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Friday, May 18, 2012

Heavy Voting Starts Saturday; New TV From Heinrich & Heather; Chaos In Clovis As Susana & Jay Fight Off Fellow R's And Speaker Lujan's Revenge 

The official Primary Election may be June 5 but well over half the vote will be cast before then. On Saturday alone thousands will flood into early voting centers and make their decision. Many of our readers will be part of that crowd. You can find early voting info from Bernalillo County Clerk Maggie Toulouse Oliver here.

Maybe you want to wait to vote so you can see in action the three Dem candidates for the ABQ congressional seat. That hot battle goes to the tube Saturday at 6 p.m. as KOAT-TV hosts what will apparently be the one and only TV face-off in the contest. It features Eric Griego, Marty Chavez and Michelle Lujan Grisham.

There has been no public polling on the race but Alligators, insiders and wall-leaners see Griego and Lujan Grisham at the top and Chavez needing to make up ground as we enter the final stretch.

And if you just want to get away from La Politca for a weekend, you can always reach for the stars:

A rare annular solar eclipse is coming to Albuquerque on May 20, and Bernalillo County is proud to host a free viewing and educational event at the county’s Regional Recreation Complex in conjunction with The Albuquerque Astronomical Society. The county’s sports fields near Mesa del Sol will provide excellent views of the annular solar eclipse, when the moon is scheduled to block out the center of the sun and create a “ring of fire.”

Enough star gazing. Let's go back out to the cluttered campaign trail of 2012 for the very latest action....

HEINRICH'S LATEST

There's really nothing much for his foes to latch onto in the latest Rep. Martin Heinrich ad. The Dem US Senate candidate says he "understands it’s his job to fight for the things New Mexicans have worked so hard for." That includes the federal defense and energy establishments as well as Social Security and Medicare.

Henrich, facing Hector Balderas in the June 5 primary, positions himself in this spot as the inheritor of the Domenici/Chavez/Anderson legacy which was based on New Mexico's identity as a national security outpost. Someone has to keep the billions coming in and Heinrich argues he's the man.

Heinrich is likely to win the Dem primary and face Republican Heather Wilson in the Fall. She is also positioning herself as a defender of the state's mega-dollars of federal funding.

Wilson has solid national security credentials and a record as an ABQ congresswoman, but her weak spot could be Republican plans for Social Security and Medicare. Another reason Heinrich is already on that beat.

One other note--Heinrich is very low key, almost staid, but this type of media personality has played well here in the past. Witness Senator Jeff Bingaman, Pete Domenici, former ABQ Mayor Harry Kinney and others. Heinrich will be accused of being a wild-eyed liberal by the R's but his quiet media demeanor may help calm the crowds.

The United States Senate race in New Mexico is ranked "Lean Dem" here and also by a number of other media outlets that involve themselves with such matters.

OFF A CLIFF

When we first saw the title for Heather Wilson's new TV spot--"Off a Cliff"--we thought (humorously) that she was referencing the far right wing of her Republican Party. It turns out she is addressing the national debt. That's a big tea party issue and they're a crowd she has had trouble with for allegedly being too "moderate."

Then there is this line in the ad that seems to be positioning her for the fierce fight for undecided independent voters in the November election:

She says: Today Washington politicians of both parties are driving us off a cliff."

Wilson's far right opponent--Greg Sowards of Las Cruces--has not come with any TV ads or otherwise made much noise--a relief for Heather. (Sowards is running an ad on the Drudge Report calling Heather a R.I.N.O--Republican in name only--and trying to raise money from it).

There is the usual air of competence, confidence and intelligence in this Wilson spot. The problem? Many in the electorate are tired of the old faces and mad at Wilson for her fealty to the last President Bush. They are nervous as well about their Social Security and Medicare and not sure she can be trusted. It will be difficult for her to change those perceptions, so she will work overtime to raise doubts about Heinrich.

JUICY JOHNSON

A Watermelon is exploded and its juice and rind is sprayed in slow motion across the screen in the first major video for Libertarian Party Prez nominee and former NM Governor Gary Johnson. Hey, it's Gary.

CHAOS IN CLOVIS
Jay McCleskey
More now of our ongoing coverage of Governor Martinez's major mess in Clovis. As expected, the hit pieces against GOP Senate contender Pat Woods are flooding the mailboxes as the Guv and her political adviser and leader of SusanaPac--Jay McCleskey--work furiously to get their preferred Republican--Angie Spears--into the east side seat being vacated by Republican Clint Harden. But what will be the political cost of this intra-party warfare?

The race is shaping up to be a vote of confidence in Martinez--not the candidates. She and Jay didn't have to go there, but now that they have, they are going to pull out all the stops to get the win. Here's a negative mailer that accuses rancher Woods of being a "liberal" because of his past campaign donations to Democrats. "Pat Woods Says He Is Loyal To Liberal Democrats," screams the mailer. And Woods strikes back in a robo call, decrying the negative campaign of his opponent and her "high-priced consultants," a reference to McCleskey's role in the Spears effort.

Martinez and McCleskey are getting their backs shoved against the wall like never before. Outgoing Senator Harden had been playing it polite--even thought he was essentially forced from the race by Susana and Jay--but he now takes his gloves off to slam Jay and urge support for Woods:

Harden says he expects Jay McCleskey, Martinez's political strategist, to finish the primary season with a negative campaign and "character assassination" against Woods."It is typical of what they do. They just run negative campaigns," Harden said.

McCleskey responded with criticism of Woods. "This election is not about the governor or personalities, but rather whether voters want to take on the liberal status quo in the Legislature by electing Angie Spears, or surrender the seat to former lobbyist Pat Woods, who practices business-as-usual politics and will accept the status quo," McCleskey said in a statement.

McCleskey is referred to in political circles as the "Fifth Floor" because of the power he wields over the Fourth Floor of the Roundhouse where the Governor holds forth. That he has become a big issue in this GOP internecine combat is a sign of how high a profile he now has in the state Republican Party.

Did Martinez err in thinking that her high popularity in the GOP would permit her to openly interfere in legislative races--something Governors usually do from far behind the scenes? The Woods-Spears battle has now become the premier legislative contest in the state, raising the stakes far beyond who gets to represent this east side district in the Senate.

Woods was up ten points over Spears in a recent robo-poll conducted for his campaign, but Spears just bought $16,000 in cable and network TV and will hit Woods even harder. She will likely close the gap as Jay and Martinez are now forced to pull out all the stops to salvage a win. There will be political enemies of a lifetime made because of this race. A Spears loss or even a narrow win would weaken the Governor. There are many morals to this story.  "Be sure to pick your fights carefully" is just one of them.

LUJAN'S REVENGE?


Dem State Rep. Sandra Jeff has been more than a thorn in the side  of Dem state House Speaker Ben Lujan, She's been more like an axe. So this news was not too surprising:

Speaker of the House Ben Luján has contributed $1,500 to Jeff’s Democratic primary opponent--Charles Long. Political retribution? Speaker Lujan says no. When asked by Capitol Report New Mexico  why he gave $1,500 to Long, Luján said flatly, “Because he asked for it.” The Speaker said, “I appreciated the fact that [Long] felt I might be able to help him...and that he had confidence in me to help him spread his message...I haven’t heard from Sandra Jeff at all.

Right, Ben, You haven't heard much from Sandra Jeff at all, but you heard plenty from her in the last legislative session--enough to convince you to give her opponent $1500.

ALIBI FOR THE ALIBI

The progressive ABQ weekly the Alibi failed to endorse Eric Griego, the self-described progressive in the three way ABQ congressional race, opting instead for Michelle Lujan Grisham. That brings this entertaining missive from the Alligator corner:

There is no "mo" for Michelle. Eric has the endorsements that count. The Alibi must have had a heavy dose of Rush Limbaugh's meds of choice the night they decided to make that endorsement.

GOING POSTAL (CONT.)

It started with the news from Senator Bingaman that rural post offices in the state will have their hours cut but not be shut down, It continues today as reader Jim McCaughey comments on a post that said the postal service does not get federal funding

Joe,While some people do like to point out that the Postal Service does not receive government funding, it does have a line of credit with the US Treasury. It is maxed out at $15 billion. There is no way it can pay it back, USPS is effectively bankrupt. They also receive $96 million a year for certain services for the blind. Now it is true that Congress for some reason has stated that USPS must fund it's pension plan in "real" time." Certainly a novel idea for government, but it is impossible for USPS to do right now. My guess is that Obama will not bail out USPS before election, it would give R's too much ammo about how government does not work. After the election, USPS will get a government bailout. The taxpayers will eventually pay.

Thanks for that, Jim.

ROOM WITH A VIEW

Now here's a room with a view. This pic was snapped from our window in the country inn we stayed at recently in France, about an hour south of Paris. The bright yellow is a field of mustard plants. Like Albuquerque, when you drive a half hour from Paris you are in another world--one with a peaceful, easy feeling.

This is the home of New Mexico politics.

Reporting from Albuquerque, I' m Joe Monahan.

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

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


(c)NM POLITICS WITH JOE MONAHAN 2012
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Thursday, May 17, 2012

Blogging With Newsweek; Their Susana Profile Provides Political Fodder Here, Plus: Did Susana Commit "VP Suicide?" And: The Press And The Guv; Still Honeymooning 

This week we dubbed a 3,000 word Newsweek profile of Governor Martinez "Susana Aglow," commenting that the article was a PR man's dream and implying that she was not pressed hard enough on the possibility of becoming the GOP VP nominee. But the author of that article, Andrew Romano, points out it wasn't really a long love letter to the Guv and that tough questions were presented. On deeper inspection we agree. Here's Romano's email from New York:

1. When I ask how she would respond if the presumptive nominee came calling (for the VP slot), Martinez cuts me off. “No,” she says. “Absolutely no.”

2. At Starbucks, Martinez insists that she won’t leave New Mexico anytime soon. “Partly it’s my responsibility to my sister,” she says. “Moving to Washington would be devastating to her. But also, I need to finish this job. I have to deliver the results I promised, because as the first Hispanic female governor, I’m going to pave a path of some kind. I want it to be one that little Hispanic girls will want to follow.”

Also, I understand that New Mexicans might see a national intro piece as friendlier than Santa Fe's (rightly) adversarial statehouse coverage, but I don't think the story is wholly glowing. This stuff, for example, is almost never mentioned in the NM papers:

Martinez’s record is not without the usual oppo-research fodder. New Mexico progressives accuse her of awarding casino contracts and energy appointments to campaign donors; a mentally ill man named Stephen Slevin was held without a trial for two years at a county prison while she was D.A.; and she was briefly fired in 1992 when her then-boss accused her of bringing in a case her husband had investigated. (Martinez sued, then settled out of court.)

There's also this push back on her budget-balancing claims:

With Martinez, symbolic gestures have at times seemed to stand in for actual political risk-taking. As soon as she took office, for example, she fired the gubernatorial chefs, grounded the gubernatorial jet, and halved the gubernatorial staff. But the cuts she made, while real, were not nearly enough, on their own, to balance the budget--a feat that ultimately required savings and tax hikes phased in from the previous administration, plus a serendipitous spike in oil revenues.

Thanks for that, Andrew. As for Santa Fe's "adversarial" press coverage, there really hasn't been much. The media faithfully track what the administration deems to be news and gets both sides of the story. But after a boisterous and always busy Richardson administration they seem flummoxed by the lack of substantial news coming from the capitol.

THE REAL STORY

What's happened? The Governorship has shrunk since Bill. Sure, Susana is becoming a national figure because of her ethnic background, but the news backdrop in Santa Fe is reminiscent of the late 70's and 80's when laid-back Bruce King and Garrey Carruthers held forth. There are bursts of news but there is no sustained narrative as there was under Richardson.

The real story in Santa Fe is what has not been done and why not. The press has yet to really dig into that, but one supposes it will in the years ahead.

BLOGGING THIS DEAL

One of the advantages of doing a true blog--not one that depends on access to the politicians--is that we can pretty much jump the gun and get to the unvarnished reality. The mainstream media tends to start their adversarial romp when the public signals that it's getting restless. Until then, the sins accumulate but are swept under the rug. Later the rug is lifted and the press and public see all kinds of creepy crawler things scurrying about.

No doubt there will be some of those creepy crawlers surfacing from under Susana's carpet, but probably not hat many. The Achilles Heel of the current administration may be the benign neglect they have adopted towards the major issues of the day. They would argue that this is simply a case of executing their belief that, "The government that governs least, governs best."

That thesis will be put to the test when the Guv seeks re-election in 2014. Right now, it looks like a winner. The Governor is happy, the press is happy and the voters--at least those that pay attention to Santa Fe--seem happy.

To some that may seem like too much harmony for a body politic faced with crushing social and economic issues that continue to restrain the quality of life here among a majority of the population.
Well, what did that old stockbroker in the film "Wall Street" tell the young colleague (Bud Foxx) who was on a big roll?

"Enjoy it while it lasts, because it never does."

VEEP SUICIDE?

Did that Newsweek article amount to "VP suicide" by Martinez? As our Alligators pointed out, she did an about face on immigration policy, steering towards the course she attacked in the 2010 GOP Guv primary. That's probably too moderate for the far right that controls today's GOP.  Here's a take from Salon.com.

First, she indicated support for the immigration agenda that President Obama promises to pursue if he defeats Romney in November. Second, the reforms the first term Republican favors are opposed by every Republican member of the Senate (even those like John McCain, who used to support it) and a solid majority in the House. (In case there was any doubt, the same day Martinez’s interview appeared, Politico reported that the Romney campaign was seeking a “boring white guy” as a running mate.)

Martinez's position may not be suitable for today's GOP but it is where she needs to be for the years ahead when the Hispanic population will make up an ever larger percentage of the population. Also, her chances of becoming Romney's VP have always been near zilch. She is free to roam about the building.

But the change in positions is notable in that it may signal some growth by Martinez as she jettisons some of her hot and divisive rhetoric over immigration. Hey, maybe she'll get off the nearly constant harangue about repealing driver's licenses for undocumented immigrants and accept compromise legislation? Well, we wouldn't read too much into it yet, but it is a start.

FRUSTRATION FACTOR

We do get the occasional email brimming over with frustration over the go-slow (or not go at all) mood in Santa Fe. This Alligator uses the Newsweek piece to make the pivot:

I love watching the national press try to create a story out of Gov. Martinez being some sort of accomplished, inspirational figure.  At some point, the honeymoon has to end, right?  Newsweek just starts to dip into the incredible lack of accomplishments by the Martinez administration.  She gets to talk, talk, talk and pontificate at Starbucks about her pretend revelatory positions but during that whole trip with Newsweek, did anything get done?  People are starting to wonder, what does she do?  2 years into her administration and there's no plan for jobs or economic development. No plan to deal with federal government shrinkage. No Infrastructure plan. No plan for health care reform. No vision for the state. A Governor needs to be a cheerleader for the state and instead we got a hall monitor who seems to be more interested in managing her complex family situation and tattling on others rather than leading the state....

What's that Alligator trying to do? Put bedbugs in the honeymoon mattress?

GRIEGO SETBACK 

A bit of a media stunner in the ABQ congressional race and a stinger for the self-proclaimed "progressive" candidate. The weekly Alibi, the well-read alternative newspaper in the UNM area, has endorsed not Griego, but rival Michelle Lujan Grisham:

The Alibi Endorses Michelle Lujan Grisham: District 1 Democrats are lucky this year. You’ve got two excellent congressional candidates to choose from. Lujan Grisham has shown that she knows how to work across the aisle and push forward-thinking legislation. She’s an obvious progressive. She also comes across as remarkably passionate about her district, the 99 percent and creating a better life for those who are scraping by in this economy. 

A Lujan-Grisham advocate sniped: "I would have liked to have been a fly on the wall at Griego headquarters when that endorsement came down."

Adding insult to injury, Lujan Grisham also beat out Griego earlier this week for the endorsement of the conservative editorial pages of the ABQ Journal.

And, yes, the Marty Chavez campaign surely noticed that the Alibi said there are "two excellent candidates" to choose from. And they didn't mean Marty. His old wounds with progressives have yet to heal.

As for Michelle, she has some Mo and appears to have learned a whole lot since running this same race back in '08.

MARTY'S HIT

Chavez comes with a new TV ad that is sure to be a "hit." It features him in the boxing ring. Now if only the campaign can come with enough funds to get it widespread attention.

KARI'S CORNER

A race for the hot seat of Bernalillo County District Attorney is even hot when the incumbent has a big edge financially and in name ID. And so it is again as Dem Kari Brandenburg faces off with underdog challenger Jennifer Romero. A Romero sympathizer took a dig at Kari on the Wednesday blog and today a Kari supporter--reader Richard Eeds--fires back:

Joe,....The ABQ Journal has never endorsed Kari and that they have endorsed completely unethical and unqualified candidates. Kari has been working seven days a week on the Astorga case in Santa Fe...For her opponent or others to say that she is resting on her laurels is only politics and not true. She has campaigned when she can and is taking nothing for granted.. A candidate for DA should, above all else, be truthful.  Kari is the hardest working and most serious public servant that the voters could ask for, but the politics of the Journal are not those of the Democratic Party. I understand the need to stir the political pot, but at a time when the DA is working her ass off to fulfill her duty, she deserves a lot of credit and the conservative media will surely not do it...

We're not sure the Journal has never endorsed Brandenburg. She is seeking her fourth term so there's a lot of endorsement history there. By the way, a Democratic DA race is all you get. The R's failed to field a candidate so the winner of the Dem primary gets to close up campaign headquarters.

That's it for now. Back here tomorrow.

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.


(c)NM POLITICS WITH JOE MONAHAN 2012
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Wednesday, May 16, 2012

Northern GOP Congress Race: Who Gets To Face Firing Squad? Plus: Our TV Ad Watch, And:: A Curveball For Kari 

The race for the GOP nomination in the northern congressional seat is like two guys fighting to be the first to face the firing squad. That's because the district is overwhelmingly Democratic and Congressman Ben Ray Lujan is expected to chalk up a big win in a presidential election year when turnout is high, Nevertheless, the contest featuring businessman Rick Newton of Taos and rancher Jeff Byrd of Mosquero in tiny populated Harding County, is drawing some attention from an Alligator sympathetic to Byrd's cause. Let's check in:

The momentum seems to have swung to Byrd. Newton won the GOP pre-primary convention 65%-35% but has not done much since. Newton recently had a falling out with his campaign staff and is basically running things on his own. Newton is also receiving a lot of heat from the locals due to the fact that he moved from Albuquerque into the northern district this past October. Byrd has mailed the district and launched two radio ads. Byrd has picked up the endorsement of Pat Lyons, the former State Land Commissioner and current Public Regulation Commission chairman Pat Lyons. He has solidified eastern New Mexico support with endorsements from State Senator Clint Harden and State Representative Dennis Roch....

Newton received the endorsement of former US Secretary of Defense Rumsfeld who lives in Taos and there is the superior pre-primay performance by Newton which in the GOP is often indicative of the primary election results to come. Byrd will have to keep spending--and spinning---if he is going to knock him off (Newton did not respond to an email asking him about the fate of his campaign staff).

ABQ ACTION

Eric Griego's campaign says he cut his Wall Street TV spot before the latest financial implosion that cost one of the nation's biggest banks $2 billion. But like most everything else so far in this campaign, Griego has been the beneficiary of serendipitous timing. The paid spot is now airing, with the latest financial mishap playing loudly in the free media.

Griego is hot in the cool medium of TV, often a distraction, but the Dem liberal base is fired up and Griego feeds them the red meat they want. In his ad he calls for jailing bankers who have done wrong and laments that so far no banker has served time behind bars since the Wall St. crisis struck in 2008. That won't get them out of their chairs in Tanoan, but it will have them running around the field in jubilation in the SE Heights.

MARTY ON MARES

Will the embezzlement indictment of his girlfriend Loretta Mares be the defining moment for former Mayor Marty Chavez in his battle for the Dem nomination for the ABQ congressional seat? If he loses, it will certainly be pointed to, He is still grappling with the touchy matter in public, Over the weekend he was asked about it on KOB-TV's "Eye on New Mexico." The veteran politico came with a well-crafted response, but it is the association and the ongoing publicity around it that does the damage. Here is what Chavez told the TV audience:

This is an individual for whom I care very deeply. The first I heard of this was when everyone else read about it in the paper and when reporters called. And I certainly would be shocked if it’s true. I respect the right of the Attorney General, if he has some evidence, to prosecute. I hope people will respect the right of this lady to defend herself because she is entitled to a presumption of innocence.

The woman that I know is a successful business woman, raised two daughters on her own, no assistance from their Dad. Has four grandchildren, is a cancer survivor, double-mastectomy, hysterectomy, and is just a dynamo as an independent businesswoman. That’s who I know.

So, I would be shocked if the allegations were true. And I will do nothing to hurt her. She is entitled to defend herself. And frankly she should be entitled to defend herself free of some of the glare of a campaign. We no longer reside together. She’s focused on her business and her good name. I’m focused on this campaign. There has been no suggestion that I was aware of the facts underlying the charges, and I think that’s important to state. And I think that from here we have to talk about what concerns the folks of this district.

For you kids starting out in politics, that is about as good as it gets in dealing with a no-win situation.

Meanwhile, Chavez tries to warm up the room with this robo call from former President Clinton who has endorsed him in the three way primary.

BALDERAS VS HEATHER?

Hector Balderas, fighting an uphill battle for the Dem US Senate nomination against Rep. Martin Heinrich, brings out some guns in his latest TV ad, but he is firing over Heinrich's head and at presumptive GOP nominee Heather Wilson:

Now, Heather Wilson and the Republicans in Washington say we need to cut education and job training.  I say we need to invest in our future again...

Nicely produced ad, but it serves to soften the ground up for Heinrich when he faces Wilson in the Fall, not take the battle to him and try to snatch the nomination from his hands.

Balderas needs to throw a "Hail Mary" pass, not just say the prayer.

CURVEBALL FOR KARI

Another curve ball for Kari. First, her chief deputy district attorney resigns after allegedly assaulting a sheriff's deputy and now the ABQ Journal shakes her up with an endorsement for Jennifer Romero, her Dem primary opponent.  An excerpt:

Romero would end the incumbent’s questionable practice of taking police shootings to a special investigative grand jury that has been criticized by civil rights lawyers and others. Romero says she doesn’t like “a secret system with the police treated differently” and would use the preliminary hearing track to “clear the innocent and examine what went wrong in questionable shootings.

This is the first sign of the numerous police shooting having a political consequence. ABQ Mayor RJ Berry has refused to dismiss police chief Ray Shultz, but he is putting forth some reform proposal for APD as he anticipates a 2013 re-election effort,

As for Romero, she had only $2,900 in her campaign account when she reported this week. Kari had only $12,000 but the ability to write a personal check anytime it is needed.

There is some incumbent fatigue here. Brandenburg is in her third term and going for her fourth. That would be 16 years as DA, a nearly unprecedented run.

While Brandenburg took a hit from the paper, she actually had a good week in public prosecuting the death penalty phase in the Michael Astorga case. Ironically, Astoraga was found guilty of shooting a sheriff's deputy in 2006.

GETTING A PASS?

Reader and attorney Elena Moreno Hansen says our analysis of the DA race is giving Kari a pass:

Joe, you're giving Ms. Brandenburg too much of a pass. She is resting on her laurels while Jennifer Romero and her supporters are attending rallies, going door to door, and otherwise taking this race to the people. Don't count out the poor hometown girl. Bernalillo County voters are more like Ms. Romero than Ms. Brandenburg. Also, at the end of the day, the voters will pick transparency over ineptitude.

CAMPOS VS. GARCIA

Another sleeper race that is starting to awaken the Gators features veteran northern Dem State Senator Pete Campos facing challenger and State Rep. Tomas Garcia. Some surprising news here:

Still, political observers aren't counting Garcia out as election day nears. Garcia has reported nearly $40,000 more campaign cash on hand than Campos...

Put that one on your list to watch.

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.


(c)NM POLITICS WITH JOE MONAHAN 2012
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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.

LUCKY LAWRENCE

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.

WAYNE JOHNSON: BUSTED

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.

TALK ABOUT TIMING

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.

SUSANA AGLOW

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"?

MORE SUSANA BEAT

"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.

GOING POSTAL

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
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.

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(c)NM POLITICS WITH JOE MONAHAN 2012
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Monday, May 14, 2012

The Big Monday Blog: From Congress To Clovis, We're On The Cluttered Campaign Trail Of 2012; Read All About It! 


No one is swinging for the fences in the hotly contested race for the ABQ Dem congressional nomination. In this three way race about 40% will do the trick for the win and that means slicing and dicing the electorate. And that in turn means campaign ads like this one from Michelle Lujan Grisham. In it the attorney and Bernalillo County Commissioner makes no bones about going for only a portion of the Dem electorate. She declares that "the war on women stops right now, right here in New Mexico." She argues that Washington is "trying to turn the clock back on family planning and women's health care."

Veteran Dem analyst Harry Pavlides says Lujan Grisham, playing for a narrow win with women voters leading the way, is making her best bet:

She needs to motivate women who normally would not vote in a primary. That's why you hear her talking about "the war" on women. She needs to turn them out. (State Senator) Eric Griego is still the front-runner because of his strong support among liberals. (Former ABQ Mayor) Marty Chavez should now look to turn out more conservative and moderate Dems east of San Mateo Blvd. in the NE Heights. Fighting with Griego over the liberals will not get him the win.

A major dynamic in this race that is making it more difficult for Marty and Michelle is the ABQ SE Heights. That area will have the highest turnout in the primary and that's where Griego is strongest. Also, Martin Heinrich lives there and will look to increase turnout there in his Senate race. Those voters will be prone to vote for Griego.

Thanks for that road map, Harry. We'll keep it handy as we enter the final stretch.

WHAT CAMPAIGN?

Surprisingly, there has been only one public meeting featuring all three congressional contenders, and only one TV debate is scheduled--on Saturday, May 19 at 6 p.m. on KOAT-TV. The race may be getting buzz in the political community but in the city at large it still seems to be a sleeper. That means we are on target for another low primary turnout.

MICHELLE AND MARTIN

Lujan Grisham picked up the endorsement of the ABQ Journal Sunday, as did Dem US Senate candidate Martin Heinrich. On the GOP side, the paper endorsed Heather Wilson over Greg Sowards. Of Heinrich, they said:

Having earned his stripes in the rough-and-tumble U.S. House, Heinrich has matured and refined his positions.

Heinrich is opposed for the Dem nod by State Auditor Hector Balderas. The Las Cruces Sun-News also endorsed Heinrich.

Of Lujan Grisham, the Journal said:

New Mexico’s young delegation needs an official who won’t hesitate to wade into tough issues and seek compromises — whether it’s health care, protecting and creating jobs, or finally passing meaningful immigration reform. Lujan Grisham has clear stances on each...

The Journal has its most influence with Republicans, but no doubt those endorsed will tout the backing in mailers and other campaign ads.

GO EAST, JOE

Over on the East Side, that GOP state Senate primary we've been blogging about is hotter than a Clovis parking lot on the Fourth of July. And we have fresh stuff. The insider polling there done for the Pat Woods campaign shows Woods leading Angie Spears by ten points in the multi-county district, with Clovis in Curry County being at the heart of the battle. It's Woods 42%, Spears 32% and undecided 26%.

On May 8th and 9th, a brief three question auto-poll was conducted. (Posted here). Calls were placed to all 2008 and 2010 primary voters. 546 people completed the poll, or roughly 16% of the voting population. We earlier blogged the results of the first night of polling. With Woods well below the magic 50% level, the race is wide open.

And why do we care? Well, Spears is being openly backed by Governor Martinez, causing a major split in the Republican Party. Her SusanaPAC, led by adviser Jay McCleskey, has already donated $5,000 to Angie and Jay's consulting company is expected to lead the final weeks attack against Woods. Also, former GOP National Committeeman Mickey Barnett is involved. A PAC he is leading has donated heavily to Spears.

For years, ABQ attorney Barnett has been in the thick of the internecine GOP wars. Our coverage of that can be found in our archives as far back as November 2003 and the news on his controversial PAC can be had here.

HIGH STAKES IN CLOVIS
Angie Spears
Woods is now carrying the banner of a diminished middle wing of the GOP. He backed Doug Turner over Martinez for  the 2010 GOP Guv nod. Woods is being attacked for having given past campaign donations to Dem candidates and insiders say they think the rancher will also be hit for getting Federal farm subsides. But that's dangerous territory for the Guv. Subsides are a way of life in the state agricultural industry.

And therein lies the problem. By going all in for Spears, Martinez can't hide her fingerprints. When Woods is attacked the attacks are perceived as coming directly from the Fourth Floor and executed by the "Fifth Floor"--Jay and company. Not good.

The motive here for the Guv to get in this messy battle was to enforce ideological purity and subservience to her administration. That may seem worthy on paper or in idle daydreams of ruling without opposition, but she has to be wondering if it is worth all the headache. An ugly and even more divisive phase appears to be ahead in the final days of the Showdown in Clovis.

WHY GIVE?

One of the issues Woods supporters raise could resonate with R's around the state. They ask: Why give money to SusanaPac if the cash is going to be used to beat up on fellow Republicans and not used to take back the Legislature from the Dems?

Of course, much of SusanaPAC money doesn't even come from New Mexico--but from Texas and other out-of-state interests.

HEINRICH REBUTTAL

Our observations about the new TV ad from Dem US Senate contender Martin Heinrich brought in some email. We thought the scene showing Heinrich campaign with his wife and kids was "out of context" and doubted his statement that the "hard-working citizens of New Mexico" will solve the nation's problems, not the politicians we pay to do that in Washington. Here's another view on that ad:

A young family and their connection to the outdoors? Looks like someone has their priorities straight. It's never out of place to show connection and appreciation for where you live, and the world around you...


You blogged that, "It is the failure of the "powers that be" in Washington to solve critical national problems that has them in low self-esteem. The "hard working citizens" of New Mexico have made their views known and it is up to our elected representatives to get the job done...

Nobody gets off the hook here. You're both right, and vice-versa. This isn't a job we're outsourcing.  Even if politicians were just contractors, we need a dialogue about choices, priorities and accountability that includes everyone, citizens and officeholders...

Well, we see how a"dialogue about choices" is useful, but like the rest of this nation, we're frustrated with the inability of the Congress to get something done. We want New Mexico's next US Senator to be results oriented and an actor for this state.

Let's get on with the election (that's the "dialogue") and then tell the winner we "hard-working citizens" expect more than expressions of exasperation at the state of things in Washington.

Do something about it.

THE DC GRIDLOCK
Monahan with Udall in DC
Keeping it on Washington for a moment, Dem US Senator Tom Udall has been criticized by the R's for being a low-key and not very active lawmaker, but Udall has been diligently campaigning for a change in the filibuster rule of the Senate that keeps major legislation from getting anywhere, even if a majority is in favor. Now comes the news that Udall might be making some progress. A frustrated Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid said in a moment of exasperation on the Senate floor:

"If there were ever a time when Tom Udall and Jeff Merkley were prophetic, it's tonight," Reid said. "These two young, fine senators said it was time to change the rules of the Senate, and we didn't. They were right. The rest of us were wrong. Or most of us anyway. What a shame."

A Senate Democratic aide told The Huffington Post that Reid wants to revisit the issue in January, when the new Congress begins and when there is a brief window to change Senate rules with a 51-vote threshold. "Right when you convene a new Congress, you have an opportunity to alter rules with just a simple majority," said the aide. 

For Udall it's a signal that even though his head may hurt from banging it against the wall, he needs to keep banging.

HELPFUL OR HYPOCRITE?

The job of a New Mexico US Senator often leaves you open to the charge of hypocrisy For example, there's this news from Senator Bingaman:

Senator Bingaman said he is glad that the U.S. Postal Service put forward a plan to keep open rural New Mexico post offices that were once identified for possible closure. In a letter to Bingaman, the Postmaster General Patrick R. Donahoe said rather than closing down thousands of rural post offices, it is taking a new approach. Instead, it will consider reducing the number of hours rural post offices are open. Congress is working on legislation aimed at bringing long-term solvency to the financially strapped Postal Service.

Some will argue that Bingaman should back the shuttering of all the rural post offices in the name of cutting out waste , but those post offices are quite important to rural New Mexicans. Jeff came down on their side.  He may be accused of being hypocritical, but those critics didn't vote for him--all those users of rural post offices did.

ACTION, ACTION, ACTION

Back on the campaign trail now and it's getting more cluttered by the hour...

Dem State Rep. Bill O’Neill has received the endorsement of State Senator Jerry Ortiz y Pino and ABQ City Councilor Debbie O’Malley in his campaign to replace retiring Senator Dede Feldman in Senate District 13....

ABQ GOP State Rep, Larry Larranga endorses Mark Moores in that hard fought ABQ GOP NE Heights primary. It features Moores and attorney and State Racing Commission Chairman Robert Doughty. Nancy Cooper is also seeking the GOP nod. GOP Sen. Kent Cravens, who held the seat until he resigned to take a job with oil and gas, has also endorsed Moores.

We're saying goodbye to a whole bunch of legislators who have announced their retirements this cycle. They include longtime ABQ Dem State Rep. Danice Picraux who gets this send-off from the Alibi....Steve Cabiedes, campaign manager for Cara Valente-Compton who is challenging Dem State Rep. Sheryl Williams Stapleton in the ABQ SE Heights district, told us he has in the past worked for Republicans, but is about as conservative as Jerry Oritz y Pino--a leading NM liberal But Michale Corwin of Independent Source PAC which attacked Cabiedes in a flyer, gets a final dig in:

What is most troubling about Steve Cabiedes work with Republicans was his serving as a plaintiff in a Republican voter suppression lawsuit that accused Democratic leaning groups helping minorities to register to vote of "widespread fraud." Cabiedes has yet to repudiate his role in that lawsuit. He should....

Okay, we're going to get Michael and Steve together and settle this thing with a poker match. The winner gets a free lunch from NM GOP Chairman Monty Newman. 

There are always some hopeless causes to talk about in the election season. Take a look at this well-intentioned missive from Bernalillo County Dem Party Chair Ana Canales:

The Democratic Party of Bernalillo County denounces any kind of negative attacks on your fellow Democrats whether it comes from your campaigns or any PAC.  The County Party has been very clear that negative campaigning of any kind will not be tolerated.  Unfortunately, it continues.  With the June 5 Primary getting closer and tension building, do not resort to fighting against your Democratic opponent but save this for your Republican opponent. 

Keep trying, Ana, you're still young.

This is the home of New Mexico politics.

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

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(c)NM POLITICS WITH JOE MONAHAN 2012
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