I had to chuckle when I read Clarke Dunnam's letter questioning town council member and Taos County Democratic Party Chair Darien Fernandez' qualifications for Mayor.Clarke is right in that he …
Clarke is right in that he doesn't know Darien. He's incorrect on so many other levels, however. The Darien I and so many others know is certainly qualified.
Darien has two sons that spend time in Taos. They hike, fish, ski, attend numerous public functions and more.
Darien's network includes family members and friends, and supporters like the former mayor of Galveston, Texas, and the former city manager of Philadelphia. There are also supporters who have helped elect senators, representatives and governors.
Darien has been a council member for two years, but has been involved politically since he was 15. As a teenager, he was involved in the broad coalition of youth and adults who pushed for several years to build the skate park at the Youth and Family Center. He has volunteered on numerous political campaigns. His background in political science and his real-world experience are an asset.
As chair of the Taos County Democratic Party, Darien knows and regularly speaks with legislators from around the state and our elected officials in Washington. He has worked with Sen. Martin Heinrich to protect the Río Grande del Norte National Monument from President Trump's anti-public lands agenda.
He has worked with state Rep. Ben Ray Lujan to address the opioid crisis in our state. And he's working every day to encourage people to get involved in the democratic process, regardless of political affiliation. That's a level of statesmanship seldom seen today even in Washington.
Locally, Darien is supported by people from all walks of life. He can count on small business owners, lifelong residents, recent arrivals and so many more who appreciate his efforts to truly unite our community and build consensus and compromise, skills he learned working in the financial services industry negotiating with major banks, utility companies and other businesses.
I've lived here long enough to see gross receipts and lodgers taxes grow under several mayors. Darien's plan to diversify our economy will lead to a more sustained growth that isn't so weather dependent. Paving roads and passing audits is to be expected of any government.
Darien talks to small business owners every day. He hears their concerns about the lack of direction, the lack of a qualified workforce, the lack of a diverse economy, the lack of opportunity that makes their kids want to leave town as soon as possible. He has the same conversations with the many people at Taos Pueblo, Peñasco, Questa, El Prado, Ranchos, Talpa, Cordillera, many of whom consider Darien family.
Darien is dedicated to supporting local businesses. His campaign has purchased all campaign materials locally. He himself shops locally every day and encourages his constituents, friends and family to do so as well.
Darien left for awhile, too, and came back. He's running because the same lack of opportunity he felt as a young person in this community is still felt by young people today. We've invested in the status quo for decades, and the results are clearer and clearer every day.
Twenty percent of our legacy population has left in the last 10 years. We are one of the poorest counties in one of the poorest states, an example of which are the 62 empty storefronts in our community.
I don't care about age or decades of experience in this election. John F. Kennedy was called young and inexperienced, but he inspired a nation to land on the moon. Barack Obama was called young and inexperienced, but he inspired a nation with his presidency and raised us out of a major recession. Martin Luther King, Jr. was in his twenties when be began leading civil rights marches that ended centuries of overt state-sanctioned discrimination. All of these "young and inexperienced" leaders brought people together and moved our society forward.
Taos needs unity and inspiration, too, before we end up like most of our legacy population, looking for better opportunities elsewhere. Taos needs a leader with the vision and a plan that works for everyone so that we don't end up with another 62 empty storefronts. Taos needs someone who understands the struggles of so many in our community, because he struggles as well.
Taos needs Darien Fernandez, and I'm standing with him on March 6. In the meantime, I hope Clarke Dunnam gets to know the next mayor of Taos.
Jim Dostal lives in Taos.
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