Thursday, November 30, 2023

Other Voices: Preparing For Session '24; Chair of Senate Finance Contemplates State Of The State, Plus: Remembering Biz Journalist Harold Morgan 

On this edition of Other Voices we have commentary from Senator George Muñoz, chairman of the powerful Senate Finance Committee, on the billions of surplus that continue to accumulate in Santa Fe and a journalist remembering a journalist--Sherry Robinson on the passing of Harold Morgan. We start with the Senator:

New Mexico’s current, extraordinary revenues can make it easy to forget that, not that long ago, state legislators had to repeatedly make deep cuts to keep the state afloat. First, we were hit by the 2008 Great Recession, then by plummeting oil and gas prices around 2014, and finally by the pandemic and saturated oil market of 2020. What a different world we live in today: two years of historic revenues—driven by flourishing oil and gas production that even low prices can’t discourage—means we literally have money to spare. But not to waste. 

The financial tide has turned, but much like it does during years of low revenue, New Mexico will need strong leadership during these years of plenty. Self-control and vision must be the ideals we hold as we plan for the future. As a reminder, last year one such opportunity was squandered when we sought to utilize the state’s revenues on a billion dollar tax package that was selectively vetoed. This next year we will take deliberate action. 

We must first seek to fill up our trust funds so that they are self-sustaining and can serve as a guaranteed revenue source for critical state priorities into the future. For example, we can use today’s bounty to capitalize the land of enchantment legacy fund to support our natural resource agencies, while simultaneously appropriating more funding into the opioid settlement fund to support our substance abuse interventions and treatment efforts. These are just two of a multitude of examples. . .

Take a second to imagine the quality of life our children and grandchildren can have when we invest in our people, our resources, and our own financial security in a targeted and deliberate way. I know the temptation is to spend it all now, but if we want New Mexicans to benefit in the long term, we must make very judicious spending decisions guided by a strong vision of where we want to be in five, 10, or 20 years. 

For example, any tax changes we seek must be targeted to avoid jeopardizing our fragile revenue sources that are enabling us to invest in programs that change lives. Simultaneously, we must leverage the power of compound interest every opportunity we get through the creation of expendable trusts that will allow us to pilot new ideas and ensure we don’t find ourselves in a situation where we once again have to make cuts to the services our people need to prosper. 

We have a once-in-a-lifetime opportunity to shift New Mexico toward a better future. And we will, if we are informed by the hard choices of the past and driven by a clear vision of the future. 


Syndicated columnist Sherry Robinson writes: 

My friend and long-time colleague Harold Morgan, 77, passed away last month. Harold started writing for this small syndicate in 2004. He spent a career in numbers as founding editor of New Mexico Business Journal and Sunwest Bank’s chronicler of New Mexico’s economy. . .As a tribute, I’d like to share some excerpts from his 17-plus years of columns.

In 2011 he skewered Gov. Martinez and her economic development secretary whose only proposals were recruiting companies to the state. “Recruiting is good and necessary, but for that to be the only topic massively misses the point,” he wrote. Recruiting had no impact on the smallest communities. 

That year Harold surprised everyone: “Legalize marijuana. There! I said it! In public! Conservative me!” His reason was that “the social costs of legal marijuana, however high, would be less than the social costs of illegal marijuana.” He meant that illegal weed brought otherwise law-abiding citizens into contact with criminals. “In my brief, long ago marijuana flirtation, my supplier was a Washington-based federal prosecutor. This nicely defines the potential for societal rot.” 

 In 2012 Harold wrote that Martinez’s thin agenda lacked values. “Republicans must bring a framework of values to the conversation.” Run articulate Republicans for office, starting with grassroots positions. “But remember, ground everything in values. Dump the extremism.” 

Civility was a regular subject. Deb Haaland, then Democratic Party chairwoman, said in 2016 that Martinez’s policy priorities were “exactly in line with the reckless and racist priorities of Trump and other Republican candidates.” Harold responded, “While it’s tough to argue Donald Trump is anything other than reckless and racist, pasting that label on Martinez is hardly civil.” He added, “Republicans say the same stupid stuff.” 

Harold’s last column was June 28, 2021. He stepped down for medical treatment and then decided to devote himself to a book on New Mexico’s uranium industry.

Other Voices is an occasional column of thoughtful commentary from voices other than the blog. Submissions for future editions are welcome via email.             

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Wednesday, November 29, 2023

What If R's Controlled The Roundhouse? GOP Player Ponders A Game Of Hardball Over CYFD Reform, Plus: More On Redistricting Ruling, And: New Zealand Meets New Mexico  

What if Republicans controlled the Roundhouse and played hardball with MLG over reforming the long-troubled Children,Youth and Families Department (CYFD)?
That's not about to happen but growing frustration over the Governor's resistance to legislative reform of the agency--insisting that she can do it internally--has longtime GOP political consultant Bob Cornelius pushing out a stern agenda for the '24 session that he would like to see Republican lawmakers pursue--if only they had the votes. The wish list may not be realistic in a Dem-controlled Legislature but it is provocative:
1. At the '24 session the Senate Finance Committee will begin cutting all executive branch budgets 1.5% per day until the Governor adds CYFD reform to her call. 

 2. Call CYFD Secretary-designate Teresa Casados to testify daily (alternating committees with any oversight over CYFD). 

 3. Refuse to confirm the CYFD Secretary until Governor signs a CYFD reform bill.

 4. Don't wait for the Governor to include reform on her Call. Introduce and pass the Child Advocate bill that provides for independent oversight of CYFD and fund the position as part of the CYFD budget. 

 6. Call on the State Auditor/Attorney General to investigate CYFD and where the 77% reduction in spending to prevent repeat child abuse went and if funds were misused for other expenses. 
Who knows? If CYFD continues to go downhill we might see a Democrat or two take an idea from this wish list and run with it. 
As for MLG and the '24 session, there is no indication yet that she will add any CYFD reform measures to her call. Stay tuned. 


Chief Justice Bacon
From the SOS:

New Mexico’s State Canvass Board met Tuesday and unanimously certified the official results of the 2023 Regular Local Election. The Board is composed of Governor Lujan Grisham (absent Tuesday), Secretary of State Maggie Toulouse Oliver and Chief Justice of the New Mexico Supreme Court C. Shannon Bacon.

“Every New Mexican should have the highest level of confidence in these official election results and in the conduct of the statewide Regular Local Election," said Secretary of State Maggie Toulouse Oliver.

The official, certified results for the 2023 Regular Local Election can be viewed here

250,582 voters out of 1,219,760 eligible voters turned out for the election (20.54%). The Board signed the certificate of canvass that makes the results official. 


Reader and businessman John Rice comes with his take of the congressional redistricting that was upheld this week by the NM Supreme Court: 

The Democrats repeatedly say that the state had a thorough, fair and extensive redistricting process led by a respected judge. That is true. It is also true that the Legislature dumped our work and appears to have followed Sen. Joe Cervantes lead in designing its own map. The process and proposed alternative the Redistricting Committee went through before being ignored by the Legislature was more neutral and fair than what the Legislature installed. 

 The above stated, as an Independent I regard the new map as far better than I expected of the Legislature since it left the southern district competitive enough that the Herrell-Vasquez race looks like a fair fight. Also, by diluting District 2, it actually appears to have created a more slightly competitive District 1. They did put a Democratic Party thumb on the scale, but not the whole fist. 

The problem we New Mexicans share with other states is that redistricting has been appropriated as a right and privilege of political parties, thus making it about political party turf and self-interest rather than the balanced the interests of all voters.  Thanks Joe,  for the public service and wit of your blog.


Ambassador Udall & Wiener
Here's world traveler, license plate collector, former state senator and current ABQ state senate candidate Michael Wiener smiling it up this week with Tom Udall, former NM US senator and now US Ambassador to New Zealand and Samoa.

The occasion was Wiener's visit to the South Pacific where he presented the ambassador with his own personalized NM license plate. 

The New Zealanders may have trouble figuring out what that chile symbol is but Wiener says Udall likes the plate enough that it will win a spot on his office wall in Wellington.

Wiener met with Udall, 75, at the US Embassy and reports he "loves the region and the job" and when not attending to his duties is pursuing the outdoor activities (hiking etc.) that he and his famous political family are known for.

Udall told Wiener he first met President Biden, 81, who nominated him ambassador, when he was in his 20's and campaigned for him during Biden's first run for the US Senate from Delaware. Udall served in the US House before serving in the Senate from 2009-2021.

One aside: The license plate can't go on the embassy wall until it gets a going over from security to make sure it isn't bugged. Wiener assured Udall it wasn't.

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Tuesday, November 28, 2023

State GOP Goes Down Swinging As NM Supremes Let Stand New Map For Southern Congress District; R's Say Dems Are "Entrenched," Plus: Former AG Balderas Surfaces To Defend Himself Over Lucrative Opioid Lawsuit Contract  

The state GOP went down swinging Monday, criticizing the NM Supreme Court for allowing to let stand the new map of the 2nd Congressional District that will soon be the scene of another political brawl between the two major parties. 

After the high court Monday upheld the ruling of a Republican district court judge approving of the new district, the state GOP said

The court leaned heavily on the closeness of the last election. Without the specific factor of the previous election that included a popular Republican incumbent and an unknown Democratic challenger, the effects of the (Democratic) entrenchment would be prominent. 

In 2022 Republican US Rep. Yvette Herrell was defeated by a tiny 0.7 percent margin by Dem Gabe Vasquez. The two are now preparing to square off in a 2024 rematch. All major nonpartisan Congress watchers rate that rematch a toss-up, favoring neither party.

The problem with the GOP argument that legislative Democrats gerrymandered their way to power in the southern district is that the Dems only accomplished a partial gerrymander. The legal standard to throw out a map is an "egregious" gerrymander. In other words, essentially the door would have to have been slammed shut on any Republican victory in order for the boundaries to be unconstitutional. 

Those doors were far from shut for Republican Herrell in '22. Now in '24 she is leading Vasquez by a point--46 to 45--in the first public poll of the race. 

The court can't involve itself in the personalities of the day and entertain speculation that a weaker Republican would have no chance. That's political analysis not legal doctrine. The evidence shows Republicans have a very realistic chance of victory. The court has to look for signs of an obviously unfair playing field and make a long-term decision that will stand ten years until the next redistricting.

This new map has now delivered two of the most competitive congressional elections in state history. That's not to say that swapping out parts of the oil counties from the old district and replacing them with sections of ABQ's South Valley doesn't improve Democratic chances. It does. But the law is realistic and allows for political parties to partake in the spoils of victory--just not to gorge themselves at the table.


Full GOP reaction statement to Supreme Court ruling is here. Democratic Party reaction here

Good government group Common Cause said:

The redistricting process was more accessible and transparent this time, due to the involvement of the Citizen Redistricting Committee, but we can make it better. Common Cause continues to support a truly independent--not advisory--redistricting commission with binding authority.

The group added that several "constitutional amendments to establish an independent redistricting commission are expected to be introduced in the 2024 legislative session."


Former Attorney General Hector Balderas has surfaced to strike back against criticism he's received over the awarding of a lucrative state legal contract to the Robles, Rael, Anaya law firm (RAR). 

The ABQ firm and two out of state firms received 33 percent of a $453 million state settlement with Walgreens over opioid abuses. Other states paid their lawyers just 12 percent in their major pharmacy lawsuits. 

Critics charge Balderas with making a sweetheart deal because of his long personal friendship with Marcus Rael, Jr., the firm's managing partner. But in an op-ed the former two term Dem attorney general, now president of Northern New Mexico College, makes his case against those critics:

The 12% attorney fee figure paid to outside attorneys in the national settlement that is being held up as a supposed reference for criticism does not account for a state that decided it had to take Walgreens to trial in order to get a fair recovery for its people. Because New Mexico took Walgreens to trial, and even after New Mexico paid its lawyers, New Mexico still received almost eight times the treatment money the state would have otherwise received had it merely accepted the national deal. That is eight times more treatment dollars, eight times more narcan, eight times more beds in treatment centers, eight times the funding for county and local governments. Taking a multi-billion dollar company to trial for seven weeks required a team of more than 50 lawyers, litigating New Mexico’s case for more than seven years before it got to trial. All of that cost was borne not by the taxpayers of New Mexico, but by these outside firms.

The State Ethics Commission recently said contingency fee agreements such as the one in the Walgreens suit should fall under the state Procurement Code.

"Considering both the significant representations that attorneys take under contingent-fee agreements (e.g., pursuing New Mexico's recovery from the opioid-abuse epidemic in this state) and the large sums that contract attorneys may recover in these representations (e.g., a $148 million fee in one opioids-related case alone), the Procurement Code should apply to constrain how state agencies select law firms," the commission wrote.

Balderas said in a statement he agreed with the commission's conclusion, "which is why my office used a competitive bid process under the Procurement Code to hire all outside legal counsel, including those that the State paid no fee to."


In a first draft Monday we blogged that ABQ City Council run-off election candidate Jeff Hoehn had received public financing for his campaign. He is receiving private financing. The District 6 run-off election is December 12 with early voting now underway.  

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Monday, November 27, 2023

Veteran Dem Consultant Predicts Rogers Victory In ABQ City Council Run-off, Plus: GOP Consultant McCleskey Recovering From Injuries In "Serious" Accident. And: State Senator Steps Aside In Favor of "New Blood" But It Appears Old Blood Will Take His Seat 

Nichole Rogers
If longtime progressive Dem political consultant Neri Holguin has it right Nichole Rogers should have a smooth path to victory in her December 12 run-off election with Jeff Hoehn for the District 6 ABQ City Council seat in the liberal SE Heights.

I think Jeff is in trouble because of the considerable financial support his campaign has received from the PAC associated with commercial real estate interests. It is primarily made up of Republicans and as that word circulates the majority Democrats in the district will recoil from supporting him. 

In one of their ads that created backlash in the district, the PAC labels the Sierra Club and other progressive groups backing Rogers as "extremist" groups.

That PAC, Help ABQ, operates independently of Hoehn's campaign. While complaining that their attack ads on the progressive groups were off base, he has not rejected the PAC's support. 

The PAC tells me that they will also be supporting Hoehn with paid media in the run-off. In the regular election the PAC raised about $180,000 and spent money in three city council races. 

Rogers campaign will receive $20,000 in public financing for the run-off and she received $40,000 for the initial election. Hoehn did not take public financing and is privately financing.

Early voting for the run-off is already underway. Only residents of District 6 can cast ballots. Early voting runs until Saturday, December 9. Voting locations are here.


Jeff Hoehn

Rogers got by Hoehn 40-32 in the first round. We go to a run-off because in the multi-candidate race no-one achieved 50 percent of the vote. 

Hoehn, who runs the nonprofit Cuidando Los Niños, is a Democrat with a long history of running nonprofits. He is also head of the Nob Hill Neighborhood Association. 

Rogers, who is in sales with Primerica Financial Services, worked for Mayor Keller as the African-American community's Business Liaison with the Office of Equity Inclusion. She would be the first African-American elected to the Council since the modern form of government was adopted in 1974. 

Rogers is the more progressive of the two. Hoehn is no conservative but in an opinion piece for the newspaper he indicated he was irritated with Mayor Keller and the Dem machine for backing his opponent. (Rogers op-ed here.)

Rogers has come under fire for failing to comply with state registration regulations for a nonprofit she founded but Holguin says the mistake lacks sting and she does not expect Rogers to be upended by any more ethics charges.

By her count Holguin has now consulted some 100 state political campaigns. She briefly consulted the Rogers campaign at the start of the regular election. She is not involved in the run-off.


McCleskey cycling (2021)
Meanwhile, another veteran NM political consultant, the often controversial Republican Jay McCleskey, found himself in the hospital on City Election Night November 7, reports a longtime acquaintance:

Jay had a serious motorcycle accident in late October and suffered multiple injuries. He was in the hospital for a number of days including the day of the city election. He has since been released and continues his recovery. 

Well-wishers offered McCleskey support in response to a private post on his Facebook page with several of them saying they were glad "it wasn't worse." McCleskey has not publicly released details of the accident.

In the Nov. 7 election McCleskey consulted council candidates Brook Bassan in District 4 and Dan Champine in District 8. 

Both Republicans managed victories but Bassan won over Abby Foster in a squeaker and Champine under performed (52 to 48) against Dem Idalia Lechuga Tena, 

McCleskey made his bones and the big bucks when he was the lead consultant for Gov. Susana Martinez. She served from 2011-19. More recently he consulted the two unsuccessful statewide races of former TV weatherman Mark Ronchetti.


Sen. Griggs
He's 71 and says he wants "new blood" top represent his state senate district so 12 year Senator Ron Griggs of Alamogordo says he will not seek re-election to a fourth term next year: 

I am proud of the work I have done as your Senator and will continue to serve the people of New Mexico. But the time has come for new blood, new eyes, new ideas, and new directions.

The problem? The likely replacement for Griggs in the solid GOP district made up of parts of Chaves, Eddy and Otero counties is from state Rep. James Townsend, the former House Minority Leader. He's pushing 70.

Townsend's decision to run a primary campaign against Griggs is being credited with forcing Griggs out of the District 34 seat but Griggs says he could have beaten Townsend. 

A challenge to the well-financed Townsend with his connections to the booming oil industry is unlikely. Also,  the district is all R all the time. No Dems need apply. So, that's how you get old "new blood."

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Wednesday, November 22, 2023

We Greet The Holiday With Another Popular Edition Of Reader Vox Populi; They Write Of CYFD; Older Poll Workers And Living On A State Pension; Happy Thanksgiving, New Mexico  

We head into the Thanksgiving holiday (our 21st on the blog. Yikes!) with an always informative and entertaining edition of Reader Vox Populi. 

We start it off with reaction to MLG's appointment this week of Teresa Casados as the permanent cabinet secretary for the troubled Children, Youth and Families Department (CYFD). 

Child law attorney Deborah Gray writes:

Elvis is alive. The earth is flat. And Teresa Casados has left an indelible mark at CYFD as Acting Secretary. Maybe she has, but not necessarily in the way that the Governor implies. 

With all due respect to Ms. Casados, she is in an untenable situation. In appointing her as the “permanent” CYFD Secretary, the Governor's words of praise instill neither confidence nor trust. That is because Gov. Lujan Grisham’s comments are fully untethered to reality. The Governor tells us that Ms. Casados has already delivered results, and that the momentum will continue from here. And what results are those? Unprecedented turnover? Court imposed financial sanctions for failing to file statutorily required Court reports? The only momentum I have witnessed is that CYFD -- and, in fact, the entirety of NM’s child welfare system-- is crumbling before our very eyes. 

Children’s safety, permanency and well-being are not prioritized. CYFD has been unable to meet its most basic legal requirements (meeting children monthly in their placements, providing court reports before hearings, providing notices of placement changes --to name just a few). But the machine is hunkering down and the usual suspects pile on. 

Said Rep. Gail Chasey: “Casados is a strong choice to lead CYFD at this pivotal moment for New Mexico families. [Her appointment] … allows for critical stability and continuity as the agency works to implement necessary changes to improve the safety and well-being of our children, while increasing accountability and transparency.” 

Rep. Chasey’s comments are shocking in so far as they are detached from the reality on the ground.  Repeating these falsities is insulting to the many dedicated people who work within this dysfunctional system day in and day out: CYFD employees, foster parents, and providers -- to name a few. Most of all it does a disservice to the families and children who come into contact with this system. 

Speaking the truth is the way to command respect and credibility; it is the way to lead. And unless or until that happens, the forecast is grim for our children and families. Elvis has left the building. 


Reader Terry Wexler writes of comments made during our KANW City Election Night coverage about our voting day experience: 

On Election Day I was on my home from working a very long shift at one of the busier voting locations. You mentioned that the poll workers are “quite elderly” and one of those ancients at your voting site struggled with the computer. A suggestion that the County hire younger workers totally ignores the facts that lead poll workers to be older: 

1. Try to find younger workers who can work thirteen 10-hour days of early voting starting on a Saturday (10 ½ hours) with Sunday off, then six 10-hr days in a row with just Sunday off, and then another 6 days in a row with 2 days off before Election Day (an almost 15-hr day. I got up at 4 a.m. and returned home close to 9 p.m.). 

2. Try to find younger workers who will show up every day ready to work. 

3. Try to find younger workers who are willing to give up breaks to handle the continuous flow of voters for 7 hours. That was how it was on Election Day for us. Bathroom breaks were rare (and you know how we old folk are). 

4. Try to find younger workers who not only make sure that the voter gets the proper ballot but who also are able to help those many voters who have moved and need to change their voter registration status or need to register by using the Same Day Registration system and then get them a ballot based on that new information. 

5. Try to find younger workers who understand the concept of teamwork. The staff I worked with are seasoned poll workers with whom I have worked a number of times. We mesh really well and know one another’s strengths. 

I have been doing this work for some years and am always impressed with the changes being made each election to make the experience better for both the voters and the workers. But that also means that every time we work, we have to do something differently than the last time we worked. Flexibility is vital, and a willingness to learn new aspects of the job is a requirement. Shocking that we “elderly” can do that. I will be 81 on Saturday.


In our October 26 "Other Voices" column a reader disagreed with a proposal to improve on the cost of living adjustment (COLA) for retried state government employees covered by PERA. Reader Carrie Lynn Toulouse came with this view:

Joe, I took great offense to that Oct. 26 smug blog concerning our PERA pensions. During my thirty years in state government my salary was never at the same level as men doing my job with equal (or less education, experience and performance). I earned every penny of the pension and deserved more. I was over worked, under paid, frequently subjected to poor or abusive management styles, with little appreciation or acknowledgement of the quality of work I produced. 

As a single mother I stayed at the job as I needed the income. I was promised a pension that would make up for the overall working conditions if I stuck it out. Now At the age of 78, my disability has become total and I have been hospitalized followed by a transfer to a rehab facility and will have to move to an assisted living facility (hopefully not a nursing home!). My PERA plus Social Security will not totally cover the expense so I will have to sell my home as it cannot be remodeled to accommodate an electric wheelchair and liquidate what other possessions I worked hard to accumulate. 

The worst part is giving up all the independence I have worked to retain my entire adult life. I am not asking for sympathy. Life is whatever happens and we have to face it squarely. But I resent that anyone thinks that my retirement is cushy or made easy by PERA. 

I would also point out that during my working years I was required to pay into PERA, Social Security and Medicare which took out almost a quarter of my gross salary before taxes, medical insurance and other deductions came out. It didn’t leave much to live on and raise two children. 

In my family we were raised with the expectation of doing jobs that helped others. I did my part, 30 years in the Human Services Department, 12 years on the CNM Governing Board and then six years on the Public Education Commission. None of those were paid positions. I think I have provided enough service to my fellow New Mexicans to have earned an even higher pension than I receive. 


Monahan (circa 1977)
From the blog in in 2003:

No matter what our political persuasion, we can all agree that we are some of the luckiest people alive because we call New Mexico home. The breathtaking beauty of this land is ours to experience each and every day. That's a gift of a lifetime and one we pause to acknowledge on Thanksgiving 2003. (And 2023.)

Happy Thanksgiving, New Mexico. 

Reporting to you from Albuquerque, I'm Joe Monahan

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Tuesday, November 21, 2023

Guv Digs In With Casados; Makes Her Permanent CYFD Chief As Some House Dems Get Antsy Over Beleaguered Agency; Major Reform Measure Remains Iffy At Roundhouse As MLG Charts Own Course, Plus: Soccer Fans Give Thanks As ABQ Council Approves Lease For Stadium  

Digging in
Will continued public pressure force the Governor to permit the Legislature to consider a major reform of the Children Youth and Families Department (CYFD) at the 30 day session that begins January 16? 

MLG seems as determined as ever to oppose a measure that would establish an independent child advocate to oversee the deeply troubled CYFD. HB11 and SB 373 stalled at the last session as the Governor signaled her opposition, despite solid lawmaker support. 

She must put a similar bill on her Legislative "call" if it is to get consideration at the short '24 session but it doesn't look good despite the continued embarrassment CYFD is causing the chief executive.

CYFD vacancy rates have created "a state of chaos," according to expert reviews, and now the Legislative Finance Committee reports the agency's spending to prevent repeat child abuse plummeted 77% in the last fiscal year, even as child abuse cases soar.

CYFD Secretary Teresa Casados dismisses the report, saying it has bad math. The LFC pushed backed and said it was based on "consistent methodology."

MLG's extremely slow roll on CYFD reform is maddening to proponents of the advocate bill such as Maralyn Beck, founder of the NM Child First Network, who notes the state's child abuse rate is among the worst in the nation:

It defies logic that CYFD had ample funding available for critical prevention services and yet failed to act in the midst of New Mexico's ongoing behavioral health crisis.


Rep. Thomson
Even progressive Democratic women lawmakers in the House are getting antsy as report after report continues to reveal CYFD's mismanagement woes. After all, they are up for re-election next year. 

Here's ABQ Dem Rep. Liz Thomson, chair of the House Health and Human Services Committee, putting some room between herself and the Guv:

I wish I knew what the answer was. We’ve had a lot of bills. Some of them have really been thought-provoking and good, and other ones just ... want to punish CYFD, which I can totally understand. But that doesn’t help anybody. So I’m guessing there will be more. Whether they get on the (Governor's) call or not, I can’t say. Thomson called the reported drop in abuse prevention spending very concerning. “My reaction is, ‘Wow,’ ” she said. “Of course, I would like to know more details, but that doesn’t seem like we’re going in the right direction.” 

Not exactly a forthright call for bold reform but still a mild but telling criticism of CYFD leadership.

And from ABQ Dem Rep. Meredith Dixon, Vice-Chair of the Appropriations Committee:

Looking forward, it is critical for CYFD to work with LFC to leverage federal funding to prioritize effective data-driven prevention programs.

Again, not very bold but still a gentle separation from CYFD policies by a leading Dem.

GOP Senator Crystal Diamond Brantley doesn't have to tiptoe around the Democratic Governor. A co-sponsor of the bill to increase oversight of CYFD, she says of the latest LFC report:

This  is a clear example of what an Office of the Child Advocate can do — cut through the department's pitiful excuses and bureaucracy to understand why one of the most basic duties of the department is being internally defunded. The attorney general and the Legislature unanimously agree on this solution. Now the governor must do her part and support this proposal by adding it to the call in 2024.

As a longtime MLG watcher, we're well acquainted with the aspect of her political personality that often has her digging her colorful cowboy boots in the sand, but her resistance on CYFD in the face of so many damning reports and continued child abuse is baffling. 

New Mexico awaits a change of heart and inclusion on her '24 legislative agenda of this desperately needed legislation. 


Sec. Casados 
As we said, there seems no give in the Guv's position on CYFD. In fact, in the wake of Sec. Casados going into the bunker on the LFC MLG made it a point Monday to make the appointment of Casados, who has been serving as interim CYFD secretary, her permanent choice

Teresa Casados has left an indelible mark at CYFD over just a few months, delving into evaluating processes and structures to make sure they all squarely support a singular goal: to serve the state’s most vulnerable children. She has already delivered results, and I have no doubt the momentum will continue from here. 

And Casados:

We are making great strides in restructuring the organization, hiring, and ensuring transparency, and there is much more work to do for the children and families in our care. I am grateful to the Governor for this opportunity. 

And just in case Reps. Dixon and Thomson had any ideas, there's this from fellow liberal Dem and House Majority Leader Rep. Gail Chasey: 

Acting Secretary Casados is a strong choice to lead CYFD at this pivotal moment for New Mexico families. Gov. Lujan Grisham’s decision to nominate Casados as Secretary of CYFD allows for critical stability and continuity as the agency works to implement necessary changes to improve the safety and well-being of our children, while increasing accountability and transparency.

That's a generous welcome for the new Secretary who in those first six months has vigorously defended the culturally flawed agency and resisted legislative involvement to end the crisis. Just like her boss. 

Casados is the third CYFD secretary under this Governor who is in her fifth year in office. Like her predecessor, Barbara Vigil, who bowed out of the job, Casados has no experience in child health or family psychology. Until her appointment, she had been serving as the Governor's Chief Operating Officer.


ABQ soccer fans and the community at large gave thanks last night as the ABQ City Council overcame partisan strife with Mayor Keller and approved a lease agreement on a 7 to 2 vote with NM United. That paves the way for the soccer team to build a new stadium at Balloon Fiesta Park. 

United pledged to invest a minimum of $30 million to build the stadium with seating for 8,000 to 10,000 fans--most of whom are young Albuquerque residents. The state will come with $13 million in capital outlay for improvements to the Park.

GOP Councilor Dan Lewis summed it up best as he argued that the city needs to encourage those who want to make a major investment with their own money and that too often restrictions and infighting get in the way of improving the quality of life in the state's largest city. So true. 

United made a major mistake in first asking voters to approve an expensive taxpayer paid downtown stadium that was firmly rejected but the owners learned their lesson, came with an alternative plan and listened intently rather than trying to shove a plan down taxpayers throats. It was a fine moment for United and its investors. 

It was also a fine moment for the seven Councilors voting in the affirmative, many of whom have become alienated from Mayor Keller but put that aside and created momentum for a sorely needed investment here. The two naysayers--Republicans Renee Grout and Brook Bassan--could not let go of their grudges against Keller and voted their emotion not their logic. 

ABQ has had a hellish run with the crime crisis but the paralysis that crisis has caused was shaken off last night as the city's Mayor and Council (and United investors) looked ahead to a future where ABQ reasserts itself as a thriving, captivating metropolitan area. Keep it up.

There are three law firms sharing $148 million in settlement fees in New Mexico's opioid abuse case against Walgreens. In a first draft Monday we said the Robles Rael & Anaya law firm would be the recipient of the full amount The other firms are Baron & Budd of Dallas and Levin Papantonio of Pensacola, Fl. The settlement of $453 million is being paid out to the state over 15 years, says the AG's office. We apologize for the error.

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Monday, November 20, 2023

Hector's Leftovers: Huge Legal Bill For Opioid Lawsuit Draws Attention Of Ethics Commission But Not Much Else; Potential $100 Million Lost To Fight Drug Epidemic; AG Torrez Says New Policy Sets Payout Limits  

It wasn't pay to play. It was more like pay a pal. So went the outlandish deal attorney General Hector Balderas pulled off for his favorite law firm--Robles Rael & Anaya (RAR)--before he headed for the exits and became president at Northern NM College

It was a deal that lets RAR and two other law firms pocket $148 million or 33 percent of a $453 million settlement with Walgreens over state opioid abuses. That's three times the 12 percent fees other states paid their lawyers in their major pharmacy lawsuits, as reported by Legal Newsline back in June. 

The AG’s office said the money will be split between local and state governments over the next 15 years.   

If the payout was 12 percent the state would have nearly $100 million more to combat opioid addiction. 

Attorney Luis Robles said at the time of the settlement:

No amount of money will bring back the lives lost and ruined because of the over-prescription of prescription opioids. With the Walgreens settlement and others, the State of New Mexico can ramp up its efforts to redress the ravages which the opioids crisis brought to our state.

Earlier this year WalletHub ranked NM the worst in the nation for drug abuse, a ranking earned in part by an unmet need to treat addiction. 

Is it a bridge too far to ask RAR and the other firms  to donate some of their settlement money to the fund set up to treat addiction in the state that has given them so much? 


In what appears to be a day late and a dollar short, the state Ethics Commission says contingency fee contracts with no caps--like the one Balderas awarded RAR--should come under regulations in the state procurement code that are meant to prevent over the top fees. The Commission's advisory opinion is here.  

Current AG Raul Torrez ran for the office in '22 in part on what he said were too many law firms getting big legal contracts after making campaign donations, many from out of state. 

In the Walgreens case it was a local firm getting an eyebrow raising deal with Marcus Rael, Jr. of the Robles firm being a BFF of Balderas. 

Torrez's office says he will rein in such deals under his watch but seemed to leave himself wiggle room: 

While AG Torrez was obligated to honor the commitments made by his predecessor for the fees. . .he has also instituted a new policy that sets strict limits on contingency fee cases. . .and will follow the practice of other state attorneys general in relying on in-house attorneys as local counsel whenever possible. . .The conclusion reached by the (Ethics) Commission represents a substantial change in how state agencies have historically contracted for legal services and may hinder the state's ability to secure specialized legal representation when a case involves proprietary information or information that would jeopardize impending litigation if publicly revealed through the procurement process. Nevertheless, the Attorney General supports the goals of transparency and fairness in state contracts.

So in lawyerese this appears to mean maybe legal contracts worth their weight in gold will not continue or maybe they will. 

As for the Ethics Commission it said it is not looking any further into the Walgreens deal. 


And this:

Since taking office in 2015, Balderas has hired Rael or others at his firm to help represent the state in at least 19 cases, which is at least triple the number of cases farmed out to any other private law firm, Marcus Rael Jr. used his influence with the attorney general to convince Balderas to sign off on a multi-billion-dollar utility merger between Avangrid-PNM.

An ethics complaint was filed against Balderas over the alleged influenced peddling by RAR. The complaint was dismissed by three watchdog offices, including the Ethics Commission. The utility merger is now before the State Supreme Court. 


The competency of RAR is not in question in the Walgreens settlement controversy. It is a leading law firm for multiple government entities in the state. And we just learned that outgoing ABQ Associate Chief of Staff and former longtime City Attorney Bob White, according to a close friend, will be joining the firm upon his retirement this month from the city. And speaking of that. . .

We said last week in noting Bob's retirement that he was an octogenarian as well as a big Dylan fan. That brought this from the PR mavens at City Hall: 

This morning we woke Bob up from where he was sleeping with the Bob Dylan Live at Budokan box set nestled under his arm. We advised him to read your blog, and he jumped up when he got to the part about his retirement. Bob exclaimed, “Octogenarian? Octogenarian?! I’m a mere septuagenarian! Joe’s usually good on the facts, but for a guy in his 30’s, he’s still got a lot to learn.” Then he dozed back off. 

Some fun stuff there as the turkeys get ready to be stuffed this week. 

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Thursday, November 16, 2023

Other Voices: As '24 Legislative Session Approaches The Senate's Senior Member Offers Food For Thought On Healthcare, Water And Education  

Sen. Campos
Today's edition of "Other Voices" features the thoughts of the longest-serving member in the state senate, Senator Pete Campos whose sprawling district includes portions of eight counties, including Colfax, San Miguel and Taos. 

Campos, 68, will begin his 33rd year in the Senate when the Legislature convenes for a 30 day session in January. He is a member of the powerful Senate Finance Committee where most ideas for improving the state find a hearing. Here is Campos' take on the upcoming session: 

With state revenues at record highs, much legislative talk is focused on how we can best use that money to improve the lives of New Mexicans. We know, based on a wealth of research, both that spending on programs that help the most vulnerable has a greater rate of return than other investments and that business leaders value quality of life and a stable tax environment more than tax cuts. 

With that in mind, I’m confident, if we ensure New Mexicans have access to a strong healthcare system, adequate water supplies, and an education system that both stimulates our children to be intellectually curious and prepares them for the workforce, we can lift up the lowest 25 percent and, within three years, move to the top of measures of well-being, becoming a leader in quality of life, the diversity of our economy, and the strength of our educational institutions. 

We can take the steps that will make this happen during the 30-day legislative session in January, and we can do it without taking anything away from any existing programs. 


Working together, the University of New Mexico Hospital, the New Mexico Hospitals Associations, and others in healthcare can build a strong statewide network of services that address the basic needs of people in all parts of the state. Among other actions, we should 

--Expand the UNMH School of Nursing and physician assistant training program. 

--Strengthen and coordinate school-based health clinics and tele-health services. 

--Continue making medical maltreatment insurance coverage more affordable. 

--Continue to improve guardianship and conservatorship approaches to care for those who cannot care for themselves.

--Educate and train more behavioral health and social work employees, develop and support recovery centers, and better fund the Behavioral Health Institute in Las Vegas and other statewide institutions. 

--Coordinate healthcare services in New Mexico’s rural areas and fund small rural critical care hospitals in appropriate locations. 


--Water resource management must expand to include preventing waste and consideration of wildlife and environmental needs along with growing demand from communities and business. Among other actions, we should. . . 

--Develop a capital outlay plan and invest in improvements that will reduce water lost to leaks and evaporation, with a focus on the repair of dams.

--Increase staff in the Office of the State Engineer and Department of Environment to assist with water storage, distribution, and quality decisions and to work more closely with acequia associations.

--Implement proven water reuse systems to maintain green spaces. 

--Build a native aquatic species restoration facility to bolster statewide endangered species and enhance our natural environment. 


Our education systems must both provide our children with the lessons they need to be successful adults and with the skills to be independent problem solvers. Strong skills in mathematics and reading are the foundation for all future education and workplace skills and can instill a thirst for lifelong learning. An education in STEMH—science, technology, engineering, math and health—has become essential to many jobs and is key to some of the highest paying positions and builds the critical thinking skills essential to solving problems. 

If we prepare our children to be the skilled workforce of tomorrow, businesses will find New Mexico an attractive place to grow, providing the jobs that will allow our children to stay in the state. 

Among other actions, we should. . . 

--Work with the military bases, the national laboratories, and other institutions that require specialized skills on the development of education and training that will serve their needs. 

--Build crucial career and technical education programs at the high school and postsecondary levels that include training that meets the needs of the alternative energy and construction sectors.

Other Voices is an occasional feature of NM Politics with Joe Monahan. Submissions are welcome via email. 

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Wednesday, November 15, 2023

Piece of Heinrich Political Puzzle Falls Into Place As Sen. Manchin Bows Out Of Senate And Chair Of Energy, Plus: Replacing Sen Ingle; Commissions Start To Vote On Picks 

Sens. Manchin and Heinrich
A piece of the Martin Heinrich political jigsaw puzzle has fallen into place. 

Sen. Joe Manchin, chairman of the Committee on Energy and Natural Resources, has announced he will not seek re-election to his West Virginia seat next year, opening a path for Heinrich to become chairman of this important and powerful Senate standing committee that has an immense influence on New Mexico.

It's a story first reported here Sept. 26 but now coming into focus for the national media.

E&E News in DC asked Heinrich about the possibility of his becoming chairman of the committee. He said: 

It's a fantastic committee. . .“I love my work on Energy but we aren’t going to cross any bridges until we know how all of the elections turn out. I still have to get reelected too.

There's also the no small matter of the Democrats holding on to the Senate majority following the 2024 elections. If they don't, Heinrich would be in line not for chairman but for ranking member of the committee--the top minority position. A nice boost but nothing like being chair. 

As for his re-election, nothing is a sure thing but Heinrich still has no major announced GOP opponent as he seeks a third Senate term.

To become chair Heinrich, 52, would have to hop over several other Dem Senators who outrank him in seniority on the energy panel but they already chair other major committees and don't appear likely to compete for Energy

Also hovering over Heinrich has been his toying with the possibility of running for Governor way down the road in 2026. Securing the chairmanship of Energy, a committee that deals with issues (climate change, renewable energy) near and dear to him might make the Senator pause any such plans. 

Our state, dominated as it is by the multi-billion dollar national energy labs, a burgeoning renewable energy industry and an oil sector in an historic boom, will watch closely as more pieces of the Heinrich puzzle come into play.


New Mexico is not used to being out of power in the corridors of the Capitol. 

From 1941 to 1947, when the Energy Committee was known as the Committee on Public Lands and Surveys, it was chaired by Dem NM US Senator Carl Hatch. 

When it was known for a time as the Committee on Interior and Insular Affairs, Dem NM Senator Clinton P. Anderson was chairman from 1961-1963. 

Since it became the Energy Committee in 1977 Dem NM Senator Jeff Bingaman chaired it from 2001-2003 and again from 2007-2013. 

GOP Senator Pete Domenici was chairman of the committee from 2003-2007. 


Five county commissions will send recommendations to the Governor to fill the vacancy left by the resignation of GOP Sen. Stuart Ingle and one of them has now spoken. 

Curry County Manager Lance Pyle says at last night's commission meeting Roswell GOP state Rep. Greg Nibert, an attorney for the oil biz, won their approval; 

Joe, It was a 4 to 1 vote for Nibert.

Who the Governor will select to fill Ingle's shoes is being closely eyed. The Eastside District 27 is heavy on agriculture and oil. Which will prevail?  So far, it's oil but we still need to hear from the county commissions in Roosevelt, Chaves, De Baca and Lea. 

The candidates seeking the recommendation in addition to Rep. Nibert are Elida rancher Pat Boone. Tatum School Board President Travis Glenn and entrperneuer Larry Marker of Roswell.

Rancher Boone is from Roosevelt County, the home county of Ingle, and like him is a rancher. As a Senator he likely would be close to ENMU, a pet concern of Ingle's. Boone might also be easier for the Dem Governor to swallow than Nibert and his close ties to big oil. Stay tuned. 


Everybody likes Bob White, the former ABQ city councilor from the SE Heights and longtime City Attorney for ABQ who has been a political player for decades. Still, eyebrows were raised in January of 2022 when the septuagenarian unretired and was named to a top position at City Hall by Mayor Keller. But White persevered and is now finally ready to give his Bob Dylan record collection more attention:

Associate Chief Administrative Officer Bob White will retire. . .White has been a presence in government in New Mexico for over 40 years as an attorney and public servant, formerly serving as assistant city attorney and city attorney. White was also elected as an Albuquerque City Councilor from 1979 to 1983, where he served as Council President in 1983. “It’s been a pleasure to serve the city in many different roles. I’m grateful to have been here for so many major milestones that have changed Albuquerque and set it on a path toward a great future.

That's quite the run but White will still be around Route 66 (and Highway 61 too.)

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