He’s got the gov’s ear

By Tova Fruchtman: CNJ staff writer

Andrew Moralez doesn’t mind complaints. It’s part of his job.
As the ears and eyes of Gov. Bill Richardson, the Anthony native travels the state listening to the problems and concerns of constituents for the state’s top boss.

Moralez, the southern New Mexico representative for the governor, visited Clovis on Thursday and heard about out of control tumbleweeds, a tax that will cost nursing home residents around $9 each day, concerns about teacher retirement benefits being reduced, and the need for horse stalls at the county fairgrounds.

The governor created Moralez’s job more than a year ago to reach out to New Mexicans with policy concerns and help people to solve problems, said Moralez, who gets help from the governor to solve people’s problems.

“It’s like having a boss that you can actually speak to and get some guidance from,” said Moralez, who used to work in the private sector. “He’s very demanding, but I respect that. I don’t think I could work for anybody but the governor.”

Growing up and living in a small town also helps, he said, because he can identify with people’s concerns. Moralez works on hundreds of cases at a time, and said he wonders where people went for help before this office opened.

“A lot of these people are going through a hard time and don’t know where to go,” Moralez said.

He remembers a recent case where a man with cancer came to him because he couldn’t afford to get treatment. Moralez got a government agency to pay for the man’s treatment with in a week, and a few weeks later he came in, looking healthy to thank him.

“It’s hard not to get emotional sometimes,” Moralez said. “It was just heartbreaking to see someone who needed help and couldn’t find a solution.”

But Moralez can help many Southern New Mexicans find a solution to their problems.

“That’s really the part that makes it worth it,” he said, “helping people who just don’t know who to go to.”

Every person Moralez meets with gets entered into a computer system at his office in Las Cruces. The system tracks each interaction to make sure every case gets resolved in a timely manner, he said.

While in Clovis, Moralez spoke with Sharon Russell, who asked for help with a tumbleweed problem that has been plaguing her family’s farm north of Floyd. She blames Cannon Air Force Base and an overgrown Melrose Bombing Range for the tumbleweeds and wants to hold them responsible for the clean up.

Moralez told Russell he would contact the federal agencies responsible for the problem on her behalf, and contact her on Monday with an update.

“I think it’s awesome. He’s listening to me,” Russell said.
Clovis AARP President Joy Armstrong advocated to Moralez against the bed-tax that was passed in the state earlier this year to subsidize Medicare fees.

“He said he would talk (to him,) and I don’t know what the governor will do. My feeling is it may take a lot more of us,” Armstrong said.

James Hopkins, a retired educator, was glad he talked to Moralez about concerns with Richardson’s push to get all state employees retirement plans run by one blanket organization rather than teachers having a separate organization run their plan.

“I know when he does it he will try to lower our coverage,” Hopkins said.

When Hopkins saw that Moralez would be in Clovis he decided to come express his concerns.

“I thought, well, it’s worth a shot,” Hopkins said.

Gloria Wicker also hoped taking a chance might help her cause. She took Moralez on a tour of the Curry County Fairgrounds to talk to him about the county applying to get funding to improve their rodeo facilities.

“It seemed to me that he was responsive,” Wicker said.

She said Moralez would be mailing her the forms necessary to apply for the grant this week.