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Tuesday, February 28, 2017

A Gay Governor? Mayor Gonzales Continues To Test Waters, Plus: Legal Beagles List Possible US Attorney Conrtenders, And: Updating The Heinrich File 

Mayor Gonzales
Is New Mexico ready for an openly gay Governor? Santa Fe Mayor Javier Gonzales is testing the waters. He interviews with a TV station this week about the troubles he endured when he was in the closet.

Wikpedia says there has been one openly bisexual state governor and one state governor has come out as gay. It wouldn't necessarily be a high hurdle to cross in a Democratic Party but in a general election? That's a whole other story.

Gonzales is up for re-election as mayor in March of 2018. He could also seek the '18 June primary Democratic Guv nod at the same time, but most observers we spoke with believe it has to be or the other. Other candidates will be fully committed while Gonzales would be hedging his bets and making himself appear weak.

Gay may not be the issue for Gonzales as much as big government. His relentless advocacy for a tax on sugary drinks (to back the good cause of early childhood funding) is getting him deep into City Different hot water. If it's a loser on that liberal turf, statewide it could be a candidacy killer.

Our Alligators report Gonzales has already lined up consultants for any future Guv bid and will mine progressive support around the state if he jumps in.

Now that's surely what Attorney General Hector Balderas doesn't want. He's another prospective '18 Dem candidate but he doesn't need more Hispanic men--gay or otherwise--seeking the nomination. That would give way too much breathing room to Dem US Rep. Michelle Lujan Grisham who is already off and running.

Jeff Apodaca, son of former NM Governor Jerry Apodaca, is coming in and State Senator Joe Cervantes is weighing a bid. A friend of Balderas says he will soon conduct polling and that will give him some guidance, but this primary is going to be a crap shoot, not like the lay-ups Hector has had for his bids for state auditor and AG. It's a tough decision.

As for talk that we could get a self-funded business person coming into the contest, maybe, but one of the possibles in that regard, Santa Fe businessman Dan Burrell who made a splash when he spearheaded funding for an osteopathic medical school at NMSU, chuckled at the notion when we asked him. "It's fun to hear that stuff, but I am busy working my business and raising a young family. That is not in the cards for now."

As for Santa Fe Dem businessman Alan Weber, who made a run for the Dem nod in 2014, he'd like to go again, but an entry by Mayor Gonzales could complicate things as both appeal to the same progressive base.

US ATTORNEY NAMES

Blair Dunn
Over at the US attorney's office in ABQ they're waiting to find out who their new boss will be. Current US attorney Damon Martinez, a Democrat, will soon head to the exits as the Trump administration chooses one of its own for the high ranking law enforcement job. Our Legal Beagles have the top names being circulated for the post. They are:

ABQ attorney Erlinda Johnson, who recently served as defense attorney for former Sec. of State Dianna Duran who pled guilty to corruption charges; John Anderson, a Santa Fe attorney at the regional firm of Holland and Hart and ABQ attorney Blair Dunn, 35, the son of NM Land Commissioner Aubrey Dunn, Jr.

The names are being collected by GOP US Rep. Steve Pearce, the only Republican in the state's congressional delegation. The White House will make the final call with the advice of Pearce who will consult with other top state Republicans.

HEINRICH UPDATE

We blogged recently that in 2011then-US Rep. Martin Heinrich had "cashed out" of having town hall meetings. But he did have one before doing that. In 2009, at UNM, a Heinrich town hall drew a big crowd.

Also, in a first draft Monday we said that Sen. Heinrich had voted for an amendment allowing drugs from Canada to be sold in the USA. Of course he voted against it but he may have enjoyed that error, given the hits he's been taking for that vote.

And the plot thickens. NJ Sen. Cory Booker, one of 12 Dem Senators, including Heinrich, who voted against the amendment, is reversing course:

Pilloried by his party’s left wing for voting in January against a non-binding measure with a similar goal, Sen. Cory Booker is joining Sen. Bernie Sanders on Tuesday to unveil a bill to allow the importation of pharmaceuticals from Canada and other countries. Booker, who has been mentioned as a potential 2020 presidential candidate, came under fire on social media and liberal blogs as too beholden to special interests after he and 12 Democratic colleagues voted against a drug-importation amendment to the 2017 budget resolution.

Will Heinrich join Booker in reversing course on the Canada drug issue? The pair are friendly. Booker, as we previously reported, will hold a fund-raiser for Heinrich this Saturday:

Join Senator Martin Heinrich For a Lunch Reception To kick off his re-election campaign With Special Guest Senator Cory Booker Saturday, March 4, 2017 11:00 – 12:30 pm at The Home of Greg Levenson. Suggested Contribution: Host - $2,700 Guest - $1,000 Current Heinrich Trust members - $250

Finally, we said Monday that the combined state and federal spending on the health program Medicaid is $4 billion. It is actually $6 billion when all spending is taken into account, says Senate Finance Committee Chairman John Arthur Smith in an interview with capitol reporter Lorene Mills. Here's more on that.

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Monday, February 27, 2017

Think It Can't Get Worse? Now The Medicaid Bomb Starts Ticking; GOP Reform Proposal Called "Catastrophic" for NM, Plus: John Sanchez: Damned If He Does And Damned If He Doesn't 

At least the budget debacle can't get worse, right? Everything bad that can happen has already happened, right? Unfortunately. . .

Even after an oil price crash, a years-long anemic economic recovery and a slowdown in crucial federal spending--even after all that--there's still another budget bomb that could go off--Medicaid.

Legislators in Santa Fe are so busy trying to plug the budget hole for the next year that they don't have time to think about what would happen if the Republicans in congress radically revise Medicaid--the free health insurance program for low income housholds--into a block grant. But it could happen, and then what?:

Changing Medicaid into a per-capita funding program and eliminating expansion could reduce federal spending by $1.4 trillion over 10 years, according to Avalere's analysis. Governors are wary of overhauling Medicaid because it's the largest source of federal funding for states.

The Feds pay New Mexico from $3 to $4 for every dollar it spends on Medicaid. Some $6 billion is being spent here to fund the program. If the funding formula is changed under a block grant program, as the GOP' is proposing, Democrat Senator Martin Heinrich, not one given to hyperbole, says the results here would be "catastrophic":

. . . We would see tens of thousands of people who have insurance either through the exchanges or through Medicaid expansion kicked off of their coverage. In addition it would be, financially, a disaster for the state. Literally billions of dollars flow (here) because of the ACA. That would be lost revenue. It’s of a scale that could not be made up at the legislature. . . Block grants mean defunding Medicaid expansion, not funding expansion. . . Medicaid is incredibly important for the kids covered, but it’s also how we cover much of our nursing home [expenses]. These things will have enormous impacts on people’s lives. The plan that’s been put out so far by House Speaker Ryan would be an absolute catastrophic disaster for New Mexico.

An "absolute catastrophic disaster" may be avoided as Republicans stare into the fiscal abyss. Gov. Martinez was huddling with fellow Governors in DC this weekend, discussing  all this with the new Secretary for Human Services. Martinez was one of  several GOP Governors who signed off on Obamacare which included the Medicaid expansion  that led to soaring Medicaid enrollment. Almost one million New Mexicans now receive coverage--nearly half the state. It was a move widely panned by her own party but received warmly by others who pointed to the state's chronic poverty and lack of health coverage.

If the worst is realized and Medicaid is turned into a block grant or chopped in another way that costs New Mexico a billion or more yearly, Martinez probably won't be around to see the impact. Her term ends at the end of '18. But the new Governor would. Maybe that's one reason why there are relatively few candidates thus far for the open governorship. Who wants to deal with this mess?

SIDEBAR

A sidebar on Sen. Heinrich and healthcare. One of our readers reports seeing Heinrich TV spots aimed at limiting damage inflicted on him when he voted with the majority in January against an amendment "that would have allowed pharmacists to import identical—but much less expensive—drugs from Canada and other countries." Heinrich cited safety. His critics on the left cited his campaign contributions from Big Pharma. Heinrich is up for re-election next year.

DAMNED AND DAMNED

Lt. Gov. Sanchez
And then there's Lt. Governor John Sanchez. Talk about damned if you do and damned if you don't. A successful run for Governor touting Martinez's economic record seems out of the question given the state of the state.

Maybe that's why he's also eyeing a run for the ABQ congressional seat being vacated by Dem US Rep. Michelle Lujan Grisham who has already announced a Guv run. But given its demographics and recent history, a Republican taking the ABQ seat is as likely as the Lobos going to the NCAA this year.

Whatever the case, Sanchez's campaign (for whatever it turns out to be) was buying ads on Facebook last week showing him as the Acting Governor and signing legislation for emergency funding so jury trials could continue. Of course, even that is tricky for Sanchez. Hardcore fiscal conservatives are calling for even more budget cuts, no matter the consequences.

Right now John Sanchez is looking like a round peg facing a wall of square holes. How he handles that peg is going to be intriguing to watch.

BUDGET DRAMA

Who knows what last minute budget drama Santa Fe will conjur up but there is a  scenario developing that one of our readers thinks is worth keeping tabs on.  He seizes on Gov. Martinez's announcement that the state will "save millions" by consolidating all human resources departments under the State Personnel Office:

So three or four years into severe budget problems she finally decides to "manage." Reorganization rarely saves money, at least in the early stages. Trust me, I've been through a couple. The disruption to staff relocation and physical plant issues for office space are going to cost plenty, before you even try to address the morale and effectiveness of this. The savings, if any, will be minimal and I am suspect that the trade offs will be worth it. This is managing by a dying administration, that will have no impact on the immediate budget. She is trying to justify her veto in advance.

So Susana will veto the budget deal or portions of it that call for tax increases saying she is going to save millions through this reorganization? Interesting. What's also interesting is that the administration is not saying exactly how much money would be saved by the reorganization or how many employees would be out of a job. Maybe she will say the savings are just enough for her to veto one or two of the tax hikes that will soon be on her desk? Stay tuned.

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Friday, February 24, 2017

A Reader Asks: How To Improve Albuquerque 

This column is also appearing in the ABQ Free Press.

Reader Vivian Harris writes: "Joe, I've enjoyed your articles over the years. I would like to ask what you think (in the best of all worlds) what the city could do to improve the economy and living conditions in Albuquerque."

It's not a question we've shied away from, Vivian, but with the city election fast approaching it's a good time to again take up that critical question,

This city has turned into an ongoing crime scene and that directly impacts the economy and the living conditions you inquire about. The inability of the city to effectively staff APD is the major reason. Chief Gorden Eden will argue that it is repeat offenders who are the culprit, but annual reports show crime has dramatically escalated precisely as staffing levels have sagged. The central question for the future well-being of our city is how long will APD remain understaffed?  It has hovered at around 800 officers for several years, even as experts say we need at least 1,000. The next mayor who takes office December 1 needs to declare something akin to a  state of emergency and finally deliver the protection citizens deserve.

Major money would be needed to award bonuses and incentives to good officers from other departments around the nation to attract them to a dangerous posting like Albuquerque. The city council and mayor can find that money but thus far have not had the will to do so. It is one of the greatest policy failures in the history of modern city government and will almost surely end Berry's hopes for any future political career.

Again, Chef Eden argues it's a case of locking up repeat offenders instead of releasing them again and again. No, Chief, the lousy economy, widespread drug addiction and an ill-prepared work force is creating more criminals who turn into repeat offenders.

In addition to an adequately staffed APD the city needs to establish credible community policing that can prevent crime from occurring. Give up those darkened windshields on police cars that conceal cops and that remind you of Darth Vader. Get out in the community and work the beat, the old school way.

For the mayoral candidates the most important and relevant question is whether they will clean house at APD where crime fighting has been an abject and historic failure. Without a new chief and command staff there will be no hope for a turnaround. Voters need to have that at the top of their minds when going to the polls.

That's a lot about crime, Vivian, but when Mayor Berry and his police chief point to a period from over a quarter century ago to show that the city's crime rate was once even higher, you're witnessing an unprecedented and complete abdication of responsibility. That also goes for the asleep at the switch city council. As with the mayoral hopefuls, voters need to hold the council candidates accountable in the coming campaign.

If we can't bring down the crime rate the question of making the city more attractive for economic development is academic. It's simply not going to happen. The last five years are proof of that. But we can get started in anticipation of that joyful day when crime starts its decline.

The city should divert funding from public libraries to after school programs in the worst performing public schools. It  should also look at tapping into the $250 million in sales tax money the BioPark will receive in the next 15 years as approved by voters. Some of those proceeds could be put to use for education as we labor to build a work force prepared for the future and not one invested in becoming criminals.

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Thursday, February 23, 2017

Guv '18: An Early Sparring Contest Between Pearce And Grisham, Plus: The Shrinking El Paso Paper; Here Too? And: Sending A Bill To Brian Colón  

Has the gubernatorial sparring already begun between Rep. Michelle Lujan Grisham and Republican Rep. Steve Pearce? Lujan Grisham is an announced Dem contender for the '18 Guv nod and Pearce is eyeing a run for the GOP nomination. Recently he ran into a buzzsaw of criticism for opting to hold a "telephone town hall" instead of meeting directly with constituents. Now Grisham comes with the contrast: 

Congresswoman Michelle Lujan Grisham will hold a Town Hall meeting in Albuquerque on Saturday, Feb. 25, from 10 a.m. to noon at the CNM Workforce Training Center, 5600 Eagle Rock Ave., N.E. The Town Hall is open to the public. Rep. Lujan Grisham will listen to opinions and concerns, and take questions from constituents. 

It's much easier for Grisham to face the public but Pearce has to deal with hordes of anti-Trump protesters who would come out for any public town halls he conducts. Still, she gets a few point in the optics battle in the very early Guv positioning.

Pearce's reluctance to have town halls reminds us of the summer of 2011. That's when the Tea Party was out in force at Dem town halls. Like Pearce, then-US Rep. Martin Heinrich and Senator Udall decided to cash out of the town hall circuit, opting for meetings with community leaders and the like.

The political pendulum is always swinging.

COMING HERE?

Will the ABQ Journal follow the El Paso Times in doing this?:

The El Paso Times announced. . . while the newspaper will still produce seven issues a week, it has been reduced from four sections to two Monday through Saturday, reducing space for local, national and international news. . . The Times’ direction is clearly to the digital world, along with other struggling newspapers and everything from Christmas shopping to personal relationships. 

What's surprising is that the Times, like some other newspapers, did not announce it was ending some weekday editions outright. But given the outlook for newspapers that could soon come.

A BILL FOR BRIAN

Hey, Brian Colón, candidate for ABQ mayor, we have an invoice for you. On January 26 we blogged:

(Colón's) political tradition is that of a happy warrior, a master of the meet and greet and eager to work across the aisle.

Now comes the candidate himself in the latest edition of the ABQ Free Press, saying:

Colón calls himself the “happy warrior” – an homage to the late Vice President Hubert Humphrey– and believes he can bring diverse groups together "When you’ve got
to solve those problems."

Well, to use the language of lawyer Colón, this one is pro bono. But next time we write the script, the bill goes in the mail.

On a more serious note, Colón is dodging the question of whether he would get rid of APD Chief Gorden Eden:

“On day one (as mayor), that is the first meeting I have (with Eden) Anyone who has devoted themselves to public service deserves to have a sit-down with their new boss. Colon said. “To get political points by by saying his head is on the chopping block is not my approach That's not to say I can see any conversation where it ends well, but he deserves that professional courtesy."

That contrasts with the position of Tim Keller, Colón's chief Democratic rival, who has said, if elected, Eden and Assistant Chief Huntsman will be shown the exits.

GANG CULTURE

Reader Larissa Lewis writes of the staffing woes at APD:

The gangster culture of APD has thrived. More than 200 jumped ship as they smelled the Dept. of Justice coming, and the national coverage of violence by this gang, so the reasons for less manpower are many. Until (if ever) there is major overhaul, why would any conscientious public safety candidates join this dirty crew? So sick of partial, lame excuses and poor rationalizing that is spread over the harsh realities. Either suck up and take responsibility, or shut up is my response to all that have participated-including ex officers and office holders. Not everyone is a fool hypnotized by "alternative facts."

Former City Councilor, Public Safety Director and '13 mayoral candidate Pete Dinelli is watch dogging this year's mayoral race. He says thus far the contenders have not gone far enough in their plans for cleaning up the troubled department:

The entire APD command staff all the way down to commanders and lieutenants (needs to be replaced) so that APD can truly have a fresh start with a new generation of leadership who has a firm understanding of “Constitutional’ policing.

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Wednesday, February 22, 2017

Another BernCo Tax Hike? County Officials Face Tough Questions As They Come Back To The Trough, Plus: Back On The ABQ Crime Beat; Former Mayor With His Latest Take, And: Those Substation Blues; Councilor Defends Money For Building While APD Still In Staffing Crisis 

Suddenly Bernalillo County again wants to raise the dreaded gross receipts tax (GRT) to plug its budget. That sprouted up as fast as garden weeds after a spring rain. Where has the discussion (and action) been on downsizing BernCo for the new reality of a stagnant population and tax base? Republican County Commissioner and soon-to-be mayoral wannabee Wayne Johnson points out that the county just approved a GRT increase in '15 and is already back at the trough.

Approval of the hike would take the GRT up to the doorstep of 8 percent. The GRT is derided by both the affluent and poor. Businesses point out its puts them at competitive disadvantage and the lower income citizens point out that the GRT takes more of their income than the well-off.

Unlike the state budget, which really needs increased revenue to fund the very basic services of running the public schools and which has already taken hundreds of millions in cuts, BernCo wants the tax revenue for "general operations." But it's becoming clear that many of those operations are a relic of the past based on a future of robust growth and an expanding tax base.

Bernalillo County’s spending on basic government climbed 22 percent over the four-year period that ended in June 2014. Those days are over and done and there needs to be a roll back. So where is the county manager on this? Her website says:

County Manager Julie Morgas Baca is committed to providing excellent public services and the most efficient use of tax dollars for the people of Bernalillo County.  "I will continue to strengthen the county’s financial position by streamlining our operating costs throughout county government."

So where is the $30 million in "streamlining" in the $257 million annual budget that would nix the need for this tax? Clearly, the time for consolidation of services between the city and county is here. But government leaders here continue to think the public, like them, want to cling to budgeting and allocation of resources that is from a different era. The county commission should kill this tax like those weeds in the garden.

NOT THE SAME

Opposing the county's tax hike does not conflict with support for raising revenue to keep the state government going, particularly the public schools. As we pointed out Tuesday, the proposed state general fund budget of $6.1 billion is at the same level as ten years ago. The corrections department is understaffed and the public schools have been threatened with a shortening of the school year. That's a real threat to vital public services. Can BernCo argue it faces the same urgency? No.

THE CRIME BEAT

Chavez
Here's a nonpartisan statement: Crime is out of control in ABQ.  We asked former three term Democratic Mayor Martin Chavez for his latest take as the city continues to be besieged by auto thefts, murders and assorted mayhem:

Crime in Albuquerque is virtually out of control and while socio-economic factors are important (education, poverty, etc.), the actual lack of cops is scandalous and is at the root of the problem. For example, the police generally know who is stealing automobiles, where they are being taken and how to go after them. But they lack the resources from City Hall to actually get their jobs done. Who could have imagined that our police department would have shrunk over the past 8 years? The use of special teams (burglary, auto theft, etc.) always fluctuates between forming and growing them and a natural need to simply have more cops on the streets with eyes, ears and the ability to apprehend bad guys. We now lack the beefed up specialized units to actually focus on specific crimes and the full complement of officers on the street to protect Albuquerqueans. Civilian investigators are not a bad idea but ultimately simply mask the problem that we lack sworn police officers.

And before the Chavez bashers start yelling, yes, we know Chavez faced a very high crime rate during some of his years as mayor as well as an APD officer shortage. The difference? Unlike today, neither event went on for years and years and with the city leadership deflecting all responsibility.

MORE CRIME BEAT

Davis
And then there's the debate over the new SE Heights APD substation set to go up in the crime infested area. We wondered if if wouldn't  be a "ghost station" given the extreme shortage of officers APD is suffering. City Councilor Pat Davis, who paved the way for the substation which will replace an older one, comes with a defense:

We are planning for the future. We've already funded all 980 officers APD needs to fully implement community policing. This fast-tracks the building of a community -focused Area Command for our busiest area of the city. APD was planning on it in 2019 in the long-term capital budget. It's a win: revitalization of a huge rundown lot, and acres of new public space to support parks, workforce housing and other community needs as a catalyst for neighborhood development. Instead of giving our public dollars to another private developer, we're kickstarting redevelopment with public investment to address neighborhood concerns and doing it in a way that makes community policing successful. 

Former Mayor Chavez sees it differently:

It would be better to use the capital portions of the allocation to upgrade the existing station (technology, etc) and direct the operational monies associated with the new substation toward police pay raises and more police officers. 

The city paid $1.5 million for the land the new substation will be built on.

Former APD officer Mark Bralley weighs in with this:

This substation is a waste of taxpayer's money. Under true community policing--whether recognized or not--every officer's vehicle is a mobile substation where at least 90% of policing is fulfilled.

Councilor Davis is correct that the city has funded 980 positions but there are still less than 825 officers because the city has not filled the positions.

Folks, we're going to say it one more time. Before this era in city and state history is over you're going to continue to see things that were previously unimaginable. Like this:

An APD that has been extremely understaffed for five years and which the political leadership of this city has failed to address to the everlasting detriment of the crime victims claimed by that failure.

ALL THOSE ADS

The blog has been flooded this week with ads for HB 440. The bill is scheduled to be heard Thursday before the House Energy, Environment and Natural Resources Committee. Details on the bill are easily found by clicking on the ads sponsored by the The Partnership for Affordable Clean Energy (PACE) which says it is "a coalition of working people, business owners, environmentalists, and trade organizations who are fighting for fair, responsible energy policies." Meanwhile, here's a news release from a group supporting the bill:

Family Businesses for Affordable Energy (FBAE) called for the extension of the New Mexico Renewable Energy Production Tax Credit (REPTC), an extension that will lead to more new jobs and investments, while helping to lower the cost of energy for families and businesses. With this simple incentive, New Mexico already created thousands of jobs with billions in new investments. According to a recent study commissioned by the NM Energy, Minerals & Natural Resources Department, the tax credit created over 9,000 jobs, $430 million of labor income, and reductions in electricity costs—numbers that significantly exceed the fiscal cost of the tax credit. Conservative estimates are that there is $1.5-$2 billion worth of investments on the current solar waiting list alone. This could translate into 7,000-9,000 new jobs for New Mexico just waiting for the tax credit extension.

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Tuesday, February 21, 2017

Modest Budget Bill Still Provokes Controversy In Divided Santa Fe, Plus: A Bad Idea For Our Small State And NM Oil Jobs May Be Past Peak 

It appears House Committee chairs Patrica Lundstrom and Carl Trujillo have bent over backwards to get a budget deal with the Republican Governor, but without getting obscene, we all know what happens when you bend over in front of this Governor.

The proposed budget for the year that starts July 1 and that came out of the Dem controlled House Appropriations Committee led by Lundstrom is flat as a pancake--fixing the budget at about $6.1 billion, about the same as the past year. The critical news is that the budget holds funding steady for the already hard hit public schools:

The $6.1 billion spending bill would maintain current overall funding levels for public schools, boost resources for the judiciary and restore money for business incentives linked to expansions and job training. That plan hinges on companion legislation that would raise $218 million in new revenues from a long list of taxes and fees. New revenues would come in large part from a tax-deduction overhaul for the health sector designed to raise more than $100 million and steeper charges for cross-state trucking permits. Smaller provisions include taxing online sales by out-of-state retailers and no longer exempting nonprofit groups from taxes on sales.

We'll have to peel the onion more,but on first glance--dare we say--this looks like one of the most eminently reasonable budget plans we have seen since the state was plunged into its ongoing budget crisis. What does that mean? It means the Governor will loathe the plan and pick a huge fight over this table scraps budget. So watch your behinds--err--we mean your backs, Reps. Lundstrom and Trujillo.

DID YOU KNOW

The $6.1 billion budget headed toward the House floor is the same amount as it was nearly ten years ago. The budget is as flatlined as this state's economy and its population growth.

BAD IDEA

Talk about a bad idea for a small state like ours:

The Senate has approved legislation adding New Mexico to an interstate compact aimed at guaranteeing the president — in future elections — would be elected by national popular vote. The measure, Senate Bill 42, passed the chamber on a party-line 26-16 vote, with Democrats in favor and Republicans opposed.

It's true that we no longer get the gobs of presidential campaign attention we did since we went deep blue and lost our swing state status. But Trump made two visits here last year and the Dems sent in high-powered surrogates, They did it because our five electoral votes are still significant to the national presidential puzzle. The attention helps in DC. Take it away and you get even less federal power. Not quite what you want to see in a state whose economy is so dependent on federal funding

THE PEAK IS PAST

We appear to have seen the historic peak in employment in the New Mexico oilfields, no matter how much prices may rebound in the future:

“People have left the industry, and they are not coming back,” said Michael Dynan, vice president at Schramm, a Pennsylvania manufacturer of drilling rigs. “If it’s a repetitive task, it can be automated, and I don’t need someone to do that. I can get a computer to do that.”

Indeed, computers now direct drill bits that were once directed manually. The wireless technology taking hold across the oil patch allows a handful of geoscientists and engineers to monitor the drilling and completion of multiple wells at a time — onshore or miles out to sea — and supervise immediate fixes when something goes wrong, all without leaving their desks. 

That means the days of $300 hotel rooms in Lea County during an oil boom are over and the population there will continue to retreat or stagnate.

DOWNSIZING NM

Former UNM professor Connie Thorson writes of the talk of downsizing the state higher education system:

When I was active in university politics at UNM--over 25 years ago--a group of faculty met with legislative aides to discuss the continued expansion of higher education in NM. We all agreed that no more campuses should be developed or funded. Of course, our advice was ignored. And so the pieces of the higher ed pie got smaller and smaller. We saw part of the problem as the politicians or regents who wanted memorials to themselves. For example, how reasonable is the west side campus of UNM? My point is that down-sizing is not a concept readily embraced in NM by the administrators of the universities.

Anyway, I cannot imagine the UNM administration giving up one single vice president, associate or assistant vice president or dean or department head, not to mention office managers, secretaries, or student assistants. The possibility of any of the VP's or deans taking a salary cut is minuscule, in my opinion.

The proposed budget hearing toward the House floor calls for a 1 percent cut to the higher ed budget. That's on top of previous cuts approved by the Legislature.

A GHOST STATION?

So the city is going to put a new police substation at Kathryn and San Mateo in the crime infested SE Heights. Okay, so who is going to staff it when you are short over 200 officers? It's the cart before the horse problem. ABQ has plenty of police substations but if they stand as empty shells most of the time--as many do--it's like building a bridge to nowhere.

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Monday, February 20, 2017

It's Presidents Day; Here's To Barack And Branson, Plus: Roundhouse Frowns Over Susana Budget Blocking, More Fooling Over Food Tax And Slow Down, Mayor Javier  

It's Presidents Day 2017 and look at who has been enjoying himself of late. It's none other than President Obama relaxing in the island paradise provided by British billionaire Richard Branson.

You remember him. About a decade ago Branson teamed with Gov. Big Bill and launched New Mexico's Spaceport America with the aim of sending the first tourists into space. But the ticket holders who have put up as much as $250k each are still waiting. And so is New Mexico for the long promised benefits.

The Spaceport near T or C is bleeding cash and requires a subsidy of several million a year from the legislature to keep the lights on.  That's no reason to smile, but as you can see Sir Richard doesn't have to worry about pesky critics in the desolate NM desert, not when he has a relaxed Obama to pal with. Besides, who needs to fly when you have such  a nice boat?

ROUNDHOUSE FROWNS

It's still mostly frowns in Santa Fe. A deal to close yet another budget deficit founders as the Governor continues to push back against raising taxes or fees to close what is actually not that big of a hole compared to recent years. They need about $120 million to balance the budget for the year that begins July 1 and another $100 million to build up state reserves so we don't get whacked with another downgrade of our bonds which makes it more expensive to borrow.mHouse Democrats have come with what would seem to strike most as a quite reasonable package that causes little pain:

Democratic legislators announced a push for new sources of income for state government  through taxes on nonprofit hospitals, Internet sales, trucking permits and vehicle registrations. . (They) said the package could raise an additional $214 million during the fiscal year beginning in July. . .House Speaker Egolf warned that the alternative would be drastic spending cuts of 2 percent or more involving education and Medicaid healthcare

Sounds easy, right? But look at this head scratching response from the Republican Governor's office:

The governor is open to true tax reform, but she will not let lawmakers bail out Santa Fe on the backs of our families.

But how does increasing trucking permit fees--many of them from out of state--hurt NM families? And as for having the gross receipts tax apply to Amazon and the like, even GOP state reps like Larry Larranaga support that. So why does the Governor continue to put funding for the public schools and Medicaid at risk? Because she can .

This is the third governor in a row who has developed a stubbornness even as their popularity has plunged in the polls. The fact is that the executive branch is much more powerful than the legislature compared to the old days. Its power to command the microphone has only grown in the new media age. Also, lame duck Governors like Martinez can gummy up the works for little apparent reason and without fear of retribution because their hopes for a future in elective politics dissolved when the public tired of them and their policies.

FOOD TAX FOOLING

What would truly be balancing the budget on the backs of NM families would be reinstating the tax on food and slashing the public schools budget even more.

It's amusing to see GOP Rep. Jason Harper, the former chairman of the House tax committee until the R's lost their House majority in November, continue to paw away at reinstating the food tax. He's like a chihuahua fighting a pit bull who has taken his bone away. The big dog ain't giving it back, Jason. Or as the acting chairman of the tax committee, Rep. Carl Trujillo, puts it, the food tax is "off the table."

Meanwhile, because Dems have not filled the budget vacuum with their own ideas, Harper's esoteric proposal to "reform" the state's gross receipts tax as a panacea for the state's systemic budget woes continues to be treated to full hearings. Why? From what we gather it says nothing new about the personal income tax, the corporate income tax or the capital gains tax. Just throw out all the gross receipts exemptions and Voilà! Now you have protected your GOP base voters and you keep your corporate campaign donors happy.

Rather than dignify the convoluted plan, Chairman Trujillo could and should kill the bill with alacrity and get going on a majority party reform measure. The Dems do have a majority up there, don't they?

SLOW DOWN, MAYOR

A $15 million deficit just resolved and now this?:

A proposal by Mayor Javier Gonzales to hand out 5 percent raises to all Santa Fe city government employees would cost taxpayers four times more than originally stated. Gonzales said the city Finance Department erred when it said the proposed across-the-board pay raises would cost between $700,000 and $1 million annually. The actual cost is closer to $4.1 million a year, he said.

Most city employees are probably happy just to be on the job, never mind getting a 5 percent pay raise that could again put their positions in jeopardy. Slow down, Mayor.

700 AND COUNTING

Our colleagues at the ABQ Free Press answer a question recently posed here: How many employees are left at Rio Rancho's Intel plant that just a few years ago employed over 6,000? The paper says it is told by former Intel employees that the work force there is down to 700. Intel isn't talking.

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Thursday, February 16, 2017

By Popular Demand, It's Another Edition Of Reader Vox Populi; They Write Of Intel's Downsizing, The Public School Cuts, How To Revive The Economy, Pearce's Possible Guv Run, The Mary Han Case And Much More 

Let's kick off this edition of vox populi with reaction to our reporting on Intel's planned $7 billion investment in Arizona while the company's Rio Rancho plant appears to be headed for the mothballs:

You must wonder what Susana was thinking when she saw the White House photo of the Intel CEO and the President announcing a plant expansion in our neighboring state of Arizona. There stood two of Susana's most famous disses. The first, the Intel CEO, who back in 2011 had a meeting in California with Susana canceled so she could pick up an award from the Republican Party. The second, Donald Trump, who she failed to endorse or show up at his New Mexico rally. These gentleman really are two bookends on the Martinez administration and frame her failed approach. In the end, New Mexico loses due to her arrogance. A

And what the hell were state economic development secretary Jon Barela and his deputy, Barbara Brazil, the much-vaunted team of former Intel executives, doing the last six years? As they say, Susana, payback is a bitch.

Reader Janet Blair thinks attracting retirees may be a way to  build up the state economy:

Joe, I don’t see why one way of out stagnation would be a vigorous retiree marketing campaign. It is “clean money” and add to that some tax breaks on pensions to match Arizona’s and we might have at least a partial solution to the flight of the millennials. We know our kids won’t come back! They are well established in Colorado and Texas….but maybe we can use our sunsets and chile contests to attract an older set.

Reader Sarah McKinney writes of public education cuts being approved by both political parties and the Governor:

I get that using money from unspent capital outlay funds is a one or two time fix, but what do you call taking money from public school cash reserves as the legislature has done? That is also a non-recurring fund source. Why do the schools have to keep taking such big hits for overall financial irresponsibility? At this point they are just trying to get blood from a stone, and to act like these cuts on top of our already dismal investment in education won't be felt in the classroom is a joke--ask any teacher who is out buying their own supplies or worrying over furloughs. 

What about saving the millions we give to private corporations for standardized tests and the computers and time required to administer them? I might not feel so bad about the school year being shortened if my kid hadn't already wasted days plugged into a computer for that purpose. I also want to point out that shortening the school year would  be disproportionately burdensome on working families who will then have to scramble to pay for child care arrangements when their children are no longer in school. I really enjoy keeping up with local news on your blog. It's ridiculous how difficult it is to get the real scoop on what is going on in our state. Thank you!

Thank you, Sarah. This is the place where the tough questions about New Mexico are asked and answers are often offered.

Another reader also calls for spending that unsent capital outlay (pork) on keeping the public schools' budget intact:

It is very clear that cutting back on school funding is the only way to preserve the self- serving capital outlay projects of state legislators.  This is not just bad policy but robbing school kids future to preserve lawmakers' gratification.

Our take: Not all the capital outlay left unspent is destined for frivolous projects but with so much of it languishing for years on end, much of what it is intended for is hardly as urgent as public education,

Reader Stan Fitch writes:

Hi, Joe. Instead of just cuts to education and public services, perhaps Governor Martinez should volunteer to cut her own pay in half and also grossly reduce the salaries of her staff.

INVEST SOMETHING

Reader Al Duran, the self-described Crockagator, writes:

Joe, us grey hairs have watched economic problems in the past but not like this. We have never been so rich but yet are not able to access those riches because of those so called guardians of the bank vault. It’s time to replace those whose vision has so far not included a vision of what our K thru 12 schools could be, if we put our money to work to build a first class educational system. 

 You don’t have to look too far to see what money wisely spent does. I am referring to Native American casinos whose income provides educational benefits for all their members. It’s time to let the residents of our state vote on what we should do with our billions. Time for Change. 

The billions of dollars Al references is the over $15 billion in the state's Land Grant Permanent Fund (school fund). A constitutional amendment is again under consideration at the Roundhouse that would allow voters to decide if a portion of that fund (about $115 million a year for ten years) should be spent on very early childhood programs (ages zero to five) in an effort to interrupt our generations-long cycle of poverty and poor education outcomes.

PIERCING PEARCE

Reader Violet Cauthon in Las Cruces writes of the speculation that GOP Congressman Steve Pearce may run for Governor in 20118:
Joe,

Dona Ana County is the home of a large anti-Pearce-for-anything group who are letting Pearce know he has not one chance of being governor of New Mexico, that we are organizing and communicating that fact. 2018, 2018, 2018 is our mantra.

And reader Larry Gioannini, also writing from Las Cruces, doesn't like Pearce's idea of having another oil refinery built in the state and has three reasons:

1. The pollution released into the air, water and soil from the operation of the refinery.
2. The thousands of tons of CO2 pollution released from the use of the refinery products thus exacerbating climate change.
3. Delaying for years the creation of hundreds to thousands of good jobs in the renewable energy field; again putting us behind TX, OK and other forward moving states in the region.

Here in ABQ reader John is one of many still upset over Mayor Berry's ART project--the rapid bus line being constructed down Central Avenue that has caused major traffic disruptions and financial pain or many businesses:

Perhaps the vision is "creative destruction." The Mayor and his advisors may envision that, yes, a lot of the existing small businesses, restaurants and bars will die due to ART construction and operation, but perhaps 10 to 20 years from now, we will see higher-density, mixed-use "transit-oriented development" around the ART stops Perhaps not, with near zero growth for the foreseeable future and the westside Santolina development on the horizon.

DINGING DAVIS

ABQ Dem City Councilor Pat Davis broke the news here recently that he is indeed considering a run for the ABQ congressional seat being vacated by Rep. Michelle Lujan Grisham who is running for Governor. That announcement led to a lot of critical email about the contoversial Davis, head of the progressive activist group ProgresssNow NM. A political advisor responded to that criticism but that set off a new round of Davis mail. An anonymous reader writes:

You reported that a Davis "supporter" said that David refused to allow a bill to go forward that privatized the ABQ police department. This is far from accurate. In fact, it is BS. Pat Davis sponsored a bill that would have privatized the police. Pat Davis was working with Councilor Brad Winter, the person Governor Martinez appointed as Secretary of State, to privatize the police and give a no-bid contract to Brad Winter's campaign manager. The people who would have received the no-bid contract to privatize the police were Berry and Martinez supporters. The ABQ Free Press reported on it.

Democratic ward chair Don Schiff writes:

Pat Davis has the best campaign team in the state, but they're spinning like a top. Pat Davis voted to fund ART, period, and in a way which avoided a vote by Albuquerque citizens.  A 'no' vote might only have been symbolic, but Davis had an opportunity to stand up for his constituents, a vast majority of whom oppose this boondoggle for developers which is already killing Nob Hill businesses. Davis continues to defend ART as "mass transit," which is merely a cover story for unnecessary development and gentrification. Pat Davis is complicit in the destruction of our historic Rt. 66 neighborhood. Any future good he does on the margins cannot mitigate the outrageous harm he participated in at the first opportunity. We will not forget this betrayal. I have lost all respect for Mr. Davis. I don't trust the man, and neither do my neighbors. A public official who acts against his constituents' interests has no future.

MARY'S CASE

Mary Han
One of our Legal Beagles writes of the recent court hearing into the 2010 death of ABQ attorney Mary Han. The unresolved issue is whether Han, who frequently sued APD, committed suicide or not. The Office of the Medical Investigator (OMI) says it was a suciide. The Han family says no. Our Beagle says:

The OMI is desperately in need of some legislative action. The statutes that cover OMI require "an inquest." That does not necessarily mean a formal court-like proceeding but does require a formal process setting forth how people can access the OMI pathologists to challenge their autopsy reports and death certificates. The OMI only has a webpage that says "contact OMI" and just has email contact info for the administrative staff and the supervisor of field investigations.

No one at the legislature has made certain OMI is following its own laws for over 30 years. The legislature has just been rubber stamping the OMI's annual budget without making sure it is following the law. It took this (Han) trial to bring it to light and prove that sometimes the OMI chief will grant a review and sometimes not. Government requires due process and the OMI, whether they like it or not, are part of state government.

A district court judge will soon decide whether Han's death certificate should be changed from suicide to "undetermined."

CUTTING TO THE CHASE

Finally, Sue George sends along an email that counters the argument that the cuts to the public schools being approved by the legislature and Governor are not impacting the classroom:

Joe, I thought you might be interested in this email from the director of my childrens' school. For the Governor to say that the budget cuts won't affect the classrooms is flat out wrong, as evidenced by the email below--and this is just the first of many cuts this school (and I'm sure many others) will be making. I dropped off supplies (they're down to a case and a half of copy paper). We live in a beautiful, multi-cultural state with talented, creative people, but this beauty and talent is being wasted by an administration that refuses to put people over ideology and profit. It is a crime not to do better by our children.

From: Sam Obenshain
Sent: Tuesday, February 7, 2017 5:15 PM
To: 'Everyone'
Subject: Budget update - Help needed

Dear Parents and Friends of Cottonwood:

. . . The legislature passed a “solvency bill” that was approved by the Governor last week. This solvency bill has cut this year’s budget for many schools and districts across the state. Cottonwood will lose $18,693 from this most recent cut on top of $122,000 that was cut in the special session in the Fall. This will have certain impacts to the operations of our school for the remaining 4 months of our school year. . . I will let you all know as soon as possible what actions we will be taking to address these cuts.

In the meantime, I have put a freeze on all non-essential spending at Cottonwood. This will have an impact on your children as we are not purchasing some basic school supplies and materials for the foreseeable future, have cancelled school field trips that asked for bus transportation, and are reducing bus transportation for athletic teams for the remainder of the school year.

I am pained to have to make these decisions since we have done a great job managing our budgets over the years and have not had to resort to these kinds of drastic measures in the past. However, we cannot make it through the year without figuring out how to cover the state-imposed shortfall that we will begin experiencing here as soon as the Public Education Department begins adjusting the monthly distribution that comes from the state.

So, we need your help. If you are able to donate any supplies or materials, most notably copier paper (we are down to our last case and a half since I imposed a freeze), dry erase markers, pens and pencils, notebook paper, tissue paper, paper towels, etc., it will go directly to the classrooms! I know the kind of community that we have here and thank you in advance for your support.

While there will be more decisions that we will have to make before this is over, this first step will get us through the issues that are most pressing right now!

You can bring supplies to our front desk, or send them with your child to his/her first period teacher.

Thanks for your continued support of our school, the teachers, and your children!


Sam Obenshain
Executive Director
Cottonwood Classical Preparatory School


And that concludes this edition of reader Vox Populi. You guys really outdid yourself this time. The discussion goes on around the clock on our Facebook page where you are also always welcome.

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Wednesday, February 15, 2017

UNM Vs. The Public Schools; Weighing The Budget Cuts, Plus: Send MeDown To Tucson And Heinrich Set To Kick-Off '18 Campaign 

While legislators carve up the public schools, a much more enticing budget-cutting target has to be the University of New Mexico. The bulky bureaucracy there is looking more and more vulnerable as this trend accelerates:

With falling enrollment and stagnant funding, Pennsylvania's state university system is undergoing a strategic review that could result in the merger or closure of some of its 14 campuses, according to system officials. It's the first time in the Pennsylvania State System of Higher Education's 35-year history that such options will be looked at, according to a system official. The decision comes as many colleges across the region and nation have struggled with falling enrollment as the number of high school graduates declines and the higher-education market becomes more competitive.

In New Mexico, NMSU has undertaken structural reforms for a future of fewer students, but UNM has only been nibbling around the edges. Meanwhile, support for the public schools remains stronger among voters than it is for higher education. You would expect to  eventually see that play out as the endless cutting goes on and on. . .

Don Tripp won't be getting  a bird's eye view of what happens at UNM. The former GOP NM House speaker has withdrawn his nomination as a UNM Regent, citing possible constitutional conflicts. Gov. Martinez immediately said she would name Alex Romero, the soon-to-retire CEO of the ABQ Hispanic Chamber, as her new nominee. Romero recently kicked around possible political ambitions for when he leaves the Chamber.

Gov. Martinez will have the votes on the regents to influence the choice of the next UNM president to replace Bob Frank who resigned. That influence would extend well beyond her term which concludes at the end of 2018.

SEND ME DOWN TO TUCSON

It's just crazy the difference between what is happening here and in similarly sized Tucson, as reader Ron Nelson informs:

When I read this article this, I almost fell out of my chair. Note this projection is just for one city and not the whole state. "The Tucson area is expected to add about 7,100 jobs in 2017, so home prices and commercial brokers predict rents for residential and commercial properties will begin a steady rise. All markets are responding to the long-awaited good news that 2016 brought and forecasts for 2017 are equally positive."

Okay, we don't want to Californicate New Mexico, but we'd sure like a piece of that pie they're eating in Tucson.

What better time to bring in conservative reader Jim McClure to further lament the state of the state:

Joe, the only surprise in a recent poll is that it shows 16% of business leaders still believe New Mexico is on the right track. Perhaps they’re owners of marijuana dispensaries. Or customers. Your assessment indicates that New Mexico’s leaders are out of ideas and are falling back on ideology. The R’s squandered their partial control of state government on tax cuts and failed to push through the deregulation and government reform that has helped other states. Now that the Dems have regained the legislature, they are recycling the traditional party line of raising taxes, imposing new employer mandates, reversing education reform, ignoring crime and making dubious “investments” in social programs. The most bizarre development is that both our US senators apparently believe that slandering cabinet members on the Senate floor is the best way to keep federal dollars flowing to New Mexico. I still think the answer is to rescind statehood and outsource our governance to Arizona, Colorado, Texas or Mexico.

Anywhere but Texas, Jim. Anywhere!

STARTING GATE

There will be dozens and dozens more in the next two years, but the first fund-raiser is noteworthy as it signifies the start of the 2018 US Senate race:

Join Senator Martin Heinrich For a Lunch Reception To kick off his re-election campaign With Special Guest Senator Cory Booker Saturday, March 4, 2017 11:00 – 12:30 pm at The Home of Greg Levenson. Suggested Contribution: Host - $2,700 Guest - $1,000 Current Heinrich Trust members - $250.

Booker is a former mayor of Newark. Heinrich is seeking his second term. His only announced GOP opponent so far is ABQ contractor Mick Rich.

THE BOTTOM LINES

From the SOS:

Secretary of State Maggie Toulouse Oliver has made available all of the 2017 Financial Disclosure Statements for public officials (2017 Statements) on the SOS website. The 2017 Statements can be found here. In the coming months, the Office of the Secretary of State (the Office) will also post online the financial disclosure statements for the previous five calendar years.  All statewide elected officials, state legislators, and state agency heads. . .are required to file an annual statement.


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Tuesday, February 14, 2017

How About A Political Odd Couple? Big Bill, Trump And The Diplomatic Front, Plus: Pearce's Place; He Revs Up Guv Engine With Jobs Talk 

Big Bill bashers, here's your chance to skip to our next story because. . . What would you think of the former two term NM governor and diplomat teaming up with Trump? After all, two of the most troubling foreign policy issues are in Mexico and North Korea which just sent up another ballistic missile. Richardson is expert in both nations.  He never has been a wallflower and has recently been offering Trump advice on the op-ed pages, even revealing that he has read the President's book "Art of the Deal". On Mexico, Richardson is saying:

The threats on paying for the wall, the threats to renegotiate NAFTA, the threats of the import fee have stoked a real nationalism in the Mexican people that is going to give President Peña Nieto very little room to maneuver.

Time is running out for Richardson to climb to the highest rungs on the diplomatic totem pole. After years of speculation that he would become secretary of state or the first ambassador to Cuba, the Democrat and former UN ambassador has come up empty handed, stymied by his rocky relationship with the Clintons and a lukewarm one with Obama.

Richardson turns 70 this year and now might be his last best chance to top off his colorful career by cutting a deal with the author of the "Art of the Deal" to put him on the world stage. Far fetched? Maybe. But look who's president.

PEARCE'S PLACE

GOP Congressman Steve Pearce is sounding more like an '18 Republican contender for Governor as he works the jobs angle and extends an olive branch to Democrats, even as he takes a thinly disguised jab at them in the way he describes their party:

I continue to pursue and work for opportunities that can bring jobs and greater economic development to the state of New Mexico. One item of note is the construction and operation of a new oil refinery that would be built using private funds. I have offered to work with the democrat leadership in the State House and Senate to get the most environmentally friendly, state of the art construction.

Uh, Steve,  That's supposed to be "Democratic" leadership not "democrat."  Guess he doesn't want to look too cozy with the Dems as he romances that big block of Trump supporters he would need to win his party's gubernatorial primary election.

As for another oil refinery in New Mexico (there are now two), we've blogged about hat periodically when the oil companies blame increasing gasoline prices on the lack of refinery capacity. The oil experts say getting more refineries built is problematic because of stringent environmental regulations so they add capacity by expanding existing refineries.

Pearce's proposal merits serious consideration from the "democrat leadership." The resulting jobs would pay well and be more stable than those on the drilling side. Former ABQ Democratic Mayor Jim Baca disagrees:

Pearce's solution to the fate of the state is planet killing fossil fuel. He is ignoring the fact that renewable energy, especially solar, is providing the real future of the country. And yet he wants to leave the Land of Enchantment at the starting gate.

Pearce made his refinery proposal in a speech to the legislature. It can be seen here.

A BIGGER QUESTION


A Senior Alligator of the Dem variety reacts to the news here that GOP state Senator Craig Brandt is offering a bill to plug the hole in the budgets of the public schools by using unspent capital outlay money and by delaying the payment of film tax credits. Consider this an Alligator strike:

A bigger question than why Sen. Brandt is offering Democratic-like legislation is why are the Democrats allowing the minority party to have any say at all in this session? Dems may have taken over the Roundhouse but GOP senators and reps still strut around like they own the place. They are in every press report on the session and seem to be the more aggressive legislators. If I see any more Democratic legislators, elected officials, mayoral candidates or lobbyists gleefully pose for pictures with Republican Reps Sarah Maestas Barnes, Monica Youngblood or Kelly Fajardo, I'm going to puke.

House Speaker Brian Egolf and Senate Majority Leader Peter Wirth and their associated committee chairs have to learn to flex their muscle. If they don't want to be in power and control this session I'm sure Republican Rep. Nate Gentry and his ilk would gladly take over.


For those new around here, an Alligator is one of our reliable but anonymous political sources who have seen more than their fair share of La Politica and have the instincts and striking speed of a gator.

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