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Thursday, December 02, 2021

Clown Car No More; Majority of PRC Finds Their Voice And Fights The PNM/Avangrid Merger; Our Commentary On Why They Are Right, Plus; MLG Starts Buttering The Election Bread 

Because of the personal antics of various commissioners it was once the most infamous clown car in the state but today a majority of the five member Public Regulation Commission is showing real moxy. Three of them continue to oppose the controversial $4.3 billion merger between PNM and foreign-controlled Avangrid. 

That opposition is in the face of a $1 million plus advertising blitz, the complete capitulation of the state's political class and string-pulling by radical enviros here and out of state who are unconcerned about anything but allegedly saving the planet no matter the cost to the working people of the state. 

At a public meeting Wednesday these commissioners again cited the checkered ethical record of Avangrid/Iberdrola and the difficulty in regulating and controlling the many tentacles of the company which is owned by Spain-based Iberdrola

The PRC's chief hearing officer for the case has recommended against the merger. That takes a set of brass balls given the backing of the flawed deal by  the media, the aforementioned extreme enviros, the PNM executives who will reap millions if the deal succeeds, various business groups enamored with anyone who has more money than them and assorted labor unions looking for a quick paycheck instead of at their families' futures. 

Talk about unholy alliances. 

We are continually told via the over-the-top Avangrid/PNM propaganda campaign that "everyone" (or everyone except Mariel Nanasi of New Energy Economy who they attack in their ads) supports this merger. Everyone!

So what do the PRC hearing officer and the three brave commissioners--Fischmann, Becenti-Aguilar and Hall--know that "everyone" doesn't? You needn't look long at a Google search to eyeball the facts that are prompting these commissioners to face off with a multi-billion dollar entity. 

A little state like ours with barely 2 million souls is simply not in need of shouldering the burdens of this merger. We have done reasonably well with PNM for over a century and will continue to do so if the merger is rejected. 

Yes, that means continuing to pursue climate change solutions but ones that also protect our people and not have them run over by billionaire-funded environmentalists who command that we "sign here" and then pay the bill. And not by a foreign corporation of which we would be a pimple on an elephant's back. 

The clown car is no more at the PRC and the elites pushing this deal saw it coming as they persuaded the Legislature (and hoodwinked voters) to abolish the elected PRC and replace it with one in the future that will be appointed by the Governor who can then be better controlled by campaign contributions. 

That and the already failing Energy Transition Act foisted on the public by a PNM led Roundhouse stunk up this deal from the beginning. The profound misgivings voiced by consumers and others in Maine where Avangrid operates was icing on the cake. Add in the Iberdrola bribery charges and what you have is trouble coming faster than the traffic on I-25 to Santa Fe. 

Then there is the semi-pathetic reasoning of PNM for the merger. "We don't have enough money to buy new technologies to get at renewable resources." Say what? Haven't they heard of the bond market? Or record low interest rates? For Heaven's sake, PNM, you're listed on the NYSE. Start acting like it.  Good luck to the commissioners in opposition. If they falter and approve this deal they ought to have clowns at the signing. Yes, send in the clowns. There ought to be clowns. 

BUTTER THE BREAD

MLG is starting to prepare the buttered bread for Election '22 and the first group to get a slice is New Mexico teachers who the Guv says deserve a 7 percent pay raise. She will push for that at the January legislative session. If approved, the raises would be seen next fall just in time for you know what. 

The pay hikes would cost the state $280 million in annual revenue but that's piddling in the face of a projected surplus that is headed toward $1.5 billion and probably more, not to mention the billions in federal aid soon to flow. MLG has a whole loaf of bread to hand out and the line is forming behind those teachers. 

THE BOTTOM LINES

There is only one independent in the state House. Freshman ABQ Dem Rep. Brittney Barreras started out as an indy but has since joined the Dems. Both Wikipedia and Ballotpedia still identity one Dem leaning indy and one R leaning indy in the state House. We blogged that info in a first draft Wednesday. The R leaning indy is Rep. Phelps Andersen of Roswell. The current House breakdown is 45-24 Dem and independent Anderson.

Reader Doug Crandall writes of a blog misspelling:

I think you meant the cavalry and not Calvary, although it could be a reference to Representative Herrell’s religious base. Anyway, as a long time New Mexican living in Arizona, I enjoy keeping up with your blogs.

And we enjoy doing those blogs for you. Thanks to all for tuning in. 

Reporting from Albuquerque, I'm Joe Monahan.

This is the home of New Mexico politics. 

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Wednesday, December 01, 2021

Herrell About To Face Redistricting Music As Dems Feel Free To Make Their Move; Observers Also Say Dems Could Grow Their Legislative Strength A Bit; Special Session Kicks Off Monday 

Trump and Herrell
Don't expect the cavalry to come to her rescue when the Dems move to redesign the southern congressional seat held by Republican Yvette Herrell and make it more friendly to them beginning with the 2022 election. 

Even though Herrell is a former GOP state House member, one veteran lawmaker says:

The R's are not about to fall on their sword for Herrell. They have their own seats to worry about.

The legislature's special redistricting session kicks off Monday and the southern congressional seat gets top billing, although the 112 lawmakers who will be finalizing district boundaries for their own state House and Senate seats are obviously more consumed with their own futures.

The lead up to the session has been pretty buzzless, mainly because the Dems control the Legislature and the Governor's office. This redistricting doesn't have the edge that it had ten years ago when the R's had the governorship. While this legislative redistricting is not a nonevent it is nothing like back then when lengthy and expensive court battles erupted in the aftermath of the redistricting session (not that the R's couldn't file suit after this one).

What will be the final impact of the 2021 redistricting expected to be completed in about a week? Back to our veteran lawmaker:

The issue is whether the House and Senate will get more Democratic or not. Republican strength is not going to grow. We could end with a status quo state Senate that protects the 27-15 Dem majority. In the House the leadership may try to pick up a seat or two but that is not uncomplicated. 

The current breakdown in the House is 45 to 24 with one independent identifying with the R's.

As for freshman Herrell, a number of insiders we spoke to off the record attributed the lack of interest in her fate to her coziness with Trump, calling into question the 2020 election results and warming to radical R's such as Sheriff Couy Griffin who she since has tried to distance from. Said one:

She's made it easy for the Democrats. They don't see reshaping the seat as a political issue but as a moral issue. The Herrell wing of the GOP to them represents a threat to democracy. If she had adopted a more moderate tone it may have been different but probably not.

But there could be vigorous debate over how to make Herrell's district more Dem friendly. The so called Peoples Map that was one of several sent to the Legislature for consideration by the Citizens Redistricting Committee is coming under harsh fire for the way it sends the southern district into ABQ proper and also splits in two the city of Hobbs. 

A longtime Santa Fe Wall-Leaner explained:

That map enrages Southeast New Mexico. They already feel ignored even as their oil boom gives the state historic surpluses. Splitting Hobbs is a spit in their eye. There is a way of making that congressional district more favorable to the Democrats without humiliating the Republicans and oil country. 

2022 is shaping up as a tough year for the Dems so even with a new map the southern CD could still stay in play given the large swatch of conservative country it is still expected to cover. 

As for spicing up the session, Governor Lujan Grisham could add some fireworks to the redistricting show by adding other items to the agenda. How can she resist?

KELLER'S SWEEP--TAKE 2

We blogged of the good news for ABQ Mayor Keller Tuesday, explaining how he carried all nine city council districts as he won re-election November 2. But there is even better news now that the numbers have been recalculated. The main point holds--that Keller took all nine council districts as he did in the 2017 run off but. . .

Political consultant Sisto Abeyta apologizes for a data entry error that had Keller garnering 63 percent of the vote in SE Heights District 6 when it should have been a whopping 75 percent. And in the Downtown/North Valley District 2 Keller secured 73 percent of the vote not the 59 percent initially reported. 

Keller's percentage did go down in some of the districts with the recalculation. In Westside District 5 he won with 46 percent in the three way mayoral race; in NE Heights District 4 he took 50 percent of the vote and in Valley District 3 he won with 49 percent. All the outcomes are posted in the graphic that was composed by the Keller camp from the final official numbers. We updated yesterday's blog to show the change. 

Sheriff Manny Gonzales finished second in all 9 council districts and Eddy Aragon third.

As for Abetya's initial take, he will be given the traditional punishment of ten lashes with a wet noodle and also is banned from Barelas Coffee House for 30 days.

Better you than me, Sisto.  

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Tuesday, November 30, 2021

He Did It Again: Stats Show Keller Swept All Nine ABQ City Council Districts In Mayoral Re-elect; Did The Same In '17, Plus: Ranked Choice Voting For Council Contests? And Spending The State's Big Surplus  

Mayor Tim Keller has a lot to be proud of from his sweeping November 2 re-election victory. Not only did he handily defeat challengers Manny Gonzales and Eddy Aragon but he did it going away, winning in all nine city council districts. 

It was the second time he achieved the feat. He also swept all nine districts in the 2017 mayoral runoff when he captured 62 percent of the vote in a two way contest with Republican Dan Lewis.

We reported to our radio and blog audience during the election that Keller's 56 percent win seemed to be across the board, but now we have the numbers (thanks to political consultant Sisto Abeyta) to back that up. 

Keller blew the doors off in liberal SE Heights District 6, racking up his best percentage in any district as he garnered 75 percent of the vote, an impressive feat in a three way contest. 

His second best finish was in North Valley/Downtown District 2 where he scored 73 percent. In Valley District 3 he won with 49 percent. 

Keller has to be pleased with his victory in Westside District 5. While Republican Dan Lewis was defeating incumbent Dem Cynthia Borrego, Keller won the threw way mayoral contest with 46 percent.

Even in NE Heights Districts 4, 8 and 9, which have a conservative lean, Keller managed 50 percent of the vote in 4, 51 percent in 8 and 50 percent in 9.

Back on the Westside in District 1, while Councilor Lan Sena, who was appointed by Keller to fill a vacancy, was getting a thumping from Louie Sanchez, Keller felt no pain. He took the district with 52 percent.

Of course when it comes to ABQ mayoral races, past results are no guarantee of future performance. Since the modern form of government began in 1974 no mayor has ever gone on to higher office. 

THE RUNOFF TRAIL

Meanwhile, with one week to go until the December 7 runoff elections in City Council Districts 7 and 9. . . 

After we said on the Monday blog that Attorney General Balderas endorsed Dem Rob Grilley in the  District 9 runoff but had not endorsed progressive Dem Tammy Fiebelkorn in Distinct 7, an "endorsement alert" popped up in the afternoon on Fiebelkorn's social media.

Balderas endorsed her and cited her experience in working to reduce domestic violence, saying the city needs councilors with "hands-on" experience working with law enforcement. Fiebelkorn is the president of Positive Links, a nonprofit "dedicated to educating the public about the link between animal abuse and human violence and providing training to domestic violence workers. . ." 

A number of readers have expressed support for ranked choice voting instead of conducting low turnout runoff elections when no candidate gets 50 percent of the vote in the first round of balloting. The ranked choice method where voters rank all the candidates would settle the matter Election Night without the expense of a runoff and campaigns that are hard-pressed to get close attention 

There could be a compromise for the new City Council to consider: Keep the runoff election for the office of Mayor but go to ranked choice voting for the council seats.

WHAT TO DO?

What to do with the largest projected surpluses in state history? One idea suggested here was tax rebates--significant ones for middle and low income New Mexicans. Reader Karl Kiser tries to throw cold water on that one:  

I must take issue with tax rebates. Much of this money should go to offset the bad effects of oil and gas production. Too many companies produced negative environmental outcomes and the damage is ongoing. Many companies are bankrupt and will provide no funds for remediation. This includes damage to air, water and land. Priority should go to the most dangerous sites. 

I would look to clean up spills, cap old wells, offsetting the water effects of climate change (the state engineer recently resigned because of a lack of resources), enforcement of methane leaks (not enough inspectors plus the San Juan Basin shows a large methane spot from the air), and I could go on. 

Then there's that $3.7 billion in federal infrastructure money about to be let loose. Former ABQ Mayor Marty Chavez has been named by MLG to supervise the vast sum. All those in favor of blowing up Chavez's phone, say "Aye!"

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Monday, November 29, 2021

Conservative Pastor Smotherman Butts In On Council Runoff And Trouble Starts, Plus: Readers Rebuke Senate R's For Attacking Roundhouse Vaccine Requirement  

Pastor Smotherman
Conservative Pastor Steve Smotherman has done a favor for ABQ City Council District 7 runoff candidate Lori Robertson that she may have liked to do without--he openly backed the Republican hopeful from his pulpit at a November 16 service. 

Robertson's opponent, Democrat Tammy Fiebelkorn, now questions whether Smotherman violated IRS rules governing nonprofits such as his Legacy Church. (Video here.)

The open campaigning by Smotherman could indeed be an IRS violation that he may or may not get called out on, but his political fervor for Robertson violated what has been her political rule for this election--keep her conservatism low key. 

The last thing the real estate broker needed in the December 7 runoff in a Democratic dominated district was a loud whistle from Smotherman who appeals to Republicans but not to run of the mill Democrats and probably not much to independents.

Robertson complains that Fiebelkorn has “repeatedly tried to paint me as a right wing extremist." Never mind Fiebelkorn, Smotherman's heated rhetoric on Robertson's behalf did the job. He told the church gathering:

We need people like her (Robertson) on the City Council to make sure this crazy guy they call mayor doesn’t continue to push his agenda.”

That statement pinned Robertson firmly to the corner of a right wing wall. That could help rouse R's but is not a good look in a district where Dems outnumber the GOP 49% to 26%.

As for Pastor Smotherman, he is an effective and successful leader of his church but perhaps should leave the political analysis to the pundits and bloggers. 

Congrats on your endorsement, Lori. . . or something. 

ENDORSEMENT GAME

Let's look at the major Dem endorsements in the District 7 and 9 runoff races to get a feel for the politics at play.

We note that Gov. MLG endorsed fellow female politico Feiblekorn but did not do the same for Dem Rob Grilley in the more moderate District 9 where he faces Republican Renee Grout in the runoff. Grilley is touting endorsements by Dem Attorney General Hector Balderas and BernCo DA Raul Torrez.  

Progressive Fiebelkorn did not receive an endorsement from the middle of the road Balderas, but the DA did endorse her. Mayor Keller endorsed both Fiebelkorn and Grilley. (Balderas endorsed Fiebelkorn Monday).

Grilley has been walking a fine line in the far NE Heights district that includes affluent Four Hills. He would be the first nonconservative to win the district since its inception in 1974. The strategy being that Balderas is a better endorsement fit in his district than MLG who is also a middle of the road adherent but seen as more partisan. 

COVID COMMENTS 

The statement from state senate Republicans on the Thursday blog condemning the vaccine requirement for Roundhouse visitors to the special legislative redistricting session next week and the regular session in January drew sharp pushback from Covid watchers. Here's that statement again: 

This is not a COVID driven policy. If it was, the clear evidence of vaccinated individual’s ability to spread the virus would negate the reasoning for the rule. Instead, COVID has proven to be an effective means by which the political elites can justify their power grabs and limit public access.

Larry Gioannini in Las Cruces has the pushback: 

Unfortunately, I'm not surprised about the Republican canard that vaccinated people spread Covid. True, vaccinated people who get a breakthrough infection spread Covid like the unvaccinated but the much, much larger population of vaccinated people who do not get infected do not spread Covid. That's how we get back to "normal" ASAP. 

Reader Lissa Knudssen weighed in with this:

Joe, I saw the quote you used from the Senate Republicans about the “vaccinated individual’s ability to spread the virus” and thus there not being a need for a vaccine mandate in the Roundhouse. I am forwarding this blog post about this topic from a reputable epidemiologist and I am asking that you include some follow up for your readers as it is a matter of life and death in NM. 

Some lawmakers have not had vaccinations but will be allowed to enter the Roundhouse during the sessions because of constitutional provisions.

From Cedar Crest reader Andre Larroque writes: 

What disturbs me most about the Legislative Council Service rules is the necessity for increased security measures like bag checks, etc. at the building entrance. Our fully accessible and welcoming Roundhouse has become an unfortunate victim to the sometimes armed ‘shows of force’ exhibited at other state houses and the events at our national capitol building on Jan.6. 

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Wednesday, November 24, 2021

Vax Cards And No Guns For The Next Rounds At Roundhouse, Plus: Former Senate Powerhouse Jennings Looks For Comeback, And: Happy Thanksgiving, New Mexico  

Bring your vax card and leave your gun at home. Those are the marching orders for attending the special redistricting session that kicks off at the Roundhouse December 6 and for the regular legislative session that begins January 18. 

From the Legislative Council Service: 

The Roundhouse will remain open to members of the public for the special and regular sessions. Proof of full vaccination will be required. The Rotunda will not be used for displays, booths, presentations, special days, etc. Pages will not be used by the House or Senate. No tours will be conducted. Masks will continue to be required throughout the Capitol Complex. In addition, carrying weapons into the Roundhouse is prohibited effective December 6. All members of the public will be subject to magnetometer screening (or bag search) when entering the building. 

But don't expect to see all your favorite committee meetings in person. Speaker Egolf adds:

Virtual participation in the legislative process will continue while the policies announced allow for the safe reopening of our state’s Capitol to all New Mexicans.

Senate Republicans don't like it much:

This is not a COVID driven policy. If it was, the clear evidence of vaccinated individual’s ability to spread the virus would negate the reasoning for the rule. Instead, COVID has proven to be an effective means by which the political elites can justify their power grabs and limit public access.

FINAL COUNT

The final official vote counts from the November 2 municipal elections have been certified by the State Canvassing Board. SOS Maggie Toulouse Oliver once again disappointed conspiracy theorists:

(Tuesday's) State Canvassing Board meeting reinforced that every New Mexican voter should have the highest level of confidence in these official election results and in the conduct of our state’s second-ever consolidated statewide local election. I want to thank all the election administrators who ran this election with efficiency and integrity, and I want to thank all the voters who turned out.

All the final returns are posted here.

MORE ELECTIONS

There won't be much of a post-Thanksgiving political lull in Roswell or Rio Rancho as candidates there begin prepping for the March 1, 2022 city elections. Those locales and others did not adopt the new consolidated elections held in November. 

The mayoral race in Roswell is one that will get statewide attention. Former Dem State Senator Tim Jennings is trying to stage a comeback and defeat incumbent GOP Mayor and former State Rep. Dennis Kintigh

Jennings, 71, has major donors, despite losing the senate seat in 2012 that he held for 34 years to Republican Cliff Pirtle. Kintigh, 69, is going for his third, four year term and the Jennings forces believe the electorate is primed for a change. Even though Roswell leans Republican they say Jennings' conservative Dem credentials will stand the test. 

Somehow the Roswell newspaper managed to cover Jennings' mayoral announcement without once mentioning the current mayor. Well, it is the city known for unidentified objects.

That's it for now. Happy Thanksgiving, New Mexico. 

Reporting from Albuquerque, I'm Joe Monahan and. . . 

This is the home of New Mexico politics. 

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Tuesday, November 23, 2021

Lewis Camp Preps For Battle; Demanding "Accountability" From Keller Administration; Predict GOP Takeover Of Council; Says Current Council "Has Been A Joke," Plus: Leading Las Cruces: Miyagishima Becomes City's Longest Serving Mayor 

Lewis and Keller 
Supporters of ABQ City Councilor-elect Dan Lewis unloaded on the administration and the current council following our Monday blog about his opposition to a $110 million bond package being pushed by the Keller administration and Republican City Councilor Brook Bassan.

Republican Lewis predicts the package, which would require seven affirmative votes, will be defeated before he joins the council January 1.  

Backers of Lewis who have spoken with him said he "will demand accountability" from the administration and shake up the council which they say "has been a joke."

Lewis previously served on the council for two terms and ran unsuccessfully for Mayor against Keller in 2017. His backers are now predicting that Republicans will prevail in the two city council run-off elections set for December 7 and where early voting is currently underway. They say the national environment has a big influence on the election and that Renee Grout will win in District 9 and Lori Robertson will take District 7.

Critics of the council following the Lewis line also blasted the council's Zoom meetings held since the start of the pandemic, calling them disorganized and unproductive. They believe Lewis will be the net council president, end the Zoom sessions and that the ABQ police chief, department directors and the mayor's representatives will be questioned rigorously at council meetings--in person. 

Lewis himself did not go on the record with the retorts to the Monday blog but neither did he disagree with them.

The promise from the Lewis camp to flex political muscle comes as no surprise to Keller and company who are working overtime in those council runoff elections to prevent a GOP takeover which would occur if both seats went into the GOP column. However, Councilor Bassan's warm relationship with Keller calls into question whether the GOP would operate in lockstep against the Mayor. 

Lewis allies now say they expect Louie Sanchez, a conservative Democrat who will take his council seat along with Lewis January 1, will be a Lewis ally. 

No matter the politics, Lewis, 51, appears determined to rock the boat.

With progressive Councilors Benton and Davis having independent streaks there is plenty of unpredictability to contemplate, even though Keller was re-elected in a November 2 landslide.

McCLESKEY VS. CHANDLER

A reader writes:

Joe, if political consultant Jay McCleskey has indeed settled his defamation suit with former GOP state House candidate Scott Chandler it is a big relief for former Gov. Martinez. Imagine if she was included in the lawsuit as Chandler has requested. She would be subjected to being deposed which could mean a wide range of questions shot her way. The risk of perjury or other embarrassment would be very high. That’s why I think McCleskey rushed to announce this supposed agreement with Chandler. Let’s see if a final deal is announced.

LEADING LAS CRUCES

Mayor Miyagishima
While ABQ mayors quickly learn that a second term in the state's largest city is fraught with political peril, in  Las Cruces--New Mexico's second most populous city (111,000)--the mayoralty has been a sea of calm. So much so that many were surprised to recently learn that on November 20 Las Cruces Mayor Ken Miyagishima, serving his fourth, four year term, became the longest-serving mayor in that city's history: 

Miyagishima, then a member of the Las Cruces City Council, won the 2007 mayor’s race, defeating incumbent Bill Mattiace by about 80 votes. . . Martin Lohman, elected in 1907, was the city’s first mayor. . . Through 1990, mayors were elected by city council members from among the council. Only Miyagishima and predecessors Mattiace and Ruben Smith have been popularly elected. . .He was tops among 10 mayoral candidates in (the 2019) race, as the city used ranked choice voting for the first time.

Miyagishima and Cruces have chemistry. That's probably the best explanation for his success. He has appeal across the political spectrum and it has helped him make progress in building up the downtown and expanding recreational opportunities in addition to attending to the cites growing infrastructure needs. 

Importantly, there has been no major scandal in city government in all the years Miyagishima, 58, has served. He prides himself on running an open and transparent government.

With all of that the Dem Mayor would appear to have statewide appeal, and he has been prodded to reach higher on the political ladder. But leading Las Cruces with such deep support is tough to beat. And if he seeks a record setting fifth term in 2023 Miyagishima will be tough to beat. 

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Monday, November 22, 2021

Returning GOP Councilor Lewis Balks At Eye Opening Welcome To City Council; Republican Bassan Teams With Mayor Keller For $110 Million Bond Investment, Plus: McCleskey Settles Defamation Lawsuit 

Councilor-elect Dan Lewis
Dan Lewis
 hasn't even been sworn in for the ABQ city council term he was elected to November 2 and already hurdles are going up in front of the onetime mayoral candidate--and they are coming from his own side of the aisle. 

GOP Councilor Brook Bassan has formed an alliance with Mayor Tim Keller for a $110 million bond package for citywide improvements that could be approved before Lewis and other new councilors take office January 1. Lewis is steaming: 

Four city councilors who would make a decision on this won’t even be here in January. For that reason alone we need to deal with this with a new council in January.” 

To which Bassan says: 

I think right now is a really good time to recognize the continued priorities that were in the council before we have a new turnover of the council, at which point priorities could change. 

Lewis, who served two terms on the council (2009-'17) and lost in a landslide (62-38) to Dem Keller in the '17 mayoral runoff, is widely seen as using the council as a springboard for another shot at the city's top job. But he probably wasn't counting on Bassan to be the oil slick on his pavement. 

Bassan started her council term in 2019 with firm conservative rhetoric but since has floated toward the middle while Lewis has stayed on the right. In addition to her non-austerity position on the proposed bonds, she also advocated at the recent election for the APS bonds and mill levy, the latter of which is a tax and won only narrow approval with conservatives voting against. Given that backdrop her clash with Lewis is not going to be a one and done deal.  

Councilor Bassan
The council is currently divided 6 to 3 with Dems in control. However, the offices are officially nonpartisan and that DNA sometimes runs through the council's bloodstream with Bassan the latest example. 

The new bond issue would not require voter approval if it won backing of seven of the nine councilors. Progressive Dems Ike Benton and Pat Davis are already opposed so it will be a tight squeeze.

It's odd to see the council's two most "progressives" oppose the $110 million investment in the city's infrastructure after they loudly backed the unpopular and ill-fated proposed $50 million bond giveaway for a soccer stadium. It's that money rejected by voters that the new bond package would deploy for housing, public safety, parks and other needs. 

Pat and Ike represent two of the oldest and most in need districts. Why not get with Keller and Bassan and help roll out this needed investment instead of suddenly transforming into budget hawks?

But it's the GOP split developing that is the news. Without a unified Republican block the City Council is not going to take a conservative turn on social or budgetary issues. And odds are that following the December 7 runoff elections in two city council districts the Dems will still maintain the majority. 

Actually, Bassan's middle of the road approach ala Pete Domenci and Manuel Lujan from the old days may be the R's way out of the wilderness in a liberal ABQ. For now she has no problem schooling Lewis in the new order. 

Welcome back, Dan. . .or something.

DEFAMATION SUIT SETTLED

Martinez and McCleskey
Both Lewis and Bassan employed controversial political consultant Jay McCleskey in their campaigns and once again McCleskey is making news of his own. The latest is the settlement of that defamation lawsuit against him that we reported on earlier this month.

McCleskey was anxious to announce the settlement and did so by contacting the newspaper. Scott Chandler, the GOP state House candidate who filed the suit against McCleskey and recently sought to include Gov Martinez in it, said it's true that a settlement has been reached but he wants to see the payout check before he drops the matter. 

With the settlement Martinez is out of danger of being included in the defamation case.

The Martinez/McCleskey governmental attacks on Chandler's youth ranch near Deming (separate from the campaign flier hits from their PAC) have already cost the state $1 million in lawsuit payouts.

McCleskey sued his insurance company when it refused to cover his legal expenses for the defamation suit but now a compromise has been reached and Chandler will get damages for the attack mailers used against him by McCleskey in his 2016 state House run in SW NM. How much is still not public.

This also matters because McCleskey is back on the scene, consulting GOP Guv candidate Mark Ronchetti who is shaking the money tree hard. A defamation lawsuit by a fellow Republican against his lead consultant doesn't help that cause. No wonder McCleskey was anxious to report the "good news."

The cash settlement is not a finding of guilt but implies that McCleskey and his legal team did not want to withstand the risk of a trial. 

McCleskey, who led Susana Martinez's two Guv campaigns, remains a well-known and divisive figure in the GOP (his recent consulting for Dem mayoral candidate Manny Gonzales didn't help). That's an issue Ronchetti will have to grapple with as he faces state Rep. Rebecca Dow and financial consultant Greg Zanetti in fighting for the '22 nomination, along with several others. 

Uh, Joe, that's background you won't get anywhere else. Well, that's why. . . 

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Thursday, November 18, 2021

Supremes Clip MLG's Wings; Legislature Is Dealt In On Uncle Sam's Pandemic Plan; Over A Billion In Play; Guv Takes Hit To Prestige And Political Standing, Plus: MLG Taps Ex-Mayor Chavez For Fed Infrastructure Rebuild 

Justice Thomson
MLG had her wings clipped by the NM Supreme Court Wednesday, losing a legal battle that was unnecessary and that will now cost her politically.

The blow to gubernatorial prestige was swift and unanimous as the five member court--all Democrats--ruled that Lujan Grisham did not have the sole power to appropriate over $1 billion in federal pandemic aid, that the job must be done by both the executive and the legislature. 

The Fourth Floor's legal challenge was so constitutionally lame that Justice David Thomson nearly ridiculed the Governor's intentions, saying:

I learned that in second grade — they (the legislature) control the purse-strings.

And Thomson is an MLG appointee. 

The Senate has a way of getting under the skin of every Governor. That's their role. But to take it to court and lose when compromise is sitting there like a cute dog waiting to be petted? 

The court suit was not only a major political miscalculation by the Governor but also delayed the roll out of those federal dollars while other states long ago divided up their share--for the good of their public. 

MLG still has not come with a plan for that $1 billion but neither have the group of state Senators that successfully brought the suit against her. 

Worry is growing that despite the historic influx of federal pandemic dollars and equally historic oil boom surpluses totaling in the billions that the state is going to end up right where it started when the newfound wealth is all spent. Senior Alligator analysis:

Joe, at this point the state needs to do something really big with this money. Something like taking $500 million and completely rebuilding the shattered behavioral health system. That would impact the long term crime and homeless issues. The fear is that dribbling out this money into current channels with no transformative planning is not going to move the needle. 

MLG has proven herself head strong and determined. Transformative? Not so much. 

THE SENATE WIN

 Ivey-Soto, Candelaria & Cervantes (Journal)
Meanwhile, back at the Senate the court ruling was also embarrassing for the Guv because the winning argument was presented by attorney and Dem Senator Jacob Candelaria who has become an outspoken foe of MLG. Now he can argue he has put her in her place. He will and so will the GOP as they eye the election calendar. The R's long-running argument that the Guv has gone too far in exerting control during the pandemic has now essentially been ratified by the Supreme Court. 

Oh, look. This just in from the GOP:

We are reassured. . .The High Court properly ruled that it’s the legislature’s role to allocate funds as decreed in our state constitution. Gov. Lujan Grisham again exceeded her authority and didn’t play by the rules. She tried to take the constitution for herself in a power grab, but the Supreme Court reminded Lujan Grisham that we have three equal branches of government, each with a specific role. 

Will Dominic Gabello, Diego Arnecon or Dave Contarino or whoever is supposed to have the political smarts up there have the moxy to give this Guv some tough love before she sends us back into the dark ages with Susana Martinez and company? Come on, fellas. 

And look at the nonliberal senators who supported the suit--Cervantes, Ivey-Soto, Munoz and Republican Leader Greg Baca. That sounds like the old days when a conservative coalition ruled the chamber. Those senators now have added political muscle and everyone waits to see if that translates into public policy. Keep your eyes open, progressives.  

ADVISERS NOT CZARS

Chavez
The high court ruling came down while MLG was telling reporters about her new appointments to help direct the $3.7 billion in federal infrastructure money about to start flooding into the state. 

Chief among them is former ABQ Mayor Martin Chavez. But he won't sport the title of "Infrastructure Czar" that we tried to hang on him. He is a mere "adviser." (Hey, there's only room for one Czar or Czarina at the Roundhouse.)

Chavez, 69, who will make $143,000 a year, has the smarts and as a former state senator can deal with the friction. Including the legislature in the massive new spending is critical in light of the court ruling. Heck, like the black robes ruled, it should have always been critical. 

There's also a new broadband boss. Matt Schmit, 42, a former Minnesota state senator who has been director of the Illinois broadband office, moved $400 million to help wire that state. He faces major challenges here. He has money to play with--hundreds of millions in state and federal funding--but executing is excruciating. Rights of way, equipment and staffing needs are hurdles and will require a grade A performance. The last out of state beacon of light MLG brought to town was the head of CYFD. Let's not have a repeat

Mike Hamman, a long established expert in his field, will leave his post as CEO of the Mid Rio Grande Conservancy District and will be water adviser. He'll work on a long range water plan including climate change.

These type of additions have long been pushed by the peanut gallery that sees little gravitas in the policy making arm of the administration in addition to the obvious political weakness that was there for all the state to see as the Supremes lowed the boom.

After the legal brouhaha New Mexicans now await an answer to this question: How are these incredible sums of money going to impact my quality of life and the life of our communities? We'd wager they'd like to hear more about that instead of arguments before the Supreme Court.

THE BOTTOM LINES

In a first draft we had incorrect percentages for the Nov. 2 vote in ABQ City Council District 9. Byron Powdrell received 28 percent and Rob Grilley received 29 percent. 

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This is the home of New Mexico politics. 

Wednesday, November 17, 2021

MLG And The Treacherous Politics Of Covid, Plus: Key Endorsements In ABQ Council Runoffs And More Tax Talk Over State Surplus  

Our Alligators are reporting that former three term ABQ Mayor Martin Chavez, 69, will be named a "czar" for some of the federal money coming into the state. More details expected later today.

She aced Covid for well over a year but now the virus is back in a big way and washing away political gains MLG made. She no longer appears at the state media briefings or comments regularly on the explosion of Covid that has vaulted New Mexico to the top of afflicted states. Instead, she is on defense, arguing with the Colorado governor who repudiated her continued use of indoor mask mandates as a means of quelling the contagion.

Covid is out of her control and that of the health experts but if history is a guide the latest outbreak will soon peak. Whether there will be another is unknowable.

What we do know is that MLG's handing of the virus is no longer routinely hailed because of those freshly crowded ICU units and that red state governors who have done little to combat Covid are no longer dismissed. 

A reader reports: 

Florida (FL) has a population of 21.48 million. NM has a population of 2.097 million. So NM’s population is 1/10 the population of FL. As of Monday, November 15 the NYT reports NM had a 7 day average of 1,383 COVID cases per day. Similarly, FL had 1,471 cases per day. That’s roughly the same as NM but with roughly 10 times the population. Said another way, NM should have about 147 cases per day. Something is really not making sense here. What does (Florida Governor) DeSantis know that MLG does not? Inquiring minds would like to know? 

DeSantis probably doesn't know anymore than MLG. In fact, the death rate from the virus is 247 per 100,000 population in New Mexico, less than the 283 recorded by Florida. 

Covid is so wily and treacherous that the politics of the pandemic have turned into the luck of the draw.

COUNCIL ACTION

Powdrell
Checking in on the December 7 runoff elections for ABQ City Council Districts 7 and 9 in the NE Heights we find some key endorsements.

In District 9 where Dem Rob Grilley is battling R Renee Grout, the candidate who nearly upset Grilley and came in second and almost took his place in the runoff has given Grilley his backing. 

Byron Powdrell, the longtime community activist from the famous ABQ barbecue family, tells me:

After much thought and homework I will endorse Rob. I did tell him I would stay on his ass.

Powdrell received 28 percent to Grilley's 29 in the first round of voting. Grout came in first with 43 percent. 

Powdrell benefited from his well-known name but also from his more progressive politics. He also garnered votes from an unusual endorsement by the ABQ Journal who gave him the nod after candidate Grout failed to show up for an endorsement interview. 

The district has always had conservative representation--either a conservative Dem or a Republican. Dem operatives remain cautious about flipping the district which includes affluent Four Hills. Grilley has been staffed up with more consultants and is busy raising money for the final weeks. 

In District 7 centered in the Mid-Heights, the Dem trackers are more sanguine over the prospects of Tammy Fieblekorn who faces R Lori Robertson. Registration is overwhelmingly Democratic and the politics there are more progressive than District 9. 

Fiebelkorn is also bringing home her opponents, securing endorsements from fellow Dems Mauro Walden-Montoya and Travis Kellerman who she bested in the Nov. 2 balloting. 

(First Endorser Martin Heinrich endorsed Grilley and Fiebelkorn on Monday.)

The R's would have to win both council seats to take back the majority from the Dems on the nine member council. 

EARLY VOTING 

BernCo Clerk Linda Stover has rolled out early voting for the council runoffs:

Eight Early Voting Convenience Centers (EVCCs) will be open for the Albuquerque Runoff Election – November 16 to December 4. All locations are open Monday to Saturday from 10 a.m. to 7 p.m. Voters may vote in person or hand-deliver a completed absentee ballot at any of the early voting locations.  November 25, 26, 27, all locations will be closed for Thanksgiving. 

TAX TALK 

Talk of tax rebates surfaced on the blog this week because of the huge surpluses being accumulated in Snata Fe due to the energy bull market. Other tax relief suggestions landing in our mailbox include:

--Suspend for one year the state tax on Social Security, a tax not paid by most recipients but one that takes a bite out of those that do.

--Given the immense amount of money coming to the state from the feds infrastructure bill over the next five years ($3.7 billion with over $2 billion for roads and bridges) reduce the $0.17 a gallon gasoline tax for two years. Shaving it in half would give drivers relief and the money lost to local road funds could be made up by the federal largesse. 

--Do electric vehicles pay motor fuel taxes? Of course not, but they wear out roads and bridges. Adopt a vehicle registration fee based on the vehicle value, so the more expensive the car the higher the tax. Also it is time to make the property tax proportional and not a flat tax. 

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Tuesday, November 16, 2021

About Those Record Surpluses: Tax Relief Anyone? Ideas Float As Oil Money Grows, Plus: Big Bill's Birthday Present And Talking Infrastructure  

NM Permian Basin
Forget about that $1.4 billion projected state budget surplus. Prepare for $2 billion or more as oil prices soar over $80 a barrel and oil production ramps up in SE NM.

With that kind of money there is something for everyone but the lack of public discussion of a comprehensive spending package from either side of the aisle has been glaring. Eventually MLG and the Dems can be expected to push harder on the spending side but where are the R's? 

The state made a mighty error under Dem Gov. Richardson when it permanently slashed state income tax rates, costing at least $300 million a year and contributing to a decade of austerity. That's a road best left untraveled. But with inflation rising, the pandemic continuing to thwart economic recovery and the aforementioned surplus set to soar higher, talk of responsible tax relief is beginning to surface. 

One suggestion is for MLG to steal the GOP's thunder by mimicking a popular rebate program Gov. Richardson deployed in 2008 when surpluses were at record levels. The criticism then was that the rebates were measly--only $50 for tax returns with income up to $30,000; $40 for returns between $30,000 and $50,000 and $35 for returns between $50,000 and $70,000. There were no rebates for incomes over $70,000. The total cost of the Richardson rebates was just $56 million. 

With the vast sums New Mexico is dealing with today, those rebates could be much, much more and not make a dent in the state's financial standing and provide needed stimulus for a sluggish economy and an increasingly beleaguered consumer--especially those with low incomes and/or senior citizens on fixed incomes. Also, the rebates could apply to New Mexicans not eligible to file tax returns. 

Rebates that matter would begin with a big shot in the arm--at least $500--for incomes below $50,000 where the money would be rapidly spent and where inflation hurts most. But the income roof for the rebates could also be raised to include household with incomes up to $150,000. Why not? The energy boom belongs to all New Mexicans. 

Given that Santa Fe continues to shy away from big picture programs that carry political risk and controversy, rebates would seem an alternative. The Santa Claus suit is dry cleaned. Who will don it?

BILL'S BIRTHDAY PRESENT 

Richardson and freed journalist
Of course it was more of a present for freed American journalist Danny Fenster than for former Gov Bill Richardson, but Big Bill was instrumental in the Fenster release, deploying his old bag of diplomatic tricks with a rogue regime and leaving with a prize. 

The cherry on the sundae was the release coming on Big Bill's 74th birthday Monday. It's surely one he and Fenster will long remember:

“I’m feeling all right physically,” a bearded Fenster, in baggy drawstring pants and a hat, said. . .Fenster, the managing editor of online magazine Frontier Myanmar, was convicted Friday of spreading false or inflammatory information, contacting illegal organizations and violating visa regulations. He is one of more than 100 journalists, media officials or publishers who have been detained since the military ousted the elected government. . . “This is the day that you hope will come when you do this work,” Richardson said. “We are so grateful that Danny will finally be able to reconnect with his loved ones, who have been advocating for him all this time. . . 

Richardson, a former UN Ambassador, has laid relatively low since being dragged into the Epstein scandal last year. His TV appearances have been rare and the media now calls him a "former diplomat." But his freeing of Fenster shows he still has some gas in the tank and the Biden administration had to be pleased with his success, although his mission was not officially sanctioned.

Richardson explained his successful (and sometimes not so successful) methods in dealing with dictators and other questionable characters in his 2014 book “How to Sweet-Talk a Shark." It's an entertaining romp around the globe. 

The ex-Guv is a graduate of the Fletcher School at Tufts which specializes in international relations. He now splits his time between Santa Fe and his home state of Massachusetts.

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