In the first episode of the inaugural Viante New Mexico: A Way Forward Podcast hosts Rhiannon Samuel and Dale Armstrong talk to New Mexico leader Ed Lujan. The discussion started with why New Mexico is at the wrong end of many national lists and why he feels hopeful about the state’s future. You won’t want to miss this conversation with a New Mexico legend.
Rhiannon: Thank you everyone for joining us today on the Viante New Mexico podcast. Viante New Mexico is a nonpartisan organization whose goal is to find transparent and accountable information on our state elected officials. To find out who’s working together to fix our education, crime, and quality of life issues. Today on our first episode of our first season, we have with us Edward Lujan, along with Viante co-Chair and Founder, Dale Armstrong. I as always am Rhiannon Samuel, Executive Director of Viante New Mexico, and today we’re going to talk about, “How did we get here, New Mexico?” We want to have a deeper conversation about how we ended up on the wrong end of so many national lists. I want to talk about why we brought Edward Lujan here on with the show with us. I’m going to start with his bio. He was born in Santa Fe and he is a graduate from NMSU with a bachelor’s degree in agriculture and a masters in agricultural education. He is the former CEO of Manuel Lujan Agencies and retired in 1997. He was instrumental in getting the National Hispanic Cultural Center built and is now Chair Emeritus of it. He was a former chairman of the NM Economic Development Commission, served on the board of directors of the Albuquerque Economic Development Corporation, and was chairman of the state Republican party from 1983 – 1987 just to name a few of his community leadership roles. Dale, Ed, thank you for joining us today.
Dale & Ed: Thank you for having us on here.
R: Dale, I’m going to kick it off to you and let you start our conversation.
D: Its interesting. To me, Ed is a strong pillar of the community, actually the state of New Mexico. I wanted to ask Ed why did he choose to build and grow your company and family here in New Mexico and not somewhere else. I think you’re pretty passionate about that.
E: Yes, I am, Dale. Obviously, it’s a bit of genealogical history. Our families came into New Mexico in 1600, so we have always been New Mexico and lived in Santa Fe, we were born and raised there then I moved to Albuquerque in ‘68. My father started the insurance agency in Santa Fe. Then I did here, we opened a branch in Albuquerque. Didn’t think so at the time, but fortunately they sent me here. But really, that’s why we’re here, in New Mexico. New Mexico truly is God’s country as far as we’re concerned. It’s got so much to give, that I don’t have any desire, don’t think my kids do to live any place else but New Mexico. It does have its problems, big time, and we have to do the best from my perspective, whatever I can to help get rid of this “I Can’t” attitude.
R: I want to dissect a little bit more, “God’s Country.” Why do you think New Mexico is, what are the elements that make you love it so much?
E: There’s so many things that New Mexico has, but one of them is the weather. If you really look at it, none of our weather is severe, but yet we have distinctly four seasons. They’re very distinct. I feel sorry for the southern part of the country. All of the hurricanes, all of the tornadoes. WE just don’t have any. I think we’ve had in my lifetime maybe we’ve recorded seven of eight tornadoes in New Mexico. They just aren’t here. There’s so much here, when you begin to look at the natural things we have: oil, gas, air, wind. Everything’s here. When this world was made, the good lord stopped here and said, “I’m going to build this my way” so New Mexico is that way.
D: I agree with that. I know that you’re passionate about your family, you’re passionate about New Mexico. Have you been able to keep all of your children and your grandchildren here in New Mexico or have they up and left?
E: No, they’re all here with the exception of one. I have 4 children, 14 grandchildren, and 15 great-grandchildren. All of them are here with the exception. One of my granddaughters and her four children. They live in Singapore. He got a job in that part of the country, but I’ve been very fortunate. We’ve been very fortunate that they were able to stay here, able to find jobs, that they could stay here. That unfortunately isn’t the case for everyone.
D: We’ve ran into a lot of people that that’s a big deal to them. That they have family that leave. I feel fortunate too, my two sisters and one brother are still in New Mexico, and a majority of their kids are here in New Mexico. You have a long history with New Mexico, your family has a long history with New Mexico, when we look at the three things Viante cares about, we look at things that any citizen should care about. We’re not after the divisive things which they are plenty of those out and about. When we talk about education, crime, and quality of life. Right now, in those areas we have our challenges, and I’m just curious with your experience have you found a time in the state’s history where we actually excelled in those areas? Maybe we can help guide to repeat that or get back to that space.
E: I don’t know, Dale. I don’t mean to be critical, but we need to look at where we’re at, and where we’re going. I don’t know that we’ve ever been in a place where we can say we’re there. A lot of reasons. I can surely tell you, I taught school in the 50’s; nothing’s changed. In fact, it has gotten worse. 30% reading rate, 38% math rate. We just aren’t there. Quite frankly to me, the three things you mentioned, those are the pillars of viable economic development resurgence. One time they asked me how can we get the economic development better? My pure answer is raise education, period. I hate to say it, but if I was CEO of a company that was not here, and looking to come here, it would be a very difficult decision. Knowing New Mexico and knowing what I know, it would be a very difficult decision for me to bring my company here with those kinds of statistics. We have in this state, I served on Economic Development Commission, I’ve served on a lot of economic development committees. My big thing that I’m interested in is Education, economic development, and the art; the culture. To bring a company in, and I looked at the pluses and minuses. The culture and the art might bring them in no problem. I would look in the crime part of it and see that maybe can be repairable very quickly. If I brought my company here, I would be on the forefront of trying to help repair that. When I look at education, what about it? It really behooves all of us to get really interested in looking at education and do our part in trying to move education forward. We had this “poor me” attitude. When you look at “poor me” it creates chips on your shoulder. The more chips you have, first you can’t run, secondly you keep piling those chips on and it’s difficult to walk. What’s happening to us, and it does bother me, it’s all “poor me”. We can’t get out of this because we have too any poor people. We can’t get out of this because we have too many non-English speaking people. We can’t get out of this because were rural, and all of things we can’t. There’s no such thing as a poor person being able to learn. My cliché is when the good lord made us he didn’t say, “I’m going to make you with a small brain because you’re going to be poor, and I’m going to make you with a big brain and a smart brain because you’re going to be wealthy.” He never said that. It’s the same brain, he didn’t take sides. So, nobody can tell me you can’t learn. Go ahead…
R: I don’t mean to interrupt, but I agree with you. This is something that comes up in many conversations around education where we can’t help our kids because of x, y, and z, so how we overcome this mentality?
E: That’s not true I think it’s a plus, to be honest with you New Mexico has been very fortunate. We do have a windfall; I have no problem with them saying were going to put half of that windfall into education. If that’s what the cause, and I’m not quite sure that that’s the cause, but if that’s what the cause is then fine, we have it. We, Viante, Think New Mexico, business coalition, all of us, need to make sure we look at education and say, “Where are we? Are we making gains?”
D: Its interesting, Ed’s been talking about education, and it’s kind of interesting because my mom was a teacher. I think she was a very good teacher; I don’t know that; I just hear that. When it’s your mom you probably look at things differently, but I know one thing she told me that resounded with me was, “You need to get your education, or you going to be digging ditches for a living.” So, I went and got some education, but I’m actually still digging ditches for a living. The thing is I did embrace education within the company and its been remarkable how well the people receive that education and you can teach them that “I can”, it isn’t always an “I can’t” and we’ve done that very well as a team. I agree, maybe we need to focus on that as just getting people to realize “we can.” We’ve seen it recently with the soccer program coming in, you’ve lined up people and there’s momentum and things are going along...
E: You know really, if you can get our kids that they can, and then help them, they can. One time this child was a disadvantaged child. They’re disadvantaged, but they can still learn. They may not learn like we do, but they learn. And they learn in different ways. They may not be able to read, they may not be able to do this, but for example they’ll memorize the book you read them. They may not be able to read it, but they did learn to memorize that book, they did learn to do this, they did learn to do other things. If they can learn, everybody can learn. To me, the biggest problem is poor me. Poor me. And we perpetuate that, and if we can get away from that, and we can then look at those kids and say you can learn, and you will learn. We will teach you what it is, and we know that you can succeed. There are so many very poor people, and kids should come out of there and have a good education.
R: I’m feeling I agree with everything you said, especially this poor me mentality, and I think that one of the biggest challenges I face with Viante too is this complacency that a lot of New Mexicans have of “we’ve always been on the bottom it’s okay” but we are capable of so much more. I’m curious what you think about, do you feel were at a point in time where we will see that shift or being that you’ve seen this your entire life, are we just in this rut?
E: No, I’m beginning to think those who have gotten a good education, those that are in the workplace, those that learned that a good education pays and that they can succeed, Josh is one of them and you are too. Those are the young people who say awe can, there is no cant. To me, teaching is 60% motivation and 40% technical part. If you can’t motivate them, you can lead a horse to water, but you can’t make them drink. The drink is the motivation. You see a lot of organizations today, sports is one of them that motivates them and says “I Can.” I think it isn’t the kids that say, “I can’t”, it’s the grown-ups that are telling them “you can’t”
R: Dale, you have a really remarkable story out of Magdalena with, I believe it was basketball, right?
D: Yeah, that was fun. So, we had moved there, and our kids had been in all kinds of sports in Albuquerque and we moved down there was a little bit of a youth program. My wife and I both got involved and we started helping, and they told my wife that the Magdalena girls have never been to the state playoffs. Our oldest daughter was probably 11 by then. We were just doing our thing as parents and doing what we could, but as those kids grew up when they got in the eighth grade, they were able to play Varsity. That little team we were working with, three of them made it on Varsity as eighth graders, and they made it to state. The interesting thing is that they’ve made it every year since then. That was 18 years ago, and they decided they could. Before that they didn’t think they could.
E: That’s the whole thing, that we can get as a state, if we can get to the point as a state of, we can. I’ll give you an example, I was on Montville Board many, many years ago, and one of the board members was from Arizona, was from Phoenix. He was one of the original members of what they call the group of 50. In Phoenix, they got together, formed this group of 50. Part of the group of 50 was radio people, and newspaper people, and tv was just getting started. They got them all there, and the first rule of the group of 50 is no negative. None. You don’t talk about Phoenix as poor phoenix, it’s all positive. Each took a pledge, including the editor of the paper, all of them. They took that pledge. Then they began to work at it. They were smaller than we were, Phoenix was actually smaller than Albuquerque. They started, those 50 had contacts, and those contacts had contacts, so on and so forth. Make a long story short, I think it was Goodyear. One of them had a contact with people from Goodyear, then it started. They brought in the executives from Goodyear for a golf outing for the weekend. Starting talking about why don’t you come here it’s a beautiful state and blah blah blah blah. Long story short, Goodyear came. Boom. From there, other businesses came to feed Goodyear, and other businesses came to feed those who were feeding Goodyear. Before you knew it, everyone’s looking at it like, “Oh, Goodyear’s there, maybe it’s a good place to be.” That’s what started the ball rolling for Phoenix. Look at us, then look at them. I will give you one more example of how we do things when New Mexico became a state. Santa Fe obviously was the capitol city. Santa Fe had the choice of any of the things that were going on, they had first choice. Came the prison, and the University of New Mexico, those came about the same time. Santa Fe can’t get both, you have to choose. You can get the prison or the University and whichever one you don’t choose will go to Albuquerque. Their idea was prisons have more employees, so therefore were going to take the prison, and poor Albuquerque got the University of New Mexico. There’s some good people: Gary Johnson for one, I’m hopeful to be very, very honest with you. Governor Lujan-Grisham is a bubble, she just moves. She has all kinds of enthusiasm. I’m hoping that that’s a catalyst to moving forward and getting other companies coming in. My understanding is that one of their philosophies is, “It’s not just the big companies coming in, it’s the companies that are here. If each company that’s here hires one, you don’t need big companies in a sense. You will have a robust economic development resurgence. Yes, we do need companies coming out because you need diversity, you need to move forward, but those are the ideas, those are the I can do it, and we can do it.
R: So, I want to finish with a final thought with you. You had already touched on it, but perhaps broaden it, what makes you hopeful about New Mexico’s future?
E: To be very honest with you, the young people. Because young people today are optimistic, they really are. Most young people that I know do have a “can do” attitude. When you have that, and you have the desire to serve others and to make this a better place to live in. And I see that all of the time in young people. Us oldies are going to move out of the way and the young people do their thing. It does make me hopeful that that’s where the pendulum is going. The pendulum swings, positive, negative, positive, negative, and I think it’s going in the right direction. We are fortunate as a state that it looks like for the next 5 or 6 years, we will have an abundance of money. I don’t mind spending it, I really don’t if it spent in the right places and with that windfall if it spent on nonrecurring programs. Roads for example. You don’t have to build government so high that at some point, oil and gas prices will go down. Oil and gas prices will go up, and then down. So, you got this dilemma of what do we do with all that money. To me, it’s not a dilemma, spend it I don’t care. Spend it on the right things. I think a lot of that is happening, hopefully. I’m totally optimistic.
R: Wonderful. What a positive interview, I love it. It’s all about New Mexico we can and that’s what we’re trying to do with Viante, were trying to say we all have a role to play in fixing the state. As long as we can get together say what doesn’t divide us what unites us and let’s pursue it with full force. I want to thank everyone who tuned into this episode today. If you liked what you heard on our common ground themes and diving deep into New Mexico’s issues, please check us out at VianteNM.org. Follow our journey, achieving those things for our great state. I want to thank Dale for joining us today. Ed thank you so much for your time. Thank you to SunWest Trust for allowing us to use their studio. Catch us next time on our next episode. Have a good day.