Monday, February 10, 2014

Not Again: Another Horrific Child Abuse Case Haunts State And Its Politics, Plus: More On NM's Social Conditions Crisis, And: On The Trail With the AG And Guv Races 

Governor Martinez entered the weekend relishing a major victory in the state House where her Republican allies (with the help of one Dem) stalled approval of the state budget. She now stands a solid chance of wearing down Democrats and extracting concessions on her education agenda.

But then--as they often do--the sands shifted under the executive's feet. News broke Saturday of yet another horrific child abuse case that again put the unwanted spotlight on Martinez's Children, Youth and Familes Department (CYFD).

The abominable abuse of the four month old ABQ baby girl included rape--allegedly by the 19 year old boyfriend of the child's mother. Police suspect he was hyped up on the drug Spice.

Suffering from severe brain damage, the baby's life may soon be over.

Coming as it did so soon after the shocking abuse death of 9 year Omaree Varela, this latest horror made New Mexico seem like a breeding ground for pure evil.

As with Omaree, the family of the abused infant had several contacts with CYFD. The department portrays the contacts as innocuous, revealing no signs of the tragedy that was about to unfold. But that answer will now be scrutinized as it was with Omaree.

The Martinez administration is being criticized for a tepid response in the wake of Omaree's brutal death--proposing only to hire some more CYFD social workers, even as the administration held back $6 million in CYFD funding in the last budget.

For a Governor who made her political bones prosecuting the horrific abuse case of Baby Brianna, her defensive response to Omaree's abuse has seemed contradictory.

Faced with yet another case of abuse beyond comprehension, how the state and this Governor go about the business of protecting at risk children is about to become an election year issue. Sunday night Dem Guv candidate Lawrence Rael called on Gov. Martinez to remove the cabinet secretary for CYFD. Community groups, including the NAACP, are also calling for the secretary's dismissal.


The pair of abuse cases are sad documentation of the social conditions crisis that plagues the state and which has escalated since the onset of the recession. Prosecuting abuse and other social pathologies after the fact is essential but prevention is the only long-term solution.

Because we are the worst or among the worst in the nation in all the social rankings (poverty, child well-being etc.)  it will mean spending hundreds of millions dollars in the coming years if we are to have any hope of reversing that standing or at least keep from spiraling further downward.

Among the areas for targeting: very early childhood education, a revamped CYFD with emphasis on child protection, drug abuse intervention and education, economic stimulus to create jobs, a higher statewide minimum wage; smaller public classroom sizes and much more.

Through the decades New Mexico has traditionally been at the bottom of the barrel in the social conditions rankings. The difference today is the increase in the percentage of the state's population impacted and the severity of those social problems.

The gangs are more violent, the drugs are stronger and the streak of malevolence running thorough large portions of the New Mexico culture is even more menacing.


The state's political and business classes do not seem prepared to make the necessary leap to attack the decline. As an example, political columnist Ned Cantwell recently begged us--only half humorously--to please stop blogging "over and over and over" about the state's economic stagnation and its social conditions crisis. But as exemplified by the horrific abuse cases discussed here, it keeps happening "over and over and over." How can we turn our backs on that?


The bear is still prowling Albuquerque. His latest target is one of the city's longest-lived retail outlets. The K-Mart at Atrisco and Central will close its doors, costing 80 employees their jobs. That location (we think) has been up and running since the 60's.

K-Mart has been having trouble holding its own in a economic environment in which their target audience of lower-income shoppers has been especially hard hit by the recession. The company shuttered a NE Heights location last year and continue to close stores around the USA. Sears is the parent company of Kmart...

It's true that the birth rate is slowing nationally and in NM because of demographic factors, but experts say the drop in the New Mexico birth rate is also due to the long-term economic decline here:

New Mexico’s birth rate has fallen to historic lows, the New Mexico Department of Health has reported. It dropped about 16 percent since 2007, from 15.4 per 1,000 population in 2007, to 12.9 in 2012, health department data shows.

It's yet another sign of the historic transformation of New Mexico from an on-the-go Sunbelt state to a new identity as a no growth or very slow growth state replete with a downsized economy.


Republican attorney general candidate Susan Riedel doesn't have to worry about competition in the June primary. The secretary of state's office reports ABQ GOP AG hopeful Paul Baiamonte failed to submit the required number of signatures to be considered at the preprimary convention and is out of the race. Riedel, a Las Curces judge, will face Dem Hector Balderas in the November election.


The banter over which Dem Guv candidates will get at least 20% delegate support at the party's March 8 preprimary convention is fun to take in. There are five candidates and at most four will jump the 20 percent hurdle and it could easily be only three.

Contender Alan Webber sent out an email recently that seemed to play down his chances of being one of those getting the 20 percent, but there are skeptics. Like this Dem partisan:

I think Webber is blowing smoke and lowering expectations. He is staffed up stronger than any other candidate including a field director who ran the delegate operation that got Dem Party Chairman Sam Bregman elected. He's certainly hedging his bets, but to suggest that he won't get 20% is insane. . .

Well, the whole process looks pretty insane--or arcane--to those who are not political insiders. If you don't get 20% delegate support at the convention, history says you don't win the June primary. But you can still get on the ballot if you fall short of the 20%. You do that by submitting additional petition signatures. Hey, we said it was arcane...


ABQ attorney Robert Lara sends this:

The State Bar Student Essay Contest is an annual contest for New Mexico high school students in the eleventh and twelfth grades. This year's topic, “Is there justification for amending the U.S. Constitution or State Constitution to lower the legal voting age from 18 to 16?”  The essays will be judged according to content, originality and writing skills. A panel of sitting judges will pick three winners. Winners receive awards at the annual Albuquerque Bar Association Law Day Luncheon.  The deadline is March 3. To participate visit here.

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