Monday, February 29, 2016

Key Legislative Race For Control Of NM House Takes Shape, Plus: City News: The State Of Cruces, Santa Fe's Shortfall And ABQ's Buses 

Ane Romero
Can Democrats take back control of the state House this year, making a two year run by the R's a mere political hiccup? It's hard to say but it could come down to House District 15, a swing ABQ district that includes parts of the North Valley as well as the NE Heights.

The district is represented by freshman GOP State Rep. Sarah Maestas Barnes who has proven to be a nimble politician. She has carefully forged relationships on both sides of the aisle and avoided a too warm embrace of the Republican agenda that could doom her in a presidential election year when voter turnout trends higher. She has been highlighted as a rising star by the GOP and will receive maximum backing from the R's as they work to keep control of the House.

While Barnes, an ABQ attorney, has impressed, Dems think they have a first-tier candidate who matches up perfectly with her. She's 35 year old Ane Romero, a NM native and behavioral health consultant who did a stint on the staff of Dem US Senator Martin Heinrich who is supporting her.

Maestas Barnes
This race could be a battle over voter priorities. During the recent legislative session Maestas Barnes pushed bills through the House for tougher DWI penalties and child porn. It was part of the all-crime-all-the-time agenda engineered by the Guv's political machine. However, the incumbent could be vulnerable on jobs and education. Here's how Ane (correct spelling) Romero puts it:

In the legislature, I will fight for a quality education for every child and a fair system that supports educators. I’ll work to rebuild our economy by supporting small businesses and investing in job training programs to enhance our workforce. I will also continue to work toward real and innovative solutions to ensure the well-being and safety of our communities is met.

Crime is third on the list there, but Romero does appear to be preparing for the R's "weak on crime" attack. She takes a subtle dig at the measures supported by her opponent, casting them as not particularly "real" or "innovative."

In 2014, Maestas Barnes took the seat from Dem Emily Kane by the narrow margin of 51.9% to 48.1%. This is going to be a hard-fought race and among the top ones to watch this year. The D's need to pick up three seats in the 70 member House to take back control. It is currently divided 37 to 33 in favor of the R's.


You could fault longtime Las Cruces Mayor Ken Miyagishima for avoiding the elephant in the room doing his recent State of the City speech. A two year recession there has pushed unemployment to 7.5%. Still, Miyagishima and his well-regarded City Manager Robert Garza are managing the downturn.

For example, they joined the AG and others in the battle to reduce a proposed El Paso Electric rate increase of $8 million. They have had some success and that will help city consumers and businesses. Budget cuts at the Army's Ft. Bliss and NMSU have served as a drag on the city.

A refreshing aspect of the Mayor's speech was what it did not include--crime. Unlike ABQ, the economic downturn has apparently not spiked the crime stats, giving Cruces a leg up in the livability category.


The proposed cure to the $18 million budget deficit in the city of Santa Fe includes gross receipts and property tax hikes as well as taking money from the water utility fund to finance other city services. That's not setting well with reader Joe Lennihan in the City Different:

Joe: Santa Fe’s current gross receipts tax rate, 8.31%, is tied for 22nd highest out of 231 local tax districts, which puts the city in the highest 10% statewide. (The section of Espanola that lies in Santa Fe County leads the way at 8.93%). A 1/8th increase would move the city to the top 5% of the highest rates statewide. 

 Both the state and national press have noted that Santa Fe has some of the highest water rates nationwide. The franchise fee is, of course, a rate hike by another name. It would just be passing money from one city pocket to another. So if the franchise fee is adopted, city water rates will, sooner or later, go still higher.


Here in the big city it's Mayor Berry's controversial $119 million rapid bus plan (ART) for a stretch of Central Avenue that has been dominating the debate. Here's reader John with his take:

What no one is willing to speculate about is the cost to move water and sewer from beneath the proposed bus lanes. This cost is not figured into the federal grant  the city received so taxpayers will pay via a water rate increase. For example, ask how much it will cost to relocate these services at the Central/Girard/Monte Vista intersection, only one of many trunk line intersections. It isn't going to be cheap. That's why the Water Authority mentioned the relocation early on and has been mostly silent since.

And reader and columnist Harold Morgan writes:

I detect the beginnings of a movement on this issue. I suspect the mayor has already lost the politics. That means he should back up and rethink the various projects comprising ART. Where is the mayor on this? He should be running these public meetings. Its' his job.

A more positive review of ART is offered by Urban ABQ, a group working to make the city more walkable. It comes with this in-depth defense of the project.

This is the home of New Mexico politics.

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