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Friday, May 26, 2017

Winners And Losers Of Special Session '17 And More La Politica  

Speaker Egolf
Special Legislative Session '17 will trickle into next Tuesday but the precarious budget deal is done.  Gov. Martinez is signaling she is satisfied with the budget sent to her because she can sign it without authorizing any of the tax increases approved by the Democratic majority,  although not doing so may send the state's cash reserves perilously low in the months ahead.

(AP coverage here, New Mexican coverage here and Journal coverage here.)

The Tuesday session is expected to last all of a couple of hours, so with the heavy lifting done who were the winners and losers of Special Session '17? We're glad you asked:

WINNER--State House Speaker Brian Egolf. He laid down the law at the get-go, declaring that the gross receipts overhaul bill so dear to the Governor was dead on arrival. He added that he expected the special session to last 24 hours which it basically did. And he made sure the Governor was again sent revenue raising measures that she vetoed in the regular session and thus forced the special session.

Egolf was accused of being squishy in his maiden outing as speaker in January. But his backbone has stiffened since. He now appears to realize the broad powers this new position gives him. He seems more comfortable assuming those powers and that paid off for him as he came across cool and confident and won the respect of his caucus as well as the Republicans and Governor.

LOSER--Rio Rancho GOP Rep. Jason Harper has become a household name among the insiders of La Politica as his bill to reform the state's gross receipts tax structure garners the headlines. But Democratic lawmakers had enough of the measure which ran over 400 pages and the experts said was still incomplete because no one could say what impact it would have on state revenues. Harper kept pushing (along with the governor) and it cast him in a more partisan light. Speaker Egolf agreed to $400,000 to further study the plan but if the Democrats are going to win back the economic narrative they need to come with their own reform bill and with a name from their own party on it. Harper had his day.

WINNER AND LOSER--Gov. Martinez ended up a winner when the Legislature sent her a $6.1 billion budget she could sign while still vetoing a tax hike package. She gets to keep her bragging rights of never raising taxes. But she gets labeled a loser for pushing a widely critiqued plan to effectively borrow over $70 million in bond money to balance the budget--money that will now have to be paid back.

The amount of tax increases needed was piddling but by refusing to endorse any, Martinez forced lawmakers into the borrowing scheme which sets a terrible precedent because future Governors could now use the same trick. It was an abandonment of conservative financial principles she and the GOP loudly claim they prize. Hopefully, state revenues will pop up and the plan will not have to be executed.

WINNER--ABQ GOP State Rep. Sarah Maestas Barnes abandoned the Governor and her party on several key budget votes and ends up on the winners list for doing so. Barnes represents a key swing district in ABQ's NE Heights. If she had stuck with GOP orthodoxy she could have taken on major baggage to be exploited by a Democratic rival. Her votes give her a lot of insurance going into the '18 cycle.

WINNER--Former NM Governor and current NMSU Chancellor Garrey Carruthers appeared before the legislature and prodded lawmakers into undoing Gov. Martinez's veto of the entire higher education budget. They responded in bipartisan fashion, showing that there are still a few leaders who wield moral authority in these divided times.

PEARCE CHALLENGERS

We blogged this week that three were no announced Dem candidates to run against GOP Congressman Steve Pearce, but a number of readers pointed out there apparently are:

Ron Fitzherbert~ Health Care Clinic Compliance Office; Madeline "Mad" Hildebrandt~ College Instructor, Coast Guard Veteran

Okay, but that doesn't sound like major threatsto Steve. What else you got, Dems?

And reader John Dyrcz writes:

I definitely raised my eyebrows when I saw the Democratic Congressional Campaign Committee (DCCC) was again targeting NM's CD-2, but how many times have we heard that refrain? You note in 2014 Roxanne Lara's campaign ended in "disaster," but I wouldn't use that word. Rocky did everything asked of her in that campaign -- raising about $1.8 million dollars, going up on television, and jumping through every other hoop the DCCC put in front of her -- in short, she was a serious candidate by any measure and also a Democrat who fit the district, despite receiving little support from the DPNM. The trouble with the DCCC is their support is often fleeting, and despite all of their promises to up-and-coming candidates, they can reverse course and pull out all resources at a moments notice. (They did the same in 2010 with then-Congressman Teague.) There are plenty of good candidates in CD-2, but I think there is a real fatigue with the DCCC's perpetual lip service.

MEMORIAL WEEKEND


Reader Eric Lucero is off to the movies this weekend and he says "Norman" is his top pick:

The Moderate Rise and Tragic Fall of a New York Fixer (R) ***1/2 Stars out of 5.  Richard Gere, you could say, has been waiting a lifetime for this transitional role. Retrograde back to his earlier conflicted roles; American Gigolo (1980), or An Officer and A Gentleman (1982); then advance the clock to his clearly honed, sharpened Billy Flynn role in Chicago (2002); advance now, to his titular portrayal of Norman Oppenheimer- a very flawed, dated, lonely, yet fiercely loyal Jewish New Yorker hustler.
Gere plays Norman with panache, audacity, and with a believable emotive mendacity! The supporting cast is notable and outstanding! Norman is a gem! Israeli writer/director Joseph Cedar (Beaufort & Footnote) adeptly rolls out Norman’s later life & times in three dramatic & dialog heavy acts. What you will find most satisfying about Norman’s descent, is that despite his tragic fall, he both manages to exit smelling like a rose and with his honor intact!

Thanks for stopping by this week.

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Thursday, May 25, 2017

At The Special: Robbing Peter To Pay Paul; Borrowing Scheme to Balance Budget Decried By Senators But They Pass It Anyway, Plus: Targeting Pearce But With Who?  

Could you imagine if Bill Richardson proposed that the state borrow nearly $100 million to balance its budget and replenish its reserves? They would probably hang him in effigy the same night they burned Zozobra. But Republican Governor Susana Martinez--she of the never, ever raise taxes school of thinking (expect if it's a food tax to slam the poor)--is backing this borrow from Peter to pay Paul scheme at the special legislative session and is getting the support of not only her fellow R's but weary Democrats:

New Mexico could end up borrowing money to help it survive a budget crisis. The state Senate voted 38-3 on Wednesday to pass a proposal that could raise about $100 million for the general fund — in part by borrowing the money. The complex bond transaction would essentially take the state’s capacity to borrow money to build big capital projects and convert it into cash to help boost reserves or pay operating expenses. No one seemed to liked the idea. But senators on both sides of the aisle said the state’s financial crisis demanded action and that Gov. Martinez’s administration had pushed for the move.

What happened to the fiscally conservative Republicans who abhor such debt maneuvers? Well, they dislike even more the prospect of taxing their wealthy contributors and constituencies. With the weary Democrats unable to fend her off, it will be future taxpayers who are saddled with the irresponsibility of the chief executive and the acquiescence of the Dems and get stuck with paying the bill. But, hey, everyone gets home in time for the Memorial Day barbecue.

As Dem Senator Joe Cervantes tweeted:

We can't muster 2/3 of Legislators to pay current expenses of State. So tonight we're bonding 10 yrs to finance the budget on the backs of our kids.

That two-thirds vote he refers to is the number needed to override the Governor's vetoes and implement mild tax increases to raise the money to balance the budget. Instead, we get years of debt to pay off. Go home, Santa Fe, go home.

TARGETING PEARCE

The national Dems said this week they are "targeting" the seat held by GOP southern NM Congressman Steve Pearce, but they aren't saying who will be aiming at the target.

He does seem more vulnerable than years past, given his vote to repeal Obamacare and his general allegiance to the president who is having popularity troubles but could recover by late next year when voters trek to the polls.

Ejecting a sitting congressman will take millions of dollars and a charismatic challenger. The Dems previously targeted the seat in 2014 but the candidacy of onetime Eddy County Commissioner Rocky Lara ended in disaster. Pearce says he's toying with running for Governor in '18 but one of the factors that will probably keep him put is the much better Democratic chances of taking over his district when he does leave the seat. (In a May 9 blog we incorrectly reported the registration figures for the southern 2nd congressional district. They are: 41% Dem, 36% Republican and 19% independent.

SOMETHING TO CELEBRATE

There has been very little for the minority Democrats in DC to celebrate in these early months of the Trump presidency, but Jon Goldstein, director of legislative affairs for the Environmental Defense Fund wants to point out one rare Dem win that he says will have great impact on New Mexico:

Great news for New Mexico as a vote to repeal the BLM methane waste rule failed on the Senate floor This means the rule limiting methane waste and pollution on federal and tribal lands remains in effect. It’s a huge victory for New Mexico especially where more natural gas is wasted ($100 million worth) from these lands each year than in any other state. More natural gas captured means more royalty revenue to the state budget where it is sorely needed right now.

This was also a victory for Senator Tom Udall who led the effort over many months to protect the rule from repeal. And Senator Udall wasn’t alone. Senator Heinrich was right there with him. Also worth noting, the earlier fight against the repeal in the House was led by Congresswoman Lujan Grisham and Congressman Ben Ray Lujan while Attorney General Hector Balderas and State Auditor Tim Keller have championed the issue back home in New Mexico as well.

THE BOTTOM LINES

Reader Tom Miles mulls over the recent scandal at the UNM athletic department in which the school spent $64,000 to send the department director, staffers and local businessmen on a Scottish golf vacation:

It seems like almost all institutions refuse to consider any change that goes against preconceived notions and habits. UNM and lots of others either refused to consider, or ignored willfully, the demographic tectonic shift of retiring baby boomers. Every university “knows” and acts like big-10 football income is as important as higher education for students … and raises tuition, woo’s wealthy sports contributions, and treats f’ball coaches like untouchable Saudi princes accordingly. NM planned as though $100 barrel oil was the new normal and we got huge tax cuts and RailRunner.Way back when, GM “knew” what kinds of cars were best for Americans. That worked for a long while … until it didn’t.

The State Auditor is reviewing the money spent on the Scotland golf junket.

This is the home of New Mexico politics.

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

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Wednesday, May 24, 2017

Are The Weekend Barbecues Safe? Speaker Says Special Session Set to Last Only A Day; Tax Overhaul Over, Plus: UNM Scotland Golf Fiasco Takes Away Goodwill Gained With Guv's Budget Veto, Also: More Analysis Of Special Session And Calling Out Cartoonist Over "The Pre-K Gang"  

Speaker Egolf (Moore, Journal)
Jason Harper takes a fall and Susana is spared egg on her face. So it went down in Santa Fe Tuesday as House Speaker Brian Egolf declared that Rep. Harper's controversial gross receipts tax overhaul bill will not be heard at the special session of the legislature that begins today at noon.

Egolf went further in throwing dirt on the tax overhaul by saying the special should last "no more than 24 hours," meaning they should be outta there with a new state budget by noon Thursday. That's just in time for the weekend Memorial Day gatherings. Pass those hot dog rolls. . .

The fig leaf given to Susana for killing the Harper bill was that it was over 400 pages and would not be ready from the printer until Thursday. But it was a deal breaker from the start, with Dems wary of a dramatic tax overhaul that no one really knew how much would cost the state.

Gov. Martinez for weeks insisted she had to have the bill if she were to agree to a state budget at the special. But the heat got to hot for her and the R's that were still with her.

(Egolf had previously pronounced a reinstatement of the food tax as part of the Harper bill that Martinez was talking up was also DOA, but groups long opposed to it will show their flags in Santa Fe today--just as a precaution.)

Martinez's veto of the entire higher ed budget had put her and the R's on the defensive and she does not appear to have the stomach for a days-long special session that would generate even more ill will (and negative political consequences) than the regular session had.

On the matter of the $6.1 billion budget, with the tax overhaul resolved Rep. Jim Trujillo, chair of House Tax and Rev, will offer the Guv two revenue raisers that should pass her test for closing loopholes and not raising taxes. One would apply the gross receipts tax to online retailers, something Amazon is already doing,  and another would extend the tax to nonprofit hospitals. That would balance the budget. Lawmakers could give her a win on a proposed "rainy day fund" that would be used to stabilize state revenues in years when oil and gas revenues fall.

We'll know soon enough how this all plays out.

Egolf says he wants that gross receipts study to end with a "bipartisan" measure but if the Dems really want to play, they will come with a bill that repeals the ill-advised corporate income tax cut they helped pass in 2013 as well as increasing the capital gains tax. But the best bet for the Speaker and Senate Majority Leader Wirth is to run the clock and wait for the next Governor on January 1, 2019 to take up comprehensive reform, more than likely it will be a Democratic governor. The flies in that ointment are conservative Dem Senators Like Arthur Smith and Cisneros who are quasi-Republicans when it comes to economic matters. Well, its not easy being Governor--whether you're an R or a D.

 GOODWILL DEFICIT

Krebs
New Mexico higher ed has gained much goodwill since Gov. Martinez vetoed the entire $745 million higher ed budgeted causing chaos and confusion on campuses across the state. But now a lot of that goodwill is being erased and on the very day the Legislature convenes in special session to hammer out a state budget agreement that was prompted by her vetoes.

We blog of the outrage over UNM Athletic Director Paul Krebs using $64,000 in school funding for an 2015 upscale golfing vacation to Scotland for himself, other athletic department staffers and businessmen who donate to the Lobos. Worse, it took Krebs two years to come clean and admit that UNM had indeed paid for the trips of those businessmen in apparent violation of the state Constitution's anti-donation clause.

So what will happen to Krebs who is paid $300,000 a year? You would think at least some harsh discipline but interim UNM President Abdallah acts as thought it's just another day at the office:

This is not where university funds should be should be spent. I want the public to know that in the future we will not be using university funds for such activities. . . I’ve worked with VP Krebs for a while and I think he is an honorable man. He’s done a lot of good for this university.

KRQE News 13 asked President Abdallah whether an ‘honorable’ man misspends tens of thousands of dollars in university funds? “Even honorable men sometimes make a mistake,” Abdallah responded.

Well, usually there's consequences for your worst "mistakes," especially if you wrongly appropriate $64,000 for a Scottish golf outing. But the pampering of the athletic department goes on even as state revenues plunge and the struggle to fund higher education grows.

The Governor's overreach in vetoing the entire higher education budget may have engendered considerable sympathy, but it doesn't erase a fundamental problem--the  resistance to rightsizing UNM for the lower enrollment of the future and adjusting to a sluggish long term economic environment that will cramp its funding. The UNM culture of the past will have to change and so will its key personnel who seem to be governing as if the go-go years never went away.

Meanwhile, Gov. Martinez finally got her way and the longest-serving UNM Regent, Farmington's Jack Fortner, has bowed to the pressure and resigned from the board. Newsman Daniel Libit has the scoop on how anonymous twitter bashing about Fortner's ethics played a role in him getting out and further paving the way for Martinez to exert more influence at UNM.

MORE SPECIAL ANALYSIS

Back to the special session that begins in Santa Fe today. Bill Hume, former ABQ Journal editorial page editor and onetime natural resources aide to Gov. Richardson, reacts to our Monday analysis of the political backdrop at the Capitol:

Joe, a very perceptive analysis on the political landscape going into the special session. One added theory concerns a possible strategic flinch by the Governor that has deepened her tactical disadvantage.

I suspect she called the special session when she did (the timing of call, not of opening date) because her lawyers feared the response of the NM Supreme Court to the Democrats' lawsuit asking that her vetoes funding higher education and the Legislature be declared illegal. Why else commit the faux pas of calling the session with no agreement in advance? I suspect it is because her lawyers theorized the call being in place highlighted her legal position that legislative remedies were not yet exhausted--a position the high court grabbed with alacrity in deciding not to hear the case. 

If the session ends in impasse -- or with another veto or two, the Democrats' legal strategy is no longer hampered with legal side road escapes. On balance, if my hypothesis is correct, it greatly increases the Democratic tactical advantage.

MAES ON TAX MAZE

Former longtime Dem State Senator Roman Maes joins the debate over the gross receipts tax overhaul from his home in Arizona:

Many for profit and non profit entities have made substantial investments in the state in reliance of existing tax policy. To remove credits, deductions and exemptions from the gross receipts tax code to the detriment of these entities is bad tax policy. More so, if the removal is done without a proper hearing and a review of evidence to support them. Yes, to remove them would broaden the tax base and allow for the overall tax rate to be lowered but such a move would signal to companies nationally and globally that New Mexico is not a place to bring business. 

Maes, an attorney, served in the Senate 20 years from Santa Fe and later went on to a lobbying career.

THE 'PRE-K' GANG

ABQ Journal cartoonist Trever might want to turn his stagecoach in a different direction.

His cartoon warns that the "Pre K Gang Hangs Out In These Parts" and is about to rob the state's stagecoach of its hefty $16 billion Land Grant Permanent School Fund.

That drew much scoffing from longtime backers (including us) of a constitutional amendmen  to ask voters to appropriate a small percentage of the fund for very early childhood education programs for ten years. ABQ Dem State Rep. Andres Romero came with this rebuttal:

The cartoon also alludes to another important factor in this discussion. The bills flying out of the treasure chest are to the tune of an estimated $400 million per year. New Mexico is getting 7 percent less in royalties than Texas for the same nonrenewable resources being extracted from the Permian Basin. The Permian Basin happens to be one of the most prolific mineral deposits in the country. This is approximately $400 million less going to New Mexico’s public schools, universities and other beneficiaries. Instead it is going directly into the pockets of the elite oil and gas businessmen.

Critics have long questioned why New Mexico's royalties are less than Texas, but you wonder if Romero has breathed new life into that argument, given the state's continuing economic woes. Stay tuned. You can bet the NM Oil and Gas Association is.

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Tuesday, May 23, 2017

The Political Backdrop To The Special Session: Dems Have High Cards As R's Work Overtime To Alter Perceptions: Guv's Low Approval Rating And Trump Troubles Also Factors 

There seems to be some confusion regarding the political backdrop that faces the New Mexico Legislature as it prepares to gavel itself into a special session Wednesday. Let's see if we can clear it up by beginning with a faulty premise that is blocking an easy resolution to achieving a state budget. That premise is presented by ABQ GOP State Rep. Jimmie Hall:

If you want to play chicken, I don’t think (the governor) is going to blink. I don’t think the Democrats want to be the ones to shut state government down.

The "game of chicken," of course, is over Martinez's insistence that an overhaul of the state's gross receipts tax structure be approved as the price for agreeing to a state budget with the Democrats.

The problem that Representative Hall and other radical House Republicans don't recognize--or prefer not to--is that the political cost of failure at this special session would rest with them and the Republican Governor, not the Democrats. Why?

First, for some reason it's rarely referenced in legislative reporting but it's a crucial fact. Governor Martinez's approval rating is at an anemic 43 percent and perhaps lower considering the chaos in the wake of the recent legislative session. She is deeply under water with New Mexican voters and has lost the power of the bully pulpit, a key element for any Governor's success.

Second, the Republicans failed in their effort to keep control of the state House at last November's election. It sounds obvious, but many legislative R's and the Fourth Floor are acting as if it didn't happen.

Third, the GOP is saddled with a President whose unpopularity has Democrats salivating over the prospect of using him to leverage further gains in the state House next year.

Fourth, the reality is that the Republicans do not have one major candidate on the field for their 2018 gubernatorial nomination, signaling a party in retreat and on the defense.

Fifth, Gov. Martinez's petulant veto of the entire higher education budget further injured her popularity and has forced her to the negotiating table. The Democrats sat back and waited and did so without panicking. She did not come with an acceptable plan but it was she who blinked when the Democrats refused to offer a replacement plan for the one she vetoed.

Given these realities the Democratic position of resisting a hasty overhaul of the state's gross receipts structure is not only the most rational policy but their most politically feasible path.

SEEING THE LIGHT

Sen. Sharer
State Senate Republicans long ago saw the light and one of them, Farmington Senator Bill Sharer, has even offered a fig leaf to the Governor in which the legislature would agree to a 90 day study of the tax overhaul. It's important to remember that Sharer is the Godfather of the current movement to rid the state of its many tax exemptions and lower the state GRT down to 2 percent. He was at this in 2013, long before Rep. Jason Harper who has taken the role of Governor's pet and joins her in insisting that the tax overhaul must be approved before the state's thousands of college students can receive an education.

It is that unreasonableness that gave majority Democrats in the Senate the needed Republican votes to override the Governor's veto of higher ed funding and which they did. The House R's would not go along and here we are.

Representatives Hall and Harper et al. fail to grasp the fundamental political change that has occurred. At this juncture the state, suffering from the highest unemployment rate in America, is not clamoring for more tax cuts or tax overhauls but simply to keep open the doors of the universities and colleges and to keep government funding flowing, even if it is at levels comparable to what they were in the budget of a decade ago.

Perhaps the past weakness of the Democrats in challenging Martinez has led them and their allies in the conservative media to pretend that nothing has changed--the old "perception is reality" argument.

Also, Hall, Harper and the other Republicans radicalized on economic matters still seem hypnotized by this lame duck Governor and Jay McCleskey, her political consultant, who they fear and swear allegiance to. It's like hostages who have become comfortable with their captivity even as the doors of freedom have been opened to them.

But the page has indeed turned and the parade is moving on. To reiterate: Senate Democrats have just won four year terms. They have nothing to fear. The House is firmly Democratic again. The House Republican agenda has been rejected and the public has tired of the Republican chief executive.

Democrats have the high cards and it is their responsibility to play them as directed by the electorate. That means resisting any efforts to blackmail them into approving a minority Republican agenda by holding hostage the state's higher education system. It is incumbent upon them to make the minority "blink" and if they don't to ensure they assume the blame if Rep. Hall's forecast of a government shutdown comes to fruition,

REDEFINING REALITY

The state GOP is joining in the effort to try to redefine the current political realities by sending a missive urging New Mexicans to contact a list of Democrats in swing House districts to either sign up for the Republicans budget or face the consequences.

Democrats in Santa Fe has (sic) proved once again that they are out of touch with the needs of New Mexicans. They have proposed a "business as usual" budget that protects their bloated and over-funded legislative retirement accounts but slashes education funding. Please call these legislators to tell them that you mean business and that if they don’t vote for the House Republican budget we will SEND THEM PACKING!

That brought a chuckle from the Alligators and insiders who are more than aware that it is actually the top R in the state House--Minority Leader Rep. Nate Gentry--rather than any Democrats--who could be most imperiled by a government shutdown. His ABQ NE Heights district is turning increasingly moderate.

But let's not forget "The Nate Nine," identified here as possible swing House R votes to get a budget quickly and forget about the Martinez/Harper GRT deal. The Nate Nine are from the ABQ metro with the exception of Rep. Yvette Herrell of Alamogordo. The others are: Gentry, Reps. Dines, Larranaga, Fajardo, Rehm, Powdrell, Tim Lewis and Maestas-Barnes. They've shown signs of moderation and independence from the Governor's political machine.

Rep. Candie Sweetser of Deming was one of the swing seat Dems targeted in that GOP email but it didn't take. She authored an op-ed sticking by the Democratic plan to pass a budget and approve only a study of the tax overhaul. We suspect it will be her view that will have prevailed when the special session packs up and leaves town.

SETTLEMENT OFFER

How about we take a stab at settling that brouhaha over how much the new mayor of Santa Fe should be paid? The top salary proposed is the way-too-high $175,000 plus benefits. On the low side is the proposed $74,000. The midway point between the two is $101,000. How's that sound? Aah, if it only it were that easy.

Speaking of salaries, here are the latest for some of the highest paid at ABQ's city hall:

--Chief Administrative Officer Rob Perry, paid $92.29 an hour or $191,963.20 a year.

--APD Chief Gordon Eden, paid $81.00 an hour or $168,480 a year.

--BioPark Chief Executive Officer James Allen, paid $77.48 an hour or $161,158.40 a year.

--Chief Operations Officer Michael Riordan, paid $73.53 an hour or $152,942.40 a year.

--City Attorney Jessica M. Hernandez, paid $72.99 an hour or $151,819.20 a year.

--Fire Chief David W. Downey, paid $64.09 an hour or $134,992 a year.

--Mayor’s Chief of Staff Gilbert A. Montano, paid $61.27 an hour or $127,441 a year.

Now all you Alligators looking for jobs with the new mayor when he or she takes office in December know what kind of pay to ask for. Hey, we're here to serve. . .

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Thursday, May 18, 2017

Is "Being The First" Enough For Haaland To Take 1st CD Seat? Plus: The Econ Beat: Fleeing Skilled Workers Leave Facebook Project Short, And:Gold Mines For Consultants Don't Light Up NM's Future 

Deb Haaland
There's something to be said for being first. In 2010 Gov. Martinez's campaign  constantly reminded the electorate that she would be "the nation's first Hispanic female Governor." No doubt the Republican garnered many Hispanic Democratic voters who wanted to push her into the history books. Now comes a Democratic candidate for Congress who is also touting what would be a first. . .

Deb Haaland, 57, former NM Dem Party chair, attorney and member of Laguna Pueblo would be the first Native American woman to serve in the US House of Representatives,  if she were elected next year to the ABQ congressional seat being vacated by Rep. Michelle Lujan Grisham and which Haaland officially announced for this week.

Unlike Martinez, Haaland would probably not have the appeal across party lines that Martinez had, but then she really doesn't need it. The ABQ congressional seat has become deep blue and winning the June '18 primary election will be tantamount to winning the seat in November, barring an extraordinary occurrence.

Haaland has seen first hand what being first means. When Gov. Martinez sought re-election in 2014 Haaland was the Democratic lieutenant governor candidate, paired with Guv nominee Gary King. They suffered a severe defeat but it gave Haaland a taste for public office.

Haaland released a solid video along with her announcement. The question now is can she raise enough funds and conduct a smooth, professional campaign? Being first comes with expectations. Among her top opponents for the Dem nomination and who will be ready to take advantage of any Haaland missteps is former US attorney Damon Martinez who is expected to join the race soon, ABQ City Councilor Pat Davis who is already announced and attorney Antoinette Sedillo Lopez.

HECTOR'S LEARNING CURVE

If Attorney General Hector Balderas has his eyes on Senator Tom Udall's US senate seat now that he has decided not to run for governor, those eyes may get very tired.

Udall, who will be 72 when he is up for re-election in 2020, shows little sign of aging, and the 70's seem to be the new 60's in the world of politics. After all, Trump is over 70 and president. Also, the Alligator betting odds have Udall running again, barring any health issues. By the way, Udall's father, onetime Secretary of Interior Stewart Udall, lived to the ripe old age of 90.

There is rarely a free throw for a US senate seat or a governorship. Hector is finding that out fast.

Meanwhile Senator Martin Heinrich is in the sweet spot when it comes to the news cycle. From his perch on the Senate Intelligence Committee he is making dozens of media appearances about the Trump chaos and in the process shaping his image as as a national defense expert as he prepares for his '18 re-election effort. There is plenty of time for the cycle to turn, but right now it doesn't get much better than this for the state's junior senator. As someone once said: "Enjoy it while it lasts, because it never does."

STILL ANEMIC

If you head into one of ABQ's popular restaurants on a Friday night you might think the economy here is booming and that spending is off the charts. But the data doesn't support the conclusion. Take a look:

Albuquerque’s gross receipts tax revenues, which provide 64 percent of the city’s total revenue, will increase only 1 percent overall this year – well short of the 2.3 percent increase anticipated in the city’s current budget. The city’s gross receipt tax revenue for May and June would need to grow more than 12 percent over last year to meet revenue projections for the year, Romero said.

Accounting for inflation, that is negative growth in the GRT which is the biggest contributor to the city budget and a key economic indicator. The fact is ABQ is like much of the nation--the "haves" with good jobs are packing the restaurants and auto dealer lots but the many "have nots" continue to scrape by. The numerous dollar stores and payday lending outlets attest to that new economy here. It has been that way long enough to be called "the new normal."

FACEBOOK JOB, ANYONE?

And here's an interesting note on how the state's seemingly never-ending economic stagnation is impacting even the good news. There's trouble filling good paying jobs at the new Facebook data center being constructed in Los Lunas.

Affordable Solar has signed on to build three solar farms for the data center and is starting construction in July on the $45 million project. It has 54 job openings it is advertising. The problem? They can't find folks to fill them. Kevin Bassalleck, president of Affordable Solar explains:

The majority of the 50+ people we’re adding will be construction positions, specifically installers and electricians. The pay range for installers is $15 - $19 / hr and $24 - $33 / hr for electricians. The biggest challenge is the amount of qualified and experienced electricians. I think the relative lack of construction activity in the NM market in recent years has had an impact on the local labor force, and it has likely driven qualified men and women to other markets in search of steady work. We have a very strong portfolio of projects with the Facebook sites, as well as other regional projects that will keep us busy for quite a long time, so we’re able to establish a robust hiring plan with that certainty. 

The company has even put up a billboard in an effort to attract qualified applicants, but with the out migration of skilled people we've seen in the state in recent years, they may have to put that billboard up in Arizona and Texas.

BEWARE THE SPECIALS

Beware all these special elections, Mr. and Mrs. New Mexico. The fights over peripheral issues have become fodder for the professional consulting and donor classes that have gobs of cash and are spending it on issues that matter little to the future of the state, but generate much emotion and profit:

Two political action committees that duked it out over a proposed Santa Fe tax on sugary beverages spent more than $4 million on their campaigns, final finance reports showed, shattering fundraising records for a municipal election. The group that worked to defeat the proposed tax, Better Way for Santa Fe & Pre-K, won not only the election but the money war, taking in about $2.18 million in cash and in-kind contributions and spending about $189.31 per vote. All cash donations came from the American Beverage Association, a Washington, D.C.-based trade group that poured in more than $1.9 million. . .

What will be voting on next? Whatever the political consultants and their big money benefactors want us to?

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Wednesday, May 17, 2017

Grisham Dodges A Balderas Bullet As AG Nixes Guv Run; Anyone Else Out There? New Name But An Old Face Surfaces For GOP Guv Field And Caucasian In Taos  

Balderas and Grisham
Rep. Michelle Lujan Grisham dodged a bullet as Attorney General Hector Balderas, seen as her chief potential rival for the 2018 Democratic gubernatorial nomination, decided not to enter the race and instead will seek a second four year term as AG.

That puts Grisham in the catbird's seat to secure the nomination with the important caveat that here is still a year to go until the primary and other major entries are possible, if increasingly unlikely.

ABQ businessman Jeff Apodaca and anti-alcohol educator Pete DeBenedettis are the only other Dem contenders in the contest and both have a major hill to climb in raising money and garnering name ID.

Back in March Don Ana County state Senator Joe Cervantes told us he "is all in" for the governor's race and would make an announcement in April, but that date has come and gone and Cervantes still has not made a move.

Despite the lure of a race with no incumbent, observers see the high cost of running a primary election--upwards of $2 million--as a major disincentive to join the fray. Cervantes has personal wealth that could make him competitive but still there has been no outcry from Democrats against the easy ride Grisham has been getting.

Grisham's supporters will start to argue more convincingly that the bare field is because she is a superior candidate and that will help with fund-raising.

The Republican problem recruiting a major name candidate is well-known. Gov. Martinez is unpopular and her record will be hard to defend. So far, no R has decided to take up that challenge.

As for Balderas, he will be an odds-on favorite to win a second term as attorney general next year with probably no Dem primary opposition and only token Republican opposition. A Guv run would have forced him to give up that job--a high risk move. At 43, he can afford to wait for better opportunities and he will.

And there's this from Michelle who was ready to lower the axe on the neck of Balderas if he challenged her, but now it's all peace and love. Cue the Beatles, here she comes:

Hector Balderas would have been a tough competitor if he chose to run for Governor because he has such a strong record as a legislator, Auditor and Attorney General. In addition to his successful prosecution of Internet crimes against children and Medicaid fraud cases, Attorney General Balderas is leading efforts to challenge President Trump’s executive orders to ensure they are Constitutional, fair and just. I look forward to a strong partnership with him as we work together to meet the challenges in New Mexico and serve and protect our citizens.

Hey, when he carried her across the threshold as shown in the photo above, we knew love was is the air.

THE PEARCE QUAGMIRE

Southern NM GOP Congressman Steve Pearce has the ability to raise the money and the tough political skin to subject himself to the stern attacks he would endure if he chose to seek the '18 GOP Guv nomination, but Pearce is sinking deeper and deeper into the Trump quagmire and in no small part because of his vote in favor to repeal and replace Obamacare. Take a look at his recent congressional newsletter:

We’ve seen and heard a lot of misinformation being shared online and sparking debates on social media, which is why I’ve taken this opportunity to address some of your biggest concerns. As your representative, it is my job to ensure that you have all the facts so that we can work better together to bring greater opportunity to New Mexico.

The problem for Steve is when you're defending, you're not advancing.

By the way, we blogged that Pearce's only statewide race was against Dem Tom Udall for US senate in 2008 and which he lost, but an informed reader points to Pearce's ill-fated run in 2000 for the US Senate GOP nomination against Bill Redmond as another example of a statewide Pearce contest. Well, kind of. Only R's were eligible to vote in that race, so we did not consider it a true statewide battle, but for those who see it that way, we mention it. Pearce lost to Redmond, a former congressman, 60% to 22% with other candidates making up the margin. Dem Senator Jeff Bingaman crushed Redmond in the general election 62% to 38%.

LYONS FOR GOVERNOR?

So, if not Pearce for Governor (who is still mulling over a run) and not ABQ Mayor Berry (although he could still dive in) and not Lt. Gov. Sanchez (who has all but announced for the US Senate seat held by Dem Martin Heinrich) then who? How about outgoing Public Regulation Commissioner (PRC) Pat Lyons?

Insiders say if none of the three Rs listed above go for the nomination, the  GOP may turn to Lyons for a name candidate, even if he does carry plenty of political baggage accumulated over the years.

Our Alligators inform that Lyons, who is term-limited on the PRC, was recently reaching across party lines regarding 2018 and met with a former Santa Fe County Dem Party official who has worked the north. He'll need a lot of reaching out if he is to defy the odds and make it to the Governor's chair, but the news is he just might get the chance.

One other thing, if the call goes out to Lyons he might be a sacrificial lamb but given his statewide performance in the past, he could limit the damage the GOP might take in lower ballot races such as the state House.

CALLING CAUCASIANS

We all know of the aging hippie class in Taos that dominates liberal politics there but we never heard it quite described this way until Taos News reporter Jesse Moya penned:

The event was attended by more than 50 individuals, largely representing the left-wing Caucasian baby-boomer generation in the Taos area.


Not for anything, but isn't the Taos news owned by Caucasian left wing baby boomer Robin Martin? And it would take an Anglo...err...we mean Caucasian from Pennsylvania like us to point that out.

THE BOTTOM LINES

We characterized the jobs at Trader Joe's grocery store as of the $10 an hour variety but reader Laura Sanchez writes: 

Several sites regarding company wages report Trader Joe's average wage as $13.20.

We were comparing the Trader Joe's jobs that the mayor of Rio Rancho is hoping to attract to those being lost at Intel there and that are some of the highest paying in the state. Not to knock Trader Joe's. We like the name, of course, and when the time comes for us to hang up our spurs, bagging groceries at Trader Joe's beats that Wal-Mart greeting job the Alligators are trying to push us into.

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Tuesday, May 16, 2017

Early Mayoral Polling Has "Big Three" Holding Lead, Pearce's #1 Fan May Hold Key To His Guv Run, No Dunn Dynasty As US Attorney Names Sent To White House And An Expensive Hospital  

We have our official ABQ mayoral field--all nine of them--and inquiring minds want to know who stands where with less than five months before the election.

There has been no public polling and there may not be any until well into the summer, but there has been campaign polling--at least two of them--that we have been made aware of--and we can report that the race still revolves around what we dubbed at the outset of the contest as the "Big Three."

Both campaign polls we have been alerted to by our reliable Alligators show Democrat Tim Keller leading the field with Republican Dan Lewis very close behind and former Dem Party Chairman Brian Colon placing third but quite a bit back of Keller and Lewis. Coming in fourth in the polling was former Dem BernCo Commissioner Deanna Archuleta. The remaining five hopefuls registered marginal support.

The early surveys confirm the danger Lewis faces from fellow Republican hopefuls Wayne Johnson and Ricardo Chavez. If Lewis had the GOP field all to himself he might be in first place.

Just about everyone watching this race expects there to be a run-off election between the two top vote-getters following the initial October 3rd balloting. That's because it would  would take a candidate securing 50 percent of the vote to win the mayor's office outright. The insider polling indicates that is unlikely and a run-off is a near certainty.

STOPPING STEVE

What's stopping Steve? Southern NM GOP Congressman Steve Peace is touring the Land of Enchantment this month as he tests the waters for a 2018 GOP Guv run. The conservative lawmaker could easily have the nomination, but getting elected is another story. The R's are on the ropes after eight years of Gov. Martinez and the Dems are favored to take the Governor's chair next year.

Pearce's one foray into statewide politics ended disastrously in 2008. That's when Dem Tom Udall beat Pearce for a US Senate seat by a margin of 61 to 39 percent. That has to be giving pause to Pearce but there's another reason.

Our Alligators report that Pearce's wife Cynthia is not very keen on Pearce making the high-risk Guv run and giving up his congressional seat to do so. Her advice could well outweigh the hundreds of GOP well-wishers who Pearce is hearing from and who are pushing him to run. If Pearce, soon to be 70, really has the fire in the belly to seek the Governor's office he may have to go overtime with the pillow talk if he's to convince his #1 fan.

On the Democratic side alcohol-prevention teacher Peter DeBenedittis of Santa Fe has made official his run for the Dem nomination:

DeBenedittis formally announced his candidacy Monday, describing himself as a progressive Democrat and political outsider who does not owe favors to past political contributors. A New Mexico resident since 1995, DeBenedittis wants to pursue policies that expand early childhood education and provide universal health insurance coverage, while increasing taxes on alcohol and cigarettes. He has not previously run for public office.

DeBenedittis joins Rep. Michelle Lujan Grisham and ABQ businessman Jeff Apodaca in the Dem chase. but unlike them he is not expected to raise oodles of cash for his campaign.

NO DUNN DYNASTY

Anderson
So much for a Dunn dynasty. Early rumors that ABQ attorney Blair Dunn, son of GOP State Land Commissioner Aubrey Dunn, was in line to become the new US Attorney for New Mexico did not pan out. The news:

Rep. Pearce and Senators Udall have agreed to send to the White House the names of Fred Federici, currently an assistant U.S. attorney in Albuquerque, and John C. Anderson, a Santa Fe-based former federal prosecutor now with the Holland & Knight law firm.

Anderson is an R and Federici is a Dem so it's expected the White House will send Anderson's name to the US Senate for confirmation. He would be in line to replace former Dem US Attorney Damon Martinez who is expected to seek the Dem nomination for the ABQ congressional seat being vacated by Rep. Grisham.

Did Dunn's reputation a a political firebrand thwart his ambitions? Could be. As for Aubrey Sr, he's expected to seek a second term as land commissioner next year and will probably face off against Dem Ray Powell who he beat for the seat in 2014.

EXPENSIVE HOSPITAL

That $250 million price tag for a new 120 bed UNM hospital was an eyebrow raiser. Why so much? That's a question Terry Storch tackled on social media:

I am a supporter of public hospitals and a taxpayer, but the price tag appears far too high. Industry average for hospital construction is $1.5 million a bed, and a new hospital in Merced, CA, came in at under $900,000 per bed. This price tag is $2 million a bed. After the expensive and unnecessarily lavish Bill and Barbara Richardson wing at UNM hospital and after the public suffering staggering prices for health care and the prospect of loss of care under the Republican "plan," I want to see hospital money spent on function not fashion. 

TRADER JOE'S OR INTEL?

From Rio Rancho: 

Rio Rancho Mayor Gregg Hull launched a social media campaign this month, asking residents to reach out to Trader Joe’s and request a new location to open in the area.In his online post on May 2, Hull’s minute-long Facebook video asked residents to “take the Mayor’s Challenge” and fill out a request form on Trader Joe’s website.

Maybe he should have them to take a Mayor's challenge to get Intel to stop laying off people in Rio Rancho, instead of trying to attract $10 an hour jobs from the grocery chain. But then Intel and all those high-paying jobs at Rio Rancho already appear poised to join the ash heap of history.

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Thursday, May 11, 2017

Supremes Won't Get Involved In Battle Over Guv's Vetoes, No New Taxes Ever? Martinez Waffles On Key Pledge As She Entertains Food Tax; Key Lawmakers Say No Way, Plus: "The Nate Nine"; The House R's Who Did Not Sign Brief Urging Supremes To Back Martinez Vetoes 

F
It's back to the drawing board for the state budget. The NM Supreme court has rebuffed the Legislature in its tussle against Gov. Martinez over her vetoes:

The state Supreme Court on Thursday denied a petition by legislators challenging line-item vetoes by Gov. Susana Martinez that wiped out funding for higher education and the Legislature. The court’s order noted that Martinez has called a special session of the Legislature to begin May 24 to deal with the state budget and taxes.

Dems were hoping the court would rule against Martinez's vetoes, making the path to a budget agreement easier. As things stand now the two sides are gridlocked and a special session is scheduled for May 24. Meantime. . . 
Her desire for a legacy of any kind appears to be driving Gov. Martinez away from the one legacy she supposedly savors most--her pledge to never raise taxes. In an abrupt about face she has walked back her longstanding opposition to a food tax, saying if it is part of a tax reform package that doesn't raise taxes overall, she would consider reimposing the tax that was repealed beginning in 2005.

But rather than giving her a legacy as a tax reformer, she risks the lasting nickname of Hypocrite in Chief. Take a look.

“The governor has long opposed – and continues to oppose – a tax on food and groceries in New Mexico,” said Martinez’s press secretary, Enrique Knell. –The New Mexican “Municipal League’s plan to renew food tax gets chilly reception – 12/19/2014

The governor has long opposed and continues to oppose reinstating a tax on food and groceries in New Mexico,” said Martinez spokesperson Michael Longeran in a statement. KRQE News 13 – “Food tax reemerges as budget worries grow.” 02/04/16

And here are many more quotes where the Governor vowed not to support a food tax. It turns out "never" may not be very long after all in Susana's world.

The food tax is dreaded by those who champion the middle class and working poor and the hard-fought repeal of it has become a rallying point for them. If legislative Democrats start fiddling with it--as they did by supporting repeated tax cuts for the wealthy and corporations--they may as well turn the keys of the Roundhouse over to the R's.

Fortunately, even conservative Dems like Sen. John Arthur Smith, who in the past has favored bringing back the tax, is pronouncing it dead on arrival in the upcoming special session.

Even as Martinez was flirting with reimposing a food tax, the Wednesday news reinforced why that is some of the most half-assed public policy we've heard around here in decades:

For the second year in a row, New Mexico ranks as the second worst state in the country when it comes to having hungry children. The Map the Meal Gap 2017 report just came out and looked at how hunger is a problem across the country. According to the study, one in four children is at risk of hunger in New Mexico. Overall, including adults, one in six is at risk.

THE NATE NINE

While Martinez tries to divide the Dems over the food tax her own house is deeply divided. Let's dive deep with the Alligators and explore "The Nate Nine."

The NM Supreme Court next Monday will consider a legislative challenge to Governor Martinez's vetoes of the entire higher education funding as well as money to run the Legislature. 23 House Republicans signed onto a legal brief that urges the high court to reject the challenge. But there are 32 House Republicans. Why didn't all of them sign, most notably House Minority Leader Nate Gentry?

Isn't it interesting that if those nine happened to joined with the 38 House Democrats they would be able to override Governor Martinez's vetoes? The override votes are already there in the Senate where the R's are evenly split in their support of Martinez.

The threat of enough House R's balking and putting an end to this budget debacle by overriding vetoes remains a long shot, but at a minimum The Nate Nine seem to have put themselves in position to leverage the Governor over the budget deal that finally emerges. That's what happens when a Guv's approval rating is at 42 percent (or lower) and she's a lame duck.

The Nate Nine are from the ABQ metro with the exception of Rep. Yvette Harrell of Alamogordo. The others are: Gentry, Reps. Dines, Larranaga, Fajardo, Rehm, Powdrell, Tim Lewis and Maestas-Barnes.

These lawmakers are representative of the business establishment wing of the GOP. Tea Party sympathizers are notably absent.

We've noted repeatedly that Rep. Gentry's NE Heights district is getting more blue by the month and he is ripe for another strong Dem challenge in 2018. Now here's a twist on that: Our Alligators report that Gentry's first challenge next year could be in the Republican primary.

Danielle Harden, a teacher and daughter of former state senator and prominent lobbyist Clint Harden, is said to be considering a challenge to Gentry in next year's primary. Even if she's only floating her name that news deserves a cry of "Boom!"

Surely, Gentry doesn't need to support a food tax or further cuts to our public schools. That would alienate his own primary voters as well as Democratic voters, right?  What he and his eight allies could use is a pragmatic budget deal that walks the Governor back from the edge of the abyss and puts the budget mess far behind them.

The Nate Nine team is about to take the field at the special session. Stay tuned.

TV TALK

When the Alligators saw that the Jeff Apodaca campaign for Governor was not saying how much it was spending on the TV ad buy it put up in ABQ and El Paso, they got busy. They report that the Dem Guv candidate made a smallish buy for the week of May 3-9 of $10,000 in the ABQ market and $5,000 in the El Paso TV market.

A buy like that is aimed at getting the bragging rights that you were "the first" candidate up with paid TV. Apodaca got that, but the small buy is not going to put the fear of God in any of his rivals.

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Wednesday, May 10, 2017

Dem Lt. Gov Candidates Coming in, Apodaca First With TV In Guv Race, Balderas Guv Decision In Next Two Weeks And Some City Council Action 

There are too many possible Dem lieutenant governor candidates to mention but the definite hopefuls are starting to surface.

Former state House Majority Leader Rick Miera tells us he will announce "soon" and supporters of state Senate Majority Whip Michael Padilla say he is "99 percent in" and can be expected to join the race after the special legislative session slated for May 24.

Both Padilla and Miera are from ABQ. Taos educator Jeff Carr has been actively campaigning for months. As for the R side, as with their Governor's race their potential lieutenant governor candidates are few and far between. . .

Democrat Jeff Apodaca is the first Dem Guv candidate up with paid TV ads. The commercials are created from an introductory video he made when he officially announced this month. He says the ads are running in the ABQ and El Paso TV markets but isn't saying how much the campaign spent on them. The primary is still over a year away, but Apodaca faces Rep. Michelle Lujan Grisham for the nomination and she commands high name in the ABQ metro. Still, that's pretty early paid media. . .

Hector Balderas political consultant Caroline Buerkle says the attorney general will make a decision on an '18 Dem Guv run in "the next two weeks." Insiders are betting that he decides to seek re-election as AG next year and point to a photo of him holding Rep. Grisham in his arms like a bride at a recent Dem state convention. But until we hear it from his lips the watch goes on. . .

ABQ mayoral candidate Dan Lewis is out with a video that firmly confronts the serious issues the city faces--crime and economic stagnation. It's playing to a Facebook audience. Lewis has been on the council for nearly eight years which is both a blessing and a curse. He is well-acquainted with the issues but his opponents will soon begin to fault him for not doing enough about the problems his video effectively outlines. Those opponents include GOP Commissioner Wayne Johnson who could be front and center in leading the opposition against his fellow R.

Is Gov. Martinez Chief of Staff Keith Gardner jealous over this:

One of Gov. Martinez’s deputy chiefs of staff is leaving the Governor’s Office this week to work for a private law firm in Albuquerque. Jeremiah Ritchie, who has worked in the Governor’s Office since 2011, has been one of Martinez’s top legislative negotiators and helped craft a new 22-year gambling compact between the state and five Indian tribes that was signed in 2015.

Gardner has been chief of staff for the governor since she took office in 2011. The Santa Fe rumor mill constantly swirls with reports of his imminent departure.

CITY COUNCIL ACTION

Borrego
Our blog on GOP attorney and Gov. Martinez backer Robert Aragon emerging as a leading candidate for city council in District 5 on ABQ's northwest side brought a load of email, including a request for equal time from one of his opponents in the October election. She's Democrat Cynthia Borrego:

I consider myself a moderate as my mother's family (Martinez from Chimayo) we're strong R's, and my Father's family (Borrego's from Santo Nino) we're strong Democrats. I'm a registered Democrat, but because of this experience I am not afraid to reach across the isle in making decisions.  I retired from the city of Albuquerque after working as a City/County Planner for over 28years. In addition, I worked for years with the community (both at the neighborhood and the business levels) developing sustainable communities.

I believe in Albuquerque and that is why I've never left (though I've had other out of state job opportunities), and that is one of the reasons I'm running for office. I truly believe we have a responsibility to do better.

Environmental issues are extremely important to me for a sustainable future for our children. The rising crime in our city is paramount and requires strategies to reign it in, one of which is creating land use design opportunities to curb it. I could continue, but I will wait until my first debate. . .

And we'll be hearing from all the council and mayoral candidates as we cover Mayoral Election '17.

SHOWING THE FINGER

First it was the soda tax now Santa Feans are getting ready to show their middle fingers yet again to city officials:

A city commission charged with determining what salary Santa Fe’s mayor should get when the position changes next year from part-time policymaker to full-time chief executive is considering a pay range of $145,000 to $175,000. . .. It’s also at least $35,000 more than the governor of New Mexico’s $110,000-a-year salary and higher than the mayor of Albuquerque’s $125,000 annual pay.

They call Santa Fe "the city different" and it's doing all it can to live up to that moniker.

THE BOTTOM LINES

In a first draft Tuesday we said the special legislative session is slated for March 24. Of course, that date is long gone. The special has been called by Gov. Martinez for May 24.

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Tuesday, May 09, 2017

Special Wreck Of Legislature On Course As Guv Clash With Dems Continues, Pearce Governor Fantasy Is Meeting Reality And ABQ Mayor Race May Be "All Crime All The Time" 

It's politically clever but also a possible way out of this state budget mess. By calling for the bean counters to take another look at the revenue estimates for the budget year that begins July 1, Senator John Arthur Smith and his colleagues could avert the need for a special session that the Governor has called for May 24. How?

If the NM Supreme Court this month finds that Gov. Martinez's vetoes of the entire higher education budget and funding for the legislature were unconstitutional it would still leave a hole of $70 million, according to the Legislative Finance Committee. However, revenues have been picking up a bit and if the forecast turned out to be better that expected--say an extra $70 million--then the budget would be balanced and the legislature could wait until its January session to again get into the budget weeds.

But Martinez is nothing if not determined to inflict maximum pain on the lawmakers she has come to despise. Her emotions are running hot and she is intent on calling them back for a special session May 24th that could drag on for days since she is calling it without a deal. In fact, she is resisting any attempts to get those new budget estimates even as some members of her own party urge her to do so.

House Minority Leader Nate Gentry says it will take "political courage" to solve the impasse, with both sides giving. But the radical members in his caucus who oppose any revenue enhancement under any circumstances are not prone to compromise.

A CLINGING GUV

The Governor, now perhaps in a panic that she has no governing legacy, is clinging to GOP Rep. Jason Harper who along with the conservative media is pushing a complex tax code revision in exchange for a budget deal. Martinez has now put that bill on her call for the special. Talk about gumming up the works--and at a cost of $50,000 for each day of the special.

The Harper bill--inform the aforementioned Santa Fe bean counters--is a complete unknown when it comes to its impact on state revenues. That seems reason enough for it to be kicked to the curb and pronto. And Dem Rep. Bill McCamley, who has collaborated with Harper on this Rube Goldberg scheme, ought to be one of those kicking the hardest:

McCamley, who met with Harper last month to discuss the legislation, said there’s no agreement in place and that Democratic legislators have some serious misgivings about the proposal – including the potential reimposition of a tax on food items.“Anything that is proposed is going to have to be thoroughly analyzed.”

Clearly a special legislative session is not the time to make sweeping and unknowable changes to the tax code. Tax reform--including Harper's--needs consideration but it can and should wait for the next Governor in 2019, instead of being used as a bludgeon over the heads of lawmakers in the midst of a vituperative political atmosphere.

Harper has become a darling of the Tea Party but his bill is completely out of sync with the times as noted by Senate Majority Leader Peter Wirth. He points out it would do nothing to generate revenue for the state but could end up costing untold millions--just like the ill-advised corporate income tax cut that both parties celebrated in 2013. That rushed cut has cost millions annually and delivered none of the promised jobs.

Faced with an intransigent but unpopular and lame duck governor, the Democratic leadership has been hanging tough in resisting further budget cuts. For them it has been a grueling six plus years of gubernatorial humiliation, intimidation and vindictiveness. They finally seem to have had enough. Good luck with that, Susana.

THE PEARCE PROBLEM

Pearce and Prez
The fantasy of a Steve Pearce governorship is looking even more Pollyannish in the wake of his vote to repeal Obamacare. The southern NM GOP congressman may now want to watch his back in his own district.

That repeal--even though it's likely doomed in the US Senate--is going to prove widely disliked in New Mexico. Medicaid expansion here has been dramatic and  thousands of residents have qualified for subsidized health insurance under Obamacare.

Nervous Republicans are now watching to see if a "wave" is developing against House R's in the 2018 cycle. The photo of Pearce with Trump congratulating one another on the Obamacare repeal in the White House Rose Garden is not going to play well in populous Dona Ana County which has never been a fan of Pearce and which is growing in influence as the rural population in the sprawling southern district declines.

Pearce's relationship with Trump and VP Pence could be positive for the district but the hard line on Obamacare and border security is breaking against him in heavy Dem Las Cruces and environs.

No big name Democratic candidate has surfaced to run against Pearce next year but you would think that a youngish and well-spoken state Senator like Howie Morales of Silver City might be wondering about a run. He would not have to give up his Senate seat to make the run since it is not up for election until 2020.

Because Peace has dominated the district folks forget that 41 percent of the 2nd CD is Democratic and 36 percent Republican with 19 percent independent.

Ousting an incumbent congressman is a rarity in New Mexico, but the Obamacare debacle and the Republican obsession with the border and immigration are pushing the conservative Pearce further into the arms of Trump and even further to the right than what may be good for his political health.

Pearce will turn 70 in a few months and what would be a whimsical run for governor would be out of character. Whether the Dems let Pearce rest easy in his own backyard in '18 is the question now on the table.

ALL CRIME 

Crime always dominates an ABQ mayoral race, but against this backdrop this year's contest could be like one of Governor Martinez's legislative sessions: "All Crime All The Time":

. . . Since 2010, the amount of home burglaries reported to Albuquerque police range anywhere from 300 to 500 per month.That amounts to more than 4,000 home break-ins per year. The worst month on record in recent years for home burglaries in Albuquerque was in August of 2013. There were 509 that month, compared to 348 last August.

Is this ongoing crime wave the biggest failure of leadership in the modern history of ABQ?

ALLIGATOR FIND

Pete Dinelli, former ABQ mayoral candidate, city councilor, public safety director, attorney and now an ABQ blogger,  reports on his recent trip to New Orleans with wife Betty:

We ran into one of Joe Monahan's sources and asked her who the next Mayor and Governor would be and she refused to comment.

Boy, does that Lady Gator have a lot to say, but only to us. Pete and Betty get a finder's fee but you'll get the exclusive, insider story of the ABQ mayor's race right here.

THE BOTTOM LINES

She's all yours, DC. We had our fill:

The Senate confirmed President Trump's pick to lead the Air Force, the first of his military branch leaders to get through the upper chamber. Senators voted 76-22 for Heather Wilson to be the next Air Force secretary, with only a simple majority needed to approve her nomination.

The vote came one day after Wilson's longtime mentor--former NM US Senator Pete Domenici--turned 85. Now they have a reason to party together again. . .

We note the passing of behind-the-scenes ABQ political player Lino Martinez. The Rio Arriba County native was a get-out-the-vote expert of the old school variety whose family says participated in every state election of the past 60 years as a volunteer, candidate or elected official. His understanding of La Politica and determination to be on the winning side benefited a number of hopefuls including ABQ Mayor Ken Schultz who served in the 80's. Lino Martinez was 85. His full obituary is here

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