Thursday, March 22, 2018

Blog Topics: Straight Ticket Voting, An "Absurd" Ethics Meeting? Dem Muscle In Republican Roswell And A Round Of Congressional Endorsements 

Secretary of State Maggie Toulouse Oliver this week "qualified major party candidates for state districted and county elected offices to appear on the 2018 Primary Election ballot."

There's a bunch of them and they are all listed here.

Reader Rick Lass, who has run as a Green Party candidate,  isn't too pleased with one plan developing in the office of the SOS. That would be her plan to reinstate straight ticket voting in New Mexico:

I and many others are completely opposed to straight ticket voting, which very clearly discriminates against independent and minor party candidates. In fact, I am quite sure that straight ticket voting is the primary reason I lost a 2008 Public Regulation Commission election--there was a straight ticket devise for him, not for me, so, in effect, there were two ways for him to receive votes and there was only one way for me to receive votes. 

Also, I think it is unfair to say straight party voting increases voter turnout in down ballot races--the voter has already turned out, and merely chooses not to vote for people in down ballot races.

Republicans for the most part also oppose straight ticket voting which was suspended in 2012 under GOP Sec. of State Dianna Duran. However, Dems are mostly supportive. Some R lawmakers argue the SOS must get authorization from the Legislature to return to straight ticket voting.


Th mystery over why former BernCo Commissioner Michael Brasher decided to pull the plug on a run for his old commission seat this year is over. And it's pretty good news for the general manager of public radio station KANW-FM:

Former Bernalillo County commissioner and onetime Albuquerque city councilor Michael Brasher will now help govern the University of New Mexico. Gov.  Martinez has appointed Brasher to the vacant seat on UNM’s seven-member Board of Regents. Her announcement came late Wednesday — less than a day before the board convenes for its annual budget summit. Brasher is a familiar face in local government. He served on the Bernalillo County Commission from 2002-2010 and was on the Albuquerque City Council from 1989-2001.

We blogged recently of how John Jones, who entered the commission race but then withdrew to run for the state House, was upset that he could not get a straight answer from Brasher when he asked him if he was in or out of the commission contest. Now he knows why.


Recently elected Roswell Democratic City Councilor George Peterson writes in reaction to our reader report Wednesday that the usually GOP city of Aztec in the Four Corners has elected a lot of Dems recently:

Joe, great story on Aztec. We have a similar situation in the Roswell city election this month  There are three new Dems on the city council which now has 6 R's and 4 D's.  We run as non-partisan candidates, but you know how that is. The council has elected a Democrat as mayor pro tem. The vote was 5 to 5 and he won with a coin flip. Thanks for your work, I read every day.

Thanks for checking in Councilor George. It's always a pleasure to hear from readers outside the ABQ/Santa Fe corridor. We will do our best to include more coverage of the key races in those areas as Election '18 gets going. Meanwhile, we checked and found that. . .

Down in Otero County there is no sign of a Dem resurgence. The R's continue to rule that roost:

According to Otero County Clerk Robyn Holmes, 17 Republicans and 3 Democrats have filed for eight positions in Otero County (for the 2018 election).


Absurd indeed seems the word to describe today's meeting of  a Bernalillo county board that will hear an ethics complaint against State Auditor Wayne Johnson stemming from when he ran for mayor against Time Keller last year.

He has helped propel many Democrats to victory. . . but political operative Alan Packman will put on a different hat Thursday and preside over an ethics case filed against Republican Wayne Johnson. . . The idea that Packman - who serves as chairman of Bernalillo County's Code of Conduct Review Board - could be impartial on this matter is absurd. Even if that weren't the case, there is clearly an appearance of a conflict of interest, and that is reason enough for Packman to recuse himself. Absent that, the other members of the board should sideline him and prohibit him from having any additional say on this matter. . . 

Is it a Code of Conduct Board or a Kangaroo Court?


Sedillo Lopez
On the ABQ congressional endorsement front:

Antoinette Sedillo Lopez’ campaign announced the endorsement of the Working Families Party of New Mexico.

Like Senator Elizabeth Warren, Antoinette’s fight for working people began decades before she ever ran for office,” said NM Working Families Party State Director Eric Griego. “Her long record of advocating for those without a strong voice sets her apart in the Democratic primary. . ."

Former US Attorney Damon Martinez, also seeking the Dem nod for the ABQ US House seat, comes with this:

Damon Martinez was endorsed by three former U.S. Attorneys who served in the Obama administration. Joyce White Vance (Alabama), Carmen M. Ortiz (Massachusetts), and Stephanie Yonekura (California)

ABQ City Councilor Pat Davis has won the endorsement of State Senators Jerry Ortiz y Pino and Mimi Stewart and Damian Lara has been endorsed by Kathy and Joe Duffy, longtime active Democrats from the ABQ Valley.

Janice Arnold-Jones is unopposed for the GOP nomination at the June 5 primary.

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Wednesday, March 21, 2018

Lujan Grisham Feud With Intern Blows Up Again As Guv Candidate Gets Restraining Order; Right Move Or Over The Top? Plus: Dateline Aztec 

Lujan Grisham & Del Rey
The right thing to do or over the top? Rep. Michelle Lujan Grisham, the leading candidate for the Democratic nomination for Governor, took the unusual step of getting a restraining order against transgender intern Riley Del Rey who had been fired from her office and who had heckled her at the recent Dem pre-primary convention and "disrupted" a Feb. 11 Lujan Grisham event.

(Details here and here.

The decision to seek court action was scrutinized from all angles, with a special emphasis on whether it provides any clues to how Lujan Grisham would conduct herself as Governor.

The campaign of one of her gubernatorial opponents, Jeff Apodaca, steered clear of any criticism of the restraining order, saying Lujan Grisham should not hesitate to protect herself if she felt threatened, but the campaign said "the timing" of the 10 day order issued Friday raised questions. On Tuesday Del Rey was attending a DC mediation session on the Hill over her firing. Lujan Grisham announced she would not attend the mediation because she feared for her "safety."

For her part Del Rey maintained she has never intended any physical harm to the congresswoman:

I’ve never done anything but voice my political dissidence against her and disrupt her speeches.

Even if Lujan Grisham feared for her safety, a DC staffer with lengthy Hill experience told us:

Her best option was to inform the Capitol Hill police. That's how threats of any kind are handled here. The police then decide whether to bring in the FBI or Secret Service to provide any necessary protection and to engage the alleged perpetrator. Getting a court order is not the regular procedure.

Longtime politico analyst Steve Cabiedes commented:

Why could not Michelle sit down with Del Rey and work this out? That's what Governors do. 

Well, they were about to do that with the formal mediation but that fell through with the restraining order.

Those who supported the play said if Lujan Grisham believed she was in physical danger it was no time to worry about the politics but to fully cover her safety needs. Those who questioned the severity of the threat wondered about her staffing and whether she has strong voices around her to talk her down from an action that could cause unneeded controversy. And they also questioned how thick her skin is for the nonstop barbs and taunts that come with being Governor. Did she, as one of the Alligators put it, "let her lawyer side get the better of her?"

Obviously there are good arguments to make on both sides of the equation. We're only in March so the voters will have a good long time to weigh them in this case and the many cases to come.


A reader writes from Aztec about the latest in politics from that Four Corners outpost:

Joe, I just got home from the swearing-in for a new city commission of the City of Aztec. This community used to be a bastion of red with a high Republican registration, also electing many Republican legislators and a swing community for San Juan County. Last week Aztec elected three new Democrats to its city commission and in turn it elected a Democratic mayor among itself. Rosalyn Fry was elected Mayor Pro Tem and Victor Snover was elected mayor with the help of new commissioner Mark Lewis. 

So it isn’t business as usual for this red county, now that it has a blue hole in it. One reason could be is that the county clerk keeps noting that about 10,000 have left the county because of the down turn of oil and gas, forcing many to leave the state entirely for jobs in Texas and Wyoming. This might make 2018 midterms interesting.

Good analysis. San Juan County has actually lost population in the last decade because of the long term bear market in natural gas prices. That appears to have changed the voter mix considerably and presents a further challenge to statewide Republican candidates who are already facing a difficult environment in November.

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Tuesday, March 20, 2018

Ben Ray Rolls In the Dough As Dems Play For US House Takeover, Haaland Candidacy Gets National Ink And Keller's New Airport Director Comes Under Scrutiny  

Lujan and Pelosi
Northern Congressman Ben Ray Lujan is riding high in his role as head of the Democratic Congressional Campaign Committee and he's also rolling in the dough as he leads the effort to take back the US house from the Rs this year:

The Democratic Congressional Campaign Committee raised nearly $10.6 million in February.That’s the most the committee has ever raised during the second month of the year. . . So far this cycle, the group has raised more than $50 million online, which includes 300,000 first-time online donors, and a total of $125 million this cycle. It ended February with $49 million in the bank.

While that cash haul is being celebrated Lujan and his mentor House Minority Leader Nancy Pelosi realize the stakes have gotten much higher and if the Dems fail to take back the House there will be calls for both of their heads.

As for NM, Lujan has only token opposition in his heavy Dem district this year. He is seeking his sixth, two year term in the House. Yes, it's hard to believe it has been that long.


The ABQ congressional seat is widely expected to stay in the Dem column this year but the battle for it is spirited and generating interest. The New York Times this week focused on the many candidacies by Native Americans this cycle, including that of ABQ congressional hopeful Deb Haaland who has a shot at being the first Native American woman elected to the US House:

Montana has more than a dozen Native Americans running for the state House this year. Utah tribes are pushing the governor to make a seat for them in his cabinet. Five native people serve in the Minnesota Legislature, and four of them are women. . . (Haaland) frequently cites her heritage, and she makes the argument that many of the issues affecting native communities — the ubiquity of low-wage jobs, violence against women — afflict other groups as well.

Haaland has five opponents for the June Democratic nomination. The campaigns have not gone negative yet but there are rumblings that while Haaland stresses she would be the first Native American woman elected to the House, she is a lightweight on the issues. The campaign will tell the tale. . .


Most of Mayor Keller's appointments to head major city departments have drawn little criticism but his appointment of 29 year old Nyika Allen as Director of Aviation has raised some eyebrows inside and outside of City Hall.

Before being tapped as aviation director Allen was executive director of the NM Technology Council, a member driven association that promotes technology but she has no experience in aviation or airport security. Reader Deborah McFarlane says she fired off this letter to the Mayor questioning the appointment:

While I understand the symbolic politics of appointing a female millennial to manage these operations, I also believe that this type of appointment requires aviation, safety, and transportation experience, which Nyika Allen lacks. Moreover, her lack of experience has been recognized by the retention of Jim Hinde, Mayor Berry’s appointment to head the Sunport. Now, instead of paying for one Director of Aviation, taxpayers have to compensate two directors of aviation.

I noted your plans to turn the Aviation Department into “an intermodal economic development engine.” The fact remains that the airport needs to focus on safety, and the person at the top should understand exactly what that entails. Unfortunately, my perception of this staffing decision is that it reflects New Mexico politics as usual, not the professional competence and fiscal responsibility that I had expected from your administration.

And the defense of Allen from when the mayor appointed her:

Nyika brings her experience and a new perspective to shape the Aviation Department into an intermodal economic development engine for the City, She joins us as our first executive from a new generation of leaders for Albuquerque. We will work together to create opportunities for residents, travelers, and businesses based near and far.

But McFarlane isn't pacified. As she pointed out Hinde was retained by Keller to run the "day to day operations" of the Sunport, a job McFarlane contends should be handled by Director Allen and she adds:

Hinde moved from Director of Aviation to Deputy Director of Aviation without an open search. According to the airport master plan, there are three associate director positions, but no official deputy director position.

Through several mayors and a major decline in passenger traffic the Sunport has been well maintained and pretty much a showcase for what is attractive about ABQ and NM. While Allen may bring "a new perspective" to the director's position she will have to convince skeptics that Hinde isn't actually running the facility and that her appointment isn't as McFarlane argues "politics as usual."


Dem activist Sharla Parsons says "she probably won't be" a candidate for NM Dem Party. We said in a first blog draft Monday that she was a candidate. Sandoval County Dem chair Marg Elliston is a candidate for state chair. And she does not spell her first name with an "e" as we did.

Longtime Dem attorney and politico Bob McNeil says Elliston "has solid support" in the party and he expects here to be elected when the Dem Central Committee picks a new chair to replace Richard Ellenberg next month.

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Monday, March 19, 2018

Apodaca Scrambles To Keep Candidacy Going But Big Money Looms Over Him, Also: Year Of The Woman Candidates Challenges APO and Cervantes, Plus: Susana Hits Trump And That's No Way To Get Work 

Jeff Apodaca continues to work feverishly to keep alive his underdog gubernatorial candidacy. According to FCC reports, he spent $40,000 on TV ads this past month, saying that New Mexico needs 'big ideas" to pull itself up. He scored a moral victory when the Dem pre-primary convention awarded him 21 percent of its delegates, one point more than required to win an official spot on the June 5 ballot. And coming out of that convention last Saturday Apodaca secured the endorsement of Guv rival Peter DeBenedettis who then folded his candidacy. Also, Dem Lt. Governor candidate Jeff Carr, who failed to reach the 20 percent threshold, quit that race and endorsed Apodaca for the Dem Guv nod.

These little bumps give Apodaca supporters hope that he can catch fire in the final weeks. But looming over the campaign is that $1.6 million in cash Rep. Michelle Lujan Grisham reported last October. New money reports are due next month and that amount is expected to have grown. Apodaca loaned himself a hefty amount and reported $700,000 in cash last October. State Senator Joe Cervantes also loaned himself major dollars and reported $750,000 in cash.

Political insiders point out that besides being outspent another problem that Apodaca and Cervantes have is the party's embrace of women candidates and the energy being generated by them this cycle, prompted by the #metoo movement and the Trump presidency.

The trend is most recently seen with the two candidates to replace Dem Party Chair Richard Ellenberg who resigned after criticism that he did not treat sexual misconduct charges against some Dems seriously enough. Running for the slot are Marg Elliston, chair of the Sandoval Dem County Party and wife of legendary former US Senator Fred Harris. (Dem activist Sharla Parsons had been mentioned as a possible candidate but now says she does not think she will run.)

No men have entered the race.The new chair will be picked at a Dem Central Committee meeting next month.

Also, the two leading ABQ congressional candidates at the Dem pre-primary were both women--Deb Haaland and Antoinette Sedillo Lopez. And for the first time ever, a woman--State Rep. Stephanie Garcia Richard--led the pre-primary in the race for state land commissioner. Not to mention that the two Dem candidates for the southern congressional seat are both women--Xochitl Torres Small and Mad Hildebrandt.

Women are a majority in the state Democratic Party and while that may not have always shown itself in the past, it certainly is this time around. Apodaca and Cervantes will have to figure something out.


With a possible Dem wave building the Alligators are taking a second look at that southern congressional seat being vacated by Republican Rep. Steve Pearce who is running for Governor. They point out that the last time Pearce left the seat, in 2008, he was replaced by Democrat Hearry Teague in the Obama wave election. Pearce came back in 2010 and took Teague out.

The Cook Political Report latest ranking of the sprawling district has it "lean Republican" which cracks the door open for the Dems, given that it does not win the safest ranking of "Solid R." (The ABQ and northern congressional districts are both ranked "Solid D."


There has been speculation that despite their differences Trump could tap Gov. Martinez for some kind of job before she leaves office at the end of the year. But maybe she has already received word that that is not going to happen. Take a look:

Martinez received vigorous applause Thursday when she was critical of President Trump’s characterization of Mexican immigrants, saying that “everybody is sick and tired of the rhetoric” by the president. Martinez gave the keynote speech in Houston for the opening of the Annual Women’s Conference & Business Expo, an event organized by the Houston Hispanic Chamber of Commerce. Martinez told the audience that she had a back and forth with Trump “especially when he speaks about illegal immigrants…and making all those horrible comments about the type of people that come (into) the country.”

Okay. Susana, may be on the outs with the Prez, but we're still holding out hope for Lt. Governor John Sanchez and the rumor that he could get an ambassadorship from the White House. Keep hope alive, John.


Longtime and mostly behind-the-scenes ABQ TV news producer Johnny "On The Spot" Chandler, 38, is headed to the Mayor Keller administration. After 16 years in the stress bubble of TV he has left KOB-TV to become the new public information officer for the ABQ Municipal Development Department, report City Hall Alligators. His wife, Toni Balzano, got the jump on him when it comes to PR. She runs her own ABQ firm.

We labeled former NM Dem Party Chairman Richard Ellenberg a Bernie Sanders backer but several readers point out he drew support from both Sanders and Clinton supporters when he sought the chairmanship.

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Thursday, March 15, 2018

Dems Raise Expectations For State House As Dust Settles From Filing Day And The Contest For A BernCo Commission Seat Gets Strange Indeed 

Now that the dust has settled from Tuesday's filing day for the 70 state House seats the spinners have taken to the playing field. Over at State Dem Party headquarters they are setting the bar high, really high:

Five newly-open Republican seats in the New Mexico legislature are now up for grabs and Democrats have fielded a strong slate of candidates to run in each race. Open Republican seats include HD-15, HD-22, HD-30, HD-51, and HD-67. If these seats are gained and current Democratic seats successfully defended, Democrats will have a 43-27 majority in the New Mexico House of Representatives.

To get to 43 the Dems would have to take the Gentry and Maestas Barnes ABQ seats which they are vacating.

House Speaker Egolf currently has only a small majority over the R's of 38 to 32. A 43 seat Democratic House would strengthen his hands in all sorts of ways, including keeping a better check on powerful State Rep. Debbie Rodella who can team with a couple of R's when need be to upset Egolf's apple cart.

By the way, Rodella has drawn a Dem primary opponent up in Rio Arriba County. Of course, Speaker Egolf's team would have nothing to do with that. Right? No way. No how. Of course not. . .


The R's said the recent Dem pre-primary convention was riddled with "chaos" including the arrest of a protester. A Dem responds:

It’s not surprising that the GOP thought that our convention was a little bit chaotic. We Democrats actually like a little bit of chaos. That’s bound to happen when you let your delegates choose from among multiple candidates instead of the party telling the delegates up front who the winners are going to be.

A reader writes:

What do you mean, Joe, that if State Senator Howie Morales of Silver City is the Dem nominee for lieutenant governor and Rep. Michelle Lujan Grisham is the Guv nominee the ticket would be "ethnically balanced?"

We can phrase that better. The all Hispanic Republican ticket of Governor Martinez and John Sanchez broke new ground and in a increasingly majority minority state that kind of ticket could be the new norm. Such would be the case if Lujan Grisham and Morales were the '18 Guv ticket. We should say "ethnically representative" rather than balanced.

Here's a little noticed development that could mean some trouble for the GOP with the statewide races:

Democratic Secretary of State Maggie Toulouse Oliver says she still wants to restore straight-ticket voting in which a slate of major-party candidates can be chosen all at one time. . . She hopes to allow straight-ticket voting in fall elections. . . The option was removed beginning in 2012 by then-GOP Secretary of State Dianna Duran. The National Conference of State Legislatures says the number of states with straight-ticket voting dwindled to nine last year.


John Jones 
What happened to that face-off that we were expecting for the BernCo Commission seat in the far SE Heights and East Mountains? Well, former GOP commissioner and radio station manager Michael Brasher, who had said he was going to seek the seat that was vacated by Wayne Johnson when he was appointed state auditor by Gov. Martinez, never filed for the slot Tuesday. That mystified, and according to insiders, miffed John Jones, a water expert who had already announced his commission candidacy. Jones ended up abandoning his commission race and running unopposed for the GOP nomination for the House seat being vacated by Nate Gentry. So how did that come down?

Jones, the husband of Gov. Martinez political rival and ABQ GOP congressional candidate Janice Arnold-Jones, wanted the commission seat most but an associate of his says when he asked Brasher about rumors that he would not run, Brasher went silent. So when the opportunity came for Jones to run for the Gentry seat Jones took it thinking that he would be avoiding a tussle with Brasher, when in fact he could have filed for the commission seat and had no opposition because Brasher was actually out.

Rep. Jim Smith ended up as the major GOP candidate for the commission seat. However, Smith did not file until very late Tuesday apparently awaiting word from the Governor's office that if he ran she would appoint him to fill the Johnson vacancy so he could run as an incumbent. He got late word and filed his candidacy just before the deadline.

As to how and why Rep. Smith suddenly emerged, that's another story we'll have to piece together.

For his part, Brasher isn't saying why he did not run. There was speculation that FCC equal time rules could be a problem for Brasher who appears regularly on KANW-FM as an announcer. The station may have had to provide equal time to any Brasher campaign opponent that requested it or else he would have to leave the air.

So now we expect Martinez to appoint Rep. Smith to the $30,000 a year position just as everyone expected her to appoint Brasher, who she previously named to the state Board of Finance.

There is another Republican seeking the commission seat, political unknown Natasha Hadrych Rosier. Charlene E. Pyskoty is the sole Dem contender and there is also a Libertarian candidate. This seat is all R all the time and Smith will be in the driver's seat.

Sometimes covering La Politica like this we think we're going down a never ending rabbit hole.

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Wednesday, March 14, 2018

An Eventful Day In La Politica: House R Leader Gentry Leaves The Stage And So Does The Chairman Of The Dem Party; Complete Coverage  

Leader Gentry
Two high profile departures shook La Poltica Tuesday with one signifying a retreat in the fortunes of state Republicans and the other reinforcing a cultural trend that is impacting politics.

The decision of House Minority Leader Nate Gentry to not seek re-election to his ABQ seat which was only revealed when he did not file his official paperwork with the Secretary of State as required Tuesday. (All filings here.)

GOP consultant Bob Cornelius summed up the reaction in the political community:

That's huge!

Huge because Gentry cashing out is the ultimate symbol of the retreat from power of state R's as a Democratic trend led by the President's unpopularity is setting in for the November election. It also signals yet again compelling demographic changes that are casting doubt on the long-term prospects of the GOP in a state where they now seem like the proverbial fish out of water.

Gentry's far NE heights district is being gradually engulfed by a  sea of blue. He only won re-election by four points in 2016 and the same Dem opponent filed Tuesday to run again. Gentry also faced the prospect of leading a diminished minority next year and likely facing a Dem Governor. And we won't get into the negative campaigning that was about to be unloaded on him.

Gentry isn't the only R seeing the handwriting on the wall. ABQ GOP State Rep. Sarah Maestas Barnes is not seeking re-election to her swing seat district and Rep. Dennis Roch of Tucumcari, a natural replacement for Gentry as minority leader, also took a pass on a re-election bid. (Look for Valencia County Rep. Kelly Fajardo to make a move to replace Gentry as minority leader).

The Gentry departure will coincide with the end of Gov. Martinez's eight years at the helm. They both arrived in 2011 and both will leave at the end of the year. Gentry formed a deep alliance with her political consultant Jay McCleskey and they employed hardball tactics and took advantage of a redistricting designed with a GOP Governor in charge. That put the House in Republican hands for two years following the '14 election and  Gentry sported the title of House Majority Leader before he turned 40. But later he  broke away from McCleskey and now both are in the political wilderness.

The Gentry departure is one of the last wheels to fall off the once mighty Martinez political machine. Not everyone thinks it had to be that way. Former Republican turned Democrat and former state legislator Greg Payne said the Machine got the demographics right by securing many Hispanic Republican for politics but:

They wasted seven years arguing over driver's licenses for undocumented immigrants. Their candidates had the right profiles but the wrong policies. No way was that Machine built for the long-term. Now we are entering an era where New Mexico will be much like California, dominated almost completely by Democrats and the party breaking into more sharply defined progressive and conservative wings.

Cornelius shares that view, pointing to the state's economy as a chief reason:

We don't have a robust economy that would be more Republican friendly. It has become more and more a welfare state as the economy has declined. Unless (Governor candidate) Steve Pearce can pull a rabbit out of his hat, I agree with Payne that New Mexico is going more Blue and staying that way for a long time.

The R departures from the House seem to nearly guarantee that the Dems will grow their 38-32 majority by at least one and maybe quite a bit more. And that takes us back to the secular political trend that is ready to take hold here.

With a legislature controlled by the Dems as well as the governorship, the legislative redistricting of 2021 might be called The Day of the Donkey. The possibilities include the southern congressional district becoming Democratic and the state House revamped to create even more Dem dominance.

Could anything stop the train that Gentry and others are jumping out of the way of? With Trump at the helm and the GOP locked down, the party is looking more defiant and ready to make a last stand and not change its ways. Reps. Gentry, Maestas Barnes and Roch know how that movie ends.


NM Dem Party Chair Richard Ellenberg is the latest to fall to the #metoo movement after putting his foot in his mouth. Ellenberg cast doubt on sexual misconduct allegations made against prominent Democrat and union leader Jon Hendry who Ellenberg happens to own property with. That came after a sexual misconduct flap with a Dona Ana Dem county commissioner in which Ellenberg was accused of trying to get the commissioner's accuser to back off.

Well, he's gone. The state's Dem congressional reps and SOS Toulouse Oliver issued a joint statement as they placed Ellenberg in his political coffin:

As Democrats, we stand with the silence-breakers who have come forward to share their stories of sexual harassment and abuse. Questioning the credibility of sexual misconduct allegations is contrary to our values, and it is time for new leadership that better reflects them. 

Of note is that the woman involved in the Dona Ana County case is Neomi Martinez-Parra, the vice-chair of the Dem Party. She will now become chairman and perhaps seek the permanent chairmanship when the State Central Committee fills the post. Others may compete.

So what does it matter? The parties are shells of their former selves with the campaigns running the show with their big money. Dem analyst and operative Israel Chavez explains:

The party plays a key function in organizational structure that supports the candidates when they're not running. 

Union chief Hendry was a key player in corralling cash for the state Dems but Chavez said the union money will still be there, no matter who heads the party. He adds:

The individuals come and go but having leaders that reflect Democratic values is essential.

Consultant Cornelius said he and many of his fellow R's thought the Ellenberg axing was an overreaction, saying he only defended Hendry, an old friend, and was not accused of misconduct himself.

Politics watcher Steve Cabiedes, without offering an opinion on Ellenberg getting the boot, opined:

We are living through a cultural shift. In the rush to change in some cases the punishment may fit the crime or may not. The hope is that in the long-term this period will end with fewer instances of sexual harassment.


Republican John Jones, the husband of ABQ GOP congressional hopeful Janice Arnold-Jones, filed to run for the Nate Gentry House seat. He had been running for the BernCo Commission seat vacated by Wayne Johnson who was appointed state auditor. Natalie Figueroa is the Dem hopeful for the Gentry seat.

Can City Councilor Brad Winter keep the Maestas Barnes House seat in GOP hands? He'll try but he will have to overcome Dem attorney and political newcomer Dayan Hochman. She specializes in aviation law. Winter's council district overlaps some with the portion of the House district in the NE Heights. If Winter wins does he have to leave the council to serve in the Legislature and would Mayor Keller get to name his replacement? The way we read the law he would.

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Tuesday, March 13, 2018

"Dr. No" Seems Ready To Tangle With New Governor Over Budget; Calls For Even Higher Reserves Amid Oil Boom, Plus: Damon Martinez Soldiers On And Heinrich "Evolves" On Assault Weapons 

Sen. Smith 
Is the next Governor already destined for a battle with State Sen. John Arthur Smith? The chairman of the powerful Senate Finance Committee has earned the moniker of "Dr. No" for his affinity for fiscal austerity. Now with a record oil boom replenishing state coffers Smith is firing a warning shot about spending those funds, and that could cramp the style of the new Governor, especially if that Guv is a Dem. Here's Smith's shot:

. . . The state should use the new-found oil boom to raise reserves to 20 percent to prepare for future busts.“We’re still on a feast-or-famine feed cycle,” Smith said. “We need to take advantage of the current revenue stream to mitigate the hills and valleys.”

Twenty percent? That's double what even conservative economists recommend keeping in reserve, but Smith is nothing if not a protector of his turf. By raising the reserve ante he is positioning himself at the negotiating table with the next chief executive. It's a long way off, but that already seems to be the big story of Legislative Session 2019.

Meanwhile, the outgoing Governor is getting all the barbs that come with being a lame duck with low poll numbers. The Las Cruces Sun-News, Susana's hometown paper, is even piling on. Walt Rubel writes:

The governor proved her first year that she could veto bills with the best of them, but she never proved she could legislate. As a result, she will leave office with nothing permanent to show she had ever been there.


After getting crushed at Saturday's liberal dominated Dem pre-primary convention, garnering only 10% of the vote, former US Attorney Damon Martinez is working furiously to keep his candidacy for the ABQ congressional nomination alive. He comes with an endorsement from ABQ City Council President Ken Sanchez to stem the tide:

I was impressed by his work bringing people together from all sorts of professional and personal backgrounds to address the city and state’s opioid crisis through the HOPE Initiative.

We reported how Martinez still has some $300,000 in cash for the race which was dominated at the convention by first place winner Deb Haaland and second place finisher Antoinette Sedillo Lopez. There are also rumblings that Martinez will be getting third party TV support for the June 5 primary.

The Sanchez endorsement makes sense in that it is  moderate and conservative Hispanics, like Sanchez, who most support the like-minded Martinez. Their hope is that the two progressives will split that vote and Martinez can run up the middle and take the prize. It's an interesting race to the June 5 primary.


Senator Martin Heinrich has been flying under the radar recently when it comes to the controversial topic of banning military assault weapons. The Democratic lawmaker still does not support the long-standing and sweeping Feinstein bill calling for a ban of assault weapons but his position on a ban has quietly changed. He now says:

I will be working with my colleagues on both sides of the aisle to craft an assault weapons ban. Those of us who know firearms well have a duty to lead these efforts and to get the details right.

That is from a statement on his website. We have not seen any other public pronouncement of his change--other than a blurb deep down in a news story--which is why we dubbed it flying under the radar.

The low-key shift put Heinrich, 46, in a more politically tenable position and also prevented him from getting dragged into the raging gun debate in the immediate aftermath of the student murders in Parkland, Fl.

The issue arose on the Monday blog when we contrasted Heinrich's position with that of Michelle Lujan Grisham's, who has been advocating an assault weapons ban since she became a congresswoman-elect in 2012. We wondered if Heinrich's position would change. Well, it turns out it had but the switch still leaves open the important question of how comprehensive a ban he will support. What will be those "details?"

The Feinstein bill was again introduced last year and it had the support of nearly two dozen Democratic senators but not Heinrich, who is an avid outdoorsman and who in 2016 announced he had given up his NRA membership in 2012.

A Heinrich campaign insider said the senator's position "has evolved" in the wake of the Parkland shootings and he deserves credit for his flexibility. However, in his media statements following the Parkland slayings Heinrich did not mention assault weapons:

He says he wants to see a federal ban on bump stocks, high-capacity magazines, and clarify the rules on universal background checks.

Heinrich soft pedaling the assault weapons ban he is now working on could be fodder if he had a Democratic primary opponent who supports the Feinstein bill. But he has no primary challenge and his two conservative foes in the general election are not supporting a ban. Given that backdrop, Heinrich, who is seeking a second term this year, gets to give both sides of the equation a little something.

The switch comes after years of advocacy for Second Amendment rights by Heinrich. Many observers think his pro-gun stance made the difference when he beat Republican Darren White for the ABQ congressional seat in 2008 and when he took down Jon Barela in his 2010 re-elect. But times change and that horse no longer runs.

Then there's the fund-raising. With his campaign budget in the multi-millions, Heinrich will travel to deep Blue states like California for the necessary cash. There he no doubt will be asked how he stands on the assault weapons ban. Now he has an answer that may not be exactly what they want to hear but it is much better than nothing.

And that, gentle reader, is how this game of ours is played in the quest for a seat in the United States Senate.

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Monday, March 12, 2018

Martinez Sapped The Dem Energy But Trump Brought It Back; Delegates Frolic At Pre-Primary Convention As They Winnow The Field In Key State Races; Complete Coverage And Analysis Is Up Next  

Rep. Lujan Grisham
Governor Martinez took it away but President Trump helped bring it back. After eight nearly years of being browbeaten by the R's the New Mexico Democratic Party was reenergized this weekend at its pre-primary convention. The 1,500 delegates to the ABQ convention acted like freed hostages hooting and hollering at the speeches and nearly gloating over their improved prospects this cycle.

Even while basking in her landslide convention win that matched expectations, Democratic gubernatorial hopeful Michelle Lujan Grisham declared that complacency may be the D's newest obstacle, warning that beating Republican Steve Pearce will not be a lay-up.

(Complete results for all offices here.)

But the congresswoman was one of the few fretting. Delegates were relishing the upcoming November election in which pundits of all stripes are predicting the Governor's office will return to the Dems and that their chances to take all of the statewide offices up for election hasn't looked this good in years.

The state GOP did its best to restrain the frolicking, calling parts of the convention "chaos" but that only underscored their defensiveness, a fresh posture for the minority party that now looks at November 6th like a date with death row. Now on to the action.


Out of deference to possible future events we won't call Rep. Lujan Grisham the "probable nominee" for Governor but right now she is. When you score 67% of the vote, deny two of your three opponents the needed 20 percent to get an official ballot spot and when your lone foe to make that crucial mark--Jeff Apodoca--does so with only a point to spare, a sense of inevitably begins to surround a candidacy.

Apodaca is known for his feistiness and is expected to battle on but veteran analyst Greg Payne says his challenge is daunting:

Dem Guv Candidates
He will have to raise a lot of money which won't be easy after what happened at the convention. And he is faced with deciding whether he wages a fierce negative campaign against Lujan Grisham who just scored an outsized win in his party. It may be his only viable option but I think we will be wary of going there. 

State Senator Joe Cervantes vows to fight on, despite garnering only 10 percent of the delegate votes. He also faces a tough decision--does he put up at least $1.5 million of his  personal wealth to take on the front-runner? Now that's a craps game we'd like to watch.

Longshot progressive Peter DeBenedettis doesn't have any decision to make. He withdrew at the convention and endorsed Apodaca. And that means for the first time this election year we get to use that old standby: "Politics makes for strange bedfellows."

What's next? Apodaca will likely take some measured digs at Lujan Grisham, hoping to force here into a fumble on which he could pounce and use to redefine the race which was so clearly defined Saturday.


Howie Morales came in first at the 2014 Dem pre-primary when he ran for Governor, only to lose the June primary nomination to Gary King. History is not likely to repeat.

The Silver City state senator scored an impressive 50 percent of the vote in a four way contest for lieutenant governor Saturday. He does well on TV, balances the ticket ethnically (Hispanic male) and geographically if Lujan Grisham is the nominee. He's on his way.

Former ABQ State Rep. Rick Miera is one of the most qualified lieutenant governor candidates the state has seen but he managed only 28% at the convention, another sparkless performance which mimics what's been happening on the campaign trail.


The delegates did their job and winnowed this six way race for the Dem nomination for the ABQ congressional seat to two, well, maybe two and a half. Former NM Dem Chair Deb Haaland won with 35% followed by law professor Antoinette Sedillo Lopez with 25%. The other three, including ABQ City Councilor Pat Davis whose supporters touted his organizational ability, were crushed. Davis won only14%. Former US Attorney Damon Martinez did even worse, coming in at 11% and Damian Lara at 12.

So if Haaland and Sedillo Lopez are the two left standing who is the "half candidate?" That would be Martinez who raised over $300,000 before the convention and hasn't spent much. Can he defy history and win? Probably not. The party has signaled that it is looking for a progressive candidate to replace Lujan Grisham and Martinez does not fit the bill. The ABQ Dem party of today has moved away from the pragmatic centrism that Martinez represents and once was essential to winning the seat. No more.

What to look for: Will national Native American money come in heavier for Haaland in the wake of her win? And what about her loose campaign spending ways that have been criticized? Her staff says she has reorganized and the money is not moving out the door like it was.

Sedillo Lopez supporters say Haaland underperformed at the convention given that she once led the party, but the same might be said of Sedillo Lopez. She has led the fund-raising but failed to keep the convention race close.


No surprise here. National and local Dems have anointed Xochitl Torres Small of Las Cruces as a rising star and she scored a 65% to 35% pre-primary win over Soccoro's Mad Hildebrandt. Something similar can be expected in the June primary. It may not be fair to Hildebrand that the Dems cleared the field for Torres Small, but when does that matter?


Heinrich & VeneKlasen
Yes, there was a snafu on this one in Alligator land, but as in every other contested race, the Gators nailed the land commissioner winner which in this case was State Rep. Stephanie Garcia Richard who claimed 44%. But the pre-primary preview blog had Gallup State Senator George Munoz coming in second and environmentalist Garrett VeneKlasen third. But it was VeneKlasen getting 39 percent for second and Munoz in third with 17 percent.

What happened? Well, we got sloppy. A survey of the delegates floated before the pre-primary had Munoz running third but several of the Gators thought it was second.

For our part, we forgot that Sen. Martin Heinrich has endorsed VeneKlasen, even nominating him at the convention, giving him added momentum. Not that Heinrich is especially forgettable. We just weren't paying close enough attention,

For those hoping that our error means punishment by 10 lashes with a wet noodle, you can keep your pasta in the pantry. The Gators called the winner and that's the main event.

As for the June 5 primary, Munoz will have to hustle to prevent this one from quickly becoming Garcia Richard vs. VeneKlasen. His17% showing is ominous. We recall only one candidate going on to win a statewide primary when failing to get the 20 percent needed for an official ballot position. That was the aforementioned Gary King in 2014.

Longtime analyst Steve Cabiedes says political rookie VeneKlasen may need even more bolstering from Heinrich and company and Garcia Richard will need to hope that Munoz doesn't get off the canvas after his knockdown. If he stays down it would give her an easier path in the heavy Hispanic north.


Driving I-25 north Saturday in the hours after the convention we spotted a billboard for Dem State Auditor candidate and Las Cruces area State Rep. Bill McCamley. The billboard was paid for by an independent group whose name we did not make out. That's a potentially important development in the chase for the Auditor's office. As predicted here, the more liberal McCamley handily dispatched former NM Dem Party Chair Brian Colón 60.46% to 39.4% but Colón is known for his fund-raising prowess. If independent groups can narrow that gap for McCamley it could change the character of the race.

Analyst Cabiedes said:

As the Hispanic candidate Colon benefits from compelling demographics that could propel him ahead. However, there may be some Colón fatigue after he served as party chair, ran and lost for mayor last year and in 2010 ran for lieutenant governor. McCamley's challenge will be to get people to pay attention to this dow ballot race and disrupt Colón's demographic edge.

The Democrats had no competitive contests for US Senate, the northern congressional seat, secretary of state, attorney general or state treasurer. All are held by incumbents and considered safe in the general election.


Lt. Gov. hopeful Jeff Carr tangled with the Alligators when they predicted he would not make the 20 percent mark at the convention. The Taos educator upped the stakes and declared that he would not only reach 20% but get to 30% and that when he did he expected us to buy him dinner. We countered that if we were right we were expecting a steak dinner from him at ABQ's ritzy Ruth's Chris steakhouse.

Carr scored only 13 percent. So. . .

Jeff, don't spend all that leftover campaign money at Doc Martin's up there in Taos. We've got a medium rare rib eye in our mind's eye and with your name on the check.


For policy nerds only: The State Dem Party Platform passed with 90% support. You can read it here. . .

We've blogged that Gary King is the only candidate to win a primary after failing to get 20 percent of delegate support at the pre-primary. Both the Journal and New Mexican said there have been "candidates" who have accomplished the feat. We asked veteran Journal capitol reporter Dan Boyd who were the others. Neither he or I could come up with another example. So until we're shown otherwise, Gary is the sole politico to accomplish the feat. . .

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Thursday, March 08, 2018

Does NM Owe Trump A "Thank You?" Plus: Carr Convention Power? Pushing Pat, A Shocker In Española And Keller Vs. Lewis (Redux) 

Welcome back. Let's check out the latest La Politica. . .

We didn't see any thank you notes to Trump for this from Senators Udall or Heinrich, but:

The U.S. Energy Department released more details of how it hopes to fund nuclear weapons projects in New Mexico, outlining a combined request of $4.2 billion for nuclear security spending at Los Alamos National Laboratory and Sandia National Laboratories. The request for fiscal year 2019, which relies on congressional appropriations, represents an increase of about $249 million for Los Alamos and $377 million for Sandia over the labs’ budgets for fiscal year 2017. 


Dem Lt. Governor candidate Jeff Carr of Taos pushes back against Alligator analysis that has him fighting to get 20 percent of the delegate vote at Saturday's Democratic pre-primary convention. He says he will get 30 percent and says if he does we have to buy him dinner. And if he doesn't, he buys.

Where should we take Jeff to dinner? How about some chicharrones at Barelas Coffee House? As for us. don't fret, Jeff. We're easy. If we win, just book a table at Ruth's Chris. Make sure your credit limit isn't capped.


Supporters of ABQ congressional candidate Pat Davis note that we did not mention him in the blog that gamed the convention action. They say Davis has a strong grassroots organization and look for him to surprise at the meeting.

Maybe Davis' foes are getting nervous. One of them takes this dig: "Someone should point out that Pat's new campaign office is on Central Avenue, right in the heart of the ART project that he voted for as a city councilor but that isn't running."


And more pushback against claims that there was hanky-panky at some of the county conventions that sent delegates to the pre-primary. BernCo Dem Chair Bill Peifer writes:

Claims of “rigging” the process by me or the party in favor of any of the campaigns fall somewhere between pure political posturing and absurdly ridiculous. I have been meticulously careful about any semblance of partiality in this primary race, to the point that I don’t even attend events of, or sign petitions for, even the unopposed candidates. When we selected site coordinators for each of the eight locations where ward meetings were held we chose individuals who did not have direct ties to any of the campaigns and eliminated a few of our best volunteers who had gone public with who they were supporting. 


Española, in the heart of the Democratic north, has elected a Republican mayor? Really? Yep:

Española voters elected Javier E. Sanchez to replace Mayor Alice A. Lucero, who opted not to seek a third term. Sanchez won with an overwhelming majority over Robert J. Seeds and Adrianna Ortiz.

Locals say Sanchez is the first GOP mayor in the city in decades.

(That sound you just heard is Emilio Naranjo rolling over in his grave.)


So who wins the popularity contest? Santa Fe Mayor-elect Alan Webber or ABQ Mayor Tim Keller? Both are progressives now at the helm of the state's two most prominent cities. (Sorry Cruces and Rio Rancho). Webber managed to get 66% of the vote Tuesday. in a five way race to win the Santa Fe contest and Keller was elected in a two way runoff in November with 62%. But Webber was elected under the "ranked" system where he was picked by many voters as their second choice which made his big percentage possible. Still, quite an accomplishment as was Keller's. However,

In the first round of four rounds of voting--before he was awarded second choice votes--Webber garnered 39% of the vote. In the October ABQ election featuring 7 candidates Keller had an identical amount--39 percent. But because he faced more candidates he ekes out a win in the popularity contest.

The bad news for this political duo, who are good friends, is that often a mayor's popularity peaks on the day he is elected.


The man Keller defeated in November--former City Councilor Dan Lewis--lambasted the new mayor for supporting a tax increase this week that was approved by the city council and for doing so without the public vote he promised. Reader Ken Tabish has the inevitable pushback:

What do you expect from a sore losing conservative Republican who lost the mayoral election in a landslide? Same old Republican policies which haven’t worked for the past eight years under ex-mayor Berry--cut services and middle class city jobs to balance a budget--and Berry still left the city with a deficit and a disastrous ART. I really dont see that as “competent leadership.” Let's remember that the deficit has come from a Republican administration and not a "progressive liberal" one. I guess Lewis thinks the crime wave will just go away all by itself. 

It's a “wish list deficit” to want to invest in the city by hiring more police officers to alleviate some of the crime we are experiencing? Balancing the budget and investing in our police force costs money. We want to attack the crime wave and balance the budget but we dont want to pay for it? As they say everything costs and we are paying the price. I agree that the gross receipts tax is not the best way to solve the deficit and invest in our depleted police force. It needed to be done and Keller and the city council were willing to take the political hit to pursue and pass the increase.

Tax increase or no tax increase, for ABQ, as the old country song says, "It's time to pay the fiddler."

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Wednesday, March 07, 2018

Dem Pre-Primary Convention Gamed; Who's Up And Who's Down Going Into Saturday Meet? Candidates Vie For Crucial 20% Of Delegate Vote, Plus: City Election Results; Webber Wins; GOP Incumbents Too 

There will be a lot of doing and some dying at this Saturday's Democratic Party Pre-Primary nominating convention. The nearly 1,500 delegates from across the state will winnow the field for the June 5 primary election when they vote to place candidates on the ballot. If a contender fails to get 20 percent of the vote, they can still get on the ballot by submitting additional petitions signatures but in almost all cases failure to cross that 20 percent threshold dooms a candidacy. Money and morale dry up.

So how does does it look only days away from when a sea of blue will form at the ABQ Convention Center? Our Alligators, Insiders, Wall-Leaners and Hangers-on have all checked in and here is how they see the pre-primary shaping up:

GOVERNOR--Rep. Michelle Lujan Grisham has long been the front-runner for the Democratic gubernatorial nomination. The consensus is that she will score from 60 to 69 percent of the delegate vote. That would make it impossible for the three other contenders to each get 20 percent. Jeff Apodaca is seen as having the best chance.

LIEUTENANT GOVERNOR--State Senator Howie Morales of Silver City appears to be on the brink of a big pre-primary win, say our insiders. In 2014 he won the pre-primary in the governor's race but lost the primary to Gary King. King is the only candidate to ever win the June primary without getting at least 20 percent pre-primary support. Chasing Morales this time will be former ABQ State Rep. Rick Miera who is expected to finish far behind Morales but still get 20 percent. Light Guv contender Jeff Carr says he has the votes lined up to make the 20 percent mark.

ABQ CONGRESS--A field of six hopefuls is battling for the crucial 20 percent in this contest but it appears no more than three will make it and there's a decent chance it will be only two. Former NM Democratic Party Chair Deb Haaland is expected to finish at the head of the pack, with attorney Antoinette Sedillo Lopez seen as the second place winner. Former US Attorney Damon Martinez has raised over $300,000 for the primary but the convention delegates lean liberal and he is more moderate. He would no doubt continue his candidacy even if he fails to get the 20% but if Haaland wins big the race could be redefined.

LAND COMMISSIONER--First place likely goes to northern NM State Rep. Stephanie Garcia Richard; second to Gallup State Senator George Munoz and third to environmental leader Garret VeneKlasen. Garcia Richard is more liberal than Munoz and thus picking up more delegate support but the electorate moves more to the center for the June 5 primary. With his base in Gallup and northern Hispanic support Munoz will be in the thick if it. VeneKlasen needs to make something happen.

STATE AUDITOR--Again, the liberal make-up of the convention is going to be a factor here with Las Cruces area State Rep. Bill McCamley favored to take first place, but ABQ attorney Brian Colón, a former chairman of the party, shouldn't be far back. Like Munoz, he is counting on heavy Hispanic support to make the difference June 5, and it very well could.

SOUTHERN CONGRESS--Contender Mad Hildebrandt of Socorro told you all you need to know this week when she attacked her party, saying:

Washington’s political elite has pushed every Democrat out of this race except my Democratic Primary opponent, whom the D.C. insiders have endorsed, and me. On behalf of all the loyal Democrats. . .the insiders have tried to silence, I’m not going anywhere.

Her opponent is Xochitl Torres Small of Las Cruces, a former congressional staffer who the national Dems see as a rising star. She will score the big pre-primary win so Hildebrand will have her work cut out for her in the June balloting. But come November Small, if she is the nominee, will have no easy time of it. The seat being vacated by Rep. Steve Pearce is still a GOP stronghold.

Political parties may not matter as much as they used to because of the big independent money out there, but they still have some muscle and Saturday it will be shown off.


Mayor-elect Webber
No major upsets in the Tuesday mayoral balloting in three of the state's largest cities. Incumbent Republican Gregg Hull managed 50.7% of the vote in Rio Rancho against former Dem Mayor Tom Swisstack's 44.6% with a third candidate getting the rest. If Hull fell below 50% there would have been a run-off with Swisstack who was hoping for a more energized Dem vote given the Trump factor, but that did not appear to happen even though the 13 percent turnout was larger than usual. Both Hull and Swisstack are well-respected figures in Rio Rancho but Hull was more of the moment.

In Santa Fe the chips fell as most observers thought they would. Alan Webber, who handily outspent his rivals, was elected with 66 percent of the vote in the new ranked voting system. Webber, 69, is a successful entrepreneur who sought the 2014 Dem gubernatorial nod. His challenge will be to fully represent not just the older, wealthy Anglo class which has become a growing factor in the City Different, but also the Hispanic majority population which was attracted to the candidacy of Councilor Ron Trujillo. Webber received endorsements from prominent Hispanics so he's on his way. He will also be a mayor with new powers which should help.

In Roswell former Mayor Del Jurney failed in his comeback bid. Incumbent GOP Mayor Dennis Kintigh was re-elected with 40% to Jurney's 32%. Other candidates trailed. Kintigh is also a former police chief who is wrestling with a nasty crime problem in the SE NM city, but Roswell residents apparently didn't see Jurney handling it any better.

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