By Steve Klinger
We all knew that forces on the right would try to recapture the City Council in the upcoming election, but we didn’t know quite how distasteful their tactics would be — and with plenty of complicity from the local media.
The newly minted Building Industry Association (BIA) of Southern New Mexico (formerly the LCHBA) had proclaimed its intent to install a more business-friendly council when David Roewe arrived from Vancouver, Wash. to become executive director and then launched a so-called Jobs for Las Cruces PAC. In a fund-raising letter dated Sept. 14 the PAC solicited donations for the “upcoming election” but then didn’t file a campaign report with the city showing any contributions raised or made to candidates it had endorsed, including incumbents Gil Jones (Dist. 5) and Dolores Archuleta (Dist. 3) and challenger Jim Harbison, running against Sharon Thomas in Dist. 6. The letter stated that the committee had “raised more than $20,000 for the upcoming election” at a fundraiser on Aug. 27.
Roewe was quoted in the Las Cruces Sun-News as saying that the money the group raised was not for the city election but rather was “for other races, such as the legislative races, gubernatorial elections and others like that next year.” He reiterated that stance to Heath Haussamen and added, “We raised money. Did we use the city election as a gathering ground? Oh hell yes. … We used it as a rallying point,” he said. “You do whatever you have to do to raise funds. … This is a call for the business community to get up.”
In other words, don’t bother Roewe with details such as charges of misrepresentation as long as the end justifies the means. Would you buy a used car from that man?
Meanwhile, Roewe and Harbison have denied any connection with an unsavory push poll reported by numerous District 6 residents, wherein respondents were asked whom they would support if they learned one of the candidates (presumably Sharon Thomas) was “an extreme environmentalist.” Harbison said in an e-mail to Grassroots Press, “I guarantee you I have nothing to do with this effort and do not have any idea who is behind it. I have received the same ‘telephone survey’ at my home and found it somewhat offensive.” Roewe ignored our request for a comment, though he denied any connection with the poll elsewhere.
Hmmmm. The calls were made by J2Global Communications from Washington, DC, and if supporters of Harbison didn’t initiate what had to be an expensive campaign measure such as this, then who did?
In districts 5 and 6 voters received garish color flyers proclaiming that candidate Gill Sorg and/or incumbent councilor Thomas support changing city laws to allow chicken-raising within city limits. One with a vivid depiction of a hen read: “radical Sharon Thomas is on record wanting us [chickens] in your backyard.” But Thomas told Grassroots Press the allegations are untrue. She explained, “The request for urban chicken keeping came from Nathan Small on behalf of a group of people in his district who want to have a few chickens. That request was discussed in two city council work sessions. Most residents of District 6 do not want chickens, so we tried to find a way for Nathan’s group to do so without making chicken keeping generally allowed across the city.”
The Sun-News and the Las Cruces Bulletin have each in their way abetted the effort to reverse the progressive direction of the council. In a story written by Steve Ramirez on Oct. 25, the Sun-News logged campaign contributions reported in the three contested races and went to great lengths to quote Roewe and the candidates as they issued denials of making or receiving any PAC contributions. No responses to these denials from their opponents’ camps were included.
An endorsement editorial in the previous day’s issue threw the Sun-News’ support to Archuleta, Jones and Harbison, making the inconsistent argument that the first two should be re-elected because of their track record as incumbents, but that challenger Harbison would be better than Thomas because of his community involvement and “slightly more pragmatic view” of the priorities and needs for the district. What, smart growth, clean energy, open government and planned infrastructure aren’t pragmatic?
In its Oct. 30 edition, the Bulletin carried a story by reporter Todd G. Dickson that went to even greater lengths to advance the pro-business candidates. After putting the word progressive inside quote marks several times, as if he were dealing with a novel and questionable piece of terminology, Dickson provided a heavily biased narrative of the campaign and recent city history, characterizing criticism of Harbison especially as not being about issues, and also including the following bit of inflammatory rumor-mongering: “Supporters of Archuleta and Jones counter that the challengers are getting voter organizational support from groups such as MoveOn.org and ACORN (the Association of Community Organization for Reform Now).”
Meanwhile the real issues of what kind of growth these candidates would bring to Las Cruces remain obscured. We know Jones has been closely associated with developer Philip Phillipou in the past, and that he and Harbison, as darlings of the Building Industry Association, would almost certainly be supportive of that group’s stance against raising impact fees to developers to pay for infrastructure costs. (Actually we at Grassroots Press don’t know what their positions are precisely because both candidates failed to respond to our candidate questionnaire.)
Olga Pedroza, with a distinguished history of social and economic advocacy for disadvantaged New Mexicans, has spoken loud and clear about advancing green jobs and industries in Las Cruces, retrofitting homes in existing neighborhoods and moving toward alternative heating and electricity in the city. Dolores Archuleta, while strong on veterans’ issues, neighborhood watch groups and Superfund cleanup in her district, shows no similar proactive vision for the city as a whole.
Gill Sorg is highly focused on past infrastructure failures in District 5 and environmental/quality-of-life issues such as dust abatement, flooding and drainage. He is forward-looking about planned growth and sustainability.
Sharon Thomas has shown strong leadership qualities in her two years on the council, spearheading efforts to ensure thoughtful development and bringing her own expertise plus an ability to access outside experts and resources to focus on projects ranging from bicycle lanes to solar installations and future annexations.
If you live within city limits and haven’t voted yet, be sure and head to the polling place on Tuesday. A handful of votes may determine whether Las Cruces continues on its recent enlightened course of more sustainable development or reverts to the gung-ho growth model and lack of accountability fostered by the previous council and administration. If the cynical and odiferous (dare we say “chickenshit”?) tactics of the “business-friendly” candidates and their supporters are at all indicative of what direction Las Cruces would take should they be victorious, we want no part of it. Do you?
Oh, and forget “Jobs for Las Cruces.” How many times does the right expect ordinary folks to fall for their doublespeak when what they always mean is “Profits for Fat Cats”?