LET’S PUT PEOPLE BEFORE POLITICS

As a citizen legislator, my priority during my first term has been to be your voice in the Roundhouse — to work with you to create a state government that puts people before politics.  Over the past two years, I’ve had the privilege of meeting and listening to so many of you share your priorities and ideas for making life better for all of us here in northern New Mexico.  The accomplishments we talk about on this page are not mine — they’re ours, directly shaped by your calls, emails and ideas.

Look at what we’ve done so far, working together!

 

SUSTAINABLE ECONOMIC GROWTH:  PEOPLE BEFORE PROFIT

The good news that after many years, there are signs that our national economy is recovering from the Great Recession.  But here in New Mexico, the recovery is happening more slowly than most of us would like. We are lagging behind much of the rest of the country in economic recovery.

A big reason for the slow recovery here in New Mexico is that while we’re perfectly set up to create sustainable, high paying jobs, we’re not doing enough to make it happen. But there’s still too much political posturing and outdated economic thinking getting in the way of truly growing our economy in ways that create sustainable, environmentally responsible growth and good high-paying jobs.

When we ran for office in 2012, our Campaign for Change promised to prioritize “deep green” jobs that create a sustainable economy and protect our environment.  To begin the work of accomplishing this, we’ve focused in both sessions on securing funding for a variety of projects that encourage high tech investment and job creation here in New Mexico.

As a materials science researcher, I’ve seen firsthand how high tech jobs and businesses can grow a sustainable, vibrant economy like almost nothing else.   With the presence of multiple major scientific research institutions here in our state, a great climate and a unique way of life, northern New Mexico is ideally poised to become the Silicon Valley of the Southwest.

High tech businesses tend to be cleaner and more respectful of our environment.  And the jobs that high-tech businesses create, including those in high-tech/advance manufacturing, tend to pay higher salaries and have more promising career paths — all of which benefit all of us here in New Mexico and create opportunities for our brightest young people to build their futures here rather than having to move away because they can’t find good jobs here.  (For a great short documentary on how the green energy economy is putting people to work right now, including in New Mexico, visitCleanEnergyStories.org.)

In 2013, we successfully sponsored HB401, which makes it easier for high tech industries like software development & renewable energy storage to relocate to New Mexico.  These clean, sustainable businesses grow our economy and protect our environment at the same time.

In addition, during the 2013 session, in a bipartisan effort supported by Think New Mexico,  Rep. Tom Taylor and our Campaign for Change successfully co-sponsored HB194, a bill that makes it easier for start-ups who want to provide more energy efficient and innovative transportation alternatives by removing the current monopoly enjoyed by taxicab companies throughout the state. Despite stiff opposition from entrenched special interests, HB194 was signed into law in 2013.

During the 2014 session, we also sponsored HB36, which provides and promotes bridge funding for businesses who expand or start up in New Mexico.  HB36 in particular focuses on promoting home-grown high-tech business ideas developed right here in New Mexico.   HB36 was unanimously approved by the House, but did not make it through the Senate — so we’re going to try again next session.

Of course, if we’re going to create more high tech jobs here in New Mexico, we need to prepare people to succeed at those jobs.  That’s why we successfully sponsored HB17 which provides funding for programs that offer our  high school students additional access to programs that develop their computing and science job skills.  HB17 passed two house committees to become part of the state budget and is currently awaiting the Governor’s signature.

There’s much more work to be done.  In 2015, we’ll be continuing our work to put the well being of our people ahead of political games.  We’ll continue working to bring clean, sustainable high tech business to New Mexico, to train and prepare our young people to excel at these jobs, and to encourage New Mexicans with innovative ideas to launch their businesses right here in our state instead of taking them elsewhere to start up.

 

ETHICS REFORM: PEOPLE BEFORE POLITICAL GAMES

The concerns we’ve heard from so many in our community about the lack of ethics in state government is one of the major reasons I ran for public office.  An investigation by the Center for Public Integrity gives New Mexico a D- on ethics, with legislative integrity receiving a D (http://www.stateintegrity.org/new_mexico). We deserve better than this, and we have a lot of work still to do together if we’re going to solve the problems we’re facing.

As you might imagine, the biggest problem with ethics reform in the legislature is that oftentimes, it’s the fox guarding the proverbial henhouse — to get legislation passed, you often need to get the very politicians who are the problem to vote for the reforms. It’s important here to note that there are a lot of good people in our state legislature — I’ve had the privilege of working on both sides of the aisle with many people of integrity and principle who genuinely want to do what’s right for the people they represent. The problem is that when it comes to doing the right thing,  the old political system of backroom deals and favors gets in the way too much of the time.   Needless to say, because of this, ethics reform is a work-in-progress.  But the good news is, working together, we’re making that progress.

The surest way to find and root out corruption is to “follow the money.”  That’s why in 2013, with the support of the state auditor’s office, our Campaign for Change sponsored a pair of bills requiring audits of “at-risk” capital outlay projects (HB345 & HB305). Capital outlay projects often cost millions of dollars, and this bill provided random audits to help to make sure our taxpayer money was being spent as it was supposed to be spent.   HB305 made it through one committee, and HB345 was approved by the House but stalled in the Senate. However, after the 2013 session, Gov. Martinez instituted a system of audits with an even broader scope than the audits proposed by HB345/305, which has gone a long way towards safeguarding our taxpayer dollars for the first time in a long time.  (Like we’ve always said, neither side has a monopoly on good ideas!)

So has our Campaign for Change been able to make any changes?  The good news is yes.  Many people on both sides of the aisle in the legislature have shared with me that these last few sessions have been more open and more free of political pressure and intimidation than past sessions have been.  Rep. Martinez, our newly elected Speaker of the House, has gone above and beyond to create an environment of respect, freedom and openness where people feel safe to vote for what’s right for their communities without intimidation or strong arm tactics.

Is this change 100% because of our Campaign for Change?  Of course not — it takes a village to change a system.   But we’re sure proud to be part of the movement that’s working together to make it happen.

Of course, there’s lots more to do to make our government here in New Mexico truly open and democratic.  And that change doesn’t happen overnight.  But it is happening. We know because we hear from all of you that it’s happening, one step, one day at a time.

Some specifics:

In both sessions, I’ve sponsored legislation that the entrenched powers-that-be didn’t want brought to the Roundhouse. In 2013, it was HB306 which dealt with liability and training of deputized tribal police deputies, HB194 dealing with PRC issues, and HB345/305 dealt with audits of capital outlay money (both discussed above).  In 2014, it was HB356, which dealt with making utility right-of-way fees fair, just, and reasonable.  For each of these bills, entrenched special interests applied extreme pressure so that we’d pull the bills, both behind the scenes and in committee hearings.  We didn’t give in to that pressure, because we know these issues matter to the people in our community.  And while not all of these bills passed, all of them went much further in the process than anyone expected — because we didn’t let political pressure intimidate us into backing down.  The good news for the people and the bad news for the politicians is that we’re going to continue to bring the tough issues into the light for discussion and debate.

Cleaning up our government is a big job. And it all starts with electing honest people who won’t use their political position as leverage to silence dissenting voices.  The most effective way to fix the corruption problem we have with state government is to continue to vote for candidates who are independent of the “old boys” network and of the special interests and behind-the-scenes machinations of the Establishment power structure that has ruled New Mexico for too long.  The more genuine “citizen legislators” we elect (and the more we support those legislators who do stand up for the people, on both sides of the aisle), the more powerful the voice of the people will be — and eventually, working together, we will drown out the voices of the political opportunists who get in the way of real progress in our state.

EDUCATION: KIDS BEFORE POLITICS

We all know that ensuring that our kids get a good education is vital to our future as a community. And yet in spite of all the time and all the money we’ve put into ‘education reforms’ here in New Mexico, the sad reality is that our schools are still ranked among the lowest in the nation. I believe strongly that, working together, we can find a better way.

I’ve spent a great deal of time over the past four years listening to teachers, parents, students, administrators and community leaders. Most of them shared some good, common sense and innovative ideas — ideas that could really make a difference.

As the father of four boys, I understand firsthand the challenges of raising a family and how parents’ expectations set the tone—parents are a child’s first teacher.  Sometimes we leave education up to the schools, but it takes a real partnership with parents and communities all taking an active role, to make sure our kids cross the finish line — that’s why I’ve been active in volunteering for our schools since long before I was elected.

 

Let’s support teachers & get politics out of our schools.

One of the main suggestions we’ve heard over and over from the community is that we need to work harder to take politics out of education.  It used to be that education was one of the least partisan issues around — and that everyone agreed that the future of our kids shouldn’t be used as a political football.  Obviously, that’s changed and I agree with most of those I’ve heard from that it’s a change for the worse.  Partisan game playing is destructive on any issue, but it’s particularly sad and damaging when our kids are caught in the crossfire.

One of the main changes that I and many others in our community believe has contributed to the politicization of our education system here in New Mexico was the establishment of a Secretary of Education back in 2003 under Gov. Richardson.  We’ve seen how, over the years since then,  the shift away from a more representative and diverse school board to a politically appointed department has hurt our ability to help our schools.  The old model wasn’t perfect by any means, but it was less destructive and more effective than what we have now and I would concur with those in our community who support restoring the older model of an elected state school board.

Another significant problem that we’ve heard about from our community, particularly from teachers, is the overemphasis on tests.  I’ve literally had teachers break down in tears in meetings I’ve been in because they aren’t able to teach effectively when they have to spend most of their time “teaching to the test.”  Teachers become teachers for a reason — to share their love of learning with their students. They don’t make much money (more on that in a minute!), the pressures are incredible and the stakes are high.  The very least we can do is make sure that the best ones stay because they are given the freedom to do their best in the classroom without being handcuffed to a test score.

Standardized tests can be a useful tool if used appropriately and in moderation, not as the definitive last word in measuring success or failure of our students, our teachers or our schools.  Standardized tests don’t — and can’t — measure the ability of a student to use creative and critical thinking to solve problems. And when teachers and students are forced to spend the bulk of their classroom time preparing for a test, our kids don’t have time to learn how to develop their creative and critical thinking skills — skills that our kids will need to have to be successful in their careers when they graduate.

I also share the strong belief that raising teacher salaries needs  to be a big part of improving our schools here in New Mexico.  Whether we like it or not, we live in a culture where salary equals prestige & respect.  It’s difficult to attract our best and brightest young people to a career in teaching when teachers often can’t even afford to buy a house in the community they teach in.  We say we want the best for our kids — it’s time to prove we mean it.  Teacher salaries need to reflect the importance of the work our educators do.   Our teachers, students and communities deserve nothing less.

Let’s prepare kids for our high-tech future present.

Our schools need innovative approaches to prepare our kids for an increasingly high tech world.  America is moving ever faster into the high tech and information age, and the reality is that the jobs we’ve lost in traditional manufacturing are probably not coming back.  This sounds like bad news, but I agree with those who see it as good news.  High tech jobs — including high tech & advanced manufacturing jobs — tend to be more rewarding, to pay more and to be more sustainable and better for our community than traditional manufacturing jobs.  And I know firsthand from my work as a materials science researcher how rewarding and fun work in the science and high tech fields is.

We need to prepare our kids to thrive in this new job market, which is why we successfully sponsored HB17 which provides funding for programs that offer our high school  students additional access to programs that develop their computing and science job skills.  HB17 was passed by two committees and became part of budget bill, and is currently awaiting the Governor’s signature.  We also sponsored HB21, which funds after school computer program modeling efforts for high schools, where students get practice solving real life problems using hands-on computer models.

These are small steps, admittedly, and there’s a lot more that can be done when it comes to education, particularly in encouraging high tech & computer training for our kids.  And it’s a priority that our Campaign for Change will continue to expand on in the next legislative session.

 

Let’s Make Sure Our Schools Have the Money They Need

Many of you have asked about the viability of increasing the percentage of the Land Grant Permanent Fund to fund our schools.  I am and have always been a strong supporter of this approach, and have spoken up in support of it on the House floor.

Almost 60%  of New Mexico’s revenue currently goes to education (47% to K-12 and 12% to higher education).  In 2015, by state statute, the Land Grant Permanent Fund is set to lower its distribution to the general fund from 5.5% to 5.0% — causing a $65 million decrease to our general fund.   A solution to helping the state continue to honor our commitments to our school districts, our teachers, and our children is a Joint Resolution that I have support in both 2013 and 2014, and will work hard to pass in the next session in 2015.  If successful, this Joint Resolution will change the distribution of the Land Grant Permanent Fund to 5.8%, and would  prevent the loss of  $65 million to the general fund, as well as providing an additional $40 million that could be used to help fund things like increased teacher salaries and much needed school improvements in the classroom, as well as innovative new approaches to improving our schools like the many that people in our community have shared with us.

 

SAVING OUR ENVIRONMENT:  PROTECTION BEFORE POLITICS

One of our shared priorities as a community is, of course, to protect our environment.  Our water, our air, our wilderness and wildlife are key to our health and our future, and we have an ethical and moral responsibility to protect them, to be stewards of the planet for the sake of our communities and our children’s future.

One of the best ways to protect our environment is to encourage investment in green energy, sustainable technologies, and high-tech businesses. And one of the best ways to do this is by encouraging high-tech industries here in our state — businesses that are greener, more sustainable and more respectful of our environment.

That’s why during the 2014 session, our Campaign for Change sponsored HB36, which promotes and encourages small high tech business start-ups home grown right here in New Mexico.  High tech jobs pay on average 60% more than most other jobs here in the state. This legislation was unanimously approved by the House, but did not make it through the Senate — so we’re going to keep working on it next session.

We can also encourage sustainable development with strong green building practices that are specific to the needs of our community and that may be different from green building practices that work in other areas of the country.    68% of homes in New Mexico were built prior to 1990  when building codes didn’t empathize energy efficiency and plumbing fixtures were not as water efficient as they are today.

Of course, “building green” can have significant up-front costs and not everyone can afford to do it even if they want to.  That’s why during the 2013 session, Sen. Peter Wirth and I co-sponsored the Sustainable Green Building Tax Credit (SB14), which extended the sustainable energy tax credit for homeowners. SB14 has been so successful that 72% of all homes in Albuquerque are now more energy efficient (HERS rating of 70 or better), and all $15 million of the allocated funds was spent in the first year.

During the 2014 session, our Campaign for Change sponsored HB124, which offers tax credits of up to $3800 for homeowners who want to expand, renovate, or just make  their homes more energy and water efficient .  Although HB124 was approved by all three  committees that heard it and had widespread support across multiple coalitions, it was not heard on the House floor due to time considerations. A big thank you to BuildGreenNM and SF Community College Green Building & Energy Efficiency Center, who worked hard to get this bill passed — we’ll try again next session!

During the 2013 session, we also sponsored a request for cleanup of Area G at LANL (HJM5). This clean-up request, which was approved by the House, will help to safeguard our water supply  and our environment while creating sustainable local jobs. And we’ve been actively working as part of a local coalition to solarize our local fire stations.

Protecting our environment doesn’t have to mean sacrificing economic development and prosperity — that’s a false choice promoted by big oil & gas that puts profits over people.  By working together, we can create a sustainable economy that protects our environment and our economic future.

 

SUBSTANCE ABUSE:  PREVENTION BEFORE POLITICS

We have a serious substance abuse problem in America, and it’s particularly severe in northern New Mexico. A lot of politicians talk about tougher enforcement, but those who work in substance abuse know from experience that enforcement alone won’t solve the problem.

We need to support early prevention and mentorship programs that are tailored to fit the individual communities that are hardest hit by substance abuse. Prevention programs aren’t one size fits all, and what works in Albuquerque might not work in, say, Espanola or Chimayo, because the culture is different.  That’s why during the 2014 session, our Campaign for Change successfully sponsored HB16, increasing the percentage of existing liquor tax revenue to DWI Grant Fund (an increase of 6.5 million dollars over the next three years), which assists counties with DWI education, prevention and intervention.  Those businesses in our community who make a profit from selling alcohol need to be paying their fair share for the damage that drunk driving does to our communities. I’m happy to report that HB16 was approved by both House and Senate and is currently awaiting the Governor’s signature.

WATER ISSUES:  CONSERVATION BEFORE POLITICS

Water rights and conservation are, of course, a big issue in our community, and one of our major priorities during our first term has been working on a system to secure access to water, and to make water rights fair for everyone. Too often, water rights are used as political bargaining chips and currency in backroom political sweetheart deals and favors — and when water is life, that kind of political game playing is dangerous and unacceptable in our community

In 2013, we successfully sponsored a memorial requiring all governmental agencies to work together to install a proactive plan to protect the watersheds that feed the San Juan/Chama project (HJM24), which is the source of a significant amount of Santa Fe’s city water .  A second successful memorial requests funding to heighten the Santa Cruz Dam to accommodate more water storage (SJM6, co-sponsored with Sen. Richard Martinez).  Both of these memorials help our Congressional delegation secure federal dollars for these projects.

We’ve also worked extensively with local acequias to create a fairer system for capital outlay funding that allocates money to each acequia in equal rotation. This system means that each acequia is treated equally and ends the political game playing with our local water system.  The first five acequias received funding in July 2013 and an additional seven acequias in 2014, totaling more than half a million dollars.  Some of these acequias date back to the late 1700’s and preserving their function is vital to the health and sustainability of our small farming communities.

In 2014, we supplemented the new acequia funding system by sponsoring HB299, which allocated additional money for local acequias and small mutual domestic water systems for maintaining and building infrastructure.   Due to some technicalities regarding which entities are considered “small mutual domestic water systems,” we pulled the bill for this session pending further refinement for resubmission in 2015.

As we deal with changes in our climate and increasingly frequent droughts, successful water management is going to require new and innovative approaches working hand-in-hand with the traditional systems.  As chairman of the interim committee on Science & Technology, I’ve also had the opportunity to listen to a variety of in development for water recycling and treatment, some of which have become policy.  For example, i the 2014 legislative session, we funded 1.6 million dollars for a treatment system for the small mutual domestic in Santa Cruz (District 46) for the removal of uranium and arsenic from the drinking water supply.

And finally, those of you affected by the Aamodt Water Settlement know that we’ve been very active in working with the community to do everything we can to make sure all of you have honest, accurate and complete information on your options. We’ve attended, spoke at and sponsored numerous community meetings for members of our community affected by the settlement to get information and ask questions.  This water system could be a good and positive system if (and only if) the unfinished parts and pieces are as fair and equitable as possible to all parties involved. Because we know this is a contentious issue, to facilitate dialogue, we’ve made a special effort to meet  with all parties involved to facilitate work on solutions to complicated issues.

ANIMAL WELFARE:  PAWS BEFORE POLITICS

Animal welfare is a big priority for many in our community.  Northern New Mexicans care deeply for our furry family members, and we’re proud to be working to make life better and safer for the animals that share our lives.

Gandhi wisely observed that, “The greatness of a nation and its moral progress can be judged by the way its animals are treated.”  This is true not only in a philosophical sense, but in a literal one.  Study after study has shown that cruelty to animals is one of the first indicators of dangerous abusive behavior in our young people.  A person who abuses animals has a high likelihood of abusing their families and even escalating to even more violent sociopathic criminal behavior.  That’s why protecting our animals and fighting animal cruelty has always and will continue to be a priority for our Campaign for Change.

I am proud to serve on the Board of Directors for the Santa Fe Humane Society, and this past summer, we were honored to have our Campaign for Change named as a Protector of Animals by the Animal Protection Voters. Click here for the details and APV’s Legislative Scorecard.

During the 2013 session, we sponsored a mirror bill to Sen. Martinez’s bill that strengthened penalties for animal cruelty (HB224).  In addition, I signed on as an early supporter for a bill banning unfair one-size-fits-all breed-specific regulations (HB63), and spoke out against the creation of a Horse Slaughter Facility in southern New Mexico. I also joined my colleagues in both Houses in voting to provide police dogs with protective vests (SB141), allowing retired police dogs to be adopted by their handlers or to other good homes (SB139) and creating a horse shelter rescue fund (SB274).  These last three bills were all signed into law.

The 2014 session was, with a few exceptions, limited to budgetary issues, so to help protect our animal companions, we sponsored HB20, which allocated $250,000 for statewide spay/neuter programs.  There are places here in our state where the pet euthanasia rate is over 80% — we can and should do much better in preventing the tragedy of pet overpopulation and stopping the cruelty of euthanizing healthy, adoptable pets just because there are no homes for them.  HB20 was stalled in Appropriations, but fortunately, with the help of Animal Protection Voters and Sen. Richard Martinez, we were able to get $100,000 for spay/neuter into the 2014 budget.

We have a lot of work still to do to protect our animals, and we’re going to keep working on doing our part to make sure every animal in our state has a safe and happy home.

 

COMMUNITY BUILDING:  PEOPLE BEFORE POLITICS

As a citizen legislator, a lot of my focus is on listening to and representing your priorities on the big issues of the day — education, the environment, the economy.  I’m also honored to be able to invest a lot of time and resources in projects and legislation that strengthen our communities and make northern New Mexico a better place for all of us to live.

One of the projects our Campaign for Change is most proud of is the purchase and the soon-to-be renovation of the youth sports fields in Pojoaque (formerly known as the Little League Fields).  These fields were in a bad state of disrepair, making it difficult and unsafe for our kids to play on them.  Working with the Pojoaque Valley School Board, Santa Fe County and the state, we were able to purchase the fields and finance the renovation of the fields so they can be used by our kids again.  A very special thank you to Rep. Brian Egolf, Rep. Debbie Rodella and Sen. Carlos Sisneros for contributing a portion of their allocated capital outlay funds to make this happen. This is the kind of positive change that can happen when we all work together to make our community better.

On the legislative side, in 2013, we sponsored a bill that mandates that pueblos carry appropriate liability insurance and provide proper training for tribal law enforcement officers when deputized under state law by local sheriff departments (HB306).  As many of you know, this bill addresses a critical public safety concern voiced by many in our community.  This bill provoked strong opposition from the entrenched powers-that-be, and, not surprisingly, didn’t get very far in the legislature.  But it was significant that it was brought up in committee and heard at all — a major step in reforming our democratic process to better represent the issues that matter to the whole, not the politicians.

Even better, as part of working to pass the bill, we reached out to Sheriff Robert Garcia and asked the sheriff’s department to provide a fairer allotment of coverage to our communities north of Santa Fe.   Sheriff Garcia and his department has responded admirably and working together, we increased patrol coverage to better reflect our proportion of the population of the county. We’ve heard from many people in the northern communities that, for the first time in many years, they’ve seen an appropriate police presence that helps them to feel safer and protected by the sheriff’s department.  This is the kind of good that can come from not being afraid to bring up difficult issues, and working together to solve them.

This session, limited to budgetary issues, we also sponsored several bills designed to strengthen our communities.  HM17 and HB356 address the issue of electrical right away fees that are excessive, and they mandate that these fees be set at fair, just, and reasonable rates — a measure designed to keep energy rates fair and equitable for everyone. A lot of naysayers told us we’d never get past square one with these bills, but they were wrong — HM17 was approved by the House and now goes to the PRC for study.    And due to a heroic, bipartisan effort on the part of so many of you (over 80 concerned citizens took time away from work to pack the committee rooms in support of this bill), HB356 made it through all of its committees — further than anyone expected it to.  And given how important this issue is to so many in our community, we’re not going to give up on this one.  For many in our community, the potential rate hikes in utility bills will force a choice between paying a family’s electrical bill and putting food on the table — a choice that no family in our community should have to face.

As we move into 2014 and beyond, we’re going to keep strengthening our community by standing up for what the people believe in and want, and to be your voice in a system where too often the wealthy and powerful entrenched political powers get their way regardless of whether or not it benefits the people.

We’ve made some real progress since we first started this journey.  Working together, we can make even more!

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