Provincial Matters, 6-9-2014

Provincial Matters, 6-9-2014

Protest at City Hall

Thank goodness for modern technology. Last week’s peaceful sit-in at Albuquerque Mayor Richard Berry’s City Hall office was bristling with cameras, cell phones, and Ipods. Probably most significant moments were caught on somebody’s video. The incident has become in many people’s minds an example of the corruption of authority and sinister aggression that’s infecting our city. It was an utterly unnecessary, overplayed, and grossly insulting use of force to haul 13 non-violent people off to jail for “trespassing” on public property and exercising their First Amendment Rights to freedom of speech and the “right of the people to peaceably assemble, and to petition the Government for a redress of grievances.”

Speaking loudly and forcefully to disdainful politicians does not constitute an act of physical violence or “battery” against city officials.

Now it becomes clearer why the U.S. Department of Justice (DOJ) has charged the Albuquerque Police Department with a sordid record of unconstitutional applications of both lethal and non-lethal force.  Judging from official behavior at the sit-in last Monday, Mayor Berry and his people clearly are not followers of the rule of law as laid out in the U.S. Constitution.

What city officials did to the protesters was an unconstitutional disruption of a peaceful assembly. There was no danger to city property or city personnel. The protesters wanted to talk to the mayor. And they have a right to do that. He’s dodged them for a long time. The families of many of them have been grievously harmed by city employees with guns and badges. And they needed satisfaction. They wanted him to acknowledge the fathomless trauma their families have suffered. They wanted the buck to stop with him. But instead the powers that be arrested a grandmother, an artist, a professor, and ten more people -- all upstanding nonviolent members of our community.

It seems like the last straw. Imprisoning people for exercising their First Amendment rights has, I’m sure, gotten the attention of every civil libertarian in the state. City Hall whacked a hornet’s nest. This is not going to go away.

The really foolish thing was arresting UNM historian and American Studies professor David Correia and charging him with battery of a law enforcement officer which is a felony. Technology, however, will come to his rescue. A startling Youtube video of Dr. Correia’s arrest shows him being manhandled by a security guard. The professor’s hands are up in a submissive gesture and has fingers spread as he’s caught in the grasp of an plain cloths officer who shoving him through a doorway. It’s clear it was the professor who was being roughed up, not the security guard.

The felony count is a nuisance charge but one that is highly dangerous and that will cost Dr. Correia thousands of dollars to defeat, even though the evidence is already in the public record and clear as day that he did not aggressively touch or physically abuse anyone in authority. Someone is out to get Correia. And now he has to hire a lawyer and defend his innocence. He could even lose his job if UNM gets spooked and acts on the felony charge before he’s had his day in court.

Correia is not a solipsistic rabble rouser. He’s a serious, thoughtful, hard working and committed scholar with a passion for social justice. I say that because I believe it to be absolutely true. I’ve interviewed him twice on Insight New Mexico for the Mercury. You can find those revealing conversations here and here.  His book Properties of Violence: Law and Land struggle in Northern New Mexico published by the University of Georgia Press last year, is an important book for all New Mexicans to read. It shows Correia’s long and serious interest in the application of violence in the name of the law. His publications in scholarly journals and the public media are impressive. If anyone understands what “non-violent civil disobedience” means, it’s David Correia.  It’s preposterous to even imagine he’d be physically pushing police officers or security agents or exhibiting physical aggressiveness of any kind when the strategy of non-violent civil disobedience is passivity and non-resistance.


The Kirtland Partnership Committee, et al

You’d think with all the business organizations in Albuquerque that the city’s economy would be in better shape. The latest available data on recession recovery from the Brookings Institution’s Metro Monitor, however, puts Albuquerque a very dismal 94th out of a 100 major cities in recovery from the Republican recession of 2008.

This abysmal performance comes despite a pre-recession assessment by Forbes Magazine in 2004 that Albuquerque was the 12th best place to do business in the nation. The world is changing and Albuquerque’s business community doesn’t seem to be changing with it.

Part of our problem here, and throughout the state, is the deep political polarization that has come upon us like a lingering disease. New Mexico is so divided it can’t make use of all its considerable talents and intellectual resources. Most of the business organizations, for instance, lobby for Republican and conservative, and even libertarian, agendas as if progressives and Democrats don’t run very successful businesses too. The polarization basically cuts the city’s and New Mexico’s efforts by more than half, watering them down, diminishing efforts, and excluding a sector of our economy which is deemed to be a political enemy.

If there is a business oligarchy in Albuquerque, and there surely seems to be, it is not non-partisan. It’s basically Republican. And it dominates the scene. The Albuquerque Chamber of Commerce, for instance, is the classic case in point. It normally lobbies for Republican economic initiatives, supports Republican candidates, and works actively against environmental and labor issues.  And the other major organizations aren’t much better – especially Albuquerque Economic Development (AED) that recruits new companies,  Association of Commerce and Industry,  The Commercial Real Estate Development Association (NAIOP), Economic Forum, a business leadership group, The Rotary Club and perhaps a dozen more. This doesn’t mention the University of New Mexico Foundation and its prominent board which raises funds for the city’s second largest employer, UNM, and whose membership is interconnected with many of the above groups.

In our town and state, “business” is synonymous with “conservative.” That may seem obvious to most of us, but it still needs to be said. And how can you grow an economy with only half the people consulted and represented?

With so many business organizations around, one of the most important ones has gone largely under the radar. It’s the little known power group called The Kirtland Partnership Committee which advocates for the city’s largest employer, KAFB with its more than 17,000 employees.

If you want a list of the establishment power structure in Albuquerque go to the Kirtland Partnership Committee (KPC) web site. There you will find all the major players. The board membership is “by invitation,” the website says. And those who are invited include bankers, hospital administrators, City Hall bigwigs, TV execs, credit union heads, utility directors, car dealers, private “university” execs, and so on. The names are all there on the website.

The KPC site does address the Kirtland AFB “fuel plume,” the vast contamination of ground water near the sweet spot of our aquifer and its major drinking water wells near Ridgecrest. And it says it will “do whatever it takes” to “remediate” it. But it does seem clear to me reading the by invitation membership of the KPC ,why the City, the County, the business community and the general leadership structure of our town has been so relatively blasé about the biggest jet fuel contamination of ground water anywhere in the history of the nation.

Only those excluded from power want to talk about the contamination crisis with any vigor. And they’re ignored. Saying you’ll do “whatever it takes” means nothing of course. The public needs to know exactly what it will take. It needs an on-record estimate of how much money it will take to clean up the mess, how long it will take to do, and what the processes will be to do the job. The silence really is deafening. Neither the mayor, the city council, nor the county commission has asked those questions as far as I know. I think it’s because, judging from other much smaller jet fuel spills at other AFBs around the nation – such as the decommissioned George AFB in California where it will take 30 years to clean up a mere half million gallon spill -- it could well take billions of dollars and perhaps something close to a century to actually “remediate” the pollution from KAFB, some of which, I’m afraid to say, will almost certainly get into major drinking wells in the area or force their closure.

If you want to protect yourself from too much scrutiny by the excluded, put together a power board like the KPC to help you manage perception with unswerving calm. But if you want to engage in outright political polarization, join a group called the New Mexico Business Coalition (NMBC).

This is an organization that lectures tirelessly trying to convince New Mexicans of the lame old tenants of social Darwinism.  If you’re poor, says the NMBC, you’re somehow morally inferior, suckling at the “nanny state” “which attempts to ‘level the playing field’ by taking more through taxation from those who are willing to work hard and take risks and give to those who are not.” The poor are portrayed as being “unwilling” to get rich. What a crock. I suppose this tribe of unwilling parasites includes the young, the ill, the old and infirm, the tens of millions of people working 80 hours a week at dead-end low-paying jobs that the American business class has given them while selling off good American jobs to create a middle class in China.

The New Mexico Business Coalition says “it is against progressive ideas, the progressive agenda and progressive public policy.”  The NMBC thinks “the term ‘progressive’ has been hijacked and redefined to represent the far left, extreme liberal ideals that are wrecking havoc on our free enterprise system.”  I wonder what kind of ideals they’re talking about? Equal justice under law? Gender wage equality? The end of the gender glass ceiling? Anti-monopoly legislation? Union representation? A livable minimum wage?  Decent health care for all? A safe and secure social security system? A truly competitive energy market rather than one favoring the fossil fuel industry with grotesque incentives and tax loopholes? A healthy environment? A nation that contributes to healing global climate change before it’s too late? A “polluter pays” anti-contamination Superfund system funded exclusive by massive fines and penalties for ruining our air, soil, and water?

Is this what they mean by the “progressive agenda” aiming “to grow government to unlimited control over United State’s citizens”?

I wonder who belongs to this organization? No names or sponsors are mentioned on its website. It’s rumored to be a Koch Brother’s deal. But it’s anonymous. If businesses do belong to it, they’re undisclosed. But I’d sure boycott any business that is.

Working to alienate probably more than half of New Mexico’s population, the BCNM is just the kind of polarizing force of disorganization and business anarchy that brings chaos to our efforts to improve our economy and the quality of life of our citizens.  But, of course, the NMBC engages in politics to undermine the very government that protects its right to engage in politics and the NMBC does so on the grounds that government is dangerous to the politics of economic and corporate monopoly it espouses. And so it goes, not with a bang but a whimper.


Gary King v Susana Martinez

We’re going to get to know quite a lot more about Gary King as he takes on Governor Susana Martinez in one of the most important gubernatorial elections in a long time.  Right now, though, we know two things for sure - as an old fashioned New Mexican gentleman, he’ll never call the governor a “bitch” even when no one can hear him; and compared to her and her Koch Brothers extremism, King will be seen as the “reasonable” candidate. And New Mexico voters have shown over the years that they love the reasonable candidate.

We also know, however, that the Democratic Party is in disarray. Fielding a five candidate primary shows the lack of organization and discipline that has periodically defined the non-existent left in New Mexico and lost winnable elections for almost as long as I’ve lived here. Centrism won out again.

What New Mexicans who believe in social justice, gender equality, and the public health necessity of a clean environment worry about is that Governor Martinez will do to Gary King what she did to Diane Denish four years ago and what Gary Johnson did in 1994 defeating the incumbent Bruce King, one of the most popular governors in the history of the state, and then to Marty Chavez and Denish in Johnson’s re-election bid in 1998. He clobbered them all with his anti-tax, pre-Tea Party, veto-crazy frontiersman rhetoric. Many worry that Governor Martinez could do the same to Gary King in the blink of an eye, if those who support him can’t get it together and go for the jugular.

On the other hand, King might find very useful coattails in southern New Mexico if Rocky Lara defeats Steve Pearce in House District 2. King could also get good help from a strong showing by incumbent Michelle Lujan Grisham in House District 1 in Albuquerque, from Hector Balderas running for Attorney General and from Tom Udall’s Senate re-election run.

The Albuquerque Journal is sure to endorse Martinez for governor.

That seems not to be as much the kiss of death for Democrats as it used to be. It endorsed King, and he won. King has to somehow abandon the center for a while and get progressive democrats behind him, and independents and greens. And that will take some doing.  But it’s not beyond the possible. As the Mercury’s interview with Gary King showed, he’s highly articulate, well educated, and deeply connected in New Mexico not only as a member of the King family and the son of the Bruce and the much beloved Alice King, not only because of his dozen years in the New Mexico House, but also as an alum of New Mexico State with a strong following in eastern New Mexico. His background as a Ph.D. chemist and environmental scientist with experience as the Assistant Secretary for Environmental Management at the Department of Energy could also be a plus.

As odd as this may sound, I believe the gubernatorial election of 2014 has come to transcend party politics.

It’s really a contest between a vortex of negativity and a person with the potential to do a lot of good for a lot of people.

The last thing New Mexicans need is another four years of nastiness, playbook politics with out of state rules, corporate predators running our schools, environmental tokenism, and the view that poor people get what they deserve. It could turn New Mexico into even more of a Tea Party dungeon than it already is.

This election pits a person who has abused her office by doing virtually nothing with it but the base requirements, such as balancing the budget, a task required by the New Mexico Constitution, because she and her backers think  government is inherently dangerous and evil, and a person who understands the power for good that government can have and who has spent eight years as attorney general dealing with the nitty gritty problems of New Mexicans all over the state, from border violence, phone scams and  consumer protection to fighting the opening skirmishes in the long war with Texas over the Rio Grande, protecting elders from abuse,  and helping immigrants with consumer and legal issues.

I can’t say what Gary King will do as governor, but I’m sure he will try to use government in a positive way to help New Mexicans get out of economic sink hole that the Martinez administration has left them in during her four years in office.

How could New Mexico take another four years of being 48th in job growth compared to other states? How can we survive more from an administration that doesn’t think it’s bad that New Mexico economy is among the worst in the nation, and “has the greatest disparity between people with upper and lower class incomes?”

And how can we bear four more years of a governor who has done nothing to better the plight of New Mexico’s children who live in a state that is shamefully in 50th place when it comes what the Santa Fe New Mexican calls “the economic well-bing, education, health, and family and community support of children,” according to the 2013 Kids Count Data Book.

Gary King can beat Susana Martinez in November if he mobilizes all the people the governor has attacked and insulted – teachers, government workers, university staff and professors, environmentalists, behavioral health workers, the LGBT community, the alternative energy industry, and working people who need a living wage.

This election is really not about Democrats and Republicans as much as it about a governor who makes more enemies than friends, who hurts people when they should be respected, who is run by out of state ideologues and business interests,  and who’s destroyed more than she’s built.

She is a vortex of emptiness and disempowerment, and she needs to go.


(Photos of Susana Martinez and Gary King by Steve Terrell)

This piece was written by:

V.B. Price's photo

V.B. Price

V.B. Price is editor and co-founder of New Mexico Mercury. He is the former editor of Century Magazine and New Mexico Magazine, former city editor of the New Mexico Independent, and long-time columnist for the late Albuquerque Tribune. His latest book is The Orphaned Land: New Mexico’s Environment Since the Manhattan Project. He retired as the editor of the Mary Burritt Christiansen Poetry Series at UNM Press in 2010. He has taught in the UNM Honors Program since l986.

Contact V.B. Price

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