Karen C. Whitlock responds to the Sun’s questions about Sierra Vista Hospital, Copper Flat mine and more

by Kathleen Sloan | October 20, 2020
6 min read

Karen Whitlock missed the Sun’s deadline for responding to our House District 35 candidates’ questionnaires for her and the Republican incumbent, whose answers were provided on time and were published in the Sun last week.

Although provided belatedly, Whitlock’s responses are still of public interest and are published here verbatim.

1. You have experience in environmental compliance. You worked for the State of Arizona’s Environmental Quality Division and Transportation Department, representing the government’s interests. You worked for Phelps Dodge, Tyrone Mine and HDR engineering firm, representing private-business interests.

Do you think New Mexico’s existing laws are sufficient to control the effect of oil and gas drilling and fracking on water use?

No, I do not think that New Mexico’s existing laws are sufficient to control the effect of oil and gas drilling and fracking on water use. Fracking uses a lot of water and while the oil and gas industry claims that they are able to reuse water from fracking it appears that they may not be able to clean the water enough to reuse. This is a huge problem particularly that we have very limited water resources in New Mexico and they oil and gas industry has been wasting a lot of that water.

2. Studies have shown that fracking is an extremely expensive way of extracting gas and oil, sustained by ongoing loans to stay ahead of the small profit margins. These profit margins went into negative numbers during the ongoing COVID-19 crisis.

The state allowed companies to shut down wells with no provision for environmental cleanup in the event the company remains shuttered. The state also capped the companies’ public land- lease payments at $2 an acre.

The federal government modified the Main Street Lending Program to allow oil and gas companies that were already heavily in debt before the crisis to benefit from emergency-support loans and grants. The federal government also set up credit facilities that allowed the federal government to buy risky bonds from heavily in-debt gas and oil companies. 

Do you support the gas and oil industries being bailed out by the state and federal government?

I do not support the oil and gas industries being bailed out by the state and federal government. All other extractive industries, such as coal and hard rock mining have to bond and provide closure/closeout plans which include remediation of any contamination that they have caused. It is time that the oil and gas industries no longer receive a free ride.

3. The state received 40 percent of its revenue from the gas and oil industry, pre-COVID-19.

What are the financial and environmental impacts of our budgetary dependence on fossil fuels?

The financial impact of New Mexico’s dependence on the oil and gas industry is huge, when oil and gas are flush the state has money and when they aren’t the state is left to cut the budget, most importantly in education. This is what has led to New Mexico being 50th in the nation in education. That is not acceptable.

But, what we need to do as a state is become less dependent on oil and gas so that we can afford a fracking moratorium, so that our state’s water and environment is no longer being held hostage by oil and gas. In order to be less dependent on oil and gas we need to as a state to find other sources of revenue that are not as cyclical and can be counted on during a recession. Examples are the film industry, outdoor recreation, and legalizing cannabis to name a few.

4. If the New Mexico Copper Corporation is able to acquire water rights to support the use of 7,000 acre feet a year for its estimated 12-year operation, do you think the state should provide the needed permits?

If the New Mexico Copper Corporation can comply with the conditions that have been placed on them, mainly to purchase the water rights for 7,000 acre feet, and comply with all environmental regulations, including bonding for closure/closeout and reclamation, then yes, they should be able to be permitted to operate. The problem is that they do not have enough money to purchase the water rights, and then pay for environmentally responsible operations, including closure/closeout reclamation. The state does not really have a choice in the matter if they can prove that they can comply with the laws.

5. You state New Mexico needs to “fund education first” because it is 50th in the nation.

Since New Mexico is among the four states getting the most federal funding for education and is 17th among the 50 states in the amount of state money spent on education, where would the money come from? And how exactly would you spend it?

The money at this point would need to come from the Land Grant Permanent Fund. Every state has a fund such as this for education. There are debates about whether and when this money should be used. Money already comes from this fund for early childhood education. New Mexico has the second largest Land Grant Permanent Fund in the country. Other states use much more of their Land Grant Permanent Funds for Education than does New Mexico.

We need to permanently increase the percentage of the interest coming out of the Land Grant Permanent Fund by an additional 1% in order to fund education. This money would be spent in the classrooms and by getting broadband to all schools. New Mexico is also under a court order to invest in underserved communities. We also need to invest in Community Schools where we can pull the whole family out of poverty. Community Schools will provide a one stop shop for families with School Based Health Centers, and social workers who can provide wrap around services, along with food pantries and other services for families in need.

6. Your campaign website says Sierra Vista Hospital is “in dire straits and should get more state funding.

How much more funding, for what purposes and with what measures of governmental oversight?

Sierra Vista hospital is “in dire straits” as they struggle to provide services through the pandemic. However, the reality is that the Medicaid hospital funding formula for rural hospitals is lower than for hospitals like UNM. We need to change this funding formula in order to help rural hospitals in the state survive. We need to make it an even playing field.

In addition, during the [Governor Susana] Martinez administration, the budgets to rural hospitals were cut. We need to restore some of those funds to help rural hospitals survive. Finally, state hospitals have been asking the legislature to increase the hospital tax so that they will receive additional funds for these hospitals.

Currently the Sierra Vista Hospital is run by a Joint Powers Agreement with T or C, Elephant Butte and Williamsburg (there may be another community included). This provides oversight for the hospital. In addition, with a change in the funding formula, this would help provide additional state oversight.

Kathleen Sloan is the Sun’s founder and chief reporter. She can be reached at kathleen.sloan@gmail.com or 575-297-4146.
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Understanding New Mexico's proposed new social studies standards for K-12 students

“The primary purpose of social studies is to help young people develop the ability to make informed and reasoned decisions for the public good as citizens of a culturally diverse, democratic society in an interdependent world.”
—National Council for the Social Studies 

Reader Michael L. Hayes of Las Cruces commented: What impresses me is that both the proposed standards and some of the criticisms of them are equally grotesque. I make this bold statement on the basis of my experience as a peripatetic high school and college English teacher for 45 years in many states with many students differing in race, religion, gender and socioeconomic background, and as a civic activist (PTA) in public education (My career, however, was as an independent consultant mainly in defense, energy and the environment.)

The proposed social studies standards are conceptually and instructionally flawed. For starters, a “performance standard” is not a standard at all; it is a task. Asking someone to explain something is not unlike asking someone to water the lawn. Nothing measures the performance, but without a measure, there is no standard. The teacher’s subjective judgment will be all that matters, and almost anything will count as satisfying a “performance standard,” even just trying. Students will be left to wonder “what is on the teacher’s mind?” or “have I sucked up enough.”

Four other quick criticisms of the performance standards. One, they are nearly unintelligible because they are written in jargon. PED’s use of jargon in a document intended for the public is worrisome. Bureaucrats often use jargon to confuse or conceal something uninformed, wrong or unworthy. As a result, most parents, some school board members and more than a few teachers do not understand them.

Two, the performance standards are so vague that they fail to define the education which teachers are supposed to teach, students are supposed to learn, and parents are supposed to understand. PED does not define words like “explain” or “describe” so that teachers can apply “standards” consistently and fairly. The standards do not indicate what teachers are supposed to know in order to teach or specify what students are supposed to learn. Supervisors cannot know whether teachers are teaching social studies well or poorly. The standards are so vague that the public, especially parents or guardians, cannot know the content of public education.

Three, many performance standards are simply unrealistic, especially at grade level. Under “Ethnic, Cultural and Identity Performance Standards”; then under “Diversity and Identity”; then under “Kindergarten,” one such standard is: “Identify how their family does things both the same as and different from how other people do things.” Do six-year-olds know how other people do things? Do they know whether these things are relevant to diversity and identity? Or another standard: “Describe their family history, culture, and past to current contributions of people in their main identity groups.” (A proficient writer would have hyphenated the compound adjective to avoid confusing the reader.) Do six-year-olds know so much about these things in relation to their “identity group”? Since teachers obviously do not teach them about these other people and have not taught them about these groups, why are these and similar items in the curriculum; or do teachers assign them to go home and collect this information?

Point four follows from “three”; some information relevant to some performance measures requires a disclosure of personal or family matters. The younger the students, the easier it is for teachers to invade their privacy and not only their privacy, but also the privacy of their parents or guardians, or neighbors, who may never be aware of these disclosures or not become aware of them until afterward. PED has no right to design a curriculum which requires teachers to ask students for information about themselves, parents or guardians, or neighbors, or puts teachers on the spot if the disclosures reveal criminal conduct. (Bill says Jeff’s father plays games in bed with his daughter. Lila says Angelo’s mother gives herself shots in the arm.) Since teacher-student communications have no legal protection to ensure privacy, those disclosures may become public accidentally or deliberately. The effect of these proposal standards is to turn New Mexico schools and teachers into investigative agents of the state and students into little informants or spies.

This PED proposal for social studies standards is a travesty of education despite its appeals to purportedly enlightened principles. It constitutes a clear and present danger to individual liberty and civil liberties. It should be repudiated; its development, investigated; its PED perpetrators, dismissed. No state curriculum should encourage or require the disclosure of private personal information.

I am equally outraged by the comments of some of T or C’s school board members: Christine LaFont and Julianne Stroup, two white Christian women, who belong to one of the larger minorities in America and assume white and Christian privileges. In different terms but for essentially the same reason, both oppose an education which includes lessons about historical events and trends, and social movements and developments, of other minorities. They object to the proposal for the new social studies standards because of its emphasis on individual and group identities not white or Christian. I am not going to reply with specific objections; they are too numerous and too pointed.

Ms. LaFont urges: “It’s better to address what’s similar with all Americans. It’s not good to differentiate.” Ms. Stroup adds: “Our country is not a racist country. We have to teach to respect each other. We have civil rights laws that protect everyone from discrimination. We need to teach civics, love and respect. We need to teach how to be color blind.”

Their desires for unity and homogeneity, and for mutual respect, are a contradiction and an impossibility. Aside from a shared citizenship, which implies acceptance of the Constitution, the rule of law and equality under the law, little else defines Americans. We are additionally defined by our race, religion, national origin, etc. So mutual respect requires individuals to respect others different from themselves. Disrespect desires blacks, Jews or Palestinians to assimilate or to suppress or conceal racial, religious or national origin aspects of their identity. The only people who want erasure of nonwhite, non-Christian, non-American origin aspects of identity are bigots. Ms. LaFont and Ms. Stroud want standards which, by stressing similarities and eliding differences, desire the erasure of such aspects. What they want will result in a social studies curriculum that enables white, Christian, native-born children to grow up to be bigots and all others to be their victims. This would be the academic equivalent of ethnic cleansing.


This postmortem of a case involving a 75-year-old women who went missing from her home in Hillsboro last September sheds light on the bounds of law enforcement’s capacity to respond, especially in large rural jurisdictions such as Sierra County, and underscores the critical role the public, as well as concerned family and friends, can play in assisting a missing person’s search.

Reader Jane Debrott of Hillsboro commented: Thank you for your article on the tragic loss of Betsey. I am a resident of Hillsboro, a friend of Rick and Betsey, and a member of H.E.L.P. The thing that most distresses me now, is the emphasis on Rick’s mis-naming of the color of their car. I fear that this fact will cause Rick to feel that if he had only gotten the facts right, Betsey may have been rescued before it was too late. The incident was a series of unavoidable events, out of everyone’s control, and we will never know what place the correct color of her car may have had in the outcome. It breaks my heart to think that Rick has had one more thing added to his “what ifs” concerning this incident.

Diana Tittle responded: Dear Jane, the Sun undertook this investigation at the request of a Hillsboro resident concerned about the town’s inability to mount a prompt, coordinated response to the disappearance of a neighbor. From the beginning, I shared your concern about how our findings might affect Betsy’s family and friends. After I completed my research and began writing, I weighed each detail I eventually chose to include against my desire to cause no pain and the public’s right to know about the strengths and limitations of law enforcement’s response and the public’s need to know about how to be of meaningful assistance.

There was information I withheld about the state police investigation and the recovery. But I decided to include the issue of the car’s color because the individuals who spotted Betsy’s car emphasized how its color had been key to their identification of it as the vehicle described in Betsy’s Silver Alert. Because the misinformation was corrected within a couple of hours, I also included in this story the following editorial comment meant to put the error in perspective: “The fact that law enforcement throughout the state was on the lookout in the crucial early hours after Betsy’s disappearance for an elderly woman driving a “light blue” instead of a “silver” Accord would, in retrospect, likely not have changed the outcome of the search” [emphasis added].

I would also point to the story’s overarching conclusion about the inadvisability of assigning blame for what happened: “In this case, a perfect storm of unfortunate circumstances, many of them beyond human control, hindered the search that it would fall to Hamilton’s department to lead.”

It is my hope that any pain caused by my reporting will eventually be outweighed by its contribution to a better community understanding of what it will take in the future to mount a successful missing person’s search in rural Sierra County.


New Mexico House District 38 candidates’ questionnaires
by Kathleen Sloan | October 16, 2020

The Sun asked Republican incumbent Rebecca Dow (left) and her Democratic opponent Karen C. Whitlock (right) to answer in writing a set of six questions,...

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