Friday, January 06, 2017

Friday Clippings From Our Newsroom Floor 

Working the Beat
This is surprising. Whether it's prudent is another matter:

Employees at the federal government’s only underground nuclear waste repository resumed disposal work Wednesday after a nearly three-year hiatus prompted by a radiation release that contaminated a significant portion of the facility. Two pallets of low-level radioactive waste were emplaced in one of the underground disposal rooms at the Waste Isolation Pilot Plant in southern New Mexico, the U.S. Energy Department confirmed.

Reader Ezra Spitzer disagrees with our take and doesn't think imposing the state's gross receipts tax on big online retailers like Amazon.com is the way to go when it comes to raising badly needed revenue for the state:

I'm not a no tax yahoo and consider myself a progressive, but totally disappointed seeing you and others jumping on expanding the gross receipts tax to Internet sales as a "fix" for all that ails us. The gross receipts is a horribly regressive tax...just about as bad as they come and I hate to see folks arguing for its expansion. We should be trying to get the dang thing lowered and fewer things taxed by it instead of expanding what it touches. I also fail to see Macy's or Big 5 or any other big box as a "local business." Amazon just beat them at their own game. There are so many tax solutions that would fix our problems and I refuse to believe any expansion or increase of a regressive tax is the right solution.

In the old days, before today's radicalization of tax policy in which no tax increases whatsoever can be entertained, the short-term solution to the state's budget crisis would be relatively easy. The liberals give by supporting that Internet tax, the conservatives give by agreeing to a freeze on the recently enacted corporate income tax cut and to an increase in the capital gains tax. Both sides agree to a nickel or dime a gallon boost in the gas tax (for a specified time period) and some selective government cuts. And you are on your way. But radicalization has led to gridlock and a never ending crisis. In other words, Susana Martinez is no Garrey Carruthers.


When we first posted this pic of Susana and a forlorn looking bystander, we did not know it was Tom Church, the secretary of the state's transportation department. We joked that he looked as if he were in mourning and that perhaps he was thinking that soon he would have to be looking for a new job as Susana's final two years commence. All in good fun, of course, but this reader, who in the past worked with the secretary, says Church may look sad but he's not turning in a sad performance:

While I appreciate the need for humor (especially these days), I'm a little disappointed that it came at the Mr. Church's expense as he is among the few outstanding appointments made by this administration. Under Mr. Church's leadership, the NMDOT has dramatically increased the number of projects under construction, made progress in delivering big projects on time and under budget (think Paseo del Norte), and has resisted the old patron system of project selection in favor of prioritizing road work based on citizen safety and need. Also, Mr. Church came up through the ranks, he was not placed there as an act of political patronage. We, as a state, would be lucky to have him remain the head of NMDOT after Susana is long gone. 

Well, that ought to give Church a needed grin.

Thanks for stopping by this week.

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Thursday, January 05, 2017

Susana And Aleppo, Macy's Departure, Angst For Jeff Apodaca, TheSonntag Saga And We Get Faked Out Over Farmington 

That big podium from which Gov. Martinez announced yet another round of anti-DWI proposals seemed to swallow up the compact chief executive, much like the events of the day that have left her administration limping into its final two years.

But the former prosecutor is not about to change her tune. Law and order and crime and punishment are her home turf and the deep-seated economic and revenue problems facing the state--and which will dominate the upcoming legislative session--are as appealing to her as Aleppo was to Gary Johnson. It's foreign territory and will always remain such. Besides, attacking crime polls well, even if the "all crime all the time" agenda from the once Republican-controlled House was an utter failure at the ballot box. 

There has been really only one central and consequential element to Martineznomics--that she will never, ever raise taxes. It is a pledge that could well be put to the test in her final two years as even Republicans look for "revenue enchantment" to resolve the state's fiscal crisis. It could come down to matter of what constitutes an "increase." When Bill Clinton, in the middle of the Lewinsky scandal, he famously stated: "It depends on what the meaning of the word 'is' is." 

Will we see similar fancy footwork by Martinez or will any revenue raising be viewed as she views crime and punishment--all back and white--and emphasized with veto threats?

As for that photo of Susana at the podium, who is that fella to her right? He looks as if he is in mourning. Maybe he's thinking that he has to find a new job in two years and the clock is ticking? (It's Tom Church, Secretary of the NM Dept. of Transportation).


What Martinez really needs to be making news about is having the gross receipts tax applied to Amazon.com and the like as retail increasingly moves on line. For example, Macy's leaving ABQ's Cottonwood Mall on the westside and its over 50 employees. Extending the gross receipts tax to all Internet sales would not be a "tax increase" but extending a tax to out-of-state retailers that our local folks already pay. Maybe someone can persuade Susana.


Early news on the '18 Guv front as a dispute that possible Dem hopeful Jeff Apodaca had with his most recent employer makes a splash:

Jeff Apodaca, the son of former Gov. Jerry Apodaca, filed suit in August against Entravision Communications Corp. and two Entravision employees, alleging breach of contract and wrongful separation. . .On Dec. 27, the Court dismissed the lawsuit with prejudice, rendering Apodaca unable to sue the defendants on the same grounds in the future. Apodaca’s attorney, said the lawsuit was dismissed because “the matter had been resolved,” though he declined to elaborate further. Apodaca alleged he was fired in retaliation for complaining to human resources about “harassment, bullying, and intimidation” from Mario Carrera, Entravision’s chief revenue officer.

Entravision is a Spanish language media accompany where Apodaca was a top executive. If he does make the Guv run his rivals are sure to have him explaining in both Spanish and English a lot more about that lawsuit.


Why can't new NM GOP Chairman Ryan Cangiolosi simply apologize to private citizen Carla Sonntag and move on? It's well-known there was no love lost between Sonntag and former GOP Chair Debbie Maestas, but Cangiolosi is the new guy on the block who should be making the peace, not flaming an old war: The news:

The head of a state business group filed a defamation lawsuit against the Republican Party, the latest chapter in a roiling spat sparked by anonymous emails amidst a backdrop of party infighting. Carla Sonntag, president and founder of the New Mexico Business Coalition, filed the suit in Albuquerque. The lawsuit claims neither Sonntag nor her family members were behind the anonymous emails, which levied allegations against several prominent Republicans in the run-up to the election of a new party chairman. It also says the state GOP’s claim that Sonntag was the source of the emails has caused her “personal humiliation, mental anguish and suffering.” In addition, the lawsuit alleges the GOP’s claim has led to some donors suspending their ties with the NM Business Coalition. Among other Republicans, the emails in question targeted Republican National Committeeman Harvey Yates Jr. and Ryan Cangiolosi, who was elected last month as state party chairman.

The whole sordid mess, including some pretty ugly emails, are included in Sonntag's lawsuit which we helpfully post here for your bedtime reading.


Confirmation now of the story we broke here this week that Gail Armstrong is in line to be appointed to the House seat held by Rep. Don Tripp, the outgoing House speaker who is retiring this month. Tripp is now actively campaigning for Armstrong who served as his legislative aide and is the wife of TLC Plumbing owner Dale Armstrong.


For a time Wednesday the blog met the infamous fake news machine and the machine got the upper hand.

We took the bait when we spotted a "news item" on the Facebook feed of our old friend and longtime newsman Frank Haley. It seems famed actor Clint Eastwood was traveling through Farmington, his car had broken down and he heaped praised on all the local help he received--even a hamburger lunch while he waited for his rental car to be fixed. If only it were so. But economically battered Farmington will have to wait for some uplifting news.

Not long after we put that item up readers sent us a story about actor Jim Carrey praising residents of Hobbs, NM for the very same reason Eastwood was supposedly singing the praises of Farmington--for the help he received when his car broke down there. Well, congrats fake news.  It took a while, but you got us.

It sure would be nice if you guys running that machine could make some of the news around here fake--like the massive state budget crisis, the ABQ crime wave and the economic decline. Unfortunately, you can't fake it in the real world. A final word on this from Farmington and reader and broadcaster Scott Michlin:

Greetings from Farmington, Joe. I am the General Manager of KSJE 90.9 FM,the public radio station in San Juan County. I appreciate your blog and read is regularly. Unfortunately, the Clint Eastwood story about his time in Farmington isn't true. The websiteeven has a disclaimer&nbsp that it is an entertainment website composed mostly of articles containing fantasy news or satire). As much as all of us in San Juan County would welcome some good news, this isn't it. Although, I can report we have plenty of places to provide a good burger when Clint (or you) come for a visit. Keep up the good work and thanks!

I'll take you up on that burger offer, Scott. As Clint would say, it would "make my day."

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Wednesday, January 04, 2017

Talk About All Crime All The Time: Keep An Eye On Your Honda, Plus: Taser Deal Has Jaws Dropping, Food Tax To The Scrapheap?  

Talk about all-crime-all-the-time:

A recent study by Yahoo Finance said Albuquerque leads the nation in car theft with nearly 700 per 100,000 people in 2014. FBI crime data said more than 6,600 were stolen in 2015.  Albuquerque police said they're doing all they can to keep cars out of the hands of thieves but they need some help. “We'll arrest these guys but they'll literally laugh in our face and say 'I’ll be back out tomorrow doing it again,” APD said. APD said people can keep their cars safe by not warming them up in the mornings, they said they had 30 stolen cars in one day.

Sure, we'll warm up our cars but how about warming up the cop recruiting effort so we have enough of them on the streets to discourage the car thieves? APD remains severely understaffed.

Retired APD sergeant and longtime APD critic Dan Klein said his jaw dropped, along with the rest of the city, when it was disclosed over the holidays that the city was preparing to ink another deal with Taser to supply lapel cameras for APD officers. Yep, that's the same Taser that's involved in an alleged corruption caper with former APD Chief Schultz to get its first contract with the city:

Only in Mayor Richard Berry's world would allowing a company that your staff admits had inappropriate ties to the past chief of police, and is now under criminal investigation for that contract, to have the winning bid on the current multi-million dollar camera contract! We don't have common sense, we don't have rule of law, we just have an AWOL mayor. And once again a shout out to Attorney General Hector Balderas--please make a decision on the Taser investigation. So far the City Auditor, City Inspector General and the New Mexico State Auditor are all alleging criminal pay-to-play between Taser and APD Command Staff. Hector, you need to do something.

Your move, Hector.


Here's one reason the idea of reinstating the tax on food to raise money for the state budget may end up on the Roundhouse scrapheap:

Advocates say Santa Fe Archbishop John C. Wester is forcing New Mexico lawmakers to reconsider various proposals related to fighting poverty in one of the nation's poorest states. Less than two years into his tenure, Wester has been outspoken on issues ranging from early childhood education and immigration to income inequality. He recently denounced a tax proposal that critics say would unfairly raise grocery prices for low-income families. He hosted an immigration forum earlier this year and criticized the Obama administration for not giving due process to detained migrant children from Central America. He also spoke out against an effort to reinstate New Mexico's death penalty. 

The food tax, aka, "The Tortilla Tax," is being prominently promoted by Sandoval County GOP Rep. Jason Harper who is grabbing all sorts of headlines. But, hold on. Didn't Harper lose his chairmanship of the House Ways and Means Committee when the GOP lost control of the state House at the November ballot box? Yes, he did. So why is the Democratic legislative leadership letting the minority representative hog the public microphones with his Tortilla Tax and not putting out their own spokesmen to counter Harper's view? Did the Dems forget they won? Just wonderin'.


In the Tuesday blog we called Republican Wayne Johnson, who is a possible '17 mayoral candidate, a former BernCo Commissioner. He is an incumbent serving his second term. And we misspelled the first name of mayoral candidate Eddy Aragon.

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Tuesday, January 03, 2017

Celebrity Power At Polls, The ABQ Mayor's Race Gets A Crowd In The Early Going, Replacement Eyed For Speaker Tripp Seat And Former Lt. Gov. Jack Stahl Dies 

Quezada takes oath
Welcome back, kids. We've got you covered in 2017. . .

Celebrity offers a powerful entree to the political stage as we are seeing with the election of Donald Trump and even a glimpse of it here in ABQ. There stands "Breaking Bad" TV star Steven Michael Quezada on New Year's Day being sworn in as a new Democratic Bernalillo county commissioner.

Quezada, 53, was previously elected to the ABQ School Board but his November election as commissioner did not come without controversy. His GOP opponent accused Quezada of being a "no show" school board member and cited his multiple past DWI arrests in an effort to paint him as reckless and not serious. But Quezada overcame those attacks--no doubt in part because of his celebrity--and now gets the chance to prove that he is more than a bit player when it comes to the complicated stage of La Politica. The commission has a 3 to 2 Democratic majority so Quezada will be able to lean on veteran Dem Commissioners O'Malley and Stebbins.

MAYOR 2017

When it comes to ABQ Mayor Richard Berry let's pick up in the new year where we left off on the last day of the old one--mulling over his low approval rating. We received some more tidbits from that poll conducted before Christmas on behalf of one of the possible mayoral candidates. The survey was conducted among voters 55 and over. They are the most likely to cast ballots in the October city election. Berry's approval rating surprised some, plunging to 43 percent, far below the important 50 percent mark. Political consultants say his approval among other age groups likely mimics that among those with the highest voter turnout.

Despite his increasingly dangerous political standing Berry is still trying to position himself for higher office. He was tagged positively by a WaPo reporter for his program for the homeless and was seen having fun over the weekend (and garnering publicity) by taking part in A swimming pool polar bear plunge." (Plunge being the operative adjective in Berry's new political lexicon.)

Berry's path to the '18 gubernatorial nomination remains harrowing as does a run for the '18 GOP US Senate nod. His fellow Republicans are enraged over the controversial ART transit project tearing up Central Avenue. And then there's the #1 issue in the city. . .

That, of course, would be the crime wave. In that poll that measured Berry's popularity among the 55 and older set, crime was named the top issue by 30 percent of the respondents. Hardly surprising given the nonstop crime headlines and the increasing boldness of the criminal element here. Berry will be forever saddled with the APD mess and crime wave. If and when he seeks higher office he will have plenty of 'splainin to do.

While the ABQ economy stagnates and will be an important issue, many people are voting with their feet and taking job opportunities outside the state. That lessens the intensity of the econ debate even though it sadly indicates that many Albuquerque residents and New Mexicans have given up on the economy improving anytime soon.

But crime will be a hyper hot button issue as those who remain here see a severely understaffed police department unable to make much of a dent in the mayhem that routinely startles the public.

There will be plenty of mayoral candidates, at least in the early going, to talk about that and other issues facing the city. The list of wannabes grew over the holiday break to include a second tier of contenders, including ABQ radio station CEO, ardent Trump supporter and independent talk show host Eddy Aragon, 66 year old Stella Padilla, an education management professional, and Michelle  Garcia Holmes, a retired APD officer who once worked in the attorney general's office.

The problem the relatively unknown contenders face is not only raising money but getting at least 3,000 petition signatures from registered voters that are required to be placed on the ballot. That process starts in mid-February and ends April 28. To ensure they get that many valid signatures, political consultants say a candidate should plan to collect about 5,000. So come March 31 the burgeoning mayoral field will likely narrow.

Currently in the first tier of candidates and positioned to raise some money as well as get those signatures are GOP City Councilor Dan Lewis, Dem City Councilor Ken Sanchez, (if he doesn't run for Congress instead) Dem State Auditor Tim Keller, ex-NM Dem Party Chairman Brian Colon, former Dem BernCo Commissioner Deanna Archuleta and '13 Dem mayoral hopeful Pete Dinelli and BernCo GOP Commissioner Wayne Johnson who is indicating a run. Councilor Lewis and Garcia Holmes plan to make formal entries into the race this Sunday.

Former State Treasurer James Lewis has decided against a mayoral run, although he did take a stab at it in 2001. We recall his slogan back then and we think it might be fitting for this year's campaign: "I'm sick and tired of being sick and tired of being sick and tired." Amen, James.


Republican insiders are talking about Gail Armstrong, wife of TLC Plumbing company owner Dale Armstrong, as a very strong possibility to replace GOP State Representative and outgoing House Speaker Don Tripp.

Tripp, who loses the speakership as the Dems take over the House, plans to resign his seat before the legislative session begins later this month. His district goes across three counties--Socorro, Valencia and Catron. County Commissioners from those counties will send a list of possible replacements to Gov. Martinez to choose his successor from. Each of those commissions have Republican majorities.

Gail Armstrong, 50, describes herself on Facebook as the "Chief Cook and Bottle Washer" at the family ranch in Magdalena in Socorro County. She is from Datil in Catron County and graduated from Quemado High School.

TLC is based in the city and is one of the contractors for the ART project on Central Avenue. Dale Armstrong has for years been an active contributor to GOP candidates. The Tripp district is ranked safe Republican. The appointee, if they choose, would stand for election in 2018.


We take note of the passing of former NM Lieutenant Governor Jack Stahl. He died over the holidays at his ABQ home at the age of 82 after suffering a stroke. He was a major power player in the ABQ real estate industry (Hooten-Stahl) and GOP politics before and after serving as Lt. Governor under Gov. Garrey Carruthers who he was elected with and served one term starting in 1987.

Stahl commanded quiet authority as he presided over the state Senate where he served before becoming the state's second in command. He was also a former member of the NM House and had a stint as NM GOP chairman. He was a Reagan conservative in the 70's and 80's in a town then filled with Republican moderates. His side eventually won, with GOP moderates now an extinct species.

Jack Stahl was a heavyweight business leader during the city's go-go years from the 60's into the 90's. He leaves behind a city trying to regain its footing. His full obituary is here.

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