Nosotros La Gente

Both personally and professionally, I currently face a crisis of conscience directly tied to the writing of this column. Bear with me please. Before I can address that issue, I must tell a couple of stories.

A very long time ago, Joe Bob James taught me how to ride point. I was still living on the family ranch while also working as a reporter on a small newspaper. Not in public school, at college, or in any professional setting since, nowhere have I ever had a teacher who taught me anything more important than what I learned from an old cowboy named Joe Bob James. 

Those of you who work cattle probably know that riding point—leading the herd—takes an extra special skill. Frankly, most people I’ve watched make a mess of it if faced by a complicated challenge. Joe Bob made it look easy. He’d ride quietly at the front, gently keeping the herd gathered and controlling the pace without even appearing to do so. 

When he got to a place where the obvious route for the herd differed from where we needed them to go, he just gently stopped them and held them in place. Sometimes he’d roll a cigarette and watch the herd as he smoked. Only after several animals curiously walked the desired direction, would he push, ever so softly. 

From Joe Bob, I learned a lot about cattle … and people.

When striving to nurture positive change, pushing too early usually leads to what my fellow veterans would know as a Charlie Foxtrot.

At the risk of sounding like an elevator operator—second story.

About that same time, I was a green reporter straight out of college, I was working for a weekly paper in a tiny town. An informant came to me with my first opportunity for investigative reporting. It was about a public official, and the individual had some pretty strong evidence of misuse of power. I can’t go into all the details. Whatever records and articles I had of those long-ago times burned with my house. Suffice it to say that both the local District Attorney and I worked together, eventually making it “warm” enough that the questionable official resigned rather than risk charges or public exposure. I felt good about what we accomplished.

Fast forward to just a few years later. I’d moved on to a larger newspaper and the DA was hired for a state position. That following year, the questionable official ran for office again. He was elected by a resounding majority.

Both stories give me perspective for my current crisis of conscience. As a columnist, it was easy to know I had to write about problems in National Forestry’s decisions in both the Las Dispenses and Calf Canyon Prescribed Burns and the resulting devastating Hermit’s Peak/Calf Canyon Fires, the largest wildland fire New Mexico has ever seen. It was easy to know I had to write about questionable FEMA practices in the immediate disaster response.

Unfortunately, the disaster response system in dealing with those fires and the aftermath is broken at multiple levels. Now, I must decide if I have a professional and ethical responsibility to look closely at the state and local level.  It’s awfully close to home, and I live here. I acknowledge that, in general, I have been encouraged by state efforts. For example, I’m impressed by the case management system recently launched by the New Mexico Department of Homeland Security. Still, as a volunteer firefighter, I am deeply troubled at the apparent lack of effective utilization of local resources as part of the overall firefighting effort. 

If I seriously start digging, what will I find, and how much will it matter? In the end, in any governmental system, it is only the people who are the last bastion of accountability. Are they ready, or should I simply sit on my horse and roll a cigarette?

I’ve stood alone many times, even facing death threats when investigating stories or during my years as a leader of a LGBTQ+ organization in the Texas Panhandle. I’ll do so again if needed, but I’ve learned to choose my battles. 

Here I am, sounding like an elevator operator again—third story. 

I was raised in a very fundamentalist church. As an adult, I turned my back on that belief system, knowing full well that’s not where I belonged, but still valuing and loving people who did belong. Years later, I was under a great deal of pressure from my mother, my siblings, and especially the church’s young pastor to attend a service where my mother was being honored for 50 years of service as the church missionary president. Oddly, my siblings were unable or unwilling to attend. It was up to me.

I sat at the front, with my mother. The presentation was brief. They gave her a certificate, not even framed, for 50 years of dedicated service. The sermon that day was about how the problems with the world were all due to the number of women who were “out of the will of God” for not being obedient to men. 

I walked out, from the front of the church, all the way to the back. I then spent a pleasant hour sitting in my truck, listening to music and awaiting my mother. Then we went to lunch.

What I will always remember from that day were the faces, especially the eyes, of those whom I walked past as I left the church. I saw none of the anger I expected. In some I saw shame. In the eyes of many of the women, I saw a longing to walk with me.

But they didn’t.

In this time, as I decide how deep to look and in what directions. Is there anyone willing to walk with me? I don’t know the answer to that question.

(0) comments

Welcome to the discussion.

Thank you for taking part in our commenting section. We want this platform to be a safe and inclusive community where you can freely share ideas and opinions. Comments that are racist, hateful, sexist or attack others won’t be allowed. Just keep it clean. Do these things or you could be banned:

• Don’t name-call and attack other commenters. If you’d be in hot water for saying it in public, then don’t say it here.

• Don’t spam us.

• Don’t attack our journalists.

Let’s make this a platform that is educational, enjoyable and insightful.

Email questions to

Share your opinion


Join the conversation

Recommended for you