COMMENTARY: Looking out on the peaks of the Organ Mountains reminds me of New Mexico’s resiliency. This land is ancient and sacred. It’s survived drought, flood, war and death. So have its people.
And yet, if you’d told me on Jan. 20 that our state government was about to become less stable than Washington, I would have laughed. It was, after all, the start of the Trump presidency. He was pushing a border wall not even Republican U.S. Rep. Steve Pearce supports. Trump promised mass deportations of people living in our communities. To repeal Obamacare. To pull out of trade agreements. We might lose our national monuments.
Many Trump voters I spoke with leading up to last year’s election supported him not because of his vision for America, but to blow up a system they believed was no longer serving them.
The Trump presidency was to be about unraveling systems. Regardless of whether that’s needed, the transition would be painful.
Change in Washington isn’t the only thing dragging New Mexico into a new calamity. State government is breaking down. Gov. Susana Martinez has implemented a hiring freeze, threatened furloughs, and vetoed all funding for the Legislature and higher education.
The governor is fighting a war over taxes and university regent appointments, with people’s educations, jobs and lives as her weapon.
Martinez is waiting for the Legislature to bring her a plan she can support. Democrats appear to be waiting for her, knowing her time as governor is almost over and believing this limbo will hurt Republicans in next year’s election. As a short-term solution, they’re suing to try to undo the vetoes.
We’re trapped in a climate of extreme division fueled by dark money that pushes us to hate each other instead of working together. The government structures that serve as the stabilizing fabric of our society are unraveling.
New Mexico is especially vulnerable in this moment. We’re way too dependent on federal government spending that’s shrinking. Our people rely on Obamacare and Medicaid. We’re directly affected by Trump’s immigration proposals. We benefit from the North American Free Trade agreement that Trump wants to renegotiate or possibly eliminate.
We need a stable state government in these times. Instead, we’ve led the nation in unemployment for the past three months. And from 2007-2016, New Mexico saw the largest drop of any state in employment among people ages 25-54.
New Mexico is living through another calamity.
Looking out on the Organ Mountains gives me hope that we’ll survive this. But that doesn’t reduce my frustration. I don’t want New Mexico to just survive. I want us to decide we’re no longer going to rest comfortably at the bottom of all the important lists. I want my daughter to have better educational and employment opportunities.
Instead we fight expensive ideological battles over state budget cuts and national monuments and soda taxes. Our division grows.
So we swing. And we swing. Back and forth. We fight, we win, we lose, while the forces that fuel the division profit from our instability. New Mexicans could choose to end our generations of poverty and mediocrity. I’d like to see that day. Right now I’m not confident I will.
This is no way to govern – and it’s no way to live. The Organ Mountains will survive. Some days I wonder if I should be heading for the hills to wait this out.
Heath Haussamen is NMPolitics.net’s editor and publisher.