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Wednesday, June 19, 2019

Bean Counters Say Another Billion Dollar Budget Baby Being Born In Permian Oil Boom, Plus: Names To Replace Sen. Pinto Go To Guv, And Our Vintage ABQ Contest Winners 

Put another billion on the pile--or more. That's the latest financial forecast from Santa Fe for the next budget year that starts July 1. No surprise here. We've been pounding the table over the Permian Basin oil boom, saying state lawmakers need to prepare not for a bust but for a continued boom and decide how to use all that money to solve the generational problems that haunt the state. A dreary reminder of that came this week when New Mexico again landed at last in the nation in the child well-being rankings.

As for oil, the bean counters at the Legislative Finance Committee are counting on this scenario:

West Texas intermediate oil prices, which run slightly higher than New Mexico prices, fell another $5 per barrel earlier this month, to $53 per barrel. Current revenue forecasts for the state assume an average annual New Mexico price of $49.50 per barrel for the budget year that ends June 30 and $52 per barrel for the FY20 fiscal year.

Oil closed at $53.90 Tuesday so the state is right in the sweet spot as it nears the 2020 fiscal year in which the general fund is budgeted at $7 billion. With another billion or more in surplus an $8 billion budget could soon be in the cards. Can they spend it effectively? That's the billion dollar question.

Back on that Kids Count report showing us in the cellar in child-well being, Allen Sanchez, CEO of CHI St. Joseph's Children (CHI) took a lot of heat when he said "institutional racism" is one reason the state is so far behind in providing for its children. But his view will garner further attention because of the latest report:

The annual Kids Count report from the Annie E. Casey Foundation found that 18% of the nation’s children live in poverty, down from the Great Recession. But the same advances weren’t seen in the Southwest, where many children are Native Americans, Latinos and immigrants who have long faced disadvantages. "The nation’s racial inequities remain deep, systemic and stubbornly persistent,” said the annual Kids Count report from the Annie E. Casey Foundation.

The widespread poverty and lagging education among Native American and rural Hispanics is especially troublesome. Bring that down and the state starts climbing in the standings.

Speaking of Indian Country, let's check in on the search for a replacement for the late state senator and Navajo code talker John Pinto who passed this month at the age of 94. Here's our Navajo Gator with an update:
Bowman-Muskett

Joe, two very divergent candidates emerged from McKinley and San Juan counties this week as possible successors for the vacant seat. McKinley County forwarded only one candidate to the governor for her consideration--former county commissioner Carol Bowman-Muskett, a McKinley county native. The San Juan county commission also voted to send just one candidate--former county commissioner Wallace Charley, a San Juan County native and a former NM state rep from long ago. Both are Navajo.

Muskett is from the small Navajo community of Mexican Springs. Her family has served in various local chapter leadership roles. Charley recently lost his bid for a second term to a former commissioner and teacher--GloJean Todachene. 

A betting man would take odds on Muskett. She would fit the bill nicely for an appointment from fellow Democrat Lujan Grisham. Muskett voted against county Right to Work legislation and openly opposed county Second Amendment Sanctuary County legislation. She is also vocal in chapter elections, serving her first term as Mexican Springs chapter secretary. 

Whoever gets the appointment can expect a 2020 Dem primary challenge, andthe line could be long. Names circulating are former NM Rep Ray Begaye, his brother former Navajo Nation President Russell Begaye (who lost his bid for a second term as president), current Navajo Nation Chief of Staff Paulson Chaco, Shannon Pinto, the granddaughter of the late senator, and a variety of officials from Navajo chapters and local governments. The district is heavy Dem and the R's would b hard-pressed to take the seat.

THE BOTTOM LINES 

The contest for the Vintage ABQ tickets conducted on the Tuesday blog didn't exactly mesh with the readers. It turns out naming the new downtown BernCo government headquarters--whose renovation costs are running 50 percent over the initial estimate--did not unlock the imagination much. We end up owning that, but are going to make up for it  by giving away not just one set of $170 tickets to the Vintage ABQ Grand Tasting Friday night, but two pairs of ticks.

So Isabelle Zamora of ABQ who suggests the name "The Establishment" gets a pair. Can't you just see a giant neon light spelling that out over downtown? And ABQ's Rebecca Leppala also wins a pair of ticks. She suggested that the building be called "The Big SunBern." Okay, it doesn't knock your socks off but when you put the sun in there it gives off a warm New Mexico vibe. As for "Bern," well, taxpayers kinda got burned with that cost overrun and we shouldn't let the politicos forget it.

Education blogger Seth Saavedra came with a good one: "Center for the Bureaucratic Arts." Nice, Seat, but bloggers are not eligible. Besides, don't you owe us lunch or something?

Enjoy the grand tasting ladies, and thanks to all those who took time to respond.

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Tuesday, June 18, 2019

PNM Stock Hitting Record Highs In Aftermath Of Legislature Approval Of Energy Act, But All Is Not Settled For Company, Plus: Your Chance to Win Vintage ABQ Tickets  

The stock of PNM is trading at an all-time high, over $51 a share on Monday. Like other electric utilities that use a lot of borrowed money the stock has been helped by low interest rates. However, PNM shares really burst upwards during this year's legislative session when lawmakers approved the Energy Transition Act (ETA). The new law sets a statewide renewable energy standard of 50 percent by 2030 for New Mexico investor-owned utilities. That goes up to 100 percent carbon-free by 2045.

The measure was backed by the Governor and a big majority of lawmakers. It also made for a case of strange political bedfellows. An army of local and national environmentalists partnered with PNM to push the ETA through, even as they endured criticism that the ETA was a bailout for PNM to pay for the shutdown of its coal-fired generating station in the Four Corners and would result in significantly higher electric bills for New Mexicans.

But all is not settled. Now PNM must win permission to be a major provider of those renewable (carbon free) resources the ETA mandates and that leads to the Public Regulation Commission (PRC) which will decide the matter.

A Senior Alligator with long utility experience has these insights:

Now you have the vaunted Energy Transition Act--with a distant renewable target.  That's new investment. If PNM can own a lot of that new generation, that grows its rate-base--a lot. That's probably among the reasons for its high stock price.

The ETA is a consequential economic event. Given that, the Public Regulation Commission (PRC) has a separate review of 'competitive bidding' rules governing replacement power sources. The rules likely will be designed to preclude a rigged deal that favors utility-ownership of replacement power. The rules likely will encourage 'independent and competitive' market players. Given the magnitude of new power generation that will be needed without the San Juan Generation Station, the PRC's rule-making on resource procurement will be consequential.

The prior PRC majority was pretty accommodating to PNM. The current majority is less so--by a lot.

This is why PNM backed the proposed 2020 constitutional amendment that would return NM to an appointed commission, from the current elected panel. But, even assuming voters approve the amendment in November 2020, the change would not be effective until 2023. So, the current Commission (more-or-less) should be presiding during the early phases of the transition to renewables.

And that sheds light on why in 2018 PNM dived into several PRC campaigns by financing political committees that spent hundreds of thousands against candidates the company opposed. The risky move backfired big time. PNM's candidates all lost and the five member PRC became less PNM friendly.

Want to go deeper in the weeds on what PNM has been up to? Here's a transcript of the company's first quarter earnings reports featuring its top executives and Wall St. analysts.

WIN VINTAGE ABQ TICKETS

How about some great food and wine courtesy of your blog? You got it. We have two tickets valued at $85 each  to give away to the Vintage ABQ Grand Tasting this Friday evening, June 21 at the Anderson, Abruzzo International Balloon Museum. So let's have some fun doing it. . .

Bernalillo County says it is asking the public for suggestions for naming the new downtown county headquarters building. It's actually the 39 year old Alvarado Square building that is being renovated at a cost of nearly $50 million--50 percent more than the county initially estimated. We're sure with that in mind our witty readers can come up with an appropriate name for the County's new digs. The best answer wins the tickets--a $185 value. We'll take your emails (jmonahan@ix.netcom.com) until 8 p.m. today and announce the lucky winner on the Wednesday blog. Good luck!

Vintage ABQ is a nonprofit charitable organization that features the finest in ABQ food and wines at a variety of events listed on their website and available to you this week. Proceeds go to many causes including the NM Symphony, Albuquerque Youth Symphony, Arts in the School, APS Fine Arts Program, New Mexico Jazz Workshop and the New Mexico Philharmonic.

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Monday, June 17, 2019

Hefty NM Film Incentives Draw Renewed Questioning In Wake of NBCU Deal: Too Generous? Blowing A Hole In State Budget? Other States Back Off  

While the political class sees a major economic coup with the decision of NBCUniversal to set up a film and TV studio in ABQ the doubters hear a ticking time bomb that they fear could eventually blow a hole in the state budget.

Their concern focuses on the latest film and TV incentive legislation passed this year that upped the incentives handed out to movie and TV production companies from $50 million to $110 million per year. However, for companies that make a ten year commitment to film here--which Nextflix and NBCU have--there is no cap. They can keep collecting 25 to 30 percent of what it costs to produce films and TV shows no matter how much is being billed by the industry--even if their cut of the incentive pie takes the total over $110 million a year. How much over? Well, uncapped means that--no cap is no limit. And that's a big red flag for the critics.

"Uncapped" incentives have gotten other states in trouble. Here's a Senior Alligator with special expertise who analyzes what's really going on:

Joe, the latest film incentive bill was written by Netflix for Netflix. It also applies to NBCUniversal and pretty soon Paramount which is investing in Santa Fe Studios. Amazon and Facebook are also getting into producing original content, possibly in NM. This is totally out of control. To top it all Netflix and NBCU made themselves their own “pass through" companies which means that everything they do is now rebatable whether it was procured here or out of state.

For example, why would NBC not just buy the ABQ building they are going to use for its studio from the Garcia family? Because if they rent that building they get 30% of the rent back from the state. And between the city and the state they are getting $7 million to fix up the property which is probably more than it's worth.

Question for your readers: What’s the annual film incentive payout that will cause pushback from state legislators? For Gov. Richardson it was $100 million and then Gov. Martinez came in and got a rollback. In Louisiana it was $250 million that caused them to put on the brakes. In Georgia, whose incentives are at $800 million, I’m guessing the pushback number is $1 billion.

Put me down for $400 million for New Mexico or 6% of the entire state budget. And it appears that it will hit that much in just 2022. I believe in film incentives because they benefit New Mexicans but this is just a corporate raid on our treasury.

State Senate Finance Committee Chairman John Arthur Smith, a Democrat, has already expressed his skepticism about the incentives, saying studies show that the state does not come close to recouping the money that subsidizes the industry. Still, the legislature approved not only the uncapped incentives but over $200 million to be paid out over 16 months to help pay down the huge backlog in film subsidies already approved. The total backlog is expected to hit nearly $400 million by the end of this year.

Hobbs GOP state Rep. Larry Scott and other rural lawmakers that don't benefit as much from the program as the ABQ metro questions the entire basis of the program:

Is that the economic development we want to foster in this state – if it’s the kind of economic development we have to bribe to stay here?

Most critics don't go that far, but they do say New Mexico clearly is going too far into the tank for Hollywood and will eventually learn the same hard lesson other states have.

Corporate welfare or a great economic driver? That's still an unanswered question as the giants of Hollywood are welcomed here by the fans and the state waving blank checks at them.

The WSJ has more on NM's controversial incentive program.

THE BOTTOM LINES

Last week we blogged the incorrect day for President Trump's re-election announcement. It is Tuesday--tomorrow. And that's when local Republicans will hold a watch party for the event at GOP headquarters in ABQ.

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Thursday, June 13, 2019

More Obstacles For Legal Pot In NM, Big Bill's Advice To 2020 Prez Hopefuls And NM Ranks High On List Of "Fun States"  

This is pretty much a must read for NM legislators and Governor as they continue to weigh legalizing recreational marijuana.

When states legalize pot for all adults, long-standing medical marijuana programs take a big hit, in some cases losing more than half their registered patients in just a few years, according to a data analysis by The Associated Press. Much of the decline comes from consumers who, ill or not, got medical cards in their states because it was the only way to buy marijuana legally and then discarded them when broader legalization arrived. But for people who truly rely on marijuana to control ailments such as nausea or cancer pain , the arrival of so-called recreational cannabis can mean fewer and more expensive options.

And this factoid could help keep the legalization train parked at the station in Santa Fe:

Participation in the state's medical cannabis program has grown rapidly to 73,000 people after chronic pain and post-traumatic stress disorder were added to a list of qualifying conditions.

Throw in the bill approved in the last legislative session that decriminalizes possession of half an ounce or less of weed and you can hear the momentum draining away from the legalization crowd.

BIG BILL ON 2020

Former Governor Big Bill says his advice to the 2020 presidential candidates should be " perhaps taken with a grain of salt" since his own Prez campaign in '08 "fizzled." But, writing in the Boston Globe, he forges ahead anyway and offers a list of do's and dont's for the Dem contenders:

On the electoral front, don’t put all your eggs in one or two baskets, like I did in Iowa and New Hampshire, which favor more established candidates. Concentrate on a state that is not too crowded with other candidates and that’s early and manageable, like Nevada. And look around the corner and pick a few states where you can score on Super Tuesday.

And the former two term Governor, 71, who splits his time between homes in Santa Fe and Cape Cod in Massachusetts, has a 2020 prediction:

When I ran for president in 2008, the Democratic campaign was essentially a three-person race at the onset, a contest between Senators Barack Obama, John Edwards, and Hillary Clinton. The voters wanted glamor and charisma, not resumes and credentials. But this year seems different: Voters will either go for the most electable candidate against President Donald Trump or generational change, and a relatively young new face.

With 23 Dems running that "relatively young new face" could be one of a dozen.

WHERE ARE WE?

For those of us of a certain age ABQ often seems a town we no longer recognize. The news:

Volunteers, city, and county workers spend about one hour four times per month picking up needles and syringes around Bernalillo County. It is an initiative. . . by the county's Department of Behavioral Health Services (DBHS). "When we go out and find a lot of needles, yes, we feel some kind of satisfaction saying, 'oh, I picked up 150 needles today," said Michael Hess, a statistical analyst for DBHS. "But on the other hand, that means this is a place where there's a lot of people who are hurting who are using drugs and that's not a good feeling."

HAVING FUN YET?

On the flip side of the negativity the personal finance site WalletHub says New Mexico is one of the better states to have fun in. In fact, compared to our usual dreary national rankings, fun-loving New Mexicans catapult us into 15th place in 2019's "Most Fun States In America":

With pure enjoyment in mind, WalletHub compared the 50 states across 26 key indicators of a jolly good time that won’t break the bank. They range from movie costs to accessibility of national parks to casinos per capita.

However, when it comes to "nightlife" the sleepy Land of Enchantment slips to #33. So take your nap then get your party shoes on this weekend and help us climb that fun ladder.

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Wednesday, June 12, 2019

Local R's Prep For Trump Re-elect Announcement As He Talks A NM Longshot Play, Plus: A Look Back On His Wild ABQ Night In '16, And: More ABQ Crime Beat 

Amid talk that President Trump might make a longshot play to win New Mexico in 2020 the state GOP will host an ABQ watch party for his re-election announcement that's slated for next Tuesday in Orlando, FL.

The event will be held at ABQ GOP headquarters so it's not as though the Trump campaign has started to reach out to independents and Democrats who would be essential to pull off any upset. No R prez nominee has carried NM since 2004.

A thought: If the Trump campaign pursues its '20 longshot talk, might he attempt to score points with this?:

The Bureau of Land Management no longer opposes an effort by members of the NM congressional delegation that would ban oil, gas and other mineral leasing within a 10-mile buffer zone around Chaco Culture National Historical Park.

Trump is in good shape to carry the conservative southern congressional district but recent Democratic landslides in big BernCo are a roadblock that appear as impassable as his wall on the border would be.

It seems absurd that the Trump campaign believes it can win here but if Midwest states continue leaking oil on him desperate times will provoke desperate measures. For example, the Trump campaign is now even playing around in deep Blue Oregon.

TRUMP IN NM

With Trump set to launch his re-election bid, we take you back to his May 25, 2016 rally at the ABQ Convention Center for what was one of the wildest nights ever in state politics. We were there and here's how we wrote it:

TRUMP TEARS THE TOWN IN HALF: WILD NIGHT OF POLITICAL THEATRE AND PROTEST ROCKS CITY; HE STUNS THE STATE AS HE LASHES OUT AT NO SHOW MARTINEZ

Donald Trump cut Albuquerque in half Tuesday night. His appearance prompted violent street protests that drew national attention and at the same time had his hardcore supporters inside the Convention Center reacting with euphoria. (Complete video of Trump rally is here.)

Visiting the most Hispanic state in the nation and a Democratic city, Trump did not hold back. He hit hard all the hot button issues that have made his presidential candidacy the most controversial of our time. There was no change in tone or content to indicate he would pivot to generate more Hispanic support here or elsewhere.

It was a night of political theater unlike any ever seen here, giving an up front, uncut and unsettling look at the new brand of American politics that carries with it an air of danger.

When we left the Convention Center for the walk home to our near downtown neighborhood, protesters on the street and in cars taunted the Trump crowd, waving Mexican flags and shouting obscenities at them. Some vehicles spun their tires to burn rubber and send smoke into the faces of the Trump supporters.

It was a long walk home.

CRIME BEAT 

The head of the ABQ police officer's union was quoted here Tuesday saying police feel "handcuffed"  enforcing the law because of a federal consent decree governing APD. That drew this cutting dissent on Twitter:

Gag me -#APD is "handcuffed" by the gangster culture it wallows in and which caused more than $50 million paid out in lawsuits and the cost of the federal oversight. And this was not addressed by its union..#goodmoneyafterbad #DOJOversight.

A spokeswoman for APOA--the police union--comes with this reaction:

The DOJ has certainly been a challenge for officers. One of the most problematic things to contend with has been the McClendon settlement under the previous administration. . . The City has chosen to take the most liberal execution of the settlement, telling APD officers to not arrest for misdemeanors but rather to cite or give a summons to violators. This has truly handcuffed officers and they hate it. . .

The APOA believes that the way in which the settlement has been brought to bear on their daily policing can and should be reviewed. We think that officers should be allowed discretion in arresting individuals and certainly if they are known repeat offenders. . . 

. . . Officers need to have their discretion back, make arrests and send people to jail even if it’s only for a day or two. Officers are convinced that until the city allows them to make these arrests they won’t be able to make a lasting impact on the crime crisis in Albuquerque. This is not to say that the DOJ hasn’t made a lasting mark on policing here but when it comes to day to day crime and the quality of life issues we face, McClendon has been the real hang up, and that’s certainly not well understood by the public.

The McClendon settlement dealt with jail overcrowding as well as issues relating to APD's arrest procedures. More on that here.

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Tuesday, June 11, 2019

On The Crime Beat: Union Chief Says Cops Feel "Handcuffed" As City Works To Bolster Force With New Tax, Plus: City's Elites Debate How To Indict The Bad Guys  

The ABQ public safety tax that voters started paying last July to hire more ABQ cops may or may not have the intended result. Here's a worrisome take from the head of the police union on the recent decision to temporarily deploy state police officers on crime-ridden streets of the city:

“God bless the state police,” said Shaun Willoughby, president of the Albuquerque Police Officers’ Association. “Part of the problem with Albuquerque's crime is because the Albuquerque Police Department is handcuffed."

The public safety tax will raise over $50 million a year with the goal of eventually having a 1,200 member APD. But if the cops feel they are "handcuffed" by the DOJ consent decree they must operate under how is that increased presence going to result in crime reduction?

Then there is the prosecutorial end. A spirited debate (an esoteric one for the general public) has broken out among the city's legal elites regarding the use of grand juries to bring indictments against the bad guys vs. preliminary hearings.

The hearings are often what you saw (and still see) on Perry Mason. A judge hears evidence from both sides and decides if a defendant should be sent to trial for his alleged crime. The grand jury is a panel of citizen who hear from the prosecutor on whether to bring an indictment.

Obviously, the BernCO DA (and Mayor Keller) would like to keep the grand jury system while district court judges argue its time is past. Here's reader and ABQ attorney Alan Wagman taking a dive into this angle of the city's crime spree:

For 6 years I was in the Albuquerque Public Defender office. I represented scores of grand jury defendants and also represented hundreds of defendants in preliminary hearings.

First, I was struck by the claim from BernCo District Attorney Raul Torrez and Mayor Tim Keller in their letter to NM Supreme Court Chief Justice Judith Nakamura that police officers scheduled to testify at grand jury hearings could be given an exact time at which to arrive for testimony and be done within 35 minutes. While sometimes true, the claim is balderdash. I often waited hours before the hearing actually take place. Police officers who arrived on time had the same wait. The claim that grand jury hearings run like clockwork is wishful thinking from a District Attorney and a mayor who have clearly never gotten their hands into the day-to-day grind of how the criminal justice system here actually operates.

Second, preliminary hearings can prevent gross miscarriages of justice. To cite one example,  I defended individuals charged with possession with intent to distribute marijuana. When these individuals are charged via grand jury, the arresting officer will tell the grand jury that the accused person had multiple sealed baggies of marijuana--perhaps 2 inches by 2 inches in size. The officer would testify that this was evidence of intent to sell the marijuana. 

I have defended individuals on the same charge in a preliminary hearing where I was able to question the officer. The officer had to admit that perhaps the accused had purchased what was a very small quantity of marijuana for personal use, and it just happened that he purchased it in the packaging--much the same as a person buying two packs of cigarettes. In the case heard by a grand jury, the accused would be charged with a felony and go to a wasteful trial, where the conviction--if any--would be for a petty misdemeanor. In the case heard by preliminary examination, the accused would be charged with a petty misdemeanor and the case would likely be quickly resolved by plea.

So, I ask, which method produces justice? And which method produces waste?

Meanwhile, the Governor has established a crime advisory group chaired by veteran trial attorney and former NM Dem Party Chairman Sam Bregman. What this group can possibly add to the discussion, which has been going on ad nauseam for years, remains to be seen. But with Bregman holding the microphone there's never a shortage of words.

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Monday, June 10, 2019

Busting The Senate Coalition: Progressives Put Bullseye On Clemente Sanchez As He Brings Fight To Them, Plus: Northern Congress And Pinto Senate Seat Updates  

Sen. Sanchez
Dem State Senator Clemente Sanchez, a key member of the conservative coalition that controls the Senate, has a bulls eye on his back with progressive Dems ready to fire the arrows.

Sanchez, who is sure to draw a liberal Dem primary opponent in next June's primary, is already fighting back. In a an opinion piece Sanchez comes this close to actually calling himself a Republican, a label the progressives think fits:

. . . The Democrat Party. . . has manifested in factions splintering off, charging one another with ignoring the others’ commitment to the lower and middle class, otherwise cemented in popular culture as the 99 percent.

Isn't that supposed to be "Democratic Party"? Well, it is if if you consider yourself a member,

It appears Sanchez, 60, has avoided the first arrow aimed at that bullseye he sports. Ray Concho of Acoma, who had been entertaining a primary run, is apparently not going in. However a landline poll conducted in Sanchez's Valencia/ Cibola/Socorro/ McKinley district by a political operative reveals the cocksure Clemente could easily get a competitive race, if the right foe emerges.

That May 20 poll gave him a 36 percent favorable rating from likely Dem primary voters but 47 percent had no opinion of him. And when voters were told about Sanchez's opposition to a constitutional amendment to fund early childhood education from the $18 billion Land Grant Permanent Fund, as well as his opposition to background checks for gun sales, the race got interesting.

Sanchez, a Grants banker first elected in 2012, argued in his op-ed that he and others against the progressives are "moderate Democrats:"

Rhetoric and finger-pointing are designed to obstruct results. When progressives circle their wagons and collectively call out the moderate members of the Democratic Party they produce negative results – a splintered base and an emboldened opposition.

But calling himself a "moderate" will be called a stretch. The defining moment of his career is his membership in the coalition that includes all 18 conservative Republican Senators and only a handful of Dems.

RUE GETS READY

The effort to bust the Senate coalition, which will be a top political story here in the next year, is also playing out in ABQ, but it's not about Dem vs. Dem.

ABQ GOP Senator Sander Rue is well aware that he could be endangered when he seeks re-election next year as BernCo continues to trend deep blue. No wonder he's getting started early on his re-election bid:

With a proven record of bipartisan and independent leadership in the State Senate, Senator Rue is uniquely prepared to fight for the Westside in today’s tumultuous political landscape. 

Note his appeal to the many Democrats now in his district. Will the progressive Dems field a strong candidate in Rue's working class Westside district, perhaps lessening the pressure on them to beat Clemente Sanchez or other Dem Senators to break up the coalition? We're staying tuned,

NORTHERN CONGRESS

It appears the field for the race for the Democratic nomination for the northern congresiaonal seat is set. There are eight Dems seeking the nod to replace Dem Rep Ben Ray Lujan who is leaving the seat to run for Senate. One Republican has filed for the seat which is rated Safe D.

Repeating our "soft top tier" a year out from the primary: Santa Fe County District Attorney Marco Serna, lawyer Teresa Leger Fernandez and former CIA operative and author Valerie Plame. We see them as best positioned to finance a credible run in the vast district.  More here.

PINTO SEAT PLAY

We mentioned that friends of the politically prominent Navajo Begaye brothers--Russell, a former Navajo Nation president and Ray, a former NM state rep--report they are interested in replacing the late State Senator John Pinto. Here's another wrinkle as the San Juan and McKinley county commissions prepare to send recommendations to the Governor who will make the final choice:

Navajo Nation Delegate Amber Kanazbah Crotty said Pinto did talk about whom he believed should replace him if he were to step down or vacate his seat, and that was his granddaughter Shannon Pinto. “I know Senator Pinto asked me to support his granddaughter Shannon Pinto,” said Crotty.”

The Navajo Nation council has approved a resolution calling on the Governor to choose a Navajo to succeed Pinto.

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(c)NM POLITICS WITH JOE MONAHAN 2019

Friday, June 07, 2019

A Domenici Daughter Surfaces In Senate Race; Nella Domenici Tested In Poll Along With Other GOP Names, Plus: Death Claims La Politica’s Bill Hume 

Nella Domenici
First, some clean-up on that poll we said Thursday was being conducted regarding the 2020 US Senate race.

There has indeed been a recent poll featuring possible GOP candidates for the Senate, but it was not conducted by former Lt. Gov. John Sanchez, as we initially blogged from info supplied by a Senior Alligator.

Sanchez tells us he has looked at the Senate contest, but has not yet made a announcement regarding his intentions and did not commission the poll. Our Gator had the corrected info but did not get back to us before we posted the initial blog.

Said Sanchez:

Even though I've been encouraged by hundreds of supporters and by national leaders to run for the open Senate seat, I have not, nor has my political organization, paid for any polling. . . I will always work to continue my service to my beloved state and this nation whether as a public servant or private citizen.

We listened to a recording of the live telephone poll that was apparently commissioned by one of those named in the survey, though not Sanchez.

Okay, with that straightened out let's take a peek at the Republican names tested for approval and disapproval.

One was out of the blue--Nella Domenici--a daughter of the late US Senator Pete Domenici. That's odd because she has had a long career in elite financial circles on the East Coast--not here. And her brother, Pete Domenici, Jr., once made an ill-fated run for the GOP gubernatorial nomination. There were no Pete coattails.

The poll also tested a possible negative for the 58 year old Nella Domenici. The survey asked respondents if the fact that she is a multi-millionaire who owns three houses--including one on New York's posh Fifth Avenue and another in Santa Fe--would cause them to view her differently. Uh, yeah, that might be a problem.

Then there was former ABQ Mayor Richard Berry, who left office with his polling numbers in the tank. Simply not electable.

Add in former ABQ GOP State Rep. Conrad James, a likable guy but not a name that comes to mind for US Senate.

Susana Martinez was on the poll. No comment necessary.

The aforementioned John Sanchez was listed and was the one name that might seem plausible, but still unlikely to take the seat from the Dems.

A wild card in the poll was TV weatherman Mark Ronchetti. The forecast for his TV future may be bright, but for Senate? Jorge Torres says the outlook for that would be very cloudy.

They threw Steve Pearce's name in as well, but the former congressman and current chairman of the GOP, lost a previous Senate race. And he's 72. Not that he's too old to run. Oh, come on, he's way too old to run,

We were not privy to the poll results but the listed names are not going to panic Dem Senate hopefuls Ben Ray Lujan or Maggie Toulouse Oliver. They just aren't.

THE BOTTOM LINES

Bill Hume
We're sad to report the death of the noted journalist Bill Hume, who for many years ably led the editorial pages of the ABQ Journal and later served as a policy advisor to Gov. Bill Richardson.

Hume, who died from bladder cancer, was a walking encyclopedia when it came to New Mexico. His emails to the blog were always a welcome sight, offering insights and guidance. As a young reporter in the 70’s I, and I am sure many others, were greatly influenced by his work. His ethical example, in particular, stood out.

Gov. Big Bill gave us this statement:

I am incredibly saddened by the death of Bill Hume, my chief policy advisor for eight years. He was instrumental in many of our initiatives: water, taxes, energy, trade with Mexico, and health care. Coupled with his outstanding journalistic career at the Journal, he was a great New Mexican and a man for all seasons. Above all he deeply loved our state and its people. I will miss him terribly.

Bill Hume was 78. . .

And an old broadcasting friend, Alex Cuellar, has died. Back in the day, Alex was a prominent news voice on ABQ's 770 KKOB-AM radio. Later he went to work as a PIO for the state's General Services Department. He retired in January and succumbed to heart problems this week. Alex Cuellar was 66.

Thanks for stopping by.

Reporting this week from Sedona, AZ and Albuquerque, I'm Joe Monahan.

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(c)NM POLITICS WITH JOE MONAHAN 2019

Thursday, June 06, 2019

ABQ Council Election: Benton Will Get Three Well-Financed Foes 

Robert Nelson
When he decided to seek re-election to yet another term longtime ABQ Dem City Councilor Ike Benton said it was in part because he could not find a suitable replacement. Well, maybe he didn't look hard enough because now three Benton rivals have managed to complete the challenging process of qualifying for public financing--as has Benton--and will be taking him on in the November 5 election.

Twentysomethings Zach Quintero and Joseph Griego made the cut and will receive about $43,000 in public money to run their campaigns. And in a surprise, newcomer Robert Blanquero Nelson also collected enough $5 donations from individual donors to get the public money. His campaign says:

A Filipino immigrant and nonprofit and neighborhood leader, Nelson expressed thanks to supporters and reemphasized his platform for change in Albuquerque’s city council. If elected, Nelson would become the first Asian American elected into city council office.

There are three other candidates who failed to qualify for public financing but will try to make the ballot by submitting 500 petition signatures by June 28. They are Connie Vigil, Steven Baca and David Bearshield. 

District 2 includes Downtown/Barelas/Old Town/North Valley, among other places. 

Benton showed solid organization by quickly qualifying for public financing. While his foes have enough cash to mount serious challenges none of them yet seem ready to make a vigorous case directly against Benton who was first elected in 2005. The race starts with Benton as the favorite as the district waits for his challengers to make that case.

The likelihood of a run-off for the seat is high because it takes 50 percent to avoid one. However, the city council is discussing adopting ranked choice voting which would eliminate the run-off and heighten Benton's chance for re-election.

Four of the nine City Council seats are up for election this year. SE Heights District 6 coverage is below. We'll cover Districts Four and Eight in the days ahead.

TESTING THE WATERS

Maybe they'll find something they like  or maybe not. A Senior Alligator reports that a Republican poll has been conducted in the state to test the waters for the GOP US Senate nomination. There's not much reason for optimism, according to mot of thepolticla pros, a It's a view shared by veteran DC pundit Stu Rothenberg:

Seven of the dozen Democratic seats up this cycle are in strongly Democratic states and not competitive: Delaware, Illinois, Massachusetts, New Jersey, New Mexico, Oregon and Rhode Island. Even Sen. Tom Udall’s retirement does not put New Mexico into play.

Rep. Ben Ray Lujan and Sec. of State Toulouse Oliver are competing for the Dem Senate nomination. Republican contractor Mick Rich, who was the GOP nominee against Dem Senator Heinrich last year, appears to be prepping a bid for the '20 GOP Senate nod. No big name R candidates--former Lt. Governor John Sanchez--have entered the contest.

PINTO SEAT

Did you hear that two well-known Navajo brothers are looking to replace Dem State Senator John Pinto who passed away at 94 last month? One of our Alligators reports that they are former Dem State Rep. Ray Begaye and his brother, former Navajo Nation President Russell Begaye. Ray Begaye lost his re-election bid in 2012.

The McKinley and San Juan County commissions will each send a replacement name (s) to Gov. Lujan Grisham who will make the final pick. Letters of interest are being taken.

CABINET TALK

We erred when we blogged this week that the new state cabinet agency created by the legislature this year is the "Children's Cabinet." It is the Early Childhood Education and Care Department. The Guv's office explains the difference:

The Children's Cabinet is not actually new, nor was it created in this year's legislative session. The Children's Cabinet existed under previous administrations, though the last administration let it fall by the wayside and had not convened it for about five years. It wasn't created or re-upped in this year's session, it was re-convened and given a strong mandate by the governor. ​The Early Childhood Education and Care Department that Mr. Rubel references is new and was created by legislation passed and signed this session.

We made the error in introducing skeptical remarks about the new agency from newsman Walt Rubel who correctly identified the department.

This ranks as a small misstep so instead of the traditional punishment of ten lashes with a wet noodle, we are subjecting ourselves to only five lashes.

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(c)NM POLITICS WITH JOE MONAHAN 2019

Tuesday, June 04, 2019

ABQ Council Campaign: Davis Challenger Makes Money Grade; Qualifies For Public Funds, Plus: A Udall Exit Interview 

The four races for ABQ City Council continue to take shape. In SE Heights. District 6 attorney Gina Naomi Dennis surprised the skeptics and qualified for public financing. She will received $32,000 in public money as will incumbent Councilor Pat Davis who also qualified.

This has now turned into a race to watch between the two Dems. The political environment in the district has been unsettled by a continuing crime wave and the controversial ART project which Davis supported and Dennis opposed.

Dennis is a well-known activist in the district. Davis was a well-known activist before he was elected to the Council in '15. No other candidates are seeking the seat. 

The City Clerk's office is still determining which candidates qualify for public financing by collecting $5 contributions from individual voters from May 1 to May 31. The election is Nov. 5.

UDALL EXIT INTERVIEW

Senator Tom Udall elaborated on his decision not to seek re-election to a third term next year in an interview with the NYT. Let's take a look and then analyze:

“This place is definitely broken,” said Senator Udall.

(He)said he had become convinced that he could do more to advance his progressive ideas on climate change, war powers and a comprehensive electoral overhaul by skipping another two years of relentless re-election fund-raising. Instead, he said, he intends to redouble his efforts in those areas in hopes of setting the stage for big changes should Democrats prevail next year, even though he won’t be back in the Senate himself. “You don’t necessarily have to be there to see that they are completed,” he said.

Well, the reality of his own mortality--he would be 78 at the end of a third term and his wife Jill is today 80--is a reasonable reason for not running and probably high on the list.

As for his wish to influence the Senate from the outside, with the national stature he commands that should not be an issue. However, it will be nothing like the influence he commands today. He may be in the minority and only one of 100, but he takes votes that conceivably impact over 320 million Americans. When he says goodbye to the Senate he says goodbye to the power. And that's the way it is.

AGENCY SKEPTIC

Critics have been few and far between when it comes to the creation of the new Early Childhood Education and Care Department during the last legislative session. But they are out there, including news commentator Walt Rubel, formerly of the Las Cruces Sun-News and now opining at KRWG radio.

The bill to provide consistent funding (via a constitutional amendment) for early childhood education by tapping into the state’s permanent fund died again this year in the Senate Finance Committee, as it does every year. 

Supporters of the new agency argue that it will improve early-childhood outcomes by taking services now provided by the state’s Children Youth and Families Department, Health Department and the Department of Education, and consolidating them under one agency. “This will eliminate that duplication of services,” said Rep. Linda Trujillo, a co-sponsor of the bill. So, to eliminate overlap among government agencies, we’re going to create another government agency? I hope that works....I hope the new department will help. But I fear that the problem is a lack of funding, not a lack of bureaucrats.

Your fear, Mr. Rubel, appears justified.

HOT CAMPAIGN

It's going to be a long hot summer for Yvette Herrell and Chris Mathys, the Republican candidates for the southern congressional seat held by Dem Rep. Xochitl Torres Small. But if one of them is going to knock her off they have no choice but to wear out their sneakers on scorched pavement. They are already making the rounds a year in advance of the June primary where it will be decided which one of them will take on the congresswoman in Nov. 2020. Here's what they are saying.

This is the home of New Mexico politics.

E-mail your news and comments. (jmonahan@ix.netcom.com)

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(c)NM POLITICS WITH JOE MONAHAN 2019
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