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Thursday, March 26, 2009

ABQ Mayor Action: Looking Like A Three Way Deal, Plus: Death Law Can't Be Repealed By Vote, Says Legal Beagle, And: Some More TIDD Talk 

Key players are saying the '09 ABQ race for mayor appears destined to become a three way affair. They are reporting that the Bernalillo County and state GOP are "pulling out all the stops" to ensure that GOP State Rep. RJ Berry gathers enough five dollar contributions to qualify for public financing. They now expect him to make it and them some. If so, that is a worst case scenario for incumbent Mayor Marty Chavez because Dem Richard Romero is also expected to qualify to become a major candidate. That would pit two Hispanic D's against one Anglo R, a recipe for some uncertainty in a race that Chavez will still enter as a clear front runner, if not a prohibitive favorite. Chavez was first to submit the required donations to qualify for public financing and has also already submitted 10,000 petition signatures, more than the 6,500 required.

We blogged earlier how out-of-state operatives had been hired by the Bernalillo County GOP to gather the donations and how fomer ABQ GOP Congresswoman Heather Wilson had recorded a robo-call on behalf of Berry's candidacy. Now we're told the party has added an auto dialer to this arsenal to identify GOP contributors. Berry is expected to get well over 4,000 donations. He has turned in around 2,800. About 3,300 are required. Romero has picked up steam since the Legislature adjourned its session and has freed manpower to get his donations. Candidates go over the 3,300 mark because some donations are thrown out as coming from invalid donors.

Candidates have until next Tuesday to collect the donations. They will update their numbers to the city clerk on Friday.

Berry and the GOP face the prospect of major embarrassment and a dead-in-the-water candidacy if they can't qualify for public financing. Berry could still get on the ballot by submitting 6,500 petition signatures, but he would have to either self-finance his campaign or depend on individual contributions. However, the new city campaign finance law makes collecting allowable campaign contributions extremely difficult. That's why even Chavez, who raised $1.5 million in his '05 run, has gone the public financing route. Each mayoral candidate who qualifies gets $328,000 to fund their campaign They also get to raise $32,000 in "seed money" to kick-start their efforts.

Berry qualifying for the public money is his first step. Next he will have to broaden the appeal of his campaign. Right now he looks like a frontman for the R's in a city that has not elected a GOP mayor since 1981.

IS ELI COMING?

With the issue of who will be the major candidates in this contest getting quickly resolved, attention is now switching to what money from outside the city treasury will come into this battle. And that leads to the issue of the political nonprofits that have been under so much fire for their involvement in the 2008 legislative contests. They say they are spending hundreds of thousands to advocate for policies. Others, including the attorney general, say they are politicking. Legislation to limit their involvement and/or force them to disclose contributions and expenditures died in the recent legislative session. As federally recognized non-profits the groups don't have to disclose.

Will signficant nonprofit or other third party money be expended in the Mayor's race and labeled "issue advocacy?" If it is, any fig leaf that these groups use to argue they are not blatantly political will be torn away. It was "progressive" city councilors who pushed for the new city campaign finance law that severely restricts private fundraising in favor of public financing. Will they and their allies look the other way if progressive nonprofits such the one run by consultant Eli Lee start pumping money into the race in an effort to buoy Romero, the favorite candidate of the liberals? Observers are asking and watching. And that goes for nonprofit groups on the right as well.

The Republican Party has filed with the city as a "measure finance committee" and will file donation and expense reports. Folks may not like third party money coming in, but the GOP is playing by the rules. Other groups from outside of the campaigns would do well to heed the example.

BRANCHING OUT

Okay, the Alligator who gave us the Monday "back story" on the motivations and players behind NM House Speaker Lujan's tirade against Senator John Arthur Smith has been placed on probation, in addition to getting ten lashes with the wet noodle. The development company affiliated with the Santa Fe Railyards development that would benefit from the Lujan amendment and that was shot down by Smith, triggering the Speaker's rage, is not, as our Gator reported, owned by developer Michael Branch, but one of his three sons--Allen Branch--who has his own development company. In fact, Michael Branch, whose campaign contributions to Lujan we listed along with son Jeff's, says he has three sons all of whom are in real estate. He says the other Branch family members have no financial interest in Allen's Railyards endeavor. A quick records search did not turn up any Allen Branch contributions to Lujan. The Gator also messed up on some other parts of this episode that we blogged about Wednesday. But it is the blogger, not the Gator, ultimately responsible for what tumbles out in digital form.

So even though new and useful ground was plowed on this story---we must turn the wet noodle on ourselves and administer ten lashes. This means all Alligators attempting to cross the moat in coming days are going to have to pass rigorous testing or be denied water to splash around in. There's only so much of that wet noodle we are willing to take.

TILTING AT WINDMILLS?

Repeal the repeal of the death penalty signed into law by Big Bill? Not so fast says veteran NM defense attorney Ray Twohig. He says Bernalillo County Sheriff Darren White, who is contemplating launching a statewide petition drive to repeal the repeal, doesn't have much contemplating to do. The NM Constitution, declares lawyer Ray, says it can't be done:

The Darren White referendum movement is dead in the water.

Article IV sec 1 (of the state Constitution) allows for referendum only for legislation which does not involve the police power of the legislature. The repeal legislation is unquestionably an exercise of the police power, and thus exempt from referendum. Before he held a press conference to announce the petition drive, White should have asked someone who could research the issue for him whether a referendum is possible on repeal. It is not. Cases and Attorney General opinions make that very clear... The Attorney General opinion 65-67 says a law need only provide for preservation of public peace, health or safety to be exempt from referendum.

Even if White pursued the referendum drive, the papers reported it would take some 100,000 signatures of registered voters to get the issue on the ballot. No matter. This is an emotional issue and legal beagles like Twohig are going to be watch dogging it all the way.

TIDD TALK

To Las Cruces now and NM State University's Chris Erickson, economist and political junkie, commenting on one of the big issues of the day for his profession---those controversial TIDD's. You're on the air, Dr. Chris:

An option available to developers... is working with local municipalities to fund development the old fashioned way, via industrial revenue bonds. Frankly, as a free market type, I would argue that if a development isn’t viable without a huge government subsidy, then it shouldn’t be developed. I’m not a big TIDD's fan. They make sense in some cases, like redevelopment of downtown areas...Moreover, New Mexico TIDDs are way too generous, arguably the most generous in the country. Most states only divert property taxes to their TIDD's; some states divert sales taxes; in New Mexico, we divert both property and gross receipts taxes.

Meantime, SunCal, which proposed a TIDD for land it owns on ABQ's Westside, points out the TIDD they wanted but that was defeated in Santa Fe is for 1,400 acres of the 55,000 acres they own. A spokeswoman says:

Many folks freak out with the thought of 55k acres of development and think sprawl. We are only looking for 1,400. Three-quarters of the land is for manufacturing, industrial and commercial. Where else can ABQ recruit 18 million square feet of high-tech/industrial jobs?


Thanks for that. The last thing we want to do is "freak out" folks. The politicos, maybe. But not the folks.

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(c)NM POLITICS WITH JOE MONAHAN 2009
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