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Former Mines President Wilson Headed for El Paso Amidst Concerns About Votes on Equality

The University of Texas Board of Regents will meet today and probably name Heather Wilson the next president of the University of Texas at El Paso. Some public opposition has boiled up against the former South Dakota School of Mines president and current Air Force Secretary over her votes against LGBTQ equality during her terms as Congresswoman from New Mexico.

Mines assistant dean of students Dan Sepion acknowledges Wilson’s voting record wasn’t great, but she dispelled his concerns on the equality front when she went to work at Mines:

Sepion, 39, assistant dean of students at the small university in Rapid City, South Dakota, said Wilson’s voting record when she was a U.S. congresswoman for New Mexico “didn’t scream this is someone who would be inclusive with students, especially with LGBTQ students.”

…Some of the angst (in El Paso) is understood,” Sepion said. “But when you see Heather in action and working with students, I think all those anxieties will disappear.”

…But Sepion said Wilson was supportive of all students during her almost four years at the South Dakota university, with about 2,600 students, and interacted with students better than Sepion had seen of any university president in his 17 years working in higher education, he said.

“Her actions spoke much louder than the votes that occurred a long time ago,” he said [Vic Kolenc, “Heather Wilson Gets Good Reviews from Former South Dakota School of Mines Colleagues,” El Paso Times, 2019.03.28].

Given that UTEP sits less than a kilometer from Mexico, is 80% Hispanic, and has lots student, staff, and program connections with Mexico that are being harmed by the current Administration’s irrational border policy, one would hope Wilson’s strong statement in favor of immigration and against white supremacists who snuck around postering Mines in 2017 would improve her standing at UTEP:

With every wave of immigration in America, some have promoted the fiction that the only ones who belong here, the only ones who really contribute to this remarkable country, the only “real” Americans, are people who look and sound and speak and pray like the person we see when we look in the bathroom mirror in the morning.

But when we set aside our fears and our pride, and look around us, we know that’s just not true.

Here, at the School of Mines, we prepare leaders in engineering and science and we advance the world’s knowledge. Some of these young leaders gather in the Newman Center on Sunday nights; others pray five times a day facing Mecca. Our exceptional students are the descendants of slaves and the descendants of Norwegian farmers. Some are indigenous here, others arrived as refugees from wars that still rage. They are the children of wealthy parents who have been provided every opportunity, and the children of unknown fathers who have aged out of foster care. As faculty and staff we have similar winding paths that brought us to this place.

All of us are part of the rich tapestry of talent that will help solve the great challenges of the twenty-first century. Each of us deserves to be treated with dignity and respect [Heather Wilson, e-mail responding to white supremacist posters on campus, 2017.03.03].

Little of the fuss against Wilson’s appointment seems to be focusing on the swampiness of her defense-industry lobbying. But Trump appointees itching to escape should be heartened by today’s vote at UTEP to see that serving Il Duce hasn’t yet made one unemployable.


  1. Donald Pay 2019-04-02 08:14

    Let me point out that, in addition to her defense industry connections, Wilson has been in the tank for the nuclear waste industry, which has been quite corrupt in how it has gone about siting various facilities in West Texas. We saw Wilson at work in South Dakota with her secret efforts on shale and deep borehole disposal of radioactive waste. Several years ago billionaire Harold Simmons proposed a nuclear dump in the nearby Sierra Blanco region. He was also active just across the border in Wilson’s native New Mexico. Simmons’ Waste Control Specialists finally bribed its way into a nuke dump in Andrews County. The corruption involved in siting that facility was similar to what happens in South Dakota.

  2. Rorschach 2019-04-02 11:11

    I’m not a fan of Wilson, but I will say this. It’s amazing to see how rapidly public opinion shifted on the issue of LGBTQ equality. It was a long time coming, but all of a sudden things changed. Back in the 1990s and early 2000s even Democrats were against gay marriage – some pushing instead for civil unions. Politicians are a cautious bunch, and if one wants to win and be in a position to make a difference it’s better to not get too far out in front of public opinion. The fact that 20 years ago Wilson was not a champion of LGBTQ rights when the public was against those rights really means nothing today – unless she has continued to oppose said rights after they have become widely accepted.

  3. Robert McTaggart 2019-04-02 11:52

    How is the waste management going for wind and solar energy? Or is ignoring that the best environmental practice we have at the moment? Good news everybody…the cost doesn’t appear on the books until you try to solve the problem.

    We should be recycling as much of our wastes as possible, be they renewable wastes or nuclear wastes. Recycling would recover value and reduce the volume needing permanent disposal for any form of energy.

    But given that direct burial of nuclear wastes is what is on the table for the foreseeable future in the United States, is shale a good material for isolating radionuclides from the environment? The real “secret” is that there are likely a number of good candidate materials for permanent disposal, and there are these things called science and engineering that we can use to make them work.

    It is just that nobody wants to solve the problem. Today it is more important for the other side to lose than to solve problems. Don’t worry, renewable interests are going to make their money and renewable lobbyists will be happy…we will need a lot of energy. But you can solve problems at the same time.

    The issue with deep borehole disposal is that the tests have not occurred (or have not been allowed to occur) to demonstrate retrievability. You would like retrievability for two reasons. First, a community would be able to withdraw their consent for storage at some later date. Second, recycling may become either necessary or more cost-effective.

    The good news is that oil and gas drilling techniques have recently demonstrated retrievability of canisters with the same weight as a proposed nuclear fuel container. That method does not depend on having a super-straight borehole (it can actually go sideways).

  4. mike from iowa 2019-04-02 12:28

    Donald Pay, wasn’t Simmons a big money giver to Good Hair Perry, Texas Governor, and was given the job of nuke waste disposal in Texas because of his donations? And didn’t he decide by himself that some land of his in west Texas was the perfect spot for waste disposal near an aquifer? Never mind. I’ll look it up.

  5. Robert McTaggart 2019-04-02 12:57

    Opposition is growing to subsidies of renewables in Texas, mainly by a conservative group. Wind energy has probably has had the most growth in Texas. Climate change apparently is the dessert, not the main course driving wind energy in Texas.

    Interesting….there is a lobbyist working on behalf of both renewable AND natural gas companies. Hmmm. Seems like they are tied together for some strange reason.

    The issue in Texas is air conditioning when renewables are not available. Fossil fuels are bad until the AC doesn’t work.

  6. o 2019-04-02 13:28

    Don’t you think the new resistance to renewable subsidies is because of a shift in US energy production? The US is now a net oil exporter, so the easier money to be made is selling oil — not moving to new energy technology. The exploitation mindset is pushing us back to the 1800’s instead of a forward-thinking environmental/energy policy looking to the 21st century and beyond.

  7. Robert McTaggart 2019-04-02 15:17

    Money is tight at all state legislatures, so there is a lot of zero-sum game play and anti-tax sentiment, and that is nothing new. One person may see a subsidy as a tax, and the other may see it as an investment, and there is likely a case for each one.

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