Monday, February 01, 2010

Sniping Grows Louder In Dem Light Guv Race, Plus: Koch & UNM In Senate Spotlight, Also: US House Race Action And Indian Country News & Analysis 

Ortiz y Pino
More intensity in that Dem race for lieutenant governor as we begin a new month and move ever closer to a critical mid-March test for the five contenders. Perceived front runner Brian Colon was taking hits over the weekend from both left and right, even as he hosted the opening of his ABQ headquarters.

The camp of ABQ Dem State Senator Jerry Ortiz y Pino, the most liberal of the five hopefuls, was boasting of their candidate's win in a straw poll in Taos County Friday, conducted after a forum for all the light guv candidates, except Colon, who did not appear. Ortiz y Pino polled 16 votes, Joe Campos and Lawrence Rael each received 11 and Linda Lopez only one.

Taos is a breadbasket of Dem liberalism, so Ortiz y Pino's win can't be blown out of proportion, but neither can it be ignored. If he can coalesce the left-wing of the party statewide, he could garner the needed 20 percent of the delegates at the March pre-primary convention to get an official spot on the June 1 primary ballot. If he does that, he might then be able to raise the money to compete, instead of struggling to keep the lights on.

Ortiz y Pino operatives said the Taos straw vote proves that Colon, who has raised the most money among the hopefuls, has a long way to go before he takes the light guv prize. It follows an earlier straw poll in Sandoval County that had Colon winning, but with Campos placing an unanticipated strong second place showing.

As Jerry squeezed Brian on the left, Campos was coming at him from the center and right. His camp smacked Colon for failing to show up at Taos, saying it reveals his weakness in the Spanish North. They were spinning that if Pete Domenici Jr. is the GOP nominee, Hispanics there could waver and that native son Campos, a state representative and mayor of Santa Rosa, could help presumed Dem Guv nominee Diane Denish hold down the fort far better than Colon.


Colon & Me
While Colon was being treated like a punching bag, he was throwing some punches of his own. Reports came in from the recent Valencia County Dem ward meetings where delegates were selected for the state pre-primary convention. They had Colon getting a strong showing in his home county. And Colon's campaign organization is repeatedly putting together smoothly run events, while the candidate is not prone to taking naps.

As for Rael, he started with a head of steam months ago, but has not had much to say lately. The first time candidate, say insiders, is trying to find his sea legs in this stormy campaign. But his straw vote showings are respectable and his head remains above water.

ABQ State Senator Lopez is all but out of the game, now getting trounced in two straw polls and getting nuked in the press for getting a part-time job with Bernalillo County that her foes say was politically motivated.

If you call it a four way battle--as we do--there may be room for three of those four to pick up 20 percent or more of the delegates at the pre-primary. Insiders say this Thursday's ward meetings in big Bernalillo County where 40 percent of the delegates will be chosen for the March pre-primary will tell us more about where this race stands. For right now, the action is hot and heavy.


They've been waiting on this one for a a while. The confirmation hearing of University of New Mexico Regent and longtime Dem Party powerhouse Jamie Koch goes before the state Senate Rules Committee this morning. It's been a year since Big Bill reappointed Jamie to a second four year term, a year during which storm clouds got even darker over Koch's head. Both the faculty and graduate students gave him votes of no confidence. The university itself has also been bedeviled by scandal in its high-profile athletics department, vociferous criticism over its administrative spending and whether the place has become a political stomping ground instead of an isle of academia.

Bill decided to reappoint Koch for a second four year term to the regents, but he had him step aside as president of the panel. Those opposed to Koch are hoping that the Rules Committee rejects his nomination, but insiders counting noses say Koch is quite likely to win there and again when the full Senate takes up the nomination. But we'll wait and see.

It will be interesting to determine if Senators have taken their legislative oversight chores seriously and ask the tough questions of Koch. The lay down attitude towards UNM among key Roundhouse leaders is getting increased attention because of the huge budget deficit. The school's employment of a wide array of staffers with political ties to the Governor has raised question of whether UNM President David Schmidly presides over a politicized institution that has lost sight of its fundamental mission and created sinecures for dozens of politicals.


One of the biggest issues for critics is what they see as the administrative bloat at UNM. State Senator Eric Griego has come with a resolution questioning the six figure salaries of some 20 UNM vice-presidents. Why do we have so many Veeps and what of the $4.5 million paid to them each year? Can we start cutting? Those decisions can't be made directly by the Legislature, but they do have the power of the purse and can strongly signal what change they desire. Griego's memorial has no force of law. The UNM administration maintains it is cutting back on its administrative costs.


Many eyes in New Mexico will be on Washington today as President Obama releases his proposed budget. Reports say he will ask for a 10 percent boost for nuclear weapons funding which could translate into increased budgets for Sandia and Los Alamos Labs and perhaps more employment:

The administration will seek an initial $600 million increase for nuclear weapons programs in the proposed 2011 budget it submits to Congress on Monday. That would increase annual spending on those programs to almost $7 billion.

There is a long way to go. Congress will take months to decide the budget for the year that starts Oct. 1. This year's budgets for Los Alamos and Sandia have been flat.


Jon Barela
ABQ GOP congressional candidate Jon Barela did not meet the fund-raising expectations for the fourth quarter that were set for him--at least around here by the Alligators. Attorney Barela, trying to unseat freshman US Dem Congressman Martin Heinrich, raised $113,000 in the fourth quarter. ( He reports spending about $40,000 in the period. Here is where it went.) Insiders were saying a move toward the $200,000 level would have better positioned Barela for inroads against Heinrich.

Barela reports having $215,000 cash on hand, but Heinrich, who raised $267,000 in last year's final quarter, now has $834,000 in cash.

One thing Barela does have going for him is the unsettled political climate. The ABQ district was Republican for forty years before Heinrich won it in 2008, but Barela is going to have to really rev up his engines to get the buzz going.


Meantime, the buzz is so loud in the southern congressional seat, you need ear plugs. Republican Steve Pearce adds to it by reporting he outraised Dem US Rep Harry Teague in the fourth quarter of '09--about $156,000 for Teague and $252,000 for Pearce. but Teague still has more cash in the bank--$885,000 to Pearce's $569,000.

Teague getting out raised Peace in the fourth quarter may be a small warning flag, but Congress was in session much of the time. Let's see what happens in the first quarter of this year to see if there's a clear trend. Pearce also outraised Teague in the summer quarter when he kicked off his candidacy. It goes without saying that this race is hotter than a stolen tamale.


Reader Matthew Tso informs:

Former Navajo Nation Vice Chairman Marshall Plummer will likely give incumbent Democratic Public Regulation Commissioner Carol Sloan a primary challenge for District 4. Plummer was a popular Vice Chairman who served with former Chairman Peterson Zah. Plummer is currently in charge of government affairs and community relations at the Four Corners Power Plant...

Thanks, Matthew. That's a big name challenger who joins a lengthy list of other Dem hopefuls. This particular PRC race is attracting a lot of candidates because Commissioner Sloan, a former McKinley County clerk, faces charges for assault and battery after she accused her husband of cheating on her with another woman in Gallup. Sloan allegedly assaulted the other woman at her home.


Meanwhile, KRQE-TV is coming with the reason why State Insurance Superintendent Mo Chavez, whose division is under the PRC, was placed on paid administrative leave. The station says it has learned that a female employee has filed a harassment complaint against Chavez.


Why does it take so long to get the state capital outlay funds that go for projects In Indian Country to get spent? It's a hot topic again as lawmakers look for $150 million in stalled capital outlay projects to cancel and use the money to resolve the deficit of upwards of $600 million. State Senator Linda Lovejoy says getting the money spent that has been authorized for Indian Country projects is often delayed because of a nightmare bureaucracy:

The Navajo Nation's governmental process is enormously complex and time-consuming because it not only must deal with the federal government where projects involving land is involved, but must also deal with 3 states and 11 counties in those states where capital projects are involved...

Lynda says many of the projects being considered for cancellation are for basic human needs like running water and electricity. If so, legislators will be sympathetic, but can Indian Country Senators Lovejoy, Munoz and Pinto give us some guidance on how the "enormously complex" task of getting these projects moving can be simplified and expedited?


The latest figures show there is still some $1.4 billion in capital outlay stashed in state bank accounts waiting to be spent. The legislators are looking at cutting $150 million of that to help plug the budget hole. But there is mucho resistance. The reason? Many of them are convinced these projects are vital to their re-election prospects and they don't want to cancel them for fear of losing votes.

We brought this up with a posse of Alligators at one of the local bistros the other night and the consensus was that capital outlay--or pork as it is sometimes lovingly labeled--has more of a political impact in small, rural areas of the state where a new project is very noticeable. But in the large urban area of ABQ, maybe not as much as ongoing construction and neighborhood change is more rapid and spread out.

Senate leader Sanchez has proposed taking money from the state's $13 billion in permanent funds to fix the budget, but why do that when you have all this capital outlay--much of which has been stalled for years--and more of which could be used to cover the gap?

It's about having the political will to do it, and perhaps it's asking too much of politicians. But unless they agree to kill at least the $150 million in capital outlay they are talking about, it will be another reason any tax increases are even more strenuously opposed in the the final days of this session. Taxpayers whose purses and wallets are shrinking want to see the excess cash sopped up before Santa Fe comes knocking on their adobes for more.


Here's the details on the memorial service tomorrow for former ABQ GOP State Rep. Eric Youngberg who died last week at 43.

The service will be held on Tuesday, February 2, at 2:00 pm, at First Presbyterian Church, 215 Locust Street, N.E, in Albuquerque. Immediately following, friends and family are invited to the Albuquerque Country Club. In lieu of flowers, the family request that memorial contributions be made in Eric’s name to the Albuquerque Academy or the Explora Children's Museum.

Governor Richardson will lower state flags from sunrise, Tuesday, February 2, through sundown, Wednesday, February 3, in honor of former State Rep. Eric Youngberg.

Meanwhile, the House seat that Youngberg held in the Legislature (Dist. 23) is getting attention. Two Republicans are trying to put it back in their party's column after Youngberg was defeated by Democrat Ben Rodefer in 2008.

Paul Pacheco, who will soon retire from the ABQ Police Department, says he is seeking the GOP nod for the slot as is Republican Tom Molitor. It should be a spirited GOP battle primary for this district on ABQ's West Side and in Sandoval County. Pacheco is already calling Molitor a "California transplant."

Rep. Rodefer will seek re-election for the Dems. No word yet on whether he will get primary opposition. The seat is considered in play for either a Dem or an R.


He had one of those only in New Mexico political names. "I.L. "Smokey" Sanchez Davis. And, as we recall, when he ran for the state House back in the day he managed to get the entire name on his yard signs. He also got himself elected to the House. Smokey Sanchez, 80, died last week. He also worked with the Bernalillo County Assessor's Office and retired from the federal housing department. By the way the "I" stood for Ishmael. We don't know what the "L" stood for, one of the reasons it makes him a memorable character of La Politica...

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