Friday, January 18, 2019

Friday Photo Fun: A Disappearing Staff Chief 

Keith Gardner
How do you just disappear after eight years as the chief of staff to the Governor of New Mexico? Well, ask Keith Gardner because that's what he did. He conducted no exit interviews and made no announcement about what is next for him after concluding what had to be an often grueling stint on the Fourth Floor.

One of the longest serving chiefs of staff in the modern era, the former Roswell state representative, quietly left his office and his service to Gov. Martinez with nary a peep and headed to parts unknown. His wife, Stephanie, works as an an assistant principal for ABQ Public Schools so maybe he's hanging out here in the big liberal city.

Keith, 51, sure won't be going back to Roswell. You might recall the audio tape scandal involving him in which he was caught saying that he "hates" the place.

The pic is from veteran photographer Mark Bralley and was taken back when Gardner was a legislator.


This pic of Gov. Michelle Lujan Grisham about to deliver her State of the State address gave us a chuckle. It's from photographer Anthony Jackson of NM In Depth.

There she is--a product of the "Year of the Woman" surrounded totally by male politicos. It looks as if she's crashing a meeting of the Good 'Ol Boys Club. Not another woman in sight.

But this pic will be a rarity. For the first time in NM history, women now represent a third of the state Legislature--38 out of the 112 lawmakers. That's up from just  two 50 years ago.

And that's this edition of Friday Photo Fun.

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Thursday, January 17, 2019

Yet Another Spate Of Deadly Violence Pokes Hole in ABQ's Soul, Plus: Howie Takes A Hit; Progressives Feel Betrayed By Light Guv, And: Is ABQ Shortchanged On A Powerful House Panel? 

The soul of the city took another battering Wednesday when in the course of a single morning a man was murdered in broad daylight near Old Town, a woman on the Westside was killed as a result of domestic violence and an investigation began into the death of an 11 day old infant at a detox center. The talking points:

--It was only January 7 when we chronicled another spate of violence and mayhem that included the murders of two teenaged boys, their bodies buried in shallow graves, as well as other atrocities.

--Some ABQ residents don't want to hear it anymore. They seem to have accepted it as a new normal. Former ABQ City Councilor and attorney Greg Payne is not among them:

When is the last time you heard of a major drug bust in this city? The powers that be seem to have little interest in getting at the real problem here. There is not one tough politician in the bunch. The city continues to be a tolerant free zone for all sorts of crime--just about all of which is caused by the ongoing drug epidemic which city law enforcement and the Mayor are simply not addressing effectively, if at all. 

--Reader Suzanne Cully weighs in:

We are at the confluence of two major highway systems, I-40 and I-25. Drugs flow through here. Add to that entrenched poverty and you have a recipe for disaster. This is a mean place. And it’s becoming too violent. Joe, glad you tell it like you do. You gave the big picture. In two weeks how many murders here? And an 11 year old infant may be among them? It's really gettng unlivable here.

--Reader Jeanie has another take: 

Joe, I always find it interesting that Mayor Berry and Governor Martinez spent eight years destroying this city and our state, yet people expect Mayor Keller, and I'm sure Governor Lujan-Grisham to be able to undo the damage in a year. The damage Berry and Martinez did is going to take time and effort by everyone to fix. So perhaps you could point out the incredible challenge facing these two by remembering this problem won't be fixed in a year, probably not in several years. I believe Mayor Keller is trying and cares very much about turning this city around as I believe the Governor will.

--Mayor Keller, fresh from his upbeat state of the city party, has counseled patience and says that the gradual addition of more police officers will resolve the violence. But dead kids and a public murder near the city's most well-known tourist location ignites much rawer emotions than patience. Our January 7 blog has more on the crime wave.


Lt. Gov. Morales
It was the Governor they defied, but it's Howie taking the hit over the appointment of his replacement to the State Senate. Here's the inside scoop:

--Conservative Dem Gabe Ramos from Grant County was recommended to the Governor as Morales' replacement by all three county commissioners in the SW Senate district that Morales held for a decade.

--MLG was unhappy with the selection and asked for the commissions to send her other names. They refused and under the law Ramos took the seat. Now progressives are warning that Ramos, who is in the insurance business, could be the newest member of the Senate's conservative coalition that features all the Republicans and a handful of Dems who regularly join with them to thwart the progressives, who are now blaming Howie for strengthening the coalition.

Sen. Ramos
--Why, they ask, didn't the Lt. Governor use his stroke to make sure he was replaced by someone more liberal minded? It's a failure of his leadership, they charge. A longtime friend of Morales's counters that if the "ABQ progressives wanted someone else they should have gone to work in the area that is 300 miles from where they live. Howie can't control the commissions and he didn't try. Ramos did a strong job of lining up support. That's the story."

--The progressives rail that the bigger story could be close votes in the Senate on enviro issues, noting Ramos' support of the oil, gas and mining industries. They are also disgruntled over his socially conservative stands on abortion and gay rights which they say are out of step with core Dem values.

--But it's over now. MLG has had her first dust-up with conservative rural Democrats. They don't have big numbers anymore, but they are still adept at keeping a seat at the table--and seats in the New Mexico State Senate.


There's more progressive frustration rising through the ranks. ABQ activist Javier Benavidez is anything but hopeful that the progressive agenda will have an easier time of it because of big Democratic legislative election wins. He made this prediction on Twitter:

The Senate has again approved conservative Democrat Mary Kay Papen as President Pro Tem. She will again appoint conservative Democrat John Arthur Smith as Senate Finance Chair and conservative Dem Senator Clemente Sanchez as chairman of the Senate Corporations Committee. Those two committees are where everything good will go to die. Congratulations NM, Senate.


Sen. Candelaria
Meantime BernCo Dems are congratulating ABQ State Senator Jacob Candelaria for securing a slot on that powerful Senate Finance Committee. Voting wise he will not be much different from Morales, whose spot he is filling, but he adds an urban voice to the mix. Candelaria has long said he wants more Hispano power in the Legislature. Now he's got it. (ABQ also gets Republican Senator Jim White on the panel).

However, on the House side one of our Alligators reports the BernCo Dem delegation is taking note of their slipping power on the important House Appropriations Committee:

Joe, I find it interesting that the county that delivered the most for the Dems in the election seems to be getting punished in House Appropriations. From Bernalillo County’s hey day of nine members with Chairman Kiki Saavedra of Bernalillo County to seven with Chairman Larranaga, also of BernCo, to just five last year under Chairman Patty Lundstrom and now all the way down to three this year. NM’s largest tax base and largest delegation in the Roundhouse have been sidelined when it comes to spending the historic surplus.

That's a good story, Gator, and you can bet the chair of the committee, Rep. Lundstrom of the small town of Grants, is quite happy with the rural composition of her panel. Again, the cowboys always find a way to ride in New Mexico politics, just as the austerity hawks find a way to fly--no matter how much the climate is against them.


Things really aren't so bad in this old world of ours after all. Look what's yours:

Dion’s Pizza is pleased to announce the launch of our new mobile app making it easier and quicker for customers to place their orders. Please find attached a press release with more details as well as some photos. Please let me know if you might need anything else.

Okay, thanks for asking. How about one of those half turkey salads and a simple slice of cheese pizza? Forget the famous dressing. We're pretty much over that. 

Don't forget to join us tomorrow for Friday Photo Fun. 

Thanks for your company this week. Reporting from Albuquerque, New Mexico, I am Joe Monahan. 

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Wednesday, January 16, 2019

Put On A Happy Face; New Governor Contrasts Sharply With Predecessor As State Greets A New Santa Fe Style, Plus: No Post-Election Centrism; State of State Speech Leans Left; Our Complete Coverage And Analysis Up Next  

Governor Michelle Lujan Grisham happily plowed through a 50 minute State of the State speech at the Capitol Tuesday, giving New Mexicans their first good look at the public personality that will govern the next four years.

(Full speech here. Major newspaper coverage here and here. AP coverage here. Video here.)

For many, the change was somewhat startling. Here are the takeaways of your blogger and others.

--The most apparent difference she displayed with her predecessor was what the French call joie de vivre, a joy at being there and with herself. This was a happy camper, cracking off the cuff jokes and smiling often and naturally. And there was a professional poise, an ease in delivery that defined the address that was shaped by long years of politicking. Like we said, the contrast with the previous eight years was startling.

--The speech surprised some by going center-left, including former ABQ Dem State Senator Eric Griego: "It was a bold and a pretty progressive speech." He analyzed. Correspondents for the ABQ Journal rightly dubbed it "left-leaning." Griego now heads the progressive NM Working Families Party. The party is considering recruiting 2020 primary challengers for conservative Dem Senators who blockade progressive legislation.

--Rather than move to a post-election centrism she stayed planted near the left of the spectrum. The strain of political centrism--a centerpiece of the last Democratic Governor Bill Richardson and the last one before him, Bruce King, has been largely pushed aside in favor of an urban Democratic progressivism. It is more tempered here than say California but it is a citified coalition (ABQ, Santa Fe, Las Cruces) that gave the state overwhelming Dem dominance in the last election. MLG is not a charter member of that club, but neither does it make her bristle.

At the Session
--The new Governor has long been an advocate for tough gun control, but when was the last time a chief executive mentioned getting meaningful, tough on guns legislation in a State of the State? We wager never but she went there Tuesday, again reinforcing the sweeping political change the state is seeing this century. Now let's see if gun bills get out of the rural dominated Senate.

--She worked to calm alarmists who say she is going to "raid" the $18 billion Land Grant Permanent School Fund to use for early childhood education: "I call on this Legislature to explore every possible viable approach for educational empowerment, including a proposed constitutional amendment that will allow us to take a responsible pinch of additional money from our Permanent School Fund, ensuring we can deliver an education system that works for every child and every family in this state." She said.

Some liberals complained that was less bold than other education passages in her speech, but she faces a potentially epic battle in the Senate and a "pinch" of compromise was offered.

--She briefly left the "left wing" of her party when she failed to call for the legalization of recreational marijuana. A health expert herself, she instead proposed that opioid addiction be included in the state's medical cannabis program. Pretty clever move. And probably the death knell for the time being for legal pot here.

--The money lines came right up front in the speech: "In this moment, on this new day, we stand together on the precipice of immeasurable opportunity. I’m ready to begin the climb — and I know you are too."

--That "immeasurable opportunity" is the historic state surpluses that have been accumulating. There was no handwringing over the surpluses possibly disappearing with a crash in the oil price. It was a mild surprise that she barely tipped her hat to the sky is falling crowd. Again, she has the crowd behind her for "transformative" change in a state that has been beaten to a pulp for so long. An example from Twitter: "Lower podiums, higher hopes. Go @GovMLG. NM is ready for your vision and leadership."

--If her determination to change the course of the state educationally and get credit for it was in doubt, she suspended those doubts when she declared: "A judge in Santa Fe has ordered us, all of us, to adequately provide for our at-risk students. But I didn’t need to read a judge’s order to know we can do more, we can do better, and that, in fact, we must."
Taking the Oath

That reference to the landmark ruling by District Judge Sarah Singleton that found the state in violation of the Constitution for not providing ample education for at-risk students is the spark plug for the reforms now being pursued. So sweeping are they that on our Tuesday blog we called this legislative session the "Singleton Session." But MLG made clear she wants her name on this session and in her legacy. Hey everyone, welcome to the re-election Campaign of 2022.

--As for that podium for the diminutive Governor, her handlers got it right and the TV/streaming picture was an optical score. Cosmetically, she sported a camera-friendly light blue dress similar to--or the same one--she opted for in some of her campaign ads. It was complemented with striking Indian jewelry.

--Negatives? Not many, but one lawmaker felt her talk of collaboration sometimes clashed with her style, which he found more "commanding" than collaborative. And others questioned whether the formal State of the State speech lost some of its gravitas because of too many jokes and wisecracks. (One of her jokes was about the length of the speech but at about 50 minutes it was not unusually lengthy.)

--The number most watched in Santa Fe Tuesday was not how long MLG was talking but what was the price of oil trading at. Fortunately for her and the lawmakers, it was in the $52 a barrel area, right where the bean counters say it needs to average over the next budget year to generate those gaudy surpluses.


GOP Rep. Fajardo
What a box the R's are in. They need a new message but their Trump base is content with asserting that MLG will fail because she is overspending, that oil will crash and the state will be left holding the bag.

It was new House GOP Leader James Townsend from oil country in Artesia who pronounced himself "scared to death" of the Dem Guv's proposals. But where are the alternate GOP proposals? Well, few and far between. If you are calling for accountability you need to put out standards of accountability you want the administration to adhere to.

You wonder what vulnerable ABQ GOP Senators Gould, Moores and Rue are thinking as they look ahead to re-election bids in 2020. Well, they need some new thinking to stop the Dem momentum in the ABQ metro. GOP Chairman Steve Pearce, you need to put on your thinking cap or you're going to have even fewer caps to worry about.


Our apologies to Senate Majority Leader Peter Wirth, who in our first draft Tuesday we called "Tim Wirth,” his well-known political uncle. We seem to make that slip-up every couple of years. It is definitely deserving of ten lashes with the wet noodle as punishment. Best of luck for the session, Peter. . . And we inadvertently ran a photo Tuesday--uncredited from the Santa Fe New Mexican--of Senator John Arthur Smith. The pic was taken by Luis Sánchez Saturno. Nice job, Luis. 

KOAT-TV and the other major network affiliated stations do a pretty good job of providing local news coverage, but you can't fault Channel 7 for dumping their hour long newscast at 10 p.m. and getting Jimmy Kimmel before the still awake audience at 10:35 p.m. Who doesn't like Kimmel? New station general manager Lori Waldon made the call. . .

And for all of you wanting to go to Santa Fe and pocket a piece of that big surplus for your personal causes, we present to you the freshly named members of the powerful state House Appropriations Committee as determined by Speaker Brian Egolf. Happy hunting, Gators:

The first committee announced was the House Appropriations and Finance Committee, Chaired by the honorable Rep. Patricia Lundstrom (D-Gallup) and Vice Chaired by the honorable Rep. Roberto “Bobby” Gonzales (D-Ranchos de Taos). The committee members are: Rep. Anthony Allison (D-Fruitland), Rep. Harry Garcia (D-Grants), Rep. Javier Martínez (D-Albuquerque), Rep. Rodolpho “Rudy” Martinez (D-Bayard), Rep. Tomás Salazar (D-Las Vegas), Rep. Joseph Sanchez (D-Alcalde), Rep. Nathan Small (D-Las Cruces), Rep. Melanie Stansbury (D-Albuquerque), Rep. Candie Sweetser (D-Deming), Rep. Christine Trujillo (D-Albuquerque), Rep. Phelps Anderson (R-Roswell), Rep. Gail Armstrong (R-Magdalena), Rep. Paul Bandy (R-Aztec), Rep. Cathrynn Brown (R-Carlsbad), Rep. Jackey Chatfield (R-Mosquero), and Rep. Randal Crowder (R-Clovis).

Almost forgot. Here's a short video of the House Speaker's outlook for the session. It's prompting a new game at the Rio Chama and Bull Ring. Every time Egolf and the Governor say "education moonshot" you take a shot of your favorite spirit. Is that what those Dems mean by "Happy Days Are Here Again?"

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Tuesday, January 15, 2019

Call It The "Singleton Session"; Judge's Ruling Looms Large As 2019 Legislative Session Kicks Off; Education To Dominate; Dems On Mostly Same Page; R's Head To Sidelines 

Day Number One of the 60 day legislative session is right now. Here are the takeaways from NM Politics with Joe Monahan, the state's longest-running political website.

--Just call it the "Singleton Session" because years from now that's the label it will sport. The question is how long a shadow will District Court Judge Sarah Singleton's landmark education ruling made last year cast on future generations. Will it be a quirk, it's consequences evaded, or will it be an historic turning point?

--Singleton's ruling that NM is violating its Constitution by not providing a proper education for its at-risk students--mostly Hispanic, Native American and low income--has already had a dramatic impact on the state and the legislative session, with the  budgets presented by both Gov. Lujan Grisham and the Legislative Finance Committee committed to addressing the judge's findings.

--Under both budgets spending on at-risk students would rise by $113 million. The LFC recommends $90 million go toward extending the school year by five weeks at many elementary schools,

--That's a start but Singleton made clear in her ruling that universal full-day Pre K is one ultimate goal which the court ruled--after exhaustive testimony--is proven to have a positive impact on how kids perform by the third grade.

--Contrary to some mainstream media chatter, the ruling is very specific about what needs to be done for the state's thousands of at-risk children. We could not find any ambiguity (e.g. universal Pre-K and upgrade Pre K teaching standards; Pre K-3 Plus for more instruction time; expanded Summer School; smaller class sizes) Again, the question the judge left to the Legislature is the cost of compliance--not what constitutes compliance. Basically, she gave them a blueprint and said "find the money" to obey the law.

Judge Singleton
--Singleton, 69, is now retired. She was first appointed to the bench by Governor Richardson in 2009. She could not have asked for a better career capper than to be the judge in the case that challenged the state's educational underpinnings. She proved herself more than up for the challenge. The ruling reads like a tutorial on a hundred years of state education policy, with testimony from a myriad of experts. Whatever she's doing in retirement, she earned it.

--MLG and the LFC are on board, but most Republicans are hold-outs and want the  ruling appealed, something MLG is not going to do. Sandoval County GOP Rep. Jason Harper claims the $1.1 billion surplus projection is an illusion and that the Legislature will end up cutting back the increase in education funding it is expected to approve at the session

--But if Harper and the R's have it wrong they are flat out of the game. They could have a seat at the table now to determine the direction of some of that new education spending. But their bet is on failure. Perhaps not a bad bet given past results, but it sidelines them in the debate over spending.

--Again, the long-term cost of the ruling is ambiguous, but what NM needs is not. Every legislator owes it to themselves (and their constituents) to spend time scrolling through the 600 page ruling. It's an eye opener.


--On the early childhood front, our spotters at a recent public meeting featuring Senate Majority Leader Peter Wirth report he still has no stomach for taking on powerful Senate Finance Committee chairman and fellow Democrat John Arthur Smith.

Finance has repeatedly stopped the constitutional amendment to tap a portion of the state's $18 billion Land Grant Permanent School Fund and devote it to very early childhood education (ages 0-5). But Wirth told the audience he will not bypass the committee and try to bring the amendment to the floor without Smith's blessing.

--MLG is publicly all in on the amendment which if passed by the Legislature would be presented to voters in November 2020. She is the one who is going to have to exert political muscle, if she is to score the win. Wirth remains flaccid when it comes to the Deming Senator.

--Pressure will also be put on House Speaker Egolf who will rush the amendment through the House and claim victory. But a true movida would be stalling consideration of Senate bills in the House until Senate Finance agreed to give the early childhood amendment a hearing and a vote. That's probably what former House Speaker Ben Lujan would do, as he did on a number of occasions.


Some say they see signs that a marijuana legalization bill could make it through the Legislature. We don't. We actually see a dampening of enthusiasm for legal weed, evidenced by this skeptical article from of all places--the liberal New Yorker magazine. The article titled, "Is Marijuana as Safe as We Think?" is a wake-up call for the legal marijuana crowd.


Senator Sedillo-Lopez
The name of the newest member of the Legislature will ring a bell for many New Mexicans. She is attorney Antoinette Sedillo Lopez who ran a high profile campaign for the Dem nomination for the ABQ congressional seat last year but was defeated by Deb Haaland.

Sedillo Lopez, 61, a onetime UNM law professor and longtime activist, was the 5-0 pick of the BernCo Commission Monday to fill the ABQ SE Heights Senate seat of liberal icon Cisco McSorley. The longtime 68 year old lawmaker resigned the seat to take a job as the state's parole director.

Insiders said the senate seat was County Commissioner Maggie Hart Stebbins’ for the asking. But Maggie didn’t ask so...

Conspiracy theorists will play it this way: Sedillo Lopez was the fave of MLG for the ABQ congressional seat and she was chosen over more than a dozen other applicants with the help of the Guv.

Whatever the case, Sedillo Lopez will be well-positioned to win her own four year term when she stands for election in 2020 in the heavy D district. And she could have some professional help from her family. Her son, Victor Lopez, is a campaign consultant. Her husband, Victor Lopez, should also be a campaign asset. He's an ABQ district court judge who has run for elective office.


A reminder: The Governor's State of the State speech is exepcted to go off today sometime between 12:30 and 1:30 p.m. Check any of the ABQ TV news websites for the live stream as well as the Legislature's site and the Governor's site.

UNM outlined its legislative priorities for the campus this week. Among them is getting student lottery scholarships on sound financial footing. More here.

The lobbyist for the heavy Dem city of ABQ at the 60 day session is none other than longtime wall-leaner and Republican Joe Thompson. He was the only one who answered a bid for the job, says City Hall.

That seems to sit fine with the Dems. Thompson, a former state House minority leader, is liked on both sides of the aisle and did not get engulfed in the animosity of the Martinez administration.

That picture posted here is a first--the first public snapshot of the Governor with her two top aides--Teresa Casados, the chief operations officer  and John Bingaman, chief of staff. They were at the Govenor's first cabinet meeting held at the Roundhouse Monday. None of them seem to have much, if any, gray hair. Give it some time.

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Monday, January 14, 2019

Austerity Politics Comes To An Abrupt End In Santa Fe This Week As Legislative Session Opens; The Impact of A Newfound Prosperity For The State And New Governor, Plus: Keller Soups Up State Of City Speech  

A decade of austerity economics and politics comes to an abrupt end this week in Santa Fe as the state's 112 lawmakers gather for a sixty day legislative session that kicks off tomorrow with Governor Michelle Lujan Grisham delivering her first State of the State speech.

Let's cut to the chase and dive into the newfound prosperity and what it means for our enchanted land. . .

--The Governor sent down a proposed budget of $7.1 billion for the budget year that starts July 1. That's $800 million higher than the current $6.3 billion General Fund budget and a result of the oil boom in the SE. Pushing out that kind of money should stimulate the overall economy.

--Remember in 2009-'10 when the Obama stimulus came with over $3 billion for NM to help alleviate the economic crash? That money, ably administered by former Gov. Toney Anaya, staved off the worst impacts of the then raging Great Recession. This new money could be a spark plug for pockets of the economy outside of the already booming SE.

--Add in the ABQ Netflix deal which calls for the company to pump $100 million a year into its production business here. Now you're talking stimulus.

---However, look for "Netflix resistance." The Governor is proposing that the entire backlog from the state's film incentives--some $250 million--be paid to Netflix and other film companies in one fell swoop. Opponents say that is too much and want it trimmed, arguing that public schools and other agencies have had to wait years for increased funding and that some of that $250 million should go to other priorities and that the lucrative film industry can and should wait in line a little longer.

--The Governor is proposing a jump in the state's advertising/marketing budget from $11 million to over $17 million. That is a big league budget--an increase aimed at attracting even more visitors here which will stimulate local economies.

--The Martinez led war on public education and school teachers is over. The Governor is proposing a significant $500 million increase in the public schools budget which would include a teacher pay raise of six percent. The depressed psychology of the education community is about to change. The hope is that will contribute to better student outcomes. There's also $113 million to provide for low-income students, minorities and others at-risk. And $60 million to increase the number of Pre-K slots, and the number of Pre-K educators.

--Santa Fe Mayor Alan Webber has to be cheering the budget. New workers at agencies such as CYFD should boost his city's economy--and perhaps give young college grads a reason to stay around and maybe land a government job as a multitude of vacancies throughout the government are filled.


--SE NM representatives appear poised to get their wish for substantial road money to repair and maintain the jammed roads in the oil boom counties of Eddy and Lea.

--Enviros will also be winners. State regulatory agencies will get full funding to keep an eye on the oil boys and make sure they keep things clean while they frack away.

--Austerity hawks are in retreat after a decade of ruling the roost but Lujan Grisham nodded to them by agreeing that the state's budget reserve should be an unusually high 25 percent to protect against a possible collapse in oil prices. Okay, Governor, give them that, but with this in mind. . .

--A potentially huge story for the state is that the consensus opinion among the hawks and their allies in the conservative media are wrong. That opinion argues that this surplus will inevitably be a one time event, that oil will collapse and that NM will be back in the poor house.

---What if they are wrong? And they probably are. Many energy experts (and House Speaker Egolf) expect the oil boom to continue for a number of years and continue to deliver extraordinary surpluses. If so, that will require diligence and planning from state government and our part-time citizen legislators. Shouldn't our leaders start talking about the progress that could be made if that is indeed the case and make plans for a brighter future, instead of saying we still can't move the needle much because our good fortune is destined to dissolve?

--This time could be different. The recent news that NM is now sitting on one of the largest oil reserves in the history of the world and with fracking making possible its easy recovery, a slide in oil prices may not be as damaging because it would be against a backdrop of increased production, even if not at current record levels.

--Lujan Grisham has learned something. She self-describes as a "fiscal conservative" and while her budget is certainly no drunken sailor document, it does lean liberal. Why? Is it in part because she saw what really makes things tick during her six year stint as a congresswoman in DC? If she has escaped the NM poverty mentality bubble--and this budget indicates that--the austerity forces will try to suck her back in. That will be her fight.

--Advice to the new Governor: Tip your hat but do not genuflect to the doom and gloom crowd in your State of the State. Acknowledge the need for a bit of caution but emphasize much more the very real reasons for renewed hope that we can finally chip away at New Mexico's dismal standings. That is what has been missing for so long as the economy tanked and the youngsters fled. Turning the psychology helps turn the economy. The state's people are finally ready to hope again. In your "Go Big" State of the State don't rein them in; tell them you are hoping with them.


Speaking of changing the psychology, ABQ Mayor Tim Keller came up with a novel way to deliver his State of the City address. He threw a party at the National Hispanic Cultural Center that attracted a crowd of several hundred.

The event had all the trimmings of a political rally, including the appearance of Gov. Lujan Grisham and Congresswoman Deb Haaland. The Mayor's speech was preceded by slick videos featuring the nine city councilors touting their accomplishments.

Republicans charge that Keller's optics may be first class but his results aren't living up to them. He begged to disagree and after thirteen months on the job said in his speech:

After a decade of rising crime, a stagnant economy and a lack of opportunities for kids, Albuquerque was a city at a crossroads. Burqueños chose to take responsibility for our problems and take back control of our future. Last year we brought focus and urgency to our most pressing problems. We’re making progress but it is going to be a long road ahead; and we can’t do this alone It’s going to take all of us coming together as individuals and as governments, from all across the state to help the Duke City.

Keller was elected with over 60 percent of the vote in November 2017. Insiders say his approval rating continues to hover in that vicinity.

The full event, including the Mayor's speech, can be seen here. Meanwhile, Gov. Lujan Grisham will deliver her first State of the State address tomorrow sometime after 12:30 p.m. It will be streamed live on most of the local TV station websites and on the Legislature’s website.

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Friday, January 11, 2019

Friday Photo Fun 

This week we told you how we forgot Harry Teague, the southern Dem congressman who was elected in 2008, making the state's five member congressional delegation all from the same party for the first time since the early 80's when the Rs had it to themselves for two years.

Here's a picture from our photo file of that historic delegation, which has just been replicated with another all Dem delegation in 2019.

The three members on the couch--Rep Ben Ray Lujan, then-Rep. Martin Heinrich and Senator Tom Udall--were all freshmen, elected in 2008 when this pic was snapped.

Udall had just joined the Senate from the US House where he had represented the northern district before taking the Senate seat vacated by Republican Pete Domenici. Teague is seated in the chair next to the dean of that delegation--Senator Jeff Bingaman.

It was Democrat Bingaman's election in 1982 that ended the two year run of an all Republican delegation that occurred from 1981-83. He had to wait a quarter century to preside over an all Dem delegation in what would be his final Senate term. Bingaman was succeeded by Rep. Heinrich in 2012.

This all Dem delegation was as brief as the R's had been in the 80's. Dem Teague was defeated in 2010 by Republican Steve Pearce, after which he retired from politics.

Now in 2019 we again have an all Dem DC delegation. We will find out in 2020 if they can set a modern day first by making it two terms in a row.

That's Friday Photo Fun. Join us for another edition next week.

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Thursday, January 10, 2019

The Early Bird Bills That Fall Short, Plus: Rough '19 Crime Start Earns Response From Mayor And Chief 

Well over a thousand bills will probably be introduced in the upcoming legislative session that kicks off next Tuesday. As usual there will be more bad ideas than good. Some of the bills have already been pre-filed, giving us a look at the good, the bad and the ugly. Let's draw from the bad pile. . .

First, a bill that would strip NM of what little power it already has on the national political scene:

Four lawmakers have introduced a bill to place New Mexico into an inter-state compact that requires Electoral College voters to cast ballots for the national popular vote winner. States representing 270 electoral votes must join for the compact to function.

Forget about that. Our little New Mexico with two million souls has often commanded presidential power because of its five electoral votes. The electoral college works for us. Look at all the love we got when we were a swing state in 2000, '04 and '08.

We are now solid Dem but that could change in the future. Having the electoral college ensures more NM power in national politics. This bill would put us at the back of the pack.


Kennedy & Chavez
Can't Santa Fe just give legendary NM US Senator Dennis Chavez a state holiday of his own? Once again a bill has been introduced to have a joint holiday for Senator Chavez and Cesar Chavez, the late farmworker union leader and activist.

A constitutional amendment to give Cesar Chavez a holiday here failed at the ballot box 17 years ago. How about a clean bill honoring Dennis, who unlike Cesar was a NM native who had lasting impact on the state and its civil rights advancements and whose influence is felt to this day?  Not to take anything away from Cesar but let's give Dennis his due--a leader in civil rights as well as building out New Mexico's infrastructure.


Then there's the bill to spend $1 million a year to market the state to retirees. The state already spends a questionable $250,000 a year doing that. That's money that could be used here at home. It is a tiny drop in the bucket and ineffective for an ad campaign to get the gray hair set to take a look at Lordsburg or Las Cruces. Besides, don't we have public information officers nestled into just about every state agency? Can't they produce puff pieces and get them placed in national publications that would equal or surpass the million a year this bill asks for? Yes, they could. And is attracting retirees when you have had an historic out migration of the state's best educated young people really a top priority?


If that Netflix deal putting $100 million a year for ten years into its ABQ production biz pans out, there should be quite a bit of spin off. And it's already starting:

Advanced Air will begin flying from Burbank, California to the Sunport later this month. Flights on the nine-seat luxury plane are open to all, but will target people in the film industry. With major corporations like Netflix moving to the Duke City, the $1,000 flights aim to make traveling to Albuquerque from Los Angeles easier than ever for film executives and business people.

A thousand a pop isn't peanuts. Do they throw in a steak burger or something?


Geier and Keller
It was a rough end of 2018 crimewise for ABQ and an equally rough start to '19. Two teenaged boys--14 and 15--were murdered and buried near Rio Rancho when a drug deal that started in the ABQ foothills went bad; a one year old baby drowned at home and the parents have been charged in her death; and a girl, age not released, was brutally murdered by her 15 year old cousin and her body left in a westside arroyo. This and more prompted responses from ABQ Mayor Keller and APD Chief Geier:

Keller said:

Our community has been shaken by the recent deaths of these children and teenagers. These tragedies have ripped through our city, hitting home just how vulnerable young people can be. At one year old, Anastazia Zuber was only just beginning her life. Our community also lost a young girl to violence at the hands of a family member. And the deaths of teenagers Ahmed Lateef and Collin Romero showed us the depths of the challenges that young people today are facing. It is simply wrong and we cannot allow it to become normal. . .In 2019, we are continuing to invest in public safety and create opportunities for kids, especially those at risk. We are joining with neighborhoods, churches and community organizations to work hand-in-hand to address these challenges, and pushing for more diversion and prevention programs in our city.”

Police Chief Mike Geier said:

As first-responders, our officers are profoundly impacted any time they investigate the death of a child, no matter the circumstance. We have been challenged as a community with the deaths of several children in the past few weeks. As we grieve these losses, we want the community, and especially the families of these children, to know that officers are committed to pursuing justice on their behalf.

Most of us in law enforcement are parents. Some of us are grandparents. I made it a priority to bring back community policing in Albuquerque and encourage officers to engage with youth every chance they get. We have a responsibility, beyond law enforcement, to invest in the future of all children in the community. I ask the people of Albuquerque to join with us and redouble our efforts to protect children and support them when they need it most.


We have a new feature for the new year: Friday Photo Fun. So stop by tomorrow and see what we're up to.

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Wednesday, January 09, 2019

The Last Straw: ABQ City Council Scorned Over Straw Ban While Crime Crisis Goes On, Plus: Herrell Makes It Official; Running Again, And: Replacing Senator Cicso; He Gets A State Gig; Who Gets His Seat? 

It's a bridge too far--a big overreach--for critics of that ABQ City Council proposal to prohibit retailers from giving customers plastic straws, foam containers or those commonly used plastic bags you get at the grocery store. This, they ask, is the pressing issue in a metro area riddled with a crime and drug epidemic? One of our Senior Alligators weighs in:

This is utterly surreal. Crime is out of control. Our kids are being killed left and right. Drugs and drug-related activity basically run Albuquerque. But, according to four City Councilors, the biggest issue facing Albuquerque is plastic bags and straws. I’ve said it before and I’ll say it again. Albuquerque is not a serious city. And this self-absorbed and aggrandizing ABQ City Council has less importance to our everyday lives than any APS student council.

Meanwhile, City Councilor Ike Benton, seeking re-election this year and one of the sponsors of the anti-straw measure, pushes back against the notion that he is an environmental councilor and not a crime fighter:

I strenuously advocated for more downtown police presence with the previous two police chiefs (to no avail), and publicly criticized the Berry administration’s weak and late response in 2017 when Lavu and other businesses threatened to leave Downtown. I co-sponsored  the passage of a police pay increase and benefits bill. I supported the recent GRT increase (Council-led), with the lion’s share of revenue dedicated to public safety. . . I consistently supported DOJ intervention that led to the consent decree. I am co-sponsor of the current bill to update the civilian police oversight ordinance.

Stil, that's not stopping at least one challenger from emerging to take on Benton this fall. Robert Nelson, a self-described "community activist and organizer" who is also a nonprofit manager, is telling friends he's planning a run against Democrat Benton. You can be sure crime will be a central issue in that race as well as the other three council contests on the ballot this year.


The Alligators around here (our informed sources) are now batting 100 percent when it comes to Yvette Herrell. As they predicted, Herrell on Tuesday announced she would again seek the GOP nomination for the southern congressional seat. She won the nomination in '18 but lost the general election to Dem Xochitl Torres Small. Herrell's announcement follows her news Monday that she would not challenge the outcome of the election.

But Republicans are not expected to all fall in line behind Yvette in 2020. She had a battle for the nomination in '18 with former Hobbs Mayor Monty Newman and she can expect one or more competitors for the nomination this time, say insider R's. Why? . . .

First, she lost by 3,700 votes in the normally conservative district. And she ran a clumsy campaign, refusing to debate Torres Small and failing to respond to ethics allegations that the Dems continually pounded.

Then there's this: Shouldn't the R's put up a candidate not tied to the factions tearing the party apart and that hurt their chances in the south in '18?

Herrell is part of the anti-Susana Martinez GOP wing and Newman is part of the pro-Martinez wing. How about a GOP candidate from neither faction--a uniter who might give them a better shot of taking out Torres Small?

One other note: Does Herrell getting in mean former southern congressman and current State GOP chairman Steve Pearce will not run? That seems a fair conclusion.

By the way, Herrell did not formally concede the election to Torres Small in announcing her 2020 run. And saying you won't contest an election is not the same as calling your opponent and/or stating publicly you congratulate them and wish them well.


No sooner had ABQ Dem State Senator Cisco McSorley been named to a state job by the Lujan Grisham administration than the speculation began over who would replace him in the SE Heights seat he has held for over 20 years and which he resigned from Tuesday.

The first name to pop up was Dem Bernalillo County Commissioner Maggie Hart Stebbins, whose final term on the panel ends in 2020. Years ago she worked as a legislative analyst for former State Rep. and House Speaker Raymond Sanchez.

Another name making the rounds is attorney Antoinette Sedillo Lopez, who ran for the Dem nod for the ABQ congressional seat last year.

It's the BernCo Commission that Stebbins sits on that will name McSorley's Senate replacement. The Commission is currently four to one Democratic. Without Stebbins voting, it is 3 to 1 Dem.

In a sidebar, Stebbins last night was named chairwoman of the commission for the year.

If Stebbins is the Senate pick her County Commission seat would open up. Her replacement would be named by the Governor.

McSorley, 68, was named director of the state Probation and Parole Division. The ABQ native is an attorney and member of the Senate Judiciary Committee who has been active in the push to legalize recreational marijuana in NM as well as corrections reform.

McSorley was a member of the state House from 1984-1996 when he was elected to the Senate. He proved popular with voters and has scored easy re-election victories since.


Retired APD Seargent Dan Klein in writing Tuesday of "sanctions" imposed on the current district attorney and his predecessor said both have been subject to court sanctions. In writing of DA Torrez he cited a case in which the office was fined for missing court deadlines. The news report also called that a "sanction." However, in the other case involving DA Brandenburg he cited a state payment that was made on behalf of the DA's office to settle a lawsuit. That payment was not a sanction. Dan apologizes for the error--which we also did not catch--but it's Klein we're feeding to the Gators. Get the barbecue sauce out.

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Tuesday, January 08, 2019

CYFD Hot Seat Goes To Out Of State Pick; Guv Bets On Blalock To Make The Change, Plus: Herrell Done But No Concession Yet, DA Torrez And Kelly Plea And APS Election Kicks Off 

Brian Blalock
Brian Blalock? Who's that? Well, that name is about to be one of the more common ones heard in La Politica.

Blalock of San Francisco has been tapped by Gov. Lujan Grisham to sit on one of the hottest seats in the state--that of cabinet secretary for the beleaguered Children Youth and Families Department (CYFD).

Blalock, 50,  is obviously a smart guy with a masters from Harvard, a law degree from Stanford and extensive experience with troubled youth. The question for New Mexicans is whether he has the street smarts necessary to reform the forlorn, low morale CYFD culture that has repeatedly failed to protect youngsters who end up murdered or maimed, even after the agency often had repeated contact with the victims' families.

Before the R's get frantic about "a San Francisco lawyer" taking over, remember local leadership (politically inspired) has been an abysmal failure the past eight years. A set of eyes from the outside is sorely needed.

Lujan Grisham made a bold call by going outside the state and making a nonpolitical appointment. Now we wait and see if Blalock can play the complicated and treacherous inside game and do what must be done to rescue so many at risk youth.

If you get the vibe that this is one agency where MLG could exercise some of her famous micro-managing to get things moving, we're on the same wave length.

More about the secretary-designate here and more on other Guv cabinet appointments Monday here.

Reader Richard Flores wrote to us before the Blalock appointment:

Joe, your commentary on the CYFD cabinet secretary on your 12/26/18 blog is instructive for its contextual value, and for emphasizing the importance of the job. The former governor is largely responsible for the fiasco, but those state senators who voted to confirm the secretary should also reflect on their actions in confirming a person without relevant experience for this critical position. ABQ Senator Michael Padilla, who warned of that is thus vindicated. Those officials that represent us today should move forward with great caution, and set aside political expediency in favor of what is best for our children.

The Governor's website is listing her cabinet appointments as they are made along with their bios. 


So where's the concession? Southern congressional hopeful Yvette Herrell finally threw in the towel Monday and said that after a review by her campaign of the Dona Ana County absentee ballots she will not contest the election in which she lost to Democrat Xochitl Torres Small. She said her plan was always to review the ballots not necessarily challenge the results. Whatever.

Our Alligators predicted no challenge a month ago. Now they're asking, "where is the concession?"

The Alamogordo state rep. has yet to extend a hand of congratulations to Torres Small who took office last week. Meanwhile, the Gators wait for the second part of their prediction to play out--that Herrell will again seek the GOP nomination for the southern seat.  Maybe she'll concede to Torres Small when she announces her second bid? Come on, Yvette, it's time.

UPDATE: Herrell announced via email Tuesday that she will seek the 2020 GOP nomination for the southern congressional seat. 


Democratic Sen. Martin Heinrich appeared lost in the shuffle last week when he took office for a second, six year term. That's because the spotlight was on new congresswomen Deb Haaland and Torres Small. Heinrich, 47, can be seen taking the oath from VP Pence here.


BernCo District Attorney Raul Torrez hopes he has lowered the political temperature a bit by getting Jessica Kelly, 31, to cop a plea Monday to a number of charges, but not murder, that could put her in prison for 20-25 years in connection with the notorious murder and dismemberment of 10 year old Victoria Martens. The plea, said one of our Legal Beagles, doesn't only mean that Kelly won't go to trial.

"The tactics and mishandling of this case would also have been on trial if Kelley did not take a plea," they commented. 

Legal Analyst John Day said it is up in the air whether the public will perceive the plea deal as sufficient justice for Victoria. The case was badly bungled and law-enforcement across-the-board shares the blame.

Former Bernalillo County Chief Deputy District Attorney Pete Dinelli believes because of his name ID and generally positive news coverage Torrez is still favored for reelection in 2020 but says any quest for higher office by the DA may be severely hampered by the Marten’s case.


It's election time again. This one is a mail-in ballot to decide a property tax increase proposed by APS to finance a multitude of school construction projects and also to enhance school security. The ballots hit the mailboxes this week and voters have until February 5 to return them. The League of Women Voters says:

Tonight, January 8, we are sponsoring a forum for the APS mail in bond election. The forum begins at 6:30 p.m. at the studios of KANW, the public radio station. It will be carried by the station (89.1 on your FM radio dial and kanw.com) and live streamed on the KNME-TV website.

BernCo County Clerk Linda Stover says she "wants to remind residents of Bernalillo County that the last day to register to vote or update voter registration for the 2019 Albuquerque Public School Special Election is Jan. 8, 2019."

That's today. A sample ballot is here.

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Monday, January 07, 2019

Fortysomething Angst: Crime Wave Testing Mettle Of Mayor Keller And DA Torrez; Murder And Drugs Continue Their Relentless March Into New Year: Keller Struggles With APD; Torrez Shifts Blame And Gets Taken Down 

Keller and Torrez
The ABQ metros two young political hotshots continue to get tripped up by the ongoing ABQ crime wave, a reminder that advancing in statewide politics from the big city looks easy but really isn't.

First, ABQ Mayor Tim Keller, 41, fresh off a high in announcing a decline in a number of crime categories, including auto theft, is now haunted by yet another misstep by his APD that has prompted yet another internal affairs investigation. This one is over the drowning death of a one year old baby girl whose  parents are now charged with child abuse resulting in death:

. . .Family asked police to check on the baby on Dec. 18 and an officer did a welfare check on the baby at a Northeast Albuquerque apartment, but Romero told the officer the baby was with her sister, according to a criminal complaint filed Friday. At that point, the baby was still missing, and it’s unclear why police did not seek the public’s help in finding the family sooner. That’s under internal affairs investigation, that’s what we’re looking into,” a police spokesman said.

The problem is that back in May the same APD failed to fully investigate the abuse of a 7 year old girl whose drug-addled parents turned her into a child prostitute. The girl's blood-stained underwear was collected by an APS teacher but APD rejected it as evidence and had it thrown away. A shocked city saw Keller order an internal affairs investigation and be forced to make a public mea culpa over his initial support of his department's actions.

But here we are again. And that raises the question of whether Keller and his police chief Michael Geier have command and control over the department, which operates under the purview of the Department of Justice because of its checkered past.

 It also again raises the question of APD's culture and whether Keller and Geier are making enough progress with needed reforms. It also raises the more disturbing question of whether Keller and/or Geier have become part of the defensive/rogue culture that got the city in such a law enforcement mess in the first place.

And all of that raises questions about Keller's decision early in his term to reject choosing a new police chief from out of state to reform the rotted culture. Is it now time? Or is the Mayor going to continue to absorb the slings and arrows from an agency that seems largely unresponsive (or impervious) to his will for major reform?

Meantime, Dr. James Ginger, the highly compensated overseer of the DOJ decree governing APD, pronounces himself pleased as punch because, in part, unlike the Mayor Berry administration at least Keller and the chief talk with him. But that's not reform, Doc. That's ego stroking. And pretty darn expensive stroking at that.


The late '18 and early 2019 city violence has been unrelenting. We don't know if the parents of that one year old boy left to drown and then callously buried in a backyard forever to be forgotten were doped up, but isn't that usually the case in these twisted sagas?

And then there's the two teenaged boys--14 and 15--who were slain and buried in shallow graves near Rio Rancho over an apparent drug deal gone awry. The crime began in the ABQ foothills then went to the West Mesa where the boys were beaten to death, with the horror inexplicably being shown on Snapchat.

Then there was the killing of a young girl on the west side last week identified only as a "juvenile" whose 15 year old cousin went berserk, killed her and left the body in an arroyo. Drugs? No word yet.

The cops can't necessarily stop deranged cousins, but it's highly important to note that in the span of a couple of weeks we have a one year old dead and the parents charged; two teens in the grave because of drug abuse and a little girl aged unknown murdered and lying in an arroyo.

Those are the children of this city and state and this is not new. It is a continuation of the wickedness that began creeping up on us with the economic decline and increase in drug usage and trafficking.

ABQ has made some progress in reducing auto and property crime, but the fact remains that violence continues at historic and unacceptable levels--and it is the city's youth who seem to be in its crosshairs.

Keller doesn't try to spin that. But after 13 months in office difficult and potentially painful decisions about this city's policing and its rampant drug dealing have yet to be made. Hiring more cops is not the sole solution, if the culture is not revamped. That's like putting more salt in an already over salted sauce. The more the decisions are delayed by the 11th Floor the more pain it will bring to victims and to the future of the city.

The mayor has hired several old hands as consultants but we need fresh perspectives--from out of this region and state.


Now over to Bernalillo County District Attorney Raul Torrez, 42, whose political future appears to be getting swallowed up by perhaps the most horrific child murder in city history--the 2016 killing and dismemberment of 10 year old Victoria Martens.

Democrat Torrez has worked furiously during his tenure to shift blame for the crime wave to the judges. But his blame shifting has caught up with him in the Martens slaying which threatens to go unpunished under his watch and has the DA facing possible court sanctions over his public statements regarding the case. As is his custom, those statements worked to blame others for shortcomings in the case. (Has a DA ever been sanctioned here?)

This week Jessica Kelly's trial for Victoria's murder begins but Torrez has already alarmed the public by saying there could be "an unidentified" man who may have committed the killing and is still on the loose. And the DA has now had to drop the rape charges against her. And Kelley is being prosecuted against that backdrop? Truly this is bizarro world.

Late Monday morning Kelly copped a plea, perhaps lessening a bit of the political pressure on the DA:

One day before the first trial in the Victoria Martens case was scheduled to begin, the defendant, 34-year-old Jessica Kelley pleaded no contest to child abuse recklessly caused, resulting in death, tampering with evidence and aggravated assault. 

There is already talk that Torrez could face a Dem primary challenge in 2020 when he is up for re-election. The sanctions threat and the Victoria Martens case make him more vulnerable--even if he plans on running against the judges for the rest of his career.

They often say the 40's are the "worry free years," usually blessed with good health and career climbing. But for fortysomethings Tim Keller and Raul Torrez they are years when their mettle is being tested like never before. For them their 40's is when your hair starts to turn gray.


Harry Teague
We jumped the gun when we said in a first blog draft Thursday that for the first time in "living memory" our state's congressional delegation is now controlled by one party. It's true that all five positions are now in the hands of the Democrats, but as several readers reminded us we forgot about Harry Teague.

He was the southern NM Democrat who in 2008 was elected to the normally Republican  congressional seat there and who made the delegation all Democratic for two short years in 2009 and '10. That ended when Republican Steve Pearce reclaimed the seat in 2010. We missed that when we trotted out the "living memory" line.

So when was the last time before 2009 that the state's congressional delegation was comprised of solely one party? That was 1981-82 when we had two--not three congressional districts. They were held by Republicans Manuel Lujan and Joe Skeen. Our Senators those two years were Republicans Pete Domenici and Jack Schmitt.

In 1982 Dem Jeff Bingaman was elected to the US Senate, breaking the one party hold on the delegation. It wasn't until 2009 and Teague's election that we would again have solo party control/ If the Democrats hold their own in 2020 it will be the rare occasion when not only one party controls the delegation but does so for two consecutive elections.

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