Wednesday, July 15, 2009

More Taco Crunching: Debating How To Save Big Air Wing, Plus: Dona Ana DA Sets Guv Run, And: See it Now: PERA Chair Dodges Questions 

How best to save the Tacos? With 1,100 jobs at stake and $25 million a year coming into the ABQ economy because of the 150th NM Air National Guard Fighter Wing stationed at Kirtland Air Force base, it's an argument worth having. And we've been having it right here on this blog. We don't think an ABQ with flat population growth and few job opportunities is the best vision for our future and we fear losing the Tacos could open up more raids on KAFB jobs.

Some of the Alligators have been urging ABQ Dem Congressman Martin Heinrich, who has taken a leadership role in trying to keep the Tacos here, to not rule out going after other Air Force missions that don't involve fighter jets. But they're getting push back to that notion. The 21 aging F-16's the Tacos fly are being put out to pasture in seven years and KAFB is not slated to get the new fighter jets that will replace them. But Sherman McCorkle, who leads the Kirtland Partnership Committee that saved Kirtland and its thousands of jobs from near-extinction back in 1995, maintains there is no realistic alternative to a fighting mission. He told me over a recent cup of Starbucks:

"Alternative missions, such as UAV's are not available and even if they were, they would employ only a fraction of the guardsmen and civilians we now have. The F-16's the Air Force wants to move out of here are not being sent to the bone yard. They will still be flying over the next seven years, but at other air bases, We don't see how this saves any money or makes any sense.
Our best bet is to keep pushing the Air Force and Pentagon to back off and to keep the Tacos flying here with an eye toward getting the new fighters when the F-16's are finally phased out.

But getting the Pentagon to back off may not be so easy. Defense Secretary Gates is a determined downsizer and it appears he believes that having the F-16's operate at other bases--not KAFB--until the new fighter comes on line will indeed save significant funds.

We agreed with our e-mailers that Rep. Heinrich should pursue whatever mission he can to save the jobs, but if McCorkle is right and there are no other available non-fighter missions, what can he do? Do you Taco watchers agree with Sherman's view? Let us know.


Rep. Heinrich
While we were putting this story together, this came over the wires from Governor Bill and the congressional delegation:

SANTA FE –...Richardson applauded the U.S. Air Force’s announcement that it will permanently locate two unmanned vehicle training operations at Holloman Air Force Base in southern New Mexico. Holloman has been chosen as the new location for an additional MQ-1/9 formal training unit and will soon be home to the MQ-1 Predator and the MQ-9 Reaper.

That's 600 jobs, including 150 contractors, according to Sen. Bingaman's office. Should KAFB and the Tacos been working in previous years for a non-fighter mission to replace the Tacos? Well, that's water under the bridge, but one Taco who e-mailed us was not ready to turn the page:

As a Taco I was really not very happy to see new hardware being announced for Holloman today! Even more UAV's are on the way. Good for them but a tremendous mistake by the Tacos for once again not going after the missions that are available. With the F-22 mission alone, Holloman is going to be safe for decades. I would be very curious as to what Rep. Heinrich has to say about this. The folks in the Guard leadership have some explaining to do.

Meantime, we await further Congressional action on Rep. Heinrich's House-passed legislation that would delay the demise of the Taco's--at least for one budget year. If we get that win, Heinrich will deserve at least a couple of free taco plates at the restaurant of his choice.

Susana Martinez
We think they're hometowning it just a bit in Las Cruces when they call the expected entry of Dona Ana County District Attorney Susana Martinez into the 2010 GOP race for governor a "game-changer." But having a Hispanic woman run for the job can't hurt the marginalized R's. We think it may be a first and can understand the local pride. (The ABQ congressional candidacy of Jon Barela is also a step toward renewal for the GOP). Martinez is a regional candidate, unknown outside of her home area. In fact, in her many years as DA, we don't recall ever seeing her on ABQ TV news. But it will take only 20 percent of the delegates at the March 2010 pre-primary convention to get a spot on the June primary ballot, so maybe her hometown energy will give her a solid launch.

The 50 year old who was first elected DA in 1996 will bring some corruption fighting credentials to the table in what is now a crowded race to become the GOP standard-bearer. However, fresh and extensive Republican polling being leaked to me indicates that ethics and corruption have yet to be established as the paramount issues in the race for the Fourth Floor. In fact, education and the economy, according to those supplying the info, rank higher. That may surprise the newspaper editorial writers but not the political insiders. Still, continued ethics explosions (indictments) and perhaps ethics becomes the really big deal. And for DA Martinez, the issue is probably more important in a Republican primary than a general election.

R's have nominated a Hispanic contender before--John Sanchez in 2004. And while her ethnicity could be a hurdle in a very Anglo party, the more pressing concern to some observers is whether she has the gravitas for the position she seeks. Why after 12 years on the job has she not established more of a statewide reputation, especially if she harbors ambitions for the state's highest office? But Martinez's impressive personal narrative has long had appeal to GOP professionals seeking to broaden their party. This is their chance to make something of it.


Martinez's entry forces the hand of the other possible female GOP Guv contender--ABQ State Rep. Janice Arnold-Jones. She has formed an "exploratory committee" while Susana is going all in. Neither woman is well-funded yet, with Martinez said to have about $10,000 to get her candidacy off the ground. Arnold-Jones just recently had her first fund-raiser.

The geographic disadvantage faced by the Dona Ana DA is evident in the way she will apparently announce her candidacy--at 5:30 this Friday afternoon at Roberto's restaurant in Las Cruces. That is a regional play, not a statewide one. But others will argue as the only non-ABQ candidate (so far) Martinez's appeal will go beyond her county's borders.

In one of those "only in New Mexico" moments, on the day that Martinez's candidacy leaked, Roberto's restaurant was downgraded to unsatisfactory by the NM Environment Dept. because of cleanliness issues. Welcome, to La Politica, Susana. (Should we check those frozen tamales from Roberto's we have tucked away?)

Susana was born in El Paso and moved to Cruces in 1986 after graduating from Oklahoma University Law School. Her husband, Las Cruces native Chuck Franco, is also in law enforcement, serving as Dona Ana County Undersheriff. Here is her complete resume.

Martinez, Allen Weh, Greg Zanetti, Doug Turner, Janice Arnold-Jones. All are talented in their own way, but none are top-tier names. That's keeping Democratic front-runner Diane Denish off the anti-depressants and all eyes glued on the lone top-tier Republican candidate still on the fence--Heather Wilson.


If you've been with us this week, you've heard the back and forth over "viewer advocacy journalism" and what role it played in the firing of the news director at KRQE-TV. Well, whatever the case, longtime investigative reporter Larry Barker trudges on with what might be called his own version of VAJ. Here he is with a six minute piece on double-dipping by "retired" government employees. PERA Board Chair Cynthia Borrego grimaces and protests as do a bunch of other government functionaries caught in the spotlight, but all of them fail to give an answer on why some folks are "retiring" for a month, only to go back to their government jobs and continue to collect both a retirement check and their work paycheck. The abuse, reports Barker, will finally get the attention of Attorney General King. ABQ Dem. State Rep. Al Park is looking at it from the legislative angle.

The unions moaning mightily about the increased percentage of their paychecks that has been mandated to go into the state retirement kitty might want to pay special attention. This double-dipping is a major drain on the retirement funds which have already suffered hits because of the decline in the stock market.

Sec. Herrera
Our Alligators are working the angle on that employee at the Secretary of State's office who the office says is the subject of an investigation but neither the employee or the SOS's office will say why he is being investigated. First, Dan Boyd of the ABQ Journal lays out the key point.

Secretary of State Mary Herrera said the assessment (of her Web site) has uncovered potential criminal violations committed...That employee, Brad Allen, is the same one who raised the possibility the agency's network isn't secure as currently configured. He has denied any wrongdoing and said he doesn't know what the investigation is focusing on. The repairs that forced the Web site to be shut down for nearly a week have drawn criticism from the public and legislators, who have said a backup system should have been in place and notification given about the decision to take the site off-line.

Now from our tech Alligator:

What I heard is that their techie changed all of the access (i.e. passwords) and refused to release them prompting them (the SOS office) to contract with Mark Fidel's company--Caanes--and Andrew Baca's ABBA Technologies to rebuild the web site and servers from the ground up. The talk is of federal charges, but you didn’t hear this from me.

With the bad press the SOS is getting, she should enjoy her appearance today on Capitol Hill:

A Congressional Subcommittee has chosen New Mexico as model of efficient provisional and overseas balloting. Secretary of State Herrera has been invited to testify about New Mexico’s provisional balloting process and overseas voting process by the Committee on House Administration...New Mexico’s laws have been recognized as the standard for the development of Federal voting-related laws and guidelines...


We have a winner of the six month free supply of Coca-Cola products, and we'll tell you about it tomorrow. We'll also have another contest soon for free Coke, and we promise to make it a bit easier.

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