WHEN PASSION MEETS POWER: SENATOR MARY JANE GARCIA, CAPITOL CHAMPION OF THE ANIMALS!
by Helga Schimkat
Senator Mary Jane Garcia is a powerful and passionate woman who has turned her loathing of violence, whether it is violence towards human beings or towards animals, into her top priority at the New Mexico Legislature where she has served as a State Senator since 1988. I met with Garcia at the start of this year's legislative session hoping to learn a little more about this remarkable woman. Her life story is laced with both fond memories of the different animals with whom she has connected in her life and also of the periodic episodes of animal cruelty that she has witnessed.
Garcia describes her background as "very simple." She grew up in the historic village of Dona Ana, just north of Las Cruces. Her parents owned a grocery store and dance hall. One of Garcia's earliest memories of animal cruelty dates back to those days, when she would witness some of the local guys pouring kerosene on tarantulas and then torching them. She could not understand why these men would do that to these little and beautiful creatures.
Since her childhood days in Dona Ana, Garcia has traveled the world and lived in San Francisco, Colorado Springs, Spain and Viet Nam (yes, during the Viet Nam war). She has owned an international folk art and gift shop and now owns a nightclub with her five sisters. In discussing the nightclub, a memory of animal cruelty again reveals itself. Sweeping outside the nightclub one morning, Garcia pulled a piece of cellophane from a cactus and found three baby owls stuffed inside, suffocated to death.
In 1988 Garcia ran for the State Senate and has been there ever since, making her one of the most experienced female legislators in New Mexico. Currently the Majority Whip for the Senate, Garcia is also one of the few women who have been elected to a leadership position, a position that she says "feels good." Commenting on the new administration, Garcia noted that she has not "been this excited in eight years" to be in session because she is looking forward to working with Governor Richardson.
Of all of Garcia's legislative successes, she is most proud about being the sponsor of the animal cruelty bill in 1999. She says that she was "so excited" when the animal cruelty bill passed. Having witnessed Garcia's acceptance speech for the Milagro Award that she received for that sponsorship, I can attest to Garcia's genuine and enthusiastic excitement.
Garcia is adamant about driving home the point that cruelty and violence to animals is directly connected to violence to and among human beings. She says that we must not allow it and must not allow our children to be violent towards animals. If we do not teach children how to love animals and treat them kindly they will think it is okay to poison a dog or torture a cat and they will grow up to be violent members of our communities. Garcia remembers that many of the kids in her community who treated animals badly wound up in trouble, in prison or were themselves killed by violent acts. Public education, she believes, is not only necessary, but mandatory for making further progress.
Garcia follows through on her convictions. She has 65 nieces and nephews and is the self- proclaimed "storyteller" in her family. She insists that you must make quality time for children and that "you can never turn a child away," especially in the formative years. Garcia teaches all of her nieces and nephews how to behave with and treat animals and that if you love them they will love you and take care of you. As a result of her work with her family, all of her nieces and nephews have animals, love them and treat them well.
Garcia and I also discussed cockfighting, a hot issue at the legislature for the past several years. She wonders why we let children watch violence like cockfighting and refutes the argument that cockfighting is a cultural issue in New Mexico. "Some people would say it is cultural. I am Hispanic and I do not think it is a cultural thing. I see it as a violent act between two beautiful little creatures." Garcia points out the difference between our state of New Mexico and the country of Mexico where "it is a very cultural thing" and they even have songs about cockfighting. She says, "I think it is very gruesome" just to listen to those songs (although she does not seem to mind pointing out that in one of the songs the rooster kills the cockfighter).
Garcia's connection with animals goes back to her childhood and describes herself as "sensitive" to animals and "truly an animal lover." She said "I have loved cats all of my life." She names her cats based on their physical characteristics like "Three Legs," "Stripe on the Mouth" and "Bookends One and Two" (for a pair of orange tabbies, one of whom still lives with her). She says, "I adore them. They are my babies." Garcia even loves snakes and says the only animal she is scared of is the scorpion as she recalls a scorpion in her shower on a trip in the Yucatan many years ago. Garcia has also suffered tremendous loss and has had several of her animals killed by an individual who went through her community several years ago poisoning many animals.
On that note, I asked Garcia how she felt about rattlesnake roundups and she didn't mince words: "I hate them." She said we don't need to "go out there and kill snakes. It is not right to do these things." This discussion causes her to remember "one of the worst things I saw in desert," an owl with its head shot off. I asked her why that would happen and Garcia responded, with a coy chuckle: "Men go out there with guns and shoot anything that moves---- it's a macho thing, what else could it be?"
On the topic of how the public can best get involved Garcia had several suggestions. One, people should become educated about animal ordinances at the local and state level. Two, the public should talk to their legislators and write them letters expressing support for animal issues and bills. And, third, educate, educate, educate-everyone in sight.
Garcia's final words are to drive the point home that we have to be concerned about animal cruelty because of the connection ("of course--it is the connection!") that translates to human cruelty. She states simply "it is a preventable thing."
The match between animal advocates and the Senator who says "animals get me very much in the heart," looks like a good thing for the animals.
Helga Schimkat is a lawyer. She has worked in private practice and for animal and environmental non profit organizations.
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