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Friday, January 23, 2015

Friday Clippings From Our Newsroom Floor 

Looks like the state House Dems have gotten a crumb from the R's. One of the Dem House committee chairs told us that there was concern that the former Dem chairs would not be allowed to sit on their committees now that the R's have taken over. But in the committee assignments released by the House leadership the former chairs were not banished. . .

Farmington area GOP Senate Bill Sharer, a regular sponsor of anti-abortion bills, is taking a break this year, saying he will be a "support guy" but will not carry a bill to ban late term abortions. How the state GOP handles abortion--an issue of importance to its base voters--is proving to be interesting. The Guv and her political advisers don't want happening here what happened this week to the House Republicans in DC, but it isn't easy to avoid when you have so much emotion behind an issue.

Well-known ABQ Pastor Dewey Moede fires the first shots at Gov. Martinez over abortion:

 Governor Susana Martinez MIA: It’s a very sad day in New Mexico, when a Republican Governor who says she is pro-life does not show for the once a year pro-life rally at the State Capital, but will show up for every photo opportunity to open any kind of business or new highway project, what is Governor Martinez afraid of? I am tired of reading comments that Martinez is a “great Governor”, what makes her great? Skipping a rally that is held to encourage support to stop the killing of babies? I say again, what is the Governor afraid of?

Feeling the heat, the Guv's office says:

Gov. Susana Martinez would support a bill to place restrictions on late-term abortions, her spokesman said Thursday. The state's three Roman Catholic bishops say the anti-abortion measure is their top priority for the legislative session, and they hope a lawmaker or lawmakers will step forward to sponsor it. "As the governor has said many times, she is pro-life, which would of course include opposition to late-term abortions," Martinez's spokesman said in a statement.

Interesting stuff and we are on it for you.

EMAILGATE

It's not over yet:

A dozen high-powered attorneys are beginning to wage a pitched legal battle in federal court involving Gov. Susana Martinez and her most outspoken critics. To the casual observer, the lawsuit might appear unrelated to the state’s highest elected official. Its plaintiffs are two former state workers and two others and its defendants are behind-the-scenes politicos. But the civil filing is the next chapter in an email scandal that rocked the Martinez administration and sent her first campaign manager to federal prison.

THE BEAR


It's one of the richest counties in the USA thanks to the federal funds flowing into Los Alamos Labs, but that doesn't mean the Great Bear is passing it by:

Chief Financial Officer Steven Lynne presented the Los Alamos County Council with grim news. Gross receipts tax revenue is projected to be $3.6 million lower than expected in FY 2015 and $2.1 million lower in FY 2016.  The change is largely due to lower than anticipated spending and tax rates for Los Alamos National Laboratory. According to Lynne, LANL spending bottomed out at a figure lower than anticipated and the spending recovery after the government shutdown has been slower than projected.The lab has also refined its tax management policies so it is paying less tax. 

APD AND SANTA FE

Karl Mofffat of White Rock, NM writes of the APD crisis:

Regarding police shootings and the fight between APD and the District Attorney, where do our state lawmakers stand? For instance shouldn't we be talking about a possible state law governing the policy and procedures by which these kind of cases are handled? Should there be a special prosecutor automatically assigned to oversee them? Should the public defender's office be involved, the law enforcement academy or state attorney general? Should these cases automatically be going before a judge for an open hearing so the public can see and hear evidence in these cases? Because many people right now don't seem to trust the current legal system. And whether that's because of a lack of transparency, accountability or immunity from the kind of political chicanery we're seeing in Albuquerque, it obviously needs to be addressed and our state lawmakers should be weighing in on it.

There has been a bill introduced in Santa Fe that would turn over the investigations of police shootings to the state attorney general. Bernalillo County DA Kari Brandenburg says she supports the measure,

THE BOTTOM LINES

Terrie Q. Sayre
KKOB-AM radio talk show host Terrie Q. Sayre has died. Friends say she had been suffering from the flu for a month.

Sayre held forth behind the microphone on weekend mornings from 7 to 10 at the conservative talk outlet and had been doing so for some 8 years.

She served as program director, news director and news anchor for radio stations in Nevada before coming to ABQ. She was also a well-known animal rights activist.

Rio Rancho GOP State Senator Craig Brandt was among those posting condolences on her Facebook page.

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Thursday, January 22, 2015

Blasters Beware: Senate Leader Says Right To Work Will Not Get A Free Ride To The Floor, Plus: Big Pro-Life Demonstration Puts R's On The Spot, And: Monitoring The New APD Monitor 

Sens. Smith & Sanchez
To blast or not to blast? The 2015 legislative session is much focused on that question. And as far as we can tell--and to invoke Shakespeare again--Senate Majority Leader Michael Sanchez is not wavering ala Hamlet. No blasts, says he, and that's big.

Supporters of the controversial right to work law (RTW) have the Republican House in the bag but need RTW to bypass the Senate committees where it will most likely be killed in the crib. They want it before the entire Senate for a vote. That's where the "blast" comes in.

The 17 R's would vote to blast RTW from a committee and directly onto the floor. If 4 Democrats would join them they would have what they need--a 21 to 21 tie that would be broken in favor of RTW by GOP LT. Governor John Sanchez. Susana would then cheerfully get out her pen and sign on the line.

But the odds appear to be growing longer for the blast, and if it doesn't happen RTW will have a much tougher path.  RTW bills could be stuck in Senate committees where they will RIP.

Our sourcing tells us that at the recent caucus of Senate Democrats all agreed not to take part in blasting legislation because it would pretty much make the committee system a sham. We're told just about every Dem Senator was at that meeting.

Insiders further report that Leader Sanchez has been diligently working Senate Finance Committee Chairman John Arthur Smith and Senate President Pro Tem May Kay Papen--two Dems who often lean conservative--not to be blasters, or from a Democratic perspective--bastards.

Sanchez's public statements have been firm. He is saying that no bills have been blasted in the Senate in 10 years and it's going to stay that way.

Still, that does not mean RTW advocates are out of the game. There are other parliamentary maneuvers that could still be employed to get the bill through. And there's the wheeling and dealing and horse trading with the Governor and that has yet to unfold that could create a path for passage.

Former ABQ Dem State Senator Richard Romero--who served as president pro tem over a decade ago--told public broadcasting's Gene Grant that he believes Sanchez will prevail. He said blasting of bills occurred when he was there and resulted in chaos and the decimation of the cherished committee system that gives a number of Senators significant power. They lose that power when blasters bring out the dynamite. . .

Speaking of committees, GOP House Speaker Don Tripp has announced the chairs of all the standing committees in the House. Some of the committee names are going to be changed and some committees will be abolished including the House Voters and Elections panel. Said one Democratic wall-leaner embittered about that: "You don't need a voters committee when you don't want people to vote."

LIFE FOR PRO-LIVERS?

In her state-of-the-state speech, Governor Martinez made no mention of hot button social issues that excite GOP base voters. Neither has the GOP House leadership yet. But a big pro-life rally sponsored by the Archdiocese of Santa Fe Wednesday had to get the attention of those Republicans who do not want to mess with abortion or other high voltage issues. The GOP embraces pro-life positions but they are at odds with a majority of voters.

This report on the rally expresses optimism that a number of anti-abortion bills will sail through the newly controlled GOP House. We're not so sure:

. . .Bills that would require minors to get parental notification before obtaining abortions, call on doctors to distribute information on medical risks and alternatives to the procedure to women seeking abortion and banning all late-term abortions. Each measure has been introduced as a bill in recent years, yet none of them have ever cleared House committees. The bills haven't been formally introduced this session yet, but with a new Republican-controlled House, they're expected to at least clear the House. They'll likely face a tougher time in a state Senate still controlled by Democrats, who usually lean in favor of abortion rights.

Parental notification is the easiest of the bunch and has the best odds of making it through the House, but a ban on late-term abortions? That could put the Governor on the spot and give Dems a major social issue against the R's in the '16 election, especially in the swing ABQ seats. At the ABQ special election in November of '13, over 55 percent of the voters rejected a late term ban.

It's a slippery slope for the Governor--who has shown little zeal for the pro-life cause--and the House. They've dodged the bullet in the weeks leading up to the session. They'll have to keep bobbing and weaving as the GOP base comes to collect on promises made.

MONITORING A MONITOR

Ginger
The selection of James Ginger as the federal monitor to oversee Department of Justice ordered reforms of the troubled ABQ APD seems to be getting a pretty warm welcome by most parties involved. But much trust has been lost. Some critics of the department say they haven't much faith that Ginger and company will be effective. Chuck McCoy, writing in the newspaper's comment section, summed it up this way:

Expecting the current APD officers to voluntarily "buy in" to policies that restrict their authority to do as they damned well please is about like expecting toddlers to "buy in" to an earlier bedtime. This fellow says his job is to identify areas in which the APD is found wanting and to leave it to them to figure out how to improve. We've already identified the areas where the APD needs improvement, and expecting them to improve themselves on their own with academics looking over their shoulders periodically saying "That's not quite good enough, and you'll have to guess how to do better" doesn't seem particularly bright. At the end of the day nothing much is going to change in the nasty attitudes of the APD officers on the street who are going to sit through all the yadda-yadda-yadda from these consultants and then go do as they please. We're paying millions for suits to nag them into better behavior, and I don't think it's going to have much effect.

We're going to have a long time to see if it has any effect. The monitor could be here four years or more.

And City Hall appears to have met its match in Bernalillo County District Attorney Kari Brandenburg. Here she comes:

The four-term DA said she has no plans to step aside from the prosecution of officers Dominique Perez and former detective Keith Sandy (in the killing of homeless camper James Boyd), or any other police shooting case, despite an aggressively worded letter from ABQ Chief Administrative Officer Rob Perry calling on her to appoint a special prosecutor. Perry claims Brandenburg and her entire office have a conflict of interest in the case — and in all other police shooting cases. She disagrees. “At this point, we don’t see any legal reason to appoint a special prosecutor. Neither has anyone given us a reason up to this point … We think we’re following the law and, for doing that, we’re getting push back from the brass at APD and from the Mayor’s Office.”

Maybe the Justice Dept. should have made DA Brandenburg the federal monitor for APD?

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Wednesday, January 21, 2015

State Of Euphoria: Governor Kicks Off Session As Cheerleader In Chief, Plus: Pete's Fingerprints On House, And: Heinrich Says Its Never Too Early, But Is It? 

We didn't see Governor Martinez crossing her fingers for good luck as she gave her State of the State address Tuesday but that seems to be the strategy when it comes to dealing with what is shaping up as a severe budget pinch.

The crashing price of oil--the proverbial elephant in the room and the one costing the state millions in tax revenue--did not even earn a mention. Nothing could interrupt the Governor's state of euphoria. . .

(Full text and video here.)

She sported a confidence more noticeable than in such speeches of the past. And why not? She won re-election in a landslide and the state House is now under her wing with the GOP in charge. For this Governor it's a Sally Field moment: "You like me, you really like me!"

The growth in this governorship has been in cosmetics and symbolism. The speech was well-delivered--one of her better efforts--and the optics just right. She looked fit and engaged. The ubiquitous school kids were brought directly to the podium this year. But the content was like summer TV--heavy on the reruns.

For example, making their annual appearances on Susana's greatest hits list was holding back third graders who don't perform and repealing driver's licenses for undocumented workers.

Right to work might be called a new idea, but it was an original series back in the 80's when it passed the Legislature twice only to be vetoed. In a rebuttal to Martinez following her nearly 50 minute speech, Senate Majority Leader Michael Sanchez predicted that the Democratic Senate will kill the right to work bill. He sounded convincing.

(For you policy nerds, 2014 Dem Guv candidate Alan Webber came with an in-depth study of RTW).

Applause in the chamber for Martinez was as modest as her initiatives. Seasoned lawmakers know they have a budget crisis on their hands and are already looking past the gubernatorial rhetoric and grappling with the new reality. Against that backdrop her desire for targeted tax cuts seems out of sync.

The Governor got the emphasis she wanted from the speech--education and right-to-work. That was the easy part. The hard part has only been postponed--not eliminated.

BREAKING PROTOCOL

The enmity between Governor Martinez and her predecessor is so deep that it led her to break with protocol and actually attack Bill Richardson by name, ripping him with this:

We have recovered over $29 million in taxpayer money that was squandered in the Richardson-era pay-to-play scandals. But there’s more to do.

We had her getting an "A" for rhetoric, but that took her down to a B. It revealed what Mother Jones magazine and others have called her "petty and vindictive" side.

It also conjured up what could go awry in her own second term. Remember the racino lease for the ABQ Downs? The behavioral health upheaval?  The NCIC license plate checks?

PETE'S FINGERPRINTS

The new House hierarchy has the stamp of former GOP Senator Pete Domenici. Majority Leader Nate Gentry once worked in his DC office as did newly elected House Clerk Denise Ramonas.

Seated behind Gentry during Tuesday's opening session was none other than Steve Bell, the former chief of staff to Domenici who engineered many of the senator's political movidas. Domenici was also on hand for the session opener, receiving rousing applause when introduced in the House chamber.

Meanwhile, Gentry was working hard to push back against speculation that he could try to usurp newly elected House Speaker Don Tripp. Gentry is tied to the Governor's hip. Tripp not as much. On his Facebook page Gentry said of Tripp's election as Speaker:

Very happy for and proud of my Boss.

Okay, Nate. But are you sure you're talking about Don and not Jay?

EASY DOES IT

Out with the old and in with the new. Here's a shot for the books--Democratic Speaker Ken Martinez welcoming new Speaker Tripp to the House rostrum. The peaceful transfer of power is a given here, but not for much of the world. . .

One of our Roundhouse watchers predicts a more easy going environment in the state House now that the R's--believers in minimalist government--have taken the reins of power:

Expect a much slower and easy going schedule. They have an agenda but it is not lengthy. Committees are expected to meet from 8:30 to 10:30 followed by a floor session, lunch at noon and committee hearings in the afternoon. There are skeptics that the committees will actually meet on time and that all of this will not take, but the R's are much more regimented than the Dems so the House leadership might not have that hard of a time.

Time will tell but it was nearly 2 p.m Tuesday before Susana started her speech slated for 1 p.m. In fairness, the House had to vote on a Speaker as well as a new clerk before hearing from the Guv and that slowed things down. 

SESSION PREP

Reader Steve Dick comments on the drop in the oil price as he preps for the legislative session and passes along sentiments that should draw unanimous consent in both legislative chambers:

Perhaps this can serve as a shock that blindly relying on natural resources to be your major economic driver year after year is a lazy way of life to pass along. New Mexico needs to wake up and smell the coffee. If it is going to get out of the doldrums it has to work its way out. And that includes making sure that kids go to school, learn something while there, and actually graduate. Given the current state of things, New Mexico is going to be hurting for the rest of the decade unless something changes.

STATE OF THE CITY

Maria Bautista writes of  recent events in the APD crisis in ABQ:

The city attorney resigns. The city PR agent resigns. A police officer discharges his weapon and shoots a neighbor. A police officer was shot. A police officer shoots himself. A police officer shot another police officer. The DA charged two officers with murder. The police turn against the DA. Another shoot out last night, another death. The Mayor in hiding.

The city and Department of Justice announced Tuesday that they have agreed on a Federal Monitor to oversee APD reforms.

NEVER TOO EARLY?

From Dem US Senator Martin Heinrich on his 2018 re-election bid (yes, 2018):

One rule I have always followed in politics is that it is never too early to get your campaign started. As I watched the election returns this past November, then saw Senator McConnell sworn in as Majority Leader last week, I knew that rule was as important today as it ever has been. That is why we set a goal of raising $7,500 online this month. Can I count on your early support?

Never too early? What's next? Susana announcing that she's taking on Heinrich in '18?

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(c)NM POLITICS WITH JOE MONAHAN 2014. Not for reproduction without permission of the author

Tuesday, January 20, 2015

Opening Day Memo: 2015 Session Won't End State's Stagnation But There's Plenty To Talk About; The Barebones Budget, The New Speaker And The Insider Info, Also: Times Of Tijerina And Other Notable Passings 

As the 2015 session of the New Mexico Legislature opens today the state has settled into a long-term stagnation that hardly anyone expects to be turned around by whatever comes out of the 60 day confab. . .

Flat to declining federal spending combined with a crash in energy prices will ensure that this year will mimic the others since the Great Recession tagged us its favorite place to hang out. . .

Governor Martinez now owns whatever one thinks of today's circumstances. She wasn't punished for it at the November polls. She will continue to put a smiley face on matters, proposing itty bitty solutions to a macro problem. . .

Democrats will spar some with the R's but will have their hands full simply trying to put a finger in the dike as conservative economic legislation floods into the state Senate from the newly GOP controlled state House. . .

Dem Senator Carlos Cisneros is first out of the gate with a specific budget prediction. He's saying that because of the bear market in oil prices Santa Fe will be "lucky" if there's even $40 million in new money to spend for the budget year that begins July 1. . .

That's essentially no growth for the budget. If lawmakers and the Governor are going to get to the $6.3 billion number they propose, they may have to eat further into the state's cash reserves. . .

Our legislative Alligators are already reporting that a budget proposal of $6.1 billion will soon be making the rounds. . .

Most of our legislators are comfortably middle or upper class so the world of many of their constituents--especially those who don't vote--can be unfamiliar. The separation of the haves and have nots permeates politics everywhere:

The richest 1 percent of the population will own more than half the world's wealth by 2016, Oxfam International (a charity group) said in a report. . .Oxfam said the world's richest people saw their share of global wealth jump to 48 percent last year from 44 percent in 2009. Rising inequality is holding back the fight against global poverty. . .

Governor Martinez will deliver her State of the State speech early this afternoon. Tonight President Obama gives the State of the Union. He has started to tack to the center-left on the key economic issues, proposing, for example, a hike in the capital gains tax for high-income households. . .

Obama is hamstrung by a Congress now completely controlled by the R's. State House Minority leader Brian Egolf and his freshly defrocked flock know how the Prez feels.

A NEW SPEAKER

We're going to get a new House Speaker today. For the first time in decades he will be Republican and hail from south of I-40.

GOP Rep. Don Tripp of Socorro is not only smack dab in the middle of the power game but also in the middle of the downturn that has ravaged his district. The news:

In business since 1963, Monette Ford in Socorro closed its showroom and doors last week. The action was necessitated due to the economic climate, according to Danny Monette. . . Owner Chuck Monette was quoted as saying that business had already been tough for the dealership since 2008, and “if a dealer wasn’t making it, they had no one to sell it to, so they would simply shut down.

It will be interesting to see if Tripp tips the Speaker's gavel towards assisting his embattled rural compatriots and what form that assistance might take.

INSIDER INFO

Will new ABQ Dem state Senator Mimi Stewart--who chaired the House Education Committee before running for the Senate--get a seat on the Senate Education Committee? The answer is no. You can ask Senate President Pro Tem Mary Kay Papen why. . .

Will four Democratic state Senators join with the 17 Senate Republicans and "blast" bills out of Senate committees and force floor votes on them? Bills like "right-to-work?" Insiders say no, but they are not absolutely positive. How's that for clarity?. . .

Will this be the session that finally sees the Senate vote on the nomination of Hanna Skandera as state education chief? Yes. The deal has been cut, say the insiders, and she will be approved.

MISSION IMPOSSIBLE?

Joe Monahan blogs New Mexico
Few give much of a chance for the GOP House and Governor to support a reinstatement of the food tax, but that isn't stopping the NM Municipal League from charging ahead. The group has set up a website to make its arguments which have widespread support from their irked membership. Local governments are getting hit now that Santa Fe will no longer reimburse them for the funds they lose through the food tax repeal.

MARK YOUR CALENDAR

Here's the special events calender for the 60 day session, ranging from tonight's annual legislative dinners by both the D's and R's to American Indian Day later in the session.

THE APD DRAMA

That decision by Mayor Berry's administration to exclude the Bernalillo County District Attorney from the scene of last Tuesday's fatal police shooting is drawing national attention--and outrage. The WaPo's criminal justice blogger came with this scorcher

. . . This is really reprehensible behavior. . . It’s also just the latest example of law enforcement officers and their supporters demonstrating incredible petulance in retaliation for public scrutiny or the rare attempt to hold rogue cops accountable for their actions. Keep in mind, this is all occurring in a city that has a long history of questionable police shootings, that recently entered into a consent decree with the Department of Justice after an investigation found a pattern of unconstitutional use-of-force incidents, that seems to have a problematic shoot-first culture within the police department, and that has a history of law enforcement officials retaliating against whistleblowers.

PASSINGS

Tijerina in 1969 (Bralley)
Reies Lopez Tijerina drew sharply divergent opinions but his reach across NM history is not in dispute. He died Monday at 88, ending a life that was lived large.

Veteran photographer and blogger Mark Bralley is one of the few media figures still around who covered the heyday of the land grant activist. He posted this obit on his blog. . .And retired (and legendary) ABQ Journal reporter Larry Calloway--who as a wire service reporter was taken prisoner during Tijerina's '67 raid on the Tierra Amarilla Courthouse--posted on his blog a remembrance of that historic event.

And tragic news has come to us. The 31 year old daughter of Robert and Peggy Muller Aragon, Amberlee, died in an early Sunday morning auto accident on ABQ's westside, family members confirm on social media. Robert Aragon, an ABQ attorney, is a member of the State Board of Finance and was the 2014 GOP state auditor candidate. Peggy Muller Aragon is a candidate for ABQ School Board in the Feb. 3 election. . .

And oldtimers will remember Eric McCrossen, for many years the editorial page editor of the ABQ Journal. McCrossen, 83, died Sunday. We first met him in '74 when we covered our first NM Guv's race and when McCrossen's columns on the subject were a must read. In '76, we met up with him on the campaign trail, covering Senator Joe Montoya's unsuccessful re-election bid. (Reporters actually went out on the trail back then. Today the trail is a TV studio).

That day we shared some of the hard stuff with McCrossen, "Little Joe" and his hangers-on and then did some hard news. As retired political reporter Rodger Beimer often says: "Those were the best of times."

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Monday, January 19, 2015

More On Kari, Berry And The Cops, Plus: Focus On Santa Fe Starts Tomorrow With 60 Day Legislative Session 

Before the focus switches tomorrow to the 60 day legislative session that kicks-off in Santa Fe, we pause today to celebrate Martin Luther King, Jr. Day. As for La Politica. . .

Let's take a look at a fresh angle in that political brawl that broke out last week featuring ABQ Mayor RJ Berry and his Chief Administrative Officer Rob Perry as they piled on Bernalillo County District Attorney Kari Brandenburg.

It all started Tuesday night when ABQ had its latest officer involved fatal shooting and Brandenburg's office was barred from the scene. Berry and Perry claim that because Brandenburg has charged two police officers with murder in a 2014 police shooting and because APD has investigated her on bribery allegations, she has a conflict of interest and can no longer be involved with police shooting cases. It was a shocker and drew  Alligator comments. This one wonders if the city is opening up a can of worms:

The administration appears to be laying the groundwork to have a special prosecutor appointed for officer involved shootings. Police protesters have long been saying that there is a conflict of interest to allow the DA to determine if an officer should be charged. Now they can use the administration's argument to support their call for a special prosecutor. I would not be surprised if they call on the City Council for a policy change to resolve any and all conflicts. I would also not be surprised if they call for a special prosecutor to investigate previous shootings where people died. There is no statute of limitations on a murder charge.

But who would pay the hundreds of thousands of dollars needed for these special prosecutors and their staffs? Is the city willing to write the check since it is their employees--police officers--who are at issue? There will be a bill introduced in this session of the legislature to have officer involved shootings investigated by the state attorney general's office.

EARLY GRUMBLING

In Santa Fe, they haven't even had the opening day hugs and kisses and the grumbling has already started. We get this from the camp of Dem State Rep. Eliseo Alcon:

I will no longer be caucusing with House Democrats. Not once did the House Democratic Caucus look to it's core members for advice during the election. I take special offense because it seems that I am the only one with experience winning against Gov. Martinez. Until the current leadership can prove they won't lead us off a cliff, I won't follow. I will be meeting largely with rank and file union members and nonprofit groups for advice on legislation that is difficult to take a stance on.

Alcon recently sought the post of House Minority Leader. That job went to Santa Fe Dem Rep. Brian Egolf.

BILL WATCH

This is one of the more interesting bills we've seen as the Legislature prepares to meet tomorrow:

A lawmaker wants to make it mandatory for parents or guardians to receive court-ordered family services when abuse or neglect of a child is suspected. Rep. Kelly Fajardo, R-Belen, said: "By intervening and requiring parents in abuse cases to seek help, we are adding another layer of protection for our children while at the same time keeping the family together." Under the proposed legislation, it would be mandatory for families to receive services in abuse or neglect cases that require intervention but may not rise to the level of removing the child from the home. Those services could include drug or alcohol counseling, parenting courses or anger management classes.

And don't forget to urge your fellow R's to approve funding for that intervention, Kelly.

BILLION DOLLAR MISTAKE

You think you have trouble balancing your checkbook? Bet you didn't make a billion dollar mistake:

Public Service Company of New Mexico told state regulators that its cost estimates for replacing the coal power it generates near Farmington have climbed over $1 billion in the last year as the company corrected calculation errors, and it will have to pass those costs on to its ratepayers. . . 

We thought DC was the only place a billion bucks could disappear with hardly a trace.

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Friday, January 16, 2015

Why Obscure "Right-To-Work" Measure Is On Everyone's Lips 

Why has the relatively obscure issue of "right to work" become the be-all-end-all of the 2015 legislative session? Several factors have pushed the anti-union measure to the fore, not the least of which is the national political positioning of Republican Governor Susana Martinez.

Soon after their historic November takeover of the state House, Republicans began fretting about their crazy aunt in the basement. She's the one who wants to ban gay marriage, late term abortion, loosen gun control laws and doesn't believe in climate change. All are positions that are entirely out of step with majority New Mexico opinion but are embraced by a strong majority of Republicans.

There would be no quicker way to alienate the state from the freshly empowered GOP House and its newly re-elected governor than to allow those "crazy aunt" issues to dominate the pre-legislative debate. That was the cue for the Governor's political advisers. Among the first bills prominently filed by GOP legislators were right to work bills. They attracted plenty of news coverage and signaled to the public that this would be the premier issue of Session '15, not the divisive social issues.

In a right to work state you have the right to decline joining a union and you cannot be required to pay dues to the union unless you choose to join the union.

Even Republican Mayor Berry, who has the same political adviser as the Governor, got into the act by conducting a news conference with the ABQ Chamber of Commerce to tout right to work.

The crazy aunt in the basement has been handcuffed. Longtime social conservative Republicans were silenced, content to buy into the argument that if the lightning rod issues were unleashed, it would endanger the GOP's future grip on the state House as well as Martinez's national reputation. That reputation rests on her image as a  Republican of a moderate stripe, not a spear-carrying radical

Martinez hopes her next stop is the national stage. Seizing on right to work as a banner issue strengthens her with base Republican voters even as she ignores their most emotional issues. If successful, it will bolster her argument that she is a Republican who appeals to Democratic voters, something the minority R's desperately need (we saw that recently when US House Speaker Boehner punished Republicans who rebelled against him).

With legislative leaders of the anti-abortion and anti-gay marriage movements muzzled and appearing to have bought into Martinez's view, you wonder about the grassroots members of those movements. They give much money and votes to Republicans. Will they emerge during the session to rock the boats of Martinez and the House leadership?

As for the legislative battle over right to work, it passed the Legislature twice in the early 1980's only to be vetoed by Democratic governors. Even though experts in selecting locations for businesses say such a law is no longer relevant and even though a minuscule 4 percent of the state's private labor force belongs to a union, it has a shot of getting to Martinez's desk for her signature.

The Republican controlled House is a no-brainer. The bill passes there. It then heads to the state Senate where the R's can be expected to unanimously vote for the bill. They will need four conservative Democrats to join them to get the win. Can they get them?

If Martinez prevails it will be a major legislative accomplishment for a tenure that has few of them. If it fails you can bet she'll blame the lack of economic progress on the Senate Democrats who all face re-election in 2016.

It seems the wind is completely out of the sails of the forlorn New Mexico Democratic Party after the disaster delivered to them by the gubernatorial candidacy of Gary King and their loss of the state House. National labor unions so far have shown little interest in tangling over right to work here. They spent millions to try to keep the state House out of GOP hands and failed. They and other traditional Democratic interest groups seem spent.

The Governor and her political minions have been able to shape the pre-legislative debate in a vacuum and to their liking. Going into the session it is they who have the momentum.

This column is also published in the ABQ Free Press, on newstands now.

Thanks for stopping by this week.

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Thursday, January 15, 2015

The Brawl The City May Need Is Engaged; War Footing Now Between Berry And Brandenburg, Power Struggle Over Police, Plus: Defending Sam  

DA Brandenburg
The city of Albuquerque is finally getting the long overdue political brawl it sorely needs. Will it lead to the clean-up of its deeply stained police department?

The administration of Mayor Richard Berry has gone on war footing against Bernalillo County District Attorney Kari Brandenburg but Brandenburg, unlike so many before her, is refusing to back down. It's making for a contest of wills that hopefully will lead to APD being brought to heel.

(Reports from the battlefield are here, here and here.)

The decision by APD and the city attorney to bar Brandenburg's office from the scene of Tuesday night's fatal police shooting was the tipping point. The Berry administration--via Chief Administrative Officer Rob Perry--then doubled down, demanding that Brandenburg appoint a special DA to investigate future police shootings, arguing that she has a conflict of interest because she has filed murder charges against the two officers who killed homeless camper James Boyd. 

Perry and Berry would essentially have the elected office of District Attorney--the chief oversight of APD--removed from the process. Talk about a power grab. (Speaking of oversight, where's the police lapel camera video from the Tuesday night shooting?) 


An outraged Brandenburg--who was previously putty in the hands of APD--fought back tooth and nail, setting the stage for future confrontations and putting the ball in the court of the US Justice Department to enforce the consent decree. That decree, signed with the city, requires the DA's involvement in police shooting cases.

The vengeance with which Brandenburg is being pursued--the filing of bribery charges against her, barring her office from a shooting scene and editorials demanding that she relinquish her power--reveal the death grip that the rogue element has at APD and within the Berry administration. It's like seeing a corpse in rigor mortis grasping an iron bar.

WHERE'S BERRY?

He wasn't around when homeless camper James Boyd was shot--a killing that prompted international outrage--and he hasn't been seen during this war he has launched against Brandenburg in the wake of the latest fatal police shooting. Instead, Mayor Berry has sent forth Perry and his minions to try to tame a DA who has turned from pussycat to escaped tiger. Same goes for the baffled ABQ police chief Gorden Eden. He's left the building. Cat got your tongue, fellas? Or is that a tiger? 

Governor Susana could have been pulled directly into the fray when asked for a comment about a bill that would take the power of investigating police shootings away from the state's district attorneys and giving it to the attorney general. Martinez, a former DA herself, did not take the bait, saying there are other ways to handle any potential conflicts of interest. Probably smart. The only thing Susana is going to get if she gets too close to this fight is a scarred posterior.

DEFENDING SAM

Slamming Sam has become a popular pastime of La Politica but today we have his defenders as well.

NM Dem Party Chair and attorney Sam Bregman has most recently been taking heat for taking on the case of Keith Sandy, one of two police officers charged with shooting and killing homeless camper James Boyd. Ken Rooney writes:

I've got to address some of these Democrats that are "slamming" Sam for, gasp, defending an individual who has every right to a vigorous defense and a fair trial. The cognitive dissonance is astounding. Sure, I get it. People have to ask, "how can they defend these people?" That question is probably no less true for the defense attorneys that defend the Tsarnaevs of the world. In a word: the presumption of innocence, one of the most basic building blocks of our criminal justice system (alright, a lot more than one word).

This has nothing to do with politics and everything to do with what every good attorney does: zealously advocate on their client's behalf. Sure, Sam was an awful Dem Chair but he is a damn good attorney.

Nor should defending the accused be a principle that is diametrically opposed with the ideals of the Democratic Party. I had grown up with a Democratic party that embraced the idea of equality and justice for all. . .

Chris Erickson writes:

Joe, I don’t find it that odd that Dem Party Chair Sam Bregman is the defense attorney for an APD officer accused in the killing of homeless camper James Boyd. After all, John Adams defended the two British soldiers accused of murder during the Boston Massacre in 1770. So Bergman follows in a grand American tradition. The re-enactment of the Boston Massacre trail from the HBO John Adams mini-series can be found here.

Of course, Bregman alone doesn't share the burden of the Dems November disaster. There was that hyper-controversial corporate tax cut supported by a number of Dem liberals that also put the party on a collision course with its base. Maybe they can take a page from the playbook of their neighbors over in Arizona:

Arizona Democratic legislators want to roll back business tax cuts to help solve the state's budget deficits. Those calls come after new Arizona Gov. Doug Ducey drew another line in the sand against reversing tax reductions previously passed by former governor, Jan Brewer, and the Republican Legislature. "To balance a budget for true long-term sustainability, we must take a serious look at corporate tax cuts and loopholes to make sure Arizona taxpayers are getting a return on those investments," said Arizona Senate Minority Leader Katie Hobbs.

If the energy price crash continues and the state treasury falters because of it, Dems here may be forced to follow in the footsteps of their Arizona brethren.

BELATED WAGES

In the better late than never category, the BernCo county commission finally got around to approving the minimum wage increase that it was supposed to put into effect January 1:

The  Commission Tuesday evening approved a cost of living increase for minimum wage workers in unincorporated Bernalillo County, to $8.65 an hour. The measure takes effect on Jan. 26, 2015. Future cost of living increases, if applicable, will be brought to the County Commission for consideration in September of each year. 

Now those getting the minimum wage can use some of it to pay the quarter cent increase in the gross receipts tax that the commission seems bound and determined to approve.

THE BOTTOM LINES

The Legal Beagles point out that we misidentified the chief justice of the NM Supreme Court on the Wednesday blog. The position is currently held by Justice Barbara Vigil.

And we said that the district attorney is "one of the highest" law enforcement officials in Bernalillo County. The DA is the highest such official.

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Wednesday, January 14, 2015

A Spate Of Violence Raises Questions About APD Reform Efforts, Plus: Who Gets The Hot Potato? Judge Shopping In The Case Of The Accused Cops, Plus: More Sam Slammin' And 2004 VS. 2014 

Another spate of violence involving APD and it's raising questions on how much progress, if any, the city is making in reforming the troubled agency.

Tuesday night, only a day after District Attorney Kari Brandenburg charged two APD officers with murder for a 2014 shooting, APD shot and killed a suspect in the mid-NE Heights. Eerie.

And then we had APD shooting another cop by mistake. On top of that there was the shooting of a police officer by a suspect. All of this since the start of 2015.

US Attorney Damon Martinez and the Justice Department, which is working to overhaul APD, obviously need to step on the gas. Meanwhile, Mayor Berry asserts that the violence and police chaos that plagues this town is not impacting its national reputation and ability to attract business, that we are providing an example on how to reform a police department. Say what? That's like turning tragedy into farce. . .

THE THUGOCRACY

The bunker mentality of Berry and APD may have reached its zenith when a staffer for District Attorney Brandenburg was shut out from a briefing on the Tuesday night shooting. It was an outrageous action, turning on its head decades of precedent and legal requirement. But then Brandenburg has charged two cops with crimes and the Berry Bunker is in full attack mode.

The thugocracy that has taken hold at the police department and the acquiescence to it by a very weak chief executive is going to end badly. That an unelected rogue APD had the gall to bar the highest elected law enforcement official of the county from a crime briefing of a fatal police shooting reveals a dangerous arrogance. If that isn't enough to get our passive US Attorney off his seat, what is?

THE HOT SEAT

Talk about a hot seat. What New Mexico judge will end up presiding over one of the most celebrated cases of this young century?

After Bernalillo County District Attorney Brandenburg announced the unprecedented filing of murder charges against two APD officers who shot and killed mentally disturbed homeless camper James Boyd, District Court Judge Alisa Hadfield was assigned to preside over the preliminary hearing. Hadfield would determine at that hearing if Brandenburg's charges merited sending the case to trial. But it's unlikely that Judge Hadfield or any other ABQ District Court judge will end up wielding the gavel in this sensational case. Former Bernalillo County Chief Deputy District Attorney Pete Dinelli says:

The assignment of Judge Hadfield is not permanent and just the first one up. Cases are assigned on a rotating basis as they are filed and she was the first Judge assigned the case. The defense or prosecution can now disqualify her without cause or Judge Hatfield could recuse (disqualify) herself. This process will now happen with each assignment as it occurs. The prosecution and defense could approach the presiding Criminal Judge to assign the case or request an experienced pro tem judge (retired) to handle it. 

The case is so hot that the Legal Beagles say it could fall to the NM Supreme Court Chief Justice to name a judge. All the ABQ District Judges have had cases involving APD and that makes it difficult for any of them to preside over the Boyd case. Dinelli adds:

What is needed is a highly respected Judge with enough "gravitas" and experience to be able to preside over such a high profile criminal case who will not worry about political consequences and be completely comfortable dealing with the pressure of making a decision on whether there is enough evidence to prosecute. By going with a criminal information and a preliminary hearing before a Judge, the DA has made a politically smart decision and shifted the political consequences of a career-ending case to a Judge and away from her and a grand jury.

Don't expect that preliminary hearing to happen anytime soon. With all the legal wrangling to come it could be a year. And if a judge eventually decides the case should go to trial, don't expect to see it in media saturated ABQ. One of the APD officer's attorneys is already making noise about how no fair trial could be held here.

For cases that have received extraordinary public attention, Las Cruces is often selected as an alternative venue because it is outside the ABQ media market.

SLAMMIN' SAM

The Monday blog on the political impact of having attorney Sam Bregman--chairman of the NM Democratic Party--serving as the chief attorney for one of the accused cops, brought reaction. This one was typical:

Like many Dems I was astounded to see Sam Bregman on TV bashing District Attorney Kari Brandenburg and just as sickened to see the law firm of former NM Democratic Party Chair Brian Colon joining in with Bregman to fight against her. You would think that Colon's firm and Bregman would show some political sense and stay out of it. I wonder if they understand that (Gov. Martinez political adviser) Jay McCleskey, (ABQ Chief Administrative Officer) Rob Perry and Mayor Berry are likely shaking their heads in amazement about how easy it is to roll over these Democrats when you wave some cash.  But this is the state of the Democratic Party of New Mexico--because there's no leadership at the top, people are allowed to run amok and pledge that they are loyal Democrats with one hand and with the other they're taking government contracts or representing clients affiliated with the Martinez administration. 

THE HEYDAY AND TODAY

It was 2004--the heyday of Big Bill and ABQ Mayor Marty Chavez when the national media and the local biz community was imagining ABQ as a darling of the new century.  So very long ago, The  news today:

Albuquerque placed 179 out of 200 in the large city category, falling 24 spots from its ranking of 155 in Milken’s 2013 index of best-performing cities. The report says the index is designed to measure how well cities are “promoting economic vitality based on job creation and retention, the quality of new jobs, and other criteria.” For perspective, Albuquerque placed 20th among large cities in the Milken index in 2004.

Will ABQ ever return to those salad days when it ranked so high? No, the history of the city has been irrevocably changed , but certainly we can do better.

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Tuesday, January 13, 2015

Dem Party Chair Bregman Surfaces In ABQ Police Shooting Case And Raises Plenty Of Political Questions, Plus: Martinez Talks State Dollars, And: An Old Champ Is Back Atop Radio Pile 

Sam Bregman (Journal)
New Mexico Democrats may have found themselves confused in the wake of the announcement that Bernalillo County District Attorney Kari Brandenburg has filed murder charges against the two APD officers who shot and killed homeless camper James Boyd.

What in the name of Sam Hill was attorney and NM Democratic Party Chairman Sam Bregman doing by becoming a defense attorney for one of the accused cops? After all it is the Republican administration of Mayor Richard Berry that has the police shooting albatross around its neck. Now critical Dems charge that top Dem Bregman will be vigorously defending the officers and inadvertently helping to bail out Berry and his troubled APD.

The numerous fatal police shootings since 2010 have roused many in the Dem Party base, with the shocking Boyd shooting especially galvanizing students, Hispanics and liberals. But if you listened to Sam you would never know it. He went as far as to say Brandenburg's decision to file the murder charges was "disgusting."

Well, that's a sample of Sam's famous bombast and language of his lawyerly duties. Never mind that his performance as chairman of the state Dems often elicits the same adjective.

Veteran political analyst and consultant Greg Payne comes with this take on the bizarre optics of the Democrats and the police shootings:

NM Democrats cannot get their collective acts together. The rash of APD shootings occurred under a Republican mayor (Berry), a Republican chief administrative officer (Rob Perry) and, for a while, a Republican chief public safety officer (Darren White). The murder charges and excessive force findings of the DOJ should be a political nightmare for the GOP. They're not. Somehow, this has become a political minefield for Democrats.

The Democratic District Attorney brought the murder charges against officers Keith Sandy and Dominique Perez, but lined up against her is none other than current state Democratic Chairman Sam Bregman, who represents Sandy, and attorney Luis Robles, who represents Perez and is with the same law firm as former Democratic Party Chairman Brian Colon.

Topping it off, Hector Balderas (the new Attorney General) will have to decide at some point if he will pursue bribery charges against fellow Democrat Brandenburg; charges which were made against the DA by the police department run by R.J. Berry and Rob Perry.

Interesting take, Greg. Do you suppose when Mayor Berry runs for Governor he'll use Sam as a character witness for how he ran APD? Can it get any crazier?

As for Brandenburg, in announcing her decision on the Boyd case, she put on her second solid news conference of the past two months. The first dealt with APD's accusations that she bribed witnesses involved in criminal cases against her son.

As you might suspect, the national media isn't much interested in that, but are very much interested in two police officers being charged with murder as we see in this NYT piece.

Brandenburg's charges will be assessed by a district court judge at a preliminary hearing. That judge will decide if the case goes to trial.

(Video of the Bregman and Brandenburg news conferences is here.)

KICKING THE CAN?

As is her custom, Governor Martinez unveiled a state budget Monday that largely mimics the one presented last week by the Legislative Finance Committee. Martinez also calls for spending $6.3 billion for the budget year that begins July 1st. And like the LFC she assumes there will be $141 million in "new money" to fund it. However that new cash is going to take a mighty hit from the crash in oil prices. Energy royalties and taxes fund nearly 20 percent of the budget. Martinez asserts that growth in gross receipts and corporate tax collections will make up for some of that, but she isn't saying how much.

(Martinez's budget news release is here.)

Considering that for each dollar drop in the price of oil the budget takes a $7.5 million hit, Martinez's optimism seems fanciful. Oil dived yet again as she was announcing her budget in Las Cruces amid the now ubiquitous (and annoying?) stage setting of her with a group of school children. A barrel of the black gold is now in the $47 range--$19 below where the LFC is projecting.

It seems both Martinez and to a lesser extent the LFC are playing kick the can. Major brokerage firms are now predicting that for 2015 the price of oil will be way down from the $66 that Martinez and the LFC predict. Goldman Sachs is now predicting West Texas crude will average a price of only $47 a barrel for 2015. It predicts an uptick to the 60's in 2016.

One suspects that by the end of the 60 day legislative session in March the lawmakers will be looking at their optimistic budget with a good deal of skepticism. Senate Finance Chair John Arthur Smith is already saying the "new money" will not materialize. The kick the can game can be played for a month or two, but the old can is going to be too big for anyone to kick when the winter turns to spring.

R RADIO WIN

Republicans had plenty of good election results to celebrate in November and it turns out their favorite radio station also has reason to join the celebration.

Conservative radio talker KKOB-AM has been getting slammed so hard in the ratings that last year it lost its long-held position as ABQ's most listened to station. But election talk apparently gave the home of Michael Savage and Rush Limbaugh a reprieve. It bounced back to the #1 slot in the fall Nielsen ratings, garnering a 6.9 percent share of the total audience. KKSS-FM took second with a 5.2 rating.

There's no election in '15 so the station might have to come up with new tricks to hold the top slot. Come to think of it, that also applies to the state House Republicans who just took over the state House majority for the first time in 60 years.

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Monday, January 12, 2015

Our Real Deal Biz And Econ Coverage: The Rabbits Feet Come Out As Santa Fe Looks To Luck To Bail Out The Budget, Plus: An Elephant And Intel In Rio Rancho 

Senate Finance Chairman John Arthur Smith
Let's start the new week with some real deal biz and economic coverage. First up is that latest state budget outlook.

The Santa Fe bean counters could not bring themselves to lower yet again the estimate on how much new money lawmakers will have when they start drafting a budget this month for the fiscal year that begins July 1. You can hardly blame them for keeping their fingers crossed and carrying rabbits feet around. Unless energy prices rebound, they are in for a world of hurt. . .

The crash in oil prices has so shaken the Roundhouse they've given up on soothsaying. Instead of predicting what final state revenues will be, the Legislative Finance Committee (LFC) is offering up widely varying scenarios. One has $141 million in new money available. Another assumes revenues actually drop 1 percent over this year's. How legislators legislate into that black hole of ambiguity is anyone's guess. You can already hear the catcalls: "My revenue estimate is better than yours!"

The LFC budget proposed for the rose-colored glasses crowd totals around $6.3 billion, not much more than this year's $6.2 billion. That's the best case scenario. To get there they put aside a budget reserve of about 8 percent of revenue, instead of over 10 percent. That's still more than $500 million but it could go lower if oil stays in the tank.

If for the next year oil prices average where they are today--just below $50--the rose colored glasses are going to crack. The "new money" projection will be wiped out. If oil pops up so does a state budget that gets nearly 20 percent of its revenue from oil and gas royalties and taxes. (By the way, natural gas remains in a bear market and isn't about to make up for the oil losses).

ON ITS BACK

Taking a look back shows us just how flat on its back this state's economy has been. General fund revenues for FY08 totaled $6.041 billion. Here we are 8 years later with the optimistic budget at only $6.3 billion. That's a mere 4 percent increase in all that time. Of course, all of that increase and more was long ago wiped out by inflation. Incredible.

Not that the entire budget stagnation was caused by the economic wreck. It could be argued that before the debacle began the state recklessly cut income taxes on high earners as well as the capital gains tax, although we did have a sales tax increase along the way.

BRING BACK THE BULL

Few doubt that there will be another bull market in energy prices. But with the advent of renewable energy, increased oil supplies from fracking, electric cars, millenials driving less and fears about climate change, you have to seriously entertain the thought that oil has entered a new era and with it the New Mexican budget and government. The issue is whether the next oil bull will be as powerful and as long-lasting as those of the past 80 years and that have been the ace in the hole for this small, poor state.

It's the money collected from energy and invested in the stock market that is largely responsible for giving us a State Permanent Fund of over $14 billion--one of the largest of its kind in the world. We now get an annual revenue stream of over $750 million a year from the state's two permanent funds.

It seems mythological when you hear that someday--when the state's energy resources are depleted--that the Permanent Fund will be there to save us. For the first time in state history that doesn't seem so imaginary.

If energy prices enter a long-term pause and no economic substitutes are created, the next generation of New Mexicans could depend even more on their grandparents' financial legacy to keep the trains running.

OF ELEPHANTS AND INTEL

Talk about ignoring the elephant in the room. How can the mayor of Rio Rancho give an in-depth economic briefing and not even mention the precarious outlook for Intel, the city's largest employer and major economic driver? Since 400 were laid off at the chipmaker last year, rumors have been rife that Intel is out of here, meaning the 2,900 remaining jobs there are at risk. Can you tell us anything about that, Mr. Mayor?

Well, dealing in cold, hard reality is the last thing on the to-do list of the politicos. But what is happening is quite obvious. Rio Rancho continues to attract call center jobs (which is okay) but it has no idea what to do to replace the high-paying Intel jobs as they gradually disappear.

The economy that is shaping up to replace the one driven by Intel and its billions is based on service sector jobs--call centers, restaurants and retail. Those are traditionally among the lower paying jobs.

The Rio Rancho experience is emblematic of the metro area as a whole. No better example is the reconstruction of Winrock Shopping Center, smack dab in the middle of ABQ and perhaps the most valuable retail real estate in the state. The stores that are going in there are aimed squarely at consumers in lower and lower-middle wage brackets--Nordstrom Rack, DWS shoes and Ulta cosmetics, to name a few.

It's not just happening here but across the nation as affluence is spread among a smaller segment of the population and as high-paying jobs dry up. The mayor of Rio Rancho knows that, but it's not polite for him to say it. We don't mind doing it for him.

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