A few weeks ago, as I sat through the State of the Union, I mentally prepared for another long list of insults and verbal attacks against me and the rest of the country’s immigrant community on behalf of our nation’s highest elected official. And of course, Trump delivered. However, this time around, I was pleasantly surprised to see the breaking news report on Gov. Michelle Lujan Grisham’s removal of National Guard troops from our southern border. When you live in a border community like I do, news like this is life changing. For the first time in three years I walked into Trump’s speech knowing that at the end of the day my governor had not forgotten me.
Sen. Antoinette Sedillo Lopez, D-Albuquerque, has proposed legislation (SB 459) that would place a four year moratorium on hydraulic fracturing (i.e. fracking) of oil and gas wells in New Mexico. Before passing such legislation our elected leaders and the public must understand if fracking really is a problem that requires such action. Fracking involves injecting a slurry of water, sand and chemicals under very high pressure to fracture oil bearing rocks to improve the flow of oil and gas to a well. It sounds scary, but in fact it’s been done for many decades. The difference now is that instead of fracking a few hundred feet of rock in a vertical well, the industry is fracking horizontal wells up to two miles long.
The Fifty Fourth Legislature is being ushered in by forward-minded policy proposals supporting a “go big” approach to New Mexico economic development alongside environmental progress. It’s a policy session for the Legislature, and the best way to create good policy is to work together in ways that benefit voters and the state’s economy and environment. A good example would be to address the closure of old-style coal plants that generate electricity. This can be done in a way that punishes utilities that built coal plants – then a sensible investment – more than 50 years ago, or instead in ways that allow them to close the plants and invest in environmentally and economically intelligent alternatives that recognize today’s priorities. Progressivism suffers when it relies on punishment.
New Mexico has a renewable portfolio standard which requires our utility providers to produce 20 percent of the electricity we consume – the electricity that powers our homes and businesses – by 2020. At the time it was passed it was an incredible step to take to help diversify our energy production and produce more clean energy. It has had a dramatic impact on lowering the cost of the production of clean energy—wind and solar. Now, our neighbors—Colorado and Arizona—are updating and increasing their respective renewable portfolio standards, to further increase the amount of clean energy produced in those states. With our legislature and Governor in support, New Mexico is now on the path to join this group of clean energy leaders.
During this legislative session, we can choose to continue tax cuts that benefit the wealthy and well-connected, or we can choose a new path and prioritize our children and families. It’s time to reverse course on excessive tax breaks and invest in healthy and thriving communities instead: investments in our schools to set our children on a path to success, investments in health care to keep people healthy and working, and investments in infrastructure – roads, bridges, and modern technology – that will benefit our families and businesses. But in order to support these foundations for a thriving community, New Mexico needs dependable revenues that are equitable, sustainable, and adequate. Our current revenue stream fails to meet these principles because our tax system: asks the most from those with the least incomes, is over-reliant on the volatile oil and gas industries, and fails to raise enough revenue to meet the educational needs of our children of color.
Now is the time to enact bold tax reform and improve our tax system so we can begin to generate key, sustainable resources that are not ruled by the boom-or-bust cycle of the oil and gas industries.
One of my jobs as your Secretary of State is to act as the state’s chief elections officer. As such, I’m committed to modernizing our elections for the 21st Century and same-day voter registration is integral to that goal. My life in public service has been dedicated to expanding access to the ballot box and fulfilling the promise of our democracy by increasing participation in elections. Our representative form of government can only be of, by, and for the people if the people are actually participating in it. Though New Mexico is already a national model for safe and secure elections because of our paper ballots, post-election audits, and other best practices, there is much more we can do to make it easier, not harder, for eligible New Mexicans to vote.
There is new leadership for our state’s classrooms, bringing winds of change that are long overdue. The new Secretary of the Public Education Department, recently appointed by Gov. Michelle Lujan Grisham, is Karen Trujillo – a New Mexican with over a decade teaching in the classroom and twenty years in teachers’ professional development. Special Advisor Pedro Noguero is an internationally recognized counselor and researcher to schools seeking improvement. The governor called her seven education appointees an “all-star team,” and she is right. They bring hands-on understanding of the classroom, deep expertise in the areas where we most need it, with a combined 100-plus years of experience in New Mexico among them.
New Mexico has a lot to offer, and we all share in the benefits of the state’s beautiful land and clean water, roads and bridges, and public services like education, health care, and public safety. We should all share in the responsibility of paying for them, too, but we don’t. Corporations get a big pass here in the Land of Enchantment. Not only did federal reform give a huge tax break to big businesses this past year, but here in New Mexico, we’ve given away more and more of our tax revenue over time in the form of corporate handouts. We’ve also allowed multi-state corporations to play shell games with the profits they earn here.
Turning 18 is a big deal. It’s the age that you legally become an adult, and as such, you are given one of the biggest rights and privileges: the ability to participate in the democratic process of electing people into office to represent the needs and values of your communities. While growing up, my parents instilled in me the value of voting and being able to voice my concerns in my local, state, and federal governments. Yet, when I turned 18, I did not register to vote, as is the case with many young Americans. Rather than focusing my time on civic privileges, my mind was set on figuring out where to go to college and how to make a living once I moved out of my parents place.
Standing on the mesas near Bandelier National Monument in about 1970 we looked across the Rio Grande Valley through a thick, often impenetrable gray smog that blew in from the new Four Corners Generating Station near Farmington. The Clean Air Act and later regulations forced the coal fired power plant’s owners to control its visible pollution but today invisible greenhouse gasses spew from the plant unabated. With an epidemic of coal fired power plant closures sweeping the country, why does the Four Corners Generating Station chug on? Much has changed since the mammoth Four Corners Generating Station (FCGS) was built in the 1960s. Large scale wind and solar energy technology have come on line and grown rapidly, a massive boom of natural gas production has swept the country, pollution controls have tightened on coal fired power plants, climate change is on the mind of a majority of Americans, and ratepayers are actively interested in where their utility companies are sourcing their electrical power. While coal used to be the cheapest source of energy, it now ranks as one of the most expensive.