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Restaurant is seeking your civic engagement

Ribs BBQ in Cedar Crest asks New Mexicans to join them in a quest for civic engagement.

Owners Asa and Austin Bortz-Johnson, Brad Gunter, and Chad and Veronica Gunter embarked on their carnivorous culinary experience in 2016, when they bought the much-loved restaurant nestled in the region east of the Sandia Mountains. Four of the five had been employees previously. Asa graduated from East Mountain High School and UNM Anderson School of Management, Austin and Veronica graduated from Manzano High School, and Brad and Chad were graduates from Moriarty High School. All five new owners also enjoyed successful primary careers and small businesses; they worked without paying themselves a salary and were focused on a collective goal to invest and grow.

Then came March of 2020. In many ways, their story reflects that of businesses and industries throughout New Mexico, the country and the world. The pandemic brought restrictions and closures as concern for public health catapulted into the forefront. But in some ways, their story differs from others—the nuances matter. From the beginning, they considered themselves more fortunate than most. Their business had over 20 years of loyal guests, and they had already created a significant pre-pandemic takeout model that allowed them to pivot quickly. In other ways, they found themselves in a steep learning and strategy curve. Initially, they laid off 18 tipped employees. In restaurants, the food needs to be prepped and prepared long before customers place their orders. As people stayed home, labor costs remained constant while sales tanked. Food costs in a protein-heavy restaurant are already higher than most. Still, as various disturbances to industries and distribution compiled, brisket prices rose 300%, sanitary food prep items such as gloves more than quadrupled. Typically, alcohol sales help offset high food prices, but when restrictions called for takeout only, this rendered their $350,000 liquor license an unusable tool.

As the months went on, they discovered additional ways to pivot. Identifying slower days and closing helped alleviate labor costs. After countless lessons in becoming less reactionary, they decided it was time to take action. With little experience in politics or civics, they reached out to their state representative. It didn’t take long; Gregg Schmedes represents District 19 in the New Mexico Senate and is a patron of Ribs BBQ. Previously, while representing District 22 in the New Mexico House of Representatives, Schmedes co-sponsored House Bill 2, which had been postponed indefinitely during the Second Special Session of the 54th Legislature. The 55th Legislature is now reconsidering a version of House Bill 2 during the First Session of 2021 under Senate Bill 74.

Senate Bill 74, which is now in committee, offers what the Bortz-Johnson and Gunter families were looking for, a way to have their voices heard. It proposes that executive orders issued under the Emergency Powers Code that closes any public place or forbids or limits gatherings of people last no more than 45 days unless additional reviews and approvals are obtained outside the executive cabinet. Currently, executive orders can be continually renewed by the governor after consultation with the secretary of health with no outside (legislative) review. They feel the bill is reasonable and allows them and others to articulate their concerns. By sending long-term emergency solutions to the legislature where local representatives can highlight industries, communities and regions affected by the strain of sudden change in the name of the greater good.

Springing into action, they created a simple packet to share with customers, friends and community members. Though only Republicans are sponsoring this bill, voters from both sides of the aisle are encouraged to call their local representatives and have meaningful, data-driven, nonpartisan civic engagement. They hope that the legislature will take the bill to committee and find common ground, a place where the people of New Mexico have a significant chance to express opinions, struggles and concerns for not just this long-term emergency, but any unforeseen emergency during any governorship in the future. They created a table in their restaurant, passing out folders including a list of state representatives, a map showing districts, a copy of the bill, opinion pieces, peer-reviewed scientific articles and primary source information. Immediately witnessing an outpour of support from community members and fellow business owners newly inspired to take on a more significant role in the civic process, the Bortz-Johnson and Gunter families are encouraging all of New Mexico to do the same. Creating a digital version of the packet, they ask their fellow New Mexicans to pick up the phone, write and email, comment on Facebook and tell their personal story during the First Session of the 55th Legislature. No matter where you fall on the political spectrum, Ribs BBQ in Cedar Crest wants to make sure that before enacting extended emergency powers, your story is heard, New Mexico.

For more information email asabortz@gmail.com

Ribs is calling for citizens far and long to jump in the pot and work together. Ribs and many other companies and their staffs have endured many months of uncertain futures. Now, the blacksmiths, veteran servers, and data-obsessed folks work with their District 19 New Mexico Senator, Gregg Schmedes, on future solutions. After much time, and somewhat haphazardly, Ribs has a plan. They ask every man, woman and lawful constituent to make 2021 the year they got involved. Call representatives and put forth opinions and positions. Tell your stories to elected leaders as the dynamic and diverse people of New Mexico.

Kat Ford

 

A New Mexico presidential impeachment connection

The first presidential impeachment has a local hook. In 1868, the Union was in crisis. One man’s act of valor—not on a battlefield, but in a legislative body—held the nation together.

U.S. Senator Edmund Ross cast the deciding vote to acquit the impeached President Andrew Johnson and earned him great scorn. But Ross’s certitude ignoring bribes and threats made him a subject in the 1957 book Profiles in Courage, by John F. Kennedy.

The future president portrayed Ross as a man of righteous conviction for his vote which preserved the office of the president and avoided upheaval when the wounds of the Civil War were scarcely scabbed.

Ross was born in Ohio and pursued a career in publishing with his name on the masthead on abolitionist papers in Ohio and Kansas—and eventually New Mexico.

Ross joined a Kansas regiment as a private in the Union army and left as a major and shortly was appointed to the U.S. Senate.

That was where Ross, a Republican, intersected with Johnson, a Democrat. Johnson was impeached for removing Secretary of War Edwin Stanton. Ross shared Johnson’s view that the removal was constitutional and that the president should be acquitted.

Ross paid a price and was not returned to the Senate. But nearly two decades later, President Cleveland tapped Ross to serve a four-year term as governor of the New Mexico Territory in 1885. Ross made a home in Sandoval County and never left. He died in 1909.

After serving as governor he published an autobiography, saying: “I was again and very promptly relegated to private life and the printer’s case—and am now, by turns, printer, farmer, gentleman at leisure, author, philosopher and tramp—but never a sorehead.”

The naturalized New Mexican who held the Union together lies at rest in our friable soil beneath a most underwhelming gravestone.

Craig Springer