My Turn

Opinion: Common decency gone?


A recent Taos News My Turn column (“A fresh perspective: ‘Where has common decency gone?’”) characterized a Taos visit by our governor as the scene of a “vicious attack” on her. “Protestors,” we are told, displayed “egregious obstructionist behavior,” and with “inflammatory rhetoric,” they “hijacked the forum.” The writers decried the absence of civility in public political discourse. I respectfully disagree with their observations and conclusions. However, left unchallenged, this common decency lament would likely be endlessly repeated and become an urban myth or alt fact.

Though I was not present at the event, I’ve reviewed The Taos News video recording of the governor’s appearance. Granting that nuanced emotions may not register accurately outside their live context, I am nevertheless unable to detect the egregious, inflammatory, vicious hijacking the writers claim to have witnessed. To the contrary, what I did see was the governor’s ill-conceived effort to engineer a soft ball public relations Taos photo-op. One suspects that this was intended to mitigate the broad criticism of disregard for the needs of the people that Martinez demonstrated in her wholesale veto of legislation emerging from the last session of the legislature.

The governor’s incessant repetition of a vacuous rationalization for her failed legislative leadership did evoke frustration and challenge from some in the Taos audience. This was clearly not the public relations gift she may have had in mind in visiting here. Is our governor really that clueless regarding likely reaction to her appropriation of our community as a stage prop?

We’ve seen this movie before. We remember well the six-day natural gas curtailment during the Winter of 2011. Taos and much of Northern New Mexico literally shivered in the cold for days on end. Martinez was about as helpful then as a deer in the headlights. Six years later our governor still demonstrates a penchant for public relations optics and scant capacity for crisis leadership. But isn’t leadership included in the job description? Since our governor cannot lead and will not follow, is it any surprise that many wish she would just get out of the way. Isn’t “egregious obstructionist” a label more appropriately applied to governor Martinez than to those who, despite minimal notice and a controlled New Mexico State Police compound as her venue, showed up, stood up, and spoke up on behalf of New Mexicans who suffer in the frozen economy of a state that ranks as one of the very poorest in the nation.

But wait, there’s more. Our governor, this self-proclaimed paragon of Republican fiscal responsibility, tells us that the chaos her ubiquitous vetoes created can be remedied in a special session of the New Mexico legislature – all for the modest cost of $50,000 per day (her estimate). Imagine how much better spent a wasted $50,000 per day might be. We simply can’t afford governor Martinez or her often preached yet rarely practiced fiscal responsibility.

Some months ago, on the eve of the recent legislative session’s commencement, I traveled to Santa Fe to join in an interfaith assembly of clergy and laymen. We had come on behalf of suffering New Mexicans to express to the governor the moral imperative of an urgently needed compassionate government response to their plight. Could our governor’s muted concern regarding the state’s grinding poverty, or her empty words to those in Taos who called her to account, be construed as anything but “indecent?” If some were impolite, isn’t that more forgivable than her inaction, indifference, or unconcern in the face of compelling need? Shouldn’t that be the thing we rightly label “vicious?”

I appreciate my fellow-writers’ distress with the demise of common decency. I’m a likely ally in the desire to disagree without being disagreeable. Nevertheless, further reflection on the governor’s visit suggests the deepest indecency is not in a temporary lapse of decorum, but rather in our governor’s continuing unresponsiveness to the profound, protracted poverty of our New Mexico families, friends, and neighbors. This is an indecency we simply cannot abide.

Silver lives in Taos and is the author of “Tributes & Tirades: Taos Life and American Politics” (Nighthawk Press, 2013).