Taos United Community Forum Re-cap January 21, 2020
Slightly more than 50 people turned out for this first Community Forum of 2020, which coincided with Martin Luther King Jr. Day. This was a great show of civic participation, especially on a cold, snowy evening. Thank you to everyone who came! We welcome your suggestions on how to make these forums even livelier, more impactful and fun.
Terry Surguine was the evening’s moderator. He apologized for Ben Ray Lujan’s absence. BRL’s campaign called him late in the afternoon with apologies. Ben Ray has bronchitis and had to cancel his trip to Taos.
Terry noted the importance of elections in 2020. He drew from from author and commentator Seth Godin’s January 20th blog, in which Godin quoted Martin Luther King Jr’s comment that “the arc of moral universe is long, but it bends towards justice”. (Dr. MLK Jr was quoting from Theodore Parker!) As Godin noted, the arc doesn’t bend by itself – we have no superhero to bend it. So it’s on us, here in Taos. Sometimes a hero like Dr King wakes us up and reminds us of our power. Now it’s our turn to bend the arc.
Seven newcomers introduced themselves – Heidi Kaeck, Stanley Yuen, Cidney Fee, Miles Bonny, Carol Wildman, Angela MacDonald and Nate Jones. A warm welcome to all of you. Several candidates for political office were present and we are always happy to have them introduce themselves and their platforms, but do not take a position on any candidate.
With 25 presentations, many of which included upcoming events, we decided to present those individuals with events, rather than summarize by order of presentation.
Upcoming Events promoted by attendees
Kayce Leopold from Plastic Free Taos (PFT) invited everyone to attend their next meeting on Feb. 3 at 5:30 p.m. in the KCEC Board Room. Architect Douglas Eichelberger will be present to show how to re-purpose plastics. He hopes to construct a demo wall at Taos Landfill.
She also urged attendance at a public hearing on Feb. 11, 4:00 p.m. at the Town Council Chambers. The Town Council had been considering a ban on plastic bags, similar to Santa Fe and Albuquerque. But going beyond those two cities, Taos may also include single-use straws, Styrofoam containers, coffee stirrers and perhaps other items. The Council may vote as early as Feb. 25. Both those dates are regular Town Council meetings.
PFT’s two major goals for 2020 are to eliminate plastics in Taos (mostly single use) and to look at viability of recycle center. They will do this through education in the community with residents, businesses and government entities and through advocating for relevant legislation. Kayce noted that the Town of Taos’s draft ordnance is thorough and thoughtful. PFT will also conduct interviews with businesses in town to help them think ahead on dealing with the ordnance. A PFT “Seal of Approval” for businesses that sign on to the ordnance will be provided.
She noted an education effort from April 17-19, which will include distribution of reusable bags. A Go Fund Me PFT has been set up to purchase cloth bags. Get involved in their Earth Day events and contribute at https://www.gofundme.com/f/funding-for-pft-community-initiatives
Suzie Schwartz talked about what’s going on in our backyard at Los Alamos National Lab. LANLis planning a massive expansion of plutonium pit production from 30 to 80. This, despite no local or statewide Environmental Impact Studies, and despite tremendous cost overruns, mismanagement, safety issues and other performance issues. Both our Senators – otherwise so good on environmental issues – continue to support LANL despite the dangers and that no comprehensive plans have been complemented. A planning workshop will be held on Feb. 5 for 2 hours. If you want to be involved, please contact Suzie at firstname.lastname@example.org for the exact time and location.
Tracy Brewer spoke about a renewed effort by Family Dollar to build a store Highway 64 between Millicent Rogers Road and the storage units. With other “dollar” stores in town and to preserve the open space around Taos, there is no need for another one. If you wish to join other residents in opposing Family Dollar, please attend a Planning and Zoning meeting on February 12 at 6:00 p.m. at the County Commission Chambers (in the Courthouse complex across Albright from SuperSave).
Miles Bonny from UNM and the early childhood education network in Taos, Paso a Paso, announced that the documentary “No Small Matter” is being shown at the TCA on Feb. 27, from 5:00 – 7:00 p.m. It discusses availability and access to quality child care, as well as on salaries for child care givers. The Paso a Paso network is planning a year of discussion around ECE. Will will have Spanish subtititles, thanks to Nikki from Twirl. After film, a panel of ECE professionals will be present for discussion. Newly appointed NM Secretary for Early Childhood Education Elizabeth Grogingski will be present.
Heidi Kaeck from Community against Violence urged everyone to participate in this year’s One Billion Rising event. This is a global day for ending violence against woman and girls. It will be held on February 14 from 3:00- 5:00 p.m. at Taos Plaza. Take a look at http://www.taoscav.org/cms-view-page.php?page=events Dance and raise the vibration to end the violence!
Bea Balsamo from TIA – Special speaker, on immigrant issues
Bea spoke about immigration issues in the U.S. and in Taos. Bea is a member of Taos Immigrant Allies, which has now folded into Taos United as an “issue group” on immigrants.
On any given day, the U.S. is holding around 50,000 people in government and private centers, including 12,000 unaccompanied minors. These people are awaiting court dates and/or deportation. In the Obama Administration (he was known as Deporter in Chief), at least there was a Family Case Management Program, which assign social workers to help find attorneys for the newcomers. But that program ended in 2017, and under the current Administration, everyone is considered to be without documentation and those awaiting hearings are assumed to be deported. If they are allowed out, they will blend into the population and hide – despite data showing that the vast majority keep their court dates. Bea described the abysmal conditions in which people are being held, including isolation for adults and children alike.
On top of these 50,000 people, the Administration is refusing entry to thousands more, who have been sent to Mexico to await court dates or who arrive at Mexico’s northern border and are not allowed into the U.S. Some 56,000 adults and children live in tent encampments, sometimes with only a flimsy tarpaulin to protect themselves from the weather.
All this despite many people able to claim “credible fear” of rape, torture, kidnapping and death if they are returned home. Many are fleeing both political violence and the horrendous impacts of climate change. Two new policies – the Migrant Protection Protocol (aka the Keep in Mexico Rule) and the Transit Rule – treat individuals and families with absolutely no concern for their welfare. Indeed, on top of everything else, thr US ha sent Guatemalans to Mexico and Honduras, Hondurans to Guatemala, El Salvadorans to Guatemala and so forth. The first planeload people the US sent to Guatemala did not even know where they were when they got off the plane. The list goes on…
TIA has paid medical bills, legal fees and DACA renewal fees for several individuals and families in the Taos area. They have also made two trips to the border, including in Juarez (in addition to the trips made by Taos’s own Sin Fronteras group). TIA donated over $1,000 for prescription drugs to a shelter in Juarez. They are currently starting little free food pantries (similar to the little free library boxes around town) in neighborhood with a concentration of immigrants.
The Taos United Immigrant Issue Group is organizing a fundraiser and educational event on March 7 at the TCA (time to be determined). The movie “Undeterred” will be shown, followed by Q&A. Allegra Love from the Santa Fe Dreamers Project will speak about detention centers in New Mexico. Barbara Semmon of Sahuarito Samaritans in Arizona will talk about the aid they provide migrants at the border.
2020 NM Legislative Session
Dan Pritchard (from Renewable Taos), Diane Shifrin and Marjorie Luckey (both from Taos United) all spoke about this year’s “short” (30 days) legislative session, which is now in session. Dan noted that Virginia was the 38th state to pass the Equal Rights Amendment, which was first introduced in 1972! Hopefully it will become an Amendment to the Constitution, though lawsuits against that happening are already in motion. Dan prepared a sheet of legislation of particular importance around four issues: Education, Economy, Public Safety, Health, Environment.
Dan and Diane urged everyone to sign up with Santa Fe-based Retake Our Democracy. Their legislative summaries and other actions are excellent: https://retakeourdemocracy.org/
You can follow the session at: governor.state.nm.us/2020/01/15/gov-announces-call-for-2020-session
January 28 – next Tuesday – is a legislative session climate crisis day sponsored by Sierra Club. Write to Dan if you want more information: email@example.com
Diane added that legislation to create a state public bank will probably not raised this year, but plans are underway to do so next year, when we can get another bill. An Extreme Risk bill, which would allow law enforcement to remove guns from individuals at risk of committing violent acts, is on the book. Full Funding for Medicaid is unlikely. Tuition-free college will be a showdown. Other issues include Indigenous rights, legislator salaries (failed last year), full funding for the state Ethics Commission, and legalized recreational marijuana.
Marjorie (Marji) Luckey asked everyone to consider volunteering for one or two of the legislative efforts. Like Dan, she noted that we have a new Senator (Bobby Gonzalez) and Congressman (Dan Barrone) who “need to hear from us about what we care about!” She emphasized the impact that we in New Mexico can make in other states – a group of TU volunteers, under the name of Postcard Posse, sent 1,000 letters to voters in Virginia, which perhaps helped swing their legislature to blue. If you are on their list from 2018, you will remain on unless you request to be taken off.
Finally, Marji urged everyone to “open and read our easy-to-read emails.” And to go to the Taos United Facebook page to remain current on TU activities. She called for anyone with computer skills to donate one hour every couple weeks to keep up the TU web page updated.
Write to Diane at firstname.lastname@example.org to join the ever-growing TU mailing list!
Mark White from Quest, spoke about Taos Lightning (TL), which despite its name, is distilled in Indiana and bottled in Rio Arriba County. He is hoping to convince Taos Lightning to donate some of its revenues to alcoholism treatment. Also, in the Spring, Questa Business Park is breaking ground as a new industrial facility. He would to get TL to collaborate growers, brewers and distillers in Taos County to join together to convert the local harvest into products that will let people know about true “Taosenticity” and help make Taos even more famous while helping local residents make a better living. He urged everyone to keep their eyes open for news about the groundbreaking.
Jules and Georgia Epstein, representing the Taos Arts Council, presented Taos Vision 2020. This initiative is from both Taos Arts Council and Taos Arts Consortium. Each year, a theme is selected. This year of 2020 is the 50th anniversary of the return of Blue Lake to the Taos Pueblo and of Earth Day. They want Taos Vision 2020 to be more than an arts event and to have unified voice in speaking out against climate crisis. The theme is “Return to the Land, Water, Sky.” This will be a year-long effort, with every organization, business and individual involved in some way. They will gather signatures for the “unified vision”, with a website for individuals too. Signatures will be published regularly in Taos News, culminating in December with two full pages of signatures. This will be distributed to every U.S. Senator, every Governor and the newly elected President. See http://taosartscouncil.org/news-events/2020-banner-information for more information and stay tuned for additional details!
Del Endres spoke about Holy Cross Hospital’s proposal to the County Board of Commissioners to impose 4.2% mill levy (from the current 1%) and/or increase the current Gross Receipts Tax). While she acknowledges the importance of HCH to our community, she said there is no reason to rush into a special election, which traditionally draws a very small number of voters. She noted that some 23,000 Taos County residents are delinquent on property taxes – how on earth can they afford a tax increase? Thankfully, the County Commissioners agreed that the matter can be put to voters in the November general election. She said HCH is not efficiently run, including their billing and scheduling operations. The hospital has lost patients who go “south” for health care (eg, Espanola, Santa Fe) and also several nurses and doctors, who likewise have moved to other communities for work. Please contact Del if you want to know more: 770-0133.
Combined Issue and Candidate-specific statements
Bob Bresnahan, co-founder of Renewable Taos (now 7 years old), spoke about efforts by RT and Kit Carson Electric Cooperative to transition our county to renewable energy (mainly solar and wind) for our electricity needs. He provided dollar and kilowatt figures that, in short, show how KCEC has moved into buying clean energy.
He also emphasized the important of electing officials who are committed to clean energy. KCEC has a Board election in May. Voters will select Board members for four existing seats, one of which is his. He hopes to be re-elected, to help reach 85% of our county’s electricity needs through solar and wind by 2025.
Ham Brown came to the forum to challenge Ben Ray Lujan on getting money out of politics. Ben Ray does not always vote in the interests of the majority/ Ham also received an email message about a meet and greet for Theresa Leger Fernandez, candidate for NM CD3, at someone’s home on Feb. 7. If you’re interested, go to her website: https://www.teresaforall.com/meet-teresa
Bob Silver, Taos activist, spoke about the climate crisis, oil and gas industry and gender equality. He urged us all to support women candidates for office. We need governing bodies to look more like us, with equity between men and women. Our Town Council is all men; our County Commission is four men and one woman. We have some excellent female candidates for several elected officials. For example, Kristina Ortez will challenge Dan Barrone for the NM legislature, as Representative for District 42.
Candidates for office-Taos United welcomes all candidates for political office to our monthly Community Forums (third Tuesday at 5:30). With seven candidates (actually, one representative and six candidates) at the January 21 forum (plus the endorsements above, we are providing very short summaries of their comments plus their websites (where available) for you to do further exploring.
Carol Wildman spoke on behalf of Melissa Kennelly, candidate for District Court Judge, who is based in Raton. There will be a meet and greet on Sunday, Feb. 9 at Democratic Party HQs,from 3:30 to 5:30 p.m. Nobody knows who she is because she is recently appointed to fill the vacancy by retirement of Sara Bakkus, and because she is based in Raton. We are District 2 (Taos, Colfax and Union Counties) and we have three district judges — Jeff Shannon and Emilia Chavez are the other two. When judge is appointed by the Governor, s/he is required to run on the ballot one time.
Darien Fernandez, Town Councilor, is seeking re-election for another 4-year term. He has always been open about where he stands on issues. For example, he opposed an ordnance that would have allowed 3-story hotels; he has strived for balance on use of Kit Carson Park, to protect neighboring residents and business organizations. He has pushed for economic diversification, including small manufacturing like Pit Viper Sunglasses and Humble. He believes in community service, such as serving meals at Taos Men’s Shelter and formerly serving on the Board of Stray Hearts. He has more to accomplish, such as the plastic issue, more affordable housing (including the impact on rental costs due to short-term rentals by house owners), and opportunities for Taos youth. The election for Town Council is March 3.
Darlene Vigil is running for Taos County Commissioner for District 3 (which includes Ranchos, Talpa and other communities south of town). She has served in government for more than 30 years, including Taos County Assessor for eight years. She is a member of Alianza Agricultura, served on a Taos County Advisory Group and volunteers with HCH’s Auxiliary program. So why come back into govt? She has love for the community and love for public service. Want people to feel comfortable with the politicians who represent them.She wants to be a commissioner for everyone, someone with whom you can have a good discussion. She will be the person you can count on to be your voice. We share a lot of the same concerns – she wants to hear yours.
Joseph Maestas, Candidate for the PRC, District 3, is both former mayor of Espanola and former councilman in Santa Fe. This is his second meeting TU and is impressed by inclusive nature. Having also served in Washington DC, he feels it is logical to go from being a federal regulator to a state regulator. He noted that last year’s Energy Transition Act contains some good elements while others are being contested, which he will allow the courts to settle. He likes the energy transition standards and wants to facilitate transition to carbon-free energy. He is also interested in creating an infrastructure for electrification of vehicles and for community solar. He is gathering signatures for his candidacy and asked for $5 contributions to the Public Education Fund so he can qualify for public financing. See his website: https://www.maestas4nm.com/
Angela MacDonald, candidate for Taos Magistrate Court, Division II. Born and raised in Denver, a 2004 accident changed her trajectory. She worked in broadcasting 10 years, but changed again, becoming an activist and attending law school. “Now here I am, with the same fighting spirit after accident, to be the voice of people in threatening situations,” she said. On January 21 at KCEC. Keep an eye on her Facebook page for more information: https://www.facebook.com/pg/AM4TM/posts/
AnJanette Brush kicked off her campaign on Sunday for the County Commission, District 4. She gave a shout-out to women candidates, including Darlene Vigil, see #16 above. She wants to find creative solutions to the deep and deeply intertwined problems in our community. She will for close collaboration amongst the Town Councils, the County Commission and the State Roundhouse. She also wants to collaborate with all of us. Some of her major issues include housing and economic development. She noted that we cannot sacrifice our farmers to our vacation visitors. See AnJanette4Taos County (perhaps not working yet). Write to her at email@example.com or call her at 224-2034.
Peggy Nelson, former Judge, was accompanied by Landis Hackett and Isabela O’Donnell, to advocate for support for Kyle Tisdel for the NM legislature, CD3. She first knew him as highly skilled attorney, with success in lawsuits to keep oil and gas in the ground. She noted that while all the issues raised tonight are important, the most important one is preserving a safe, healthy world. “Kyle is only candidate for this office who has a strong platform” on this issue. See his website a “very wonky paper”. See https://www.tisdelforcongress.com/
Karen Munson, TU activist and Renewable Taos member, spoke on behalf of Kristina Ortez, who is also running for the NM legislature as Representative from District 42. Karen asked for signatures to the petition to get Kristina on the ballot. She noted Kristina’s involvement in issues like care for the land, acequia health and child care.
What a lively, interesting Community Forum. Don’t miss next months, on February 18.
Come make your own 3-minute statement on your favorite issue!
DISCLAIMER: The opinions and comments above are those of the speaker and not official
positions of Taos United / Taoseños Unidos , a non-partisan, nonprofit community
information and education group.
Thank you, Kit Carson Electric Co-op for providing space for our monthly meetings on the the 3rd Tuesdays of each month.