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C. Greg Leichner

letters, opinions, editorials

re: Memorial robbers [January 2012 Signpost]

I’d like to set the record straight. I too was a friend to Agnes until her untimely death in August 2008 caused by a collision with a drunk driver (Agnes was not the drunk, as the previous writer implied). I appreciate Agnes’s memorial on the side of Highway 165 and enjoy the festive boost during the holidays when some thoughtful folks added tinsel and ornaments to the crosses and surrounding juniper trees. However, by the time February comes around, the ornaments have blown down and the tinsel is weathered by the sun and wind, and I’m compelled to remove it. Contrary to the assertion made, this is done of respect to Anges’s memory. The first year, I endured the transformation from treasure to trash until mid-February before cleaning it up. The second and third years, as the unkempt memorial decorations became an eyesore, I did the same. This year, I’ve not yet cleaned up the trash, but in honor of Agnes, I will.

—Snow Watson, Placitas

re: Ban fireworks?

Hit by an extreme drought that continues, New Mexico suffered devastating forest fires last year. It’s pretty clear that we can expect continued drought and fire danger.

Public safety officials do not have the authority to ban the use and sale of fireworks when fire danger is high. The New Mexico legislature is considering a bill, SB 5, that would give the Governor, and city and county officials, the ability to ban fireworks when fire danger is extreme.

Please call on your legislator to support the ban. The legislature is in session from January 17 to February 18. That’s why I signed a petition to The New Mexico State House and The New Mexico State Senate, which says, “Please support SB 5, which would give the Governor, and city and county officials the ability to ban the sale and use of fireworks in times of high fire danger.”

Will you sign the petition too? To add your name, go to:

—Norm Gaume, Albuquerque

re: Resolving resolutions

Dear Friends Back East:

It was kind of you—more or less—to share your various New Year’s resolutions with me. I found your combined list to be well conceived with only a few exceptions.

For example, your resolve to “Grab your coat and get your hat, leave your worries on the doorstep and direct your feet to the sunny side of the street” is particularly high-minded even if not completely original. Good luck with each component part of that decision.

I realize that all of us are getting older by the second, but I don’t know that the commitment “. . . to consume more preservatives” is necessarily a wise approach to aging, although it is definitely workable. I suggest taking another look at this one.

I also question the other dietary decisions to “. . . avoid sugary cereals other than Kellogg’s Honey Smacks” and to “. . . completely cease doughnut consumption other than Krispy Kreme products.” My friends, there are a couple of weaknesses to this otherwise noble resolution. See if you can find them.

And, of course, we understand the basis for one of you resolving to “. . . find new employment in 2012.” Had your top management not been indicted for unlawful possession of nine congressional committees, twenty-nine individual senators, 124 individual House members and ten cases of Kellogg’s Honey Smacks, you’d probably have been secure until retirement. We all wish you luck and offer you our support for finding another job.

I made only a couple of resolutions. One is to cease lecturing my fellow citizens who insist on saying, “No problem” when they should say, “You’re welcome.” I have reason to believe my obsessive reactions are costing me friends, as well as making me hoarse.

And I’ve resolved to stop punctuating my own dialogue with “Know what I’m sayin’?” and “Just sayin’,” as I fear it makes me sound a bit too much like Tony Soprano.

Mighty Patrick, our fine old Maine Coon Cat, has resolved to shed with more intensity and in far greater volume; he is making good on his commitment. He also has increased his resolve to live only in the present moment, knowing that the past is gone and the future isn’t here yet . . . that the present moment is the only time he’s really alive.

Know what I’m sayin’?

—Your Friend, Herb

re: Schiller and Matthews remembered

Placitas is actually a traditional Norteño community with all the elements that such communities up north have. There is no distinction. We are part of the struggle to keep it alive and nurtured. Two Placitans that have done just that are Mark Schiller and Kay Matthews. This wonderful, dynamic couple met while vying for a rental in the Village. They decided to both move in instead of fighting over it, and the magic and chemistry happened. They later built a house up on Tunnel Springs Road and started a family. They are both excellent writers, in a town of excellent writers. They learned everything about Norteño culture here in Placitas, with its Land Grant, acequias, history, and a long-standing anti-the-rest-of-the-world and intense activism that defined our community. They gave us the wisdom, knowledge, skills, calmness, humor, and attitude that did much to make us successful in defending our world and restoring the good things in life. One of the most awful things that happened to me was when they left. As they watched former friends rejecting what we had worked so hard for and taking up the quest of exploiting the land and water to get rich. It got too painful to be a part of. They settled in a small inholding in the National Forest near Trampas called El Valle where they remained until the untimely passing of Mark a little over a year ago. They started up La Jicarita [], and a large extended family grew up around this little humble black-and-white publication. It held us together, giving us succor and hope.

Placitas didn’t die. Quite a few of us continued, and many were involved in La Jicarita and the issues concerning it. Some of them were Will Ouellete, our mutual friend, Bruce, and fully misunderstood wise lady, Ida Talalla. We all traveled to Santa Fe to assist in founding the NM Acequia Association. We continued in struggles against the pipelines, [residential development], and the ruthless, destructive exploitation of our water. Acequias regrouped and became the institutions they are today. The Grant faded from being the root and soul of the community, but new institutions and groups formed to take its place. Placitas is still the vanguard of change for our region and still has immense influence. Mark and Kay still inspire us, and their example will always lead us down the right path.

La Jicarita is not dead and gone; the ethical approach of true stewardship is its legacy, and that will continue. I have great hopes for the future. Many projects and works still need to be completed or started up. We have been working on a film about Ike DeVargas and his struggle to keep the rights and land with the people, for one. Hopefully, this and other efforts, will get a boost now that La Jicarita is embedded in the University, where we can still access it and contribute. Placitas can be proud of Mark and Kay, and we can truly call them our own.

—Lynn Montgomery, Placitas

Mountain Musing—Our Legislature: a peculiar institution

—Wally Gordon, The Independent

The New Mexico Legislature, which opened its thirty-day session yesterday, is one of the most peculiar institutions ever to emerge from politicians’ fertile minds. It jealously guards almost all the state’s real political power, doling out only crumbs to counties, municipalities, and even the executive branch of state government. Yet it chooses to exercise its vast powers only 12.5 percent of the time—a total of three months in each two-year span.

The peculiarities do not stop at the circular walls of the appropriately designed Roundhouse, a building in which it is often said you can continue moving forever without ever arriving anywhere, with corridors in which you never know where you stand unless you happen to know somebody.

For inside those walls, the members of the Legislature concentrate power among themselves as obsessively as they do vis-a-vis the state as a whole. Individual members may propose as many as a couple of thousand bills in a session, but the chairs of the appropriations and taxation committees, the majority and minority leaders, the House speaker and the Senate president pro tem dispose of them.  

In a typical legislative session, the myriad of personal, political, and ideological issues that account for most of the press coverage all wait in line behind the three big bills dealing with general fund appropriations, capital spending, and taxes. And those bills are controlled by no more than a half dozen leaders in either house.

As absurd as it seems, the great majority of members of both political parties not only do not have any real say about what goes into these bills, but when they vote on them in the end-of-session chaos, they seldom know even what is in them. When reporters call up usually knowledgeable legislators immediately after the session is over, almost invariably the only honest answer to the question “What did you guys pass?” is, in effect, “I haven’t the foggiest.”

During nearly every session, a legislator here and there makes an effort to reform, open up, and democratize the process; but acting quietly behind the scenes, the leadership makes sure the bell tolls for these efforts—and if their sponsors are too persistent, also for the legislators involved, whose bills suddenly die in committee without even the grace note of a recorded vote.

There are many things the Legislature could in theory do to make the process more transparent and democratic, beginning with longer sessions that would not cram every conceivable major issue into a chaotic month or two. With longer sessions, the Legislature could set up a series of staged deadlines so that various categories of bills would have to be acted on at certain points in the session; and individual members would have a chance to do a bit of research on key bills, perhaps—startling as it seems—even read them (In theory, such deadlines exist for House Bill 2, the general appropriations act, but the schedule is often honored only in the breach).

Individual legislators could receive a salary and better professional staff assistance, making them less dependent on omnipresent—and almost omnipotent—lobbyists for information. It is often forgotten that there are typically eight or nine lobbyists at the Roundhouse for every legislator.

The three key factors determining which bills have the inside track for passage and which are doomed to ignominious failure are which committees a bill is assigned to, how many committees hear the bill, and when the bill moves through various stages of the process. All of these decisions—as are the equally key decisions about who serves on and chairs which committees—are in the hands of the leadership.

It is not widely known that the principal purpose of the convoluted legislative process is not to pass bills but to kill them. In a typical session, eighty percent to ninety percent of the bills introduced are never passed, and even some of those are usually vetoed by the governor (in the case of Gary Johnson, sometimes more than 200).

It is a truism of the process that, while any legislator may introduce any bill during a sixty-day session, and any spending bill during a thirty-day session, only the handful of legislators who control committees and floor action can actually get those bills passed.

There are enlightened legislators who would like to see their body do a better job. After all, most legislators are conscientious, although you might not know it from the cynical reports of my journalistic colleagues. These legislators want to do their jobs well, and they expend enormous effort trying to do so. No one in New Mexico is as disappointed as is the typical legislator when, as happens more often than not, all his hard work comes to naught and a session fails to produce any significant improvements in the lives of his constituents or for the state as a whole.

Nevertheless efforts to improve the process almost invariably stumble, not only because of internal hurdles but also because of the built-in constitutional competition between the Legislature and the governor. Nearly all governors, Republican and Democratic, have vetoed initiatives that would have strengthened the operations of the legislative branch at the perceived expense of the executive branch. Governors, like legislative leaders, often see the process as a zero-sum game in which a gain for one side is an automatic loss for the other.

That such a perception need not reflect reality has in the past been beside the point.

Some day, God knows when, New Mexico may actually get its first truly reform-minded governor and legislative leadership, and perhaps they will have the self-confidence and farsightedness to collaborate in producing a modern and efficient government. Until then, we will just have to get along with what we have and pray, very hard, that they at least heed the injunction of the medical profession: first do no harm.

Originally printed in the Independent, a newspaper for the East Mountains and Estancia Valley,
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