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Wednesday, August 31, 2016

Another Visit To Conny Amendment For Early Childhood Education As City Still Reels From Shocking Murder Of 10 Year old, Plus: Hector Watch; Big Santa Fe Fundraiser For AG, And: A Gator Strike Comes Up Short  

It really is time to talk again about that proposed constitutional amendment that could put us on a path to resolving the wrenching child abuse and poverty problem in New Mexico.

The reprehensible murder of 10 year old Victoria Martens and previous notorious child killings remind us that we are losing ground and that angry calls for reinstatement of the death penalty--are substitutes for the hard work that has to be taken if the state is to reverse course. (Remember, when we had the death penalty it was rarely used. Not exactly a deterrent).

The constitutional amendment for very early childhood education would ask voters to tap the state's gigantic Land Grant Permanent Fund (nearly $15 billion) for about $150 million a year for ten years to pursue intensive efforts to get at the root causes of the state's 49th ranking in child well-being.

Allen Sanchez, CEO of Catholic Health Initiatives--CHI St Joseph's--has been spearheading the drive for several years and is again urging state legislators to put the amendment to a vote of the people. In light of Victoria's death he writes in an op-ed:
:
Home visiting programs have been proven to prevent child abuse. Home visitors journey with a new parent through the very trying times of bringing a baby into the world. Parents are supported as they develop a strong relationship with their child and gain tools to handle difficult times such as soothing an infant who has colic and constantly cries. This bond acts as a buffer to many of the challenges facing families living in poverty.

It is true that New Mexico has the highest percentage of children living in poverty in the United States, however, we are not a poor state. New Mexico has the 3rd largest Land Grant Permanent Fund (LGPF) in the country. This LGPF is dedicated to our children. But these resources are not supporting our most vulnerable, our youngest children. 

It is proven that parent education prevents child abuse yet state leaders refuse to let New Mexicans vote on whether or not to invest 1% of it into early childhood programs like home visiting.

Sanchez says less then 5 percent of those who are eligible receive services and study after study says home visiting prevents child abuse. The Legislative Finance Committee reported 82 percent of NM children last year were born on Medicaid. The constitutional amendment, he says, would make funds available for state funded home visiting and other early childhood programs.

There is no panacea to the deep-rooted drug and poverty epidemic that has swept the state and intensified during the ongoing economic recession. But there is a place to start and Sanchez and not a few others argue it is the constitutional amendment that could mark the first step in turning the tide for the generations to come.

HECTOR WATCH 

Balderas
Insiders are chattering about a recent high dollar fund-raiser for Dem Attorney General Hector Balderas. The host was none other than Downs at ABQ Racetrack and Casino co-owner Paul Blanchard and the price tag to attend, according to one of our Santa Fe Alligators, was a steep $5,000 a pop.

Balderas showed over $381,000 in cash on hand in his April report. (Blanchard gave a $5,000 contribution in October).

Blanchard's casino won a controversial 25 year state racino lease from the Martinez administration early in her tenure. Whether it was a rigged deal was the subject of scrutiny, including by then-State Auditor Balderas who, along with AG King, did not see any signs of a crime.

Balderas is up for re-election in 2018 but his friends say he continues to mull a possible run for the '18 Dem Guv nomination which would mean he would have to leave the AG's office.

The Balderas crowd says it's happy with recent insider polling that they say gives the AG a favorable rating in the 60 percent area, high for any politico in this polarized era.

ABQ Dem Congresswoman Michelle Lujan Grisham has practically announced for the Dem Guv nomination and it would be interesting if Balderas joined her. However, that's far from a sure thing because his re-election as AG appears to nearly fall into that category. It's hard to turn your back on that for the uncertainty of a Guv run.

GATOR STRIKE FALTERS

An attempted Alligator strike on ABQ GOP State Rep. Sarah Maestas Barnes failed to leave any teeth marks Tuesday. When word spread via your blog that the lawmaker was sponsoring a job fair today, the Gators questioned why the fair--coming in the middle of her re-election bid--was posted prominently on the state labor department website, along with her political logo.

But it turns out the department--now know as Workforce Solutions--has done the same for ABQ Dem State Sen. Michael Padilla when he has sponsored job fairs of which he has done many.

Looks like the Gators will have to find other prey to sharpen their teeth on. That shouldn't take them long.

PNM AND GLICK

Rio Grande Chapter Sierra Club communications coordinator Mona Blaber writes:

Thanks for your post about the PNM rate case and the strange accusations aimed at the hearing examiner. You're right that this appears to be a smear campaign because PNM doesn't know how else to wriggle out of getting caught making financial decisions that benefit shareholders over ratepayers.

I just wanted to add that Carolyn Glick disclosed that she was once a Sierra Club member at the beginning of a previous rate case, where Sierra Club was an intervenor, and PNM raised no objections. We’re not even an intervenor in this case.

Glick said in her disclosure that she led hikes for the Sierra Club in the '90s (we host free hikes every weekend around the state). Our hikes are a separate program from our advocacy work to increase renewable energy. That doesn't mean Glick doesn't care about clean air and water, but as you said, not caring about the environment seems like a bizarre standard to hold rate-case examiners to.

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Tuesday, August 30, 2016

Bye, Bye Barela; Econ Secretary Exits As State Continues To Struggle, Plus: A Paranoid PNM? Attacks On Rate Hearing Officer Raise Questions, And: Not All Crime For One GOP House Candidate 

Martinez & Barela
Okay, this reaction by reader Dan Klein to the resignation of state Economic Development Secretary Jon Barela might be a bit cruel:

You mean we had an economic development secretary?

Well, yes we did, just not much economic development sine 2011. But the job is probably above anyone's pay grade, given the shape of the state on so many levels. Barela scored a few wins, acted genially and escaped some messy office politics that could have ended his career.

His necessary obsequiousness to Martinez and the limited tools she advocated in advancing economic development confined him largely to the role of cheerleader. He leaves Sept. 30 to become executive director of the nonprofit Borderplex Alliance in El Paso, which is co-chaired by former GOP Governor and current NMSU Chancellor Garrey Carruthers.

It's a good time for him to leave as the economic punishment of our state is about to accelerate. (Don't say we didn't tell you). Martinez has two years and four months left on her final term. (Not that anyone is counting :).

Barela, a native of Las Cruces, ran for the ABQ congressional seat in the Tea Party year of 2010. He scored 48% against Dem incumbent Martin Heinrich.

And in another Martinez cabinet note, yes, we still expect former state Environment Secretary Ryan Flynn to become the next executive director of the NM Oil and Gas Association. . .

This week's Best Fiction Writing award goes to the spinmeisters at the Borderplex Alliance who wrote this of Barela's cabinet stint:

Barela joins Borderplex after leading New Mexico's unprecedented trade efforts, successfully reducing the state's unemployment rate, quadrupling exports to Mexico, and creating a business-friendly climate during his tenure as cabinet secretary.

But then there's this reality about Barela's tenure as described in 2014 by Mother Jones magazine:

A. . .whistleblower lawsuit filed in New Mexico state court makes a series of explosive allegations against appointees of. . . Martinez, accusing high-ranking officials in her administration of public corruption, mismanagement, and intimidation. It claims that officials at the state's economic development agency engaged in extramarital affairs that could expose the state to sexual harassment charges and that officials tried to silence employees who reported contracting violations and other wrongdoing.

That whistleblower suit is still being adjudicated. One of the parties tells us the trial date with a jury is set for January in Santa Fe

Happy travels, Jon. We'll see you at La Posta.

REPLACING BARELA?

Who should replace Barela as Econ Secretary? How about instead we take his salary and hire border guards to keep all the kids with advanced degrees from leaving the state?

PNM'S DEMONS

Carolyn Glick
What is with the unseemly demonization by PNM allies of the hearing officer who does not agree with the electric company's rate increase request--a request that would add over 14 percent to the average residential bill?

The Glick bashers are acting like they consulted the Nixon White House or the Guv's political machine and put Carolyn Glick on some sort of enemies list because she once was a member of the Sierra Club, a long-established  environmental group that PNM loathes.

Glick's doubters say that the past membership tainted Glick's findings and they continue to push that smear via the news and op-ed pages.

Click is getting all the grief because she did the state a favor and reduced the recommended rate hike for residential use from over 14 percent to 6.4 percent.

If Glick was so caught up with radical enviros, why didn't state sanctioned monopoly PNM make that objection long before Glick undertook her hearings and came with her findings?

What's next? You have to be a Republican to hold a job that impacts the electric company? Or take a loyalty oath to PNM?

Below-the-radar PNM Chief Executive Patricia Vincent Collawn seems to be allowing the executive quarters of PNM to become a stew of paranoia that has hatched a plot to discredit an imagined opponent. Are they running an electric company or a subrosa political campaign there?

Here's the deal: PNM needs to answer the questions regarding its rate case in a professional and thorough manner, stop the stonewalling and call off the McCarthy-like attack dogs on a bureaucrat simply trying to do her job.

As for the PRC ruling on the rate case that is due next month, the five commissioners ought to miniaturize that PNM hike just as Glick recommends, and as have previous commissions when PNM came with inflated, outlandish rate requests.

NOT ALL CRIME

Here's one GOP state House Incumbent who isn't betting the House on an "all crime, all the time agenda:

. . . Join State Rep. Sarah Maestas Barnes for a free job fair she's hosting in Albuquerque on August 31 from 10:00 am to 2:00 pm at the CNM Workforce Training Center! More than 60 different employers will be in attendance, looking to fill more than 1200 positions. Jobs will be available in a variety of different sectors, including healthcare, telecommunications, energy, construction and many more.

Barnes represents a swing district in the NE Heights and portions of the Valley and faces a stiff challenge from Dem Ane Romero who is expected to hit the jobs issue hard.

Back on the crime beat, reader Alicia Hicks writes of ABQ events mourning the heinous slaying of 10 year old Victoria Martens:

Joe, Reading the front page it occurred to me that NM is really good at two things: reacting and celebrating. We know how to plan and execute a celebration quickly. It looked like a nicely planned event to mourn the loss of this little girl as well as to honor her brief stay in this world.

What we also are good at is reacting to tragedy. We do that very well. What we are not good at is being pro-active about much of anything. I don't know if we are unable or untrained or just don't care but something has got to change or we will be celebrating another tragedy somewhere down the line. Drug, alcohol and mental health services have got to be fully funded. It's got to be a priority.

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Monday, August 29, 2016

Election Narrative Rocked By Shocking Crime; Where Will It Settle? Plus: Martinez Hits New Polling Low; The Post-Joyful Era Of ABQ And NM; We Are On It And Tying It All Together 

Yet again the battle for the political narrative is set on its heels as we head toward the November election

The hideous slaying of 10 year old Victoria Martens immediately prompted calls for reinstatement of the death penalty for child killers, only days after Gov. Martinez called for the same following the murder of a Hatch police officer.

The pair of gut-wrenching crimes sent to the back pages the state budget crisis where Gov. Martinez and her political machine have labored mightily to keep it. Their intent from the beginning was to run an "all crime all the time" campaign to maintain GOP control of the state House and perhaps pick up a seat or two in the senate.

Despite the shift toward their favorite theme there are signs that the crime agenda could turn out to be a case of "be careful what you wish for." Perhaps most revealing in that regard was this bold, lead paragraph from the Associated Press:

The killing this week of a 10-year-old Albuquerque girl who was drugged, raped and dismembered is just the latest horrific child slaying case for New Mexico, which has the nation’s highest youth poverty rate and a state government that has had highly publicized difficulties protecting children from abuse.

That's not exactly the return to the tough on crime narrative Martinez was hoping for and planning to forcefully use against the Dems. Not even close. Sky high poverty, another child killing and an incompetent state government.

And another:

Many behavioral health providers, child protection advocates and even some law enforcement authorities say Victoria’s death, rather than spur tougher criminal penalties, should force government officials to re-examine the priorities of a state that many say invests too little in mental health, child welfare and drug treatment services. “It’s important we hold the offenders accountable, but I also think it’s important we take a much deeper look at ourselves and our community,” Bernalillo County District Attorney Kari Brandenburg said.

That's the problem for Martinez--that after years of tough on crime rhetoric and as the violence doesn't abate, the debate gets more nuanced.

SUSANA'S SWAN DIVE

Then there is the ability of this Governor to command the attention of the public as she nears the later years of her second and final term. Like the two, two-term governors who preceded her, Martinez is losing her audience.

The latest PPP poll conducted Aug. 19 to 21 among 1,103 registered voters shows her approval rating diving to a new all-time low of 43 percent. The most stunning drop comes among Republicans with whom she once commanded 90 percent approval but has now tanked to 63 percent. (The margin of error is 3%.)

That dive is based on a number of factors. Her infamous holiday pizza party helped take her to 47 percent in a May PPP poll, below the critical 50 percent mark. When that occurred political reporter Steve Terrell wrote:

Those are hardly disastrous numbers, but they are down from Martinez's first term, when pollsters routinely found her approval score to be more than 60 percent. 

Now her poll numbers are more than "down." They are on the borderline of diving into the cellar, below 40 percent where Big Bill finished up.

Advance NM Now, a political action committee led by Martinez chief operative Jay McCleskey, tried to destroy the credibility of PPP, a group that surveys mainly for Democrats. In a series of fast and furious tweets, the PAC called the firm "discredited" and assaulted its methodology.

But there were no such GOP attacks on PPP when it previously showed solid results for the governor, including her 52 percent approval rating two years ago. And polling expert Nate Silver's latest rankings give PPP a grade of B+.

There is a point to be made that the poll was conducted among "registered" and not "likely" voters who lean more conservative. That might bounce her a bit, but McCleskey will need to come with legitimate polling contradicting the latest Martinez slide, if he  hopes to halt the damage.

REASONS FOR DIVE

The reasons for her latest drop? Martinez's refusal to endorse Trump and his punishing criticism of her for it at a May ABQ rally contributed mightily to the crash in her GOP support. She was already under water with Democrats in the May PPP.

Remember, Trump is the official GOP nominee and when all is said and done they will and are coming home to him, with or without Susana.

Then there's the forlorn state of the economy with long-term high unemployment and thrown anew into the dumpster by tanking oil prices. The massive state budget deficit reminds New Mexicans that whatever was tried these past six years to improve this economy hasn't worked.

Now the social conditions crisis again rears its ugly head with the tragic loss of Victoria as it did with the 2013 murder of 7 year old Omaree. Martinez, a former district attorney, campaigned for governor on a platform of improving the lives of New Mexico children. As Sarah Palin might say, "How's that working out for you, Guv?"

Advancing the emotional death penalty cause may keep the political wolves at bay for a week or two, but the underlying problems causing the breakdown of this state are no longer underlying. That AP lead tells the tale. The narrative is still up for grabs.

CYFD FINGERPRINTS

When Omaree Varela was killed at the hands of his mother Martinez's CYFD took a major hit for dropping the ball in a case they were heavily involved in. Now CYFD is again coming under scrutiny. This time because of of the loss of Victoria:

Children, Youth and Families Secretary Monique Jacobson said state records show no prior cases involving violence or sexual abuse against Victoria. . .Jacobson said she was prohibited by law from disclosing whether the agency had received any other complaints related to Victoria. . .

Other complaints? What exactly was CYFD aware of? More to come, we're sure.

Meanwhile, the obvious child well-being disaster the state faces is provoking some clear-headed thinking among more shocked politicians. ABQ Dem City Councilor Klarissa Pena says of Victoria's murder:

I know there is talk about what should happen to these people, and, yes, they should be punished to the fullest extent of the law. But the real underlying issue in our community is we have a drug epidemic, and we have to start addressing it.

A drug epidemic? She's got that right. So what about that $17 million Bernalillo County has raised the past year from a tax hike for the purpose of improving mental health? Will the county commission now get moving and put it to use, in the name of Victoria?

THE POST-JOYFUL ERA

Despite previous shocks ABQ and NM went on as it has in the past, grieving deeply for the loss of the child or police officer but then returning to what seems to be a deep-seated apathy that has arisen in this post-joyful era of the city's (and state's) history. Republican reader Brent Eastwood from DC:

In other cities, religious and faith leaders, business leaders, community leaders, everyone would head to city hall and demand the mayor address the underlying problems of this city. And the mayor would emerge with a plan, tell the people what that plan is and make the plan happen. I doubt this will happen. This is about political leadership and a lack of political leadership and a lot of citizen apathy. It is one of the reasons I took my family and moved 3,000 miles away.

ABQ attorney and former APD officer Tom Grover is also monitoring events for your blog and comes with this:

It's really getting old with the endless horror coming out of this city and state and our "leaders" do little but obfuscate reality or grandstand at opportunities for self-promotion. Here's an idea, own it or step aside because enough is enough and you've utterly failed. And by the way, my kids have noticed.

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Friday, August 26, 2016

A Return Trip To The Dark Side; Veteran Journalist Who Saw Hope Goes Gloomy Gus Again 

Not to end the week on a Gloomy Gus note, but adherents to the "dark side" concerning the state's future continue to grow. That's hard to ignore when many of them are "lifers" like veteran journalist Wally Gordon who has penned a noteworthy missive on the state of the state. After 40 years of reporting on NM, he tells us:

Joe, I really saw glimmers of hope a year or so ago but now I'm afraid I’ve joined you on the dark side.

Maybe the good news is if it's darkest before the dawn our fair state may be in for a break or two. Meanwhile, Gordon writes:

• Major programs like food stamps and Medicaid are being so badly administered the federal government is probably going to have to run them for us.

• State and local police forces seem to be wearing handcuffs themselves in the face of rising crime rates and escalating complaints of use of excessive force.  APD can’t recruit the cops for which it is budgeted.

• A new study by WalletHub ranks New Mexico public education as worse than any other state’s except Louisiana. The quality of public education has continued to worsen for six years despite the stated intention of Gov. Martinez to make its improvement her highest priority.

• In a national study of high school students, New Mexico ranked second highest for cocaine and Ecstasy use, fifth highest for methamphetamine and eighth highest for heroin.

• Another WalletHub study ranked New Mexico worst in the nation for the percentage of children who are “food insecure.”

• Unemployment in the state is one of the highest in the country, two full percentage points above the national average.

• In June, 866,609 New Mexican had jobs. In 2005, the number was 871,248. We are now in our second lost decade.

Almost every week somewhere in New Mexico a long-established business closes. National chains are closing their local branches. Once-successful local businesses are declaring bankruptcy. There are fewer concerts, plays and festivals. People just don’t have as much money to have fun as they used to.

Young, educated men and women are leaving the state. At the same time, enrollment in colleges and universities is declining, further shrinking the most promising part of the future workforce.

On top of all these crises, we now have a budget crunch with no apparent resolution. The combined deficits for the past fiscal year and this year are in excess of $650 million.

Other states have been where we are now. Most that scraped bottom at one time or another—California, Georgia, Alabama and South Carolina come to mind—have found ways out of their morass. A very few, like Michigan and West Virginia, seem permanently stymied. Unfortunately, tragically, New Mexico looks more and more like one of the latter. Loving my adopted home, the native home of my wife, the home of my wife’s large extended family, the chosen home of my son, I lament its sad fate.

Welcome back to the dark side, Wally. To paraphrase Willie Nelson, "Oh, the night life, it ain't no good life. Ah, but it's our life."

Thanks for stopping by this week.

Reporting to you from Puget Sound, I'm Joe Monahan.

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Thursday, August 25, 2016

Come On, Larry. House GOP Money Chairman Insists Budget Not In "Crisis" As Outlook Worsens; Plus: More Angles On Budget Debacle 

Rep. Larranaga
It's almost embarrassing to see the chairman of the once powerful and respected House Appropriations Committee groveling at the feet of the Governor and insisting in the face of all known facts that the state of New Mexico is not in a budget crisis.

Even as lawmakers were told Wednesday that collapsing tax revenues have blown a $650 million hole in the state budget and that reserves are now zero, we get this:

“It’s not a crisis,” Rep. Larry Larranaga, R-Albuquerque, said after seeing the forecast. “We’ll just have to make a mid-year adjustment like we do every year.”

"Like we do every year?"

Like every year we have a budget hole of this magnitude?

Every year we have a general fund budget so decimated that it is now the same as it was back in 2010?

Every year we face possible devastating cuts to the public schools?

Every year we face a crisis that has three consecutive budget years--'16, '17 '18--bleeding buckets of red?

Every year we face a bear market in the energy fields that shows no signs of abating?

Come on, man. Bring on the Gators:

Joe, Larranaga said business as usual about the budget crisis, and he is right. Being Martinez’s lapdog is business as usual for him. He went into the 2016 session telling people that there was an additional $228 million availible to spend. This allowed Martinez to talk about new "investments" during the State of the State. He eventually stepped back from that number and pushed a $6.32 billion budget through the House. This was done so Martinez could avoid embarrassing cuts to Medicaid that would lead to a loss of hundreds of millions in federal dollars. He was finally forced to cut some more by the Senate, but not too much more to limit the political hit that Martinez, chair of the Republican Governors Association, would take. We still lost the federal dollars.

The Senate passed a $6.248 budget and it came with a dire warning from Sen. Smith that we would need a special session if things did not turn around. Now the revised revenue estimates for FY17 is 9.7% lower than the August 2015 projection, but this is not a problem according to lapdog Larranaga. Business as usual

Faced with a crisis of this magnitude past chairmen of House Appropriations (Mershon, Varela etc.) would look for a bipartisan solution--and pronto. But today, with the Martinez political machine breathing down his neck, Chairman Larranaga can't answer the call from history. That's just plain sad but to be expected when the political consultants are running the show which includes the once high and mighty House Appropriations Committee.

And where are the young up and comers of the GOP on this historic budget debacle? Like Majority Leader Nate Gentry and House Ways and Means Chair Jason Harper. How about some new ideas from a new generation of Republicans, not the same tired bromides of tax cuts that don't work. The state is ready to listen, if only someone has the huevos to talk.

Nate is quiet. Here's Harper still in ideological hiding and not willing or able to make the break that could make him matter:

I have no interest in letting any revenue-raising proposals get through my committee.

In other words, Rep. Harper has no interest in leading. He lacks the stomach to conduct delicate surgery and instead relies on the meat axe approach of Susana and Jay. Says Silver City Dem State Senator Howie Morales:

We’re not cutting any more; we’re amputating. 

There is one R who is talking--and listening. That's GOP State Land Commissioner Aubrey Dunn who is showing flexibility on resolving the budget crisis, including looking at revenue enhancement. Are Larranaga, Harper, Susana and Jay sniffing the past while Dunn is getting a whiff of the future?

BUDGET NERDS

For the budget nerds here are the gory details from the Legislative Finance Committee on the state's sorry finances.

NOT GOOD 

This is not good for the future outlook of our economy:

. . .  Pueblo of Laguna, announced that its Kicks Entertainment unit has signed an agreement to acquire the Isle of Capri Casino Hotel Lake Charles in Westlake, Calcasieu Parish, Louisiana, for $134 million.  "It's been proven to be difficult to grow in New Mexico," said Skip Sayre, chief of  marketing for Laguna Development Corp. "We realized we needed to venture outside the state of New Mexico. We thought it was a good fit for the company." Given New Mexico's sluggish economy, the company, its board of directors and its shareholders, the 8,000 residents of the Laguna pueblo, wanted to seek opportunities to grow outside of the state.

$134 million to invest and nowhere to put it in their home state? What's wrong with that picture?

TWO AND A HALF?

A reader writes of the Wednesday blog:

In Wednesday's blog you write, "Republicans control two branches of the government."
Actually, the R's control 1 1/2 branches: they control the Executive Branch and one-half of the Legislative Branch. The Dems control the other half of the Legislative Branch and the Judicial Branch. Just a technical observation.

That is correct. It is one and half branches the R's control. But political realists might disagree. The R's have the governorship, the state House and often rule the Senate because conservative Dems caucus with the R's to form a conservative coalition that controls much of the agenda.

NM TRUTH

ABQ reader Richard Flores writes of the NM Truth campaign:

I like the way the NM Truth campaign in its newspaper advertisement subliminally shows the income gap between the haves and the have nots in New Mexico by displaying scenes from the Balloon Fiesta and ski slopes in juxtaposition with the state rankings pertaining to childhood poverty and hunger. 

Childhood hunger is part and parcel of being poor or homeless, where parents are unemployed, drug addicted or incarcerated, or where children are being raised by grandparents on fixed incomes. Children who are poor and hungry seldom do well in school; this has been proven over and over again. When children can't optimize their potential because of poverty and hunger, they are left behind in a system that rewards the privileged. And where the mainstream gravitates to blaming the parents, do we not have some responsibility for providing the resources to bolster these children? Early childhood education is a straightforward approach for impacting the lives of poor children. I don't get the resistance from the public, politicians, and special interests.

Chi St. Joseph's, sponsor of NM Truth, is urging the legislature to approve a constitutional amendment that would let voters decide if they want to tap a portion of the state's nearly $15 billion Land Grant Permanent Fund and devote it to very early childhood education.

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Wednesday, August 24, 2016

Senate Leader Battles Back Against Tax Hike Monkey; Final Numbers On Budget Crisis Coming, Plus: Crazy In Hawaii, Susana Goes Her Merry Way And A Poll On ART 

Sen. Sanchez
As the state prepares to release more budget numbers on the budget crisis today, the tax hike monkey is being hung around the neck of Senate Majority Leader Michael Sanchez.

Republicans have scored him for wanting to solve the crisis via tax hikes but the lawmaker pushed back in an interview with us, saying newspaper headlines suggesting he was hinting at a tax hike was a political hit designed to put him on the defense in his duel with Gov. Martinez. She again this week reiterated her "no new taxes" pledge, despite a ballooning deficit that could approach $700 million or more

Sanchez had said, "we just can't cut ourselves out of the problem." That statement turned into he headline that Sanchez was hinting a tax hike was needed, putting him and his party on the defense.

So just what does Sanchez advocate? He tells us the legislature ought to approve a temporary rollback of the big Richardson era personal income tax cuts as well as Gov. Martinez's corporate tax cut. He says his foes will "spin" that as a tax increase but he doesn't view it as one. Well, not to worry. The House Republicans are not going to go there and Martinez would never sign it.

In an important note, Sanchez added that he will not support reinstating the tax on food and medicine and said that neither would a "majority of his caucus." That still leaves open the door for a handful of conservative Dems to bolt and join with Senate Republicans to reinstate the tax, assuming the House R's would go along--a big assumption.

On thing to watch for: The partisan bickering that has marked all the years of the Martinez regime could give way in the months ahead as representatives and senators of both parties realize that the sky is truly falling on the state budget. Republicans control two branches of the government. Before this is all over that monkey they are putting on Sanchez's back is going to be hugging them, too. One way or the other.

CRAZY IN HAWAII?

We dubbed the idea that New Mexico could close its public schools for two weeks as one method to relieve the state budget crisis as "crazy." Well, a number of readers report they went "crazy" in Hawaii:

. . . A new union contract. . . closes schools on most Fridays for the remainder of the academic calendar. The deal whacks 17 days from the school year for budget-cutting reasons and has education advocates incensed that Hawaii is drastically cutting the academic calendar at a time when it already ranks near the bottom in national educational achievement. 

NM also ranks at the bottom in education achievement so if Santa Fe doesn't say a quick "aloha" to the school closure idea, they ought to have their heads buried in the sands of Waikiki.

HER MERRY WAY

While others tear their hair out one the budget, the Governor goes along her merry way talking about what her pollsters want her to talk about. Like the death penalty which she wants to reimpose in the state, at least for child killers and cop killers. Well, that polls well but:

After nearly two decades of declining use, opponents of the death penalty have begun what they characterize as a sustained legislative and political push to end capital punishment in states across the country. Voters in California and Nebraska will decide this year whether to end the death penalty.  Legislators appear poised to end capital punishment in states as different as deep-blue Delaware and ruby-red Utah. And public opinion polls show that while a majority of Americans still back executions for those convicted of murder, that majority is shrinking.

Martinez's showboating proposal is dead on arrival at the Roundhouse which brings to mind that old slogan: "Time is a terrible thing to waste." Maybe someone should put that on the door of the Guv's office.

ART POLL

Dan Vukelich, the editor of the ABQ Free Press writes:

On Wednesday (today) a reader poll will appear on our website urging people to vote in our poll on ART.  The poll stays open until 5 p.m. Sept. 2. We're really pushing to get readers to pass on the link to the poll across their social media circles. Here's the link.

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Tuesday, August 23, 2016

47th And Used To it, Plus: Susana Nicked In New TV Ads, Also: Not Liking Ike; Councilor Scored Over ART Defense 

Other states would grow sullen if they saw their state ranked 47th out of 50th in the Governing Magazine economic rankings, but we're so beaten down around here anytime we're not 49th or 50th it's a cause for a mini-celebration. The magazine looked at. . .

. . . the current state unemployment rate; the improvement in the state unemployment rate over the past year; the per capita state GDP in 2015; the percent change in real state GDP between 2014 and 2015; the percent change in state personal income per capita, from the third quarter of 2015 to the first quarter of 2016; and the percentage growth in year-to-date increases in jobs for 2016.

Just three of the bottom 10 states in 2013 -- Connecticut, Mississippi and New Mexico -- stayed stuck in the magazine's bottom 10 in 2016.

With that gloomy news and so much more facing her, you would think her foes would use any advertising time they buy to take Gov. Martinez out on the economy. . .

There is a TV ad campaign up and running that takes on Martinez--not for the lousy economy--but for her environmental record. The ads come from the progressive nonprofit ProgressNow NM and might strike some as esoteric as they deal with a sinkhole problem in Carlsbad.

The ads are the first negative TV featuring the Governor since her re-election bid in 2014 when an underfinanced Gary King nicked her. These ads are also relatively tame, not the hard-hitting sort that the Guv's machine has run with success over the past six and a half years.

Often times it is the donor of the cash for the TV time who determines the content.

Martinez's approval rating has slipped below 50% in the most recent PPP poll (47%) and she will officially become a lame duck following the November election.

NOT LIKING IKE

Councilor Benton
An Alligator strike today on none other than mild mannered ABQ Democratic City Councilor Ike Benton. Why does this Gator no longer say, "I like Ike?"

Well, that's because the North Valley councilor stuck his head out of the foxhole briefly to praise Mayor Berry's hyper-controversial rapid bus line for a nine mile stretch of Central Avenue known as ART.

Ike is an environmentalist and urbanite from way back so his support (his op-ed is here) is not out of line. But that's not enough to spare him the bite marks of an Alligator's sharp teeth who is especially upset that Benton seems to fault the public opposed to ART for supposedly not paying attention and being "confused.":

Councilor Benton has come out from the shadows to admonish the public for not paying enough attention to the ART project during its inception and for being "confused." Curiously, in the same op-ed, Benton admits that he and the city both failed to communicate to citizens about the project. If anyone knows about communication, it's Ike, who completely lost it at the ART meeting in his district.

Ike wants us to shut up and take our medicine and accept the project as it is because it's already done and solid. Hey Ike, a little tip--the city is calling around scrounging for money because they don't have what they need to pay for trees along the ART route. 

It's amazing that this Berry Administration enabler continues to exist in one of the most liberal districts in the city. As quiet as a church mouse, he's failed to say anything of significance about the police crisis or take the Berry Administration to task for anything.

If this is the level of opposition and alternative to the Berry Administration Dems are providing, it's no wonder the Republicans will continue to hold the mayor's office.

ART was given the legal go ahead last week by a federal appeals court in Denver and construction on the bus line is expected to begin in a matter of weeks, to the chagrin of its many opponents and many of the business owners along the designated route. Still, it's hard to stop liking Ike, even as we disagree with him on this one.

HATCH AND HATCH

There were a couple of problems with our first blog draft Monday on former NM US Senator Carl Hatch. First, we'll blame the spell checker for turning "Carl" into "Clyde" but this next one is on us. We blogged, based on information given to us by one of our longtime readers, that the village of Hatch in Dona Ana County was named after the former Senator. We should have know better. Really.

Hatch, NM began long before the 20th century career of Senator Hatch. The correct version:

Hatch was originally settled as Santa Barbara in 1851, however Apache raids drove the farmers away until 1853 when the nearby Fort Thorn was established. When Fort Thorn closed in 1859, the town was abandoned again in 1860. It was not until 1875 that it was re-occupied and at that time it was renamed for Indian fighter Edward Hatch, who was then commander of the New Mexico Military District.


Thanks to several Hatch readers for pointing us in the right direction. There is always more to learn about our Land of Enchantment..

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Monday, August 22, 2016

State Budget Bomb Lighted And Set To Explode; The Latest Positioning, Some Crazy Proposals And Some Possible Ways Out, Plus: Our Toughest Photo Caption Contest Ever? 

Get ready for some crazy ideas on how to resolve the state budget crisis. In fact, a couple are already circulating. How about cutting the public school year by two full weeks to help resolve the state deficit which could be upwards of $700 million? Or how about just taking out a meat axe and cutting a quarter billion dollars from the schools? well, this aren't budget cuts, they're amputations.

Whatever they come up with in Santa Fe, it won't be at the special legislative session the Governor says she will call for sometime in September. Senate Finance Committee Chairman John Arthur Smith has decided--and we assume with the Guv's blessing--that the special will focus solely on the estimated $200 million deficit left from the budget year that ended June 30. As for the current budget year in which the deficit is projected to be more than double that number, here's what's up:

(Smith) said he wants to patch the 2016 deficit as soon as possible but save larger budget issues for January, when lawmakers return for a regular 60-day session.

That  confirms what our Alligators have been saying--no one really wants to undertake the punishing business of budget cuts and/or tax increases with the November election looming and when all 112 lawmakers face the electorate.

Senate Majority Leader Michael Sanchez felt compelled to be the first to raise the possibility of tax increases when he could have (should have?) forced the R's hand and just stayed mum. Predictably, the R's pounced:

 There are responsible ways to approach closing the gap this year and it can be done without tax increases and without policies that punish businesses and New Mexicans, but once again Michael Sanchez and the Democrats have shown they lack the creativity to imagine any solution to a budget shortfall that doesn't include raising taxes.

Speaking of creativity, we aren't hearing any from Susana and her minions when it comes to the crisis. She cut agency spending five percent across the board but that's estimated to save only about $50 million, a mere raindrop in the bucket in dealing with this disaster.

Do you think before she does anything more she has Jay do some polling to see just how much budget cutting the public can stomach?

And how about this one coming from conservative corners: reinstate the tax on food. That would hit the lower strata of the state the hardest but the right wing is bound and determined to preserve those corporate tax cuts it won, despite costing the state much more than anticipated (ask the Legislative Finance Committee) and utterly failing to spark any economic development as promised.

Hmm. Would a "reinstatement" of a previous food tax be passed off by the Fourth Floor as actually keeping with Martinez's "no new taxes" pledge. All we can say is watch your P's and Q's very carefully. Before this mess is over they could rewrite the dictionary, not to mention the alphabet.

SMARTY PANTS

So if we're such a bunch of smarty pants around here what is the solution to this historic budget chaos? Well, since you asked. . .

---Approve a temporary increase in the state gasoline tax, enough to raise north of $200 million a year each year for two years. Devote some of it to the road fund which would stimulate this browbeaten economy. The tax is regressive but pump prices are in the cellar and this tax is much more preferable than a food tax that would hit wider and deeper. Also, a gas tax would be paid in part by our many out-of-state travelers.

---Freeze the corporate income tax cuts for two years and increase the capital gains tax. The corporate cut isn't going to be missed and the capital gains boost isn't going to do any damage.

---Increase the tax on booze and cigarettes since Santa Fe is going to raid the over $200 million state tobacco settlement fund to plug the deficit left from last year.

That's enough "revenue enchantments." They would make the cuts that need to be made much less severe. And there will need to be cuts. Could someone send that telegram to the athletic departments at UNM and NMSU?

THAT WAS HARD

Friday's photo caption contest had to be one of the more difficult we've run over the years. It even stumped some of the more hardcore patrons of La Politica.

The trouble was not with Vice-President Truman and Senator Dennis Chavez. Most of our entrants nailed that. It was the third man, in the forefront, who baffled most of our readers. Their guesses ranged from former NM Governor Clyde Tingley to onetime Congressman Antonio Fernandez.

The correct answer is Democratic US Senator Carl Hatch. He is probably most remembered for the Hatch Act which prohibited federal employees from engaging in partisan political activity.

But there just haven't been many photos of Hatch out there and he seems to have been overshadowed by Senator Chavez. He was appointed to the Senate in 1933 to fill the vacancy left by Sam Bratton and was re-elected in his own right in '34, '36 and '42. He chose not to seek re-election in '48 (he won the '42 race with 59% of the vote) and soon after was appointed a US District Court judge.

Terry Brunner, who served as a top aide to now retired US Senator Jeff Bingaman and who now heads the USDA Rural Development office, was familiar with the history and was the first to get it right. Richard Pugh was next with an early morning entry. Brian Tierney came later in the day with the correct caption and Rick Montoya was the fourth correct guesser. They were the only four who knew that it was the state's then sitting two US Senators in the 1940's meeting with Truman who served as a Missouri Senator, Vice-President and later President.

We're going to award all four of our winners a free lunch. They earned it. And a big tip of the hat to ABQ attorney Foster Hannett who provided us with the picture. We met up with him recently to review his treasure trove of New Mexico documents and photos and that's where we got the intriguing contest snapshot. Running a contest on the blog that can't be instantly answered by a quick "Google" is always a challenge. Thanks to Hannett for the brain teaser and to all who took time to make a guess.

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Friday, August 19, 2016

Friday Photo Flashback 

Who are these happy fellas, two of them with deep New Mexico political connections? We have a free lunch waiting for the reader that has the right names and titles. . .

News that the private Cibola County Correctional Center near Grants would close, costing the area 300 jobs sent the area reeling. What's behind the layoffs? Here's what we found out:

The Justice Department plans to end its use of private prisons after officials concluded the facilities are both less safe and less effective at providing correctional services than those run by the government. Deputy Attorney General Sally Yates announced the decision in a memo that instructs officials to either decline to renew the contracts for private prison operators when they expire or “substantially reduce” the contracts’ scope. The goal, Yates wrote, is “reducing — and ultimately ending — our use of privately operated prisons.”

WATER WORKS

Where will the ABQ metro get the water it needs for its future?

A controversial proposal to pump 54,000 acre-feet of water each year from the Augustin Plains of west-central New Mexico up to the Middle Rio Grande Valley is a step closer to public hearings. The New Mexico Office of the State Engineer has notified the Augustin Plains Ranch, the commercial venture behind the water-transfer plan, to publish a public notice of its application to pump and transport the water. That sets the stage for public hearings to be held after the public has had the opportunity to object to the plan.

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Thursday, August 18, 2016

New Mexico Truth Is Back; Second Wave Of Media Ads That Spoof NM True and Decry Child Poverty Rate Go Up, Plus: Susana Grasps At Death Penalty To Regain Lost Momentum, And: WaPo Whacked Over Soft Touch On Berry 

New Mexico Truth is back.

The TV and radio ads that parodied the state tourism campaign "NM True" and caused a good deal of controversy earlier this year are airing again statewide and with updated information on the state's profound rate of child poverty that the campaign by CHI St. Joseph's Children (Catholic Health Initiatives) is designed to draw attention to.

Allen Sanchez, CEO of CHI St. Joseph's (and who we work with), explained:

When we ran the first round of NM Truth, NM was 3rd in child food insecurity. In the 2016 Map the Meal Gap Report, NM is now 2nd in the nation for child food insecurity. Overall, the percentage of child food insecurity has gone down across the states. However, Arkansas did a better job of reducing their child food insecurity numbers, bumping us to second worst in the country.

In releasing the new wave of ads today Sanchez says its now even more urgent that the  legislature look for a solution from the state's nearly $15 billion Land Grant Permanent School Fund. He again urged approval of a constitutional amendment that would let voters decide whether to spend about $110 million a year for ten years on very early childhood programs to arrest the child poverty rate and eventually contribute to a better prepared workforce.

The Martinez administration threatened legal action against the NM Truth ads because of their similarity to the NM True campaign, but that went nowhere.  Sanchez says the new ads update the state's declining standing in child poverty and make the "NM Truth" logo larger than the original ads in order to a avoid any confusion with NM True. The ads will run for the next three weeks.

DEATH PENALTY DESPERATION?

If Gov. Martinez appears desperate to change the political conversation, you can understand why. But her announcement that she will ask the next legislative session to reinstate the death penalty for child killers and those who murder law enforcement officers was a blatant smokescreen to avert attention from the biggest state budget crisis in a generation as well as an economy that under her watch has done nothing but tank.

As usual social media went right to the heart of the matter with comments like these on Facebook from Sarah Meadows:

She is using this tired issue as a red herring to distract from the myriad, high-priority issues facing our state (education, stagnant economy, childhood poverty, behavioral health services implosion, budget deficit, pizza party) and her utter failure to make any progress in these areas.

Martinez and her political consultant Jay McCleskey are being put to the test by the rapidly changing political landscape. Their plan to make the coming campaign an "all crime all the time" event has lost potency as a state budget shortfall upwards of $700 million or more awaits gubernatorial leadership and decision, but is getting neither.

Where is the date for the special session on the budget? Where is her plan?

Martinez is also taking a hit with her political base as Republican Trump supporters openly boo her and her polling with them sinks. Talking tough on the death penalty could be seen as trying to stop the bleeding.

The recent killing of a police officer in the village of Hatch gave her entree to grasp the death penalty as a political lifesaver, but after six years of nasty wedge issue politics (think driver's licenses for undocumented immigrants, tests for school teachers etc.) she is having a much harder time disguising and rationalizing her skimpy legislative and economic record with an increasingly restless public.

As for the death penalty, it was repealed years ago and it has zero chance of passing the Democratic-controlled Senate as long as Michael Sanchez is majority leader. So look for Martinez to use the issue against him in the upcoming election in the hope of unseating him as well as to achieve the political pipe dream of taking GOP control of the Senate.

Time and again when we need a governor, we get a DA. It's Susana's comfort zone, especially when the obstacles that lay ahead of her are getting too close for comfort.

WAPO WHACKED

A number of readers were not pleased with what some called a "puff piece" from the WaPo on ABQ Mayor Berry's program to put the homeless population to work. Longtime Berry critic Michael Corwin writes:

The WaPo story is very incongruous with the change that most of us who live here have noticed. There are now panhandlers at almost every major intersection of the city instead of just the freeway off ramps. The WaPo piece has the feel of a planted puff piece by Martinez and Berry political consultant Jay McCleskey who in the past has planted Martinez fluff pieces that the WaPo used to run until her pizza party mishap.

And another reader writes:

Joy Junction's Jeremy Reynalds has a point about so much of our homelessness (and crime) being related to behavioral health issues. So where is Bernalillo County's plan to spend the $20 million per year they've had coming in for just this purpose over the last year? Their website says they're still on planning phase 2 (of 4!!). Voters approved this tax 21 months ago.

CAN YOU HOLD IT?

Why is this still a problem in one of the nation's top tourist destinations?

At least 20 times a day, tourists approach the information booth on the Santa Fe Plaza and ask Sandee Rudnick the same question. “Where are the restrooms?”

Do you need to wear diapers to Indian Market this weekend? Come on, Santa Fe.

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