Wednesday, July 11, 2012

King Gets Antsy And Gets Official; Declares for 2014 Dem Guv Nod, Plus: Our Exclusive Economy Coverage: ABQ As A "Ghost Town;" An Outsider's Appraisal Raises Questions 

Attorney General Gary King, 57, has made it official and become the first declared 2014 Democratic Governor candidate. That's no earth-shaker for our readers who were the first to know of King's Guv ambitions. For months he dropped loud hints, but by getting in now he puts pressure on other hopefuls to get in or get out--most notably State Auditor Hector Balderas.

We've been blogging this week (see below) how King's chances of following in the footsteps of his legendary Governor father, Bruce King, may be tethered to how aggressive and effective he is in going after emailgate--the first scandal to confront the administration of GOP Guv Susana Martinez. That's because King's record as AG has been roundly criticized as being lackluster.

In announcing his bid, King said:

I’m very dedicated to this...I think that my family history brings a lot of public service and service to the people of New Mexico to the table, and I’d like to continue the service I started.

King, a former state representative, was born and raised in Santa Fe County and was elected attorney general in 2006 and re-elected to a second four year term in 2010. In 2002, he sought the Dem Guv nomination but was bested by Bill Richardson. In 1998, he lost the Dem Guv nod to Marty Chavez and in '04 he was the Dem nominee for the southern congressional seat but lost to Steve Pearce. 2014 will be his last chance for the power and the glory.

A number of political pros questioned the way King made his announcement. He dribbled it out in an  appearance on ABQ public radio station KANW 89.1 FM. The announcement did not get the coverage it normally would and the middle of July is not a heavily watched news cycle.

But King can now position himself as the chief opposition voice to Martinez--a role state Democrats are badly in need of filling. If he rises to the occasion, maybe he convinces some of the skeptics that he has the right stuff to go to the Fourth Floor. If not, he fizzles and someone else takes the baton. For now, however, King, frowned at by his critics who view him as forlorn and foundering, is the only state Dem leader showing the least bit of intestinal fortitude in publicly taking on an ever more controversial GOP administration. That matters.

As we have blogged with emphasis, King has been severely damaged by his AG performance and left for political road kill by the chattering classes. It is essential that he show them that he has learned something and that there is more to him than a folksy personality.

Because of unfavorable AG job reviews, it is often overlooked that King carved out a reputation as one of the more effective state representatives of his generation. The view from this corner is that King is politically comatose, not dead. His daunting challenge is to redefine himself for a political era that is much more rough and tumble than the one he grew up in.

King can now go about the business of emailgate without having to answer questions about his political motivations. They are out in the open. Jay and the gang can beat the snot out of him with impunity, but King is now free to do all he can to take down Martinez legally. The public will decide if he crosses the line.

It's not shocking that King, who says he will open a campaign office in November, is declaring his candidacy well over two years from Election Day 2014. It takes millions to run these days and the early announcement means Gary can now get started. (Diane Denish announced her bid for the 2010 Dem nod in January of '07).  The early start also gives him the chance--if he wants to take it--of getting involved in the 2012 legislative races and facing off vicariously with Martinez and her chief political adviser Jay McCleskey.

Besides King and Balderas, ABQ trial attorney Sam Bregman is mentioned as a possible '14 Dem Guv contender. Balderas, coming off an unsuccessful US Senate campaign that won him statewide name ID without inflicting serious damage, is also thought to be weighing a run for attorney general.

AP coverage of the King entry is here. New Mexican coverage here.


Albuquerque is never exactly a beehive of activity. Even when the Bull Market roars ABQ remains laid-back, never getting too excited about anything. But now, after three years of an unrelenting Bear Market, the very fabric of the city has changed, and it's not going unnoticed. Financial analyst Joe Duarte, writing on his Web site, poignantly describes a recent visit to New Mexico's largest city. It's not stuff you will read in the Chamber of Commerce newsletter or see in the daily press, but it is the new and often grim reality:

This weekend, we stayed at a DoubleTree in Albuquerque. The full service restaurant has been closed for lunch and open early or not at all for dinner...The employees tell us that hotel guests are too few on weekends to keep anything but room service and breakfast open. The rest of the city is quite patchy in its business activity...

...There are people who pass through the city and stay mostly at the lower end hotels. McDonald's is steady. Starbucks shops are nearly empty, at least the ones we saw. And the local newspaper doesn't even seem to cover the local economy.

We had not seen a city of this size and regional presence have this little activity ever. It's as though the town is on the way to being a ghost town. Indeed, the contrast from Rhode Island last week, where there were no apparent worries is quite large. In Albuquerque there is no activity.

We spoke to as many people as we could. Few would speak openly. But their eyes seemed fearful. It's subjective, we know. Yet one thing is certain. We haven't seen this weak an economic picture, first hand, anywhere in the last couple of years of travel.

Sometimes it takes an outsider to put things in perspective, but even for those of us who live here, the signs of stagnation or outright decline have been unmistakable.

Albuquerque has slowed dramatically from the business peak. It is leaking jobs and enduring a years-long commercial real estate depression that has left acres of buildings vacant; home prices are bottoming out but way off their peak; restaurants remain nearly empty on weeknights; unnerving layoffs continue, with nearly 500 lost jobs in the metro this month alone. And the list goes on. The latest news confirms the stagnation:

Average weekly wages in New Mexico fell by 2.2 percent between 2010 and 2011, and the state’s job growth rate was a negative 0.3 percent, according to the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics. New Mexico’s average weekly wage as of December 2011 was $799, compared to the national average of $955. New Mexico ranked 39th among the states in terms of average weekly wages, the BLS said. In Bernalillo County, which accounts for nearly 40 percent of the state’s jobs, the average weekly wage fell by $20, or 2.4 percent...The county’s average weekly wage at the end of 2011 was $829.

This town needs more jobs, more money circulating and more business created here and moving in here to get the jobs and money.

Mayor Berry spent his Tuesday touting the remodeling for the all but dead downtown ABQ Convention Center. The Mayor points out the $20 million remodel will provide hundreds of temporary construction jobs. That's good stuff, Mayor, and we encourage you to support a large state capital outlay measure at the next legislative session that would provide even more construction jobs (For now, we won't get into the critique of possible 2013 ABQ Mayoral candidate Pete Dinelli who says the city ought to consider getting out of the convention business).

Some might say this is the way it is going to be going forward, that the long downturn is the new permanent. Well, it surely will be if everyone accepts it as such.


The professional classes--the doctors and accountants and such--are mostly spared the brunt of the lousy job market here, but Hispanic working class people are getting absolutely slammed. The latest:

The unemployment rate for Hispanics in Albuquerque is more than double the rate for Whites. That’s according to a report released  by the Economic Policy Institute (EPI).. The unemployment rate for Hispanics in Albuquerque was 11.3 percent in 2011...up from 9.3 percent in 2010. Albuquerque had the highest ratio of Hispanic-to-White unemployment of all the metro areas. For every White worker who is unemployed, 2.5 Hispanic workers are out of jobs.

“...The construction sector lost the most jobs after the housing bubble burst, and there was a high concentration of Hispanics in that sector,” said Gerry Bradley, Research Director at New Mexico Voices for Children. “Also, the Hispanic population in New Mexico is younger than the White population, so they tend not to have as much seniority at their jobs and generally have lower levels of education than Whites,” he said.


Heretofore it has been unthinkable that ABQ could go down the no growth path or actually start losing population--trends that have taken hold in America's Rust Belt. After all, we're the booming Sun Belt, aren't we? But it's clear the business building blocks we've put in place are squishy. While other states recover, we languish (At least outside of the oil counties). New Mexico union leader Jon Hendry tells us he has an idea to stop the bleeding in ABQ:

How about the Governor making an effort to fill some of the many state jobs that are funded but sitting empty, especially in ABQ where they could use them now? This vacancy rate of around 17% is unacceptable. All we’re doing is running up big surpluses so she can advocate for a tax cut before the election. Also, how about a little money to the film office to market that we’re still in the movie game? One big picture can make the ABQ economy look much better.

Thanks for that, Jon. Government jobs at all levels have been the backbone of the state economy. Their recent scarcity has contributed mightily to the "ghost town" atmosphere one often confronts in ABQ and Santa Fe and detailed at the start of today's blog.

If the Governor and ABQ Mayor believe these government jobs hamper free enterprise and drag an economy down, then they have a responsibility to try to replace them by growing the private sector. The state and the city continue to wait for more jobs to come in here than the number that are going out the door. While we wait, somebody put the Ghostbusters on standby. Albuquerque may need them.

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