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."

Who Will Fight the Iraq War?

As an Army medical corpsman, he remembers scrambling across battlefields to reach infantrymen whose bodies had been blown apart, a bloody, mangled mess of severed limbs and screaming agony.

Today, Romero is matter-of-fact about his role in the Korean War and his continuing support of the draft, a hot-button issue that has leapt out of the history books because of the pressing need for more US troops in Iraq. "I was doing something – I felt good about it. Help the guys, that's all that mattered," Romero says, while drinking a Bud Light in VFW Post 2951 on Montezuma Avenue. "If they want freedom here, we have to work for it overseas.
"As far as the fighting, if you have to do it, do it and that's it," he says. "When you get drafted, you have to face it whether you want it or not."

The draft. Conscription. Mandatory military service. For younger
generations, it's a foreign concept, but the draft was used to forcibly recruit soldiers in every major US war from the Civil War to Vietnam. Before the draft was suspended in 1973, more than 1.8 million men were drafted for Vietnam. Thousands more burned draft cards, protesting in the streets or fleeing to Canada or Mexico.

Reinstatement of the draft today seems like a remote possibility. Two bills in Congress seeking to reinstate the draft, and make it applicable to both genders, stalled with little support. The Bush administration has repeatedly denied there is any need for a new draft. Michael Donovan, a research analyst with the Center for Defense Information in Washington, DC, says, "There's a better chance of opening up a McDonald's on the dark side of the moon than reinstating the draft."

At the same time, the Defense Department continues to call more and more National Guard and Reserve troops to fill growing gaps in troop strength in Iraq. The Army also is forcing thousands of soldiers to stay involuntarily in Iraq or Afghanistan for months or a year past their retirement dates. Congress is debating adding up to 39,000 more active-duty soldiers to the Army and Marines next year. Donovan thinks troop levels in Iraq won't drop for at least two to three years.

"If we are going to have to sustain these force levels, where are we going to get the troops? Because the military is already overstretched," he says. "That is a conundrum that no one has yet provided an answer." The conundrum also highlights the concerns and skepticism about the role of the US military in foreign affairs, and has reinvigorated a debate about this role among everyone from Vietnam veterans to former draft dodgers to draft-age men and women.

Tim Origer had been in Vietnam for only one month when his life changed permanently. On March 15, 1968, he was on point leading a nine-man patrol of inexperienced, replacement Marines in an area outside Da Nang aptly named "Booby Trap Alley." When he crested the ridge of a sand dune under the pale light of a full moon, hidden Viet Cong soldiers detonated a buried artillery shell which Origer was standing on. The blast blew him 40 feet into the air, severing his left leg above the knee and draining most of the blood from his body. Two US soldiers behind him were killed or wounded by the spraying arc of deadly shrapnel.

After returning home in 1968, Origer suffered post-traumatic stress disorder and later moved to a remote box canyon in Washington state, where he lived for 17 years, surviving on his disability pension. "I built a house and kind of isolated myself and was armed to the teeth," he says. Origer's commitment to see his two daughters grow up forced him out of his self-imposed exile. After his divorce, he visited Santa Fe in 1986 to help a friend who suffered a heart attack, and he never left. Now, at 56, he is active with the Santa Fe chapter of Veterans for Peace. He protests the Iraq war while trying to help other veterans suffering post-traumatic stress disorder.

He likely could have avoided the war, since he had a four-year football scholarship at the University of Minnesota, but he enlisted anyway. "There was all this controversy over Vietnam, and I went to find out what all the controversy was about," he says. "I don't regret having gone in the service and having served. I regret having been in an army of occupation. I don't think we were liberating anybody from anything. I think it's the same war [in Iraq]. We're doing it again in another country."

Origer supports a reinstatement of the draft if draftees can decide whether to serve in the military or a US civilian corps. "People have this weird sense of entitlement that they're entitled to everything. It's how we can go to a country without any pre-knowledge of a country and decide we're going to change it into some version of America," Origer says about both Vietnam and Iraq. "There's nothing that says a standing army couldn't be out repairing urban ghettos or doing work along the highways or building new schools."

Not all of Origer's colleagues agree. During a recent chapter meeting of Veterans for Peace, most of the 14 members present expressed opposition to reinstatement of the draft. The group includes veterans ranging from WWII to the Persian Gulf War. "It could be a check on our muscular foreign policy if we didn't have a draft," says WWII veteran Norm Budow. In fact, it is the current state of foreign policy that is largely fueling the fears that a new draft will be needed.

During Vietnam, more than 1.8 million men were drafted, but most of the National Guard stayed home. The situation has been reversed in Iraq. There is no draft now, but approximately 40 percent of the more than 140,000 US troops in Iraq and Kuwait are National Guard or Reserve units. Nonetheless, Major Jon Sedillo, the full-time recruiting and retention manager for the New Mexico National Guard, says he is confident the Guard will reach its recruitment goals in New Mexico this year, even though recruits know they could easily end up in Iraq. "Yes, it's on people's minds. I'm not going to lie to you. It's on everybody's mind," says Sedillo, a tall, burly man with short graying hair. "Our mission seems to be evolving on a daily basis."
Approximately 400 New Mexico National Guard members are serving now in Iraq or Kuwait, providing primarily trucking and maintenance duties. Thirty-five New Mexico guardsmen have been injured during the past 15 months in Iraq, but none has been killed.

Congress is uneasy about the current mix of military in Iraq. A bipartisan group of 129 House members sent a letter to President Bush last November, stating, "We are concerned that our armed forces are overextended and that we are relying too heavily upon members of the Guard and Reserve in the continuing war on terrorism."

Origer is more blunt with his assessment. "Who's watching home? I think it's crazy," he says. "We've got wars and potential wars going on around the globe. It doesn't leave a real secure America. That's what the National Guard should be doing is guarding home." To maintain troop strength in Iraq and Afghanistan, the US Army announced last month it was expanding its "stop-loss order," which requires troops to stay with their units for up to 90 days before and after their overseas deployments. As a result, thousands of soldiers will end up involuntarily serving for months or a year in Iraq or Afghanistan after their retirement dates.

Democratic presidential contender John Kerry, a Vietnam veteran who opposes reinstatement of the draft, has called the stop-loss order "a backdoor draft" because "people serving beyond the time of their voluntary service are no longer volunteers." If elected, Kerry wants to add 40,000 more full-time soldiers to the military and expand the role of allied forces in Iraq.

The Pentagon announced in June that more than 5,600 former soldiers in the Individual Ready Reserve also will be called back to duty to fill holes in units in Iraq. The soldiers are not part of active Reserve units but still have a mandatory service requirement. The decision came a month after the Army announced it would pull 3,600 troops from South Korea to Iraq to help relieve the troop staffing crisis.

With such obvious manpower needs, the draft debate has been steadily intensifying – and has reached a near hysterical level on the Internet. "You take the necessity for more people in the Army and a lack of credibility on the part of the administration, then it's not too hard to develop a conspiracy theory out of that mix," says Donovan of the Center for Defense Information, an independent, nonpartisan think tank. Yet despite the ever-shifting troop movements, a return of the draft still isn't the answer for the US military's manpower shortage. Donovan asserts that the US military is more highly trained and specialized now, and wouldn't be suited for thousands of draftees who don't want to be there in the first place.

Dr. Matthew Kelly, a general practitioner in Santa Fe for more than 30 years, has firsthand experience with the draft, calling himself "a certified draft dodger" during the Vietnam War. Kelly initially avoided the draft with a physical deferment for his asthma, which allowed him to attend medical school in Milwaukee, Wisconsin. In 1970, he was drafted again in a special physicians' draft to treat the mounting casualties in Vietnam. He attended draft-resistance meetings organized by the Quakers and applied for conscientious-objector status.

"At the hearing, one of the draft board members was shocked a physician would resist the draft. His argument was no one was going to be shooting at me anyway. I wouldn't be out on the front lines. My thought was, 'I don't want to help you shoot other people,'" Kelly says. "There was no question in my mind that the Vietnam War was a bad idea, and I had no business helping those bastards do that stuff."

While some of his friends went underground or openly defied the draft, Kelly just got lucky. He says he never heard from the draft board after his hearing. "I have a hunch my file was lost, and I didn't pursue it," he says. "They didn't bother me, and I didn't bother them." Kelly says he would only support a draft now if the US was being invaded. "I can't separate this issue of the draft from the US military policy that seems to be we will expand military options as long as they are profitable," he says.

Emily Skaftun, a 23-year-old unemployed woman who recently moved to Santa Fe from Seattle, says she would resist the draft if both men and women are required to serve. She believes the drafting of women could make America less likely to engage in questionable wars. "Personally, I would not go [if drafted]. I would do everything in my power not to go," she says. "People don't like to see young women get shot. I definitely think people would care more." Jeremy Jauger, a 20-year-old rising sophomore at St. John's College, believes protests against the Iraq war will increase dramatically if the draft is reinstated. "People don't like the idea of involuntarily serving."

The new draft bills were introduced in January 2003, two months before the Iraq war began. They were introduced by Rep. Charles Rangel (D-NY) and Sen. Fritz Hollings (D-SC), both veterans who believe the draft will reinvigorate the US military and spread the sacrifice of war more evenly across American society. The bills have been stalled indefinitely in armed services committees. (None of New Mexico's congressional delegation has expressed support for either bill.)

Under the bills, both men and women from 18 to 25 years old would be drafted for two-year stints until military needs were met, with the remainder serving some type of civilian service. Draftees couldn't hide out in college the way thousands of men did during Vietnam, including Vice President Dick Cheney. Deferments only would be allowed until a draftee graduated from high school or for extreme hardship or physical or mental disability. There are more than 14 million draft-age men in the US; New Mexico now has approximately 100,000.

Since 1980, all 18- to 25-year-old men in America have been required to register with the Selective Service in case the draft is reinstated. Failure to register is a felony punishable by up to five years in prison and a $250,000 fine. Non-registrants also are prohibited from receiving federal student loans and several other benefits. Last fiscal year, the Selective Service sent the names of more than 200,000 non-registrants to the US Justice Department for possible prosecution. "Those names are turned over, but Justice has no desire to prosecute. They are not because there is no draft right now," says Dan Amon, spokesman for the Selective Service System based in Arlington, Virginia. "It would be enforced a lot more if there is a draft." Numerous political Web sites claim the Selective Service received an extra $28 million in federal funding to gear up for a draft as early as next spring, but Amon says the Selective Service System's $26.3 million for the 2004 fiscal year is comparable to past budgets. He also says the Selective Service has no specific plans for implementation of a medical-care draft or a draft into the National Guard rather than the regular military. But the Selective Service's last two annual reports have stated the need to prepare for both contingencies. "Our mission here is to not do something but to be prepared to do it, even if it never occurs," Amon says. "We're not doing anything differently now than we did five years ago or 10 years ago."

Back at VFW Post 2951, Korean War veteran JC Romero shares a few drinks and a smoke with WWII veteran Andy Gonzales, who reminisces about rolling through North Africa and Italy as a machine gunner with an Army tank unit. Gonzales says he emerged unscathed from WWII, except for a piece of cluster-bomb shrapnel that "burned my ass a little bit."

"I was lucky," says Gonzales, who enlisted in 1940 as an 18-year-old high-school student. "I saw people get their heads or arms blown off right in front of me."

Both veterans support reinstatement of the draft for young men and women because mandatory military service would teach young Americans about responsibility and the price of freedom. "If we need soldiers, draft them. Why not?" Gonzales says. "It's pretty rough now [in Iraq], but war is war and I've been through it."

"I feel this is a great country," he says. "Why not fight for your country?"

All Together Now?

It's a Friday morning at Monte del Sol Charter School, and the compact classroom buzzes with energy. A group of boys, all seventh-graders, work on projects under the watchful eye of a teacher. One reads, another paints a picture.

The place is lively, raucous, but open and inviting. The day before, the class didn't function nearly as well. Yesterday, things got ugly. David, a round-faced, outgoing boy with dark, close-cropped hair, jokes and laughs, a reading primer on the table before him. The day before, he was the first one sent to the principal's office. It was over a test, a writing test. An assessment test. But others soon followed. It mushroomed into a full-scale revolt.

"He has difficulty writing. It was very upsetting to him," says his teacher, Nancy Lee Marquis. "Everyone was very disruptive. They all just lost it."

Welcome to ground zero for education reform in America, spearheaded by the Bush administration's No Child Left Behind Act. The sweeping law, passed by Congress in 2001, demands that 99 percent of all students, regardless of their capacity to learn or speak the English language, be proficient in core academic subjects such as math, science and writing by the year 2014.

The tool for determining proficiency is the students' performance on a battery of standardized tests matched against state and federal standards. There are no separate standards for students such as the boys in this class at Monte del Sol. This is special ed, special "services" as they like to call it here. Kids who are set off, pulled out. Their disabilities run the gamut – from severe cognitive disabilities like autism to milder ones like dyslexia. These students each have individualized education plans tailored to their learning needs. The plans, created by a committee of teachers, parents and often the students themselves, set goals and measure progress. For the federal government, that's no longer good enough. Now, special-ed students are to be treated just like everyone else.

"When it was designed, it sounded great," says Reginald Felton, a special-education advocate with the National School Boards Association, based in Alexandria, Virginia. "As you begin operating this stuff, that's when you run into problems."

In many ways, treating special-needs students the same as the rest of the population follows an education trend that has been practiced for several years. The practice, labeled "inclusion," is based on the consensus among education experts that it benefits the learning-disabled child – particularly socially. After all, it wasn't that long ago that children with learning issues were warehoused entirely away from other students, transported on separate buses and subjected to an entirely alternative curriculum. School districts kept them at arm's length and underfunded. They were separate and unequal.

But some in the special-education community wonder now if there can be too much of a good thing. In the name of inclusion and student achievement, No Child Left Behind takes that healthy educational trend one step further by dismissing the learning barriers that exist between children. Schools will be graded as performing or non-performing based on their aggregate test scores – with no adjustment made for the learning disabled or those who speak English as a second language. Failing schools will be subject to an entire range of government punishment. Special-education teachers, too, face a harsher future – one that requires increased certification without any corresponding pay raise, and one where any advancement they can make will be tied to their students' test scores.

"I could see in 10 years, the difference between special ed and regular ed won't be there anymore," says Michael Webb, a special-education teacher at Monte del Sol who instructs alongside another teacher in classes that combine special-and general-education students. "It hasn't been thought out very well how it's going to work. It really is an experiment."

It's making some in the special-education community in Santa Fe nervous about the future of their charges.

"I believe in believing in students, but the accountability requirement in No Child Left Behind is destroying what it is intended to do," says Tricia Penn, the special-education coordinator for the Santa Fe Public Schools. The law, she says, requires that special-needs students "should make the same progress as other children, but if they make the same progress as other children, they wouldn't need special services."

The ramifications of the No Child Left Behind Act for New Mexico, and particularly Santa Fe, are numerous and potentially extreme. It's a state filled with minority students, immigrant students and students diagnosed with learning disabilities. The state Public Education Department estimates that 17 percent of all students in the state require some form of special education.

"We have a very diverse community of learners," says Sam Howarth, the department's director of special ed. "I think we are probably the most diverse state in the nation." Santa Fe Public Schools report 14 percent of their students need special services.

The testing requirements passed by Congress and adopted by the state demand that all but 1 percent of the most cognitively disabled be tested in math, English and, ultimately, science on an annual basis. Results will be broken down not only by school, but also by ethnicity, immigration status and special needs. Low marks in any of the categories could land the school in hot water.

A failure "can be counted three times," says Drew Allbritten, executive director of the Arlington, Virginia-based Council for Exceptional Children, a special-education advocacy group. "You can fail once for your grade level, twice because you're Hispanic and three times because you're an immigrant."

Schools can be performing well in some areas, but still face sanctions due to slower progress in others. Ultimately, a failing public school can be restructured as a charter school, taken over by a private corporation or simply closed outright. Teachers can be transferred or fired. Federal funds can be withheld or reassigned. Most important, parents can pull their children and place them in other schools. Once a school takes on heavy water, there will be little that can be done.

"By painting the schools as declining in performance, you negatively affect confidence in public schools," says Felton, of the National School Boards Association.

When those test scores aren't up to snuff, administrators and principals will be looking for something to blame. Special-education advocates worry that learning-disabled children will be the scapegoats.

"The backlash. I am concerned about that," Penn says. "I'm afraid this will come back and kick us and they'll resent us again."

Felton, whose association monitors districts nationwide, has heard as much from schools that aren't achieving passing grades. He says administrators become defensive and seek ways to explain themselves.

"Basically, they're saying that if not for these kids, our schools would have made it," he says.

In another special-education class at Monte del Sol, three ninth-graders, Natasha, Ben and Kendra, work quietly together on a card game that teaches students geometry by having them assemble geometric designs out of plastic shapes. They hold a shared view when it comes to standardized tests: "They suck."

"It's so stupid," Ben says. "We don't learn anything."

"Some of us just don't take tests well," Natasha says. "It grades us on how well we take a test, not on how smart we are."

The three students are part of a skyrocketing special-education population at Monte del Sol. Current estimates have the number of students who require special instruction at the southern Santa Fe County charter school at 42 percent – three times the average in the Santa Fe Public Schools. Of its 300 students, 125 are in a special-ed program. As a charter school, Monte del Sol can attract students from all over the county.

In the area of special education, the school seems to be especially magnetic. The numbers have risen steadily during its four-year existence. That alone can be worrisome in the face of No Child Left Behind. More special-education students can often equal lower test scores. According to statistics provided by the Santa Fe Public Schools for the 2001-2002 school year, students with disabilities attending the district's four middle schools and two high schools scored significantly lower than the national average for similar students.

"We have a fair amount of students who will not do well in these tests," says Rep. Mimi Stewart, D-Bernalillo, an educator who is concerned about the federal requirements. "They'll bring the entire school down. The consequences are pretty extreme." Of a place like Monte del Sol, with its high percentage of special-needs students, she says, "They'll be hammered."

Allbritten, of the Council for Exceptional Children, believes the student's individualized education program (IEP) is a more valid tool for measuring the performance of special-ed students than standardized tests.

"Why would you give someone with a third-grade reading level an eighth-grade test when you know they are going to fail?" he says.

The focus of special education, he says, should be on making sure special-education students are ready to face the world beyond graduation – something standardized tests don't measure.

According to the US Department of Education, students with disabilities drop out of school at three to four times the rate of general-education students. Students who graduate without job skills, he says, end up in the social welfare net at a cost 10 times greater than the money it would take to pay for vocational education while in public schools.

"We can help them become members of society," he says. "I want to make sure we're dealing with the achievement part, not just accountability part."

The Santa Fe school district – like the rest of New Mexico – struggles with placing special-education students in the mainstream of general education. According to the state Public Education Department, the state ranks dead last among all 50 states in placing kids in the federally required "least restrictive environment." Sixty percent of special education students in the district are excluded from general-education classes and in some schools, the figure runs as high as 80 percent. In effect, with No Child Left Behind, the federal government is upping the ante before New Mexico has even been able to secure a seat at the table.

"New Mexico segregates kids with disabilities," says Howarth, of the state education department. "Proficiency is a massive goal and notion."

It's why parents like Bernadette LeRouge are continually frustrated. The mother of a 14-year-old Santa Fe Public Schools student with Down Syndrome, LeRouge says she has watched with mounting anger as her child has been increasingly separated from the mainstream after being largely included with regular students in elementary school. Earlier this year, she took advantage of the school-transfer provisions contained in the No Child Left Behind Act to transfer her daughter from Ortiz Middle School to DeVargas.

"They dumped my daughter into a special-ed classroom," LeRouge says. "She was not treated appropriately."

Ruthanne Greeley, a spokesperson for the district, says LeRouge's daughter was integrated into general-education classes at Ortiz for all but two subjects, and had a teaching assistant assigned to her needs. "Our goal is always to create the most successful environment for the student," Greeley says.

The Santa Fe schools have long struggled with the particular challenge of special education. Horror stories involving ignored children and staff shortages have been frequent and public. LeRouge says the reputation is deserved.

"Our Santa Fe public schools do not support inclusion," she says. "There are not enough teachers to support it."

Another Santa Fe Schools parent, Donna Quintana, the mother of a third-grader with cerebral palsy, says she, too, has encountered frustration with the care her son has received. But she is less confident about the tests. This week, her son will take the Terra Nova standardized test for the first time. Quintana says he has no learning disability, but doesn't write well.

"There should be a special test for the special-needs children," she says. "Right now, it's a basic test for all the kids. They treat them all the same way."

These parents demonstrate there isn't a consensus when it comes to the testing provisions of No Child Left Behind. LeRouge welcomes the assessments – although her child won't have to take the standardized test, but an alternative one. She believes learning-disabled children "should be able to show progress. She may not read at the seventh-grade level, but she can show progress. We need to make teachers accountable."

If there is a single profession No Child Left Behind targets, it is teachers. The complaints of the National Education Association about No Child Left Behind led US Secretary of Education Rod Paige last month to label the union "a terrorist organization."

Special-education instructors are no exception. Ultimately, under the licensing system adopted by the New Mexico Legislature along federal guidelines, teacher pay will be tied to classroom performance on tests. For special-ed instructors, that's particularly problematic and one reason for the talented ones to look to teach something else – or escape the profession altogether.

"If you're a special-education teacher and your kids are not performing at the same rate as the other kids and your job is on the line, who would want to stay in the field?" says Tricia Penn.

Penn stands in her office at the district's administrative office building in Santa Fe. She has been in the special-education field for 36 years, culminating in her position as the head of the district's special-ed programs. She was idealistic enough to enter the profession because of the Helen Keller biopic The Miracle Worker. Now, she sounds like she needs a few miracles herself.

She throws a thick binder on the table – an instruction manual for preparing a proper individualized education program (IEP) for special-education students. It looks like a city phone book.

"We don't have the resources, but we're getting all of the regulations," Penn says. "I'm so tired of paperwork."

Historically, the IEP has been the heart of special ed. Tailored for each student, it's designed to be regularly reviewed and revised. The IEP and its attendant paperwork consume much of any special-education teacher's life. For 25 years it was judged sufficient to monitor the development of learning-disabled students. Now, it will take a backseat to standardized tests as an evaluation tool – although the paperwork will remain. But paperwork isn't the only hassle for special-education teachers. No Child Left Behind requires that children be taught by "highly qualified teachers."

In New Mexico, that means that prospective high-school instructors will have to be certified not only in the core subjects they teach, but in special-education instruction as well. Soon, the district must hire teachers who are double- or triple-certified. Right now, "they don't exist," Penn says.

The district can't hire all of the special-education teachers or teacher's aides it needs. Special-ed instructors make no more money than regular teachers, despite the expertise they offer and the paperwork through which they must wade. As a result, the district must contract out for services such as speech pathology at a rate far above a teacher's hourly pay. The No Child requirements will worsen the situation by increasing teacher-certification requirements without providing the federal funds to attract the qualified teachers, she says.

"Nothing has been done to ensure qualified personnel," Penn says of the law. "All of this was supposed to be about the kids. If you cared about the kids, you would provide qualified personnel. This isn't child-centered."

Moreover, No Child Left Behind requires school districts to inform parents if their children aren't taught by a "highly qualified teacher" for longer than four weeks. In an area that's only expanding as fertile ground for lawsuits, that's an unwelcome development for administrators and teachers.

Parents disappointed in the academic progress of their children are going to court in increasing numbers. There were 20 complaints filed against school districts in New Mexico over special education during the 2001-2002 school year, with double that number the year following and a likelihood of it doubling again during this school year. The Santa Fe Public Schools has been sued five times over special education since 1998.

"The district's always on the defensive," Penn says.

Ruth Luckasson, who coordinates the special-education program at the University of New Mexico's School of Education, estimates more than 500 special-education teachers are working in the state right now without special-ed certification. They're going to need licenses – and soon. Already, the classes at UNM are packed.

"We need more special-ed faculty," she says. "If we could offer more courses, we'd have more students in them. The teachers aren't going to have a choice and the schools aren't going to have a choice."

Concerns over the rigorous federal requirements contained in the law have led some states to question whether the cure for problem schools is worse than the disease. In February, the Republican-dominated Virginia House of Delegates passed a resolution asking Congress to allow states to opt out of No Child Left Behind if they already had their own assessment and accountability program in place.

The resolution said the law "represents one of the most sweeping intrusions into state and local control of education in the history of the United States" and that it will cost "literally millions of dollars that Virginia does not have."

In January, an education panel of the Utah legislature voted unanimously to exempt Utah from the act. The US Department of Education says both states will lose hundreds of millions of dollars in federal funds if they choose not to follow the program's requirements. The costs are raising concerns in New Mexico as well. Before the recently concluded session of the state Legislature, a resolution passed by the Legislative Education Study Committee requested that the federal government fully fund the requirements of the law.

"The federal government isn't coming through with the money it promised for No Child Left Behind," says Rep. Stewart, who sponsored the resolution approved by the LESC.

The state's deputy secretary of education, Kurt Steinhaus, says the State isn't sure exactly how much it will cost New Mexico to implement the act, but the department is working on the answer.

(Utah estimates its cost to eventually lie between $200 million and $600 million; right now, New Mexico receives about $300 million in federal education funds generally.)

Steinhaus says the department is "paying very close attention" to the events in Utah and Virginia.

Tricia Penn has a quote from Stephen Covey on an erasable board in her office. It says: One thing's for sure: If we keep doing what we're doing, we're going to keep getting what we're getting.

And that sums up the problem with educational reform. No one ever favors the status quo, but changing a culture can be an even tougher sell. At Monte del Sol Charter School, which prides itself on trying to navigate a different course in educating students, teachers are facing the prospect of sacrificing some of that innovation in favor of ensuring that their special-ed students can pass their assessment tests.

"If they're not at the point that we feel they're ready for the academics, we'll have to restructure things," says the school's special-education coordinator, Mary Ellen Neal. "It's always been a struggle. Do you teach to the test or teach to the needs?"

She watches her three students laugh as they take turns in the geometry card game.

"We all need to be held accountable," she says. "But this doesn't take into account the student who does not test well. It's going to be a real challenge."

Inside the Black Box

This story began in November 2000 when the unthinkable happened. An election for the president of the United States occurred and the results were inconclusive. American vernacular suddenly included butterfly ballots and hanging chads, and the entire electoral process came under fire.

The terrorist events in New York on 9.11 soon overshadowed the election events in Florida. But in October 2002, after much partisan dispute, Congress passed the Help America Vote Act (HAVA). The law authorized nearly $4 billion in spending to help states comply with new election standards for poll-worker training, statewide voter rolls and, most importantly, the replacement of fallible punch-cards and old voting machines.

President George W Bush then signed the law. He didn't mention the 2000 election that resulted in his presidency when he did it, but he did say: "Every registered voter deserves to have confidence that the system is fair and elections are honest, that every vote is recorded and that the rules are consistently applied."

But now, with the November 2004 elections just a little more than six months away, HAVA has created a host of new and growing anxieties. Critics contend the technology employed by some electronic voting machines is not secure and that there are not enough fail-safes to ensure votes are accurately tabulated. These concerns have prompted national media attention, federal legislation and some litigation.

Ostensibly, electronic voting is an election-reform issue in which activists' concerns reflect the general belief that voting is sacrosanct and should be protected at all cost. But supporters of electronic voting maintain just as vehemently that electronic voting will create uniformity and greater access to the process for the disabled. Both sides maintain their cause champions American democracy.

At first glance, New Mexico would seem to have little to worry about. Our elections have been electronic for nearly 20 years. And while over the years there have been numerous and notorious glitches at the county level (Bernalillo, 2000, for example), our state elections officials are nationally recognized for their knowledge and expertise in this field. But in fact, New Mexico is under intense scrutiny from the leading voices of this cause.

Bev Harris is a Washington state resident and author of Black Box Voting. Black Box Voting is the term used to describe any voting system in which the mechanism recording the vote is hidden and there is no concrete record of the vote cast. Her book details the security chasms she found in several systems, as well as the potential political profiteering of the major companies responsible for creating this new technology.

Profiled in this month's Vanity Fair magazine and numerous other publications and interviewed on national shows such as Good Morning America, Harris has been called the Erin Brockovich of elections. In a recent telephone interview with SFR, Harris discussed the mobilization under way to ensure the 2004 elections receive an unprecedented level of citizen oversight. There are a handful of states considered particularly important in the clean-voting issue. New Mexico, she says, "is considered a battleground."

If New Mexico is a battleground, the organization leading the charge is Verified Voting NM. VVNM member Charlie Strauss is a Los Alamos National Laboratory computer scientist. At the lab, he's working on protein structure predictions. In life, he's become what he calls an "accidental activist" on the subject of electronic voting.

Computer scientists have helped define and lend credibility to this issue. Stanford University Professor David Dill was one of the first national computer experts to take up this cause; he served on a California task force that helped convince that state's Secretary of State to rethink the way in which California will employ e-voting.

You don't need to be a computer scientist to understand the numerous ways in which people believe technology can fail voters. You do need a perfunctory understanding of the different types of voting machines.

The ones under fire are called Direct Recording Electronic (DRE) machines. If you've voted in New Mexico, you've seen them. There's a variety of different types of DRE machines, but the basic idea is that people vote by physically touching the screen. There are no paper ballots.

Critics' concerns over these machines are numerous. Let's take four to start.

First, potential error or manipulation of voting software and/or the people who use it. Second, the protection from public viewing, by the manufacturers, of the software itself. Third, the fallibility or manipulation of the voting machines and/or the people who program them. Finally, the lack of what is called a "voter verifiable audit trail" with all voting equipment – a permanent record of each vote.

From the point of view of a computer scientist, relying too heavily on software is nave. Even a novice programmer could write code that would display votes one way on a screen and then record them in another way. "Most bugs are put in software by a single programmer," says Strauss. "It doesn't take a massive conspiracy." In addition to just plain old errors, there's a phenomenon known as "easter eggs," the term used for hidden functions in software. One of the most famous involves a spreadsheet program in which a certain – and most likely inadvertent – keystroke combination creates a flight simulation. There are examples of hidden movies and illustrations and music in software, as well as bugs, viruses and errors. Relying on hardware isn't much better. Critics say voting shouldn't require that neither machine nor man will make a mistake.

That's why if he had to settle for one thing, Strauss says, it would be the voter-verified audit. New Mexico's machines print out a total audit of the votes cast, not individual ones. "If you don't have a way to check your tallies or recount and you're using secret software, then you're dealing with blind faith," he says. "And that's not the way we conduct government. We have sunshine laws and open meetings and adversarial dialogue."

Strauss' point has been taken up by Congress. The Voter Confidence Act, sponsored by US Rep. Rush Holt (D-NJ) would do just that. In a recent interview with BuzzFlash, Holt said the bill was needed because people aren't voting because they now believe their vote literally doesn't count. US Rep. Tom Udall (D-NM) is a co-sponsor. "I think it's a good piece of legislation," Udall told SFR. "We need to be an example of how you run an honest election."

No one thinks Holt's bill will pass in time to make any difference in November 2004. In fact, it's unlikely there are any legislative remedies available at this point. That's why, Harris says, the possibility of legal action, such as seeking an emergency injunction to stop elections officials from purchasing any more voting machines that do not have the capability for the requested paper trail, is a real possibility. In New Mexico, she says, this option is being seriously considered.

Verified Voting NM members acknowledge litigation has been discussed, but thus far they have mostly focused their efforts on outreach: a February press conference, letters to the media and public officials and meetings with election officials throughout the state. Members of the group also met with Santa Fe County Clerk Becky Bustamante to air their concerns. In response, at the end of March, Bustamante set up a mock-election tour for the group to show them how local elections are run. A week later, she did the same for this reporter.

Live in Santa Fe for any length of time and you will inevitably have to stop by Santa Fe County's central offices on Grant Avenue. It's here you get and file your marriage license, pay your property tax and, perhaps, register to vote. It's an environment that barely feels like the 20th century and, indeed, 10 years ago the office didn't even have a fax machine.

As a result of county term limits, Bustamante will end her second and final four-year term this year. She says she supports term limits, but wishes she had one more term to finish things up in the clerk's office.

As it stands, the remainder of 2004 is going to be busy. Before becoming clerk in 1997, Bustamante held a variety of public-service positions, but the clerk's job has probably been the most high-profile. Following election problems in 1998, Bustamante says she's learned a great deal – particularly when it comes to ensuring there are checks and balances in the election process. As it stands now, she plans to run for Secretary of State in 2006.

A copy of the Vanity Fair article featuring Harris ("Hack the Vote") lies on Bustamante's desk. She says she hasn't read it yet, but plans to over the weekend. The phone rings in the office constantly. Administrative Assistant Eric Barraza sits down at a computer and quickly demonstrates how the programming process begins for an election. Programming isn't really the right word. Barraza works on a DOS system and, once into it, he's basically doing data entry. Anything you would see on a ballot: the date, the position, the names of the candidates, has a field on Barraza's screen. He enters in the information, usually with someone double-checking his work as he goes. It's time consuming, particularly for a primary election in New Mexico, where there are three major parties with a variety of contested races in different precincts. For this year's primary, there will be more than 230 ballot combinations.

Once a ballot is programmed, it's downloaded onto a cartridge. Those cartridges are assigned to specific voting machines that will be used in specific precincts. For example, if a fluke caused someone to try to download a cartridge for voters in District 3 of Santa Fe County at a precinct with District 1 voters, it wouldn't work.

The warehouse where the County's 230-plus voting machines are stored is located off south Galisteo Road. In the front, County sheriffs' cars are being serviced. In the back of the building, Voting Machine Technicians Richard Padilla and Patrick Ortiz are programming machines. Well, two of them. They are actually preparing these machines for a real election April 8 for the Pojoaque High School student council. Padilla demonstrates, from start to finish, how the machines are programmed, then does a sample vote in this race, in which only one position is contested. We print out the results. They match how Padilla voted.

When the concerns about the vulnerability of electronic voting machines to tampering are posed, Padilla looks thoughtfully at the back of the machine before locking it. "I really don't think anybody is going to try to do that to a voting machine," he says. "It's a fourth-degree felony, you know."

Bustamante believes Verified Voting NM members were reassured by seeing the process first-hand. Strauss wasn't there, but says he was told the group that went "were very impressed with her integrity, openness and the elaborate care the staff takes. But this did not relieve the concerns about machine safety and errors which are basically out of her hands despite good intentions. We should have a system that requires less blind trust and fails safely when it fails. I realize there is no perfect system – I wish the state elections office realized this too."

The check-in area for the Secretary of State's Office includes a stack of glossy photographs of Secretary of State Rebecca Vigil-Giron, the state's chief elections officer. When she appears in person carrying a plate of peanut brittle, Vigil-Giron is as glossy as her photograph and gives the impression that nothing could be more exciting than answering questions about the scrutiny her office is under from electronic-voting activists.

Of course, Vigil-Giron is no stranger to either controversy or criticism. She's wrangled in and out of court at one point or another with politicians from every major party in the state, including her own Democratic Party. When she talks about February's Democratic caucus she seems pretty close to rolling her eyes over the long lines and paper ballots that marked that party-run election.

But in a state where some elected officials are prone to not returning journalists' phone calls or refusing comment or even mumbling incoherently, Vigil-Giron, like Gov. Bill Richardson, is clearly destined for bigger things.

In her third term in office, she, like Richardson, was one of Hispanic Business Magazine's picks for the 100 most influential Hispanics in the US. She is the president-elect for the National Association of Secretaries of State, and also served on that association's task force which helped develop HAVA. She has been at the forefront in voicing the need for uniform election standards, the lack of which she believes is one of the root causes for election mishaps. Florida, she says, "had 67 jurisdictions, 67 different boards of elections doing 67 different things, purchasing their own type of voting machines – punch cards, butterfly ballot – developing their own ballots 67 times."

These days, commitment to uniformity for Vigil-Giron's office has centered largely around implementation of a HAVA-required statewide voter system in which all counties' information is centralized through her office. The end result of this system will be automated updating of voter information.

As of now, Vigil-Giron says, all but two counties are fully working in the new system. Bernalillo and Santa Fe counties are the two. (Bustamante says her staff will use both the new system and the old one, but run the roster for the November 2004 election off the old system. HAVA, she believes, requires the counties to be in the system, not to run the roster off of it. "We know ours works," she says. As for the new system, it first should be tested in a smaller election. To use it in November, she says, is "too much of a risk".)

As for the state's voting machines, there are a variety of different types of machines made by Sequoia Pacific and Election Systems and Software. Some of these have been in use for nearly 20 years. Some are the touch-screen machines; some are the Optec systems, which use an optical scanning system to scan voters' ballots.

Vigil-Giron believes the concern over electronic voting stems from national attention to systems that have less security, as well as the well-publicized political affiliations of some of the company's key personnel.

The most notorious example is Diebold Election Systems Chairman and CEO Walden O'Dell, who has helped raise hundreds of thousands of dollars for Bush's re-election and publicly announced his commitment to having Ohio, where Diebold is based, "deliver its electoral vote to the president next year." (O'Dell later apologized for his comments and said they were personal feelings and not connected to his company).

Diebold also has some of the most well-publicized examples of security problems, and it will not be used in New Mexico, Vigil-Giron says. As for this state's potential to have its vote hacked, "It does not exist. It will not exist," she says.

Vigil-Giron acknowledges her office's director for the Bureau of Elections, Denise Lamb, has received "voluminous" e-mails and letters and phone calls on this issue "from people who have somehow heard or been contacted that, 'oh my god, elections officials don't care about security of the voting machines'. But they're painting all the voting machines with the same brush. And they're not taking into consideration within the state of New Mexico that the way we deal with security issues is by number one, making sure those voting machines sold in the state of New Mexico are properly secure and properly programmed."

One such letter Lamb received last month included 12 questions on the state of electronic voting in New Mexico, and ended with a plea for a paper trail that could be used for recounts "to regain confidence and trust in elections."

Lamb responded with a detailed explanation of New Mexico's triple audit procedures. The voter-verified paper trail, she writes, "is a phony feel-good solution that gains nothing."

What critics want, she says, is to prove a negative – that the machines haven't failed, and that's impossible. She's not wrong. Verified Voting NM founding member Dave Kraig says he has "no reason to believe that elections haven't been running fairly. However, I am concerned because there is no way to prove that they have." The burden of proof, he believes, should be on elections officials.

"I'm not saying Rebecca Vigil-Giron and Denise Lamb are up there plotting the overthrow of this government. But at best they're being nave and at worst they're pushing this for their own agenda so they don't have to deal with paper ballots."

In her office, Lamb is candidly perplexed by the voting critics. She characterizes the Black Box Voting movement as a "left-wing conspiracy thing." She describes receiving a phone call from someone who works at Los Alamos National Laboratory saying they had questions about the security of New Mexico's voting system. "I said I'd be glad to answer them, but first I have some questions about security at our national laboratory."

Lamb is critical of the much-touted study from Johns Hopkins released last summer that critics say shows the error-prone nature of this technology. The study was flawed, she says, and the researcher sat on the board of another voting company. Lamb says she's just as inclined to question the motives of electronic-voting critics as she is of its proponents. President of the National Association of State Election Directors, Lamb is quick to point out that it is a misnomer to believe HAVA was solely a reaction to the 2000 elections. The need for advanced voting technology, she says, grew out of the needs of the disabled and minority communities. Newer machines allow the blind to vote in secret for the first time, and translate ballots into dozens of languages for US citizens who don't speak or read English. Individual voter receipts, Lamb says, could create long waits at polling places and jeopardize the equally sacrosanct secrecy of individual votes. And what's to keep someone from disingenuously claiming the machine mis-tallied their vote?

As for the activists, she says, "Let's not assume they are knights in shining armor. A lot of this is political." Is the technology fail-safe? No. The machines, after all, don't program themselves. The 67,000-vote problem in Bernalillo in 2000 that delayed New Mexico's vote was the result of human error, plain and simple. "These people fly on airplanes," Lamb says. "They have surgery. They use anesthesia. It's just everybody is afraid George Bush is going to steal the election."

Probably everybody isn't afraid Bush will steal the 2004 elections. But with national polls showing approval for the president a near 50/50 split, it's safe to say close to half of us would find it hard enough to accept a legitimate win – let alone a stolen victory. But would we even be thinking about such a thing were it not for the events in Florida in November 2000? After all, a small margin of error for human or machine only becomes unacceptable when it makes a difference.

A few minutes after a telephone interview about the origins of Verified Voting NM, one of its co-founders, Bob Stearns, calls back. Stearns' participation initially grew out of the Democrat Action Group, a committee of the Santa Fe County Democratic Party. "I just would like to make the point we don't consider this a partisan Democrat versus Republican versus Green issue," he says. "All parties want fair elections."

At first, Stearns' assurances that this is a nonpartisan issue seem hard to buy. One need only to scan the new nonfiction titles to gain a sense of where the current liberal consciousness is. Consider titles such as Bush's Brain; How Karl Rove Made Gov. Bush President; The Buying of the President 2004; The Price of Loyalty; George Bush, the White House and the Education of Paul O'Neill; The President of Good and Evil; Amy Goodman's The Exception to the Rulers; and The Book on Bush: How George W. Bush (Mis)leads America.

Pat Leahan, a member of the Las Vegas, New Mexico, group The Las Vegas Committee for Peace and Justice, also makes this point. Leahan has been an activist since George McGovern ran for president in 1972. She became interested in the electronic-voting issue a year ago after reading about two of the seminal events in the electronic-voting world. One was the surprise victory of Nebraska Republican US Senator Chuck Hagel, the former chairman of American Information Systems, the company that developed into the Nebraska-based Election Systems & Software. The other was the mid-term elections in Georgia, the first state to replace all its voting machines with DRE.

Prior to the election, the Democrat incumbent was five points ahead of the challenger. But the Republican ended up winning by seven points. Diebold company files about this Georgia election are among those Bev Harris found and downloaded off the Internet. Nothing conclusive has ever come from them – just the possibility that our votes are not safe, regardless of party affiliation.

"It's sad," Leahan says. "I used to be able to believe our government officials. Then it became, 'OK I can't believe them anymore, but we can believe people who are affiliated with our party'. Now people are saying, 'I can't believe any of them, not Democrats, not Republicans'. The sense of mistrust is so deep now and so pervasive."

No wonder so many people don't vote.

Brown Power

For the last 16 years, Jorge Ramos has anchored Noticiero Univision, winning, among other awards, seven Emmys. His newest book is The Latino Wave: How Hispanics Will Elect the Next American President, in which he argues "the future of the United States is a Hispanic one." We spoke with Ramos via telephone as he waited for his flight from New York – where he was on tour to promote his book – home to Miami.

Julia Goldberg: Your book clearly establishes Hispanics' importance in the 2004 election and beyond. How important is the coming election to the Hispanic community in terms of defining its future?

Jorge Ramos: I truly believe that Latinos will decide this election. And this is going to a very important election for Hispanics because it will show, for the first time, that we have a crucial role in the election; the 2004 vote for Latinos will empower Hispanics for the first time in history. The 2004 elections will show the rest of America that no candidate will reach the White House without the Hispanic vote.

Goldberg: You write about Cuban Americans' lack of affinity for the Democratic Party because of the Bay of Pigs and Elian Gonzales. What are the other important historical political contexts for Hispanics' relationship to the Democratic Party?

Ramos: Historically, Latinos have tended to side more with the Democratic Party than with the Republican Party – in New Mexico, in California, in Texas, in New York. Latinos felt Democrats represented more of their interests ...what I find interesting is both the Republican Party and specifically George Bush are challenging that because they argue that Latinos tend to side more with Republican Party when it comes to values – on abortion, on divorce, on homosexuality. In that sense, Latinos are very conservative, but when it comes to other issues, Latinos side more with the Democratic Party, mainly when we're talking about affirmative action or bilingual education. The last polls I've seen, the majority of Latinos will vote for the Democratic Party, but the important question has to do with percentages. If George Bush gets more than 30 percent of the Hispanic vote, he might be re-elected. Since Ronald Reagan, every Republican candidate who gets more than 30 percent wins the White House. Kerry's challenge is to get about 70 percent of the Hispanic vote – Al Gore got 67 percent.

Goldberg: You say that New Mexico Gov. Bill Richardson became the most influential Hispanic politician in the country by not "exaggerating his ethnicity." What does that mean?

Ramos: Bill Richardson has said he's not a professional Hispanic, and I use that in the book. Bill Richardson understands very clearly that in order to be influential in this country you have to deal with mainstream issues and that's exactly what he has done in his political career. Bill Richardson would be a great addition to our democratic ticket if John Kerry wants to win this election. I think that Richardson could help Kerry much more than anybody else in this country. You know Latinos refer to him as Bill Richardson Lopez.

Goldberg: Can you elaborate on your theory about Hispanics' double identity?

Ramos: Latinos are different from other ethnic groups in the US, because we also identify with our country of origin, or with the country of origin of our parents. So if you were to ask me to identify myself, I would say I'm Mexican and then secondly I would say I'm a Hispanic or Latino, and I would say I'm an American. We have this double identity all the time, it's a particular characteristic of the Hispanic community.

Goldberg: You're not a US citizen, correct?

Ramos: It's a personal decision. I've been considering that for a long, long time. I haven't done it because I want to leave open the possibility of getting involved in politics in Mexico. I feel pretty much Mexican and American, living here for 20 years. Both of my children were born in this country, and I am grateful to this country because this country gave me the opportunities that Mexico couldn't.

Goldberg: There's a chapter in which you discuss the different reception Selma Hayek's performance in Frida garnered in the US versus Mexico, that ends with the statement that: "Sometimes American culture creates invisible borders." Can you elaborate on that thought?

Ramos: You cannot find Latinos in Latin America, you can only find Latinos in the United States. One out of every five Mexicans lives in the United States, one out of every three Salvadorans lives in the United States and there are many differences between those Mexicans living in the US and Mexicans living in Mexico. Selma Hayak's movie represented exactly that cultural ocean.

Goldberg: What's your view of the mainstream media's coverage of Hispanic issues and political influence?

Ramos: The kind of coverage we get about Hispanic issues and immigrant issues is very poor. In a recent year, out of 16,000 stories covered by ABC, NBC and CBS, only 99 were about Hispanics in the United States, so obviously for a population that is 14 percent of the total population, there's something wrong. That explains why Spanish-language media is growing so fast, because even about 50 percent of those who are bilingual prefer to get their news in Spanish, and they can get information they simply cannot get otherwise, news about the US, news about Mexico. The networks do not get it; they are constantly complaining they are losing viewers; but they are doing nothing substantial to attract these new viewers.

Goldberg: How will the politics of the next generation of Latinos be influenced by this generation's?

Ramos: What we're seeing in this election is that you will have 3 or 4 million voters who have never voted before in a presidential election, and that is truly amazing. The political party that controls the Hispanic vote will dominate politics in America in the future. I'm still very surprised that both political parties are not paying more attention to these new Hispanic voters who have never exercised their rights in the past because they were not US citizens or they were too young. They are going to decide this election. And it's going to be very interesting.

Speculation Season In the Southwest

It feels like the first true spring day. It snowed earlier in the morning, but now the sun has emerged and a thawing warmth radiates. The nearly deserted road is a ribbon of two-lane blacktop that twists through the rugged stretch of northern New Mexico that connects Pojoaque to the Nambé Pueblo.

Then, like a thunderclap: Lights, sirens. A trooper appears from behind, signals flashing, leaping forward like a predator. A white Cadillac Escalade, on the heels of the police car, blows by in a fury.

Say hello to Gov. Bill Richardson. Fifteen minutes later the small procession is at rest at the head office of the Nambé Pueblo. It's the governor's second visit in the 14 months since he took office; he makes a point of saying no governor before him has ever visited. No one in the small room contradicts him.

Today is what Richardson calls his "Good News" tour. Any suggestion of the evangelical in that is unintentional, though not necessarily inappropriate. Richardson, like many born politicians, is part Music Man, part minister – and, in his case, there's a super-sized portion of patrón thrown into the mix. The day's planned route will take him from Santa Fe to Española to Nambé to Pojoaque and finally to Las Vegas – all in the packed space of a single afternoon. Freed from his Roundhouse desk, Richardson wears a turtleneck – no tie – and a jacket with honest-to-goodness patches on the elbows. He's in his environment, happily informing his constituents what he has done for them like a proud father.

"I love you," he says in Española. "And I mean that." He becomes even more energetic later in the day when he reaches Pojoaque and someone hands him a microphone. Richardson plays to the size of the stage he is given. With a mike in his hand, he's as laid back and as smooth as Tony Bennett.

Here in Nambé, the 40 or so residents attending are just happy to see him. Richardson tells them how his administration helped during the last legislative session to eliminate the tax on food. He talks about the state providing $5,000 for new kitchen equipment for the Pueblo senior center. "I worry about the Native American kids," he says.

"Diabetes, obesity, suicide." He chats about physical education for children, tribal sovereignty, water pollution. Someone presents Richardson, a former minor league pitcher, with a baseball to autograph.

Finally, the inevitable occurs.

"We look forward to supporting you when you run for president," says a man named Paul Rainbird.

The council room bursts into loud applause.

These are odd times for Richardson, this season of speculation. Since Sen. John Kerry (D-Mass.) wrapped up the Democratic presidential nomination earlier this month, the only remaining game to be played is the guessing one. Until the July Democratic National Convention in Boston – which Richardson will chair – names of a potential Kerry running mate will be aired in the press and then dismissed, senators and governors shuffled like trading cards. The common term for it is "the short list." Bill Richardson is on it, rest assured, despite a very public effort on his part to downplay his interest.

For the next few months, New Mexicans will wonder if the man who has made it his mission to turn this struggling state around will stay to see his work through or whether he will leave what he calls the "best job he has ever had" less than two years after getting it.

William Blaine Richardson will remain one of the names on the short list until Kerry announces his decision. Richardson's positives are powerful, his negatives not readily apparent. He brings much to the electoral dance. "It's a chess match at this point," says Bill Sisneros, the former chairman of the Santa Fe Democratic Party and an ardent supporter of the governor, "and Bill is one of the key players in the whole process."

Steve Jarding, a Democratic political strategist and current fellow at the Kennedy School of Government at Harvard University, says no veep candidate can do for Kerry what Richardson can. "If a governor gives you the strength to take a state, that in and of itself is important," Jarding says. "But I think Bill Richardson reaches beyond the borders of New Mexico."

Jarding, who, among other accomplishments, managed the improbable gubernatorial victory of Democrat Mark Warner in solidly Republican Virginia in 2001, says Richardson can supply the three things any running mate must do for a presidential candidate. First of all, Jarding says, the vice presidential candidate must not hurt the nominee. Here, he says, Richardson is clean. Second, the VP choice must deliver his home state. There seems little doubt that even if he broke his promise to stay, Richardson would remain a wildly popular political figure in New Mexico. Although this state went for Democratic nominee Al Gore by the slimmest of margins in 2000, it seems likely that with a favorite son on the ticket, it would move much more decisively in favor of Kerry.

Third, Jarding says, a potential vice president should be able to help secure other states.

Here is where Richardson may hold a clear advantage. Were Kerry to ask and Richardson to accept, Richardson would become the first Hispanic vice presidential nominee in American history. While that would not automatically secure the loyalty of Latino voters nationwide, it could become a powerful magnet for a burgeoning voting bloc coveted by both major political parties. With Richardson on the ticket, key swing states such as Arizona, California, Nevada, Florida, New Jersey, New York and Pennsylvania could be in play for the Democrats. He is, potentially, a market mover.

Thus, Richardson finds himself pounded with the question everywhere he turns. His critics, who never believed he would stay here his full term and maintained Richardson was just using New Mexico as a stepping stone to higher office, are in high dudgeon. Even some political allies see his time as short. At a ceremony announcing the construction of a new veterans memorial at the Santa Fe Railyard in mid-March, former Ambassador Frank V Ortiz joked that, while he hoped the memorial would be a jewel of the Richardson administration, "we can't get it done in six months."

"Present or not present, Mr. Governor," Ortiz said, "we'll always remember you for what you've done."

A day later, Richardson winces in annoyance when Ortiz's comments are recalled. "It's beginning to become a distraction," he says. He is sitting in his satellite Albuquerque office, a small chamber in the Bank of the West building on the east side of town that offers a panoramic view of the city. Richardson is spending the morning here, tending to downstate business.

He says his response to the eternal question has been a conscious attempt to lower his national profile. In almost the same breath, he notes his appearances the previous day on both Fox News Channel and MSNBC to talk about Iraq. The standing condition, now, for national shows, he says, is that the vice presidential issue cannot be mentioned. "There's possibly three more months of this," Richardson says. "Despite my denials, nobody believes me."

Richardson, who grew up in Massachusetts, California and Mexico, isn't a New Mexico native and the sort of political calculation he went through in order to decide to come to the state is the kind of instinctual, ambitious choice that has always made some people skeptical of his sincerity. "With me, people associate ambition. It's my style," he says. "I like moving fast, being very public, advancing a cause. Everybody thinks the reason I want to be governor is because I want to be president. But I feel a real allegiance to New Mexico. New Mexicans have always believed in me."

Richardson, 56, came to the governor's office from the larger world beyond, following a path that is perhaps unique in modern American political life. In his early 20s, at Tufts University in Boston, Richardson received a master's in diplomacy. He moved on to Washington in the 1970s with posts at the State Department and the Senate Foreign Relations Committee. Hungry to make his mark in politics, he moved to New Mexico in the latter part of the decade to run for Congress against local icon Manual Lujan. (He didn't win.)

First elected as congressman for the 3rd District in 1982, Richardson established his personal touch in hundreds and perhaps thousands of "town meetings" with constituents. Sometimes only four or five people would show up, but Richardson came ready to talk and made sure he brought an aide along to address constituent problems. His district, as diverse perhaps as one anywhere save for a large urban center, included Santa Fe progressives, New Age-y dropouts, Native Americans living on scattered pueblos and, of course, Old Country Hispanics whose families trace back generations. "That's where I learned these skills of mediation," Richardson says now. "They serve me well in this job."

His was a rather mainstream political career in its early phase, as Richardson rose through the ranks of leadership in the House of Representatives, ultimately becoming Majority Whip while Democrats still controlled that body. He came within a hair's breadth of being named Secretary of the Interior in 1992, but then was passed over – one of his biggest political disappointments. But he went on in the House to help secure passage of the North American Free Trade Agreement on behalf of the Clinton White House in 1994. Then, however, the Republicans took control and Richardson was cut out of the action. So he began making his own. He became almost a freelance hostage negotiator, bargaining for the release of captives in Iraq, Bangladesh, Burma, Cuba and North Korea.

In his Albuquerque office, Richardson relates the story of his December 1996 trip to the Sudan, in which he bargained for the release of three hostages, a New Mexico pilot and two Red Cross workers. The Sudanese rebel commander holding the three asked for $20 million. Richardson countered by saying he could give him a Jeep. Five Jeeps, the commander countered. Two Jeeps, Richardson replied, thinking to himself that he only had authorization from the Red Cross to hand over a single vehicle. What sealed the deal was Richardson's offer to provide nurses and syringes for an immunization program for the village. He had earlier learned the commander's daughter was ill with smallpox.

During Clinton's second term, things accelerated for Richardson. He was first named Secretary to the UN, replacing Madeleine Albright. Two years later, he was appointed Energy Secretary. It was at Energy where his career seemed to strike its roughest patch. The administrator of a large federal agency, a bureaucracy, Richardson suddenly couldn't use the people skills and political instincts that had always guided him. The department became embroiled in repeated scandals, including the government's failed prosecution of Los Alamos scientist Wen Ho Lee and lapses in security at Los Alamos National Laboratory. He was famously reprimanded by Sen. Robert Byrd (D-WV) at a Senate hearing.

"You've had a bright and brilliant career," Byrd told Richardson. 'But you will never again receive the support of the Senate of the United States for any office to which you might be appointed. It's gone. You've squandered your treasure."

Unsurprisingly, Richardson won't admit that any aspect of his career was less than successful, but he does say now that the Energy post was "frustrating. You couldn't get your hands on it. As governor, you can set the agenda. Build schools. Build roads. Bring in jobs." After the Democrats lost the White House in 2000, Richardson drifted a bit, taking speaking engagements, sitting on corporate boards, lecturing at Harvard. "I didn't know if I wanted to get back into politics," he says.

But New Mexico tempted him. Richardson and Brian Condit, who has worked with Richardson since the congressional days, set off on a trip around the southern part of the state, where Richardson was less known, for a field survey. "Anywhere we went around the state, there seemed to be a sense of great excitement," says Condit, who now helps push Richardson's agenda through the Legislature. "People were very encouraged by the prospect. The governor seemed to know everyone."

Bill Greehey, the chief executive officer of Valero Energy Corporation in San Antonio, asked Richardson to join his company's board, and then watched him depart shortly thereafter to re-enter the public arena. "He was in private life, he was making a lot of money," Greehey says, "and public service pulled him back."

Watching Richardson talk about the senior center in Nambé or a teacher-education program in Española, one wonders if it's enough to sustain someone who made a name for himself as a maverick diplomat in the 1990s by journeying to Iraq, the Sudan and North Korea.

At the same time, Richardson's style is born out of visiting small towns throughout northern New Mexico. He's a cigar-chomping, press-the-flesh populist. A boss. His manner is one of old-fashioned solicitousness. Everyone is "my friend." His memory is legendary. He can see someone sitting in the crowd and name that man's father, recall a time when they banged on doors campaigning in Las Vegas in 1978. His tastes are similarly old-school: sports, particularly boxing. He rides horses. He recently developed a new passion for shooting clay pigeons. "He is the best politician I have ever seen," says Kay Roybal, who worked as a legislative liaison for Richardson during his congressional career. "His instincts are incredible. He has never been bit bad by a risk he took."

To Richardson, all of politics is diffused through the prism of negotiation, the art of the deal. "Negotiating internationally and negotiating locally is the same," he says. He has some basic philosophies: Respect people. Trust other cultures. Always know where you're going to end up. Concede things up front that don't matter, such as the meeting place.

He uses this day's trip to Albuquerque as an example, comparing a jaunt down I-25 to traveling to Iraq or the Sudan. He's trying to a resolve a citywide spat over the extension of Paseo del Norte through Petroglyph National Monument. Richardson says he wanted to come and meet here with representatives of the east and west sides of Albuquerque. "This is their turf. I came to this city. I didn't make them come up to my office in Santa Fe," he says.

Since being elected handily in November 2002, Richardson has acquired the persona of someone who's a step too quick in a place known for taking things slow. The local media has focused on his high-speed driving, his helicopter trips around the state, his national speaking engagements, the money spent on entertainment. He pushed and hectored the State Legislature to enact his reforms. A defining moment may have come during this past session, when an emotional Sen. Tim Jennings, D-Roswell, took to the Senate floor in early February to label Richardson a bully.

Other politicians might have tried to smooth over the situation, especially when the complaint came from a member of their own party. Richardson went the other way. He refused to apologize for his behavior, saying he was standing up to special interests. Former aide Roybal says such a response is again part of the governor's continual political calculus. Of his denunciation of Jennings, Roybal says Richardson "doesn't do that very often. He pulls that out very rarely." And Richardson was right. His image wasn't harmed by the event. The criticism evaporated.

This morning in Albuquerque is simply an extension of the same modus operandi Richardson used on his high-velocity "Good News" tour across northern New Mexico earlier in the month. But now, instead of Richardson staying in nearly constant motion, it's instead his aides and other politicians buzzing about him. Time with him comes in nuggets, interspersed with closed-door meetings with notables. Looking like a truant being called into the principal's office, Albuquerque Mayor Martin Chavez is brought into the office for a brief meeting and then departs. Then, Rep. W Ken Martinez (D-Grants) asks for a few moments alone with the governor. In and out. In and out. Think of the opening scene of "The Godfather."

Richardson opens the day by convening a panel studying the widespread use of ignition interlocks in automobiles to combat drunken driving. The creation of the panel is textbook Richardson. Requiring interlocks in all vehicles sold in the state was the subject of a bill offered by Martinez during the just-completed 30-day legislative session and it immediately became a lightning rod for controversy, a stir Richardson largely avoided. But now, he wants to see if the state can gain national attention for being a leader in the use of the interlocks.

"I would like New Mexico to be the No. 1 state in interlock technology," he announces. The issue no longer belongs to Martinez, but to the governor. Discussing Richardson later, his legislative aide, Brian Condit, says that on any issue, the governor "is going to drive it to a solution, absolutely drive it to the best conclusion."

The interlock meeting breaks up and almost instantaneously, Richardson is on the phone in his office, discussing the next day's planned announcement of a deal concerning environmental cleanup at Los Alamos National Laboratory. "Domenici's very anxious to get something out," he says. The message is clear: Richardson wants to get his ducks in a row before the state's veteran Republican senator breaks the news. For the rest of the day, his press staff will debate how to control release of information about the agreement so that the maximum impact of the announcement is retained.

Richardson seems to enjoy himself while his aides run about like nervous birds. He talks about how he prefers doing things in a "whirlwind" manner. He knows it's part of his image and doesn't run from the association. "I think he thrives on it," says Brian Condit. "He has more energy than I could ever imagine anyone could have. His appetite for work is immense. He can exhaust 20 staffers on a day-to-day basis."

"I like this more than any other job," Richardson says. "I'm actually doing things. I'm setting the agenda – and I like that."

Although Richardson continues to promise his agenda will stay local, many believe he could change his mind and retain the support of New Mexico.

"Most of the people who would be angry didn't support him in the first place," says Roybal, who now works in the community relations office at LANL. She adds that she doesn't believe Richardson would accept the VP job. "I don't think he wants to be vice president. I think he wants to be president. He could go for the top spot when he is done being governor. I certainly don't think he's afraid of lost opportunities."

2004 congressional hopeful Gary King cautions that "there's always a downside if you run for office and don't finish out your term." A former state representative who hoped to secure the Democratic nomination for governor in 2002, King is the son of former three-term governor Bruce King. "People who voted for him counted on him to be the governor for four years," Gary King says. "He might not have had sufficient time to do what he wanted to do. I think people expected him to stay. I think he expected to stay. I think he was very sincere when he was running."

Jarding, of the Kennedy School of Government, believes Richardson would find being the first Hispanic on a presidential ticket irresistible, and compares him to groundbreakers Geraldine Ferraro and Joe Lieberman. (Of course, it also must be noted that both of those candidates lost.) He takes Richardson's repeated denials with a grain of salt. "You never say you are interested in something in the abstract. It doesn't make sense to go out on a limb until the moment the nominee says 'I need you to lead this party and this nation,'" Jarding says. "Sometimes life is bigger than where we are."

Bill Sisneros agrees. "I think it would be an incredibly difficult decision," he says. "But if the polls show Kerry could win and he calls Richardson, I don't know how he could turn it down."

Lisa Navarrete, vice president of the National Council of La Raza, the nation's largest Hispanic civil-rights group, says a Richardson candidacy "is something we would advocate and welcome. Gov. Richardson is very well versed in the history of the Latino community. He would take very seriously the prospect of being the first Latino to be on a national ticket."

Richardson is mindful of his multiple constituencies, the citizens of his state, Hispanics nationwide and, of course, the Democratic Party. "My first responsibility is to the electorate of New Mexico, whom I assured I would not take that step," he says. But when pressed about whether he could actually turn down the position if offered, he adds, "I have other responsibilities, too. There are other national considerations. And I have to consider the responsibility to myself. You say you're not going to do that, you have to honor it." What bothers him perhaps the most, he says, is that right now, he believes his political adversaries think they might be able to wait him out, that they won't have to deal with him much longer.

Finally, he says, "The best thing to happen is if I am not asked."

Sometimes, keeping up with Bill Richardson feels a bit like being a racehorse puffing down the backstretch next to Seabiscuit. No lead is safe. On the Friday of his "Good News" tour, an attempt to leave his speech in Pojoaque 15 minutes early to get a jump on the Cadillac Escalade seems at first to work. There's no sign of the governor along the backroads through Santa Fe and to I-25 as it ascends northward toward Las Vegas.

But it isn't long before it materializes in the rearview mirror: the Escalade. The other cars on the road seem frozen in place. This time the governor's SUV is alone; no police escort necessary. It hurtles past at a speed close to 100 miles per hour. The gap between the two cars grows. Bill Richardson soon is a small point in the distance. Then he is gone. Maybe gone for good.

James Oliphant is a staff writer for the Santa Fe Reporter.

Why The Silvery Minnow Matters

The Rio Grande silvery minnow may only be four inches long, but its role in shaping New Mexico's future could be huge.

For environmentalists, protecting this fish has become the last chance to save an endangered river. For elected officials, like US Sen. Pete Domenici, R-NM, the fish has allowed the Endangered Species Act to become a "monster." Now, Congress is expected to vote at the end of this month on a rider that Domenici added to a federal energy and water spending bill. That rider will prevent the use of San Juan-Chama water -- which both Albuquerque and Santa Fe are counting on for municipal use -- for any endangered species. Ever.

The rider also takes a controversial report by the US Fish and Wildlife Service -- which says water only needs to flow in the Rio Grande until June 15 each year -- and sets that in stone. Forever.

If it passes, the minnow could be left high and dry, despite its victories in court.

That's one reason to care about the silvery minnow. Here are some other reasons why everyone should care about the fate of this little fish.

1. This Fish Could Change the Future

The minnow first became an Endangered Species celebrity almost 10 years ago, when the US Fish and Wildlife Service listed it for protection under the Endangered Species Act. Since then, the silvery minnow has spent more time in court than it has in the Rio Grande.

Four years ago, a coalition of environmental groups sued the US Department of the Interior, saying two of its agencies -- the Bureau of Reclamation and the Fish and Wildlife Service -- had violated the ESA by not keeping enough water in the Rio Grande to allow the minnow to survive.

In June 2002, environmentalists won a big victory when Chief US District Judge James A Parker ruled in their favor. Parker said that the Bureau of Reclamation -- which doles out the Rio's water to farmers -- could leave that water in the river channel. Most significantly, Parker also ruled that the Bureau could use San Juan-Chama water for the minnow.

This is the part of the ruling politicians now hope to change: The use of San Juan-Chama water is intrinsic to the plans of numerous entities,including Santa Fe. In June, the 10th Circuit Court of Appeals upheld Parker's decision.

Up until Congress got involved, the minnow case was largely a regional issue. But since Domenici and US Rep. Heather Wilson, R-NM, attached riders onto the federal water and energy bill, national environmental groups have sprung to attention, citing worries that New Mexico's congressional delegation is trying to chip away at the Endangered Species Act. Speaking on the July day that Wilson's rider passed, John Horning, executive director of Forest Guardians, said, "We've been working on this for seven years. And in five minutes, the House passed the amendment to exempt San Juan-Chama water and to allow the river to run dry for 100 miles."

By cutting a "little hole" in that law, they set a precedent, says Letty Belin, the attorney who has represented environmental groups on behalf of the minnow, "that you can carve holes in the Endangered Species Act whenever that suits you." (She also points out that by going after the Act in a rider, rather than as a bill of its own or administratively through the Interior Department, Domenici and Wilson have "bypassed public hearing and public debate.")

Although the groups are waiting to see the fate of the Domenici legislation, Belin says that they are still litigating the case. It's her hope that the appeals court will hear the case again, or that the case will go on to the Supreme Court. With a formidable and well-established ally like the Endangered Species Act, environmentalists would likely continue winning favorable decisions in court. If the Supreme Court were to rule in favor of the minnow, a national precedent of species protection would be set.

2. If the Minnow Loses, We All Lose

In the appeals court ruling, the three-judge panel concluded that the Bureau of Reclamation had a responsibility to provide water for the silvery minnow. Beyond that, however, the panel's conclusion calls the agency to a higher purpose:

"Scientific literature likens the silvery minnow to a canary in the coal mine," the judges wrote. "Like all parts of the puzzle, the silvery minnow provides a measure of the vitality of the Rio Grande ecosystem, a community that can thrive only when all of its myriad components -- living and non-living -- are in balance." In other words, this isn't just about a fish; it's about an entire ecosystem.

In fact, it was the silvery minnow's placement on the Endangered Species list nine years ago that has required government agencies to keep water in the river for it. (Even though they've failed miserably on occasion, like this summer when an 80-mile stretch of the river dried; at least there has been a law in place which they were supposed to follow.)

At first, Fish and Wildlife Service biologists had the humble goal of stabilizing the minnow population and allowing it to breed on its own in the river. Their recovery plan also called for re-establishing the fish in three other places in the state.

Now, the agency is in a frantic race just to keep it from going extinct. While there are hundreds of thousands of the fish growing in a 50,000-gallon refugium in Albuquerque's BioPark, biologists have no idea how many are in the river now. For the species to recover, millions of minnows would have to make it in the middle Rio Grande. As it stands now, with the river consistently drying each summer in the minnows' habitat, there's no way they can recover.

"Fish need water and riverine fish need flowing water," says Jim Brooks, the project manager with New Mexico's Fishery Resource Office of the Fish and Wildlife Service. "If the intermittency we see now continues, we're going to lose this fish."

At the same time, the lack of water for the fish reflects the lack of water in general. The state, the cities of Santa Fe and Albuquerque and farmers who irrigate their fields with water from the Rio Grande all want their fair share of the river. But if everyone continues to get that fair share, there won't be anything left in the river. "The bottom line," says Brooks, a fisheries biologist who is also an irrigator in Albuquerque's South Valley, "is whether people in the future are willing to have a dry river." Or, as Domenici himself said in a speech before Congress in June: "There simply isn't enough water to go around."

3. The Minnow Proves Size Doesn't Matter

If there's not enough water to go around -- and here's one premise no one questions -- what chance does a four-inch fish have for getting its share? Yet the battle for the survival of the small fish is another reason the minnow is so important. Everybody loves big fish like salmon: They're dynamic. They die dramatic deaths. Northwestern Indian tribes have myths about them. And, well, they taste good. But who has ever paid so much attention to a four-inch-long minnow?

Speaking a few years ago, while working for the Fish and Wildlife Service, fisheries biologist Chris Hoagstrom said, "If society consciously decided, 'We don't give a shit about little fish' -- if we put it on the books and said, 'We, as Americans, decide little fish don't mean a thing to us,' then, whatever, that's what we've decided. But instead, we've listed these fish, we've got the Endangered Species Act and we just don't apply it."

Hoagstrom worked not only on the Rio Grande, but also on the Pecos River, the Rio's much-neglected stepsister, which flows along the eastern part of the state. The Pecos, which has been drying for 40-or so-mile-long stretches every year since 2001, is home to another little fish, the Pecos bluntnose shiner. The shiner, which once swam the length of both the Pecos and the Rio Grande, is now found only in patches of a 200-mile stretch of the Pecos between Fort Sumner and Brantley Reservoir north of Carlsbad.

Although the Rio Grande and its minnow get more attention than the Pecos and its shiner, the two situations are remarkably similar: New Mexico's two biggest rivers don't have enough water left in them to support two small species of fish. Realistically, if four-inch-long fish can't make a living in the river, how does anything bigger have much of a chance?

4. The Minnow Creates Jobs

With so much riding on its fate, the minnow has provided work for biologists, hydrologists and ecologists at the US Fish and Wildlife Service, the state's Department of Game and Fish, the Bureau of Reclamation, the University of New Mexico and private engineering and environmental consulting firms.

Since the Rio Grande began drying, the routine of a minnow biologist goes something like this: In the spring, after the minnows have spawned in the Rio Grande, biologists scoop out the minnow eggs, propagate them and keep them in at the BioPark's refugium. (Last year, biologists collected more than a million eggs; this year they collected about 300,000.) From fall through early spring, biologists stock minnows in the river. This year, Fish and Wildlife biologists stocked about 125,000 minnows. Then in late spring, once the river starts drying -- this summer an 80-mile stretch of the river dried south of Albuquerque -- biologists are "on call." Once they receive word that the river has dried, they head out to the riverbed and scoop minnows out of isolated pools. Not all the minnows survive in these pools: Some get eaten by birds, some dry up and blow away, some die while trapped in the shallow hot water. The rescued minnows are trucked upstream, where biologists drop them back in the river at Central Avenue in Albuquerque. Then in the fall, it starts all over again: Biologists head back out with the minnows they've raised at the BioPark and release them into the river. When they aren't dumping or scooping minnows, biologists are busy monitoring the fish, trying to figure out how successful the introductions are and in which stretches of the river the fish flourish.

The minnow has even kept engineers, architects and construction workers busy: The city of Albuquerque, the Interstate Stream Commission and the Bureau of Reclamation have already spent almost $2 million designing and building the refugium, and a second phase to the project is in the works. Domenici himself likes spending money on the minnow. His "Endangered San Juan-Chama water" rider also provides $7 million for minnow-related projects like "river habitat modifications, leasing water, creating refugiums for minnow breeding, water quality research, improving water connectivity around diversions and nonnative plant removal."

In short, money spent because of the minnow has ranged from the millions spent on studying and breeding the fish to a couple of million building its home away from the river; from the hundreds of thousands spent on reports by private contractors that study water use and water conservation measures to hundreds of thousands spent on attorneys and court fees. Even its detractors must admit, that's a pretty hefty return on such a small fish.

5. The Minnow Brings People Together

Despite its value economically speaking, the minnow has an impressive group of foes.

Before June 2002, the minnow war had mostly been the concern of environmentalists and the Department of the Interior. But in June 2002, environmentalists won a big victory: Chief US District Judge James A Parker ruled in their favor, and said that the Bureau could leave water promised to farmers in the river channel. Parker also ruled that the Bureau could use San Juan-Chama water for the minnow.

Now, to the untrained eye, all the water might seem the same in the muddy Rio Grande. Not so. There are actually two types of water there: Native water that flows down from the mountains of Colorado, and San Juan-Chama water, which originates in the San Juan River, but is pumped by the Bureau of Reclamation into the Chama, a tributary of the Rio Grande. Though some of that water goes to farmers, much of it has been earmarked for Albuquerque. But with San Juan-Chama water now up for grabs, nearly everyone in the state began weighing in on the decision: Albuquerque didn't want to lose its dreams of west-side growth and golf courses, the state didn't want to lose control over its own waters and farmers in the Middle Grande Conservancy District didn't want to concede defeat to a fish the size of an anchovy. Santa Fe, too, relies on using its full allocation of San Juan-Chama water as part of its future water plan.

When the 10th Circuit Court of Appeals upheld Parker's decision, things got nasty. Now, whether you're a Republican or a Democrat, chances are you don't like the minnow.

Even if you like other endangered species (wolves, southwestern willow flycatchers, northern spotted owls), or are secretly rooting for the fellow, in public you have sided against the minnow: Domenici and US Sen. Jeff Bingaman, Gov. Bill Richardson and Interior Secretary Gale Norton, Wilson and Chavez. As this story goes to press, Rep. Tom Udall, D-NM, is the only member of New Mexico's congressional delegation who hasn't jumped on the anti-minnow bandwagon. Instead, Udall has introduced legislation to Congress that would look for local solutions, mainly using federal money to find technical and conservation solutions to the Rio's chronic drying problem. Although he's a Democrat, Richardson is pulling any strings he can in Washington to keep the state afloat in the minnow war.

This summer, when the appeals court ruled in favor of the minnow, Richardson flew to Washington, DC to meet with Norton. A handpicked Bush Republican, Norton has been responsible in the last three years for helping gut the National Environmental Policy Act, put the brakes on new wilderness designations and transform her department into an oil and gas-friendly empire. Apparently, Richardson felt she could help with the state's problem with an endangered species: He asked Norton to support the state's efforts to overturn the appeals court decision, and said after their meeting that he hoped the minnow case would end up before the Supreme Court. Just two weeks ago, Domenici, along with Bingaman and Richardson, again asked Norton take a position on the minnow.

Richardson also spent the summer negotiating with the enviros, many of them Democrats who supported Richardson during his governor's campaign. John Horning, executive director of the Forest Guardians, says environmentalists were willing to back off on their legal fight over the minnow if water users in the Middle Rio Grande Conservancy District would implement water-saving techniques, and leave some of their water in the river. "We were trying to use this one moment in time," says Horning, "to bring about a change in agricultural practices." But enviros lost their trump card. Before negotiations could continue, New Mexico's congressional delegation stepped in. Once the rider was firmly attached to the energy and water bill, Richardson postponed negotiations "indefinitely."

Even Santa Fe Mayor Larry Delgado and the City Council aren't completely minnow-friendly, although the council approved a deal to sell the Bureau of Reclamation more than 48 million gallons of San Juan-Chama water this year to help protect the minnow. Santa Fe is allocated 5,605 acre-feet of San Juan-Chama a year, and its long-range water plan involves a diversion project to access all of its allocation.

But The City of Santa Fe also has filed a "friend-of-the-court" brief that, though it's more moderate than the position held by Albuquerque and the state, indicates that the City is worried that if the minnow has first dibs on the waters of the Rio Grande, it may see its own dreams of growth go the way of the dodo.

6. The Minnow Makes a Perfect Scapegoat

New Mexico's water crisis has been known for years. For years and years. Yet very little has been done, in terms of comprehensive regional planning, to prepare for it. With this crisis becoming increasingly dire, the minnow provides a perfect out.

In a logic-defying speech before Congress in June, Domenici said the 10th Circuit Court of Appeals' decision "says the Endangered Species Act can be used to artificially create a drought." He went on to say that the ruling "hobbles us in our efforts to address the Western water crisis." In other words, minnows and the law that protects them are responsible for New Mexico's drought.

Along those same lines, Albuquerque Mayor Martin Chavez has blamed his city's water woes not on unchecked and irresponsible growth, poor planning or a lack of conservation measures, but on the silvery minnow. Chavez has decried both court decisions, wailing that they "take water from the mouths of the city's children." Indeed, his office has slapped up billboards around Albuquerque in which Chavez poses with the thirsty children he's promising to protect from the minnow. All this kvetching comes about the minnow, despite an internal city audit that found Albuquerque lost 11.6 percent -- or 4.4 billion gallons -- of the groundwater it pumped last year, thanks mostly to leaky pipes.

It makes one wonder what national scapegoat status the minnow could achieve with a better publicist. Perhaps it could be blamed for the tanking economy, for American soldiers dying in Iraq. Got a problem you can't resolve? Forget your parents or Osama and Saddam -- blame the minnow.

Laura Paskus lives and writes in Paonia, Colorado.

The Tip of the Needle

Although he’s never used it himself, Kevin Santry can teach you how to shoot up heroin. Packed into his SUV, Santry has everything you need (well, almost) to do the job: the little round metal cups you use for cooking the drug, dental cottons to strain out the gunk, alcohol swabs, rubber tourniquets for tying around your arm and, of course, needles. Santry will give you these things for free; he’ll even deliver them straight to your door. While he’s there, he might give you a pamphlet advising what to do if a friend overdoses while you’re shooting up together and you’re scared of the cops ("Stay until you hear the sirens get really close, then split").

Santry is director of the state-funded syringe exchange program operated out of Youth Development Incorporated, a 30-year-old community organization in Albuquerque’s South Valley. He’s a foot soldier in the battle to keep New Mexico’s drug users, and ultimately the rest of the population, healthy. He teaches heroin users to shoot up correctly because those who don’t know how to inject into a vein get infections that can spread to the heart and become fatal. He hands out complete drug kits because infectious diseases such as Hepatitis C and HIV can be spread through contaminated works. Besides drug paraphernalia, he dispenses vaccinations against Hepatitis A and B, soap, razor blades and Pampers, as well as referrals to a host of services, including drug and alcohol programs. He delivers syringes door to door to avoid conflicts with neighborhood associations that don’t want bunches of drug users near their homes and because it gives him a chance to interact with his clients.

Today, the clients include a man and woman who meet Santry outside their westside apartment with a red plastic "bio bucket" full of used needles. Both are Jesus-on-the-cross skinny. The man has had Hepatitis C for 14 years.

"I guess I’ve got it by now, too," says the woman with a shrug. They like the needle exchange program just fine. "We used to sharpen ’em on the floor," the man says.

This needle exchange work is not for the faint-hearted, but then again, public health work never was. In 1902, New York City health officials arrested an Irish immigrant cook named Mary Mallon whom they had determined was spreading typhoid fever to the people she cooked for. After Mallon was released and went back to work as a cook using a false name, public health officials re-arrested her and exiled her to an island in the East River for the rest of her life. She went down in history as Typhoid Mary.

A hundred years later, it’s hard to imagine public health officials wielding such power. As Laurie Garrett recounts in her masterful tome, "Betrayal of Trust," public health has been losing ground ever since its glory days at the turn of the last century, when zealous sanitarians could order diseased people into quarantine. Privatization of health care, erosion of federal funding, morality, politics and even civil liberties, as in the case of Typhoid Mary, can be at odds with public health goals.

But New Mexico, at or near the bottom of just about all of those health and well-being indicator lists, appears to be a leader in the public health arena, especially on issues related to drugs. New Mexico is one of two states that funds needle exchange (Hawaii is the other). Last year, New Mexico was the first state to distribute Narcan, an antidote to overdoses which state health officials say is responsible for nine "saves" so far. Since 2001, pharmacists can legally sell syringes to drug users without fear of prosecution. Health officials are currently negotiating to get methadone treatment into jails.

"The other states see us as treading new ground," says Don Torres, a 16-year veteran of the department who heads the Hepatitis, HIV and AIDS programs. Some credit for these changes is due to our fearless leader, Gary Johnson (Puff Daddy to his dueling partner, former drug czar Barry McCaffrey), though the political story is more complicated than that. The sheer number of injection drug users and their obvious impact on the state is probably another factor. (The Office of Epidemiology estimates the numbers at 14,000, but Torres believes the real number is at least double that).

How the Johnson-era programs and any further reform proposals will fare under a new governor is a subject of speculation. "Keeping Injection Drug Users Free of HIV and Hepatitis" is not a campaign message you’re likely to see on billboards this election season. Given Johnson’s almost single-minded pursuit of the drug issue, the gubernatorial candidates, unsurprisingly, just don’t want to talk about it.

"I can guarantee you that whatever they feel about it personally, drug reform is not going to be a central campaign platform," says Sen. Cisco McSorley, D-Albuquerque, a member of Johnson’s drug task force. "This is not going to be the dummy distracter issue of the season."

If public health crusaders of yesteryear were Victorians bent on bringing hygiene to the masses in order to prevent disease from spreading into their own middle-class neighborhoods, today’s crusaders are from a decidedly different subculture. Some are former or current drug users, and many, like Santry, distributed needles when doing so was still illegal. About 15 years ago, supplying clean needles was illegal just about everywhere. That didn’t stop Santry, then living in his native Jersey City. Heroin use was rampant, and for a time the city had the highest AIDS rate in the country.

"I was watching all my high school friends die of AIDS, so I guess you could say I got politically motivated," he says. But underground programs like the one in Jersey City couldn’t get enough needles to addicts. "There were not enough syringes to go around," Santry recalls. "If we gave out a syringe, we knew it was still going to get used many, many times. So it was symbolic, a political statement more than anything else."

All that changed when Santry moved to New Mexico and took a job with an above-ground needle exchange program here. New Mexico, compared to New Jersey, was needle heaven. Registered users bearing laminated ID cards could turn in dirty needles and get an equal number of clean ones. "We give people all the syringes they need," Santry says.

"That’s the only way you can ensure they use a clean one every time." And, remarkably, given a program that uses taxpayer money to provide addicts with beaucoup needles, complete drug kits ("Get your Kits on Route 66" was the slogan of a national syringe exchange conference held in Albuquerque in April), information on how to avoid getting busted and training in how to shoot up, New Mexicans, for the most part, have not freaked out.

There have been conflicts, however, between syringe exchange programs and their neighbors. As a result of an Albuquerque City Council vote last December, syringe exchange programs in the Duke City are now restricted to mobile units. However, the moral and political rhetoric of the type argued nationally by conservative groups such as Concerned Women of America ("Needle exchange programs put government in the role of subsidizing bad and addictive behavior") has been muted or absent.

Law enforcement, often an opponent, has also supported the program, or at least not opposed it. "We’re against legalization, but needle exchange seems to help people get off drug use and maybe eventually to become productive members of society again" was the mild comment of Albuquerque police spokesman Jeff Arbogast. The state’s district attorneys, who adopted a wait-and-see attitude at the outset, according to Torres, have come around to support the program.

Darren White, the former Department of Public Safety secretary who quit because of his opposition to Johnson’s drug reform proposals, says the health department needs to prove that syringe exchange in New Mexico is actually working. "In theory, [needle exchange] is great. But what is this program doing? Is it reducing diseases or is it just supplying clean needles to addicts?" White, now running as a Republican in the Bernalillo County Sheriff’s race, is also concerned that needle exchange is adding to the overall number of discarded dirty needles found on the street. "It goes without saying that not everybody’s going to be responsible," White says.

State Secretary of Health Alex Valdez says the generally positive response can be explained in part because New Mexicans have gotten more sophisticated about drug policy during the last four years. "People hear the term ‘legalization’ and that’s incendiary. They hear the phrase ‘drug reform’ and that’s kind of inflammatory. But talk about sound public health principles and you can build a fair degree of consensus around that," says Valdez, who says he’s convinced that his programs will be supported by the next governor.

But scientific evidence in favor of syringe exchange hasn’t necessarily translated into well-funded programs around the country. Syringe exchange is supported by the American Medical Association, the Centers for Disease Control and the National Academy of Sciences, all of which believe it decreases disease transmission while not increasing drug use, but 48 states don’t have legislation allowing for statewide funded programs. Many of the 200 programs around the country operate without authorization and face shortages, which undermine their effectiveness, according to a report by the Ford Foundation. Congress has renewed a ban on federal funding for needle exchange seven times. President Clinton didn’t act to lift the ban despite the urging of his Secretary of Health and Human Services, Donna Shalala, and President Bush is even less likely to do so.

Perhaps New Mexico has been more accepting of needle exchange because, says Torres, "It seems like everybody knows someone who is affected by this."

After four years of watching Johnson dueling drug czars on national television, it may be difficult to recall a time when the governor’s position on drugs was unknown. But that was the case in 1997 when Steve Jenison, the physician administrator for the infectious diseases bureau, testified before the Legislature on syringe exchange. Jenison reported on a study he’d directed on disease rates among injection drug users. Jenison’s study found that New Mexico is different from New Jersey in another respect. At the time of the study, less than one percent of injection drug users carried HIV, but 82 percent carried Hepatitis C. That meant that drug users were clearly spreading Hepatitis C through contaminated needles to other drug users. But HIV, which is more easily spread to the general population through sexual contact, hadn’t appeared yet.

The state health office saw it had a window of opportunity to ward off an increase in HIV. "(Syringe exchange) wasn’t Johnson’s baby in any way. It came out of the Department of Health," says Katharine Huffman, director of state-based projects for the Drug Policy Alliance, formerly the Lindesmith Center. But no one knew whether Johnson, who didn’t come out in favor of drug reform until after he was re-elected in 1998, would sign the bill. He did, of course, and later went on to give keynote speeches at needle exchange confabs.

Santry passionately believes that drug users’ access to clean needles has forestalled an AIDS epidemic among drug users. "It hasn’t happened here, and it hasn’t happened because of syringe exchange," he says, pounding the steering wheel, as he drives to his next delivery.

But health officials know that proving a negative is a hard thing to do. "The onus is on us to show how effective the program has been," says Vivian Amelunxen, HIV prevention program manager for the Department of Health. "It’s like asking how many people have not gotten HIV because you did this particular outreach. And that’s very difficult to answer."

A new study of infection rates among drug users could provide evidence that the program is helping slow disease transmission. The department hasn’t had the money to do such a survey, though given the very high rates of Hepatitis C and very low rates of HIV in 1996 Torres predicts there would not be much change.

The health department is preparing a "transition statement" on syringe exchange and other harm reduction in defense of the programs. "It’s unknown how a new governor is going to react to these programs, so we’re trying to anticipate that," says Steve Jenison. Says Torres, "We’ll cross our fingers."

"We’re no Gary Johnson," says Dave Contarino, campaign manager for Bill Richardson, a bit wearily. Contarino sounds like the last thing he wants to talk about is heroin and needles. He will grant, however, that the would-be Democratic governor wants to look at "creative and innovative ideas" for dealing with drug abuse and wants to continue with programs that have "proven to be effective."

Even if these programs are worthwhile, Johnson’s single-minded devotion to drug reform has been largely a waste of time in Contarino’s view. "If all that effort that went into drugs had been spent on education, on the economy, we might be somewhere by now," he says.

All of which was more forthcoming than the John Sanchez campaign, which didn’t call back at all. (Richardson has said he would support medical marijuana and Sanchez, while in the House, voted against it).

Green Party gubernatorial candidate David Bacon, who believes in expanding treatment and decriminalizing "at least marijuana," says, "If we put that money [spent on enforcement] into treatment and education then we wouldn’t solve the problem entirely, but we could get to a lot better place."

Johnson might have seemed a fumbling spokesman for the cause when in 1999 he first casually let it drop that he advocated the legalization of heroin. But Huffman says that as Johnson refined his message, he, and the drug reform movement, gained credibility.

"What sounded, because of the way it was first expressed, just sort of extreme and impossible and ridiculous evolved into a nuanced debate over a whole range of issues. He really did go out of his way to try to educate himself," says Huffman, who set up an office across from the Roundhouse expressly for that purpose.

She says the drug reform movement has gained enough momentum to continue post-Johnson. "It’s not going to be a high priority or high visibility issue for the next governor," she says, "but that may be better from a policy standpoint."

For Democrat McSorley the big hole in Johnson’s plan has been his lack of support for funding a major drug treatment initiative.

"The issue that still needs to be faced is funds for rehabilitation," McSorley says. McSorley believes more legislators would have supported both public health and sentencing reforms had Johnson been willing to spend more money for drug treatment.

In the last session, legislators and the governor compromised on a $9 million increase in treatment spending, to be split between the Department of Corrections and the Behavioral Health Services Division. Valdez points out that the additional funds represented a 30 percent increase in the treatment budget. But McSorley insists that is only a fifth of what’s needed to address the problem comprehensively.

"And he even balked at that amount," McSorley complains. "He wanted to spend $5 million and take it out of the tobacco settlement money, which would have created all kinds of problems for us. And this was in a year when we still had surpluses."

Since Johnson avoided campaigning on the drug reform issues, and the current round of candidates are, for the most part, avoiding talking about it, McSorley says the state still hasn’t had a real political debate about drug reform.

"But what we’ve seen is that it doesn’t seem to be a third rail issue either way," he says. "It crosses all kinds of ideological lines." Republicans who opposed Johnson on drug reform were re-elected, as were Republicans who supported the governor.

Nevertheless, McSorley is pessimistic that the next governor will want to take up the issue, given the perception that Johnson has been overly devoted to it, and given the price tag. "This isn’t something individual legislators can do on their own. We need the full-on support of a governor." For the public health crusaders, Johnson’s support has been "amazing," in the words of the state’s harm reduction coordinator, Phillip Fiuty, who distributed needles and even Narcan before it was legal. "It’s having someone in a position of authority who acknowledges what people do as opposed to just denying that it’s here."

Santry’s next delivery stop is a shooting gallery outside a dilapidated house. The woman who owns the house wants help fixing it up, but Santry tells her she needs to deal with her addiction first and reminds her to call the alcohol program he’s already referred her to.

"The City Council wants to know ‘how many needles did you get in, how many did you give out?’" Santry says, ducking under the open tailgate of his truck to get out of the broiling sun. "They leave the people out of the equation."

"At a certain point I figured out I was put on earth to limit suffering," he says with a Jersey accent and a shrug. "I guess I figure that’s what this is all about."

Barbara Ferry is a freelance print and radio journalist based in Santa Fe. She is working on a series of public radio documentaries about the Mexican border for Homelands Productions.

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