The Schoolmarm’s Forum

By: Bill Whaley
2 February, 2018

A Review

Last night’s forum for municipal candidates depicted a remarkably poor presentation by Editor Stacy Matlock of The Taos News, who asked questions of council candidates in the manner of a friendly, if patronizing schoolmarm. The two mayoral candidates were seated off to one side, as if banished to the corner of the room. Nor were candidates allowed to challenge or ask questions of each other. The public, who responded mildly, occasional applause, was admonished to keep silent. Order, above all, was maintained and entertainment banished in favor of “decorum.”

After an hour or so, the ruddy-faced Mayor Barrone was allowed to read from a sheet about his accomplishments (myriads). The articulate challenger, Darien Fernandez responded with energy, logical ideas, and examples, while representing the millennial generation, much like the well-spoken and energetic council candidates, Andrew Gonzales and Pascualito Maestas.

Councilor Judi Cantu’s earnest remarks about the mayor’s claims of “residency” were ignored, similarly to the way the Council, Mayor and Manager ignore her at council sessions, while sanctioning her for her passion. (Similarly Commissioners Gallegos, Balnkenhorn, and Frambro ignore Commissioner Candyce O’Donnell.) In a particularly ironic moment, the Mistress of Ceremonies, omitted completing a round of questions to two female candidates, until Melanie Baca and Judi Cantu, reminded her, that they, too, were present.

The occasion was as dull as a weekly issue of The Taos News, which, during the Baker-Matlock era has focused on soft features and omitted coverage of anything in the way of traditional local news. Joan Livingston, the former editor, appears like a Pulitzer Prize winner in comparison to the limp news policies now in favor at the advertiser.

Congratulations to neophyte candidates and Millennials, Melanie Baca, Sarah Lopez, and Michael Santistevan, who have thrown their hats into the ring and will learn something about elective politics and the community during their journey.

Incumbent Fritz Hahn reiterated a long list of highlights but failed to mention what has led to his loss of credibility i.e. support of Rick Bellis, manager. Fritz claimed he opposed Big Box stores but couldn’t remember the code that limits the current Walmart to 80,000 square feet, despite his participation in historic battles against expansion.

He seems to have forgotten the Manager’s movida re: the proposed Smith’s, a back-door attempt by Bellis to foist off a 120,000 square-foot behemoth on the community, a project thwarted by the citizens. Though Bellis is not as divisive as, say Trump, the manager models his behavior on the wily CEO Luis Reyes and keeps his mayor and council in line that he may enjoy implementing his vision of community. Bellis’s appearance reminds one of a consuming passion to relive life as a 70s rocker.

The Elephants in the Room

There was no discussion of issues like Candidate Fernandez’s reason for running for Mayor i.e. Manager Rick Bellis’ high-handed behavior re: lack of transparency, an issue that has sparked Candidate Pascualito Maestas’ run for council. The crisis at Holy Cross Hospital was ignored.

Candidate Hahn made an issue out of the “shovel” re: the acequia culture but ignored the “secret” meetings of the Abeyta-Taos Pueblo Settlement signatories. “Transparency” again, Pascualito.

Nobody mentioned the exploitation of the community and town government by KCEC (lack of transparency) or the accelerating departure of native Hispanics, which promises a radical change in local culture.

A Friction Reader reminded me of another issue passed over: “The Detox Center needs 50k for a New HVAC, and they (the Town) close it? What about the Millions invested in the Property & Building? We can pay 250k for Christmas Lights…actually a few Million, but we can’t spend 50k to help our Jails, Prisons, and Hospital take care of the Opioid EPIDEMIC that is Plaguing our Town? Not to mention the Meth Heads, Crack Heads and Countless Alcoholics still Practicing in our Town??? Its appalling!!” As my correspondent said, “You can find THE TRUTH.”

But not at this forum.

When the process is designed to smother dissent and smooth over controversy and ignore reality, the painful scenes represented by the police blotter or the court docket disappear into the ether.

Batman Returns

Local Magistrate Judge Jeff Shannon attended the forum. He is offering free marriage ceremonies at the Rio Grande Gorge Bridge on Valentine’s Day, Wednesday, Feb. 14, from 1:30 pm to 3:30. While gathering signatures last night to guarantee his presence on the ballot he mentioned that he was unopposed. In contrast incumbent Magistrate Judge, Ernie Ortega, who was also gathering signatures, seemed wary, even worried. Ernie’s opposed by retired Magistrate Betty Martinez, who is making her political comeback and campaigning for Ortega’s job. The Ortega-Martinez match promises a close race and fireworks. Northern New Mexico’s favorite political fixer, Ramon “Batman” Trujillo said he’s supporting Ernie.

Batman (a former Taos County democratic party chair) and I speculated about the candidates on the dais and discussed the doings of Representative Bobby Gonzales and Senator Carlos Cisneros at the legislature for whom Batman has high praise. Batman and I were on opposite sides of the Walmart fracas years ago. While I have opposed some of his protégés, he has also supported some of the candidates I endorsed at Horse Fly.

Rena Rosequist used to say, “Politics was half the fun” of living here. With his sly humor and twinkling eyes, Batman diverted my attention from the redundant niceties of the schoolmarm and reminded me of how much fun we used to have in the pursuit of Los Politicos. Apparently the schoolmarm considers politicians recalcitrant children that should be seen but not heard.

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