Friday, December 19, 2014

The Best, The Worst And The Strangest Of Election Year 2014 

Another zany political year provided enough entrainment to merit end of the year awards for the best, the worst, the strangest and more.  With a hat tip to national political pundit Stu Rothenberg, who came up with the categories, here's our list for 2014:

Biggest Surprise--The nominees are: The land commission office going Republican for only the third time in history; the state House going Republican for the first time in 60 years; the Democrats failing to take back the secretary of state's office after the R's won it four years ago for the first time in 60 years and UNM decides to award the naming rights to the famous Pit to WisePiesPizza.

My winner: It wasn't politics but WisePies Pizza? What were they thinking?

Worst Campaign-- (Besides Gary King)--The nominees are the House Democrats; Maggie Toulouse Oliver for secretary of state; Rocky Lara for Congress and Ray Powell for state land commissioner.

My winner: Ray Powell. Attacked for weeks in TV spots, Powell did not respond until the final days and lost the race to Republican Aubrey Dunn by less than 700 votes out of 500,000 cast.

Most Overrated: The nominees are Allen Weh For US senate; Bernalillo County GOP sheriff candidate Scott Baird and Republican state House candidate Vickie Perea.

My winner: Republican Allen Weh. He ran a decent enough campaign but the race was never seriously in doubt and Senator Tom Udall defeated him by over ten points.

Most Underrated: Democrat Sandy Jones for the southern Public Regulation Commission (PRC) seat; Republican Miles Hanisee for the NM Court of Appeals and Democrat Manny Gonzales for Bernalillo County sheriff.

My winner: Manny Gonzales. A Hispanic Democrat has not been elected Bernalillo County sheriff in living memory, but Gonzales pulled it off.

Most “Memorable” Candidate Interview: The nominees are Gary King and the ABQ Journal.

My winner: Gary King. Actually, it wasn't a media interview of the candidates. It was when Democratic governor nominee Gary King questioned Governor Martinez at a TV debate. It was his one and only chance to pin her down. So what did he do? He asked her why she had hired so many out of state cabinet secretaries. Pfft. . .

An honorable mention for this category. When an ABQ Journal columnist asked southern NM GOP PRC candidate Ben Hall why he was using money from public financing to pay himself and his fiance a salary for campaign work, he replied: “If I didn’t hire and pay myself, I would have to hire someone else. What is the big damn deal?”

Most Embarrassing Moment: The nominee and clear winner is Governor Martinez. In leaked audio tapes of conversation between her and her campaign aides in 2010, Martinez revealed she did not know what WIPP is. In 2014 the nation was stunned by  news of a radiation leak from the low level nuclear waste disposal site near Carlsbad.

Most Weird TV Ad: The nominee and hands down winner is GOP attorney general candidate Susan Riedel who sat on a couch in the middle of the desert as she made her case to voters. It raised two questions: How did a couch get in the middle of the desert and did the producer of the ad enjoy some mushrooms when he came up with the idea?

Name Misspelled or Mispronounced Most Often:  The nominees are GOP state Rep. Sharon E. Clahchischilliage, Republican attorney general candidate Susan Riedel and Democratic state treasurer candidate Tim Eichenberg.

My winner: Sharon Clahchischilliage. Duh.

Isn't It Time To Stop Running? The nominees are Republican Jefferson Byrd for the northern congressional seat; Democratic governor candidates Lawrence Rael and state Sen. Linda Lopez

My winner: Jefferson Byrd. He's now been handily defeated twice in a row by Democratic US Rep. Ben Ray Lujan. Lesson learned?

Best Candidate Of 2014: The nominees are Senator Tom Udall; Governor Martinez; Attorney General-elect Hector Balderas and State Auditor-elect Tim Keller.

My winner: None were really put to the test, but Balderas led the Democratic ticket so he wins.

There's no state election in 2015 so where will the best and worst come from next year?  No need to fret. Just around the corner there's the frolic and follies of the 60 day legislative session.

This column also appears in the ABQ Free Press, on newstands now.

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Thursday, December 18, 2014

Guv Seen Playing In APS Board Election, Susana Critic Korte Targeted, Plus: More On Kari And The Cops; Shock Waves Downtown Over The Latest 

The wife one of Governor Martinez's political favorites is taking on ABQ School Board member Kathy Korte, giving rise to speculation that the Guv's muscular political machine could dump money and resources into the effort to take out Korte, the Guv's arch-enemy on the board.

Korte is the firebrand on the seven member board and its critic-in-chief of all things Susana. She will seek re-election to another term at the February 3 election.

Peggy Muller-Aragon is Korte's announced foe. She is the wife of attorney Robert Aragon, a member of the state Board of Finance and the recent unsuccessful GOP state auditor candidate. His political fling with Susana goes back to when he was a Democrat and endorsed her first Guv run.

Peggy Aragon is a school teacher who describes her political views as "very conservative."

To the Alligators and insiders this seems like a pretty obvious play by Martinez to rid herself of Korte who has proved to be an effective and outspoken opponent. She has repeatedly criticized Martinez's education proposals--so much so that Korte says she recently lost her job over it and has filed a lawsuit.

School board elections are usually sleepy affairs but this one could get nasty fast and maybe expensive. Candidates have been spending around $15,000 on these races. That could be easily surpassed if the teacher's union gets involved for Korte and if the Martinez Machine comes after her.

Two other school board seats are also up for grabs in the February balloting. Also in 2015, the new board is expected to name a new superintendent to replace Brad Winter who is interim superintendent for the state's largest school district. He has said he will not seek the job permanently. Who the new Super is will be a big deal for the Governor who clashed repeatedly with former Superintendent Winston Brooks.


Hell hath no fury. . . like a scorned district attorney. The roofs of ABQ's downtown government office buildings shook Wednesday with the news that BernCo District Attorney Kari Brandenburg is on track to pursue murder charges against two ABQ cops who shot and killed homeless camper James Boyd.

This news came on the heels of APD sending allegations of bribery against the DA to the attorney general. Any connection between Kari's newfound wrath for APD and APD's seemingly ill-advised decision to go after her? How loud can you say "Duh?"

But that's not going to be the big story if and when criminal charges come down. The conservative press may find fault with any charges because Brandenburg has decided not to recuse herself from the case while she is under investigation. But that will be like a canary chirping at the Super Bowl. America is not going to hear it. It's what they will see--time and time again--that deplorable video of the Boyd shooting. And what do you think will be the reaction in Ferguson, Missouri  and elsewhere if there are criminal charges against the officers?

If this happens, it's going to be big. Very big. So big that if Brandenburg pulls it off and there is a successful prosecution (and if the bribery charges fade) you could see her running for higher office--like maybe mayor in 2017. Say what?

Gov. Martinez was a district attorney who went on to become governor. BernCo DA Steve Schiff was elevated to the ABQ congressional seat in 1988. Former Attorney General Jeff Bingaman rode that office to the US senate. Former AG Anaya claimed the governor's chair in 1982. Prosecutors are naturals for higher office. It just didn't seem that the gun shy Brandenburg was ever on that track, refusing to stir the hornets nest at APD even as its inhabitants inflicted mortal stings across the community.

Brandenburg seems the most unlikely of characters to take on the Nixonian culture that haunts APD and that has led to so many lost lives, disgraced our city nationally and cost us tens of millions in lawsuits with more to come. Not to mention the businesses that shy away from coming here because of the frequent shoot-outs on the banks of the Rio. (We had another fatal law enforcement shooting just this week).

Something had to give and it appears something just did. Stay tuned.


One of the helpful aspects of the recent recount in the state land commissioner race is that it revealed no major fundamental counting problems with the recent election: The SOS says:

The final vote totals are 249,993 for Aubrey Dunn and 249,337 for Ray Bennett Powell, a difference of 656 votes. The original difference between the candidates was 704 votes.

There was this that tidbit that might deserve some further exploration:

The largest discrepancies were in Sandoval and Colfax counties, where a combined 269 fewer ballots were accounted for than were reported on Election Night.

The county clerks there (and the county commissions) might want to take a deeper look at that.

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Wednesday, December 17, 2014

Jeb Bush Could Make NM R's Happy, Kari Said To Be Moving Toward Cop Murder Charges, Dunn Says It's Done And He's Won, Liberal Replaces Liberal In State House And Rep. Archuleta Dies At 65 

Jeb Bush
Jeb Bush seems to be inching closer to a 2016 bid for the GOP presidential nomination, and that will be cheered by many New Mexico Republicans (not the Tea Party types).

The former Florida Governor has deep ties to the Hispanic community that will get him notice here. He took a degree in Latin American affairs from the University of Texas, he's a fluent speaker of Spanish, is married to Columba Bush, a native of Mexico, and he pledges to seek middle ground when it comes to the hot button issue of immigration.

New Mexico fell off the presidential swing state list after Obama's 2008 win and is unlikely to regain its status as a battleground state. Still, if Bush is the nominee expect him to do a test drive here to see if his background might make a difference. The state's Hispanic population continues to climb and now comprises over 47% of the total.

Bush did fund-raisers for Gov. Martinez in Farmington and Santa Fe earlier this year. Her education secretary--Hanna Skandera--worked for Bush when he was governor of Florida.


Bernalillo County District Attorney Kari Brandenburg is said to be preparing to lower the boom on APD. The news:

Brandenburg’s office anticipates pursuing open counts of murder against the two Albuquerque police officers who shot homeless camper James Boyd in the Sandia Foothills on March 16, KRQE News 13 has learned. It is a preliminary decision based on multiple reviews of more than 1,000 pages of evidence and nine DVDs containing recordings from APD’s investigation of the shooting, which police turned over to prosecutors in early October, multiple sources have told KRQ News 13. Brandenburg has said she expects to make a final decision in the spring on whether to pursue charges against the two officers. . .

If the sources have it right, it's the right move at the right time for the embattled DA. APD is trying to get her on bribery charges involving her drug addicted son and have sent evidence up to the attorney general, but the charges appear feeble. And now the newspaper has called for her to take a leave of absence. Not the right play.

If the cops are charged with murder all hell is going to break loose here and nationally which is probably just what this town needs at this point in our sorry history. Mayor Berry, CAO Perry and APD Chief Eden, strap yourself in. It's going to be a bumpy ride.


GOP land commissioner candidate Aubrey Dunn says he's not jumping the gun. He says the recount is done and he's won. He told supporters in an email Tuesday:

The recount is complete and will be certified Thursday. Now let's finally get down to business.

Only 704 votes separated Dunn and incumbent land commissioner Ray Powell out of about 500,000 cast.  Republican insiders say there was little change in the results after the recount.

In his missive posted here Dunn says he "won again." But you don't win until your certified to have won. You won only once, Aubrey, but that should be enough.

The secretary of state's office confirms the Dunn win, saying the final count shows he took it by 656 votes.


The ABQ state House seat being vacated by Mimi Stewart will stay in the hands of the progressives. The Bernalillo County Commission has named Stephanie Maez, CEO for the advocacy group Center for Civic Policy, as the new representative for HD 21.

Maez, who has a Masters degree in Public Administration from UNM, is an unabashed liberal like Stewart. She also has extensive business experience, having worked in communications for PNM as well as the ABQ Chamber of Commerce. She also worked in the Dem administration of Big Bill.

One of the other applicants for the job was former ABQ state Senator Bernadette Sanchez. She came under a critical eye from progressives because of what they saw as a conservative tinge to her record.

Insiders think Maez, 34, should be a strong candidate when she seeks election to the heavy Dem SE Heights seat in 2016.


Rep. Archuleta
He wasn't in Santa Fe for very long but State Rep. Phil Archuleta made quite a splash. His vigorous advocacy for civil rights and his well-publicized battle with his personal health made Archuleta one of the better known state reps, despite only being elected in 2012 and then losing his Dona Ana County seat last month to Republican Andy Nunez.

Arhculeta died Tuesday of pneumonia. His poor health--he had a leg amputated-prevented him from attending the '14 legislative session. But he campaigned for re-election from his wheelchair and played the role of Happy Warrior. Shortly after the amputation and while he was in rehab, he called me to quiet speculation that he would give up his seat. "I'm a fighter," he said at the time. "I don't give up."

Phillip Archuleta was 65.

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Tuesday, December 16, 2014

The Longest Serving State Senator Turns 90, The Oil Bear Starts To Rip SE NM And There's A New TV News Leader 

Sen. Pinto
He's the longest serving current state senator and he may be the oldest person to ever serve in either chamber of the NM Legislature. John Pinto turned 90 last week. He celebrated with a visit from US Senator Tom Udall and a cupcake with a single candle.

Pinto, born on the Navajo reservation in dirt poor conditions in 1924, represents Indian Country in San Juan and McKinley counties. He has brought millions back to his district since winning his first term in 1976 and rarely draws serious election opposition.

For many of us Pinto's crowning achievement was winning money to turn one of the most deadly roads in New Mexico into four lanes. That would be the old U.S. 666--the "Devil's Highway." It's now U.S 491 and much, much safer.

It's hard to believe Senator Pinto, who had a career as an educator, will run for another four year term in 2016 when he turns 92, but in 2011 when we blogged that he would not seek another term in '12, Pinto later decided against retirement.

Pinto's now traditional singing of the "Potato Song" at the end of each legislative session is one of those only in New Mexico moments. That he was one of a handful of Navajo code talkers in WWII only enhances his legendary status.


From our email:

The five states or jurisdictions where a person is most likely to be killed by law enforcement are New Mexico, Nevada, District of Columbia, Oregon, and Maryland. California ranks sixth from the top. Alabama, North Carolina, New Jersey, Massachusetts, and New York are the safest (or, perhaps, the worst at reporting).


The impact of the epic bear market in oil prices is now bearing down on New Mexico:

ConocoPhillips said Dec. 8 that it would cut spending next year by about 20 percent. The Houston-based company is deferring investment in North American plays including the Permian Basin of Texas and New Mexico and the Niobrara formation in Colorado.

On Monday oil plunged below $56 a barrel. We did a doulbe-take when we heard KOB-TV anchorman Tom Joles report that the price of a gallon of gas at one ABQ station is going for $1.99. More of that kind of Christmas gift is more than welcome.

Speaking of TV, our media mavens report that for the first time in about 8 years KRQE-TV has relinquished the 10 p.m. news crown to KOAT-TV. The Nielsen ratings for November for that newscast have KRQE in second place and KOB-TV in third.

It was the first ratings period for KRQE, channel 13, since the departure of veteran anchorman Dick Knipfing and that obviously hurt them. Media watchers are now waiting to see if the station can quickly recover from the hit.


Back on the big oil story, reader Paul Donishthorpe (brother to political pollster and consultant Bruce) notes that the Santa Fe governing class is freaking out as the state budget is socked over $7 million for each dollar that the price of oil declines. But Donisthorpe says look at his side of the coin:

The ABQ newspaper reported on the completion of the Paseo del Norte/I-25 project, noting that 150,000 vehicles use that roadway every day. Some simplistic assumptions: 150,000 vehicles each traveling 20 miles in a day and getting 20 miles per gallon would use one gallon of fuel or a total of 150,000 gallons every day.

With a $1.50 per gallon saving in the cost of that fuel (we were paying $3.60 per gallon not that long ago), each vehicle would save $1.50 every day driving those 20 miles. For 150,000 vehicles that's $225,000 every day that real people are saving. That's $6,750,000 every month. If the savings can continue for 6 months, that is over $40 million dollars. 

Thanks, Paul. The average motorist is much more interested in those stats--not how much heartburn the oil drop is causing the politicians.


End of the year job hunters still have time to get their resumes to State Auditor-elect Tim Keller who takes office January 1. Applications for five open positions are being taken here on his transition web site. You might get a chuckle when you see that Keller has on the same page as the job listings a button to click on to make a campaign contribution. He assures us the two are not related.


Here's a true New Mexico story:

The Carlsbad Environmental Monitoring and Research Center is offering free lung and whole body counting services, or radiation scans, to residents who live within a 100-mile radius of the Waste Isolation Pilot Plant. The scans are part of a research project titled "Lie Down and Be Counted." Since 1997, the program has been working to establish a baseline of normal radiation present in adults living in the region. "Natural radiation is already in the body. You can get it from eating a banana or eating a lot of wild game, such as elk," said Russell Hardy, director of the center.

Watch that banana intake.

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Monday, December 15, 2014

NM Senators Take Last Gasps Of Majority Air As They Prepare To Become Backbenchers, Plus: Critical Eyes Turn Toward PNM's Oversized Rate Hike Request 

Heinrich & Udall
The last gasps of majority air taken by New Mexico's two United States senators seem frenzied, as if something most dreadful is imminent. And indeed it is for Democrats Tom Udall and Martin Heinrich. Come January they will be cast into the minority, shedding much of whatever power they have managed to accumulate in their short-lived senatorial careers.

In a news release announcing passage of the public lands package the senators declared it contained "momentous gains for New Mexico." The appointment of Senator Heinrich to the Senate Armed Services Committee was described by Hill rats as "huge" for the state.

Although the lands and wilderness package and Heinrich's new appointment are solid achievements, adjectives such as "momentous" and "huge" don't quite fit the bill.

The Valles Caldera, already a National Preserve, will now become part of the National Park system. The Columbine-Hondo near Taos--which has had quasi-wilderness status for decades, now gets full wilderness status.

Heinrich's committee appointment is notable for a state heavy on military bases, but he will be in the minority on the panel. That is a "huge" difference from being in the majority.

It was as if the duo was flexing their muscles to try to stave off the atrophy that will soon afflict them. Next year and for as long as the GOP retains control of the Senate Udall and Heinrich will be challenged just to remain relevant. That's the pickle the Democrats have gotten themselves into and now they pay the price.

It has been decades since both of New Mexico's senators have been in the minority party. With GOP firebrands like Ted Cruz on the loose and other more powerful senators trying to bring home shrinking supplies of bacon, our federal funding seems less secure and our stature undeniably diminished. Being consigned to senatorial minority status will test our senators in ways that are not yet fully visible.

Udall and Heinrich shouting from the rooftops of final successes in these dying days of the congressional session is understandable but yelling at the cattle doesn't stop a stampede and that's what these two diligent lawmakers face in the years ahead.

(P.S. Heinrich's appointment to Armed Services received notice in the environmental community. Can he use that position to get on top of that dangerous Kirtland Air Force Base fuel leak that is causing so much consternation in the city?)


Meanwhile, back in the marble corridors of DC, Heinrich and Udall found themselves boxed in when that giant omnibus budget package came up for a vote over the weekend. Both confessed to being deeply disturbed about banking and campaign finance provisions in the measure that were decried by Sen. Elizabeth Warren who has emerged as the new populist leader of the Dems. But because the budget contained so much pork for NM, both senators voted in the affirmative. In the House, the two Dem Lujans--Michelle and Ben Ray--voted no. GOP southern congressman Steve Pearce voted yes.

As for Sen. Warren, her bold stance during the budget debate gave rise to speculation that she will soon become the anti-Hillary and go for the '16 Dem prez nomination. Heinrich has already endorsed Hillary but Udall has held his fire. He had Warren in ABQ for a rally in his recent re-election bid.


Unlike some big businesses PNM is not scorned by its customers. The electric company has long been known for its community involvement but PNM seems to be putting at risk a sizable measure of goodwill as it comes with a proposed price jolt for its residential customers. It wants a 14% increase in residential electric bills effective Jan. 1, 2016.

That request comes as a shock as New Mexico continues to shed high-paying jobs and replaces them with the $10 an hour variety. That is, if we replace them at all. Employment growth is a blip or nonexistent, matching the wage stagnation.

In fact, one of the great ironies of the proposal is that because New Mexico's economy continues to stagnate less electricity is being used by customers. PNM wants to raise rates to make up for the lack of demand. That alone should tell the company that this is not the time for the vast majority of its customers to absorb a 14% rate hike.

What's particularly troubling to critics of the PNM rate hike is how it shifts the company's expenses away from large corporate users and onto the backs of the ordinary citizen. Big users could see on average an actual monthly rate decrease of nearly 8 percent.

This is an era when even the weakest corporations are prospering. That's in stark contrast to labor which is at a low point. No one wants to see their bills go up but if anyone is best able to shoulder an increase, it is the large industrial users that PNM is letting off the hook.

This is part of a larger and more disturbing pattern. The Governor and Legislature in 2013 cut the corporate income tax, only to force local taxpayers at the city and county level to make up the revenue lost to the state. Now we are hearing how the administration and Legislature want to triple the amount--to $50 million--for the "closing fund" to lure corporations here. This comes as even tiny pay raises for most state government employees and school teachers are being nixed.

The bottom line is that average NM workers have taken major hits to their bottom lines in recent years with no pay raises, fewer benefits and lack of job opportunities.  PNM and its industrial customers do not operate in a societal vacuum. They are prospering while so many others aren't. That makes them much better suited to shoulder more of the rate burden than Mr. and Mrs. New Mexico. The Public Regulation Commission (PRC) should bring a sharp scalpel when it considers this rate hike.


We mentioned the concerns some Democrats have over former ABQ state Senator Bernadette Sanchez possibly being appointed to the state House by the Bernalillo County Commission to fill the vacancy created by ABQ state Rep. Mimi Stewart. She was appointed by the commission to fill a vacant state senate seat. Sanchez responds:

SB10 which I sponsored in 2010 to balance the state budget did not reinstate the food tax. It narrowed the food tax to nutritional foods similar to the early childhood nutritional food educational program managed by the Department of Health for low income pregnant women, mothers, children, and infants. The bill (would have taxed) soft drinks, candy, chips, sweets, and white flour tortillas and other foods that have no nutritional value. . .The bill was chosen by the Senate Democratic Caucus to balance the budget and protect low income people from cuts to needed services.

I had several opportunities to join the Senate coalition with the R’s but my record verifies I didn't. Joining or not joining a coalition is not a priority for New Mexicans. What is important to them is getting assistance and needed representation in improving their quality of life. There are many New Mexicans that I worked with that were struggling as a result of no housing, being unemployed, trapped in small loan debts, having or a family member having a mental health disorder. . .

I am able to provide my experience not only as a former senator but as an educator and mental health counselor. . . I am proud of. . . the legislation that I sponsored that became law to improve education outcomes, mental health, disability services, creation of mental health courts (and) substance addiction treatment. . .

The county commission will decide at a special meeting Tuesday who will fill Stewart's vacant House seat.

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