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Tuesday, October 14, 2014

Dunn Chases Powell In A Land Commission Race That Has Turned Tight, Plus: Bullying In Santa Fe And Jabbing At Gentry  

Ray Powell
Aubrey Dunn
We're putting the race for state land commissioner on our political radar and ranking it "lean Democrat" rather than "likely Democrat" as we await the media campaign of incumbent land commissioner Ray Powell. He has been hit hard by Republican challenger Aubrey Dunn in unanswered TV and Internet ads.

Besides those ads, Dunn's polling reportedly shows the race in play and he comes from a family with a well-known New Mexico political pedigree. Also, of all the down ballot races land commissioner has the most history of flipping to the GOP.

Republican Patrick Lyons won the office in both 2002 and 2006. In 1986, in an election marked by a snowstorm up North that dampened Dem turnout, Republican Bill Humphries scored a win. In 2010--a nonresidential year like this one--Powell beat Republican Matt Rush 52.4% to 47.6% but Rush did not come close to waging the negative campaign against Powell that Dunn is conducting.

Powell reports paying an advertising agency $80,000 in late September so we assume he will be up with some TV soon. Powell reported Monday that he has $67,000 in cash on hand and Dunn reported about $75,000. If Dunn, a retired banker and rancher, comes up with another $75,000, it could give Powell a serious headache.

The prize is quite a dose of power. The State Land Office administers 9 million acres of surface and 13 million acres of subsurface real estate for the beneficiaries of the state land trust, which includes schools, universities and hospitals

Dunn's main theme has been his media blasts against Powell over the ruination of the famous Dixon Apple Orchard by monsoon rains and fire. Dunn blames the loss of the orchard--located on state land--on Powell's land management policies. Never mind that the owners of the orchard featured in Dunn's ads attacking Powell did not carry insurance on the land. And it's also not mentioned that the owners cashed out for a cool $2 million and moved out-of-state when their lease was bought by Cochiti Pueblo.

In a bit of irony, Dunn grew up on an apple orchard and his famous father--Aubrey Dunn Sr.--was a powerful state senator from Alamogordo who often called himself just an apple picker.

Dunn's well-known name will help him in the conservative south but he still has to break through in the ABQ media market where Powell--the longest serving land commissioner in state history--has bedrock support. The Dixon Orchard operated for some 70 years and many voters in the ABQ area fondly remember their annual treks there. That gives Dunn an opening.

Again, the race leans to Powell, but he now needs to show some muscle to get the contest back into the "likely Dem" column.

BULLY BEAT

Did you catch this eyebrow raiser about possible intimidation and bullying? The news:

Executives for a behavioral health company that reached a multimillion-dollar settlement with the state last year over allegations of Medicaid fraud told lawmakers that Gov. Martinez’s administration exerted extreme pressure on the company to settle, even though the company believed it was innocent. Presbyterian Medical Services, was one of 15 behavioral health providers the state Human Services Department accused of overbilling Medicaid by $36 million as part of a shake-up that rocked the state’s mental health system. Presbyterian spent $4 million to settle the case and remained in business. One other company also settled, but the rest were replaced by companies that the Martinez administration brought in from Arizona. Presbyterian officials told the New Mexico Legislature’s Behavioral Health Subcommittee that heavy-handed tactics by the state Human Services Department backed the company against a wall, leaving it little choice but to pay millions of dollars that the company says it didn’t owe, or face being shut down.

And where is the investigative reporting exploring any links to the dumping of the behavioral firms in favor of those from Arizona to campaign contributions? Critics of the shake-up in the mental health system come with this half-hour video.

JABBING GENTRY

There is an incredible amount of money finding its way into the battle for the NM state House. Money reports this week show Patriot Majority, the Super PAC that is helping Dem candidates, raised over $1 million in the last month alone--mostly from labor unions. It goes into the final weeks of the election with nearly $900,000 in cash on hand. Surely that will be matched by the R's. Which bring us to ABQ GOP State Rep. Nate Gentry.. .

Gentry's Northeast Heights seat is considered safe by both Dems and R's (his opponent is little known) in this nonpresidential year but that isn't stopping Patriot Majority and liberal advocacy group ProgressNowNM. They've come with billboards and radio ads highlighting Gentry's past arrests for illegal hunting,  criminal assault while working a number of years ago in DC as well as a DWI arrest. All of it is on this web site. Nate's rebuttal is here.

None of this is new to La Poltica (well, maybe the hunting citation) but what is new is Gentry, the House Minority Whip, is now being mentioned as a possible Speaker of the House if the GOP takes over the chamber in the Nov. 4 election. Also, Gentry is a key player/consultant in the races that will decide who controls the House.

Perhaps that's why the advocacy groups are targeting him now--keep him busy in his own backyard.

It's all quite titillating but hard to see what impact it will have on the election. While the unknown Gentry is featured on billboards and radio ads, the monied interest groups just can't seem to get around to talking about Gov. Martinez or her controversial chief political adviser Jay McCleskey who is much more widely known than Gentry. But that's the way it has been for the Dems for four years.

If they lose the House or the night ends in a tie, they're going to have questions to answer about how they spent their money and their time.

APPEALING TO VOTERS

It's Hanisee vs. Kiernan for a coveted seat on the ten member NM Court of Appeals. Judges serve an eight year term and earn a not too shabby $125,000 a year. The legal beagles are keeping a close eye on this one which was given play recently in the Las Cruces paper

Miles Hanisee is the Republican holding the seat by appointment. He will have to beat Kerry Kiernan to hold it. Both men are well-respected in the legal community, but Kiernan will have the edge since R's getting elected to the court is a rarity. Kiernan earned his law degree from the University of New Mexico School of Law. Hanisee is a graduate of the Pepperdine University School of Law.

Court of Appeals Judge Rod Kennedy is a Republican who shares office space with Hanisee but he used to be a Democrat so if Kiernan wins and has to share space with Rod we don't anticipate sparks flying.

THE BOTTOM LINES

The candidates are out and about as today we mark three weeks until Election Day. Today from 4:30 to 6:30 p.m. at the ABQ Country Club the NM Business Coalition will conduct "job interviews" with a number of the aspirants including: Attorney General candidates Hector Balderas and Susan Riedel; Secretary of State candidates Dianna J. Duran and Maggie Toulouse Oliver; State Auditor candidates Robert Aragon and Tim Keller; and State Treasurer candidate Tim Eichenberg.

The event is free for members and elected or appointed officials and candidates, $10 for guests. 

This is the home of New Mexico politics.

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(c)NM POLITICS WITH JOE MONAHAN 2014. Not for reproduction without permission of the author
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