Tuesday, August 29, 2017

Clash Of the Governors: First Round Goes To Carruthers And It Could Be Final Round, Plus: Mayor '17: The Soft Touch Of Tim Keller; Too Soft? Tries To Find Balance On Tricky Terrain, And: Colón Is First With TV Ad; Hits Crime And Hector Helps 

In the clash of the Governors the first round goes to Garrey Carruthers. The Regents of New Mexico State University now say they will meet Wednesday and possibly reconsider their decision to dump Carruthers as chancellor of NMSU effective next July. And if Governor Martinez was thinking about replacing Carruthers at the helm of NMSU when her gubernatorial term expired next year, she's going to have to do some rethinking.

Carruthers, widely praised for his stewardship, let it be known that he was being dumped by the Regents and his allies were unleashed to go ballistic on Martinez who they said was behind the Carruthers coup attempt. A majority of the Regents who showed Carruthers the door were appointed by Susana.

The speculation that Martinez is eyeing the job for herself--Carruthers is paid $380,000 a year--went full blown on your blog and reached directly into the Fourth Floor when the ABQ Journal asked Martinez's office about the viral rumor:

No, the governor is not interested in being a chancellor or president of any university. The governor remains focused on leading New Mexico and fighting to make our state stronger.

For now, Susana is sidelined when it comes to NMSU. If the Regents approve a contract extension for Carruthers it would take him into 2019 when a new Governor will be in office, killing any move to place Martinez at the NMSU helm.

Carruthers, who was elected to a four year Guv term in '86, has always been a crafty political player but he has been helped by the speculation that Martinez could take his place. It was an audacious thought coming as it did following her April veto of all state funding for higher education, a move that prompted Carruthers to go public in attacking her and that prompted the war between the two Republicans. (Higher ed funding was eventually restored in a special legislative session).


Martinez and her political adviser Jay McCleskey have been anything but shy when it comes to dumping on fellow Republicans like Carruthers. Their battles with fellow R's will take on legendary status in the years ahead. They include warfare with former GOP Chairman Harvey Yates, State Senator Pat Woods, Senate Minority Leader Stuart Ingle, State Land Commissioner Aubrey Dunn and literally a cast of dozens more. But the ill-fated move on Carruthers and the subsequent running for cover by the NMSU Regents are reminders that we are dealing with a lame duck Governor whose job one is really to find herself a job.


When we first blogged of Susana's rumored interest in the NMSU post we were given state retirement info that had her possibly collecting a pension well over $200,000 if she became NMSU Chancellor for three years at a salary of say $300,000 a year. But several state employees weighed in with further info on the Public Employee Retirement Act (PERA) as well as the Educational Retirement Act (ERA). They were quick to report that while she would receive a substantial hike in her retirement payout if she were to snag the high-paying NMSU post, it would not skyrocket to the 200k area. One of those state workers writes:

The reciprocity between the two retirement plans allows you to combine ERA and PERA years of service to vest in the plan(s) but the benefits calculation would be split according to years of service in each fund. So if Susanna takes an ERA job (like head of NMSU) she will automatically be vested in the education retirement plan. If Susana earns $300k/year for three years of ERA service, she will receive 2.35% x 3yrs x $300k average = $22,500/year in ERA benefits in addition to whatever her earned PERA benefits would be. 

Since the majority of Susana's government service has been as a district attorney and Governor under PERA, most of her retirement benefits would be calculated on the salaries she received under that plan, not any short-lived, high paying gig as NMSU head. Martinez is paid $110,000 a year as Governor. Still, NMSU would be a nice retirement bump for the now 58 year old Martinez but with the Carruthers fiasco blowing up in her face, it all seems. . . well. . . academic.


Front-running ABQ mayoral candidate Tim Keller has come with his first major social media video of the campaign, a nearly two minute piece that takes a very mellow, laid-back tone on the city and on him. For example, he says:

Unfortunately, with a combination of where we are in terms of crime and the economy we probably don't have the best reputation at this point but I think there's a lot a mayor can do with that.

We "probably don't have the best reputation?" Actually, the city's reputation is in the gutter and the camera-friendly Keller knows it, but the focus groups and polling probably reveal "hometownism" that says don't be too harsh so Keller's consultants have him walking softly. That, perhaps, is not a major problem in getting him into the run-off election between the two top vote-getters that will follow the initial October 3 balloting, but it could pose challenges in that run-off scheduled for November.

La Politica veteran Mike Santullo, 70, a former communications director for ABQ Dem Mayor Ken Schultz, as well as a pioneer of local talk radio and himself a mayoral candidate back in 1974, says the danger is that the state auditor is coming up short in the temperament department:

No matter what the focus groups show or the consultants say, I see the mood underneath this electorate as boiling. They want strong, Alpha leadership that will sit down with the next police chief and promise to kick ass and take names over what is the worst public safety crisis in the city's history. Yes, they want responsible leadership but they also want a strain of populism that articulates the fear and rage over what has happened here. That's where Keller may be coming up short. He may not be signaling enough strength.  

Right now, among the eight candidates Republican Wayne Johnson seems to be the one coming closest to tapping into that mood. But none of the candidates are being bold enough so that it would create a big head of momentum that would make them the obvious choice. Keller, as the leading progressive candidate, may be decently positioned for the run-off but it is a wide open race when it comes to the ultimate winner.


And one of the Alligators who is well-placed in Dem politics comes with this critique of the Keller video:

I have been to multiple community meetings in parts of the city that perform overwhelming Democratic. At all of those meetings, crime is the only issue. In Keller's two minute video, this is what his campaign has to say about crime, “Everybody is extremely concerned about public safety. Tim is the only candidate to come out with a real strong and articulate plan.” That was eight weak seconds devoted to the most important issue in this campaign in a two minute video, and it came after mentioning the ART project. WTF.

Everybody is extremely concerned about public safety? That is an understatement. In 2009, 3,399 cars were stolen in Albuquerque. Last year there were over 11,000 auto thefts. Does this video depict a person who can take control of the crime epidemic?

Santullo and the Alligators may not have to wait long for Keller to pivot to a tougher image, according to one politico close to his campaign. And expect the Keller forces to dig at Brian Colón, Keller's chief Dem rival in the contest. And on the subject of Colón. . .


Colón and Balderas
The ABQ attorney and former chairman of the NM Dem Party shook the race up a bit Monday as he became the first of the eight hopefuls to hit the broadcast TV airwaves. His campaign says his initial buy is $72,000 and if he were to do that weekly, he would end up spending about $350,000 on the tube before the October 3 balloting.

As for his first spot, it wastes no time hitting the #1 issue of crime. And it also brings forth a familiar face and Colón BFF to help Colón to corral the critical Hispanic vote. Attorney General Hector Balderas is featured as much in the ad as Colón.

The ad highlights how a small business owner stopped a would-be carjacker and is now supporting Colón. Another small business owner--a Hispanic woman--also weighs in for Colón. Balderas says:

Brian will put more police on the street to protect our families and keep dangerous criminals behind bars 

The ad finishes with what may become the candidate's slogan: "Because enough is enough."

Insider polling has Colón in 4th place behind Keller and Republicans Dan Lewis and Wayne Johnson--but there is a huge block of voters--40 percent--who are still undecided. Colón hopes his TV will be the key in vaulting him into at least second place and getting into the Nov. 7 run-off. Here's Alligator analysis of his maiden TV outing:

Hector helps with Hispanics. It seems like Colón is riding Balderas's popularity. That's smart. Colón polling must show that only crime matters. He is not even introducing himself to the voters. The video of the crimes being committed will get people's attention. The business owner in the commercial is the same guy who chased away the carjackers. Here is the TV news story about the incident. Getting him to do the commercial is a good move. I remember the story when it ran. At some point, Colon will need to introduce himself. I think starting with crime, a business owner who protected his clients and Balderas was a good move. It's somewhat soft but lays the groundwork for the necessary toughness that must follow. 

And a contrary view from a Keller supporter:

It's always nice to be the first one up with an ad, but for a guy with low name i.d. that is polling tied for 4th in some internal polls, this is not the ad that breaks you through. This ad is trying to do too much. An endorsement from Hector, 2 small businesses people telling their stories, some surveillance video and a guy running for mayor. You wonder, who is this Brian Colón they're talking about? The reason Colón won his Lieutenant Governor primary in 2010 is because he came with a compelling bio piece that stood out and told you who he was and why he is running. I'm sure that sappy stuff is coming from Brian but with so much ground to cover he needs to move numbers and instead he's confused the message and put a target on his back for opponents.

Perhaps, but he has the money to run a lot of TV ads and his opponents mostly don't. One other thing. Why did Colón launch his TV campaign on Monday? From the City Clerk's Office:

(Today is the) first day for the City Clerk to issue absentee ballots to voters whose applications have been approved. (And it is the) first day for Absentee in-person voting at the Office of the City Clerk.

To quote the Carpenters, when it comes to the mayoral media campaign, we've only just begun.

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