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Letters to the Editor, May 20, 2020

Farmington Daily Times

Your voice matters

Why wasn’t even 30 seconds given in the governor’s address on May 13 to celebrate the 1,515 people who recovered from COVID19 in New Mexico?

Aren’t the recovery numbers good news? Does that mean we shouldn’t remain vigilant and do what we can to prevent being infected or infecting others? Of course not. But we need to weigh not only the effects of our current health crisis, but also the effects of the current social, economic and institutional crisis we face in the State of New Mexico.

There is great polarization in our state. 

If you are one of those who trusts our governor, then do everything you can to support her. That is your duty as a citizen of this state.

If you are one of those who does not trust our governor, you need to do whatever you can to challenge her decisions and ensure that she hears the voice of the citizens of New Mexico. If you disagree with our governor’s decisions, you are duty bound to make your voice heard — with respect and honor. 

It seems to me that many in our fair state have lost their voice. They don’t believe that engagement in the public square will make any difference. 

Last time I checked we still have the First Amendment to the Constitution of the United States:

Congress shall make no law respecting an establishment of religion, or prohibiting the free exercise thereof; or abridging the freedom of speech, or of the press; or the right of the people peaceably to assemble, and to petition the Government for a redress of grievances.

So why do so many of the citizens of the state of New Mexico act as if there is no First Amendment? 

This is a huge wake up call for us, citizens of New Mexico! If we don’t exercise our rights under the First Amendment, we are no longer free. If we don’t exercise our rights under the First Amendment, we deserve what we get.

I reiterate that this needs to be done peaceably, non-violently, but it needs to be done nonetheless. We are duty bound to do it. This can be our state’s finest hour, but only if we have the will and determination to see this through. God bless the state of New Mexico!

Gregg Beecher 

Aztec 

Time to transcend polarizing politics

In a recent "New York Times" article that might have escaped readers of the "Daily Times" – "For a City Already in a 'Death Spiral,' What's After Lockdown?" – Farmington Mayor Nate Duckett expresses frustration with the statewide Covid-19 shutdown.

"An economic disaster has been created," Mr. Duckett is quoted as saying. The "New York Times" writer adds, "Few people [in Farmington] know anyone who was ill from the coronavirus, but almost everyone knows someone who was unemployed by it." 

The writer may have asked the wrong people. 

Farmington has been and remains the state's second highest Hot Spot (close behind McKinley County in infection rates and deaths). Farmington is home to forty-five thousand persons (including thirteen thousand Navajos – to which we will return in a moment), but on payday weekends that number swells to ninety thousand. Added numbers are mostly Navajos who come to shop. In normal times, the city benefits from Navajos, exchanging goods and services for hundreds of millions of dollars. More than one hundred million dollars is generated in local sales tax revenues alone. These are anything but normal times, and the exchanges can be much more deadly.

By latest count, close to 1,300 San Juan County residents have tested positive for Covid-19. About a quarter of this number are Navajo Nation residents, and the Navajo Nation death rate from Covid-19 has surpassed one hundred. Farmington’s 87401 zip code has the highest number of cases in San Juan County.

“There are now more nursing and assisted living homes with positive COVID-19 cases in San Juan County than any other county in the state.“ Farmington Daily Times, April 24, 2020. 

So, what to do? Continue the shut down? Open up local businesses? It is surely hard to manage healthy stages of opening up activity when some people consider it an important political statement to walk around without a mask, risking the possibility that they are infecting others. The first order of business must be to halt the spread of the virus.

Governor Lujan Grisham has sought to keep folks of northwest New Mexico from getting infected in town, then going home to make things worse than they already are. There are no easy answers. This is a pandemic. We applaud the Governor's eminent good sense, and urge everybody to keep our eyes on the prize: beating the virus and supporting our neighbors, not scoring short-lived political points calling other people “socialists.”

Clay & Dorian Slate

Morelia, Michoacan, Mexico (Ex-Farmington residents)

Maggie George & Daniel McLaughlin

Albuquerque

To quote the great philosopher Forrest Gump...

I read with interest the May 16 Farmington Daily Times article, reprinted in the Las Cruces Sun-News, of the public "protest" over governor Lujan-Grisham's proclamation to shutter non-essential businesses to mitigate the spreading of the current epidemic. 

A former resident of Farmington, where I spent the majority of my formative years, and a couple decades thereafter in outlying San Juan County, I well remember the locality's economic, political, and social underpinnings. That the northwest corner of New Mexico is a red zone apparently is not resonating with the protesters. They are after all demonstrating their affiliation with those folks who choose to put reason, science, and empirical data in abeyance. 

Number of deaths within the county proper notwithstanding, they were quoted in a precedent LCSN article as occurring in "congregate" situations. That term was a wonderfully sanitized euphemism used to describe a significant number of deaths in assisted living and long term care facilities. The dismissiveness undergirding that quotation is reminiscent of the attitude that defined and employed social hygiene. 

Wearing a face mask to mitigate transmitting one's aerosolized saliva is at the very least polite. The mask is minimally discomforting, its most noticeable annoyance the momentary fogging of ones eyeglasses. In its utilitarian form it is not a fashion accessory, but I have seen many commercial and hand crafted versions produced with an eye toward style. 

Governor Lujan-Grisham's order to mask-up in public is, according to the Carlsbad Current-Argus newspaper, enforceable only by the state police or officers with the New Mexico Department of Health. The question New Mexicans should be asking is how much do you care about your neighbors? 

Finally, I found amusing the protest occurred on the day the governor's initial health emergency order began to relax. Apparently the creators of the Facebook group are not newspaper readers. If they were they would have known many days in advance the date when many of the restrictions on commerce would lift. 

Hopefully a vaccine for COVID-19 is in the near offing. Until then we who do care about our neighbors must suffer by the irrationally held and ultimately detrimental notion of freedom to choose. In the words of the great American philosopher Forrest Gump, "stupid is as stupid does." Unfortunately for all concerned there is not now and never will be a vaccine for arrogance, hubris, or stupidity.  

David Medema

Las Cruces

Finding solutions together

The COVID-19 crisis has shown how quickly life can change.  But it also has shown how much we need one another, that we are a community, looking out for one another, taking care of one another and being responsible for and to one another. 

Because of that commitment to our neighbors, we had to shut down the economy, an action which has reverberated down main street, hurting us both personally and as a state. New Mexico now faces an unprecedented budget shortfall of up to $2 billion which will require the governor to call a special session of the legislature to address the deficit.

Extremely difficult decisions will face our lawmakers.  Less than three months ago they returned to their home districts after making major investments in education, economic development and other areas while also creating the largest reserve balance in state history. Now draconian cuts will need to be made, which will directly impact every New Mexican.

How will the legislature make those decisions? Let’s hope it will be made in the open and not behind closed doors.

Historically, the creation of the state budget has been shrouded in secrecy. Both the House Appropriations and Finance Committee and the Senate Finance Committee routinely shut out the public and the press. Even lawmakers who are not budget committee members are left in the dark about how budget decisions are made. Yet those excluded lawmakers are expected to approve the final budget without asking questions or knowing all the facts.

The New Mexico Foundation for Open Government (NMFOG) has long pushed the Legislature for more transparency in the budget-making process. Not only is this the right thing to do, it is the legal thing to do. FOG’s position is that under the section of the Open Meetings Act directed at the legislature, all committee meetings should be open to the public. Unfortunately, our advice and admonishments have been ignored. 

A crisis can create an opportunity to try new solutions, especially when the old solutions no longer work. This upcoming special session is such an opportunity where the legislature can overturn the culture of secrecy in the budget building process.

In this time of social distancing, the legislature will need to be particularly sensitive and creative in  how to engage the public in reshaping the state’s financial future. A perfunctory special session may seem like an attractive option--difficult budget cuts would already have been made, and the full House and Senate would simply need to rubber stamp the outcome, with no public debate.

However, a state’s budget is not like the Ten Commandments, which can be miraculously handed down as a done deal. Further, a budget made behind closed doors, with input only from lobbyists and special interest groups, does not make our state stronger. The opposite is true. Secrecy undermines our confidence in the state’s leaders and weakens our community bonds. Because all New Mexicans will be asked to sacrifice for the common good, we can at least expect to see how elected officials struggle with choices  between equally important but competing needs. Only in that way, can we feel confident that thoughtful decisions were made with our money.

New Mexicans are in this crisis together. Now is the time for lawmakers to open the Roundhouse windows and bring in the sunlight.

Susan Boe 

President, New Mexico Foundation for Open Government 

Retired attorney

Send letters to John R. Moses at jmoses@daily-times.com or submit through our online Opinion portal at www.daily-times.com.

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