Friday, December 21, 2012

Merry Christmas, New Mexico, Plus: The GOP Under Chairman Billingsley: Cash Starved Or Not?  

Merry Christmas to you. It's always a pleasure to offer you annual holiday greetings from this blog. 

The sentiments we expressed back in 2006 hold true today as we prepare to usher out 2012....

We live in a wonderful, almost fantasy-like environment in this Land of Enchantment. It is a gift that gives year round--the sunsets that make hearts soar; the mountains that inspire dreams; the never-ending landscapes that give a spiritual dimension to daily life. The contrast of this earthly perfection with our crazed, but beloved La Politica makes us that more inscrutable to the outside world.

New Mexico politics is also special because ancient customs collide with the contemporary. It's what makes our state so deliciously baffling and delightful and so pleasurable to talk with you about through this blog.

Thanks for joining me today and all the days of 2006 (and 2012). I look forward to more special times with you in the new year. Until then, here is my annual holiday card to you and your loved ones.

Merry Christmas and Happy New Year!


There's been talk that the state GOP would be starved of cash because Governor Martinez's favored candidate for chairman came up short and 67 year old John Billingsley of Lincoln County took the victory. But this letter from Roswell oilman Mark Murphy written to Billingsley before the chair election this month indicates that the party is not going to go wanting:

As I mentioned on the phone--I am excited about the prospect of you becoming chairman...A comprehensive fundraising strategy that includes the county parties is long overdue.  I'm sure that many of them will be willing to put in a little extra effort if it is going to help them better fund their operations. My offer to help you in any way I can stands!  I am willing to serve on your finance committee and I have a list of folks who will pitch in once we present the new direction you plan on taking the party.

Murphy has a habit of putting his money where his mouth is. He spent several hundred thousand of his own cash a couple of cycles ago to replace Roswell GOP State Rep. Dan Foley with an R he favored And he and his family have been major donors to GOP candidates across the board.

Some R's associated with the Guv and her political adviser Jay McCleskey say the party is not as relevant because new finance rules allow super PACs that can spend tons of money without any accountability. But a well-funded state party with roots in the state--not out of it--can still be a significant force.

As for Billingsley, folks want to know more. And here is some more about the new chairman from a GOP newsletter:

 John was born and raised in Hobbs, and has lived in places from Seattle to Washington, D.C. He created small businesses in the retail fields of clothing and golf shops. He also managed a marina, grocery, and lodge before retiring to the Ruidoso area. Goals and strategy for growing the party: John's goal is to recapture the party¹s success as the party of the people. The first practical necessity is fundraising to cover basic operating expenses. He also will focus on marketing the party and drawing together the party strands.

Billingsley is also a former campaign manager for Rep. Steve Pearce. 


When all was said and done and all those provisional ballots finally counted New Mexico came in with a turnout of 63% of its registered voters in the November election. We thought it would be more like 68%. About 787,000 voted.

Longtime pollster Brian Sanderoff said the lower turnout rate this year partly reflects the state's inflated voter registration rolls. The state hasn't recently purged from the list people who have moved out of state or who have not voted in recent elections.

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Thursday, December 20, 2012

The Jagged Path Of The New Mexico Spaceport; Promising Project Falling Prey To Failure Of Politicos 

Martinez & Branson In Happier Time
If anything demonstrates the dysfunctional body politic that has hampered economic development here it's the jagged path we've been on when it comes to the futuristic New Mexico Spaceport. Thus far, all the stakeholders have failed the people of New Mexico.

--It turns out Governor Richardson had a great idea, but he gave away too much of the farm. If Virgin Galactic pulls out of the Spaceport deal next year, the state would be unable to legally reclaim hardly any of its over $200 million investment.

--Governor Martinez entered office with a chip on her shoulder for Richardson and the Spaceport and slowed momentum for it by talking gibberish about more private involvement in the public-private venture. After more than a year of foot-dragging, she finally came on board, but the damage had been done.

---The Democratic-controlled Legislature has failed to pass important liability legislation for the Spaceport, even as competing states get that law on their books.

--Virgin Galactic was ill-advised to play the blame game with the state economic development secretary at a bizarre 90 minute news conference in which they warned the project might end if they didn't get a liability bill. There was no talk of compromise. Virgin leader Sir Richard Branson can do better than that--if he really wants to. So can the Martinez administration.

--NM trial lawyers have failed to step up and publicly encourage a compromise liability bill to save the Spaceport. If Colorado trial lawyers can agree to a bill, why can't ours?

--The conservative mainstream media has bemoaned the mistakes in getting the project started, but rarely celebrate the prospects of the Spaceport or encourage a bipartisan solution.

--The Spaceport Authority and its executive director, acting under the thumb of a less than enthusiastic Governor, has been unable to advance statewide momentum and public support for the project.

Given all of that "bah humbug" is there any hope for saving the Spaceport?

Sure, and there's an example to the north of us. In April Colorado's Governor signed a liability bill for their Spaceport, putting to rest a major problem that haunts ours. The trial lawyers there did not support the measure, but agreed to stay neutral. For the edification of all of those involved, here is the news of the Colorado Governor signing that bill and here's the full text of the bill in  an easy to read format. 

New Mexico can save its Spaceport and the promise of good jobs for the future that it represents, but time is growing short. We need to get busy.


The new year could bring some developments in this case which keeps popping up as the Department of Justice embarks upon a civil rights investigation of the ABQ police department:

The FBI says it will look into how the death investigation of a prominent Albuquerque attorney was handled. Mary Han died in 2010. The state Attorney General's Office contacted the bureau. The FBI will look into whether any federal laws were violated and if an investigation is warranted. Han's family filed a lawsuit against APD, claiming the department botched the investigation of her death. Han was found inside her car at her home. The department said it was a suicide by carbon monoxide poisoning.

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Wednesday, December 19, 2012

Death Comes For NM House Speaker Ben Lujan, Plus:To Expand Or Not? Martinez Medicaid Decision One Of Her Biggest; GOP Not Warm To Expansion Here; Senior Insider Offers Her Some Advice 

Ben Lujan will be remembered for two things--as a down-the-line supporter of New Mexico's working class citizens and for the alliance he forged with Governor Bill Richardson that led to passage of much of the landmark legislation in early 21st century New Mexico.

The 77 year old Democratic leader died at a Santa Fe hospital late Tuesday, a victim of the the lung cancer that forced him to announce in early 2012 that the would give up his seat in the Legislature that he had held since 1975, as well as the powerful speakership to which he was first elected to in 2001.

He was one of the longest serving speakers in state history. His 37 year stint representing his Santa Fe County district was also one of the longest ever.

Lujan stunned the state when at the opening day of the 2012 Legislature this past January he announced he had late-stage lung cancer. The fact that he was able to keep his condition secret for so long was nearly as shocking as the sad news he delivered that day.

Speaker Lujan came form the humblest of beginnings. A native of Nambe, he was was the son of a sheepherder who became an iron worker at Los Alamos Labs.

That early life experience guided his political philosophy which was old-style Democratic liberal, although he did team with Richardson to cut personal income taxes on the well-off in an effort to spur economic development. He also pushed through the elimination of the food tax that helped low-income New Mexicans.

Here is a statement from NM Dem Party Chairman Javier Gonzales:

Speaker Ben Lujan was a giant in New Mexico politics, and a fighter for New Mexico's families.  He fought for the poor, elderly, and underprivileged.  He worked tirelessly for veterans, affordable healthcare, worker rights, high wage jobs for New Mexicans and so many more great endeavors. He will go down the in history books as one of New Mexico’s best Speakers.

Richardson's statement on Lujan's passing is here.

When Richardson took over as Governor in 2003 he forged a relationship with Lujan that saw passage of such projects as the Spaceport and Rail Runner, a constitutional amendment to raise teachers' salaries and much, much more. It was such a powerful executive-legislative tag team that it led to criticism that Lujan was giving too much to Richardson.

Lujan's political career started to sputter in 2010 when a young upstart--Carl Trujillo--nearly beat him in the June primary. Trujillo won the Lujan seat when the speaker did not run in 2012 and will succeed him in the House.

The Speaker also notched major accomplishments in his private life, including a 53 year marriage to Carmen and the raising of four children, including Ben Ray Lujan, who now serves as the congressman representing northern New Mexico.

US Senator Jeff Bingaman delivered this tribute to Lujan on the floor on the US Senate soon after Lujan announced he would retire.


Will She Embrace Medicaid?
Governor Martinez will soon announce her decision on accepting federal funding to expand the Medicaid program for low income New Mexicans. It is a huge decision. Already some 550,000 New Mexicans--over a quarter of the state--are enrolled in Medicaid and the expansion could add another 170,000. That would mean over a third of the state's residents would be be covered in underinsured New Mexico.

Susana's fellow Republican Hispanic Governor--Brian Sandoval of Nevada--did just that recently, becoming the first GOP Guv to embrace the Medicaid expansion. We have more on this aspect of the Medicaid issue, with some political advice mixed in. It comes from a Senior Alligator with long-involvement in state healthcare matters. He goes long and deep on this critical issue for a state that has one of the highest rates of uninsured citizens in the USA:

Joe: Here is some friendly advice for the Governor and food for thought for your readers.'/
 She is facing a really difficult decision that will impact everyone in the state...She is under pressure from other Republican governors who have thumbed their noses at the Affordable Heathcare Act (ACA) and Obama in spite of the fact that citizens in general and the economies of their states would benefit. That’s politics before people. To her credit, the Governor is being very deliberative in making this decision.

There is a critical decision point looming for the Governor relative to what she will decide to do with the ACA rollout in New Mexico. While it seems like a no brainer to blindly embrace this deal--The feds pick up 100% of the Medicaid expansion, there's half a billion in general fund savings and significant economic benefits--many Republican governors have balked, citing future state fiscal impacts and a distrust that the feds will live up to their end of the deal. 

Several months ago, speculation was that Governor Martinez would decide to go for it given the disproportionate advantages the program had for NM, considering our high uninsured rate, the Medicaid matching ratio and our level of poverty.  Then she and other governors sent a letter to the feds asking if the states could do less than the full expansion and basically slice and dice the package. The feds came back with a response that  basically said no deal. So, what will Susana do? Walk away from a half billion in state fund savings  and economic benefit or embrace the deal? 

 Here is a friendly suggestion based on another western adage. “Trust everyone but brand your calves!” The benefit to New Mexico is indisputable from an economic and health status perspective. The future fiscal impact when the matching Medicaid funds drops to 90% and the short term impact if the feds possibly renege on the deal are problematic. The suggestion: Accept the deal. Put the “savings” into a trust fund or “lock box” to be accumulated annually so that when the Feds matching ratio drops there will be funds available to cover the state’s portion, that way we have no Medicaid cliff and we reap the substantial benefits.

One of the other things the Governor should consider is using some of the “savings” to jump start a comprehensive program to enhance the medical workforce and infrastructure so folks will have access to care and thousands of New Mexicans can fill the jobs in the healthcare sector that will be needed to serve the additional covered population in Medicaid. And, if the feds do go back on the deal, which would be political suicide, but possible, there will be state funds to ease the fall. Engage the upcoming Legislature in this effort so there is buy-in and political cover. Be prudent and fiscally responsible with this opportunity but seize it. Trust, but keep the branding iron hot.    

Now that's the kind of advice a Governor can tuck in her folder and take home to the Mansion for a good going over. But there is another side, of course, and conservative analyst Merrill Matthews has it in his "Seven Reasons States Should Just Say No To Medicaid Expansion."

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Tuesday, December 18, 2012

They're Looking Ahead To '14--Already, Plus: Texas BIz Incentives; Example For Us Or Not? And: Same Day Voter Registration  

We're in holiday mode for the final two weeks of the year. Blogging will be a bit lighter and not as tied to the daily news cycle as usual but we'll be with you so do continue to check in for your daily dose of La Politica...

 Well, yes, it is way, way too early to be talking about the 2014 ABQ congressional election. Won't someone please feed the Alligators and tell them to calm down? Well, Good luck. In Gator land the gaming takes no vacation. And that brings us to Congresswoman-elect Michelle Lujan Grisham.

She won't even take the oath of office until January 3, but the Alligators are already giving the inside track for the '14 ABQ GOP congressional nomination to ABQ GOP State Rep. Nate Gentry. He'd have to give up his legislative seat to make the run, but insiders say he doesn't seem all that enamored with the Roundhouse anyway, so why not? A decision from him could come as soon as the end of the legislative session in March.

Gentry's problem? Michelle beat to a pulp a defenseless Janice Arnold-Jones this year, garnering nearly 60% of the vote. What can Nate do to bring her down to 49 percent? Not much. Michelle will need to shoot herself in the foot in order to get this one going, but unlike Governor Martinez we understand the congresswoman-to-be does not have a concealed carry permit...


Governor Martinez is fond of citing Texas as a model for New Mexico when it comes to creating jobs and business, but this interesting article from the NY Times and sent in by a reader calls that advice into question:

Under Mr. Perry, Texas gives out more of the incentives than any other state, around $19 billion a year, an examination by The New York Times has found. Texas justifies its largess by pointing out that it is home to half of all the private sector jobs created over the last decade nationwide. As the invitation to the fund-raiser boasted: “Texas leads the nation in job creation.” Yet the raw numbers mask a more complicated reality behind the flood of incentives, the examination shows, and raise questions about who benefits more, the businesses or the people of Texas. 

$19 billion a year? That's a Texas-sized store they're giving away over in Austin.


We've made it a lot easier in recent years for New Mexicans to cast a vote. The extended period of early voting is probably the best example. Can we make it even easier? How about being able to register to vote and then voting the very same day? We put that question to Bernalillo County Clerk Maggie Toulouse-Oliver:

I have long been a proponent of same-day registration (although I once  was not).  I definitely think it can work here. The last time we tried  to push a bill was in the 2009 session--the clerks pushed a compromise bill that would have allowed same day registration during early voting  (not on Election Day) because we used e-poll books that would allow us to enter the data on the spot. With the new Vote Centers that makes it possible for Election Day  too...

From my perspective the positive of having same day registration is a significant decline (if not elimination) in provisional balloting which is a real pain in the neck. We also have a lot of issues with people thinking or alleging they have registered either with the Motor Vehicle Department (MVD) or  with third party agents. It may or may not boost turnout. This year Bernalillo County had about 2,600 provisional ballots about 75% of which were due to folks  not being registered.

I doubt there will be any specific proposals to this end this year.  What I am focused on right now is some automation of the registration  process - i.e. making the MVD registration purely electronic so the  paperwork doesn't get lost in translation--and online voter registration...

By the way, if you are interested in registering to vote on Bernalillo County, you can get started at this link.

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Monday, December 17, 2012

Martinez & Berry Hope For Private Economy Revival Fades, Plus: Arrogrant Trudy? ABQ Councilor Blasted For Voter Nullification Effort, Plus: More BernCo Power in Santa Fe And Adios, Jeff 

Martinez & Berry
Mayor Berry and Governor Martinez say they want to build a magnificent private sector economy to replace the loss of federal funding and jobs that both cast as inevitable. Well, how's that working out for them so far? The news:

Nearly 90 percent of the nation’s major markets added private-sector jobs during the past 12 months, but the Albuquerque market was not one of them. There are 102 U.S. metropolitan areas with populations above 500,000. 

 Eighty-nine of those markets boosted their employment numbers between October 2011 and the same month this year, according to the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics. Only 12 areas suffered declines, and one was unchanged. The Albuquerque area lost 400 private-sector jobs between October 2011 and October 2012, going from 289,400 to 289,000. 

Building a robust private sector economy is a laudable, but long-term goal. In the meantime, Martinez and Berry could do well by working cooperatively with the state's congressional delegation to protect and enhance the federal government presence here--the presence that has brought so much prosperity to the state.

And for those who argue that the government presence has not gotten New Mexico out of the economic barrel, they've got their eye off the ball. Think what economic conditions were like in this state before that presence and what it would be like without that decades-long massive investment.


Republican ABQ City Councilor Trudy Jones is taking heat for her efforts to nullify the decision by 66% of ABQ voters at the November election to raise the minimum wage a buck an hour and providing for annual cost of living increases. Jones, a realtor who represents the NE Heights, says she doesn't think the voters understood what they were voting for and wants the council to repeal the cost of living provision. Veteran New Mexico talk show host and politico Mike Santullo comes with the retort:

What arrogance! This person is strictly on the City Council to do the bidding of the Realtors Assn.  and is a dyed in the wool sycophant for the Chamber of Commerce.  She is not relatable in the least to the average working person in her district and has a “single-minded” agenda. Perhaps someone more broad-based needs to challenge  her in the next election. 

The City Council meets today for the last time this year and a discussion of the minimum wage is expected .Jones was re-elected for a four year term in the 2011 city election.


And why shouldn't big Bernalillo County have more stroke at the Roundhouse? It's delivering huge winning margins for Dem candidates these days and it seems the Dem Party is noticing. At Friday's House Dem caucus ABQ State Rep. Rick Miera was elected as majority leader and ABQ Rep. Moe Maestas won the post of majority whip. As expected, Grants State Rep. Kenny Martinez was nominated for House Speaker to replace Ben Lujan who retired because of illness.

Rep. Patty Lundstrom of Gallup was re-elected as caucus chair. Insiders say she could in a couple of years have the chairmanship of the powerful House Appropriations Committee in her future. She is the only woman now in the leadership of the House and Senate.

The selection of of attorney Maestas by the 38 member caucus was a bit of a surprise. There was talk that controversial Rep. Sheryl Williams Stapleton would remain in the slot. The election of Miera over Rio Arriba's Debbie Rodella is the leadership pick-up for ABQ. Rep. Martinez is the current majority leader. Maestas is close to Martinez as is Miera.

At the Senate caucus this month ABQ and Bernalillo County also scored big, with Sen. Tim Keller getting the majority whip slot and Sen. Jacob Candelaria named caucus chair. 

The full House will vote on the Speakership at the opening day of the Legislature Jan. 15. The 70 member House has 38 Dems and 32 Republicans. Unlike the Senate, there is no scuttlebutt of conservative Dems forming coalition with the R's to elect a speaker other than Martinez.


Democratic reader Stephanie DuBois was unimpressed when she heard here that southern GOP Congressman Steve Pearce had once again been named chairman of the Western Congressional Caucus. She writes:

Congressman Pearce,if you really read what he said here amounts to him saying nothing tangible for the people of CD2. To have him be elected to that position will do absolutely nothing for us in his district. Just what are exactly "western values"? With Pearce we will never know. 


In typical Jeff Bingaman style there is no public popping of the champagne corks or prominent parties accompanying the end of the Senator's 30 year run. He will quietly exit the seat at the end of the year, leaving in the low-key manner in which he has conducted himself throughout his public life.

On the Senate floor he gave this farewell speech. Text here. Video is here.

Bingaman's departure comes at a time when the state faces major challenges to its federal funding in Washington. That battle will now fall to Udall and Senator-elect Heinrich.

NM Senator Tom Udall came with this farewell tribute to Bingaman on the Senate floor.

Bingaman's signature quote from his farewell speech to the Senate is one that notes the ideological divide that has hovered over his entire Senate career:

I believed then (in 1983) and I believe now that the federal government can be a constructive force for good; in protecting and maintaining the civil liberties of all Americans, in maintaining and strengthening our economy, in protecting our environment and in helping Americans live productive and fulfilling lives.

The Politico comes with this review of Bingaman's legacy.

Jeff Bingaman, 69, will now retire to Santa Fe and watch from the sidelines the never-ending parade of La Politica which he was entwined with for so many decades...


Reader Andrew Bolton writes:

I read your blog every day. (Great Job) On Friday I was pleased to see the NM Centennial Pendleton blanket featured. We at Bolton Inc. designed that special blanket with the assistance of the Centennial Director and the Zia Pueblo Administration and are very proud of  its design. The first 400 custom blankets were signed by Governor Martinez and sold out quickly. We also created 400 without the Governor's signature. There are only about 150 remaining. 

They are available for sale at the Albuquerque Pendleton store on San Mateo, Palms Trading on Lomas, the Indian Pueblo Cultural Center on 12th Street or at NMCentennial. com. I would appreciate you letting your readers know they can purchase that commemorative blanket for Christmas.  

Very well done. What a great Christmas gift idea....

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