Grant County Commissioners January 2021 work session and regular meeting, part 6
[Editor's Note: Due to the length of the work session and regular meeting, they will be broken up into several articles. This one will complete the regular meeting agenda with the resolution that took up the most time. It should be the final article.]
By Mary Alice Murphy
After two presentations at the Grant County Commission work session on Jan.12, 2021 and following county reports and the rest of the regular meeting agenda, which can be read at https://www.grantcountybeat.com/news/news-articles/62272-grant-county-commission-hears-presentations-at-work-session-011221-part-1 , https://www.grantcountybeat.com/news/news-articles/62328-grant-county-commission-hears-a-second-presentation-at-work-session-011221and-grmc-update-at-regular-meeting-011421-part-2, https://www.grantcountybeat.com/news/news-articles/62340-grant-county-commissioners-january-2021-work-session-and-regular-meeting-part-3 , https://www.grantcountybeat.com/news/news-articles/62343-grant-county-commissioners-january-2021-work-session-and-regular-meeting-part-4 , and https://www.grantcountybeat.com/news/news-articles/62360-grant-county-commissioners-january-2021-work-session-and-regular-meeting-part-5 , the commissioners took up the resolution put on the agenda by District 5 Commissioner Harry Browne.
The item on the agenda read: A resolution in support of American democracy and condemning New Mexico Representative Yvette Herrell's votes to reject the electoral college votes of Arizona and Pennsylvania.
At the regular meeting, almost two hours of the meeting were taken up by the reading of public input by Executive Assistant Taysha Walter and County Manager Charlene Webb.
More than 90 people, some more than once, having signed group letters, were in support of the resolution condemning newly elected Congresswoman Yvette Herrell, CD-2. A few, six to eight, expressed their request to vote down the resolution.
Some of the comments in support of the resolution, sometimes multiple times repeated included: "Herrell is an extremist"; "I demand she resign"; "I'm appalled at her actions to undermine democracy;" "She continues the lies"; "I condemn her seditious behavior"; "She fuels the flames of white violence"; "What she did was unconstitutional" ;" "I demand the insurrection be stopped"; "It's counterproductive to democracy"; "It's a double standard"; "she aligned herself with extremists"; "there's a question if she is fit to serve"; "unpatriotic"; "blind adherence to party"; "her comments led to the attack on the Capitol"; "she's a disgrace"; "she spread disinformation"; "all election lawsuits were without merit"; "it was an unhinged vote"; "if she supports violence, she also supports terrorists"; "she is a conspirator in the big lie"; and "she is playing into terrorist hands."
The few who were against the resolutions said; "I'm concerned about division"; "your condemnation is despicable"; "the resolution is a vendetta"; "I am against the resolution because it is not relevant to county business"; and "It's an abuse of Browne's office."
When the commissioners got to the resolution on the agenda, after Browne moved to approve and District 2 Commissioner Javier "Harvey" Salas seconded it, he said: "I realize this is a show without consequences. I wish the resolution had more substance. I think Herrell was in violation of voting rights."
Browne recounted what happened in 1874 when a story was told that rhinoceroses had broken out of the zoo and the hospital was flooded with the injured, but it turned out the story was a hoax to get more security at the zoo. "Things have not turned out so well in the latest disinformation at the nation's Capitol," he read from a statement. "Several, including law enforcement and lawful protestors are dead because some believed so fervently that the election was stolen. Although the backlash has started to wake people up, we are no means out of the woods. As it has been said, democracy is the worst system of government except for all the others. Democracy's greatest virtue is stability. It leaves others hope to come back into authority. And it encourages those in power to realize that someday the decisions they make may come back on them, Thus, discouraging them from making the most egregious decisions. The largest departure in my view in the latest administration has been the respect for truth. On the part of we the people, how can we believe that all courts are corrupt because they dismissed the all the election lawsuits? And how can we believe that wearing a mask is submitting to tyranny? Facts matter; the truth matters. We elect our representatives to honor the facts as they best understand them to craft strong public policy. If instead we mold facts to fit our values, we will hear what we want to hear, but we will not get the policies we need. And worse, we will undermine the stability that democracy has brought us for most of our 244 years as a nation. By failing to tell her constituents the truth, Rep. Herrell has betrayed her oath of office and her country. This resolution will do nothing to remove Ms. Herrell from her office. That is up to us, the voters. It's past time to ask our leaders to lie to us and reward them with our votes when they do. For that matter, is it past time that we believe the talking heads on cable news that spew lies and hate. As Voltaire is said to have said: 'Those who can make you believe absurdities can make you commit atrocities.' Hitler, Stalin, Lyndon B. Johnson, Richard Nixon and Vietnam War promoters and other demagogues and racists throughout history have understood this well. Reclaiming and rebuilding our democracy demands that we require more truth from our leaders. This resolution is one step on that very long road. Let's do it."
District 4 Commissioner Billy Billings said Commissioner Browne had just mentioned the disregard for respect of the truth. "I apologize for wasting the commissioners' time, but I must address what one of the commenters said. Glenn Griffin is the commenter, and it is not the first time that he has done this. The accusation is something like Mr. Billings needing to distance himself from Couy Griffin. I don't think there is any need for that. I never participated, as accused, in any parades with Mr. Griffin. This letter is full of inaccuracies and I deny all of it. I don't want to give more attention to it."
"We've become very polarized as a nation and locally," Billings continued. "I think the two-party system has failed us because of the division it has caused by expecting us to give loyalty to one side or the other. We've seen it in no better place than Congress where leaders call in the members and tell them how to vote. The members are voted in by the people, not the leaders. This happens on both sides. Boehner and Pelosi are two of them. They have called people in and said this is the way you will vote or this is your punishment. One of my favorite congresswomen, a lady from the state of Utah, who served only one term. But she made all these promises going to Washington and found out she could not fulfill any of her promises, because she was called into the speaker's office, at that time a Republican, and told what she could do and what she could not do or she would be punished by not being put on committees, etc., if she did not adhere to party loyalty. I want to thank the members of the commission. I think it's too bad we run local positions, such as commissioners, along party lines. I think we would be more effective if we just ran. There are more Democrats in this room, and you may disagree. I feel like I'm the minority, but I also feel I've been listened to, for which I thank you. I believe this resolution creates more division. I believe it accuses our representative of creating division and it creates more division. We often don't agree on issues, but we should try not to sow division, but to offer solutions. I will oppose this resolution. For one thing, it doesn't solve anything. The last resolution I proposed was against leaving elderly people in the cold not being able to go into Walmart because of the 75-person limit. I didn't condemn the governor. I just thought we would send a solution to the governor. I would prefer to see resolutions that offer a solution rather than one that condemns someone, as this does. We have a representative democracy. Herrell lost the first time, but she won this time. I recall the meeting at the Conference Center, where we heard from many people. Browne was getting flack, and he said: 'We, as officials need to do what is right, and that is what I intend to do. But what is right is not necessarily what the people in this room are hoping for.' I would say that now. I have to say I did not solicit one public comment., because I didn't want to waste the commission's or the staff's time. The rest of Mr. Browne's comments at that meeting (at the Conference Center) are: 'When you disapprove, you vote me out at the ballot box.' I think this is Rep. Herrell's test time. I think the appropriate time to make our voices known is at the ballot box. I think it's appropriate for the public to make their wants known. And I think it's appropriate for Commissioner Browne to make such a comment. But do we want to make this a precedent that we want to set when it doesn't change anything, when it's just expressing our personal opinions? I haven't had time to read all of Rep. Herrell's testimony, which is available at Herell.House.gov, and there's a sheet with her objections. President-elect Biden will be sworn into office next week. He says he wants to begin healing. I think we should join him at every opportunity in that effort. When we have policy differences, we need to bring them up and discuss them. Let's look for healing. I agree with the comment that this resolution will simply further unsettle the people in this county with no positive outcome. A lot came up on the violence, which I consider to be a separate issue. But Rep. Herrell has denounced the violence: 'Violence has no place in our constitutional republic. Those who assaulted police officers on their way into the Capital are responsible for their criminal actions and must be brought to justice.' I agree with that. Here's another one: 'We are all disgusted by last week's violence and I stood up to denounce it.' And 'leaders in both parties have the responsibility to condemn such violence whether in the Halls of Congress or on the streets of America's cities.'"
Billings said he was told that the last three times that Republicans have been elected president, members of the House of Representatives have objected to the electoral college votes of other states. He read from a statement from Rep. Herrell's office that she objected to the electoral votes from other states, not because of potential fraud or disenfranchisement of New Mexico voters, but because of the states' changes to their electoral processes at the last minute by executive fiat or judicial edict. The U.S. Constitution gives state legislatures, not state executives or judges the sole authority on how their state chooses presidential electors. "I think that explains her stand. I will vote against this resolution and my hope is that in the future resolutions that come before the commissioners can be less divisive and more sensitive to the business of Grant County."
District 3 Commissioner Alicia Edwards said her comments would be better done during commissioner reports, because her comments are something connected but different from this resolution.
Browne responded to one of Commissioner Billing's comments. "I believe this resolution faithfully reflects the statements that Commissioner Billings just read. It cites her reasons. It addresses them, but those changes made in Pennsylvania and Arizona were made because of COVID and the appropriate forum for judging their constitutionality was the court system. And that was followed in these two states. It is not up to an individual representative to decide questions of constitutionality for herself, as stated in this resolution. Otherwise, I agree with a great deal of what you said. I think this resolution fully takes into account the reasons you gave."
Billings said: "I just think that giving the reasons for her action would give you more reason not to condemn her, as our elected representative, who, I believe, actually believes a different process should have been followed. I don't think that because she supports American democracy in her reasons that she doesn't because of her vote. I could think of numerous examples. For instance, Sen. Siah Hemphill has reached out to me. I appreciate that. She said: 'I realize we're playing on different teams,' and that really bothered me that she thinks we are playing on different teams. Next time we talk, I will say to her: 'How can we focus on running the ball in the same director rather than focusing on our different teams?' She's going to go to Santa Fe and vote for some things that I, with every fiber of my being, am against. One of them is she believes in what she calls reproductive rights. Because of the way I was raised and what I believe, I don't want my tax dollars paying for the murder of unborn children. That's the thing I think we are farthest divided on. She will vote her conscience. I will oppose her on that, but I will not condemn her or accuse her of sedition or being a traitor. We should respect our elected officials. I look forward to places we can run the ball in the same direction."
Salas began his comments by saying: "I think the atmosphere had created the polarization that has taken us back many, many years in civil rights. As the elder statesman here, I'm going back to our times of the attacks of racism here in Grant. I think we have made wonderful strides. Us (sic) here is a wonderful example. Moving us back to those times of racism I consider sedition. Why do we want to make one party ruling over us? Why do we want to consider people by the color of skin or our preference in religion or politics? This has hurt me terribly, because I do not want to leave this legacy to my children. There was a time in our county when there was a very big division. I want to see us work together the way we have. I don't like the way politics is run right now. What you see here has been very racial, the attacks on the White House. I think Herrell did her part in fueling this fire. I don't care whether that's just the way she is or she is supporting her party. She did it. And I don't think that people like that should be able to govern us. I think they should be for the people, not for racial division the way it's been presented. It hurts. It really hurts. We don't ever want to go back to that. We want to become one people. The way to become one people is not to make divisions. It's something we cannot allow to happen to our nation. I think it has brought us as close to civil unrest as during the civil war. And it's not over yet."
District 1 Commissioner and Chairman Chris Ponce said he respected every commissioner in the room. "We've had differing opinions, but we're come to agreements to do the best for our residents. I think we have put parties aside. I have a little problem with some of this. I've heard a lot lately about unity. It's time we come together for a greater America. I could not stomach what happened in D.C. last week. Our American flag is sacred, and people were dragging it and beating people with it. That didn't sit well with me. The bigger thing was the way they were treating people because of our differences. We, as people, have ways of communicating our differences. For example, public input. I appreciate the 90 plus people who gave their input on this. I respect Congresswoman Herrell. She won the election. She won it outright and I will consider her our congresswoman for our district. I do have a problem with Couy Griffin, who said: 'The only good Democrat is a dead Democrat.' Later he came and tried to clean it up, by saying he meant it politically. Well, I will never buy that. Especially with the things he has said lately about going to Washington and blood. IOur congresswoman embraced his endorsement. If we're going to embrace unity, people like that need to go. There are a lot of investigations, but I've not heard any investigation of Griffin. I don't see anyone knocking on his door. He keeps making such comments like he's going back to Washington. What hurts me is that she has the say and the voice to stop that. To continue unity, she has to make her voice heard about things like that. How she voted in Washington – that is her right. She said in the Albuquerque Journal: 'The electoral votes from Pennsylvania disenfranchised my constituents in New Mexico. It is my duty to give my constituents a voice.' Well, Miss Herrell, it is now my duty to give my constituents a voice and I will be supporting this resolution. And I hope, once this resolution clears that we can move forward and become united. But we have to look at some of the ugliness that has been said by our political leaders can condemn some of that. I'm disappointed. I usually do not get involved with our Town Council. They have their voice. I do not get involved in any other commission meetings, but I'm surprised that our neighboring county, Otero, has not put a stop to that. It is totally disheartening to me. One of the public comments, I totally respect this lady, but let's look at the top leaders, where a lot of this division is occurring and start filtering it down. Thank you."
No further discussion. The resolution passed 4-1, with Billings giving the only No.
Edwards gave her commissioner's report. She said she found watching Congress after what happened at the Capitol nearly as disturbing as the violence at the Capitol. "It really bothered me to watch Ted Cruz, Josh Hawley, Lindsay Graham and Mitch McConnell and a bunch of other people make excuses for what had happened and justify what had happened for their own political power and gain. I will pick on Lindsay Graham because he had one opinion of Mr. Trump before he got elected, a different one after he got elected. And once the political tides were turning, yet again a different opinion of Mr. Trump and his actions. That to me personifies what is wrong with our country right now. It comes from the very top and it is trickling its way down to us. By us, I mean all of us. When I hear people compare what happened at the Capitol to Black Lives Matters protesting, I'm very puzzled by the difference between what I see in the world and what other people are seeing. When I hear people say 'This isn't America,' and I know for a fact that it is America, it really challenges my poor little brain. I can hardly wrap my head around it. And I wonder if any one of you in this room has ever watched the video of what happened to Sandra Bland. For just 40 seconds watch that video and put yourself in the car with her and imagine how utterly terrified she must have been. You can hear in her voice, despite the fact that she is a black woman, in 2015, you can hear in her voice her utter disbelief that it was happening to her. That is the America we live in. When I think about George Floyd, Breanna Taylor, Standing Rock, when I think about the fact that the president of the United States made it possible in the waning hours of his presidency to sell oil leases in the Arctic National Wildlife Refuge, to sell oil leases at Bear's Ears. When I think about people like Larry Nassar and Harvey Weinstein and all the things that have happened particularly in the last four years and before that the things that we are in denial about that this is now what America is. We are racist and it permeates every part of our country, our communities, our families, it's everywhere. And when I hear the denial of that, I ask myself do we all really live in the same America. But we do. An America that has a long history of white mob violence, particularly against people of color. This is the America we live in right now. Twenty-three million people have had COVID; 385,000 of those people have died. 40 million people filed bankruptcy last year; hundreds of thousands of jobs were lost last year; millions of people are hungry, homeless, hopeless. This is the America we live in."
"The way I am going to tie this all together is to talk about the fact that while all this is happening, the top 16 billionaires in the United States gained $637 billion in wealth last year," Edwards said. "To put that in perspective, they could write $16,000 checks to every single person that lives in the top 25 cities in the United States. This is what Congress is enabling, what our elected leadership is enabling. It's true, money gets printed when we don't have enough, but Jeff Bezos is not printing money at Amazon. There is a relatively finite supply of money and it is being sucked out of our communities, out of our neighborhoods, and being put into the pockets of unbelievably wealthy primarily white men."
She said she pictured it as a swimming pool or a mosh pit, "with all of us in it, while Mitch McConnell, Jeff Bezos, Elon Musk, Mark Zuckerberg, Josh Hawley, all these people are lined up around the edge of this swimming pool in their vulture suits, and we're tearing each other apart, while they are sucking up our resources, whatever they are—our emotional resources, our mental resources, our financial resources, our life. That IS the America we live in. And it has never been more obvious than it was on Jan. 6. I agree completely with Mr. Billings that the way we end this is at the ballot box. And yet, we-relected a hell of a lot of the people who are causing these problems. They are not going to solve any of this. But if we are going to survive the swimming pool, the mosh pit, we have to figure out how to do it ourselves. The only way we are going to do that is to address why we can't understand or internalize the truth about all we are dealing with—the millions of jobs lost, all of the pain we are dealing with."
Browne said he wasn't going to try to follow that. "Thank you, Alicia."
Salas said he thinks it is time for "us, it's time for me, instead of espousing rhetoric on how and why things are the way they are is to start being a leader in this and showing by example. You look at the macro of it across the nation and the micro of it here. Maybe we can effect changes here. I make a solemn promise to you that all I want is equality. When I look at you guys, I make a promise that I will look at you, who you are and what you're telling me. I'm not going to temper whatever decision I make because of your race or because of your culture. I will temper it with your words. I will not make a decision based on anything that is racist. I think we've come a long way toward that. I don't want to see our county go backwards. I believe we can instill equality in all our residents, when they go forward in life or in government, it will make a small difference. At least we can start doing it here. I make that solemn promise to you guys, but I think that's what we've been doing anyway. Equality is for all. That's what I base my stuff on. I think we may think that people aren't really paying attention to what we're doing here, but you'd be surprised at how many people do. I look forward to working with you guys for at least the next two years. One of my wife's favorite movies is 'Giant.' It's about a Texas rancher who had these racist views instilled in him. Through the evolution of his family, his views changed to where he was fighting for the colored people, for the Mexican people. I want our evolution to continue here, also."
Billings thanked Salas for his promise. "I make the same promise. If I violate it, call me out. My family has a long history in this county. I've heard both of my parents and my grandfather on my mom's side address the gross inequalities that existed. It's disheartening to hear those stories, and I want to believe, I mean it, I want to believe that we have come a long way since those days. I think I would be remiss if I didn't acknowledge the truthfulness of what you said and all of us have to make sure that does not happen. And I'm talking about racism."
He continued that he didn't know if he had made it clear that Glenn Griffin's comments "associating me with Couy Griffin are completely false. I might want to have this conversation with Chairman Ponce, but you were looking at me when you were talking about Couy Griffin."
Ponce said he didn't know he was looking at Billings, but maybe was zoned out. "I will say this. I agree with you. I do not think at all that you are associated with this individual. If I was looking at you, I apologize. There's no way I would ever think that about you."
Billings said, back when he was on Facebook, I heard those comments that were mentioned about "'The only good Democrat is a dead Democrat,' so I went on Facebook and I watched those comments and I watched him try to call it back. There was nothing to call back. I haven't spoken to him since then. I probably spoke to him a couple of times in Santa Fe before that, but I have not spoken to him since then. That has no place in our society. The other comments I have heard brought up today, I don't know if he said that about blood in the Capitol. I don't endorse that. Thank you for not knowing you were looking at me. I look forward to going forward with this commission. I think the steps we have made that really positively impact the citizens of Grant County are the work we've done on Gila Regional Medical Center. It hasn't been a perfect run, and I don't think we're out of the woods yet, but I think we are building a great foundation for a really great community hospital. And the restoration of something we all used to enjoy. I want to congratulate this commission for becoming the governing board. It took a lot of guts. I didn't think we had any other choice. I didn't want to do that. If I had thought we had any other way to go, I would have gone that way. It's onerous on our time; it was controversial; it was contentious; it's not anything any of us sought, but I think we did the right thing. As we go through this CEO process, I want to congratulate Governing Board Chair Edwards for her role in having a process for the CEO selection that I believe had never been seen before, where we've made every attempt, even during COVID, to get exposure to these candidates from the people who live and work in the community, from physicians to nurses, to hospital staff to people who work in our community. We have a 10-member advisory board helping us and advising us. I found it very useful in our meeting last night. It's amazing how we've put away differences, just one example, one of the persons on the committee, we regularly agree and regularly disagree also, on various things concerning the hospital. He wrote one of the comments this morning that I disagree with, but it's not about partisanship, it's about how can we create the best community hospital. Hopefully, we can find a chief executive officer, who can come in here, work with the company that we have in here and still have community involvement so that we don't lose the face of the hospital, so that employees feel they have a voice; so that patients feel they have a voice; so the doctors feel like the right thing is being done for their patients. I want confidence to be built in the hospital, so that the outmigration that we lose to other hospitals, people start gaining confidence in GRMC again, so people start using that facility again, so, it starts making money to do things like fix the roof, repair the HVAC and the labor and delivery area—all the things a good community hospital would have. I hope we, as a commission, continue to focus on the things we can do together for a better community."
Ponce said he would like to thank the commissioners for allowing him to be the chair for the 2021 year. "Makes me feel good. I appreciate that. And congratulations to Vice Chair Browne. Hearing all these stories about equality. There was a time when I was growing up, my dad faced a lot of inequalities because he couldn't really speak English and some of the jobs he had. I know he was really big in the union and picket lines and doing what he had to do to provide for his family. Growing up, I remember a lot of things, when the elections came along, I would hear they are bashing this candidate, we don't go for it, so we're not going to vote for that candidate. I don't know where we lost that, but the last few elections have been pretty bad with a lot of this going on, not looking at the individuals. My parents raised me to have respect, to call a person sir or ma'am. It's not about age, it's about respect. In high school, they raised me not to go out and party or go out drinking. You can be raised right, but you can get away from that. But you have choices to make. Hopefully, I think positively that we can have some kind of unity and do the best for our United States, regardless whether the person you supported won or lost and that we all come together for the betterment of this country."
The meeting adjourned.