‘Nobody ever told me’

Occasionally in the news we come across an item that requires a re-read. Did I get that right? we ask.

A week ago there was an item in the Albuquerque Journal about a man — James Roger Madalena — the second-longest-serving member of the New Mexico Legislature, who asserted that he’d never read a particular document that relates to how a politician goes about receiving donations and what to do when he/she receives them.

Specifically, Madalena has joined several other lawmakers who — oh so suddenly — discovered that some of his campaign expenses might not have been legitimate, such as paying for a surgery copay, clothing, Internet service and for help for a needy family.

When confronted about the spurious spending, the 31-year House member first said, “In my years in our State Legislature I have never seen nor read our Campaign Reporting Act.

A few days later, he changed his story. It turns out he was a co-signer of the Campaign Reporting Act, and his hand-in-the-cookie-jar explanation was, “Of course I have read the Campaign Finance Reporting Act. In fact, I co-sponsored the Act.”

That reversal ought to remind us of the role Jon Lovitz played on Saturday Night Live. The comedian would say things like, “Yes, I’ve heard of the National Anthem; in fact, I composed it.”

Madalena said that explanation, ostensibly, was to make a point to Secretary of State Dianna Duran’s office that “they need to do more on campaign finance reporting.” In case you’re wondering, Duran herself faces a slew of charges relating to the alleged use of campaign funds to feed a massive gambling addiction.

Nice going, Rep. Madalena. Nice way to shift the blame. Should the public ever wish to retain a politician who brags about his failure to read up on regulations that he co-sponsors? In addition, Madalena, attempting to justify his penchant for spending the public’s money on questionable items, used this excuse: “All I heard from my House colleagues was, use your campaign funds relative to your campaign . . . I was told.” Then he said, “Hindsight being 20/20, I feel I have been misled verbally.”

Madalena’s excuses certainly are imaginative. And notice the use of the passive voice: “I have been misled verbally.” That flabby grammatical construction apparently absolves him of any responsibility.

Now what’s been going on during the time that Madalena was being pressured to ‘fess up? The thousands of dollars that the secretary of state was losing in casinos were the hot-button issue.
You see, a former Republican Party Chairman, Harvey Yates Jr., questioned Madalena about the expenses. And because of the fervid political climate, it became convenient for Madalena to call the whole thing a “distraction.”

Oh yes. Now we get it. Madalena, a Democrat, is being picked on to take the heat off Republican Duran.

My! How predictable have been all of Madalena’s contentions.

• • •

Before I retired, I was invited to serve on orals committees for several students working on their master’s degrees. The dozen times I served, I was an “outside” member of the committee, a practice that was common. It’s often helpful to invite someone from a different department and discipline to serve. That meant that some of the questions that person would ask might have nothing to do with the subject matter but instead zero in on things like the research process or even the M.A. candidate’s plans on how to use the degree.

Toward the end of my tenure at Highlands, I received a copy of a student’s master’s project and could barely get through it, as it was fraught with spelling and grammatical errors that raise a teacher’s hackles. I tried to explain that it would have helped immensely if she were to go through the entire 75 pages and correct every single error in grammar and spelling. It may take a few days, but at least the content would be much clearer.

Without flinching, the M.A. candidate answered, “Well, nobody told me I had made errors.” Perhaps not, but every master’s student — irrespective of the subject — ought to employ correct usage. I was made to feel that it was the committee’s fault for failing to circle every single misuse of your/you’re, they’re/there, a lot/alot, and the dozens of instances of “suppose to” and “use to.”

Now we’re not talking about an eighth-grader’s theme or even a college freshman’s book report. We referring to the work of a person seeking the highest degree Highlands University offers.

But particularly bothersome was the student’s implication that it was OUR job to identify every error and, in effect, make the corrections for her. And her “nobody told me” is such a cop-out.

My almost 30 years as a comma chaser at Highlands convinced me that too many students (and some professors as well) believe that correct spelling is in the purview only of English teachers. So if you teach history or philosophy or virtually any other discipline, you needn’t check for errors.

As a freshman, at Highlands, I admired the way my Music Appreciation professor left big bold red marks on a paper I’d submitted. Yes, I knew how to spell and punctuate, but I was also lazy and I believed that music teachers, involved with scales, timbre, flats and sharps, wouldn’t care about punctuation and spelling.

This one did.

Even though every English teacher may demand precision, other teachers may and should care as well about accuracy in college work.

So what’s the connection between the M.A. student’s orals performance and our long-serving state legislator?

Both of them seem to believe that since “nobody told me,” that absolved them of any responsibility to do things right.

One thought on “‘Nobody ever told me’

  1. Dolores Hagen

    Really like this column, Art. It’s a powerful comment on how many people have a strong sense of entitlement. Nice that you’re shining a light on it.

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