Senator Tom Udall visits with veterans upon his arrival at the Roswell Public Library, Tuesday afternoon. (Mark Wilson Photo)
In effort to better serve constituents, U.S. Sen. Tom Udall, D-N.M., visited Roswell Tuesday to meet with members of the agricultural community and veterans from around southeastern New Mexico.
Udall recently joined the Senate Appropriations Committee and also serves on subcommittees that deal with issues such as agriculture, rural development and veterans affairs. The senator will hold several meetings throughout the week in other counties to hear from leaders involved in those topics.
“Knowing what’s going on here on the ground each day allows me to ask the tough questions of agencies and take care of constituents,” he said. “I never forget who elected me. My job is to help them and be their voice.”
Udall first attended a roundtable discussion on agricultural and drought issues at Eastern New Mexico University-Roswell, which featured local farmers, ranchers and representatives from organizations such as the New Mexico Cattle Growers Association and the New Mexico Hay Association.
The drought has hit the dairy industry particularly hard, said Beverly Idsinga, executive director of Dairy Producers of New Mexico, who brought along her 9-month-old daughter, Charley.
Last year, the state lost nine dairies and has lost four so far this year. There are 147 dairies in New Mexico, she said, down from a high of 185 in 2006.
“We’ve lost very large dairies,” she said. “It’s just been miserable.”
At that point, Charley cried out. “She’s very unhappy about this,” Beverly joked.
However, she said the state is first in the country for efficiency, producing the most milk per cow. “We’re doing more with less,” she said.
USDA Wildlife Services State Director Alan May also presented information on feral swine and New Mexico’s efforts to trap and track the species through a $1 million pilot eradication project.
Nationally, the species causes $1.5 billion in property damage annually, he said, and contaminates water supplies for people and livestock, leading to diseases that could be fatal.
Udall helped secure the funding for the program and said feral swine is a serious issue and New Mexico is the right place to set up model that can be followed as to how to approach it.
The senator later met with riders and drivers of the SENM Veterans Transportation Network at the Roswell Public Library. Udall said the concerns of veterans have been a high priority for him because “veterans were here for us, so we need to be there for them.”
Driver Diane Stallard said the network’s trips are typically 12 hours, departing from Roswell at 6 a.m. to travel to cities around the state, as well as Texas. “It’s a hard day,” she said, noting that most passengers don’t have the chance to eat breakfast before leaving.
Many expressed frustration at the U.S. government’s seeming lack of effort to care for veterans. As much as the government says it hears and understands veteran needs, “we don’t see things happening,” said self-driver Charlie Daniels.
“Some little action would be much appreciated,”he said.
Former driver Jimmy Copeland said he decided the organization because he was tired of being “jerked around. “I’m tired of fighting it,” he said. “I’m tired of asking for help.”
Sally Garza travels with her husband Gustavo whenever he uses the transportation service. Every veteran is trying to get to Albuquerque, she said, literally fighting for their lives.
Coming from a family of veterans, she said they should be treated better by the government, which seems not to care for veterans because “they’re no longer useful.”
Organization president Magil Duran said veterans selflessly served their country and “we deserve what we deserve.”
“We’re not asking for a handout, we’re just asking for a hand,” he said.