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Thursday, January 23, 2020

ABQ Gets Depressed: Survey Says Ongoing Crime Wave Has Hope Evaporating, Plus: Locating The Homeless Shelter And MLG Accuser Lawyers Up  


After an unrelenting years-long crime epidemic, ABQ is getting depressed.

The posted chart of the city's annual Citizen Satisfaction Survey--conducted last November--says it all. Only 49% of adults interviewed were "very or somewhat hopeful" about where things are headed in the state's largest city, down from 68% in the '18 survey.

Despite the recent argument from APD Chief Mike Geier that ABQ is a "safe city." many don't feel that way and they are letting Geier and his department know. Only 49 percent of those polled had confidence in the department whose slow response to crime calls is one of the most frequently heard complaints.

Mayor Keller didn't help his cause when his office reacted to the survey by saying dissatisfaction with the city was high because it took place as headlines reported the city was establishing an all time record murder rate. They dismissed the findings as a "snapshot in time," in turn dismissing the beliefs of its own citizenry.

Hello, City Hall? Just maybe it is the actual murders and mayhem causing the citizen distress--not the headlines? And with five murders already in January, that "snapshot in time" is more like a freeze frame.

Cynical PR spin won't benefit Keller who faces re-election in 2021. Already BernCo Dem Sheriff Manny Gonzales is out campaigning for the job and this survey could create interest from others as Keller's administration wrestles with the crime crisis.

Beyond  politics, the inability to calm crime is hurting the state as a whole and the Legislature can't or shouldn't ignore its impact on economic development, tourism and public health. City boosters say for starters the lawmakers can approve Keller's request for $14 million for the new homeless shelter and funds for better APD technology.

Ultimately, responsibility rests with the Mayor and APD to deliver results. After two years of a four year run, more is expected.

SOMETHING FOR TIM?

One of the Alligators pointed to this passage in MLG's speech and opined that the tone is something that Mayor Keller should consider:

Let’s all agree that the days of hardened, violent, repeat offenders not doing any real time, getting unwarranted second and third and fourth chances because our system is too broken to hold people accountable … those days must end and they must end now. We have to draw a line. New Mexicans are sick and tired of seeing predators circle in and out of custody, never facing the full force of the law. I am too. Here’s the fact: Dangerous, repeat offenders have got to be in jail. If you are terrorizing our communities again and again, we have nothing to talk about: You must be stopped and held accountable.

Keller has been trying to find his voice on crime while not alienating his large progressive base with too much tough talk. But if she can do it, why can't he?

HOMELESS IN BURQUE

Here's another reason why that ABQ homeless shelter should be located on an empty lot near the UNM Health Sciences Center at I-25 and Lomas--services can be centralized:

Bernalillo County Commissioners agreed to a memorandum of understanding (MOU) with the University of New Mexico Health Sciences Center (UNM HSC) to fund the construction of a crisis triage and adult psychiatric center on the UNMH footprint. With this agreement, $20 million from Behavioral Health tax funds will go toward this project and UNM HSC will match the dedicated funding with $20 million for capital investment in the project.

Chancellor Paul Roth, head of the UNM health system, has now made it clear he welcomes the homeless shelter on the UNM land. This after the head of the UNM Cancer Center questioned placing the center near Health Sciences. Roth is retiring this year after a stellar career at UNM and he's going out on a high note.

STILL A DISTRACTION

Benjamin
Crotchgate isn't going away yet. James Hallinan, the former communications head for MLG's gubernatorial campaign, has lawyered up.

Hallinan, who accuses MLG of throwing bottled water on his crotch and grabbing his genitals at a campaign staff meeting--charges she strongly denies--has hired Atlanta employment attorney Rachel Berlin Benjamin. She says:

We look forward to a court’s assessment of who the 'real victims' are and who truly seeks to 'hide' from the 'real things' they have perpetrated against employees and associates over the years. We are hopeful that other victims will come forward to further expose the truth.

Hallinan says any comments about his case will now come from Benjamin who has not said what, if any, legal action she is contemplating against the Governor. There has been speculation that a civil suit could be forthcoming.

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Wednesday, January 22, 2020

MLG Strikes Moderate Tone In State Of State; Hot Button Issues Sent To Backburner, Plus: More News, Analysis And Perspective On Opening Of 2020 Legislative Session  

MLG (Fritz AP)
Governor Michelle Lujan Grisham delivered a safe, middle of the road speech at the opening of the 2020 legislative session.

It seemed designed to avoid making headlines as there was no mention of such items as her Red Flag bill, climate change, abortion, renewable energy and only cursory treatment of the state's raging drug and violence epidemic.

(Complete speech here. Video here. AP coverage here.)

For a session constitutionally devoted to budget matters there was a noticeable lack of discussion of the fiscal state of the state which happens to be quite good. But then why give the Republican opposition the chance to attack your budget "spending spree."

The Governor generally had a successful first year but her liberal positions on Red Flag etc. stiffened her opposition and her poll numbers softened. The speech seemed determined to not have her poke her finger in any more eyes.

Hewing to the middle ground she pledged "steady and sustainable" progress that she said marked her first year in office.

She did reach for the bold change trophy when she discussed the proposed Early Childhood Trust Fund, a $320 million set aside that would generate about $30 million a year for the cause. But former Dem state Senator Eric Griego, analyzing the talk for public TV, noted that the Governor has walked back (or put in abeyance) her support for a sweeping measure that would generate $175 million a year for early childhood through the $19 billion Land Grant Permanent Fund. She fought for it last year but it was stopped in the Senate. 

She may have Democratic majorities in both legislative chambers but fiscal conservatives still control the Senate. The Governor, a pragmatist, won't veer too much out of their lane as they go along with her substantial state budget increases.

The question that may be gnawing at her is her prospects for long-term success. She has ably steadied the leaky ship she inherited but turning around a last in the nation state will require more realism about how deep the hole is, more imagination and more political risk taking. But in New Mexico such thinking encounters much cultural and institutional opposition. It's not a place that readily embraces change.

For now, MLG argues that the state of the state has gone from being shipwrecked to steady as she goes. That may not make big waves but the ship is afloat and at least headed in the right direction.

SENIOR GATOR ANALYSIS

GOP Rep. Fajardo (AP)
For those new around here, the title Senior Alligator is awarded to our highly accurate blog sources who are longtime veterans of La Politica. Here's one of them offering analysis of the Guv's speech:

I was surprised that for a budget session there was no substantial mention of state finances, taxation, pension reform or the state of our fiscal health. She didn’t give Republicans much to pick apart (outside of MLG not saying how she’d pay for her stuff). It was about economic development, education, crime and health care. Progressives will be upset that there was no mention of climate change, environment, wages, guns and only a passing reference to Trump. This was an opportunity to nationalize herself if she wanted to and she didn’t.

On style, she needed to slow it down in the first third of the speech and let her points sink in. Her pace was better in the final two-thirds. She didn’t build up to a moment, recognize the moment and let it sink in with people. Listeners (the press) should walk away with three big points, not sort through 45. When she’s on the script, it’s very good. Off script, the jokes don’t land and they are often ones no one gets. The podium jokes about how short she is are getting old and serve little purpose.

No podium jokes? Hey, those are fightin' words. "Lower podiums, higher hopes. Go @GovMLG 

Well, moving right along...

On the opportunity to "nationalize" herself, the speech was indeed insular to NM. MLG's name may come up for something if a Democrat wins the White House in 2020 but her not being a prominent part of the national political scene is a relief for New Mexicans who have witnessed the last three Governors play that game--and lose.

MESSAGING MARIJUANA

While progressives might not have much to hang their hats on in the Governor's speech they did get one bone thrown their way--legalizing recreational marijuana.

MLG spent considerable time touting the idea, although it appears dead for this session. GOP Senator Mark Moores accuses her of pushing legal pot because it helps her raise campaign money.

If any of the conservative leaning Dems are defeated by their progressive challengers in the June primary, legal weed could have a better chance in 2021.

As for her relationship with the left of her party, she may not be on a collision course but there are rumblings as the Senate continues to thwart House passed legislation. We could see grumbling deeper into MLG's second year. Witness the challenge from the left that House Speaker Egolf is experiencing in his June primary.

GEORGE NOT BOBBY

New Sens. Pinto & Gonzales (AP)
It's a different name but the outcome is the same. Senator George Munoz of Gallup will become vice-chairman of the powerful Senate Finance Committee, not newly appointed state Senator Bobby Gonzales who was mentioned as a possible for the slot on the Tuesday blog. It won't make much  difference.

Like Gonzales of Taos, who will be a regular member of Senate Finance, both are fiscal conservatives and both are not from ABQ. Munoz will now be seen as the heir apparent to 78 year old Finance Chairman Sen. John Arthur Smith.

Senator Joe Cervantes of Las Cruces will replace Sen. Richard Martinez as chairman of the judiciary committee after Martinez's DWI arrest forced him to give up the gavel. Cervantes is a longtime lawyer and a former chairman of the House Judiciary Committee.

R'S RESPOND

The state GOP responded to the State of the State address, saying:

Gov. Lujan Grisham's Bloated Budget and Progressive Agenda Will Hurt New Mexico and Its Citizens--The State of the State Address Suggests Reckless Spending and Little Accountability

The party's full response is here.

THAT DARN SENATE

MLG shouldn't fret too much over her troublesome state Senate. That's the way it usually is as we see in our 2012 write-up of Governor Martinez's second State of the State speech:

In spite of a serviceable speech and some kinder thoughts for the Legislature in general, the Republican Governor's agenda seems doomed to languish once again in the state senate. There, our Alligators report, the bill to hold back third graders with reading problems will sink. And so will for the third time the move to repeal driver's licenses for undocumented immigrants. Her proposal to eliminate the gross receipts tax on businesses grossing less than $50,000 a year shows no signs of early momentum and seems headed for that crowded Senate graveyard. (Is Senator John Arthur "Dr. No" Smith the undertaker there?)


The Senate isn't the oldest graveyard in New Mexico but it is the busiest.

MOST PHOTOGRAPHED MAN


What would opening day of a legislative session be without the most photographed man in NM? Well, it wouldn't be.

Here--left to right--is that most photographed man, State Auditor Brian Colón, yukking it up with Lt. Governor Howie Morales and NM House Speaker Brian Egolf who seems as ready for Halloween as he is for the session.

Fellas, you're having way too much fun.

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Tuesday, January 21, 2020

Marquee Marijuana Issue Could Dim Quickly; Key Legislators Skeptical; Cruces Mayor Says No, Plus: The Continued Grip Of Dr. No And The Mayor And Machine Head  

The marquee legislative issue for much of the public this year is the proposal (HB 160) to legalize recreational marijuana but there's good reason to believe the lights on the marquee will dim quickly.

Las Cruces Mayor Ken Miyagishima stunned the pro-cannabis crowd when he flatly rejected legalization just days before the start of today's session.

Full legalization makes him worried about crime increasing, the higher potency of the drug compared to the past and teens using it while pregnant as a way to deal with nausea.

Cruces is one of the "Big 3" Dem cities along with ABQ and Santa Fe. If you can't get the unanimous support of their top leadership on a key progressive issue, hope fades fast.

Even MLG, who touts legal marijuana as a big job creator, cast doubt on its chances this session saying it could be "a heavy lift."

So what happened? Legalizing marijuana had more momentum at last year's session. Well, the ongoing. much publicized and mostly drug-related violence in ABQ, including lat year's record-setting murder rate (82), is giving key senate marijuana foes more courage to just say no.

To them and other opponents, legalizing marijuana while a large swath of the state's population remains mired in a drug epidemic is counter intuitive. Senate Majority Leader Wirth, who supports legalization, puts it this way:

"There’s an economic side of this, but I think the real heart of it is the focus on the health impact and the societal impact of adding this in a state with the challenges that we have,” Wirth said, referring to already high rates of drug and alcohol abuse across New Mexico. “It’s one more substance being added.

The pro-marijuana forces try their best to explain that pot is benign compared with meth, heroin etc. but when blood is staining the streets and drug rehab beds fall far short of what's needed, it's a high hurdle to jump.

Republicans like ABQ Senator Mark Moores softened up on legal pot at last year's session. Now Moores has turned away, saying the current bill is defective. With many rural Dem's still in the opposition and no GOP support, any Martini/Marijuana happy hours could be on hold.

THE GRIP OF NO

Sen. Smith
Reader Richard Flores calls him the "de facto Governor." Once again Senate Finance Committee Chairman John Arthur Smith looms large at a legislative session. His mostly conservative politics clash with the majority of his Democratic Party but his fellow senators have never had the stomach to create a competing citadel of power in the 42 member chamber, allowing Smith's financial views to hold sway.

Readers like Ken Tabish, who unlike Smith's fellow senators are not dependent on his goodwill, expresses the frustration many Dems have over another year under the thumb of "Dr. No:"

Joe, As an advocate for funding early childhood education from the $19 billion Land Grant Permanent Fund, I see that the conservative senate Dems, led by Dr. No, John Arthur Smith, have won the day with  the Early Childhood Education And Care Fund proposal. This "trust fund" is now supported by the Governor as she has capitulated to the conservative leadership of the party. We really do not need this new fund as there are mega-resources to be tapped from the Permanent Fund, without damaging the fund itself.

HJR 1 (the constitutional amendment that would ask voters to tap the Permanent Fund for early childhood education) is on the docket but it is clearly not supported by the Governor. As always as it passes through the House, it will again be buried by the Senate Finance Committee as Senator Smith will gladly support the meagerly funded new trust fund. When will New Mexico adequately fund the human capital, mainly our young children, of this poverty stricken state? To do so Dr. No has got to go. As a progressive Democrat, I will be supporting and contributing to his primary opponent Neomi Martinez-Parra. 31 years is enough!

That early childhood trust fund Tabish writes of would be funded with $320 million from the oil surplus and is projected to generate about $30 million annually. The Permanent Fund plan would generate over $175 million a year for early childhood education to aid in reversing the state's perennial standing as last in the nation or near last in child well-being rankings;

Early childhood supporters generally back both the trust fund and the Permanent Fund proposals to meet a need experts put at $400 million a year.

Smith has signed on to only the trust fund as he faces a primary challenge from progressive Martinez-Parra. His supporters believe it could give him political cover as he again kills the Permanent Fund proposal. Other conservative leaning Dems are also expected to use their support of the trust fund to fend off progressive June primary challengers of their own.

AFTER SMITH

The Deming senator's fiscally conservative legacy could outlast Smith, who at 78 is probably seeking his last four year term. Here's the play.

The vice-chairmanship of the Senate Finance Committee is vacant as a result of the passing last September of Senator Carlos Cisneros. Smith works his will and the #2 spot is given to fiscally conservative Senator Bobby Gonzales who was appointed by MLG to fill the Cisneros vacancy. When Smith leaves the legislature Gonzales is positioned to take over as Senate Finance chair and continue Smith's conservative policies.

A Roundhouse Wall-Leaner says if that occurs expect this:

Joe, There could be fissures in the Democratic Senate caucus if Senator Bobby Gonzales is made vice chairman of Senate Finance. Albuquerque still has only one vote on the body's most powerful committee, yet ABQ has one-fourth of the state's population. Rural interests rule. Something to watch for.

UPDATE: The Senate is now poised to name Sen. George Munoz of Gallup, a fiscal conservative like Gonzlaes, as the new vice-chairman of Senate Finance Committee. Sen. Joe Cervantes will be  chairman of the Judiciary Committee. (Sen. Gonzales will serve a regular member on the powerful committee).

MAYOR AND MACHINE HEAD

ABQ Mayor Tim Keller isn't "aging out" when it comes to his well-known passion for heavy metal music. Here he is posing with "Machine Head" at their recent stop in the city.

Keller, 42, looks pretty tough there. You wonder if he'll have the same look after a month of dealing with grumpy rural legislators who he's asking to approve $14 million for a city homeless shelter.

One of the Alligators joked after seeing the pic:

Finally, we get a look at the APD analysts who came up with the city's latest crime stats!

Have your own photo caption? Email it in.

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Monday, January 20, 2020

Bulge In The Budget; Not As Big As It May Look, Plus: Take Two On Hispanics In Legislative Leadership 

The New Mexico legislative session begins Tuesday and the state budget will be the main item in the short 30 day meeting.

It may seem like a spending explosion, but the big budget numbers look a lot smaller when you take the long view.

The Guv is proposing a general fund budget of $7.68 billion, an 8.4 percent increase, with a 25 percent reserve target. Only a couple of years ago the budget was $6 billion. Rather than an irresponsible spending spree much of the increase made possible by the oil boom restores cuts resulting from the long recession and the fiscal austerity of the previous administration.

The NM Wilderness Alliance comes with a good example of how this plays out in the Energy Minerals and Natural Resources Department and that applies to many other state agencies:

During the Richardson administration, the department averaged $22,504,000 in general fund appropriations. That's $28,194,000 when adjusted for inflation. Under the Martinez administration, EMNRD’s budget saw an average of $19,958,000, or $21,518,000 when adjusted for inflation. This represents a 23.68% cut when adjusted for inflation.

In FY 2020. . . EMNRD’s budget was increased 9.31% from the previous year to $22,084,000. For FY 2021, EMNRD has requested a 12% increase to $24,757,000. . . accounting for inflation, this would represent an +8.84% increase from the Martinez administration, but 16.93% less than the average under the Richardson administration. Currently, the agency’s program support division, responsible for day-to-day operations, has a vacancy rate of 21%. According to the department, the proposed budget increase would help meet its goal to lower the vacancy rate to 5%.

The Governor's budget also continues to restore funding and positions cut or left vacant from the important Children, Youth and Families and Human Resources departments. A second year of proposed raises for state employees comes after years of no raises or tiny increases. Her budget also proposes a modest number of  new state positions.

The great state government retrenchment is over and New Mexico is playing catch-up. The irresponsible spending party that Republicans are warning of may come but it's not here yet.

WAY BACK MACHINE

We jumped in the way back machine to take a look at New Mexico in FY 2004. Back then, the General Fund budget was $4.127 billion. The proposed budget this year is $7.68 billion, an increase of about 86 percent. In FY '04, the Land Grant Permanent Fund totaled $7.279 billion. Today it is $19.5 billion, an increase of about 168 percent from '04. That's despite the historic stock market downturn in '09.

The expansion of Medicaid has been a significant factor in the increase in the state budget. The MLG budget would increase funding by $55.8 million--for a total Medicaid budget of $1.1 billion. The Feds match about three dollars for every state dollar.

There are about 850,000 New Mexicans on the Medicaid rolls today, 41 percent of the state's population. That represents a massive increase that began in 2013 when Medicaid expanded under Obamacare. From the fall of 2013 through July 2016 alone, enrollment in Medicaid soared by 303,355 people.

HISPANIC POWER

We blogged last week of the dearth of Hispanics in the legislative leadership and the leadership of the two powerful appropriations committees.

According to ABQ Dem State Senator Jerry Ortiz y Pino, our classification of two lawmakers as Anglo was not completely accurate. He reports that Senate President Pro Tem Mary Kay Papen says she had a Mexican mother and was adopted by an Anglo family. He adds that House Appropriations Committee Chair Rep. Patrica Lundstrom has a Hispanic mother. We duly note that, but doubt it will assuage those who feel the leadership still does not reflect the state's majority-minority make-up.

SENATE CHASE

Montoya
Freshly minted GOP US Senate candidate Rick Montoya, 72, of Rio Rancho served as an Assistant Secretary of Interior in the administration of the first President Bush, not the second, as we had it last week. He also served in that post in the Reagan administration. Government consultant Montoya announced his candidacy in Las Cruces.

The now six way GOP race is being narrowed down by the Alligators. They say weatherman Mark Ronchetti, who is aligned with the Martinez faction of the GOP, and Louis Sanchez, part owner of the Calibers firing range who is aligned with the Pearce faction, are the two front runners.

The March state GOP pre-primary convention will sort it out. If a candidate does not garner 20 percent of delegate support they don't get an official spot on the June primary ballot.

Meantime, Gov. Martinez will speak to the February 1 Bernalillo County GOP pre-primary convention, Martinez ally and former GOP County Chair Robert Aragon is seen pulling the strings on that one.

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Thursday, January 16, 2020

Idea For Speaker Egolf To Avoid Primary, Plus: Rats Amid Homeless Close Colorado Park Near Capitol, And: A New Uniform For NM Senate Dems  

Johnston
Here's an idea for NM House Speaker Brian Egolf: Put in a good word for your primary opponent Lyla June Johnston, a Navajo Nation member, to get this Dem Party gig and escape a possibly bruising campaign for your Santa Fe House seat:

. . . The Democratic Party of New Mexico announced recently that we will be partnering with the Democratic National Committee (DNC) to bring on a full-time Native American Outreach Organizer. The addition of this position so early in the election cycle will allow DPNM to more effectively engage Native communities and ensure that Native voices are being heard in the Democratic party.

Meanwhile, Johnston, a climate activist and poet, among other things, has announced she will fast for a full week on the steps of the state capitol and pray for a resolution to global warming.

While the Dems talk about bringing more Native American and Hispanic support to their cause, isn't the meager representation of people of color in the legislative leadership looking even more glaring as this majority minority state continues to add minorities?

These positions are all held by Anglos: Speaker of the House, State Senate Majority Leader, Senate President Pro Tem, Senate Finance Committee chairman, House Appropriations Committee chairman, Senate Minority Leader, House Minority Leader, Senate Majority Whip and Senate Minority Whip.

Just three of the ten posts in the official legislative leadership are minorities in a state that is now well over 60 percent majority minority.

RATS!

Colorado legislators went back to work this week and are facing something that thankfully New Mexico's lawmakers won't when they go back to work at the Roundhouse next week:

Rats close park near Colorado Capitol after spike in homeless camping. . . Denver officials closed Lincoln Park Wednesday, fearing diseases, bites and more from a rat infestation that grew worse as tents popped up in the area. “Human and animal waste, drug paraphernalia, food waste … it’s making the conditions unsafe,” said the Denver Department of Public Health and Environment. “We’ll reopen the park when it’s safe for people to be here again.”

While we don't have that kind of public health hazard, homelessness here has apparently been rising faster than elsewhere in the USA:

. . .  A U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development report shows New Mexico had the nation's largest percentage increase in homelessness from 2018 to 2019. That increase of 27% is detailed in the 2019 Annual Homeless Assessment Report to Congress. In addition, the report shows that the state had a 57.6% increase in chronic homelessness last year, also the highest in the nation.

ABQ voters last year approved a $14 million bond issue to finance a 300 person capacity homeless shelter. Mayor Keller is asking legislators for an additional $14 million. We can only hope rural legislators give us city folks a helping hand and approve the Mayor's request. It's not as if there isn't plenty of money to go around.

YET ANOTHER

Another hopeful or you might say "wishful thinker" is throwing his hat into the race for the GOP US Senate nomination. Rick Montoya of Sandoval County, a former assistant Secretary of Interior in the Reagan and Bush administration, is prepping a run, friends report.

Congressman Ben Ray Lujan is the presumptive Dem nominee, although he has token primary opposition. He is heavily favored to win Blue New Mexico in November. No R has won since Sen. Domenici's re-election in 2002.

NEW UNIFORM 

State Senate Majority Leader Peter Wirth has unveiled the new uniform Democratic Senators will sport at the 2020 legislative session.

Designed in a state workshop, the uniform is a classic beige/tan, reflecting the high desert topography of New Mexico and most ably modeled by Sen. Richard Martinez of Rio Arriba County. Don't you think?

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Wednesday, January 15, 2020

Progressives Livid as R Takes Over as Chair Of BernCo Commission; Rare Recent Win For GOP, Plus: who Will Take Sanchez Council Seat And A Legal Beagle Is Bitten 

Charlene Pyskoty
"She was supposed to be one of us." So said one progressive Democrat bemoaning last night's BernCo commission vote that put Republican Lonnie Talbert in as chairman of the five member panel, despite the Dems having a 4 to 1 majority.

The turncoat, as the progressives saw it, was Dem Commissioner Charlene Pyskoty, who they said campaigned as a progressive but has since backed off and grown more moderate, perhaps because she took the East Mountain seat from a conservative R in the Dem wave of 2018.

Pyskoty voted with Talbert and moderate Dem Commissioner Michael Quezada to give the gavel to conservative banker Talbert. The business and GOP community was ecstatic as Pyskoty had already teamed with Quezada to water down a sick leave ordinance that left the progressives out in the cold. Now this win and in a major election year to boot.

Talbert was elected on a 3 to 2 vote with Commissioner Debbie O’Malley and recently appointed Dem Commissioner Jim Collie voting against.

Talbert's chairmanship is an abrupt shift from that of liberal Dem and former Commissioner Maggie Hart Stebbins who recently resigned to take a state job.

Attorney David Bucholtz, an expert in local government, wrote in months ago to correct us for saying that the commission's ideological make-up had not changed much because of Pyskoty's election. He argued that Pyskoty would be a reliable progressive. He was right for a while. But the commission is again a lukewarm Dem panel with the R's--thanks to Quezada and Pyskoty--having a fighting chance on key issues.

As we noted several months ago, the progressive wave that has swept big BernCo appears to have peaked. Pyskoty turning her back on the progressives and the progressives inability to put Ane Romero into a GOP held ABQ city council seat late last year are signs of that.

Pyskoty didn't not walk away empty handed for her controversial move. She was elected as vice-chairman but the vote was 4 to 1, with Commissioner O'Malley voting against her fellow Dem who out maneuvered her for the chairmanship. There is no peace meeting scheduled.

THE SANCHEZ SEAT

More progressive vs. moderate Dem action is in store in the metro.

Who will Mayor Keller pick to replace westside City Councilor Ken Sanchez who passed away earlier this month? Not a lot of names circulating but a prominent one is that of attorney Damian Lara. He unsuccessfully sought the 2018 Dem nomination for the ABQ US House seat and has recently said he plans on running for the Dem nomination in the June primary against Dem Public Regulation Commissioner Cynthia Hall.

The pick is tricky for Keller because Sanchez was a moderate Dem who upset progressives and who now want one of their own on the council. But there is pressure to keep the seat in the hands of a moderate Dem to keep the council from going too far left and to best represent his working class district with a moderate streak.

LEGAL BEAGLE BITTEN

Recently one of the Legal Beagles speculated that the sexual abuse charges leveled against MLG by James Hallinan, her campaign communications director, could have legs if the matter makes its way into civil court. The Beagle said those at the meeting where the alleged abuse occurred could be placed under oath and that could make a difference. MLG's current communications chief, Tripp Stelnicki, says that's far fetched:

We're projecting/assuming that the multiple witnesses who confirm this (charge) is a fiction would all be perjuring themselves? But Hallinan "talking to a detective" i.e., filing a false police report and making his claims under oath would not be? There's two sides to that coin. and even if he does not go to the police, he's done plenty to diminish and minimize the genuine claims of abuse made by children and adults who deserve to be heard. 

In addition to consulting a detective Hallinan now says:

I am currently vetting counsel to assist me in pursuing this matter to its conclusion and will provide a public update when appropriate.


IT'S ABOUT TIMING

Hey, get that contract renewed before the oil boom goes bust someday:

 New Mexico Oil and Gas Association’s Board of Directors announced a unanimous decision to extend the contract of Executive Director Ryan Flynn through 2024. Flynn has led NMOGA since September 2016, having previously served as the Secretary of the Environment and Natural Resources Trustee.

Flynn ran into major controversy when he was busted for DWI in 2017. There were allegations that Dem BernCo District Attorney Raul Torrez went easy on Flynn who once served as a cabinet secretary for GOP Guv Martinez. The DWI was dropped and Flynn was only charged with careless driving.

Flynn survived that mishap and is now one of the major political figures in the state because of the unprecedented oil and gas boom. Like we said, it's all about timing.

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Tuesday, January 14, 2020

Teacher Pay Raises, The Oil Boom, Hulk For APD And Calming The Freeways 

MLG has proposed a 4% across-the-board pay increase for New Mexico teachers for the budget year starting in July. Democratic House speaker Brian Egolf trumps her with a 10% proposed increase. Which one do you suppose has a June primary opponent?:

Lyla June Johnston, the first person in years to challenge House Speaker Brian Egolf in a Democratic primary, said she plans to fast on the Capitol steps for seven days and nights as a form of prayer for the planet during a time of rising global temperatures.

Johnston, a Navajo Nation member, poet and Stanford grad is not to be taken lightly in the liberal Santa Fe district.

Some politics may be in play with Speaker Brian's raise but in fairness New Mexico is in a desperate chase to recruit teachers who are paid much more by neighboring Texas. In that context a 10 percent increase would not be out of the ordinary (but don't look for it to pass).

It's just a little old New Mexico oil boom:

Eddy County saw 7,766 workers employed in the oil and gas industry, an increase of 4,985 jobs since 2009.

Former ABQ mayor and state land commissioner Jim Baca doesn’t have a bad idea here:

. . . Hard attention needs to be paid to the lack of any concerted effort at auditing the oil and gas industry to make sure it pays what it owes. It is no secret that under the Martinez administration, the auditing procedures (have) dissolved. Billions of dollars are being made; millions of barrels of oil are being pumped; and there is little being done to make sure all the numbers are adding up.

Stepped up auditing by the MLG administration and agreed to by the oil guys in exchange for nixing Land Commissioner Garcia Richards' insistence on an oil royalty increase would seem like a decent deal, although Baca and Richard might not agree.

Never mind Santa Fe going nuts at the legislative session, they’re already there in Doña Ana County:

Southern New Mexico's Mesilla Valley, an American hub of pecan production, helped the state lead the United States for the second year in a row.

Well, Senator Cervantes and family must doing well with their agricultural interests. Now if he could only nail down the chairmanship of the Senate Judiciary Committee.

FANTASY ALERT?

Just what kind of fantasy is KOAT-TV peddling? That recently retired ABQ GOP City Councilor Brad Winter stood up to former Republican Mayor Richard Berry? They kissed each others backsides whenever they got the chance. Oh, the article is authored by the former head of Berry's Real Time Crime Center. Got it.

HULK FOR APD?

Here's our personal nominee for the next police chief of Albuquerque in case Chief Geier wants to cut out early:

“The Incredible Hulk's Lou Ferrigno will soon become a deputy in New Mexico. Socorro County Sheriff William Armijo is scheduled to deputize the actor. Officials say Ferrigno will bring decades of law enforcement experience to the department. He will also play a role in recruiting for the department and the county. The 68-year-old has served as a sheriff in Los Angeles and Arizona.

Hallelujah! Finally some traffic enforcement on the ABQ freeways. Now maybe the average speed will be cut from 90 to 80 mph. Or wishful thinking? Well, enjoy while it lasts--it's only for a month:

State police will be out in full force starting (this past) Monday. Officers will be conducting targeted operations on I-25 and I-40 in Bernalillo County. The operation is in response to a request by Albuquerque Police for help with traffic enforcement. State Police say the increased patrols will also help with faster responses to crashes. After 30 days, the department says it will consult with APD to determine if more assistance is needed.

To "determine if more assistance is needed?" Duh? Does a bear do you know what in the woods?

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Monday, January 13, 2020

MLG-Sen. Smith Deal Will Give Legislative Session A Conservative Tilt; Moving Needle On State's Deep-Seated Social Problems Could Remain Stalled 

Will the upcoming 30 day legislative session make a difference in the state's bottom of the barrel rankings in child well-being, poverty, high school graduation rates and the crime and drug epidemics? It appears not.

Governor Lujan Grisham has decided to make peace with Senate Finance Committee Chairman John Arthur Smith which means the session will have a conservative tilt that will not directly attack the social conditions crisis that afflicts us. Instead, we will get incremental steps, baby steps, if you will.

Seeking peace with Smith instead of taking a more aggressive stance means that proposals such as the constitutional amendment to tap a small portion of the over $18 billion Land Grant Permanent Fund for early childhood education are dead for this session. In its place is a much more meager measure that would appropriate about $300 million from the oil and gas surplus for an "endowment" to be funded from the interest of that fund. The difference? The LGPF proposal would provide upwards of $150 million annually early childhood education while the endowment would provide perhaps $25 million.

Also, there is no serious discussion in Santa Fe about implementing widespread drug treatment and detox programs to make a bigger dent in the addiction rate that is largely responsible for the crime wave. And talk of trying harder to curtail the drug imports from Mexico along the interstates with beefed up state police force is nearly nonexistent.

Lujan Grisham and Smith will continue to fill some of the deep hole left by the fiscal austerity of GOP Governor Susana Martinez. While that may help halt the state's decline, it is not likely to lift the state up. For that to happen this Governor and the senate conservatives would have to agree to take some risk with the enormous state surplus and invest heavily in human capital programs that are dearly expensive but would get at the culture of decay that afflicts so many households.

MLG has self-reported herself as a "fiscal conservative." By doing so she has consigned herself to getting conservative results. That may be enough for some, but a year from now when the latest stats on the social conditions of the state arrive and show little change after two years of the administration, frustration will deepen.

That is as why the June state Senate primary elections are so important. An even slight ruffling of the feathers of the conservative Dem incumbents could give this Governor a push away from the status quo and toward the more aggressive stance that she has rejected.

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Thursday, January 09, 2020

Xochitl, A 14 Year old And Socialism, Also: Forgive NM Student Loans? 

Remember this blog photo from around Christmas? We wrote then:

"Say no to Xocilalism," declares the Xmas shirt of this young supporter of GOP congressional hopeful Yvette Herrell. He's not old enough to vote and probably not versed in the nuances of socialism but "Xocilalism" does rhyme with the pronunciation of the first part of the first name of freshman Dem Congresswoman Xochitl Torres Small so we guess the "joke" worked. 

Well, that turns out to be Roy, a 14 year old Herrell supporter, who saw that blog and pushed back against the notion that he doesn't understand socialism. The Deming student told us:

Hello, Mr Monahan. I am the "young supporter" in the picture and article. My name is Roy. I am an active member in "Cowboys for Trump." 

I became politically active in 2016 with Trump and Yvette Herrell running. I have attended three Trump-Pence rallies. I have had the honor of shaking hands with Vice President Pence and have met former Congressman Pearce.

The reason why I support these people is because of my research. I have concluded that I am a young Republican. The shirt that I was wearing I made myself, it was my idea after hearing that Rep. Xochitl Torres Small voted for impeachment. I saw how socialism destroyed other countries like Cuba and Venezuela, how those countries are run and how their people are suffering.

I stand my ground as a Republican because we value life of children, upholding the Constitution and Second Amendment rights ( I am a member of a 4-h shooting team). I appreciate your story but would like to clarify that I do know what socialism is. My best definition of socialism is "a communist philosophy of equal sharing" quoted from "A Student's Dictionary" by Ludwig Wittgenstein, 2005. Thank you for reading my response.

Thanks, Roy. It sounds as though you are getting a well-rounded education. However, equating the impeachment vote of Rep. Torres Small with being a socialist is a big jump--even for a young cowboy for Trump. Still, we wish you the best. And if you ever run for political office, please give us the scoop.

Speaking of Christmas, here is a belated holiday gift wish from reader Ken Tabish:

Why not use some of the oil and gas surplus to pay off the student loan debt of NM residents who graduated from any NM state funded post secondary school. The state could also work out a deal with those who dropped out due to the burden of loan debt or just cost. Those committed to return to get an Associates or a BA/BS could have their loan debt suspended or paid off. It is clear that MLG wants to sink more money into public ed K-12 and Early Childhood and provide free tuition at the post secondary level. Well, I say add this to the mix. Let's give a gift that would help boost the economy. It would mean more disposable income to spend, purchase a new home/condo, buy a new car or obtain an advanced degree. The Dept of Higher Ed could negotiate a deal at a lower rate with the Feds and lenders who would welcome the money.

Interesting, but what about all the students who faithfully (and sometimes painfully) paid off their student loans? Is a loan freebie fair to them?

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Wednesday, January 08, 2020

Conservative State Senate Dems Wonder Where Their Challengers Money Will Come From, Plus: In the Weeds With The PRC And The ETA 

All political eyes are on those contested Democratic state Senate races in the June primary that could change the fabric of the New Mexico legislature. However, one big player is not showing their hand.

Emily's List has been rumored to be preparing to dump serious money into an effort to oust conservative Dem Senators such as John Arthur Smith and Clemente Sanchez and others. Speculation has the powerful pro-choice women's group coming with big bucks for female challengers. We asked one of of our Senior Gators for an update:

Joe, Most Emily's List money in 2020 will go to efforts to flip the US Senate to the Democrats and to protect fragile state legislative seats, such as those won by pro-choice women in New Mexico in 2018. As for the state Senate races, it's possible money for that will home from Women Vote Super PAC, an affiliate of Emily's List.

The senators that would be on Emily's hit list are Dems who voted against a key abortion measure in the last legislative session. Most of those senators are members of the senate's governing conservative coalition that includes all the Republicans.

Regardless of Emily's List involvement, competent women challengers have already lined up to take on many of the senators in question. That guarantees an exciting June primary with the fate of the coalition on the line.

Here is the roster of NM legislative candidates currently endorsed by Emily's List. All are Democrats:

Sen, Liz Stefanics NM-SD39
Sen. Antoinette Sedillo Lopez NM-SD16
Rep. Day Hochman-Vigil NM-HD15
Rep, Liz Thomson NM-HD24
Rep. Melanie Stansbury NM-HD28
Rep, Joy Garratt NM-HD29
Rep. Natalie Figueroa NM-HD30
Rep. Joanne Ferrary NM-HD37
Rep. Christine Chandler NM-HD43
Rep, Andrea Romero NM-HD46
Rep. Karen Bash NM-HD68

PRC WEEDS

We go into the weeds with a Senior Alligator today on an important issue. The Energy Transition Act (ETA) approved by the Legislature in 2019 has divided the elected Public Regulation Commission. The insider details:

Joe, It's interesting how divided the five-member PRC is. It has split 3-2 over what law should apply to the Commission's consideration of electric utility PNM and its abandonment of the San Juan coal plant. and the resource replacement case--the Energy Transition Act (ETA). 

Democratic Commissioners Cynthia Hall and Steve Fischmann support applying the new ETA to the entire case on the basis that legislative enactments are controlling. However, the majority of the PRC--Democrats Becenti-Aguilar, Espinoza and Republican Jefferson Byrd--voted to split the case into two parts with the San Juan abandonment question to be considered under the law in effect when the PRC filed the case. The ETA is more specific and better assures that PNM will recover its cost for abandoning the polluting plant. 

The NM Supreme Court declined to hear the appeal lodged by both sides. The  ETA law will likely be changed in this legislative session to make clear that the ETA applies to the whole case. 

In November, Fischmann prepared a two page letter about the PRC for a legislative committee's consideration. Espinoza surfaced the letter in a mid-November public meeting said  "it undermines the PRC." Becenti-Aguilar asked Fischmann why he hadn't had the "courage" to share the letter with his fellow commissioners before he sent it.

Regrettably, it appears the five commissioners are not playing well together. And, they're making decisions involving millions of PNM ratepayer money. 

Thanks for that.

The argument is that PNM gets a bailout from ratepayers under the ETA plan allowing PNM to float over $300 million in bonds to pay for closing down San Juan and associated costs. ETA supporters argue the measure is landmark legislation that dictates utilities generate 50 percent of their energy from renewables by 2030 and it should stand.

Voters may hear more about this during the November campaign. A constitutional amendment will be on the ballot that would change the PRC from an elective body to an appointed one.

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