Taos United Community Forum Re-cap February 18, 2020
As in January, more than 50 people turned out for this Community Forum, and 15 of them were new faces. Thank you to all who came! We welcome your suggestions on how to make these forums livelier, more impactful and fun. Comments on the Re-caps are also appreciated.
Terry Surguine was the evening’s moderator. He noted the President’s attacks on the rule of law and the urge to “give up and say there is nothing we can do.” He reminded us that TU was created shortly after the 2016 election to fight for a fair and just democracy. That mission continues. He hoped that by sharing our opinions and actions, we will all find our “activist spirits” reignited.
I: Candidates for public office – Taos United welcomes all candidates for political office to our monthly Community Forums (third Tuesday at 5:30).
a. One of our two invited speakers was John Blair, Candidate for NM Representative in Congress. He was born in Santa Fe and grew up in Albuquerque, into a family without great wealth or influence but believing in public service. He has worked in every branch of NM government and also at the federal level, where he was appointed by President Obama to help protect the country from climate change. He supported the creation of new national monuments. He is running because “our communities are being short-changed” in many ways, including on health care, where Big Pharma is hurting us with high costs even as we “claw our way out of the opioid crisis.” He noted that seven individuals are running for this seat, but that his 25 years of experience in all branches and levels of government set him apart. He would also be the first LGBTQ person to represent us. He said he is willing to fight for everyone in this district, which has such a deep level of poverty. “Our district cannot survive another Trump initiative to cut Medicaid, Medicare and other services we hold dear.”
In the Q&A session, he was asked about the extreme budget for military compared to renewables. He said we need to redirect money … no need to have enough money to bomb the world. We need money for clean energy technology. The federal government can do better in re-training people for clean energy. There is a real role to redefine the mission of LANL. No need to be in business of mass destruction.
John was asked about Citizens United, and he said we need to overturn it. Indeed, he is seeking the endorsement of the organization End Citizens United. He fully supports HR1 – Democracy for All Act. Corporations have much larger influence than individuals and we need to try any and every mechanism we have to get rid of CU. The undue influence of corporations is killing our democracy.
In response to a question about Medicare for All, John said he cannot support it in its current form. With the Affordable Care Act being chipped away, we need to restore all those benefits. If we were starting over, he would support a single payer system. He would make a public option as robust as possible, with adequate funding.
b) Eduardo Martinez, running for Magistrate Judge in Taos County, Division II. This position is being vacated by Judge Shannon, who is moving to the District Court. Educardo is a native Taoseño and recently retired Police Lieutenant, after 23 years in law enforcement. He has worked in the criminal justice system more than half his life. He has handled some of worst homicides and knows the court system well. He urged everyone to look at his Facebook page and to sign his petition to get on the ballot. He would be honored to serve us.
c) Retired District Judge Peggy Nelson, spoke on behalf of Melissa Kennelly, who is running for District Court Judge, covering three counties. She stressed the importance of “down-ballot” races, which might not seem so important but are absolutely vital to our justice system. Despite the “incredible politicization” of the justice system, we can help maintain justice and fairness, especially by voting for Melissa. She is fair and she is competent.
d) Bob Bresnahan, Board member at Kit Carson Electric Cooperative, is running for re-election to the Board. The election is May 12. He also noted that Luisa Mylet also running for District 1 and Sylvia Vigil is running in Penasco. These are all important seats from standpoint of climate change and renewable energy. This year’s election is critical to the transition to renewable energy. He intends to spend the rest of his life supporting the transition of our automobiles, our homes, our transportation to clean energy. He also supported lowering energy rates and improving transparency and inclusiveness.
e) Brian Harris came up from Santa Fe to talk about his campaign for the NM PRC (Public Regulatory Commission). He noted that KCEC is a groundbreaking cooperative and will urge others to follow the model, if elected. He has 20 years’ experience in the utilities industry, mainly as economist. He thus has a deep understanding of the process. He noted the tidal wave of change that is coming in in the energy industry, with increased storage technology, smarter distribution grids and much else. The Commission needs people who understand all this. He asked for signatures on his petition to get onto the ballot.
f) Paul Sanchez, candidate for District Attorney, spoke about his experience and proven leadership qualities and noted his determination and passion for our community. He has a strong 32-year record of public service. He is a 1986 graduate of Taos High School, serving first as a policeman, then going to law school. He was inhouse attorney for the Roswell Police Department. “In this race, we require determination, as we are at pivotal point with the security of our community at stake.” He stressed the importance of building strong cases, to avoid being forced into plea bargains or weak decisions – he noted for example, that there are cases where rape is “converted” into battery or child molestation into custodial interference, neither of which is adequate for the actual crime. He also wants to help heal addicts, not automatically put them in jail.
g) Darien Fernandez, current Town Councilor, is running for re-election. He asked for our support for another four years. His priorities are increased transparency in decision making, especially in planning processes. He is not afraid to stand up for responsible growth. He has pushed for diversity of economic opportunities, to move us away from reliance on only one industry. “We need to create more jobs with living wage.” He supports proposals to revitalize our community, for example, renovating the Indian Hills hotel across from Smiths. He noted that early voting has begun, but after two weeks, only 47 votes have been cast. March 3 is Election Day and he urged everyone to vote.
h) Anette Arellano asked people to sign a petition for Joseph Maestas, candidate for the NM Public Regulation Commission, which is responsible for regulating the utilities, telecommunications, and motor carrier industries. Joseph now has an opponent, so needs the signatures on his petition. He worked 33 years in federal government. He is Native American, a former Mayor of Espanola and believes in getting money out of politics.
(i) Marcia Cruz-Redding urged people to sign a nominating petition for Leanne Salazar Montoya, candidate for the Public Education Commission for District 10.
(j) George Brown, Treasurer of Taos County Democratic Party and 2020 campaign Chair, explained the pre-primary convention process. It will be held on Saturday, February 22, at the Juan Gonzalez Agricultural Center at 202 Chamisa Road (east of the Sagebrush Inn). From 9 to 10 a.m. is registration. Taos County is entitled to 33 delegates to the state pre-primary. We already have 11 (including the Party officers), so there are 22 more spaces to represent the County at State Pre-primary Convention. Why have a convention? To get a feeling from party activists for who has the support around the state for state and federal office. He noted that candidates who don’t get 20% of the delegates at state level, will probably drop away. The NM State Primary is June 2. In our 3rd CD whoever has the votes in the primary is likely to win the election. State Convention also determines order of names on the ballot. This year, we are moving to a ward system, to spread the votes better (as requested by the state). The wards mirror the County Commission districts. On Saturday, each of the seven candidates for US Congress will be present.
George also asked for three volunteers to help out on Saturday. Contact him at email@example.com if you can help.
II: Second Invited Speaker, Kelly Noakes from Western Environmental Law Center (WELC)
Kelly Nokes, wildlife lawyer with WELC, was our second invited speaker. WELC is a non-profit law firm whose mission is to use the power of the law to safeguard the wildlife, pubic lands and communities of the West. She has been in Taos two years. Since there is so much to say about WELC’s work throughout the region, she decided to focus on one small but important piece – getting a nationwide ban on M44 sodium-cyanide bombs designed to kill predator species, namely coyotes. They are placed on public lands by federal employees of the USDA’s Wildlife Services. These indiscriminate devices have harmed animals, including domestic pets, and hikers. In 2017, she filed a petition with EPA, the responsible federal agency, to ban the devices. In 2018, the EPA denied her petition, so she will instead get a registration review: Do these devices cause unreasonable, adverse risk? There are plenty of non-lethal controls at our disposal. A decision is not expected until 2021, The NM Department of Agriculture is one of only five states licensed to put these bomblets out; their quantity is unknown. This is just one of the many issues she works on. She would be happy to discuss other wildlife such as Mexican wolves, and grizzly bears. She invited us to learn more and get involved at http://www.westernlaw.org/
III: Events, causes and comments from other attendees
In alphabetical order from A to Z, 13 other participants spoke about causes near and dear to their hearts. Next month, we will go from Z to A!
Lawrence Baker urged everyone to oppose a Family Dollar store from being granted approval in El Prado. She urged attendance at a meeting of the County Commission on Wednesday, February 26th, at 6 p.m. We need bodies there even if you don’t speak, she said. If the Commission okays that project in that location, that whole area is likely to fall to big chain stores that suck the money out of Taos.
Bea Balsamo from Taos Immigrant Alliance (an issue group of Taos United) announced the showing of the film “Undeterred” at the TCA at 5 p.m. on March 7. This is a film about community resistance in Arivaca, Arizona, where local residents provide life-saving support to people crossing the border into the US. Allegra Love and Barbara Lemmon are speakers after the film. Students are free; others pay $15. Please see the TU Action Alert of February 18 for more information about this informative event: https://taosunited.org/2020/02/18/action-alert-february-18th-2020-final-nm-leg-actions-lanl-environmental-impact-no-small-matter-tia-fundraiser/
Bill Blackmore, Taos resident for 33 years, spoke about peace. He said a peaceful world begins with himself. In all his thoughts, words and actions, he strives for kindness. He urged us to stand together against injustice and for a peaceful world.
Ham Brown, Taos resident, urged us to become better educated on overturning Citizens United. He had explanatory materials for those interested. He believes that overturning this legislation, which has allowed unfettered spending by corporations, is the most important thing we can do to help our democracy get on track to work for all of us.
Joseph Gyovai, Taos resident, urged collaboration at local level to reduce our footprints. He built a 500-square-foot earthship for $2,000; he uses a headlamp for light, a generator for electricity and does water catchment for his water. He is studying soil health and regenerative agriculture. He warned of the dangers of factory farming and the need for local livestock, which will also contribute to soil health. He noted the importance on converting much of our land in the surrounding area back to grasslands, instead of the current sage and creosote growth we have.
Gess Healey, Taos resident, said she’d walked into wrong meeting, thinking it was Plastic Free Taos! She urged us all to check out PFT on Facebook and pay attention to its efforts. One effort is to
approach all restaurants, schools, cafes and other businesses to see what they can do to reduce plastics. See https://www.facebook.com/pages/category/Producer/Plastic-Free-Taos-2380174412262277/
Bert Lange, Taos resident, is interested in sustainable homes and transportation. He noted that most of us seem to support decadence more than fighting climate change. He lives off the grid in an all-solar home which is small but comfortable. He believes that the affordable solutions (like small, solar homes) to pollution are also solutions for poverty. He noted that poor people live in homes that are the least averse to the environment.
David Patton , Taos resident, urged us to read Suzie Schwartz’s “My Turn” in the Taos News on LANL – Los Alamos National Laboratory. He brought a petition to the NM Congressional delegation (Senators Udall and Heinrich and Representative Lujan) to support a full Environmental Impact Statement (EIS) before moving ahead with production of new, expanded plutonium pits. We must protect northern New Mexico!
Pam Renstein, UNM, Taos resident and member of Paso a Paso (Taos’s early childhood development network) explained Paso’s mission of addressing many early childhood issues through several committees. Amongst many other issues, they support professionalization in the field and increased salaries of the caretakers and educators of our youngest citizens. On Thursday, February 27, at 5 p.m. at the TCA, the film “No Small Matter” will be shown. The film emphasizes the importance of quality childcare and a stimulating learning environment. Elizabeth Groginsky, New Mexico’s first secretary of the new Early Childhood Education and Care Department, will speak afterward. The event is free and open to the public.
Jean Stevens, Director of Taos Environmental Film Festival, noted the festival’s date this year: April 22 at SOMOS and April 23-26 at TCA. The Bareiss Gallery is also hosting events. Keep your eyes open for more news. She especially wanted to stress the importance of abolishing nuclear weapons. This is the 75th anniversary of the atomic bomb, produced at LANL. The primary purpose of LANL is the production of weapons of mass destruction – can it not be re-purposed? She is hoping to get a music concert scheduled at the Santa Fe Opera in September, if a donor steps forward. She noted the dual challenges of climate change and the President’s expansion of nuclear weapons.
Last but not least, Jill Van Osten, NM State Organizer for Compassion & Choices, spoke about the organization’s support to people in charting their end-of-life journey. They help people fill out advance directives including medical aid in dying (MAID). MAID is legal in 10 states, but not in New Mexico despite 10 years’ effort. In 2017, it fell 2 votes short of passing. In 2019, didn’t try. They hope to advocate again in 2021. Jill urged us to:
Before you take a decision, please read available information about MAID, including safeguards to prevent abuse or coercion. However, there has been no evidence in 50 years of coercion;
Try to stay in loop on this discussion. They send out a monthly newsletter. Most people are fed up watching friends suffer and die slowly.
Talk to your state Senator or Representative and candidates, because they will be making the decision. Need support from Taos, where Compassion and Choices has not received much support. Contact her once you have done so, so she can track it.
Contact Jill at firstname.lastname@example.org to get onto their mailing list. Jill noted that April 16 us National Healthcare Decision Day. Keep your eyes open for more information on the issue.
After thanking all speakers, Terry urged newcomers to sign our list to receive Re-caps and become part of this activist network in town.
What an interesting Community Forum this was.
Don’t miss next month’s forum, on March 17.
Come make your own 3-minute statement on your favorite issue and support your neighbors around town on theirs.
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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.