with the Air Force and exuding praise for KAFB’s efforts “that allows for the most effective cleanup in the shortest time frame.” The governor’s assurance of a much more cozy relationship in future was applauded by former base manager Col. Robert Maness.
But a staff member at NMED who asked to remain anonymous confirmed McCoy’s repeated allegations that Kirtland would have done nothing if the department had not put the pressure on.
Read the entire expose of military inaction and bureaucratic lack of urgency about the mammoth jet fuel spill from Kirtland Air Force base that threatens Albuquerque’s drinking water supply, at La Jicarita.
In his long life, John Redhouse has worn many hats and fought even more battles. But seated in a University of New Mexico auditorium on a recent day, the seasoned Dine’ (Navajo) activist and writer looked laid back as he donned a baseball cap, a pair of shades and a long necklace. With gray whiskers revealing the years, Redhouse shared his formative experiences growing up in the rough town of Farmington bordering the huge Navajo Nation.
He recalled seeing restaurant signs that once read “No Dogs or Indians Allowed.” And he remembered meeting a man with an alcohol addiction, a spirit seemingly lost in the cultural abyss of a border town. But the young Navajo soon discovered that the troubled man’s family had been dispossessed of its land, ejected from Mother Earth by a coal company’s extraction of the black stuff for the neon glittering of the Southwest.
“He was powerless and couldn’t deal with it, and moved to the city and started drinking,”Redhouse said. “That was the only way he could deal with it, and that profoundly affected me.”
A scholar, writer and organizer, Redhouse was honored at an event last month sponsored by the UNM Kiva Club, Native American Studies, the Department of American Studies and other university and community departments and organizations.
Organizers billed the day-long gathering as “Indigenous Liberation and the Grounds of Decolonization: A Symposium to Honor the Life and Work of John Redhouse.”
In a lengthy session, Redhouse delved into the spiritual inspirations, history and legacies of late 20th century Native American activism. His accounts of pivotal times were drawn out in a question-and-answer format with Jennifer Denetdale, UNM associate professor of American Studies.
A founder of Indians Against Exploitation and the Coaliton for Navajo Liberation, Redhouse spoke at some length about how Native activism arose in response to racist power structures and practices in the towns of Gallup and Farmington bordering the Navajo Nation.
By the late 1960s, long-simmering community resentments over outsider control of the Gallup Inter-Tribal Indian Ceremonial and the exploitation of sacred Native American culture for the benefit of non-Indians boiled over in protest and organizing.
According to Redhouse, Raymond Nakai, who was Navajo tribal chairman from 1963-1971, attempted to convince lawmakers in the New Mexico state capitol of Santa Fe to yank funding from the annual event. As a young man, Redhouse said he became involved in a “second wave” of protest against the Gallup Ceremonial, which soon became a national issue in Indian Country and evoked mass demonstrations that culminated in confrontations with the police and the arrests of demonstrators.
North of Gallup, serious conflicts were likewise brewing in the border town of Farmington. For years, Native Americans had been the victims of hate crimes by whites, and the violence hit a crisis stage when 10 Navajo men were found mutilated and murdered around Gallup and Farmington during 1973 and 1974. Three non-Indian teens from Farmington were arrested for three of killings and sentenced to two years in the New Mexico Boy’s School.
The crimes set off a powerful protest movement, and more confrontations with police, including a Farmington march of 4,000 people that Redhouse called the “largest demonstration of Indians” at the time.
Reflecting on the Farmington struggle, the veteran activist credited the movement for forcing some “changes,” as well as gaining the attention of the U.S. Department of Justice and the U.S. Civil Rights Commission, which issued a historic report in 1975.
“(Farmington) was reprimanded for the state of interracial relations: a failure on the part of elected officials to assume responsibility for connecting the different populations in Farmington, police prejudice, lack of access to health care, minority under-representation in government and business, and economic discrimination were all reported. Farmington had gained the unofficial nickname of ‘the Selma, Alabama of the Southwest.’”
Thirty years later, the U.S. Civil Rights Commission asserted that important progress had been made in interracial relations and power equations in Farmington, but found short-comings in political representation, business, hiring and lending practices, and the teaching of Navajo culture and values in the nearby Shiprock school system, according to the Harvard review.
Read more, including great history, at New Mexico In Depth.
Running for office isn’t necessarily an easy thing, with the hurdles of fundraising and public scrutiny. In New Mexico, other than a few well-paid positions, much of elected office is voluntary or very low-paid, so being an elected official often takes an enormous amount of time away from ones own job or family. These may be some of the factors in the low rates of women serving in elected office. According to the Center for American Women in Politics (CAWP), a national outreach organization focused on addressing women’s under-representation in political office, the number of women in public office in New Mexico has decreased from 31.3 percent in 2006 to 27.7 percent in 2012. Let’s take the state legislature as an example. During the 2013 legislative session the state showed 6 women in the State Senate out of 42 and 25 out of 70 in the House of Representatives.
Christine Sierra, Director of the Hispanic Research Institute at the University of New Mexico, says that although the number of women in office in New Mexico is not the lowest within the 50 states, chances for women to run in New Mexico can be few and far between because of incumbency. The Hispanic Research Institute puts together Ready to Run NM, a yearly state conference that addresses the under-representation of women in public office.
“One of the things that prevents women and people of color from running to win elective offices are the number of incumbents, it is very difficult to defeat an incumbents when that incumbent is running for reelection,” said Sierra. “If women are already fewer and underrepresented, then they are likely to be the challengers not the incumbents, so there is a structural problem there. This is why when there are open seats there are so many candidates that come forward because your chances of winning office are better when you are not running against an incumbent and it is an open seat.”
Apart from structural challenges in New Mexico, Sierra points to specific challenges that may make running for office in the state a foreign or distant idea at best for highly capable and accomplished women in the New Mexico.
“It takes a lot of things to come together to run a successful campaign,” she said. “It takes support from ones family and friends, it takes money, it takes advisers who can give you really good strategy and advice, and it just takes a lot of commitment.”
Currently at the national level women in public positions occupy 18.3 percent of the 535 seats in the U.S. Congress and 20 percent of 100 seats in the Senate and 17.9 percent of the seats available in the House of Representatives. Of the five U.S. Congressional seats that give voice to New Mexicans in Washington D.C., only one seat is occupied by a woman.
Georgene Louis and Patricia Roybal Caballero, two freshmen New Mexico state Representatives, shared with El Grito their experiences and impressions of running successful campaigns and serving in the 2013 New Mexican legislative session as females and women of color.
“Asking for money was my least favorite aspects of the campaign. It is tough because we know we have to do it but I think it’s difficult because I think as women we are not used to asking for a lot of help and we are usually used to doing everything on our own so it was a challenge, “ said Louis. “I think for our society it is important to invest in women to achieve better representation and bring different perspectives to the discussion table.”
Apart from fundraising, Louis shared with El Grito that work life balance was a challenge, calling it a “juggling act.”
The biggest challenge was definitely the time. I’m a single parent and even though my daughter is grown I still have to look out for her and make enough time to do well in my job so that I can support us but also run a campaign,” she said. “That’s a big factor in not only running for a position but once you are there finding the work-life balance. … it’s always a juggling act.”
Louis said she thinks it’s getting easier for women to run, because a lot of people are willing to support women because they see that they “bring a different perspective to the table.”
Representative Roybal Caballero said the timing was right for her to run for office, so when she saw an open seat become available she took the opportunity to run for it. Roybal Caballero remarked on the challenges that face a person who comes into the legislature who has a different background.
“Passing effective legislation means building a lot of relations and that takes time, people have to get to know you and the hardest part of doing what I’m doing is that I have a different world view and a different way of looking at things,” she said. “My experiences are based on my social-cultural background and that clashes sometimes with the way the other legislators see things.”
Rep. Georgene Louis on running for office:
Rep. Patricia Roybal Caballero on deciding to run, timing was right:
May 1 is celebrated as International Worker’s Day around the world, with countries around the world marking it as a national holiday. But many people don’t realize it’s a celebration that originated in the United States. ”May Day is International Workers’ Day,” says Roberto Roibal, of the SouthWest Organizing Project. “It’s an American holiday. It was founded in 1886 in the United States, and since then workers of the world have united and made it their day also. It belongs to all workers all over the world.”
In Albuquerque, the day didn’t go unrecognized. Marchers traveled down Central Avenue, ending at a local park in the South San Pedro neighborhood. “I am here to be with my people and to support workers and demonstrate that we are hurting and that we need to fix this.” – Santana Avila, a UNM Student.
Participants wore red and black, and some painted their faces as Zombies or Calaveras. During the march, participants chanted and sang social justice songs. Along the route, the marchers stopped at Wal-Mart, serenading Wal-Mart shoppers and workers with “The Internationale” and “Friends with Low Wages”. At the park, participants shared their stories about their work experiences, there was theater of the oppressed, and there was food. The event was sponsored by La Raza Unida and (un) Occupy Albuquerque.
“The theme this year is ‘Dying for a Living Wage, Zombie walk for May Day’,” said Maria Brazil of (un) Occupy Albuquerque. “To me it’s about people struggling to make it on what is considered minimum wage. You know they just raised the minimum wage from 7.50 to 8.50, but we know that a living wage is almost double that. A living wage would be enough to have our needs met. We wouldn’t be having to make choices, like should we pay our light bill, or should we go to the grocery store.”
Here is a slide show from the event:
Comprehensive immigration reform is finally on the table for debate in a real way, with U.S. Senators taking up an immigration bill that was drafted by a group of eight senators known as the “gang of eight,”. The bill offers the possibility of legal status to multiple categories of immigrants, such as “Dreamers” and agricultural workers, but not to individuals accused of a felony, three or more misdemeanors, or a serious crime in another country. It also excludes a person who has voted illegally, or if they are found to present a national security risk.
Christine Sierra, Director of the Hispanic Research Institute at the University of New Mexico (UNM) says that the moment is now for immigration reform, citing cooperation across interest groups to make it happen.
“U.S. businesses have been in conversation with labor unions,” Sierra told El Grito. “There is a need to get people documented and the American public seems to understand that recent immigrants are part of our fabric.”
Sarah Nolan, Executive Director for CAFe, a non-profit organization based in Las Cruces that serves low income and undocumented communities, says the bill is a step in the right direction, but it could be so much better. “Right now we are trying to understand the bill and are seeking the help of experts to grasp every detail but it seems that senators are trying to see what will be enough to appease the immigrant communities. For them it’s a political calculus but to us is a moral dilemma,” she said.
Among the main concerns the bill holds for CAFe are the one-year window to apply for legalizations, the qualifications to be eligible particularly from individuals with criminal records behind them, the elimination of family unit visas and fees that are required to start the application process.
There is a long way to go before the new bill becomes law, but to many members of the Albuquerque community it provides a ray of hope.
“My parents have been here for more than 22 years,” says Marilu Ugalde, a UNM student who is one of the few in her family born in this country. “My mom and dad don’t know much about the bill because work absorbs most of their days but I’m sure they will be willing to find a third job to raise the money. What I don’t know is if they will be able to raise the money in just one year.”
According to the Pew Research Center, New Mexico is home to 85,000 undocumented immigrants. Rachel Lazar, Executive Director for El Centro de Igualdad Y Derechos, a local immigrant rights advocacy organization, says these immigrants are “our mothers, fathers, siblings, neighbors, co-workers, fellow-parishioners.”
“For too long, our broken immigration system has led to families been torn apart, workers being exploited, and some of our quintessential rights being eroded,” Lazar says. ”The bill is a good start to rebuilding an immigration system which more closely reflects our collective values and is beneficial to our families, all workers, and the economy. Although immigrants already contribute so much to the economic, social, and cultural fabric of New Mexico, pragmatic and humane immigration reform will allow immigrants to live up to their full potential, to the benefit of all.”
Cristina Parker, Communications Director for The Border Network For Human Rights, a human rights and immigration reform organization based in El Paso Texas, has ambivalent feelings towards the border security section of the new immigration bill.
“We are happy with the inclusion of language to create DHS Border Oversight Task Force in the proposed legislation. This task force will allow individuals from both sides of the border to advise congress about what works and doesn’t work in the border region,” she says. “On the other hand we don’t need more security in a border that is already ultra secure with an apprehension rate of more than 90 percent”.
The bill allocates three billion dollars to increase the number of border patrol agents, customs officers, surveillance cameras, drones, and the staff to man them. The bill also stipulates that a goal of 90 percent rate of apprehensions and turn-back must be met.
If the 90 percent quota is not met by the Department of Homeland Security (DHS), then a border commission of governors and attorneys general from borders states would have an additional five years to implement more stringent measures. And, these enforcement measures must be substantially complete before the legalization provisions of the bill can take place.
“The idea of having Border governors in charge of border security is a nightmare,” says Parker. “Some of these Governors are openly hostile towards immigrants and are more than willing to lie if it helps advance their political agenda.”
The same concern about the gang of eight proposal is shared by Brian Erickson, Policy Advocate with the American Civil Liberties Union of New Mexico, who said in an email that while the bill is “certainly a breakthrough, it is in need of many improvements.”
“In particular, the bill calls on the government to spend billions of dollars in taxpayer money to further expand border enforcement despite the fact we’ve already seen extraordinary investment in border security to meet and exceed previous benchmarks,” Erickson says. ”Instead of following this flawed frame, reform must reverse the trend of unwarranted spending without regard for actual security needs that has resulted in a bloated system and increased violations of basic rights in border communities, including incidents of excessive use of force and racial profiling of individuals who call this region home.”
Bernalillo County Commissioners voted to raise the minimum wage by one dollar to $8.50 last night. Commissioners heard over an hour of testimony before passing the bill on a 3-2 vote, with a large contingent of workers showing up in support.
“There’s a lot of people left out (of the Albuquerque minimum wage increase), they feel that the Albuquerque minimum wage is not fair to them because they don’t get paid that,” Saul Villa explained to El Grito about why he was there to support the bill. “I believe it should be fair to everybody. You know, we’re all working hard. $7.50 is barely enough to pay the bills. And 8.50 is not much different, but is a little extra to help.”
“Raising the minimum wage would be helpful to my family by giving us a better quality of life,” Gabriel Hernandez testified in Spanish, which was then translated for Commissioners. It would allow him to take his family out to local restaurants, or for picnics in the park, more often, he said.
Plus, most of the workers he works with make the minimum wage and haven’t seen a raise “in a very long time,” Hernandez said.
The sponsor of the measure, Commissioner Art de la Cruz, spoke at length about why he thinks the raise is necessary, noting the long history in the United States of having to “legislate fairness.”
“Not every company, not every corporation, not every small business understands fairness,” he said. “…there are times it is necessary, and it becomes necessary because it isn’t happening by itself.”
Commissioner Wayne Johnson opposed the bill, making a case that raising the minimum wage had hurt teenagers, developmentally disabled workers, and people on fixed incomes in Santa Fe, where a similar wage increase was passed a few years ago.
“How do we help them if we take opportunities away from them?” he said, citing a 22% teen unemployment rate in that city.
But Commissioner de la Cruz was blunt in his disagreement with the suggestion that most minimum wage workers aren’t adults.
“This notion that we’re affecting a bunch of kids is ridiculous,” he said. “Seventy six percent of New Mexicans are having to work these minimum wage jobs. Seventy six percent of them are adults, not children, and they have to work for this minimal amount of money.”
The new law covers the unincorporated area of Bernalillo County. Albuquerque residents voted to increase the citywide minimum wage to $8.50 in 2012. Both new laws also provide that the minimum wage will be adjusted upward in line with inflation, so that the buying power of workers isn’t eroded. But unlike the Albuquerque wage, the Bernalillo County law doesn’t provide for an increase in wages for tipped workers, who have long made $2.13 an hour. In Albuquerque, those workers now make $3.83 an hour.
Saul Villa on why raising the Bernalillo County minimum wage is important:
According to the Pew Hispanic Center, it is estimated that more than 11 million undocumented immigrants live in the country. In New Mexico, undocumented workers currently make up 5.6% of the labor force. After years and years of inaction, the U.S. Senate introduced a comprehensive immigration reform bill yesterday that seeks to provide a path to citizenship to the majority of undocumented immigrants. As details emerge about the contents of the mammoth bill, it’s clear it’s the product of compromise.
Christine Sierra, Director of The Southwest Hispanic Research Institute at the University of New Mexico, says the the 2012 election spurred both political parties in charge of U.S. politics to move beyond their “paralysis” to get something done to reform immigration policy. In an interview prior to the unveiling of the bill, she predicted their would be controversy among a wide range of people, including the progressive left, immigrant rights groups, as well as conservatives. Particularly controversial will be provisions to provide a path to citizenship for the millions of undocumented immigrants in the country, she said.
“The American public is ready for a legalization program, let’s just get it done,” she said, urging undocumented people in the country to “be active”.
For thousands of families in Albuquerque, the movement in the U.S. Senate toward passage of a comprehensive immigration reform package offers a ray of hope that their families and themselves will finally be able to move out of the shadows of the U.S. economy. Many are taking action to make sure their presence is felt. Some do so through protest, while others are silently wearing butterfly wings as a potent symbol of migration as a natural phenomenon.
“For us it represents migration, liberty, being able to move freely without any borders,” Hector Colunga, a young immigrant in Albuquerque, told El Grito. Wearing the butterfly wings represents the desire for comprehensive immigration reform, he said, and now is the moment because of the support that currently exists among elected officials.
At the 20th Annual César Chávez celebration this past weekend, the legendary civil rights activist Dolores Huerta shared the story of how the slogan Si Se Puede was born in the United Farm Workers movement.
The slogan “Sí Se Puede”, which translates to “Yes it can be done”, is mostly used to inspire collective action worldwide. The famous slogan has been translated, shaped and transformed by diverse groups since the 1970′s to mobilize people in support of causes, like the United Farm Workers in the 1970s, The Obama Campaign in 2008 and even Aeromexico, one of Mexico’s main airlines.
For many, Si Se Puede goes hand in hand with César Chávez, the well known civil rights activist who along with Huerta led the struggle of the United Farm Workers in the 1970s to eliminate inhumane working conditions for agricultural workers.
When she addressed the crowd last weekend, she talked about the current situation of marginalized communities in the county and praised the legacy of Cesar Chavez, who died in 1993. But she also claimed the phrase Si, se Puede, as her own.
“I was the one who came up with Si, se Puede!” she said.
EL Grito asked Huerta to share how the famous slogan was born. It was a spontaneous response to those leaders who said in Arizona, No, se Puede:
Last month the Central New Mexico Community College paper, The CNM Chronicle, released a special edition that explored the vast culture of sexual identities and practices. The CNM Chronicle presented the topics in a way that was educational and broke the stigmatism surrounding sex in general. Articles explored subjects important to individuals across the spectrum of sexual identity, and preference, and the decision to practice abstinence.
These articles are also helping open important doorways for discussions of how sex education should be taught in today’s society. Abstinence is extremely valuable, but abstinence-only methods are controversial and not always proven to be effective. Sex education should include several aspects like sexual identity, practices, health, anatomy, emotional relationships, reproductive rights and responsibilities, and birth control.
A review published by the British Medical Journal titled, “Interventions to Reduce Unintended Pregnancies Among Adolescents: Systematic Review of Randomized Controlled Trials,” revealed that abstinence-only sex education programs did not decrease the likelihood of pregnancy in women or improve the use of birth control, compared to comprehensive sex education programs.
According to the website, “Four abstinence programmes and one school based sex education programme were associated with an increase in number of pregnancies among partners of young male participants. There were significantly fewer pregnancies in young women who received a multifaceted programme, though baseline differences in this study favoured the intervention.”
Editor-in-Chief Jyllian Roach, who identifies as bisexual, said that the topics covered in the edition were ones people normally do not discuss.
“We talk about pregnancy, we talk about STDs and STIs, but there’s so much more to sex that we really don’t talk about. I wanted, as an office, to educate people on these things,” said Roach.
But a few hours after the issue was released, CNM administration officials removed all print editions from the stands, and confiscated prints from anyone holding an issue. Then they announced that the Chronicle staff was to be transferred to new work-study positions, and suspend printing until summer term.
Administration later said they confiscated the newspapers because a minor was interviewed in the article titled, “Saying no: Why some choose abstinence.” CNM had to inspect if any laws were broken in regards to her interview.
Roach said she knew that The Chronicle would receive several reactions from printing this issue, including a reaction from administration.
“The things that I knew were probably going to arise, was that people were going to think it was in poor taste, who disagreed with our decision to print this,” said Roach.
The issue provided information valuable to the health and awareness of our community. In the article titled, “Safe, sane, and consensual: Exploring the world of BDSM,” two individuals were interviewed who engage in a sexual lifestyle of explicit roles, with one person being dominant and one or others being submissive. The article explores not only the story of the individuals, but provides resources on how to make informed decisions when entering such a lifestyle.
The edition also printed an article titled “A rainbow of sexuality,” in which Roach interviewed individuals who identify as heterosexual, transsexual, bisexual, homosexual, and lesbian. The interview was reported as a dialogue, where everyone discussed their sexual identity and different aspects of their lifestyle.
This article was valuable because it was an open discussion that represents the great diversity of people in Albuquerque. It’s particularly relevant in light of the recent Supreme Court hearings of cases that challenge California’s Proposition 8 and the Defense of Marriage Act, both of which deny same-sex spouses benefits that male-female spouses receive.
“We were very careful in making sure that what we were saying was correct— all the way across. That we weren’t accidentally giving misinformation because of our own misinterpretations of things, or our own assumptions,” Roach said.
CNM administrators would find within the next 24 hours that no laws were broken. At an emergency publication board meeting the next day, President Kathie Winograd ended the suspension of the staff and gave back all the prints. At that meeting there was also a discussion about whether the staff is properly trained to take on such a sensitive topic.
As a former Managing Editor, with experience also as the Business Manager and a Staff Reporter at The CNM Chronicle, I can attest to the level of professionalism at this student run newspaper and ability of the staff to present an informative, nonbiased issue to its audience.
The staff frequently discusses media law and has the opportunity to attend national conventions, paid for by funds generated through The Chronicle, where they also attend several workshops concerning media practice and law.
“As far as legalities went, I’m always really really careful to make sure that what we’re doing is legal, because it’s a responsibility of the press to do that,” said Roach.
“I actually feel at this point that what CNM did was actually a really great thing, not because I enjoyed the last week, but because the issue reached so many more people,” said Roach. “In our heads, our goal was if we can educate one person we’re happy, now we are guaranteed that at least one person somewhere was educated on this.”
Stefany Olivas is currently a Biology major at CNM and a garden coordinator for Project Feed The Hood. She plans to use her degree to study garden ecosystems in city environments, and their connection to individual and community health.
Here are a few informative info-graphics included in the article:
A massive corporate tax package that was rammed through the New Mexico Legislature in the final hour of the 2013 session was signed into law yesterday by Gov. Susana Martinez, who called the package a “game changer” for creating jobs. The two biggest provisions in the bill slash the top corporate income tax rate and eliminate taxes on manufacturers who don’t sell goods within the state. Other provisions in the bill designed to increase state revenue aren’t able to offset the impact of those tax cuts, with the fiscal impact report showing a major hit to the state budget beginning in 2016.
Gov. Martinez and others who champion the bill insist that new jobs created by the tax cuts will bring in more revenue to the state. But others think that idea is “far fetched”.
In a policy brief issued by New Mexico Voices for Children, a research and policy institution that specializes in tax policy, noted that the state slashed the top personal income tax rate in 2003 with similar promises that cutting taxes would create jobs, but that the end result was no measurable increase:
The same promise was made to New Mexicans when top personal income tax rates were reduced in 2003. A recent study by the Center on Budget and Policy Priorities confirmed what close observers of the New Mexico economy had long thought: the economic activity and growth of the period from 2003 to 2008 was powered by high oil and natural gas prices, not by the 2003 personal income tax cuts. That growth was augmented by the impacts of the national housing bubble on New Mexico construction employment. If the effects of oil and natural gas prices and the housing bubble are subtracted, New Mexico economic growth was sub-par in the 2003-2008 period.
The argument that HB-641 will result in accelerated economic activity is equally far-fetched: the personal income tax cuts of 2003 were a very expensive public policy experiment and the result was no measurable increase in economic activity. This experiment will end with the same result.
After the governor signed the bill, Voices for Children said in a statement that when combined with the governor’s veto of a minimum wage increase, the message is that the state prioritizes corporations over working families and children.
“The signing of this bill—coupled with the Good Friday veto of a bill to raise the minimum wage—shows that out-of-state corporations are a higher priority with this administration than New Mexico’s own working families and their children,” said Dr. Veronica C García, Ed.D., Executive Director of New Mexico Voices for Children. “New Mexico’s lowest-paid working families had their long-needed raise vetoed, while profitable corporations got big tax cuts. New Mexico’s lowest-income workers already pay a much higher percentage of their income in state and local taxes than those at the top, and this bill will make that inequity even worse.”
When she vetoed the minimum wage, Martinez said in a statement that the proposed increase of the minimum wage by one dollar would “kill jobs.”
The Voices report also noted the “flawed process” through which the tax cuts were passed. The bill, HB 641, was modified in the Senate in the final hour of the session to bring together in one package a number of tax measures that weren’t able to make it through legislative committees. It was then pushed through the House in the final thirty minutes, completely bypassing the committee process. As the clock ticked down in the final thirty minutes, House representatives mustered enough votes to pass the final bill despite having no fiscal impact report. All they had to rely on was the word of Taxation and Revenue Department Cabinet Secretary Tom Clifford, who in a rare break from House decorum was given the microphone on the floor. Clifford told the legislators that there would be a positive impact on the budget. But when the fiscal impact report became available three days later, it showed a big hit on the budget beginning in 2016.
Senator Jacob Candelaria, who refused to vote in favor of the tax bill, told El Grito he wanted to vote for the film industry subsidy that was the subject of the original bill before it was amended. Candelaria, a Princeton graduate who studied international and public affairs with a focus on economics and finance, said the lack of information presented to legislators about the bill made it impossible for him to support the bill on the floor.
“The risk of the fiscal impact that bill as amended would have on the state, with not knowing what the return on investment actually would be, having no idea of the jobs, no idea of the tax revenue that would be generated, it wasn’t enough for me to vote for the bill simply because the film tax fix was in there,” Candelaria said.
Candelaria said he does “hope it works” but cautioned that the way in which the bill was passed could erode public confidence in the process.
“I don’t think it’s good in the spirit of transparency and accountability and being able to defend our actions to the public; in a variety of issues we take multiple years to debate, to analyze and assess,” he said. “I think there is definitely a downside here, which is that people’s confidence in the process gets eroded a little bit when they see something so huge being done in 24 minutes.”
The Associated Press has dropped the word illegal as a descriptor of humans, from its stylebook. The AP stylebook is widely used by journalists and editors to guide their choice of words and phrases. Accordingly, referencing the stylebook has long been used by many journalists and editors in response to long-standing criticism of the usage of the word illegal to describe humans.
Here is the new AP Stylebook guide:
illegal immigration Entering or residing in a country in violation of civil or criminal law. Except in direct quotes essential to the story, use illegal only to refer to an action, not a person: illegal immigration, but not illegal immigrant. Acceptable variations include living inor entering a country illegally or without legal permission.
Except in direct quotations, do not use the terms illegal alien, an illegal, illegalsor undocumented.
Do not describe people as violating immigration laws without attribution.
Specify wherever possible how someone entered the country illegally and from where. Crossed the border? Overstayed a visa? What nationality?
People who were brought into the country as children should not be described as having immigrated illegally. For people granted a temporary right to remain in the U.S. under the Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals program, use temporary resident status, with details on the program lower in the story.
AP Senior Vice President and Executive Editor Kathleen Carroll explained the change on the AP blog as part of an ongoing effort to change references that label people. In her explanation, Carroll referenced the debate over labeling people as illegal.
The editor of online journal Colorlines, Rinku Sen, applauded the change by the AP, and said it was a victory for immigrant communities, saying the use of the word had blocked “reasonable discussion” of policy issues:
This decision is a victory for immigrant communities. We took a word that has been normalized by anti-immigrant forces and revealed it as unfit to print because it is both inaccurate and dehumanizing. We startedDrop the I-Word in 2010 because we could see the harm that it was doing to our readers and community. In the early days, many people told us it didn’t matter, that the policy was all-important. But the word itself has blocked any reasonable discussion of policy issues, and we have been unable to move forward as a nation while its use has remained common.
Sen also said the change was a victory for journalists, who strive to be honest and accurate in their reporting.
Thousands of New Mexicans outside of Albuquerque and Santa Fe who work for minimum wage will not receive a $ 1 increase after Gov. Susana Martinez’s vetoed Senate Bill 416 on Friday. Sponsored by Senator Richard Martinez, D-Espanola, the wage increase was approved during the 2013 legislative session after extensive discussion and multiple amendments.
But Gov. Martinez said in a message attached to the veto that the increase “…would be unsustainable and kill New Mexico jobs” and that New Mexico must remain competitive with neighboring states. But the veto only affected the more rural areas of the state, because both Santa Fe and Albuquerque already have higher minimum wages.
During last year’s election, Albuquerque voters approved a more ambitious measure that in addition to a $1 dollar increase annually adjusts the minimum wage according to the cost of living index. Santa Fe currently has a minimum wage of $10.50 due to the indexing of that city’s minimum wage in 2009. Combined, about half the state’s population live in Albuquerque and Santa Fe.
Although Gov. Martinez’s decision was not unexpected, supporters of the initiative kept hope alive until the last minute, referencing studies in favor of a minimum wage increase to activate the economy in the state. Supporters also cited polls that showed strong support in Albuquerque for an increase to the minimum wage. Local advocates said the veto is a sign that Gov. Martinez serves big business rather than workers.
“Governor Martinez vetoed a modest minimum wage increase, standing up for big business rather than working New Mexicans,” Matthew Henderson, Executive Director of Organizers in the Land of Enchantment, said in an email to El Grito. “Most New Mexicans want a one-dollar minimum wage increase because they know the New Mexico economy is desperate for the boost that it would give us, putting thousands of dollars into the pockets of New Mexico’s hardest working families. Governor Martinez knows that New Mexicans want this wage increase, but she serves big business, not hard-working New Mexicans.”
(Editor’s note: This excellent reflection on the meaning of international solidarity was written by Maria Poblet in advance of the World Social Forum in Tunisia, and was originally posted on Organizing Upgrade. Poblet is currently on a delegation to the WSF sponsored by Grassroots Global Justice.)
“Hijab is part of our culture!” yelled a young woman in a gold and yellow “hijab” Muslim headscarf, squared off against an older French blonde, whose chin and shoulders were pulled back, signaling how offended and taken aback she was. “You think feminism is taking off the scarf?” the young woman continued, “Why don’t you stop the wars in our countries, stop the criminalization of Islam in Europe? We do not want to be in your country but we have no choice but to migrate, now you want to take away our culture, too?”
The feminist debate I had read about was happening before my eyes, western concepts of feminism clashing with the priorities of women from the global south. I was participating in AWID’s (Association for Women in Development) international conference in Istanbul, Turkey. Surrounded by thousands of women’s organizations, funders and feminists, I experienced moments of palpable women’s solidarity, and also moments like this one – conflicts between political views and lived experiences emblematic of dynamics that have held the women’s movement back. These power dynamics are as old as colonialism, and sometimes just as entrenched. Women with good intentions and social and economic privilege aim to “save” women who are marginalized, women of color, immigrant women, women from the popular classes.
In March of 2013 the New Mexico Legislature passed Senate Memorial 62, sponsored by Senator Linda Lopez, and recognized a statewide Student Bill of Rights. In this video, students from the youth program of the SouthWest Organizing Project talk about the process of creating the bill, from talking to fellow students, to planning and refining the final document, to educating their representatives at the New Mexico Capitol.
Here is a brief summary of the New Mexico Student Bill of Rights:
This student bill of rights is proposed with the purpose of establishing the basis for a fair, safe, and engaging learning environment for the students of New Mexico. These rights have been compiled through a series of workshops in collaboration with the SouthWest Organizing Project and students across different schools in New Mexico.
Students shall have freedom from discrimination.
Students shall have access to extracurricular and afterschool programs.
Students shall have information, resources, and support to prepare them for life after high school, and shall be highly encouraged to pursue higher education.
Students shall have equitable school and classroom environments.
Students shall have affordable and nutritious food.
Students shall have access to bilingual education.
Students shall have full protection of their constitutional rights while in schools.
Students shall have safe and secure public schools.
Students shall have the right and the opportunity to organize themselves and self-represent in important school decision-making processes.
New Mexican minimum wage advocates won a key battle in the legislature, with the passage of an increase in the statewide minimum wage to $8.50. But the future of the one dollar increase is by far a sure victory. Gov. Susana Martinez has already threatened to veto it.
Speaker of the House Ken Martinez shared with El Grito prior to the bill’s final passage why he believes increasing the minimum wage is important for the state’s residents, and by extension the economy.
“If people at the lowest level of the economy have a little bit more money they spend it right away because they have to–lunch buckets, kids meals, shoes for school, school clothes and that will help jump start our economy a little bit,” said Martinez.
Martinez was behind the final amendments to the bill, narrowing the categories of workers exempted from the minimum wage from broad categories added in prior committees. The final bill exempted workers that are also not covered under the state’s worker’s compensation statute.
Matthew Henderson, Executive Director for OLE, a local advocacy organization that was heavily involved in the Albuquerque petition initiative to increase the minimum wage last year, told El Grito prior to the end of the session that it will take a lot of community pressure to get the bill signed by the governor. Henderson said that the dollar increase would be a good thing for New Mexico, even though the bill doesn’t tie the minimum wage to the cost of living index.
“It’s still going to put one to two thousand dollars more in minimum wage worker’s pockets. That’s important,” he said.
The capitol building itself is a wondrous place. This year again I found myself walking round and round looking for a committee room that had disappeared. A friend remarked it would be a bad place for a bad acid trip. Look! That buffalo is coming out of the wall!
The final days of the session were a little stale and sad – like the last weekend of the State Fair when all the grass is brown and the animals are gone. The bills are like those 4-H livestock projects. A whole lot of work. Few trophies. They die.
Sitting in committee hearing rooms turned up interesting details and occasional spontaneous outbursts of sincere emotion. No less interesting were instances of calculated misdirection or omissions in testimony - and the potent questions left hanging
How much gas or oil do we get for all that fresh groundwater?
And shouldn’t water be worth more than oil?
The major things:
1. New Mexico consistently overvalues engineers, businessmen and big construction projects and undervalues artists, teachers and intangible natural assets. It’s all about the money. No less at the legislature. Probably more so. Treatment of water in a drought is one example. Water rights market wheeling and dealing is very hot right now. Many predict those who can not pay for water lawyers and hydro-geologists will be left high and dry. Small farmers. Small fish. Meanwhile big water pipeline projects with fat construction contracts will be justified with magical incantations.* Gila River? Go Fish.
2. The negative impacts of the oil and gas industry are denied, ignored and suppressed. To use water as an example again, the industry uses veritable buttloads of water and pollutes it as fast as they can frack. But the state doesn’t track this water use at all. Nor do they know what’s in it before it’s disposed. Any bill considered ‘unfavorable’ to the industry is met with exhortations to stop ‘antagonizing’ oil and gas. This from legislators who proudly hail intimate ties to the business.
The sign by the door of the Senate press room calls it the ‘Print Media Gallery’ which could imply exclusion of a blogger or social mediaist. But like a lot of other things in the Roundhouse the sign does not reflect reality or truth. Or it would read, ‘Senate Staff Lunch Gallery.’
*Jobs, jobs, jobs
New Mexico’s “citizen legislature” has long been a place where potential new laws are debated and voted on by people who may have a financial interest in the outcome. One such case was documented by El Grito early in the session, when Rep. Don Bratton acknowledged he had “fracked many many wells” as he opposed a bill that would require the chemicals in fluids used for fracking.
The Center for Public Integrity provides a bigger picture, highlighting New Mexico in a story about conflicts of interest as a rampant problem in state legislatures. The piece highlights another House Energy and Natural Resources committee member who has a direct financial interest in regulation that would impact the oil and gas industry, Rep. James Strickler:
On February 20, New Mexico’s House Energy and Natural Resources Committee gathered for one of its regular meetings in a drab room here at the capitol, a circular building known as the Roundhouse. On the agenda: a bill that would hike fees and penalties for energy companies drilling wells in the state.
The votes fell along party lines, with five Republicans lining up against the bill and the committee’s Democratic majority voting to send the legislation to the House floor. The Republicans argued the bill would stifle business and cost jobs, and for one lawmaker, the issue hit particularly close to home. Rep. James Strickler spends most of the year running his own small oil and gas production company, JMJ Land & Minerals Co. The bill would directly affect his profits.
Strickler, a 58-year-old from the sparsely populated, gas-rich northwest corner of the state, speaks with a gentle western drawl. In an interview after the committee vote, he said the bill would put New Mexico’s regulations out of line with those in other states. Ultimately the bill was voted down on the House floor, and Strickler was among those voting ‘no.’ Over seven years in office, Strickler has been a staunch advocate for his own industry and has twice introduced legislation to reduce the amount of renewable energy that utilities must purchase. He has never recused himself from a vote on energy issues, he said, even when it directly affects his bottom line.
The Center for Public Integrity piece doesn’t stop there; it includes several other examples from New Mexico, discusses the volunteer nature of New Mexico’s legislature, and brings in New Mexico voices who think the system should change. And it situates New Mexico within a larger national context. Read the entire piece here.
Representative Antonio Maestas shared with El Grito why he believes that a memorial he is sponsoring is important for New Mexico despite opposition from Rep. Nora Espinoza, who blasted books listed in the memorial as “racist” during Monday’s House Education Committee.
The state of Arizona became the center of a major controversy when a well established Mexican American studies program in the Tucson unified school district was eliminated and several books that had been essential components to the program were banned from the classrooms under accusations of being divisive and racist. Tucson school officials cited a recently enacted Arizona state statute to justify their actions, which caused widespread protest from Tucson students as well as a national outcry against the decision. House Memorial 95 calls on the State of New Mexico to never go down the road of Arizona, and calls for copies of the seven books that were removed from Tucson classrooms to be transmitted to the governor of the state of New Mexico, the Public Education Department, and the governor of the state of Arizona.
“If you get to know your role on this earth, who you are in relationship to everyone else, it’s very empowering,” Maestas said. “When a human being learns their culture, their history, their native language it adds confidence in themselves and all of us benefit from that.”
House Memorial 95 didn’t make it out of the House Education Committee Monday due to a tie vote, but will be heard once again this morning.
Publishers of one of the books, 500 Years of Chicano History, objected to Espinoza’s characterization of the books as racist, saying her statements “whitewash and deny our history.”
“We should never have blacklisting of books in New Mexico,” said Marisol Archuleta of the SouthWest Organizing Project, which publishes 500 Years of Chicano History. “House Memorial 95 simply affirms this basic value of New Mexicans. Books like ours enrich student’s education and appreciation of their culture. They should be celebrated, not banned.”
The SouthWest Organizing Project has a long history of community journalism, including the creation of El Grito.
A bill that would increase the statewide minimum wage has been amended every step of its way through the Senate, and then a House committee, but is now poised to be heard on the House Floor. If it passes the House floor vote, Senate Bill 416, would head back over to the Senate for concurrence on the changes to the House amendments. At the front end of the final week of the session, there’s plenty of time for all that to happen.
As to those amendments, a laundry list that was attached to the bill by the Senate Corporations and Transportation committee was simplified on the Senate floor to provide just two exclusions to the minimum wage increase: for companies that have ten or less employees, and for workers receiving a “training wage” for up to one year at the outset of their employment. Those employees excluded from the act would have continued to receive the current minimum wage of $7.50, which fixed one wide objection to the amendments passed by the Senate Corporations committee–the way they were worded suggested an actual decrease in the minimum wage from the current wage for those excluded employees.
The bill was then changed again on Saturday by the House Labor and Human Resources committee, to adopt an amendment proposed by Speaker of the House Ken Martinez that narrows the pool of excluded workers even further. Now excluded from an increase are those workers not currently covered by New Mexico’s Worker Compensation Act, plus student workers, apprentices, and those doing work for a business through a court-ordered community service program.
“I’m okay with the amendments as long as we get it (the bill) and she signs it; that is the main thing getting her to sign it,” the bill sponsor, Sen. Richard Martinez, told El Grito before it’s first House committee meeting. ”I’m assuming (the Governor) was behind the amendments so since she has gotten what she wants I’m very hopeful she will sign the bill.”
Editor’s Note: In 2006 Karlos Gauna Schmieder traveled to Venezuela to participate in the World Social Forum, representing the SouthWest Organizing Project on a Grassroots Global Justice Alliance delegation. In light of the passing of Venezuela President Hugo Chavez this week, he wrote the following quick hit blog with a few stories and memories of that trip.
¡Alerta Alerta Alerta Que Camina!
I walked into the radio station’s building. I had been told it was a jail for political prisoners in a barrio that overlooked the presidential palace before the election.
I guess it looked like it was once a jail. It had cinder block walls. It had that unmistakable institutional architecture feel. The kind of place that can be sprayed down and cleaned. It’s like everyone who ever built a jail or school went to the same class in some School of the Americas for architects.
But there were no more bars. And it didn’t feel like jail does.
Instead there were radio transmitters, and it felt like nothing I had ever experienced or seen.
A radio station had popped up where people had been tortured.
“This isn’t Chavez’s radio station,” said the young woman at the front of the room. “It’s ours.”
The message wasn’t anti-Chavez. It was as if she was making sure everyone knew that the changes that were taking place in Venezuela were as much hers as Chavez’s. The clinics that had been malls. The underpass turned environmental reserve. And, yes, the radio stations that had been jails.
I was younger then.
A little more open. My eyes seeing change for the first time.