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Friday, December 30, 2016

New Year Ushers In New Attitude Toward ABQ Mayor; Sources Report Berry's Approval Rating Has Finally Dropped Below Key 50 Percent Mark 

One of the big political stories of 2016 has been the resiliency of ABQ GOP Mayor Richard Berry but the new year appears to be ushering in a new attitude toward the city's chief executive who is now deep into his second term and weighing a candidacy for the 2018 GOP gubernatorial nomination.

Reliable sources report that pre-Christmas polling done in conjunction with the '17 ABQ mayoral race has Berry's approval rating finally dropping below the key 50 percent mark. Our sources report Berry's approval among regular ABQ voters "is in the low 40's." The poll was conducted among likely city voters over the age of 55. However, it is doubtful, according to campaign consultants, that his numbers would differ dramatically with age groups not surveyed. Also, older voters are the most likely to vote in a mayoral race or a GOP gubernatorial primary.

That's the first time we have seen Berry so low since he became Mayor in December 2009. He has routinely polled favorably with over half the electorates. But there are good reasons for the drop, not the least of which is his hyper-controversial decision to tear up Central Avenue to install a $119 million (at last count) rapid transit project. Republicans and Democrats alike have raised Cain over the ART project but Berry has turned a deaf ear to the critics. Now he's paying.

In a blistering op-ed longtime Republicans Larry and Dorothy Rainosek, who own the Frontier restaurant and another restaurant in the construction zone, attacked Berry over the project, saying it is hurting business now and will hurt even more when it is finally completed. That op-ed is making the rounds among grassroots Republicans. Throw in an ongoing and frightening crime wave and a years-long economic stagnation and you can see why Berry is finally on the ropes.

We haven't seen the innards of the poll but it's fair speculation to say that Berry's approval drop is in good measure tied to members of his own Republican Party. That's what happened to Republican Governor Martinez when her approval rating in October plunged from the 50's to only 36 percent in SurveyUSA. Members of her own party began to abandon her in the wake of her infamous 2015 holiday pizza party and her refusal in '16 to endorse Donald Trump.

Martinez and Berry have given the public plenty of reasons to turn on them but even if they hadn't any party in power for six or seven years is bound to show fatigue, prompting calls for change. Berry's second and final mayoral term ends next December.

That doesn't mean Republicans can't make a charge for the mayor's chair in 2017 or the Governor's mansion in'18 but if they do they are going to have to leave the Berry-Martinez years behind them. It is rare indeed for politicians with high name ID to regain majority approval after crashing to the lows we are now seeing with Berry and Martinez.

For the Democrats it's a much easier street to navigate as they position themselves as the party of change. Their problem is to avoid bloody infighting over who will lead them out of the wilderness or else risk letting the R's through a crack in the door.

Happy New Year, New Mexico!

This is the home of New Mexico politics.

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Thursday, December 29, 2016

The Silent Speaker Departs; Don Tripp And The Republicans Lost Opportunity, Plus: Susana And "Noodles" 

Speaker Tripp (Moore, Journal)
New Mexico House Speaker Don Tripp is the kind of guy who often gets it right when he decides to take action. His problem and what has led to the end of his political career is his inability to act.

Tripp, 70, has announced he is leaving the Legislature in January now that the Democrats have regained control of the chamber after a two year return to power by the R's. That brief stint will be noted in the history books with an asterisk, much as it was the last time the GOP held control of the House for a two year run in 1953-54. Of course, there's a big difference between now and then.

In the early 50's New Mexico was growing so fast the roadrunners could barely keep up. The national labs were booming and the economy was expanding. Given that unstoppable momentum provided by Federal largess, control of the legislature in 1952 was a sidebar.

But when Tripp of Socorro was named speaker in 2015 the state faced an existential crisis brought about by the worst economy since the Great Depression. It was and is an enormous mountain the state faces. One can understand why Tripp failed to try to climb it, but it still must be recorded as a failure.

When the Republican Governor and her political adviser offered him the easy way out by drowning the economic crisis in an all-crime-all-the-time debate, Tripp took it. The legislature devolved into a meaningless partisan food fight designed solely to influence the next election campaign. Meantime, the economic indicators continued into the cellar. Even former NM GOP Chairman Harvey Yates lamented the lost opportunity when earlier this year he ousted the state's Governor-supported Republican National Committeeman.

Speaker Tripp and the Republicans lost the state House in 2016 for much the same reason the Democrats lost it to the R's in 2014--they gave the economy lip service while catering to their donor base.

The state's political class continue to fritter away the public power bestowed upon them, unable or unwilling to confront the aforementioned economic mountain that looms ever larger. They look at it, they circle it and they study it, but like Don Tripp very few dare climb it.

SUSANA AND NOODLES

We all know how governors of this state love to meddle in the affairs of the University of New Mexico. Another example of that surfaces from national political writer Daniel Libit who also writes of local sports on his website. It's about the relationship between Gov. Martinez and UNM basketball coach Craig "Noodles" Neal:

According to sources, Martinez’s camp had not taken kindly to (then-Lobo basketball coach Steve) Alford, who was notoriously aloof when it came to the work of civic back-scratching. Neal, on the other hand, was keen to mingle. “Coach Neal was the more social guy and would say ‘hi’ to the governor, and would talk to (her) when he was an assistant coach, and they started this relationship,” said a source close to the situation. 

When Alford left, the source said, Martinez “pushed hard” for Neal’s hire. (Martinez’s office did not respond to a request for comment.) Indeed, the governor sounded positively starstruck when speaking publicly about her relationship with Neal. . .  “It’s like having your next door neighbor over. It’s just so not pretentious – just normal conversations. Just an easygoing guy. We sat down we ate, we talked, we laughed. In my mind, I forgot I was sitting with the head coach of the UNM basketball team.” 

Given all the disharmony that has come to define the current relationship between UNM and the governor’s administration, sources say it has greatly redounded to the basketball coach’s benefit that Martinez is so enamored with him.

In 2013 Libit authored a groundbreaking piece on the Martinez administration for the National Journal. As for Neal he has been given a sweetheart deal that does not expire until 2020.

Now the traditional drumbeat for a new coach is starting to be heard from the perennially disappointed fan base which for decades has placed unrealistic expectations on all basketball coaches. But approving a huge buyout to get rid of Neal amid a state budget crisis doesn't seem to be a lay up.

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Tuesday, December 27, 2016

More Of The Same: Latest Population Stats Confirm The Great Stagnation Continues, Plus: ABQ Crime Wave Rolls On As Mayoral Campaign Nears 

The chile is great, the weather is often delightful and what a great place to celebrate the holidays. But that and many other positive aspects of our Land of Enchantment simply can't compete with the long-term economic and social conditions crisis that has engulfed the state. The latest on the Great Stagnation:

For the year that ended July 1, 2016 the state’s population grew by 687, or 0.04 percent, according to the U.S Census Bureau. . . In the 12 months that ended July 1, the state’s net outmigration totaled 7,111, meaning that many more people left the state than came to it. . . The only reason New Mexico’s population grew was that births far outnumbered deaths. New Mexico’s dismal population growth rate was the 42nd lowest in the nation, and the lowest in the region. 

If there was any good news in the Census data for New Mexico it was that the population actually grew. The state lost population in 2014 and 2015. . In the past six years, the state has had a net outmigration of 37,780 people.

That's one big brain drain we've experienced. How slow has population growth been here? On April 1, 2010 the Census Bureau estimate put the state''s population at 2,059,198. Today--nearly seven years later--we are barely above that at 2,081,015. Are there any visible reasons the state's population will spike in the new year ahead? Not any we can see.

ALL CRIME ALL THE TIME

The ongoing crime wave in the ABQ metro is one reason folks find moving here an increasingly unattractive option and moving out increasingly attractive. And like the energizer bunny it just keeps going and going. Reader Mike McMillan can attest to that:

Hi Joe, I enjoy reading your blog from Silver City. My family and I are in Albuquerque for the holiday. Knowing the high crime rate, we removed all shopping bags from our car and took them into our hotel (near the Airport) for the evening. When we went downstairs the next morning we learned 6 vehicles that were parked right in front of the hotel had their windows busted and contents stolen. Mostly Christmas gifts were stolen from travelers en route to see family. So sad to see this crime wave continue, even right in front of a well-lit and nice hotel parking lot. 

One of the front desk staff said the hotel across the street witnessed the break ins and notified our hotel which called the police but it took an hour for an officer to respond.

And there's this new kind of crime becoming more common in the metro:

Mail problems have become such an issue in one Northeast Heights community that neighbors say the postal service has stopped delivering mail. It’s happening near Alameda and Louisiana, and the people who live there say their cluster box has been broken into again and again. Gaylene Gonzales says back in September she and her neighbors started opening their boxes to find nothing. So, Gonzales tracked down her mail carrier. “A postman was held up, and they stole the master key," she was told. The community finally got a letter from the post office telling them the case is under investigation.  Then, a few weeks later the thieves came back. “They took a crow bar and went to the back of the mailboxes and busted them open,”she said.


It's confounding how the ABQ community seems to have given a pass to Mayor Berry and the city council as this crime wave continues unabated amid a severely understaffed police force. But there is a mayoral election that begins next month and it gives the city a chance to reset its expectations--something that will have to be done if ABQ is to thrive--not just survive.

MISSING QUESTION

A lengthy exit interview with ousted UNM President Bob Frank and not one mention of the political influence wielded at UNM by the sitting governor through her loyal regents and how that played a role in his eventual demise? How's that going to improve the future at UNM? Come on, man.

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 2016
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