Wednesday, February 02, 2011

A New Day Or A Doomsday For Spaceport? We Game The Action, Plus: Javier Gonzales Will Seek Re-Election As Dem Chairman, And: Esquivel Keeps APS Seat 

Will it be a new day for the Spaceport or Doomsday? With Governor Martinez continuing to show reticence about the southern NM project east of T or C, the prospect of the $210 million state funded venture actually being shut down by her is still a concern to Spaceport backers.

As recently as last Friday Susana insisted that she is not getting all the "data" about the project from Virgin Galatic, the anchor tenant for the Spaceport that is signing up hundreds of customers who will pay $200,000 to take suborbital flights in 2012.

"We want to go forward, but we want to have a clear understanding of what we're going forward with...They have not been very willing to share the very hard data of what is the state's commitment long-term."

But Rick Homans, ousted by Martinez as executive director of the Spaceport, says in an op-ed piece that just isn't so:

She seems to be implying that the old board and me did not provide information to her, and her team.This is absolutely false. The request included the agreements with Virgin and a copy of the Virgin Business Plan, and these documents were hand-delivered (as described below) to Jon Barela, Secretary-designate for Economic Development....

So if Barela, who will chair the Spaceport board, has the docs, what "hard data" does the administration need? Good question.

Southern Spaceport supporters say the doomsday scenario they hear floating would have the administration attempt to take some $80 million in Spaceport money still unspent and use it to pay off a similar amount of bonds that were used to finance the first construction phase. Once the bonds are paid off, the increase in the gross receipts tax approved by voters in Dona Ana and Sierra counties and used to help finance the Spaceport could be repealed. Martinez could then argue she saved the state from "SpacePork" and banish this portion of the Big Bill Richardson legacy to the ash heap of history.

Like we said, this is a doomsday scenario. Martinez is the state's first truly southern Governor in decades. It would represent a major political gamble for her in a region that sees this project eventually providing perhaps thousands of jobs and a new NM commercial space industry.

But if Spaceport champions don't let their voices be heard during this critical juncture, they could see their dream drift away.


Martinez dismissed all the Spaceport board members and has formed a review committee. But in a major blow to Spaceport backers, it has now become clear that former astronaut and ex-GOP US Senator Jack Schmitt, one of those providing input to the review panel, does not support this project. We base this on a number of well-informed sources. Schmitt is Martinez's nominee to become secretary of the state energy and minerals department.

Schmitt, a native of Silver City, has already had to recuse himself from several meetings regarding the Spaceport because of a conflict of interest. That conflict is his membership on the board of directors of Orbital Sciences Corporation, a potential competitor with our state's spaceport. From the Orbital web site:

Orbital is also entering an exciting new era of human space flight supplying commercial cargo resupply services for the International Space Station using our new Taurus® II rocket and Cygnus™ cargo logistics spacecraft.

Former GOP NM Governor Garrey Carruthers, a dean at NMSU, may represent one of the best hopes for keeping the project on track. He has spoken of the business and job opportunities it represents. He is on the review committee and will assist in finding a new Spaceport executive director to replace Homans.

Martinez on Jan. 14 ousted all six directors of the Spaceport Authority board--including the Republicans. No new members have been named, adding to the nervousness over the direction of the project.

The state could be on the hook for another $10 million for another runway and perhaps a couple million more to get it all together. As others have pointed out, it's like a city building an airport--it is a public transportation facility. These are one time costs that don't represent a recurring bleed to state revenues.


Susana dropped a tidbit in her newspaper interview about what apparently was her first contact with the colorful head of Virgin Atlantic, Sir Richard Branson. She said Branson called her to ask that she keep Homans, a Big Bill ally, as executive director of the Spaceport. She told him she needed to make a change. Which is fine. But will the billionaire businessman get any warm and fuzzy stuff from Susana? Or will he be tempted to take his business elsewhere?


Because of the relatively picayune concerns expressed by the incoming administration, the push and pull over the Spaceport has taken on personal overtones. Detractors of the project call it a monument to Richardson and the aforementioned "SpacePork--a political folly. But equally emotional Spaceport proponents attack Martinez for being consumed with animosity toward Richardson and anything he represents. They argue she is hemmed in by her own provincial views and more concerned with taking down Richardson a notch than advancing the state's economic interests.

It's time to get beyond the personally and politics and move forward with the investment the state has made. The Spaceport was never held out as an economic panacea. It was put forth as a possibility--a grand possibility for New Mexico to become a leader in the burgeoning commercial space industry.

There is foot dragging on the Spaceport by the new Governor, but we don't yet sense she has dug in her heels. At least we hope not. The choice before her is to think big or act small.


The Javier Vs. Sam contest is back on. NM Dem Party Chairman Javier Gonzales ended the uncertainty and has decided to indeed seek a second two year term as the leader of the state's majority party. He is getting an aggressive challenge from ABQ defense lawyer Sam Bregman who argues it's time for a change after disappoint Democratic election results last year.

Insiders say Gonzalez has solid support among the county chairs of northern New Mexico and can also count on support from a number of state legislators. The state's congressional delegation is also though be with him as is national Dem chair Tim Kaine.

We blogged yesterday how the names of Lawrence Rael and Joe Campos were being floated as possible candidates if Javier stayed on the bench.

Where does that leave Bregman with the several hundred members of the party's central committee who will meet in late April to decide the question? He has support among politicos in ABQ's South Valley and West Side, and he has a lot of time to make his case.

One of the reasons Gonzales hesitated about running again was because he is in line to become the chairman of the NMSU Board of Regents, a matter he will "deal with later," according to one Alligator close to the action.


It is not an easy environment for any incumbent, but ABQ School Board President Marty Esquivel managed to win re-election last night, overcoming a serious challenge from Cheryl Ann Harris. He garnered 51%. Harris received 36% and two others trailed.

All election results here.

It wasn't so easy for incumbent board member Dolores Griego. She lost her South Valley seat. Analee Maestas won with 46% of the vote in a five person field. Katherine Korte took a west side board seat, passing Peter Sanchez and three other rivals.

Three of the seven board seats were up for election.

The $70 million bond issue passed with about 65% support in Bernalillo County, but longtime CNM board member Carmie Toulouse lost her seat to Mark Armijo.

Turnout for the APS election appeared to be a bit above 3 percent of the registered voters. Folks just don't come out for these contests, good weather or bad.


Obama's latest numbers:

The RealClearPolitics average of recent polling on President Obama's job approval has the President's approval at 50.7%, and disapproval at 43.2%. Approval is unchanged since yesterday; disapproval is up 0.4%.

If he's near 51% nationally, you know he is higher in New Mexico. Republicans will fret over that as they want those numbers down so they can tie in Dem US Senator Bingaman to an unpopular president in 2012. The catch? Obama has plenty of time to sink back down before the campaign is underway.

Jeff is meeting with Mr. Prez at the White House today to talk energy policy. Senator, could you remind him about that House budget resolution from the R's that would slash the budgets for the national labs? It might be something he wants to talk about when he hits the campaign trail down here. Just a thought.

The Clown
From the BBC:

Brazilian TV clown Tiririca, who won more votes than any other candidate in last October's congressional elections, has been sworn into office. Francisco Oliveira Silva, to give him his proper name, was applauded as he took his seat alongside other new members of congress in Brasilia. He was cleared to assume office after a court ruled he met the literacy requirement for public office.

A clown in public office? That wouldn't even make the back pages around here.

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