Wednesday, October 18, 2017

The First Pic Together Of The Three Who Would Be Guv, Plus: The Politics Behind The Martinez Water Battle, And: The Big Reason Dunn Is Done For Congress 

Apodaca, Grisham and Cervantes
Here they are, pictured for the first time together in public--the three major candidates for the 2018 Democratic gubernatorial nomination. And if history is any guide, it's a good bet that one of them will be the next Governor of New Mexico.

On the left is former TV executive Jeff Apodaca, whose political pedigree includes being the son of Jerry Apodoca, who was elected Governor in 1974.

In the center is the current front-runner, Rep. Michelle Lujan Grisham, the diminutive former BernCo Commissioner who is now an ABQ congresswoman and who once again is seeking bigger things.

And there's Dona Ana County State Senator Joe Cervantes, scion of a longtime agricultural family in the Mesilla Valley, who is already loaning himself major dollars to compete with Grisham, who is far ahead in the never-ending money chase.

None of these three possess the big personality of former Governors like Bruce King or Bill Richardson. It will take New Mexicans time to get to know them. But one of them is likely to be the next Governor because the state has had two terms of Republican Governor Martinez and it is rare for any party to get a third consecutive lease on the executive mansion.

Will Grisham avoid the big stumble and if she doesn't who would benefit? Cervantes? Apodaca? Or will Grisham make this a sleeper and quickly consolidate the Democratic Party behind her, leaving Cervantes and Apodaca to split whatever opposition is left?

Right now Grisham is the one smiling in the photo taken at the recent matanza thrown by ABQ Dem State Senator Michael Padilla. Cervantes and Apodaca have to be wondering just what it will take to wipe that smile from her face.


Tom Blaine 
The esoteric world of the State Engineer, the Interstate Stream Commission (ISC), complicated water rights and Gov. Martinez's ability to influence all of the above exploded into the headlines this month when three members of the ISC--including Republicans appointed by Martinez--abruptly quit the panel. That forced the Governor to quickly make new appointments to the ISC.

The resignation that really caught the eyes of La Politica was from ISC Chairman Caleb Chandler of Clovis. His son, Matt Chandler, is a charter member of the Governor's political machine.

So what's going on? We asked one of our readers with years of experience in all things agua and who wishes to remain anonymous, to tell us about the politics behind the upheaval:

Joe, the Interstate Stream Commission has lost all but two of its senior staff and their institutional knowledge. State Engineer Tom Blaine has taken over the ISC, which would require the Governor’s blessing. The Governor has starved the ISC of staff and resources and depleted its special purpose funds to pay for routine operations. Now, even Governor Martinez’s appointed Republican Chairman Chandler has resigned. The ISC will have to be rebuilt under the next Governor, and it must be reformed and made non-partisan at the same time.

One trigger for the brouhaha is the ISC’s protest of water rights applications before the State Engineer that could impact compliance with New Mexico’s interstate water obligations. The application by Italian billionaire Bruno Modena's Augustin Plains Ranch to speculatively import mined groundwater to the Rio Grande is the most prominent, and appears to be the reason the State Engineer fired ISC Director Deborah Dixon.

Remember that State Engineer Tom Blaine resurrected the defective application after former State Engineer Scott Verhines rejected it as fundamentally insufficient, a judgment that was also reached independently by District Court Judge Reynolds. You may remember that this project appeared as NM’s entry on President Trump’s priority infrastructure projects list, one project per state. Rumor has it this project is a favorite of the Governor. Campaign contributions involved?

Regarding the lead sentence, here is the tally of recent ISC senior staff casualties; Director Deborah Dixon was fired. These employees were the victims of  the current conflict with the State Engineer or austerity policies:  Colorado River Bureau Chief Kevin Flanigan, Special Projects Bureau Chief Craig Roepke, General Counsel Amy Haas, Acting General Counsel Kim Bannerman, and Rio Grande technical guru Nabil Shafike (PhD, PE) are gone within the last six months or so. Kim Abeyta-Martinez, the chief financial person, is retiring early at the end of the month. Remaining bureau are Rolf Schmidt-Petersen (Rio Grande) and Hannah Riseley-White (Pecos). Hannah is relatively new.

Man, that is deep insider stuff that really lets us know what is going on.


Let's stick with the esoteric to close out the Wednesday blog. Here's pretty much why GOP State Land Commissioner Aubrey Dunn suddenly quit seeking the GOP nomination for the southern congressional seat. The oil boys eased him out:

Two southeast New Mexico companies have filed a lawsuit against state Land Commissioner Aubrey Dunn, alleging a policy aimed at curbing how much water oil and natural gas producers can take from a massive aquifer is usurping water rights that stretch back to the 1960s. The two companies, Loco Hills Water Solution and Steve Carter, Inc., have drilled water wells on state trust land in Lea County and transport and sell the water to oil and natural gas drilling outfits, according to the complaint filed last week in state district court in Lovington.

Oil and gas financial support is critical for anyone who wants to represent the southern CD. Always has been. The quirky rancher Dunn, however, wanted to do it his way. Now he's done.

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