Monday, June 01, 2020

Primary Election Eve 2020: Where Will The Excitement Be Tomorrow Night? Plus: Lilly Barrack: The New Lady Of La Politica 

Political junkies will get their excitement tomorrow night when election results pour in but they will probably be looking at the lower portion of the ballot to get a surge of adrenaline.

According to consultants, Alligators, wall-leaners, hangers-on and political wanna-bes, it appears the top-tier federal races have front-runners that could claim their prizes early in the night. That includes the Dem presidential primary which four years ago featured Hillary Clinton and Bernie Sanders vying for New Mexico's national convention delegates. This year Joe Biden is a foregone conclusion as is President Trump.

There even appears to be a favored frontrunner for the southern GOP congressional nomination so bitterly fought over by Claire Chase and Yvette Herrell with Chris Mathys in the sidecar.

Chase has run a spirited campaign but started far back. Those years-ago Facebook posts in which she called Trump an "asshole" had her furiously digging to get out of the hole. That meant she never attacked Herrell on ethics charges surrounding her businesses that the Dems effectively used two years ago. Nor did she have time to spare to paint Herrell as a sure loser against Dem Rep. Xochitl Torres Small who narrowly defeated her in 2018.

Also, a Dem PAC coming with $200,000 in TV to help Herrell--who they believe to be the easier candidate for XTS to defeat--has given her a final hours boost. (The trio debated on KOAT-TV Sunday.)

In the northern Dem congressional race nothing much has changed since we broke the news of that poll sponsored by Emily's List that had Teresa Leger Fernandez sporting a 33 to 24 lead over Valerie Plame and with the other five candidates failing to score double digit support. Plame could move up but probably not into the winner's circle because of the reluctance of Hispanic and Native Americans to flock to her candidacy. 

Sen. Elizabeth Warren endorsed TLF Sunday, further fragmenting the Santa Fe Anglo liberal vote Plame is trying to consolidate. And here's late video from Laura Montoya who has not been seen very often during the campaign.

In the GOP US Senate race Gavin Clarkson actually raised more money than former TV weatherman Mark Ronchetti--over $1 million for Clarkson to $800K for Ronchetti--but Clarkson spent most of it over the past year and half. Ronchetti raised and spent his money since January and as a result dominates the airwaves. Elisa Martinez, hailed as possibly the strongest R to take on Dem Rep. Ben Ray Lujan, never really got started, leaving Ronchetti to run up the field mostly untouched.

In ABQ three R's are dueling for the GOP congressional nomination. None of them are well-known. And Dem Rep. Deb Haaland doesn't have to worry about the national GOP targeting the deep blue district in the general election.

So exactly where will the excitement come from Primary Election Night 2020? Probably from Democratic state Senate primaries where progressives are trying to take out conservatives. However even there it appears the field has shrunk from as many as six races in play for the progressives to perhaps two or three.

The top two are Siah Correa Hemphill's challenge of appointed Sen. Gabe Ramos in the Silver City area and the progressive challenge of Grants area Senator Clemente Sanchez by retired educator Pam Cordova. The handicappers say those two are coin flips.

As far as a dramatic reshaping of the Senate, that does not appear to be in the cards. Conservative Dems George Munoz, Mary Kay Papen and John Arthur Smith are expected to get past their challengers.

One race that some of the Alligators are calling their "upset special" is the challenge to Senator Richard Martinez of Española by Rio Arriba County Commissioner Leo Jaramillo. Martinez's infamous DWI bust caught on video last year put him on the defensive. His team says he has recovered and will win. But that video is powerful and could tip the balance against Martinez.


There are a number of state House Dem and GOP primaries that will also keep the political hearts beating a tick faster than usual tomorrow night. We'll cover those and all of the above races when we take to the airwaves of ABQ's KANW 89.1 FM and KANW.COM via Zoom tomorrow night at 6:45. My guest experts will include Democratic consultant Sisto Abeyta and GOP consultant Bob Cornelius. It's a big field to keep an eye on on so we'll use our binoculars to spot all the fun--and excitement.


Today's blog is brought to you by Lilly Barrack, serving the office of the Governor since 2019.

Well, it was one of those moments, wasn't it? While MLG's jewelry adventure doesn't harbor the massive negative consequences of Gov. Martinez's notorious pizza party, it was a pandemic moment to be long-remembered and a likely future political issue for MLG to face.

That's because this is a man on the street story. Everyone, not just those who follow politics, relate to  a politician receiving special treatment that would never be offered to the regular Jill or Joe.

The Governor called the original report from KRQE-TV "wildly inaccurate" but looked autocratic when unable (or unwilling) to say why. Whether the letter of the public health order was violated when MLG ordered jewelry over the phone from a Lilly Barrack employee during the retail lockdown and had a friend retrieve it is immaterial. The action itself was the unforced error and why there was no outpouring of support on her behalf but mostly scorn.

This isn't "jewelry gate" as the state GOP is trying to label it but the questions of preferential treatment and hypocrisy do come to the fore. Those are character issues that are particularly effective in campaigns. MLG doesn't face one until her 2022 re-elect. However, if and when the GOP gets their MLG counterpart you can bet your Rolex or favorite gem that Lilly Barrack will get more free advertising. And as for ABQ's Lilly, more about her here.


Last week we called Rick Little of Las Cruces a state rep. He is a former state rep. And Jodylynn Oritz was disqualified from the ballot for not having enough valid petition signatures and is no longer a Dem state senate candidate in District 9 in Sandoval County as we had her listed.

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Thursday, May 28, 2020

GOP Oil Country Clash: State Rep.Tries To Take Out New GOP Senator And Sparks Fly, Plus: ABQ Westside Alligator Strike; Senate Candidate Gets Ahead Of Himself With Campaign Lit 

Sen. Fulfer
New Mexico oil country is getting hammered by one of the worst depressions in its history so the unusual (and entertaining) diversion of watching an incumbent GOP state House member challenge an incumbent GOP state Senator in the primary is more than welcome in Eddy and Lea counties.

So why is Rep. David Gallegos rolling the dice and leaving his seat?  Well, for one incumbent GOP Senator Gregg Fulfer was appointed to the seat not elected so Gallegos obviously sees an opportunity to step up.

The battle in District 41 has been spirited with Fulfer, an oilman and rancher, being accused in a TV ad of being a "lifelong Democrat" who changed his party registration "in a back door deal to get a Senate appointment" and that he is a "fake Republican." One ad says: "He's still on their team not ours."

The ad is from the Make NM Great PAC, a group supporting GOP southern congressional candidate Yvette Herrell but which started spending money after the latest federal deadline so money details are yet available. Herrell is in a bitter campaign for the southern nomination with Claire Chase of the big oil Chase family of SE NM.

Not being a longtime member of the GOP is a powerful hit. Fulfer, a former ten year Lea County Commissioner, tells us he changed his party affiliation in 2015 and was appointed to the Senate in 2018 by Gov. Martinez to succeed his father in-law GOP Senator Carroll Leavell who had fallen ill. There was no deal for him to switch parties to get the appointment, he said.

He says he was a conservative Democrat and remains a firm conservative today:

I have not supported tax increases as a commissioner  and senator and have been in the forefront of cutting red tape and regulations. I am a conservative and not a fake one. 

Rep. Gallegos
In his ABQ Journal questionnaire Fulfer checked all the right boxes for a conservative. Gallegos, who worked for some 30 years for the NM Gas Co,. did not respond to the questionnaire,

Gallegos is throwing the kitchen sink at Fulfer. You can see his other charges on his Faeecbook.

Fulfer has won the endorsment of Senator Minority Leader Stuart Ingle. Gallegos, who has not been opposed in his last three elections, has the backing of former GOP Rep. Rick Little of Dona Ana County.

Gallegos reported about $60,000 in cash on hand headed into the final weeks. He had spent $32,000 as of mid-May but is also getting outside PAC support. Fulfer reported $85,000 in cash as of mid-May. He reported spending over $131,000 since the start of the campaign. Both contenders have received considerable support from oil and gas interests. Should be an interesting one to watch Election Night. No Dems need apply and none have. This one is all Republican all the time.


Former Dem State Rep. Ben Rodefer is the victim of an Alligator strike. The flyer posted here (another little exclusive for you)  is making the rounds and leaves the impression that US Rep. Ben Ray Lujan and former Lt. Gov. Diane Denish are endorsing him. The trouble is neither Ben Ray or Denish have given Rodefer an endorsement for his state senate campaign.

After the mailer came out Denish endorsed another candidate, Brenda McKenna, a former aide to Rep. Deb Haaland who is also endorsing her. Ben Ray is staying neutral and has issued no endorsement, according to one of our politicos who spoke with him. Rodefer has acknowledged the Denish error.

There are three Dems seeking the nomination in the swing Sandoval County area seat that is being vacated by Dem Sen. John Sapien and there are also three R's running. The other Dem hopeful is Corrales village Councilor Kevin Lucero. On the R side it's Placitas businessman John Clark, Tania Artletha Dennis of Corrales and Bridget Condon who heads up the Sandoval Economic Alliance. Insiders give Condon the edge.

Rodefer, a renewable energy expert and onetime aide to Sen. Jeff Bingaman, is well-known in the westside metro area having served in the state House from there. His name ID could make him a strong candidate to keep the seat in the Dem column in November and also give it a more liberal tinge than Sapien has. Rodefer lost the Democratic Senate primary to Sapien in 2008 so he is is hungry for the win and pushed the envelope with his flyer. For that, Ben Rodefer, you are the victim of an Alligator strike, but one that doesn't pierce the flesh.


We'll bring you election night coverage Tuesday June 2, but it won't be of the traditional variety. Instead of gathering at our roundtable at KANW 89.1 FM and KANW.COM, we'll broadcast the results and analysis on the radio using Zoom conferencing. We'll kick things off at 6:45 p.m. and look forward to having you with us.


We credited this quote in a first draft Wednesday to the office of State Auditor Brian Colón regarding his investigation into APD overtime practices:

(the office) emailed APD and Mayor Tim Keller's office 10 questions last week regarding Drobik's astonishing amount of pay for the first four months of the year. So far, not one of our questions has been answered.

That quote is actually from the ABQ Report which we quoted in the story and not from the office of the Auditor. It has been corrected.

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Wednesday, May 27, 2020

TLF Opens 9 Point Lead Over Plame In Emily's List Poll But Turnout Questions Keep Race Alive, Plus: Massive Absentee Push Hits Headwinds And Keller And Colón, Headed For Another Clash?  

Valerie Plame
Is Teresa Leger Fernandez closing the deal in the seven way race for the northern Dem congressional nomination? A poll sponsored by Emily's List points in that direction, but because turnout in this pandemic year is cloudy the other top tier candidate, Valerie Plame, can't be written off.

Clarity Campaign Labs polled the district May 20-21 and contacted 661 "likely Democratic voters" with robocalls calls to land lines and in-person calls to cellphones . The poll has TLF opening up a 9 point lead--33-24--over Plame. TLF and Plame have been the major money raisers and TV spenders in the race.

The other candidates trailed badly. Santa Fe County District Attorney Marco Serna managed only 9 percent; State Rep. Joseph Sanchez garnered 7; John Blair polled at 4; Sandoval County Treasurer Laura Montoya received 3 percent and attorney Kyle Tisdale came in at 2. That left 18 percent undecided.

TLF, a native of Las Vegas, NM, showed strength across the board, leading in every major demographic released by the polling firm. With women she beat Plame 35 to 24. With men she won 34 to 29. Her strongest showing was with Native Americans where she scored 40 percent to Plame's 14. TLF has served as counsel to several Native American Tribes.

Hispanics favored TLF 32 to 16.

Plame's best showing was with Anglo voters. TLF polled at 38 percent with them and Plame was close behind at 31 percent.

The problem for Plame, 56, is the district is majority-minority. Hispanics make up 40 percent of  the residents and Native Americans 18 percent and she is not doing well with them. Also, Leger Fernandez, a White House Fellow under President Clinton, has made no major campaign mistakes since blowing her competition out if the water at the Dem Party March preprimary convention. And she has not been subjected to much negative campaigning as the candidates in the crowded field concentrated on their own backyard as TLF steadily gained traction.

The chance for an upset next Tuesday is in the turnout. Every voter received an absentee ballot application due to a NM Supreme Court order so the electorate could be reshaped compared to past primaries. Could is the key word. More likely is that the turnout hews to  more or less traditional  lines and the polling is not far off. The margin of error in the survey is put at 3.76 percent.


This absentee heavy election is not going to be as easy as 1,2,3. There will be problems because of the volume of ballots sent out by elections officials. And here they come, says Northern US Rep. Ben Ray Lujan:

After hearing reports that Santa Fe County residents have faced significant problems in the absentee voting process. . . Ben Ray Luján is asking Secretary of State, Maggie Toulouse Oliver, to extend the deadline for absentee ballots to be counted. . . Luján. . . is requesting that all statewide ballots be counted if they are postmarked by June 2nd, rather than only if they are received by June 2nd.

“. . . There have been concerning reports of delays in receiving and processing absentee ballots, and some ballots that are missing altogether. . . It’s clear that action must be taken to ensure that all voices are safely heard by extending the deadline for counting ballots. Overall, our vote by mail system is working and is providing a critical option for voters to submit ballots by mail or in person. . .

Well, we won't know until after the election if Lujan is right that "the mail system is working." Fears have followed this election that many of the addresses on file with the Secretary of State will prove erroneous. And then there's the issue of counting all those absentees. Will that come off without a hitch in all 33 counties?


Will they clash again?

An old rival of ABQ Mayor Tim Keller's has his nose under his tent. State Auditor Brian Colón, who ran for mayor against Keller in 2017, is now State Auditor and he doesn't like what he is seeing at Keller's troubled APD:

Colón says his office has been conducting an ongoing probe into overtime practices at the Albuquerque Police Department and that his report could be complete in a month or so. . . APD's overtime king, officer Simon Drobik, has racked up $82,000 in pay for the first four months of this year. Drobik's base salary is $31.50 an hour, and by our calculations, more than $50,000 of what he has made so far this year has come from overtime. Drobik is on track to make $247,000 this year.

Way too much overtime is a decades-long systemic problem at APD but the Drobik incident took it to new levels and is a political vulnerability for Keller who is seeking re-election next year. Meanwhile, friends of Colón say he is eyeing a run for attorney general in 2022. A lot of ambition with those two that could collide.

One other thing: If Colón's findings are disturbing does he send them over to BernCo District Attorney Raul Torrez for his consideration? The same Raul Torrez who is preparing his own run for the Democratic nomination for attorney general in 2022?

And so go the ever twisting plot lines of La Politica.

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Tuesday, May 26, 2020

One Week To Go: GOP Congress Chaos: Dem PAC Attacks Claire; Praises Yvette; PAC Backing Claire Goes After Rival Mathys, Plus: GOP Senate Scramble 

Chase, Herrell & Mathys
Chaos has engulfed the brutal battle for the Republican nomination for the southern congressional race, with the three way contest turning into a near circular firing squad as the campaign hurtles toward the June 2 finish line now one week away.

The guns are ablaze in the largely conservative district. Claire Chase is relentlessly hammering Yvette Herrell; Yvette is firing back with her own volleys; a Dem super PAC is now pushing TV ads out for Yvette and another PAC is blasting Chris Mathys who is running the only positive campaign.

The thrust of this chaos is that Chase appears to have closed much of the gap with Herrell. Dems are alarmed. They believe Chase would be a tougher candidate for Dem Rep. Xochitl Torres Small.

Mathys is getting blasted by a pro-Claire PAC apparently because he is splitting the anti-Herrell vote with Claire, vote she badly needs.

The liberal Patriot Majority dark money super PAC has joined the festivities with a $200,000 TV buy and a boost for Yvette over Claire:

There’s Santa Fe lobbyist Claire Chase who opposed President Trump, calling him an assh . . . unworthy of the office. Or there’s Yvette Herrell. She’s 100% loyal to Trump, backed by 11 pro-gun sheriffs and Cowboys for Trump.”

The Claire camp immediately charged that Yvette is now supported by liberal House Speaker Pelosi even as Herrell called for the ads to be pulled, saying:

These liberal super PACs attacking me and my opponent have no business getting involved in this primary. They should stop airing these ads immediately!

But the Dems are out of the closet--they want Herrell--not Chase--to take on Torres Small who won a tight race against Herrell in the swing district in '18. They fear both Chase's oil money and her positioning as a young, fresh face. They figure they have beat Herrell once and can do it again.

As for Mathys, a businessman who came to NM from Fresno, California, the pro-Claire PAC Citizens for a United NM came with a $35,000 buy for a 15 second ad saying this:

Fresno, California, a sanctuary city where City Councilman Chris Mathys voted to cut gang prevention funding. California Chris Mathys. Too liberal and too dangerous.

And guess who is a $2500 contributor to that pro-Claire PAC? It's none other than former Hobbs Mayor Monty Newman who engaged in a bitter race with Herrell for the '18 GOP nod and lost. He never got over it.

The trio of contestants appeared on a KRWG-TV forum in mid-May but judging by their demeanor you would never know that just below the surface was a bubbling cauldron of emotion.

Chaos, Machivellian maneuvering, settling old scores and PAC money darker than a black hole. That's the southern congressional race. Don't run out of popcorn. We have a week to go.


Gavin Clarkson is in search of an upset over front-runner Mark Ronchetti in the race for the GOP nomination for the open US Senate seat. And he tells us that while we might not have been able to find his anti-Ronchetti TV ad on the web, it is there. And here it is. The ad starts with a now well-known anti-Trump video of Ronchetti:

Ronchetti says "I am a  conservative who used to be a Republican until the orange one. . .I'm afraid that has taken a part of my soul and that's not coming back."

Enter Clarkson:

I'm Dr. Gavin Clarkson, an enrolled tribal member who proudly served in the Trump administration. Join me. . . to put a battle-tested swamp warrior in the Senate.

Not a bad ad because it speaks for itself and to a GOP obsessed with Trump loyalty. It might go somewhere, if only the under-financed Clarkson could get on the air in a way similar to the blanket buy that Ronchetti has going.


On the subject of dark money, Dem northern congressional candidate John Blair makes that his target in a new TV ad as he chases front-runner Teresa Leger Fernandez.


Speaking of Dems running for Congress, one of their old warriors is back in action but not as a candidate. Attorney John Wertheim, former chairman of the NM Dem Party who twice ran for the ABQ Dem US House seat, is back in the state and serving as campaign treasurer for MLG. His wife, Bianca Ortiz Wertheim, recently left the position of Chief of Staff to Senator Tom Udall who is retiring. She has been named by MLG to head up the state Homeland Security Department. The Gators are already snapping that she lacks a law enforcement background. Backers point to her administrative abilities. Uh, welcome back, Bianca. . . or something.

So Dem BernCo Commissioner Michael Quezada was snubbed by MLG who endorsed Frank Baca, his primary opponent for the ABQ South Valley commission seat. But Quezada supporters point out that ABQ Mayor Tim Keller, ABQ Rep. Deb Haaland and ABQ City Councilor Klarissa Pena have all endorsed Quezada. That's a good break for the Breaking Bad actor. . . Marcos Gonzales is another BernCo commission candidate this year. We called him "Marco" Monday. Well, there is a Marco Gonzales in La Politica and. . . oh, never mind.

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Monday, May 25, 2020

Memorial Day 2020: BernCo Vote Centers Open, Progressive Infighting And Some Bottom Lines  

For those whose travel plans have been thrown out the window this Memorial Day 2020, it might be a good time to go cast your vote in the June 2 primary. Early voting centers are up and running in BernCo today and shouldn't be too busy. Dems, R's and Libertarians are eligible to vote:

Voting on Memorial Day is a thoughtful way to honor the fallen and their families who have sacrificed so much for this country,” said Clerk Linda Stover. “And with the social distancing requirements we’re working with, we need in-person voters to vote early so we can avoid a last minute rush on Election Day.”

Election officials continue to courage absentee balloting. Voters are responding and absentee voting is at record levels for a primary.


Today's out of sorts Memorial Day is just one of many special occasions in the months ahead that New Mexico will be feeling the impact of the COVID-19 crisis. It's all but certain the State Fair and International Balloon Fiesta will not take place. Santa Fe's famous annual September burning of Zozobra will now be held on the Internet. In fact, state tourism officials are warning that it could be one year to 18 months before mass gatherings like those events are permitted.

Why the State Fair has a clock on its website counting down the days and hours to the soon to be postponed September 10-20 event is a mystery. Shouldn't they instead be preparing to lessen the economic pain for the vendors and others? Ditto for the Balloon Fiesta.


Here's a little exclusive for you this holiday. It's the postcard mailed out against Dem BernCo County Commission candidate Adriann Barboa that is causing deep divisions in the city's progressive and gay communities. (Click to enlarge).

The card comes from Barboa opponent Adrian Carver and cites Barboa's past arrest for possession of a small amount of marijuna and bench warrants issued for her arrest when she failed to pay parking tickets. Barboa also has a past DWI for which she apologized. That is not mentioned in the Carver mailer. After Carver's hit smoked the mailboxes, he got hit:

“Shame on candidate Carver for criminalizing one of his opponents, a queer woman of color, for her possession of a small amount of cannabis after a traffic stop,” Marianna Anaya of Progress Now New Mexico wrote on the organization’s website.

Carver's defenders say the hit piece was in order because it shows a tendency by Barboa to flout the law. Carver stands by the mailer.

Both Barboa and Carver are well-known activists in the LGBQT community. How divisive is Carver's attack? Well, he just lost his job over it with a major LGBQT advocacy group.

Barboa is policy director for Strong Families New Mexico. A third candidate, Marcos Gonzales, works for BernCo's economic development division.

The seat was vacated by Dem Maggie Hart Stebbins who took a state job. It is primarily in the ABQ SE Heights, the most liberal section of the city. Adrian vs. Adriann has them talking


As the state begins to work on an economic recovery plan former Governors--Democrat Bill Richardson and Republican Garrey Carruthers--come with op-eds about economic ideas  . . Former ABQ state Senator Bernadette Sanchez is up with a TV spot in the race for the Dem nod for BernCo Treasurer. She faces incumbent Treasurer Nancy Bearce, former Treasurer Pat Padilla and BernCo employee Danny Daniels. The winner of the primary gets the prize. This one is all D all the time. No R's need apply and none have.

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Thursday, May 21, 2020

Virus Upends Primary: No ABQ Journal Polling For Major Races, Plus: Alligators And Analysts Look At The Contests As June 2 Primary Nears 

Add to the list yet another way the virus pandemic has upended the June 2 primary election. There will be no polling of the big primary races by the ABQ Journal which has conducted the closely watched surveys for nearly 35 years.

Pollster Brian Sanderoff confirms that the paper will not be in the field this primary but did not give a reason. It's assumed that finances are a cause as the shutdown has negatively impacted media revenues And polling an election in which every registered major party voter has been mailed an absentee ballot application presents exceptional challenges.

The major races this year are the battles for the GOP southern congressional and US Senate nominations and the race for the Dem nod in the northern congressional district. Campaigns are conducting polling but it's not the same without the unbiased, scientific Journal survey which the political community relies on to shed light on the thinking of the electorate.

Still, the show must go on. With no polling to guide them, we asked political veterans to game the top races and key state senate primaries.

Former ABQ city councilor, state legislator, campaign consultant and now practicing attorney Greg Payne says he gives the edge to Teresa Leger Fernandez in the seven way race for the Dem northern nomination "She's run the best campaign but I see the race narrowing some in the final days. Look for her to take it but not by as much as some might think."

In the southern congressional battle, Payne sees Yvette Herrell capturing  the GOP nod as she did in '18. "This is a repeat of two years ago when Monty Newman and Herrell had a nasty primary. Herrell lost the November election, in part, because of Newman's challenge. This time Claire Chase is playing the Newman role and it's nastier than ever. Herrell should survive the primary but the general election is another question."

The GOP US Senate campaign has been pretty much a nonstarter and Payne sees former TV weatherman Mark Ronchetti scoring a primary win over Gavin Clarkson and Elisa Martinez. However, Ronchetti Has been busted by both of his rivals for public statements he made separating himself from Trump. That could impact the race in the light innings. Rep. Ben Ray Lujan is unchallenged for the Dem nod.


Conservative senators who often caucus with the chamber's Republicans to form a conservative coalition on key budget and social issues are under fire by progressives this primary and have fielded challengers against the incumbents. Let's go back out to the track where the Senior Alligators are placing their bets and getting ready for the action.

Senator John Arthur Smith--Neomi Martinez-Parra: This could be another of those "closer than people think" races, but our Gators see Smith prevailing. However, as one of them puts it, "Four years ago John Arthur won by only ten points against a poorly organized primary opponent. This time there is a better candidate who should hold him to single digits.”

Insider tip: Smith's wife is an educator, giving him insight into an issue that liberals are using against him.

Sen. Richard Martinez--Leo Jaramillo: The video of Sen. Martinez's now infamous DWI arrest was devastating but was it enough to take out the longtime Rio Arriba political fixture? This one looks like a toss-up. Senator Gator analysis: "Richard has very loyal supporters. The problem is people who like him may believe that his time has passed. He will lose Los Alamos County but the DWI may be watered down elsewhere. A bigger turnout could result due to all voters being mailed absentee ballot applications. Some of them won't be as familiar with his travails but recognize the name. Rio Arriba County Commissioner Leo Jaramillo is the opponent but this is a referendum on Richard and it's a toss-up."

Insider tips: Martinez was a longtime Rio Arriba magistrate before becoming a Senator. Jaramillo also has a DWI record.

Sen. Clemente Sanchez--Pam Cordova--This is a 50-50 race that is the one mostly likely to go to a recount, says a La Politica insider: "Sanchez is used to very close races. Cordova is keeping him hopping. However, she is from Valencia County and there are slightly more votes in the district in Cibola County where Clemente lives. This one is a coin flip.

Insider tip: Sanchez is married to a Native American, an important voting bloc.

Sen. Gabe Ramos--Siah Correa Hemphill: The Senior Alligators say this is the seat most likely to flip to the challenger. The Governor grudgingly appointed Ramos to fill the vacant seat. County commissions in the district gave her only one choice. Sr. Gator analysis: "Joe, Hemphill is a compelling candidate. She's also an educator and Dems like to vote for educators. Look at the Legislature. Because Ramos was appointed, this is more like an open seat than an incumbent's race. Ramos is getting PAC help but the race appears to be leaning her way."

Insider tip: This SW NM senate district was carried by Bernie Sanders over Hillary Clinton in the 2016 Dem Prez primary.

Sen. Mary Kay Papen vs. Carrie Hamblen: The progressives have a quality challenger but 88 year old Mary Kay may hang on. The Gator take: "It's perhaps a case of too little too late. A third candidate recently got out of the race. That helps Hamblen but that third name is still on the ballot and could make the difference as the anti-Papen vote still splits, just not as much.

Insider tips: Papen's late husband Frank Papen, a wealthy banker, held this senate seat back in the 80's. Hamblen is a 20 year veteran of public radio and is a familiar voice in the Las Cruces area district.

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Wednesday, May 20, 2020

Ramped Up Rhetoric Gives Over The Top: "Dead Democrats," Scorching Plame Are Latest Examples, Plus: Kicking Up Trail Dust  

"Cowboy" Griffin in the Oval
Each election cycle the rhetoric grows so heated and over the top you think it can't get any hotter. But it does. Now with less than two weeks to go until the June 2 primary the rhetorical reachers have taken it to new heights--or lows.

We start in Truth or Consequences in Sierra County where a Cowboys for Trump rally featuring local GOP candidates was held. No big deal. Until Cowboys founder and GOP Otero County Commissioner Couy Griffin took the stage and took it way over the top, declaring to a crowd that whooped in delight: "The only good Democrat is a dead Democrat!" Say what?  Here's Griffin in full:

I've come to a place where I've come to the conclusion that the only good Democrat is a dead Democrat. I don't say that in the physical sense. I say that in the political sense because the Democrat agenda and policy is anti-American right now. . . Our country is not coming to a place where you like or hate Donald Trump, our country is coming to a place if you love or hate America.

And Griffin wasn't done, MLG, who has been taking heat in rural New Mexico for the coronavirus shutdown, was also in his sights:

If we have a bunch of lying, thieving, crook communists like Michelle Grisham at the helm we're going to go down the road where New Mexico is ranked the least desirable state in the nation to live in. 

Cool down Cowboy Couy, or someone is going to rein you in. Of course, a spokesman for the governor recently calling the GOP a “death cult” hasn’t done anything to cool the rhetoric.

The video is here. The quote about dead Dems is at 20:37 and the quote about MLG is at 19:40.

There's more beyond the pale rhetoric to blog. . .


They call controversial media ads "incendiary" but you need a new adjective to describe this takedown of Dem northern congressional candidate Valerie Plame. The ad drips with despicable innuendo, including tagging Plame a "White Supremacist," implicates her as a Nazi and labels her "a disgraced racist millionaire." That's not all. The 45 second ad asserts that Plame has promoted a web site that "smears Mexicans."

The ad in English is here. The ad in Spanish is here.

The dark money PAC Alliance to Combat Extremism (ACE) Fund takes credit for the hit job which also has Plame pictured with racist David Duke and then slaps Ku Klux Klan masks on their faces.

The PAC calls the ads--one in English and one Spanish--"No Hate New Mexico." But that's exactly what the ads are--not hit pieces--but hate pieces. The group says it is doing a "six figure" TV and digital ad buy but any TV station concerned with truth is going to have to swallow hard to take the money and give them an airing.

It isn't exactly a no-brainer to post them here but we do so in defense of the truth, knowing that they will be pushed out on social media--paid or unpaid--and that we are dealing with a sophisticated audience here--not a general one.

The genesis of these ads is that Plame ran into trouble when she retweeted an article perceived as anti-Semitic. She apologized and has said during the campaign that she is one-quarter Jewish. But the tweeting incident was enough for the Alliance to go off the deep end and into a sea of deceit. The racist ad merits the condemnation of all her opponents. One of them, Santa Fe County DA Marco Serna, has condemned it: "This new ad represents the worst of what dark money brings into politics."

Teresa Leger Fernandez came with this: "This type of vilification has no place in our politics and I strongly condemn this video. My life’s work and my campaign has been about love, not hate."


More on the TV game. . . financially challenged GOP US Senate candidate Eliza Martinez comes with an ad scoring competitor Mark Ronehetti for his anti-Trump quote caught on tape: "I used to be a Republican until the orange one." She is hoping it will raise her money to get up on the air with a serious buy. Ronchetti is dominating the airwaves.

This comes in from DC:

CHC BOLD PAC, the campaign arm of the Hispanic Caucus launched a multi-platform ad buy in support of Teresa Leger Fernandez running in New Mexico’s 3rd Congressional District. The ad, “Be of Service,” highlights Teresa's New Mexico roots, her decades of service to Northern New Mexico, and her fight to ensure everyone has access to affordable health care.


MLG once served as a BernCo County Commissioner but incumbent Dem Commissioner Michael Quezada isn't getting her support in the June primary. She says:

Frank Baca has long been a champion for everyday New Mexicans. As county commissioner, Frank will fight to deliver the mental health resources needed to address the root causes of crime and homelessness in Bernalillo County. Frank is exactly the type of leader we need locally in Albuquerque and I am proud to endorse him for Bernalillo County Commissioner District 2.

Our Alligators report that the governor was upset that Quezada supported GOP Commissioner Lonny Talbert as the chairman of the commission over MLG favorite and Dem Debbie O’Malley.

Quezada, 57, of Breaking Bad acting fame, is seeking his second four year term to represent the South Valley. Baca, 64, is a retired criminal defense attorney who has also been a prosecutor. No R's need apply and none have. This one is all D all the time.

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Tuesday, May 19, 2020

Will Dark Money Debate Shed Light On Leger Fernandez? Foes Pick At Congress Front-Runner, Plus: Torres Small: The Tortured Soul Of La Politica? 

John Blair
Can "Dark Money" shed some light on northern Dem congressional front-runner Teresa Leger Fernandez and close the daylight she has put between herself and her six opponents?

Two dark money groups--PACS that are not required to disclose who gives them money--have bought $300,00 in TV ads to boost attorney Leger. That has brought the wrath of her opponents--especially former congressional staffer John Blair who is demanding that TLF publicly rebuke the PACS and "disavow" their support.

He made the point in a KOAT-TV debate Sunday and was echoed by fellow candidates Sandoval County Treasurer Laura Montoya and Santa Fe County District Attorney Marco Serna.

The problem? According to one consultant not involved in the campaigns, the dark money charge against Leger could hurt her with progressives who hold disdain for such PACS, but the electorate at large is probably not engaged. In fact when it comes to campaign money the public often goes MEGO--My Eyes Glaze Over.

Nevertheless Leger is firing back at Blair and company, with a finance Gator saying:

. . . The TLF campaign cannot by federal election law coordinate or in any way communicate or cooperate with any outside groups that decide to support her candidacy. To be very clear, none of this so-called "dark money" has gone to Teresa's campaign -- it is separate outside spending that is completely out of her control. For her campaign's part, she is not taking corporate PAC money and the majority of her support is coming from in-state. . . Despite (Blair's) attempts to be relevant and his proclamations about End Citizens United and dark money, TLF is the candidate that has actually been endorsed by End Citizens United and Let America Vote, the nation's leading groups on campaign finance reform.

Maybe Blair got the first part right--he found something to hang his hat on in trying to take Leger down a peg but the second part--calling into question her character and motives--eludes him because his campaign lacks TV money and the dark money issue is not all that stark.

That brings up how TLF has gotten off easy in this campaign. In a glowing endorsement the New Mexican praises her years as a water rights attorney and for her community involvement, but there's been no news stories--none--about any bumps in the road for her career or life hat might have voters questioning their support of her. For a candidate over 60, that is a big time break.

So an essentially unvetted TLF is poised to become the next northern congressional representative. It will be up to the Republican nominee to pick up anything the Dems left on the table, but the district is so heavily D it would take take a bombshell disclosure to stop her. That is not the case in a contested Dem primary.

Leger Fernandez has run the best campaign of the bunch, had excellent fund-raising, is generally liberal on the issues and has solid organizational abilities as witnessed by her big preprimary convention win. That's what the voters know about her. That they don't know a lot more can't be blamed only on a burdened press but the inability of her six challengers to effectively challenge her.


Observers on the left are left to wonder if southern NM Congresswoman Xochitl Torres Small is the most tortured soul in La Politica. She worked as a staffer for one of the most liberal senators in the nation--Tom Udall--and she is married to one of the most liberal members of the NM House--Nathan Small. Yet her supporters say her conservative/moderate district demands that she be pragmatic. That can rankle a large contingent of voters in more liberal Las Cruces who were instrumental in getting her the gig in 2018 and who say she finds herself at odds with the principles she really believes.

The newest blow to those doubters came when XTS was one of only 14 House Dems to vote against the latest coronavirus relief, a $3 trillion measure that includes aid for New Mexico to close its budget gap as well as for financially stricken cities under 500,000, some of which are included in XTS's sprawling district.

But she turned thumbs turned down on the bill that passed the House as she shivers at the prospect of losing the seat this year in a district that Trump arrived by ten points in '16 and that she won by just 2 points in '18. She said:

Hard times call for strong priorities, and Congress should put aside partisan politics to rebuild through smart infrastructure investments,” she said in a statement after the vote, adding that she supported relief to states, local communities and tribal governments and hazard pay for essential workers, but more than $1 trillion in the bill “was spent elsewhere."

Pragmatism may be the order of the day but it doesn't earn XTL any profile in courage award. Her Dem critics say she could have voted for the measure to show support for states and cities, healthcare workers and first responders whose jobs could be cut due to budget deficits. Then she could have voiced opposition to parts of it and later supported an amended version. The bill is expected to be negotiated with the Senate.

XTL will get a break from the political torture chamber in the June primary where she faces no opposition but come the fall she'll be back in it.


Reader Rick Lass in Mimbres picks up on an error we made in our Monday blog about high-level political endorsements:

Joe, Ben Ray Lujan for Congress in 2008. He served on the Public Regulation Commission (PRC) from 2005-2008. So either Gov. Richardson endorsed Lujan for PRC in 2004 or for Congress in 2008- or both? I know firsthand because I was the Green Party candidate for PRC in 2008 and the Dem was the Jerome Block Jr. I would not have been in the race if Lujan was running for re-election.

Thanks, Rick. Richardson actually endorsed Ben Ray for PRC in 2004 and that drew howls from Bob Perls who was challenging Ben Ray in the primary. We covered that on the blog in March of 2004.

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Monday, May 18, 2020

Once A Primary Rarity Top Tier Endorsements Become Common; Heinrich, MLG And Haaland Chiming In And Taking Sides For Their Favorites  

Sen. Heinrich
Once highly coveted but rarely given, primary election endorsements from the New Mexico political hierarchy are now as common as the ducks at Tingley Beach.

For example, ABQ Dem Congresswoman Deb Haaland has waded into the seven way Democratic battle for the northern congressional nomination by endorsing Teresa Leger Fernandez. That made for six very unhappy Democrats who won't have Haaland on their Christmas gift lists. And what if front-running TLF were to falter and not win the June 2 primary? The Dem who did win would be heavily favored to go to DC and serve with Haaland. Or perhaps fight with her.

Native Americans are a large voting block in the Third District--if they can be motivated to vote. Haaland is one of the first Native Americans to serve in the US House.

Dem Senator Martin Heinrich has a list of endorsements for this primary that's as long as a pandemic unemployment line. Like Haaland, he doesn't seem concerned about the potential enemies he is making by taking sides. (His complete list here.)

Seeking to push his favorites to power Heinrich has endorsed Leo Jaramillo in his challenge of Sen. Richard Martinez of Espanola; Carrie Hamblen in her campaign against Sen. Mary Kay Papen in Las Cruces; Pam Cordova over Sen. Clemente Sanchez in the primary for a Grants area Senate seat and Siah Hemphill who is challenging appointed Sen. Gabe Ramos of Silver City.

Noticeably absent from Heinrich's list is Neomi Martinez-Parra, the opponent of leading conservative Dem Senator John Arthur Smith. It seems there are limits to how far Heinrich will push the envelope.

Heinrich, who recently hired former NM Dem Party Vice-Chair Juan Sanchez as a political adviser, will become the state's senior US Senator upon the retirement of Sen. Udall in January. Coincidentally or not, he appears to be pursuing a higher profile in state politics. Not that this is his first time to endorse in a primary. . . .

Heinrich, 48, went all in for his buddy and state land commission candidate Garrett VeneKlasen in 2018 only to see Stephanie Garcia Richard take the prize. It was a setback for Heinrich but one that apparently caused him little pain. He was also an early endorser of Hillary Clinton over Bernie Sanders in 2016. His progressive politics reaches deep into the environmental moment but not as much elsewhere.


Let's not forget MLG. She came with an unusually long roster of endorsements in contested Dem state House and Senate primaries. None were earthshaking but were notable for her willingness to wade into the primaries in such a big way, a departure from past governors.

Key point: MLG did not openly challenge the leading figures of the ruling conservative Senate coalition compromised of conservative/moderate Dems and all GOP senators. She did endorse the opponent of appointed Silver City Senator Gabe Ramos, a member of that coalition. However, she only appointed him after objecting that no other names had been sent to her to choose from by the county commissions in the district.

The power of these endorsements is minimal at best. Voters are not persuaded much but they can help with fund-raising and demoralize the opposition. One question is whether any of the endorsements might someday come back to bite the big name endorsers.


Governors endorsing in primaries is not without precedent. In the 2008 primary Gov. Richardson gave his blessing to Dem Harry Teague who was seeking the southern congressional nomination. He won. Richardson also endorsed Ben Ray Lujan in his 2004 Dem primary for the Public Regulation Commission. That drew howls from Bob Perls, Lujan's opponent.

One of the more memorable endorsements from a big name player came in 1998. GOP Senator Pete Domenici threw his considerable political weight publicly behind Heather Wilson who faced a crowded field for the Republican nomination for the ABQ congressional seat to replace Rep. Steve Schiff who had passed away. She came up a winner.

In 2012, Gov. Martinez's political machine went all out to defeat Republican Pat Woods for an eastside state senate seat, instead backing Republican Angie Spears in that year's primary. Woods defeated her. That was just one instance when Martinez let loose on R's she felt did not toe the line.

One of the Senior Alligators--and we mean Senior--goes back to the days of US Senator Dennis Chavez to pick a bone with Heinrich over his eagerness to endorse candidates in primaries.

I think Heinrich is rather foolish to get himself involved in so many contested primary races. Sen. Dennis Chavez tried doing that in 1960, endorsing in a number of Dem primary races, including Lt. Governor. Every one of the candidates that Chavez endorsed lost their primary races. Of course, at that point Chavez was nearing the end of his long career (he would die only two and a half years later), but the defeat of all of his endorsed candidates that year showed how much his great power and influence had waned through the years.

And Heinrich's past efforts to insert himself into contested primary races has not been very successful. He is putting his own political career in jeopardy by doing this on a regular basis and unnecessarily making foes within his own party. I predict this will ultimately catch up to him.

Being a Senior Gator, he even sent a copy of the June 1960 ABQ Tribune article chronicling the Chavez endorsement failures.


Sen. Chavez
Speaking of Sen. Chavez, (1935-'62) he's considered by historians as the most consequential senator the state has produced. Sen. Udall recently came with this in honor of his fellow Democrat:

Udall Celebrates Legacy of Senator Dennis Chávez in Senate Floor Speech Honoring 70th Anniversary of ‘El Senador’s’ Speech Defending American Values from McCarthyism

Udall spoke on the Senate floor and submitted a speech for the Congressional Record honoring the legacy of U.S. Senator Dennis Chávez (D-N.M.), the first American-born Hispanic U.S. Senator. In the speech, Udall highlighted Chávez’s principled stance on the 70th anniversary of Chávez becoming the first sitting senator to deliver a speech on the Senate floor denouncing then-Senator Joseph McCarthy’s smear campaign against American government officials and members of civil society.

McCarthy repeatedly alleged, without evidence, that prominent U.S. government officials, intellectuals and American civil society had been infiltrated by communists and Soviet spies. He was censured by the full U.S. Senate in 1954, four and a half years after Chávez spoke out against the chilling effect of McCarthy’s conduct.

Udall added:

 Now – more than ever – we must aspire to the courage of Senator Chávez. History will be the judge – by rewarding courage and exposing cowardice.

If you could have dinner with only one political figure in state history Dennis Chavez would be the guest of honor.

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Thursday, May 14, 2020

To Mask Or Unmask? MLG Order To Don Masks In Public Opens City-Rural Divide, Plus: Conservative Coalition Senators: Which Survive? 

(Moore, Journal)
So who will be the first sheriff to appear in public without a mask and defy MLG's order that everyone going into the public square wear one? Who will be the first GOP lawmaker to ignroe the order? And where and when will we see the first "unmasked" rally in the state?

All those events could be coming to a TV screen near you as MLG loosens restrictions on businesses effective May 16 but also ventures into politically volatile territory with the requirement that all citizens wear a mask when in public.

To mask or not has already caused scuffles and dissent around the nation. It is a hot button issue and especially so in the wide open spaces of New Mexico where folks are mindful of their personal freedoms, perhaps more than their brethren in the crowded cities. And, of course, the mask has become a political symbol. President Trump's refusal to be shown wearing one says it all.

As you would expect, the mask mandate brought emotional and frank reactions on social media. One critic put up a meme that said:

Making a mask mandatory after two months of a pandemic is like putting a condom on after the pregnancy. 

A defender of the MLG mask move countered:

I wear a mask in public places to protect you. I appreciate the same courtesy. I am very happy with our governor's mandate, she is doing a fantastic job for our state.

30 years from now youngsters will be asking their grandparents, "Did you or didn't you?" It won't have anything to do with their private lives--but about the public faces they sported during this most strange time in their lives.


On the political front, State Senator Mary Kay Papen's race has gotten a bit more interesting. Tracy Perry, one of two women challenging Papen in the June primary, has dropped out citing medical reasons. That means it's now a one-on-one way race to take Papen out.

Papen, the Senate President Pro Tem who influences what appointments senators get to committees, is being targeted by progressives, along with other conservative Dems. But there's a catch in this news. The candidate dropping out did so too late to have her name removed from the ballot. Also, that PAC financed by Chevron is not forgetting the 88 year old Papen and is flooding her district with pro-Papen literature.

So of the five conservative/moderate Dems who are chief targets of the Dem progressive wing which are truly vulnerable?

It appears appointed Senator Gabe Ramos of  Silver City is near the top of the list and is joined there by Sen. Clemente Sanchez of Grants. Deming Sen. John Arthur Smith and Gallup's George Munoz and the aforementioned Papen seem more secure.

Ramos, a Silver City insurance agent, was appointed to the SW NM seat to replace Howie Morales when he became lieutenant governor. School psychologist Siah Hemphill is working the district and it would not be remarkable if it were returned to someone like her with a more liberal bent.

MLG has endorsed Hemphill, the only one of the progressive challengers running against the conservative Dems that has won her official backing. Remember, MLG was outmaneuvered on the Ramos appointment. The county commissions for the district all sent his name up to her without any alternatives and refused to send her other names when she asked. She was stuck and had to name him. The lesson being that the then new governor had been caught flat-footed. 

Then there are those Chevron backed ads that try to imply that MLG is endorsing Ramos as well as other conservative coalition Democrats. Those ads did not sit well with her. Not that she is working to bust the Senate conservative coalition. She is not. Her decision not to endorse any other progressive challengers is evidence of that as well as a political calculation that she does not believe those senators can be defeated.

Sanchez is being challenged by longtime Dem activist Pam Cordova. Sanchez is known for running close races and this could be another. However, insider polling in the early going gave him an edge.


The NM GOP painted a dystopian picture of the state after MLG announced Wednesday she was not completely opening businesses up as they would like. Instead many will now operate at 25 percent capacity. Said the GOP:

Industries are dying, businesses are crumbling and hope is withering.

MLG will support economic aid for restaurants and the like at the June special legislative session. That would be coupled with federal assistance already here. But the economic damage is major and much of it long-lasting. MLG's high approval rating for her handling of the coronavirus crisis will be tested in the fall and winter when the carnage is more visible and the R's try to make it an election issue.

We don't know if the editorial endorsements of the ink-stained wretches matter much in this digital era but they are usually well reasoned. Some endorsements so far: The Taos News and Santa Fe Reporter are endorsing front-runner Teresa Leger Fernandez for the Dem nomination for the northern congressional seat. The ABQ Journal has given the green light to Mark Ronchetti, the front-runner for the GOP US Senate nomination.

Ronchetti has come with his second TV ad, one supporting Trump's border wall. We blogged that candidate Gavin Clarkson was not on TV yet, but a supporter said he has an ad on Fox News. The ad is not posted on the Internet.


debate of interest is on the air today. That would be the three way race for the southern GOP congressional nomination featuring Claire Chase, Yvette Herrell and Chris Mathys:

The forum airs on KRWG-TV at 7 p.m. Thursday; 5 p.m. Saturday; and 11 a.m. Sunday. It will also air on KRWG-FM at 1 p.m. Friday. The video will be posted at www.krwg.org. The candidates respond to questions on COVID-19, gun safety legislation, healthcare and more.

When we come back next week we will be only two weeks away from Primary Election Day. We've covered quiet campaigns before but given the news backdrop this one could be remembered as The Hidden Campaign. We'll uncover more of it in the days ahead.

Thanks for stopping by.

Reporting from an undisclosed quarantine location, I'm Joe Monahan.  And this. . .

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