Thursday, October 08, 2015

Next Legislative Session Shaping Up As More Of The Same, Plus: Readers Write The Postmortem For ABQ Election '15 

Legislative Session 2016 is right around the corner, otherwise known as "The Recurring Nightmare." As she has every year since taking office the Governor in January will ask lawmakers to approve a measure holding back third graders who don't meet certain standards and also to repeal driver's licenses for undocumented immigrants. As usual, both will eat up the clock and fail. Will the 30 day session become another pointless spectacle? You know the answer.

Susana is back again touting tourism numbers that may or may not be based in reality. It's kind of ironic, really. While the Guv says tourism is popping, the state is undergoing a historic population decline, losing 0.5 percent of its population for the year ended July 2014. It's great that we are getting more people to visit here--if we indeed we are--but what about keeping the people who already live here, Guv?

And, by the way, counting all the trips made in state by New Mexicans as a big deal for tourism is misleading. The state needs to be attracting out-of-state residents who will bring new money into our stagnant economy.


We may have had the worst voter turnout in modern history at Tuesday's ABQ election but that doesn't include the Alligators. Here's one of them peeling the onion on the action of the 28,800 voters out of 350,000 eligible who did show up:

The most voted on item was the bond issue for the Museum and Zoo--28,092.

The least voted on item was Charter Amendment #3, asking people to approve getting rid of the fine print on ballots--25,589 (it failed). Over 1,200 more people voted on the Charter Amendment asking for City Council approval of the police and fire chiefs (it passed).

The Charter questions were the lowest voted on items. Many voters skipped the three amendments and went straight to the BioPark tax. 27,052 voted on that tax which passed.

UNM political science professor Tim Krebs thinks putting the city election on the general election ballot would bolster turnout, but then the ballot could be so long it could turn off voters. He calls the crash in turnout to 8 percent of registered city voters "a threat to democracy" and says much of it is due to voter fatigue over the many elections we have. Perhaps, but when such a minuscule portion of the electorate is voting compared to just 10 or 15 years ago, we have to look deeper.


The readers write of Election '15:

Joe, I believe people may have voted for the tax increase for the BioPark  believing it would preserve one of the few good things our city still has. I was one of the 8% that did vote at the last minute. My conscience was bothering me. I felt I had to vote even though I'm guilty of feeling the same as most of the people who think it doesn't make a difference anymore. It's sad that our citizens are as despondent about the state of affairs as our elected officials are about the condition of our cities and state. But I get it, not a lot to be enthusiastic about these days. 

Reader Ron Nelson writes:

Joe, other states are also experiencing low voter turnouts. There is such a division of political and sociological views. That has created a division in this country to a greater degree than when we fought the civil war over slavery. This is causing gridlock of our political process and causing a severe division of ideologies that affects the abilities of this community and country to flourish and be strong.

On the bright side, there is excitement on the national stage with three outsiders of the political establishment making waves in the polls, and actually offering solutions to the problems that we face. Sadly, I predict, that even if one of them becomes the nominee and wins, they will fail because they will need to surround themselves with the established political hacks to be able to pull anything off.

Another reader writes:

Hello Joe, so we are going to be taxed a little more by the Republican regime that hates the mere mention of the word tax. Okay, we are stuck. The BioPark Society was formed  to solicit private donations from the public. If the taxpayers are now filling that niche, why do we need it? They managed to spend donation money, money intended for the BioPark, on the tax campaign. If they worked as hard on collecting donations there would be no need for the tax.


In our election coverage Wednesday we said ABQ Dem City Councilor Ken Sanchez ran unopposed in the Tuesday election. Sanchez was re-elected in 2013 and was not on the ballot this year.

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Wednesday, October 07, 2015

Apathy Is The Hands Down Winner In City Election '15; Turnout CrashesTo Historic Lows; Behind The Plunge, Plus: Results And Analysis 

Pat Davis and Brad Winter can rightfully celebrate their City Council victories and those favoring a tax increase to fund improvements to the BioPark also can pop the champagne corks, but the hands-down winner in City Election '15 was apathy. And how. (Full results here).

Before we get into analysis of the results, let's cover the big story.

Turnout crashed to what appeared to be an historic low of 8.24 percent of those registered and a raw vote total of just 28,800 out of 350,000 registered. In 2011 the city election attracted over 38,000 and we've added some population since then.  This turnout crash comes on the heels of the 2013 mayoral race in which a bit more than 70,000 voted, a number not seen since the 1970's. And that was followed by another plunge in turnout for the '14 gubernatorial election.

You can argue that folks think things are fine and there's no reason to trek to the polls but even a cursory glance around the state's largest city puts that notion to rest. Democratic analyst and former ABQ City Councilor Greg Payne attempts to explain what has happened to a once thriving city political culture:

Given the state of the city voters should have flocked to the polls, but only 8% showed up. Apathy is the last thing we need. Our economy continues its stay in the tank. The high tech sector is clearing out. Growth industries appear to be predatory lenders, title loans, tattoo and massage parlors and smoke shops. Albuquerque is not thriving as it once did.

But instead of fighting back, people are giving up. They're giving up because they don't believe in the city's political class and don't back them. They know we are led by political posers who do not seem to care about what's happening to Albuquerque. 

So, the average Albuquerque voter does the only thing he or she really can do: refuse to be part of the sham. 92% of Albuquerque's registered voters refused to participate in this election. That percentage isn't an indictment on them. It's an indictment on our civic soul and our civic leadership.

Thanks, Greg. Agree or disagree, Albuquerque needs to look in the mirror.


As for the election results, voters who did bother to come out said yes to giving the City Council approval power over the Mayor's picks for police and fire chiefs, a move aimed at avoiding another APD crisis.

But voters didn't like the charter amendment that would have limited the amount of explanation on the ballot when it comes to future amendments. They narrowly rejected the proposal.

That one eighth percent increase in the city gross receipts tax to finance improvements to the BioPark won with 56 percent approval. It raised the question of what would have happened if there was a paid campaign against it? The tax is slated to last 15 years. With the tax projected to raise over $250 million in that time, we better see a BioPark that knocks our socks off.

The $119 million in bond issues all passed overwhelmingly, with the street bonds proving the most popular, garnering 80 percent approval.

In the City Council races, progressive Pat Davis blew the doors off in SE Heights District 6, winning the liberal Dem area in a three way race with 69 percent of the vote. Of course, that's the way it should have been but until it was clear the Governor's political machine was not playing in the race, there was doubt.

The question now is how aggressive Davis will be when it comes to opposing Republican Mayor Berry. The council saw no shift of power from the election, remaining 5 to 4 with the Dems in the majority.

Republican Brad Winter scored 57 percent over Dem challenger and political upstart Israel Chavez, similar to what Winter won re-election with in 2011. But Chavez redeemed himself with a good campaign and at only 24 you assume he will have more chances.

As for Winter, it appeared he wanted to retire this year and now City Hall watchers wonder if he will finish the full four year term he won. If he doesn't, Mayor Berry would name a replacement, Ditto for NE Heights GOP Councilor Trudy Jones who ran unopposed.  Dem North Valley Councilor Ike Benton also ran unopposed.


Senior Alligator analysis now of the low voter turnout for City Election '15:

Joe, those who say "a robust political competition featuring strong personalities will bring the voters back" have it wrong. It is the absolute apathy over issues, people not caring enough to even vote and the belief that nothing can be done or will be done that are our biggest problems. No one wants to vote or cares to vote because they do not feel their vote matters. Then you have the issue of the staggering amounts of money it takes to run and to have a competitive race. Gov. Martinez outspent Gary King 4 to 1 and Pete Dinelli's public financed mayoral campaign was outspent 3 to 1.

Former Lt. Governor and 2010 Dem gubernatorial contender Diane Denish came with this take on the election:

Joe: The most interesting thing to me about the election has been the lack of leadership by
Mayor Berry even though it follows his pattern of "failure to lead " for the last six years. I am sure I wasn't the only one to be surprised when he took the approach of "I am keeping my vote to myself" in the Bio-Park tax. And what about the bond issues--where was even the slightest glimmer of promotion for these bonds that would create at least a semblance of investment in community infrastructure? No promotion, no bond committee of business folks (what's left of them) to encourage and remind voters that they were needed.

And then there was the swipe he had his spokespeople take at former Mayor
Chavez for the lack of BioPark upkeep and deferred maintenance....really? Six years later, that's the best he can do? No wonder Albuquerque has slipped into to the abyss of economic development and off the radar as a location for vibrant companies with good laying jobs. Leaderless. Aren't leaders supposed to lead?

Thanks to those who joined us for our election coverage last night on Twitter and Facebook.

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Tuesday, October 06, 2015

ABQ Election '15 Is Today: Vote Watchers Ponder Turnout, Two Contested Council Races, A BioPark Tax Hike, Bonds And Charter Amendments 

State political watchers will be watching today's Albuquerque election closely and not necessarily for the results, but for how many of the city's registered voters actually turn out.

After watching a historic crash in turnout in the 2013 ABQ election followed by another turnout plunge in the '14 gubernatorial race, the vote watchers are pondering whether we have entered a long-term period of low voter participation. The City Clerk is predicting turnout today will fail to match the 12 percent of registered voters who cast ballots  in the 2011 city election. In fact a plunge into single digits is quite possible. That would mean a turnout of less than 35,000 of the city's nearly 350,000 registered voters.

The trend is disturbing. Some blame it on noncompetitive contests (Martinez Vs. King for Guv and Berry vs. Dinelli for ABQ mayor) and that a robust political competition featuring strong personalities will bring the voters back. Others point out that voting is a habit and if citizens aren't forming one, voter turnout could stay in the cellar.

That the meteoric rise of state Republicans has coincided with the turnout crash is no coincidence. GOP voters are the most reliable. Democrats point out that Hispanic Dems have been harder to get to the polls for recent elections exacerbating the GOP edge.

As for the outcome today, it appears that progressive activist Pat Davis will take the city council seat being vacated by Rey Garduño. He faces two opponents including Hessito Yntema, a Republican who initially drew attention from the Governor's political machine. He faded as it became clear to operatives that the liberal UNM area district was not up for grabs and the Guv's PAC did not come with a media blitz that some Dems feared. The GOP still nurtures hope that with another Dem in the race--Sam Kerwin--that Davis could be held below the 50 percent of the vote needed to avoid a run-off.

With longtime GOP Councilor Brad Winter positioned to win another term against Dem Israel Chavez in a conservative NE Heights district, when all is said and done tonight the council is likely to stay where it is--with a 5 to 4 Dem majority, one vote shy needed to override any vetoes from GOP Mayor Berry.


That one eighth cent increase in the city's gross receipts tax proposed to finance improvements at the BioPark--which includes the zoo and aquarium--attracted no paid media opposition so it should pass. But there is natural opposition so the percentage it wins by will be closely watched.

The tax hike is forecast to raise at least $17 million a year for 15 years. It takes Mayor Berry and the city council off the hook to fund the improvements by the traditional method of issuing bonds. In fact, Berry has refused to take a public stance on the tax hike, even as many Republicans vote against it. That could be used against him if he takes a stab at the '18 GOP Guv nomination.

There are $119 million in bond issues on today's ballot. We voted for all of them as well as the proposal to have the city council confirm the police and fire chiefs and several other charter amendments.

Our sole "against" vote was on the BioPark tax. We joined with conservatives in opposing it. The tax is regressive and hurts lower income residents and is a detriment to local business. Another reason is the aforementioned failure of the Mayor and City Council to finance BioPark capital improvements through bonds--not by raising taxes.

And one more: the ability of future councils and mayors to raid that BioPark tax for other uses. Over $250 million over 15 years is a temptation the politicians could find hard to resist, especially if the economy here remains stagnant.


With the myriad economic and crime problems the city faces, former ABQ Mayor Marty Chavez came in for criticism because of his concern over the graveyard shift being cut from the 311 phone service provided by the city for information about services. He responded with this:

If it were just about cutting an information line in lean economic times, that would be fine. But 311 was always much much more than that. First, it was an opportunity to capture data --how long does it take to dispatch a service, e.g. graffiti removal. Which employees were fastest and most efficient? How could each department be changed to operate more efficiently. Fundamentally, if you can't measure it, you can't change it.

Second, all of the data is captured in an open data format which is a huge economic development tool and the basis for all things Smart City. Entrepreneurs can access the data, reconfigure it and develop apps and solutions.

Check out Cityzenith.com to get a better sense of what we were doing. 311 was all about open source data which over time becomes richer and more deeply textured. It ultimately becomes a fabulous tool for policy makers and citizens alike replete with actionable data across the full spectrum of city services.

So it was never about a call service but rather how Albuquerque leaps to the front in the Smart City realm. There's plenty to cut without whacking the practices that can actually make Albuquerque a national leader in something truly visionary. So we've once again stepped backward.

Join me on Twitter and Facebook at 7 tonight for some city election coverage and on the blog Wednesday.

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Monday, October 05, 2015

Another Dianna News Dump: Does This One Bury Her? Plus: Eyebrow Raising Comments On SOS Scandal From GOP Senate Leader, And: The Kelly File: Fajardo Seen as Strong If Reluctant Replacement For Duran 

Attorney General Hector Balderas did another of his Friday afternoon news dumps on embattled Secretary of State Diana Duran, raising the question of whether Balderas has buried her political life once and for all.

Certainly the AG's latest felony accusation--that Duran engaged in identity theft by listing prominent Carlsbad banker Don Kidd as her campaign treasurer (he says without his knowledge) threw Republicans for a loop.

Kidd is a former three term GOP state Senator who served with Duran in that body. The alleged illegal use of his name on her campaign reports--which are the subject of criminal charges by the AG--are going to put pressure on the SOS to explain just why she used Kidd's name. Her standard explanation that she can't comment on any of the charges against her on the advice of her attorney may not hold up with lawmakers on this one. The pressure for her to resign has been like a slow simmer but now the pot could reach a boil. (When asked by an investigator with the attorney general's office why she listed Kidd as her treasurer, she said, "Well, I have no idea. I just don't know, that's amazing," according to the LA Times.)


In an interview with the Portales News-Tribune before the Kidd charge was made longtime state Senate Minority Leader Stuart Ingle commented on the SOS crisis, only he doesn't see it as a crisis. As a matter of fact, Ingle downplayed the entire affair.

Now that's important because if Duran is impeached by the House the state Senate would hold a trial to determine if she should be removed from office. Here's Ingle's eyebrow raising analysis in which he was asked about Duran not showing up at her office in the wake of the criminal charges. She has since reported to the office:

I don’t know that she’s shirking her work duties. There’s a lot of people at different agencies who aren’t in their office every day. That certainly doesn’t mean they’re not working. There’s a lot of newspaper articles that say she hasn’t been at work in a couple of weeks, but that does not mean that she is not working and communicating.
I’m not worried about the secretary of state office. The gentleman Ken Ortiz (chief of staff) is her second in command up there, and he is very capable.

Not worried, Mr. Leader, about how this scandal is impacting the perception of the state?   And that Ingle defense of Duran--probably built on years of service together--how does that play out if we get what we have never had before--an impeachment trial?

Democrats believe they benefit the more Dianna hangs around but Ingle doesn't appear deeply worried about it. What should that tell the Dems?


Rep. Kelly Fajardo
If Dianna eventually resigns assorted Alligators, insiders and wall-leaners are pointing to Valencia County GOP State Rep. Kelly Fajardo as perhaps the strongest Republican name circulating to replace her. But wall-leaners report Fajardo adamantly declares she has no interest in the post and has said as much to the Governor. Still, it merits a look as circumstances can change any political declarations.

The 44 year old mother of three has made a good impression on her GOP colleagues who elected her caucus chair when they took over the chamber for the first time in 62 years following the '14 elections.

Fajardo, who lives in Belen and runs a web consulting business, was narrowly elected in 2012 but widened her margin (57%) in her re-election bid in 2014. Before her state House run she made a play for Valencia County Clerk.

Fajardo is photogenic and handled the camera pretty well in this YouTube interview. Also, the SOS position has been held by a Hispanic female since 1983, giving the Spanish surnamed Fajardo an edge over some other possible Duran replacements.

Fajardo has been active in child advocacy issues in the Legislature. Recently, she was named by House Speaker Tripp to the bipartisan panel doing the spadework for impeaching Duran. That puts her in the SOS orbit as the scandal plays out.

If and when Duran resigns Governor Martinez will appoint her replacement. Fajardo's House seat is still seen as being a swing seat and that could be problematic in moving her to the SOS office--if the R's think the seat could mean the difference between winning or losing the House next year. However, some analysts see the district as more reliably red now--as long as a strong R is recruited.

Political pros say Fajardo matches up well against Democratic Bernalillo County Clerk Maggie Toulouse Oliver who ran and lost to Duran in 2014 and is expected to make a play for SOS if Duran resigns.

Fajardo, who was born in ABQ, is seen competing in the big ABQ metro area as well as the Hispanic Democratic North, similar to Gov. Martinez. But the big impetus for Fajardo (or any other Republican named) would be the advantage of the incumbency. The new SOS could take steps to assure the public the office is back on the right track, build her own record and put the Duran debacle behind her and the Republicans.

If Duran resigns at least 60 days before the November '16 election, the SOS position will go on the ballot to fill out the remaining two years of Duran's term. The odds seem high that will happen.

The Dems think the office is ripe to be taken back, given the Duran scandal and the higher turnout anticipated in the presidential election year. Could a Secretary of State Fajardo have them recalculating their assumptions?

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Friday, October 02, 2015

Scandal Casualty List Compiled; Impact On Voting? Plus: New Insight On NM Spaceport Woes 

Let's add up the recent casualty list:

---The Republican Secretary of State stands charged with multiple felonies for allegedly raiding her campaign funds to go on a multi-year casino spree.

---The Republican  Secretary of Taxation and Revenue is accused of using improper influence to benefit a former client of her CPA business.

---The Democratic State Treasurer is accused by the State Personnel Department of making sexist and racist comments. (Treasuer Eichenberg's response here).

---Two Democratic State Representatives are busted for filing flawed campaign finance reports.

---The Superintendent of the ABQ Public schools is forced out amid scandal over the hiring of an alleged pedophile to a top administrative position.

Does this catalog of scandal inspire outrage that gets voters out of their recliners or disgust that turns to apathy? Unfortunately, it is probably be the latter.

When folks start thinking "all the politicians do it" they feel powerless. That, in turn, can lower voter turnout. That benefits the party with the most likely voters--the Republicans. The more the R's can portray government as a mud wrestling pit involving players of all political stripes, the more they can control the playing field. Cynical? Yes. True? Yes.


We finish the week with insightful analysis and comment on the NM Spaceport from Republican Brent Eastwood:

I just read this WSJ article on Virgin Galactic: "Virgin Galactic to Unveil Enhanced LauncherOne Rocket." It appears that Virgin Galactic is diversifying its business plan and pivoting to launching micro satellites into orbit--quite a departure from sending tourists into space. No mention of New Mexico and Virgin CEO George Whitesides could not be pinned down on when the new version of SpaceShip Two would begin powered testing again. Most experts, according to the article, say February, 2016, at the earliest.I checked the Spaceport website to see what was going on.

“We are the home to Virgin Galactic’s WhiteKnightTwo and SpaceShipTwo. We are also home to SpaceX’s Falcon 9R.”

Excuse me? Those Spacecraft are based at Mojave Air and Space Port and they are going to be in Mojave for a long, long time. That is Rep. Kevin McCarthy’s district and he has no intention of allowing those spacecraft to move to New Mexico.

Home to SpaceX’s Falcon 9R? Everybody knows that SpaceX uses two orbital launch sites at Cape Canaveral in Florida and at Vandenberg Air Force Base in California. SpaceX has their suborbital rocket development and test facility in Texas and they want to lease another orbital launch center in Florida.

The last I checked, SpaceX had a tiny office at Spaceport America and were paying some pittance of a lease. But home to Falcon 9R? I think what they are trying to say is that in the future New Mexico could be the testing location for recovered booster rockets from SpaceX in the future. (See this.) But it is not home to the program.

When do we start telling the truth? It is one ugly baby and I understand nobody wants to look at the ugly baby. But legislators need to start asking tougher questions before the next legislative session.

Good stuff you won't find anywhere else. That's why. . .

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Thanks for stopping by this week.

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Thursday, October 01, 2015

Sanchez Vs. Berry; Very Early Action Developing Over Abortion in '18 GOP Guv Race, Plus: Two Mayors; Two Disconnects, And: 'Tis The Season; '16 Petitions Circulate Today 

Lt. Gov. Sanchez
Did ABQ Mayor Richard Berry upset his political apple cart when he decried the tactics of an anti-abortion group active in an ABQ City Council race? Lt. Governor John Sanchez, like Berry a probable contender for the '18 GOP Guv nomination, isn't saying that but he could be said to be acting like it.

Sanchez's office confirms that the Light Guv met with a small group of pro-life advocates Wednesday, only days after Berry put up a YouTube video asking Protest ABQ to cease showing graphic depictions of abortions in SE Heights District 6, saying they were frightening children.

Berry's video may have appealed to many Democrats and moderates, but they have nothing to say about the GOP nomination whereas the pro-life community does. A Senior Alligator comments:

Berry's video was unnecessary and a mistake from a statewide view. It was as if he was assuming the GOP nomination is his and is already trying to appeal to the state at large. That is a miscalculation. Lt. Gov. Sanchez is a major barrier for Berry to overcome and by alienating an important GOP constituency Berry has made his path to the nomination more difficult and perhaps easier for John. Remember conservative Steve Pearce versus moderate Heather Wilson for the 2008 US Senate nomination? We know how that one ended.

Tara Shaver, head of the Protest ABQ ministry, said Berry has "done nothing" to reduce abortions during his time as mayor. Sanchez's office says Shaver was not among those at Wednesday's meeting. They said Sanchez has had regular meetings with pro-life groups but until now no such meetings had the significant statewide political implications of this one.


On the very day we got the news of a big jump in the ABQ crime rate from 2010-2014, Mayor Berry comes with this:

Mayor Berry and APD have come up with a safer way for community members to exchange items purchased over internet on sites like Craigslist. The City of Albuquerque will begin providing monitored, secure locations, known as Exchange Zones. The zones will soon be established in each of the parking lots at APD’s six area command substations. Mayor Berry and APD believe these Exchange Zones, will help reduce potential dangers to both buyers and sellers.

Talk about a disconnect. Concern about Craigslist but no comment from the Mayor on the leap in crime far surpassing the growth in population and continuing the city's hurtful reputation as crime-ridden?

Berry took office in December of 2009. His major TV ad back then faulted Mayor Marty Chavez for presiding over a skyrocketing rate of property crime. So how is Berry doing? From 2010 through 2014, property crimes in the city are up 15 percent, according to the FBI uniform crime report. Ditto for violent crimes. Meanwhile, the population during that time grew by a mere 2.4 percent.


And former Mayor Marty Chavez also seems to be suffering from a great disconnect. With all the problems the city has had with crime, APD and its floundering economy, the former His Honor comes with this:

(Chavez) who started the 311 service is blasting the city for cutting the hours. But current city staff claim not having a live service overnight saves money. Marty Chavez was Albuquerque's mayor in 2005 when the city launched the 311 service. It’s supposed to be a number where residents can call and get help or answers from different city departments. “This is basic governmental service,” Chavez said. When it was launched, the line was live 24 hours a day, seven days a week. But now when you call after 9 p.m., you get automated message with the service's hours.

Yep, that's what's killing ABQ. You just gotta talk to someone about your garbage pick-up at 3 in the morning. Thanks, Marty.


We suppose you can call today the official start of the 2016 election season:

Secretary of State Duran announced that on October 1, 2015 her office will publish the documents and information necessary for potential 2016 Primary Election candidates to begin collecting the necessary petition signatures to qualify for the June 7, 2016 Primary Election ballot. . . Potential candidates can find the required nominating petition form, along with the 2016 Primary Election Candidate Guide on the SOS website.While not eligible for the June 2016 ballot, independent and minor party candidates will find information in the guide pertinent to their campaigns as well.


Arturo Uribe writes from Las Cruces:

I've been reading your blog since you began. Congratulations on 12 years of awesome work. Thank you. I was hoping if you would help us inform your readers especially those in Las Cruces about this candidate forum. Keep up the great work and Write On. . . 

SWOP Action Fund Dona Ana, Nopalito’s Galeria and PRC Productions will be hosting a Las Cruces Mayoral Candidate Forum.This is a non-partisan event and an opportunity for those who are registered to vote in the Las Cruces Municipal election to be educated, informed, and engaged, voters. Forum will begin at 6 p.m., Thursday October 8th 6-8pm at 326 S. Mesquite St.

Las Cruces Mayor Ken Miyagashima is seeking a third term in the Nov. 3 city election. He has two opponents.

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Wednesday, September 30, 2015

Plea Deal For Dianna Not In The Cards, Plus: More On The Slow Motion Saga Of An Embattled Secretary Of State, And: ABQ Econ Boss Says Jobs Are Out There 

AG Balderas
Welcome back. Today marks the start of our 13th consecutive year of "New Mexico Politics with Joe Monahan" so let's get to it.

Don't look for Attorney General Hector Balderas to cut a plea bargain deal with Secretary of State Dianna Duran in exchange for her to resign. That from a source in the know reacting to speculation here about the possibility of a plea deal.

For now, Duran continues to hang tough when it comes to resigning. The next act in the political melodrama, absent a resignation, will likely come when the state House signals its intention to impeach Duran. She would then be expected to blink and decide to resign rather than become the first official in state history to be disgraced by impeachment.

A senior lawmaker says the House will have plenty of time to ready the impeachment charges for the January legislative session and there should be no delay in taking them up. If for some reason there was a delay, the Governor could call the Legislature into special session to do the task. But that would cost more taxpayer money so the pressure is on to get the job done in the 30 day '16 session.

Having Duran, who is accused of violating the campaign laws she is charged with enforcing, preside over the SOS office in the upcoming election year is the sword hanging over the heads of the Republicans. Quickly dispatching Duran is imperative or the Dems will start banging the war drums in earnest. Right now they are warming up in the bullpen as evidenced by this statement Tuesday from party headquarters:

Enough is enough; Secretary of State Dianna Duran must resign immediately. Rather than performing the duties she was elected to do, Secretary of State Dianna Duran has become singularly focused on abusing the powers of her office to carry out a political vendetta. It is clear that Duran is attempting to distract from the fact that she has been charged with 64 counts of criminal violations that include embezzlement, fraud, money laundering, violations of the Campaign Practice Act, the Governmental Conduct Act, tampering with public records, and conspiracy.

That "vendetta" the party sites is Duran turning over to the AG a campaign finance complaint against ABQ Dem State Rep. Moe Maestas.

AG Balderas has told Duran that because of the charges he has brought against her he is discontinuing his office's legal representation of the SOS and asking that she send campaign ethics complaints to local district attorneys. Duran's office calls it a political move. Balderas says he will continue to handle the Maestas complaint because it was referred to him by the media and not the SOS.


Is impeachment a foregone conclusion?  Recent wondering aloud by ABQ GOP State Rep, Bill Rehm about whether the charges against Duran are possibly ethical but not criminal violations--raised eyebrows. Avoiding impeachment seems politically impossible for the House R's (and the Governor) but how about a motion to censure Duran and not impeach? Highly improbable but thrown on the the table by a Senior Alligator monitoring the situation. The House has hired heavy ABQ legal hitter Robert Gorence to handle the impeachment case.

Back on the plea angle, ABQ Legal Beagle Jeff Baker has some fun with it:

How about the following scenario: Dianna Duran enters a guilty plea to multiple misdemeanors. As part of the deal, she provides a detailed factual basis for each of her guilty pleas, plus she has to acknowledge she has a gambling problem for which she will seek help. She resigns her office, and gets to keep her state pension. The Legislature saves the cost and distraction of impeachment proceedings. Hector Balderas takes credit for (1) getting Dianna Duran out of office and (2)saving the taxpayers the expense of impeachment proceedings. Balderas then calls on the Legislature and Governor to create an independent ethics commission. Everybody wins, sort of.

Intriguing plot line, Jeff. We'll send it up to Hector's place but don't think it will find any takers.

By the way, if Duran is convicted in criminal court of any of the felonies the AG has charged her with, she would lose her state pension and upon conviction would no longer be able to serve as Secretary of State. And one more "by the way." If Duran is impeached by the House and convicted at a trial by the state Senate, she is removed from office but does not lose her state pension as a result.


We told you it wouldn't be so bad if you did this, Moe:

Since the (campaign report) discrepancies came to my attention, I have hired a reputable accounting firm to independently reconcile contributions with reports. Once completed, my reports will be amended accordingly and available online.

That would be ABQ Dem State Rep. Antonio "Moe" Maestas to those of you new to this thing of ours.


Here we go. . . yet again:

A new report by WalletHub ranks Albuquerque 404th out of 515 U.S. cities in the 2015 Cities with the Fastest Growing Economies study. . . The survey looked at 10 key metrics, from population growth to job growth, and studied data from 2008 to 2014. Albuquerque's unemployment rate increased by more than 5 percent during the period studied, a big factor in the city's low rating. Albuquerque also had negative growth in regional GDP per capita, number of businesses and median house prices. While the poverty rate decreased by nearly 4.5 percent, the total number of jobs declined.

You almost have to pity city Economic Development Director Gary Oppedahl. He really hasn't had a big jobs score on his watch, but says the bad news bears have been hogging the spotlight, arguing there are quite a few jobs available in the city:

Comcast: 300 positions available at the Customer Care Call Center, Xfinity Store, and in Comcast Field Operations. . . Fidelity Investments: 100 positions, including financial associates, customer service associates and others not requiring a financial services background. . . Flagship Food Group: About 50 positions open. . . 

Oppedahl posted his info on the "goodnewsnm" site. He probably has to go there three times a day to keep his morale up.

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Tuesday, September 29, 2015

SOS Impeachment: "Solemn" or Routine? Plus: Could Hector Possibly Plea Bargain With Dianna? And: New Mexico Is Going To Look A Lot Older 

GOP State Rep. Zach Cook, co-chair of the House committee that met Monday to start talking about impeaching Secretary of State Dianna Duran, called the proceedings "solemn." We would argue a better description would be "routine." After all, this is the third time in 10 years that the House has started impeachment proceedings against an elected official. In the previous two cases the officials resigned before they could be impeached. . .

Mr. and Mrs. New Mexico don't see anything Santa Fe does as "solemn." With the economy stagnating for six long years, they long ago tuned out the politicians and the process as witnessed by the crash in voter turnout, the apathetic response to Secretary Duran refusing to resign and the incredible net migration out of the state.

New Mexicans, never a hopeful bunch, have pretty much thrown in the towel on any significant ethics reform. What they hope and pray for are good jobs or a pay hike if they have a job.

The two previous impeachment moves--against Treasurer Michael Vigil and Public Regulation Commissioner Jerome Block--came amid wild bull markets, with high oil prices, growing employment and scads of federal dollars still rolling into the state.  When the good times are rolling, a few bad apples in the barrel are easier to accept.

The Duran scandal comes amid the Great Stagnation that has laid bare our fundamental weaknesses which Santa Fe has chosen to essentially ignore and thus has effectively declared insoluble. The kids catch the vibe and hightail it out of here to the Austin city limits.  When will we get "solemn" about that?


As for Duran, you wonder if the state House will get to impeachment during the upcoming 30 day session. The impeachment committee doesn't meet again for another month. . .

Also, can Attorney General Balderas, who brought corruption charges against Secretary Duran for allegedly raiding her campaign funds to gamble in casinos, actually entertain a plea bargain that would reduce the charges from felonies to misdemeanors? Duran would then be able to keep her pension but Balderas could be in for a whole lot of pain. He gets credit for bringing the charges but if he went squishy on Duran, the public might go squishy on him.


What surprised us about this news from the latest newsletter from the Legislative Council Service is that we are the only state in the nation experiencing this:

More people continue to move out of New Mexico than into New Mexico--the only state where this is true. New Mexico's out‐migration was more pronounced in 2014 than in 2013, with 25,000 more people leaving than moving into the state in 2014, up from 10,000 in 2013.

Is that trend continuing in 2015? Is there any reason to think it isn't? New Mexico is increasingly attractive to the older demographic, not the younger. A surprise in the future may be the median age of the state rising  further than today's experts anticipate. Well, maybe not all the experts. John Covert is regional director of the research and consulting firm Metrostudy:

Covert pointed to Albuquerque's impending "senior tsunami." He said Albuquerque's senior population is expected to grow 132 percent by 2030, which will have seniors encompassing one-third of the city's population.

Should we open a prune juice franchise here?

America at large remains an immigrant magnet but not without generating angst:

The Pew report casts light on the uneasiness some Americans have expressed about the shifts in society in the United States. In 1965, the researchers found, whites made up 84 percent of people in the country. By this year, their share had declined sharply, to 62 percent. “Historically this is perhaps the lowest we have seen the non-Hispanic white share in U.S. history,” Mr. Lopez said. According to Pew projections based on current trends, by 2055 whites will lose their majority status in the population, and their share will continue to decline. Pew projects that after 2055, no ethnic or racial group will be a majority of the population.

New Mexico reflects the wave of the future. We've been a majority-minority state for years. Currently only 39 percent of New Mexicans are White, compared to 62 percent of the USA.

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Monday, September 28, 2015

Analysts, Alligators And Insiders Weigh City Election Outcome As Final Stretch Commences, Plus: BioPark Backlash? Not Yet, And: Days Of Duran (Cont.) 

Let's head out to the campaign trail for the final full week of City Election '15. . .

With the October 6 election in sight our analysts say the odds are high that the balance of power on the nine member city council will not shift as a result of the election. They are forecasting that Dem hopeful and Gov. Martinez arch-enemy Pat Davis will obtain 50 percent of the vote in SE Heights Council District 6--scene of the most intense battle this season. Davis has been stung by the Guv's machine but, the analysts say, the liberal bent of the district is emerging and that Davis is in line to score 50 percent in this three way race. That means he would avoid a run-off with Republican Hessito Yntema and keep the seat in the Dem column.

Up in GOP leaning Council District 4 in the NE Heights our insiders, analysts and Alligators are predicting longtime Republican Councilor Brad Winter will triumph over Dem challenger Israel Chavez. Winter has been hit but has sustained no serious damage and the insiders say a low, low turnout means GOP voters will tip the balance to Winter who first came to the council in 1999.

If those predictions are right the Council will stay 5 to 4 Democratic which means the Dems will not have the sixth vote needed to override vetoes from Republican Mayor Richard Berry.

Berry may be sensing the shifting tide in the Davis district. He released a video condemning the gruesome photos used by anti-abortionists against Davis. Is the Mayor looking to soften up Davis a little if he eventually comes on the council? Maybe.

No paid media campaign has emerged to attack the tax hike to finance improvements to the city BioPark and the analysts say that means the odds favor passage. The proposed one eighth of a cent increase in the city gross receipts tax would raise at least $250 million over its 15 year life. There is also a $3.9 million bond issue on the ballot this year that would go to the BioPark. Just how much does the BioPark need? It's not a question that has received much debate.

The gross receipts tax is now well over 7 percent in the city and tax foes see another increase as a detriment to business and further hurting low income individuals who pay a higher percentage of their income in the tax than the well off. But unless there is a last minute paid opposition campaign the images of grandchildren enjoying the zoo and aquarium with their grandparents is likely to prevail.

There is also the question of why we are not financing the BioPark improvements with bond issues backed by property taxes as traditionally has been done. It speaks to the city's fiscal condition under Mayor Berry (sorry, Mayor Marty has been gone for six years and Berry now owns it). But Berry won't even say if he will vote yes or no on the BioPark tax increase thus completely avoiding the bond issue argument. Not that anyone in the sleep-walking media is pressing him.

One other point: Berry and the Berry media keep saying that Mayor Marty funneled money used to back bond issues to the city's general fund to finance ongoing operations and that's the root of the bond capacity problem. But Berry took office in December 2009. He's had nearly six years to follow through on his promise to reverse that. We need bigger bond issues to shore up an aging ABQ. And after six years don't we need more than a blame game from City Hall and its media cohorts to explain why we continue to lag so badly?


Dianna Duran's decision--for now--to stay on as Secretary of State and fight calls for her resignation as she battles corruption charges--has heated up the email. Here's Dem Stephanie DuBois--who is running for Otero County Clerk--a job previously held by Duran--countering Dianna:

Joe, I am not afraid to challenge Dianna Duran because she needs to be challenged, We cannot allow her to continue to serve the public when she has obviously screwed the public trust.  I think the people (la gente) should picket her office and put a great deal of pressure on her to resign. We have sent a very bad message to the people of New Mexico and it will heighten the possibility that more elected officials will get better at being corrupt.  This must go to the people especially those who elected her and put their trust in her when she promised to clean up the past corruption in the Secretary of State's office. I believe now the Governor, a Republican, cannot really throw Duran under the bus and will find a way to keep Duran in office. We, the people cannot allow Duran to stay there without consequences. We just can't. 

We may be headed for a game of who blinks first. The state House--controlled by the Republicans--is looking at impeaching Duran in the January legislative session. Will Duran blink and resign if she is impeached? Will the House fail to impeach? Will Gov. Martinez find Dianna a private sector job and make it easier for her to step away? Will the charges against Duran be reduced to misdemeanors so prosecutors get a conviction but Dianna gets to keep her pension? Never a dull moment in La Politica. . .

P.S. Duran has complained that the media has been running photos of her that are unflattering, so today we posted her official photo. Hey, it's the least we can do for the blogging gift the SOS scandal has bestowed.

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Friday, September 25, 2015

Dems Tripped Up Again; Their Leading Candidate To Replace SOS Duran Takes Ethics Hit As Duran Future Gets Hazier, Plus: Our Bottom Lines 

Oliver & Duran
New Mexico Democrats can't buy a break. With Republican Secretary of State Dianna Duran on the ropes and the Dems all set to run Bernalillo County Clerk Maggie Toulouse Oliver for the post if Duran is forced out, what happens? Oliver's campaign lays a big egg:

. . . After announcing a bipartisan effort to train 250 more voter registrars Tuesday, Bernalillo County Clerk Maggie Toulouse Oliver sent out an email asking for contributions “to support the work we’re doing.” But the solicitation was from Toulouse Oliver’s political action committee, MaggiePac, and any funds sent in response to the email won’t go to the new county campaign to recruit third-party voter registration agents.
Instead, any money will flow to Toulouse Oliver’s PAC, which she launched this year to support women who run for higher office who are pro-abortion rights, support full equality and will advocate to protect and expand voting rights.

Sure, it's kind of esoteric but in the politically charged environment surrounding the SOS scandal, it is perfect fodder for the Guv's Machine when the time comes. Nothing like a big front-page story on ethics problems for one of those 30 second attack ads (and, of course, a pious editorial that will soon appear chastising her).

They are used to beating up on Maggie. She was pummeled by the Machine in TV attack ads that went unanswered when she ran and lost to Duran in 2014.

Oliver's supporters say the path is clear for her to run unopposed for the SOS nomination if SOS Duran should resign in the next year and there is a '16 election to fill out the final two years of her term, but this kind of rookie mistake begs for a Hispanic challenger to get into any contest. Absent a challenge, if Duran resigns and Gov. Martinez gets to appoint a new SOS, that incumbent will have ammo to portray Oliver as ethically challenged and lump her in with Duran. Not good.

The Alligators have been saying it for years--until the Dems bring into this state consultants and pros who can match up with those of the Guv's Machine and play error-free, aggressive offense, they are going to keep hurting. And hurting.


Meanwhile, embattled SOS Duran emerged this week on TV screens statewide to pronounce that she is back to work. That came after weeks of being MIA following the attorney general filing criminal charges against her over her handling of her campaign funds.

This bizarre episode in state politics is now fraught with uncertainty. Duran's lawyer is trying to buy time and drag the case out. Duran is not going to resign anytime soon and whether the House will impeach her during the January legislative session has become  murky. Even if she is impeached, Duran could play hardball and not resign as expected. The case would then go to the Senate for trial where getting an impeachment conviction for the first time in state history could be problematic.

If Duran can survive another year, there will be no '16 election to fill the rest of her term which expires at the end of '18. She could resign after the '16 election and the GOP Guv appoints a replacement who then runs in the lower voter turnout year of '18, instead of the presidential year of '16 when turnout is higher. We earlier labeled the Dems chances of taking back the SOS office a "no-brainer." Now it's looking more like brain surgery.


We remembered the life and times of former APD Chief Bob Stover on the blog this week (see Monday's blog). Stover, 79, died Thursday morning. "He was among the best chiefs the city has had," offered retired APD officer and former police union head Mark Bralley who took the photographs of Stover posted here and who has been in La Politica since the 60's. He added: "I don't doubt we would not be in the conundrum we are with APD today if Bob had been chief."

The viewing will take place Thursday, October 1 at the Daniels Family Funeral home on Wyoming. The funeral with full police honors will take place next Friday at Hoffmantown Church.


This week's papal visit was up front and personal for a number of New Mexicans, including Allen Sanchez, executive director of the New Mexico Conference of Catholic Bishops, who was invited to four events featuring the Pope. . . Northern Dem Congressman Ben Ray Lujan took his mother Carmen to see the pontiff speak before a joint session of Congress. He was also a member of the escort committee that took Francis to the House chamber for the joint session. Senator Udall was accompanied by Archbishop John Wester.  Each member was allotted one ticket to take a guest inside the chamber.

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