Legislature Super Diary from the Fun Part of Hell: Entry No. 4

Wait. You guys get pandas?

Yesterday, Senate and House legislators arrived at their desks on both floors to find cuddly stuffed animals waiting for each and every one of them, arms out wide in hopes of a hug. Some were obliged.

Is some special interest attempting to buy votes with plush little pandas? I called the name on the card, David Roddy with New Mexico Primary Care Association, and left a message: “Hi Mr. Roddy. I’m a reporter covering the legislature and was hoping you could tell me why you’re giving panda bears to all the members of the House and Senate.”

Left my number, but he didn’t call back. I haven’t followed up, because it seems this is common practice here. Today potted plants, miniature wooden gavels and a gift bag that said “Gallup: McKinley County” were waiting for everyone at their desks. Perhaps tomorrow it’ll be novelty wind-up monkeys who bang together symbols bearing Lockheed Martin logos.

Enough about my panda jealously, though.

Here’s what you see when you stroll about the ground floor of the Roundhouse, where the rotunda in the center yawns upward toward pastel skylights:

Suits gathered in packs of three or four, whispering as they look around at everything but each other.

Bored high schoolers being herded by their frazzled teachers.

Cowboys.

Trail mix.

Yes, trail mix. Delicious, soft trail mix of fruits and nuts.

I wanted some, but I figured it was only right that if I grabbed a sample I should speak with the women giving it away.

There are booths everywhere on the Roundhouse’s ground floor. One booth says “Energy employees occupational illness compensation program.” Another is for Gallup’s historical district and Indian dances.

The trail mix booth was for the New Mexico Food Distribution Advisory Council. What I’m told is that in 1972, America’s farmers found themselves growing more food than the country would buy. Congress decided to buy a bunch of surplus food and send it to schools.

Which sounds like a decent idea, right? NMFDAC’s Laura Perea, wearing a yellow button with the word “hunger” struck through like that ghost in the Ghostbusters logo, said this is an entitlement that’s “100 percent government.” Tax money gets spent to buy meats and fruits and vegetables from New Mexico farmers, to give away to poor students in New Mexico’s school districts.

At another booth, I was presented with some sobering statistics: 121,000 households in New Mexico are considered “food insecure,” so parents on a daily basis don’t know what they’ll feed their kids. New Mexico ranks second in poverty in the U.S., and third in child poverty. Thirty percent of children 0-17 years old in New Mexico live in poverty.

That’s a lot of kids.

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