COMMENTARY: A career politician from Utah who has likely never stepped foot in Doña Ana County wants to meddle in our community’s affairs (“Trump urged to abolish Organ Mountains Monument,” Las Cruces Sun News). And it appears Congressman Steve Pearce is ready to follow his lead.
U.S. Rep. Rob Bishop, R-Utah, a seven-term congressman who has built his political career on a failed promise of privatizing public lands, and who receives the majority of his campaign contributions from the oil and gas industry, claims that President-elect Donald Trump should do away with the Organ Mountains-Desert Peaks and Rio Grande del Norte national monuments.
What Rep. Bishop likely doesn’t understand is that both of New Mexico’s newest monuments were created with well-documented and extensive community input from an array of multicultural stakeholders in the monuments’ surrounding communities.
It was the will of the people. President Obama would not have created these monuments without this type of widespread support, and he did so legally by exercising his powers under the Antiquities Act, as both Republican and Democrat presidents have done in many administrations past.
Pearce’s own attempts to sell off Southern New Mexico’s public lands – which have all failed – make it unsurprising that he would choose to follow Bishop’s lead. In comments provided to the Albuquerque Journal, Pearce says our own local monument should be downsized, and he disingenuously points to a go-nowhere bill he sponsored to “protect” 60,000 acres of the Organ Mountains as a “better alternative” to our current monument.
In doing so, Pearce clearly disregards the cultural and historical objects the current monument protects in the Doña Ana, Las Uvas, Robledo and Potrillo mountain ranges. The boundaries of our monument were drawn with careful consideration of the protection and conservation of cultural and historical artifacts that tell the history of human habitation in these very special places.
In light of his comments, perhaps Pearce, who has gotten personally rich from oil production in Southeastern New Mexico and has benefited from millions of dollars in campaign donations from the oil and gas industry, should be reminded that he also represents the rest of Southern New Mexico.
In Luna County, for example, families suffer from a staggering 20 percent unemployment rate. Nearly one in three households live in perpetual poverty. The median family income there is less than half of the national average and one in four people under 65 don’t have basic health coverage. But where are Pearce’s comments and concerns regarding how he plans to help the struggling families of Luna County? How will another two years in Congress spent meddling with our monuments help put food on the tables of starving families and their children in the poorest areas of his district?
Two of New Mexico’s top three counties for childhood hunger rates are in his district – Cibola and Luna. Where is Pearce’s leadership and commitment to helping these children? Where is the community outreach? Where are the comments in the newspaper? Better yet, where’s the federal legislation that begins to address the pressing needs of these children?
There isn’t – because none of those things make his campaign donors personally rich.
Pearce should also be reminded that in Las Cruces, only 62 percent of Hispanic children graduate high school and more than one out of five families in Doña Ana County earn less than the federal poverty level for a family of four, which is more than double the national rate. How will fighting aimlessly to undo a national monument in Las Cruces help our kids graduate high school or help families keep the lights on in the years to come?
With so much important work to be done in his district, I question why our congressman would lend credibility to the personal political agenda of one of 435 U.S. representatives who in no way represents New Mexico or its interests. I am sorely disappointed that our congressman has chosen public lands transfer and privatization to be the cornerstone of his work in Congress, when clearly many more important issues require his focus and attention.
The majority of Las Crucens supported, and continue to support, federally managed public lands such as the Organ Mountains-Desert Peaks National Monument because they’re part of our cultural heritage and they’re for the enjoyment of all New Mexicans.
Federal public lands belong to all Americans – they’re not exclusively for ranchers, oil and gas companies, their beneficiaries, or the privileged and wealthy who would rather turn them into their private playgrounds. That’s why our community organized to protect the Organ Mountains-Desert Peaks. We sent a clear message: “Our cultural heritage and our land is not for sale.” Let it stay that way.
Gabe Vasquez is a graduate of New Mexico State University, former director of the Las Cruces Hispanic Chamber of Commerce, and the Southern New Mexico coordinator for the New Mexico Wildlife Federation.