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Monday, March 11, 2013

APD Cleansing Process Getting Momentum, Plus: Legal Pot Here? Let The Debate Begin, And: ABQ Special Election Ends Today As Mayor Race Gets Shaped, Also: Santa Fe Scene 

Judge Bacon
Even though the headlines burst with news last week of yet another fatal police shooting, the long cleansing process of the very troubled ABQ police department is finally underway. Unfortunately, it is going to cost city taxpayers millions of more dollars and there may be some more unpleasant, if not shocking revelations. But tough, no nonsense assessments of the department are now being aired. Change, however slowly, will come.

For example, here's some testimony from a civil trial currently underway to determine damages as a result of a fatal police shooting found to be unlawful:

(The city's attorney) challenged (expert police witness) Tucker, saying that was simply his judgment, which the veteran expert court witness was “substituting for the judgment of the Albuquerque Police Department” after the fact. 

Tucker responded: “You can see where (APD’s) judgment led us: here, today...Yes, I’m substituting my judgment for the judgment of Chief Ray Schultz. I would’ve fired (the officer in question) …I don’t care if an officer writes great reports if he lies.”  

That's truth to power in a powerful forum--a court of law. And it comes because of a gutsy ruling by State District Court Judge Shannon Bacon. She ruled the police shooting of Kenneth Ellis III was a use of excessive force. A jury will now decide how much money the victim's son will receive from the city. 

The mess at APD has cost us over $44 million in legal settlements in recent years and the total is going higher. But forces are coming together that give reason for optimism that the department--which up until now has had an outstanding history--is going to emerge stronger and better prepared for the new world of policing in a town that in many ways has grown rougher and tougher.


The independent judiciary here is asserting itself, the U.S. Department of Justice is in town conducting a civil rights investigation of APD, the city council finally seems to be awakening from its long slumber concerning police oversight and the local media is lending a firmer voice in its coverage. These are all important elements in this long and difficult cleansing.

Embattled police chief Ray Schultz may or may not stay on the job with the blessing of Mayor Berry, but neither he or Berry will be permitted in the future to run our police department on their terms. They lost that right when they lost control. 

LEGAL POT?
Reader Emily Kaltenbach, the state director for the Drug Policy Alliance, writes of the concern expressed here about loosening drug laws in a state like ours.

We pointed out that we're already afflicted with an epidemic of addiction and abuse and legalization is playing on dangerous territory A recent poll we quoted showed 52% of adults here favor legalizing marijuana:

Joe, Though most all the news stories about the poll  simply state it was "released" by the Drug Policy Alliance, the poll was conducted by conservative pollster Brian Sanderoff's Research & Polling. This may seem a small point, but failing to mention who conducted the poll makes it seem as though it was a DPA-conducted poll and thus might be skewed...

It's also important to note in discussions of marijuana penalty reduction, that the fifteen states that have enacted marijuana penalty reduction have not experienced increases in crime; have not experienced higher marijuana use rates; and have not experienced increased use of marijuana by children as a direct result of reducing penalties. While our state certainly has problems with drug addiction rates (alcohol, tobacco, and illegal drugs), the data shows that marijuana penalty reduction has no adverse effect on these rates.

Thanks for that, Emily. We wouldn't give Sanderoff a political label such as conservative or liberal. He does good polls and we believe the 52% support he registered for marijuana legalization is there.

We're going to try to keep an open mind on the legalization movement, but we remain deeply skeptical that it is an urgent matter in a state such as ours and we also wonder if results in other states would be the same here.

Legalizing marijuana is not "penalty reduction." It would make the drug widely available.

Having for decades seen and covered the human toll of rampant drug addiction and abuse--Rio Arriba County still tops tops the nation in heron overdose deaths--is why our caution flags are out on this one.

ELECTION '13

The special city mail-in election that ends tonight will be remembered as much for the vote-counting fiasco it turned into as much as for the measure that voters were asked to decide.

Thousands of ballots--at last count 4,700--were disallowed by City Clerk Amy Bailey because the outer envelope had not been signed. She then said voters could come in to sign the ballots and have them counted. Then she reversed herself, saying the law says the vote can't be counted.

About 55,000 ballots have been cast in the mail-in election. Election results will be posted tonight.

Various protests were made but no one has yet filed suit to force all the votes to be counted. We suppose that may come if the ballot measure--which has received support from Dems and unions--goes down to defeat.

If passed, the ballot proposal would amend the City Charter to force a mayor or city council candidate to win 50% of the vote to be elected. Currently, they can win with 40%. The new law would probably mean more run-off elections between the top two contenders in multi-candidate races. That would benefit Democrats--the majority party.

MAYOR'S RACE

How would the proposal--if approved--impact this year's mayoral contest? Well, maybe not so much.

The 2013 race is fast turning into essentially a one-on-one-race between Democrat Pete Dinelli and Republican Mayor RJ Berry.

Republican Paul Heh says he is dropping his bid to get public financing. He says he will still try to file enough petition signatures to get on the ballot, but he will not be getting the over $360,000 that public financing provides. He would have to raise private money. And for a political unknown that won't be easy.

Democrat Margaret Aragon de Chavez is also looking at running, collecting petition signatures and determining whether she can quality for public financing. But the Dems appear to be lining up for Dinelli.

The state Dem Party as well as the Bernalillo County party have both sent out appeals for Dinelli's fundraising efforts. He has to collect over 3,600 individual $5 donations from registered city voters to pick up the $362,000 in public financing. And he must do it by the end of this month. He will need all the help he can get. Mayor Berry has opted for private financing. He is expected to raise more than $362,000.

Dinelli has hired political consultant Alan Packman to organize his March fund-raising blitz.  Packman was recently listed as one of the top 5 Democratic consultants in the state by Campaigns and Elections magazine. Well-known GOP consultant Jay McCleskey who steered Berry to victory in 2009 is expected to again handle the heavy lifting for Berry, with operative Adam Feldman pitching in.

SANTA FE SCENE

We would be a bit surprised if there were to be a confirmation vote on Education Secretary-designate Hanna Skandera by the full state Senate. It appears she has the votes there. Senate Rules Committee Chair Linda Lopez will need to keep it bottled up in her committee for the rest of the session....

Is it pressure from the GOP conservative base that is preventing Governor Martinez from wiggling a bit more on the issue of repealing driver's licenses for undocumented immigrants? The Alligators started the session thinking she was looking for a compromise to burnish her national credentials and her '14 re-election bid, but she hasn't offered much and the session could end with nothing.....

A legislative session's political success is defined by public perception. Martinez has handled her messaging pretty well. Dems have not put her feet to the fire. A mostly do nothing session like this one seems to work in her favor. But it doesn't say much about any sense of urgency in addressing the state's serious economic problems...

The state Republican Party is putting out regular updates on the session. Here's their latest...

The state budget is the big bill of the session. It's $5.9 billion and on the way to approval. What about a Spaceport liability bill? That's the other biggie everyone is waiting to head up to the Fourth Floor...

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