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Friday, March 27, 2015

Demise Of Tingley Coliseum Speaks To Deep Freeze In Leadership 

This column also recently appeared in the ABQ Free Press.

You might say we're paying the price for not paying the price. How the state and city can sit by and watch Tingley Coliseum--one of its most iconic structures--gradually decay into a dilapidated retro reminder of the 50's--attests to the deep freeze encasing our political and business leadership.

Tingley's slow-motion demise at NM Expo is not just a sentimental concern, it is costing the city real money. As much as $10 million was brought into town from the Arabian & Half-Arabian Youth National Championship Horse Show for its one week annual meet, but it has fled to Oklahoma City where $100 million in upgrades to that city's State Fair Park persuaded the group it was much easier to switch than to fight for a tolerable Tingley. Just prior to the Great Recession in 2006 an early warning shot was fired when the U.S. National Arabian and Half-Arabian Championship Horse Show--the larger version of the national youth show--pulled up stakes and caused a $20 million economic hit.

NM Expo officials presiding over Tingley's demise claim we can't compete with Oklahoma and its $100 million upgrade. But State Auditor Tim Keller recently reported there is now over $4.5 billion left unspent at over 700 various state agencies. Over half of that, he says, could legally be reallocated. There's $100 million staring us in the face.

What a showcase for the 21st century Tingley could be as it was for previous generations of New Mexicans. Horse shows, mega-concerts, major sporting events and trade shows are just a few of the events that could add sparkle to the dreariness that drapes Tingley and much of the area around the fairgrounds And then there's the attendance boost that would result at the annual state fair, a tradition that like Tingley is slipping away due to neglect.

Maybe New Mexico is burned out over the disappointing results of the Rail Runner and Spaceport and has grown cynical of thinking big. The trouble is our neighbors have not stopped.

Mayor Berry has this idea that has been lingering for years and not going much of anywhere. It's called ABQ The Plan. Part of its mission statement is to "invest in our future while honoring our past." Specific proposals include building a 50 mile activity loop for trails and bicycles. It seems rather fanciful in light of the city's continued economic stagnation and the loss of the prized Arabian horse shows but Berry continues to urge the city council to fund the effort.

Berry has an opportunity to switch gears and partner with the state and fellow Republican Susana Martinez by dedicating city bonding money to get the ball rolling on the rebuilding of Tingley, instead of the stalled ABQ The Plan. After all, Tingley Coliseum got its name from one of the most productive politicians in state history--Clyde Tingley--who served as both Albuquerque's mayor and as as a two-term governor. Those are the kind of footprints Berry and Martinez tunes should yearn to fill and it is how you "invest in our future while honoring the past."

It sounds easy enough but strangely these two Republicans have not partnered on much of anything and rarely appear together. Maybe it's because Berry has become radioactive as a result of the APD crisis. Whatever the reason, the two could use some prodding from the city's business community. As usual that wish comes with the usual caveat: Don't hold your breath.

So if Berry and Martinez are content staying behind the curtains, what about the nine Albuquerque city councilors? In a practice that dates from more economically flush days, each of them is awarded $1 million in city bond money every two years to spend in their districts as they wish with no strings attached. That's $9 million. If the councilors agreed to forgo only half that amount it would leave nearly $4.5 million for annual interest payments on bonds that could be used for the Tingley rebuild. With interest rates at historic lows, that $4.5 million could pay for the lion's share of the entire project.

When there's a will there'a a way. In the case of giving the city and state a world-class Tingley and the economic and quality of life benefits that come with it, there are multiple ways. Sadly, we seem to lack the will.

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Thursday, March 26, 2015

Need A Job? APD Staffing Near Historic Lows, Colorado Pot Watch, Tension Time; What Will Guv Sign? And Another Edition Of Vox Populi 

Berry & Chief Eden
How about this? Amid one of the worst climates for finding a job in ABQ, the APD reports its staffing level is at or near its lowest in history. They can't give away a job at the troubled police force which is under investigation by the Dept. of Justice for possible civil rights violations stemming from dozens of police shootings, fatal and otherwise.

There are now only 884 cops on the force, a number one officer says is similar to what we had 26 years ago. And in the year ahead APD could see another 100 retirements of longtime officers.

It's worth repeating: APD is to Mayor Berry what Vietnam was to Lyndon Johnson. Like Johnson he is fighting the wrong war, avoiding the major shake-up and leadership changes that would restore confidence in APD and enable recruiting from other departments around the nation. Instead, Berry blames the crash in officer staffing on an officer's inability to retire and then rejoin the force and get two paychecks. Heck, we can't attract applicants to this troubled APD for one paycheck, never mind two.

Meanwhile, Wal-Mart closes several city stores overnight because of criminal activity.

Of course, we can always rely on the city council to light a fire under Berry to make the painful personnel changes needed at APD. Not. . .

POT WATCH

Marijuana legalization advocates in NM might want to take a look at this in-depth series on Colorado's experiment with legalizing pot. It's from The Gazette in Colorado Springs and is a real eye-opener.

TENSION TIME

The tension of the legislative session lives on. Now it's gnashing of the teeth over what bills the Guv will sign or veto. NM's growing solar industry--which they put at 1,900 employees--is one of many groups awaiting word on favored legislation. The administration has close ties to the oil and gas industry which has frowned upon solar but advocates point out the bill extending the 10 percent NM solar tax credit was passed with the support of both Dems and R's, including GOP legislative leaders Nate Gentry and Stu Ingle. Says one:

The 10 percent NM tax credit for solar is successful in conjunction with the federal 30 percent federal tax credit and creates good-paying jobs. This bill will extend the solar tax credit, gradually reducing the percentage from 10 percent to 5 percent over 8 years. SolarCity recently announced their move to New Mexico. They've hired and trained 50 employees. That's results. . . .

While many in the GOP approved of SB 391 its prime sponsor is ABQ Dem State Senator Mimi Stewart who is a longtime opponent of the Guv.

The tension for everyone awaiting Martinez's decisions can last until April 10. Legislation passed in the last 3 days of the session must be acted upon by the Governor within 20 days of adjournment, or it is pocket vetoed.

VOX POPULI

Reader Steve Dick writes:

Why would the GOP even want to take over NM? What is there to take over? They are helping to break it and they don't look so good at running things either. And when are the Dems going to show some spine and throw it back at the Governor? I wouldn't put up with her dressing me down in her office after the legislative session. I would be glad to give her a ration face-to-face. She has no long term political future if she keeps acting the way she does. Not even a cabinet secretary position. Senators in hearings will have her lunch.

A reader writes:

Why doesn't the ABQ Chamber of Commerce and the R's twist the Gov's arm to at least dig into the list of unspent money from previously approved construction projects and identify where they are and get some of them going? I'm just asking.

Could it be because the Chamber is obedient to the Guv's political machine and too busy putting all blame on the Senate Democrats for the failure of the $264 million capital outlay bill? Just asking. Meanwhile. . .

The executive in charge of the Association and Commerce Industry--Beverlee McLure isn't going to meet anyone in St. Louis. As we recently blogged, she applied for the top post at St. Louis Community College, but was not the final pick. Hey, Bev, maybe Terri Cole has an opening. . . 

ABQ's Bob McNeill comes with thoughts on the city economy:

Joe, excellent, albeit depressing, reporting on our local economic stagnation. The Brookings report is stunning. There are lots of causes and reasons, including the awful national press we've deservedly received courtesy of APD, but the problems go far beyond this shameful mess. For far too long, we've been highly dependent on defense related (government) spending. 

 Taking in one another's laundry and service industry jobs don't compensate for a robust economy that can be brought about with talented, creative and vigorous (progressive) leadership at the state and local levels. Ignoring what we learned about economics 80 years ago isn't helpful. And a decent newspaper would help bring us into the current century by presumably improving the quality of public discourse. I'm depressed about the situation, but as always, onward and upward should be our stance.

The current situation, Bob is a downer. What we look forward to is the emergence of unexpected, dynamic, risk-taking leadership that will lead us in a fresh direction.

THE BOTTOM LINES

ABQ public radio station KUNM-FM comes with this:

Joe, I saw that you talked about a reader note saying that the public radio stations don't have anyone up in Santa Fe. Wanted to let you know that KUNM, NM PBS, and New Mexico In-Depth coordinated to have a reporter focusing on the session. A link to our legislative coverage is here.

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Wednesday, March 25, 2015

On The Econ Beat: ABQ Still Stuck In Recession, Renters Feel Worst Of It, NM GOP Staffs Up And Our Water Debate Continues 

No, the ABQ recession/stagnation has not been wished away. The drip, drip drip of a downsizing economy is keeping us in an official recession, the only major metro in the USA to have that dishonor, says the latest Brookings Institution report:

The metro area remains farther away from pre-recession peak employment levels than any other in the region," the report said. The city was the only one in the report to see its output contract for the fourth quarter, by a small but noticeable 0.2 percent. As a whole, the U.S. saw an increase in output of 0.7 percent for the quarter.

The full ABQ report here It shows we currently rank 100th out of 100 metro areas in recovering from the economic downturn. The glimmer of good news is the increase in health care jobs.

And if you're a renter you may know about this. CNN reports that because incomes here have fallen so much the past five years, we are one of the worst places in the USA for apartment dwellers:

In some areas, rents may not have gone up astronomically, but income has actually declined, heightening the disparity. It is particularly glaring in Albuquerque, where rents have increased 10% in the past five years. But income in the metro area declined 12% in the period. It's a similar story in Providence, RI, Omaha, Tuscon and New Orleans, where income is falling even as rents rise.

This is a city that has flat-lined and the Legislature's crash and burn over the $264 million capital outlay bill isn't helping. Neither is reluctance of the state government to dig into hundreds of millions of unspent funds that are sitting there. The Governor's office says:

Most of the money identified is encumbered, meaning it is not available to be spent elsewhere, appropriated for a specific purpose. Even the best-planned projects are developed and built in phases, where expenditures often occur over a period of years as it is completed.

But what is "most of the money?" There is $1.2 billion in unspent capital outlay sitting there. Exactly how much is "encumbered" and how much can we put to use now to provide jobs and stimulate this moribund metro economy? Is it $500 million? $50 million?

And how about Santa Fe getting off its butt and and speeding up the spending of the "encumbered" money on the projects it was intended for?  Our construction companies could provide badly needed work for hundreds, if not thousands. Gosh. we really work hard at being 50th, don't we?. . .

STAFFING UP

NM GOP Chair Debbie Maestas must have found some money because she's staffing up at party headquarters:

The staff hires include Robert Talbot as executive director, Todd Johnson as political director, Natalie Offenbecher as finance director and Patrick Garrett as communications director.

 Talbot. . . was the RNC State Director in Arkansas. Johnson has worked . . . on the Allen Weh for US Senate Campaign—specializing in grassroots organization.  Offenbecher is a veteran of several campaigns in California. 

Garrett was the press secretary for the House Republicans during the legislative session. 

It's not expected that the '16 presidential race will be in play in Blue New Mexico but there will be that battle for control of the NM House and Senate. There are no signs yet that any of the three US House races will be competitive.

GOT WATER?

Is it "impossible" to sort out who owns what water rights in the Mid-Rio Grande Valley? That was the contention made by an expert in a recent news article. We wondered about that and heard from ABQ's Bill Turner, another expert who makes his livelihood from sorting out the ownership of water rights. He tells us:

Determination of the ownership of water rights is quite simple. We do it every day. Some are more difficult than others. Where it becomes difficult is where county records offices have burned down and land title records have become lost. However, these problems can be overcome from old title abstracts, old census data, and old maps where ownership is identified. . .  

Our firm has more than 70 successful water rights transactions where we have confirmed validity of water rights and ownership. Our advice to the public is keep a file on your property, title documents, tax documents, water records and research them as far back as you can go. . . The State Engineer is requiring much more site specific proof of water rights and title documents.

That reminds us that in the 19th century it was thought that it would be nearly impossible to sort out ownership of the Spanish land grants. But it was done--maybe not fairly or even legally--but it was done.

THE BOTTOM LINES

Readers correct our first draft on that emailgate lawsuit we posted yesterday. There are a total of six defendants, not three. And one of our Legal Beagles comes with this:

You mentioned the "charges" that were dismissed against Anissa Ford and the still pending "charges" against her co-defendants. The word "charges" implies that she and her co-defendants were being charged with crimes when actually the case is a civil case in which various "claims" are made against the defendants.

Thanks for that. Corrections made. It's always helpful to have the Legal Beagles on the trail.

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Tuesday, March 24, 2015

Sign of The Times: "Closed Due To Crime", A Head Scratcher Over NM Water And The Media And The Roundhouse 

The ABQ headlines are not eliciting shouts of "Spring is here!" The city was hit with a mini-crime wave over the weekend that claimed three lives, signaling that the city's crime and punishment problem is still its stickiest. Don't think that impacts most people? Well, look at this from Wal-Mart. Crime at some of its locations is so bad they're shutting them down overnight:

Walmart policy is to keep many of its stores open 24 hours, but the retailer is closing at midnight at some Albuquerque locations, and a rash of crime seems to be a key reason. . . Walmart stores at Coors and I-40, San Mateo near Central, and Eubank near I-40 are three locations that Albuquerque police say keep them busy. The stores are cutting hours and will now be open from 6 a.m. to midnight. Shootings, shoplifting, drug busts and deaths have all happened at the three stores. 

When you see that kind of stuff you know that ABQ remains a mid-sized city with a big city crime problem.

How are you going to get business coming here, Mr. Mayor, when one of the largest employers in the metro can't keep its doors open over night?

SKANDERA'S APS?

Watch out for the howls when this news is fully digested. A top official serving under controversial NM Public Education Department Secretary Hanna Skandera is among the first wave of applicants for the position of ABQ Public Schools Superintendent. Hipolito "Paul" Aguilar is Deputy Secretary for Finance and Operations at PED.

Aguilar has the credentials. He was a teacher in the Bernalillo Public School District, earned a Bachelor's in Elementary and Special Education and a Master's in Education Administration from NM Highlands University. He also was an education analyst at the Legislative Finance Committee. But it will be his connections to Skandera and her policies and politics that will be the point of contention, if Aguilar emerges as a likely choice.

ABQ City Councilor Brad Winter, a Republican with close ties to the Guv's political machine, is the current interim APS Super. The seven member school board will make the call on his replacement. This is one to watch. . .

Speaking of the Guv's machine, a former 2010 campaign aide to the Guv is breathing a bit easier. All claims against Anissa Ford in a federal lawsuit have been dismissed. The other defendants, including NM Dem Party Chairman Sam Bregman, still face claims. Ford and the others were sued for allegedly violating federal privacy protections by their involvement in intercepting and disclosing email from the governor’s hijacked email account. Here's the federal court order dismissing the charges against Ford.

HEAD SCRATCHER

Here's a head scratcher from a recent news article on NM water:

It is almost impossible to say with certainty who owns water rights in the Middle Rio Grande Valley, and it would be obscenely expensive to find out. If you can’t be certain who owns the right, you can’t create a market to buy, sell and lease water. Since it is hard to obtain water rights, and since nature doesn’t seem to want to give us more water, conservation is the best way to stretch supplies.

Well, what looks "impossible" today will become probable--if and when the day comes that the city faces a real water crisis. All that water going for unneeded alfalfa will be rushed into ABQ quicker than you can say: "There's money to be made." And that's today's lesson in capitalism.

THE MEDIA BEAT

Joe Monahan
We noted the explosion in on-line media that covers the NM Legislature, but this self-described "Veteran Wall-Leaner" rightly points out that is not the case with the mainstream media:

As important as what's happening in Santa Fe, the coverage by the mass media is underwhelming. Yes, there's AP coverage, coverage by the administration-friendly Albuquerque Journal, and the Santa Fe New Mexican. The public radio stations don't really staff the session anymore. In the past the Albuquerque TV stations had full time Santa Fe bureaus. Now the general assignment reporters provide superficial coverage. I used to think the voters were informed. Now, not so much.

No doubt mainstream media budgets and priorities have meant a cut in their coverage and that means average voters who don't immerse themselves in online media aren't getting as much info. But the contention of our Wall-Leaner that "as important as what's happening in Santa Fe. . . " doesn't hold up.

What is happening in Santa Fe is only important in the context of what is not happening. Legislative sessions have been reduced to annual squabbles with no significant attacks on the systemic poverty, loss of government jobs or education and social problems that keep the state at the bottom of the national rankings and that have forced people to flee to other states. The Legislature has become a bauble for journalists, lobbyists, contract seekers and political jesters.

Okay, enough about the Roundhouse. Spring is Here!

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Monday, March 23, 2015

Susana Digs Heels In Deeper As She Starts National Drive, Gentry's Play On Sanchez Raises Question, The Debacle Over The Capital And Our Winners And Losers Of Session '15 

(Journal photo)
Susana Martinez is digging her high heels even deeper into the dirt in her second term. When three state senators made a ceremonial appearance at her office at the end of the legislative session Saturday to inform her that their work was concluded, they were surrounded by her aides as she intensely berated them for the session's failures. ABQ Dem Senator Jerry Ortiz y Pino said:

She was so angry. It really had the feeling of a dictator who had been thwarted.

At a post-session news conference Martinez lashed out at the Senate Democrats over the failure of a capital outlay bill and a tax cut package. She blamed them entirely for the do-nothing session. In turn, Martinez was blamed by her critics, with one of them on social media deriding her as the "Queen of Nothing."

It was yet another legislative session that went bust and even veteran wall-leaners seem fatigued. Says one:

It was the usual trainwreck. It's hard to care anymore.

She's right. Santa Fe's sessions--never compelling to the public at-large--seem even more insular, much more an insider ballgame and less relevant with flat budgets and no big ideas. And the quality of debate is suffering. The turnover in the House has been so great the past few years that newbie legislators are everywhere and they often simply don't know what they are talking about.

All of that--combined with a no-compromise mentality--has longtime journalists like Walt Rubel of the Las Cruces Sun-News sick of the entire affair. He said on Twitter:

At the start of (the final) week I wanted to see if the Legislative session was as bad as I thought. It's worse.

The irony is that there are more news outlets than ever covering the session's every second but they are talking mostly to themselves. Just look at the crash in voter turnout. The state awaits something new after this dour 60 day exercise. It has a long wait.

THERE SHE GOES

We asked how many days after the session it would be before Martinez left the state to pursue her national ambitions.  No one would have won betting on that because it was literally only hours after adjournment that she was on a plane headed to a Republican Governors Association meeting in Florida. Such meetings are usually accompanied by high powered fund-raisers and numerous political pow wows. When Gov. Richardson ran for president he also often traveled out of state. It cost him a good chunk of his popularity. . .

House Majority Leader Nate Gentry made a point of repeating this phrase at the end of the session: "Michael Sanchez failed New Mexico." Sanchez, of course, is the state senate majority leader, but that's not well-known throughout the state.

The Gentry phrase was reminiscent of 15 years ago when the GOP demonized powerful legislative leaders Manny Aragon and Raymond Sanchez. There's enough room to ask if Gentry's play on Sanchez was a play on ethnic politics. Whatever the case, Gentry has put a target on his back. Even if the polling shows it to be a long shot, Sanchez and the Dems will likely run a vigorous race against Nate in 2016. . .

CAPITAL DEBACLE

The session ended with that debacle over $264 million in capital outlay funds that could have stimulated an economy sorely in need of a shot in the arm. That money will now be added to an immense pile of capital outlay funds that according to State Auditor Tim Keller is just sitting there unspent. It was last put at $1.2 billion. And much of it, Keller says, could legally be reallocated and spent. So what to do?

Veteran GOP consultant and pollster Bruce Donisthorpe comes with one of the more constructive proposals we've heard:

It's time the Legislature put a sunset clause on capital outlay funds. If they haven't been put to use after four or five years, the projects they are designated for would not get them. The Legislature could reallocate the money and spend it on other projects or place it in the general fund.

Legislators love their pork but what good is the bacon when it's frozen? A bipartisan effort with the support of the Governor to get that bacon in the frying pan would be most welcome to job-seeking New Mexicans who could build the bridges and make the repairs much of that money is for.

WINNERS AND LOSERS

Time to tote up some winners and losers from Legislative Session '15 so let's go.

Winner--State Senate Democrats get into the winner's circle because they played good defense, and after the Republicans this year took control of the House for the first time in 60 years that was essential if they were to stop the non-compromise GOP agenda. Their determination especially showed in the defeat of the heavily hyped right-to-work bill and the rejection of Matt Chandler, an attorney with close political ties to Martinez, as a University of New Mexico regent. Now the senate Dems--who seem to be learning that they can win battles when they fight--have to do it all over again next year.

Loser--ABQ Mayor RJ Berry dropped the ball when it came to persuading the Legislature to help solve his APD problems by allowing officers to engage in the prohibited practice of double-dipping. That would allow an officer to collect a state retirement check while also working full-time. Berry argued that it would make meeting hiring goals for APD easier but he seemed to be the only one in the senate committee room surprised when the bill burst into flames and sent ashes to the floor.

Winner--Lieutenant Governor John Sanchez chalks up a win, in part, because of Berry's implosion on double-dipping. Speculation has it that Berry could challenge Sanchez for the GOP gubernatorial nomination in 2018. In addition, Sanchez has become agile at doing his main job of presiding over the state Senate. He showcases a conciliatory, inclusive personality. When Gov. Martinez is done with her eight years the electorate may hunger for those character traits.

Loser--Democratic Senator Phil Griego was the biggest loser of the session. He actually lost his seat when he was forced to resign over an ethical breach. Losing is one thing but being banished from the game is the ultimate defeat.

Winner--The dreaded payday loan industry that charges ridiculously high interest rates (north of a mind-boggling 1,000 percent) to mostly low-income consumers is treated like a long lost friend in Santa Fe. The bills to rein in the industry were among the first to meet their demise in the 60 day session. The reason? The industry hired a dozen or so high-powered lobbyists. That still works at the capitol and shows how far there is to go in making government work for common folk.

Loser--This might be controversial but Gov. Martinez ends up in the loser's circle--unless you think she doesn't mind being there. All of her major initiatives such as third grade retention and right-to-work went nowhere. And she refused to sign on to a compromise over the repeal of driver's licenses for undocumented workers that even most senate Republicans wanted. Still, with the exception of right-to-work, this is the same agenda that has been defeated every year since Martinez became governor. She managed a big re-election win last year and if her agenda stays unfulfilled she will use the defeat in 2016 to urge voters to elect more Republican Senators.

And the biggest disconnect? The Census Bureau announced in September that in 2014 the poverty rate had spiked to include nearly 22 percent of the state's population. Only Mississippi was higher. While the news delivered an unwelcome jolt, that didn't seem to be the case at the Merry Roundhouse. A bill to repeal daylight saving time inspired engaged and lengthy debate while that sorry report went mostly unmentioned.

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

Friday, March 20, 2015

Susana's Second Termitis; Senate GOP Breaks With Her On Driver's License Repeal, Plus: Promotion Could Mean Another Senate Vacancy, This Session's Lost Opportunities And Some GOP Big Picture Bills 

The NM Legislature adjourned its 60 day session Saturday at noon.

Some second termitis for Susana as the legislature heads for a Saturday noon adjournment. Republicans joined with Dems on the Senate Judiciary Committee in voting for a compromise on the perennial issue of repealing driver's licenses for undocumented immigrants. It was one of the few examples of statesmanship at the Roundhouse this often bitter session, but Gov. Martinez promptly rejected it. That those R's were willing to break from their own party's Governor reveals fatigue with the issue and with Martinez's rigid positioning. On this one she's looking like previous GOP Governor Gary Johnson. He also started to see his own party drift away from him in his second term because of rigid positioning. . .

And in another sign that Martinez may be losing some of her audience, the Lincoln County Commission did a redo of its meeting to recommend a replacement to the Guv for the seat of ex-Sen. Phil Griego (D). He resigned the Senate over an ethics issue. But the second time around the Republican commission still did not send Susana the name of her favorite candidate--former NM Bureau of Elections Director Bobbi Shearer. She received only one of the five commission votes.

The last of the county commissions in the six county Griego district will meet today to submit recommendations to the Guv. The NM Supremes rejected a petition to speed up the replacement process. . .

While we await the machinations to play out over the Guv filling the seat held by ex-Senator Griego, another possible senate vacancy pops up on the radar.

With a little help from his Republican friend on the Fourth Floor, Dem Senator Pete Campos could become the president of NM Highlands University. If he does, one assumes he will give up his senate seat which sprawls across seven counties. It's solidly Democratic and there will be a lot of contenders if Campos leaves. He's been representing the region since 1991.

Speculation is that Campos has been voting with the Guv on some key issues this session because of his hopes for the Highlands presidency. Hey, if he gets the gig maybe he can get some tips on running the place from former NM Senate leader Manny Aragon. He left the senate in 2004 to take the Highlands presidency and he did it with the help of another Governor--Bill Richardson.

LOST OPPORTUNITIES

The biggest lost opportunity for state House Republicans this session? Their inability to broaden their party's base and approve a stand alone fifty cent an hour hike in the state's minimum wage that would have been approved by the Dem controlled senate and signed by the Governor. New House Speaker Don Tripp will get another chance next year but major employers like Target are now raising their own minimums to as much as $9 an hour. This was the year to do it and they missed out.

And the biggest lost opportunity for the House Democrats was not doing the job of the minority--which is to put controversial amendments and legislation out there for the sole purpose of making the Republicans take hot-potato votes that could haunt them at the polls. Where were those votes? House Minority Leader Brian Egolf will be thinking about that after noon Saturday.

BIG PIC BILLS

The GOP is often fairly criticized for being a party of minimalists that doesn't have much interest in governing or using government to move things along. But this session two big picture pieces of legislation actually came from the R's.

The first we've blogged of previously--the long overdue need for an overhaul of the state's tax structure with an eye toward eliminating a myriad of exemptions in order to lower the onerous gross receipts tax. This year GOP Sen. Bill Sharer took on that thankless and nearly impossible task. But the discussion was more serious than years past. And that's progress. . .

And Alamogordo GOP Senator Bill Burt won approval of a bureaucratic bill with big implications. He points out that the state's military bases have a $9 billion impact here and there will be moves in the future--as there have been in the past--to downsize or even close one or two of them. His bill streamlines the state commission charged with keeping a close eye on Washington's plans for the bases and that is ready to defend their presence.

Instead of moaning about "DC dysfunction," Burt's Bill does something about it by putting the state in a more offensive posture in protecting its economic livelihood rather than a defensive crouch.

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Thursday, March 19, 2015

Daylight Saving Fun Conceals NM Dark Side, Heinrich Enters Session's Final Hours Fray, BernCo DA Race Heats Up Early And A Lawmaker's Catnip 

The disconnect in Santa Fe is not going unnoticed by readers. The hype over the proposal to take the state off of daylight saving time prompted this comment:

Given the state is losing population, ranks among the worst in poverty, worst in child welfare, has tent cities of homeless springing up in the state's largest city, the burning issue of the legislative session is whether New Mexico stays on daylight savings time. Good for you, Merry Roundhouse.

The daylight savings bill has no chance of being approved by the full Legislature or the Feds but, hey, it's a lot more fun to talk about than those other downer topics. . .

Dem US Sen. Martin Heinrich joins the legislative fray in the final days. He comes with this:

Look at the legislation that Governor Martinez and the GOP-controlled State House are pushing –Lower wages for hard-working New Mexicans; Extreme restrictions on a woman’s personal health care decisions; Taxpayer-funded giveaways to out of state corporations. . . Our Democratic leaders in Santa Fe are fighting every day to bring jobs to New Mexico, improve our children’s access to high-quality education and ensure a more secure future for all New Mexicans. . .Will you to chip in $5 right now to help strengthen our Democratic Party?

Like the Senate Democrats who seemed to have awakened to the threat of the Guv's political machine to them in 2016, Heinrich is perhaps also seeing that if the machine is not slowed now, someday he'll find himself in the middle of its path.

MISBEHAVIOR?

The behavioral health shake-up engineered by the Martinez administration continues to reverberate. This report explains the political relationship between health giant United Healthcare and the Governor and what role it may have played in the controversy. It's another case of follow the money. The Santa Fe Reporter piece is a long and complicated read. We go to reader Pete Evans for synthesis and analysis:

A relationship with a giant out-of-state insurance company, not a fight against “waste and fraud,” was what drove Susana Martinez’s plans for the destruction of local behavioral health providers and the change over of our Medicaid system to an old, expensive, and complicated version of managed care that did not work when first introduced to New Mexico back in 1997. 

Learning that Martinez received $25,000 in campaign contributions from United Healthcare, which then profited from her shut down of local providers, is a disturbing new angle on what is already a sad story of cronyism at the expense of the health and mental health of New Mexicans. The shutdown has cost the taxpayers millions of dollars, put hard-working New Mexicans out of jobs, and—in a state that leads the nation in its death toll due to alcohol, drugs, and suicide—rendered thousands of our most vulnerable citizens without care. As the Arizona companies that Martinez rewarded with contracts pull out, leaving the Southern part of the state without behavioral health services, it seems like it’s past time to shift the focus of the “waste and fraud” investigation to the administration.

RACING FOR DA

Torrez
If Bernalillo County District Attorney Kari Brandenburg decides to seek an unprecedented fifth, four year term next year, she's going to have her hands full. Fellow Democrat and ABQ native Raúl Torrez is already on the campaign trail raising money and prepared to challenge Brandenburg in a Dem primary, if that's what it takes.

Torrez, a trial attorney and former assistant U.S Attorney who also has worked for the state attorney general's office, has scheduled his campaign kick-off for next Wednesday. He is picking up early support form former US Senator Fred Harris and ex-Lt. Governor Diane Denish.

It could be an interesting battle. Brandenburg was criticized for years for not being tougher over the many fatal ABQ police shootings, but more recently has won much praise--and the wrath of APD--for filing murder charges against two officers for the fatal 2014 shooting of camper James Boyd. Also, Brandenburg has in the past used personal assets to make sure her campaigns are well-financed. No GOP contenders have yet announced for DA.

BITTEN BY A GATOR

They just can't help it. Tax cuts to state House Republicans is catnip. Even House Ways and Means Committee Chairman Jason Harper of Rio Rancho can't help himself. And that's getting him tied up in knots.

First, Harper grabs the state's attention by proposing the elimination of nearly 400 tax exemptions so the job-thwarting gross receipts tax can be lowered to 2 percent. But now in the final hours of the session, the catnip is getting to him. So what's he doing? He's proposing more business tax incentives and extending an exemption.

Even conservative Four Corners GOP Senator Bill Sharer calls the bevy of exemptions, incentives and tax credits "rattlesnakes" that in the future are going to drain the state.

Jason Harper, for failing to keep your tongue untied and your catnip habit under control, you've just been bitten by a serious-sized Alligator.

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Wednesday, March 18, 2015

Senate Dems Hold Tight, Sanchez Scores Some More Points On Guv And Behind the Pro-Life Stall 

With the Dem controlled Senate holding like a brick wall against the R's battering ram, the talk is already starting about next year. Can the Senate Dems keep the dam plugged on right-to-work and the rest of the Governor's usual agenda in the 2016 election year session? In the media we say "you're only as good as your last broadcast." For Dem senators, they're only as good as their last session. . .

And how about a friendly bet? How soon after the end of the session on Saturday will Guv Martinez hightail it out of here and hit the '16 national campaign trail? Probably about as fast as Bill Richardson did following the 2007 session when he began running for president. . .

And what's this? The Dems scoring more points against the Republican Governor? It's hard to recognize after all these years of their big lay down. But Senate Majority leader Michael Sanchez has been winning some rounds with the Guv. In his latest knock he questions her for taking big campaign donations from a donor convicted of domestic violence, and he got the answer he wanted:

Sanchez called on Martinez to return more than $20,000 the Republican governor received in June 2014 from Marcus Hiles, a luxury home developer and his wife. However, a spokesman for the Republican governor said the criminal history of Hiles was not known until recently and that returning the money in question would not be feasible. “The campaign has long since ended, and you can’t return money that’s already been spent,”  a Martinez spokesman said.

The question left dangling by the Guv's office--and to Sanchez's satisfaction--is whether Martinez--if it were feasible-- would return the contribution as a protest against the domestic violence?

A minor victory, but for a team that has put few points on the board in four years, any basket a Dem makes has them celebrating.

PAYING THE BILLS

GOP Sen. Carroll Leavell points out that the budget that the Senate approved and will soon be approved by the House and sent to the Governor has a reserve of about $500 million or about 7.9 percent of the total $6.2 billion budget. He also says he hopes the state doesn't have to use that money as oil prices continue to stay low and hurt royalty and tax collections. Leavell may be hoping against hope. Oil plunged back below $44 a barrel this week. The state budget is based on oil averaging $56 a barrel in the budget year that begins July 1. For each dollar it does not, the state loses about $7 million. That money would have to be made up through higher tax collections in the non-energy sector or with that tall pile of cash reserves.

PRO-LIFE STALLS

So with the GOP freshly in control of the state House and a number of pro-life Senate Democrats, what happened to anti-abortion legislation this session? Writing on his blog, Father Stephen Imbarrato, a Catholic priest and the Pastor of Sacred Heart Parish in Albuquerque, says:

I felt from the beginning and I still feel now that these bills were written and introduced for the sole purpose of giving the Governor and the necessary legislators political cover. These bills were never meant to reach the Governor’s desk. They were poorly written with ridiculous exceptions that rendered them meaningless and unenforceable. Each bill actually, if passed, would eliminate the only pro-life law on the books in NM, a late term abortion statute. As it were, both bills were introduced late and moved through the House with no sense of urgency.

The pro-life cause has been a headache for Gov. Martinez who has not had to deal with actually signing any controversial legislation on the topic. Pro-lifers--especially the Catholic church--put considerable pressure on lawmakers to advance the anti-abortion bills through the House. They were tabled in a Senate committee.

STAYING THERE 

The owner of the Santa Fe New Mexican says Ray Rivera, the editor of the paper who was recently arrested on a DWI charge, will keep his job and the paper will continue to have aggressive coverage of the state's DWI problem. We heard some criticism when we made light of the arrest and said maybe the Legislature drove Rivera to drink. We're thinking about that criticism but can't say we get it.

JOB WATCH

It appears call center jobs will replace high-paying jobs being lost at the Rio Rancho  Intel plant. B of A is hiring 300 for its call center there. Meanwhile, Intel is down to 2,400 or 2,300 employees, depending on which news account you go by. Intel has cut well over 60 percent of its staff in recent years

THE BOTTOM LINES

We blogged erroneously Tuesday that the Bernalillo County Commission would meet Friday to send a name to the Governor to replace former Sen. Phil Griego who resigned. The meeting is scheduled for today. And we called the petition to the NM Supreme Court to get the county commissioners in the six county district to act faster in choosing names a "lawsuit." It is a petition.

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Tuesday, March 17, 2015

Jockeying Over Vacant Griego Seat Escalates; Petition Filed To Get A New Senator On Floor Right Now, Plus: A Budget But Not Much Else Assured Of Roundhouse Passage And APD, Taser And James Boyd 

Maybe the Guv's fave to fill the state senate seat left vacant by the resignation of Phil Griego will get a second chance and snatch victory from the jaws of defeat? The Lincoln County Commission is doing a do-over of its Sunday meeting on the advice of legal counsel who tells them it was done too hastily.

At the first meeting on Sunday, Bobbi Shearer, former head of the NM Elections Bureau, told the GOP dominated commission that she was the Guv's choice, but the commission ignored her pleas and named one of their own--Commissioner Tom Stewart for the slot. The second meeting is slated for Thursday unless the NM Supreme Court rules otherwise (see below). We'll soon see if Bobbi can bounce Tom.

The Griego district has six--count em--six counties in it and each of them gets to send a name up to to Governor who will make the final choice. Two have done so. The other commissions are slated to do so on Friday--except BernCo which will meet Wednesday-- so it appears the Griego seat will stay vacant until the end of the current legislation session at noon Saturday. But. . .

Martinez camp supporters have gone to the NM Supreme Court to get an order forcing the county commissions that have not yet sent her names to fill the Griego seat to do so ASAP. Like right away. The petition is here.

Does the administration really think the GOP vote that it will appoint to replace Griego can turn the tide for them?  Stay tuned. . .

HYPOCRISY WATCH

And what about the hypocrisy? When ABQ Dem state Senator Tim Keller announced his resignation the Bernalillo County Commission filled the seat within three days and drew cries of outrage from GOP Commissioners Johnson and Talbert and the Martinez media. And they were right. That was too quick. Now they are saying hurry up and send a name to Martinez within the same time frame as the Keller replacement--Mimi Stewart--was picked. Fellas, that bite you feel on your buttocks is an old fashioned Alligator strike.

AT THE ROUNDHOUSE

The solons are sure to pass a state budget for the next budget year that begins July 1. Most everyone agrees on that, but not much else. Speaking of which. . .

No sooner had we blogged that this year--against our better judgment--that this might finally be the year for a compromise on the repeal of driver's licenses for undocumented workers when any possible deal fell apart. The Guv has turned her back on the compromise bill offered by GOP Sen. Ingle and Dem Sen. John Arthur Smith. So it's back to the campaign trail with that one for the umpteenth time. And that's probably just the way the Guv wants it. This was the sixth time the driver's license bill has been debated in the Legislature--five regular sessions and a special session.

Another of the Guv's initiatives of the refried bean variety--third grade retention--is also headed for another failure. Right-to-work was put in the grave earlier, although you could see some of its fingers wiggle through the dirt in the final days. . .

We take note that Republican House Speaker Don Tripp did not come with any major legislative initiatives of his own this session. In an interview prior to the session he excited the bleacher seats when he said it might be time to look at extending the state's gross receipts tax to include giant online retailers like Amazon.com. Nothing but silence on that one ever since.

DOWN TO TWO

Now there are two. Chavez County Dem Party Chairman Fred Moran has withdrawn from the race for NM Dem Party Chair and tossed his support to Santa Fe County Dem Chair Richard Ellenberg. Moran says:

Richard’s understanding of the problems we face and his ability to deal with them, is well beyond the effort I could have provided.

Attorney Deb Haaland, the '14 Dem lieutenant governor nominee, is still in the race. The Dem Central Committee will meet in April to choose a replacement for Sam Bregman. The two chair hopefuls are scheduled to debate in ABQ Thursday at 6 p.m. at the Plumbers and Pipefitters Hall, 510 San Pedro SE.

APD CRISIS

new development in the APD fatal shooting one year ago of homeless and mentally ill camper James Boyd:

One of the weapons Albuquerque police chose to help bring James Boyd out of the Sandia foothills alive last March never should have been in officers’ hands in the first place. Nearly two years before the encounter that has come to symbolize the cratered relationship between police and many citizens here, Taser International discontinued its X12 shotgun, according to the company’s own literature. It cited flagging sales. The weapon, which APD officer Rick Ingram fired twice at Boyd, was no longer supported by Taser at the time. Nor was it covered under warranty.

And former APD Chief Ray Schultz is far from out of the woods when it comes to his relationship with Taser:

The city of Albuquerque’s longstanding and cozy business relationship with the Scottsdale, Arizona-based stun gun and body camera manufacturer is under increasing scrutiny.

The state auditor's office and the city Inspector General have both been investigating the city's relationship with Taser.

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Monday, March 16, 2015

Senate Dems Sting Martinez With Rare Rebuke Of A Regent As Chandler Hits The Mat; Battle Lines Drawn; What It Means, Plus: Jamie Koch Theatrics And Phil Griego Goes; How His Resignation Came Down And The Replacement Race 

Chandler & Martinez
Shellshock turned to rage on the Fourth Floor of the fabled Roundhouse Friday when word came that the New Mexico Senate--in a rare rebuke to a sitting Governor--had rejected the appointment of Matt Chandler to the University of New Mexico regents.

Gov. Martinez, suffering her first major political setback since assuming office in 2011, responded by having her spokesman employ language that put out front the backroom vituperativeness the rejection provoked:

The decision by these extreme Senate Democrats not to confirm a decent and highly qualified man is disgusting and pathetic. It’s despicable politics at its worst.

But in the 23 to 17 vote against the nomination all but one Democrat voted against Chandler. Well-known conservative Dems John Arthur Smith, Mary Kay Papen and Clemente Sanchez, who have often sided with the Governor on key policy issues, all rejected Chandler.  They are hardly "extreme."

As for "disgusting" and "pathetic," that borders on the personal, if not impinging on it. Even though the harsh reference is to "the decision" the Senators made, they are the kind of words that end relationships and reveal the deep-seated anger and frustration the executive harbors toward her opposition. The emotional outburst served to underline the scope of the defeat she suffered.

Clearly, the Governor and her political machine led by adviser Jay McCleskey are teeing the ball up for an attempted GOP takeover of the Senate in 2016 thus the effort to discredit the Senate. But the name calling and bullying is wearing thin with lawmakers and the political community at large. Often that presages a shift in gubernatorial popularity in a second term. We'll see. . .

FROM TAOS TO T OR C

Senate Majority Leader Michael Sanchez, who held his side together on the Chandler vote with the exception of Sen. Pete Campos, said he had "never been prouder" of the Senate and left it at that. There was no need to shout. The vote was heard loudly and clearly from Taos to T or C. His foes argued that the victory would ultimately hurt the Democrats but political players of all stripes recognized it as a high-water mark in his lengthy leadership.

THE THEATRICS

The Chandler debacle was accompanied by high-level political theatrics when UNM Regent and former NM Dem Party Chairman Jamie Koch announced he was resigning from the regents because the rejection of Chandler was "a low point" for the Senate. He argued that Chandler's political involvement was no reason to reject him, citing his own political tenure. If Koch and Martinez thought Koch's resignation would switch Dem votes, they were blindsided.

Koch's was a view shared by few, including it seemed Senate Republicans who voted for Chandler but did not publicly share the Governor's outrage at his defeat. Chandler--who is tied at the hip to the Governor's political machine--was treasurer for the big money PAC that helped engineer the GOP takeover of the state House last year with hard-hitting literature and media. He was simply too close to the recent political fires to be a viable nominee.

It didn't help that the Governor's operatives are openly boasting that they plan to repeat their '14 success and get GOP control of the Senate. That's what you call an existential threat.

Democrats like Sen. Daniel Ivey-Soto--representing a swing ABQ district--seem to be realizing that no matter how hard they try to broker a deal the Guv's machine is going to come for them. The fight that state Democrats have put off time and again can no longer be denied or delayed. A loss of the Senate following the House loss would amount to an extinction level event. And that subtext was present in that Democratic display of unity over Chandler. Now everyone is asking if they can hold together in the final pressure-packed week as the Governor frantically tries to salvage a big win from this session.

This is not a politics that the 79 year old Koch is familiar with, having held political power in a much milder time when Democrats easily dominated, some mutual respect existed and somewhat bipartisan figures like Bruce King and Pete Domenici paraded across the state political stage. In excoriating the Senate and in trying to bail out the Governor while defending Chandler, Koch seemed like a football player running toward the wrong goal post.

A BIGGIE

The rejection of Chandler was more significant than any other such Senate rejection in living memory. That's because the Board of Regents is enshrined in the state Constitution. UNM is a state institution whose management and control are placed by the  Constitution into the hands of a seven-member Board of Regents. The spurning of Chandler will be a major marker of Martinez's tenure. Because he was formally rejected by the Senate, the Guv can't pull a fast one and try to appoint Chandler to the vacancy created by the Koch resignation.

UNM'S ROCK

For UNM President Bob Frank and VP David Harris, it was a rock and a hard place. They chose to use the soft touch on Susana. Frank said:

This whole set of events is a real loss to UNM,” given the “very complicated waters the university is in right now. We need these regents. We’re facing enormous financial challenges right now. Being a regent takes hundreds of hours.

The university has become so political under Gov. Richardson and now Martinez you can see Frank's dilemma. He has a budget in Santa Fe to worry about but in a battle between two equal branches of government, the more circumspect response would not have been a kowtow to the Fourth Floor, but a rose to both sides. Like this:

UNM respects the constitutional process of regent selection. We are hopeful that we will soon have all vacancies filled so we can fully address the challenges facing us. 

That Frank was unable to issue such a statement shows how UNM remains drenched in politics.

OUT OF POSITION

Besides the aforementioned Koch, other Democrats who found themselves out of position on the big story were the tag team of Attorney General Hector Balderas and former NM Democratic Party Chairman Brian Colon who is the current president of the UNM Alumni Association. They publicly endorsed Chandler. They simply got it wrong, assuming that he would make it through and the Democratic base would not take notice. This was the first significant Democratic uprising against the Republican Governor and was a big miss for the AG who led the state Dem ticket in '14.

Balderas is not the only Democrat who has played footsie with the Governor and her political machine. Now with battle lines being drawn and the stakes much higher, such games will be scrutinized by all manner of observers--including those who nurture hopes for the 2018 Dem Governor nomination.

GRIEGO GOES

Sen. Griego (Bralley)
The race is on to replace Phil Griego. The ethically embattled Democratic state Senator became one of the first senators in decades to resign amid a legislative session as ethics charges over a real estate deal he brokered took him down. Now the guessing game is over who will replace the conservative Dem. Guv Martinez makes the call. But first. . .

The six county commissions in the district will send Martinez recommendations. She wants to appoint as fast as possible to get that conservative vote onto the Senate floor for the final days of the legislative session which ends Saturday. That appears doubtful.

Her insistence that the county commissions hold emergency meetings is getting stiff push back and she risks losing another political battle to the state Senate. An open government group says state law requires 72 hours notice for the county commission meetings. Martinez is trying to say an emergency exists and the 72 hours is not a requirement.

Senate Dem leaders are expected to resist seating any appointment by Martinez unless all six counties have had the chance to submit a name to her. That is not expected until at least Friday. The leaders have put her on notice that she needs to take off the track shoes.

Martinez was backing off Sunday, with her office indicating it will stop trying to rush the process.

The Torrance County Commission met Sunday and selected Republican Ted Barela, a former mayor of Estancia. Video of the Torrance commission meeting is here. The Lincoln County Commission also met Sunday and sent Martinez the name of Republican County Commissioner Tom Stewart.

In what could be seen as a sign of weakness for the Governor, Harvey Twite of Ruidoso radio station KEDU-FM reported of the Lincoln commission meeting:

The commissioners decided against the Governor's recommendation of former NM Bureau of Elections Director Bobbi Shearer. who has roots in Lincoln County.

Twite further reports that Shearer told the commission she had the support of the Governor.

A move was made at the Torrance meeting to nominate Shearer but no commissioner did.

Now to the drama over Griego that played out Friday and Saturday at the Roundhouse. NM Politics with Joe Monahan takes you directly to the floor of the Senate for the history-making hours:

Joe, the whole Senate Friday was asking: "Is today the last day for Phil Griego?" After the behind the scenes maneuvering over the ethics charges filed against him, the hope among Democrats was that he would resign by the end of the day. If he didn't it was feared the GOP caucus would move for expulsion. That would put the Democrats in an untenable position: if we vote to expel and he fights it, the caucus would be split beyond repair. If we didn't vote to expel, it would offer a golden opportunity for the Governor to paint us as protecting unethical behavior and that could help to turn the Senate over to Republican control in 2016.

For weeks Griego hunkered down with his lawyers and pretended everything would be made to go away. When he finally wised up and retained effective counsel, he had to stipulate to all the charges the investigation brought against him. If he did not resign he probably would have been expelled. 

That is some heavy duty politics and we're glad to get it out there so it's understood just what prompted that resignation in the final vote-filled days of this legislative session.

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