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Thursday, September 16, 2021

Dow Gets Serious Early; Reports $300K Cash Haul And Campaign Chairs in Every County, Plus: Ronchetti Silent On Any Guv Plans, But His Wife Isn't, And: A Wisecracking Alligator And A New BernCo GOP Chair 

Rep. Rebecca Dow
T or C State Rep. Rebecca Dow is earning her status as the leading GOP Guv contender thus far, announcing that she has raised $300,000 in the early going and has a campaign chair for each of the state's 33 countries. 

In the grand scheme of things that $300K is a trickle since next year's contest featuring incumbent Dem MLG and the Republican nominee will soar into the millions. 

But Dow is first out of the gate with bragging rights in the field of 8 unknown contenders and that counts for something. 

And in crowing over her cash haul, Dow spiked the political punch bowl with this broadside:

In the race for New Mexico governor, there are just two options: continue with MLG, who is drunk on power and will never end her executive orders while she's in office, or support Dow for New Mexico and give people the power to run their own lives again.

Dow's early seriousness will be noted by R's hoping well-known TV weatherman Mark Ronchetti will jump in the race. 

Ronchetti has been silent since we broke the news September 1 that top R's were discussing a candidacy with him but his wife, Kristy Ronchetti has not. Writing in response to a reader comments on  Facebook in reaction to that NM Politics with Joe Monahan report, Kristy Ronchetti said:

We want to help serve the people of this state and we want to see it do better… I’m not sure it will be in a political arena or not - but it won’t stop us for fighting for the people we’ve gotten to know, respect and heard. 

She also expressed discontent that the story was published here but notably her comment does not close the door on her husband running. 

That and other comments from Ronchetti were published on the Facebook page of Republican Michelle Garcia Holmes who highlighted the possibility of his Guv run. Soon after, Garcia Holmes' comments, the reader reactions and those of Kristy Ronchetti were all removed from her page. 

So back to Dow. If she can keep raising early cash and staffing up statewide, R's may start saying: "What's not to like?" Even the Ronchetti's might agree. 

SOUTHERN RACE

Gabe Vasquez
Southern GOP US Rep. Yvette Herrell didn't waste time launching missiles at Gabe Vasquez, the first Dem to officially announce for the seat. In a Wednesday fund-raising pitch Herrell warned her flock:

The Left will stop at nothing to force their socialist agenda on America, which is why they are directing all their resources towards unseating any Trump-supporting conservative who stands in their way – starting with ME. 

We broke the news September 7 that Las Cruces City Councilor Vasquez was among the possible candidates for the Dem nomination for the Herrell seat. Now he is officially a contender, coming into the race with a 90 second launch video (solidly produced) and a progressive economic pitch: 

Republicans are helping the rich become richer, while hard-working New Mexicans fight for scraps. Our economy is more successful when it is more fair. That means New Mexicans need higher wages, we must ensure that the mega-wealthy are paying their fair share in taxes, and we must invest in social services, infrastructure, and education. I will be unapologetic in fighting for the interests of working families -- they are the heart of this district. 

The early announcement from Vasquez, 37, comes as Silver City State Senator Sen. Siah Correa Hemphill weighs a run. Insiders say she's the pick of the DC Dems for the seat, given the outsized success women Democrats have had here in recent cycles. Vasquez's play is putting heat on her to make up her mind. 

Vasquez is a former aide to US Sen. Martin Heinrich and the pair are pictured together in his announcement video but Heinrich has not yet endorsed him.

WISEGUY GATOR

A wisecracking Alligtor comments on this week's endorsement of Santa Fe Mayor Alan Webber by US Sen. Ben Ray Lujan:

Ben Ray is polling at 41 percent approval. Webber is in trouble. The Spaniards want his head! 

Lujan's approval was at 41 in an August PPP survey. Sen. Heinrich's was at 42 percent. 

NEW CHAIR

The state GOP informs:

The Bernalillo County Central Committee has elected former businessman John Rockwell as county Party Chairman. About 140 members of the Committee voted. Rockwell, who has lived in New Mexico 42 years, says. . . “I look forward to revitalizing our party and taking part in a massive reorganization effort." 

The BernCo GOP has been stricken by one of its worst outbreaks of internecine warfare in recent years. Rockwell will be picking up the pieces.

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Wednesday, September 15, 2021

No Public Money For Manny; Is It A Death Blow? Sheriff Will Now Scramble For Private Cash, Plus: MLG's BFF To Depart Roundhouse And Demesia Dodges A Bullet 

Sheriff Gonzales (Journal)
Some are calling it the death blow. 

The latest and final legal loss for BernCo Sheriff Many Gonzales in his desperate effort to win over $600,000 in taxpayer funding for his mayoral campaign leaves him with no other option than to rapidly seek private donations to keep his struggling campaign from complete collapse. 

And with less than a  month to go before heavy in-person early voting begins and just seven weeks until Election Day, the campaign clock is ticking so loudly it sounds like the chimes of Big Ben. 

The scrappy lawman shot himself in the foot by having his campaign go rogue and collecting forged signatures to qualify for the public funds which in turn led to Tuesday's final court ruling that kept him out of the money and on the death watch. 

Besides that court ruling there is another ominous sign. Donations to the outside PAC supporting Gonzales--Save Our City--had been coming in fairly strong but started to dry up in the latest reporting period when Gonzales was embroiled in legal imbroglios and not pounding away at the city's crime that had been motivating the big money.

Mayor Keller has over $500,000 in public financing still in his kitty and will soon be swamping the TV airwaves. At a minimum Gonzales would seem to need half that much to come even close to competing. 

Gonzales, who remains a nominal Democrat, immediately blamed the "liberal establishment" for his loss in the courts. 

In an email blast he called himself "a strong fiscal conservative," pointing out that he was attacked when he accepted federal law enforcement help from Trump. 

He added what used to be an oldie but goodie in city politics but now looks soggy and saggy--repealing ABQ's status as a Sanctuary City. 

Manny's urgent hard-right campaign missive might have made sense a month ago when Republican talk show host Eddy Aragon wasn't on the ballot, but Eddy and a cash-starved Manny are now eating from the same trough while Keller has the middle and left essentially to himself. That and Keller's cash are enough to bring this thing home with an outright 50 percent win and no run off. Stay tuned.

DODGING A BULLET

Talk about dodging a bullet. Demesia Padilla, state taxation secretary under GOP Gov. Martinez, was quietly sentenced to five years probation last week. No jail time for her embezzlement convictions, even though she faced up to 18 years in prison on the felony charges. That led one reader to exclaim:

If anyone needed a sentence as an example this woman was it!

The Padilla sentencing came amid sensational charges against former Dem State Rep. Sheryl Wiliams Stapleton who faces charges of stealing nearly $1 million from the ABQ Public Schools. She's probably hoping to get the same judge as Demesia. 

MLG BFF BIDS BYE

Rep. Armstrong
Dem State Rep. Debbie Armstrong joins the list of House members who won't seek re-election next year. Its a pretty short list with ABQ Dem Rep. Daymon Ely the only other entry. 

Armstrong is an expert in health care and a BFF of MLG who put out a statement praising the ABQ North Valley lawmaker. Armstrong says she wants to focus on family and other projects. 

Armstrong is serving her fourth term from District 17 which will now see a major primary battle to replace her in the Dem heavy area which could also see more redistricting because of her departure. 

Armstrong's legacy will be her medical expertise which was leaned on when the legislature adopted legal cannabis and approved an end of life options bill. 

She will also be remembered for a major campaign controversy with MLG in 2018. Armstrong founded Delta Consulting with her which did most of its business with the state's high risk insurance program. Republicans called that into question. 

And Armstrong was one of the few people in the room when MLG campaign aide James Hallinan alleged that the gubernatorial candidate threw a bottle of water on his crotch and made derogatory remarks. Hallinan received a legal settlement from Lujan Grisham's campaign of $62,500.

The retiring Armstrong may miss the Roundhouse but her future friendship with MLG should be an easier ride. 

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Tuesday, September 14, 2021

Early December Eyed For Start Of Legislature's Redistricting Session And Santa Fe's Mayor Gets Needed Endorsement In Racially Tinged Campaign  

No final date has been set but Roundhouse sources report the New Mexico legislative leadership is looking at Monday, December 6 for the start of the once in a decade redistricting session. Optimistic projections have the 112 lawmakers completing their work in a week and presenting it to the Govenror.

Since the governor's office and legislature are controlled by the Democrats no one is expecting a major fight or a veto of what goes up to her. 

That's the opposite of what what happened when GOP Gov. Susana Martinez was in charge at the last redistricting in 2010. She vetoed a Dem plan and the courts settled on a redistricting that was ultimately favorable to the R's. In 2014 they took over the state House for the first time since 1953. However, the Dems recaptured the majority in 2016. 

One of the more far reaching proposals circulating for the state's three congressional seats would split ABQ into three, giving each district a big piece of the big city. That would make it easier to turn the southern district toward the Dems. The district is currently represented by GOP US Rep. Yvette Herrell, the only R in the congressional delegation. 

With the US House so narrowly divided between the parties national groups are taking a keen interest in what happens to her seat.

House Speaker Brian Egolf has already expressed his interest in turning the district Democratic and took heat for his frankness. But that's unlikely to change his mind. The only question is how much more influence the Dems will have in the new district. 

A Citizens Redistricting Committee is drafting several plans for the legislature to choose from but lawmakers still make the final decision. You can submit your own redistricting plans for the congressional and legislative seats at the commission's website.

RESIDENCY RULING 

Here's the complete ruling of ABQ District Court Judge Joshua Allison that kept GOP ABQ mayoral candidate Eddy Aragon on the November 2 ballot. Allison rejected a petition that sought to remove Aragon because he lives in a commercially zoned property near the airport. Allison said: 

The only residency requirement is that which is set out in Article V, Section 13 of our State Constitution, which provides that candidates for Mayor of the City of Albuquerque be “residents” of the City of Albuquerque.

We covered the impact of that ruling on the race on our Monday blog.

SANTA FE MAYOR

Sen. Lujan
In the mostly sleepy Santa Fe mayoral race Mayor Alan Webber scores a strike with the formal endorsement of Dem Senator Ben Ray Lujan as he battles charges of being out of touch with the city's Hispanic community. Says Lujan: 

Alan also understands that Santa Fe is an ever-expanding city with important needs like affordable housing, economic diversity, educational opportunity, and environmental sustainability. I deeply share his progressive values. Alan believes in doing what's right, and I trust him to do everything necessary to unite Santa Fe and improve quality of life." 

Lujan is a resident of nearby Nambé and his father, the late House Speaker Ben Lujan, was a longtime Santa Fe county representative. His endorsement should help Webber cool the heated racial overtones of the campaign. "Unite" is the key word in Ben Ray's slap on the back for Webber.

And Sen. Martin Heinrich, who has earned the nickname "First Endorser" for his many nods of support these days, has also endorsed Webber, saying: 

Alan will continue to responsibly manage Santa Fe's growth. His new comprehensive plan covers everything from water use, to protection of traditional neighborhoods, more walkable communities, and affordable housing throughout the city.

Meanwhile, the Santa Fe Hispanic Chamber of Commerce sponsored a mayoral forum Monday night. The stream is here

Santa Fe City Councilor JoAnne Vigil Coppler is Webber's main rival in the November election. If she can find the gas pedal, she needs to step on it hard. 
                   
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Monday, September 13, 2021

ABQ Mayor '21: Aragon Survives Ballot Challenge And Then Wins Endorsement Of Divided GOP; Gonzales Still Tied In Legal Knots As Keller Preps Crucial TV Ads  

He's nothing if not resilient. First, radio talk show host Eddy Aragon defied expectations by getting over 3,000 petition signatures in just two weeks to qualify for the November 2 mayoral ballot and now he's survived a residency challenge to his candidacy in district court that could have tossed him off the ballot. 

Aragon is the only Republican among the three mayoral candidates but BernCo Sheriff Manny Gonzales is campaigning as a conservative Democrat against Dem Mayor Tim Keller so Aragon's survival is a direct blow to him. And there's a new angle. The NMGOP, deeply divided over the voluble Aragon, threw in the towel following the Friday court ruling and embraced the outsider as one of their own: 

This means Republicans. . . have. . . a strong conservative seeking the top job at Albuquerque City Hall. RPNM supports all Republican candidates, and now there's a GOP candidate for mayor. . .Albuquerque is a city in crisis: crime is out of control and the city is in desperate need of new leadership to steer it on a better course. Republicans now have a mayoral candidate who will fight for conservative values and make Albuquerque the great city it can be.

That official endorsement will mean money and votes for the ABQ native. How much and how many are the questions to be answered

Technically city elections are nonpartisan but partisanship has always been the major factor.

MANNY'S LEGAL KNOTS

While Aragon was untying the legal shackles that kept his candidacy hostage, Manny Gonzales was still tied in legal knots, scheduled to be back in court tomorrow in a final bid to secure over $600,000 in public financing crucial to his effort. 

Gonzales has been losing left and right in that fight--from the city clerk, a city hearing officer, a second time before the clerk and the NM Supreme court which refused hear an appeal. Tomorrow Gonzales will again ask the judge who ordered a second hearing from the city clerk--which he lost--to tell the clerk to release the funds. 

If he loses Gonzales will have to raise money privately and quickly. Not an easy task when the R's are falling behind Aragon and the legal process may have irrevocably stained the reputation of the longtime lawman. 

MURDER AND MAYHEM

Aragon
The murder and mayhem that has become part of ABQ life continues but Gonzales has not laid a glove on Keller who is now poised to flood TV with hundreds of thousands in taxpayer financed ads. Insiders say he was shooting those ads over the weekend. 

He will be on the air in plenty of time to influence early absentee votes when ballots are sent out October 5 and in full battle mode when critical in-person voting starts Oct. 15. Will Gonzales and Aragon?

More troubling news for the challengers. There has been only one joint appearance between the three candidates thus far and according to Keller's website the next one isn't slated until the end of the month. That is depriving Keller's foes of desperately needed opportunities to confront him directly and personally over the crime wave. The TV debates won't come until late October and with early voting so prevalent that could be too late. 

WEARY VOTERS

TJ Trout
Radio talker TJ Trout of ABQ's KKOB, coming at the race from a neutral corner, says the lack of forums is another indication that we are headed for a low voter turnout Nov 2:

People seem tired of politics after the raging battles of 2020 as well as this year. Covid fatigue has translated into political fatigue. The issues in ABQ couldn't be bigger but the crowd needs to be warmed up, big time. 

The late start of his opponents puts Keller way ahead right now. His reelection would be a given if it were not for the historic murder rate, the continued high rate of property and other crimes and the chaotic management of the city's police department. That leaves the door ajar, if only a smidgen, for something unexpected but from this point on the Keller challengers will need killer TV ads and near perfect campaigns. 

And Gonzales and Aragon have more than Keller to take on. They are now running against the toughest foe of all--Father Time. 

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Thursday, September 09, 2021

MLG Gets Nod From State's "First Endorser," Stansbury And Herrell Surprise As They Get Chummy And Some Positive Thoughts For Beleaguered ABQ 

Sen. Heinrich
It was a tough sell and the negotiation went down to the wire but finally Dem US Sen. Martin Heinrich agreed to endorse MLG in her bid for re-election. Just kidding, of course. 

Heinrich is carving out a reputation as the "first endorser," issuing dozens of then in recent cycles and true to form he is the first big name endorser for fellow Dem Lujan Grisham.

She has work to do nailing down and exciting the Democratic base as her approval rating in recent polling has sunk below 50 percent She hopes Heinrich's strong appeal with environmentalists will help and also discourage any out of the blue Dem primary challenge. From Heinrich:

. . .Lujan Grisham has set bold statewide renewable energy standards -- putting New Mexico at the forefront of the clean energy industry that will produce good jobs. . .She has aggressively pursued polluters and established nation-leading rules that will reduce harmful emissions and create even more jobs through detecting and capping gas leaks that harm our air. Governor Lujan Grisham has made New Mexico a national leader in the fight against climate change. I am pleased to endorse Governor Michelle Lujan Grisham so she can continue delivering for. . .New Mexico.” 

And there you have it direct from the First Endorser. 

Other titles held by New Mexico politicos include State Auditor Brian Colón as "Most Photographed Man in New Mexico" (just check out Facebook) and "Most Recognizable Politician" held by AG Hector Balderas. Yes, it has something to do with not having to go to the barber. 

Nominations are always open to fill additional categories. 

SOUTHERN STRATEGY

Will this race be the next to get a Heinrich endorsement?

Some Alligator follow-up to our blog this week pointing out that state Senator Siah Correa Hemphill and Las Cruces City Councilor Gabe Vasquez are two prominent Dems taking a look at running for Rep. Yvette's southern congressional seat next year. We get this:

Siah is the one who has had real discussions with the Democratic Congressional Campaign Committee. Gabe is just toying with it and even though he's a former Senator Heinrich staffer, she is also close to him.

Neither of the possible candidates has made an official announcement. Herrell will be seeking her second term. 

OLD SCHOOL

Herrell & Stansbury
Some old school bipartisanship this week caused a stir in La Politica. Polar opposites--Dem US Rep. Melanie Stansbury and Rep. Herrell joined together to visit Afghan refugees and their temporary housing at Holloman Air Force Base near Alamogordo. That's in Herrell's district and some refugees will later make their way to ABQ so both lawmakers have an interest in the matter.

The visit was not open so there are no smiling photos of the pair happily working away. Don't expect Melanie and Yvette to become besties but publicly breaking the ice is a good start to bringing some longed for civility to the scene.

Meanwhile, there has been an outpouring of support for the refugees from the Alamogordo area. So many essential goods have been donated for the 5,000 refugees who will eventually arrive at the Base that officials had to stop accepting more. Good stuff. . . 

POSITIVITY CORNER

The ABQ mayoral election is about to hit full stride (if Manny Gonzales can get out of the courts and get campaigning) and with it will come a storm of criticism of how things are going around here and what's wrong with the place. Fair enough. But before that deluge of damnation begins let's pause for a note of appreciation for our town courtesy of Melanie Meleski Trujillo writing on the ABQ Memories Facebook page:  

 I love the mountains to the mesa skies. I love the city’s sense of community. I love that we can still see some stars at night. I love our undying loyalty to the UNM Lobos and our AAA baseball and newer United. I love being the balloon capital of the world with our unusual box winds. Of course I love the Sandias turning purple, pink, red, and gold in the course of a ten minute sunset. I love a full moon rise. I love that you can travel through history as easily as a drive through various neighborhoods. I love our devotion to luminarias. I love it when I explain to someone not from here that it does snow. I love it when the cotton flies and everyone is complaining about it. I love it when the Bosque cottonwoods show that faint green in early Spring and then give us their bright yellow show in the Fall. Geez, I could keep going, but I am late to a breakfast meeting at Duran’s.

Thanks, Melanie. We're going to need some more of that positivity before this campaign is over (and those comforting enchiladas from Duran's).

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Wednesday, September 08, 2021

Readers Ask: Who is Brent Eastwood? Man Who Scorched Ex-Gov. Martinez Over Board Appointment To Daniels Fund Explained, Plus: Inside The Fund: Diane Denish Throws Some Light 

Who is Brent Eastwood? That's the question we received from readers after Eastwood scorched Susan Martinez's performance as governor on the Aug. 26 blog in reaction to her appointment to the Board of Directors of the $1.6 billion charitable Daniels Fund. The fund, according to IRS filings, pays directors around $50,000 a year.

Brent Eastwood is not a Democrat, but a conservative Republican who ran afoul of the Martinez administration while supervising international trade in Martinez's Economic Development Department. He joined with another employee to file this whistleblower lawsuit in 2014:

A whistleblower lawsuit filed in state court makes a series of explosive allegations against appointees of Gov. Martinez, accusing high-ranking officials in her administration of public corruption, mismanagement, and intimidation. It claims that officials at the state’s economic development agency engaged in extramarital affairs that could expose the state to sexual harassment charges and that officials tried to silence employees who reported contracting violations and other wrongdoing. . .

Eastwood says the lawsuit was settled for an "undisclosed" amount of money,

Eastwood is a former Army infantry officer, RAND Corporation analyst and book author with a Ph.D in political science who now lives out of state. Eastwood’s wife, Melanie Sanchez-Eastwood, worked as a scheduler on Martinez’s 2010 gubernatorial campaign.

INSIDE THE FUND

So what about the Daniels Fund, the legacy of Colorado cable billionaire Bill Daniels, brother of prominent NM Democrat Jack Daniels who was the father of Diane Denish, the 2010 Dem Guv nominee defeated by Martinez. How did the fund become dominated by highly partisan Republicans, including Martinez and Hanna Skandera, who is now President of the Fund and who was the controversial Secretary of Public Education under Martinez.

Bill Daniels was a Republican (not a conservative Dem as we labeled him in our initial blog) but as Diane Denish explains he never meant for the fund to veer to the right: 

 Joe, It is an independent and not a family foundation. The original Board members were all designated by Bill--my dad and I were two of them and my dad was chairman until shortly before his death. I left in 2010 as I began my run for Governor. Today, there are only 4 of the original Board members on the 13 member Board that knew Bill. (One of those is Jim Nicholson who is former national RNC Chair). 

The fund has been steering away from Bill's mission for at least 10 years with some Board members steering to the far right and frankly not caring about or adhering to best practices for philanthropy. Highly paid Board members in philanthropy are a glaring example. (I got board fees too and donated all of them to non-profits in NM). 

Bill intentionally created a balance of his Republican and Democratic friends (and relatives) in the original board. In my conversations with him the day before his death in March 2000, he said he didn't intend it to be "political" in nature. At the same time he told me he didn't plan for the money to be used to buy "any damn symphony tickets."

Linda Childears who preceded Skandera as CEO for 15 years left abruptly in March of 2020 after high profile criticism in Colorado and New Mexico of a politically slanted Scholarship Application. Skandera, then a board member, appeared to be waiting in the wings to grab the CEO spot. I wrote about the debacle in the New Mexican. 

The bottom line is not about Martinez -- the bottom line is about continued drift from Bill's original intent and legacy. He was generous, he was kind, he was the epitome of drive by giving. He was a Republican in the sense of the old GOP. Some past and current Board members have steered grants to multiple Catholic causes (Bill was not a Catholic) and the Boy Scouts -- their pet projects along with others. One member had even suggested they partner with (far right radio host) Glen Beck. You get the drift. 

Martinez and Denish 2010
The lesson is this to anyone who has enough money to make a difference: give it away before you go. Don't leave it in the hands of others and hope that they will follow your directive. Sooner rather than later, the money becomes their money not the donor/founder's money. They will try to put a square peg in a round hole and disguise it as donor intent. This is what has happened at Daniels Fund - allowing Skandera to put Martinez on the Board -someone who knows little about philanthropy and needs the Board fees. Am I disappointed? Embarassed for the fund? Yes, but confident I can carry on Uncle Bill's standard of giving and caring without worrying about the dancing duo of Martinez/Skandera. 

Diane Daniels Denish  

Denish was Lt. Governor from 2003-2011. 

CANDELARIA RESPONDS

ABQ Dem Senator Jacob Candelaria, who came under criticism on the Tuesday blog, came with this response to the reference that he received profanity-laced phone calls at his home and criticism of his job performance by Dem Senator Jerry Ortiz y Pino:

 . .The state police were called to my home for a death threat. . .You have published. . . that my family received "profanity laden" phone calls with respect to this incident, or other factual allegations to that effect. This factual allegation is demonstrably false. I attach for your reference a copy of the District Court order granting a three year injunction against the white supremicist that made one of the death threats against my husband and I in October/November of last year. . .You have a right to have your own opinions which lead you to dismiss and mimimize a death threat, motivated by racial and homophobic hate, against my family. You do not however have the right to publish false or deliberately misleading factual allegations about the events of that evening. 

It sounds like the senator’s problem is with the New Mexico Human Rights Act which prohibits Senator Stewart from taking any retaliatory action against me or anyone else who has demanded that she be held accountable for her mismanagement of the Rachel Gudgel situation. If Senator Ortiz y Pino does not think that Senator Stewart’s actions to further institutionalize racism and homophobia at the Legislature in that case are acceptable that is fine, but they are not acceptable to me. Way to be a progressive champion, Jerry. 

The ABQ Journal reported that Candelaria received "profanity-laced threatening" phone calls. A link to the court order Candelaria mentions is here

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Tuesday, September 07, 2021

Potential Herrell Foes Emerge As Redistricting Draws Near; Two Dems Eye Southern Challenge, Plus: Questioning Candelaria; State Senate's Elder Statesman Goes Public Over Colleague’s Repeated Disruptions 

Sen. Hemphill
Just how the southern congressional district will look following redistricting may have held back possible Dem contenders vying for the right to go up against GOP Congresswoman Yvette Herrell next year. But that appears ready to change with about three months before the legislature draws new district lines. 

Two progressive Dems are emerging as possible candidates as the Dems prepare for another battle with  first term Rep. Herrell in a race that will have significant national consequences. The Dems US House majority is a mere 8 seats so keeping the southern NM district--one of the few swing seats--is a major priority for both parties. 

Two years ago when freshman Dem Rep. Xochitl Torres Small lost to Herrell the fight for the district was the most expensive battle in the nation. Really. An incredible $37.3 million was spent when the district flipped back to the R's, much of that in "dark money" going to both sides. 

The 2022 battle probably won't see quite that tsunami of cash pouring in but it certainly won't be cheap and the purveyors of 30 second TV spots won't have to worry about going broke. 

As for what D's might challenge Herrell, insiders watching the action point to state Senator Siah Correa Hemphill, a special education teacher and psychologist from Silver City who was only elected to the Senate in 2020 but is said to be busy gathering data on the congressional seat. 

Another possible is Las Cruces City Councilor Gabe Vasquez, a communications specialist and a former aide to Sen. Martin Heinrich, who after one term on the council decided not to seek reelection, signaling that he may be eyeing a congressional run.

Herrell is taking the threats seriously and had nearly $700,000 in her campaign account at the end of June.  That has now probably hit $1 million. She can count on more as her support of former President Trump pays off on the fundraising circuit. 

A primary between Hemphill and Vasquez is difficult to handicap until the new district is approved but both are seen as strong contenders. (Herrell is not expected to draw a primary challenge.)

Councilor Vasquez
Hemphill crushed appointed conservative Dem state Senator Gabe Ramos in the June 2020 primary by 68 to 32 percent. She went on to win a cliffhanger--51 to 49%--against her Republican rival in the swing seat. 

Hemphill's defeat of Ramos was a major score for state progressives and she was rewarded with a seat on the powerful Senate Finance Committee. 

Dem women have led the charge in reshaping the state’s politics to a more progressive bent and Hemphill fits the mold for the congressional seat. 

Vazquez, 36, is an ardent environmentalist like his patron, Senator Heinrich. An El Paso native, who is a Spanish speaker, Vazsquez used his council term to reach out to his district's sizable low income and Hispanic population. He finishes his term popular and with a base in Las Cruces from which he can launch a congressional candidacy. 

The redistricting session is expected in early December. With two solid possible nominees the pressure on the majority Dems in the legislature to make the district more favorable for them can only grow. 

QUESTIONING CANDELARIA

The antics of Dem state Senator Jacob Candelaria, have jarred the normally staid Senate and its leadership has been unable to curb his enthusiasm for disruption. Dem State Sen. Jerry Ortiz y Pino, 79, goes on the record in chastising his much younger colleague: 

OMG! This young man has lost all perspective. He has filed a formal charge of discrimination because Senate President Pro Tem Mimi Stewart changed his seat in the Senate chamber! And he refuses mediation. His sense of entitlement knows no bounds. In context, Mimi isn't retaliating, she is simply recognizing that because he voluntarily resigned from the Democratic caucus, it makes no sense to be sitting in the very middle of that caucus. He needs to realize his actions have consequences.

Sen. Ortiz y Pino
And ABQ attorney Jeff Baker comes with this:

What’s up with Candelaria? He seems to be self-sabotaging. Does he have any influence in the Senate? Given the D majority, does his vote even matter? Threatening to sue Secretary of Health Tracie Collins, his on-camera meltdown with the State Police and removing himself as a voting member of interim committees – does he have a friend/mentor in the Roundhouse who can organize an intervention? Watching someone melt down in public is not entertaining. Perhaps the Senate leadership is willing to step back and watch him implode. But the problem is if he hurts someone other than himself.

Candelaria apologized for his behavior when state police were sent to his ABQ westside home to investigate his complaint that he had been receiving profanity laced phone calls. 

In addition to the Senate leadership Candelaria has also turned on MLG who he now regularly criticizes after having a warm relationship with her. And he called Sen. Joe Cervantes a liar on social media over a legislative disagreement between the pair. 

A Princeton graduate and ABQ attorney, Candelaria has intellectual firepower but his aim is off. La Politica has a way of straightening out such misfires.

Candelaria came with this response Tuesday:

CANDELARIA RESPONDS 

Candelaria Tuesday came with this response to the reference that he received profanity laced phone calls at his home: 

The state police were called to my home for a death threat. . .You have published. . . that my family received "profanity laden" phone calls with respect to this incident, or other factual allegations to that effect. This factual allegation is demonstrably false. I attach for your reference a copy of the District Court order granting a three year injunction against the white supremicist that made one of the death threats against my husband and I in October/November of last year. . .You have a right to have your own opinions which lead you to dismiss and mimimize a death threat, motivated by racial and homophobic hate, against my family. You do not however have the right to publish false or deliberately misleading factual allegations about the events of that evening. 

The ABQ Journal reported that Candelaria received "profanity laced threatening" phone calls. A link to the court order Candelaria mentions is here

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Thursday, September 02, 2021

ABQ Mayoral Campaign Stumbles Into September; Process Issues Still Dominate; Will There Be A Run-Off? Plus: What Happens If PNM Merger Is Denied? 

The ABQ mayoral campaign has stumbled into September with the same summer baggage that has weighed down the contest--the ongoing arguments over public financing.

But there is palpable anger out there, even if the candidates are wrapped up in process issues, the latest being the residency battle over Republican Eddy Aragon. 

Take a look at how Mayor Keller gets gang trolled when he took to Facebook to take credit for a dip in the auto theft rate. Dissenters digitally roasted him. Then there was the personal attacks on social media of City Clerk Ethan Watson involving his family and that came from a Sheriff Manny Gonzales backer. And then there's Aragon, a whirling dervish of boisterous anger. 

Yes, the summer mayoral months were truly desultory but if the candidates can put behind their internecine warfare and begin speaking to the broader public, the fall campaign could be a tad more uplifting. 

MANNY'S MONEY (ONGOING)

Clerk Watson says he will release his second and final decision on whether to deny Sheriff Gonzales over $600,000 in public financing this morning, rather than Friday as he first announced. We'll update when that comes down. Meanwhile, Gonzales' lawyers are going to drag the matter out some more and have filed an appeal of Watson's denial with the NM Supreme Court.

(As expected, on Thursday the City Clerk for a second time denied Gonzales public financing.) 

Aragon is also in a court fight. His is over a complaint that claims Aragon, who is living at his radio station near the airport, does not have a legal residence should be removed from the ballot. He responds that the zoning for the location allows him to live there. Aragon says he has been looking to buy a house but "it's a tough market."

PREDICTION TIME

The election is November 2 but one veteran politics watchers says he's ready to make a prediction. Radio talk pioneer Mike Santullo, who sought the mayor's office way back in the day and worked as communications director for Dem Mayor Ken Schultz in the 80s', says expect a run-off election:

I don't believe any of the three candidates will get 50 percent of the vote and there will be a run off election in December. The crime wave has damaged Keller and when Gonzales and Aragon finally get going and start attacking him for it, I think he will pay a price. I see Keller and Gonzales advancing to the run-off.

There's no public polling on the race so everyone is flying dark but Santullo has good radar. We'll see. 

GETTING CLEAN 

Here's an idea that might arise in New Mexico as the state continues to register sky-high drug overdoses:

California’s leaders. . .want the state to be the first to pay people to stay sober. The federal government has been doing it for years with military veterans and research shows it is one of the most effective ways to get people to stop using drugs like cocaine and methamphetamine, stimulants for which there are no pharmaceutical treatments available. It works like this: People earn small incentives or payments for every negative drug test over a period of time. Most people who complete the treatment without any positive tests can earn a few hundred dollars. They usually get the money on a gift card. It’s called “contingency management” and Gov. Gavin Newsom has asked the federal government for permission to use tax dollars to pay for it through Medicaid, the joint state and federal health insurance program for the poor and disabled that covers nearly 14 million people in California. 

WHAT IF? 

Most informed observers appear to believe that the proposed merger of PNM and Avangrid will be approved by the Public Regulation Commission (PRC), albeit with some additional changes. But what if the unlikely occurred and the PRC nixed the multi-billion dollar utility marriage? Other suitors could be sought but that could prove difficult. Meanwhile, PNM would continue to operate and supply electric power. We asked Mariel Nanasi of New Energy Economy in Santa Fe, a prominent opponent of the merger, what alternative there could be:

New Energy Economy prefers publicly owned power. The American Public Power Association (publicpower.org) reports that there are more than 2,000 public power utilities throughout the U.S. – in every state but Hawaii, and in five territories. These take a variety of forms, but the difference between public power and Investor Owned Utilities (IOU's) like PNM boils down to essentially one thing - they are motivated by values other than shareholder profit. Public power customers (1 in 7 US residents) pay on average 11% less than IOU customers, receive more reliable service and are more likely to benefit from renewable power sources. In 2019 more than 40% of public power was from renewable energy. Importantly for New Mexico, it also keeps our money in our communities.

 Publicly owned utilities can re-invest profits from energy sales in local jobs, lower energy costs for low-income customers, and investment in local community projects and causes. IOU's primary responsibility is to benefit shareholders. Public power exists to benefit the community. And these benefits also include public ownership of the vast opportunities that exist now to build energy infrastructure and export it to load centers in California, Arizona and elsewhere. 

The economic opportunity for New Mexico is significant (hence Avangrid's interest in capturing that opportunity for themselves!). This may sound like a pie-in-the-sky idea, but the only thing lacking here is political will. If Los Angeles, with 1.4 million customers, can be served by a publicly owned utility, there is no reason that New Mexico's 530,000 PNM customers cannot. . . 

Reporting from Albuquerque, I'm Joe Monahan. 

Enjoy the holiday. 

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Wednesday, September 01, 2021

TV Weatherman Ronchetti; Go For A Rerun? After A Losing Senate Bid Sources Say He Weighs Guv's Race; Would Be Joining Crowded GOP Field For Right To Take On MLG 

Mark Ronchetti for Governor? Yes, according to senior sources. 

They inform that the TV weatherman, who ran unsuccessfully for a US Senate seat in 2020, is thinking about seeking the 2022 GOP gubernatorial nomination and if he is a go could announce "in several weeks."

A Ronchetti entry would grow the Republican field to eight contenders and would come as Dem Guv Michelle Lujan Grisham's approval rating slips below the key 50 percent mark--at 46 percent in the most recent PPP poll--a Dem oriented firm.

ABQ crime, the economic shutdown and the ongoing Covid crisis are among the causes of the Guv's mixed polling.

Ronchetti was defeated by Ben Ray Lujan for the Senate by a margin of 6.1 points in a three way race. Lujan--51.7; Ronchetti--45.6; Libertarian Walsh--2.6 percent.

His supporters will spin that he came close and that in an off year election with lower turnout, he would have a better shot at victory even though no New Mexico governor has lost re-election since 1994. They think an off year election where the party in power--the Dems--will be weak--but then every governor election is held in an off-year. 

Detractors will argue that he had his chance and that the election would simply be a rerun of his loss to Lujan. That senate loss, they say, took some luster off of the veteran forecaster and he has lost the advantage of positioning himself as a new outsider representing a breath of fresh air, instead of a run of the mill Republican in a party that is highly unpopular in blue New Mexico.

Still, Ronchetti beat expectations when it came to raising money for that senate campaign and proved to be an able debater and that has to worry his competitors. 

If Ronchetti, 47, gets in it's a sure bet that Jay McCleskey, the controversial GOP political and media consultant who handled Susan Martinez's Guv campaigns including her 2010 win, will be front and center as he was in Ronchetti's senate run. The consultant stands to rake in a financial windfall--win or lose. Already Dems are saying Ronchetti is woefully unqualified and is being "seduced" by McCleskey to get in the race. 

EYEING RONCHETTI

Ronchetti's tenure as the chief meteorologist for KRQE-TV, the ABQ CBS affiliate where he has been since 2006, will be eyed.

The station hired Ronchetti back after his failed senate run which brought this criticism from a journalism group:

The rehiring, the SPJ said, “should raise red flags for anyone worried about political influence in newsrooms.” It further noted that “throughout his campaign, Ronchetti proudly stated, ‘I stand with President (Donald) Trump.’ ” Ronchetti responded: “Have we gotten to a point in this country where you can’t step aside and say, ” ‘Hey, I want to try and help in the world of politics,’ and if it doesn’t work out then you’re done, and you don’t have a right to come back and earn a living?"

The question now for KRQE manager Bill Anderson is whether he has cut another deal with Ronchetti that would allow him to make a risk free run and return to his day job if he loses again. It's an ethical question for him and Nexstar, the media giant that owns KRQE. Critics argue the station is licensed by the FCC to serve the public interest, not as a Republican bullpen for potential GOP candidates and will want Anderson and Nextstar to disclose their intentions. 

While that insider issue plays out, Ronchetti's name ID remains a big boost for the June primary and would put him in a good starting position. 

T or C State Rep. Rebecca Dow, financial consultant Greg Zanetti and Sandoval County Commissioner Jay Block are the other top tier names for the GOP nomination. 

Dow has seasoned Sen. Ted Cruz consultants on her team so she will fight hard. Zanetti has experience and Block is a solid Trumper while Ronchetti is not. (The other GOP candidates are Louie Sanchez, Tim Walsh, Karen Bedonie and Ethel Maharg.)

"With a Ronchetti entry, it looks like a free for all," opined a Senior GOP Alligator. 

While the R's get ready to sort themselves out, MLG will work to steady her ship. She's already running pro-choice Facebook ads to keep her base intact. And she has an oil and gas boom that will help her with the economy. But these are unsteady times and no free rides come with that. 

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Tuesday, August 31, 2021

No Backdown; Clerk Sets Redo Hearing On Denying Gonzales Over $600K In Public Financing, Plus: Alligator Strike On APD Chief And More About Susana's Job 

Ethan Watson
No backdown. Manny Gonzales is going back before the City Clerk Wednesday with over $600,000 in public financing for his mayoral campaign hanging by a thread. 

Supporters of the Sheriff were hoping that a district court ruling last week that said he had been denied due process when the city clerk denied him the taxpayer money would cause the clerk to back off and release the funds. Instead Clerk Ethan Watson, an attorney appointed to his post by Mayor Keller and confirmed by the City Council, took Judge Bryan Biedscheid up on his offer to have another hearing that was not legally faulty to determine whether Gonzales' campaign committed signature fraud. 

Watson released this statement shortly after the 5 p.m. court deadline signaling his intentions: 

Following the District Court ruling last week, I have elected to afford Sheriff Gonzales a hearing during which he can address the matters related to whether he met the requirements to be certified for public financing. That hearing will be held Wednesday morning, and I provided Mr. Gonzales the attached notice to ensure he understands the issues that will bear on my decision. The meeting can be viewed on GovTV. I will make my decision on whether to certify Mr. Gonzales by the end of the day on Friday.  

Watson said the hearing will being at 9 a.m. Wednesday at the city council chambers. The Clerk's full statement on the hearing and his case against Gonzales is here

The Sheriff’s boosters are going to have to prepare for the worst. 

One way to soften the blow of losing public financing would be to have big private donors who are currently giving to the outside committee supporting Gonzales--Save Our City PAC--also donate to Gonzales' campaign. At last report that committee had raised nearly $200,000.

Under city regulations individual donations to the Gonzales campaign would be limited to $6,250. The outside committees supporting Gonzales and Mayor Tim Keller can accept unlimited amounts. 

Gonzales is fighting a two front war--with Keller and also radio talk host Eddy Aragon, the only Republican on the ballot and who is eating into Gonzales' conservative and Hispanic support. 

The Sheriff's forces are now contemplating legal challenges of Aragon, including one concerning his legal residency and another about the use of his radio station as a financial platform for his candidacy. 

If they could succeed in removing Aragon from the ballot, they see the Sheriff's chances of prevailing in a first round victory increasing. If no candidate gets 50 percent of the vote November 2 a run-off election would be held in December. A three way race obviously makes a run-off more likely. 

ALLIGATOR STRIKE

Chief Medina
They've appeared to bury the hatchet in public recently but there still appears to be unresolved tension between APD Chief Harold Medina and BernCo District Attorney Raul Torrez. In a leaked audio clip Medina is heard joking with a group of apparent law enforcement buddies, remarking:

Raul doesn't charge nobody. He doesn't charge criminals, much less anyone else. 

The chief's comment is greeted with raucous laughter by those in the room. It's unknown when the comments were made. 

Torrez is seeking the Dem nomination for attorney general next year and is running against State Auditor Brian Colón. 

As for the Chief, you've just been the victim of an Alligator Strike. Congrats. . .or something.  

SUSANA'S JOB

The naming of former Gov. Susana Martinez to a slot on the board of directors of the nonprofit Daniels Fund with an annual stipend of $50,000 brought out her detractors, many of whom suffered at her hands when she held power. Among them is Brent Eastwood:

The new so-called “job” that Susana Martinez has is a joke. She got it from a crony. Martinez was never qualified to be governor in the first place. Martinez has been unemployed so long because she lacks private-sector experience, integrity, intelligence, and know-how. She never understood the 21st century economy. She has a terrible moral compass and is corrupt. Martinez has numerous character and personality flaws. She is an adulteress and substance abuser and this played out in public for the world to see. She never governed as a conservative. She is a RINO and former Democrat who was an early and enthusiastic supporter of Obamacare. She believed in big government “solutions” and she was weak on the border. She is also a never-Trumper who then hypocritically begged Trump for a job. Martinez destroyed the New Mexico Republican Party. We can only hope and pray she stays out of government and politics. 

Martinez has mostly withdrawn from public life since leaving the Guv's office at the end of 2018. 

We wrote in that Martinez blog: "Never mind that Skandera and Martinez, 62, were notorious for fighting with the public schools and teachers unions and favoring charter and private schools over their public counterparts.”

Former State Rep. Bob Perls writes that we mischaracterized charter schools:  

Hi Joe, I had a strong reaction to your characterization of “favoring charter and private schools over their public school counterparts”.  Charter schools are public schools.  Full stop.  No ifs and or buts.  Especially in NM with our limited charter school laws, there are no corporate charter schools, teachers have to be certified as do administrators and all schools must take all applicants up to a ceiling.  Other states have come loosey goosey charter school laws that might make a few appear to be more like private schools, but in NM all students are admitted on a lottery system to a public school open to all.  In fact, the only difference between a NM charter public school and a mainstream public school is that the teachers actually have input into how the school is run and managed with our public charter schools.  

Bob Perls, 
Author of the original NM Charter School Co-Founder, Public Academy For Performing Arts

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