As the husband of a dean of an institute of higher education, I am invited to events that normally I would not be privileged to attend. Some events can be quite casual. For instance, we recently attended a steak dinner for the Belen, New Mexico, Chamber of Commerce at the Belen Sheriff’s Posse (a place, not a group of mounted officers). This celebration of small town business featured lots of boots and turquoise, and George Strait serenaded us from the speakers. My role as arm candy for the dean consisted of mainly shaking hands and kissing babies. Actually, there were no babies, but I did have a lovely conversation with the young mayor of Belen, who happens to be a contemporary art lover.
This past week we departed Los Lunas for the state capitol, which for you Rome, Georgia, folks is not located in Albuquerque, our largest city, but famous Santa Fe, an hour north. The capitol building sits at the city’s historical center, and it is called The Roundhouse due to its circular design honoring the Native American kiva. Kivas were the spiritual centers of Native American settlements, and in the Pueblos of New Mexico, they still exist and are reverently used.
I am no stranger to the capitol building in Atlanta. During student field trips during school years and later adult visits, I admired the beautiful marble, the human energy and the colorful history of Georgia’s state house.
The Roundhouse in Santa Fe could not be more different than Atlanta’s state government center.
My wife’s institution had a very important purpose for their recent visit, in that a bill before the education committee would allow UNM-Valencia to expand physically over near the interstate in the shadow of our newest county star, Facebook. Setting up an educational center in the presence of such a high tech behemoth makes perfect sense to me, and this mission was an urgent priority for my wife, her campus president (called a CEO out here) and a phalanx of leaders from their advisory board.
Upon entering the statehouse I was assaulted by colors and culture, for it was Native American day at the capitol and the rotunda was a performance space featuring Native American citizens dancing, chanting and drumming. The hallways of government were filled with beautiful young dancers in full First Nations regalia, and the huge turquoise belts, squash blossoms and bracelets jingled throughout the area.
A dancer entered the elevator and bells on her white dancing boots provided a definite non-political accompaniment as she pushed her floor selection.
The educational chamber was dominated by a traditional semi-circle of seats behind designated senators and representatives. Instead of native-wear, the primary dress for the audience here was dark suits for both women and men. Small groups huddled and traded strategy in hushed tones.
The first bill up for consideration seemed to be a no-brainer for me. You see, southern New Mexico gets quite warm (okay, steaming hot). A representative presented a bill to provide school busses with air conditioning for the southern climes. Made perfect sense. Well, except to one senator, who I will now label “Grumpy Bob.”
I thought, “How could you be against a modicum of comfort for boys and girls traveling to school?” But, because a person of the opposing party sponsored this bill, he asked grumpy questions, like, “How many school kids have died while traveling on the school busses in this area?”
The bill passed, with one “no” vote. Grumpy Bob. All I can say is, I hope they make this fellow take the school bus in early May, and I hope he has to wear his ill-fitting suit and not have access to a water bottle.
I thought, whether red or blue, we all valued education and the comfort of our young citizens. Perhaps not.
The next bill was my home team’s bill, and I am proud to say, it sailed through to victory. The new governor of New Mexico, Michele Lujan Grisham, is way pro-education, and we hope that the legislation will comfortably sail through to the ribbon cutting in the near future here in Los Lunas.
I had to leave the education party and have a coffee with a television producer, so I quietly exited the chamber into the hallways filled with earnest politicians and state supplicants. I chuckled as I followed a gentleman in full cowboy regalia down the stairs. He had a beautiful, black hat, stunning wool and silk duster and high quality boots. I wondered what, who or where this westerner represented.
Like Georgia, New Mexico favors the entertainment industry, and we out here are so pleased to have a new governor who sees the benefit such an industry can bring to a state.
But kids, if the children need some cool air on their trips back and forth to school, give them a break. They are going to grow up and vote one day.
Former Roman Harry Musselwhite is the author of “Martin the Guitar” and is an award-winning filmmaker.