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Monday, March 04, 2024

Progressive Letdown; What They're Leaving On The Table, Plus: A Santa Fe Coalition To Resolve Wrecked CYFD?, And: GOP Preprimary Results 

It's been almost four years since progressive Democrats busted the state Senate's conservative coalition by successfully primarying conservative D's but now it's the progressives looking shop-worn when it comes to the generational issues they promised to confront. For example. . .

New Mexico's Governor and Legislature, faced with by far the highest rate in the nation of deaths caused by alcohol (more than 2,000 in '22) again failed to address the crisis in the recent legislative session. Unfortunately, our neighbor to the north also has their heads in the sand. From the Denver Post:

Colorado’s quiet killer: Alcohol ends more lives than overdoses, but there’s been no intervention; Part 1: Colorado alcohol deaths surged 60% in 4 years, but there’s been no public outcry or push to save lives;Part 2: Colorado has some of the lowest alcohol taxes and highest drinking deaths. That’s no coincidence, experts say. Part 3: Beer and wine became more widely available in Colorado even as drinking deaths rose;Part 4: Alcohol addiction treatment is available in Colorado, but people struggle to get the help they need. 

Here are the big letdowns of progressive politics in Santa Fe: 

The failure to protect the most vulnerable New Mexicans dying from alcoholism at astounding rates; ditto for those suffering from  widespread fentanyl and other drug addictions without adequate treatment facilities and the failure to protect our children from violence and abuse by ignoring the years-long collapse of the Children, Youth and Families Department.

Progressives in Santa Fe go into a frenzy over abortion rights but when it comes to the conditions of those already born and suffering their option of choice is often silence.

The public most impacted is catching on:

The Times/Siena poll also noted a dramatic decline in Biden's support among less educated working-class voters of color. Four years ago, Biden won that demographic by 50 points but the poll suggested the margin over Trump had since plummeted to just six points.

Political consequences? GOP legislative candidates have an ideal issue in the CYFD disaster to confront progressive incumbents over; the chances of Republican Yvette Herrell breaking through in ABQ's Democratic South Valley are increasing along with her chances of upsetting progressive Dem Rep. Gabe Vasquez and Republican Nella Domenici is going to keep Dem Martin Heinrich busier than he would like.

Maybe the conservative coalition of 2020 is not alive in the Legislature but a coalition of working class Democrats, independents and Republicans may be taking shape

A CYFD COALITION? 

Maybe a coalition could form in Santa Fe to straighten out the wreck at CYFD, writes Kevin Berry a Republican and licensed marriage and family therapist in Roswell. He writes of our recent coverage:  

Joe, Democratic Senator Cervantes hit the nail on the head when stating that the failure of CYFD deserves a special legislative session. Without getting into specifics, my agency was involved in the CYFD case you wrote about last week that ended in the death of 7 year old Samantha Rubio and that the state settled  for $5.5 million. This is a tragedy that could have been avoided if CYFD cared more about the safety of the child than the rights of parents who abuse their children. 

Children are literally dying because of the philosophy that reunification is always in the best interest of the child. At what point will legislators have the resolve to unite and be the voice for these children? At what point do we start caring about the right of a child to live in a safe home? Legislators need to realize that the presumption that parents' rights to their children trump the children's rights to safety and welfare is wrong. 

Senator Cervantes and I may be on the opposite sides of the aisle, but I applaud him for having the resolve to publicly address this issue. This is a winning issue for legislators if they will unite, create bi-partisan legislation, and move forward with, or without, the governor.

Thank you for continuing to highlight our broken child welfare system. The public needs to know what is going on so more people can be a voice for these children. 

Berry points out that Sen. Crystal Diamond has been among those on the GOP side leading the charge for CYFD reform and that an open alliance with Cervantes could be the springboard for a bipartisan solution. 

That wouldn't be easy with a Governor resisting external reforms but she will assume lame-duck status following the November election which usually reduces the fear factor among legislators reluctant to break with a chief executive of their own party.

GOP PREPRIMARY RESULTS 

Louie Sanchez at preprimary
From the NM GOP:

The Party held its 2024 Pre-Primary Convention at Hotel Albuquerque Saturday. . .Nearly 500 delegates  voted for the GOP U.S. House and Senate candidates who will appear on the June 4 primary ballot. Three of the statewide GOP positions are uncontested.

Candidates must receive at least 20% of the delegates’ vote to appear on the primary ballot. A candidate who does not receive 20% of the vote may still appear on the primary ballot by collecting additional petition signatures.

These are the candidates that delegates chose to be placed on the primary ballot: 

US REP.--1st CD: Louie Sanchez 157 votes - qualified to be on the primary ballot. Steve Jones 9 votes 

U.S. Representative for 2nd CD: Yvette Herrell 152 votes - qualified to be on the primary ballot. 

U.S. Representative for the 3rd CD: Sharon Clahchischilliage 183 votes - qualified to be on the primary ballot. 

U.S. Senate: Nella Domenici 487 votes - qualified to be on the primary ballot.

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Thursday, February 29, 2024

Sidebar TO MLG Chamber Speech; Chatting Up APD Chief Medina, Plus: House Speaker Supporters Calm Coalition Talk, And: More Pushback On Possible Special Session From Senate Judiciary Chair  

(Journal, Eddie Moore)
Embattled APD chief Harold Medina (back to camera) appears anything but as Gov. Lujan Grisham and ABQ Chamber of Commerce President Terri Cole appear highly entertained by ABQ's top cop whose recent auto accident in the city's homeless district caused a sensation. 

Just what's going on at that table at the Chamber meeting? Maybe. . . 

MLG: And then you went straight through that red light like a bat out of hell--kinda like a Formula One guy, didn't you chief? 

COLE: You really pulled a fast one, Chief. Well done!

MEDINA: Ladies, you're too kind, although I will say those who accuse me of not being in the fast lane when it comes to cleaning up APD have something to think about.

Unfortunately for Chief Medina, the laughs are going to be few and far between in the months ahead as federal indictments over the department's DWI scandal are soon expected to drop. (The man injured in the accident caused by Medina is recovering.)

SPEAKER POLITICS

Supporters of House Speaker Javier Martinez are calming those who think a coalition of conservative Dems and Republicans could sprout up in the House after 11 Dems joined with the R's to defeat the paid family medical leave act. They point to this campaign kick-off for the Speaker with co-hosts from House Dems across the board. Absent from the list, of course, is former House Appropriations Committee Chair Patty Lundstrom, who Martinez removed from that post and who would be the presumed ring leader of any coalition.

While Martinez is not threatened by any effort to take over the Speaker's chair, the possibility of "floating coalitions" on certain bills that bring conservative Dems and R's together is omnipresent at the Roundhouse as seen with the paid leave act..  

Meantime that $5,500 top ticket price for his kick-off--which takes place on March 12, filing day for all legislative candidates--should keep him in good stead for his re-elect as well as his House Dems who will share in the booty.

Over in the Senate, Judiciary Committee Chairman Joe Cervantes seems like a one man coalition when it comes to dissing the possibility of MLG calling a special session to take up her crime bills that were left behind at the regular session. 

Tuesday he posted on social media that any special, if there were to be one, should be on the crisis at CYFD. Now he's out with reasoning on why a special on crime should be a no-go:

New Mexico's crime problems in Albuquerque are not about an absence of laws, or a lack of strict penalties available to judges. What's lacking is enforcement of existing laws, and an unwillingness to prioritize spending on crime prevention. Expecting the Legislature to solve anything, by creating new crimes which won't be enforced or punished, is purely theater for public appeasement in an election year. 

MLG says she is still contemplating whether to call a special session. On Wednesday she began signing some of the 72 bills lawmakers passed at the 30 day session..

THE BOTTOM LINES

From the state GOP:

On Saturday, March 2nd, the Republican Party of New Mexico will hold its 2024 Pre-Primary State Convention at Hotel Albuquerque. This Convention will bring together Republican delegates from across the state to elect the GOP candidates for U.S. House and Senate to be placed on New Mexico's Primary Election ballot.

And from the Libertarian Party of NM

The Libertarian Party of New Mexico will host its 2024 Annual State Convention on March 2, 2024 at the Albuquerque Convention Center, 401 2nd St NW, Albuquerque, at 1:30 p.m. All Voting Members must be in good standing 30 days prior to the convention. For more info contact secretary@lpnm.us. 

State Dems will conduct their Pre-Primary Convention via Zoom to place candidates on the June 4 primary ballot: 

The 2024 Democratic Pre-Primary Election Nominating Convention will be held virtually Saturday, March 9th at 10:00am. Zoom will open at 9:30am. 

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Wednesday, February 28, 2024

Guv Still Contemplating Calling A Special Session With Anticipated Focus On Crime But Senator With Stroke Pushes Back; Says Any Special Should Be On CYFD Implosion, Plus: An Unwelcoming Welcome Center  

7 year old Samantha Rubio
MLG Tuesday continued to keep the door open on calling a special legislative session as she reviewed the results of the recently concluded 30 day session before an ABQ business group and as an old rival  indirectly chided her over a prominent failure of that session. 

In her speech the Guv said of a possible special:

You'll know when I know. I don't know. I think there's a lot more to do. 

But Dem Senator Joe Cervantes, chair of the Judiciary Committee and who ran against MLG for the 2018 Dem Guv nomination, was pointing in a different direction sure to rile his former political foe, saying on social media:

If any issue deserves a special session, or for the Legislature to call (one) itself, it is this tragedy and what we are allowing to (happen to) our most defenseless children. "CYFD agrees to pay $5.5 million settlement over 8-year-old girl's death."

Cervantes was referencing this horrid report on the failure of the Children, Youth and Families Department:

After the unexpected death of her mother in April 2020, the 7-year-old (Samantha Rubio) put her head down on her knees when asked whether she wanted to go live with Juan Lerma, a man believed to be her father whom she hadn't seen in years. A few months later, Samantha never would speak again — her lifeless body discovered in a garbage bag in a trash can. The case, which resulted in the state of New Mexico agreeing to pay a $5.5 million settlement last month, should send a resounding message to the state's troubled child welfare agency, which placed Samantha and her older brother in Lerma's care despite his history of child abuse and dangerous propensities, attorney Ben Davis said. 

The institutional collapse of CYFD and the placement of what critics call an MLG political crony as the new Secretary at the troubled agency--not a child welfare expert--looms large over the current success ratio of this administration and its future legacy.

All major CYFD reform measures stalled in the past session with progressive Democrats seemingly fearful of crossing MLG. But not Cervantes whose independent streak and middle of the road brand of politics, while diminished in Santa  Fe, still has pockets of power in the Senate and House. 

If MLG calls a special session more gun proposals and other crime bills could be expected to be near the top of her agenda but some of them would likely go through Cervantes and his committee. He has thwarted criminal justice measures the Governor has repeatedly pushed. His social media comment indicates he is not ready to change direction at a special.

The Governor says that at the 2025 session she wants attention given to the breakdown at CYFD. One can only hope that between now and then there are no more children who meet the undeserved and heart-wrenching fate of young Samantha Rubio.

MISSING THE MARK

Bernalillo County spent $13 million on this building to welcome visitors coming into ABQ from the West, but it looks more like a hospital or jail than a welcome entryway into a city with a colorful and fabled history. 

Couldn't some of that color be reflected in this harsh looking edifice? 

The county has now turned over management of the Route 66 Visitors Center to the city of ABQ. Maybe they can tap into our large talent pool of muralists and other artists to dress this place up and really make it look like a place to visit for our out of town guests? Just wondering.

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Tuesday, February 27, 2024

Longtime BernCo Manager Hangs It Up; Her Hits And Misses, Plus: Dems Try Guilt By Association to Get Nella To Talk Abortion, And: Anti-Semitic Trope? Readers Come With More On Columnist's Remarks  

Quezada & Morgas Baca
Nine year Bernalillo County Manager Julie Morgas Baca had her praises sung by the County Commission as she announced Monday that she will resign her $215,000 a year job at the end of June even though her current contact runs until October 2025. She said she has worked in the public sector 33 years.

Commissioner Michael Quezada, who will leave the commission at the end of this year after serving two terms, said of the manager:

(She achieved) significant milestones including extensive infrastructure projects throughout (Quezada's) District 2, the purchase of Anderson Farms for open space, her leadership during COVID, her oversight of Behavioral Health and her excellent financial administration of the budget.

Quezada was mostly right but the behavioral health praise is premature. In 2015 the county enacted a behavioral health tax that brings in $20 million a year but has no landmark achievements to show for it.

In fact, its been somewhat maddening to hear the county continually assert that great advances have been made with those funds. At best that is disingenous. 

As seen here, clearly taxpayers have not been getting what they hoped for when approving that tax.

Manager Baca and the commission continued to fall behind the curve in administering $200 million in funds from the tax as the homeless and mental health crisis compounded. Their efforts seemed scattershot although in recent months after some new commissioners came on board and much public and legislative pressure there does seem to be a more concerted effort.

There also has been much turmoil under Baca's watch at the Bernalillo County Youth Detention Center where a Christmas Day "disturbance" by teens housed there brought to light management problems which are now the subject of improvements. 

Ditto for the Bernallio County Metropolitan Detention Center, beset by personnel upheavals and an increase in inmate deaths, mostly due to prisoners detoxing from drugs. 

In fairness to Baca trouble in jails is not unusual and has been particularly intense around the nation since covid. 

Also, the county did recently announce that it will be putting $3 million in behavioral health funds into the city's Gateway Center for the homeless.

The County erred when it nixed the idea of building a new office building and instead spent what a new facility would cost on renovating the old Alvarado Square downtown. But Baca's management skills did see it through. 

The county will soon have a new manager who will be grappling with the same sticky social issues that have challenged Baca and her contemporaries.

IRRITATED DEMS

Domenici & Johnson
The state Democratic Party is getting increasingly irritated by the silence of GOP US Senate candidate Nella Domenici but in doing so they appear to be getting ahead of themselves as they try to make her guilty by association. Take a look:

In 2022, Nella donated the maximum amount allowed under federal law to Yvette Herrell’s congressional and David McCormick’s U.S. Senate campaigns. Both candidates are strong supporters of the notion that “life begins at conception.” Herrell even championed the Life at Conception Act, which aimed to ban all abortions. . .Just last week, Nella spoke at an event hosted by Kurstin Johnson, a GOP candidate for the State Senate in Albuquerque. During an unsuccessful campaign for the New Mexico House of Representatives in 2022, Johnson’s campaign largely focused on supporting a 15-week abortion ban. 

The Dems would love nothing more than to pigeon hole Domenici and with good reason. If "No-Answer Nella," as the Dems have taken to calling her, comes with something unexpected on her abortion position it could upend the campaign against Dem US Sen. Martin Heinrich. 

With no GOP primary opposition the Dems are going to have to wait to hear exactly where Domenici stands instead of channeling Yvette Herrell and Kurstin Johnson to deduce her position.  

Let's hope Chair Jessica Velasquez doesn't tear her hair out by the time that comes around.

ANTI-SEMITIC TROPE? (CONT.)

Bloomberg
Sometimes the mail begets a lot more mail. Such is the case with our blogging last Thursday on columnist Tom Wright's comments on a trio of billionaires--Soros, Zuckerberg and Bloomberg--who often support progressive causes and also happen to be Jewish. To the email bag and conservative reader Jim McClure: 

Joe, it’s good to see that people in New Mexico are on the lookout for anti-Semitism, even the inadvertent kind. I’m surprised the folks who are calling out the criticism of wealthy Dem donors have been silent about Meow Wolf’s abrupt cancellation of a Jewish rapper’s show or the folks who demonstrated outside a Jerry Seinfeld show. Is anti-Semitism only a problem when conservatives are behind it? 

Another reader says the anti-Semitic meme is being overplayed: 

Joe, I found it interesting that some readers found reporting of the influence that Soros, Zuckerberg, and Bloomberg have on our politics to be a form of anti-Semitism. I feel this meme is being overplayed and used as a diversion to have the public look the other way from the reality that these people, regardless of their religious affiliation, truly have an undue influence on our legislation. I am concerned about that very influence and am grateful it is being reported and not swept under the rug.            

Larry Gioannini writes from Las Cruces:

Of the three people mentioned Soros is probably the most progressive. Zuckerberg is not a progressive and Bloomberg is a sometimes progressive. More interesting is that one of the new owners of the Rio Grande Sun where Wright's remarks were published is former NM GOP Chairman Harvey Yates, Jr. and other high ranking New Mexican Republicans. 

Reader Mitchell Freedman wrties from Rio Rancho:

Where is the real evidence for the statement the right-winger makes? Next time, just ask where and how often Zuckerberg, Soros, or Bloomberg are investing in our local races and whether they make any difference. I don't see it, and being on the State Democratic Party's Central Committee, and being in meetings and such, I have never seen it. 

If one looks at the influence of right-wing billionaires who funded Moms for Liberty and a host of other astroturf groups that is where influence really goes on. Regular folks get plucked up and promoted in a way that a progressive could only dream about--with no vetting as to whether, for example, they like threesomes when they are railing publicly against homosexuality or trans people. :) 

 Oh well. Thank you for publishing this because I have long heard this among right wingers in NM. Z, S, and B are their "lions and tigers and bears" except Dorothy and their friends probably had more realistic bases for those fears.

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Monday, February 26, 2024

APD Scandal: City Again Sent Back On Its Heels As Explosive Details Of Alleged DWI Bribery Scheme Surface; Exclusive Legal Analysis On Where Fed Probe May Go From Here, Plus: Anti-Semitic Dog Whistle On Blog? Readers Weigh In  

Carlos Sandoval-Smith (Journal)
The brazen in your face corruption revealed in audio recordings made last June by a DWI suspect interacting with an APD officer and a paralegal has sent the city back on its heels yet again and wondering if the decades-long rot at the department will finally be extracted.

The DWI scandal, on simmer for a while, exploded with renewed force when Carlos Sandoval-Smith, arrested for DWI, released audio recordings that detailed one method APD DWI officers allegedly employed to extort money from desperate defendants.

Leon Howard, Deputy Director of ACLU NM, summed up the city's reaction:

It’s shocking and quite frankly disgusting.

The taped revelations came in the midst of the bizarre news of an auto accident involving APD Chief Harold Medina who spun like a high-speed top to explain how and why he ran a red light, slammed into a mustang seriously injuring the driver all the while surveying a homeless camp in the SE Heights from an APD vehicle in which his wife was riding shotgun.

The outlandishness of the accident was appropriate to the moment, reflecting the chaos and a confounded public that has watched for over a month as command and control of the city's police force seemed to slip away like a handful of sand.

AN OUTRAGEOUS BETRAYAL

The Sandoval-Smith recordings reveal an outrageous betrayal of the public trust and stain every law-abiding law officer in the city. His contact with APS went like this:

Officer Joshua Montano stops Sandoval-Smith on suspicion of drunk driving, conducts tests, takes his Apple Watch and bracelet and has him booked. Days later the arresting officer calls Smith to tell him his jewelry was misplaced but he can get the items back from an attorney friend of Montaño's. Smith goes to the law offices of Tom Clear where he encounters paralegal Rick Mendez who tells him (on tape) that the guaranteed way to avoid a DWI conviction is to hire Clear for $8,500. He can even make payments if he likes. 

The deal as we now know is that Montaño will not show up in court and the case will be dismissed. Sandoval-Smith did not take the offer, hired a public defender and the case was dismissed but not before he notified the Feds of the scheme.

This scenario or similar ones have apparently played out for years, right under the noses of APD and city leadership. Now the question is will the wheels of justice crush the corruption of today and inhibit it from occurring tomorrow. 

WHAT'S NEXT?

We called on one of of our Legal Beagles of long experience for details and analysis on how the FBI's ongoing investigation into the DWI scheme may unfold from here:

Joe, It appears the status of the corruption case is that the Feds are still gathering evidence. My experience is that the Feds are much more cautious than NM in preferring charges. They have a very high conviction rate and don’t want to see it go under the national average of 90-95%. Also, they are looking to expand the circle of defendants. 

One of the reasons for this is the more defendants, the more likely it is defendants will roll to save their own necks. I know they would be extremely interested in finding not only more law enforcement (and expanded to more agencies) but in an ideal world more lawyers who engaged in this corruption.

We can expect an indictment in the very near future, but of whom is not certain. Indicting attorney Tom Clear, alone, would not accomplish the goal of cleaning house at APD, but indicting him along with a couple of other unindicted co-conspirators and, more importantly, others as yet unknown would cause a great shudder and could have the effect of creating a rush to make deals with the US Attorney.

This is a non-stop topic of discussion in the local legal community. There is, of course, a certain amount of schadenfreude in the hearts of defense lawyers who do not stoop to the illegal methods used to gain DWI acquittals. 

Good stuff and the kind you get only here. Thanks Beagle.

THE GREAT HOPE

The hope in the Duke City is that this will be the scandal to end all APD scandals. Readers can be forgiven if they approach that hope with a healthy dose of skepticism as seen in this email to your blog:  

Corruption starts as a tiny weed. If ignored it takes over your garden. Welcome to APD. Since the evidence room scandal under Mayor Martin Chavez, police chiefs, mayors, district attorneys and the attorney general have just ignored corruption. 

The Taser pay to play scandal under APD Chief Ray Schultz? The DA and AG did nothing. Mayor Berry allowed Schultz to retire and the corruption was ignored. 

--Seven government audits confirming the potential for corruption with APD's payroll were met with silence from chiefs, mayors, the DA and AG. 

--An APD public information officer (Simon Drobik) was investigated and found to be taking a taxpayer check during the same work hours he was working overtime for another entity. This caused the state auditor to refer it to the attorney general. What happened? Nothing. 

All of the chiefs, mayors, district attorneys and attorney generals are all complicit because they allowed the weed of corruption to grow.  If these new allegations involving DWI arrests are true all of them again helped to cause it by not weeding the garden.

And don't forget the asleep at the wheel city councilors over the years. Still, hope springs when it comes to cleaning up the corruption--if not eternally--at least once in a while.

ANTISEMITIC DOG WHISTLE? 

Zuckerberg
Several readers detected a note of antisemitism in a quote we had on the Thursday blog from a columnist writing in the Rio Grande Sun. The comments strike a chord. Here's Michel Hays, a commentator who sent this to us and his email list: 

In his February 22, 2024, issue of New Mexico Politics with Joe Monahan, Mr. Monahan included an extensive passage about Progressive influence on legislation in this year’s legislative session. It reads: 

Conservative columnist Tom Wright, writing in the Rio Grande Sun, ponders the power of progressive Democrats: 

New Mexico has a Democrat majority, but most Democrats here are not progressives. One must ask, why was there so much progressive legislation being considered in this session? Progressive politicians get elected here because big money, from outside the state, funds their campaigns. Super-PACs funded by the likes of George Soros, Mark Zuckerberg, Michael Bloomberg and other elites with power agendas, make sure their handpicked and groomed candidates get elected and support their outside agenda. . . A truly local politician, funded only by locals stands little chance of being elected in a super-PAC funded race. 

Hays responds: 

What I noticed is “the likes of.” The phrase calls attention to “George Soros, Mark Zuckerberg, Michael Bloomberg” as Jews. They make up an elite differentiated from “other elites” (emphasis added) and are associated with “power agendas” [understood to be hidden]. Thus, Mr. Wright insinuates the old antisemitic canard about Jews with their wealth controlling governments. Mr. Monahan gives credibility to this canard by including it in his blog on New Mexico politics. It is unfortunate if the likes of these columnists believe it and repeat it to others. I prefer to think of it as evidence of antisemitism latent in New Mexicans, most of whom are unaware of it in themselves and unaware of it even when it emerges and reveals itself, as in these instances. 

Reader John Campbell writes: 

Would you ask Tom Wright if he can think of any "elites with power agendas" who use massive wealth to pull strings from the shadows but aren't of Jewish descent? I found it a little weird to see that kind of view featured uncritically on your blog, but maybe that was my mistake. 

Insightful comments and the points are well-taken in this corner. 

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Thursday, February 22, 2024

Other Voices: Opinions From Around The State On Family Leave, Progressive Power, Running Education And A Silent Domenici  

In this edition of Other Voices a variety of opinions on issues of the day. 

We start with this reader's reaction to the stunning defeat of the paid family and medical leave act when 11 Democrats joined with all House Republicans to kill the bill: 

Joe: I thought you had a good take on what happened at the Roundhouse with the bill. From my perspective, the Democratic caucus is in chaos. Rep. Patty Lundstrom--an ardent foe of Speaker Martinez--is building power while some lobbyists have pulled him too far to the left and essentially left him looking like a weak leader. The demise of the PFML is rooted in the intransient nature of the sponsors who refused to work for compromise and insist on this being a state run program. To have an honest debate the speaker should have allowed HB 11 and SB 3 and let the chips fall where they may. Without any caucus meetings, no wonder they couldn’t count their votes.

Both bills mentioned would have reduced the amount of paid leave allowed to nine weeks from 12 weeks. 

PROGRESSIVE POWER

Conservative columnist Tom Wright, writing in the Rio Grande Sun, ponders the power of progressive Democrats:

New Mexico has a Democrat majority, but most Democrats here are not progressives. One must ask, why was there so much progressive legislation being considered in this session? Progressive politicians get elected here because big money, from outside the state, funds their campaigns. Super-PACs funded by the likes of George Soros, Mark Zuckerberg, Michael Bloomberg and other elites with power agendas, make sure their handpicked and groomed candidates get elected and support their outside agenda. . . A truly local politician, funded only by locals stands little chance of being elected in a super-PAC funded race.

BRING IT BACK

Rubel
Politics columnist Walt Rubel says after a 20 year absence it's time to bring back a state board of education to run the show:

Test scores show that our students are still underperforming in comparison to their peers around the country. The latest report on childhood well-being showed that 76 percent of New Mexico fourth-graders are still not proficient in reading, and 79 percent of eighth-graders are not proficient in math.

Clearly, changing from an elected school board to a secretary of education did not fix the problem. Senate Joint Resolution 9, which would have called for the repeal of the Public Education Commission and replacing it with a  state board, passed the Senate on a 36-1 vote Jan. 30, but then got stuck in the House.

There is no simple solution. Switching back to an elected school board risks making the process more political. But, it would also ensure more representation from all areas of the state, and more public debate in the decision-making process. The new board would have 15 members, 10 elected from districts throughout the state and five appointed by the governor. . .As one of the voters who supported the change in 2003, I’d like the opportunity for a do-over.

KNOCKING  NELLA

Nella Domenici
The state Democratic Party is anxious to hear what Republican US Senate candidate Nella Domenici has on her mind. The party writes:

Over a month into her campaign Nella Domenici has yet to answer a single interview question from the press. . .Voters still have not heard a word directly from the GOP East Coast Elitist. 

. . .Clearly, she lacks not just a vision for her candidacy but also a familiarity with our state.New Mexicans deserve a candidate with a proven track record who won’t dodge questions or try to buy legitimacy for their campaign. Voters have a right to know if Nella agrees with Trump's plan to ban abortion nationwide or other pillars of the MAGA agenda, like eliminating healthcare for millions. 

. . .Nella still hasn’t given voters a single reason to overlook just how out of touch with everyday New Mexicans she really is.

Domenici's silence is encouraged by her lack of a GOP primary opponent now that Manny Gonzales has withdrawn. Given that backdrop and the ability to finance her own campaign, don't expect to hear much from her anytime soon (our request for her position on abortion got crickets) but do expect to hear more criticism from the Dems working on behalf of US Sen. Martin Heinrich. 

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Wednesday, February 21, 2024

Fighting Irishman O’Neill Faces Stiff Senate Primary Challenge From Former Councilor And Commissioner; District Changes Could Decide Contest, Plus: Pirtle Place: The End 

O'Neill and Bregman (Journal)
This time the Fighting Irishman has a real fight on his hands. 

State Senator Bill O'Neill has been a Roundhouse fixture since his first election to the House and then to the Senate in 2012. So entrenched is O'Neill that in 2020 he drew no GOP opponent. Now that's all changed. 

Speculation that former two term ABQ city councilor and former two term Bernalillo County Commissioner Debbie O'Malley would run against O'Neill has been confirmed, making official her run for the Dem nomination in the June primary. 

Her chances of pulling off the relatively rare feat of ousting an incumbent senator in a primary are not too shabby. Not at all. 

First, O'Neill, who has been a diligent walker during his campaigns, is not as spry as his old self--as seen in today's photo taken at his re-election announcement this week where he is pictured with BernCo District Attorney Sam Bregman. Still, he has announced he and his team will be out walking door to door this weekend.

Second, O'Neill's admirable efforts to make the Legislature more bipartisan is out of sync with the polarized times leaving him especially vulnerable to a progressive challenger like O'Malley. 

Third, District 13 remains heavily Democratic but the boundaries have changed significantly and now include more areas that O'Malley represented in her elective career but are brand new for O'Neill.

Fourth, O'Neill does not seem very well positioned financially for a competitive primary, reporting just $32,000 on hand at the last reporting period in October. 

O'Malley's campaign points out:

As a result of redistricting in 2020. . . over half the district is “new.” It still includes parts of the North Valley, but now incorporates Wells Park, Downtown, Barelas, as well as the South Broadway and San Jose neighborhoods. These are communities I know well. What we need most in Santa Fe are progressive fighters — leaders who are unafraid to stand up for the needs of our families and our environment, and leaders who are unafraid to stand up to the corporate lobbyists and their outsized influence on policy.

O'Neill took note of the district's changes as he informed his constituents he wants a fourth term: 

Having colleagues and supporters join me at my home for a post session get together was wonderful. We were able to discuss our triumphs and future plans. Now, with a moment of relaxation behind us, I'm excited to venture into the district, connect with new voters, and share my vision and track record.

Lately O'Malley has been serving as a policy aide to ABQ Mayor Keller. The progressive machine that has twice elected him is embracing her and ready to do battle with the more moderate wing of the party represented by O'Neill and DA Bregman.

Professionally, O'Neill served as Executive Director of the New Mexico Juvenile Parole Board, and as Development Director for the PEP Program, "a mentoring program for high-risk juvenile offenders through the New Mexico Conference Of Churches."

O'Neill is also an author and playwrite. This year he is in need of a new script if he is to hold on to his seat. 

(No R's need apply. District 13 is all D all the time--57% to 18%).

PIRTLE PLACE--THE END

Pirtle and newborn
One of the state senators O'Neill struck up a friendship with in his search for more bipartisanship is Republican Cliff Pirtle of Roswell. But if O'Neill is re-elected he won't be seeing Pirtle in the senate chambers. The disgraced Pirtle finally pulled the plug on a run for reelection after saying he was reconsidering his initial decision not to run. 

Now that he's out it is very likely that state Rep. Candy Ezzell, who has announced she is running for the June GOP nomination for District 32, will win that election and the general election in November in the GOP dominated district. 

As for Pirtle, 38, the politicos and the media soft-shoed his extra martial affair with a Senate staffer that apparently began when she was a teenager and who he ultimately impregnated while married with three other children.  

The proud papa then took the newborn to the Senate floor as seen in today's photo. Really. 

Pirtle is now going through a nasty divorce with his wife which was precipitated by his cheating

Senate leadership, to their lasting shame, looked the other way when asked to employ the Ethics Commission to investigate the propriety of Pirtle's relationship with senate staffer McKenzie Luna.

That was all put aside in the final hours of the '24 session as many of Pirtle's fellow senators rose to commend him for a job well done. It was quite the spectacle and a reminder that while reams of news copy are devoted to the goings-on in Santa Fe, the goings-on that make lawmakers and the establishment media uncomfortable are often swept under the rug.

One of our Senior Alligators comes with a fitting satire of the bizarre display in the Senate as Pirtle was regaled:

Pirtle slowly walks off the Senate floor, holding his love child and with his paramour by his side. Fellow senators reach out desperately to shake his hand and hold him, all while wiping away a deluge of tears. 

As Pirtle leaves the chamber, a pack of white doves suddenly fill the chamber, their wings pushing the marijuana smoke like the wisps of clouds. Pirtle exits and the chamber doors shut. 

The Senate is empty now, with the exception of Lt. Gov. Howie Morales who stands behind the dais. He sadly looks  around, wipes away a lonely tear as he stares at the door that closed behind Pirtle and whispers to himself, “Now he belongs to the ages.” End Scene. 

Yes, Cliff, you and your enablers are the target of an Alligator Strike. Congrats. . . or something--and so long. 

THE BOTTOM LINES

In a first draft Tuesday we had $16 billion going to improvements at ABQs Balloon Fiesta Park from the legislature's capital outlay ball. They wish it were so. The correct total, of course, is $16 million.

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Tuesday, February 20, 2024

Massive Capital Outlay Bill Will Change The Face Of Many Neighborhoods Across The State; That Bill Is Our Pic Of Most Memorable From Session '24, Plus: A Peek At Many Of The Projects To Come  

Legislative sessions can be beehives of activity but most don't result in landmark legislation and don't leave much of a mark. So what will be remembered about the 2024 session? 

Results were meager with just 72 of the 658 bills introduced winning passage. But one of them--or at least the results from it-- has the best chance of New Mexicans recalling it a dozen years from now. 

That would be the colossal $1.4 billion capital outlay bill (fondly referred to as "pork) authorizing a myriad of construction and other projects that will in many cases change the landscape of numerous neighborhoods. Now that's memorable.

Here's a glimpse at some of them, mostly financed with royalty and tax money from the ongoing and historic oil boom in SE NM.

--Nearly $16 million was approved for improvements to ABQ Balloon Fiesta Park, home to the state's most iconic tourist attraction and soon to be the stadium home for the popular NM United soccer team. Balloon aficionados and soccer fans alike will be enjoying the improvements for decades to come.

--The renovation of of the historic downtown ABQ Rail Yards has been greeted with skepticism but with the addition of the NM Media Academy to train future film workers it appears a massive renovation to turn the Yards into a major attraction has gained favor. A $10 million appropriation will speed up the process and is on top of $40 million approved by lawmakers in 2023. 

--The Legislature approved an immense package of $748 million of bonds and cash for roads this year, the most in decades. $107 million of it will go for long-awaited improvements to heavily traveled Rio Bravo Boulevard in ABQ's South Valley. The orange barrels will be fearsome but worth it. On ABQ's Westside Paseo del Norte and Unser Blvd will get $2.8 million for construction.

--APD will be buying a new $3 million helicopter; the state fair will receive $8 million to improve infrastructure and electrical systems at the aging fairgrounds and UNM's Popejoy Hall will see $1.07 million for improvements to the fine arts center. 

--Elsewhere around the state:

-- $1.15 million will go for construction of a soup and community kitchen in Las Cruces.

--The tiny population of Harding County--just 628 souls-- landed $575,000 for construction at the county's senior center.

-- In Lea County, where roadways are taking a beating from the oil boom, $75 million has been approved for improvements to Highway 128.

--In Deming there's $110,000 in improvements slated for the local dog park.

--In McKinley County the Navajo Code Talkers Museum will receive $1.5 million.

--In Alamogordo in Otero County the Museum of Space History gets $1 million for improvements.

Cumbres & Toltec
--In Rio Arriba County $2 million is on the way to rehab railroad tracks and passenger cars of the popular Cumbres and Toltec Scenic Railroad, a National Historic Landmark. 

In Colfax County $25 million will be spent to improve the well-known I-25 intersection at Raton and US 64.

In San Juan County the Bloomfield City Hall will undergo $275,000 in renovations.

In San Miguel County water is a major concern and capital outlay is headed there to help resolve the problems including $1.5 million for improvements to the Pecos water system.

In Sandoval County $15 million was approved by lawmakers for construction of a magistrate court building and $275,000 to make improvements to the Coronado Historic Site.

--In Santa Fe County $4 million of capital outlay will go for renovations to the State Supreme Court building and $5.45 million has been green lighted to expand the water system for the village of Agua Fria.

That's only a sliver of the $1.4 billion headed out the door and across the state. But there is a catch. Too many projects continue to be stalled and the state currently has a backlog of nearly $5 billion in capital outlay as lawmakers continue their years-long effort to improve the system. Local communities hope that won't be the case with this latest big batch of dollars and will make for fond memories of Session '24. 

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Monday, February 19, 2024

Picking Up The Pieces: Progressives Plan Another Play For Family Leave Act; Talk Of Compromise Also Surfaces As Speaker Defends Calling Doomed Bill To Floor  

Speaker Martinez (Moore, Journal)
The House defeat of the paid family and medical leave act on the next to last day of the legislative session startled the Roundhouse and handed House Speaker Javier Martinez his first big defeat. Now progressives are trying to pick up the pieces. 

The bill went down when conservative Democrats formed a coalition with Republicans and carried the day 36 to 34, but in a post session interview with us the Speaker dismissed this speculation heard here last Thursday that he was outmaneuvered:

The blame game started immediately with some Roundhouse Wall-Leaners telling us they blame the lobbyist who helped persuade Speaker Martinez to bring the act to a floor vote. He reportedly was uncertain but was assured the votes were there. They weren't and his speakership suffered its first major blow as a result. 

Martinez shot back :

I put the paid family leave bill on the floor because it deserved a floor hearing and debate, and while there were other tough bills that I could have brought to the floor on the final day, I prioritized family medical leave because it's been a long time in coming. I knew there was an even chance of it going either way.

Martinez also pushed back against the theory that he wanted a floor vote to "get on the record" those Democrats who were in opposition:

I didn't put that bill on the floor simply to "get people on the record." That's not how I operate.

Martinez said the 2025 session could be the one where the bill, which provides up to 12 weeks of paid family and sick leave for employees, could meet with success. The measure easily passed the Senate this session but then fell victim to coalition politics. Says Martinez: 

I liken this to the long battle over the constitutional amendment to allow us to increase the funding we take from the Land Grant Permanent Fund and deploy it for early childhood education. This is taking a while but I firmly believe it will happen. 

Meanwhile, those not quite as confident as the Speaker are talking of a possible compromise in the  aftermath of the defeat. For example, having the paid leave first apply only to mothers-to-be. 

They would get the 12 weeks of paid leave without a tax on employers or employees--as the defeated bill called for--but would instead have the leave financed with child care assistance funds already available to households with incomes at 400 percent of the poverty level or $120,000 a year for a family of four. 

The argument is that the state is awash in child care funds and fast tracking paid medical leave for pregnant women would be readily accepted by the House. They also say this would set up a future scenario where coverage could gradually be extended to others.

Like any compromise this one is going to leave proponents sour but it is out there.

As for the Speaker, the defeat of paid leave was his first major setback since taking over at the 2023 session. He will live to fight another day.

FOOTNOTE

Karen Wentworth of the League of Women Voters comes with this tidbit that might have influenced the opposition to the paid leave act: 

Joe, this act was also frightening to cities and counties. Bernalillo County put a family leave act in place a couple of years ago to attract new employees and then they tracked what happened. In FY22, employees of the Metropolitan Detention Center took 134,000 hours of family leave. Because MDC is a 24/7 operation, other employees had to be paid overtime to take up the slack. It cost Bernalillo County $1.8 million dollars. The county didn’t oppose the act, but they did ask to be exempted from it. They want to be able to make adjustments in the future. 

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Thursday, February 15, 2024

Legislative Session Ends 

The 30 day session of the NM Legislature ended Thursday. Here is the AP wrap. Here is the Governor's post-session news conference. Here is a list of the bills sent to the Governor.

Conservative Coalition Arises In House And Scores; Progressives Reel As Family Leave Act Fails; Speaker Martinez And His Whip Take A Whipping; A Different House In Wake Of Upset Win?  

Speaker Martinez
Coalition politics, a mainstay of New Mexican politics, has been in hibernation but no longer. 

The cave emptied out at the Roundhouse Wednesday as 11 conservative/moderate Democrats joined with all the House Republicans to deliver a stunning blow to the progressive Democrats and House Speaker Javier Martinez by defeating their paid family medical leave act. 

The 36 to 34 vote was fraught with emotion with some progressive lawmakers breaking out in tears and having to be calmed down as they reeled from the unexpected loss.

Progressive activists like Andrea Serrato revealed their anguish on social media:

To listen to so many people put their suffering on display to convince lawmakers to pass paid family medical leave only to have a handful of Democrats work with Republicans to kill it is a new level of disappointment and heartbreak. 

But conservative activists like Sarah Smith rejoiced:

The paid family medical leave act has failed in the NM legislature! Thanks to all of you who took action to stop this new tax that would have affected all New Mexico workers, businesses, and families! Thanks to the Legislators who stood up for us! 

Two of the ringleaders of the conservative D's are Rep. Patty Lundstrom, the onetime chair of the powerful House Appropriations Committee who was ousted by Speaker Martinez last year but Wednesday got her revenge, and business-friendly northern Dem Rep. Joseph Sanchez who had this analysis of the upset victory:

We all know small business owners — they’re our friends or our neighbors — a lot of them don’t pay attention to what we do here in the Legislature. And I’d hate to be near those people when they find out this is implemented.

Business lobbyists watched as the state Senate approved the act on a party line 25 to 15 vote but formed stronger battle lines when it was sent over to the House. 

Sponsors fruitlessly pointed out that the measure did not cast that wide of a net with employers of five or fewer workers exempt but  to no avail.  

It may have been the status quo that did the progressives in, a status quo that is not all that bad:

New Mexico already requires employers to provide paid sick leave to workers under a 2021 law. Employees accrue an hour of paid sick leave for every 30 hours worked, ensuring up to about 8 days of leave annually. The failed proposal for paid leave would have eventually provided workers with up to 12 weeks of medical and family leave — which would be extended to parents of adopted, foster and stepchildren. 

BLAME GAME

It was just a few years ago when progressives made successful primary election challenges against conservative Senate Dems and busted the decade-long coalition led by Dem Sen. John Arthur Smith, known as "Dr. No"  for his penchant for killing progressive plans. Now they have seen the coalition arise in the other chamber and with a force that is not going to be forgotten going forward.

The blame game started immediately with some Roundhouse Wall-Leaners telling us they blame the lobbyist who helped persuade Speaker Martinez to bring the act to a floor vote. He reportedly was uncertain but was assured the votes were there. They weren't and his speakership suffered its first major blow as a result. 

Also taking a hit was new House Majority Whip Renee Szczepanski. Her abacus abandoned her. Her reputation for political astuteness fostered under her mentor and former Speaker Brian Egolf and nourished by an obsequious hometown press is for the moment under water. 

But it is the current speaker who must absorb most of the blow, recover and move on. That is not the tallest of orders but a strengthened conservative caucus is now emboldened and could test him again--and again. That makes the House a much more Machiavellian environment.  

That the Governor was mainly quiet on the leave act was also cited as a reason for the gut punch to the progressives. She is at heart a self-described conservative on many matters and this appeared to be one of them. 

There is also the overreach of the progressives. They came with a California-like leave act and tried to clone it here, but they crossed an unseen line and paid the price. A similar occurrence came last month when conservative Dems joined with Republicans on the ABQ City Council to rebuke Mayor Keller over actions of an environmental board. 

Unlike California, the progressives here are getting schooled on the limits to their reach and shown that coalition politics in intriguing New Mexico is always lurking in the hallways of the Roundhouse--and elsewhere

THE BOTTOM LINES

The '24 legislative session adjourns at noon today. Join me for late breaking news and analysis of the past month's action today at 5 p.m. with TJ Trout on KKOB and at 96.3 FM

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