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Friday, March 15, 2013

Manic End To Session '13; Guv Wins Tax Cuts And They Go Home, No Special Session, Plus: Pros And Cons On Dr. No, And: Blog Pot Debate Still Smokin'  

The 2013 session of the New Mexico Legislature adjourned Saturday, with the last minute passage of a big tax bill that includes corporate tax cuts Governor Martinez wanted. The tax cuts were attached to the "Breaking Bad" bill that gives tax breaks to companies filming certain TV shows in the state. Martinez says she will sign the measure and the state budget and there will  be no special session. HB77--the gun show loophole measure--died in the final moments of the session.  The lengthy and complicated tax package was barely debated in the House which received it from the Senate with only minutes to go before noon adjournment. The major legislation that passed and died is listed here.



  • APD Chief Ray Schultz announced Friday he will retire this year. Hours later an ABQ jury awarded a family over $10 million in damages for a wrongful APD shooting death.


  • Geez...Looking around the blog today, do you get the idea someone really wants to close the gun show loophole in New Mexico? The group Mayors Against Illegal Guns," a national group whose members include Santa Fe Mayor Dave Coss, are putting some last minute heat on the Legislature.

    The bill that would require a background check for every gun sold at gun shows in New Mexico has already passed the House and Governor Susana says if it gets to her desk she will sign it. Late Thursday supporters scored a major victory when they got the bill through Senate Judiciary. Not it's on to the Senate floor...with the clock ticking loudly..

    Meanwhile, Governor Martinez was stumped when she was asked on talk radio about "HB77," the gun bill she has said she supported. Our Alligators report that several callers noticed the gubernatorial lapse and pointed it out. No doubt the Guv is juggling a lot of numbers, but why wasn't there a staffer on the line with her ready to scribble down some assistance when and if needed...

    And she didn't seem much on her game in this video as she tried to explain why she is so upset with the budget that was approved by all the Senate Republicans. There were talking points and key phrases that seemed focus-group inspired. What seems authentic is her facial expressions and manner, but not the words. No, not the words. Susana is very heavily handled and she does not seem to have broken out of that bubble around her and taken personal ownership of her governorship. The "Fifth Floor" orchestrates and run the show....

    The budget. Here today, gone tomorrow? This is the last full day of the 60 day legislative session which is slated to adjourn at noon Saturday. The main job of the 112 lawmakers is to craft a budget to run the state. The one they passed is for $5.9 billion and as we write late Thursday we are still awaiting action from the Guv who says she will veto it, forcing a special session at a cost of $40,000 a day. But first the budget needs to be sent up to her desk by the Legislature. KOB-TV's Stuart Dyson reports:

    Look for a special session sometime before the middle of May. That's mainly because the public schools will need budgets in place so they can do contracts with teachers and buy books and equipment and supplies for the school year that starts in August.

    Many of our Senior Alligators have been watching these things for decades. They remind us that last minute deals are possible right up until noon Saturday. Still, that doesn't mean things don't look dicey...

    As we pointed out yesterday special sessions in which you don't know what the results are going to be beforehand have tripped up more than one Governor. Sometimes it's best to declare victory and go home. Martinez is popular and that's when the danger of overreaching appears.

    HOW MANY MEETINGS?

    In her newspaper op-ed this week, the Governor states that “Our congressional delegation and I have met on various issues…”

    Funny, we don't recall any news releases or photos of the Governor meting with members of the congressional delegation. Just how many times has she met with each member of the delegation? Maybe an enterprising newsman can find out.

    DRIVING TURNOUT

    It's pretty simple: a big election turnout in New Mexico favors the Dems and a small one favors the R's. But the legislative session in Santa Fe hasn't exactly lighted Dem base voters on fire. A reader comes with another possibility that could get them concerned and prompt them to vote in the '14 election:

    Joe, great blog and analysis as always. Especially this:

    "Clearly, Martinez does not want to rile up the Dems and create a large turnout election in which she would be threatened."

    I'm wondering this news that, despite promises and legal requirements to the contrary, the Department of Energy is again planning to ship large quantities of nuclear sludge to NM could emerge as one of these turnout drivers.

    Senator Udall was quick to urge caution on these plans, but Governor Martinez has been silent. Could WIPP emerge again as the big political issue it was in the 80's and 90's? It's certainly not going away and is likely to only get hotter (pun intended) as DOE and NRC look again for a site to dispose of the nation's high level radioactive waste from commercial nuclear power plants.

    A DATED SMITH?

    Our coverage of State Sen. John Arthur Smith, chairman of the Senate Finance Committee and one of the more powerful legislators in Santa Fe,  drew a number of responses. Here's one of them:

    Joe, you quoted a source in Santa Fe as saying:

    Publicly Senators complain about John Arthur, but in private and in caucus realize he alone really knows the budget, tax policy and economic issues, and they uniformly defer to him. Unfortunately nobody else in the Dem caucus knows these issues

    I do not understand why Smith does not reflect on the economic and social conditions in the state if he is the all powerful expert. It would seem that he would try something new if 20 years of work and experience got New Mexico where it is today. The expert's ideas are not working. A wise person would change course not dig in. Does he not see it is time to go in a different direction?

    Why hold onto a trust if everything else is collapsing? It's like saying, my house will go into foreclosure next month, but I still have $10,000 in the bank for an emergency. I need to keep that money in savings in case I end up homeless. then I can get a hotel room.

    And in defense of John Arthur comes this letter to the editor in his hometown paper in Deming. It's in response to an op-ed piece in which former Dem Lt. Governor Denish roasted the Senator:

    As a former New Mexico Lt. Governor under Bill Richardson, it probably makes sense that Diane Denish would attack Senator Smith regarding his fiscal integrity and vigilant stewardship over the state coffers. After all, unlike Senator Smith, she had no problem with Bill Richardson stacking the State Investment Council with his (at best) unqualified cronies who eventually ended up costing us millions. She was also silent when the same guy used our money to build what amounts to a commuter train for Santa Fe bureaucrats and a spaceport for international billionaires, both of which are still costing us money we don't have. Now, she piously and passionately advocates on behalf of a program that, despite her alleged prior "painful awareness of the needs throughout New Mexico" she somehow still managed to ignore during her entire term in office. For the record, Senator John Arthur Smith has done far more for the Healthy Start Program than anyone, including his hypocritical and self-serving critics like Diane Denish.

    GARY WHO?

    Attorney General Gary King has already announced his candidacy for the Democratic nomination for Governor for 2014, but this legislative session he has been as quiet as a church mouse. He scored no points and lost none, but when you are running as far behind as he is, that is not a win.

    Despite Martinez's strength, she is not invulnerable. Her chief weakness being the recessionary economy and the Democratic tilt of the state--especially in big Bernalillo County, But she's only vulnerable if someone starts putting the heat on her.

    GARY AND MARY
    Gary King

    King did make some news this week when he confirmed to the AP that his office is taking a look at the mysterious death of civil rights attorney Mary Han. She was found dead in her car in her garage over two years ago, but the case has never been solved.

    Police were widely criticized for allowing top city officials into the home where cell phone photos of Hans dead body were taken and where police procedures may have been violated. That's why this quote struck us as bizarre:

    Assistant City Attorney Kathryn Levy said APD’s investigation was complete and thorough. “Allegations ... are just that. They must be proved, and the evidence will not support the allegations,” she said. Levy said the police on scene were respectful and professional. 

    Respectful and professional? Come on, Kathryn. You've been spending way too much time drinking Kool-Aid with Chief Schultz.

    PORK TIME

    It's true that the many "pork" projects authorized by the Legislature this year will create only temporary construction jobs, but the hope is that the economic activity created will create some momentum as related business benefit from the construction. We're looking at over $270 million in pork barrel spending approved by the Legislature (before any Guv vetoes).

    ..Approximately $273.7 million for both state-owned and local projects statewide ($222.4 in Severance Tax Bonds) and $51.2 million from “other state funds.” The job creation package includes capital outlay for facilities statewide that are in dire need of repair, renovation, and/or restoration. They include senior centers, dam repair, infrastructure and improvements at courts, colleges, and correctional facilities ..

    GREAT POT DEBATE


    Well, we don't know how great it has been but our blog debate on marijuana legalization for NM it has been entertaining and informative. It started out with most emails disputing our position that a state like ours--already confronted with widespread substance abuse problems--really doesn't need this issue at the top of its agenda. Now we are hearing from the other side. Here's reader Bernadette Chavez:

    Both my niece and nephew started using pot in high school. It took several years, but they soon advanced to heroin. Marijuana is a gateway drug.  Anyone who says it is not, is a fool.  Ask any drug counselor and they will have the stats to back the fact that hard core drug users started with marijuana. 


    I am in agreement though, that medical marijuana has its advantages to those who need it but I believe it should be prescribed by the medical profession, just as opiates are prescribed to those who need it.  Both have medical advantages, but both can be abused if used for non medical reasons. This state cannot control the drunk drivers how are we going to control the pot drivers?  Let's watch and see what happens in Colorado before we jump the gun.

    Larry Gioannini says it's time to give up on the drug war:

    How many more decades of a failed War On Drugs before we try something else; anything else? The illegal drug industry is too big and profitable to both countries to be messed with much. It's said you know you're still loosing the War on Drugs as long as the government measures drugs in pounds and money in dollars and the cartels measure both in tons. It's hypocritical to worry about the mind altering potential of marijuana and ignore the devastating effects of alcohol in this state.

    Reader Kevin Garcia comes at the issue from a different angle:

    Even though 52% of New Mexicans are now favor of ending this prohibition against cannabis, our Governor has in fact been fighting against the highly acclaimed NM medical cannabis program here in New Mexico.

    The New Mexico medical cannabis program run by the state Department of Health is considered one of the best medical cannabis programs in the United States, and yet the "Debate" on cannabis here in New Mexico is to keep Governor Martinez from killing a very compassionate program for those who suffer from Cancer, ALS, MS, Crohn's, PTSD, severe pain and a host of other severe health problems!

    THE BOTTOM LINES

    From former ABQ Dem Mayor Jim Baca:

    I have a suggestion for the ABQ Journal. They keep putting a sticker ad on the front page of the paper, right over the masthead and teasers for stories. Would it be possible to put that sticker over the editorial on the Opinion Page? Most people aren't reading that craziness anymore...

    They don't forget, do they?

    Thanks for stopping by this week.

    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)  
     
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    (c)NM POLITICS WITH JOE MONAHAN 2013 
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    Thursday, March 14, 2013

    Final Hours Of Session '13 Have Susana Pulling Chain Of Dems On Budget; A '14 Play For House Control? Plus: Guv Worked During Session To Cover Middle Ground; How She Did It, And: Councilor Lewis Calls For Ouster Of APD Chief Schultz  

    You can't always get what you want but you get what you need. So opined Dem State Rep. Bill McCamley as he paraphrased the venerable Rolling Stones in sending a message to Governor Martinez  about the $5.9 billion budget that passed the Senate unanimously and won House approval Wednesday on a mainly party line vote of 37 to 33. No matter the advice of Mick Jagger and Keith Richard, Susana is saber-rattling and preparing to cast a budget veto.

    Rattling the saber in the wake of an unanimous Senate budget vote is not only a bit brazen but fun. It shows how much in charge her side has been this session. One wonders what last minute goodies she can extract by her veto. One also suspects she will take the game only so far and get the car in the garage by noon Saturday when the Legislature is scheduled to adjourn.

    The timing of the veto and the time to turn around a new budget bill are critical at this stage. A special sessionis always politically risky for a Governor. They can veer out of control. They are also expensive and taxpayers won't like that, whether it comes right away or sometime before the budget year begins July 1. And what about all those Senate Republicans who voted for the budget? They are all wrong?

    Several observers we asked said what appears to be going on in the final hours is a set-up by the Guv to make a play in 2014 for an R takeover of the closely divided House. As we outline below the Guv has done a pretty good job in resetting voter perceptions that she has moved to the center. Now she can move toward a fresh political kill. Look at her statement on why she is supposedly upset with a Legislature that has for the most part bent over backwards to appease her:

    I'm very disappointed in the lack of compromise by the other party, and by the unbalanced approach to our state budget taken by many lawmakers. While the Democrats want me to agree to pay increases for government employees and larger subsidies for Hollywood corporations, they have refused to pass meaningful education reforms to improve student achievement, and they have refused to lower taxes to make New Mexico more competitive to help businesses grow and to create more jobs...They have also refused to pass a bill repealing the law giving driver's licenses to illegal immigrants, despite my repeated attempts at compromise.

    That's small potatoes stuff but she needs fightin' words for '14 to get her base voters on the move and give them a reason to throw the bums out. We mean when did the driver's licenses become a big budget issue? Well, that's the kind of Fourth Floor sloppiness that tells the Alligators what they are really thinking.

    And how about the Hollywood bashing? That was on the backburner for a while, but it's back to fire up the base as Martinez's confidence grows that her own re-election is looking more secure and that the chair belonging to Democratic House Speaker Ken Martinez can be hers. (Does Kenny and the lobbyists who coo at his very word even know it yet?)

    As for the pay raises for state employees Susana lit into, we're talking 1 percent. And that's after no raises for over 4 years! But she wants to make it look like the Dems have given her a mountain to climb, not the mole hill they actually have.

    SUSANA'S PLAYBOOK

    While we wait for the last minute machinations to play out, let's take a look at just how the Guv played this session up to this point:

    --Governor Martinez was shaken by the big Dem 2012 win in New Mexico that showed the state tilting more blue and the Republican brand badly damaged. But she has gone on the offensive to rebrand herself this legislative session--the last big one before the 2014 election--and with a rudderless opposition she has made a good job of it.

    --Even before the start of this 60 day session, Martinez signed off on the expansion of Medicaid as called for under Obamacare. She was only the second Republican Governor to do so. You could say it was a no-brainer in a Dem dominated state, but she did it and it immediately bolstered her centrist credentials.

    --During the session she continued her effort to smooth out her sharp Republican edges. She toyed for a time with a major compromise on the repeal of driver's licenses for undocumented immigrants, but then retreated to a more conservative position. It may have ended as a win-win for her. She showed some willingness to make a deal, but the legislative Dems (and Republican Senate Leader Ingle) never sent a bill to her desk that would have put her on the spot. The driver's licenses will still be available to her as a way of motivating her base, even as she wears the cloak of compromiser.

    --After several years of foot-dragging she embraced the NM Spaceport and made the liability bill a top priority. It passed, ending the Governor's war once and and for all over this legacy project of her Democratic predecessor.

    --The Governor, who bragged before the Republican National Convention last year that as a young security guard she carried a Smith & Wesson .357 Magnum, did not let her party base stop her from making a move to the center on gun control. She even won praise for it from liberals and did not appear to damage her standing with her Republicans. (Advocates for gun control are making a last minute play today and tomorrow to try to get what they call a gun show loophole to the Guv's desk. It has passed the House. Senate Judiciary chair Richard Martinez is getting heat to move on it.)

    --With one notable mishap over abortion, the Governor has been able to prevent far right social issue legislation from getting serious treatment. The House and Senate GOP caucucuses have been disciplined since the early abortion fiasco.

    --She didn't really have to change her strategy much when it came to the state budget. She has cut an early deal on it in each of the legislative sessions she has presided over. Unlike Washington, where conservative Republicans have laid down numerous markers over spending, Martinez has been helped along by conservative Dems led by Sen. John Arthur Smith who still hold sway in Santa Fe. The lack of big budget fights have kept her from being pinned to her party's unpopular right wing.

    MORE SUSANA


    Unlike her first two legislative sessions, this year there was no stern Martinez pounding the table and unleashing political operatives to harass legislators with robocalls to their districts or her chief of staff pinning them up a against the Roundhouse walls. That would not fit in with the revised image she crafted. And all that table-pounding was aimed at having the R's take over the House in '12. That battle is over for now, but will be rejoined in the fall of '14 as witnessed by her end-of-session rhetoric over the budget.

    And newly "centrist" Susana continues to campaign outside of the walls of the Capitol. In an op-ed column this week Martinez comes with a signed piece with the headline "NM Will Fight For Labs and Bases."

    How about that? For two years Martinez has not said much of anything about fighting for the huge defense and energy establishment here that is threatened with budget cuts. Instead she has insisted that the federal largess be replaced with private sector jobs. She is still careful to blame Washington for the funding mess, but this is the most vocal she's been in saying she also has a role to play. Besides, thousands of people work directly and indirectly for the feds--and they vote. So she is now shoring up her potential weakness with them.

    In that op-ed the GOP Governor put a cherry on top by calling it "beneficial" that Dem Senator Udall has landed a spot on the powerful appropriations committee. (Tom, you must be thrilled).

    Clearly, Martinez does not want to rile up the Dems and create a large turnout election in which she would be threatened. Her legislative session has positioned her as a reasonable steward who is not part of the right-wing craziness that has infected the national R's.

    The stem prosecutor of 2010 who clung to the skirts of personalities like Sarah Palin is gone or in hiding. Martinez has read the election returns closely--and acted. She has made the turn to the center and she did it with the help of a divided Democratic Party that has been unable to focus on a singular message (like the economy) that would block her path to the middle. That's why it has been a pretty solid session for the Guv.

    UDALL AND SUSANA

    After that op-ed piece in which Martinez pauses to praise Senator Udall, it's again worth mentioning our theory that the GOP will not field a serious challenger against him in 2014. A competitive race would boost Dem turnout and that would be bad for Martinez. Ditto for a challenge to freshman ABQ Dem Congresswoman Michelle Lujan Grisham. We think the R's are going to let sleeping dogs lie and let her be for the same reason they won't contest Udall. Just a theory, but so far it's the right one.

    SCHULTZ AND LEWIS

    We blogged this week that the institutions that need to kick in when it comes to the very troubled ABQ police department were finally kicking in. (The courts, the city council, the media etc.) The ABQ Journal's Dan McKay and Jeff Proctor come with news that buttresses that view:

    City Council President Dan Lewis says Albuquerque needs a new police chief in the wake of a federal investigation into the department and other controversy that has “engulfed and tarnished” the reputation of APD. In a Journal interview Wednesday, Lewis said Chief Ray Schultz is a good, hard-working man who can make some changes, “but he cannot change the negative perception that this mess has left behind.

    Lewis is a Republican as is Mayor Berry. A vote of no confidence in Schultz by the nine member council is possible. Lewis has expressed concern about APD for several years. His views seem to reflect the unspoken views of the city's business and political elite--APD has a cultural problem and Schultz has worn out his welcome

    We carried speculation on the blog Wednesday that the Department of Justice civil rights probe of APD could turn into a criminal investigation. That may be weighing on Lewis and the other councilors. If Justice explodes the department, questions are going to be asked about why the city councilors were not on the case. Mayor Berry's hand is about to be forced if he does not show the chief the door.

    PEARCE AND HISPANICS

    Reader Arnold Cordova answers criticism of a front-page WSJ article that presented southern NM GOP conservative Congressman Steve Pearce as an example of how to attract Hispanic voters:

    While Rep. Pearce is no doubt a far right conservative, he has long expressed the need to embrace a policy that opens our border to a needed worker force. He has long stated that work visas allowing for easier legal border crossing would help US business by providing workers easier access to jobs. Hopefully our elected officials can find common ground on this issue..

    Thanks for that, Arnold. One thing about Pearce, he does not ignore any of his constituents. He is constantly traveling the district and that has reinforced his popularity. Heck, when we were in DC last year, Pearce sat down with us for a lengthy and informative chat. He might have gritted his teeth doing it, but we appreciated it nonetheless.

    This is the home of New Mexico politics.

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

    Interested in reaching New Mexico's most informed audience? Advertise here.      

    (c)NM POLITICS WITH JOE MONAHAN 2013 
    Not for reproduction without permission of the author  

    Wednesday, March 13, 2013

    Wednesday Blogging: Our "Wondering About" List, Plus: Driver's Licenses Forever; State Rep. Caught in Morass, And: Blog Pot Debate; We're Still Outnumbered, Also: Say What? Steve Pearce Touted As GOP Hispanic Answer 

    Things to wonder about....

    Will the US Justice Department expand its civil rights investigation of the ABQ police department into a criminal investigation? And if it does, what will be the impact, if any, on the 2013 ABQ mayoral race....

    Will the Navajo Nation be heavy with contributions and endorsements for Governor Martinez for her '14 re-election now that she is pressing on the accelerator at the Roundhouse to get Navajo gaming compacts approved?....

    Is the citizen petition the new anti-veto? Citizens in ABQ petitioned to get a minimum wage measure on last November's ballot as well as the city charter amendment that was approved this week by special mail-in election. The Republican mayor would have vetoed both measures, but he was dealt out of the process. More to come?....

    Will UNM Lobo basketball coach Steve Alford be a victim of his own success? He is one of the better coaches in school history and that has made expectations for the team soar too high for the upcoming NCAA tournament. If the Lobos don't make the trip to the "Sweet Sixteen--a trip they have never taken--will Alford be scorned? ABQ often has a funny way of viewing basketball success....

    DID YOU KNOW....?

    The state budget for the year that starts July 1 is $5.9 billion and it's getting ever closer to the Guv's desk, signaling that this 60 day legislative history is near the end. Where does all the money go? Here's the list:

    $2.567 billion for Public Education (increase of $112.1 million or 4.6 percent)
    790.6 million for Higher Education (increase of $32.9 million or 4.3 percent)
    929.9 million for Medicaid (increase of $24.8 million or 2.7 percent)
    301.5 million for Dept. of Health (increase of 9.5 million or 3.3 percent)

    DRIVER'S LICENSES FOREVER

    Rep. Garcia Richard
    Well, the licenses may be forever for freshman Los Alamos area Dem State Rep. Stephanie Garcia Richard.

    She may have made her first mistake when during the 2012 campaign she swung to the right and to Susana's side on repealing driver's licenses for undocumented immigrant. She represents a swing district and thought it to be the savvy move. Then she goes to her first legislative session and is all over the map on the matter and the R's are all over her--sharpening their long knives for the '14 campaign. Take a look:

    Garcia-Richard continues to dig a deeper hole for herself on the driver’s license issue. Last year, Garcia-Richard campaigned on repealing the law that allows illegal immigrants to obtain driver’s licenses in New Mexico, and during a call of the House last week, she appears to have changed her mind. She initially voted with Republican Members of the House to discharge House Bill 606—the driver’s license compromise—out of House Labor and Human Resources Committee, but then switched her vote to align with her party on subsequent discharge motions.

    Garcia Richard--who defends herself here--barely defeated Republican Jim Hall for the seat--51.2% to 48.8. R's salivate at the thought of taking it back in '14.

    The driver's license repeal may have lost some mojo because it has become like an irritating song that gets in your head and won't go away, but waffling ala Richard--no matter the issue--is always fodder for the campaign mill. You think Jim Hall is warming up in the bull pen? You betcha.

    LEGALIZE OR NOT?

    We're getting plenty of email over the skepticism we expressed about legalizing marijuana in a state like New Mexico where drug abuse and deaths are rampant and where drug-related crimes are off the charts. Reader Oliver comes with this:

    Marijuana legalization has absolutely nothing to do with "heroin deaths." Nobody dies from marijuana; if anything, it can save the lives of people with certain diseases. You know what drug is already "widely available" and which is responsible for countless cases of violence, liver failure, driving fatalities, spousal abuse, etc. Yep, alcohol! Available on nearly every street corner and dispensed in bars (legal death dispensaries) with nice parking lots outside so that the inebriated can hit the road immediately. A sane society does not allow alcohol while banning marijuana. We either legalize weed or we should start talking about prohibition (Yeah right, how much corporate money does alcohol represent?). I know many well-to-do professionals (of all political stripes) who smoke weed in the Abq area. I don't know anyone who shoots heroin! To conflate them is very 1950s :)

    We're not conflating marijuana and heroin, Oliver. Just making the argument that legalizing marijuana will increase consumption of another mind-altering substance among a population that has shown itself vulnerable to abusing such substances--more so than just about any state in the USA. Would the effect of that be completely innocuous? Just asking.

    AND MORE ON THIS

    From reader Mario Hernandez-Gerety:

    It is logically inaccurate...to relate the legalization of marijuana to the problems associated with heroin addiction. The two drugs are as far apart as any two drugs can be. 

    When was the last time any person overdosed and died because of marijuana? Heck, when was the last time a person got high and crashed into oncoming traffic, killing innocent bystanders (as with the rampant DWI problem here in New Mexico)?...

    Not to mention the fact that there is zero evidence that legalizing marijuana will somehow make it "more available." As a 27-year old male, trust me when I say that I can get marijuana much more easily right now than I can get a six-pack of beer at the grocery store..

    Well, maybe you can get marijuana easier than other folks can get a six pack, Mario, but a lot of people can't or won't because it happens to be against the law. That cuts down on use.

    And isn't decriminalizing possession of small amounts of weed enough? Why all of a sudden this renewed rush for legalization? We went through this with Republican Governor Johnson in the 90's. It gobbled up endless hours of the public affairs agenda, and for what?

    We said we'd try to keep an open mind on this and the emails are persuasive. We just don't see anything that would make us put this at the top of the state's agenda of pressing matters.

    STRANGE DAYS INDEED

    Rep. Steve Pearce
    The weirdest story of the week award so far goes to the Wall Street Journal for a front-page piece about how the beliefs of GOP southern NM conservative Congressman Steve Pearce supposedly appeal to a large swath of Hispanic voters in his conservative district.

    It's a piece that will make you chuckle if you follow Steve's career. He gets elected to his safe GOP district with hardly any opposition so judging his Hispanic appeal is a nonstarter, but conservatives seem to be working for a way to hang on to the notion that the R's don't have to change their very conservative policies in order to appeal to Hispanics. They do. But we--and a number of readers--did get a kick watching Steve on the video in the report where he agrees that he is the man of the hour when it comes to attracting Hispanic votes to the GOP. Really? Where was all that Hispanic support when Steve suffered a landslide defeat for US Senate against Tom Udall in 2008? Oh, they forgot that one.

    The rumblings over Pearce's alleged appeal to Hispanics does raise the question of what is happening in the southern district. It is getting more Hispanic and Dems think they might have a shot at taking it later in the decade. ( Did you see where the Lea County population now has a 52% Hispanic population).

    Steve is a respected, authentic voice of unapologetic conservatism. There are many good things to say about him, but to cast him in the role of recruiter for the Hispanic vote is like asking a pacifist to recruit Marines.

    This is the home of New Mexico politics.

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

    Interested in reaching New Mexico's most informed audience? Advertise here.      

    (c)NM POLITICS WITH JOE MONAHAN 2013 
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    Tuesday, March 12, 2013

    Dems Get Boost in ABQ Special Election; Results & Analysis, Plus: Senate Leader Sanchez And The Hail Mary; Could He Throw One? And: The Spaceport; Susana Owns It Now As Liability Bill Passes 

    It could be a bit tougher for ABQ Republican candidates to get elected in the future, but passage of a City Charter amendment last night might not have much impact on the 2013 mayor's race.

    The proposal won widespread support, passing in eight of nine council districts, including several that lean Republican.

    The tally--with a few ballots still left to be counted-was 32,055 for and 25,884 against. That was a win of 55% to 45%. Support was strongest in the heavy D southwest part of the city, garnering 71%. In District 8 in the NE Heights--the most GOP voting district--the amendment was defeated 56-44.

    (Unofficial results here.)

    The amendment means a council or mayoral candidate must get 50% of the vote to win election--instead of 40%. That increases the chances for run-off elections in multi-candidate contests, but not necessarily this time. We already appear to have a nearly one-on-one match between Dem Pete Dinelli and Republican Mayor RJ Berry.

    In 2009 we had two Dem candidates and Berry running. Berry won with 44% of the vote. If the amendment had been in effect then he would have faced a run-off election with Mayor Chavez and he might have lost because ABQ Dems far outnumber R's.

    Will the requirement that Berry get 50% of the vote in October encourage some new candidates to get in?

    Candidates only have until the end of this month to qualify for $362,000 in public financing. Dinelli is working toward that. Any candidate who got in now would have to privately finance--as Mayor Berry has decided to do. Raising hundreds of thousands of dollars unless you are a very well-known name is a steep uphill climb. Let's see if anyone emerges in the days ahead.

    Dinelli was heartened by passage of the amendment. Even though it favored Dems, it did win in GOP-leaning council Districts 4 and 7--perhaps showing ABQ voters are willing to set partisanship aside. But it was put on the ballot by petition signatures gathered mainly by city labor unions who are staunchly anti-Berry.

    With the sluggish economy and a very troubled APD, look for some spirited ABQ election action--no matter what the early polls say.

    TURNOUT

    About 55,000 of the city's voters cast ballots in the special mail-in election, demonstrating that this type of election does favor Dems who benefit when turnout jumps. A non-mail in election probably would have attracted fewer than 10% of registered voters.

    There likely won't be any legal action over City Clerk Amy Bailey's decision not to count over 5,000 votes from people who failed to sign the outer envelope of the ballot. Those votes would not make a difference in the result, although it does raise the question of the city ordinance that disallows those votes. We can do better. We think the city clerk would agree.

    We also think she might agree that hours of posting no election results does not engender confidence in the vote-counting process. She posted the results from city council districts one through six at around 7:45 p.m. and then nothing was posted for over three hours and with no public explanation.

    THE HAIL MARY 
    Sen. Sanchez
    Sen. Smith
    Could Senate Majority Leader Michael Sanchez rescue what has been a pretty dismal legislative session for himself? He might.

    What if in a "Hail Mary" move he forced a vote on that constitutional amendment that would let voters decide if they want to spend Permanent Fund money on very early childhood programs?

    Sanchez does not like to cross Senate Finance Committee Chairman John Arthur Smith who has voiced opposition to the amendment, saying it would mean the state's nearly $12 billion permanent fund would grow more slowly. Smith is the central obstacle to getting a vote in the full Senate--a vote that could see the amendment prevail.

    Sunday's House passage of the amendment--which does not need the Guv's signature and if approved by the Legislature would go before voters in 2014--was one of the few legislative moments of import in which House Dems have been able to unite. It won on a 37-32 vote and was sponsored by ABQ Dem State Rep. and majority whip Moe Maestas.

    But Senator Smith is--as the Alligators put it--a "Martinez Democrat." He, along with a handful of other Martinez Dems, join with the 17 R's in the 42 member Senate to squash any matters they see as violating their brand of fiscal conservatism.

    Leader Sanchez had a chance to turn the tide in the aftermath of the November election by backing Senator Pete Campos for a leadership position that could have reduced Smith's power, but he didn't and the Senate's conservative coalition was again off and running with Smith leading the pack.

    The paltry results of this session for the state's Democratic base voters has given rise to worry about motivating those voters in the '14 election cycle. The amendment could do it--especially among young women voters who are overwhelmingly Dem--if they vote.

    If Leader Sanchez made an unexpected play against the coalition it would rock the state--and set up a philosophical duel with Republican Governor Martinez as she seeks re-election in 2014. All of a sudden you would have a legislative session that went from the routine to somewhat extraordinary.

    After he scored an impressive win over Governor Martinez's forces in the November election, Sanchez had the political world on a string. But he didn't pull on it. He has a final chance this week.

    R SUPPORT

    It's not only Democrats who bang the drum over getting more active on the early childhood front in an effort to reverse generations of education under performance. Prominent Republican and retired PNM Chairman Jerry Geist is backing the constitutional amendment: He says the state “is winning the race to the bottom” in early childhood programs and education.

    ALLIGATOR ON SMITH


    Senator Smith--aka "Dr. No"--is under increasing scrutiny because of the Senate power he wields. One of the Alligators comes with this;


    I found it interesting that there is an article in the Deming Headlight announcing that the state's Children Youth and Families Department is awarding $450,000 to Healthy Start in Senator Smith's district. This will replace federal funding that is no longer available. 

    One could at least call it "interesting" if not "suspect" that while Senator Smith's district is awarded this substantial amount from CYFD, he continues to block a vote on the constitutional amendment which would ultimately provide the same opportunity for other areas of the state to be funded for Home Visiting, Pre-K, and other  effective, evidence based programs  for early childhood. It seems what is good for the goose is not good for the gander in Senator Smith's tired, antiquated, worn-out approach to how NM best invest its money...

    Smith's approach may or may not be antiquated, but take a look at this note from a state Senator on how they believe Smith has accumulated so much power:

    Publicly Senators complain about John Arthur, but in private and in caucus realize he alone really knows the budget, tax policy and economic issues, and they uniformly defer to him. Unfortunately nobody else in the Dem caucus knows these issues well.

    "He alone" really knows the budget? What are the other 41 Senators? Mannequins? The last we looked there were a number of competing economic viewpoints out there. Maybe NMSU can send up some economists to the Senate and give them a briefing?

    SHE OWNS IT

    She was brought kicking and dragging to the table but now Governor Martinez--after over two years in office--finally has ownership of the NM Spaceport. The passage of a needed liability bill Monday and her expected signature on it gets the project back on an even keel. But it also means Martinez's administration will be held accountable if the Spaceport implodes or if they starve it of needed cash as the project near T or C gets its finishing touches. Also, there's the issue of competing spaceports. It will be up to the administration to make sure we are not one-upped.

    Martinez was hostile to the Spaceport at the start of her administration because it was so closely aligned with Governor Richardson. We could have had a liability bill already if that had not been the case. But
    her political base in southern New Mexico wants this badly. In the end, there was no way she could turn away from it, no matter how repulsed she is by Big Bill.

    Congratulations, Susana, you are the proud owner of a new Spaceport. Now held get that rocket lit and those tourists in orbit.

    GLORY DAYS

    If the city of Santa Fe is to recapture some of the tourism spirit of its glory days, it's going to have to do stuff like this:

    Mayor Coss Meets with the Chinese Consulate Tuesday to Discuss Trade and Tourism; Who: Mayor David Coss; Sun Weide, Deputy Consul General, the Consulate General of the People’s Republic of China; Chen Minhui, Vice Consul Political Section, the Consulate General of the People’s Republic of China; Li Weizheng, Commercial Section, the Consulate General of the People’s Republic of China..

    We remember a couple of years ago Santa Fe businessman Jerry Peters talked of getting more Chinese tourism into Santa Fe. They probably think we're as exotic as we think they are.

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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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