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Wednesday, June 01, 2011

ABQ Still Flatlining; We Round Up The Latest, Plus: Scandal Watch--Readers Keep Critical Eye On Murphy Case, And: John Sanchez: Not Senate Material? 

After sixty years of almost always hard-charging growth the ABQ metro remains in an historic and extended flat phase commercially, culturally and politically. And no wonder. The state reports that for 31 consecutive months--that is nearly three years--the area has reported negative job growth. Now the unemployment rate has finally started to dip, but not because there are jobs, but because the unemployed are leaving or have dropped out of the labor force. In other words, we are shrinking. From the state:

The Albuquerque...unemployment rate dipped to 8.0 percent in April, a 0.5 percentage point decline from March. Much of the over-the-month improvement in the jobless rate...was due to a shrinking civilian labor force, as large decreases in unemployment were combined with much smaller increases in employment. This was also the case for the state as a whole during the same period. The unemployment rate in the Albuquerque MSA stood at 8.6 percent a year ago....


The life-changing recession has flattened city tax revenue, trimmed business profits and seen an heretofore unheard of decline in government jobs--the very spine of the city's economic body.

The city is adrift, in part, because its public and private leadership doesn't seem particularly engaged. When it comes to jobs, ABQ has long been a low expectations town. People make do. And although this recession is as persistent as they come, the city has generated just enough revenue to keep vital public services going without a major malfunction. The economic foundation may be shaky, but it is slowly revealing itself over years, not months.

Culturally, the city remains vibrant on a certain level, but the demise of the NM Symphony signaled a retrenchment. The city's philanthropic class was AWOL. But then the political leadership never bothered to engage them in fighting to preserve a major cultural amenity in a city that can ill-afford to lose one.

Republican leadership seems more fitting for boom times, not a prolonged downturn. The party's traditional prescription to spur economic growth--tax cuts and less regulation--are intellectually exhausted. But you can't say the Dems are brimming with ideas, either. So we wait for the next big thing that will move the needle on the ABQ growth meter.

And we wait.

SCANDAL WATCH

Is it one of the biggest judicial scandals in state history or a tempest in a teapot? That's the question we've examined ever since special prosecutor Matt Chandler announced the indictment of Las Cruces District Court Judge Michael Murphy. It is claimed the judge bribed his way onto the bench with a $4,000 contribution to Governor Richardson. But the case as outlined so far is murky at best and continues to draw a critical eye from readers here,

Pat Davis, a Democrat and former spokesman for the Bernalillo County district attorney's office, chimes in today with this critique of Governor Martinez's involvement:

The prosecutor’s report, relied on heavily by the media to explain this case, notes that Governor Martinez, then Dona Ana County district attorney, learned of the investigation in the fall of 2010 and turned it over to Ninth District District Attorney Matt Chandler. However, in a recent Sunday’s Journal article, Gov. Martinez’s spokesman Gregg Blair told the paper, “The governor stopped speaking to Edgar Lopez when Judge (Lisa) Schultz informed her in 2009 that he was the bag man in the alleged bribery scheme involving Richardson judicial appointees,”....

My question is, which is it? If Martinez knew of alleged improprieties in the judicial selection process in 2009, why did she do nothing? It would seem that Martinez has an ethical obligation to report misconduct, especially if it involves judges she and her office appear in front of.


Having worked with our District Attorneys for several years, a number of things about this prosecution seem unusual to me. I find it highly irregular that a reporter--Heath Haussamen--was present (and allowed to remain) outside the grand jury to photograph and interview each witness to the grand jury and that the very same reporter was the first one to receive a copy of the full investigator’s report and indictment and post them online.


In either case, the allegations are serious, but it is hard to argue that the matter is being seriously prosecuted when the then DA, and now governor, knew of the alleged discrepancies as early as a year before and failed to raise the flag, even as she used the same judicial selection process to pick her first two appointees (both her former deputies, including one who gave $600 to Martinez just months before his appointment).

It has some wondering whether Martinez's highly-touted ethics are situational --"on" when they can be used to score political points, but "off" or "neutral" when it serves some personal purpo
se.

The Sunday Journal article Davis cited is not posted on the paper's web site.

THE SENATE RACE

Ari Fleischer, the former press secretary to President Bush and before that NM Senator Pete Domenici, will headline a June 14 fund-raiser for GOP Senate hopeful Heather Wilson.

Fleischer is now in sports communication and had a brief stint with Tiger Woods but the two soon parted ways. Too bad. Heather could use a nice big donation from Tiger with John Sanchez breathing down her neck.

Wilson's campaign also says:

Since March 7 when Wilson announced her candidacy, over 100 New Mexico leaders have endorsed her candidacy. 11 of 15 sitting Republican State Senators have publicly endorsed Wilson as have 15 sitting Republican House Members, county commissioners and local officials from all regions of the state.

But a caveat. Wilson had many of the same "leaders" endorse her when she lost the 2008 Senate nomination to Steve Pearce.

NOT SENATE MATERIAL?


Heather has to prove that she has expanded her base within the GOP and her rival, Lt. Governor John Sanchez, has to establish more credibility. Sanchez served as a trustee for the village of Los Ranchos early in his political career. A former Democratic mayor there, John Hooker, makes this case against the Light Guv's candidacy:

John has a solid reputation as a roofing contractor. Beyond that, exactly what has he done in his civic leadership?

--Passive trustee of the mighty village of Los Ranchos? What improvements to the quality of life of the village did he initiate?


--A giant-killer who was elected state representative in 2000 over Dem House Speaker Raymond Sanchez in a Republican-trending House district. Then what? What significant legislation did he lead on?


--A good looking Hispanic Republican beating out the Anglo Republicans for Guv Light? And that proves....?

Sorry to be so skeptical. John's a nice guy, I would hire his company on a construction project (and in fact have). I just would not call him Senate material.


THE BOTTOM LINES

Greg Payne's ABQ city council candidacy appears to have hit a pothole. Payne has withdrawn his effort to qualify for public financing of his campaign. He needed to receive 400 contributions of $5 each, but reports to the city he only collected about 80 donations by Tuesday's deadline. That means he will have to raise private money in his bid to unseat GOP Councilor Trudy Jones in the NE Heights that Payne, also a Republican, used to represent. Jones did not seek to qualify for public financing.

The Berry administration has lined up in Jones' corner, knowing that an independent Republican like Payne would upset the Mayor's delicate 5-4 GOP majority on the nine member panel.

City finance laws are tough. A candidate can't accept money from any contractor or vendor who does business with the city so Payne now faces a tougher road ahead. Still, a city council race can be won on shoe leather and that's where he could have an advantage.

Payne would have received about $40,000 in public financing. Jones, who has personal wealth and a deep list of biz contacts, has to be feeling pretty good right about now.

From the email:

Strategies 360 (a consulting firm) is expanding its reach to New Mexico with the addition of Chris Cervini, former chief of staff for New Mexico’s Lieutenant Governor. As Vice President of New Mexico operations, Chris will open and run the new Albuquerque office for the strategic communications firm headquartered in Seattle.


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(c)NM POLITICS WITH JOE MONAHAN 2011
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