Wednesday, November 26, 2014

New Mexicans Take A Holiday Break Along With Their Many Visitors, Plus: Looking For A Silver Lining In State Economy, Dispatches From The Oil Patch And Happy Thanksgiving, New Mexico! 

New Mexicans are always thankful to be living amid one of the most wondrous landscapes on the planet. They'll take to the hiking trails, ski slopes and the city parks this holiday weekend to enjoy the bipartisan pursuit of soaking in sunshine and endless blue skies. A lot of visitors will be joining them. . .

Tourism in the state has been on the upswing as more ad dollars are devoted to attracting travelers. It's one of the few areas in which the Martinez administration and the Santa Fe budget hawks have allowed spending to increase in a meaningful way. The pay off is record lodging tax revenues in small towns like Red River in the north where tourism is the lifeblood of the economy. . .

The state tourism department will be asking the Legislature in January for a $3 million ad budget increase to attract high income visitors from the San Francisco region. Agreeing that the beauty and culture of New Mexico is worth showcasing to the nation is a point even the most ardent partisans can agree on. . .

Not wanting to put a damper on the holiday, NM journalist Wally Gordon looks for some silver linings in the state economic outlook and points to this:

. .  .Nationally the economy grew an unexpectedly strong 3.9 percent in the third quarter, the federal government reported. . .That national growth may help pull New Mexico along in its wake. It was also reported that Albuquerque has the cheapest gas in the country, clearly a boon to our numerous long-distance commuters.

There are tentative signs of a jobs recovery in the state but the fly in the ointment is the kind of jobs being created--most are of the low wage variety. . .


We noted  this week those astronomical hotel rates in oil boom country in SE NM. A reader familiar with the area clarifies:

While hotel rates are astronomical in Carlsbad they are pretty average in Hobbs and Roswell. This is because of the interest in the geologic formations known as the Bone Springs in Eddy County. Oil production on state lands is higher in Eddy County than Lea County because of development of Bone Spring resources.

And reader Violet Cauthon in Las Cruces comes with more on the oil outlook:

Your story on Mack Energy, state revenue from oil and gas, etc., touts the "high-paying jobs" that would be lost in the inevitable "bust" of the oil business. I grew up in Oklahoma, dad worked for an oil company and in my adult life I also worked for various oil companies.

Those high-paying jobs go to a lot of "gypsy" oil workers from many different states. The locals don't get much unless they're already on Mack Energy payrolls. Just ask the hotel/motel/restaurant industry why their businesses are booming. Out of state workers. I travel through that area and, yes, Artesia looks good as does Clovis but the surrounding rural poverty is still obvious.

Reader Doug Bentley writes of criticism of local biz leaders for not talking more about education reform, improving infrastructure and getting more investment money injected into the local economy:

"Why aren't business leaders talking about that?" It turns out, Steve McKee is talking about it. His points include right-to-work, eliminating the state income tax, regulatory reform & an overhaul of public education. See his speech here.

Thanks, Doug, but didn't we already slash the highest rates on personal income from 8.2% to 4.9%? Maybe we should be talking about the real business killer--the gross receipts tax that is now hitting over 8% in some areas of the state. . .


The odds seem to favor Republican Aubrey Dunn emerging as the official winner when a recount is concluded in the race for state land commissioner. Dunn's lead had shrunk to less than 600 votes but now the secretary of state's site has the lead at 704.

That is a large margin and a major error will have to be detected if incumbent Dem Land Commissioner Ray Powell is to emerge victorious. Recounts are mandatory when candidates are separated by one half of one percent or less. The recount of the land commission race is set to begin December 8.


Reader Eric Lucero returns with a look at some of the movies out for the holiday weekend:

The Penguins of Madagascar (PG) 92 mins, Comedy/Adventure 2.5 Stars out of 5.  This silly spy yarn tracks a quad of Penguins (remember Madagascar 2005? Skipper and the gang hook up with a snooty undercover clandestine group called the North Wind and the mayhem starts. It's really meant for Madagascar fans under 12, but for the rest of us it’s still a guilty pleasure for the rest of us. A lot of zany fun.”

The Theory of Everything (PG-13), 123 min, Bio-Drama, 4 Stars out of 5. This is a wonderful romantic biopic about renowned astrophysicist and  cosmologist Dr. Stephen Hawking. He projects a powerful human face as he deals with Lou Gehrig’s Disease. Director James Marsh’s (Man on Wire, 2008) fine direction and the inspired performances of Eddie Redmayn and Felicity Jones make this two hour journey into despair and triumph a must see for all audiences…

Interstellar (PG-13), 169 min, Action/Adventure, Sci-Fi Drama, 5 Stars out of 5. This monument of film making by renowned director Christopher Nolan is a brilliant gem. It stretches the bounds of film technology. Interstellar goes way beyond where 2001: A Space Odyssey ever dared to go. With Nolan you always are faced with plots within plots. Every scene has multiple meanings.


A friend in Las Vegas gave us a chuckle when they sent us this pic of "holiday hours" for a Starbucks on the famous Strip. That's an only in Vegas moment, for sure.

As for us, we'll grab a Starbucks over the long holiday weekend. We won't be open 24 hours but will be back in this space with you on Monday.

Happy Thanksgiving, New Mexico!

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Tuesday, November 25, 2014

Oil Makes For The Wealthiest Man In New Mexico As State Frets Over Boom's Possible End, Plus: Right To Work Isn't Fairy Dust 

Mack Chase
Here's a fellow who has a lot to be thankful for this Thanksgiving Week. He's Mack Chase, president of the Artesia, NM based Mack Energy Corporation. According to Forbes Magazine, with an estimated worth of $910 million Chase is the richest person in our Land of Enchantment. . .

That $910 million was before the oil price tumbled from over $90 a barrel to the $75 range, but Chase, 83, probably isn't losing much sleep over it. . . 

But many others are losing sleep over the oil price nosedive. It's going to mean many fewer dollars flowing to the state in the form of taxes and royalties. The first round of estimates predict it will mean a $50 to $100 million loss for the budget that begins July 1, 2015. But it may be much more as bear markets have a way of surprising on the downside just as bull markets surprise on the upside. . . 

Little is mentioned of the possible loss of high-paying oil field jobs in the SE. According to the industry, those jobs pay 40% more than others in the state. . .

For travelers through oil boom country there should be a bright spot--those $200 a night hotel room rates should be history. . . 

We hear much about the state's dependence on the federal government but not much about the state's dependence on the oil industry. Nearly 20% of the NM budget comes from oil and gas taxes and royalties. What if--as we suspect---the bull market in oil is over and the next bull market is years away?. . .

Back in the early 80's the federal budget was being cut by the Reagan administration and at the same time oil prices were crashing. Democratic Gov. Toney Anaya rammed through tax increases to make up the millions in lost revenue. In this era tax hikes of any kind are immediately demonized and any lawmaker out in front of one risks getting his neck cut off on the campaign trail.

Interestingly, this time around it could be a Republican governor who in a few years might have to grapple with a revenue dilemma similar to the one confronted by Gov. Anaya.


When a journalist abandons ship to take a PR job with the government he's covered it's known as going to the "dark side." So it is for veteran Associated Press correspondent Barry Massey who after 35 years with the news service--21 of the them in Santa Fe--will become legislative liaison and PIO for the Administrative Office for the Courts. The AP has been decimated by budget cuts in recent years and Massey has of late been the sole Capitol presence for the legendary wire service.

Massey was known for his quality coverage of state government but his passage is a reminder of a perennial problem with journalism, especially in a job-starved state like this. With state government jobs beckoning, does the public get the aggressive and adversarial news reporting it should expect? Or do journalists who might have their eye on the "dark side" hold back? Remember how Big Bill seemed to hire half the press corp as state PIO's when he took over? Journalists, you can now begin your navel-gazing.


Right-to-work is back as a New Mexico political catch phrase as the GOP takes control of the state House and will offer up the controversial legislation, but a veteran government official writes in that right-to-work is hardly a panacea for economic development:

I've talked to dozens of businesses in the last 5 years-some that are expanding and some that are relocating. Not once has Right to Work come up in our discussions. What has come up is the need for capital/financing, infrastructure, higher quality education and a better-trained workforce. Right to Work is not some fairy dust sprinkled on states that magically saves their economy. It's a convenient excuse some politicians use to steer our attention away from their ability to get at the tougher real issues holding back our economy and satisfy the interest groups that support them.

Why aren't business leaders talking about that? Maybe because it is going to take money--investing in ourselves--and that means government spending, something the neoconservative business community can't stomach. But, hey, it's their businesses getting killed. Maybe we should pass a right-to-die bill for them along with right-to-work.


When NM Rep. Ben Ray Lujan was named head of the Democratic Congressional Campaign Committee we blogged that you could soon expect him to join the talking heads on the cable news networks. Well, it didn't take long. Here he is making his MSNBC debut as DCCC chair with the network's Rachel Maddow. As expected it was a friendly interview but it revealed that Lujan can handle the spotlight as he dished up Democratic boilerplate with ease. The heat will be a notch higher if and when he enters the lion's den at Fox News. . .

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Monday, November 24, 2014

Race For GOP Chair Takes A Twist With New Face, Plus: A Stiff Challenge Awaits House Dem Leader Egolf, And: Our Caption Contest Entries And The Winner 

There's a late entrant in the race for the chairmanship of the NM Republican Party and she has some well-known allies that could help put her over the top.

Deborah Weh Maestas is the daughter of former GOP chairman and '14 US Senate candidate Allen Weh. And her candidacy is being supported by another former GOP chair--Harvey Yates, Jr.

Republican central committee members will meet December 6 to name a replacement for outgoing chairman John Billingsley. In addition to Maestas, Torrance County GOP chairman Rick Lopez and political consultant Max Barnett are in the running. There was a candidacy brewing from GOP state Representative Zach Cook but he decided not to run.

In a letter to the GOP delegates, Maestas, who served as deputy manager for her father's Senate campaign, said:

We must build better party unity in preparation for 2016. New Mexico has been a red state before, and can be again, but we must work together to do it! We have had a historic change with the recent GOP takeover of the State House, but we need to strengthen that majority as well as increase our numbers in the State Senate.

Maestas said she previously worked in management for her father's CSI Aviation company. She is married to Steve Maestas, co-founder of Maestas and Ward Commercial Real Estate who was recently named chairman of the Kansas City Federal Reserve Bank,

Maestas would not be the first woman to serve as GOP chair. Former state Senator Ramsay Gorham held the post in 2003 when the party was fractured. She was eventually ousted and replaced by Allen Weh.

Coincidentally, on the day Maestas announced her chair bid we ran into her having coffee with none other than former chairman Yates. That reference to "unity" she made certainly comes into play with him as he has battled vigorously with Governor Martinez's chief political adviser Jay McCleskey. And Allen Weh has also had his differences with McCleskey whose powerful role in the Martinez administration has shunted aside many previous players. We asked Yates if McCleskey was supporting Maestas for chair?  He cracked a smile and said: "You can tell Jay I told him he is supporting her candidacy."

Aah, unity. . .


Rep. Egolf
Compromise has its limits, says new state House Minority Leader Brian Egolf. The 38 year old attorney from Santa Fe will surely be put to the test over that statement when the 60 day legislative session convenes January 20 with the House under control of the R's for the first time in 60 years.

Egolf was named minority leader on the first ballot by the 33 House Dems at Saturday's caucus. ABQ Rep. Sheryl Williams Stapleton was elected as minority whip and ABQ Rep. Patricia Roybal Caballero was picked for caucus chair,

Outgoing Democratic House Speaker Ken Martinez established himself as a Santa Fe accommodationist with a penchant for crafting backroom deals with the House R's and the Martinez administration. His swerve to the center-right is seen as one key reason for the disaster that befell the Dems Nov. 4 when they lost the governorship, the state House and two statewide offices. (The land commission contest will go to a recount).

While Martinez was the architect of the Dems doomed strategy, Egolf was a subcontractor who went along for the ride. He now has to separate himself from that past by clearly defining the differences between the two parties and taking the inevitable hits that the GOP machine will fire his way.

Egolf may be fighting an uphill battle as it is not just the R's he has to worry about.

The Dem pollsters, consultants, lobbyists and hangers-on who provided so much sycophantic support to Ken Martinez will be back in force urging Egolf to play nice, just wait it out and the Dems will naturally win in '16 with a heavy turnout. That's the siren song that has led to the weakest Democratic Party in decades. Leader Egolf will need a lot of courage as well as a good set of earplugs.


It seems the bridgegate scandal that knocked New Jersey Gov. Christie was a defining moment for him--at least with many of our readers who took part in our photo caption contest. It featured a pic of Governors Christie and Martinez aboard her campaign bus. Here are some of the entries and the winning caption at the end:

Gerald McBride: "You know, Chris, I really think now is not the time to burn any bridges..."

Mike Santullo: "Ohhhh, c'mon Chris... Don't believe everything you hear. Our chicharrones can only add a pound at best!

Edwina Gardner: “Don’t worry, Chris, we won’t be stopped for long. Our bridges are much shorter than yours”.

Jim Baca: "Susana, could you give me that recipe for chicharrones? Mmmm!"

Joel Gay: "OK, now try this, Chris:: 'Hola amigos, me llama es Chris!'"

Dennis Gabaldon: "Como que no, I can see Mejico from my portal"

Anonymous: "Tell you what, Chris. You lose 50 pounds and I'll lose 50 pounds, and we'll see who's the biggest loser."

Kevin Bursell: "Well Chris, I can definitely see you on the team, but Secretary of Transportation is not going to happen"

Anonymous: "You know, Chris, they now make Spanx for men. I can show you how to order them on-line."

Andrew Dalton: "I'm not getting up until I get more those fried pork things"... *sigh* "Chris, we are never going to get Hispanics to vote for us, are we?"

F.A. Schmidt: Susana: "Try Atkins, it worked for me!" Christie: "So What?"

Steve Cobble: "So, Susana, you get the racino, and I get the bridge, right?"

Michael Corwin: "So Chris, you've gone about it all wrong with all that yelling... Instead do what I do. Run NCIC's on your enemies, control the state's largest paper, and act like the victim whenever you get caught."

Don Wencewicz: "I know how you feel. Hillary's more popular than me also."

Paul Sandman: "Chris, can I have a chef at the V.P. mansion? I'm tired of my husband's baloney sandwiches."

Tony Griego: "Oh, come on Chris, you can have two more chicharron burritos. . . "

And the winner is:

James Cooke: "Sure, Chris. I could shut down a bridge. We've got plenty of bridges. They all run over dry rivers. Now shutting down mental healthcare...that was a challenge."

Congrats, James. You win the lunch for two at ABQ's Barelas Coffeehouse where you can sample those famous chicharrones. Thanks to all who took part in the caption contest and gave us some good laughs. We'll do another one soon. . .

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Friday, November 21, 2014

Friday Fun Photo Caption Contest; Get Yours In And Win A Free Lunch, Plus: It Was The Week NM Hispanic Politicos Advance Across The Board 

You'll be seeing plenty of this kind of pic in the months ahead as the name game gets underway in earnest for 2016.

Here's New Jersey Governor Chris Christie hanging with Gov. Susana Martinez during the final hours of campaign '14 as the duo made a quickie bus tour in rural NM.

Christie is pursuing the '16 GOP prez nod and Martinez is still frequently mentioned as a possible national player. She was named vice-chair of the Republican Governors Association this week.

So just what are these two politicos saying to one another on that bus? You tell us. The catchiest caption wins lunch for two at the Barelas Coffeehouse. Email them in at jmonahan@ix.netcom.com. . .

The state's Anglo politicians might have been a bit envious of their Hispanic counterparts this week. As we said Martinez got that RGA slot. earlier in the week Northern Dem Congressman Ben Ray Lujan scored a major political plum when he was named chairman of the Democratic Congressional Campaign Committee and ABQ Dem Congresswoman Michelle Lujan Grisham was named vice chair of the Congressional Hispanic Caucus.

The best the gringos could do was kind of feeble. Dona Ana Dem state Senator Bill Soules was named by the Council of State Governments West (CSG West), "a nonpartisan, nonprofit organization serving legislators in 13 Western states as a participant in its prestigious training institute for lawmakers in their first four years of service."

The Council of Governments West?  Be still my heart. . .

A reader updates the state land commission race between Republican Aubrey Dunn, Jr. and Dem incumbent Ray Powell, Jr:

The difference between Dunn and Powell is now down to 584 votes, even less than the 789 you reported, which is where it was a few days ago. . .

And then there's former NM GOP Governor Gary Johnson who appears to be in need of political detox. He's addicted to running for president. After garnering 1% of the vote as the Libertarian Party's 2012 nominee, Johnson is preparing a '16 run. Please, no exclamations of: "What's he smoking?" We all know the answer to that. . .

Thanks for stopping by this week.

This is the home of New Mexico politics.

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

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Thursday, November 20, 2014

Berry And The Business Beat; Is It All The Feds Fault? Plus: The Dream Realized: Our Very Own Chicharrone Paddle 

Would ABQ Mayor Richard Berry please provide the names of the companies he is taking about when he says:

We sit down fairly regularly with companies and they say, 'We can't come to New Mexico without a right-to-work status.

And those companies are?

Not only are very few companies relocating to New Mexico--for reasons far more involved than a right-to-work law--but ABQ is seeing a crash in the number of new businesses being formed. In 2010--Berry's first full year as Mayor--there were 4,721 business licenses issued. In 2014 that number had crashed to 3,439. But when Berry is Governor (you heard about that, right?) all that will all turn around. . . Sure. . .

Berrynomics sums up the cause of our woes this way:

Over the last six, seven, decades, our entire economy has become reliant on government. We're a company town centered on government," he said. "And that's going away."

It may be suffering cutbacks, but it is not going away. Billions continue to flow into Sandia Labs and Los Alamos labs and billions more in other federal dollars. It's convenient to blame the entire malaise on the Feds. It relieves local policy makers of any responsibility. . .

A reader writes of the state's and ABQ's economic strategy--or the lack thereof:

If you want to see what it means to shift from a high-skills, high wage economy to a low wage, low skills economy, just say goodbye Emcore (the go-to example of a company born at Sandia Labs and manufacturing high-technology products) and hello Comcast call-center (low wages, nominal skills, highly mobile). What does it say about our state's leadership when we celebrate low-wage low skills jobs and sit slack-jawed while the headquarters of a NM incubated high-tech manufacturer leaves the state? Does anyone realistically think that Bingaman, Domenici, Richardson or Chavez would have just sat around and watched Emcore leave without a fight? No way. Also, in the long-run, what’s our strategy for getting these high-tech companies back? Cut more corporate taxes, cut more services, offer more loopholes, invest less in education, have a workforce that cannot read or write? Then maybe not even the call-centers will come our way. I just don’t see the strategy. . .


Reader Vicki Farrar in ABQ writes of our Wednesday blog in which soon-to-be state House Speaker Don Tripp was less than enthusiastic about more tax cuts:

I think Don Tripp is seeing what happens when ideology rules the actions of lawmakers in the face of reality. He probably is watching the Kansas melt-down and knows what devastation a tax-cutting agenda has on state budgets and essential services. As a small business owner he probably “gets it” over many of the corporate Republicans. If the vast majority of your state is populated by low-wage , under-employed, and unemployed consumers, your business revenues suffer (not to mention the increase in social needs that need to be met by state-services that gobble up tax revenues). Perhaps the state lawmakers who will have to pass a budget are finally understanding that you can spend money on education, mental health and substance abuse programs, and job-training as a priority--or you can spend it on more police, jails and prisons as New Mexico continues to suffer under a poor economy.


Roll Call takes a look at the rise of northern Dem Congressman Ben Ray Lujan from milking cows on the family farm to milking votes as the new chairman of the Democratic Congressional Campaign Committee. . .It's down to 789. That's the tiny lead Republican Aubrey Dunn, Jr. sports over incumbent Dem Land Commissioner Ray Powell. It will go to a recount November 25.


Monahan & Garza
Well, it finally happened. After decades of yearning, our dream of owning our very own chicharrone paddle has been realized. As a Gringo from Pennsylvania, the Committee on Chicharrones enforces a strict prohibition on any non-native New Mexican owning their own paddle. But Leo Garza of AARP applied for a special waiver on our behalf. . .

In a rare move, the Committee gave Garza permission to present us with this beautiful chicarrone paddle carved by Jesus Contreras. (God forbid if it were a metal paddle. Use of such a paddle would disqualify me from blogging of La Politica. And any political candidate caught using one has never gone on to be elected.) No, this paddle is the real deal. Now we are ready to crash the matanzas and start stirring. Our used blue jeans and stained UNM Lobo football jersey, proper stirring attire, are on order.

Thanks Leo and AARP (where we recently spoke) for making this possible. We pledge to use this distinctive paddle only at events sanctioned by the Committee on Chicharrones. We understand violation of that rule as well as loaning out the paddle to any aspiring politicians will result in confiscation of the paddle and in its immediate return to Mr. Garza. Okay, with that out of the way, it's time to get some red ready for those chicharrones.

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Wednesday, November 19, 2014

Tax Cut Fervor Wanes In Santa Fe; New Speaker-To-Be Downplays Possibility, Plus: Driver's Licenses Forever And Our Bottom Lines 

The fervor for tax cutting as a means to stimulate the forlorn New Mexican economy has played itself out. And the messenger of that news is none other than the first Republican who will soon be the first House Speaker in 60 years--Rep. Don Tripp.

Both the Richardson and Martinez administrations have been ardent tax cutters with Richardson dramatically shaving the personal income tax and Martinez chopping away at the corporate tax rate. But in an interview with KKOB-AM radio Tripp signaled that tax cutting as the primary economic plank is played out:

I don't have any big agenda for tax cuts. I'd rather grow the economy.

In fact, it seems Tripp, a small business owner, is looking at a way to find new state revenues. Take a look:

When we think about Internet, we're losing more and more business. The state's revenues are down from Internet sales. It is all over the country so we're going to have to address that. . . because we don't want New Mexico to be in a bad position on that.

Does that mean that Santa Fe will look to extend the state's gross receipts tax on Internet sales as a way to keep state coffers flush and now that oil prices have crashed and threaten to deplete them?

Currently, if a store has a physical presence in the state Internet sales are subject to the gross receipts tax. But if the store has no presence here--like Amazon.com--the state does not collect the tax. Millions of potential tax dollars are at stake, but it's hard to see Gov. Martinez signing such legislation as she has constantly pledged no tax hikes. Still, that the conversation in Santa Fe has moved away from tax cuts as the be-all-end-all for economic development is not an insignificant moment. . .

It was during the final seconds of the 2013 legislative session when lawmakers rammed through a controversial corporate tax cut that over five years will take the rate from 7.6% to 5.9%. When asked about cutting that rate even further Tripp did not sound enthusiastic:

I think the jury is out it may have to go down a little but more to make us even more competitive. It was a move in the right direction. We're looking at the numbers. . . 

The numbers Santa Fe has to look at it is those for job creation because that's the premise on which the corporate cut was sold to the public. It took effect July 1, 2013 and so far there has been no evidence offered that it is attracting business and creating jobs. Supporters argue that we are now being more seriously considered because of the tax cut. . .

In that interview Tripp also talked candidly about the economic devastation in rural NM--he represents the Socorro area--and how those areas are in particular need of Santa Fe's attention. If you have  traveled recently through Raton, Cimarron, Belen and other small towns and cities, you won't disagree. It's like witnessing a second Great Depression. . .

What we are witnessing in the early GOP power positioning is the dividing line between the corporate Republicans and the the small business R's. Gov. Martinez is firmly in the corporate camp, believing tax cutting is the carrot that will lure them. She also benefits from their hefty campaign contributions to PACS in support of her. Tripp, on the other hand, collects few campaign contributions and caters to the small town R's whose livelihoods are not connected to corporate America. . .


Here we go again. Coming once again to a legislative chamber near you and with this twist in the background:

The fate of a little-noticed ballot measure in strongly Democratic Oregon serves as a warning to President Obama and his party about the political perils of immigration policy. Even as Oregon voters were legalizing recreational marijuana and expanding Democratic majorities in state government, they decided by a margin of 66-34 to cancel a new state law that would have provided driver's licenses to people who are in the United States illegally. Obama is considering acting on his own, as early as this week, to possibly shield from deportation up to 5 million immigrants now living illegally in the country. Some Republicans in Congress are threatening a government shutdown if the president follows through.

The R's--as they have for four years--are looking to repeal the NM law allowing undocumented  immigrants to get the licenses. A compromise floating would have them get permits to drive but not full fledged licenses that could be used for identification.


Strange things happen when it comes to the Feds. The WIPP radioactive waste cite nearly Carlsbad suffers a major accident, the place is shut down and now what? Well, look at this from Senators Udall and Heinrich:

In a letter to. . . the Senate Appropriations Subcommittee on Energy and Water Development, the senators urged them to provide an additional $113 million above 2014 funding levels to ensure ongoing recovery efforts are maintained and the facility can safely resume operation.

That's a whopper of a budget hike. Will there be opposition as the site shows no signs of reopening anytime soon?


The first thing that jumps out at you about the transition website for Attorney General-elect Hector Balderas is that there is a place for job seekers to submit their resumes. That ought to keep the site at the top of the rankings in job-starved New Mexico. . . Alligators of a wide variety urged then Gov. Richardson not to do a $60 million remodel of the famed basketball arena "The Pit" but to tear it down and build a brand new one. Now we know why:

The NCAA again slammed the door shut on the Pit’s bids to host NCAA Tournament games. The famous University of New Mexico arena has still yet to win such a bid since its $60 million renovation in 2010.

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Tuesday, November 18, 2014

Ben Ray's Big Day; DC Dems Turn To A New Mexican To Drive National Hispanic Votes; Lujan To Chair DCCC; The Story, The Interview And The Analysis Are Right Here 

Rep. Ben Ray Lujan
You can cross Congressman Ben Ray Lujan off your Christmas list. There's no room left under his tree now that House Minority Leader Nancy Pelosi has delivered to him one extra large political gift. She has handed him the chairmanship of the Democratic Congressional Campaign Committee, or as the insiders call it it the "D-Trip." And, oh my, what a trip it's going to be for the mild-mannered 42 year old Lujan. (Video here.)

Suddenly he is catapulted into the national spotlight and no doubt will soon be seen arguing with the talking heads on Fox News and commiserating with those on MSNBC. And Nancy says he's more than ready to lead the DCCC for the '16 cycle:

(Lujan) is really a focused operational person. He understands that getting out the vote is what this is and how we message to our base and how we message across the board to the persuadables and the rest. I’m choosing him because of his political astuteness, and he can manage all of this very well.

Some in DC questioned whether Lujan was ready for the upper rungs of the national political ladder. But Pelosi knows what New Mexico has come to know--it isn't much of a gamble to give the job to the fella who eats and drinks it.

We spoke with Rep. Lujan from Washington Monday night and asked him how this was one DC secret that didn't leak:

Leader Pelosi asked me only a week ago if I would be interested. I told her it would be an honor, whatever I could do to help my colleagues. I did tell my mom and chief of staff but otherwise kept it quiet. I got the call that made it official not long before we held the news conference.

Ben Ray learned his politics at the knee of his father, the late legendary NM House Speaker Ben Lujan. He spoke emotionally of him on a most fortuitous day his father did not live to see, but would not have been surprised at its arrival:

I shared with Leader Pelosi stories of my father's work ethic as an iron worker and as a representative and as Speaker. I am humbled by this but I know that dad's example of hard work and leadership will serve me well as it always has.

As for the actual job Rep. Lujan says it's all about getting higher voter turnout including here in New Mexico as the Dems work to put the '14 low turnout election behind them and prepare for the 2016 presidential derby.

No need to state the obvious, but we will for the record. The Hispanic vote is crucial to the Democratic Party in 2016. That vote is overwhelmingly Democratic but not always easy to get to the polls. That will be job one for Lujan, now a leading national Hispanic political figure.

Lujan was handily elected to his fourth, two year term this month garnering nearly 63% percent of the vote. He says "the focus will always be on my district" but he needn't worry about the extensive travel he will now undertake. His heavily Hispanic/Native American district in the North is locked down for him.

Lujan's appointment means many things. As we said, it makes him a national political figure--at least temporarily--and with a national forum (Hello, Susana), it makes him familiar to all DC House and Senate Democrats as well as key Dem fundraisers and donors from coast-to-coast. The prestige and contacts accrued could position him for leadership in the US House someday--if the Dems can reclaim the majority. Even without that majority Lujan's rise on the political ladder might mean New Mexico's concerns will fall on ears more willing to listen.

In the ongoing quest for power Hispanics today are the most sought after group by both parties. Ben Ray Lujan is now at the epicenter of the latest American political movement. Pretty heady stuff and not bad for a onetime blackjack dealer from Nambé. Wouldn't you say?


We blogged of how GOP sources informed us that at the recent House GOP caucus House Majority Leader Nate Gentry urged a vote for Rep. Zach Cook as party chairman. Now we learn that the Cook candidacy is a non-starter--nipped in the bud by soon-to-be House Speaker Don Tripp. The Cook candidacy set up a potential intraparty battle. Now the landscape is benign, with Torrance county Chair Rick Lopez seen as the favorite over IT consultant Max Barnett. . . In a first draft Monday we lumped Rep. Stephanie Garcia Richrd in with ABQ state House members. She is, of course, from the Los Alamos area. . .


Here we go again. Coming once again to a legislative chamber near you and with this twist in the background:

The fate of a little-noticed ballot measure in strongly Democratic Oregon serves as a warning to President Obama and his party about the political perils of immigration policy. Even as Oregon voters were legalizing recreational marijuana and expanding Democratic majorities in state government, they decided by a margin of 66-34 to cancel a new state law that would have provided driver's licenses to people who are in the United States illegally. Obama is considering acting on his own, as early as this week, to possibly shield from deportation up to 5 million immigrants now living illegally in the country. Some Republicans in Congress are threatening a government shutdown if the president follows through.

The R's--as they have for four years--are looking to repeal the NM law allowing undocumented  immigrants to get the licenses. A compromise floating would have them get permits to drive but not full fledged licenses that could be used for identification.

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Monday, November 17, 2014

Dems Digging Out Of Hole Get A New Twist With Two Leadership Hopefuls, Plus: Naming Of New House Clerk gets Chatter Going, And: Sam Says Sayonara  

Rep. Louis
The search for fresh leadership to dig state Democrats out of the hole they've dug for themselves gets a new twist as two female minority state representatives emerge as contenders for NM House leadership posts.

ABQ Rep. Christine Trujillo has announced she is in the race for House minority leader. ABQ Rep. Georgene Louis, who told me in a phone interview she is running, is said by capitol insiders to be making inroads to claim the position of House minority whip. ABQ Reps Moe Maestas, Sheryl Williams Stapleton and Los Alamos area Rep Stephanie Garcia Richard are also seeking that slot.

The Dems were decimated by the loss of the state House to the R's for the first time in six decades. It could mean it's a jump ball when it comes to the minority leader post. Reps Egolf and Alcon are already seeking support and Trujillo's entry scrambles the math some more. There are 33 House Dems who will make the decisions. They will caucus this Saturday.

Trujillo, 60, has been one of the state's top labor union leaders and an unapologetic progressive. She has served as president of the American Federation Teachers-NM as well as president of the NM Federation of Labor-AFL-CIO. A Taos native, she was re-elected to a second term this month, taking 61% of the vote. . .

Rep. Trujillo
Big labor pumped a couple of million dollars into the state to try to save the House from the R's but it was to no avail. Now they face the prospect of right-to-work legislation gaining traction in the Legislature. Here's the letter in which Trujillo writes to her fellow Dem reps seeking their support as minority leader. An excerpt:

Now, more than ever, we need to be strong and stand firm for the poor, the working class – the men, women and children that don’t have the luxury of corporate lobbyists As Democrats, we should believe in the old adage, think globally and act locally. That’s why I’m writing to ask for your support for the position of Minority Leader of the New Mexico House of Representatives. I’m a life-long Democrat who’s spent my career working for Democratic values and fighting for working people.

And  Rep. Georgene Louis emerges as a contender to become House minority whip. Her advocates say she has just the kind of background needed to restore the street cred the Dems have lost with base voters. She is a native of Acoma Pueblo, a single mom, 36, who worked her way though the UNM School of Law.  First elected to her Westside district in 2012, she was re-elected this month with 56% of the vote. . .

That Trujillo and Louis are coming to the fore seems natural as the party deals with its crisis. Even though Hispanic and Native American women are pillars of the Democratic Party (a majority of the party is women) they have not been awarded prominent roles that would put them before the media and public. Their issues--education, wage inequality and early childhood development--are among the hot-button issues of the day. But with the R's in power the conversation has switched to right-to-work and voter ID and the like.. . .

Up in Colorado where the Dems are also grappling with a turned-off Dem base they named an all-female leadership team to the state House Friday. We'll see how much of that trend extends here. . .


The naming of Denise Greenlaw Ramonas as chief clerk of the NM House, replacing longtimer Steve Arias who was forced out by the new R majority, has the chatter going.

While Ramonas, an attorney, did indeed once work for Republican Senator Pete Domenici as legislative director, for the past decade she has served as chief of staff to Santa Fe business heavy Gerald Peters. He was one of the more influential and wealthy Democratic political players in the Big Bill administration.

One wag wondered aloud: "Do Peters and Bill get a set of eyes with this appointment?"

R's are not going to like that chatter, but it's a reality. The appointment has all the markings of being the handiwork of Majority Leader Nate Gentry--who also worked with Sen. Domenici--and not that of soon-to-be House Speaker Don Tripp.

The full House has to approve the appointment of Ramonas. R's have the majority and the appointment should be pro forma, but given the backdrop the vote will be closely watched. . .


To no one's surprise NM Democratic Party Chairman Sam Bregman--who presided over one of the worst statewide Democratic election performances in history--says he will head to the sidelines and not seek another term as party chair.

But many point out that Sam has been on the sidelines for most of the two years he has served. He started with bravado but quickly fell silent, prompting all sorts of speculation on just what happened to one of the most bombastic personalities state politics has produced.

The political parties have been stripped of much of their relevance by the advent of the super PACs that are now the vehicle of choice for big donors. But there is still a role for a party chair. That person can get free media to push the party cause, help set the narrative and be the attack dog against the opposition. . .

Early names for the new Dem chair--who will not be selected until next spring--are Deb Haaland, the Native American attorney who was the Dem Lt. Gov. candidate this year, and ABQ attorney Ahmad Assed.

Republicans meet to pick their new chair Dec. 6. Names announced are Torrance County GOP Chair Richard Lopez and Max Barnett who runs an IT consulting firm. Insiders say a candidacy by Rep. Zach Cook has been aborted. The GOP central committee members will name a replacement for John Billingsley who is not seeking a second term. . .


Mo Udall
Reader Tim Lowrey writes:

You attributed a quote to the late Arizona Congressman Mo Udall in your Thursday blog--"The people have spoken, the bastards." 

He may well have said it but the first Democrat to say it was Dick Tuck, a famous political prankster who detested Richard Nixon. In 1966 he ran for the California State Senate and came in third. His concession speech was:  "The people have spoken, the bastards."  I know this because my father served 11 terms as a California Sate Assemblyman. He was a Democrat. I remember hearing about Dick Tuck's speech from him.

Thanks, Steve, Let's try this one that is also attributed to Mo and is especially timely as state House Dems prepare to caucus:

I have learned the difference between a cactus and a caucus. On a cactus, the pricks are on the outside.

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Thursday, November 13, 2014

Round The Roundhouse: "The Netflix Session" To Come, Gaming The Senate And A Judge Who Defied The Odds 

Here's more on what's in store for the NM House Dems as they assume minority status for the first time in 60 years in the next session of the Legislature starting in January. From a Roundhouse wall-leaner:

House Dems will now do what House Republicans used to do for decades. Sign in at roll call, and watch the other side's show. House Dems have long lunches ahead while Republicans caucus to actually pass a budget and legislation. The Dem leaders will do what they've seen Republicans resort to for all the time the members have served -- engage in long debates to slow things down when possible. They will toss out amendments which will be defeated but hope to someday use those votes against the R's in a future election.  House Dems will look for leadership that can speak at length, sound articulate, but can expect to do little more for the next two years. The Dems will be painfully watching the clock, and coveting those back row seats where they can watch Netflix without prying eyes in the gallery above.

Meanwhile Rep. Patty Lundstrom of McKinley and San Juan counties says she is weighing a run for minority leader and joining Reps Egolf and Alcon in that chase. She's been in the House since 2001. 

Let's shift it over to the state Senate where one of our Senior Alligators games it out this way:

Just as during the Richardson administration we will have a NM House Speaker from the Governor's own party and at her beck and call. All real action will be over in the Senate. The Senate proudly takes its independence from the executive branch very seriously, and this election changes practically nothing in that upper chamber. The Dem Senate will now be the only check on total Republican control of state government and policy. Republican Sen. Leader Ingle was already talking about putting a right to work bill on the Governor's desk the day after the House election loss.

The now open majority whip position could become important with Sen. Tim Keller moving out after his election as Auditor. If a Senate committee chairman claims the whip post--and Sen. John Sapien is one of three running--that would open his Education Committee chairmanship.


Republican Jim McClure writes:

Unique as New Mexico claims to be, we’re still affected by national trends. One such trend is growing voter pushback against teachers’ unions in Wisconsin and other states. So perhaps a promise to roll back school reform should not have been the centerpiece of Gary King’s campaign. I am thankful for small blessings. however. Because of the accident of Gov. Martinez’ gender, we were spared the tiresome "war on women” campaign the Dems ran in other states. I’m also curious: As a recovering public opinion researcher, I have to wonder if our local politicos conduct polls and focus groups on issues as well as candidate preference. Would Gary King’s opposition to school reform, or Dem secretary of state candidate Maggie Tolouse Oliver’s softness on voter fraud, have passed muster in a serious round of issue research?

A self-described Junior Alligator writes:

Did Republican Secretary of State Diana Duran win the election for the Republicans this year by getting rid of straight ticket voting? Look at the final numbers and see where, when forced to actually vote in each individual race, the voters crossed party lines. Would Republican Aubrey Dunn be land commissioner if there were straight ticket voting?  Would Duran still be secretary of state with it?

the straight ticket is thought to help the Dems most. But only 14 states now provide for straight ticket voting so the Dems are going to have to learn to live without it. 


Judge Miles Hanisee
Freshly elected NM Court of Appeals Judge Miles Hanisee is accepting congratulations from both sides of the aisle over the election win he marked up. It is not very often that a Republican gets elected to that statewide office and this was close. He won 51% to 49% over Dem Kerry Kiernan. Hanisee was appointed by the Guv to fill a court vacancy and had to seek election in his own right. One of the readers comes with the story: 

Bill Riordan (NMSC), Christina Armijo, Sutin, Kennedy and now Hanisee are the only five Republicans who have been elected to appellate courts since 1981, and I'm given to understand that's the case for more than another 30 years before that.

Running two statewide races chasing the job like Miles did involves more than 200,000 miles put on cars, developing a deeper relationship with your windshield than your family sometimes), endless mountains of overcooked chicken and undercooked green beans, and the pressure to be a true partisan when you know that Democrats are the ones who will elect you--if you can just meet enough of them and have a chat.

As noted above Hanisee ran a vigorous campaign that included TV ads. His Dem opponent did not appear on the airwaves.


In our first draft Wednesday we made a mistake when we said that Speaker Ken Martinez was the second Dem Speaker to be removed from power in the modern era. Actually, he is the third. Here's the chronology:

Speaker Martinez's father was removed by a conservative coalition in 1979. Dem Gene Samberson served as speaker from '79 to '82. Dem Speaker Raymond Sanchez broke the coalition and served from '83 to '84. Then Sanchez was dethroned by the conservative cowboy coalition with Samberson again becoming speaker for '85 and '86. Raymond Sanchez broke the coalition for good, becoming speaker again in 1987 and serving until 2000. It was a tumultuous period in state history. . .

And we referenced Valencia County GOP Rep. Alonzo Baldonado as "minority whip" when in fact he is majority whip. It's going to take some getting used to, Alonzo. . .

Let's give the final word on Election '14 to the late, legendary Arizona Democratic Congressman Mo Udall:

"The people have spoken. Those bastards."

Thanks for dropping by.

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Wednesday, November 12, 2014

The End Of A Very Brief Era; Speaker Martinez Will Not Seek Minority Leader Post, Plus: The Wake-Up Call Is Coming For House Dems And So Is The Pain; First Casualty Is Legendary Roundhouse Clerk 

Speaker Martinez
Now that outgoing House Speaker Ken Martinez has thrown in the towel and announced he won't seek to become House minority leader when the R's take control in January, the question is whether the House Dems will seek a leader who will be calling out the GOP or accommodating it? (Martinez's letter of withdrawal below).

Accommodation and compromise were the hallmark of Speaker Martinez's brief two year tenure and, as the saying goes, look where it got him.

Confrontation is not without risk, but the Dems have painted themselves in a corner by ceding so much ground to the GOP. Those that argue they will automatically take back the House in the higher turnout year of 2016 might want to take a closer look at the math. The Dems return is anything but guaranteed. They will need at least three seats and maybe more, depending on retirements. If that means they will have to fight hard to win it back, it means sending a firmer message to women, working class voters and minority New Mexicans who make up the bulk of the Democratic Party. . .

Does that also mean the new leadership should be female and center-left? The two public candidates so far for minority leader are Santa Fe Rep. Brian Egolf and Grants area Rep. Eliseo Alcon, but there is room for more if someone has the yearning. ABQ State Reps Moe Maestas and Sheryl Williams Stapleton will seek to become minority whip and there's room for more competition there, too.

We've confirmed that the House Democratic caucus will meet Nov. 22 to select its leaders.

ABQ State Rep. Mimi Stewart, frequently mentioned as a possible minority leader, won't be in the House much longer and won't run. She is poised to be appointed to fill the ABQ state senate seat left vacant by Tim Keller who was elected state auditor. Insiders say Stewart has the three Bernalillo County Commisison votes needed to win the appointment in January.


Clerk Arias (by Bralley)
If state House Democrats have yet to absorb the shock here's a wake-up call for them on what they are about to endure when the R's take control of the 70 member chamber for the first time in 60 years. From the Roundhouse:

All of the Democrat chairmen and chairwomen will be moving out of their nice big offices, and saying goodbye to the staffers they were allowed to employ. Those chairmen and chairwomen will be replaced by the incoming Republicans, and the Dems moved into small shared offices, probably many out of the Capitol and in the annex building, and out of sight and out of mind. 

Since all those Dem chairs are accustomed to power, and now will have absolutely none, many will begin thinking that the three leadership posts are the only way to remain remotely relevant. The competition for minority leadership positions, including the Whip and Caucus Chair, may be the only thing House Dems get to decide in the next two years. House members will be called to caucus quickly to try and contain the public bloodletting, finger-pointing and handwringing. There is just enough of the old Raymond Sanchez and Ben Lujan caucus to hang onto Kenny Martinez as minority leader for nostalgic reasons.  Kenny has got to hold to those memories and similar hopes of a rebound someday. 

One of the first casualties of the GOP takeover is longtime Chief House Clerk Steve Arias. He has held the position since 1983 and his tenure in the House dates to 1966. What a run of great service to the people of New Mexico. Write a book, Steve.

The GOP leadership, we've confirmed, will be giving Arias his walking papers. And then there's the over 250 "seasonal staff" Arias is in charge of hiring to service the House during legislative sessions. Get your resumes in GOP loyalists, looks like there's going to be some openings when a new clerk is named. . .


The real pain for the Dems will come about halfway through the 60 day legislative session that begins January 21, says our Roundhouse Gator:

Sometime around the middle of the coming 60 day session the House Dems will begin to get angry about the bills they can’t stop and their inconsequential role other than to wait on capital outlay with everyone else. Their Dem bills will quickly go down to defeat in committees on party line votes. Only then will the magnitude of this loss, and the failure of the past leadership, begin to sink in.

Oh, my. Get the painkillers out Dems. You're going to need them. . .


Sen. Sanchez
In blogging about the possibility of the state Senate going along with the soon-to-be Republican controlled House on a number of key issues, we noted that if four Martinez Dems joined with the 17 R's they could pass the measures. The Senate has 42 members so if everyone voted and the four Dems voted yea and joined the R's there would be a 21-21 tie. However, that tie would be broken in the R's favor by Lt. Governor John Sanchez who presides over the Senate and has the right to break tie votes.

To get measures such as voter ID approved, the Senate might have to "blast" the measures to the floor and away from committees where they would likely be killed. The question, as one lawmaker put it to us, is whether "the stodgy Senate" would resort to that tactic and jeopardize the "integrity" of the committee process.  Well, it would be very unusual but so is the first GOP controlled House in 60 years. We'll have to see how it plays out come January. Maybe there will be surprise vote switches by spooked and/or deal making senators in the committees and the blast option won't be relevant. Or maybe the Dems will actually stick together and kill the House GOP agenda.

Pressure will be enormous on Majority Leader Michael Sanchez to hold the line in the Senate. That pressure grew when Valencia County state Representatives Alonzo Baldonado and Kelly Fajardo were named to leadership positions by the House GOP caucus.

Baldonado was named majority whip and Fajardo caucus chair. Senator Sanchez is also from Valencia County and up for re-election in 2016. You could easily see Fajardo and Baldonado telling Valencia County that the House passed politically popular measures like voter ID and right to work but it was Senator Sanchez who blocked them and therefore must go. Let's say it together: Elections have consequences. . .


The speakership of Ken Martinez will soon be part of the history of La Politica. Here's what he wrote to his fellow House Democrats as he withdrew his name from consideration as minority leader:

Dear Representative -

I write to thank you for all your support over the years.  It has been an honor to serve as your Speaker and before that as your Floor Leader.  This past Tuesday, New Mexico House Democrats endured very difficult losses in the general election.  I am proud of the effort made by our members and candidates.  We didn’t have the outcome that we wanted but I believe as much as ever in the future of this caucus.

It’s time to rebuild, learn from this campaign and move forward. After much prayer and quiet contemplation, I believe that the time has come for me to pass the baton to the next generation of leadership.  I will not be running for any leadership position in the next caucus election. We have a deep and talented bench and I am confident that new and inspiring leadership will emerge from this process and together we will continue to fight for working New Mexicans.

A caucus date will be set in the next few days and staff will follow up with details.  I look forward to working with you in the days and months ahead.  There is a lot of work to be done and I will be with you every step of the way. Sincerely, Speaker Ken Martinez

The historical irony of Speaker Martinez's loss of power is lost on noone. In 1979, his father, Walter Martinez, was another Democratic speaker to be toppled. Back then a coalition of Republicans and conservative Dems took control of the chamber and ousted Martinez. They named a conservative Dem as speaker. Walter Martinez died in 1986 at the age of 55.

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