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Thursday, August 06, 2020

Top State Lawmaker Embarrassed By Technical Snafu; It Could Have Been Worse, Plus: Keller Pushback On US Attorney Criticism Of City Role In Operation Legend 

Rep. Lundstrom (Daily Times)
Beware the perils of remote legislative sessions. There were major snafus when the NM Legislature did most of their business remotely during the recent special session because of the coronavirus. They continue to do so and continue to suffer technical breakdowns that are a red flag if the Legislature must continue this way of business.

At a hearing Tuesday of the House Indian Affairs Committee Gallup area State Rep. Patrica Lundstrom was embarrassed when she was called on to speak remotely before the committee that was discussing Native voting rights. Instead she was caught talking on the phone for over two minutes about a project she was pursuing in her role as director of the Gallup Economic Development Corporation (GEDC). She chatted on unaware that because of technical issues her private conversation was not private at all

The full Lundstrom conversation is here starting at about 11:57.

(After our posting the Legislature edited out the Lundstrom conversation.)

The committee chair repeatedly interrupted as Lundstrom discussed intricate details of the closing of the Escalante Generating Station in McKinley County, anxiously asking, "Representative Lundstrom, can you hear me?" But Lundstorm was oblivious that her call had an audience of the full committee and the public at large on the net.

Fortunately for her, Lundstrom, chair of the powerful House Appropriations Committee, wasn't caught saying anything exceptionally controversial or using  coarse language. But she did get in a dig at McKinley County government that's ruffling feathers. She pointed out that GECDS "doesn't get one dime, not one dime" from the county and she wasn't going to be "pushed around" by the county.

Now imagine the entire 60 day session of the legislative session that starts in January being done remotely? If they can't get a simple committee hearing right, what about dozens of hearings? Then there’s the matter of public participation. Often because of technical issues the public was shut out at the special session.

Legislative leaders are discussing the chance that they will again be forced into a remote session. One suggestion is to have some committee hearings conducted away from the Capitol to accommodate the public, perhaps at large venues like the Convention Center. But Santa Fe first needs to better accommodate the technology that continues to baffle it--just ask Rep. Lundstorm who is thankful she wasn't embarrassed right out of her legislative seat.

By the way, in what she thought was a private call, Lundstorm was discussing the shutdown of the Escalante Generating Station in McKinley County and the loss of hundreds of jobs. She won approval of a bill in the January session that would have the county create an authority to focus on redevelopment. As the call revealed, she is having trouble getting the county government to do that.

KELLER PUSHBACK

Mayor Keller
It's been a good week for US Attorney John Anderson who pushed back against the city's accusations that 35 federal agents dispatched to ABQ by the Trump administration to aid in crime-fighting will be akin to secret police. Mayor Tim Keller took the brunt of his pushback and now a senior staffer for the Mayor does some pushing back of his own:

No surprise the former lawyer for the NMGOP is making this about politics instead of crime fighting. The US Attorney’s overblown 8-page response to our deputy city attorney is 90% bluster. The only part that matters is where he does exactly what we asked him to do: guarantee in writing that Operation Legend won’t be what we saw in Portland.

Our concern isn’t a regional Trump appointee. It’s the President’s own words. Mayor Keller stood up for Albuquerque and against those attacks on people of color, immigrants, and protesters. Keller was elected to reform APD and get back to effective community policing, and he’s not going to be intimidated by the President’s rhetoric.

The controversy over the federal agents is covered extensively on our Tuesday blog.

We also heard from retired US Marshall Conrad Candelaria, a former APD officer. He came to the defense of Bernalillo County Sheriff Manny Gonzales who took heat for approving of the agents coming to town. Disclaimer: One of Candelaria's sons is a BSCO deputy: 

Sheriff Gonzales should be applauded for meeting with President Trump and AG Barr. Gonzales did precisely what any law enforcement executive must do if they consider themselves professional and above politics and that is to readily engage with any potential partner that may facilitate and foster greater cooperation and collaboration in pursuing public safety initiatives. In my former professional roles in local and federal law enforcement, it was common to meet with any elected official regardless of political affiliation because the overarching goal was to bring to the table valuable discussion on crime fighting efforts and initiatives. It was during these engagements that new partnerships were established or existing partnerships expanded and all with the common goal of enhancing the quality of life for the citizens that we swore an oath to protect. 

Thanks for stopping by this week. Reporting from Albuquerque, I'm Joe Monahan. 

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Wednesday, August 05, 2020

On The Trail: Teague Backs Herrell But NM Oil Group Softens Blow; Praises Xochitl, New Lujan TV Draws Attention Of Foe, And: Residency Issue Surfaces For New State Rep  

Southern GOP congressional hopeful Yvette Herrell calls the endorsement of her candidacy by former southern Dem Congressman Harry Teague "huge." Is it?  Well, it could give her a little boost in the Lea County area where Teague, a former county commissioner, is best known. But he served only one term in the US House, winning election in the 08' Obama landslide and getting defeated by Republican Steve Pearce in the Tea Party year of 2010.

While Teague's endorsement touts Herrell's friendliness toward "our important energy industry," it was his vote for a climate change bill that caused him to run afoul of his fellow oil patch owners. Then there was his vote against Obamacare that alienated the liberal Dem base in Las Cruces. He succeeded in making both sides mad in the swing district.

There there is the not so small matter of the NM Oil and Gas Association putting a knife in Herrell's back by coming to the rescue of Torres Small following the Teague endorsement:

The New Mexico Oil & Gas Association, which represents petroleum producers, said the Las Cruces Democrat's record show she understands the role that the oil and gas industry plays in the state. “Throughout her first term in Congress, she has been a strong advocate for our state’s energy interests and responsible production and has stood up to those in her party who want to completely ban fracking,” said Ryan Flynn, the association's executive director.

Herrell's primary opponent Claire Chase once chaired the NMOGA. Whether she had anything to do with raining on Herrell's parade is unknown. Perhaps the association is doing some CYA because they feel XTS is going to win. Maybe it’s some of both. For Herrell it is a near disaster that could hurt her fund-raising.

We received this statement from Chase:

I am supporting Yvette, sent her a campaign contribution, and have encouraged everyone else who has the means to do so.


The endorsement of Teague shows that Herrell is moving a bit to the center. R's fear that Trump is lagging behind Biden in the district and may not have enough mojo to pull Herrell through. (Full Teague endorsement here.)

The DC pundits rate this one "lean Dem."

Another challenger, GOP US Senate candidate Mark Ronchetti, is--like Herrell--still on the sidelines with no TV presence because of financial constraints, but he does take a shot at the latest ad from his Dem opponent Rep. Ben Ray Lujan. In the ad Lujan talks of his support for Medicare but does not mention his support for Medicare for All, a key issue for Dem progressives. Ronchetti's campaign says:

Ben Ray Luján is hiding his far-left D.C. record. . . This is further proof Ben Ray has put politics before the people of New Mexico, and his refusal to mention his support for Medicare-for-All makes it abundantly clear he knows New Mexicans won’t like his radical, D.C agenda.

Unlike Lujan's first two ads this one does not have any optic missteps. It features home movies of Lujan's father, the late and beloved NM House Speaker Ben Lujan, who died of lung cancer. And the Lujan stand-up hits the mark as he is finally at ease and connecting with the viewer.

The DC pundits rate the Senate race "solid Dem."

NORTHERN ALLIGATOR STRIKE

There's an alligator strike on freshly appointed Santa Fe Dem State Rep. Tara Lujan. It comes as the Santa Fe County Democratic Party Central Committee prepares for a crucial meeting to decide who will be their candidate on the November ballot for a full two year term to the District 48 seat.

Lujan, a former aide to Rep. Ben Ray Lujan and currently working in human resources for Dem State Treasurer Tim Eichenberg, was appointed last month by the Santa Fe County Commission on an 4 to 1 vote to fill the seat of former Rep. Linda Trujillo who resigned because of financial considerations. Lujan's term runs only until the end of the year.

As the Central Committee gets ready to name their pick, questions are being raised about Lujan's residency in the district. She says flatly:

I live in my district and am registered in my district.

The Alligator strike has her only recently registering to vote in the Linda Trujillo district--and at her parents house--while she actually lives with her husband in another district--that of retiring State Rep. Jim Trujillo. Her foes say she registered in the Jim Trujillo district with plans to run for his seat but then  the Linda Trujillo vacancy occurred and she made the switch.

The Santa Fe native says that "a couple of months ago" she indeed did move into the longtime home of her parents which is in the Linda Trujillo district and where "she grew up." She is now registered at the home of her parents. She says her husband continues to live in the home in the Rep. Jim Trujillo district. Tara added:

I love living in our multigenerational home. It reminds me of how I grew up surrounded by extended family. Choosing to serve as an unpaid legislator means making changes that I am more than happy to make as I serve my constituents with honesty and integrity.

Lujan was sworn in last week and was required to give up her state job to become a legislator.

Lujan beat out four others for the commission appointment, including heavyweights Tim Garcia, a former Court of Appeals judge, and former County Commissioner Paul Campos who previously ran for the seat.

It will be up to Lujan to put any unease to rest when the Central Committee meets August 15 to make their pick.

By the way, no R's are in the running and none need apply. This district is all D all the time--like since FDR.

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Tuesday, August 04, 2020

A Stunning Takedown Of Keller Administration And Progressives Over Operation Legend And ABQ Crime Epidemic By US Attorney; He Pushes Back Against "Stormtrooper" Moniker And Scores City Over Unspent $10 Million Fed Grant  

US Attorney Anderson
An astounding takedown of ABQ Mayor Keller and the city's progressives by US Attorney John Anderson continues to reverberate. His eight page missive was in response to the city attorney's letter expressing deep worry over an additional 35 agents being sent to ABQ as part of Operation Legend, designed to assist local law enforcement in fighting the violent crime epidemic here.

We've acknowledged that the timing of the operation lends credence to the argument that this was a political stunt from the Trump administration, but the wild overreaction was unjustified.

Anderson, appointed by Trump, pushed back in no uncertain terms against progressives who labeled the operation "stormtroopers" or "gestapo" that would be infiltrating crime-soaked ABQ and robbing people of their civil liberties. And he called out the Keller administration for accusing the Feds of holding up a promised $10 million grant to hire more police.

Anderson's letter to Keller reads like a wake-up call to him, Sen. Heinrich and others in the progressive bubble when it comes to crime and what most of of the population here thinks. Excerpts:

Operation Legend was not conceived or announced in response to the events in Portland. As I informed you in our telephone conversation Operation Legend is not directed at protecting federal monuments, policing assemblies, or enforcing immigration laws. Operation Legend is. . . to identily and remove the most dangerous violent offenders from our communities.

One reason that Albuquerque was selected for Operation Legend is because, according to statistics published by the FBI, Albuquerque's violent crime rate is 3.7, or nearly four times the national violent crime rate. While we have been eagerly awaiting current, year-to-date statistics, I am sure you will agree that the pace oflethal shootings in Albuquerque from 2019 into 2020 is conceming. Of course, in 2019, the City experienced a record high number of homicides. Now in 2020, in one weekend this month alone, APD has opened four separate homicide investigations And a survey of APD officers at the beginning of this year suggested that those surveyed believed Albuquerque's crime problem was "getting worse."

As for the $10 million the city says it has not collected from federal Operation Relentless Pursuit, Anderson wrote:

You  (Keller) are quoted as saying, "We've had a lot of challenges where the federal govemment will work with us, say. 'Yes' to a program and then either the check never comes in the mail, which is the case with we think roughly $10 million with this past operation."

. . .These funds are the same Community Oriented Policing Services (COPS Office) funds that I have been imploring the City to accept for several months. As further enticement to accept these funds, the Department of Justice even waived the standard 25 percent local match that generally accompanies COPS Hiring Program (CHP) funds. So I am confused by statements. . .that clearly suggest to the public that the City has said "Yes" to these funds, but that the Department of Justice has failed to honor its promise to deliver them.

My office. . . sent the City the grants award package. (It) instructed, in bold lettering on the first page, that the City needed to officially accept the awarded funds within 45 days of receipt of the award package. To date, the COPS Office has received no communication from the City. 

Obviously, no federal funds can be sent to Albuquerque unless the City officially accepts the award. In other words, the ball has very much been in the City's court for more than a month. So it is confusing to the public, and certainly unfair to the Department of Justice, for any City official to represent or suggest that the Department has somehow failed to follow through on its promise to get these funds to Albuquerque.

The newspaper reports:

Anderson and city officials had previously told the Journal that the city’s “immigrant-friendly” resolution did not allow it to agree to some of the grant conditions.

So it is city politics holding up the $10 million. 

After being taken to the woodshed, the Mayor had a mild response:

We asked the US Attorney to give us assurances in writing about Operation Legend, and we got them for our city. Specifically, the US attorney has provided a written guarantee that Operation Legend will not be what we saw in Portland. However, we remain concerned about the President’s own words that contradict these assurances, and we will hold the appropriate people accountable if this is not true.

Even the NM branch of the American Civil Liberties Union lost its way and called for the resignation of BernCo Sheriff Manny Gonzales simply because he showed up at the White House when Operation Legend was announced and offered support afterwards. What happened to the ACLU NM sacred pledge to protect free speech? Apparently it's been undone by the racket from their progressive donors who see a stormtrooper behind every tree, but don't seem to see the hundreds of people of color being maimed and murdered here nor the general lawlessness that has come to define their "Burque."

Progressives truly get our education and environmental challenges but too many appear tone deaf or worse when it comes to the crime and violence that has cost so many lives, caused thousands to flee and businesses to shun us as as we become known as a lawless, dusty border town. The US Attorney will be called a Trump political hack and maybe he is but when it comes to crime he has the truth on his side and for many of our progressives that truth hurts.

THE BOTTOM LINES 

In our first draft Monday we identified Cobre High School as being in Deming. The correct location is Bayard.

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Monday, August 03, 2020

Cabinet Fever: Now A VP Longshot, MLG "Expresses Interest" In Health Post, Plus: New Blog Feature: The Howie Watch 

As often happens in New Mexico politics, you heard it here first. Heck, that's our shtick. So no one around here dropped their iPhone when word came Friday that sources "familiar with her thinking" told the NYT that MLG is interested in becoming the cabinet secretary for the Health and Human Services Department--should Biden defeat Trump in November:

For some of the long-shot (vice-presidential) candidates, talk has already turned to other potential roles in a Biden administration: Gov. Michelle Lujan Grisham of New Mexico, for instance, has expressed interest in the job of health and human services secretary, according to officials familiar with her thinking.

One of our Senior Alligators broke that news back on May 6 and provided details. An excerpt:

The real catch for MLG would be Secretary of the Health and Human Services Department. The position is a chance to hold the nation’s most important public health job. Public health is where she started and where she considers herself an expert. There’s a reason that Neera Tanden, former Clinton advisor and head of the liberal think tank Center for American Progress, came to New Mexico to visit MLG twice in 2019. It wasn’t to sample the chile. . . After basking in record oil and gas revenues, the next couple of years will undoubtedly be a slog through an economic nightmare. Similar to her approach to Congress, once MLG figured out she can’t bend the legislature to her will, the fight gets less appealing and it’s on to the next fight.

For MLG, getting out of here doesn’t appear to be a difficult decision. As our Senior Gator noted the state's future prospects are dismal. And there's no questioning her passion for dealing with public health. Bringing that to the entire nation would seem irresistible.

Of course wanting it and getting it are two different things. There’s bound to be heated competition for all cabinet positions and any sore feelings MLG caused when she served in the US House are certain to surface as she vies for a post. Still those who competed for the vice presidency often do end up in the President’s cabinet.

Biden will pick his VP this month and if, as expected, MLG is not the choice, the cabinet speculation will go into a full gallop. Lt. Gov. Howie Morales, 47, will need a cardiologist between now and Election Night as he watches the Biden-Trump duel that could mean everything for the rest of his career.

Whatever happens with MLG and Howie, you will likely hear it here first because, well, that's our shtick.

THE HOWIE WATCH

Lt. Gov. Morales
What better time to start this new blog feature? Here we go. . .

Howie Watch is in effect until the Nov. 3 election or if Biden wins until the end of the year. It's a bit of deja vu, with Howie poised for the #1 slot if MLG departs as happened when Big Bill was Guv. In 2008 he was named Commerce Secretary by Obama and Lt. Gov. Denish was set to take over, until Bill had to withdraw because of a state financial scandal. Now onward with the watch:

“Sami” Morales, a self-described activist for the millennial generation, says both sides of the story need to be told in regard to Lt. Gov. Morales’ request to remove the Chief Wahoo mascot from Howie Morales Stadium, home of the Cobre High Indians baseball team. “I feel like millennials are a generation that is ignored,” Sami said. She is a 2014 graduate of Cobre High School and says she does not agree with Morales. The Lt. Gov. is requesting the high school baseball mascot of Chief Wahoo be removed from the signage at Rominger Field where the stadium bears his name. The cartoon caricature of Chief Wahoo was adopted as a mascot by Cobre High Indians baseball program in the 1960s. Morales coached and headed the Cobre baseball program through the 2000s.

Sounds like the Light Guv's effort to romance the progressive wing of his party fell a bit flat down in Bayard. The difference is it gets noticed. That happens when the fates of La Politica position you for the highest rungs on the ladder.

That's Howie Watch. We now return to our regular programming.

Speaking of programming, the June Nielsen radio ratings for the ABQ metro boosts public radio station and our longtime Election Night home, KANW 89. 1 FM. The ratings measured listeners from 6 a.m. to midnight aged 12 and over. They had the station scoring a 5.3 share to take third place. KANW's NM Spanish music format has been a popular favorite for years. And talker KKOB 96.3 FM is finally returning to the winner's circle. Like KANW, they had some help from a TV ad campaign and finished in the top spot with a 6.2 share. The ABQ metro ranks 69th in size among the nation's 263 markets.

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Thursday, July 30, 2020

On The Econ Beat: NM Budget Fix Set To Get Feds Approval; New Cash Injection Up In Air, Bear Market In Permian Appears To Be Bottoming And Big Budget Increase In Making For NM Labs 

Fears should be subsiding about that unauthorized shift of $750 million in federal coronavirus money to plug the state's budget gap at the recent special legislative session. Congress is stuck on a new relief bill but R's say they do want to provide more flexibility for the previously approved virus funds:

Democrats proposed nearly $1 trillion for the local governments confronting COVID-19 emergency costs and declining revenues during the stay-home shutdowns. Republicans offered no new money, preferring instead to give states flexibility to use an earlier $150 billion allotment as needed.

While the state can breathe easier about that $750 million, the foundering of the Dem proposal to provide direct relief to cash-strapped states and cities for the next budget cycle is worrisome for New Mexico. The state is expected to have more budget shortfalls for the fiscal year starting July 2021 and the federal money would help.

That extra $600 a week some 135,000 unemployed New Mexicans have been getting is ending this week. The Congress remains deadlocked on an extension. A plan to reduce the extra payments to $200 a week is circulating. Either way, the state's economy would take a big hit from the reduced stimulus.

One positive: the bear market in the SE NM Permian Basin appears to be bottoming out. Oil is trading at around $41 a barrel, higher than the state was planning on. However, oil demand is expected to remain below 2019 levels.

Perhaps to the chagrin of small government conservatives, federal dollars are taking an even bigger role in the state economy. Significant budget increases for Sandia and Los Alamos Labs are in the works starting Oct. 1. From Sen. Heinrich's office:

Senator Heinrich supported full funding authorization for the NNSA’s nuclear weapons and security programs. For fiscal year 2021, the bill authorizes $2.6 billion for Sandia National Laboratories, an increase of $330 million over fiscal year 2020. For Los Alamos National Laboratory, the bill authorizes FY21 funding of $3.22 billion, up from $2.3 billion in fiscal year 2020. 

The money still has to be finalized but that is a towering increase of $1.25 billion that would soften the economic blow of the coronavirus, even as questions are raised about that Los Alamos increase.

That potential federal shock absorber comes as the Yelp Economic Average report reveals the devastation being wrought by the pandemic:

The Yelp report found that from March 1 to July 10, at least 381 Albuquerque businesses closed-- 199 of those were permanent closures. And in Santa Fe, 88 business closures, 45 of those also permanent. . .  The Yelp report also found that in the state, there were 687 total business closures, in which at least 355 of those were permanent closures.

The NM Restaurant Association says at least 200 of those permanent closures were of restaurants. They have not released a list.

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Wednesday, July 29, 2020

Call To Cancel ABQ Councilor Fizzles, Plus: More Ben Ray TV To Review  

Pat Davis (Moore Abq Journal)
That "cancel culture" call last month from progressive group ProgressNowNM for ABQ City Council President Pat Davis to resign has fizzled. No other groups joined in the call. In fact, two Dem ABQ legislators who are progressive on many issues--Sen, Mimi Stewart and Rep. Debbie Sariñana, authored an op-ed to defend former cop Davis:

We were saddened to read “Progressive group wants City Councilor Davis to resign” about ProgressNow New Mexico’s unfortunate demand that Albuquerque City Councilor Pat Davis resign. Our legislative districts overlap with City Council District 6, where Councilor Davis has been a key leader and ally to us for years on progressive policies related to gun control, criminal justice and police reform, immigration, cannabis legalization, LGBTQ protections and many other important issues.

ProgressNow wanted Davis to resign over his 2004 shooting of a black man while serving on the DC police force. The call was a misfire for the very group that Davis himself led as executive director at its inception. Now ProgressNow and its new leadership may have to keep an eye on its donor base.

LUJAN TV: TAKE 2

Dem US Senate hopeful Rep. Ben Ray Lujan comes with his second TV ad which focuses on the negative impact the coronavirus has had on restaurant sales and Lujan's support (and that of about every other congressman and senator) of the PPP program that is helping restrauteurs and other businesses stay afloat. 

Lujan and Santa Fe Bite owner John Eckre both appear in the required face coverings throughout the spot. Eckre narrates the ad as the video shows his employees preparing takeout with close-ups of scrumptious looking menu offerings. The script:

Eckre: The restaurant’s been around for about 70 years. We’re struggling to keep the doors open because of coronavirus. We’ve had to adapt. Thanks to Ben Ray Luján, we’re staying afloat. That PPP loan is like a lifeline for our business. So we can focus on getting our team back to work. In times like these, I’m just glad there’s someone like Ben Ray looking out for us. Ben Ray: I’m Ben Ray Luján, and I approve this message.

Eckre does a solid narration, coming across as sincerely grateful and authentic. There are no factual errors in the ad and the script is clear. But at the risk of nitpicking. . .

Eckre, who is a tall drink of water, is seen with Lujan walking through the restaurant side by side towering over the much shorter Lujan. And at the end of the 30 second spot, the director scores a perfect close-up of Lujan smiling as he listens, but instead of ending there, the ad cuts to a less flattering profile shot of Lujan standing at the restaurant counter with Eckre. 

So the ad ends up very good but not excellent. Lujan has a big polling lead and is heavily favored to win, but he is pumping big money into this campaign (already $3.3 million in cash on hand ) and with his TV pro opponent Mark Ronchetti warming up in the wings, excellence should be par for the course.

THE BOTTOM LINES

A possible replacement for Rio Rancho GOP State Rep. Tim Lewis who has withdrawn his candidacy? How about GOP Rio Rancho Mayor Gregg Hull? His name has been circulating. . .

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Tuesday, July 28, 2020

New Race Ratings For Fed Contests Here Tilt To The Dems, Plus: MLG As VP? Probably Not But Guessing Game Goes On 

Let's update the two big congressional races in the state with now less than 100 days before election day and a whole lot closer than that to significant early voting. . .

Is the southern congressional contest starting to tilt toward incumbent Dem US Rep. Xochitl Torres-Small? Although national R's say they will come with millions in PAC money to support GOP challenger Yvette Herrell recent fund-raising reports from the individual campaigns prompted longtime pundit Larry Sabato of the University of Virginia to rerate the race from "toss-up" to "lean Dem." His reasoning:

. . . Herrell (won) a nasty primary over Claire Chase, who some Republicans thought could offer the party a fresh start. . . Torres Small more than tripled Herrell’s campaign spending in 2018; that edge could get even more pronounced in 2020, as Torres Small holds a $3.9 million to $379,000 cash on hand edge over Herrell in recent reporting. This is definitely a GOP-leaning district: Trump won it 50%-40%, with another 8% going to Libertarian Gary Johnson. In all likelihood, Trump will carry the district again, although perhaps with a reduced margin. The race is arguably very close right now -- a Republican internal poll released recently had it tied 46%-46% and probably will be close in the end. But we suspect Torres Small will be able to generate enough crossover support to hang on. 

There has been no public polling on the presidential race in the southern district but insider polling we have seen is worrisome for Herrell. One survey showed Trump beating Biden by only one point--not nearly enough to push Herrell over the top. Of course, the southern Congress race is volatile. Things can change.

And the GOP is also fighting new headwinds in the US Senate race where Dem Rep. Ben Ray Lujan faces Republican and political newcomer Mark Ronchetti. The Cook Political Report's new ranking of that race moves it to the "solid Democratic" corner from "likely Dem." Again, fund-raising is a cause. At last report Lujan had $3.3 million in cash on hand and Ronchetti less than $600,000.

In the only public polling on the statewide presidential race, PPP in mid-June had it Biden 53 and Trump 39. In the Senate race the survey had Lujan leading 48-34.

JOE'S #2

In that race to be Joe Biden's running mate, MLG still earns a mention but not much intensity. The pundits are more prone to think her chances are more realistic for a slot in the Biden cabinet (e.g. Sec. of Health). Still the summer guessing game continues and provides some entertainment before the campaigns pick up. Here's the latest from Politico on MLG and Joe:

WHY BIDEN SHOULD PICK HER

. . . She would bring plenty of political and policy-making experience to the ticket. She was chair of the Congressional Hispanic Caucus in her third and final term in the House, and she has major bona fides on the critical issue of health care from her previous positions in state government.

Like Biden, Lujan Grisham has suddenly lost a spouse: Her husband collapsed on a jog in 2004 and died the next day. And Lujan Grisham has a strong electoral record in a state the Trump campaign has crowed about trying to put in play: She routed her GOP opponent in 2018, then-Rep. Steve Pearce, running up a margin of 57 percent to 43 percent in a high-turnout contest.

WHY HE SHOULDN'T

. . .Despite a recent rollback of reopening measures, New Mexico is still seeing a spike in coronavirus cases. She also came under fire back in May for a remote jewelry purchase that was conducted without unsafe personal contact — but also came before the state began allowing retail curbside delivery. Pearce, her 2018 opponent who now chairs the state GOP, called it “really disgraceful.”

She’s the governor of a small state, and few strategists on both sides buy into the Trump campaign’s bravado about contesting New Mexico’s five electoral votes this fall. That means Biden might rather look elsewhere for a home-state bump. And. . . she lacks the national profile that senators have built. . . 

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Monday, July 27, 2020

Reader Vox Populi: They Debate Trump's Move Into ABQ And Heinrich, Manny And Keller And More  

The temperature is cooling after a firestorm was ignited over Trump's decision to send several dozen federal agents to fight crime in ABQ. Emotions ran high, with warnings that the "secret police" "stormtroopers" and the "Gestapo" were set to swarm into the city to incite violence and cause mayhem. Troubled Portland being the example given.

Our view is that we are not going to be another Portland and that Trump's ABQ deployment--which was not prompted over statue pulling, street protests or damage to federal property as in Portland--is essentially a campaign stunt as he makes a longshot play for the state this November. Also, we point out that ABQ's unrelenting crime wave, unresolved by local officials for years, set us up for further federal intervention--and not without public support.

Our Facebook was scorched with dissent over our being lax in recognizing a clear threat to civil liberties and for trusting anything Trump says or does.

Rather then work independently from APD, the agents will work with it. Contrary to Mayor Keller's initial statement, these aren't secret police. In fact, after the emotional turmoil settled the Mayor and APD chief began to walk back earlier perceptions:

. . . Keller categorized the federal agents as "secret police." KOB-TV asked Keller if he regrets classifying the agents in that manner. "Well it was just two days ago when that's what the president was explicitly talking about," Keller said. "So you know, one day has changed. . . . We're all very concerned about what this is and what it's not. Because the president is saying one thing and I think our local officials are saying another." . . . The federal partnership is not an uncommon practice for the APD. "It's really the original plan from Operation Relentless Pursuit," said Chief Michael Geier. Attorney General Barr said the program was paused due to the pandemic. "It seems to be the same thing. From everybody I talked to in the federal partners they insist it is the same thing and that they're not even here to take it over from us," Geier said. "They're going to work side by side with us."

The Mayor issued a warning letter of sorts Friday to US Attorney John Anderson saying ABQ "does not welcome federal agents hiding their identities or use of unmarked vehicles" and "the City welcomes the continued federal partnerships to carry out those task force operations as they currently operate."

The possibility of an infringement on civil liberties should not be belittled. Heck, in 2016 the ATF came to ABQ and joined with APD in an operation in the SE Heights that seemed to target black residents--and that was under the Obama administration. The latest deployment bears intense scrutiny (as the Mayor is doing) but this is not another Portland. For example, the Border Patrol Tactical Unit wearing camouflage is not coming here as it did in Oregon--and let's keep it that way. Now on to Reader Vox Populi. . .

Mayor Keller
Reader Mitchell Freedman sums up what happened with the heavy handed remarks of Keller and Senator Heinrich, who called for the resignation of Bernalillo County Sheriff Manny Gonzales who was at the White House for the deployment announcement:

 I was very angry at what happened in Portland, I think that is what prompted Henrich and Keller's remarks. I would not have been as critical of their jumping out in front if Trump is saying he wanted to expand what happened in Portland to ABQ. It ended up being something very different, but one has to be cautious with anything Trump does as he gets more desperate and cops get more anxious about their power position in municipal and county governments.

Reader David Ryan writes:

Hi Joe, Being appalled by the militarized law enforcement actions in Portland does not make one a hard left Democrat. Heinrich may have jumped the gun regarding Manny Gonzales. However, one can be suspicious about Gonzales’ participation in a desperate Hail Mary photo op with a clearly unsuccessful president. One can also be suspicious about Gonzales’ refusal to equip his department with body cameras. Based upon Manny Gonzales’ history, Martin was not out of line.

There was no "photo op" with Gonzales and Trump. Gonzales, a likely 2021 ABQ mayoral candidate, made sure of that.

Reader Mark Horst writes

Joe, your idea of "mainstream" is preposterous. You don't have to be a left-wing firebreather to have serious questions about the use of federal agents that we've seen in Portland. And your idea that "the man on the street" thinks bringing in agents without coordinating with local elected officials is good thing--is absurd. I think you're drinking Trump's bleach!

An anonymous reader writes:

Joe, how about that Martin Heinrich. He sure is getting awfully full of himself, isn't he? Sheriff Gonzales may just take a pass on opposing Keller and instead gear up for a run against Heinrich in 2024. I think it is getting more likely all the time that Heinrich will face some primary opponent in 2024. He is full of hubris, and hubris comes before the fall.

Mike Santullo, former communications director for ABQ Mayor Ken Schultz in the 80's, writes:

While some may say it is political I commend him for sending the federal agents. This damn city is totally in the shitter. Crime is at an all-time high, we have a police chief who's not even awake and a mayor who only cares about kissing babies and cutting ribbons while Rome burns. It's about time we concentrated on the high numbers we have for auto theft, burglary and murder. It's about time we sent out a strong message to these criminals that the party is over. I welcome the federal presence into this city. Then and only then will the pretty faces at City Hall get the message loud and clear.  Enough is enough!

ABQ attorney Israel Chavez writes:

Sen. Heinrich
Pouring in more police is not the answer to crime. As a prosecutor, I take the health and safety of our communities very seriously. But that means. . . taking a broader view of crime. We must be focused on rehabilitative solutions for those struggling. . .It’s not just about punishment it’s about what the road ahead looks like. Our collective well-being. Deploying federal agents to agitate in an effort to curry political capital as “tough on crime” will not produce the results we need and arrests often have years-long consequences for those affected. Additionally, I call on each of those prosecutors employed in the US Attorneys office to condemn these actions. The oath we all swear on admission to the bar demands it. If you are silent then it is noted.

Meli Romero writes:

We’ve got people claiming crime is under control and that the people of Albuquerque, who have been living with the fear of crime for years, have more to fear from 35 publicly announced federal agents than from the violence that puts us on the list of most dangerous cities. That seems very political to me. That’s the only way to explain why the party that claims to stand for Hispanic New Mexicans is not out demanding answers over violence that is disproportionately taking the lives of Natives and Chicanos.

Kevin Wenderoth writes:

Joe, perhaps "Gestapo" or "stormtroopers" is hyperbole. But I can't help but disagree with your calling Mayor Keller's comments "out of the mainstream." President Trump's Federal Protective Service are going around Portland wearing battle fatigues (not police uniforms) that don't have any identifying information (names, agency, or otherwise), driving rental vans with no identifying information, and apprehending & questioning people without probable cause. What else can you call them other than secret police?

Thanks, Kevin. Our answer is that we can't call them secret police in ABQ until we see the same conduct here.

Maria Estela de Rios writes:

The dispatching of Federal agents by the President to “assist” in fighting our violent crime problem angered me. Trump’s hypocrisy and self-serving nature coupled with his incompetence and lack of empathy not only threatens to completely collapse our country but also endangers the lives of so many; some now dead. Faced with a possible loss in November, he has ratcheted up the heat under the guise of law and order. What is worse, his move into New Mexico has been aided and abetted by New Mexicans for their political expediency, many who stand under the banner of States’ rights. Make no mistake, I am appalled at the crime stats for Albuquerque and support a multi-pronged approach with additional resources to help solve our crime problem. 

Laura Sanchez writes:

Joe, I think it’s very touching that you trust the Trump administration to send federal officers to help Albuquerque. However I disagree that they are coming to help us. 1. Trump lies about everything.
2. Trump has never shown interest in helping ordinary citizens, only in aggrandizing himself.
3. About the only support he has left is his “base,” which needs regular doses of red meat.  
4. Albuquerque is not facing a specific crisis at this moment, but New Mexico has a Democratic Hispanic woman governor, a Democratic congressional delegation, Democratic mayors of its largest cities, and a minority/majority population--entirely too tempting a target.
5. “Outside forces” have previously tried to clean up APD. How’s that working out for you?

We didn't say that we "trust" Trump but that the deployment decision did not equate to Portland.

Sheriff Gonzales
Dave Marash of KSFR radio comes with some humor on Trump's rollout of the agents and our calling it a "smooth" PR ploy:

The smoothest thing about it was Sheriff Gonzales' silence. But he did apparently find a camera he's not scared shitless of.

Gonzales has been derided for refusing to equip his deputies with lapel cameras. Marash, a former ABC-TV newsman, lives in Santa Fe. You can listen to his regular podcasts here.

John Rey writes:

Joe, just watched Manny’s excuse news conference. Manny you are a sell out. Here in Crime Ridden Alb. U pose with a mask on but in DC you pose sans mask, why? Because your new best friend orange sunshine doesn’t wear one. 

Dan Klein writes:

After Jacquelyn Vigil’s murder here is Tim Keller accepting assistance from President Trump's law enforcement. Heinrich, Lujan Grisham, Haaland, Torrez, Geier, were all on board in 2019. Eight months later Democratic Sheriff Manny Gonzales accepts the same type of assistance and oh, the outrage! The word “hypocrite” doesn’t do justice to these Democrat progressives.

Thanks to all who took time to write and make this yet another worthy edition of Reader Vox Populi!

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Thursday, July 23, 2020

White House Rolls Out Smooth PR Show As It Raises Hackles Over Sending Crime Fighting Agents To ABQ  

Jacqueline Vigil
It was as smooth as it was divisive when President Trump Wednesday rolled out the placement of 35 federal agents to fight crime in ABQ. (Transcript here.)

The highlighting of the tragic murder of Jacqueline Vigil, the mother of two state police officers who was shot to death earlier this year while in her car on her westside driveway, was especially poignant. The crime shocked the city like few others and the FBI establishing a $25,000 reward Wednesday for information leading to an arrest, was a reminder of the appalling state of crime in the metro. Sam Vigil, the widow of Jacqueline, said at the White House event:

It’s been eight months and there have been no arrests at all, There are other victims in Albuquerque that are in the same boat.

Even though he has now become the target of vitriol from the Democratic Party's left wing, the presence of Bernalillo County Sheriff (and possible 2021 ABQ mayoral hopeful) Manny Gonzales at the White House for the unveiling of "Operation Legend" was also a PR coup. Trump spotlighting himself with an Hispanic Democratic sheriff placed him in a different context--and a more favorable one (although Gonzales sought political cover by rebuking rumors that he had invited the federal agents to ABQ).

Then there was the deployment--35 agents from the many agencies under Homeland Security. While the far left may call that "Gestapo" "Stormtroopers" and worse, for the man in the street it seemed a measured response after the recent uproar in Portland where a federal deployment there raised serious questions.

Then there was the statement from the local FBI, cognizant of the Portland mishap, reassuring the public here that the agents would not be involved in immigration laws or protests but concentrating on violent crime, drugs and firearms activity. The civil liberties watchdogs may doubt it--and that's healthy--but it helps dampen concerns about federal overreach.

Then there's those millions of dollars going to Chicago, Kansas City and ABQ to combat crime as part of Operation Legend. That makes it even more palatable, even as the city complained it has yet to receive $10 million promised by the Feds when they stepped up enforcement here late last year.

But for the not so average voter in the left wing of the Democratic Party Wednesday was apoplectic, with Senator Heinrich getting caught up in the frenzy, labeling the agents "stormtroopers" and making an over the top call for the resignation of Sheriff Gonzales that may be backfiring, especially with Hispanics. Other elected Democratic officials called the agents "Gestapo."

Mayor Keller also strayed from the mainstream, repeatedly calling the agents "secret police" even though they were announced on national TV, hardly a hallmark of secrecy. 

In his longshot campaign for New Mexico's electoral votes, Trump has been citing violent crime in his TV ads. While there's no question this decision Wednesday stiffened the resolve of his opposition, it gave his campaign a window into the world of crime-sickened citizens who don't feel the Gestapo is coming but hopefully some relief--as farfetched as that may be, given a similar "surge" by MLG's State Police into ABQ last year. Most of the arrests did not pan out.

Senator Udall, who is retiring, came with reasoned opposition to the deployment:

We must and will be vigilant about the expansion of ‘Operation Legend.' New Mexico leaders. . . should not tolerate the use of federal forces for political purposes. . . and violate constitutional rights. And we certainly do not need presidential attacks on New Mexico that only inflame tensions in an effort to politicize serious issues like improving community safety, achieving racial justice and better supporting those struggling with addiction. . .I am seeking answers about the exact authorities, missions, duration and conditions attached to this operation. . .and will do everything in my power to protect the constitutional rights and freedom of New Mexicans.

Tom must have forgotten the parts about the Gestapo, Stormtroopers and kicking the Sheriff out of town.

Don't forget. ABQ would not be in the unwanted national crime spotlight and subjected to the President's crime fighting whims if we had done our job and made this a safe and healthy city, instead of the poster boy for violence, mayhem and dysfunction. Parts of the governing political class, so out of sorts over what happened Wednesday and seemingly out of touch when it comes to crime, might want to think about that.

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Wednesday, July 22, 2020

The Manny-Martin Face-Off; Senator Claims Sheriff Invites Trump To Send Federal Troops To ABQ; Calls For His Resignation; Gonzales Denies Charge; Calls It "Outlandish", Plus: Defending MLG  

Sen. Heinrich
US Senator Martin Heinrich lowered the boom on fellow Democrat and Bernalillo County Sheriff Manny Gonzales Tuesday, calling for the Sheriff's resignation because, Heinrich claimed, Gonzales has invited President Trump to place federal troops in Albuquerque to fight crime as he has done in Portland and is threatening to do in other cities.

But in a phone interview last night from Washington where Gonzales was preparing for a meeting today with the President and Attorney General Barr, he called Heinrich’s claim "outlandish" and added,  "I have no idea where he got that from."

Heinrich did not cite a source for his assertion. In a statement he said:

. . . Instead of collaborating with the Albuquerque Police Department, the Sheriff is inviting the President’s stormtroopers into Albuquerque. If we can learn anything from Portland, it’s that we don’t need this kind of 'help' from the White House. The President is currently using federal law enforcement agents like a domestic paramilitary force. That’s precisely how fascism begins and none of us should ever encourage or accept it.  I believe that it is time for Sheriff Gonzales to step aside and make room for someone who will make maintaining the peace and promoting the safety and protection of Bernalillo County residents our law enforcement’s top priority.

Gonzales said from DC:

I am having a follow-up meeting on crime in our cities with the President and Attorney General. We have a had a surge in crime across many American cities and we will discuss solutions. This has nothing to do with Portland or troops. We met last year when Operation Relentless Pursuit was established and that is what the meeting is about. Nothing else. This is an opportunity to reach across the aisle in the fight against crime. 

Operation Relentless Pursuit was initiated in seven high crime cities last year, including ABQ, and saw an increase in federal law enforcement and cooperation. 

Gonzales’ White House meeting comes on the heels of a TV ad buy from the Trump campaign in New Mexico that concentrated on the violent crime issue. Trump is making a long shot play for the state in the November election. 

CBS News reported that Albuquerque is one of the cities mentioned for possible federal troop placement in a Department of Homeland Security memo.

Sheriff Gonzales
Gonzales said of Heinrich:

Regrettably, Senator Heinrich couldn’t be more political and out of touch with the local social problems and the great work being done by our deputies and the other first responders.  BCSO continues to combat the Albuquerque crime crisis in partnership with federal agencies. . .Along with our federal partners, we pledge to hold accountable the trigger-pullers, firearm traffickers, violent criminals and those who supply them the guns to terrorize our communities. 

The rhetoric of Heinrich and his fellow Dems, including ABQ Congresswoman Haaland, who also called for Gonzales' resignation, has been red hot as they label troops from Homeland Security “stormtroopers.” That’s a controversial term sure to fire up the left of the Democratic Party but that still leaves part of the field for Gonzales to play in.

And the play he's seriously considering is a run for ABQ mayor against Tim Keller next year. Gonzales appears to be looking at resurrecting the old ABQ coalition that repeatedly elected conservative/moderate Democratic Mayor Marty Chavez. That would be westside Democrats, NE Heights Republicans and some downtown areas. Crime would be the unifying message as it was for Chavez.

But does that coalition still exist? The NE Heights and much of the rest of the city have grown increasingly Blue. Gonzales may have to do better with Democrats than he thinks if Manny wants to be the new Marty.

As for Keller, he did not pile on Manny, leaving that to Heinrich, but he did get this dig in:

There’s no place for Trump’s secret police in our city. If this was more than a stunt, these politicians would support constitutional crime fighting efforts that work for our community, not turning Albuquerque into a federal police state. 

NO FLAT TIRES

MLG Director of Communications Tripp Stelnicki writes to take issue with much of Tuesday's blog (which was posted later than usual and is below). The sentences in italics are from the blog and the bold faced copy is from Stelnicki:

The administration Monday failed to respond to a lawsuit brought by the NM Restaurant Association and others accusing MLG of targeting restaurants in her recent public health order that again closed in-door dining. Carlsbad District Court Judge Raymond Romero approved a temporary restraining order allowing in-door dining for the next 10 days--until the current health order expires. 

I know (MLG General Counsel Matt) Garcia talked to you. We did not fail to respond. The judge knew our response was coming within hours and issued his order anyway. Most courtrooms will give both sides a chance to respond. This one did not and in his order simply invented an arbitrary deadline he said had passed. Folks looking for an angle can run​ with the "missed deadline" BS but that doesn't make it true.

It was MLG's first legal defeat since the onset of the virus. True, hours later the Dem majority NM Supreme Court issued a stay of the lower court ruling, forcing the dining rooms to stay closed, but the public legal maneuvering jarred thousands whose jobs are at stake and confused the public. 

Whose fault is that? Why would you blame the governor for a bad ruling by a judge causing chaos for business-owners and employees? If he'd waited for our brief that he knew was coming he would've saved a lot of people a lot of whiplash. Alas.

The PR mess over the dining room closures comes on the heels of an investigative TV report that had MLG’s Deputy Chief of Staff trying to explain--with difficulty--how he had signed off on an apparently bogus $8 million state contract for PPE. And then there was the news about MLG's pandemic jewelry buying that have a sticktoitiveness to them. 

(KRQE-TV) is fair but did not include the fact that the state did not pay for anything that was defective. That would've derailed the "state was bamboozled" thrust of his story but it's true nonetheless. We detected potential fraud and acted quickly on the taxpayers' behalf -- and acted as quickly to buy necessary supplies to keep New Mexican front-line health care workers and more safe and alive.

Part of this is due to the Governor's singular focus on the pandemic with little emphasis on the economic disaster that many in the state face. Witness the inactivity of her Economic Recovery Council. 

So marshaling support for the hundreds of millions in business and local government relief in the special session is "little emphasis"?  How about the $1 billion in pandemic assistance unemployment the state has provided to New Mexicans? Take a look at other states where the lines to talk to anyone about unemployment stretch for miles. We're one of the few that has executed all of the unemployment programs and dollars available to us. That's "inactivity"? 

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