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Tuesday, January 16, 2018

Session '18: Crime Tears A Town Apart But It Brings Some Lawmakers Together, Plus: An Ice Age Looming For NM R's? And: State's $20 Billion Savings Funds Drawing More Attention 

Gentry & Ivey Soto
While you wait for the Governor's State of the State speech kicking off the 2018 30 day legislative session, previews of the action can be found here, here and here.

The session convenes at noon today. The Governor's speech is expected to start anywhere from 12:30 to 1:30 and can be seen live on the websites of the major TV affiliates. 

In the run-up to the session there were some glimpses of attempted bipartisanship among lawmakers. Most significant perhaps was the tag team of House Minority Leader Nate Gentry of ABQ and ABQ Democratic state Senator Daniel Ivey Soto. The pair held a news conference to tout their agreement on several crime bills:

Gentry has struck a more bipartisan tone (than Gov. Martinez) with proposals designed to enroll inmates suffering from addiction and mental illness in Medicaid as they are released into society and to provide state matching funds so local police forces can pay more to retain veteran officers. Sen. Ivey Soto has co-sponsored those measures.

For Ivey Soto it is par for the course. He represents a somewhat swing district in the city. For Gentry bipartisanship is more urgent. His far NE Heights district is growing increasingly Blue. He won re-election by only 4 points (52-48) over teacher Natalie Figueroa in 2016 and she is back for a second try this year.

KOB-TV's Chris Ramirez points out that public clamor over the city's crime epidemic is paving the way for more bipartisanship among lawmakers, noting that ABQ NE Heights GOP Rep. Bill Rehm and Westside Dem Rep. Moe Maestas are also collaborating on crime bills. Neither is especially endangered for re-election but the voices for action in their districts is loud.

In a non presidential year with a lower turnout Gentry should have a bit less to worry about but his long term future could be shaky. 2020 is a presidential election year that will see a higher turnout and following that election there is the 2021 legislative redistricting. If he survives until then and there is a Democratic governor and Dem-controlled Legislature Gentry's district will be even more ripe for the taking.

The minority leader is being force-fed a more centrist profile because of the political peril he faces, not that it entirely disagrees with him. He started off working with noted political pragmatist Pete Domenici, the former GOP US Senator.

THE COMING ICE AGE

As Gentry fights for survival he may be showing his entire party the path to avoid a political ice age that seems headed their way, especially if Rep. Steve Pearce loses the governorship to the Democratic nominee this year.

New Mexico is becoming increasingly Blue and citified. The rural areas--the home of Trump's support and conservatism--is losing power and their legislative influence will likely dwindle more following the 2021 reapportionment.

Also, Hispanics, Native Americans, Asian-Americans and African-Americans now comprise well over 60 percent of our state's population. They are firmly in the Dem camp and need coaxing from the other side.

Gentry sees the writing on the wall because it's spray painted all over his district.

SPECIFICALLY SPEAKING

Some examples of why trouble is brewing when it comes to the current NM conservative agenda: The death penalty is again DOA this year; right-to-work is dead--forever; three strikes and you're out is a corpse big tax cuts are no more and two terms of GOP rule in Santa Fe and ABQ are ending with unpopular incumbents.

If the R's are sent to their room by voters this year they are not going to get out by banging on the same old drum. They will need a new and improved agenda. . .

MIMI'S MOMENT 

Sen. Stewart
ABQ State Senator Mimi Stewart--a respected, liberal voice in the Legislature for nearly 25 years--was named the new Senate Majority Whip by Senate Dems on the eve of the opening of the legislature. Her election followed the ouster last month of ABQ Senator Michael Padilla whose downfall was due to decade-old sexual harassment charges against him that ended with the city of ABQ paying out a settlement.

While Stewart is a retired educator who has been a leader on educational issues, she comes to the position in a hyper-polarized environment.

Behind the scenes some lawmakers grumbled that replacing Padilla with Stewart smacked of hypocrisy because she has a 1999 drunk driving conviction, a long-standing and serious problem in the state. They argued that Padilla's long ago sexual harassment case was held to a higher standard because of the tenor of the times while Stewart's mistake was passed over. Padilla's detractors argued any comparison between the two incidents was a false equivalency.

Others pointed out that Stewart's assumption of the whip position means there are no Hispanics in the positions of Senate Majority Leader, Majority Whip or President Pro Tem. That's a sore point in a majority-minority state. Stewart defeated Senators Jacob Candelaria and Linda Lopez.

Still, Stewart's legislative experience and acumen was not at issue and in what one wall-leaner described as "the year of the woman" a majority of the Dem caucus welcomed the changing of the guard and the chance to move on from the Padilla controversy.

TRENDING

One legislative trend we predicted here is taking hold. With well over $20 billion in the state's permanent funds, the temptation is simply too great not to attempt to put some of that money to work to solve the seemingly intractable problems that have NM ranked at the bottom in so many rankings, including crime. That backdrop has surfaced this proposed constitutional amendment from Sandoval County area Dem State Rep. Daymon Ely:

. . . Using only 0.5 percent of those funds annually and without reducing the money in those funds, $100 million each year would be available to establish a criminal justice and public safety fund to reduce crime. . . If public safety is truly a priority for our communities. . .then our budget needs to reflect that reality. Crime affects everything: the safety of our citizens, the reputation of our state and economic development. The permanent funds are for our future generations. However, in failing to address this crisis now, we are already affecting future generations by allowing crime to gain a devastating foothold and by permitting the continued downward spiral of our economy.

That amendment is unlikely to see the light of the day anytime soon but it becomes part of the growing debate over how a state with such immense saved wealth can continue to allow the quality of life measures to sink and cause a significant portion of the population to flee its borders.

The biggie in what the critics like to call "raiding the Land Grant Permanent Fund" is the perennial proposal to tap the Fund for about $150 million a year for ten years and devote it exclusively to early childhood programs for ages zero to five. Brain development at those ages is critical to future success. The state ranked 49th in the nation in child well-being in 2017, according to the Kids Count Data Book released on the eve of the opening of the legislative session.

That constitutional amendment, which would be sent to the voters for approval, has passed the House before and is again expected to be sent over to the Senate where conservative Dems are again ready to open the graveyard gates.

Still, the trend is clear. A Democratic Governor would be much more open to taking some risk and investing some of that over $20 billion in programs that directly attack the dire social conditions crisis. And that new Governor could now be less than 12 months away.

For those so staunchly opposed, supporters put it this way: Over the years the state has given hundreds of millions in tax breaks and incentives to corporations such as Intel, Eclipse and Hewlett Packard. There was risk there. Sometimes it worked out and other times it didn't. But the key point is that risk was taken in an effort to build the economy.

There is no risk-free investment. That includes very early childhood. To not take risk and sit on the sidelines and watch the state further deteriorate and its people suffer while billions accumulate, well, that may be what they call the moral question of our time.

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Monday, January 15, 2018

A Boondoggle That Beats ART, The Outs Are In, Action In SOS Race And State R's Gear Up For Tough Year 

And you thought the $135 million ART project down ABQ's Central Avenue was one of the biggest boondoggles you had ever seen. Take a look at this just north of us:

The U.S. Department of Veterans Affairs is expected to announce that it has all but completed construction of a new hospital in Aurora, CO. — a major milestone for a project that drew national outrage in 2015 when the agency admitted it was $1 billion over budget. But according to a congressional document the Jan. 23 target will be little more than an illusion as the team building the $1.7 billion facility expects to spend several more months finishing hundreds of items on its to-do list. Even then, the project is unlikely to reach its full potential when it opens later this year.

The same question applies to both the VA and ART boondoggles: Who, if anyone, will be held accountable?

THE OUTS ARE IN

Former ABQ Mayor Marty Chavez was lambasted by then-mayoral candidate RJ Berry for advocating a streetcar system down Central (Berry called it a "trolley") and it helped Berry beat Chavez and become mayor in 2009. Now that Berry's legacy project has proven to be a disaster, Chavez resurfaces to extract a bit of revenge:

Joe; Architecture is a major definer of who we are as a community. I've wondered from the first time I saw them what the architectural theme was behind the ART bus structures. At first blush they are certainly reminiscent of the Denver International Airport. But it's pretty clear now that each of the stops actually represents a White Elephant dancing down Central Ave.

Chavez has moved back to ABQ from DC and is practicing law. He recently was shown on Twitter having lunch with new Democratic Mayor Tim Keller. Well, as they say, the outs are in and the ins are out.

COMING SOON

Stay tuned to this blog this week as we come with some definitive solutions for the Mayor and City Council to resolve the ART wreckage. As Governor Martinez was fond of saying: It will be "Bold Change."

SOS ACTION

Johanna Cox
When we blogged recently that the NM GOP had fielded candidates for all the executive offices up for election in '18 their candidate for Secretary of State was waiting in the wings. Now she's out on the stage.

36 year old attorney Johanna King is their SOS hopeful and expected to be the only one:

Cox is prepared to take her prosecutorial experience to the Secretary of State’s office and take politics out of the decision-making process. Running a clean, transparent, and fair election is not the job of a political organizer, but rather an attorney who understands the law and the role of the position in which she will be elected. Cox has decades of experience in being an advocate for fairness and transparency. In her work as a prosecutor in two of New Mexico’s busiest judicial districts (1st Judicial in the North and Valencia County), prosecuting public corruption, and defending hardworking law enforcement officers, Cox has been ethical and dedicated to serving New Mexicans.

That reference to a "political organizer" is a dig at current Dem Secretary of State Maggie Toulouse Oliver who did indeed work in organizing before she embarked on her own political career. However, she won kudos for her 10 year service as BernCo County Clerk before being elected SOS in 2016 to fill out the term of Dianna Duran who resigned. Oliver will be heavily favored for re-election.

Meanwhile, former Indian Country Dem State Rep. Sandra Jeff, who wears controversy as easy as a pair of comfy pajamas, is at it again. She has switched parties and is running for SOS as a Libertarian Party candidate.

Thanks, Sandra, we can always use the blogging material.

THIS TOUGH YEAR

The political pros say it could be a tough year--very tough--for the NM GOP. Party Chairman Ryan Cangiolosi has put his team in place in preparation for the rough waters: They are:

Ryan Gleason is Executive Director. Gleason got his start in politics as a Legislative Analyst for the NM House in 2001 shortly after graduating from the Texas Tech School of Law. He then spent three years as a Legislative Assistant to Senator Pete Domenici (R-NM) and Chief of Staff to NM House Speaker Don Tripp. 

Michael Horanburg will serve as the Deputy Executive Director. Horanburg has worked in New Mexico politics for ­­­­­­­­10 years. Prior to his service at the state party,  Horanburg served as the southwest Field Coordinator for the National Rifle Association’s Institute for Legislative Action. 

Others named are: James Clarke, Director of Political Strategy. Dominic Pacheco is Finance Director. Greg Blair will handle communications. Becky Wilson is the Administrative Director. Pam Kingston is the Accounting Assistant. Michelle Chavez is the Events Coordinator. 

One Dem operative who looked over the news from the GOP quipped:  "Why were all the women listed last?"

Yeah, it's going to be a wild year.

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Thursday, January 11, 2018

ART Boondoggle Gets Readers Fuming; They Rage, Vent And Joke Over Epic Mismanagement, Plus: NM Water Wars And Latest Heinrich Senate Ranking  

It is one of the most outrageous publicly financed boondoggles in city history--perhaps state history--so it's no wonder readers are fuming over the revelations about the incompetence that surrounds ART, the now stalled ABQ Central Avenue rapid bus project that the city has spent $135 million on. No need for further ado, Vox Populi is rarin' to go and Jim McClure starts us off:

Joe, there may be an upside to the ART fiasco. ABQ Mayors seem to get this inexplicable compulsion to build transit systems. Marty Chavez wanted a streetcar and Berry almost got his electric bus. Perhaps there’s something in the water at City Hall.  Confronting the ART fiasco may enable Mayor Keller to get the public-transportation bug out of his system, kind of like a vaccination. He certainly will find things to build during his term, as mayors do, but probably will stay away from fanciful transit projects. 

Longtime reader Mick writes:

How about a list of the contractors on the (F)ART project? And maybe a list of Mayor RJ's campaign contributors. Might be interesting. And where have RJ's directors landed after fleeing from City Hall? I'm just askin'.

Reader John writes:

Hello Joe, here is my two cents on ART.  The contractors should be sued into bankruptcy, the design engineers sued, the project engineer for the city fired, the project mgr. for the city fired and the project inspectors for the city fired. All those who patted themselves on the back for how well the project was proceeding should be fired. But as we all know none of this will happen and all of us who said "told you so" will pick up the tab for this gross incompetence. Last word, Joe: MOVIDA!

Melanie Majors writes:

Joe, Why is the city advertising ART on billboards? Saw it on one of those electronic billboards when coming into town. “Central is Open” and the big ART logo.

They may have to take that down soon, Melanie, because at least two of the ART intersections need to be reconfigured, according to the city, and that is going to cause more traffic headaches on Central.

Abinash Achrekar MD writes:

My wife and I are professionals with a young son living downtown. I'm a professor of Cardiology at the University. We are so frustrated with the year of construction that has resulted in a loss of businesses and continuity in our community due to ART. My wife had a fantastic idea and I was curious of your thoughts.

At least the Stations from Old Town to East Nob Hill could be turned into small parquitos--little parks that have been experimented with in cities like Salt Lake City and Denver. One of the ART bus lanes could be used for bike traffic and maybe the other for pedestrians. In fact the city may be able to rent the space to little coffee pagodas or tiny restaurants that one sees in cities like Austin.

No kidding? Interesting. . . .

Reader Bruce Shah scores the city council:

Joe - Gotta love our City Council as they run from the ART mess like a cat from the litter box. Particularly the oh-so-statesman-like Ken Sanchez. Perhaps we can "claw back" their salaries for failing to remotely exercise any oversight? And, while we are at it, see about eliminating the Berry/Perry pensions. 

For the record, City Councilor Klarissa Pena opposed the project as did Dan Lewis who is no longer on the council.

Reader John Gniady writes of his contact with electric car manufacturer Tesla:

While I’m sure you need another project like a new hole in your head, this strikes me as a nice new market for Tesla. As I’m sure you’re aware, the city of Albuquerque embarked on the first all-electric rapid transit corridor in the US about a year ago. With construction almost complete, there’s only one little problem, the electric buses don’t work. That’s where Tesla comes in like a white knight to save the day.

While it’s a tad early to give up on the original bus contractor, a Chinese company with a dubious name “Build Your Dreams,” that time is not that far away. As I see it, the electric drive train for Tesla’s newly announced semi-truck would be ideal. If there is anything I can do to facilitate this, don’t hesitate to ask. And I work for free :–)

WATER WARS

An environmental reporter took a bite out of the representation the state has hired in a New Mexico-Texas landmark water rights case that was heard before the US Supreme Court this week:

Of the four parties, New Mexico was the only one to have a private attorney stand before the mahogany bench. Marcus Rael Jr. of Robles, Rael & Anaya in Albuquerque represented New Mexico; his former law partner, the New Mexico Attorney General Hector Balderas, watched from the gallery. Rael may be politically connected, but he’s not a water attorney. And until Monday, he also lacked experience before the high court.

The Robles, Rael and Anaya firm is indeed politically connected, handling many cases for state and local governments. Dem State Auditor candidate and recent ABQ mayoral contender Brian Colón is associated with the firm. The state has so far spent $15 million on staff and legal fees in this critical water battle with Texas.

SENATE RANKING

At the top of the '18 NM ticket, DC's Inside Elections ranks the US Senate race here "solid Democrat." Sen. Martin Heinrich is seeking a second, six year term. Republican Contractor Mick Rich is the sole GOP contender.

The ranking is not surprising, considering no NM US Senator has lost a re-election bid since 1982 when Jack Schmitt was ousted by Democrat Jeff Bingaman.

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Wednesday, January 10, 2018

ART Facade Collapses Under Fresh Scrutiny; Berry's Folly Is Now Keller's "Lemon" Plus: How To Fix It And Who To Hold Accountable  

Maybe Mayor Keller ought to give a contract to Merry Maids for a year considering the amount of mopping up there is to do of the epic messes left by Mayor Berry's administration.

Nowhere is the mess more in plain view than the ART project on Central Avenue, the subject of a Keller news conference Tuesday where the ugly truth about the widely criticized bus plan finally surfaced. In short, the project is a "lemon" Keller reported and there is no way to say when it will be operational. (Full video here.)

Sounds like the NM Spaceport, doesn't it?

The myriad flaws in ART include the electric buses from a California-based Chinese owned company that were red flagged back in 2013. The company is called BYD for Build Your Dreams but for ABQ it's more like Bring Your Dollars--and don't expect them back.

More on BYD's history of problems herehere and here.

WHAT NOW?

What to do? The Alligators, always eager to get in on a crisis, come with this:

--Forget the electric buses and use and/or refurbish the current Rapid Ride buses and cut your losses.

--Consider suing the Chinese company for its incompetence which has helped cause the delay and use any compensation to help pay for ART. (Can American courts even get at the firm?) (The city doesn't have to pay for the buses until the company fulfills the contract of over $20 million).

--Audit the bus purchase deal. Was it "greased" as was the city contract for Taser for police lapel cameras that was investigated by then-Auditor Keller, an investigation that still sits on the desk of Attorney General Balderas.

--Request that State Auditor Wayne Johnson probe the bus contract and hold the Berry administration accountable. (Or Hector probes?)

--Hold accountable the local contractors whose work is going to have to be redone because of their errors and don't use tax dollars to pay for the needed repairs.

--We may need some kind of financial breaks for businesses along Central that have been hoping and praying that the project would be up and running but now could face a year of more lost business.

--Hire more transit police to encourage more ridership on the system, the number one reason people cite for not taking the bus.

MORE ARTIFACTS

It isn't only Mayor Berry and his Chief Administrative Officer Rob Perry who are responsible for what may be the most bungled capital improvement project in city history. It is also the asleep-at-the-switch City Council that apparently signed off on the Chinese buses and the entire ART concept, all the while ignoring outraged citizens who predicted the disaster.

Keller made sure he said he "inherited" the boondoggle lest the public start turning on him, a public that polling shows is overwhelmingly opposed to ART.

Now Keller will soon be off to Dallas to meet with federal transit officials about $75 million in federal money that Mayor Berry said was a lock for ART. Only it isn't and Keller held open the possibility it may never come.

Build your dream, Albuquerque, only find one other than ART. That's now a dream that used to be.

MAYORAL ADVICE

Before the Mayor's new conference veteran ABQ PR man John Cordova gave him this advice:

Keller must be clear about the failure to include the public in the planning for ART. The consequences of that failure is what we are seeing now. The business owners and engaged public knew that the ART plans were not realistic or practical but were ignored.  They sensed that ART was not primarily a transit project but a real estate development project. Keller must be completely honest about this failure or the Berry people will hang this failure around his administration's neck.

ART PAYNE

Former ABQ Transit Director, city councilor and ABQ attorney Greg Payne, who is on Mayor Keller's transition team for the transit department, came with this:

There really are only two possible explanations for the A.R.T. fiasco. Either this was gross negligence and incompetence on the part of city officials like R.J. Berry, Rob Perry, and Transit Director Bruce Rizzieri - or we’ve got some very serious Taser-like corruption on our hands that demands a full accounting and a thorough investigation. 

This disaster didn’t just happen for innocent or inexplicable reasons. And we shouldn’t just shrug our collective shoulders as a city - like we usually do -and try to put lipstick on this latest City Hall pig. There needs to be an accounting, and people need to be held responsible.

ALMOST FULL TICKET

With the addition of a candidate for State Treasurer the R's now have contenders positioned for all the statewide executive offices on the '18 ballot--except Sec. of State:

New Mexico native Arthur Castillo announced his candidacy for State Treasurer. As the former CFO for the Treasurer and Director of Budget and Finance, Castillo has the passion for New Mexico and experience to manage the State Treasurer’s Office. “As a proven financial planner, budgeting professional, grant writer, and administrator, I plan to restore honesty, responsibility, and accountability to the Office of State Treasurer,” Castillo said. 

That sounds like a slap against current Dem State Treasurer Tim Eichenberg who is seeking re-election and unopposed for the Dem nomination. He is heavily favored for another term but it appears Castillo will try to put him through his paces.

THE BOTTOM LINES

We were saddened to learn of the death of Stan Fulton, the 86 year old owner of the Sunland Park Racetrack and Casino in Dona Ana County. We worked closely with Stan years ago when our PR firm advised him in a lengthy battle over the proposed opening of a rival casino. He was a salt of the earth guy who made a fortune in the slot machine business in Vegas and bought Sunland Park in 2000. Sunland's longtime lobbyist Scott Scanland said:

Stan leaves a tremendous legacy. Over the years he made contributions of $17 million to NM State University and he didn't even live here but resided in Las Vegas. That legacy will continue for the university since he has left a share of the ownership of Sunland Park to the school.

NMSU Chancellor and former Governor Garrey Carruthers will travel to Fulton's funeral Friday in Maryland, bringing with him the spirit of a deeply thankful university community. RIP, Stan. . . .

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Tuesday, January 09, 2018

A "Softer Susana?" Fuhgeddaboudit! She Comes Out Swinging Against Lawmakers On Crime Epidemic, Plus: The Libertarian Party Plays In The Political Big League 

Gov. Martinez (Sorber; Journal)
What's that about a "Softer Susana?" Fuhgeddaboudit!

No sooner had our digits hit cyberspace Monday speculating about a softer gubernatorial approach when Gov. Martinez reverted to form--blasting lawmakers from Mora to Mesilla and pretty much blaming them for the entirety of the ABQ and NM crime problem, even though she is now in her 8th year of governing.

Back in play was the stern look and the lecturing manner of a judgmental parent. And also back were the same wheelbarrow full of crime-fighting proposals that have been wheeled out year after year.

“Enough is enough,” Gov. Martinez said. That was the common threat throughout the governor’s speech Monday as she discussed her anti-crime agenda.“Every year since taking office I have called on lawmakers to get tough on crime,” she said. “Over and over again our legislature has failed to act.” 

Gov. Martinez is putting a lot of blame on lawmakers. She says she’s sick of being number one for car thefts and seeing the constant stories of criminals getting arrested over and over again. “That’s the revolving door I’m talking about. They’re making a mockery of the criminal justice system.”

Well, she certainly made a mockery of our hope that the softer Susana that unveiled her budget plan would stick around. But she is back to doing what she is most comfortable with and what she does best--attacking, blaming and campaigning.

Nowhere in her legislative agenda is there a mention that the crime epidemic here needs to be fought not only on the criminal justice front but also on the poverty, drug abuse and cultural (educational) fronts.

For most of her two terms she had a fellow Republican in the ABQ Mayor's office to help her kick-start major reforms but nothing happened. And her party controlled the state House for two years and could have perhaps compromised to get some of the agenda through. But her and Mayor Berry rarely collaborated and there was never any serious negotiating with the Legislature--just political posturing for whatever campaign loomed.

Lawmakers will relish rejecting just about all of Martinez's proposals, many of which are political window dressing, like the reinstatement of the death penalty for certain crimes. And she will probably relish believing that history will say she tried and tried, but those awful legislators would not cooperate and it is they and they alone who let the state sink into the cellar.

The Governor's crime plan is a script to absolve her and her administration from the damning verdict already being delivered to them in the public opinion polls. Softer Susana? Fuggheddabout it!

REBUTTAL

Rep. Ely 
Sandoval County Dem State Rep. and attorney Daymon Ely came with this op-ed that lays out a crime agenda different from the Governor's:

. . . But the biggest and most challenging problem is our mental health care system and lack of substance abuse treatment facilities. Our behavioral health care system has been decimated. 

People with, or at risk for, mental illness and substance abuse often have nowhere to go. As a result, MDC (the jail on the west side of Albuquerque) is now the largest provider of mental health therapy in the state. Once the inmate is released both the individual and the community are now at risk.

The citizens of New Mexico need more and better paid police officers, prosecutors, public defenders, judges, court staff, corrections officers, pre-trial service providers, and early childhood intervention, particularly at schools, and at behavioral health and substance abuse treatment centers.


THE LIBERTARIAN FACTOR

Never mind the four Democrats chasing the governorship, presumed GOP nominee Steve Pearce first has to worry about trouble that could pop up in his own backyard. No, there's no talk of another R entering the race but there are rumblings about a Libertarian getting into the chase. That would be highly problematic for Pearce.

The southern NM congressman will need a unified conservative GOP base if he is to have a realistic chance to prevail over the Dem nominee in November. Even if a Libertarian took only two or three points in a three way race, it could spell Pearce's doom. That's because even the most optimistic of Pearce's supporters see only a very narrow win for him in a two way contest with his Dem rival.

The rumblings about a Libertarian entering were first heard when GOP Land Commissioner Aubrey Dunn, Jr. said he was thinking about it. Meanwhile, Dunn's son, ABQ Attorney A. Blair Dunn, has launched a Libertarian candidacy for attorney general.

Libertarian Princeton
And Lloyd Princeton who describes himself as a small business owner and entrepreneur is a Libertarian running for the ABQ congressional seat being vacated by Rep. Michelle Lujan Grisham who is running for Governor.

In the past the Libertarians have often found it difficult to get on the ballot because of the large number of petition signatures required of third party candidates.

Libertarian presidential candidate and former NM Governor Gary Johnson made it much easier for the 2018 cycle when he scored over 5 percent of the state vote in the NM '16 presidential election--the threshold for a party to secure major party status and thus lowering the signature requirement.

While we wait to see if Dunn or another possible Libertarian Guv contender emerges and causes Pearce to lose what hair he has left, we can say that the entry of Blair Dunn into the AG's race is an unwelcome development for ABQ attorney Michael Hendricks, the sole R seeking the nomination. Democrat Hector Balderas is unopposed for the nomination and favored for re-election in November. Sharing his GOP vote with Dunn was not in Henrdicks' game plan.

Former GOP state Rep. Janice Arnold-Jones is the lone candidate for her party's nomination for the ABQ congressional seat. Having Princeton on the ballot isn't going to help her any, but then the national R's don't seem interested in targeting the seat anyway.

Back on the Guv deal, the irony here is that it was a former GOP Governor--Johnson--who by performing well in '16 made possible an easier entry for a Libertarian Governor candidate that could be poisonous to Pearce. Maybe Steve should pick up the phone and ask Gary to keep the coast clear of any Libertarian Guv hopefuls. It could make the difference in who wins, or at least stop Steve from losing the last of his hair.

THE BOTTOM LINES

About that photo of Dem State Auditor candidate Brian Colón on the Monday blog. It was taken by reader Gabe Gallegos. Thanks for the fine shot, Gabe.

This is the home of New Mexico politics.

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(c)NM POLITICS WITH JOE MONAHAN 2018

Monday, January 08, 2018

Brian Colón To NM: Let Me try Again; After Mayoral Setback He Announces Bid For State Auditor, Plus: A Softer Susana Emerges To Announce Her Budget; Will It Last? 

Brian Colón (Gabe Gallegos '17)
Can Brian Colón pick up the pieces of a political career shattered by a triple whammy? He had a bumpy tenure as state Democratic Party chairman, a disappointing run as the 2010 Democratic lieutenant governor nominee and most recently suffered a big defeat as a contender for ABQ mayor, a campaign in which he spent over $800,000 and still came up empty-handed.

Despite those setbacks the intrepid Colón will give it one more shot. He announced Sunday that he will seek the 2018 Democratic nomination for State Auditor. And his friends think he may have finally hit upon a winning formula. One of them put it this way:

Brian has been trying to go from zero to 60, seeking high level offices before he accumulated any political experience. Serving as Auditor could give him the chance he needs to prove himself to the voters. 

Colon pushes back against criticism that he is running just to run. He told us the once sleepy office of Auditor "has become exciting since Hector Balderas and Tim Keller held the position."

"Many of the issues that have come to the fore in the Auditor's office--crime fighting, the education system and waste and fraud--are issues that I ran on for Mayor." He said.

Needless to say, both Balderas and Keller climbed higher on the political ladder from their Auditor perches.

Colón, an ABQ attorney, has become the Happy Warrior of La Politica. His presence on social media and at social events is ubiquitous. Always armed with a smile and looking as if he is about to break into a cheer over something--anything--Colón has built a considerable following, just not enough for electoral success. But now that could change.

The only other announced Dem hopeful for Auditor is State Rep. Bill McCamley of Las Cruces but Colon's well-known ability to raise money, his name ID in the ABQ metro and his Hispanic heritage that could position him for a big win in the North, appear to put him in the driver's seat.

McCamley has said he is giving up his House seat to run for Auditor. He is able to spend $50,000 he had in his House campaign account as of October on the Auditor run. One question may be how negative he goes, if at all, against the better known Colón. McCamley does have roots with labor and progressives, both important Dem constituencies and that gives him a shot.

When Colón, 47, took a tumble in the mayoral race he also dragged down his BFF--Attorney General Hector Balderas who went all in for him with TV ads that fell flat. But the two amigos are nothing if not political wind-sniffers and this time they think it's finally the smell of victory wafting Colón's way.

FACING JOHNSON

Whoever gets the Dem nod in the June primary their chances of a November victory are high. Appointed State Auditor Wayne Johnson will seek to become the first R to be elected to the position since the 60's. Harold Thompson was the last R Auditor. He won election in 1966 and re-election in 1968. That's not a promising history when combined with what is shaping up as a Democratic year. But Johnson is an able campaigner who was twice elected to the BernCo Commission and is busy collecting his petition signatures. Johnson told me Sunday he is definitely running for Auditor and added that he will be resigning the commission seat.

SOFTER SUSANA

(Journal; Moore)
The gubernatorial attitude prior to this upcoming legislative session is markedly different than years past. Rather than attack and prod lawmakers--her traditional approach--Martinez unveiled her proposed budget and legislative ideas in a more concilatory fashion. House Dems took note of the lame duck Governor's softer side, but remained wary that the rough and tumble Susana could come out when the 30 day session kicks off January 16 and she punishes lawmakers with an all crime all the time agenda.

But it seems unlikely. Martinez appears to want to put a few points on the board with tax reform, crime and make the peace over a budget that finally has some surplus money. Then she could take her walk into the history books diplomatically.

Others will say she is gunning for a presidential appointment to one of two soon-to-be vacant NM Federal judgeships--a lifetime appontment--so she's on her best behavior. (Would Trump give it to her after she refused to endorse him?).

Whatever the motivation, there is surely a case to be made for a subdued Susana. Two disastrous vetoes in recent years helped plunge her approval rating to 37 percent. One year she vetoed the entire capital outlay budget, prompting an uproar in the business community and forcing her to call a special session to undo her handiwork. The other came last year when in a fit of pique she vetoed the entire higher education budget, causing alarm statewide. That also had to be undone.

The Martinez years will be mainly remembered for the campaign-style attacks she led against her foes, whether it was an election year or not. She succeeded politically for a time, but the constant warfare produced no memorable legislation that dramatically altered the course of the state.

With DC in chaos and the public here weary of her administration, Martinez's initial approach to her final legislative session fits the bill. In fact, it could help her get a couple of major bills passed for a change.

THE BUDGET

The beleaguered state budget will finally be budged upwards. Both the Governor and the bean counters at the Legislative Finance Committee agree the state should have at least $200 million more available for the budget year that starts July 1 compared to last year's budget.

Senate Finance Committee Chairman John Arthur Smith delivered a dose of reality when he informed New Mexicans that the increase is almost entirely due to a boost in oil prices. The state's overall economy remains anemic, albeit with a few bright spots.

Taking the general fund budget from $6.1 billion to around $6.23 billion, as envisioned by both budget plans, is not earth shaking, but there is also money to restore the state's reserve account which was drawn down to nothing and endangered our bond rating. It also is enough to award a symbolic pay raise of about one percent to state workers who have not had a pay hike in three long years.

The budget battle has been like a roller coaster since $100 a barrel oil disappeared in 2014. Lawmakers were strapped in and screaming as they dealt with the coaster's steep and scary declines. Now the coaster is on a flat section with a slight uprise and they can breathe a bit easier.

What will come next in their thrill ride? More flat track? A return to terrifying drops? Or a heart thumping ride upwards? Only the oil Gods know for sure and they don't care about our roller coaster.

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Thursday, January 04, 2018

The Headlines Tell The Tale: New Mexico Has A Social Conditions Crisis And More, Plus: Working For The Minimum And A Great Opportunity For Higher Ed Is Lost  

As a longtime journalist and blogger having seen the worst of the worst, you expect to view things through a darker lens. But even after acknowledging that bent the headlines dominating New Mexico in this new year are truly ghastly and remind us that a failed state does not turn with the page of the calendar.

We've long been calling the state's plight a social conditions crisis but that seems too innocuous. It's a crisis alright, but one with a sinister shadow. Take a look. From Cruces:

From 2016 to 2017, child abuse cases increased from 97 to 135 reported cases in Doña Ana County, a 39% increase. District Attorney D'Antonio says his office has seen more and more children found with meth in their systems.

From the streets of ABQ:

A woman whose mutilated (and decapitated) body was found in a sandy arroyo in the shadow of the upper middle class Four Hills neighborhood grew up in To’hajiilee and more recently split her time between the Native American reservation land and Albuquerque. . . Audra Willis, 39, did not have a permanent residence. . .She was the mother of six children, all under the age of 17, who lived in To’hajiilee.

From the NM Dept. of Health:

The struggle with drug overdose. . . looks better in comparison with the national picture but in essence, the numbers here remain relatively unchanged. It’s the rest of the nation that has taken a turn for the much worse . . . The state leads the nation in alcohol-related death rates, according to the department. 

From Belen where an 11 month old baby died while in foster care:

Police also reportedly found poor conditions in the home, including dog feces and urine along with foul odors. Other unkempt conditions included human feces in a dirty and discolored toilet, empty bags and bottles in one room, scattered food bowls, and pills under a bed, according to the report.

One of the definitions of a crisis is "a time when an important or difficult decision must be made." New Mexico has put off that difficult decision and the consequences are as black and white as the dreary headlines that bring them to us ceaselessly.

AT A MINIMUM

Getting a raise in '18? If you're at the bottom of the economic ladder in ABQ you will. Minimum wage workers will see their hourly pay boosted from $8.80 to $8.95 an hour. But you're out of luck if you're a low wage worker outside of ABQ, Santa Fe or Cruces, cities where the minimum wage has long surpassed the state's measly minimum of $7.50 an hour. That rate has been struck there since the last raise was approved in 2008--10 years ago.

The federal minimum wage has been an even rawer deal, staying at $7.25 an hour since 2009.

States and cities long ago began setting their own minimums. But in the rural areas of New Mexico there are folks still getting paid to harvest chile or work on ranches for $7.50 an hour. Can the legislature, dominated by well-off professionals, and the Governor finally come to an agreement to give them a raise when they meet later this month?

They could if they would walk a mile in the shoes of those hard-working, but wage-deprived New Mexicans out there in the hinterland.

A 100 YEAR HEADACHE

The hodgepodge collection of state higher education institutions, rooted in the politics of a century ago when everyone wanted a piece of the pie, has, most everyone agrees, created a dysfunctional patchwork that cries out for reform. But the wailing is destined to continue.

NM Higher Ed Secretary Barbara Damron suffered a stunning rebuke when a committee formed to reform the system recommended doing nothing--absolutely nothing:

Sec. Damron (Journal; Thompson)
A committee convened by the state Higher Education Department to study potential changes to university and college governance in New Mexico is recommending no changes to the current model – one that features 21 governing boards overseeing 31 public institutions. . . More than half of the 19 governance subcommittee members came from the institutions themselves, including several presidents..

Secretary Damron wrote this sad ending in allowing those benefiting from the status quo to undertake the study. It's a lost opportunity and particularly regrettable because the solution is in plain sight:

. . . The other model would create a University of New Mexico-headed system with all the state’s northern schools, and a southern system headed by New Mexico State University. But Damron said grouping institutions with such different missions made those less attractive.

Uh, maybe redefine those missions for the 21st century and get on with the consolidation?

Regionalism and parochialism won the day when the politicians of yesteryear assembled the system that has led to the absurdity of 21 governing boards overseeing 31 public institutions. Today a higher education lobby conspires with the politicians to keep the horse and buggy era going.

The solution? Only a strong governor (and a couple of equally strong legislators) willing to take a political hit will deliver the state from the indecipherable jigsaw puzzle that is the New Mexico higher education bureaucracy.

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Wednesday, January 03, 2018

Our First 2018 Edition Of Vox Populi; Readers Write Of Dem Guv Chances, APD Staffing, Animal Welfare And Too Much Money Grubbing By Candidates  

Why wait for a good thing? It's the first edition of the new year of Vox Populi where the readers take over the blog.

There are only a few rules--you have to be pretty smart to make it on. Otherwise, what's the point? Also, only limited profanity is allowed. Here we go. . .

Reader Tom Miles comments on the conventional political wisdom that 2018 could be a 'no-brainer" when it comes to the Dems taking the governorship:

I hope the Dems do not take this election as a no-brainer, even if it may be, almost. The Dems simply have to sharpen their electoral ground and messaging games to the max because lazy-ass running in the past has led to lazy-ass governing in the now.

Lazy-ass running allows the party to “Party” as opposed to rigorously examining and formulating plans and actions that will actually work and produce desirable results for our state and its citizens, e.g., no more RailRunner fantasies. And, this leads to …

Lazy-ass governing which allows the “Party” to move to the Fourth Floor in Santa Fe and play at the serious business of governance while our state continues to grow its reputation as the most poverty stricken in the union and a retirement haven for a variety of criminals.

APD STILL BETTER

Reader and retired APD Seargent Dan Klein comments on reader Bruce Shah's concern that a big increase in the hiring of federal border agents will hamper recruiting efforts for the understaffed ABQ police department:

Comparing Border Patrol hiring with APD is comparing apples to oranges. The Feds may offer some better benefits (APD / PERA is still better at 25 years and retired at any age) but the bigger difference is the job. 

When the Border Patrol tried to increase their numbers 10 years ago they had trouble hiring because who wants to live in New Mexico’s boot heel? Or in the Big Bend country of Texas? Or the Tohono Reservation in Arizona? And there is the difference. It is easier to recruit for a job in a metro area than in a remote part of the country. So I don’t think we have to worry about Border Patrol recruiting or taking officers. 

FURIOUS LOBBYING

Mayor Keller is being subjected to furious lobbying over his pick to head the ABQ Animal Welfare Department, with over 3,100 persons signing an online petition asking the Mayor to look outside the department for a new leader. This reader is one of them:

We haven’t heard a thing about who the Mayor is planning on appointing as AWD director. We hold out hope he is listening. In the meantime, we have requested a meeting with Mayor Keller asking him to please do a nationwide search for a director. Joel Craig and Jim Ludwick would like the position but are toxic and bitter about the progress we have made to be a “no kill” shelter. Both Ludwick and Craig did not score high enough to be considered for the position of Associate Director in 2016. That hardly qualifies them for director. Certainly it would be an embarrassment for this administration to lose our city’s no kill status after we have been able to hold it for the past two years.

We don't have a dog in this fight, so to speak, but have been pulled in by the passionate arguments on both sides and published both. We're sure there's more to come.

SEASON OF SOLICITATIONS

Former Dem Lt. Governor Diane Denish writes on Facebook of the relentless push for money by state political candidates during the Xmas season:

. . . As someone who has been a candidate who had to raise money constantly, I was still struck by the number of political solicitations I received. Everyone was facing a critical deadline! Everyone had just a few more bucks to go to make their goal! Everyone was going to be the most anti-Trump person ever elected!. . . Very few, if any, talked about what they needed to do to be a part of a winning agenda for Democrats. 

No one encouraged giving to your local charity to feed the homeless, house the infirm, fight a disease. My hope in 2018 is that these candidates will try and persuade me and others to contribute to them with concrete policy ideas that will improve the lives of New Mexicans or just stop it! 

Not every Trump tweet is breaking news. Not every deadline is the most urgent, Every opponent is not a monster, and no, I am not giving you money if you don't have an opponent (other candidates will need it more).

SHAMELESS PLUG

Here's longtime reader Michael Corwin with a self-described "shameless plug":

It saddens me to read in your column that people are becoming shut-ins as a result of our crime problem. Life is meant to be lived and enjoyed, not to hunker down in fear. 

I started Personal Safety Education, LLC, along with two close friends, to provide the tools that people need to live and enjoy life safely. We provide fun and easy to apply training in situational awareness, de-escalation techniques and self-defense basics to businesses, religious institutions, families, and individuals, at their locations. 

THE BOTTOM LINES

More information came in and we adjusted the Jeff Apodaca holiday TV buy on broadcast stations upwards from around $13,000 to $19,000. He also spent $13K on cable. . . The link we had up wishing good riddance to 2017 was broken. Here it is.

And the first name of former GOP lieutenant governor candidate Kellie Zuni came out as "Keller" Tuesday. Well, she might have been better off with that moniker considering the name of the new ABQ mayor.

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Tuesday, January 02, 2018

Aging Crime Wave Makes ABQ Voter Patience An '18 Test For City Hall, Plus: Pushback On Apo TV, And: Who Wants It? Still No Big Names For GOP Light Guv  


You might have seen this sarcastic rib tickler that's been making the rounds on social media. It aptly sums up what denizens of the Duke City had to deal with in 2017. Will 2018 be much different?

Patience will be at a premium for the new leadership team at City Hall. The crime wave is now years-old. With memes like the one posted here making the rounds, ABQ's reputation has grown increasingly tarnished around the nation.

Closer to home it is common to hear folks report on how they do not go out at night and how for the first time in many years of living here, they fear for their safety as well as the security of their property.

Over the weekend new Mayor Keller enjoyed the traditional honeymoon newspaper interview, exploring his personality and private life. In normal times the fluff would be of much interest and appeal. But curiosity about the personalities of local politicians is low. It is results people hunger for.

Keller has a 62 percent win to cushion him going forward. One senses that he is going to need all of that and more as he grapples with a a crime wave that now belongs to him.

ELEPHANT SPOTTING

Reader Bruce Shah focuses on the challenge before Keller as he tries to recruit police for the understaffed APD:

Joe, the NYT reports: "New Homeland Security chief will oversee the hiring of 5,000 new Border Patrol agents and 10,000 new Immigration and Customs Enforcement agents."

This has always been the elephant in the room. No one addressed this during the election. I can't see Albuquerque competing with the feds on either salary or benefits. Something for you to look at perhaps?

Well, Bruce, along with many others, we are looking at it.

It's too early to talk about raising taxes. With a projected $40 million deficit facing the city for the budget year starting July 1, first spending cuts have to be on the table.

And to risk the wrath of the BioPark fans, what about that $17 million a year for each of the next 14 years going there from a 2016 voter-approved gross receipts tax increase?

Can we get creative in this time of a public safety crisis? Can't some of the BioPark general operating budget be shifted to public safety? Isn't that just one of the hard questions that needs to be asked?

APO TUBE REACT

Jeff Apodaca caused a little holiday splash when he went up on the air with a 60 second bio TV spot as he fights to overcome Dem Guv front-runner Michelle Lujan Grisham.

The campaign only bought about $19,000 in broadcast time over that period. And get this--$5,000 of it was for just one spot on the KOB-TV NFL game of Dec. 23, says media maven Chris Brown who is monitoring the buys from Santa Fe. He adds that Apodaca bought about $13,000 on cable including CNN and MSNBC for ads that run through January 7.

The spot is also is getting social media hits and garnered some needed publicity for Apodaca.

As for the content of the ad, readers offered push back. An email from a dlwencewicz said:

Reference the Apodaca ad about career politicians vs. being an innovator and businessman. Wee have a so-called “businessman” in the White House now. How’s that working for you? Politics is the art of compromise (unless you’re a modern day conservative) while business requires a dictator. I prefer compromise.

Longtime reader Mick opined that Apodaca is incorrectly characterizing the $16 billion Land Grant Permanent Fund (LGPF) as a "rainy day fund." Apodaca proposes to invest $1 billion from the $23 billion in state permanent funds to stimulate the economy:

"Rainy Day fund?" Incorrect. And what sort of jobs would Jeff try to bring in? And how long would it take to get it done while the economy inches upward on its own? Sam Donaldson (who narrated the ad) should have known better than to trust the copy writers to get the facts straight. He could have at least put "rainy day" in some sort of verbal parentheses so that the recipients of the message would know that the term is not legitimate, only a term used by those seeking to raid the permanent funds of New Mexico. Am I beating the same drum? You bet. 

Th LGPF is an endowment fund set up at the time of statehood to benefit a variety of educational institutions. A "rainy day" fund is a fund set up to provide for general government spending when revenues decline.

WHO WANTS IT?

The GOP race for lieutenant governor is not yet drawing the big names. The latest entrant:

Mark Yule worked as a Union Steward in Taos for many years after becoming the region’s first mail carrier when he moved there in the 1980s. He says his priority as lieutenant governor would be improving government efficiency and flexibility. 

Former independent turned Republican Michelle Garcia Holmes has also announced her candidacy. Kellie Zunie had to drop out of the lt. guv race because of financial issues uncovered after she announced. Zunie was the apparent fave of presumed GOP Guv nominee Steve Pearce.

The southern NM congressman continues to fight the perception that '18 is a no-brainer Guv year for the Dems. The lack of big GOP names wanting to team with him is giving support to that argument.

THE YEAR THAT WAS

Do you think 2017 was a lousy year for New Mexico? You have some company as you yell: "Good Riddance!"

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Thursday, December 28, 2017

Dubious Record For ABQ In '17; Murder Meter At New Record, Plus: Apodaca Competes With Santa, And: Happy New Year! 

The year is ending on a bloody note in ABQ with the number of murders soaring to 75, a modern day record.

An especially gruesome discovery shook the city two days before Christmas--a decapitated body so brutalized at first its gender could not be determined. The woman's corpse was found by hikers in the Four Hills area. A drug connected slaying?

Meanwhile, south of the border Mexico is also setting records:

This year has been Mexico’s deadliest on record. A total of 23,101 murder investigations were launched nationwide between January and November, reported Reuters, citing figures released by the country’s interior ministry. That’s Mexico’s highest annual murder tally since modern records began in 1997. 2011 had previously held the ignominious title, with 22,409 murders. 

Expert analysis:

“The more you legalize marijuana, the more other drugs matter and become more profitable,” said Arturo Fontes, a former FBI agent and expert on Mexico’s drug cartels, “And right now nothing matters more than meth, heroin. This is why we’re seeing such a bloody year.”

For ABQ 2018 will be ushered in with the same set of systemic problems that has forced so many to flee--rampant drug abuse, poverty and a demolished APD are all causes that have made ABQ #1 in the USA for property crime and the state #2 in the nation for violent offenses--many of which occur in the metro.

AN APO CHRISTMAS

Some would argue he's throwing this money away, but Democratic gubernatorial candidate Jeff Apodaca has much catching up to do so he has done the unusual.

He comes with a TV ad during the holiday break--one of the lowest weeks for TV viewing. The 60 second spot, which began airing Dec. 22, is narrated by New Mexico native and former ABC newsman Sam Donaldson. The script:

Where is it that we learn to dream? Where we learn to reach for something bigger? For Jeff Apodaca, he learned watching his father, a teacher who became governor, that to change anything you must never give up. Jeff faced life-threatening cancer at 17, beat the odds, and returned stronger than ever. He’s an innovator who’s turned businesses around and Jeff and his wife Jackie raised over a million dollars for cancer patients. Now when career politicians have failed us, there’s only one candidate for governor who knows how to turn our state around. Jeff Apodaca. He will challenge the status quo. Jeff will invest a billion of New Mexico’s 23 billion dollars in rainy day funds to create 225,000 new jobs, help small businesses, expand affordable health care, and improve schools for our kids…so that their dreams are even bigger than ours. It’s time to turn New Mexico around. It’s time for Jeff Apodaca for Governor.

That reference to "career politicians" is a jab at Rep. Michelle Lujan Grisham, the front-nunner for the '18 Dem Guv nod.

"Something new" may be Apodaca's best argument for chipping away at Grisham and getting the race in play.

No word yet on how much Apodaca spent for the ad which his campaign says will "run through the holidays."

With the mid-March preprimary convention looming and where he must show strength, you can see why the Apodaca camp decided to compete for attention with Santa and the New Year's Eve ball drop.

HAPPY NEW YEAR 

Speaking of the ball drop, it may be one of the coldest ever in New York City while New Mexicans bask in balmy December weather more like the Bahamas than Bernalillo. Enjoy.

Thanks for joining us in 2017 and we'll catch up with you after the calendar turns to 2018.

Happy New Year, New Mexico!

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