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Wednesday, January 26, 2022

SS Tax Repeal Takes Committee Hit In Early Going; Panel Rejects Income Tax Break For Seniors But Gives One To Retired Vets; Fair Play? Also: GOP Redistricting Suit Gets Prominent Dem Backer And Rep. Stansbury Catches Covid 

Rep. Alcon
It's a setback but not an outright defeat of that nationally-watched legislation to repeal the state's tax on Social Security. That's the word from Roundhouse watchers who saw the repeal stall out in the House labor and veterans' committee on a 4 to 4 tie vote Tuesday. 

The tax break is politically popular, so much so that it was one of the few bills MLG made mention of in her State-of-the-State speech. The problem? That was summed up by Grants area rep and committee chairman Eliseo Alcon, one of four Dems who voted against the bill as three R's and Dem Rep. Migel Garcia voted in favor, He declared:

All we’re doing is helping those that have money.

He's kinda right. New Mexicans with incomes of less than $25,000 don't pay any personal income taxes (about $28K for single seniors). And if there is no income cap included in the bill it would be an unnecessary tax break for wealthy seniors who don't need it and exacerbate the income inequality Rep. Alcon worries about. 

Alcon says the state would be better off giving tax rebates with the $118 million the SS repeal would cost. The retort he's hearing is why can't the state do both as it frolics in a surplus of $1.6 billion that is likely to go even higher as oil prices have jumped to over $80 a barrel. 

Senate Majority Leader Peter Wirth has said he would like rebates for lower income taxpayers. The time has come to show the money and the critical income range for those who would get the cash. And to make a difference that means well above $25k a year incomes.

Meanwhile, one of our Roundhouse Gators points out the best way to revive the stalled SS cut:

Joe, this bill was not going to be the major one--not with four Republicans sponsoring it including Republican Governor candidate Rebecca Dow. The bill still in play is sponsored by (ABQ Dem) Sen. Michael Padilla and specifically mentioned by MLG. Keep an eye on that. And if the Governor and Speaker Egolf want this cut they need to send the bill to the House Commerce Committee--not back to the labor committee graveyard. 

Got it. So as with Sen. Wirth and the rebates, it's time for Sen. Padilla to show his stuff. 

SPOTTING INEQUALITY

While the labor panel was reluctant to give seniors a tax break that was not the case with retired veterans as they passed a proposal that would exempt up to $30,000 of their military retirement pay from the state income tax. 

Why are they getting better treatment than many of those Social Security recipients who have worked a lifetime in jobs that don't come with cushy retirement plans like the military? 

Uh, Rep. Alcon, we just spotted that income inequality you are fretting over. (You're welcome.)

JENNINGS JOINS SUIT

Tim Jennings
It's not only Republicans challenging the legislature's congressional redistricting maps in the lawsuit filed by the state GOP. Former longtime Dem state Senator Tim Jennings of Roswell has added his name to the suit, saying placing a piece of Roswell in each of the state's three congressional districts is wrong. 

Jennings, who once served as senate president pro tem and was defeated for re-election in 2012 after 34 years in the senate, is running for mayor of Rowell against Republican Mayor Dennis Kintigh in the March city election. 

Jennings' friends are concerned that being a Democrat--even a conservative one like Tim--could spell his doom in uber-Republican Roswell. Consultants for Jennings feel that notion has yet to take hold and that being part of the redistricting lawsuit could remind R's that Jennings can work with both sides of the aisle--as long as they are conservative sides. 

CONGRESSWOMAN GETS COVID

Rep. Stansbury
ABQ US Rep. Melanie Stansbury announced on Facebook last night that she has been stricken with Covid. She described the illness as a breakthrough case and said she was advised to quarantine from home after having "respiratory symptoms."

Thankfully, I am vaxxed and boosted and able to quarantine from home. Deeply grateful to our health care workers working on the front lines every day. Please stay safe, get vaccinated, and take care out there!

The US House is in a "district work period" this week and not meeting in DC. Stansbury had been scheduled to attend a news conference Thursday morning with ABQ Mayor Keller and others to announce infrastructure improvements to the ABQ Sunport. 

Stansbury is the youngest member of the state's five member congressional delegation, turning 43 on January 31. She won her seat in a June '21 special election to fill the vacancy left by Deb Haaland when Haaland was named Sec. of Interior. She faces her first election this November. No Democrat has announced a primary challenge. At least two Republicans have announced they are seeking their party's nomination. 

Stansbury, a NM native, has been relishing some good press this month as the WaPo headlined a piece: 

This super-freshman is making a mark on climate policy in the House. 

Stansbury's ABQ district became more rural under the legislature's redistricting and now swings into some southern rural areas but pundits still rate it as safe Democratic. 

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Tuesday, January 25, 2022

MLG Teaching Gig Grabs Notice, Ranking The '22 GOP Guv Candidates, Repealing The SS Tax Without Another Tax And Look Who's Back In La Politica  

One of the Alligators comes with this--we think with tongue in cheek--about MLG becoming a substitute elementary school teacher to help out with the teacher shortage: 

Is she going to teach critical race theory? She has to be careful how she plays this... 

CRT has raised its controversial head in multicultural New Mexico but its legs as a campaign issue are probably confined to rousing the GOP base. Still, swing voters could be susceptible and we assume the R's will monitor MLG's classroom for any mishaps that can be turned into campaign fodder. 

Maybe she should teach math. Is that safe? Hope so. Imagine "teacher" Steve Pearce paddling her posterior for getting out of line. (Or maybe don't imagine that.) 

The NMGOP derided the Guv's decision to become a sub, calling it "a publicity stunt." Indeed it is but unfortunately for them, it's working. 

In fact MLG has shed her old skin from 2021 since the calendar turned to the election year. The change in energy is palpable and gratifying to Dems who fear some kind of reincarnation of Susana Martinez if the R's were to take the helm. 

MLG will take some hits at the legislative session, as we pointed out Monday in discussing her crime bill but teacher pay raises and some tax cuts look headed for the winner's circle. 

Also, the session is not set up for any disasters that would rip the Guv race wide open. 

That race will go back and forth all year from lean Democratic to likely Democratic. This month it's in the likely column as the Governor displays the power of the incumbency and the R's start to understand that the Dem machine is getting re-oiled. 

GOP RACE

Our rankings of the GOP race for the '22 gubernatorial nomination are based on experienced players from all sides of the spectrum. So far they have it this way for the June 7 primary:

Mark Ronchetti leads, Rebecca Dow is second, Greg Zanetti is third and Jay Block is fourth. 

SS REPEAL

Can Santa Fe give the state a clean bill when it comes to repealing the tax on Social Security or will it be a break for seniors at the expense of other taxpayers? That's the central question now that the Guv has given the measure a push by urging passage but leaving the door open for the Legislature to do an offsetting tax and/or exempt higher income seniors from the repeal. 

The argument is that rich seniors don't need the extra couple hundred bucks or so and in this era of income inequality having an income cap for the repeal makes sense. 

That's much better than the proposal to charge Joe Sixpack more for his pack of cigs to make the older folks more comfy. Besides, tax increases of any kind given the humongous surpluses at the Roundhouse seem bizarre.

In addition, how could MLG claim she cut taxes by backing a SS repeal that raises other taxes? A bill with an income cap and nothing else would solve that potential problem.

LOOK WHO'S BACK

Eric Griego Montoya
Eric Griego is on again, off again when it comes to La Politica but he is a nearly 25 year fixture. The former ABQ city councilor and state senator is back with a new job as director of outreach and advocacy for ABQ Mayor Keller. For those who think this post sounds a bit political, well, that could be a hard argument to lose. Says Griego:

I’m going to try to engage as much as possible with people who are most affected by some of the priorities and policies we have before the city.

Griego is also a veteran of progressive politics and organizing. He was a key player in defeating several conservative Dem state senators in the June 2020 primary. That experience is handy for Keller who is looking to the future after getting re-elected to a second term last year. But given the unpopularity of ABQ leaders outside of the city that future could simply be another run for mayor.

And we keep calling him Eric Griego but it's more than that now. We did a double take when we saw a city notice with his photo and the caption "Eric Griego Montoya." Must be a typo, we thought, but he explained:

I added my mom's maiden name. She died 20 years ago this month. Also, there are no male Montoya kids or grandkids. I don't want the name to die with this generation. That's all.

That's the latest, kids. Thanks for tuning in.

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Monday, January 24, 2022

On The Crime Beat: MLG's Centerpiece Legislation Heads For Defeat; LFC Blisters Proposal; Mayor Keller, DA Torrez To Share The Hit, Plus: Former NM US Marshal Weighs In On City Crime Wave 

The centerpiece of the Governor's crime package--strenuously supported by ABQ Mayor Tim Keller and BernCo District Attorney Raul Torrez--appears to be dying an early death at the '22 legislative session.

In a blistering memo to lawmakers the Legislative Finance Committee (LFC) dismissed as ineffective the controversial "rebuttable presumption" proposal. If that wasn't the death knell, it surely placed the legislation in the ER. 

The measure would make many of those charged with a violent crime show why they should not be held in jail until trial, instead of having prosecutors make the case to a judge. The LFC said pre-trial release of violent criminals isn't the problem but the lack of arrests, prosecutions and convictions is largely to blame for the ABQ crime crisis.

For MLG it's looking like a repeat of "touch it and you get burned." In 2019 she sent state police into ABQ to fight crime. The end result was several weeks of intervention that resulted in very few violent crime arrests but a bunch for misdemeanors. Now comes this collapse of a legislative attempt to help ABQ and boost her crime fighting credentials in an election year. No wonder Governors usually leave the governing of ABQ to ABQ.

But growing anxiety over ABQ's ongoing crime has Democrats running for cover, with state representatives from possible swing districts--ABQ Reps. Marian Matthews and Meredith Dixon--signed up as sponsors of the pre-trial bill, one of the Guv's four bill crime package

Meanwhile, DA Torrez faces a stiff June primary challenge from State Auditor Brian Colón for the Democratic nomination for attorney general. Torrez hit the ceiling over the LFC memo saying the panel had the data all wrong. That's the opposite conclusion from a UNM study and other data sets compiled by the LFC which is the gatekeeper for such information.

 Keller
Keller has been flummoxed by crime since taking office in 2017. The expected defeat of the rebuttable presumption plan is another in a long line of misfires in his frustrating struggle to make ABQ safer. This time it comes as he embarks on the traditionally cursed second mayoral term. 

The proposal was troubling from the beginning on constitutional grounds. Now with the powerful LFC siding with Senate Judiciary Committee Chairman Joe Cervantes in rejecting the measure as essentially meaningless, it's demise seems sealed. 

CART BEFORE HORSE

Not that the Fourth Floor and their ABQ compadres didn't see this train wreck coming. They didn't have the votes for the pre-trial change going into the session but bet that they could drum up public pressure to turn lawmakers their way. That was a classic case of putting the cart before the horse. 

Besides misreading the statewide appetite for such an important change to criminal procedures, residents of the big city itself don't seem motivated to clamor for the switch. After four years of escalating crime the public is cynical, skeptical and numbed by the violence. What they want is more in line with the LFC: more officers arresting more people with more convictions and jail time. 

MLG's package does propose $100 million for more training and recruitment of police officers which appears to have solid support because it is proven to work. And she is supporting behavioral health improvements which have strong public support as long term solutions. 

WHAT TO DO?

Candelaria
In a recent conversation with former NM US Marshal Conrad Candelaria, who is also a former APD officer and has a son on the current force, he pointed out that the crime predicament is centered on widespread drug dealing and addiction. He urged local officials to put the heat on the Feds to do more intervention, specifically the Drug Enforcement Agency and Department of Homeland Security, saying the cultures of those agencies don't get in full gear without prodding.

He also believes APD could better deploy their understaffed department more effectively by concentrating even more on high crime areas. 

Finally, he said the anarchy on the city's freeways and roadways sets the tone for the anything goes mentality. He advocates more traffic law enforcement. Candelaria, who now lives in Kansas, says the ABQ freeway experience is "unbelievable."

He also says he is stunned by the growth of the homeless population in ABQ which is more noticeable when you have been away for a while. But that's another story. 

OTHER WAYS?

There is a way for the Governor and her allies to achieve their goal of stopping repeat offenders, says APD watcher and retired Sergeant Dan Klein:

Currently it is on the government to prove that the defendant is a threat to the community or a flight risk. The Governor's bill wants to change that to where the defendant has to prove they are not a threat or flight risk. This goes counter to the basic tenant of American legal standards, innocent until proven guilty. A better way to attack this issue is to amend the Arnold Public Safety Assessment Tool and give more weight to the severity of the crime and the defendant's past history of failing to appear. 

If the Governor's bill were to pass with current language I believe it would be challenged and overturned once the courts get involved. That would be a huge waste of time. Amend the Arnold tool and give the judges firm instructions.

ABQ City Councilor Dan Lewis is urging the city to renegotiate the terms of the US Justice Department's oversight of APD which incudes a Federal monitor who has been on the job since 2014. 

New Justice rules call for a court review of such monitors after five years but ABQ and other cities already under court ordered agreements don't fall under the new rules. Mayor Keller agrees with Lewis that the monitor's job is long completed. Since this is a federal deal how about US Senators Heinrich and Ben Ray Lujan helping ABQ get out from under the thumb of the DOJ? 

Even those most critical of APD's past practices seem to agree that after 8 years the monitoring is no longer necessary and may be inhibiting legitimate law enforcement and discouraging police recruitment. 

REDISTRICTING CHALLENGE

Vasquez
That NMGOP lawsuit asking the court to overturn the legislature's congressional redistricting plan is falling flat with knowledgeable political insiders. They see very little chance of the new maps being rejected.

Meanwhile, former Las Cruces City Councilor Gabe Vasquez remains the only Democratic candidate for the southern congressional seat held by Rep. Yvette Herrell. With the February 1 filing deadline fast approaching, it appears it is going to stay that way. 

Vasquez's politics have been called too progressive as the Dems try to recapture that seat. Other names have been floated as possibles but none have taken the bait. After filing day, the next development to watch will be the fund-raising totals of Vasquez and Herrell. 

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Thursday, January 20, 2022

Reader Vox Populi: They Write Of MLG And Masks And The Election To Come, A Possible Break Getting More Broadband And PNM And Avangrid, Plus: Speaker Defends Crime Bills 

As the legislative session winds down for the weekend, it's a good time for another edition of the always popular Reader Vox populi. Here we go. . .  

Masks remain a hot button issue as the state undergoes yet another Covid surge. We were reminded of that when we blogged Wednesday that by going maskless at her State of the State speech MLG "eased" some of the negativity surrounding her over the pandemic. On Twitter, MomK Ultra responded: 

So she can unmask but not one of the schoolchildren in this state can indoors? Some not even outside? I've actually never been more upset about these Covid policies than I am today. Nothing has eased. 

She was joined by Atomic Mom: 

Um, no. It has not (eased.) People are as frustrated as ever with her disastrous Covid rules. Where did you even come up with that? 

We came up with that from the angle that without her mask, the symbol many of her opponents connect with her, may have been "eased" for the moment and the speech had a better chance of getting her message through. We could be wrong. 

It does appear MLG and company agree that a lower Covid profile is the way to go. Take a a look

Wednesday’s (Covid) news conference is expected to follow a new format as announced by NMDOH. The department says it is now planning for shorter briefs to take place across 30 minutes every week. The briefings are expected to be comprised of a brief introduction and sharing of any pertinent new COVID-19 related messaging at the beginning of each meeting.

The message? Learn to live with it (and get your shots.)

PULLING BACK

That pullback from lengthy briefings comes as state Covid cases are higher than ever. This reader believes even if Covid fades the political consequences for the Guv will not:

Interesting how in 2020 Dems attacked Trump for mishandling COVID (or not taking COVID seriously, or  both) because they believed it helped them politically. But now, with the 2022 midterm elections looming, and the public increasingly worn-out with lockdowns, restrictions, school closures and increased skepticism of government dictates - and with Biden's approval ratings in freefall - Dems seem to have made the political decision that they need to ease up on voters and COVID. 

Politics is the only reason MLG made the State of the State address without wearing a mask. Not science. Politics. But not smart politics. The Left will feel betrayed as Dems ditch the mask. But the Right (and an overwhelming majority of Independent voters) won't forget the severity of the lockdown restrictions. They'll feel vindicated and even more determined to strike back in November. 

It's worth noting the Guv's handling of the pandemic among Democrats remains solid. But some progressive Dems are not thrilled with other polices. One writes:

She sounded like a Republican. The party refuses to push her to the left. It will discourage progressives from voting. 

BROADBAND BREAK 

Reader Marcus Martin in ABQ's East Mountains comes with news that could have statewide ramifications in expanding broadband availability:

Joe, Starlink has finally made it to the East Mountains starting last week. There is much rejoicing (along with everyone in the neighborhood trying to find spots with a clear view of the sky). That means Elon Musk has done a lot more for us out here than any politician and their "commissions to study internet access."

That satellite rollout is being closely monitored by policy makers. Will it be the ultimate solution for many of New Mexico's isolated areas, instead of expensive and complex wiring on the ground? Also, it would be more economical to subsidize satellite broadband bills for low income rural residents. Musk's moves continue to cast intrigue. 

Check out this report for the Legislature from Pivotal NM, a nonprofit consulting group, for a comprehensive analysis of broadband needs and solutions for the state.

PNM DIG

Reader Alan Schwartz gets a dig in on PNM's decision regarding it's proposed merger:

Joe, a recent headline says: "PNM extends "merger" agreement with Avangrid until April 2023." 

And my reminder: The Elected PRC will be dissolved 12/31/2022. 

The new PRC commissioners will be appointed by the Governor, not elected by the pesky public. They could again take up the merger after its rejection by the PRC. 

PNM is appealing to the NM Supreme Court the PRC decision denying the company's merger with Spanish corporation Avangrid. 

STATEWIDE CRISIS?

The argument over the Guv's crime bills at the Roundhouse is whether the crime crisis is statewide or mainly an ABQ problem that needs a local fix but not a change in statewide laws. House Speaker Brian Egolf tries some pushback:

It is a crisis of public safety in ABQ but it is not just there. In terms of per capita, the First Judicial District, which is Santa Fe, Rio Arriba, and Los Alamos counties has more violent cirme than ABQ. It  just that they are a smaller population and you don't see it as much. So it is statewide so this notion that it is an ABQ problem, I think, is a false notion and the solutions that work in ABQ will be some that are more focused on the large city. Some solutions that are focused on smaller towns and rural New Mexico but we can do it all. 

Egolf took a slice of the North to make his point but Senate Judiciary Committee Chairman Cervantes notes the south does not have ABQ-like crime violence. We're in for a robust debate.

THE BOTTOM LINES

It was a busy week in La Politica and we gave it a going over with Santa Fe radio host Richard Eeds on the KTRC airwaves

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Wednesday, January 19, 2022

MLG Gets A Reset; Sheds The Mask For State Of The State And Sheds Some Political Baggage, Too, Plus: You Are There; Our Opening Day Photo Special  

New Mexico's Governor had a new look at her first major speech of the election year--she wasn't wearing a mask nor was one dangling below her chin.

That symbol of our collective vulnerability that has become as central to MLG's wardrobe as her southwestern jewelry was shed for the annual State of the State speech. It made a difference. 

(Transcript here. Video here. AP coverage here. Journal coverage here. New Mexican coverage here.)

Appearing maskless, the negativity associated with her such as bankruptcies, death tallies, school closings and more, eased. 

And her disappearance in recent months from regular, live Covid updates and splashy media appearances made the midday speech--if not highly anticipated--at least somewhat novel. 

Badly in need of a reset as Covid stages a deadly resurgence, ABQ sets a homicide record and Biden's approval ratings plunge and hers remain mediocre, MLG's 25 minute speech delivered the political goods.

The conventional wisdom went along these lines as pulled from our mailbag:

This was one of her better State of the State speeches. There were no dumb jokes or asides. It had less swagger and more maturity. She took the event seriously and the talk was well-written. It turns out that taking her out of the usual setting of the state House chamber and speaking remotely from her office helped her focus and deliver. She did a good job of explaining her proposals and putting them in perspective. There might be holes in the details but any layperson would miss those. 

That she also may be wiggling free from the Covid trap was evident when one of the GOP Guv contenders put up a critical review of the speech that pointedly had MLG sporting one of her brightest masks--the R's way of trying to have her tied in political knots. 

The R's haven't lost their touch when it comes to slash and burn. The GOP Guv Association in DC came with speech reaction, declaring it would be her last such speech to the state and:

Michelle Lujan Grisham's tough talk on crime and turning around public schools are just empty promises from a scandal-plagued governor desperate to appeal to voters in an election year.

The Governor's reference to Covid was not cursory but brief, signaling her desire to move the political conversation ahead. After referencing the "pandemic that has wreaked havoc on the lives of every family," she was off to the races urging the Legislature to "think big:"

A timid mindset has afflicted people in this capitol building, a pessimism that can be self-fulfilling. Thinking small is a curse. Big and meaningful changes are possible, but the biggest change may be our attitude, our perspective. At a moment in time when we have the money to do it all, let’s not limit ourselves; let’s not be unnecessarily incremental.

That accurately sums up several generations of lawmaking that have been unable to free the state from the cellar in the major quality of life rankings. 

But her call for legislators not to be "unnecessarily incremental" could be said of her own policy pronouncements for the session--that what the Governor called "unimaginable financial resources" are not being deployed in a sweeping and innovative way that will eventually pry us loose from the cellar. 

Still, her mild rebuke of the institutional status quo sent the vibe that the state as a whole is finally rounding the intellectual curve and into new terrain that rebuts the notion that "this is the way it's always been and the way it always will be." 

In that context the policies outlined in the speech are small steps on the beginning of a long journey, certainly not an end game. 

Nevertheless, a Governor who has been appearing somewhat disheveled and out of sorts re-established her leadership credentials on the opening day of the '22 session. If perception is reality, she did herself a world of good by sealing cracks of weakness her opposition is counting on exploiting while giving voters what they must have--a smidgen of hope.

TAKING A SWIPE 

MLG's speech adhered to the high road but there was one swipe aimed at the lawmaker who is front and center this session.

Senate Judiciary Committee Chairman Joseph Cervantes is publicly frowning on the Guv's crime package, saying it reminds him of the punitive (and ineffective) proposals he would hear from GOP Gov. Martinez. Cervantes could kill MLG's bills and that got her attention in the State of the State:

We have got to get crime under control. I don’t accept the argument that this is an issue in only one part of our state. I don’t accept that any decision-maker in this building would say that somehow this isn’t their problem. We all have a role to play in keeping New Mexico safe. 

Cervantes ran for the Dem Guv nomination against MLG in 2018 and has been at the Roundhouse for 20 years. You can fill in the blanks. 

SCOTTISH LAND GRANTS?

Colón and Egolf
Even as the pandemic kept in check the pomp and circumstance and the senate continued its meltdown, it was still an opening day and was filled with the traditional bipartisan cheer and backslapping. It's a scene best told in pictures:

Here's a keeper. It features "The most photographed man in New Mexico," also known as State Auditor Brian Colón, and House Speaker Brian Egolf. 

The speaker is showing off his kilt in homage to his Scottish heritage and Colón, well, he's just showing up, this time as a Dem candidate for the nomination for attorney general. 

Colón's rival for the Dem nod, BernCo District Attorney Raul Torrez, is counting on Egolf to help shepherd the Guv's anti-crime measures and then go on to score victory over Colón. 

As for the speaker, just one question: Are there any Scottish land grants in New Mexico?

RICH HISTORY 

Lopez & Pinto
Do you think this pic reflects our state's rich history just a bit? 

Posing for the opening day cameras are ABQ Dem state Senator Linda Lopez and fellow Dem Senator Shannon Pinto of McKinley and San Juan Counties. 

Linda was roughed up some at the Sunday caucus of Dem senators when she tried and failed to push through a vote of no confidence in Senate President Pro Tem Mimi Stewart, but she seems to be taking it in stride. Maybe that's because so many Native Americans have come to her side for fighting against a senate redistricting plan they believed would dilute their voting strength and that Lopez was instrumental in defeating. 

As for Senator Pinto, in 2018 she filled the Indian Country seat her legendary grandfather, code talker and Senator John Pinto, held for so many years. He became famous for his singing of the Navajo Potato Song at the conclusion of each legislative session. Maybe Shannon will take up that tradition--once we all get our masks off. 

FRSHLY MINTED

Here's a good looking, freshly minted political family led by the newest member of the state House--Brian Baca of Valencia County. 

The Republican lawmaker was appointed to his seat this month by the Valencia county commission to succeed former GOP State Rep. Alonzo Baldonado who resigned. 

Baca is the deputy superintendent of Los Lunas Schools. 

Everyone is all smiles (beneath the masks of course) and, of course, Rep. Baca's smile may not be as noticeable when he soon confronts the overwhelming Dem majority in the House. But he can take solace in the fact that when he seeks election to the seat in November he should be a shoo-in. His district is crimson red.

THE BOTTOM LINE PIC

And yer little 'ol blog is always glad to be a part of the opening day information flow for folks across the state and at the Roundhouse. 

Here's a pic of a solon  browsing our Tuesday offering. No virus is going to keep our Alligators away from the action. 

Let's see what the 112 elected ones come up with as they get down to business. Like the pic says, we'll be looking over their shoulders--on your behalf.

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Tuesday, January 18, 2022

Roundhouse 2022: The "Bits And Pieces" Session; Sweeping Ideas Give Way To Election Year Reality As Lawmakers Begin 30 Day Confab, Plus: Losing Middle Class Voters Worries Dems, Crime Bills Already Struggling For Breath And The Lopez "Coup D'Nada" At Senate Dem Meet 

The engines of the progressive plane have sputtered, forcing a landing and setting the state up for a "bits and pieces" 30 day legislative session that will attempt to chip away at obvious deficiencies, even though financially the opportunity for game-changing plans are finally within reach. 

But the election beckons and the political opportunity has passed. Conservatives are on the ascent nationally and the Democratic Governor and legislative leaders are determined to conduct a pragmatic, low-key, risk-off session. 

A Senior Alligator of long standing (a darn good source for those new here) comments:

First and foremost this is about re-election. There’s enough in the governor's agenda to satisfy the Democratic base but probably not enough to please independents or build a bridge to Republicans. The crime proposals and things like new facilities for the T or C veteran's home are important to insulate her from attacks and will make for good media ads. She probably could use more around healthcare and rebuilding the system after COVID. But overall it’s miscellaneous bits and pieces. There is no overriding theme that you might expect in a soon-to-be post Covid era that has harshly exposed the fault lines in the state's physical and human capital infrastructure. 

Not that this is startlingly new. The administration has been all about centrism and small steps since taking office in 2019. That calculation will be evident when the next round of rankings are posted and reveal the state has either worsened or stagnated in education, incomes, child well-being, crime and addiction. 

There's no magic wand for all of that and no administration shoulders the entire blame but if the wand isn't waved, you get no magic. 

THE RISK

Top Dems say their risk lies with increasingly disgruntled middle class voters who have been hammered by the pandemic and turned off by the progressive agenda emphasizing, among other things, climate change and being "woke." Biden's numbers show many of them abandoning ship and the Guv's somewhat anemic numbers reveal the same. 

Senate Majority Leader Peter Wirth, sensing the changing tide, pledges tax rebates for low income households and those whose working lives have been impacted by Covid. The amount of those rebates will send a message to those voters. If they are akin to MLG's symbolic proposal of a one eighth of a cent cut in the gross receipts tax, they could border on pointless--except to the TV consultants.

BILLS BLOWING UP 

Cervantes and MLG
Watching the Governor's hydrogen energy and crime plans blow up even before the session begins has been out of the ordinary but seemingly of little concern to a Fourth Floor that appears content with election year positioning but not overly concerned with winning. 

Thus you get Senate Judiciary Committee Chairman Joseph Cervantes publicly executing MLG's chief crime proposals. The Las Cruces trial lawyer swatted them away with a statement that had the anti-ABQ throngs roaring approval:
 
 “It’s a problem that Albuquerque has largely created for itself,” Cervantes said, pointing out violent crime rates in some parts of southern New Mexico are much lower than in New Mexico’s largest city. “It’s not really about changing state law.” 

The crime administrations here--Mayor Keller and BernCo District Attorney Raul Torrez may have both been re-elected--but that doesn't mean their crime-fighting efforts have won the confidence of the state. They haven't. 

In 2018 Torrez's office (with the help of local media) publicly harangued the legislature to get a budget boost of over $4 million, saying it would result in crime reduction. It did not. 

In 2018 ABQ raised the gross receipts tax three eighths of a cent or over $50 million a year for mostly public safety and and that didn't do the trick, either. 

Cervantes is only pointing out the obvious--progressives have lost the fight against crime in ABQ and he isn't there to give them cover.

PROGRESSIVE FOLLY

Other blindspots include the Guv's highly touted hydrogen hub plan, already pronounced dead by the hard to please enviros. But "hydrogen hub" is another of those made for TV (and maybe campaign contributions) plays. 

Then there's the progressive folly of floating a $50 million bond issue that would raise state property taxes in the name of "conservation projects." Raising taxes on humble abodes in the middle of epic surpluses? Only an Ivy League graduate living in a $2 million Santa Fe hacienda with a three Volvo garage could dream that up. 

That, too, has (thankfully) been placed in an early grave by House Appropriations Committee Chair Patricia Lundstrom. 

Much of the state's giant surplus will be gobbled up by pay raises for teachers (over $400 million), more cops and better paid ($100 million) and pay hikes for state employees ($55 million.) That will finally end the parsimony of the previous Martinez administration when it comes to public employees.

The '22 session is set up for small successes and small losses. Anything else will be what we call "news."

COUP D' NADA

Sens. Stewart and Lopez
ABQ Dem Senator Linda Lopez has already become the first loser of the 2022 session. Her attempted coup Sunday of Senate President Pro Tem Mimi Stewart crashed and burned on the runway, or as one Roundhouse Wall-Leaner put it: 

Joe, it wasn't a coup d'état. it was a Coup d' nada."

(We broke the news Jan. 6 of Lopez's ambition to become pro tem).

The Sunday afternoon coup attempt came in the form of a no confidence resolution floated at the closed door meeting of Senate Dem Caucus by Lopez. She is upset with Stewart for advocating a redistricting plan that would have spared two senate Republicans from being placed in the same district and that would have diluted Native American voting strength. That plan ultimately failed.

Lopez was also encouraged in her coup effort by Stewart siding last year with a high-level legislative staffer who mocked Native Americans. She perhaps also saw fertile ground for a movida when House Speaker Egolf came under fire for dissolving the committee that dealt with the state's historic Spanish land grants. 

The caucus rejecting the resolution left Lopez open to the criticism that while Stewart has her issues, Lopez has lost her political instincts, raising the question of not whether she can take Stewart out after this year's election, but whether she will be challenged for her position of Senate Majority Whip. The thinking being if you can't whip a vote to advance your own cause, how good is your vote-counting on the Senate floor?

While Lopez is guilty of a poorly executed attempted overthrow, her not-so-shy play is a sign of a state that is ever growing in the percentage of non Anglo residents and a legislative leadership that doesn't quite represent that. Lopez's longing to oust Stewart may or may not go away but the thorny matter of race at the Roundhouse will not. 

INTO THE WEEDS

It wouldn't be the opening day of a legislative session without going into the weeds with a political junkie. Here you go: 

 Hi, Joe – I am on a crusade to try to eradicate the incorrect use of the term, “the call” when referring to short sessions. There is no “call” in a regular session, which this one is. The “call” refers to the proclamation calling the legislature into special session and specifying what can be considered in that special session. A regular session, on the other hand, convenes. 

This will be the second regular session of the 55th Legislature, which has had two special sessions that were called by the governor. What people probably are referring to as the "call" is the constitutional need for nonfiscal matters to be introduced with a message from the governor. Although not required, a governor may also issue messages on bills in the longer (60 day) sessions. Thanks, Jonelle Maison.

Thank you, Jonelle. We understand only two people at the Roundhouse knew that--lobbyists JD Bullington and Joe Thompson--who secretly rewrote the definition of those terms and had them approved on a midnight voice vote some 20 years ago. You have now outed them, and to the benefit of the Republic and our Great State. 

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Thursday, January 13, 2022

Nukes And Oil Still Powering State Economy, Plus: Egolf Makes Peace With Land Grant Advocates, State House GOP Primary Featuring Conservative Firebrand Draws Eyeballs And More Reader Debate On Repealing SS Tax 

Let's kick it off today with a few notable notes from the econ beat.

ABQ's Sandia National Labs reports their spending reached a record $3.9 billion in fiscal year '22, including $1.4 billion in annual payroll for over 12,200 NM employees. 

Then there's the announcement that oil giant ExxonMobil, a major presence in the oil fields of the SE NM Permian Basin, will be the main sponsor of the ABQ International Balloon Fiesta for the next three years. 

Permian production has exploded and energy taxes and royalties are largely responsible for the historic budget surpluses accumulating in Santa Fe. 

ExxonMobil recently announced that they plan to achieve net zero greenhouse gas emissions in the Permian by 2030. That's a sweetner for skeptical enviros.

Nuclear weapons budgets are projected to continue upward and the latest forecasts from Wall Street predict oil will again flirt with the $100 a barrel price point. It's back in the 80's as we write. 

New Mexico's economy today is tied more than ever to federal spending and oil exploration and it's hard to envision when it won't be.

MAKING THE PEACE

After widespread criticism over his decision to dissolve the House committee that deals with land grant issues Speaker Brian Egolf is making the peace:

Egolf announced. . .the new Rural Development, Land Grants, and Cultural Affairs Committee will be established in the coming session, and will be chaired by Representative Susan Herrera (D-Embudo). Two other standing committees will also be newly titled: the Agriculture, Acequias, and Water Resources Committee and the Government, Elections, and Indian Affairs Committee. Together, these committees will respond effectively to the needs of land grant and acequia communities within the Legislature. 

“Land grants, acequias, and their contributions to our state have been critically important to me. . .I am grateful for the advice and input that we received from land grant and acequia leaders. I am glad that we have charted a path forward which will result in a new committee structure that will both elevate land grant and acequia issues and bring positive change for every land grant heir and acequia parciante."

Hispanic lawmakers, in particular, saw Egolf's first move as a slight. This second one should be enough to keep the peace. 

BLACK VS. BLOCK

John Block 
There's another Republican primary besides the '22 Guv and Light Guv races that will keep GOP watchers entertained. That would be the nomination contest for state House District 51 in Alamogordo. 

The district is currently represented by Rep. Rachel Black who is seeking a third term but who has now drawn a challenge from young John Block, an unabashed Trumper and editor of the conservative news outlet the Pinon Post.

Block, an ardent critic of MLG and all things Dem, says Black is not strong enough on tax relief and missed an abortion vote that he didn't specify. He says: 

Alamogordo needs an America-First conservative champion who shows up and takes the fight to the Radical Democrats. The hard-working men and women of District 51 should not be forced to settle for a representative who takes them for granted. This election, our community finally has a choice. We need to finally send a fighter to the Legislature.

Rep. Black
Black, an Otero County Deputy Treasurer, says she has brought $4.5 million in capital outlay to the SE NM district. She has not yet commented on the Block challenge but the Black vs. Block race will soon be joined. Block has already released a slickly produced video announcing his candidacy. 

GOP consultants point out that the twenty something Block is an openly gay Republican and that Alamogordo is Bible Belt territory. They say that could be problematic in scoring an upset. 

Black took her seat in 2018, succeeding Yvette Herrell who is now the southern district congresswoman. No D's need apply in House 51. This one is all R all the time. 

SS REPEAL DEBATE (CONT.)

The debate over repealing the state tax on Social Security amounts to a tempest in a teapot, argues tax expert James O'Neill of ABQ's O'Neill Consulting who joins this week's blog debate on the matter: 

Joe: Lowering the state income tax on only middle- and upper-income New Mexicans can be done in many ways. One of the cheesiest is granting a deduction for the federally-taxable part of Social Security retirement benefits while claiming that it would be a great boon for the poor. 

Under current federal and state tax law, no one (except some married persons filing separately) whose only income is Social Security pays any New Mexico income tax -- even if the recipient gets the maximum benefit (over $90,000 for married couples). See for yourself by completing the worksheet on page 31 of the 2021 form 1040 instructions. Even when there is a small amount of taxable income at the federal level, existing provisions of New Mexico's law reduce the state liability to zero. The point of these proposals is to allow other features, like the standard deduction, to apply fully to other income. Even that benefits only New Mexicans earning at least median levels of income. The poor, as usual, get nothing. 

The 30 day session begins Tuesday and that's when we will next be with you at NM Politics with Joe Monahan. 

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Wednesday, January 12, 2022

Pat Lyons Back In La Politica And Seeking State's #2 Post, Plus: MLG's Hydrogen Bomb And Debating State's Social Security Tax  

Pat Lyons
Look who's back in La Politica--or in his case let's call it the lion's den. 

It's none other than former state land commissioner, former public regulation commissioner and former state senator Pat Lyons telling all within shouting distance that he is running for the '22 GOP nomination for lieutenant governor.

Within the GOP Lyons, 68, doesn't have to shout very loud. He's a well-known campaign veteran who has brought home numerous wins for his party before losing a bid for land commissioner four years ago to Dem Stephanie Garcia Richard. 

Given his statewide experience, GOP insiders think Lyons of Quay County is the frontrunner for the Light Guv nomination. His main foe is former Dona Ana County Commissioner Isabella Solis who may be a better match demographically for the R's in the general election but who faces a major test against Lyons.

Solis switched from the Democratic Party to the GOP in 2019. In 2020, she ran unsuccessfully against Dem State Rep. Joanne Ferrary. 

Dems wil be ready for Lyons if he is the nominee. They already label him "pay to play Pat" over his fundraising techniques while serving on the PRC.

The GOP Lt. Guv race plays out this way. Solis, a Hispanic woman from the south, is a good match for either Mark Ronchetti or Rebecca Dow, the leading candidates for the GOP Guv nod. She balances the ticket nicely with either, but perhaps more with Ronchetti who comes from ABQ while Dow comes from the rural T or C area. 

Lyons matches up okay with Dow, but an all Anglo, all male ticket with Ronchetti would be a downer for the GOP. 

Aerospace engineer Ant Thornton is the third candidate in the race. 

NICE TITLE BUT. . . 

It may be a nice title but New Mexico's lieutenant governor gets little attention. Look at MLG's proposed budget for the coming fiscal year. Her office budget is proposed to go up a hefty 12.3 percent to $5.174 million. And for the office of Lt. Gov. Howie Morales? Her proposed budget for him is $585,000. That's an increase of exactly zero. 

LOSING EARLY?

She may call it her "signature legislation" for the 30 day legislative session that starts next week but it appears doubtful the legislation will reach her desk for her signature. 

The Guv is pushing hard for state hydrogen production to the chagrin of the environmental community and others who think this is a way down the ladder priority given other pressing matters facing the state.

What's surprising is how dismissive the Roundhouse already is to the Guv's proposal. Why is MLG willing to show such weakness so early in the campaign? 

TAXING SOCIAL SECURITY 

With the incredible amount of money in Santa Fe our motto for the legislative session is don't raise taxes on anything. In fact, consider rebating some of that loot to Mr. and Mrs. New Mexico. 

That brings us to Fred Nathan of Think NM that is leading the charge on the repeal (with sponsorship from ABQ Sen. Bill Tallman) of the state tax on Social Security. A good idea, we blogged Monday, until you get to the part that raises tobacco taxes to pay for the cut. Nathan explains:

Opponents were concerned that repealing the Social Security tax would deprive state government of $80 million. So we made the bill revenue neutral. Opponents also argued that wealthy New Mexicans should continue to pay the tax because they can afford it. So this year’s bill continues to tax seniors with incomes over $72,000 as an individual or $124,000 as a couple. This targets the tax relief to middle income seniors since very low income seniors already have an exemption. The reason that we decided to raise tobacco taxes is because health experts have been calling on the legislature to increase those taxes to combat youth smoking and vaping. New Mexico ranks third highest for teen vaping and fifth highest for teen smoking. Because teens have the least discretionary income, they are the most impacted by higher taxes. 

Instead of that $80 million some lawmakers fret over (a drop in the proverbial bucket with the mountain of money they have) what they should worry about is the 8 bucks or more their smoking constituents are ponying up for a pack of cigs while making 15 bucks an hour. Not even vice taxes deserve to be increased in this environment of riches. And finding recurring revenue to pay for the cut is a no-brainer.

But good luck, Fred, just pray they don't bring back the food tax. 

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Tuesday, January 11, 2022

"Battle Ready" Rep. Herrell Makes First ABQ Appearance Since A Slice Of The City Was Sent Into Her District, Plus: Dan's Plan Dashed: Benton Takes ABQ Council Presidency Over Lewis, And: A Tax Cut Misfire  

Rep. Herrell in ABQ
Go ahead progressives, let those chills roll up your spine because here she is--right in your backyard. 

The "she" is none other than conservative Republican US Rep. Yvette Herrell who over the weekend made her first major public appearance in the city that contains the newest addition to her congressional district.

She appeared at the Bernalillo County GOP Pre-Primary Convention and cheerily welcomed any of her new ABQ constituents who may have been in the audience. 

Her new district takes in a large swath of ABQ's Westside and some South Valley precincts, a map the Dems hope will make Herrell vulnerable to defeat this November. But be careful what you wish for. 

Herrell has been nothing if not spunky and confident since the gerrymander, vowing to win a second term and not giving an inch on her conservative views despite having a good part of the big city now in her mostly rural and small town southern district.

Pundits are taking notice, questioning whether progressive former Dem Las Cruces City Councilor Gabe Vasquez, the only announced Democrat for the seat, is a step too far left in trying to put the district back in the Dem column. 

The progressive nightmare is a Herrell re-election, giving her a foothold in ABQ while that same circumstance is a Republican dream. 

Heck, don't be surprised if she soon opens up an ABQ office, further rattling Dem nervous systems.

Herrell is not shying away from her new challenge, according to delegates at that weekend convention who report she is "battle ready."

In a way she can thank the progressive Dems for her street fighting skills. She honed them during two of the toughest campaigns waged in recent state history against Dem Xochtil Torres Small (in '18 and '20), winning one and losing one. 

What will it be in '22? Who knows, but given Herrell's zeal for combat chilled progressive spines don't seem out of order. 

DAN'S PLAN DASHED

Councilors Benton and Lewis
The plan of freshly elected Republican ABQ City Councilor Dan Lewis to take the council by storm in the new year ran into an obstacle Monday. Councilors did not get aboard the Lewis for council president bandwagon, instead electing liberal Dem Councilor Ike Benton the new president.

Upon winning election to his westside council seat last November Lewis told associates he was confident he would be elected the new council president which added four new members as a result of the city election. But Lewis, who has made no secret that he harbors mayoral ambitions, could not build a coalition and that dashed Dan's dream. He was, however, elected council vice-president.

Insiders tell us Lewis thought he had a deal with Benton who would vote for him for president in exchange for making Benton chair of the council’s most important committee but pressure on Benton from Dems not to make a deal with Lewis prevailed and pulled the rug out from under Lewis. Councilors Bassan and Pena then provided the critical votes to make Benton president. 

GOP Councilor Brook Bassan will now chair the Committee of the Whole which presides over the city budget, the aforementioned most important committee.

Bassan and Lewis have a frosty relationship. That was made clear when with the backing of Mayor Keller last month she proposed a $110 million bond issue for city improvements that ultimately was shot down by the old city council. Lewis disliked the plan, saying it should be decided by the new council.

Lewis' misfire for the presidency was shared by another Louis--new Westside Dem City Councilor Louis Sanchez. He voted for Lewis and ended up a loser on his first major council vote.

Sanchez and Lewis have positioned themselves as major foils of Mayor Keller, which is fine, but they might want to do more homework before taking their next test. 

That next test for Councilor Lewis is a multi-pronged program, including a $70 million cut in the city's gross receipts tax and placing a limitation on the pandemic powers of the Mayor. He unveiled the plan shortly after his loss of the presidency.

THE BOTTOM LINES

Speaking of misfires, ABQ Dem state Senator Bill Tallman wants to eliminate the state tax on Social Security. Okay, so far so good. But then he wants to raise the tobacco tax to pay for the cut. That means the working class fella already paying 8 bucks or so for a pack of smokes now has to pay even more so the mostly comfortably retired Social Security recipients get a break? 

Come on, Bill, right now Santa Fe has more money than God. Just eliminate the SS tax and leave the puffers alone. They're already paying their fair share and then some.

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