Grants mayor’s anti-vax tirade derails Military and Veterans’ Affairs meeting

By: - September 21, 2021 5:45 am

Grants Mayor Martin “Modey” Hicks (bottom right) leads the Military and Veterans’ Affairs Committee in the Pledge of Allegiance.

A meeting of the state Legislature’s veterans committee began as many do these days, with a reminder of the statewide mask mandate.

The meeting a week ago at an auditorium continued with legislators introducing themselves, followed by honored guests in the audience at the Grants campus of New Mexico State University.

Then the microphone was passed to Grants Mayor Martin “Modey” Hicks. The mayor didn’t wear a mask, and he launched into a tirade that ultimately prompted legislators to shut down the meeting about 30 minutes after it started, according to a webcast posted on the state Legislature’s website. 

Before he began, the mayor stepped to the front of the auditorium and chastised the legislators for forgetting a couple of things. 

“Number one, the Pledge of Allegiance,” he said, removing his cavalry hat and directing legislators toward an American flag in the room. 

They stood and did the pledge. The mayor ended his with a loud “hooah!” He then approached the legislators and thanked them for coming to “my town.”

“To my Vietnam brothers, I got one thing to say,” he said. “Welcome home.”

He took a deep breath and began:

“Grants doesn’t have a mask mandate. We’ve never had one,” he said, drawing a few cheers from the audience. 

Grants, like all New Mexico towns and cities, is subject to the statewide mask mandate imposed by Gov. Michelle Lujan Grisham last month. The order is expected to remain in place at least until Oct. 15.

The order is “slowly whittling away our rights one day at a time,” Mayor Hicks said. 

“And you veterans that sit on this committee should be standing up for our individual rights, our Bill of Rights, our Constitution, which people like Mr. Alcon, walking out the door, threw away,” he said, referring to State Rep. Eliseo Alcon (D-Milan) as he walked out of the auditorium mid-rant. 

The legislators were there to hear testimony from local veterans groups and get updates on the status of veterans issues. The meeting called to order around 10 a.m. was scheduled to last until at least 4:30 p.m.

Committee Chairman Harry Garcia (D- Grants) intervened, asking Hicks to focus on the agenda.

“Stick to the agenda? Masks are on the agenda,” Hicks said. “They should be if they’re not. Vaccines should be on the agenda. They should be if they’re not, Harry.”

Garcia pounded his gavel to try to set the meeting back on the rails. It was ultimately a lost cause.

Hicks blamed the mandates for pushing nurses to leave their posts at hospitals, though health care officials recently testified that burnout and trauma from witnessing so many COVID-19 deaths were a major cause in the nursing shortage. 

“The mask mandates, the vaccines, are killing our state. This governor is killing our state,” Hicks said. “She’s turning us into part of a Socialist nation, and … you veterans should be able to stop this crap.”

Lujan Grisham extended the mask mandate last week in light of high case counts and hospitalizations from COVID-19. As of today, 310 people are hospitalized due to the virus. At least 14 people have died of the virus since Sept. 10, adding to the statewide death toll of 4,689, according to state data. 

The bombastic mayor has tried to defy state mandates for a year and a half, even as virus counts sharply rose in Cibola County and the rest of the state. He made national headlines in late April 2020 for defying statewide lockdown orders. He called state police the “Gestapo” and urged local businesses to reopen despite the orders. 

The committee’s vice-chair, Sen. Harold Pope (D-Albuquerque), stepped in to admonish Hicks over his conduct. Pope, who served in the Air Force, said he has a nephew who just went through basic training while wearing a mask.

“So I don’t believe that we are asking much of everyone to wear a mask in a building,” he said. 

“This is not something that’s taking away your freedom or pressing you. We’re asking everyone to step up and to look out for each other. And that’s what we’ve all done in the military.”

Pope looked into the audience and said he saw a few people still not wearing masks. He again asked them to put one on, else the meeting might be adjourned. 

Garcia then reiterated that state law required masks indoors. 

It’s not clear from the webcast video exactly what happened next. An audience member can be heard shouting about lack of notice for the meeting. Then Garcia pounded his gavel four times.

“We’ll just adjourn this meeting for right now,” he said, before the screen goes black. 

Pope told Source New Mexico that the meeting began again shortly afterward, though the Mayor and three or four other people left the auditorium when it resumed.

“I think they assumed they shut the meeting down,” he said, “but we just went back to the regular meeting.”

Among the group of unmasked men was a Grants city councilor, Pope said, and another man who said he’d quit a veteran’s services organization over a vaccine mandate. 

Pope said that even though the meeting ultimately went ahead as planned, the disruption could have scared away someone who wanted to speak publicly. He’s not sure how many people returned to the auditorium after the brief adjournment.

“He’s a veteran like me. We have discipline,” Pope said. “That’s just no way to act, no way to act for people who are elected officials themselves.”

Hicks, in an interview, defended his choice to speak up at the meeting, despite his concerns not being directly veteran-related. He said some corrections officers, many of them veterans, and a local veteran’s services officer “lost their jobs” due to the vaccine mandates, though they chose to resign instead of getting the vaccine or being subject to weekly tests. 

He said veterans have a responsibility to protect the Constitution, and they’re failing by not challenging vaccine mandates, which he sees as a violation of federal health privacy laws. 

The Health Insurance Portability and Accountability Act (HIPAA) does not prohibit an employer from asking for an employee’s vaccine status. It prevents a health care provider from disclosing that information without a patient’s approval. 

Hicks said whether someone dies of COVID-19 is a matter of divine intervention, not vaccinations or masks. Hicks is himself vaccinated, though, he said. 

“We’re all gonna die. There’s no doubt about that. We’re all gonna die in God’s time, when God says so,” he said. “It doesn’t matter if you wear a mask or not.”

According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, 10 recent studies in the United States and Europe show that “new infections fell significantly” following masking directives. Two of those studies also showed a drop in mortality from Covid-19.

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Patrick Lohmann
Patrick Lohmann

Patrick Lohmann has been a reporter since 2007, when he wrote stories for $15 apiece at a now-defunct tabloid in Gallup, his hometown. Since then, he's worked at UNM's Daily Lobo, the Albuquerque Journal and the Syracuse Post-Standard.