Saturday, January 2, 2010

Truth And Consequences

 Trivia question: What was the original name of the New Mexico town that changed its name to Truth Or Consequences?

Residents of this town of 7,000 are just as quirky as they were in the early 1950s when they voted to rename their village after a popular television show of the time.

The difference is they are thinking big time. I mean really out-of-the-box-to-the-moon big time.

In 2008, voters in Truth or Consequences and others in Serra County approved a 1/2-cent sales tax by a 66% margin to help build their share of a $225 million Spaceport America project scheduled to open in 2011.

This followed Gov. Bill Richardson's wheeling and dealing in 2002 by securing state funding for the enterprise. He wooed billionaire Richard Branson's Virgin Galactic to be the anchor tenant.

The facility, to consist of hangars, a terminal and the runway, may garner additional tenants if commercial space travel proves popular. The project is under the jurisdiction of the Spaceport Commission, a state agency.

Nicholas Riccardi of the Los Angeles Times writes a delightful article on the transformation of the Truth Or Consequences residents.

Throckmorton and other activists have been banned from speaking at city commission meetings.

Gary Whitehead, a member of the Spaceport Commission and former county commissioner, says those critics are wary of the looming transformation of their sleepy town. "We're really changing who we are as a community," he said. "We're a pretty small town; it's been pretty simple here for a while."

Whitehead dismissed the critics as relentlessly negative. "I'm on the hospital board, and they oppose everything we do there too," he said.

The median household income is $23,000, well below the state's $41,000. Ranching and tourism are among the few ways to make a living.

On a recent day, Whitehead drove down the winding desert road to the spaceport site, pointing out new bridges and paved roads along the way that benefit residents. He paused by a trailer on the construction site housing workers from a local company. "Fifty local jobs," he said.

Answer to trivia question -- The town about 150 south of Albuquerque and near the nuclear testing grounds of White Sands was named after its natural resource, Hot Springs.

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