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Thursday, February 02, 2023

CYFD Misfires Again: Sex Abuse Of 10 Year Old Foster Child Housed At Agency Office Building Is Yet Another Low Point But Santa Fe Stays Silent; Where Are The Progressive Women At The Roundhouse? Plus: NM Jobless Rate About As Good As It Gets 

MLG & Sec. Vigil (Journal)
They said in a 2020 legal settlement they would stop housing foster children in state office buildings yet we get this

Inside the office building of the very state agency charged with protecting children, a 14-year-old foster youth allegedly sexually assaulted a 10-year-old foster child in December. The assault occurred in a bathroom at the New Mexico Children, Youth and Families Department’s main Albuquerque office building, according to APD.  The complex on Indian School Road houses the CYFD cabinet secretary and deputy secretary’s satellite offices, as well as the call center that screens reports of child abuse and neglect. Foster youth routinely sleep in the Albuquerque office when caseworkers cannot find them a bed elsewhere, according to children’s attorneys and CYFD employees. 

The systemic and cultural issues at CYFD are unrelenting and cry out for more attention from the administration but continue to be greeted with silence from the executive. No reform package. No acknowledgment. Instead, the state gets this blah, blah, blah: 

“We can confirm there was an incident that is pending internal and external investigation to ensure that proper placement protocols were followed,” CYFD Cabinet Secretary Barbara Vigil said. “CYFD staff are clear that children are not to be placed in offices unless every other option is exhausted, and any improper action will yield consequences.”

There's also the question of where the many female progressive Democratic House members are on CYFD's continued breakdown. The problem goes much deeper than paying more to overloaded case workers, one of the few bills from them that touches upon the CYFD disarray and then only superficially. How about some robust oversight hearings? Some real lawmaking? The Republicans have been at their best in critiquing the epic CYFD fail but they don't have the votes. 

As KTRC radio host Richard Eeds has opined: "Sometimes Santa Fe just sucks." 

AS FULL AS IT GETS

If New Mexico is not at full employment it is very close to it, according to the December stats:

The Santa Fe MSA had the lowest not seasonally adjusted unemployment rate among the state’s MSAs at 2.8 percent. The Albuquerque MSA had a rate of 3.1 percent, below the state’s whole of 3.4 percent. Farmington had the highest unemployment rate among the MSAs (4.1 percent) followed by the Las Cruces MSA (3.7 percent).

The fly in the soup remains the state's low labor participation rate of 55.7 percent. That number is arrived at when all the employed and unemployed workers are divided against the state's civilian population over the age of 16. Only Mississippi and West Virginia have lower rates. Experts say a chief reason for the declining rate here and in the nation is an aging population. Unskilled workers and low wages are also cited for the decline as is the high rate of drug addiction. 

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Wednesday, February 01, 2023

Roundhouse Potpourri: A Voting Holiday, A Smell Test And A Shut-Out Republican, Plus: Billions In Medicaid Contracts Stalled Amid Turnover At The Top 

One of the major debates this legislative session is about extending school hours to increase public school performance. But then you get this in the voting rights bill:

Every general election and regular local election shall be a school holiday for students and staff at each public school in this state.

That's better than the proposal to make the day a holiday for the entire state but it doesn't pass the smell test. That's because the Dems are also pushing for those extended school hours. Which is it? More school or more holidays?

What apparently does pass the smell test is a bill to make the smell of roasted green chile the "official aroma" of New Mexico. Maybe, but it's getting competition from all that legal marijuana wafting through the air. 

(See, this is why we need a full-time paid legislature with lots of staffers--to settle these critical matters once and for all.) 

As the only Republican left in the Legislature from Bernalillo County, Rep. Bill Rehm is used to being the odd man out. And he was again Tuesday when he went 0 for 5 with his series of crime-fighting bills. Every one of them was tabled by the House Consumer and Public Affairs Committee. 

It's not only a rejection of Rehm's approach but perhaps a signal that some lawmakers are tiring of the ABQ crime problem and expecting more from city leadership. Most of the state is not enduring the crime outbreak that led to Rehm's bills. It raises the question of whether the city's banner crime proposal this year--the one asking for $20 million to track down folks in ABQ and around the state with outstanding arrest warrants--will make the grade at the Roundhouse. 

The aforementioned voting rights act does not have that controversial clause that would allow 16 year olds to vote in state and local elections but it now resurfaces in House bill 217. Well, clearly the teens aren't mature enough to vote but maybe we should let them run and get elected to the legislature. Would we notice a difference?

While the progressives have gone off the rails by advocating for 16 year olds voting, the far right Republicans are right behind them. Take a look:

One bill sponsored by five House Republicans would allow anyone over the age of 18 to carry a concealed gun without needing a permit. One sponsor says this is a common-sense measure. “Violent criminals, they already don’t follow laws. So, this would just further protect law-abiding citizens. To allow them to have the autonomy to own a gun whether they prefer to have a permit or not. And that would help them to stop bad criminals in their different areas that they live in the state from being able to target them.

Hear that violent criminals? You don't follow the laws anyway so do what you're going to do. Heck, the Burque gangsters may start voting Republican. 

MEDICAID SUSPENSE

The multi-billion dollar question of which companies will be awarded contracts to run the state's Medicaid program will have to wait for an answer. Amid high-level personnel turnover, a decision has been canceled. 

Awarding the contract is the most consequential financial and health care decision the state makes. We took a deep dive into Medicaid money January 16, focusing on a controversy over the billing practices of healthcare giant Centene, whose subsidiary WesternSky Community Care is a current Medicare provider and seeking a new contract. The current one is set to expire at year's end. 

The reason the state gave for cancelling the awarding of contracts for the program that serves 970,000 residents or about half the state's population is this:

The Human Services Department canceled the procurement process for the selection of managed care organizations in its soon-to-be revamped Medicaid program next year. The news follows the departures of HSD Secretary David Scrase and Medicaid Director Nicole Comeaux last week. HSD said the decision was made after their departures “so that the agency’s new leadership … can assess the design of the procurement.” The contracts for the Medicaid program’s current MCOs – which includes Blue Cross Blue Shield of New Mexico, Presbyterian Health Plan and Western Sky Community Care – are set to expire at the end of the year. In late-September, HSD began soliciting proposals from health insurers for Turquoise Care, the renamed Medicaid program for 2024. “HSD is working on a new timeline, but anticipates vendors will be selected in the next few months." A spokeswoman said. 

The Legislative Finance Committee reports annual state Medicaid spending is now $9 billion with about two-thirds of that coming from the federal government. NM tops the nation in the percentage of its population covered by Medicaid. 

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Tuesday, January 31, 2023

Santa Fe Republicans Are Forlorn But Not Completely Shut Out; Voices Heard On Guns And Guv Health Measure, Plus: PRC Commissioner O'Connell; Too Conflicted To Serve?  

Rep. Armstrong
The minority Republicans are forlorn this legislative session, on the outside looking in on almost all the important issues of the day. But their conservative views on gun control resonate with enough Dems to put most of those bills on the endangered list. And since they have essentially become the party of rural New Mexico, the GOP can also squeeze into the action on this major legislative item from the Governor--the $200 million Rural Health Care Delivery Act (SB7). 

The sponsors are lawmakers with large rural populations, Dem Sen. Liz Stefanics and GOP Rep. Gail Armstrong. The measure passed its first test Monday, winning bipartisan approval from the senate's health committee. 

Typically such a big spending measure might earn a thumbs down from the R's but not this time. Says Armstrong of rural District 49 that includes Socorro County and environs: 

As a representative from the largest district in New Mexico, I can attest to the struggles rural New Mexicans face in finding comprehensive health care. I am glad to work in a bipartisan manner to establish a fund dedicated to improving the health and well-being of rural New Mexicans.

Christina Campos, administrator of the Guadalupe County Hospital, fills in the blanks:

. . .It's not unusual for some citizens to travel over one hour to the nearest hospital. Seven of 33 counties have no hospital or emergency department, and these are all rural counties. These funds will support rural start-up hospitals while they get their finances in order, and will help other existing rural hospitals expand essential services for their communities. 

So the Democratic Governor, who was wiped out in much of rural NM in her November re-elect, is now drawing GOP support from that same region. This is an instance where smart legislation makes for some smart politics--for both sides--but especially Republicans who desperately need a path out of the darkness. The position on healthcare articulated by Armstrong could provide a light. 

GUNS UNITE GOP

Rep. Herndon
On gun control, the GOP base is united and so are their Santa Fe reps. Even on the relativity innocuous Bennie Hargrove Act (HB9), back for a second time and designed to hold parents responsible for the safe storage of guns in their homes, the R's stood their ground when the bill was approved Monday by the House Judiciary Committee, 7 to 4 It now heads to the full House. 

Still, the measure (HB 9), sponsored again by ABQ Dem Rep. Pamelya Herndon, may have been amended enough to get more moderate senate Dems to go along this year and make it the law. Wall-leaners inform us that if any gun control measure is going ot make it, this is the one. 

CHECKING THE GUVS

But if you want more bipartisan legislation from the Roundhouse here's another one coming down the pike:

Senate Bill 65, sponsored by Senate Republican Leader Greg Baca cleared the Senate Health and Public Affairs Committee with unanimous bipartisan support. The bill provides for legislative involvement in renewing or amending a governor’s public health order and emergency declaration. (The bill) requires legislative approval for public health orders and declarations after 90 days. The approval would be done by the Legislature, or if the Legislature is not in session, by a majority vote of the interim Legislative Council committee. The Legislative Council is comprised of Democratic and Republican members of the Senate and House.

MLG has received largely positive reviews for her handing of the Covid emergency, at least the voters seemed to think so. But putting a check on executive power in such emergencies in the future is a must-do for the Legislature. Look for this one to make it to her desk, and hopefully her pen will have plenty of ink when it does. 

O'CONNELL'S CONFLICT

O'Connell
This only reinforces the judgment that this gubernatorial appointment to the Public Regulation Commission (PRC), riddled with conflicts of interest, should never have happened. 

PRC appointee Patrick O'Connell recused himself from involvement in the proposed merger of Avangrid with Public Service Company of New Mexico (PNM). O'Connell faced calls to recuse himself after being appointed to the commission in December, having given sworn testimony in support of the merger. He also worked for PNM from 1999 to 2019. Mariel Nanasi, executive director of the advocacy group New Energy Economy, expressed support of O'Connell's recusal. "Commissioner O'Connell did the right thing to recuse himself because the law is clear that when there is an actual conflict of interest a Commissioner must recuse." The merger was denied by the previous commission, which was an elected body until this year. The matter now is before the state Supreme Court. 

This leaves unanswered the question of whether the public deserves three new PRC commissioners who can fully participate in the public's business. O'Connell worked for PNM, the most significant company regulated by the PRC. There would seem to be many more "conflicts" to come unless action is taken. A resignation would be in order--or a rejection of the appointment by the state senate.

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Monday, January 30, 2023

One And Done: Second Guv Term Sees Numerous Cabinet Chiefs Heading For The Exits; "Pretty Normal" Or "Hard To Work With? Plus: GOP House Has Upheaval Of Their Own; Harper Ghosted As Nibert Rises 

Talk about understatements. Here they are fresh from the turbulent state capital where cabinet secretaries are falling like well-struck bowling pins. 

It sounds like she’s a little hard to work with.

I know the governor is a tough boss.

Those polite assessments--the first from GOP Senate Whip Craig Brandt and the second from ABQ Dem Rep. Liz Thomson--had Roundhouse wall-leaners, who are unchecked by the need to bite their tongues, chuckling at the sudden discovery that MLG is a volatile chief executive who changes personnel like George Steinbrenner changed Yankee managers.

But the way the departing parade burst forth last week finally let the public in on the inside story. Gone were Human Services Secretary David Scrase, Public Education Secretary Kurt Steinhaus, General Services Secretary John Garcia and the director of the NM Medicaid program. Their resignations came after recent goodbyes from the heads of the DFA and Indian Affairs and Veterans Services. And a resignation we red-flagged last week at the Dept. of  Homeland Security turns out to be Deputy Director Kerry Hamilton.

It was left to Senate President Pro Tem Mimi Stewart to do the clean up, saying of the turnover:

For a second term of a governor, it’s pretty normal.

Well, not quite but unless the departures are accompanied by corruption memes or bad behavior they remain on the backburner for most voters. 

So far, MLG has avoided that fate which has kept her approval rating from tumbling faster than a rockslide in the northern mountains where the signs read "Watch for Falling Rocks." The same could be said for the Roundhouse of late as the fallout from the Fourth floor rains down on the Rotunda below.

FEELING IT MOST

It's Public Ed where the rapid turnover in bosses might cause causal observers to take a second glance. Education performance is a key plank of the Dems and they are throwing more money at it than a Vegas craps junkie. 

CYFD is also a sore sport for the Guv. If she is so intent on micromanaging--which her critics call mercurial--where is she when it comes to that high profile and problematic agency? She lost her first cabinet secretary there to a scandal that was taking place right under everyone's noses and the new regime has seemingly been left to its own devices. 

Governors get a lot of rope when it comes to staffing. That's because they are ultimately held accountable for the results or lack thereof. We think Sen. Stewart would agree, however, that it's also "pretty normal" for second terms to accelerate that accountability. 

GOP UPHEAVEL 

Rep. Harper
The Republicans may relish the fleeing from Santa Fe that's grabbing  headlines but they have their own "here today, gone tomorrow" story going on.

First, in the aftermath of the election they unexpectedly dumped House Minority Leader Jim Townsend and Whip Rod Montoya, replacing them with new Minority Leader Ryan Lane and Rep. Jason Harper. But after only two weeks Harper has been ghosted.  

The House GOP Caucus (25 of the 70 member House), perhaps venting frustration over their deeper dive into irrelevancy as a result of the November balloting, gave the boot to Harper.

His mortal sin was apparently being the only member of the caucus to support a $2.5 million study to determine if the Legislature could benefit from full-time staffing and field offices. That violated Commandment #1 of the GOP:

Rep. Nibert
Thou shalt never favor larger government. Never. 

The R's turned to longtime oil and gas attorney Rep. Greg Nibert of Roswell to take the reins from Harper. He should do fine since the Second Commandant of the GOP is: 

The oil and gas industry can do no wrong. Never.

Harper was the only House GOP leader from the ABQ metro. His ouster showed the power of the party still rests in population-diminished rural New Mexico with its pockets of Republican radicalization that continue to restrain the minority party from bolting more to the mainstream. 

In the wee morning hours of Election Night it appeared that Harper had lost his seat to a Democrat. The race turned out to be tight--52-48--but he won. However that erroneous call may turn out to be prophetic. After being stripped of his whip title, Harper is a man without a tribe and the Blue creep looks ready to seep deeper into his backyard in '24. Heck, he might want to apply for a cabinet post. We hear there are a few vacancies. 

THE BOTTOM LINES 

Reader A.K. Anderson has an alternative to naming Election Day a state holiday as some Dems are proposing: 

Instead of a holiday, they should expand the 2 hours of paid leave given to employees to vote to include  early voting instead of limiting it to election day. That would be a benefit. 

Reader Janet Steel writes:

Hey Joe, What is your take on the proposed bill to change the primary system? Is it a good idea to open it up to those not affiliated with a political party? Will it pass? 

We'll take the second part first. No, it will not pass. The majority Dems are skeptical and progressives believe it would hurt their candidates. A good idea? Perhaps. But with their registration now approaching 23 percent of the electorate, the power of independent voters is not going unnoticed in policy or politics. 

Join us at 4:10 p.m. today on KKOB 96.3 FM as we kick the legislative football around with TJ Trout.

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Thursday, January 26, 2023

Politicos Play Act Over Pretrial Detention Bill While It Hangs From The Gallows; Time For Another Script, Plus: Some Santa Fe Movin' And Shakin'  

MLG (Moore, Journal)
Can someone please explain this? 

The Governor holds a news conference to trot out a crime-fighting package with its centerpiece the pretrial detention bill and at the same news conference she cozies up to Senate Judiciary Committee Chairman Joe Cervantes who is going to kill that very bill. And remember, the same thing happened last year when MLG touted the proposal. It was DOA in the senate and she knew it. Nothing like staring your executioner in the eye.

You get it and I get it that the crime wave in ABQ is so epic that elected officals have got to propose something to at least act like they can get a handle on it. But the ongoing political theatre over pretrial detention is brazenly cynical and more than exasperating as the body count continues to climb on the streets of ABQ.

Yes, Cervantes and other pretrial bill foes are a pain in the posterior of MLG, ABQ Mayor Tim Keller and APD Chief Harold Medina but you can't act like they don't exist. Either cut a deal or move on. Just stop the play-acting, Governor. Time for another script. 

Folks, that is not serious stuff but this is:

Fifty Rio Arriba County residents died from drug overdoses in 2022, among the highest totals ever recorded in the county, according to provisional data provided by the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. The 50 overdose deaths were recorded for the one-year period spanning July 1, 2021, to June 30, 2022, and represent the federal government’s latest drug fatality total for Rio Arriba County as of Jan. 1, 2023.

Bernalillo and Santa Fe Counties recorded higher overdose death totals during the same period, logging 448 and 75 drug fatalities respectively, federal data shows. . .

And here's something from the reality-based world that the electeds at the news conference (including Cervantes) might want to soak up before they have their next one:

According to drug treatment experts, county and state health officials can help drive down overdose numbers in Rio Arriba County by expanding access to intensive outpatient treatment programs, mobile outreach programs and suboxone and methadone treatment, which are proven to help patients overcome addiction and prevent fatal overdoses.

Cut down the drugs. Cut down the crime. 

MOVIN' AND SHAKIN'

Victor Reyes
Insiders say MLG loyalist Victor Reyes had his heart set on becoming her chief of staff in her second term but that didn't happen and now he's headed to the exits. 

Reyes has resigned as deputy superintendent of the Regulation and Licensing Division where he oversaw the start of the state's cannabis program. He was also the Guv's first legislative director and worked on her '22 re-election. She put out a nice statement about him when he resigned, even though he is not a cabinet secretary. He says he is pursuing other opportunities. Keep an eye out for him.

The Guv recently named a new chief of staff but added that her chief operating officer will be a "co-equal of sorts" with the chief. And you thought your job was complicated. . .

John Garcia, a rare Republican in the MLG cabinet, is leaving his secretary post at the General Services Department. He took over there in late 2021. The Guv said he has been a "wonderful addition" to the cabinet. He says he "enjoyed my time" and is resigning for personal reasons. Garcia is a former tourism secretary under Republican Governor Johnson and has held so many other government and private sector jobs it would take an entire blog to mention them. . . 

We're also getting word that there may have been a shake-up at the Department of Homeland Security with one of the top deputies there departing suddenly. The agency, which handles major amounts of federal funds, has been topsy turvy.  

MLG in 2019 named Jackie White, a captain at ABQ Fire and Rescue, as cabinet secretary for the agency. In May 2020 Bianca Ortiz Wertheim was named secretary. She left in January '22 to take another state post and Diego Arencon, the Guv's deputy chief of staff, was chosen as acting secretary. In May of '22 David Dye from the Santa Fe County Emergency Management Office was appointed secretary. 

Homeland Security has been heavy involved with the Covid 19 response and the northern NM wildfires. The Legislative Finance Committee needs to keep a close eye on the agency and the money flow, report our Roundhouse Alligators. 

NO HOLIDAY, PLEASE

Reader Michelle Meaders agrees with the blog skepticism of naming Election Day in NM a state holiday--a proposal that could be part of the Dems voting rights bill this year. Meaders writes:

The people who could benefit the most have to work on holidays anyway. We expect our news, our coffee, police and fire service, restaurants, transportation and lots of other services, even on holidays. People who work regular hours and get holidays off have plenty of opportunities to vote early. And the schools are closed anyway, to use as voting places. So school workers have the day off. We have another holiday, Veterans Day, soon after Election Day. A holiday would mean more disruption and public work not done. 

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Wednesday, January 25, 2023

Voting Rights Bill Is Back; Election Day A Holiday? Plus: Abbey Adjusts; Longtime LFC Director Navigates Major Change With New Leadership 

A state holiday on Election Day? That's about the only deal-breaker in this year's voting rights bill that is surfacing at the Roundhouse. 

Gone is the bizarre proposal to allow 16 year olds to vote in certain elections, but declaring a holiday that would apparently have the state government shut down and put pressure on the private sector to do the same should also be a nonstarter.

It's not necessary.

Voters no longer only have the actual election day to vote but several weeks of early voting as well plus easily accessible absentee voting. 

In addition, the law already eases the way for voters to cast Election Day ballots. 

If your workday begins within two hours of the polls opening and ends less than three hours before the polls close, then you’re entitled to up to two hours of paid leave to vote in an election. However, your employer can set the time for your leave

Other major provisions of the proposal include creating. . .

A permanent but optional absentee voter list, reinstate voting rights for felons immediately when they get out of prison. . .and the use of official tribal buildings as mailing addresses for people who don't have traditional mailing addresses.

ABQ Dem Sen. Katy Duhigg is the new chair of the Senate Rules Committee where the bill died last year after controversy with then Chairman Daniel Ivey-Soto. Approval should be easier this time as should a simple amendment to nix the holiday plan.

PATTY'S OUT  

Abbey and Lundstrom
Patty's out and you get this:

The House Appropriations and Finance Committee (HAFC) will begin taking public input during agency budget hearings to give New Mexico’s diverse communities a voice in the budget process. “We must meet this moment by putting our record revenues to work for New Mexicans while charting a course for generational change. A vital piece of this process is hearing directly from our communities to make sure our budget works for them,” said HAFC Chair Nathan Small.

Conservative Dem Rep. Patricia Lundstrom was ousted from the powerful chairmanship by new House Speaker Martinez. 

That jarring move also raised the question of the fate of longtime Legislative Finance Committee (LFC) director David Abbey, another powerhouse in the legislative process. We put the question to a Senior Alligator at the Roundhouse:

It's true that David has been deeply aligned with the conservative leadership of former Chair Lundstrom but in the end he is a staffer who will serve the Legislature and expedite their agenda regardless of ideology. That's his job and it's also how you stay a top staffer for so many years. 

Here's Abbey's quote as the earth shakes under his feet: 

The Legislative Finance Committee works year-round to assess New Mexico’s revenue, track our state’s reserves, and determine how we can maintain robust reserves while best utilizing available funds to make research-based investments in areas of greatest need. Right now, we have the opportunity to not only address a number of systemic challenges, but also turn our current financial boom into long-term returns.

Yeah, gone is the rhetoric that the sky is going to fall and all the oil will dry up. Adapting is the number one rule for staying around and Abbey's statement is proof of that. 

If Abbey, about 70, did choose to retire, he would leave behind an enviable legacy. The LFC staff continues to get high marks from our sources and their analysis of state government agencies remains vital reading for political junkies far and wide. (For newbies, here's a backgrounder on Abbey.)

DAY DRINKIN'

A reader reacts to our Tuesday blog about Sen. Pope proposing to limit boozing at the Roundhouse:

Wow! I had no idea legislators were drinking during the day. I’ve heard there is plenty of it after hours, but really, during the day?! Yes, it should be banned. Taxpayer dollars are being spent for these people to do serious stuff in a short amount of time.

THE BOTTOM LINES

Say hi to Howie:

New Mexico’s lieutenant governor announced he will be holding in-person and virtual office hours. Lt. Gov. Howie Morales’ office hours will take place throughout the state Legislature’s regular, 60-day session. It’s available for any New Mexicans who want to meet with the man second in command to comment on proposed legislation or just get help with a problem. To schedule a meeting with the lieutenant governor, call 505-476-2250 or email James.Farrell@lgo.nm.gov 

And Howie isn't even running for anything anymore. Or is he? 

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Tuesday, January 24, 2023

Ban The Bottle? Senator Tries To Limit Roundhouse Boozing; Wants Lawmakers "To Be Professional," Plus: Rep. Vasquez Irked Over Not Meeting Biden At El Paso Immigration Visit But He Had An Earlier Chance  

Sen. Pope 
Here's a topic near and dear to the hearts of some of our New Mexico lawmakers. ABQ Dem Senator Harold Pope wants to ban the boozing at the venerable Roundhouse, or at least strictly limit when senators can imbibe.

Never mind that his plan might send his personal popularity plummeting with some of his colleagues, Pope is on to something. With our state atop the list for alcohol-related deaths, it would seem an ideal time for legislators to set an example, instead of seeing a number of them arrested for drinking and driving. Pope's booze ban would include the time before or during any floor session or committee meeting. Says the ABQ Dem westside lawmaker:

We want people to be professional and be on the job and be focused. We’re dealing with some serious issues every day, you know, what we vote on, and it’s stressful enough it can be contentious on the floor, and the last thing we need is to have folks having drinks or inebriated which is going to cause people to make bad choices. . . There’s just some things that I’ve seen that I’ve felt are unprofessional. As members of the Senate and the issues that we have in our state when it comes to alcohol and professionalism, I just feel that this is something a rule that we needed to add.

Pope did not rat out any of his fellow lawmakers as examples of bad behavior brought on by booze but that alcohol is often the lubricant for legislative debate is an open secret. 

Last year a lobbyist who made a sexual harassment charge against ABQ Dem Senator Daniel Ivey-Soto talked of getting high on too much wine the senator served to her in his office and which she said she drank because she felt pressure to go along.

Pope's proposal--SR01--would amend Senate rules to include the limits on alcohol but would not apply to the House.

It would be interesting to hear the thoughts of the progressive lobbyists on banning booze as well as those of the advocates for a full-time paid legislature. Should that "modernized" legislature include a booze ban? 

Alcohol is completely banned at some capitols including Oklahoma and Idaho. Pope is not calling for that so the flasks and bottles in the filing cabinets will still be safe but the senator's proposed anti-liquor crusade may be only the first round. The measure has street cred with the public. After all, how many of them are allowed to drink on the job?

DISAPPOINTED GABE

Rep. Vasquez
Freshman Dem Rep. Gabe Vasquez is disappointed that he was not invited to join President Biden at his recent El Paso visit to discuss the immigration crisis at the US Mexico border. He says:

That is so close to our district. New Mexico has to have a place at the table when we have conversations around border security, around immigration, around the refugee crisis.

But hold on. Didn't Vasquez recently have an opportunity to discuss the border with the president but failed to seize it? Indeed he did. 

It happened when Biden made a campaign appearance in ABQ's South Valley November 2 on behalf of MLG, Vasquez and other Dem candidates. Apparently sensing political peril from the visit in the conservative region of his southern congressional district, Vasquez notably took a pass on meeting the president that day. Ditto for US Sen. Martin Heinrich who didn't even show up at the airport to greet Biden when he arrived. If the delegation is going to pose as being serious on the border might they make more serious efforts to meet the man in charge?    

Meanwhile, Rep. Vasquez is probably fortunate that Republican Yvette Herrell may again be his opponent when he seeks his second term in '24. As we previously reported, former Rep. Herrell has already filed paperwork with the FEC for a '24 run. Now there is this departing message from her: 

During my time in Congress, I've had the privilege of meeting and working with countless great patriots in New Mexico, people who are willing to fight for freedom and prosperity. These courageous men and women remain strong in hard times and don't care about what the media or the Washington Establishment says--as long as they're on the side of truth and justice. . .All will play a part in saving our great nation. That is why, as I depart Washington and head home to the plains and mountains we know so well, I know the future is in good hands, no matter what challenges lie ahead. Serving the hardworking families of New Mexico has been my greatest honor, and I'm not done yet. 

Based on her 1,300 vote loss to Vasquez in an off year election, Herrell could have a lot more time viewing those "plains and mountains." A comeback in '24--a presidential year with higher voter turnout--is a high climb.

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Monday, January 23, 2023

The Crime Beat: Another Defeat Anticipated For Pretrial Detention Bill But Controversial Court Tool May Be Cut, Plus: More Pena: GOP Embarrassed After Electing Him To Post But Their Reaction To Alleged Crimes Seems Mild, Plus: Drug Money Used In His House Campaign? 

Sen. Cervantes
The stunning shootings of homes of four elected officials allegedly engineered by failed GOP House candidate Solomon Pena doesn't seem to be moving the needle on that controversial pretrial detention bill that's back at the Roundhouse. It again appears headed for an early grave. 

Senate Judiciary Committee Chairman Joseph Cervantes, who opposed the bill last year, has basically said as much. He's repeated his opposition, declaring that judges have the power they need to keep dangerous offenders in jail and that there is more to solving the ABQ crime problem than locking up people.

MLG has again made it a banner crime measure, highlighting it in her State of the State speech. This year's version--SB123--is again sponsored by ABQ Senator Linda Lopez--one of the four Dem elected officials whose homes were targeted with gunfire. But the bill has received a dreaded triple committee referral. That's as close as it gets  to guaranteeing a loss.

At last year's session "Rebuttal presumption against release," was knocked out early at the Senate health committee where it was tabled February 7. That may be close to the date of its demise this session as the health committee has again received the bill along with Senate Judiciary and Senate Finance.

The bill is simple enough and has the necessary populist appeal to win headlines. It basically states that criminal defendants charged with certain violent crimes like murder are presumed to be dangerous enough to be kept in jail after arrest and have to prove to a court otherwise. Current law requires prosecutors to make the case to the judge that the defendants are indeed dangerous and should stay behind bars.

Opponents, including the ACLU, say the pretrial system was created by voters in 2016, is largely working and detaining innocent people is expensive and would have a devastating impact on their lives. 

In theory rebuttal presumption is supposed to reduce the rate of violent crime but the Legislative Finance Committee reported last year that the bill would only nick the crime problem. To put a real dent in it they said ABQ and other crime-ridden areas need mores arrests, more prosecutions and more convictions. Then BernCo DA Raul Torrez--now AG--faulted the study but was not joined by any prominent legislators in his assessment, 

And good luck with more arrests and prosecutions as the BernCo DA's office and APD still complain of being short staffed. Some legislators believe looking more closely at the inner workings of law enforcement to assess their efficiency in light of continued budget increases is long overdue. 

Questioning police procedure and administration is tricky because opponents are quick to label anyone doing so anti-cop but they argue it's a tool in the box that has not been used. 

BROKEN TOOL?

Speaking of tools, the state's judiciary has experienced another round of ridicule over the Arnold Tool that assesses a defendant's danger to the community and tells a judge whether they should be jailed or released before trial. Guffaws broke out when the Tool recommended that the notorious Solomon Pena be released. Metro Court Judge Jill Martinez did use her power to keep him in jail and the case will now be heard in district court. Still. . . 

The Arnold Tool took account of Pena having no previous violent crime record. However, he did serve nearly seven years in prison for burglary. The Tool apparently did not analyze that Pena is charged with one of the most notorious and anti-democratic crimes involving violence the state has ever experienced.  

That led Sen. Cervantes to diss the Arnold Tool as nearly ludicrous and entertained the notion of eliminating it all together, saying:

The Arnold Tool is just like any other computer program and we all know the ‘garbage in, garbage out’ phrase. It would seem very clear the Tool is being used to make recommendations for a lot of individuals being released that shouldn’t be. Seventy-five percent (of those charged) with murder in Albuquerque in 2021 were recommended to be released. The Arnold Tool can also be used as an excuse for why certain individuals have been released and why they’re committing horrible murders while they’re on release. There is an argument being made that the Arnold Tool really serves very little purpose because all it does really is aggregate information that the judge would already have.

Senate Judiciary plans to discuss the Arnold Tool Wednesday morning with public input expected to be robust. 

ONION PEELING

Solomon Pena
The Pena case continues to unfold like the peeling of an onion. Now it's discovered that at a January 14 meeting Pena was elected as a ward chairman and a member of the NMGOP Central Committee for the Bernalillo County Republican Party. Party officials hid from the press when confronted but former state Rep. Janice Arnold-Jones says the party is trying to undo the election but it's complicated. 

In addition, APD and the AG are now investigating whether Pena's campaign for the state House received drug money when he failed to unseat District 14 Rep. Miguel Garcia. 

Meantime, oilman and former NMGOP Chairman Harvey Yates, whose Jalapeno Corporation we noted last week gave $5,000 to Pena, says he met Pena two years ago at a GOP meeting. He described him as a:

 . . . Respectful, polite young man. I, at that time, had become aware that he had a criminal history but that he was trying to reform himself. I believe in redemption and helping a guy if he’s really trying to do that. So I donated to him, or the company donated to him. It also donated the same amount to probably 20 other candidates.

Yates added he was "extremely saddened" to hear of Pena's arrest. 

Redemption? Trying to reform himself?  That's treading very lightly, say the Yates critics, who wonder where the usual GOP tough on crime rhetoric is from him and other R's.

The state GOP said:

These recent accusations against Solomon Pena are serious, and he should be held accountable if the charges are validated in court. RPNM condemns all forms of violence. We are thankful that nobody was injured by his actions. If Pena is found guilty, he must be prosecuted to the full extent of the law.

That also sounds vanilla compared to the usual frothing the party reserves for violent criminals. 

A more fulsome response seems to be lacking because Trump still holds sway over much of the GOP grassroots that have been radicalized but whose numbers are still enough to intimidate establishment figures like Yates and GOP Chair Steve Pearce. 

Numerically the GOP is a mere appendage at the Roundhouse and Pena reminds everyone how a segment of the state's minority party has become dangerously radicalized. Being shy about boldly condemning the allegations doesn't help them dig out of their hole.

This is the home of New Mexico Politics. 

E-mail your news and comments. (newsguy@yahoo.com)

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(c)NM POLITICS WITH JOE MONAHAN 2023

Thursday, January 19, 2023

Pena Case Gets More Political As APD Chief Blasts Finding At His First Court Appearance, Plus: Pena And The Pretrial Detention Bill, Also: Bregman's Black Hat And Some Blog Bottom Lines  

Pena in court
Solomon Pena has done the near impossible. He's made politicians look sympathetic--and he's the gift that keeps on giving to them. 

In an ABQ Metro Court appearance Wednesday it was revealed that the Arnold Tool--used to determine the danger a criminal defendant poses to the community--suggested that Pena could be released on his own recognizance while awaiting trial, even though he faces multiple charges for the shootings at the homes of elected Democratic officials. 

The Arnold tool said even with a past felony conviction for a smash and grab crime from 2007 and for which he served nearly seven years in prison, Pena could be released. That had APD Chief Harold Medina again pointing his finger at the criminal justice system over the area's high crime rate:

. . .Yet another example that shows why the criminal justice system is broken. Prosecutors will recommend that the suspect in these shootings be held in jail until trial. But a judicial assessment recommends the suspect should be released, even though he is a convicted felon who served time in prison for committing more than a dozen felonies. This suspect is alleged to have hired hitmen to shoot up elected officials’ houses with life-threatening gunfire. While I realize the judicial assessment is just one tool that judges can consider, I believe that tool is fatally flawed. How can we require judges to use this broken tool? We need to fix this process so the public will have faith that we are keeping the community safe from dangerous criminals.

Judge Jill Martinez told a subdued Pena that he will remain in jail without bond while the DA's office preps for a pre-trial detention hearing in district court. ABQ attorney Roberta Yurcic is representing Pena. The next court hearing is scheduled for February 1. 

Chief Medina and many elected officials, including the Governor, are again asking the Legislature for a rebuttable presumption bill for violent offenses that carries an automatic presumption that the person charged is too dangerous for pretrial release. 

At the '22 session that bill was blocked in a senate committee. The Governor pushed it again in her opening address to lawmakers this week but opponents have issues with the constitutionality of the measure and it could be headed for another dead end. 

Or does the Solomon Pena case and another year of record murders in ABQ give it some steam?

MEDINA PUSHBACK

On Chief Medina's continued attacks on the criminal justice system, his critics retort that it is his failed policies--a lack of officers, a lack of intensity in street patrols and a lack of arrests for gun crimes--that is a major cause of the crime wave. 

They also fault the city of ABQ's request from the Legislature for millions in overtime pay for the police to pursue 5,000 outstanding felony warrants and 60,000 for misdemeanors in BernCo, calling it yet another scheme to pad overtime pay for APD and one that would have no impact on serious crime. 

Excessive police overtime has been a sore spot at APD for decades and the cases of abuse have continued under Medina. Attorney General Balderas failed to prosecute one of the more astonishing cases. Attorney General Torrez has yet to be heard from on the subject. 

PENA'S PLACE

Pena has a checkered employment past with nothing substantial. He lists his last job as a sales rep with a roofing company. But he did take out a $165,000 mortgage in December 2019 to purchase a 1,726 square condominium at Alcalde Place, the high rise located across from KOB and KRQE TV stations where he was arrested this week. 

The picture posted is the inside of his condo when it was on display for sale and before he bought it.  

NBC News reports that the Alcalde homeowners association forced him to remove an anti-Biden flag that included a profanity.

Jose Trujillo, who was arrested in connection with the shooting of the home of Sen. Linda Lopez, was also arrested for possessing 800 fentanyl pills. The vehicle he was in was a Nissan Maxima registered to Pena but the registration had expired. 

Here is a copy of the Pena mortgage.

THE JUDGE

Judge Jill Martinez, who presided over the nationally watched first court appearance of Pena, was elected to the bench in 2014, winning 50.8 percent of the vote over Republican John Duran. She was retained by voters in the retention elections of of 2018 and 2022. Martinez is a former prosecutor with the BernCo DA's office, as well as a former defense attorney. She is a 2004 University of Idaho Law School graduate.

THE BLACK HAT

DA Bregman
Surprise! Newly appointed BernCo District Attorney Sam Bregman says he will personally prosecute the Pena case. That is, if there is a trial and not a plea bargain. 

Bregman, a renowned trial lawyer, said when he took the two year appointment from the Governor that he would do what other DA's rarely do and prosecute cases. No surprise. His love for publicity is equal to his love for the law. 

Bregman has now taken to wearing a black cowboy hat in his public appearances and we fear that our little 'ol blog may be partly to blame. After all, we reminded everyone that back in the day when Bregman ran for state land commissioner he sported a black cowboy hat in his TV commercials.

Now the hat is back, but it's incongruous. Bernalillo County is not Lincoln County where real cowboys live. It is the state's urban center where the suit and tie uniform for prosecutors is still the standard. It is usually tough on crime Republican sheriffs seen sporting the black hat or Cowboys for Trump rabble rousers like Couy Griffin. But a Democratic DA in BernCo?

If the DA insists on wearing his hat real cowboys tell us he needs to start taking it off when he is inside public buildings like the courthouse and the Roundhouse. "Cowboys are gentlemen. We remove our hats when inside," opined one. 

A good tip for all the urban cowboys out there (including DA Sam). And finally, could the DA at least wear a white hat when he goes after Pena? He is the good guy, right? 

THE BOTTOM LINES

Joe Monahan
We quoted outgoing NM House Speaker Brian Egolf as saying no Dem House incumbent lost re-electioon last November. Actually, Rep. Candy Sweetser lost her seat in Deming to Republican Jennifer Jones. However, Egolf's point was that the 45 to 25 Democratic majority before the election stayed exactly the same after. 

Former Speaker Ben Ray Lujan? That eyebrow raiser hit the blog early Wednesday when we quoted a Senior Alligator but the mistake was ours. We've become accustomed to writing about Ben Lujan's son, Senator Ben Ray Lujan. But make no mistake, when it comes to the former speaker it is Ben Lujan--and he was one of a kind. . . 

We found a job for Mark Ronchetti. . . 

KRQE News 13 is looking for a Weekend Meteorologist. The Meteorologist forecast weather conditions and produces and anchors weather reports for all platforms in a manner that is clear, engaging and meaningful to news consumers. This position requires working every weekend. 

Weekends? That's the best we could do, Mark, but it's something. 

This is the home of New Mexico Politics. 

E-mail your news and comments. (newsguy@yahoo.com)

Interested in reaching New Mexico's most informed audience? Advertise here.  

(c)NM POLITICS WITH JOE MONAHAN 2023

 
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