Attending a family wedding in Albuquerque over Labor Day weekend, I was again struck by the transformation of that once-grim city into an economic and cultural powerhouse, dominating northern New Mexico and southern Colorado.
Santa Fe gets the ink, the tourists, the international reputation, and a few B-level movie stars. Albuquerque gets the diversified business base, a distinctly local arts community, an authentic old town, and a river that runs through it (called the Rio Grande). It’s what our city might have been, had we been less taxophobic, more ready to embrace the larger world, and more open to the notion that government is not the root of all evil.
Sixty years ago, you could have boarded a passenger train at the D&RGW depot a few steps from the Antlers and gotten off at Denver’s Union Station 70 minutes later. Those days are gone, probably forever.
Yesterday, you could have boarded the New Mexico Railrunner in Albuquerque and arrived at the Santa Fe station 80 minutes later. Eight daily trains ply the intercity run, and almost 30,000 riders used the service during the holiday weekend in 2009.
It was said of Mussolini that he made the trains run on time. It will be said of New Mexico Gov. Bill Richardson that he made the trains.
Richardson put together and pushed through the funding package that created the railroad, just as he put together a dozen other partially or wholly government funded projects to build, stimulate and enhance New Mexico’s economy.
You can argue all day that the train is overpriced, inappropriate and foolishly conceived. You can argue that it will never be self-supporting. You can call it frivolous, wasteful spending, typical of foolish Democrats.
Get over it. Albuquerque and Santa Fe have passenger rail, and we don’t.
As Devon Swezey noted in Forbes a few days ago, “The United States Mountain West has long been a hotbed of experimentation and innovation, due in no small part to a decades-long partnership between government, universities and private enterprise. Throughout the 20th century, the federal government invested in dams, transportation infrastructure and military installations that facilitated economic expansion and the emergence of new private industries.”
New Mexico, Colorado, Albuquerque, and Colorado Springs have all benefited from these partnerships.
Today, new such partnerships are being created in alternative energy, in transportation, and in economic development.
Yet as Albuquerque and New Mexico have eagerly sought to partner with the feds, Colorado Springs has withdrawn from the greater world, content to be part of Fortress America.
We think of ourselves as proud conservatives, spurning those infernal guv’mint programs in favor of healthy self-reliance. As we like to say: “Government doesn’t create jobs! Only the private sector can create jobs!”
Hogwash. We’re a company town, relying up government paychecks to keep our city afloat.
Nearly 40 years ago, local business leaders worked to wean the city from its overwhelming dependence upon the military. They succeeded for a while. Yet when the first high-tech boom waned more than a decade ago, a growing military-industrial presence took up the slack.
We were fortunate, particularly since delusional anti-government, anti-investment policies came to dominate our political culture. These policies, most recently given form in three November ballot measures (Amendments 60 and 61, Proposition 101), are embodied in the so-called taxpayers’ bill of rights and in the willingness of local voters to starve the vital functions of government.
We can get away with it because rivers of federal cash flow into the city, supporting the military installations whose payrolls, construction spending and expansion have in turn propped up our city for two generations.
Two years ago, my house was burglarized. Last week, my neighbor across the street suffered the same fate. The police investigated neither break-in, because no officers are assigned to residential burglary.
This summer, the city couldn’t afford to keep the pool in Monument Valley Park open. Sixty years ago, I swam in that pool and rode the Rock Island Rocket to Denver, where I tagged along with my mother as she shopped at Daniels & Fisher.
So what happens when the party ends, the military contractors leave, and the soldiers go home? It will end, you know. We just don’t know when.
When that day comes, we’ll be left with little to show for the military years. We’ll have a hole in Cheyenne Mountain, a few deserted barracks baking in the summer sun, and see-through buildings that once housed military contractors. We’ll be powerless to act — prisoners of our own device, checked in forever at the Hotel Colorado Springs.
Hazlehurst can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org or 719-227-5861. Watch him at 7:20 a.m. every Tuesday and Friday on Channel 3, Fox Morning News.