Monday, December 05, 2016

What Susana Is Really Saying About State Budget Debacle, A Zombie And Hyenas At UNM, Move The State Fair, Berry's Crime Wave And Michelle's Consolation Prize  

We don't want to put words in the mouth of Gov. Martinez so we'll let Farmington state Rep. Rod Montoya do it:

While Democrats are looking for a revenue increase, Montoya views the problem as a state government that spends too much. "Trying to find common ground may be more difficult than ever," he said.

And there you have what the Governor has to be thinking, if not saying. By ruling out any revenue raising measures to resolve the state's budget crisis she is telegraphing that Montoya, the new House minority whip, has it right--the way out of the budget debacle is to cut, cut and cut some more. Kind of like what the GOP governor in Kansas has done, to the great chagrin of many of that state's residents.

But Rep. Montoya is far from alone, far from it. Until the budget crisis knocks directly on their doors, many New Mexicans are going to look away as lawmakers hack away at the budget. They see Santa Fe as a bloated, decadent do-nothing preserve for the well-off.

Unless there is a bombshell--like the public schools being closed for a couple of weeks or the courts reducing the hours they are open, the Governor's bet that the public will stomach even more cuts doesn't seem farfetched. But will she be able to keep Senate Republicans at the betting window with her? That's the question with hundreds of millions of dollars on the line.


Now the UNM Regents want to fire UNM President Bob Frank? After he's already resigned after five years on the job? When he announced his resignation earlier this year, effective in May, Frank was promised a $350,000 gig at the UNM Health Sciences Center. Maybe the Guv and her Machine is out to ruin that deal for him? The late assault on Frank which will play out at a special UNM Regents meeting this Wednesday is being led by Machine approved Regent Rob Doughty. He's the attorney whose law firm gets hundreds of thousands of dollars in legal contracts from the Martinez administration:

Doughty and his law firm have had deep ties with state government since Martinez’s inauguration. Since 2011, the year Martinez became governor, his law firm has contracted with the state General Services Department for more than $1.3 million, mostly in the department’s Risk Management Division, according to the state’s Sunshine Portal.

The $350,000 gig for Frank is out of line and the salary option should be reduced, but canning him this late in the game? Frank is a zombie, a dead man walking. But the Regents look like a pack of hyenas hunting for fresh prey, led by the hunting captains on the Fourth and Fifth Floors.


Reader James McClure doesn't cotton to the idea of building a brand new Tingley coliseum on the state fairgrounds to replace the dilapidated structure that still tries to pass itself off as an appropriate concert venue:

Joe, what’s the point of investing more taxpayer money in an obsolete fairgrounds complex by rebuilding Tingley Coliseum? The fairgrounds is an eyesore that wastes a prime piece of real estate and contributes to the blight of the surrounding area. Instead, let’s move the State Fair to a new location outside the city and open the current fairgrounds site to development. 

Think of the possibilities for commercial and residential development of such a large tract in the middle of the city. A well-planned development could stimulate the entire southeast side and generate new riders for the Berry Bus.

Thanks, Jim. That "Berry Bus" needs all the help it can get.

And speaking of ABQ Mayor Berry, here's an Alligator with the latest on the mayor and crime wave:

Thanks for your blogs about Berry & crime in ABQ. You are the only writer who has even touched on the ridiculousness of Berry's recent announcements about crime in ABQ. 

At his big announcement to the Albuquerque Chamber of Commerce a few months ago, he produced a bar chart that purported to show that the crime rate has been lower during his two terms than under any other mayor. However, on the very same page he had the graph you published that showed the crime rate falling until 2010, then steadily climbing since he took office. Funny that no one in the mainstream media noticed that. It's lower under Berry only because of the work of his predecessors.

Then, Berry tried to blame the reduced jail population for the increase in car thefts - a claim that was quickly debunked by everyone who knows anything about statistics. It is actually laughable when you look at how Berry's "expert" Peter Winograd chose a very tiny slice of the data to make that claim. 


Grisham And Udall
Reader George Richmond goes Machiavellian on us as we await word this month whether Dem US Senator Tom Udall will seek his party's 2018 Dem Guv nomination:

When Senator Udall runs for Gov in 2018, and wins, he will appoint his Senate successor. That person could be a D who works hard for him and also could do the job, say Rep. Michelle Lujan Grisham. No guarantees from this crystal ball, and way early, of course, to speculate.

Too early to speculate? That's like saying it's too early to feed the Alligators. Keep it coming, George.

Meanwhile, if Udall gets in the race (which seems likely) it seems unlikely that Dem US Rep. Michelle Lujan Grisham would give up her ABQ congressional seat to take him on. If so, this will be a nice consolation prize:

Congresswoman Michelle Lujan Grisham was elected as the chairwoman of the Congressional Hispanic Caucus. She will serve a two-year term, succeeding U.S. Rep. Linda Sánchez, as the leader of the prominent group of Hispanic members of Congress.

Looking back at this blog today we gotta say there's just not question about it. . . 

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Friday, December 02, 2016

Friday Clips On The '17 Legislative Session 

Some thoughts on the 2017 legislative session that we also shared with readers of the ABQ Free Press.

Will the 60 day session of the NM Legislature beginning in mid-January be known as the "The Constitutional Amendment Session? With Gov. Martinez promising to wield her veto pen on pet Democratic proposals, the D's might consider an end run. How?

Lawmakers have the power to place constitutional amendments on the ballot for voter approval. For example, they have the votes to approve a bill substantially increasing the state's low $7.50 an hour minimum wage, but can't get the Governor to go along. If they put that raise in the form of a constitutional amendment it would easily win voter approval. But there's a catch .

Any constitutional amendments approved during the session would not go before voters until November of 2018 and take effect the following year. With the Dems having a good chance of recapturing the governorship in '18, they might want to ditch the amendment maneuver and send their minimum wage bills and the like to the Governor and force her to make unpopular vetoes. One other angle: If the Democrats did place popular legislation like the minimum wage boost on the '18 ballot it could serve to increase Democratic turnout and improve their chances of winning the governorship.

For those of you wondering about a possible constitutional amendment to legalize recreational use of marijuana in New Mexico, even with Democratic control of the Legislature it seems problematic. A number of Democrats have raised concerns about the impact of legal marijuana in our state which is already saddled with a myriad of substance abuse problems. The day of legalized marijuana here may be on the way but its arrival is best measured in years.

And what about the money? People are starting to really believe Gov. Martinez when she says that no matter how bad things get she will not agree to a tax increase. With the state's budget still under immense pressure because of falling energy prices, it appears Martinez could be the first Governor to preside over widespread state government layoffs. An improving state economy has to be at the top of the Christmas wish list for state employees. Otherwise, the grinch could soon be staring at them.

Perhaps the most significant election fallout will be simply what we talk about. Instead of the "all crime all the time" agenda the Republicans focused on, the newly empowered Democrats will switch the narrative. Now the subjects will be the high jobless rate, the ongoing depopulation and vanishing millennials and the social conditions crisis that worsened the crime wave the GOP unsuccessfully tried to use to keep their legislative power. There are no easy solutions to the state's deep-seated problems but identifying what they are is a start.

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Thursday, December 01, 2016

Domenici's Long Goodbye: An Odd Odyssey Indeed; Moving Back To NM And Role At Land Office, Plus: The New SOS Is An Early Bird 

Pete Domenici
What the Grateful Dead famously uttered certainly holds true for the post US Senate years of Pete Domenici: "What a long strange trip it's been."

Beginning in 1973 and running through 2008, Domenici accumulated respect, seniority and power as New Mexico's senior US senator. But if Domenici were a bond and Moody's was rating him, he would have suffered a couple of downgrades since his retirement announcement in 2007.

Around the time of that announcement it was disclosed that the then 75 year old Domenici was retiring because of a brain disease that impaired his cognitive abilities, but a year later a "miracle" (or more likely a misdiagnosis) occurred and Domenici was found to be free of the disease. That had the tongues wagging that Pete's "medical problems" were more of a political nature--that the US Senate Ethics Committee was about to lower the boom on him for his involvement in the US attorney scandal and that he was looking for a way out of Dodge. Here's our report on that from March of '07.

Then came the shocker that in the 1970's the then 46 year old Senator Domenici had fathered a love child with the  24 year old lobbyist daughter of Pete's fellow GOP Senator Paul Laxalt. That scandal cost Domenici dearly in the respect department but he trudged onward, sponsoring his yearly Domenici public affairs conference in Las Cruces and staying active in support of GOP candidates.

Now, at 84, Domenici's long goodbye gets more odd. Take a look:

Former Sen. Pete Domenici, a powerhouse of modern New Mexico politics, is moving back to New Mexico and will take on a new role as an advisor to state Land Commissioner Aubrey Dunn. Domenici, 84, has lived with his wife, Nancy, in the Washington D.C.-area for years, but they will be returning permanently to New Mexico in mid-January. Once back, Domenici will join the State Land Office as a senior advisor to Dunn, a first-term Republican. In the role, Domenici will provide advice on energy, natural resource and other policy issues, and will also help push a State Land Office proposal to create a new permanent fund for early childhood education.

Apparently the octogenarian Domenici is not going to donate his time to his home state. We asked the state land office about Pete's salary:

His role will mainly focus on education issues and land and water conservation. The details of the Senior Advisor role are still being determined.

In advance of his 2018 re-elect Dunn has been trying to position himself as a more moderate Republican. In that regard, Domenici can't hurt. But why the longest serving US Senator in state history would choose to play out his final act in a relatively minor office is, well, odd. Maybe if we play some Grateful Dead records backwards we'll be able to figure it out. For now, color us perplexed.


Toulouse Oliver
The new secretary of state won't have to wait until the usual January 1 to take office. Maggie Toulouse Oliver will be sworn in soon, explains the SOS:

Secretary of State elect Maggie Toulouse Oliver will take the oath of office on December 9, 2016, at 4:00 pm in Santa Fe and will immediately assume the office. Current Secretary of State Brad Winter has served since he was appointed by Governor Martinez on December 15, 2015, due to the resignation of Dianna Duran.

Secretary Winter was appointed in accordance with Article V, Section 5 of the New Mexico Constitution, which provides that “…[s]hould a vacancy occur in any state office…the governor shall fill such office by appointment, and such appointee shall hold office until the next general election, when his successor shall be chosen for the unexpired term.” On November 8, 2016, Secretary elect Toulouse Oliver won the general election to fill the unexpired term, which ends on December 31, 2018.

Winter did everyone a favor as he headed for the exits. He knocked down any speculation that there could have been widespread voter fraud in the recent state election cycle. Coming from a Republican SOS it was a heads-up moment since his own party has used voter fraud allegations in in effort to discredit Democrats. The sanctity of our election process trumps wild-eyed and nonsensical allegations. The problem in New Mexico is not voter fraud but getting people to vote. Winter got that. As for Maggie, we think she'll do fine as long as she stays away from the poker and craps tables.

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Wednesday, November 30, 2016

Elton John And Tingley, State's Fiscal "Freefall" Continues, Liquor License Debate And Berry And Crime 

The news that baby boomer pop icon Elton John will stop in ABQ for a March concert at Tingley Coliseum a couple of days before this 70th birthday gives rise yet again to the question of why in the world Tingley is still standing?

The Coliseum was built in 1957 and its heyday was decades ago. More recently critics have called the outdated and sometimes dilapidated structure an embarrassment and worse. With interest rates still low (but for how long?) now would be the time to tear down Tingley and construct a new large multi-purpose arena that would draw the acts of the future and send a signal to our fleeing millennial population that we are serious about providing quality of life amenities available in out of state cities only hours away.

Here's a plan: How about holding off on issuing the scads of senior citizen facility bonds for a couple of years and instead float a statewide bond issue to begin a rebuild of Tingley that is aimed at the young of today and future generations? The city and BernCo could devote some of their bonding capacity as well.

Clyde Tingley was a great ABQ mayor who helped build modern Albuquerque. He would be proud to have his name carry on into the new country but not atop what has become a symbol of a stagnant state that has stopped planning for its future. Will just one of the 112 legislators publicly declare it's time for a new Tingley and begin to tackle the financing? We mean sometime before Elton John turns 80?


“We don’t know where the bottom is yet on the freefall that we’re in." So declared Senate Finance Committee Chairman John Arthur Smith in reacting to the latest grim news over the state budget:

Revenue streams declined by more than 9 percent during the first quarter of the current fiscal year, state fiscal analysts announced.  The Legislative Finance Committee released figures that show general fund revenues fell to $1.3 billion for the three-month period ending in September--down 9.4 percent compared with the same period last year. Revenues for the month of September were down nearly 12 percent from a year ago.

The energy price crash remains the main culprit but the overall lethargic economy--as evidenced by lower personal income and gross receipts tax collections--is also to blame.

Sen. Smith calls it a fiscal freefall. Others call it an economic death spiral. The Legislature completed a special session in early October where the state budget was whacked with across the board budget cuts of five percent or more. But they left town still facing a deficit for the current budget year that began July 1 and ends June 30:

The solvency package, a mix of spending cuts and one-time fixes, will generate an estimated $370.8 million in savings for the current fiscal year. . . But it appears to not be enough to fully solve the state’s financial woes, as New Mexico is facing a projected $458 million shortfall for the budget year that started in July.

Now when they go back into session In January it will be even worse--by tens of millions of dollars.

We appear to be on the road from turning a crisis into a calamity with layoffs of hundreds of state employees a possibility. Already, the state Cultural Affairs Department has let workers go.


A reader suggested here that the state buy back the valuable liquor licenses out there and reset the rules so more small businesses can afford the licenses. James O'Neill of O'Neill consulting says not so fast:

The price of liquor licenses have soared here because of the overall cap on the number of licenses. The state could lower the free market price of licenses by eliminating or significantly raising the cap. The state does not need to buy the licenses back; in fact in might be unconstitutional for the state to try to do so. See 1981's Chronis v. State
ex rel Rodriquez. The licenses already belong to the state.


In lieu of analyzing or commenting on ABQ Mayor Berry's annual state of the city speech this week, we instead offer this graphic of the city's crime rate. That about covers the state of the city for 2016.

Ya think?

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Tuesday, November 29, 2016

Argument Accelerates Over State's Big $15 Billion Permanent Fund, Plus: Other Voices And Ideas On Improving The State's Anemic Economy 

That was fast. We blogged a number of months ago that we expected in the years ahead a knock-down, drag out battle over taking more money out of the state's huge $15 billion Land Grant Permanent Fund to replenish the state's sagging general fund budget. Well, we're not going to have to wait years for the debate. Gov. Martinez is already fighting off Democrats who as a result of the election are in full command of the House and Senate. They are looking for revenue as she refuses to approve a tax hike under any circumstances:

Martinez wants incoming state lawmakers to know that the state’s permanent investment fund should be off limits from efforts to resolve a state budget deficit. Martinez and other members of the State Investment Council that oversees two sovereign wealth funds and $20.8 billion in assets discussed ways to tell newly elected legislators that the largest of its accounts - the State Land Grant Permanent Fund - should be managed as an endowment and not a rainy-day fund to be tapped in lean budget years.

Unless the state starts collecting enough revenue to stop the cutting and properly fund its public schools that $20 billion pot of money is going to prove irresistible and essential in keeping the state's doors open. Don't say we didn't tell you.

(By the way, a Constitutional Amendment to tap the $15 billion permanent fund requires only the approval of a simple majority of the House and Senate. It is then placed on the general election ballot for voter approval. The Governor is dealt out. Her approval is not required).

On the economy, a reader writes:

Hi Joe. I've moved from NM but still enjoy reading your blog. I didn't see you pick up on this article from the NY Times, so I figured I'd share it. NM is surrounded by states in the southwest that retain and attract college graduates. I left NM after many years as a professor at UNM. I now teach very similar students in another state. My current students aren't significantly different from UNM students, yet they are able to obtain much better opportunities upon graduation. The NM lottery scholarship has helped encourage more people to attend college within their home state, but they simply aren't able to find good opportunities upon graduation. Thanks for keeping us all informed. It makes me sad to see NM's economy go from bad to worse, but it is still valuable to follow what is going on.


Former Dona Ana County Dem state Senator Steve Fischmann writes with a different take on the lottery scholarship:

Repeal and replace the lottery scholarship. The average lottery ticket buyer has a family income of $40,000 or less. The average lottery scholarship recipient has a family income of $80,000 or more. Lottery ticket buyers pay $140 million annually to create just $40 million in scholarships for people who are less needy than they are. An efficiently funded, needs-based scholarship program is what New Mexico truly requires.

A reader writes:

Joe, I've been a loyal reader for many years. I read with much interest the article about the need for reforming the liquor license allocations and what a hindrance it is to small businesses that simply cannot afford them. They are at a distinct disadvantage to larger companies that can pay as much as $400,000 for a license. I understand that those who paid for these licenses are fiercely protective of their value, and who can blame them? But the system of quotas is terribly outdated and simply should be changed so that small businesses and owner operated establishments can compete. 

One solution would be to levy a tax of about 10% on liquor by the drink and use that money to buy up the existing licenses and cancel them, replacing the system with a license that is accessible to any responsible business no matter what their size. This would compensate those who invested in these licenses, and the tax could be canceled as soon as the existing licenses were purchased back from the owners. 

This may seem like a small thing to many readers, but it is actually one of many small things that leave us in a competitive disadvantage to our neighbors. We have to start somewhere. I for one would love to see many small chef owned restaurants and bars that can be on an equal footing with the big guys….Just like the many places I frequent in Arizona, Texas, and Oklahoma.

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Monday, November 28, 2016

Source: Skandera Education Era Set To End; Controversial Cabinet Secretary Expected To Depart By Year's End, Plus: Zeroing In On The Zia Poll  

Hanna Skandera
One of the more polarizing figures in the recent history of state government appears to be headed toward the exits. Public Education Secretary Hanna Skandera could be gone by the end of December, according to one of our Senior Alligators monitoring developments inside the education department. "She could leave as soon as Dec. 18th," he reports.

The word comes in the wake of President-elect Trump's appointment of Betsy DeVos as Secretary of Education. DeVos, an outspoken advocate for charter schools, has close connections to former Florida Governor Jeb Bush who Skandera served as Deputy Commissioner of Education.

The DeVos appointment would seem to clear the path for Skandera to get a job in DC. It would be a return trip for her. She was Deputy Chief of Staff to Education Secretary Margaret Spelling in the George W. Bush administration.

Skandera has been the highest profile cabinet member of the Governor's administration, aggressively pushing a reform agenda that has faced strident opposition from the education community, especially her move to implement teacher evaluations, third grade retention and the grading of the public schools.

Third grade retention has failed to pass the legislature, but the school grading made it through. The teacher evaluations adopted by Skandera continue to be challenged in the courts.

While Skandera's foes have cast her as the boogie man, she drew wide encouragement and praise from the GOP base and the business community where her popularity remains intact. Her supporters argue much of the blame for the state's failure to advance in the rankings is due to a reform-resistant Democratic-controlled state Senate.

The six year run of the Martinez-Skandera agenda appears to have had limited impact on the state's traditionally poor performing public schools. In the most recent WalletHub national rankings of "School System Quality" New Mexico placed 50th.

The state ranked 49th in the nation in Quality Counts 2016, the annual report from the Education Week Research Center. However, while still suffering from a low high school graduation rate, New Mexico has seen some improvement in the category.

At 43, Skandera is in the middle of her career but she will no doubt look back at her New Mexico stint as one of her most challenging. As she does the curse of former NM Territorial Governor Lew Wallace may come to mind: "All calculations based on our experiences elsewhere fail in New Mexico."

Hasta luego, Hanna.


A number of readers have asked about that new polling outfit that popped up in the middle of the election. One of the common inquiries is whether the Zia Poll is independent or partisan? Well, we have some details.

The parent company of the Zia Poll is Dialing Services LLC out of Roswell. That is the same company that owns GOP Calls and has the same physical address in Roswell. The team listed on the Zia Poll is identical to the team on GOP Calls which says on its website:

We have provided automated calls and political calling solutions for prominent political leaders and advocacy groups including: Romney for President, The 2000 & 2004 Bush/Cheney campaigns, the 2000 & 2004 Texas Victory campaigns, Senator Pete Domenici, Congressmen Pete Sessions, Heather Wilson, and countless others. Our track record and experience speaks for itself.

The Zia Poll is open about its association with Dialing Services. The poll primarily uses robo calls to landlines and tries to reach cellphone users--who can't legally be contacted by robo calls--to get them to volunteer to take the poll.

In its last poll of the season Zia boasted of surveying over 8,000 voters the Sunday before the election. That poll was was released the next day--the Monday before the election. Despite the large sample the poll missed the mark, giving Clinton 45.9 percent to Trump's 43.9 and Johnson with 6 percent. Zia Poll then posed the question: "Could New Mexico be a toss-up?" No, it never was.

Clinton beat Trump here 48.26% to 40.04% and Johnson received 9.34%. The Zia Poll's margin of error was put at only 1.8 percent so the miss was notable.

Meanwhile, the ABQ Journal's Research and Polling survey conducted Nov 1-3 and released the Sunday before the election had Clinton leading Trump 45 to 40 percent, with Johnson at 11 percent. Pollster Brian Sanderoff did not wonder if the race was a toss-up:

New Mexico has been solidly blue in the past two elections, and it appears Clinton is maintaining her lead here this election cycle, unlike in some battleground states, such as Ohio or Nevada, where she is either trailing or in a dead heat.

The Journal polled only 504 likely voters but about half the calls were to voters with cellphones and half to landlines. The poll's margin of error was 4.4%

This is not to say the Zia Poll and Dialing Services LLC are trying to put one over on anyone but in the media reporting of their poll findings there was no mention of their deep ties to the GOP or much comment on their over dependence on landlines in the cellphone era. Both are significant facts to know in analyzing their results, and now they have been mentioned.

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Wednesday, November 23, 2016

Contests Develop For Leadership Of State's Major Political Parties, Shrapnel From Latest APD Bombshell Sprays; Should FBI Take The Case? And: Happy Thanksgiving, New Mexico  

Ryan Cangiolosi
Both major parties will be getting new leadership for the '18 campaign cycle. Let's look first at the GOP. . .

The race for the chairmanship of the New Mexico Republican Party has quickly ramped up with political veteran Ryan Cangiolosi facing off against grassroots-oriented John Rockwell. The victor will usher in the party's post Martinez-McCleskey era and face high political hurdles in the '18 cycle which will feature an open race for governor, a contest for US senate and yet another battle for control of the NM House.

Cangiolosi has the pole position, winning early endorsements from former Congressman Manuel Lujan and his brother Edward, both stalwarts of the Republican business establishment. In addition, he has worked very closely with oilman Harvey Yates, a former chair of the state GOP who last year ousted Martinez-backed GOP National Committeeman Pat Rogers. Cangiolosi served as business manager for Yates' Jalapeno corporation.

But Rockwell is not seen as pushover and viewed as more Trump friendly than Cangiolosi. The owner of two manufacturing businesses that employ about 100, he touts his "organization and leadership abilities" as he works to influence the 537 members of the GOP Central Committee who meet in ABQ December 11 to name a replacement for Debbie Maestas who is wrapping up a two year term.

Cangiolosi, 45, is a former deputy chief of staff for Gov. Martinez but he had a falling out with political guru McCleskey and quickly fastened himself to the Yates wing of the party which also parted ways with Jay. He is currently a project director for the UNM Health Sciences Center.

Cangiolosi, a Lt. Commander in the navy reserve, is a former chairman of the BernCo GOP. He is also getting important backing from Congressman Steve Pearce and Lt, Governor John Sanchez, both possible '18 GOP gubernatorial candidates.

John Rockwell
Rockwell is appealing to the Trump brigades in an effort to outflank Cangiolosi, saying in a recent email to supporters:

We need to seize this opportunity to help the nation and our state move toward conservative values, respect for the law and those who enforce it, respect for each other, respect for life, toward capitalism, and for job creation.

He also bemoans Trump's NM loss as well as the Dems recapturing the state House from the GOP

We watched as divisions within our own party tore us apart and lack of a comprehensive plan will set us back for years. Our party cannot accept losses like this again. That's why we need bold leadership.

Cangiolosi supported the GOP ticket, but  did not specifically endorse Trump. His focus was on the legislative races where he helped ABQ GOP Rep. Maestas Barnes quash a strong Dem challenge. He references the need for unity in his candidacy announcement:

As State Chairman I will build and execute a strong, sound strategy for victory in races statewide, work with county party leadership to achieve a vibrant network across the state, including an effective statewide voter registration program within the county party operations. I will also continue to unify our party in preparation for 2018.

History say after eight years of GOP rule the state will be looking for a change in the next cycle. Whoever leads the GOP--unified or not--is going to have the wind in their face.


The Democratic Party got back on its feet in this year's election, taking back the state House and winning the state for Hillary Clinton. Now they are looking for a new leader to replace outgoing Chairwoman Deb Haaland who gets some of the credit for the party's rebound.

Haaland is not seeking another term and is said by friends to be mulling over a possible run for Lt. Gov in '18. Remember, she was the Dem lieutenant governor candidate in '14 when she and running mate Gary King were defeated by Gov. Martinez.

Attorney and former longtime Santa Fe County Dem Party Chair Richard Ellenberg, 69, who Haaland defeated for for party chair in 2015, is said by insiders to be the front-runner for the post when the Dem Central Committee makes its decision next spring.

Also in the running is current Dem Vice-Chair Juan Sanchez III and he's not to be underestimated, according to party watchers. He offers a younger perspective (he's 24) and helped guide the party to recent success.

Juan Sanchez 
Haaland took heat from critics who thought she was being too out front for Hillary Clinton and to the detriment of Bernie Sanders who narrowly lost the '16 NM presidential primary to Clinton. Ellenberg stated neutral in the race but he is from Santa Fe, a hotbed of support for Bernie and Sanchez is aligned with Haaland.

The Dems can't afford to flub the governorship in '18. If they do, a Republican governor will preside over legislative redistricting and that could put the Dems on the defensive when it comes to controlling the House in the next decade.


The shrapnel from the latest APD bombshell continues to spray. Now this:

City Attorney Jessica Hernandez plans to hire an independent investigator to examine allegations that Albuquerque police tampered with officers’ lapel camera videos to conceal damaging information from the public.

How can the investigator be "independent" when he or she is hired by the city attorney who is up to her neck in police affairs? Nope. What they need is a criminal investigation by the FBI that subjects the city's leadership to critical questioning on what they knew and when they knew it. That leadership includes Hernandez, Mayor Berry, Chief Eden. Chief Administrative Officer Rob Perry and the upper command of APD. Where is the US attorney, anyway?


We blogged Tuesday on how the freeways of ABQ have become race courses and are essentially going unpatrolled, perhaps leading to tragedies like the recent death of a ten year old girl. Here's reader reaction:

It's not only the freeways, Joe. Recently my wife and I were driving east on Montano at about 2:00 PM when we were passed by two pick up trucks racing at speeds in excess of 80 miles per hour, and weaving in and out of traffic lanes. The posted speed limit along that stretch of Montano is 40 mph. The scary thing about this scenario is that there is an elementary school on Montano, and lots of people use the thoroughfare for walking, biking and running, as well as side road traffic that wouldn't have a chance if they pulled out onto Montano during one of these maniacal frenzies. One wonders "where are police when we need them," but this is a tough situation. Maybe we the citizens of this community need to be more responsible in reporting such incidents.


Reader Eric Lucero will spend some of this Thanksgiving holiday at the local cinema. He has some film reviews if you're thinking about doing the same.

Arrival (PG-13) Science-Fiction/Drama **** Stars out of 5 This well written, presented, and imaginative story of an Alien First Contact boasts a great cast and adequate effects. And while Arrival is not based on an original concept, the classified linguistic team’s technical response to a pending world crisis is. Amy Adams, Jeremy Renner & Forrest Whitaker, et al, must race against time to prevent Armageddon.

Rules Don’t Apply (PG-13) Drama/Romantic-Comedy *** Stars out of 5 Actor/Director Warren Beatty (Reds, 1981) returns to continue where fellow director Martin Scorsese’s The Aviator (2004) left off, but on a budget. “Rules…” taps into the Hollywood nostalgia of 1958 LA. The story revolves around the bizarre world of billionaire Howard Hughes (Beatty) and the intersecting lives of two employees; an aspiring actress (Lilly Collins), and a driven personal driver (Alden Ehrenreich). A great ensemble cast, plus the Collins and Ehrenreich performances, save this comic splash of absurdity.

Allied (R) Drama/WWII Espionage Thriller **1/2 Stars out of 5 Director Robert Zemickis has brought us his share of spectacular films; but Allied is not one of them. Seems Zemickis and scripter Steven Knight tried to channel Bridge of Spies (2015), and shamelessly copy Casablanca (1946). Worse, Brad Pitt and  Marion Cotillard fail to sizzle on screen.


Do enjoy the holiday and accept our thanks for your continued attention and support of our efforts. We remain deeply grateful for that. And we are grateful for the resiliency of New Mexicans many of whom have faced difficult times in recent years and continue to do so. This very special state still has many places to go and much to give to you and yours.

Happy Thanksgiving, New Mexico!

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Monday, November 21, 2016

Bombshell Allegations Over APD Evidence Altering; What Now? Plus: New Roundhouse Leadership Named, The Pearce-Udall Drama, And: Sanchez Brothers End 45 Year Elected Presence 

Mayor Berry & Chief Eden
You keep thinking it can't get worse for the deeply troubled ABQ police department, and then it does. The potentially explosive news that APD allegedly altered lapel camera video of fatal police shootings carries the threat of criminal prosecutions of higher-ups in the department and again calls into question the leadership of Chief Gorden Eden and Mayor Barry.

The BernCo district attorney has turned over the allegations to the US attorney which were made in an affidavit in a whistleblower lawsuit from a former APD manager.

But insiders are pointing out that current Dem US Attorney Damon Martinez is headed for the exits, courtesy of President-elect Trump who will get to name a Republican to the spot next year. Rather than throw the APD bombshell into the lap of a political appointee some are suggesting that James Ginger, the Justice Department Monitor for APD, take on the matter and that he ask the FBI to assist him.

As for who will be the next US Attorney for NM, you might want to call southern GOP US Rep. Steve Pearce to find out. He's the most prominent state GOP backer of Trump and is expected to have a major say in filling all the state's plum political posts under the new administration.

One of the more outspoken critics of APD is former city Public Safety Director and City Councilor Pete Dinelli, who was also the 2013 election foe of Mayor Berry. He defeated Dinelli to win a second term. But Dinelli has not gone away and he's now turning up the heat by starting a blog, perhaps with an eye on another mayoral run next year. Dinelli says his blogging subjects will include APD, the DOJ consent decree reforms, the ART project, the minimum wage, mandatory sick leave, public financing of city campaigns and the City Council.


The new legislative leadership was picked over the weekend and it looks pretty strong. As expected Sen. Peter Wirth of Santa Fe was selected as majority leader to replace Sen. Michael Sanchez who was defeated in this month's election. Wirth, 54, is deemed liberal but pragmatic by Roundhouse wall-leaners.

Rep. Brian Egolf of Santa Fe, 40, was chosen by House Dems as the new Speaker, one of the most powerful positions in state government. His nomination will be voted on by the entire House but the Dems have the majority and he is a shoo-in. Egolf is seen strong on pushing a new narrative for the Legislature--the economy--instead of the crime agenda the Governor has been pushing. Changing the narrative will be most welcome by the many unemployed New Mexicans. The latest stats has our jobless at 6.7 percent, still the second highest in the nation.

Egolf & Wirth (New Mexican)
A bit of surprise in the contest for House majority leader. The Dem caucus has selected ABQ Rep. Sheryl Williams Stapleton over ABQ's Javier Martinez who looked for a time like the front-runner. His defeat was a blow to the progressives. Rep. Doreen Gallegos of Las Cruces is the new majority whip, beating out ABQ Rep. Moe Maestas.

As for Stapleton, she was left for the political dead a couple of years ago when she called Gov. Martinez that "Mexican on the Fourth Floor" of the Roundhouse. She recovered from that and now she's in a seat where she can step up her disagreements with the Guv.

On the R side, ABQ Rep. Nate Gentry withstood a challenge from Rep. Townsend of ABQ and will be the House minority leader. Gentry is controversial within his caucus for a number of things. Some of them are suspicious about his conservative credentials and are out off by a sometime abrasive personality that was on display when he was House majority leader. None of it really matters now. When you are in the minority in the House, you are in Siberia.


Some old style polling--landlines only, no cellphones--still came through this past election cycle, says longtime Democratic political consultant and pollster Mark Fleisher. His polling picked up on the upset brewing in Sandoval County where Dem Daymon Ely beat out R Rep. Paul Pacheco (pending a recount) and gave us heads-up on the trouble GOP Rep. Andy Nunez was running into down in Dona Ana County. He also waved the warning flag over the ABQ race in which Dem Bill Tallman narrowly beat GOP state Sen. Lisa Torraco.

Fleisher agrees that the most accurate polling is obtained by using half cellphones and half landlines, but his method can gave him the major trends and it pays off for him and his clients.


GOP US Rep. Steve Pearce, the lone R in the state's five member congressional delegation and who has clashed with the four Dems, raised some eyebrows recently when he sent out a missive congratulating Dem Senators Udall and Heinrich on their new committee assignments. (It's not on Pearce's website. We posted it here.) That's nice but it was also a reminder that Pearce would like to keep Udall where he is and not in the '18 race for Governor which Pearce also has an eye on.

Pearce could be setting up the argument that Udall leaving DC would hurt the state because he would be leaving important seniority behind. That's also the reasoning this reader cites:

I am a little angry that Udall did not challenge Gov. Martinez in 2014 to save us from further harm imposed on New Mexico. Now we are in a fiscal crisis that has no solution, multiple departments at the state level are failing and our economy is in a death spiral. Now more than ever we desperately need federal leadership to deliver some positive news from DC. Instead of working to help New Mexico as our senior and only senator on the Appropriations Committee, Udall wants to jump ship when things get tough in our nation’s capital. He has held federal office for 16 years and wants to abandon us when we need our most powerful senator most.

That will be one of the critiques Udall will certainly weigh as he makes his decision, but with the Dems in the Senate minority and Trump the president, the odds are higher than they were a month ago that he runs for Guv. Remember, if Pearce launches a bid and appears to be the GOP favorite it will only encourage Udall who beat Pearce for the US Senate in 2008 by a margin of 61 to 39 percent. Reader Jaime Fernandez picks up on that:

If Senator Tom Udall runs for governor in 2018, he'll wipe the floor with Steve "Little Texas" Pearce just as he did in 2008 and he'll do the same to Richard "Where are the jobs Berry" or John "8 more years of nothing getting accomplished Sanchez." Udall's candidacy would be a slam dunk. Run Tom run!


The requirements to get a NM "Real ID" driver's license are frustrating, to say the least. Dona Ana County Clerk Lynn Ellins writes from Las Cruces:

Joe, I went to renew my driver’s license yesterday, had two forms to verify my address, my birth certificate and my Medicare card. Turned down and sent packing. The Motor Vehicle Department  won’t accept a Medicare card with my Social Security number on it; must produce the social security card itself. Stupid, stupid, stupid! Ya can’t get one without the other. Meanwhile my office is flooded with people coming in to get copies of their deeds, marriage licenses, etc., and they are very annoyed.

With all the public disgruntlement and confusion, perhaps the state will modify the ID requirements to get a Real ID?


Sen. Sanchez
One of the Roundhouse Alligators comes with an interesting factoid. He says in 2017 for the first time since 1971--some 45 years--the Legislature will be without Raymond or Michael Sanchez, the Belen brothers who made a major impact on La Politica. Raymond, 75, is a former House speaker turned lobbyist who served nearly 30 years in the House from ABQ. Michael, 66,  gives up the majority leader post after more than a decade and after being defeated by Republican Greg Baca. He was first elected out of Valencia County in 1992.

The Sanchez brothers will be remembered as part of a legendary political clan. Their father, Gillie Sanchez, who died in 1999, carved the path for them. As reporter Steve Terrell wrote a couple of years ago:
Raymond Sanchez

Gillie Sanchez served as a magistrate judge in Valencia County for 28 years and was a member of the Belen School Board for 31 years. (Gil Sanchez Elementary School in Jarales, south of Belen, was named in his honor.) Gillie Sanchez was on the Belen City Council for many years. And he was president of the Belen Chamber of Commerce.

Gillie Sanchez was a businessman as well as a politician. He owned Gil’s Bakery and Restaurant in Belen for 40 years. “Eventually, everyone ended up at Gil’s Bakery. It became a political melting pot,” Raymond Sanchez told Julia M. Dendinger of the Valencia County News Bulletin in 2013.

And the Sanchez family’s political involvement goes back even deeper. On Raymond and Michael’s mother’s side, their grandfather Abelicio Blas Sanchez, served as a state representative in the 1920s and was a Belen city marshal and, in 1933, the sheriff of Valencia County.

And so goes the never ending book of La Politica in which you will find a well-thumbed chapter on the Sanchez brothers (and their father) of Belen, New Mexico.

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Friday, November 18, 2016

Campaign '16 Aftermath: One For The Road 

Here's our latest for the ABQ Free Press.

More than a few voters treated this election's outcome like an unwanted Christmas gift. They moved quickly to try to return it, pass it down to a friend or put it up in the attic to be forgotten. But as the old saying goes: "Elections have consequences" and they can't be ignored, no matter how disconsolate one is over the outcome. Here are some of those consequences for our fair New Mexico. 

The state Legislature is about to take a step toward the left as it adds two Democrats to the state senate and five Democrats to the House. The means the 2014 historic Republican takeover of the House is kept at two years. But will the deeper blue shading of the Roundhouse mean big policy changes? It's not likely. Remember, Republican Gov. Martinez still has two years left and is now unwrapping her veto pen for use if the Democrats start sending her legislation that makes her frown. 

Given the likelihood of more Santa Fe gridlock the impact of the election is mainly on the narrative. That means much less talk about the conservative agenda of Right to Work, cutting regulations and taxes and much more about education, poverty and the state's depopulation. In other words, all that fun stuff the Republicans tried to sweep under the rug with an all-crime-all-the-time agenda that failed to keep voters from straying from them.

The most visceral fear of the Trump presidency in New Mexico is among those who may be here illegally. He is pledging to quickly deport millions of undocumented immigrants who he determines to be criminals. How that's defined is what is sending shivers up the spines of the state's large immigrant community. 

Trump did not triumph here as New Mexico handed a resounding 48 to 40 percent win to Clinton. But that does not mean for the next four years the state will always get the short end of the stick. It's a mixed bag.

Trump has pledged to "rebuild" the military and rescind defense cuts. That's a big deal for the state's four military bases as well as Sandia and Los Alamos National Laboratories which are deeply entwined with the defense industry. He is also saying that a federal hiring freeze he plans will not apply to the military. Since federal funding remains the principal driver of the state's economy, that's a bit of good news. 

On the other hand, a Trump presidency, combined with Republican control of both houses of Congress, could mean a  hit to the social safety net programs that so much of the state is dependent upon in the form of Medicaid and food stamps. These programs are exploding with recipients as the state's economic stagnation makes more residents eligible. 

The individual fortunes of a slew of state politicians were reshaped by Election '16. Gov. Martinez's refusal to endorse Trump cost her dearly with the Republican base. Don't look for Trump to plot revenge against her but do look for her to be ignored by the White House. 

Southern GOP conservative Congressman Steve Pearce was the only prominent state office holder to go all in for Trump. That could mean more power (and pressure) for him as the state looks to Peace to hold off any especially damaging fallout from Washington. He will also have a big say in the passing out of plum federal jobs here. 

Democrat US Senator Tim Udall may have had it with DC. His party failed to take back the Senate and Udall is now publicly acknowledging that he is looking at running for the 2018 Dem nomination for Governor. He is a big foot in a small pond and if he gets in, it could end the nomination hopes of ABQ US Rep. Michelle Lujan Grisham.

Up next? The October 2017 Albuquerque mayoral election but after the tumult of this year we're all permitted to take a break from La Politica but only until the Christmas trees come down.

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Thursday, November 17, 2016

She Opposed Trump But There May Still Be A Path For Susana's Exit And that Would Thrill John Sanchez, Plus: Dunn And The Sun 

Let's game this out for a minute. Gov. Martinez faces a desultory political future hampered by low approval ratings that make a run for the US senate in 2018 a nonstarter. And she got on the wrong side of Trump and complicated her path to a job with the new administration. And her term as head of the Republican Governors Association ended this week along with the free travel and limelight that entails. But there could be a way around those obstacles. . .

The New Mexico power with the new administration--such as it is--rests with GOP Congressman Steve Pearce and GOP National Committeeman Harvey Yates. Throw in former NM GOP Chair Allen Weh whose daughter Debbie Maestas boosted Trump from her perch as current state GOP chair.

After years of intra-party strife all of the above personalities are firmly ensconced in the anti-Martinez camp and about as likely to give Martinez a job reference as Michael Sanchez becoming best friends with Jay McCleskey. But all of the above also have another interest uniting them--the election of Lt. Governor John Sanchez as governor when Martinez leaves.

That prospect has taken a hit since the election, with US Sen. Tom Udall inching closer to a run in 2018. But assume the anti-Martinez camp decides to push hard to get Martinez out of here and into a federal judgeship or some other comfortable sinecure before her term expires? That would make John Sanchez governor.

This extreme case of politics makes strange bedfellows actually makes some sense. With Udall looming and the public prone to switch to the Dems after years of GOP rule, Sanchez might not have much of a chance unless he has a shot at proving his bona fides by getting appointed Governor.

Much the same situation confronted Lt. Gov. Diane Denish in 2008. She was hoping and praying that Gov. Richardson would be appointed to a cabinet position by President-elect Obama upon which she would become governor.  Well, Richardson was named to the cabinet (as commerce secretary) but a federal corruption investigation into his administration killed his chances at senate confirmation and he stayed put. Denish never did get the big break that would have had her running as the incumbent governor  in 2010 and she lost to Martinez,

For Sanchez, getting Martinez out of the state and assuming the Guv title might be his best chance against a potent Dem nominee. He would have a year or two to show his stuff and persuade voters that he he is not a clone of Susana. Sounds like a plan. That is, unless Steve Pearce is eyeing the Governor's chair for himself. Then it's back to the drawing board.


Is this the bright spot that could help pull the state's finances out of the cellar?

Oil explorers have been flocking to the Permian Basin in West Texas and New Mexico to tap deposits so rich that they can generate profits even at lower oil prices. A race to grab land in the Permian has been the main driver of a surge of deals in the energy patch and the industry’s main source of good news. Although the Permian has been gushing crude since the 1920s, its multiple layers of oil-soaked shale remained largely untapped until the last several years, when intensive drilling and fracturing techniques perfected in other U.S. regions were adopted.


Sen. Heinrich and others who have been advocating the SunZia transmission line project in southern NM that has provoked the ire of conservatives and some ranchers have to be pleased with this from GOP State Land Commissioner Aubrey Dunn:

Dunn announced that he has granted a right-of-entry for the SunZia Transmission Project. The project is slated to cross 89 miles of State Trust Land. SunZia contains close to 515 miles of two transmission lines that will traverse New Mexico and Arizona. It is designed to connect and deliver electricity generated in Arizona and New Mexico to population centers in the Desert Southwest. The electricity distributed by SunZia is meant to help meet the nation's demand for renewable energy and reduce dependence on fossil fuels for power generation.

That's an about face for Dunn who was in the front ranks of those skeptical of the project, but one supposes he saw the light---or the sun.

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