Santa Fe Reporter

Women Behind Bars Are Deprived of Their Basic Rights

Three years ago, I journeyed back to Santa Fe to return to a city where I had once lived -- and that always seemed to call me back.

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Beyond the God Pod

"Don't forget that Jesus Christ himself was a prisoner" – New Mexico Department of Corrections Secretary Joe Williams, at the American Correctional Conference in Phoenix, Ariz., January 2005.

"Strongly guarded ... is the separation between religion and government in the Constitution of the United States" – James Madison, author of the U.S. Constitution and the Bill of Rights.

Betty Ramirez is a career correctional officer who actually loves her job. She believes in the power of rehabilitation and redemption for the women she is responsible for guarding and protecting. More than anything, Ramirez believes they deserve a second chance.

Or a third, a fourth or a fifth, as the case may be. New Mexico's recidivism rate is the nation's third-highest and, by some estimates, up to 85 percent of women who are incarcerated and released within this state will end up back in prison.

Ramirez, nonetheless, believes in the potential for rehabilitation of even the most hardened inmates. "Most of these women are sorry for what they have done," she says, "But have run into bad luck and bad situations."

A petite woman with a powerful presence, Ramirez is one of the few Corrections Corporation of America (CCA) employees who have been at the New Mexico Women's Correctional Facility (NMWCF) in Grants, N.M. from the very beginning when the facility became the first privately run women's prison in the nation in 1989. The move signaled what later became a full-blown trend toward the privatization of incarceration statewide – and nationwide.

In the ensuing 16 years, Ramirez watched the population in this facility increase dramatically as increasing numbers of non-violent and addicted offenders were sentenced to longer and longer sentences under more punitive drug war laws. From 149 state prisoners in 1989 to nearly 600 women today, the majority of these women have had one or more children by the time they get locked up. Most come from backgrounds filled with abuse, neglect, poverty, drug and alcohol addiction, domestic violence and limited educational and vocational opportunities.

Ramirez greets fellow correctional officers and inmates alike as she walks in and out of classes, workshops and prison pods. An early stop includes a visit to two segregation pods where a few dozen women are locked down 23 hours a day in small, dark solitary confinement cells. Ramirez, who used to work in the segregation pods, acknowledges that segregation "can be very stressful" for the inmates who do not have contact with the outside world – let alone other inmates – for months or even years on end.

But there is one area of the prison that stands in particularly sharp contrast to the bleak desperation of the segregation pods: the God pod.

Officially this is the Life Principles Community/Crossings Program. It's a program officials consider the real "success story" within the confines of NMWCF. As a housing pod, Crossings has been around for four years with the enthusiastic support of the prison administration and Chaplain Shirley Compton. More recently, CCA picked Crossings as one of eight sites nationwide to pioneer a new partnership with a fundamentalist Christian ministry named the Institute in Basic Life Principles (IBLP).

Although it is not the only religious activity at the prison it is, by far, the most institutionalized and structured. In many ways, it also is the most problematic from a First Amendment point of view. It is in this unit that the blurring of the line between church and state is most evident, harkening a new turn in corrections toward Christian-based programming that has begun to truly influence (or, depending on one's perspective, to infiltrate) the nation's prisons.

Religious programming for prisoners has been around for years. At NMWCF, volunteers from churches of various denominations come in to lead Catholic mass, baptisms, Bible studies and other activities, and an Albuquerque-based ministry named Wings has gained particular preference to conduct its large-scale, Christian-based family reunification program/pizza party events inside Grants (and, soon, many other prisons across the state). The Kairos Prison Ministry, the mission of which is to "bring Christ's love and forgiveness to all incarcerated individuals" also has a presence.

But an increased emphasis on religion from the federal government has impacted the scope – and amount of money – available for such programs.

In fact, two adult prisons in the Florida corrections system are now entirely faith-based, while Florida's Office of Juvenile Justice and Delinquency Prevention has launched the nation's first Faith and Community Based Delinquency Treatment Initiative. (Funding from the federal government has placed such an emphasis on the faith element of juvenile programming that many previously secular treatment and residential facilities for youth have made the decision in the past year to center their programs on "faith" in order to keep receiving money.)

Since its inception in 1998, President Bush's emphasis on his administration's National Faith-Based Initiative has risen to $1.33 billion, or nearly 10 percent of available funding from five federal agencies (Education, Labor, Justice, Health and Human Services and Housing), with marked increases every year. (Fully 25 percent of HUD's funding in fiscal year 2003, for instance, went to faith-based organizations.)

"Government has got to find ways to empower those whose mission is based upon love, in order to help those who need to find love in society," President Bush said last week, while calling for Congress and state governors to remove remaining "roadblocks" to funding faith-based initiatives.

In New Mexico, the National Faith-Based Initiative has not specifically provided money for the Crossings program, which is funded out of New Mexico's general fund (through the CCA), as well as through seasonal in-prison sales of food and other popular prison items to inmates. But the president's emphasis on the faith needs of people returning to the community from prison has channeled millions of dollars in the direction of ex-offender transition programs involving churches and, in doing so, providing an overt justification for "volunteer" in-prison faith-based programs.

"Voluntary" is a key word with these programs and institutions, and the White House has gone to great lengths to say these kinds of programs are not intended to convert people to any particular religion or sect of Christianity.

But the voluntary nature of these programs has become the looming question for organizations like Americans United for the Separation of Church and State, which has filed two lawsuits challenging religious prison programs in Iowa and Pennsylvania. In the Pennsylvania case, filed in mid-February 2005, both the state chapter of the ACLU and Americans United are challenging the right of a county jail to use tax dollars to fund a Christian-centered job-training program. That program is the only vocational program in the county jail, and hires only Christians to work within the program. (Federal legislation is pending to allow such programs to discriminate in hiring based on religious background.)

"You have to be willing to convert to [Christian] fundamentalism, or put up with attempts to convert you," says Robert Boston, a spokesperson for Americans United. "These programs have come in and offered something of a substitute for the real educational and vocational programs that have disappeared."

According to John Lanz, CCA's national director of Industry and Special Programs, the Life Principles/Crossings program has benefited greatly from the recent decision to partner with IBLP because that relationship cements a "franchise-like approach ... which helps maintain the integrity of the [Crossings] program."

"Inmates are understanding that they don't have to convert from one religion to another," Lanz adds.

That's a theme echoed by Chaplain Compton, the New Mexico Department of Corrections and NMWCF Warden Bill Snodgrass. Snodgrass did not make himself available for an interview either in person or by telephone, but was quoted last month in the Albuquerque Journal as supporting the program and saying that inmates who follow the program are 90 to 95 percent less likely to end up back in prison.

Both CCA's corporate headquarters as well as the NMWCF staff stress, repeatedly, that everyone is welcome to learn from what the program has to offer, that everything is on a volunteer basis and that religious conversion is not a prerequisite or end goal of the program. One inmate in the program insists: "It's multi-faith. Yes, we're Christian, but we would not turn anyone away."

This insistence is harder to believe once one examines the materials used in the program and learns who is behind them.

"Have you received Jesus Christ as your personal Savior?," asks one of the sections of the various IBLP workbooks given to prisoners. "The first function of faith is to believe in Christ for salvation," reads another section. "The Holy Spirit then takes up residence in your spirit and confirms that you are a Christian ... Disobeying the promptings of the Holy Spirit will cause Him to be grieved and will quench His power in your life."

The text is, despite what CCA's officials say, clearly intended to convert people to a particularly fundamentalist interpretation of Christianity that revolves around a man named Bill Gothard.

Bill Gothard, the 71-year-old unmarried real estate mogul at the head of the Illinois-based IBLP, has been in the business of American evangelism since 1964. Originally named the Institute in Basic Youth Conflicts, IBLP officially changed its name in 1990. All totaled, IBLP boasts that at least 2.5 million people have attended IBLP's seminars and ministries in the U.S. and many other countries, including Russia, Mongolia, Romania and Taiwan.

Gothard has not only gained success both through his religious education programs and training centers, but also through a secular instruction program, Character First, that is in wide use in public schools across the U.S. but does not publicize its origins.

The IBLP, on the other hand, makes no claims whatsoever of secularism, or even respect for other world religions or worldviews. Officially established "for the purpose of introducing people to the Lord Jesus Christ," IBLP announces that it does so by providing "training on how to find success by following God's principles found in Scripture."

That is to say Gothard's own interpretation of Scripture, which represents a very literal, overtly patriarchal and highly authoritarian take on what Jesus Christ was all about.

To take but one example, Gothard's workbook materials distributed to the women in the Grants Crossings program includes a breakdown of "basic life principles" including "Moral Purity," "Yielding Rights" and "Proper Submission."

"Wives, submit yourselves unto your own husbands, as it is fit in the Lord," reads one of the biblical selections scattered throughout the IBLP workbooks. Emphasis is placed on "courting" rather than "dating;" on women obeying their husbands; preserving marriage at all costs (to the point of rejecting divorce as a possible resolution to a soured relationship); and on the need for Christians to respect, obey and submit to church and government. These institutions and their rulers, as the workbooks explain, exist because of God's will.

"Must we continue to respect an evil ruler as a minister of God?" reads one question in a section of an IBLP workbook. "YES" comes the answer from Gothard's reading of I Samuel 24:10. "When David had an opportunity to destroy Saul, who was trying to kill him, he said: I will not put forth mine hand against the Lord: for he is the Lord's anointed."

The partnership with the Chicago-based IBLP was made official one year ago, but this isn't the first time CCA has partnered with a Christian evangelical group. Since its first such arrangement with a Christian-based ministry in 1991, CCA has taken a self-described leadership role in its mission to bring faith-based programs to prisons. In recent years, CCA has partnered with groups such as Good News Jail & Prison Ministry, School of Christ International and Child Evangelism Fellowship, the latter of which already operates in NMWCF to provide weekly devotional lessons to both parents in prison and to their children on the outside.

CCA has become so convinced of the power of the IBLP residential program that the company now plans to institute similar pods in every one of its owned prisons. (As the nation's biggest private prison corporation, CCA now represents the fifth-biggest prison system in the U.S., with 65,000 prisoner beds in 64 facilities – 38 of which are company-owned.)

Legally, CCA is obligated to provide access to multi-faith services where they are requested. But in selecting their religious "partners," CCA has opted exclusively for arrangements with Christian evangelical and fundamentalist groups. The vast majority of chaplains in CCA prisons are indeed Christian. "It's difficult to find an imam or a rabbi for these positions," Lanz says, "although we have a few that come into our facilities to conduct their services in our programs."

The newest faith-based ventures – above and beyond the expansion of the IBLP program into all CCA-owned facilities – will likely be a partnership with Rick Warren, the founding pastor of the Saddleback Church in Lake Forest, Calif. Saddleback brags that it has baptized more than 9,200 "new believers," and sent over 4,000 of its members on worldwide Christian missions. Lanz says he plans to work with Warren to bring his Purpose Driven Life Curriculum to the company's prisons.

Other planned events include weekend-long Christian celebrations with Champions of Life at selected CCA prisons, as well as the possibility of bringing in Chuck Colson's Prison Fellowship to work on re-entry programs with its prisoners.

Colson, a Christian conservative who served time for Nixon-era Watergate offenses, has sprung to the forefront of the revived trend in faith-based rehabilitation in prisons, having found a strong ally in George W. Bush. In 1997, then-Gov. Bush allowed Prison Fellowship to run a 24-hour religious program in the Texas state prison system. Today, the Fellowship publishes the bimonthly Inside Journal geared toward spreading Christianity to prisoners, and operates the InnerChange Freedom Initiative (IFI) for 140 men in a medium-security prison in Kansas, among other programs.

Crowing about the success of the IFI immersion programs, President Bush has said he would like to bring that program to federal prisons, referencing a University of Pennsylvania study that received favorable attention from national news outlets including the Wall Street Journal. The White House and Christian conservatives were aglow over the study's findings that InnerChange Freedom Initiative graduates from the Texas program were two times less likely to be rearrested than a matched comparison group.

But the data on those successes was distorted, as Mark Kleiman from Slate magazine later pointed out in a August 2003 exposé, "Faith-Based Fudging." In point of fact, when the total number of prisoners in the program was counted (including those who dropped out of the program, were expelled or received early parole), IFI participants were actually more likely to be rearrested and reincarcerated than their non-IFI counterparts.

This correction has been largely ignored by the White House, Colson's Prison Fellowship and, most certainly, by CCA. No other studies exist in the US proving the success of religious immersion prison programs.

NMWCF maintains that the Crossings program has, in fact, reduced recidivism dramatically.

"What is happening is amazing," says Lanz. "These are turning out to be the cleanest and best pods in our facilities."

Known as the "God pod" by some of the prisoners at Grants, the Life Principles Community/Crossings unit is clean, orderly and decorated with handmade declarations of Christian love and obeisance. Scripture-based books and movies pack the shelves of a small library in the pod; prisoner cubicles are neat and colorful; and an invitingly intimate living room area offers prisoners the comfort of couches, a microwave and a decidedly peaceful ambiance.

As far as prison facilities go, this kind of environment is truly a rarity. Other pods in this prison are not as nicely furnished and are far more noisy and hectic. Some pods house nearly 45 women, with one correctional officer on the floor trying to keep track of the women's movements. (Still and all, the relative comfort and privacy in the housing pods are far better than dismal women's prison conditions in neighboring states like Texas and Arizona, to say nothing of California's eight-women-to-a-cell solution to overcrowding.)

With 30 women in residence and another 35 on a waiting list, the Crossings pod is explicitly religious – and rigorously so. The program involves engaging in spiritual counseling and religious meetings, prayer walks, meditation, memorization of the New Testament and 732 hours of activities ostensibly geared toward helping a woman succeed after her release from prison – with a mandate that the woman stays involved in a "faith community."

There is no regular television for the Crossings women, and no hip-hop or rock music to speak of. Even Christian rock music is explicitly frowned upon, in accordance with IBLP instructions.

In one workbook, devotees are told that listening to rock music will lead to an addiction to it. "As in the case of a drug addict, a 'rock addict' will sacrifice God-given relationships with his parents and will neglect fellowship with Godly Christians in his compulsion to listen to his music ... Only God can free a 'rock addict' from the bondage of Satan's strongholds."

When the Crossings women join together to sing and dance to music, then, it is only to devotional music deemed appropriate. During a visit, several of the women perform expressive dances to "I Can Only Imagine" and "Psalms Three" and to hear a vocal performance of "City Called Glory" by the head of the choir. The emotional intensity of these performances is clear; several women are, in fact, moved to tears. "It instills character in all of us," one inmate says. "It betters our lives through belief in God."

As for NMWCF's claim that the program is reducing recidivism, it is true that only a few women who graduated from that program have returned to prison. It also is true that those numbers are based on "graduates," not on the total number of women who have enrolled in the program and dropped out, or been removed for drug sales or using the program as a cover for other illicit activities.

But NMWCF Chaplain Compton is confident that the people who stay in the program will have a better shot at reintegrating into their communities. "There is a change in self-esteem," she says. "We see a change in their behavior and the way that they handle things."

The reason for the dramatic change, adds Compton, has everything to do with the transformative belief in a higher power. "They realize that there is a God. They are helpless, and God is in control if they allow him to be."

As for Betty Ramirez, she too is proud of the changes that she has seen in the women in the Crossings program. She is also a Christian who believes strongly in the transformative power that faith can have on prisoners. She raises no questions or objections about the religious texts used. Her job is to keep things running smoothly. "I have a good working relationship on both sides of the fence," she says. "I know what to look for and what to expect. With so many women, you aren't running anything, you're just trying to control things. For the [male guards] it's sometimes hard to adjust. The women are very vocal and very opinionated."

At least for now.

What Happened in New Mexico?

The AP called it. CNN called it. The Farmington Times called it. By Nov. 9, Bush had close to a 7,000-vote lead in New Mexico.

Despite early evidence that Bush had won, both Secretary of State Rebecca Vigil-Giron and Gov. Bill Richardson maintained that the uncounted provisional ballots would swing the state to Kerry.

Provisional ballot results are still being tabulated in most counties in New Mexico. In Santa Fe County, provisional ballot counting was completed over the weekend, with 516 going to Kerry and 148 going to Bush.

Provisional ballots are new to this election, required by the Help America Vote Act passed by the U.S. Congress in 2002. They are designed to allow citizens to vote when they believe they are eligible but their names do not appear on the precinct lists. After the election, the provisional ballots are then verified. On the county level, that process won't be completed until Friday, Nov. 12. The official statewide count won't be released until Nov. 23.

Of course, after Ohio and Florida went red, New Mexico's place in this election became merely symbolic. But a symbolic victory may be important to both sides. Greg Graves, the head of the Republican campaign here, has accused Vigil-Giron and Richardson of doctoring the election results to save Richardson's national career. (The governor's stated belief that New Mexico would ultimately be won by Kerry by 1 percent seemed to flame these suspicions). The Secretary of State has defended the integrity of the election, saying that she has surveyed other states that have been called for a candidate and they are still counting provisional ballots too. "The GOP is ignorant to the election process," says Vigil-Giron. "There's a process, there aren't instant results that give a state immediately. I'm surprised the media in other states called the election, it was not based on anything but exit polls. Unless they have a crystal ball to see the provisional ballots, the election isn't over."

Santa Fe County Clerk Rebecca Bustamante concurs. "There's no way to change the results coming from us," she says. "The GOP should contact each county and do the count themselves."

Election reform advocates, however, say New Mexico's process is far from perfect. "The problem with provisional ballots is that there's no uniformity in terms of examining and counting them," says Matt Brix, the state director of Common Cause, a national election reform organization. "Had New Mexico been in play, the count wouldn't be complete for many days. The process needs to be tightened up."

On Nov. 8, Vigil-Giron announced the State had asked the New Mexico Supreme Court to clarify two district court rulings made Nov. 5 in Sandoval and Dona Ana counties regarding the amount of public information from rejected provisional ballots. The rulings may "violate state and federal laws," says Vigil-Giron. They allow political parties to see Social Security numbers and dates of birth." She wanted the Supreme Court to rule quickly so there could be uniformity in the state.

Provisional ballots weren't the only factor in play for the 2004 election. It also featured a massive shift from voting on Election Day to early voting. Early voting in 2000 comprised just under 200,000 votes. This year, 430,000 voted early. "I don't know what effect it had on the outcome, it may not have even affected turnout," says Bureau of Elections director Denise Lamb. "You just have a base of dedicated voters, it shifts the time they vote but not the outcome."

Six states with record turnouts in 2000 implemented same-day registration: Minnesota, Maine, Wisconsin, New Hampshire, Wyoming and Idaho. Election reform advocates say same-day registration would help New Mexico. "It would help avoid the provisional ballot. It would enfranchise, rather than disenfranchise many voters, and would be a smoother process," says Brix.

All Eyes on New Mexico

There was a time when Elian Gonzalez, Ted Bundy and swarms of elderly transplants threatened to ruin the Sunshine State's reputation. But since 2000, Florida has come to be known worldwide for voter suppression and intimidation, not to mention its assortment of chads – hanging, pregnant and dimpled. While events surrounding the last presidential election cast some serious doubt on Florida's credibility, they also mobilized citizens nationwide to ensure that voters' rights would be protected in subsequent elections.

In New Mexico, Attorney General Patricia Madrid has decided to deploy 50 lawyers and investigators from her office to help monitor the election. Moreover, organizations such as Election Protection and the Republican Party will have members out en masse on Election Day to see to it that residents vote without interference.

"Election Protection was really birthed by what happened in 2000 in Florida," says Alma Rosa Silva-Banuelos of the People for the American Way Foundation's Election Protection office in New Mexico. While the organization existed before the 2000 Florida debacle, following the incident, it grew into a coalition consisting of People for the American Way, the Unity 4 Campaign, the NAACP Legal Defense Fund and others. Grace Ali, media contact for the Lawyers Committee of the group, says Election Protection is nonpartisan and primarily tries to educate voters about their rights. "We set up hotlines nationwide, where voters can call a toll-free number, 1-866-OUR-VOTE," she says. "It's set up by lawyers, law students and legal volunteers. It's basically getting free assistance to our voters who encounter problems. Any type of problem, our legal volunteers will speak to the poll monitor and let them know what is required by law."

Silva-Banuelos says Election Protection volunteers will be outside of polling places with signs instructing voters to contact the group if they experience trouble. Members in 48 cities nationwide will also field calls Nov. 2. In New Mexico, Election Protection will hit Albuquerque, Las Cruces, Taos, Roswell, Carlsbad and Silver City. And in conjunction with Native Vote 2004, they will cover parts of San Juan and McKinley counties. In Santa Fe, the group will have 40 lawyers and 200 poll monitors. "Our poll monitors will be handing out the New Mexico voter bill of rights," Silva-Banuelos says.

By having 50 lawyers and investigators at polling places during this election rather than the usual five to 10, Madrid is kicking voter protection into high gear. "Given all the increased attention there's been concerning the conduct of a fair election and all of these questions about voter suppression and voter intimidation, Attorney General Madrid thought it appropriate to have a substantial presence around the state," says chief deputy attorney general Stuart Bluestone.

Lawyers and investigators to be dispatched by Madrid are currently being trained. Officials in the Attorney General's Office also are speaking with both the Republican and Democratic Parties about their concerns. "We're going to have a very active Election Day presence," says Matt Farrauto, communications director for the Democratic Party of New Mexico. "We have thousands upon thousands of volunteers who will be working with us. We do have a group of people who are educating voters on Election Day about voting rights. The only reason it's necessary is because Republicans have tried to intimidate and suppress votes in the past." While the Republican Party of New Mexico said the group would have poll monitors on Election Day, representatives would not comment further on voting concerns.

To thwart potential complications before Election Day, Farrauto encourages people to participate in early voting. However, if a voter has a problem, he suggests they address election officials and leave contact information with the Democratic Party, "so we can record any inconveniences and address them."

Bluestone is hoping that public knowledge that polls will be heavily monitored will have a "calming effect on the different polling locations" that will squash problems from the outset. Silva-Banuelos agrees. "For this election," she says, "the whole world will be watching."

Election Master

Following is an interview with Denise Lamb, director of the state Bureau of Elections for New Mexico.
Julia Goldberg: Before we get into other people's dire predictions for the Nov. 2 election, as the director of the state Bureau of Elections, what's your worst case scenario?

Denise Lamb: You know something – I never have a worst case scenario. I have a hopeful heart.

Julia Goldberg: You've been skeptical about the concerns people have raised about electronic voting. But everyone, from the New York Times to Wired Magazine, is taking them seriously. What do you attribute that to?

Denise Lamb: In our state, we have 16 years of experience with electronic voting machines. To the New York Times and Wired Magazine, this is a new issue. I'm going to point out to you that in New York, in Manhattan, where the New York Times is located, they still vote on lever voting machines. A lever voting machine has no paper whatsoever, not even audit tape to post on the door. If Manhattan has been voting for all these years with a lever that doesn't generate one iota, not one scrap, of paper and the New York Times is concerned about electronic voting machines, they need to look a little closer to home.

Julia Goldberg: I'm sure Ralph Nader's status on the ballot will change again between the time of this interview and our publication deadline. But, as of now, Nader's appeal before the Supreme Court was pending to get his name on the ballot. If successful, how will that effect the election? Will the ballots get reprinted? Will the overseas ballots have to be remailed?

Denise Lamb: You know something – I can't talk about it. I'm under threat by my lawyers.

Julia Goldberg: Oh. Well, can you answer this? Republicans and others have raised the issue that some of the judges ruling on the Nader ballot issue are Democratic donors. The Secretary of State's Office, where you work, also has been accused of partisanship regarding electoral matters. How can the public trust that elected officials don't let their own political standing effect their decisions?

Denise Lamb: Because we have impartially enforced the election code. Let's look at it this way, and this is one thing I can talk about in terms of the Nader case – we put Nader on the ballot. We were sued to take it off. The courts tell us what to do. Now we're being sued to put him back on by another group. When you are the filing office and you're impartially carrying out the election code, the fact that everybody sues you is a good thing. It means you're doing your job. We're obviously very impartial in the way we do our job because we are being constantly sued by all parties. If we were only being sued by one party, that might be a problem.

Julia Goldberg: Let's talk about another of the election issues that's been in the courts lately: Voter ID for first-time voters. First, a judge ruled they would have to show it. Then he reversed and said it would be too difficult. Now, some County clerks are planning to require first-time voters to show ID, some aren't, and your office has legally challenged the clerks planning to require ID. Break this down a little bit.

Denise Lamb: The big issue is that the election code has to be uniformly applied throughout the state. If you remember back in the 2000 election, the case that went to the Supreme Court, Bush and Gore, the issue that ultimately decided that is due process. You had different standards being used in different counties in Florida. In one county, a hanging chad was a vote, in another county a dimpled chad was a vote and so that was the basis of that case. You can't have people's votes being counted differently. Our election code has recognized that for a long, long time. If you read the Secretary of State's major duties in the election code, what the Secretary of State is supposed to do is obtain and maintain uniformity in the application, operation and interpretation of the election code. That's our number one duty.

Julia Goldberg: Compared to the eight or so statewide elections you've overseen, how would you characterize this one?

Denise Lamb: Probably about the worst ever.

Julia Goldberg: Can you talk about why?

Denise Lamb: Yes, I will talk about why. The reason this is so difficult is the country is just so extremely polarized and New Mexico is, also. The parties and all their lawyers and political operatives are working as hard as they can to get votes for their guy. And, sometimes, that's at cross purposes with the Secretary of State's idea that, first and foremost, you let people go to the polls and vote. So I think that a lot of these court cases are based in a perceived partisan advantage – by whom, I shall not say.

Julia Goldberg: How long are you going to work on Election Day?

Denise Lamb: I'll be in here at 6 am and will be here until the last county reports their results. With any luck, that will be at three or four in the morning. I typically spend the night here. There's a couch, I bring my pillow and my blankie and, if I'm lucky, I'll get a couple of hours sleep in the office. There have been elections I've been able to go home. Primary election – I got to go home for that one. It was a low turnout election. With any luck, if everyone reports and we don't have any problems, it should be over by 4 am.

Julia Goldberg: Who was the first president you voted for?

Denise Lamb: The first president I voted for? Let's see, I had to be 21 when I voted, so let's see. I'm going to have to use some math here. Whoever ran for president in 1968. That was the year Bobby Kennedy was assassinated. Whoever was running in '68, that was my first election. Who I voted for? I never say.

Julia Goldberg: Do you remember how it felt voting for the first time?

Denise Lamb: It kind of felt like the first time you could go in a liquor store and buy a beer. It's like a rite of passage. You're finally an adult. Of course, I didn't understand much about politics then, although it was a very politically polarized time in our country's history.

Swing State Psyche

When Barbara Blackwell moved to Santa Fe 24 years ago, she quickly realized that Republicans weren't welcome, so she kept her dirty little secret hidden.

"It's very awkward, and I guess I might have been a closet Republican for the first several years I lived here," says Blackwell, a local realtor. "For business reasons, there are a lot of people who are Republicans at heart who are registered Democrats."

Blackwell emerged from her shell and now is serving her second two-year term as Santa Fe County chairwoman of the New Mexico Republican Party. Her journey is indicative of the state Republican Party's growing strength and increasingly vocal presence in a swing state considered vitally important to both George Bush and John Kerry for the November presidential election.

While northern New Mexico still is considered a Democratic stronghold, New Mexicans have a split personality in party politics. Democrats hold a commanding 20-percent lead over Republicans in state voter registration rolls, so it should be a slam dunk for Democrats in any major political race. Yet New Mexicans have ping-ponged between Democratic and Republican governors, and the state has two popular, long-term US senators, one Republican and one Democrat.

"We are a swing state," says F Chris Garcia, a political science professor and former president of the University of New Mexico. "New Mexicans are willing to go with whatever person or policies that appeal to them, regardless of party affiliation."

Republican delegates from New Mexico are packing their bags for the Republican National Convention, scheduled from Aug. 30 to Sept. 2 at Madison Square Garden in New York City. Garcia believes Bush and Cheney will take the offensive at the Convention, despite past embarrassments over their tenuous justifications for the Iraq war. "Strategists will employ the adage that the best defense is a good offense," Garcia says. "You go on the offense and talk about all the good aspects, or you put a positive spin on everything as much as possible. The Republicans are very good at that, and I think that's what we'll see."

What remains to be seen is how New Mexico will factor into the presidential race, which is so polarized the candidates are spending much of their time and money searching for undecided voters in swing states such as New Mexico. Republicans also are appealing to Hispanics and young voters, with hopes of pulling New Mexico's five electoral votes for Bush. "I think there will be a lot less voting straight party line, just like it was four years ago," says Santa Fe City Councilor David Pfeffer, a Democrat who is endorsing Bush. "It could, honest to God, come down to a state like New Mexico."

New Mexico has an excellent track record for choosing presidents. Since statehood in 1912, New Mexicans have always voted with the majority of the country for the presidential winner, except in 1976 when Gerald Ford won more votes here than Jimmy Carter. The only other exception came in 2000 when Al Gore squeaked out a win in New Mexico by 366 votes. Technically, New Mexico was still voting with the majority of the country, but Bush won with a little help from the US Supreme Court and Florida election officials. "It's an amazing paradox – while New Mexico is so different demographically, it is so similar in its voting views [with the nation], at least for president," Garcia says.

New Mexico hasn't always leaned Democrat. The state was solidly Republican from 1912 until the 1930s, when the Depression put millions of people out of work and Franklin D Roosevelt offered government jobs through the New Deal.

New Mexico also has the largest percentage of Hispanics in the country, with the Census showing the state's Hispanic population increasing from 38 percent to 42 percent from 1990 to 2000. Forty-nine percent of Santa Fe County residents are Hispanic, with the percentages pushing higher for some other northern New Mexico counties.

While both Bush and Kerry have appealed to Hispanic voters nationwide, some typical Hispanic vote-getting issues don't always play well here. While Hispanics in larger border states often favor increased immigration from Mexico, many Hispanics in New Mexico trace their lineage to Spanish ancestors and don't necessarily welcome more recent immigrants. "We just have a [Hispanic] population here that is very established," Garcia says. "Mexican ties are much more distant than those in California or Arizona or Texas."

The Republican Party has tried to reach Hispanic voters, many of whom are Catholic, through the party's opposition to abortion, yet Garcia and even some local Republicans don't believe the abortion issue will translate into many votes for either party. "I don't know if that is going to be a big campaign issue," says John Dendahl, the outspoken former chairman of the New Mexico Republican Party.

Dendahl, who served as state Party chairman from 1994 to 2003, was known for his pit-bull style in attacking what he viewed as the excesses of the Democrat-controlled Legislature. Dendahl believes gay marriage has surpassed abortion as a conservative social issue, even though Republicans in Congress couldn't muster enough votes to support a constitutional amendment banning gay marriage.

Gay marriage and abortion may motivate some voters, but both major parties must address an overriding issue: the Iraq war and America's fight against terrorism. While Democrats are still angry about the pre-emptive attack on Iraq and those missing weapons of mass destruction, Dendahl says the focus will shift to the future.

"Most people know now the economy is improving, and they aren't going to buy this idea that jobs are fleeing the country," Dendahl says. "I think what is going to be important come November is not whether we did the right thing to go into Iraq or not, but if the situation in Iraq is continuing to improve." Santa Fe County's voter registration rolls show 63 percent Democrat, 19 percent Republican, 3 percent Green and 15 percent other party or no party. Even with closet Republicans thrown in the mix, those numbers spell an uphill battle for Bob Parmelee, a retired computer manufacturing executive chosen as Santa Fe County chairman of the Bush-Cheney campaign. But he doesn't sound worried.

"We find the people on the left hysterical, uninformed and on the lunatic fringe on the issues. Any time I've had the opportunity to confront people on the facts, I've been able to move people toward the Bush position," Parmelee says. "The less people are informed, the more likely they are to vote Democrat."

Parmelee will be organizing volunteers and planning campaign events with hopes of reaching undecided voters before the November election. "I think New Mexico will go Republican, but that doesn't mean the official election results will go Republican. I think there is obvious fraud and corruption in the Democratic [state] government," he says. "Did we lose this election by
300-odd votes last time in New Mexico? Who knows? Nobody knows. You don't have to go to Florida to find a scandal. New Mexico is a scandal." Besides Republican appeals to Hispanics, Dendahl also has seen "a growing number of students on college campuses who are increasingly conservative."

Jeremiah Ritchie – a rising junior at UNM who is vice-chairman of the New Mexico Federation of College Republicans – says UNM has a very active group of young Republicans fighting the good fight at a very liberal campus. "We do definitely feel a strain in ideology, especially with the professors, and it becomes an issue in the classroom," he says. "Everybody knows [the youth vote] has been a resource that has been untapped. It has been a crowd that is hard to motivate, but we're trying to change that."
Republican students at UNM have canvassed precincts, walked door-to-door handing out campaign material and manned the phone banks for Bush and local Republican candidates. Students also protested outside an Albuquerque theater showing Fahrenheit 9/11. "I find a lot of motivation in the fact that the majority of the people around me feel
differently, and that helps me do my part to get out and help the president win the election," Ritchie says.

Perhaps no one illustrates New Mexico's split personality in party politics better than Santa Fe City Councilor David Pfeffer. Pfeffer, a registered Democrat who was elected to his first four-year term in 2002, has infuriated some former supporters by his increasingly conservative bent. The 59-year-old architect was the only City Councilor to vote against a 2002 Council resolution opposing the Iraq war. In ultra-liberal Santa Fe, jaws dropped when Pfeffer announced in June he is endorsing Bush's re-election campaign because of his support for the Iraq war. "The war is just, and Bush is taking the correct actions," Pfeffer says. "He is addressing the root cause of terrorism, which are the autocracies in the Middle East that suppress democracy, suppress freedom and terribly suppress women."

Pfeffer says his support for the Iraq war is colored by his experience in the Vietnam War. Pfeffer was drafted into the Army and patched bullet holes in US aircraft from 1966-67. "I didn't spend a year in Vietnam for nothing. I did those things for my country," he says. "I thought about it a great deal at the time, and I did my duty."

Even though Pfeffer says he later protested against the Vietnam War, he now takes issue with Iraq war protesters who say they are supporting American troops by trying to bring them home. "You can't support the troops unless you support their mission," he says. "Otherwise, you demoralize them, and that's life-threatening to them."

Pfeffer says he will not switch his party affiliation because he still disagrees with the Republican Party on many issues. He hasn't decided whether to seek re-election to the city council in 2006, and he doesn't know how his endorsement of Bush will affect his own political career. "I get angry letters saying 'You're finished. You're stupid. Thank God we only have to live with you for one term.' "But I also get [letters saying] 'I'm really glad you came out and did what you did because I'm a Democrat and feel the same way,'" Pfeffer says. "Obviously, it's upset people who naturally assumed that the Santa Fe City Council is going to be anti-Bush."

Of course, Pfeffer's endorsement delighted local Republicans who are heading for the bright lights and big city of New York for the Republican National Convention.

Twenty-one Republican delegates from New Mexico, including four from Santa Fe and Los Alamos, will attend the Republican National Convention next week. JoAnn Johnson, a delegate who also chairs the Los Alamos County branch of the state Republican Party, has high hopes for the Convention. "It certainly energizes the people, and it's the last spark that is needed before the election to get people behind their candidate," she says. Each presidential candidate usually gets a bump in poll ratings following his party's convention. Kerry only got a small bump after the Democratic National Convention in Boston, possibly because many voters already have made up their minds. (Some Democrats attribute the small increase to the Bush administration's sudden announcement of a seemingly new terrorism threat on the East Coast, which actually relied on old information gleaned from the Internet before 9/11.

"When people are threatened, they tend to rally behind the president," says Garcia at UNM. "They call it the rally-round-the-flag syndrome.") So what will Bush and Cheney need to do at the Republican National Convention to boost their poll ratings? "I'm not sure I have the answer to that question," Dendahl says.

Dendahl at a loss for words? Is the Republican firebrand growing soft in his old age? Not to fear; he quickly regrouped. "The president and the vice president need to come out of the Convention as they are right now, appearing that they are in control of the government," Dendahl says. "They are calm, maintaining a steady course and continuing to instill confidence in people."

The national conventions, which used to nominate presidential candidates and have real debates over party platforms, have been reduced to major pep rallies, with free television airtime for each party to pummel the public with optimistic speeches and political rhetoric. Critics from both major parties are questioning the continuing need, and the spiraling cost, of the conventions. Congress approved $50 million in taxpayer funding for security at both the Democrat and Republican conventions. The parties pay for the conventions themselves, while the lavish dinners and galas thrown by corporations and lobbyists use a gaping campaign finance loophole to wine, dine and influence convention-goers. Dendahl attended the 1996 and 2000 Republican Conventions in San Diego and Philadelphia. "I had a good time. There always are a lot of very nice parties," he says. Yet Dendahl concedes the conventions are "awfully expensive" and "might be becoming a white elephant." State Rep. Jeanette Wallace (R-Los Alamos) will serve as a Convention delegate from Los Alamos County, the only Republican enclave in northern New Mexico. Wallace believes opposition to the Iraq war will be a "big stumbling block" for Bush, who needs to give more concrete answers at the Convention about his plans for US troops in Iraq. "We want to know as citizens exactly when this is going to end and how it's going to end and whether we've resolved anything. It's no different than the Vietnam War," she says. "We need to say, 'This is going to end at some point in our life.'"

Regardless of what happens at the Convention, questions regarding how New Mexico's five electoral votes will swing in November remain. As in 2000, will New Mexico again be a lone Democratic "blue state" in a sea of Republican red states swallowing the Southwest? Or will closet Republicans and conservative Democrats push New Mexico to Bush this time? Given that Al Gore won New Mexico by 366 votes in 2000, it most likely will be another nail-biter.

"I'm getting excited about it now," Wallace says. "I think every vote counts, so New Mexico will be extremely important."

Political Tourism

In the next few weeks, expect a crop of outsiders to flock to New Mexico. They're not coming to peruse the state's famed art galleries or to hike its enchanted lands; the draw for this latest influx is the upcoming presidential election. Because New Mexico is a swing state, with Gore winning New Mexico by just a couple hundred votes in the last election, supporters of both Bush and Kerry are traveling from as near as Texas and as far as Maine to help sway New Mexicans to their candidate of choice. Jennifer Nation, a University of Texas at Austin student, decided to drive 14 hours from Houston to Albuquerque in hopes of getting New Mexicans to turn out for Kerry.

"I haven't given up on Texas," says the 20-year-old, "but I do think it's absolutely going to go to Bush, so I wanted to come to a swing state." Now that she's in New Mexico, Nation has been doing data entry, compiling information about Kerry campaign volunteers and updating information on voters. She will soon go door to door to garner more voters for Kerry. "I feel like the result of this election will not only affect us for the next four years but for the next 40 years," Nation says.

At 59, the last presidential campaign Peter Forbes involved himself in was the one for Eugene McCarthy. But because he's concerned about the deficit, the environment and terrorism, Forbes has traveled from Massachusetts to Santa Fe to help with the Kerry campaign. "The President's foreign policy – I think is a disaster," Forbes says. "I think he talks a lot about terrorism, but he doesn't change the policy, which I think has increased hatred towards the US." Forbes, who was in Santa Fe Monday night, believes one way to raise awareness about issues pertinent to the election is to have workshops in which Kerry supporters write letters to newspaper editors. He's also "calling voters to see how they feel about John Kerry and to encourage them to vote."

Annie Chavez, statewide volunteer coordinator for Kerry's Travelers, a segment of the Kerry campaign devoted to sending people to swing states, says she expects people like Nation and Forbes to come from all over. "Right now, we have people coming in from Maryland, Maine and California, and we're expecting more," she says. "We've had people expressing an interest from Idaho and Iowa."

At the Democratic National Convention, the Kerry campaign urged supporters to travel to swing states. But Chavez said even people unfamiliar with the Kerry's Travelers program are taking the initiative and journeying to such states.

"We have a lot of people who are on their own calling us up and saying that they want to do it," she says. "We're seeing so much commitment to Senator Kerry's campaign. These are people who feel passionately about the campaign and are willing to make pretty personal and financial sacrifices." On Election Day, Kerry's travelers will step up their tactics by providing rides to the polls and baby-sitting for parents.

Via its Mighty Texas Strike Force, the Bush campaign will also send people to swing states such as New Mexico.

Rick Barraza and Adair Margo head the El Paso chapter of the Strike Force and plan to take volunteers to both Southern and Northern New Mexico. "Being in El Paso, we'd love for our city to go for Bush, but we know we can be used better in New Mexico, which is in swing," says Margo, a gallery owner.

According to Barraza, on Aug. 28 a group of 50-100 members of the Mighty Texas Strike Force will travel to Albuquerque. In the week before the election, Barraza says, "We'll relocate to Las Cruces." They'll use the Southern New Mexico city to have a rally for Hispanic Bush supporters, which Barraza says marks the first of such events in the country for this campaign.

While in Albuquerque, "we will be primarily making phone calls, knocking on doors, putting out yard signs," he says, "just really basic grassroots campaign tactics."

Ralph and Me

This is an interview with Carol Miller, N.M. state director for Ralph Nader's presidential campaign.

Brendan Smith: You're coordinating Ralph Nader's independent campaign in New Mexico, but you're also state co-chair for the Green Party, which is endorsing its own presidential candidate. How can you do both jobs at the same time?

Carol Miller: When we had our state convention, I made it very clear that I was supporting Nader, and I was still nominated and elected overwhelmingly to be co-chair. I think for a lot of people that was not a concern. I'm probably going to change my role with the state Green Party prior to the election, primarily because I'm going to be working out of state for the Nader campaign.

Smith: Why are you supporting Nader instead of Green Party presidential candidate David Cobb?

Miller: Ralph Nader is just a real hero of mine. I was maybe the first person who asked him to run as an independent. Several years ago, I was at a meeting with him, and I started putting forward the idea to really have a campaign that reaches out to disgruntled voters, independents, non-voters, and I felt it was more difficult to do that within a party structure.

Smith:Nader is still haunted by claims he threw the election to Bush in 2000.

Miller: He didn't, because Gore won! People have created an anti-Nader industry, a very expensive campaign that is designed for nothing but keeping a candidate off the ballot. To me, it is the biggest travesty of democracy that I've experienced in my lifetime.

Smith:What issues do you think Nader brings to the table that the major parties aren't talking about?

Miller: Well, he has a very firm peace plan for getting out of Iraq within six months, unlike Kerry who says we'll be there at least four more years. How many people are going to die in those four years? Nader's plan for Iraq is to not just internationalize the military effort but to internationalize the corporate contracts, which have all gone to American corporations. Ralph is an Arabic speaker. He is an Arab-American himself, so he feels there are a lot of ways to work out the situation, but that you can't have peace now in Iraq without dealing with the Israel-Palestine conflict.

Smith:You have until Sept. 7 to collect 14,500 signatures from registered voters to get Nader on the ballot in New Mexico. Any doubts about meeting the deadline? Miller: We're going to have about 25,000 signatures or more that we're going to be turning in to the Secretary of State. I have no doubt, absolutely no doubt. Our petitioning is going very well.

Smith:If Nader gets on the ballot here, he could take votes from Cobb and cause the Green Party to lose major-party status in New Mexico. Does that concern you?

Miller: We challenged the way the Secretary of State took our major-party status before. We brought it to the New Mexico Supreme Court, and they sent us back one word after we paid all these legal fees. It just said, "Declined." We really need to get a large group of people that believe in democracy into the Legislature so we can reform our ballot laws.

Smith:Is the Republican Party trying to manipulate Nader's campaign?

Miller: Well, I think that they've tried. It hasn't been thought out. I'm kind of like, "Who cares?" because they're all going to go vote for Bush, except for a distinct group within the Republican Party that will vote for Nader, and those are Republican women concerned about their children who've lost faith in Bush.

Smith:Some Greens and progressive Democrats believe Nader is more interested in his ego than the country because of the possibility that Bush will be re-elected.

Miller: Have you heard of any politician who doesn't have a big ego? I was meeting with Gov. Bill Richardson a couple months ago, and I asked him, "Is your ego smaller than Ralph Nader's?" Ralph Nader should have a big ego because he's accomplished so much. He's very self-deprecating. The more he's attacked, the more determined he gets.

Smith:What's your take on Kerry?

Miller: On some things he'll be better than Bush and some things he'll be worse than Bush. I think Kerry is gonna win. I hope he realizes he's going to win with a lot of people holding their nose and voting for him, that he's betrayed the base of the Democrat Party.

Smith:What do you think about Kerry's use of his Vietnam service as a political tool even though he later protested against the war?

Miller: I worked with Vietnam Veterans Against the War, and Kerry was in and out, and a lot of veterans at the peace marches were still getting their heads beat in. He made some good anti-war statements then, but he's voted for us to do the same thing in Iraq that he was opposing in Vietnam. Where's the disconnect? How do you trust someone to be president when you see him as perfectly opportunistic?

Smith:Nader recently said Michael Moore is so fat he looks "like a giant beach ball." Nader has always been lean and mean. Does he have a secret diet to help Moore lose his extra chins?

Miller: Ralph is such a hard worker, and he eats really healthy, so I think that's the secret. His mom, Rose Nader, has a cookbook, called Feeding Ralph Nader. She said she decided to write a cookbook because constantly when she was interviewed, they'd say "What did you feed this guy to turn him into Ralph Nader?" She has this cookbook of good, home-cooked Lebanese food; it's the Mediterranean diet to the max.

Smith: Will Nader run again in 2008 or is this his last shot?

Miller: He's not going to run again. He's 70 years old. His family won't let him run again. He's still got a lot of books to write.

Conventional Thinking

People around the nation last week attended "house parties" to watch John Kerry accept the Democratic nomination for president last week. Santa Feans were invited to a hotel party.

Like Kerry's campaign and the Democratic bid to bill Bush a one-hit-wonder, it was a wild ride ranging from doubt to euphoria and back again. To enter the lobby of the Hotel St. Francis – familiar and famous for afternoon tea – downtown, high season, tourists in full bloom, was to go through the looking glass of one strange end of Democratic activism in Santa Fe. Haphazard rearrangements of overstuffed chairs, elegant sofas and spindly barstools paid homage to a glowing, large-screen television that, in turn, was conveying the Convention to the convened. But the actually convened were sparse at 5:00 p.m.

It was difficult, in fact, to distinguish whether those assembled had come out as an act of democracy in action, or simply realized while idly sipping cocktails that they were about to become entangled in televised politics but were too lazy to leave. According to press releases from Kerry New Mexico, the evening was to be energized at precisely 5:00 p.m. with a live telephone shout out to the house-party nation from VP nominee John Edwards. "Oh that," said co-organizer of the St. Francis event, Theron Horton. "We found out too late about that." This is where doubt first crept into the mix.

How late is too late in a wired world? The Edwards call was actually taking place as Horton made excuses, and what minor masses had assembled could easily have been getting their candidate on – at least half the ticket – instead of sleepily contemplating some nachos.

Horton's fellow organizers, John McAndrew and Cindy Folsom, clarified the lack of clarity by admitting that they were basically Howard Dean people now working to enlist volunteers and help form coalitions. They were, under the moniker Democracy for Santa Fe, working for Kerry but not, you know, for Kerry. That's cool – the "anyone but Bush" camp is probably larger than the strictly pro-Kerry camp in most places, but it seems a poor excuse for poor organization. The Kerry New Mexico campaign and Democracy for Santa Fe having two different ideas about the nature of the event in Santa Fe did little to dispel the pervasive image the Democrats have created: a multi-headed beast of compromise which has allowed itself to be defined by what it is not rather than what it is.

Speech after speech in the DNC lineup, from day one, contained enough astounding oratory and conviction, however, to give Kerry the framework to define himself and the party on his big night – but also to instill the fear that he might not. If the penultimate speeches on the ultimate night were lacking the punch and significance of Bill Clinton, Barack Obama, Teresa Heinz Kerry and Al Sharpton, the crowd at the St. Francis was willing, if not happy, to forgive; it doesn't do to upstage the candidate. In fact the candidate needs all the help he can get. Which is why it's curious that no buttons, no placards, no paraphernalia beyond cocktails were available until 7:00 p.m. when finally it all arrived, imported from Albuquerque. Even then, these trappings of unity and support were placed on a table where only those curious enough to seek them out might get lucky. It took an exasperated woman – not even a Democrat – to mutter under her breath, "Doesn't anyone know how to organize anymore?" and start passing out materials and encouraging the crowd to get wild, riled, mad and momentous. Which was a tough sell for the shy crowd at the St. Francis pretending not to hear Joe Biden, as though he were on the wrong end of Michael Moore's camera, refer to 9/11 as a "moment of profound opportunity."

A wave of excitement did pass through the crowd during tough talk from Wesley Clark, but the double whammy of Joe Lieberman and Nancy Pelosi would have emptied the lobby if not for the bar. Specializing in high-end vodka and caviar, the bar has been added to the lobby as part of Russian Summer in Santa Fe. Lieberman's non-speech was a good time to reflect on the impossibility of Russian anything just 20 years ago and to wonder if, in another 20 years, we might see Iraqi Summer in Santa Fe.

It also was a good time to speculate on whether or not the sleek control center for the event – a separate room with a flat-screen broadcast of the Convention and two humming Macintosh computers waiting to database a new army of volunteers – would see much action during the course of the evening. My guess is no. In this way, the event in Santa Fe mirrored the Convention: a slick presentation, fancy accessories, but a crowd longing to be more consistently wowed.

Still, when Kerry at last made an appearance, Santa Feans had to ask: If not now, when? Finally the old lobby rocked with cheers, finally placards waved in the air and whistles snuck out into the night. As it must have in rooms across the country, hope sprang from a sense of union. But that very projection of leadership from the Convention, coupled with the disarray in Santa Fe, left lingering doubt as to whether the people were being reminded of the one critical thing for them to remember in a democracy: If they want something done right, they'll have to do it themselves.

Freelance Troublemaker Leads Anti-Nuke Charge

During his brief two-year tenure in northern New Mexico, Father John Dear has tangled with Archbishop Michael Sheehan, New Mexico National Guard soldiers and his own parishioners over his anti-war views. Dear, a Jesuit priest with a felony record and more than 75 arrests from past peace protests, now is targeting Los Alamos National Laboratory, which is slowly reopening after its latest security scandal blamed on missing classified computer disks.

"We're praying. We're begging God to shut down this place that builds these weapons," Dear told the Santa Fe Reporter. "We don't have any ill will for the people of Los Alamos. We want to say the people are good, the work is evil." "They can't even handle the security of the place," he added. "How can we trust them with nuclear weapons?"

It's a question protesters will be asking, or shouting, in Los Alamos on Friday, Aug. 6. A protest march, which begins at 7:15 a.m. and goes from Ashley Pond to the Lab, will mark the 59th anniversary of the US atomic blast that killed or injured 160,000 people in Hiroshima, Japan. A daylong rally also will be held on the Plaza in Santa Fe, with speeches by peace activists scheduled at 2 p.m.

Dear will help lead the Los Alamos Hiroshima Day protest, unlike last year when Sheehan ordered him not to attend because of conflicts within the Archdiocese of Santa Fe about his activist role. Dear is no longer under Sheehan's authority; he resigned in June after serving as pastor of several northern New Mexico parishes since 2002. He now is concentrating on his writing and anti-war speeches scheduled across the country. "Jesuits have always been freelance troublemakers anyway," Dear says. "For me, there's no real distinction between spiritual and political. To me, the Gospel is totally political. Jesus was executed, and everything he did was nonviolent and illegal."

Eagle Nest parishioners were so infuriated by Dear's sermons against the Iraq war last year they asked Sheehan to remove Dear from the parish. Sheehan complied with the request, leaving Dear still in charge of parishes in Cimarron, Springer and Maxwell.

Last December, Dear encountered a group of New Mexico National Guard soldiers on a fitness run outside his home in Springer, so he encouraged them to quit instead of being sent to Iraq. Dear hopes Los Alamos National Laboratory employees plagued by low morale from yet another security scandal also will quit the Lab. He says he has encouraged about a dozen Lab employees to quit over the past year, but he doesn't know if any resigned. "I think God does not bless the work of making weapons of mass destruction, so I hope people have the courage to find other life-giving jobs," he says. "That place is a disaster at every level, not the people but the work." Dear moved south of Santa Fe after resigning from the archdiocese, and founded a New Mexico branch of Pax Christi, an international Catholic peace movement.

Archdiocese spokeswoman Celine Radigan wouldn't comment on past conflicts regarding Dear's activism. She says Sheehan has not ordered priests to steer clear of controversial topics but "has just asked the priests of the archdiocese to preach according to Roman Catholic teachings." For Dear, that means focusing on Christ's teachings of peace and nonviolence. "It's time to stop all work on weapons of mass destruction and to be consistent with our policy around the world," he says. "If Iraq can't have one, we can't have 20,000."


Happy Holidays!