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Tuesday, September 23, 2014

A Forum Or A Farce? Martinez And King Meet For 1st Time To Answer Preprogrammed Questions, Plus: Staring The Recession In It's Face: A Saturday Night At The ABQ Sunport  

They called it a forum but some said it was a farce. So went the first joint appearance by the 2014 candidates for Governor.

The noon Monday forum, sponsored by real estate and construction groups and aired on KOB-TV, did a better job than the Secret Service could in protecting Martinez from herself. She and Dem challenger Gary King received the questions a full month in advance and she took full advantage by putting on her reading glasses and delivering her well-rehearsed answers.

King was more impromptu but the forum rules provided no opportunity for real rebuttal, thwarting any hope he may have had of forcing an error on the Governor's part. (The full forum can be seen here.)

And then there was the physical buffer between the two candidates. Besides the canyon of space between the hopefuls, a podium occupied by moderator and ABQ Journal editor Kent Walz was placed right between the pair--not off to the side as it should be. There would be no confrontation. It was like they took a pillow and suffocated democracy.

By most accounts King outperformed Martinez because he spoke more spontaneously while she--for the most part--rigidly adhered to her script--this after four years as chief executive. But, as Dem consultant Harry Pavlides noted, being 18 points behind in the latest poll King needs to force some errors and level newsworthy attacks. The format made sure he was unable to do the former and his campaign did not do the latter.

A newspaperman pointed out that there was a "bit of an edge" between King and Martinez and that it's clear "they aren't dinner buddies," but he pointed out it was "preprogrammed" edge, not the kind that is going to inform the voters about who may be the superior candidate.

Martinez reinforced her reputation as a symbolic governor who is quite poised when heavily scripted and happy to stay within the script's easy confines. It may work around here but it will be put to the test if she takes talk of national political ambitions beyond the talking stage. King demonstrated his intelligence and sincerity but also his lack of a killer instinct. He needs to make a big splash each and every time he appears with Martinez--not ripples.

The forum was apparently one of only three times the two gubernatorial candidates will appear together, making the non-debate decision even more egregious. But the business community here--even as it reels from recession and job loss--seems content to hold on to what it can.  The notion that we need a bloodletting--a real argument--over what has happened here is anathema to the business leaders. Unlike their brethren of the past they seem wedded to the notion that no matter how questionable the leadership or how sagging the economy, conservative leadership is their only real choice.

GETTING CLOSE

Today is National Voter Registration Day and the clock is ticking. For New Mexicans the deadline to register to vote in the November election is October 7.

A NIGHT AT THE AIRPORT

If you really want to stare the great ABQ recession right in the face come with us on a Saturday night to the ABQ International Sunport.

We decide to arrive at 8 p.m for our midnight JetBlue flight to JFK in NYC. The idea being that we would utilize the Sunport's excellent complimentary Wi-Fi and knock off some work before we headed East. Never did we dream we would have such solitude. In fact, it was downright spooky.

A friend dropped us off in front but as we peered through the windows at the ticket counters there is not a soul to be seen--literally not one person. We turn back and tell our friend that something strange is happening. There is no one in the state's major airport. We step forward to take a closer look and finally spot a fellow traveler near a vending machine. He is the only sign of humanity on the entire capacious ground floor. All the ticket counters stand unmanned, looking like a set from the Twilight Zone.

We tell our friend we're now good to go. We both laugh and at the same time say, "I See People!"

Up the escalators we go then past the shuttered newsstand and closed restaurant and toward the security checkpoint. All the while we were completely alone in the 600,000 square foot Terminal Building, like a visitor to the scene of the Invasion of the Body Snatchers.

We turned the corner into security and were met with a traveler's dream (or was this a nightmare?)--not one other person was preparing to go through security. We approached the three security officers, glad to see a sign of life. As we presented our paperwork, one of them asked us if we had eaten dinner yet. We gave him a bemused look and wondered if that was some kind of new ISIS security question. No, not that. He gave a wry smile and said: "There's nothing open back there."

When he said "back there" we got a bit unnerved. Just what was back there--a wasteland with no food and water? A place where you confront your existential loneliness as you wait to be delivered to outside civilization?

As these thoughts swirled around our head another guard casually interjected: "You don't have to take off your shoes." It seems the recession does have its perks.

So off we went through the large automatic doors leading to to the JetBlue gate. Again, not man or beast was to be found as we made our way briskly down the long spacious hallway. Finally, at the end of that corridor we had our first encounter with a human other than security. Well, it wasn't exactly an encounter. It was the JetBlue attendant pacing back and forth, apparently getting exercise or maybe going stir crazy by the emptiness of it all. He did not make eye contact as we walked by and that was fine by us. (There was a little stand with water and snacks at the gate, contrary to the warning of the security officer. )

After setting up our laptop a custodian appeared and we leaped at the chance to ask him what in the name of depopulation was going on at the airport. He helpfully offered that Saturday nights have been this way for quite a while. Few or no flights and even fewer to come when Southwest Airlines makes cuts next month. The emptiness, he declared, "takes some getting used to." I'll say.

Traffic has fallen at the Sunport by nearly 24% since the peak of 2008 and more losses are expected at least through 2015. Cuts to government travel budgets, the business recession/stagnation and tighter travel budgets for New Mexicans are the obvious culprits.

The good news is that the Sunport remains in excellent condition, easily one of the most welcoming in the nation as well as one of the most distinctive, featuring eye-catching Southwestern art and architecture. It is immaculately clean and easy to navigate. Despite the severe drop in traffic, the airport is financially sound with no onerous debt. It relies largely on on funds generated by lease agreements and federal grants. Management has kept the revenue flowing throughout the downturn.

In other words, if and when ABQ emerges from this era of stagnation the Sunport will be ready to roar back to life. We look forward to that and the papering over of our Saturday night memory of being the last man on Earth.

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