Jeff Essary

Ousted Floyd school board member Jeff Essary has been hospitalized since Aug. 15 with COVID-19. He says he has pneumonia, but continues to oppose mandates on masks and vaccinations.

Aug. 4 — Jeff Essary and the other four school board members in the small village of Floyd are suspended by Gov. Michelle Lujan Grisham’s administration. The board rebelled against state public health orders intended to blunt the spread of COVID-19.

Thursday — Essary marks his 11th day as a patient in Roosevelt General Hospital in Portales. He is being treated for COVID-19 and a related case of pneumonia.

Essary admits he feared for his life, even as he continues to criticize the Democratic governor for what he claims is an abuse of power.

“We all get scared when we can’t breathe,” Essary wrote to me. “My situation was quite advanced and scary.”

He is sheepish about only one part of his behavior in recent weeks. Essary called his care at Roosevelt General “substandard,” an assessment he’s lived to regret.

“I feel humbled with my previous statements against RGH. When you’re scared, you always want better care,” he wrote. “I apologize wholeheartedly to staff and doctors if that’s what you want to print.”

Essary, 48, feels no such remorse for opposing Lujan Grisham’s orders on masks and vaccinations.

He says the governor crossed a line. Instead of respecting local control of public schools, he says, Lujan Grisham forced her beliefs on Floyd residents.

“I still hold fast and true to my stance,” Essary wrote. “It should be up to the individual, parent or guardian of children on how we go about its handling, especially in my school district.”

His idea amounts to a risky proposition in small-town New Mexico. The village of Floyd has a population of 110. Farm kids from the surrounding area give the Floyd Municipal Schools twice that many students.

Essary’s wife, Jenny, who’s been a bus driver for the school district, also tested positive for COVID-19. By Essary’s account, her symptoms were mild and she’s a candidate to interact again with kids.

“She had a fever for a day. She feels fine and can go back to work next week due to the state Public Education Department guidelines, I believe.”

Floyd is Essary’s hometown, a place where everyone knows everyone. Residents still remember him playing basketball for the Floyd High School Broncos when coach Dwayne Kibbe had a powerhouse program in the 1980s.

And Kibbe remembers Essary as anything but a rebel, be it one with or without a cause.

“He was a unique kid, very upbeat. He was never negative, and he worked hard,” Kibbe said by phone from his home in Portales.

How good a player was Essary?

“Jeffrey was average,” Kibbe said, but part of a memorable clan. “I coached seven Essarys, Jeffrey and six of his first cousins.”

The old coach is only partly on board with his former player’s stand against the governor.

“I do believe in personal choice, yet it’s a touch-and-go situation,” Kibbe said. “All the people I know in the Clovis and Portales area who are getting COVID didn’t get the shots. Lots of people are going to disagree with me, but a fact’s a fact.”

Leon Nall, ousted as Floyd’s school board president, is optimistic that he, Essary and the other deposed members will be reinstated by a judge.

“The issue isn’t masks. This is about local control,” Nall said Thursday.

Speaking of control, a quarantine prevents Nall from visiting his hospitalized colleague. The irony of litigating for reinstatement as school board members while Essary recovers from COVID-19 hasn’t eluded either of them.

Essary says he’s feeling better. Even from a hospital bed, he won’t second-guess his decision to reject preventive measures.

“I still don’t personally believe in the vaccine or masks. But if that’s the way you feel then that is your right as an American.”

Essary makes his living as a farmer. He’s been on his own in the agriculture business since 1997. He also has worked as a correctional officer, a milk transport driver and a firefighter.

He became a school board member in 2005. Stripped of his seat and infected with COVID-19 in the same month, Essary says he followed his conscience in defying the governor.

“I’ve been open with you,” he wrote. “I pray and hope you give me an open and honest interview. I’m just a man living in a small Eastern New Mexico community trying to raise a family and help my neighbors.”

He closed by saying he wants everyone to get through the pandemic healthy.

It’s a line the governor herself uses in one form or another. Somehow, it sounds different coming from an unvaccinated, hospitalized COVID-19 patient who thought he might not make it home alive.

Ringside Seat is an opinion column about people, politics and news. Contact Milan Simonich at or 505-986-3080.

(60) comments

Emily Hartigan

This unrepentant guy is God's child. But he is also a disease vector who is taking up a hospital bed. Maybe he needs to recognize the harms he caused to the community ... kind of like a restorative justice process?[rolleyes]

Carolyn DM

Wow!! Still incredibly stupid after almost dying. It's true when they say brainwashing is permanent!! Such a freakin' waste!

Jim Klukkert

Very Well Said John Crenshaw, thank you. On Public health mandates:

"Innocent people *do* catch Covid by breathing the virus-laden air an unvaccinated, infected person expels. Joining a drunk on his binge is a choice; inhaling some misguided fool’s virus isn’t."

Khal Spencer

As a D and a liberal on a lot of things, I am a little embarrassed by all the piling on. If I lived in this man's district, I would be wishing him well and for a full recovery. Its a little asinine to be adding insult to injury.

Russell Scanlon

It’s not “piling on”. These folks have been given every warning, every piece of information, and every opportunity to get a free shot. Not only are they endangering every citizen they encounter but they are ruining our nation’s chance to fully recover from this mess and move on, PLUS they are filling up hospital beds that could be used for other patients (and in the case of this jack*ss. COMPLAINING about their health care).

I’m liberal. I’m compassionate. But enough is enough.

Khal Spencer

If it was up to me, I'd edit out the "stupid", "fool", "jack*ss", joking about disrespecting someone at their gravesite, etc., etc. And we wonder why the red and blue tribes hate each other? I have my own disagreements with both the right and left, but often, when I'm trying to be thoughtful, try to find out why a person is stuck in beliefs that I find counterintuitive. It might be wiser for all to reach out rather than rhetorically slam the door shut.

I listened to part of a Chris Hedges** talk this morning driving up to Los Alamos but unfortunately, missed a lot as I had a class to attend and had to turn off the radio. He talked at length about the increasing tribalism in America and his belief that it will eventually cause the nation to fail because the tribalism causes us to devalue each other and it's a downward spiral. He was, to be sure, pretty even handed in criticizing both the FAUX News and MSNBC crowds. I think this is the interview, because I think he mentioned on the Alternative Radio show this morning that it was in Troy, NY.


Robert Fields

There are some key differences here, though, Khal. True, people like this guy’s reckless behavior has landed them in the hospital. If that’s all there was to it, it’s not really even my business.

But that’s not all there is to it. This school board member was making policy in defiance of state medical and educational mandates that are proven to save lives. By extension, what this guy was doing was going to kill people. It would result in increased infection in his district, and he had also been trying to encourage the same defiance in surrounding districts to basically organize a revolt in eastern and southeastern NM. Let’s not forget that the primary channel he was using for his revolt were children. *Children.”

Delta is harder on children. They are getting sicker longer in this wave and more are dying. Children could then infect families who infect coworkers, etc. Hospitals in the area are already carrying heavy covid patient loads and vulnerable volunteers are being asked to stay home. Covid is bad where this guy lives and he was about to provide a big maskless mixing pot for it and tried to get others to join in his lunacy.

What that guy was doing was likely going to get people in his and surrounding communities killed. I’m sure it wasn’t intentional but it was probably going to happen. You know it.

The whole reason we even have this problem with maskless unvaccinated is social media and the ability for these people to wallow in their conspiracies largely behind closed doors. We have people here, that SFNM needs to ban, who push hard to convince others that vaccines are bad and they shouldn’t get them. These people are killing others. You cannot forget that. This guy isn’t just putting his family, friends, and coworkers in danger if they listen to him. He was going to put his entire community in danger as well as as many others as he could recruit to oppose the state mandates.

We can be nice to them later. Right now, the priority has to be stopping the damage they are doing.

Khal Spencer

Mr. Fields, you managed to write that whole multi-paragraph comment without a single insulting word. That's my point.

Mike Johnson

[thumbup][thumbup]Exactly Khal.

Chris Mechels

Of no apparent interest to Milan, or those commenting, is that the New Mexico Rule 6.12.14 NMAC COVID-19 SCHOOL REENTRY REQUIREMENTS which was issued as an Emergency Rule in December 2020, has expired, and is listed as such in the NMACS.

Thus the legal basis for the PED and Governor's action seems a bit obscure. Someone, even Milan, might ask PED and the Governor about this. But, that might spoil the story... wouldn't want to do that...

Khal Spencer

Good point. I sometimes get the impression, Chris, that we readers sometimes cover the news deeper than the newspaper. Someone should ask the PED about this.

Claude Hayward

Sort of like Kindergartners demanding their freedumb to run in the street without having to accept any consequences.

This is an unintended consequence of promoting individual liberty with no regard to the context of social and community responsibility. Nothing matters except Me Me Me.

Robert Fields

Nailed it.

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Mike Johnson

I am sure many progressive, left wing, liberal, sanctimonious busybodies would agree, look at these comments.

Janet Eduardo

And people wonder about the abysmal state of NM education? This guy is one of those in charge. What chance do the children have?

Nicholas Lerek

Can someone please explain to me why we have to pay for hospitalization for people who refuse to mask up and get vaccinated? If they would simply sign a waiver stating that they will refuse medical care (so as to not endanger health care providers and others who are hospitalized) and that their private health care insurance and/or Medicare/Medicaid (read: you and me, the taxpayers) would not be responsible for any financial ramifications, I wouldn't be so violently opposed to people who make bad choices, or as Mike Johnson puts it, "exercising personal freedom". Why should we have to pay for other's stupidity and bad choices? Of course that still leaves the reality of innocent people exposed unnecessarily to the virus against their will, but that's a whole other topic.

Mike Johnson

An interesting concept, we could also refuse to pay, or punish people in getting insurance, who OD on drugs, get cancer from smoking, have liver disease due to alcohol abuse, are injured in a car wreck that was their fault, and maybe even people who climb up on their roof, and are injured in a fall, to fix something they should leave to a professional. These are all personal choices that can be bad, so there really is no difference.

Robert Fields

No, Mike, there is a difference. Your whatabouts generally affect very few others. With covid, one person can infect and ultimately kill many others. Somewhere there is (or was) a single person at the top of this pyramid. People who drive drunk get increased premiums and ultimately are denied coverage. People who behave badly now should also face increased premiums. It is a fact that vaccinated don’t cost insurance companies near as much to insure as unvaccinated because the vaccines protect us from covid. We don’t require the hospitalizations and don’t die near as often as unvaccinated. Insurance companies already do this anyway.

Jim Klukkert

Good point Mike, "we could punish people in getting insurance ... are injured in a car wreck ..."

Oh wait! We already do, if the car wreck has that person driving under the influence. Driver's insurance rates rise rapidly for those folks, then evaporate completely. The State also sanctions these violations of the Social Contract, first by suspending Driving Privileges, with repeated violations, Driving Privileges are revoked. Repeatedly driving drunk can even bring prison time.

So glad Mike, to see that you have come around to believing in the importance of the Social Contract, and of enforcing violations of this same contract with State Sanctions.

Mike Johnson

Jim, if you will notice the comment I was replying to implied that public funding ("..why should WE pay for") was being used for this man's treatments. Private insurance indeed punishes people for dangerous lifestyle choices, and should, it is a business you chose to receive the service from and pay directly for using. However, I do not think any public insurance plans, Medicare, Medicaid, etc., do that. This has nothing to do with the nonexistent "social contract" left wing/progressive/socialists hallucinate about. The state punishing people for too many tickets, multiple DWIs (sometimes anyway), etc. is mainly about a privilege they grant to citizens, a driver's license. Yes a few actually do go to prison for such things, but that is because they have violated a criminal statute, not some ridiculous "social contract" that is not seen, signed, nor does it exist in any statue. I remain a total nonbeliever in any social contract I did not read, nor sign.

Godfrey Enjady


Carmela Baca

He denies the science when it's convenient and ends up in a hospital to be treated by those who believe and practice in the science. Such a hypocrite.

Khal Spencer

Decisions have consequences.

Mike Johnson

And the corollary: "Don't base your decisions on the advice of those that do not have to deal with the results".

Richard Irell

You probably are unaware of how the American healthcare system works. His bad decisions are being paid for by others through some combination of higher health care costs, higher insurance premiums, and/or tax dollars.

Robert Fields

Anthony Fauci doesn’t benefit or lose from me dying from covid in any way. By your corollary I should ignore his advice to get the vaccine?

Already got it anyway, but what I did was look at the qualifications of the people giving advice, does the advice make sense, and then I do some fact checking myself - especially when making life or death decisions.

College dropouts on Fox, or respected and accomplished researchers who have been recognized for their work worldwide. Tough choice for some it seems, but it wasn’t for me.

I think your corollary needs some work.

Mike Johnson

I would not blindly follow any person's advice, Fauci in particular, as he has been all over the map on his "advice" during this mess. As a Ph.D. scientist, I look at the data, do a personal risk/reward calculation, and make my own informed decisions. Most intelligent people would do exactly that, it effects your life, not anyone else's, it should be your decision alone.

Robert Fields

Replying to Mike Johnson about Anthony Fauci — Mike, you are comparing apples and oranges. Just like Grover is able to compare “near” and “far” and teach children the difference, would it help if Grover taught you a bit about “then” and “now”?

“Then” (last year) was the original covid and the alpha mutation. It was bad because nobody had resistance and it was highly communicable. We had no good treatments and hospitals were overtopped.

We had vaccines come available and a significant portion of of the country stepped up and got their vaccines. Covid started to retreat, hospitals were emptying, and we were able to start getting back to normal - in spite of all the misguided and lied-to folks still clinging to their beliefs that masks and vaccines didn’t work and covid was all a hoax anyway.

“Now” we have the delta variant. Right on time and just as predicted, covid mutated and produced a variant far more virulent and about twice as likely to put people in hospitals.

Delta changes the equation because that’s all this is anyway. By being far more infectious, delta changed the rates of infection back to where masks are necessary, distancing is important again, and so are vaccines.

THEN and NOW, Mike. There is a difference even if you refuse to see it. Two different but very related viruses, two different levels of communicability, two different risks of hospitalization. That’s why Fauci originally allowed that masks could come off and now advises masks again. Why is that so hard for you to understand? It seems pretty simple to understand for me. “THEN” and “NOW”.

You need any more help with this stuff and explaining basic facts, please let us know, ok, Mike?

Lynn k Allen

Non-vaccinators & No Maskers arrogance can kill others.

"Your personal choice" can be lethal to others, especially children.

Isolate yourself & keep "your personal choice & freedoms" away from us who believe & support Healthcare. Your actions are EXACTLY like willingly infecting others. It is NOT about you, you, you.

You have no consideration or regard for other people's personal freedom to try to be safe.

Put away your Arrogance!

Aurora Sanchez

What right does an adult have to expose a child to a deadly virus? I have always thought that as caring adults we take care of our children and we do right by them. That's what I learned growing up in the middle of nowhere New Mexico. Our small town rancher folks took care of their children, livestock and land. What had happened to those values?

John Onstad

According to a British clinical report that studied every Covid-related illness in 0-18 year olds, the mortality was .000 %. The only children who died (just a handful) had very serious co-morbidities. The virus isn't "deadly" among youngsters.

Robert Fields

Absolutely false, John. Children now represent about 15% of all new cases (NPR). States with high covid infection numbers are also seeing full children’s units. You are spreading misinformation that could cause parents to be less careful protecting their kids and as a result your advice could cause children to die.

Is that really what you are trying to do? Kill children? That’s what your very reckless advice could do. I wish SFNM would delete posts like yours because you are putting lives at risk.

All you have to do to see just how wrong you are and how bad your advice is is to do a search for children and covid. Delta is harder on children and more children are dying in this wave because it is mostly delta now.

Robert Fields

You would think their children's well being would be the prime motivator but not when you can “own the libs” or publicly defy MLG’s mandates to keep people safe. That seems to “trump” all sanity for some reason.

We as a society have some self-reflection to do. That so many can and could ignore expert guidance on masks, distancing, and vaccines is shameful. Half our population cannot look at simple medical guidance in a pandemic and understand why they should comply. That the whole anti-vax movement even exists is an embarrassment. It’s as bad an embarrassment as giant homeless camps, overflowing prisons, hunger, and all the other societal problems we are seeing. 50% of our population being essentially illiterate about this stuff and easily swayed by frauds and liars is something I never thought I would see in this country.

Richard Irell

We have the make choices.

We have the obligation to accept the consequences of our choices.

Jeff Essary has a lot to learn about being an adult.

Russell Scanlon


Mike Johnson

There have been many instances of people being willing to die for freedom and liberty as they saw it you know.

Russell Scanlon

You are very confused about the difference between “freedom” and “responsibility”. And this guy obviously isn’t going to die—because of people who are not blinded by political stupidity.

Richard Irell

He doesn’t appear willing to die.

Emily Hartigan

You mean like the Islamist suicide bombers, Mike?[whistling]

Mike Johnson

Yes, that is one example, the American patriots in the revolutionary war are others, as well as the Civil War, Vietnam, etc.

Scott Smart

If a hospital has one bed left who should get it? A person who elected not to get vaccinated and has covid or the person who got vaccinated and has some other life threatening illness?

John Pearson

I think the moral position is not to consider vaccination at all; give the bed to the person most likely to survive based on their condition. Now it just happens that in most cases their condition will be strongly dependent on their vaccination status.

Mike Johnson

He made his choices, in a free country where he could, and he has to accept the consequences of his choices about his personal health. He values freedom of choice in his life choices over authoritarian edicts and being forced to follow politicians orders. He thinks it is worth it, some will not think so, as they value their health over freedom of choice and are very risk averse. We still live in a free country where you cannot be forced into vaccinations. masks, etc. For that I am proud, I would not have made the choice he did, as I think the risk/reward equation for being vaccinated falls heavily on the side of getting the vaccine. But I see many people make choices about their health and lifestyle I would not make, such as smoking, drinking too much, taking dangerous drugs, eating too much and not exercising, excessive speeding and driving aggressively, etc., but I would not like politicians making those choices for them. Freedom of choice in your life is still an important part of liberty and America, IMO.

Stefanie Beninato

His personal choice should have been to stay home and hope he could recover. Not only is stance against the public health, he also criticized the hospital and its health care providers who were exposed to COVID yet again because of his selfish choice.

Russell Scanlon


Russell Scanlon

You have proven it Mike: Hubris can be fatal. He really doesn’t deserve the care he is getting, but doctors and nurses are bound to a higher set of ethics obviously. This is a story that manages to illustrate the absurdity of politics in our country and your comments are just ridiculous.

Russell Scanlon

BTW—there are laws about excessive speeding and driving aggressively. You know why? BECAUSE THOSE BEHAVIORS ENDANGER INNOCENT PEOPLE. Just like the actions of this p0or sick fool.

Mike Johnson

You do know that you must be caught and fined for such behavior and the points exceeded to see any action against you, it happens all the time with no one around, so what would you suggest to stop it? It is a personal choice, just like wearing a mask or getting a vaccine, and of course so is drug and alcohol use, which happens so frequently in NM, it is far worse than COVID, so what do you suggest we do with the "laws" here to stop people from making these choices? Maybe have MLG issue a "public health order", sure, that'll stop about ridiculous comments...

Russell Scanlon

OMG Mike—there are laws against drunk driving, speeding, reckless endangerment, etc. So I assume from your comments, those are all OK unless you get caught?. . . I know you are smarter than this. The virus doesn’t care about your ideology or your warped concept of “freedom”. And this guy Essary is NOT accepting the consequences of his personal choice. He is being saved by people that are responsible adults who are not indulging some idiotic political grudge on MLG or “liberals”.

Mike Johnson

Mr. Scanlon, the laws exist for a reason, to deter this behavior, but they will never stop it and you know it, look how rampant drug and alcohol abuse, not to mention dangerous driving, is today. No, violating the law is not "OK" IMO, I follow the laws, but I am talking about personal choices, with or without these laws, they happen. And the vaccine and mask mandates are not laws (suggestions really) and they do not have any legal criminal punishments if violated, so do you even wonder why so many people "choose" not to follow them? I would say Mr. Essary has no choice to to accept the consequences of his personal choice, as it should be. Diseases do not offer you a choice about accepting the symptoms, so how is he not accepting it? He did have the choice to stay home and suffer more, so I guess that was also his choice to seek care, no one forced that upon him either.

Richard Irell

He is putting the burden of his bad decisions on the people who are paying for his healthcare, the people who are caring for him (who he disparaged), and possibly on taking a bed and equipment from someone who had not made bad choices.

John Crenshaw

Public health mandates to rein in pandemics are wise, moral, constitutional and necessary. Innocent people don’t contract alcohol, drug or nicotine addictions, unsafe driving habits or obesity by breathing the same air an alcoholic, addict, red-light runner or couch potato breathes. Innocent people *do* catch Covid by breathing the virus-laden air an unvaccinated, infected person expels. Joining a drunk on his binge is a choice; inhaling some misguided fool’s virus isn’t.

Shannon Chamberlain

His rights end at my child’s nose.

Mike Johnson

So Mr. Crenshaw, "innocent people" don't get those personal choices from breathing air, but are you implying since it is their personal choice, they are no longer "innocent people" and thus not worthy of your empathy and support? And would you also imply those affected by these personal choices, though not by breathing the air, are also not "innocent people" worthy of your empathy and support? You are a hard man.

Robert Fields

Too bad he likely infected others with “his choices”. Too bad he was advocating for his school district infecting its children.

That dolt’s rights end hard where he starts putting others in danger. As keeps getting pointed out to you, it’s the same reason there are speed limits, gun laws, laws to keep the peace. Your rights do not allow you to injure and kill others.

My rights are life, liberty, and the pursuit of happiness, right? You close your post talking all about your rights. Why do I not have the same rights? Why do We not have a right to not have you people recklessly spreading disease that can kill others? What about our rights, Mike? This is not all about you.

Jeff clark

the shamelessness of the anti-vaxxers, going to the hospital when they get sick...

Stefanie Beninato


Robert Fields

Actually, with hospitals filling up, exhausted staff, the wasted resources, and the infections they cause in others, the unvaccinated should be ashamed especially when their recklessness and lack of consideration of others leads to others being denied lifesaving care they need.

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