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A prayer for politics, children and free-roaming horses

ALBUQUERQUE, N.M. — For me, a paid watcher of politics and government, the year just passed seemed to begin and end with the word “bipartisanship.”

But just as I thought I had this column sewn up, a young, “wild” horse nibbled at my pocket near sunset on a Placitas mesa and a 9-year-old boy died after allegedly being kicked by his mother in their Albuquerque home.

The stories – all three raising questions with me about human responsibilities – merged in my head as the year ran out.

With political gridlock more familiar than government progress, agreement on a big state tax package in Santa Fe and a federal budget deal in Washington were hopeful signs in 2013.

New Mexico’s annual legislative session ended March 16 with passage of the tax package, reducing burdens on business and offering aid to TV and film productions. Democratic legislative leaders and Republican Gov. Susana Martinez called it a compromise and it became known as a “jobs bill” in economically challenged New Mexico.

Congress last month approved a bipartisan deal that fell short of full reckoning with a continuing federal budget crisis but represented a break from political impasse and at least temporarily prevented another government shutdown.

Actually, the more important word here might be “compromise” – an often disparaged concept that becomes more practical when voters and political institutions are narrowly divided. Working together, now and then, can get you off the dime.

And again, the word “responsibility” comes to mind.

“It wasn’t a victory for one political party or for another,” Gov. Martinez said after the Legislature’s adjournment in Santa Fe. “It was a victory for New Mexico.”

” ‘Compromise’ is not a dirty word,” Senate Budget Committee Chairwoman Patty Murray, D-Wash., said after she and House Budget Committee Chairman Paul Ryan, R-Wis., saw their federal budget agreement adopted by both chambers and headed for the president’s signature.

William Hoagland, a top budget aide to now former Sen. Pete Domenici, R-N.M., and a senior vice president at the Bipartisan Policy Center in Washington, D.C., wrote in December, “The chairs of the House and Senate budget committees achieved what many thought impossible only a few weeks ago.

“They found common ground among very diverse and politically opposite versions of budgets,” Hoagland wrote in an essay, published in U.S. News and World Report.

“Even if the agreement falls short of addressing the fundamental federal budgetary challenges that confront the country’s future, and it does, it nonetheless demonstrates that two very different political philosophies can still find common cause in a polarized country and a divided Congress,” Hoagland said.

Which brings me, in admittedly circuitous fashion, to the hopeful young horse I encountered on a Placitas hilltop Sunday evening and 9-year-old Omaree Varela, whose death I read about in that morning’s Journal.

My path on a late Sunday afternoon walk intersected with that of a longtime Placitas couple also out on a walk on public land we’re still lucky to have as our backyard. A half-dozen of the area’s free-roaming horses stood at the same grass-bare trail crossing, maybe waiting for the stallion to lead them to a place where someone provides hay.

We stood and talked while our dogs sat quietly and the small band of horses milled around us, winter sun dropping between Mount Taylor and Cabezon, leaving some last warmth and golden light.

Of course, we talked about the hot local debate over the future of the ever-growing numbers of the horses on drought- and animal-depleted range – horses that we can’t even agree on what to call.

Some insist they are wild; others say they’re feral. “Free-roaming horses” has become the politically correct term, safest in all company.

A soft-coated, brown foal sidled up behind me and nibbled tentatively, almost politely, at my pocket, unsure of my reaction. It was a baby bite, more amusing than annoying.

Another foal stood nearby and a mare, possibly its mother, looked pregnant.

I turned to say “Heh, baby” to the nibbling young horse and saw in its eyes the same look of innocence and hope that all babies seem to have.

I found myself wishing I could assure him of a decent future.

On Monday, I was back in the newsroom with a bunch of editors and reporters shaking their heads and asking how a 9-year-old boy could be so coldly abused.

His future had been answered, never really having started.

People who never knew him asked how it could be prevented from ever happening again.

UpFront is a daily front-page news and opinion column. Comment directly to John Robertson, the Journal’s politics editor, at or 823-3911. Go to to submit a letter to the editor.