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Wednesday, November 25, 2020

Done In A Day: Special Session Puts Up Then Shuts Up; $330 Million In Pandemic Aid Approved By Big Bipartisan Margin, And: Happy Thanksgiving, New Mexico  

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An eight hour special session of the New Mexico Legislature put $330 million in badly needed pandemic aid on the Thanksgiving table, or more accurately underneath the Christmas tree. The money will be rolled out between now and year's end, providing a a boost for the unemployed, businesses teetering because of virus shutdowns and assistance for many New Mexicans threatened with eviction. 

The bipartisan approval of the omnibus economic package--59-11 in the House and 33-5 in the Senate--was a hopeful sign in one of the most turbulent years in state history. Combined with the expected approval of another federal stimulus package, the relief will be meaningful. 

Even our Governor--tough as nails when it comes to controlling the pandemic--added to the hopeful outlook when she rescinded a stern 14 day mandatory shut down order for businesses that have four rapid responses for virus cases among employees within two weeks. That led to the closing of a number of grocery stores and has been a real hardship in parts of rural NM, noted Las Cruces Dem Senator Joe Cervantes who announced the Guv's change of heart at the end of the session. 

Virus cases have soared lately along with the death toll and the state ordered lockdown is a misery filled ordeal. But on this Thanksgiving Eve there is a sense building that while the worst is upon us, these are also our final days of burden before the light again shines. 

There is reason to hope and to give thanks. 

SPECIAL ROUNDUP

The session ended amiably but not without an ugly moment. During a contentious debate over proper procedure Rio Rancho GOP State Rep. Jason Harper took to the floor, glowered at House Speaker Brian Egolf and called him a "bully" whose presiding over the chamber was "disgusting."

It seemed out of character for Harper, a Sandia Labs engineer with a love for tax policy. But then the state has turned against his brand of fiscal conservatism. His kind of tax reform is not to be and perhaps frustration provoked his outburst. Veteran GOP Rep. Craig Nibert later in the day thanked Egolf for indulging the R's with a second vote on the amendment that sparked the anger and everyone seemed to move on. 

SOLID DEBATE

The session was frustrating for many lawmakers. Dem Sen. George Munoz summed up why the session was called so late in the year: "Someone didn't do their homework," he declared.

He's right. At the June special session the state decided to put $750-million in federal Covid relief money in the state's general fund to plug a huge budget hole, instead of spending that money on specific virus measures. However, it turned out the forecasts were too gloomy. The state's reserves exploded to 35 percent of the budget, according to Sen. John Arthur Smith. The Special diverted over $300 million of that $750 million to virus relief.  

Even after approval of the pandemic bill Smith said reserves stand at a still historic high of 30 percent. Much of that money will need to be rolled out at the January legislative session when the economic wreckage becomes more clear. 

NMSU economist Jim Peach says this is not the time for the Legislature to fret over reserves, that the crisis is so harmful to so many that it demands fiscal stimulus. 

ONE WAY STREET

Sen. Joe Cervantes lamented that the special session was mostly a one way street, with the Guv basically dictating how to spend the federal money because it had to be committed by year's end. He and others will get their chance for a more robust debate if and when that second round of DC stimulus arrives. 

DOW'S HOUSE

Rep. Dow
Back in the House GOP Rep. Rebecca Dow held sway over the debate when she tried to divert some of the virus money from the unemployed to "essential workers." But doing so would be an administrative nightmare this late in the game and her effort failed. Still, she commanded the floor with authority and her give and take with the equally skilled House Speaker Egolf was gripping. 

The House R's met on the day of the Special to name their leadership. Rep. Jim Townsend of Artesia was again named House Minority Leader and Farmington's Rod Montoya was again selected as House GOP Whip. Dow was named Caucus Chair, but she could easily handle either of the higher positions. 

Unlike some of her brethren, Dow knows how to run the political football up the middle. That's the path of recovery for the demolished GOP--if they choose to take it.

That's it for now. Thanks for stopping by--and Happy Thanksgiving, New Mexico. 

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Tuesday, November 24, 2020

Special Session Today To Get Fed Pandemic Money Out Of Reserves And Out The Door, Plus: Update On Biden And Possible NM Cabinet Picks 

A quickie special legislative session kicks off at 11 a.m. today and could be done by the time the sun sets at 4:56 p.m. You can watch the mostly virtual session here

Dems and R's were on the same page—but no longer—in the effort to roll out hundreds of millions in federal coronavirus aid that has been unspent and kept to bolster state reserves. The Dem majority is such that Republican votes will not be needed.

Those reserves are now better than expected but the challenge is rapidly pushing money out the door as a December 30 deadline looms. There's some finger-pointing over earlier money being stalled. Take a look:

 Lujan Grisham’s administration allocated $178 million to city, county and tribal governments and related small-business grants. Local governments are racing against a Dec. 30 deadline to get the money into their communities. “Unless local governments are more effective in using these funds before the deadline, the state will have to revert the unused money back to the federal government,” said a spokesman for the Finance and Administration Department. “The federal government can then redistribute New Mexico’s funds to other states, and many New Mexico communities, businesses and individuals will miss out on much-needed aid. .  ." 

Sorry, DFA bean counters, but you can't off load the responsibility of getting businesses and workers badly needed funds to combat the impact of the virus. It's the state that shut the economy down and it's the state that has 20,000 employees and a battalion of PR people who can aid cities and towns in getting word out to those eligible and to provide assistance with paperwork that often intimidates small business owners. 

It would be a sin to return money to the Feds that could mean the difference of a business and its employees surviving or going under. 

The state has done pandemic contact tracing pretty well. Now it's time for government entities to work together to contact businesses to let them know time is running out--not point fingers. 

SPECIAL DETAILS

Here's the breakdown of the major items the Governor is asking for at today's special:

--Appropriate $194 million for one-time unemployment compensation to bolster unemployment checks by $300 a week for four weeks. 

--$100 million for a small business grant fund allowing up to $50,000 per business, with a prioritization of the hospitality and restaurant industry. 

--$15 million would provide emergency housing assistance, while another $5 million will go to shoring up the state's many food banks with emergency funds. 

MIA MONEY 

One item missing and that we've blogged about is the troubled $400 million Small Business Recovery Loan Fund. By the end of August only about $20 million had been loaned because of restrictive rules. The Governor did not put a fix for that on today's special agenda, as some expected, but finance officials in Santa Fe say it will be tackled at the regular session starting in January. 

CABINET WATCH 

Mike Connor
President-elect Biden has been rolling out cabinet secretaries and at the rate he's going it shouldn't be long before we learn who will head Interior and Health and Human Services, the two agencies that four New Mexico politicos have been mentioned as being in the running for.

The chances of ABQ Dem Rep. Deb Haaland to secure Interior took a hit when the NYT came with this

. . . Her lack of policy experience worries some Biden advisers, who have suggested another Native American candidate: Michael L. Connor, a deputy Interior secretary in the Obama administration, whose experience is unquestioned, even if he lacks the star power of Ms. Haaland. 

Rep. Raul Grijalva, chair of the House Resources Committee and who is backing Haaland, retorted:

She’s not window dressing. She’s competent. She’s a pro, both politically and in terms of policy. . . 

Connor is a member of Taos Pueblo and today works in a DC law firm. He was born in Las Cruces. His grandfather on his mother's side was a Taos Pueblo leader. Outgoing Sen. Tom Udall is the main non Native American in the running and he's running hard to get it. 

As for HHS, MLG continues to be cited as a possible Biden pick:

Possible nominees. . . are  Gov. Lujan Grisham, a Latina former member of Congress who also served as the state's secretary of health; Rep. Raul Ruiz of California, a Latino physician and former emergency room doctor; and Rep. Karen Bass of California, a Black former physician assistant, according to four people familiar with the discussions. . .Another top contender is Dr. Vivek Murthy, a former surgeon general, whose family immigrated from India and who has been a top Biden adviser. . .

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Monday, November 23, 2020

Cities And Women Winners In New Senate Dem Leadership Line Up; Conservative Coalition Headed To Ash Heap 

Three of four leadership positions filled Saturday by the Senate Democratic caucus hail from the ABQ metro and the fourth is from Santa Fe. That much ABQ (and city) leadership has seldom been seen in the 42 member Senate now controlled by the Dems 27 to 15.

Also, three of the leadership posts were filled by women—up from two—as nationally 56 percent of  registered women voters now align with the Democrats. 

For several years attorney, former legislator and political analyst Greg Payne has been predicting women would be at the center of the Santa Fe action. Now for the first time women comprise a majority of the state House and there’s their increased presence in Senate leadership:

The serious problems that New Mexico needs to resolve--ineffective education, childhood poverty, low incomes, crime and drug addiction--impact the lives of women most. I think the pieces are in place for a more concerted effort to attack these chronic issues harming families and that have held the state back. We'll see if it happens. 

Rep. Patricia Lundstrom is the first woman to chair the important House Appropriations Committee, Stephanie Garcia Richard is the first female land commissioner, the governorship has been held by women since 2011 and the 10 member NM Court of Appeals now has a majority of women.

While the increase in female leadership was noted, critics of the Senate outcome pointed to the continued decline of Hispanic men in the leadership. They have been drifting away from the Dems at the polls. 

THE WINNERS

ABQ Sen. Mimi Stewart emerged victorious in a five way race to become the party nominee for Senate President Pro Tem and to play the key role in committee assignments. ABQ's Linda Lopez defeated ABQ Sen. Michael Padilla to replace Stewart as Majority Whip and freshman Senator-elect Brenda McKenna of Corrales was elected caucus chair. She is from Nambe Pueblo

Caucus rules require a majority vote and Stewart confirmed she didn't get the win until after multiple ballots. Majority Leader Peter Wirth of Santa Fe was re-elected by acclamation, capping off the all-urban leadership. 

Stewart's position must still be ratified by the full Senate in January. As much as some conservatives are pining for a continuation of the coalition of Republicans and conservative-leaning Dems that has controlled the Senate the past decade, under Stewart's leadership the coalition appears headed for the ash heap of history. 

It would take seven Dems to join with the 15 R's to continue the coalition. No political pro we asked could name seven Dems in this reshaped Senate who would bolt. Also, Stewart, known as one of the state's leading liberals, has shown a more pragmatic streak since going to the Senate from the House in 2014. That should also dampen enthusiasm for any coalition. 

The 72 year old Stewart, a 25 year legislative veteran, has not yet signaled her favorite to head the most powerful committee--Senate Finance. She says she wants the committee to be more transparent--and by inference less powerful--than it has been under outgoing Senator John Arthur Smith who accumulated more power as a committee chairman than perhaps anyone in modern history.

Stewart confirmed support in the Senate for legalized marijuana and updating of the state's abortion laws that played a role in defeating conservative-leaning senators in the June primary. On the long-stalled Constitutional Amendment to tap the $20 billion Land Grant Permanent Fund for early childhood education, Stewart, a retired educator, said she is supportive. However, she said the proposal may be tweaked to also include funding for K thru 12. 

The caucus results cheered ABQ city officials with one of them predicting that finally the city will not be thwarted when it comes to capital outlay projects. “We will be getting our fair share now," he opined. Stewart would be the first Pro Tem from ABQ in 15 years. 

ANALYSIS AND CONTEXT 

The rural depopulation of the past decade has now manifested itself in the Legislature's upper chamber following the increased liberalism of the House.

Rural politics is not through. The election of Republican Yvette Herrell to the southern congressional seat is evidence of that, but its outsized influence in the legislature even as its population shrank is now over. And the coming redistricting should cement the dominance of the cities in the decade ahead. 

Democrats will work to protect their deep blue gains in those cities that have put the state out of reach for the R's in statewide elections. And they will want to do it without a radical shift that could scare voters away. The Senate leadership personalities are mostly old hands who abide by the saying that the Senate is the saucer that cools the hot tea offered up by the House. That liberal tea will no longer go stone cold when it reaches the Senate and while not remaining hot, it will still be warm.    

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Thursday, November 19, 2020

Final Hours Jockeying By Senate Dems Underway For Top Leadership Post, A Covid Disparity And Our Bottom Lines 

Senate Republicans delivered a bit of a surprise this week when they ousted their longtime Minority Leader Stuart Ingle in favor of Sen. Greg Baca. Now it's the Senate Dems turn to put new faces in their leadership. They caucus Saturday to select their picks.

The final hours positioning is over who the Dems name to become the next Senate President Pro Tem. Supporters of ABQ Dem Sen. Mimi Stewart argue she's the best choice among the five contenders for the post which is key in determining committee assignments of senators. 

They cite Stewart's stewardship of the Dem state senate campaign. Dems picked up one senate seat in November and now control the chamber 27-14. That doesn’t reveal the leftward shift the Senate has taken as a result of primary elections that saw several conservative-leaning Dems lose their seats. 

Stewart's backers also argue that Pro Tem hopeful Pete Campos, the senior member of the Senate, should not get the job because he was among the senators who voted against repealing an outdated abortion law. That vote was a major reason progressive groups targeted conservative senators with primary challengers. 

Campos supporters argue that Stewart, 72, is a liberal firebrand who would be divisive as Pro Tem. They add that she has baggage of her own, noting that she flipped from her long held position of supporting a measure to use a small portion of the $20 billion Land Grant Permanent Fund for early childhood education. They say she flipped to appease Senate Finance Committee Chairman John Arthur Smith. 

Besides Campos and Stewart, ABQ Sens. Jerry Ortiz y Pino, Linda Lopez and Daniel Ivey-Soto are also seeking to become Pro Tem. The pick of the Dem Senators will then be voted on by the full Senate at the legislative session in January. Insider betting now has Ortiz y Pino showing strength, but a caucus is not known for its predictability. 

COVID DISPARITY

There's quite an ethnic disparity in NM Covid cases. The Health Department says 43 percent of the cases have been among Hispanics, 18 percent among Native Americans but only 14 percent among Whites. About 20 percent of the cases are said to be among individuals whose ethnic identity is "unknown."

Thirty-seven percent of the state's population is White. Hispanics make up 49 percent and Native Americans 11 percent, according to the Census Bureau. Racial disparities are also common in the state's eduction system and income levels. 

THE BOTTOM LINES 

There's a new conservative blogger on the block. On the big issue of the day Joaquin Roibal calls it "the Lujan lockdown" and says: 

In an attempt to further her own political ambitions as US Health and Human Services Secretary, Michelle Lujan Grisham has instituted a second, more restrictive “Lujan Lockdown” on the great people of New Mexico who have been battered and bruised by 8 months of economic, social and spiritual restrictions." 

Not that the Governor doesn't have her share of supporters. Cynthia Schanwald, writing on MLG's Facebook page, says:

Heartfelt condolences to all the families whose loved ones have passed on. I’m sure you miss them. Thank you Governor for shutting us down and doing the best that you can for our state. Now it’s up to us to slow the spread of this invisible terror wreaking havoc on humanity throughout the world.

Foes of the latest Covid restrictions will rally at the state capitol at noon Saturday. 

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Wednesday, November 18, 2020

Election Fallout: Ingle Ousted As Senate Minority Leader; Sen. Greg Baca Takes Leadership Mantle As R's Fight To Regain Relevancy, Plus: Haaland Stays In Interior Mix And Keller's APD Woes Are Unrelenting  

Sen. Greg Baca
State Senate Republicans have turned the page on the Ingle era. Longtime Senate Minority Leader Stuart Ingle was ousted by the Senate GOP caucus Tuesday night as they chose Senator Greg Baca of Valencia County as his replacement.

The ouster of Ingle comes after the Republican minority was reduced by one seat in the recent election and three Republican senators in Bernalillo County lost their reelection bids. 

Also, the Senate coalition in which Senate Republicans allied with conservative leaning Senate Democrats is finished as a result of the primary election defeats of the conservative Dems. That further weakened Ingle’s position.

Baca, 49, is a Valencia County native, a decorated Gulf War veteran, an attorney and businessman who practices law out of Los Lunas. He beat Paul Baca in this month's election to win his second term. 

Senator Baca is apparently the first Hispanic Senate Republican leader in the modern era. 

Valencia County voted heavily for Trump and also put into office GOP Sen.-elect Josh Sanchez who scored an upset win over well-financed Democratic contender Pam Cordova. This was the party's best showing in the ABQ metro. 

Ingle, 72, is currently the longest serving state senator, taking his Clovis area seat in 1985. He farms and ranches in Portales. He was first named Minority Leader in 2001 and his 20 year run is one of the longest on record. He is well-versed in policy and liked and respected on both sides of the aisle. But the party decided it needed new faces to pull it out of a very deep cellar. 
Sen. Ingle

The switch in Republican leadership is from rural to urban. It is the urban areas of Albuquerque, Santa Fe and Las Cruces that have been pummeling the state Republicans into oblivion. They currently hold no statewide executive offices and Democrats control both houses of the legislature.

Leader Baca’s election also represents a generational change in leadership as the R’s fight to regain relevancy. Their next challenge is the redistricting of the legislature in which more of their seats could be placed in jeopardy. 

When the new legislature is seated in January the 42 member Senate will have 27 Democrats and only 15 Republicans.

Meeting at the Capitol, the GOP caucus also selected Rio Rancho Senator Craig Brandt as their Minority Whip. Sen. Mark Moores, the only surviving GOP Senator in BernCo, was named Minority Caucus Chair. 

Again, these selections are from the ABQ metro where the R's have faltered in recent cycles. One lack in the new GOP leadership line-up Is the absence of any women who continue to bolster the Democratic Party.

HAALAND VS. UDALL?

We noted Tuesday that Sen. Tom Udall seems to be making headway in his effort to nail down a Biden appointment as Secretary of Interior but it's fellow New Mexican and ABQ Dem Congresswoman Deb Haaland who’s giving him a bit of competition.

House Interior Committee Chairman Raul Grijalva has thrown his support behind Haaland, pointing out that she would be the first Native American to become Interior Secretary. Grijalva had been the pick of the Congressional Hispanic Caucus. Progressive groups are also banging the table for Haaland who is one of the most liberal members of the House. The Hill reports the Biden team is vetting Haaland.

Haaland was was seeking a leadership position in the the House but has now given that up amid the rumors swirling about Interior. She was elected to her second term in the House this month. If she were to leave her congressional seat there would be a special election held to full the seat. 

GETTING WORSE

It just keeps getting worse

A city performance audit of APD's overtime practices and internal controls found four employees accrued more than 2,000 hours of overtime in fiscal year 2020 – which averages out to a staggering 38 hours of overtime each week. The year before it was two employees who exceeded 2,000 hours. . . Salaries account for about 78% of APD’s budget (or $211 million) in fiscal year 2020, according to the city’s audit report. “Overtime related costs constituted a large portion of total APD salaries paid for both years,” the report states. “Specifically, in fiscal years 2019 and 2020, APD paid $17.9 million and $18.3 million in related overtime costs.” And in each year two employees made more than $100,000 in overtime. 

State Auditor Brian Colón has an ongoing investigation into the overtime problem. 

Bernalillo County Sheriff Manny Gonzales is gearing up for a 2021 run against Mayor Keller who like previous Mayor RJ Berry has been overwhelmed by the intransigent APD culture. Berry managed to get re-elected amid the wreckage in 2013. But this time the APD abuse is combined with record high crime. The city election is now less than a year away and will be held Nov. 2, 2021.

Meantime, the city has put up this survey for citizens interested in chiming in about the qualifications for a new police chief. Keller has launched a national search. Interim Chief Harold Medina says he is interested in the permanent position. 

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Tuesday, November 17, 2020

Udall Seems To Be Closing In On Interior Appointment, Plus: Big Campaign Contributors Prep For Legislative Session 

The press machine is going to work as retiring NM Dem US Senator Tom Udall appears to be closing in on winning the position of Secretary of Interior in the Biden administration: 

A plan championed by retiring Sen. Udall to harness the nation’s lands and ocean waters to fight climate change is getting a boost from President-elect Joe Biden, who has made slowing climate change a priority for his incoming administration.  

Udall, 72, is seen as the candidate with perhaps the best chance to win an easy confirmation from his colleagues in the Senate. Republicans may not like his views but he is not a lightning rod. And the AP reporting that Udall worked as an aide for Biden in the early 70's is more grist for the mill. 

As for how a Udall appointment would impact New Mexico, it's a mixed picture. Oil and gas would fear his climate change agenda and how it might impact their activity on public lands. Enviros would welcome his emphasis on climate and conservation. 

Udall's prospects may have improved in the aftermath of the election. For the first time since 1996 Arizona this year voted for the Democratic presidential candidate. That will make the Grand Canyon state a swing state in the 2024 election. 

While a long-serving New Mexico politician, Udall and his family legacy are inextricably linked to Arizona. Udall's father, Stewart Udall of AZ, was Secretary of Interior under Presidents Kennedy and Johnson and served from January 1961 until January 1969. His uncle Mo Udall served in the House from the Tucson area and was a high-profile chairman of the then Interior Committee. Those are not only environmental credentials but political ones. Taken together the surprise wouldn't be that Udall gets the nod from Biden but that he doesn't.

THE THIRD 

Udall would be the third New Mexican to serve as Interior Secretary. Albert Fall held the position from 1921-23. He was named to the cabinet by President Harding while serving as a US Senator but lasted only two years before being felled by the Teapot Dome Scandal. Former ABQ GOP Congressman Manuel Lujan was elevated to the post by President H.W. Bush in 1989 and served until 1993 when the defeated Bush left office. 

FOLLOWING THE MONEY

Major private interests were big donors in Campaign '20 in anticipation of the 2021 legislative session, including cannabis, guns and payday loans. NM Ethics Watch has been tracking the action:

The cannabis industry reported spending nearly $90,000 in general election campaign contributions to cultivate influence with new -- and old -- lawmakers. And with efforts to create tougher regulations for installment loans --popularly called “payday loans”-- also likely to be debated in the Legislature next year. . . companies associated with such lending handed out more than $40,000 in campaign contributions.

There has been no indication of proposed gun legislation for next year’s Legislature. But pro-gun control organization--Everytown for Gun Safety--backed by billionaire Michael Bloomberg--continues to contribute to state Democrats. The group gave $215,000 to candidates and political action committees (PACs) during the general election period. By contrast, the National Rifle Association has contributed $2,500 to candidates here, all of  it to Republicans. 

“Big businesses as well as large advocacy groups know that one of the best ways to establish friendly relationships with lawmakers is to donate to their campaigns. It’s impossible to say that big contributions `buy access’ to officials. But they certainly don’t hurt,” said Kathleen Sabo, executive director of NM Ethics Watch.

Large recipients of cannabis money during the general election included ABQ Dem Rep. Javier Martinez and Roswell GOP Sen. Cliff Pirtle. Both received a $5,000 contribution from Ultra Health, the state's largest medical marijuana distributor.

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Monday, November 16, 2020

Virus Fatigue Could Impact NM Lockdown As Economic Consequences Continue To Bedevil Santa Fe; Course Correction Awaited 

The lockdown is on again but the state, with what are said to be the most restrictive pandemic measures in the USA, is now up against a serious case of virus fatigue:

A new Gallup poll finds that just 49% of Americans say they would shelter in place if public health officials recommended it because of a coronavirus outbreak. That's down significantly from the 67% who said so during a Gallup poll taken in late March and early April. 

The economic consequences of the virus continue to bedevil the state. Santa Fe pushed out a $400 million loan program to ease the impact on businesses and employees but the program has been a bust because it was too restrictive. It now has to be reworked, likely in a special legislative session that MLG says will soon be called. She also plans to put $100 million of federal coronavirus funds to work to alleviate economic pain, with an eye on the high jobless rate. 

Even a rewritten loan program could be behind the curve. To thwart the virus the state has shut down thousands of businesses and again thrown thousands out of work for the rest of the month. This time it is in the most economically active quarter of the year. If the virus is not restrained, the shutdown could be continued. Instead of loans the city of ABQ is using $10 million of its federal coronavirus money for direct grants to businesses with fewer than 50 employees threatened with collapse. Big boys like Wal-Mart and Target can ride out the storm. If Santa Fe simply copies the ABQ program the money could quickly get out to impacted businesses and workers now--not months from now or never (if there's a problem with the state anti-donation clause charge a small fee.)

Santa Fe's damaging penchant for fiscal austerity lingers. If the state is going to get as serious about the impact of lost livelihoods from the virus as it is about the health consequences it's going to have to start showing the money--not impossible to get loans with fine print conditions but cash in hand with few restrictions. The government has shut the state down. Business and workers are not to blame. The virus is. 

As for that special session, House Speaker Egolf believes it could last just one day and be held remotely. He foresees one omnibus economic package on the table.

Then there's the regular 60 day session in January. Gathering 112 lawmakers remotely amid the virus for that length of time is unrealistic. A truncated session of a week could get a budget crafted for the fiscal year starting July 1, keeping in mind that another special session might be needed before then. 

Also, lawmakers could easily repeal that outdated abortion statute that caused so much upheaval in the June primary and has already passed the House. 

In addition, the long debated proposal to tap the $20 billion Land Grant Permanent Fund for early childhood education could pass quickly in January now that its chief Senate foes are gone. The measure has repeatedly passed the House. The amendment could be put before voters at the regularly scheduled municipal elections in November. 

Given the technical challenges, legalizing recreational marijuana could have to wait for a special session called in late spring to finish the work of the shortened 60 day meeting. 

For the 2021 legislative session less is better--much better--as we await the arrival of a vaccine. 

THE BOTTOM LINES

We knew that ABQ streets get their names from the developers of the particular subdivisions but we didn't know that if you and your neighbors want to change the name on your street there is a process to do that. . . 

We blogged last week that the last incumbent NM US Senator to be defeated was in 1976. Actually, it was 1982. That's when Dem Jeff Bingaman defeated Republican Sen. Jack Schmitt. It was 1976 when Schmitt beat Dem Senator Joe Montoya.  

Anna Muller, a well-known Republican politico and accomplished ABQ business leader, has died at the age of 77. And Johnny Morris, who for decades held forth on the ABQ TV airwaves as a well-liked news anchor, has passed away. He was 96. 

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Thursday, November 12, 2020

DC Angling: Ben Ray Already Making Leadership Play, Cabinet Guessing Game Goes On And Another NM Political First  

Senator-elect Lujan 
The DC angling by New Mexico politicos remains in high gear with Senator-elect Ben Ray Lujan wasting no time in working to climb the Senate leadership ladder just as he did in the House. 

Lujan is letting it be known he's interested in becoming the new head of the Democratic Senatorial Campaign Committee (DSCC). Sen. Catherine Cortez Masto (D-Nev.) is finishing her term there. Lujan held a similar position while a congressman, leading the Democratic Congressional Campaign Committee (DCCC) in the '18 cycle and overseeing an increase in Dem House members. 

Lujan has turned out to be a natural in forming political relationships, much like his late father NM House Speaker Ben Ray Lujan. In the recent campaign he was knocked as a major DC player who did not deliver enough for the state. There was a bit of truth in that and it stung. Now he will have six years to balance the DC power game with delivering desperately needed dollars to federally-dependent New Mexico. 

The 48 year old Lujan is playing the long game, knowing that no incumbent Senator has been defeated in NM since 1982. With Senate Minority Leader Chuck Schumer nearing 70 and Whip Dick Durbin near 76, the Dem leadership is likely to change a decade out. Remember, Lujan parlayed his stint at the DCCC into Assistant House Speaker, the number #4 position in the House. 

GUESSING GAME

MLG as Sec. of Interior? The guessing game is going over-the-top as to who Biden will tap for his cabinet. Until the NYT mentioned her for Interior the NM Governor has been pinpointed mainly for the Health and Human Services slot. That's still the most likely. 

The Times also mentions Montana Gov. Steve Bullock as an Interior possible, along with three other New Mexicans--Senators Tom Udall and Martin Heinrich and ABQ Rep. Deb Haaland. 

Native Americans are pushing for one of their own at Interior. It would be a first. Perhaps mindful of that, Udall's office comes with a list of accomplishments he's had in Indian County during his long political tenure. He is currently Vice-Chairman of the Senate Committee on Indian Affairs. 

SANTA FE JOCKEYING

More pot boiling speculation in Santa Fe as the bureaucracy ponders the possible elevation of Lt. Governor Howie Morales to the governorship, if MLG scores a cabinet post. We get this mischief making note from inside the education department: 

Joe there is an active campaign at the Public Education Department by two deputy secretaries, Kata Sandoval and Gwen Perea Warniment to move Gwen into the Secretary of Education position. She has talked to superintendents about this, as well as several staff at PED. There is little interest in this move internally. If the Governor is tapped for the Biden administration and Howie becomes Governor she has asked that he tap her as the new secretary.

Well, check that as rumor but multiply it by a factor of 100 if Morales does ascend to the governorship. Meantime, Deputy Sec. Perea Warniment checks in to say that she has no interest in becoming Sec. of Education. "I definitely do not want to be Secretary and am not angling to become Secretary." She said. Got that rumor mill? 

ANOTHER FIRST

DA-elect Byers
Every time you think there are no more firsts to be had in a very diverse La Politica, you're surprised. Here's another--the election of the state's first Black District Attorney:

Doña Ana County has a new district attorney who is ready to hit the ground running. Though Gerald Byers, 62. . .  said he doesn't want to sound presumptuous about not having an opponent but is pleased with the outcome. "I think that everybody will be able to work together for that ever-elusive goal of total justice in society, because people expect it and people deserve it. . ."

This is an historic win. Byers said he is the first African American district attorney to be elected in the state of New Mexico. Henry Valdez, director of New Mexico's Administrative Office of District Attorneys, said he isn't aware of any other African American individual in the state who has held the office. 

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Wednesday, November 11, 2020

Taking Her Seat: State's Soon-To-Be New Congresswoman Is All Smiles Amid Redistricting Threats As Speaker Egolf Walks Back Comments 

Rep.-elect Yvette Herrell
If Rep.-elect Yvette Herrell is worried about the threat from House Speaker Brian Egolf to essentially redistrict her out of existence, she isn't showing it. 

Appearing on Fox and Friends Tuesday morning, Herrell was confident, poised and all smiles.  Winning has a way of doing that. (Video here.)

And win she did, trouncing Dem Rep. Xochitl Torres Small by the unexpectedly large margin of 54 to 46 in the southern congressional district race that was billed as a toss-up but ended in a near blow-out.

Analysts continue to ponder the considerable victory. Herrell has some theories of her own, telling the national TV audience that President Trump's strong showing was key, pointing out that he had won the conservative district by 10 points in 2016. He is thought to have carried it at least by that much, if not more this time. Final figures are not yet available. 

Herrell also attributed "the oil and gas situation that is such a huge part of New Mexico" for part of her winning margin. In the final presidential TV debate VP Biden made anti-fracking comments that appeared to further inflame the oil counties of Chaves, Eddy and Lea, providing even more Trump/Herrell votes.

In 2018 when Herrell lost to Torres Small she was unable to score the easy landslide wins and solid turnout that are expected of a GOP candidates in the oil counties. That was not the case in 2020. For example, in Lea she pulled 78 percent of the vote.

OFF TO DC

Now it's off to DC for the 56 year old member of the Cherokee Nation. What committees will she serve on? That's to be decided but her campaign says Energy, Agriculture, Armed Services and Natural Resources are all natural fits for the sprawling district that is home to military bases, oil fields and dairy farms. Outoing Rep. Torres Small sits on Armed Services, Homeland Security and Agriculture. 

As for Trump, who Herrell publicly leaned on for her primary win but less so in her victory last Tuesday, she has come with this statement to supporters:

 I continue to stand with President Trump and fully support his efforts to ensure that the votes being counted are legal. I participated in an update call with the Trump campaign and patriots from around the Nation. There are several ways we can all continue to have President Trump's back -- just like he's had ours for the last four years: - Donate to President Trump's official Election Defense Fund and report any instances of possible voter fraud or irregularities

The message seemed more pro forma than heartfelt and a Republican Alligator familiar with the congresswoman-elect's thinking said our read is correct. After all, if there was widespread election fraud it could raise questions about Herrell's clean win. Also, she has been criticized for implying that the 2018 US House election was stolen from her. Not subjects she needs hanging over her head now.

It appears Trump will be a large presence in the GOP in the years ahead and he could be a significant fund-raiser for his favored candidates. In Herrell's case that could come in handy as GOP legal fees could mount in fighting the Democratic Legislature's attempt to redistrict the seat away from her. 

EGOLF'S ERROR

Speaker Egolf
The redistricting comments were a rare error for the crafty Speaker Egolf. But he was agile enough to walk back his initial statement, saying:

I in no way intended or meant to imply that that district is being singled out as a result of the outcome of an election. Going forward, this is not a Left or Right issue. New Mexico has undergone significant demographic changes over the last ten years and the 2020 Census will give us a better snapshot as to where in our state New Mexicans call home. Redistricting will reflect those changes and will be conducted in a fair, open, and transparent process.

We told the Speaker earlier this year that if an incumbent Republican holds the southern seat redistricting them out in 2021 would be more difficult than if a Dem held it. We didn't know our prediction would come true so quickly. 

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Tuesday, November 10, 2020

Still Another Big Foot To Drop In Post-Election New Mexico; Key Senate Leadership Post On The Line, Plus: Covid Politics 

Sen. Campos
Besides the possibility of MLG being named to the Biden cabinet, there's another big foot to drop in post-election New Mexico--the selection of a state Senate President Pro Tem who will set the tone for the next Legislature by controlling all-important committee assignments.

The race is a doozy with at least five Democratic Senators said to be in the running and with all 26 Dems set to caucus November 21 to make their choice. 

The Pro Tem is selected by the entire Senate. Despite holding a majority in the chamber, the Democrats have been unable to advance one of their own to the powerful post since 2009 without GOP involvement.  That’s when conservative Dem Senator Tim Jennings formed a coalition with minority Senate Republicans to win the position. After he left, Mary Kay Papen became the coalition's champion. She and other conservative leaning Dems were defeated in the June primary, Now, for the first time in over a decade, it is highly likely that the coalition as a formal entity is dead and that the senator chosen by the Senate Dem caucus will be the next Pro Tem without Republican help. 

Sen. Pete Campos was the Dem caucus choice in 2012 when Sen. Papen took it from him with the help of the R's. Campos is now the longest serving Senator (first elected in 1990) and is again campaigning for Pro Tem. He's joined in the race by the oldest Dem Senator--78 year old Jerry Ortiz y Pino and Senators Ivey-Soto, Lopez and Stewart.

One possible deal floating is intriguing and may be the best way forward for the Democrats as they unwind the coalition. It would have Campos selected as Pro Tem and place Ortiz y Pino in the chairmanship of the most powerful committee of them all--Senate Finance. Or it could have those positions reversed. 

Sen. Ortiz y Pino
The reasoning being that the Senate would move left but not in a jarring way and that Campos and Pino provide stable and mature faces to the voting public as well as institutional knowledge and the smarts to do the jobs. (Pino is a former member of Senate Finance.)

Some Dems might invoke identity politics and demand that a woman be Pro Tem, but a woman has already had the post so there's no first to be had there. Sen. Mimi Stewart is already in leadership as majority whip and could be kept there. Sen. Linda Lopez would remain chair of the powerful Rules Committee..

Pino on Senate Finance would be a huge win for progressives seeking to rebuke the fiscal austerity that has enveloped the capitol this past decade and Campos' appointment would calm the waters with R's, moderate Dems and the business community. 

Campos would have to swear off any intention of playing footsie with the GOP and Pino would have to be willing to make the move to Finance and give up his Pro Tem dreams but it's a compromise that breaks through the chaos of a crowded contest and that calmly places New Mexico on a new political path. 

COVID POLITICS

The explosion in coronavirus cases, hospitalizations and deaths could mean further state restrictions.  We predicted last week that such restrictions could be met with sterner opposition in the south where Trump and the R's scored big on Election Night. We said in the absence of a general shutdown or something similar, it will be up to the state to increase its virus fighting efforts. That brings this reaction from an administration spokesman: 

The state is doing exactly what you describe as necessary (targeting hotspot businessestargeted closures, a “crackdown” rather than a “shutdown” – and adding contact tracers and dramatically expanding testing where the virus is spreading worst, in GOP counties and in the south broadly) – so we have done exactly that. Of course we haven’t seen the results we want yet – the state is doing what it can, and will continue 24/7, but New Mexicans need to buckle down too. . . The onus is not only on the state but on the political party that is proudly pro-virus and doesn’t care how many New Mexicans are getting sick, how full our hospitals are, or how many New Mexicans die – more and more every week. . I know you are writing from the perspective of the reality (which I don’t disagree with) that Trump people are going to be emboldened by their election results, We all recognize that reality. But this isn’t just political. 

Well, it's a real stretch to claim the opposition party to the administration doesn’t care how many people die from Covid. And is anyone anywhere “pro-virus?” 

MLG is expected to offer an update this week on any further state action. 

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