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Thursday, March 23, 2017

Sen. Cervantes Next Up For '18 Dem Guv Race; Says "He's All In", Plus: First Big Reversal In Mayor's Race; Colón Now Says Eden Would Be Out, And: A Not So Special Welcome To ABQ 

Sen. Cervantes
Next in line to announce their candidacy for the 2018 Democratic gubernatorial nomination is veteran legislator Joe Cervantes of Las Cruces. He tells me: "I am all in" and says he will make a formal entry into the contest in April.

Already the big question hovering over the state Senator is how much of his considerable personal wealth he will put at risk in pursuing the nomination. A political consultant who has worked with Cervantes said he has advised the candidate that if he opts to personally finance his effort he should be prepared to bring $1 to $2 million to the table. Cervantes offered no comment to us on his financing plans.

A mention of a possible Cervantes candidacy has drawn chuckles from some longtime political observers who remember his past tentativeness in deciding whether to get in big state races. But he says this time there will be no hesitation.

The attorney, a 12 year House member who was elected to the Senate from Dona Ana County in 2012 and re-elected in '16, is expected to run as a moderate Democrat, pitting him against what is expected to be a more liberal campaign from ABQ Dem Congresswoman Michelle Lujan Grisham who has already announced her candidacy.

Expected to also officially hop in the race soon is ABQ businessman Jeff Apodaca, the son of former NM Gov. Jerry Apodaca. He and Cervantes appear to be vying for much of the same Dem vote.

In a bit of irony, if Cervantes were to become governor he would be the first legislator to do so since Jeff's father, also a state Senator from Las Cruces, pulled off the feat in 1974.

Attorney General Hector Balderas is another big name still on the sidelines in the Dem Guv battle. A decision on whether he will jump in is expected sooner rather than later.

REVERSING ON EDEN

Brian Colón
We've had the first major policy reversal among the ABQ mayor candidates. Former NM Dem Party Chairman Brian Colón, who has been hedging on whether if, as mayor, he would fire APD Chief Gorden Eden, reversed himself at a Tuesday North Valley mayoral forum, saying he has told Eden if he wins Eden is out.

But in a February interview with the ABQ Free Press, Colón said he was undecided about firing Eden, saying then,  "Anyone who has devoted themselves to public service deserves to have a sit-down with their new boss."

That might have been the end of it, but then Colón was back with mixed messaging about Eden in a campaign fundraising letter from Jered Trujillo sent following the mayoral forum:

I was impressed that Brian was the only mayoral candidate to have reached out to the current Chief of Police. Improving public safety is a cornerstone to Brian’s campaign, and his involvement of those on the front lines shows he will involve those with experience at the table.

Colón's gaming of both sides of the political aisle has been his early strategy. Whether it stands the test of time and scrutiny remains to be seen.

GOOD CROWD

A large crowd for a mayoral forum--about 150--turned out, perhaps signaling a healthier interest and a good voter turnout come October 3. For Colón it may have signaled that with the city facing deep-seated problems he and the other major hopefuls--all of whom earlier said that Chief Eden would not be retained--could be facing an electorate that is keenly interested in the meat and potatoes of policy concerning the crime wave fueled in large part by drug addiction, speeding up Federally mandated APD reforms and bolstering our city's long-standing anemic economy.

The forum was welcome but early. Come April 28, when candidates are required to turn in 3,000 petition signatures from registered city voters, the field that now numbers in the double-digits will thin considerably.

Sadly, here's the latest example of monumental mismanagement at APD that the new mayor will have to confront:

The Albuquerque Police Department has gone $3.9 million over budget to pay overtime for its strained and understaffed force, according to a report from the city's Internal Audit Office. The office has been looking into APD's overtime spending after an anonymous tip came into the office. The findings show overtime APD spending soaring to nearly $4 million over the $8.9 million overtime budget in 2016. It is a pattern that seems to show overtime spending climbing as officer numbers decrease. The Albuquerque police officer's union says it puts cops and the people they serve in danger.

WELCOME TO ABQ

And then there's this most common and menacing crime in the city. . .

A visitor flew into Albuquerque from Atlanta Tuesday for a golf trip, but moments after landing at the Sunport, he had a gun in his face as a victim of a carjacking. David Carpenter was loading his luggage into his friend’s BMW curbside when the suspects pulled up in a small sedan. “The girl screams at us to get out, another guy comes up with a gun, points it at us, tells us to get out of the fucking car,” Carpenter said. Carpenter grabbed his computer and golf bags from the BMW. “They were still pointing the gun at us, and we backed off behind the car and about that time, all the police cars came around,” he said.

Don't worry, David. All will end well with Mayor Berry presenting you with the keys to the city--if they haven't already been stolen.

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Wednesday, March 22, 2017

ABQ Free Press Ends Print Run; Will Stay On-Line, APD Street Cred Hit In Martens Case, And: A Letter From Austin Lamenting What's Happened To Our Beloved Duke City  

The ABQ Free Press was tilting against the windmills when it launched as a print publication a couple of years ago in an increasingly digital environment. That run has now come to an end. The weekly has discontinued its print edition, but will still be up and running as an on-line publication. The feisty journalism delivered by writers like Dennis Domrzalski will still be available there.

ABQ attorney Will Ferguson, the publisher of the outlet who has financially backed the enterprise, will now do so on-line as the outlet works to monetize what editor Dan Vukelich says will be a "robust" Internet presence.

Speaking of the Free Press, retired police sergeant Dan Klein recently authored an opinion piece that earned a good deal of attention:

APD is fond of saying, “If you see something, say something,” especially when it comes to the abuse of children. . . But the events leading up to the murder of 9-year-old Victoria Martens say otherwise. After another 9-year-old, Omaree Varela, was killed in December 2013, APD Chief Gorden Eden promised that the department would do a better job of protecting our children. Taxpayers paid for a study that came up with new guidelines to ensure that our most vulnerable children would be protected. Three years after Omaree’s death, it appears that the only change at APD has come in its ability to spin the news. It ignored its own policy in the case of little Victoria, who in August 2016 allegedly was drugged, beaten, raped, murdered and mutilated by her mother and two others.

As for APD, its funny how the town barely blinks at news like this that in a different time would have had people in an uproar:

The City of Albuquerque reached a settlement agreement with the family of a woman killed when an Albuquerque Police Department officer ran a red light and caused a crash. The city will pay $8.5 million to Ashley Browder's family, according to a press release from the law firm representing the family. The 21-year-old Browder died on Feb. 10, 2013, when then-APD Sgt. Adam Casaus sped through a red light at Paseo del Norte and Eagle Ranch Road and collided with Browder's car. Ashley Browder's sister, Lindsay, was seriously injured.

$8.5 million out the door with more millions to come. What a malignancy on City Hall.

And the APD news rolls on. . .

Now some of the City Councilors are being accused of trying to wiggle out of their responsibility to rebuild and fully staff the severely understaffed and troubled APD. The Council has approved spending $50,000 to study a consolidation of APD with the Bernalillo County Sheriff's Department. One of the mayoral candidates, Republican Dan Lewis, is behind the study. He's going to find just how unpopular that idea is when the campaign is fully joined. Meantime, the current mayor, RJ Berry, has his hands full. . .

The unpopular ART project that is tearing up Central Avenue to put in rapid transit has Berry taking hits citywide. Now there's the news that the federal funding for the project is threatened and could lead to a fiscal nightmare for the city. Reader Melanie Majors jokes:

Well, after the budget news about ART, I don't know if there will be a rail around to run Mayor Berry out of town with!

HELLO FROM AUSTIN

Reader Paul Nixon, formerly of ABQ and now of Austin, writes:

Hi, Joe. I’ve been reading your blog for many years, dating back to the time when I worked for two Attorneys General in New Mexico. Although I’ve been living in Austin since I left Albuquerque in 2007, I still  keep an eye on what’s happening because I vowed one day that I would return. But it’s shocking to observe, even as an outsider, what’s happening there:

--The explosion in crime.

--The mass exodus of population from the state.

--The continued cutting yo the bone (now into the marrow?) of education funding.

--The ridiculous compromise on predatory lending affecting New Mexico’s most dire population.

--No impactful movement on ethics oversight.

--An ABQ mayor seemingly hell-bent on tearing up an historic and vibrant section of his own city for a project whose funding is now in serious jeopardy from Trump’s budget cuts, and worst of all. . . 

--An entire population of proud people suffering from low employment, high poverty, and lack of hope or opportunity.

I don’t believe you’re using hyperbole when describing these issues. Yet, it’s almost as if the leadership there in New Mexico is only arguing over who gets to ride shotgun in the fire truck while Rome burns. As someone who dearly loves the state and its people, what can I or anyone else as non-residents do to help turn things around? I always brag how I worked for the people of your great state and try to recommend that people visit as often as I can. But I’m almost starting to fear that they would be a crime victim or see the sad shape of the cities and population. It’s not a rhetorical question that I ask: what can I do to help?

Thank you for reading and thank you for the effort you put into your blog. Please send me the New Mexico Politics with Joe Monahan t-shirt.

Thanks for that insightful missive, Paul. There's not much we can add except to say the last of the t-shirts went to Jay McCleskey, Pat Rogers and Mickey Barnett. But we hope to have a new batch ready real soon.

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Tuesday, March 21, 2017

Susana's Rehab Could Last Months; Ski Accident Gives New Meaning To Lame Duck, Plus: "The Martinez-Sanchez Economy" And: Nagging Nate 

They call the Governor a lame-duck because she can't seek another term but as reader Greg Lennes points out, because of her recent skiing mishap that label may soon take on a literal meaning for Susana:

This Governor could miss a lot of work after her fun trip to Utah. Unlike a broken leg, the diagnosis for a torn ACL usually means surgery and nine months of rehab. Thank goodness she is not a teacher.

Maybe the Governor will be one of the lucky ones and avoid surgery. If not, there will be robust demand for any pics of her walking around the Roundhouse on crutches.

Meanwhile, Martinez is deciding on when to call lawmakers back into special session to resolve the budget stalemate, but upset Senators are in no mood to deal with her. One scenario making the rounds has the Senate repeating what happened in last fall's special session over the budget: The Senate meets, approves a budget and adjourns. The House would then have to stay in session for three days to force the Senate to return when a final agreement would be cobbled out. What would be in that agreement, however, is  unknown.

One of the Alligators wants to vent over the legislative session and it's a pretty epic rant:

The disconnect between our pampered political class and the harsh reality most New Mexicans face couldn't have been on greater display than it was during this meaningless session of the Legislature. If this session hadn't happened, no one in New Mexico would have known the difference.

Donald Trump's Twitter feed has more impact and meaning to the people of NM than this session did; a session that didn't address jobs, didn't address the economy, didn't address early childhood education, didn't address payday and title loan sharks (capping interest rates at 175% is some sort of victory?); this session didn't address anything meaningful to the average New Mexican.

Once again, it was all about self-congratulatory legislators and their lobbyist enablers occasionally tinkering at the edges but ultimately propping up a failed status quo. To paraphrase Shakespeare, the Roundhouse has become little more than a well-heeled and privileged collection of 112 rubber-stamping, status quo adherents who signify nothing to the real people of our state, and NM's death spiral will continue as a result. And the group most to blame are the Democrats in the Legislature who would rather go along and get along with their Republican masters because they have no true political convictions or passion of their own to match this state's minority party.


Our take: The session was not "meaningless" as our Gator and the Governor assert. It's just that what was addressed and the small accomplishments made are dwarfed by the crises in unemployment, economic stagnation and social conditions that the state faces but seems unable to confront in the big way necessary.

JOHN AND SUSANA

It appears state Dems are preparing for the possible '18 GOP Guv candidacy of Lt. Gov. John Sanchez. They are starting to hang Susana around his neck. From the state party:

Martinez-Sanchez Veto of a living wage prioritizes donor class over New Mexican families. . . Gov. Martinez said this weekend that she will veto modest minimum wage increases that the House and Senate delivered to her desk. There’s a reason the Martinez-Sanchez economy is one of the worst in the country. Governor Martinez and Lt. Governor Sanchez spend too much time pleasing their corporate donors at the expense of hardworking New Mexican families. 

The "Martinez-Sanchez economy?" Is that like the "Richardson-Denish economy" of 2010?

NAGGING NATE

Rep. Gentry
Democrats just might get somewhere in the budget talks if they put some heat on House Minority Leader Nate Gentry in his ABQ NE Heights district. Take a look:

Nine House Republicans represent Clinton turf, while only two Democratic House members hold Trump seats. State Rep. Gentry holds the most pro-Clinton seat of any of the nine Republicans. Gentry’s Albuquerque-area HD-30 went from 50-44 Obama to 48-37 Clinton, with Johnson taking 12; Gentry won his fourth term 52-48.

Despite the walloping Trump received in his district and Gentry's own close call, he is still acting like a dyed-in-the-wool R. If the Dems worked him over in his district with robocalls etc. before the special session, could that make a difference in cracking open the House GOP caucus? Another question might be do the Dems care enough and have the intestinal fortitude to try?

MAYORAL SHRINKAGE

As expected the ABQ mayoral field has already begun to shrink. Radio station owner and unabashed Trump supporter Eddy Aragon became the first of the 14 announced hopefuls to call it quits. He told his radio audience Monday that he will not have the time to devote six months to the campaign because of his business obligations. Candidates must turn in to the city clerk 3,000 valid signatures of registered city voters by the end of April. That's a big reason why the field will continue to shrink.

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Monday, March 20, 2017

Winners And Losers From The 2017 New Mexico Legislative Session  

Sen. Ingle
While we wait for the Governor to announce the date for the special session, let's take a look at our annual winners and losers list from the just completed regular 60 day legislative session:

Winner: The big winner of this legislative session was. . drum roll please. . .that wily Senate Minority Leader Stuart Ingle. In quite the under reported story, Ingle agreed to the lean $6.1 billion state budget sent to Martinez by the Democratic-controlled Legislature. And he brought along many of his colleagues as the budget won approval 38-8. That budget, which the Governor is rejecting, includes a number of tax increases, including a ten cent a gallon tax on gasoline. Ingle is a conservative R. The difference between him and the radical Republicans in the House is his belief in governing flexibly.

There are times (as rare as they may be in Ingle's view) but there are times when the state needs to raise some revenue. This is one of those times. Sometimes you cut 'em and sometimes you raise 'em. That's how it used to be when New Mexico was working. Now Ingle will need to continue to take a stand against gubernatorial unreasonableness as we enter a special session. It's not like the 30 year legislative veteran hasn't done that before.

WINNER: You would expect a Democrat to move to override the veto of a Republican Governor. But Rio Rancho Republican state Senator Craig Brandt surprised nearly everyone when he refused to back down and moved forward with a successful Senate override of Gov. Martinez's veto of a teacher sick leave bill (the override failed in the House). Brandt managed to get half the GOP senators to go along with him, as Martinez's sway over the freshly elected Senators was put to the test as she nears the end of her term. Still, it took guts to stand up to Martinez whose political machine has set  records for payback and vindictiveness. Will Brandt use his success with the override to take a more prominent position in the Republican Party in the post-Martinez era? We'll see.

WINNER: The payday loan industry may have looked like they got the short-end of a compromise that took the top interest rate they can charge from 375% to 175%. But considering that in other states the high rate is 35 percent this was a shrewd play for the payday loan industry, with some calling it a legislative embarrassment. It sure had the well-paid payday lobbyists smiling all they way to the bank where the interest rates for a loan is more like 3 or 4 percent.

WINNER: Ethics advocates scored an overdue victory when he Legislature finally relented and agreed to ask voters to approve a state ethics commission at the '18 election. Whether it was as "historic" as they claimed was open to debate. Much of the details will be filled in after the voters approve the amendment which they are expected to do. That gives opposition lawmakers plenty of time to work out sabotage plans.  Still, the fact that the word ethics is on its way to being in the state Constitution is a win.

WINNER: Yet another GOP Senator entered the winner's circle when the Governor's political guru, Jay McCleskey, sounded off against him and got a pointed response. ABQ GOP Senator Sander Rue sponsored a bill that would shine more light on the Governor's contingency fund that she uses for parties and the like. That soured Advance NM Now, the PAC run by McCleskey, which accused Rue of sponsoring the bill because Martinez had vetoed a measure that would have allowed Rue and other lawmakers who did not sign up in time for the legislative pension system to still get  pensions. Rue's comeback was a classic:

In the spirit of full disclosure, I do harbor hurt feelings that I was not invited to her ‘pizza party.’ It must have been a heck of a shindig if the police were called out to break it up. By the way, it was paid for from the governor’s contingency fund; SB 27 would require an accounting of how that taxpayer money is spent.”

Lt. Gov. Sanchez
LOSERS: Lt. Gov. Sanchez again did a great job presiding over the state Senate but did nothing--absolutely nothing--to publicly separate himself from an increasingly unpopular Governor who he may try to succeed by seeking the '18 GOP gubernatorial nomination. But as presiding officer of the Senate and in tandem with new Senate Majority Leader Peter Wirth they made music together. Too bad they can't run for something together.

LOSER: It's darn hard for Gov. Martinez see her relevancy wane but wildly vetoing bills that get near unanimous legislative approval is no way to get back in the game. And now the Supreme Court could rule that the Governor did not properly veto a handful of the bills and they will become law. A lot more could be said on why this was a lousy session for Martinez, including the news that was dropped on her that the state's unemployment rate is now the worst in the nation.

LOSER: Keith Gardner, the Governor's chief of staff, is now looking like Trump Press Secretary Sean Spicer. If Martinez appeared naked in public but insisted she was wearing clothes, you could count on Keith to swear to it. There's a difference between loyalty and unquestioning servitude. There's probably a number of fires Gardner put out behind the scenes that he will never get credit for, but being unable to bring Martinez to the table on the budget--which was so close--will go down as one of his big failings. Maybe he can reverse it in the upcoming special.

LOSER: It wasn't much of a budget cut but it was a cut and could foreshadow even more of them down the road. Contained in the budget sent to Martinez was a one percent cut across the board for higher education. The public schools managed to escape with no cuts and a flat budget. They have public support but the universities are still fair target practice for revenue starved lawmakers. If things don't improve, they could be in for some more.

LOSER: The Legislature took heat in this corner and elsewhere for wasting time talking about making the green chile cheeseburger the state's official burger as well as adopting an official state song. There's a time and place for that stuff but with the condition of the state today, it was imply the wrong optic. And so there it sits on the loser list: the New Mexico Green Chile Hamburger. Now you know we're in trouble.

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Friday, March 17, 2017

Avoiding A Train Wreck In Santa Fe And Facing A Big Boondoggle In ABQ: ART Money In Peril, Plus: Ethics Schmethics; Commission Plan Scorned By Watchdog Group, And: Martinez Explains Vetos; Why Now?  

Mayor Berry 
While they try to avoid a train wreck over the state budget at the Roundhouse, here in River City what was once just a boondoggle from the Mayor and City Council now threatens to become a colossal boondoggle. Get a a load of this, with miles of Central Avenue already torn up:

The budget released by President Trump wouldn’t fund the Albuquerque Rapid Transit project. (ART).  But Mayor Berry says Albuquerque shouldn’t worry because funding for the project is contained in President Obama’s fiscal 2017 budget proposal, which Congress will be taking up later this year. Trump proposes limiting funding for the. . . grant program that Albuquerque is banking on to provide $69 million for ART.

And here comes the Senior Alligator strike on this potentially monumental misstep:

ART is not in the President’s FY ’18 budget which should send chills through City Hall. It’s still in the last President’s budget, but given the climate in DC does anyone really think Obama’s budget will fly through?  The climate in DC is cut, cut, cut. Yet, here comes the Mayor, in constant denial, assuring us that he’s got the money. Berry seems to forget that, in committee, the House has already reduced funding for the program that funds ART. Meanwhile, ART is 22% complete and is running on whatever City funds (fumes) the Mayor can squeeze. Mayor Berry, it's time to fire your lobbyist and spend more time with your new best friend, Rep. Steve Pearce (who used to sit on the Transportation committee, btw). And if you are someone running for Mayor right now, you'll need to come up with $100 million to fix up the nightmare on Central Avenue.

Mayor Berry, for misleading the public on ART funding and authoring what could be one of the biggest public works disasters in city history, you have been administered an Alligator strike. Congrats, or something.

And just in case Berry is still fantasizing about running for Governor, reader George Richmond comes with the conspiracy theory:

Could it be that big time NM R's don't want a certain Mayor RJ to run for governor but to leave office with ART not funded and the city budget high and dry?

Never mind "big time NM R's." Remember how Republican Berry shunned Trump? Trump tends not to forget such slights.

And that most subdued of City Councils? They approved ART on a 7 to 2 vote. They might want to round up the same number of votes to stop ART and cut their losses. But they won't.

ETHICS SHMETHICS

The proposal to ask voters in '18 to establish an ethics commission in the state Constitution is going down to the wire on this last full day of the legislative session. But the bill approved so far is so bad that one of the top ethics watchdogs--NM Ethics Watch--says pull the plug unless you can put some teeth in this dog's gumless mouth:

NMEW has always maintained that simply having an institution called an “Ethics Commission” will not be enough – a toothless or shell commission would do more harm than having no commission at all. It is imperative that an Ethics Commission have the following core elements protected in the state Constitution:

• be independent of influence from any one branch of government;
• have enforcement power, including independent investigatory and subpoena powers, and the ability to initiate an investigation absent a complaint; and
• operate so that the commission is transparent in its operations, especially in the manner in which it handles complaints.

A House-Senate conference committee is meeting in a final effort to make some meaningful changes. If not, you could end up with a commission that is all hat and no cattle. If that's the case, NMEW says:

The Legislature should stop, take a breath, and return to the creation of an Ethics Commission in next year’s session. The amendment will not go to the people for approval until the 2018 general election.

SOME 'SPLAININ'

Gov. Martinez is now explaining her heretofore unexplained barrage of vetoes this week. Even though none of the bills had anything to do with balancing the state budget and confirmation of her UNM Regents picks, she says both are reasons she vetoed the Senate measures--to send a message to Senators that they aren't crafting a state budget to her liking and frittering their time away.

But why is she putting out this explanation long after the vetoes? Well, there was talk at the Roundhouse that the state Constitution requires a governor to provide an explanation for every veto they make--even a simple explanation or one not even directly related to the vetoed bills as Martinez has now done. If there's no explanation, there is no veto, went the argument that could very well have landed the Governor in court. Senators are also saying she may not have issued her vetoes within the required time period. Other reasons for her veto barrage were taken up on the Wednesday blog.

AUTOMATIC OR NOT?

Reader Paul Stokes writes of the automatic voter registration bill that we covered this week:

The Daily Kos article overstates their claim that the amended bill is “so watered-down.” The bill requires that persons doing business at the DMV are asked on the web-based form if they consent to be registered, and if they say yes, they will then be registered (assuming they are qualified to vote as determined by the county clerk’s office) with no further action needed by the applicant.

That fits my definition of being automatic, even though having to “consent to be registered to vote” is technically an opt-in provision rather than an opt-out provision as I would prefer.

Perhaps more to the point, the bill (HB 28) may not get through its last committee hearing before the end of the session, but even if it doesn’t, the current statute (1-4-47) was intended to provide for a process that is essentially the same as this new language, so Secretary of State Maggie Toulouse Oliver working with the DMV can make it so.

PAPEN AND SMITH

Sen. Papen
Reader Kenneth Tabish writes of the defeat of the proposed constitutional amendment that would ask voters to tap a portion of the $15 Land Grant Permanent School Fund for very early childhood education:

Joe, Yes once again the Constitutional Amendment for very early childhood education has fallen because of the no vote by Las Cruces Democrats Senator Mary Kay Papen, who is no friend of education (remember she voted for the confirmation of Hanna Skandera as public education secretary) She clearly doesn’t care about children and the poor families of this state. It is also clear to me that she is listening to Dr. No (Sen. John Arthur Smith) who is also against the amendment. Change will only come through investment in our children via education. Public Education is not failing. It is clearly underfunded. They both know this amendment will pass if it is placed in front of the voters. It is time for change and both of them must go. Their Democratic conservatism is hurting the state!

Papen was key in killing the amendment by agreeing to table it in Senate Rules. Smith is a longtime opponent. Archbishop Wester put out a plea for a last minute compromise.

Okay, let's get the popcorn out and watch the final hours of the legislative session that ends at noon Saturday. Meantime, thanks for stopping by this week.

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Thursday, March 16, 2017

Martinez Veto Mania: She Gives No Reasons For Killing Popular Bills But Theories Abound, Plus: BernCo's Credibility Gap And Top ABQ Issues Pinpointed In Poll  

Gov. Martinez is now throwing around vetoes like her staff threw bottles from that El Dorado Hotel balcony. But it's not for the fun of it, believes reader Kelley Dupont:

Joe, I predict Susana spends the rest of her term making everyone as miserable as she is. She's not having fun anymore with this governor gig.

Not having fun, tired, frustrated, uncertain of the future, contempt for the Legislature and those good old standbys of bitter and vindictive are all reasons the armchair analysts give for the indiscriminate gubernatorial vetoes of bills backed by unanimous or near unanimous margins in both the House and Senate.

The frustration stems in part from some of the Senate Republicans joining with the Dems in support of raising taxes to resolve the budget crisis and also what she sees as the Senate's foot-dragging in confirming her appointments such as those for the UNM Board of Regents. Add into the mix the Senate override of her veto of the teacher sick leave bill and the governor getting busted on the Senate floor over a building lease deal that Senators of her own party said appeared to be a pay-to-play deal.

A question now is whether Martinez will blow up the budget negotiations just because she can. Another question: Is Martinez shadow Governor Jay McCleskey still operating in the shadows? Or is he off looking for greener pastures and leaving Susana to her own devices? Just wondering.

FRESHMAN INITIATION

Freshman state Rep. Daymon Ely is getting initiated into the ways of La Politica. He drew praise from liberals for his proposal to increase the top income tax rate on the state's one percenters by one percent, but then the long knives came out for Sandoval County lawmaker. From the liberal Daily Kos:

Secretary of State Maggie Toulouse Oliver and Democrats recently introduced a plan to automatically register every eligible voter when they obtain a driver’s license, unless they opt out. Despite Democratic majorities in both chambers of the legislature, the bill died a stunning death in committee when Democratic Reps. Debbie Rodella and Daymon Ely sided with Republicans to block it. Ely claimed that he voted against the bill because doing so would allow him to re-introduce an amended version, which he later did. However, the revised bill was so watered-down that it effectively was no longer an automatic registration measure whatsoever. 

There's been chatter on the Daily Kos about over finding an '18 primary opponent for Rio Arriba Rep. Rodella.

AMENDMENT DOWN

The proposed constitutional amendment that we and others see as possibly transformative in turning around the dismal state of this state bit the dust again in the state Senate and the fight appears over for this year.

The Senate Rules Committee on a 6 to 5 vote tabled the proposal that would have asked voters to allow a portion of the $15 billion Land Grant Permanent School Fund to be tapped for very early childhood programs.

Dem Senators Clemente Sanchez and President Pro Tem Mary Kay Papen joined with the R's on committee to quash the amendment.

The amendment did score a victory in the House where it won approval earlier in the session.

CREDIBILITY GAP

BernCo credibility took a hit when it was revealed that while it's considering  a gross receipts tax hike that would reap the county $30 million, the actual budget deficit they are looking to plug is only $8 million. Never mind a tax boost, BernCo. Here's the money you need at least for a year or so:

. . . The county hasn’t committed to selling any specific buildings yet, but analysis presented by the county’s risk management division to commissioners in 2015 suggested that the county could earn about $11 million if it sold its two downtown Tijeras Ave. office buildings, Union Square, and its stake in the city-county building.

So nix the tax hike, sell the buildings and then use the year that buys you to find $8 million in budget savings. Is that really so hard?

NIX THE TAX?

Speaking of taxes, we blogged that perhaps some of the funding for the city and county libraries ought to be employed for after school programs. A number of readers rebelled against that, including this one:

RE: "The city should divert funding from public libraries to after school programs in the worst performing public schools."

I asked a veteran educator, a two decade middle school principal, to respond to your idea: "Not so good," she replied. "Robbing Peter to pay Paul never has improved our lot-or that of Peter or Paul." She continued: "Libraries are critical components in a functioning democracy--ever more more critical in these dangerous times." Maybe it was a misprint; it would have made more sense had it read: "Put more money into libraries to promote after-school programs." She nailed it, you missed it.

CRIME AND ECONOMY

No surprise here. An auto dialer poll conducted by the ABQ PR firm Carroll Strategies among 853 registered ABQ voters Feb. 28 pegged crime and the economy as the two big issues in this years mayoral contest.

82 percent said crime is getting worse in the city, 50 percent said a safer community was the most important issue to them; the second most important issue was the economy, mentioned by 22 percent of the respondents; 58 percent aid they believe their children and grandchildren will have to leave ABQ to find good jobs. The poll's margin of error is plus or minus 3.9 percent.

The city election is October 3. If no candidate gets 50 percent of the vote a run-off between the top two vote-getters will be held a month later.

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Wednesday, March 15, 2017

Polls And Public Catch Up To Martinez; Senate Strikes With Rare Veto Override; Effort Led By GOP Senator; Dem Victory Dampened As Leader Slips On Lease Scandal, Plus: Pearce To Town Hall With Liberals In Las Cruces 

Sen. Brandt (Moore, Journal)
Where the public goes, the politicians follow. And so it was in Santa Fe Tuesday as the state Senate pushed back against unpopular Gov. Susan Martinez and for the first time overrode one of her vetoes.

It wasn't even close as eight Republicans joined the Dems to deliver the body blow to the second term Governor. And she received an extra sting as Republican Senator Craig Brandt of Rio Rancho, whose wife is an educator, led the override. (Brandt video here.)

Martinez's approval rating has plunged to 42 percent and she officially became a lame duck last November when all Senators were elected to four year terms and her once vaunted political machine was taken out of the picture. Senators, who for years suffered  mostly in silence, finally had their chance to strike.

The override came on a sick leave bill for teachers--a group Martinez has long tangled with--and was easy pickings. It had passed the Senate and House by huge margins. As one wall-leaner wryly commented:

It's good to see that the Legislature agrees that torturing teachers is a bad idea.

The reaction from the Fourth Floor dripped with irony, as Martinez's office dismissed the override as the “petty action of a bitter Senate," upset with her because she won't sign tax increases to balance the budget.

But it is Martinez's own bitterness and vindictiveness--sometimes directed at her own Republican senators-- that has attained near legendary status and may well be the legacy that she leaves.

(In a rare Facebook posting Martinez toned it down some as she wrote in her own name, calling the Senate override and other Senate actions "political stunts.")

And she didn't stop there. Throwing caution to the wind and risking yet another political spanking from the Senate, Martinez vetoed legislation that would have allowed "a computer science class to count as one of a high school student's math or science requirements to earn a diploma."

That measure passed both the House and Senate by nearly unanimous votes but still she vetoed it and without explanation. Now who's bitter?

Regardless of whether the House joins the Senate in the override of the sick leave bill--and it looks doubtful it will--the point has been made. Martinez has 21 months left on her final term but the power is ebbing fast. Judging by her actions and reaction Tuesday, the question is whether she can endure the duress without an outbreak of temperament that furthers the damage. We certainly don't need any more pizza parties.

NOT A CLEAN WIN

Of course, leave it to the Dems not to be able to pull off a clean win against Martinez. The waters on their side of the aisle were getting very muddy indeed, even as the Senate delivered the veto override that the chamber's PR office called an "historic" rebuke.

It turns out that Gov. Martinez personally called new Senate Majority Leader Peter Wirth  on that state lease deal legislation that exploded in scandal when it turned out the beneficiaries of the deal were major campaign contributors to the Governor. Martinez called Wirth after he voted against the bill in committee. After the call he reversed himself and carried the Guv's water by getting the bill back on track. It then blew up in his face when both R and D Senators disowned the bill saying it appeared to be a pay-to-play scheme. The bill was dead.

The new majority leader assumed his post with a bend over backwards attitude toward the chief executive, vowing "bipartisanship" and lots of handshakes and pleasantries. Wirth may have figured that Martinez was ready to play ball now that the man she reviled--Majority Leader Michael Sanchez--was successfully ousted by her Machine and paved the way for his promotion.

Didn't Wirth know there was a skunk in the building when that smelly lease deal was personally pushed to him by Susana? Wirth desperately wants to be a peace maker and a deal maker. But he forgot the lesson Michael Sanchez leaned early on--this is a governor who will hang you out to dry--and if you don't believe us, Peter, look at the blood stains on your back.

TOWN HALL MANIA 

No sooner had we pointed out that while conservative GOP southern Congressman Steve Pearce has held two town hall meetings but both of them in conservative areas of his district, he pops up with the news that he will have a town hall in the heart of the liberal center of the district in Las Cruces. And get this, co-hosting the meeting with him will be the Indivisibles Group, arch-foes of the Trump-Pearce agenda. Pearce says:

I consider myself lucky to represent such a passionate and engaged district. 

Well, he will certainly have passion at the noon Saturday town hall.

This is the new Steve Pearce, ready to listen to the libs and look across party aisles. And that is a Pearce who looks more and more like an '18 GOP gubernatorial candidate. His potential foe--Lt. Gov. John Sanchez--must be wishing fervently that the rumors about Gov. Martinez sniffing around the US Justice Department for some kind of position are true and that he eventually gets appointed Governor. But with Pearce furiously pacing time is growing short.

THE BOTTOM LINES

Longtime Reader Mick is tilting at the rumor mill:

Joe, (former ABQ Chief administrative officer and attorney) David Campbell is leaving the federal service and has applied for the presidency of UNM. Shout it out in 72 point type.

We'll stick with your shout out, Mick, and keep you neck on the line as well.

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Tuesday, March 14, 2017

The Death Spiral Continues: NM Has Worst Jobless Rate In USA; Stagnant Population And Leadership, Plus: Retirees Wanted (Or Not)  

The death spiral continues and now even Mississippi can't save us. New Mexico has the highest rate of unemployment in the USA:

The state’s rate was 6.7 percent in January, compared to 6.6 percent in December and 6.5 percent in January 2016. The national rate was 4.8 percent.

Much of the pain is hidden way from the cities as the oil field and rural areas are slammed with something akin to a second Great Depression. But it's no bed of roses in the ABQ metro either as the best and brightest continue to flee, leaving behind an even more under prepared workforce and a state increasingly unattractive to businesses looking to expand.

The state's myriad of ills has been well-documented here. The jobless report reminds us that this death spiral can't be stopped or even contained without transformative leadership. However, with the potential agents of change leaving the state--the young and educated--we are faced with an aging population and stagnant leadership.

For example, how long have the heads of the ABQ Chamber of Commerce, the ABQ water utility and the executive VP of UNM been in those jobs? A long, long time. There is very little turnover in the plum posts that pay over $100k a year. There is nowhere for them to go, and generating new ideas is not conducive to their status quo.

The jobless news isn't the only thing casting a pall over these final hours of the legislative session. The price of oil has plunged below $50 a barrel for the first time in three months. Lawmakers scurrying to get out of Santa Fe will keep their blinders on to that news. But it's a grim reminder that the new state budget could be built on a bed of sand--yet again.

HISTORY MAKING

There was much made of the return of ailing Rep. Jim Trujillo to the House floor last week to cast a vote for the proposed constitutional amendment that would ask voters to approve spending money from the state's Land Grant Permanent School Fund for very early childhood programs. And Trujillo's momentary return after heart surgery was indeed poignant. But it's not what history will remember.

Yet again that amendment is stuck in the state senate and unable to find its way to a floor vote. There's over $15 billion in the Permanent Fund. Historians will footnote Rep. Trujillo's appearance, but it could well be the failure of that amendment that will cause them to scratch their heads and to write of why we didn't even use a small portion of our largess to reverse the death spiral we left to future generations.

TRUTH SQUAD

Let's truth squad the story on population stagnation. You see the fact thrown around that ABQ's population grew by 24 percent between 2005 and 2015, but the vast majority of that growth was in the earlier part of of the decade:

The Albuquerque metro area’s population grew by a measly 0.27 percent in the year that ended July 1, 2015, the second-worst performance of 10 major metro areas in the region, according the U.S. Census Bureau. In addition, the four-county area continued to suffer a so-called “brain drain,” posting a net outmigration of 1,552 people, meaning that many more people left the area than came here. The area’s population grew by 2,399 people and was 903,502 as of July 1, 2015, the Census Bureau said.

For many environmentalists the growth slowdown is welcome news. The problem is many of them can't find work to stay here and enjoy it.

RETIREES WANTED

Reader Cheryl Haaker writes in response to reader Jim McClure who wrote of the biz community's efforts to attract retirees. He did so with tongue in cheek as does Haaker:

Well, Mr. McClure's logic seems unassailable to me! Why do we want New Mexicans that require government services? (And who will become productive citizens one day?) Let's rake in all the old geezers and let the private sector (funded by the federal retirement system) take care of 'em? No more of this "Land of Enchantment" nonsense, or "New Mexico True" (whatever that was supposed to mean). Now, it'll be:

--Make New Mexico your final destination!
--New Mexico! A great place to live, a great place to die!
--Future passing you by? Don't understand your grandkids anymore? Go to New Mexico, where it's always 1920!
--Quiet, remote, untouched by industrial or commercial commotion - New Mexico!
--Our taxes are low - because we know you don't need much. And you won't have to support those young slackers anymore!

The copy just writes itself, although the cynicism does, too...

THE BOTTOM LINES

Reader Steve Snyder writes of the legislature considering making La Marcha de los Novios the official state song:

Isn't making a wedding polka the state song in a state with a below-average marriage rate and above-average divorce rate ironic at a minimum and hypocritical at the most?

Here is a video of the song.

Journalist and blog reader Daniel Libit, who has been putting UNM athletics under his spotlight, writes:

Hi Joe, I’m suing the UNM Foundation, claiming they are a public entity pretending to be otherwise.


No pretending around here. This is it. . .

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Monday, March 13, 2017

Final Week Of Legislative Session Delivers Stark Reminders On State's Economic Standing, Plus: Some Early (Very Early) Gator Gaming Of The '18 Dem Guv Race  

First we reported that the state's Medicaid rolls were "over 900,000." Then we quoted the AP as saying there were "nearly 900,000." Well, we should have stuck with the first estimate. The ABQ Free Press reports on the February Medicaid stats:

For the first time the number of Medicaid recipients topped 900,000. The actual number was 904,258 or 43.4 percent of the state's population.

To qualify for the Medicaid health insurance program a single adult can't make more than $16,404 a year; for a family of four it's $33,540 a year. Of the 904,000 on the Medicaid rolls about 350,000 are children.

That's a state chock full of low income families and singles and if you think they're living the life of Riley on their free Medicaid, check out the rates at the local payday loan store where many of them go to make ends meet paycheck to paycheck. The state House has passed legislation that is almost too embarrassing to mention. It takes the top rate on payday loans from 375 percent to 175 percent. Meanwhile the well-heeled continue to borrow at bargain basement rates of 3 percent.

Then there's the state income tax rate which has more or less become a flat tax with everyone--the rich and the not so rich--all paying the same amount, a point made by Dem Rep. Daymon Ely when he called for an income tax increase--from 4.9 to 6 percent--on the state's one percenters (not that there are many of them left these days).

Ely also voted against that bizarre payday loan legislation, reminding the state that the rate for such loans elsewhere is capped at 35 percent. But only in the self-contained Roundhouse bubble would an interest rate cap of 175 percent be greeted with back slapping and celebratory shots of Johnny Walker Blue at the Bull Ring. God bless em'.

All this is to say that New Mexico has built being poor into its economic model. It receives about four dollars for every dollar it puts into the federal-state Medicaid program, a program that now totals $6 billion and has become a major economic driver; it has a thriving payday loan industry that exploits the masses of low income citizens and it taxes those low income citizens at the same rate as the wealthy. In addition, the gross receipts tax, which impacts the lowest income brackets most negatively, is now soaring past 8 percent in many sections of the state furthering the income equality gap already at historic highs. Yep. We're poor and by many measures getting poorer.

In these waning days of Session '17 there are a couple of housekeeping chores that could especially help hard hit areas of the state. That capital outlay reform proposal from Dem Sen. Cervantes and GOP Rep. Fajardo is long overdue. We still have hundreds of millions of public works projects approved but the money going unspent. And then we have the projects that need to be killed.

Then there is the frenzy over the many exemptions to the state's gross receipts tax that are estimated to cost $1 billion a year. That's a subject ripe for a commission of lawmakers. You're not going to resolve that tax puzzle--as has been proposed--by attempting to eliminate every exemption all at once. But you just might get rid of a good number of them and raise needed revenue for the state if you come with a comprehensive study showing which work and which don't.

Finally from the Roundhouse, a $6.1 billion budget for the year that starts July 1 is getting closer to approval and being put on the Governor's desk.

Some on the right of the political spectrum have become so radicalized that they dismiss the point that the proposed budget is the same amount as it was in fiscal year 2007--ten years ago. In other words, the Tea Party and their affiliated fiscal austerity hawks have won. The smaller government that they claimed would stimulate the economy and bring jobs is here. Never mind that they were wrong--again.

Rather than declare victory and fight to keep their gains, the hawks are going for more cuts, arguing that the budget is still bloated, But the end of their run is in sight. The new budget--backed by Republican Senate Leader Ingle--finally ends the blood letting at our public schools and is supported by both sides of the aisle. But it's not something to make merry over. It's more like survivors climbing out of a bunker after the bombing and surveying the damage that was wrought.

EARLY GUV GATOR ANALYSIS

How about some early Alligator analysis of the early jockeying for the 2018 Dem Guv nomination? Why not? It's never too early around here. To the Alligator pond and one of the creatures with particularly sharp teeth:

(Santa Fe Mayor) Javier Gonzales is a good guy, but he’d be dead in the water at the 2018 nominating convention. As most veteran state central committee members will attest, his tenure as Chairman of the state party was mediocre, at best. He was an able place holder after Brian Colón left the chairmanship to run for Lt. Governor, but that’s about all that can be said for him in that position. He’s not a particularly powerful speaker. In a venue shared with (ABQ Congresswoman) Michelle Lujan Grisham it would be like comparing day-old oatmeal with a superb chile relleno.

Alan Webber could be a viable alternative to Michelle if the ultra-progressives are able to succeed in their bid to “reform” the Democratic Party with a huge grassroots turnout for this year’s ward and precinct meetings, but quite a few of them have already left the party, vowing to go Green or start a new “Progressive Party.” And Alan’s forte is economic development, and so would be a better pick for appointment as Secretary of Economic Development in a Lujan Grisham administration than as Governor.

(Attorney General) Hector Balderas would be formidable if he runs, but staying in the AG position for another couple of years makes better political sense for him. He’s young, with lots of time left to build his reputation in 2019 and 2020 and then run to replace Senator Tom Udall when Tom retires at the end of his current term (no, I don’t know that he’ll surely retire, but it’s a pretty good bet since he’ll be 72).

As for Jeff Apodaca, the son of former Governor Jerry Apodaca, he was a notable UNM Lobo football player, is a cancer survivor and had a career in Spanish language media, but he’s unknown in the party except as “Jerry’s kid.” In my opinion, the nomination is Michelle’s to lose.

That's some acerbic analysis that is sure to please Grisham, but it is still early and we still don't know the full field. We notice that our Gator did not mention state Sen. Joe Cervantes as a possible contender. And while Mayor Gonzales might not be popular at the party's nominating convention, he could still get on the June primary ballot without their support.

As for Sen. Udall retiring in 2020 and Hector taking his place, it's true that Udall will be 72 that year, but there's a catch--his father, the famous Interior Sectary Stewart Udall, lived to the ripe old age of 90. That would seem to leave plenty of elbow room for another Udall run in '20.

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Friday, March 10, 2017

Mayoral Mechanics: 14 At The Start But Far Fewer At The Finish  

This column is also running in the ABQ Free Press.

There are 14 candidates registered to run for the 2017 Albuquerque mayoral race but political pros have already narrowed the field to three or four candidates who they see as having a realistic chance at replacing Mayor Richard Berry who in December will finish his final term in office.

The open seat has drawn a diverse batch of candidates but most are not positioned to either qualify for the ballot and/or raise the necessary funds to conduct a professional campaign. It's easy to toss your hat into the ring but to actually get in there and duke it out takes much more than that.

The first hurdle to cross for the would-be mayors is collecting 3,000 valid signatures from registered city voters. The key word is valid. Many of the signatures collected will be from persons not registered. Consultants say a candidate will need to get about 5,000 signatures to make sure they get the 3,000 valid ones that will guarantee them a place on the October 3 ballot.

The signatures are due April 28th and although the hopefuls would have had over two months to get them, it is a sure bet that multiple candidates will fail. That field of 14 will shrink dramatically. If more than five or six manage to qualify, it will be a surprise.

Now of that half dozen that might get enough signatures the next obstacle is getting the money to run an effective campaign. Mayor Berry spent nearly $1 million in 2013 in his successful re-election effort. A candidate for this open seat won't need that much, but if you're not raising in the neighborhood of $450,000 you risk being outspent and drowned out.

What about public financing, you might ask? It may not be widely known but qualifying for such financing under city rules is extremely difficult and practically impossible for a person without a large and efficient organization. In order to qualify for $379,000 in public financing (about a dollar per registered city voter) mayoral wannabes must collect qualifying donations. Those are $5 contributions from 3,802 registered voters due April 1. Can you imagine doing that and having to rely on mostly complete strangers?

It seems a safe prediction that State Auditor Tim Keller will be the only candidate seeking public financing who will manage the feat. The other 7 who are trying have little experience and organization. Their chances of qualifying are about as good as the Lobos making the Final Four. They will have to make a decision on whether to stay in the race and that assumes they will be able to get those petition signatures.

Who are the handful of candidates who will likely dominate the stage after April 28 when the mayoral petitions are due? In no particular order they are the aforementioned Keller, former NM Democratic Party Chairman Brian Colón and Republican City Councilor Dan Lewis. Not only should Keller qualify for public financing but expect a political action committee (PAC) to form on his behalf that could raise significant money and enable him to match the financial muscle that Lewis and Colon are expected to flex.

Lewis is backed by the majority of the Republican establishment, with GOP Bernalillo County Commissioner Wayne Johnson playing the role of thorn in his side. Lewis can be expected to raise north of $500,000, given the expected support of the oil industry and other Republican interest groups. Colón is an accomplished fundraiser and has to be eyeing that same amount, if not more. Former Democratic Bernalillo County Commissioner Deanna Archuleta was the first to announce a mayoral bid. Her fund-raising totals will be closely watched to see if she can break into the first tier of candidates.

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