Tuesday, May 15, 2012

Any Upsets In The Air? Insiders Game Two Races Worth Watching, Also: BernCo Commissioner Johnson Is So Busted, And: Susana Aglow In National Limelight, Plus: Death Claims Farm Bureau's Erik Ness 

There's usually one you don't see coming, so what will be the big primary upset in 2012 or will there be none? Here's a couple of long shots to keep your eye on as we will when we take to the airwaves of KANW 89.1 FM on Primary Election Night June 5:

Insiders are closely monitoring that Dem primary battle between Roundhouse powerhouse Senator John Arthur Smith and his opponent, electrical contractor Larry Martinez.

Smith, 70, has been in Santa Fe since 1989 and chairs the powerful Senate Finance Committee. He is the odds-on favorite to take the nomination and win out over a Republican foe in November, but Martinez is said to be working the phones and knocking doors in the Deming area district. And Smith has come under fire from Dems for sticking with a conservative agenda, even though conservatism has a champion occupying the Governor's office in the form of Susana Martinez.

I asked a former top ranking Republican and Senior Alligator in southern NM why there is any chatter at all about the Smith race:

Some people are asking, "What has he done for us? Yes, he's a fiscal conservative, but how does that play for us here? Also, the Spaceport is right in his Senate district and he has done little to champion it. You also hear the usual anti-incumbent talk that is now louder because of the weak economy.

Smith will easily outspend Martinez. If the newbie challenger were somehow able to put Smith away, the result would be a political earthquake.

Another Dem leader at the Roundhouse is watching her back. State Senate Majority Whip Mary Jane Garcia, 75, faces primary opposition from former Dem Dona Ana county Commissioner Oscar Vasquez Butler. We've met him and he's a fighter. Mary Jane is relatively popular but Butler could be a serious threat to pull off the upset.

This is Oscar's second attempt at ousting Mary Jane. He came up short in 2008. Neither of them are getting any younger so this rivalry is about to see its final round. A Garcia defeat would not shake Santa Fe like a Smith departure, but it would be a major jolt.


He's had lousy luck in the elective world, but no one can beat the bureaucratic credentials of government administrator Lawrence Rael. Now he comes out of retirement to take this plum political appointment from Obama:

Agriculture Secretary Tom Vilsack has announced the  appointment for State Executive Director (SED) of the USDA Farm Service Agency (FSA) in  New Mexico. The secretary has tapped Lawrence Rael to serve the Obama Administration in  this capacity. The Farm Service Agency administers federal farm policy as laid out by Congress through a  network of federal, state and county offices.

Among other things, Rael was a longtime Chief Administrative Officer for the city of ABQ. He sought the Dem nod for the 2010 Lt. Governor nomination, but lost. He continues to be mentioned as a possible 2014 Guv contender.


How did this one fly under the media radar? Republican Bernalillo County Commissioner Wayne Johnson takes his assistant, Karen Brown, on a taxpayer funded excursion to Washington, DC for a National Association of Counties meeting. Trouble is his four fellow commissioners--both Dems and R's--say they have never paid for their assistants to take taxpayer-funded trips with the $10,000 in "discretionary funds" each is given annually. They question the propriety of Johnson doing so.

From TV news:

According to expense reports, the airfare and conference registration for Brown cost about $1,000. Johnson said it cost another $1,300 for her three night stay at the Omni Hotel and for food and spending money.

But not only does Johnson defend taking Brown on the trip, he dreams up an entirely new title for the $52,000 a year assistant:

"My assistant truly is a deputy commissioner, So it's very important as part of these trips that she know who I am meeting with and what's being said."

Say what?

Wayne, we've been covering the county commission before they even had "assistants" and there is no such thing as a "deputy commissioner."

And we thought it was Republican Johnson who said he wanted to cut government and to save taxpayers a buck. Is the power going to his head?

Wayne Johnson--you are so busted. You, too, Karen.


When Bernalillo County District Attorney Kari Brandenburg thinks about things that could go wrong as she seeks the Dem nomination for a fourth, four year term, this kind of stuff must be at the top of her fear list:

District Attorney Kari Brandenburg says that assistant district attorney Alisha Maestas, 37, has resigned after her arrest Saturday on charges of assaulting a police officer. Maestas was head of the Domestic Violence Unit in Bernalillo County. Police say Maestas was the passenger in a vehicle that was stopped Saturday on suspicion of DWI. Officers say Maestas kept getting out of the car and interfering with their investigation. According to the complaint, officers put Maestas in handcuffs – she got out of them and confronted officers again.

The upside for Brandenburg is that her Dem foe, former public defender Jennifer Romero, has been unable to raise the campaign money to make a race out of this one. And get this. The Republicans don't even have a candidate for DA. Sleep tight, Kari.


Talk about a PR man's dream. Here's over 3,000 glowing words from Newsweek Magazine on the prospects of Governor Martinez becoming Romney's VP pick. No talk here that she has completely ruled it out. But is there a little problem with the otherwise friendly profile. One of our Alligators says this occurs when she talks about immigration policy. First, a recap from HuffPo:

"Self-deport? What the heck does that mean?" Martinez said to Newsweek. "I have no doubt Hispanics have been alienated during this campaign. But now there's an opportunity for Gov. Romney to have a sincere conversation about what we can do and why." Martinez also called on Republicans to step up their support for comprehensive immigration reform, in part to highlight that President Barack Obama hasn't been able to advance the issue, despite making a 2008 campaign promise to do so.

"I absolutely advocate for comprehensive immigration reform," Martinez said. "Republicans want to be tough and say, 'Illegals, you’re gone.' But the answer is a lot more complex than that."

Okay, now the Alligator strike from here in New Mexico:

Joe, The far right of the GOP believes that "comprehensive immigration reform" is code for amnesty. When she says that "the rest" will stay in the country and follow the naturalization process, that is basically amnesty. Not saying that's wrong. But in the 2010 Republican Governor primary she accused Allen Weh of supporting the same policy that she now appears to be saying is ok. Besides, in the campaign she specifically said that illegal immigrants had to go back to their country of origin and then go through the process to get back in, Now she's saying they don't have to? Glad she's come around but now I see no difference between her and Weh.

Maybe her views are...how do they put it in polite society...."evolving"?


"Susana boasts of her efforts to keep a rate increase from taking effect for the state's unemployment trust fund--financed by taxes from the state's employers. But a warning shot is being fired over the low rates from NM Voices for Children:

New Mexico’s unemployment insurance (UI) trust fund--which pays benefits to the unemployed--should be rebounding at this point in an economic recovery. It’s not and that is due in part to a decrease in the rates employers pay into the fund. “It’s normal for the trust fund balance to plunge during a recession when it is paying out increased benefits...,” said Gerry Bradley, Research Director for the child advocacy group and the report author. “Unemployment has been leveling out, but the fund balance continues to drop. This will pose a serious problem when the next recession hits and the fund is unable to do its job...

Something for the Legislature--and the Governor--to keep their eye on in the months ahead.

By the way, Voices recently announced that Veronica Garcia, the former education cabinet secretary for Governor Richardson, is their new executive director, replacing Eric Griego who gave up the job to run for the ABQ congressional seat. Yes, it's true that former Lt. Governor Diane Denish explored the possibility of taking on that position.


We blogged Monday about how some small government advocates might find it hypocritical that Dem US Senator Jeff Bingaman supported keeping the state's rural post offices open instead of shutting them down as wasteful. Reader Michelle Meaders clarifies a key point:

The Postal Service hasn’t gotten government funding for decades, but must get Congress’ permission to raise rates. Now they are being forced to fund their pension for the next 75 years in only a few years. 

Erik Ness (Steve Terrell)
We first ran into Erik Ness when he was press secretary for Dem Toney Anaya's 1978 US Senate campaign and again in the early 80's when he did radio news at KKOB-AM. He didn't last long because he soon received a call from the Las Cruces-based New Mexico Farm and Livestock Bureau offering him a gig as their communications director. Who would have thought it would last thirty years and make Erik something of an icon in southern New Mexico?

Don't let that work for liberal Toney throw you. Erik was a conservative who later advised an array of Republicans. He was also a talented writer of country western songs and is shown in this picture strumming a guitar.

When he died last week of pancreatic cancer, Ness, 57, was fondly remembered by old timers as well as newcomers in the media. He was an old-school pro who gave the story straight, even if it was not always complimentary to his employer. That's how you last 30 years.

Ness, a native of Capitan in Lincoln County, toted up a pile of awards for his media work with the Bureau. He retired in 2010 after a job well-done.

More on Ness from his old friend and Santa Fe newsman Steve Terrell.

Erik Ness is survived by his wife, two sons and a daughter.

This is the home of New Mexico politics.

E-mail your news and comments. (jmonahan@ix.netcom.com)

Interested in reaching New Mexico's political community? Advertise here. Email us for details.

Not for reproduction without permission of the author.
website design by limwebdesign