January 2007

A disastrous vote in Montezuma County

By Galen Larson

Some of my friends are going to be upset with me for the coming statements. But, as Truman said, if you can’t take the heat, stay out of the kitchen. I pretty well stay right against the kitchen oven and don’t mind the heat.

While watching the news this morning, I had the opportunity to compare peoples and cultures.

We, the richest and most powerful nation in the world, do not seem to view education and health care in the same vein as other nations, and this unfortunate attitude seems to have wafted its way into Montezuma County.

I was struck by what a couple of young students in Iraq lamented over in their war-torn country. They said the insurrectionists want to keep the population ignorant and uneducated. Isn’t it sad that a number of people who consider themselves pious and righteous in this country have the same attitude toward education as the Iraqi insurgents?

We should take a long and serious look at ourselves after this last election, when the voters in School District Re-1 denied our children access to a better education by nixing a mill-levy increase.

I have just returned from a trip through the Navajo Nation, east to west. Forty years ago I worked in those areas. A number of people told me at that time the Navajos and Hopis would take 100 years to catch up to our standard of living.

Well, wonder of wonders, in 40 years they have not only caught up, they have surpassed us in some ways. There are paved roads in places where I used to drive on gravel and even sand. Schools have sprung up, large state-of-the-art schools where there were only small trading posts. There are shopping malls and clean service stations where the employees smile and can count out the correct change. Many speak their native tongue and English too. It seems education precedes progress.

But, you say, they had government help! Well, I have never been so proud of the way my small share of taxes was spent — much better than on the carnage of war. There are a number of large hospitals where care is topnotch — more tax money well-spent. The teachers are much appreciated, with salaries of $17,000 to $20,000 more a year than Montezuma County teachers. Are you ashamed yet? You should be.

To vote down a minuscule tax does not speak well of our supposedly pious community. The early settlers of the West knew three things when they settled. They had to build a church, build a school, and hire a schoolteacher. Many times they sent back East to bring teachers to the community. But that mentality has slowly been eroded. Why? I wish I knew.

Shame, shame, shame to those who didn’t vote for the Re-1 initiative. It was to provide a better standard of living for those that care about our young people — the teachers. Dedication deserves a thank-you instead of a nasty snub.

Oh, yes, I hear the excuses. I have no children in school. I’m retired and have a small income. Poor excuses, since someone else paid for their education.

When I chose this pristine area 27 years ago it was a thriving community. We have lost somewhere in the vicinity of 14 to 16 local businesses since that time. Back then, the local dollars circulated at least seven times. Now, thanks to our addiction to Wal-Mart, we are spiraling downward with our money supporting the lifestyle of one of the 10 richest families in the world.

People like to complain about the local economy, then vote no to progress. To think we can attract business here without an educated work force is absurd.

’Tis the season of faith, hope, and charity. It is too bad there wasn’t more charity in November’s election. It mystifies me why people revel in being Dumb and Dumber. All the county referenda were good ideas — more funding for our schools, building codes to make our investment increase in value (to say nothing of the lower insurance rates and bank interest on loans), improvements to the fairgrounds, which could be an economic engine for the county, and better roads.

When a multitude contribute it is easier on everyone. The more widely spread the cost, the less of each of us has to contribute.

We can no longer remain complacent about our corner of the world. We have been discovered. What do we want to put in place to keep our unique lifestyle? Or are we going to wait for uncontrolled growth to direct our future?

Without forward-thinking leaders, changes will come to us in a haphazard fashion. The shriek from mashed toes will echo throughout the county and the hand-wringing will come too late.

Galen Larson writes from rural Montezuma County.