Thursday, March 22, 2012

The Political Pile Up Over Paseo: What's Really Going On? Plus: Some Campus Controversy, And: Obama In New Mexico 

ABQ GOP Mayor RJ Berry is being hoisted on his own petard as he grapples with the expensive rebuild of the jam packed Paseo Del Norte/I-25 interchange. The project has become a symbol of his effectiveness or lack thereof and the outcome could have a major impact on his re-election fortunes next year.

Berry is trying to lay blame has been put off by the R's so they can apply pressure on the three Dems and get one of them to switch. Berry says we have to have the money now or federal funding would be placed in jeopardy. He doesn't want an election.

The problem here? It was Berry's own political malpractice that got us here in the first place. Last October voters defeated $25 million for the rebuild because Berry would not let them vote solely on Paseo. He insisted that the ballot measure be paired with one for $25 million for a controversial and unpopular "sportsplex." Berry's bonds were defeated in a landslide not necessarily because voters did not want the Paseo project but because of the duplicity of forcing them to vote on the mayor's dreaded pet project.

Here's a simple and direct explanation of exactly what happened from one our Alligators ensconced at City Hall:

 In June of last year an amendment to the budget was introduced that would have put $50 million on the ballot for Paseo. All five Republicans voted against the amendment. All four Democrats voted in favor. The five Republicans instead supported giving the mayor $25 million for a sportsplex and $25 million for Paseo. In other words, the Republicans thought "The Plan" was more important than Paseo, The Republicans not only cut $25 million from Paseo, but they tied the sportsplex to Paseo. The voters shot both down. Almost nobody knows this happened. The Democrats will push the Republican vote against Paseo at the special meeting that will be held Monday.  Mayor Berry needs to take responsibility for Paseo not passing on Monday because he tied Paseo to his sportsplex.


This picture of a billboard (taken by the ABQ Journal) that popped up this week was paid for by a group of business people who wish to remain anonymous, according to the Journal. What are they afraid of? And does the money in any way violate city campaign laws? Just asking.

 Berry was up to his chin in trouble after Paseo was rejected at the ballot box last October. He scurried and managed to get the Legislature to approve $30 million in Paseo funding. But now he is saying the people don't need to vote on the city bonds needed to complete the financing. That's a complete turnaround from his position last year and one that he doesn't seem to want to own up to. Here's the money quote:

Berry said you can always “do your hindsight 20/20 stuff” when it comes to last year’s decisions, but what’s important this month is quick action. “We need money now,” he said.

"Hindsight 20/20 stuff," Mr. Mayor? Well, that "hindsight stuff" represents the ability to govern and lead. In the case of Paseo the 11th floor failed last year. Elections, as they say, have consequences. You can blame the three council Democrats for being partisan and trying to sink Berry's ship by not getting aboard now, but it was they who last year voted to put Paseo on the ballot as a stand alone item. Even Republican Councilor Brad Winter now says he regrets going along with Berry's ballot manipulation.

So should the people get to vote on Paseo as they do on most major road projects of this size? Berry has placed himself in the unenviable position of arguing that the voice of the people should not be heard, even as he argues those same voters should flood the email boxes of the three dissenting councilors. His argument that the public vote must be bypassed or else federal funding will be jeopardized is tenous and easily deflected by the record of past federal funding. Councilor O'Malley points out the funds in question can be applied for every six months. She furter notes that Bernalillo County is helping to fund Paseo and is doing so by asking for bonds to be approved by voters.

Those three councilors Berry is chastising and trying to demonize may or may not be remembered next year if the Paseo rebuild appears stalled, but for sure Mayor Berry's role will be remembered, recounted and campaigned on. He could admit his 2012 election mistake and support another public vote and help get the measure approved and move on.

The Paseo rebuild is far from the public emergency the city fathers foresaw when requiring a council super majority to bypass the voters. It's unfortunate that in his frustration Mayor Berry has lost the patience that seemed to be part of his political character and unleashed his attack dogs. They will put on a good show at the special Monday meeting over Paseo, packing the room and filling it with rabid cries for immediate action. But when all is said and done, this project is going to be decided calmly and deliberately at the ballot box--not by an impromptu partisan mob.


Mayor Berry isn't the only politico having trouble owning up to past moves. Take the case of GOP state House candidate Johnny Luevano. He was confronted by TV news cameras about his residency in the west side district he seeks to represent. Here's the exchange:

News 13 asked if Luevano was living in his house by March 6 like the law requires and if he technically qualifies as a District 16 resident. Luevano would not answer yes or no.

"This is what I say. I'm not a politician. I'm not going to play this game," said Luevano. "I'm getting into this race to talk about the issues and put forward solutions."  

The district is represented by Rep. Antonio "Moe" Maestas who is a heavy favorite for re-election in the Dem heavy area. But now he has some nice ammo for a mail piece to keep Luevano, a retired Marine Corps veteran, from making a move.


Enough seems to be enough for a number of students at the University of New Mexico. A lousy economy and ever rising costs
will have them protesting a proposed $77 student fee increase and 3 percent tuition increase. A protest is slated for the Student Union Building Atrium today at noon today. Katie Richardson, president of the UNM graduate students, emails us this missive:

...The total fee increase would come to 20% or $93.71 per student, when Governor Martinez and the state budget implements a 5% maximum on tuition increases. The regents' suggested fee increase of $77 would go entirely to fund athletics and the libraries. Regent Koch gave a lengthy defense of the ski team, saying that if fees weren't raised for athletics, small, successful teams would be cut. Students whole-heartedly support these small teams, but we can't stomach paying a dime more than we already do in athletics fees ($81.75 per student) when the so-called “revenue generating” teams, basketball and football, have indebted the athletics department more than a million dollars. 

UNM libraries are ranked 94th out of 115 member libraries of the Association of Research Libraries, so students applaud the sudden administrative interest in supporting the central hub of learning and research at UNM. But, library costs should be covered institutionally, either through research funds or through state appropriations and tuition, not fees. Ultimately, students believe that this suggested 20% fee increase is arbitrary and makes an end-run around the governor's 5% limit on tuition increases, especially when library and athletics costs are also line items in the tuition column of the budget, not just the fees column.

(Alligator photo from Maljamar)
One of our Alligators was on hand Wednesday as President Obama spoke to a gathering in out of the way Maljamar in oil country in SE NM. (Yes, those Gators are everywhere). The remote setting, some 300 miles SE of ABQ, reminded us of that Dwight Yoakum song, "A Thousand Miles from Nowhere."

Obama stressed that there is plenty of oil and gas drilling going on federal lands like those he visited, but that gasoline prices are being pushed up by world demand.

His New Mexico trip began around 5:30 p.m. when he landed in Roswell. It captured good coverage on the 6 p.m. newscasts of the ABQ network affiliates--something his political team was conscious of as they work to nail down the state's five electoral votes in the November election.

The energy story is double-edged for our state. High oil prices mean lots of jobs and gobs of royalty money flowing into the state treasury. On the other hand, high gas prices are especially painful here where so many low-income families reside.

And now for the answer to  the question a lot of New Mexicans want to know today: What does "Maljamar" mean? The AP says:

According to the menu at Linda’s Grill, “William Mitchell, president of Maljamar Oil & Gas Company, which brought the first oil well to southeastern New Mexico in 1926, reportedly named the town for his three children, Malcolm, Janet and Margaret.”

This is the home of New Mexico politics.

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