Thursday, February 16, 2017

By Popular Demand, It's Another Edition Of Reader Vox Populi; They Write Of Intel's Downsizing, The Public School Cuts, How To Revive The Economy, Pearce's Possible Guv Run, The Mary Han Case And Much More 

Let's kick off this edition of vox populi with reaction to our reporting on Intel's planned $7 billion investment in Arizona while the company's Rio Rancho plant appears to be headed for the mothballs:

You must wonder what Susana was thinking when she saw the White House photo of the Intel CEO and the President announcing a plant expansion in our neighboring state of Arizona. There stood two of Susana's most famous disses. The first, the Intel CEO, who back in 2011 had a meeting in California with Susana canceled so she could pick up an award from the Republican Party. The second, Donald Trump, who she failed to endorse or show up at his New Mexico rally. These gentleman really are two bookends on the Martinez administration and frame her failed approach. In the end, New Mexico loses due to her arrogance. A

And what the hell were state economic development secretary Jon Barela and his deputy, Barbara Brazil, the much-vaunted team of former Intel executives, doing the last six years? As they say, Susana, payback is a bitch.

Reader Janet Blair thinks attracting retirees may be a way to  build up the state economy:

Joe, I don’t see why one way of out stagnation would be a vigorous retiree marketing campaign. It is “clean money” and add to that some tax breaks on pensions to match Arizona’s and we might have at least a partial solution to the flight of the millennials. We know our kids won’t come back! They are well established in Colorado and Texas….but maybe we can use our sunsets and chile contests to attract an older set.

Reader Sarah McKinney writes of public education cuts being approved by both political parties and the Governor:

I get that using money from unspent capital outlay funds is a one or two time fix, but what do you call taking money from public school cash reserves as the legislature has done? That is also a non-recurring fund source. Why do the schools have to keep taking such big hits for overall financial irresponsibility? At this point they are just trying to get blood from a stone, and to act like these cuts on top of our already dismal investment in education won't be felt in the classroom is a joke--ask any teacher who is out buying their own supplies or worrying over furloughs. 

What about saving the millions we give to private corporations for standardized tests and the computers and time required to administer them? I might not feel so bad about the school year being shortened if my kid hadn't already wasted days plugged into a computer for that purpose. I also want to point out that shortening the school year would  be disproportionately burdensome on working families who will then have to scramble to pay for child care arrangements when their children are no longer in school. I really enjoy keeping up with local news on your blog. It's ridiculous how difficult it is to get the real scoop on what is going on in our state. Thank you!

Thank you, Sarah. This is the place where the tough questions about New Mexico are asked and answers are often offered.

Another reader also calls for spending that unsent capital outlay (pork) on keeping the public schools' budget intact:

It is very clear that cutting back on school funding is the only way to preserve the self- serving capital outlay projects of state legislators.  This is not just bad policy but robbing school kids future to preserve lawmakers' gratification.

Our take: Not all the capital outlay left unspent is destined for frivolous projects but with so much of it languishing for years on end, much of what it is intended for is hardly as urgent as public education,

Reader Stan Fitch writes:

Hi, Joe. Instead of just cuts to education and public services, perhaps Governor Martinez should volunteer to cut her own pay in half and also grossly reduce the salaries of her staff.


Reader Al Duran, the self-described Crockagator, writes:

Joe, us grey hairs have watched economic problems in the past but not like this. We have never been so rich but yet are not able to access those riches because of those so called guardians of the bank vault. It’s time to replace those whose vision has so far not included a vision of what our K thru 12 schools could be, if we put our money to work to build a first class educational system. 

 You don’t have to look too far to see what money wisely spent does. I am referring to Native American casinos whose income provides educational benefits for all their members. It’s time to let the residents of our state vote on what we should do with our billions. Time for Change. 

The billions of dollars Al references is the over $15 billion in the state's Land Grant Permanent Fund (school fund). A constitutional amendment is again under consideration at the Roundhouse that would allow voters to decide if a portion of that fund (about $115 million a year for ten years) should be spent on very early childhood programs (ages zero to five) in an effort to interrupt our generations-long cycle of poverty and poor education outcomes.


Reader Violet Cauthon in Las Cruces writes of the speculation that GOP Congressman Steve Pearce may run for Governor in 20118:

Dona Ana County is the home of a large anti-Pearce-for-anything group who are letting Pearce know he has not one chance of being governor of New Mexico, that we are organizing and communicating that fact. 2018, 2018, 2018 is our mantra.

And reader Larry Gioannini, also writing from Las Cruces, doesn't like Pearce's idea of having another oil refinery built in the state and has three reasons:

1. The pollution released into the air, water and soil from the operation of the refinery.
2. The thousands of tons of CO2 pollution released from the use of the refinery products thus exacerbating climate change.
3. Delaying for years the creation of hundreds to thousands of good jobs in the renewable energy field; again putting us behind TX, OK and other forward moving states in the region.

Here in ABQ reader John is one of many still upset over Mayor Berry's ART project--the rapid bus line being constructed down Central Avenue that has caused major traffic disruptions and financial pain or many businesses:

Perhaps the vision is "creative destruction." The Mayor and his advisors may envision that, yes, a lot of the existing small businesses, restaurants and bars will die due to ART construction and operation, but perhaps 10 to 20 years from now, we will see higher-density, mixed-use "transit-oriented development" around the ART stops Perhaps not, with near zero growth for the foreseeable future and the westside Santolina development on the horizon.


ABQ Dem City Councilor Pat Davis broke the news here recently that he is indeed considering a run for the ABQ congressional seat being vacated by Rep. Michelle Lujan Grisham who is running for Governor. That announcement led to a lot of critical email about the contoversial Davis, head of the progressive activist group ProgresssNow NM. A political advisor responded to that criticism but that set off a new round of Davis mail. An anonymous reader writes:

You reported that a Davis "supporter" said that David refused to allow a bill to go forward that privatized the ABQ police department. This is far from accurate. In fact, it is BS. Pat Davis sponsored a bill that would have privatized the police. Pat Davis was working with Councilor Brad Winter, the person Governor Martinez appointed as Secretary of State, to privatize the police and give a no-bid contract to Brad Winter's campaign manager. The people who would have received the no-bid contract to privatize the police were Berry and Martinez supporters. The ABQ Free Press reported on it.

Democratic ward chair Don Schiff writes:

Pat Davis has the best campaign team in the state, but they're spinning like a top. Pat Davis voted to fund ART, period, and in a way which avoided a vote by Albuquerque citizens.  A 'no' vote might only have been symbolic, but Davis had an opportunity to stand up for his constituents, a vast majority of whom oppose this boondoggle for developers which is already killing Nob Hill businesses. Davis continues to defend ART as "mass transit," which is merely a cover story for unnecessary development and gentrification. Pat Davis is complicit in the destruction of our historic Rt. 66 neighborhood. Any future good he does on the margins cannot mitigate the outrageous harm he participated in at the first opportunity. We will not forget this betrayal. I have lost all respect for Mr. Davis. I don't trust the man, and neither do my neighbors. A public official who acts against his constituents' interests has no future.


Mary Han
One of our Legal Beagles writes of the recent court hearing into the 2010 death of ABQ attorney Mary Han. The unresolved issue is whether Han, who frequently sued APD, committed suicide or not. The Office of the Medical Investigator (OMI) says it was a suciide. The Han family says no. Our Beagle says:

The OMI is desperately in need of some legislative action. The statutes that cover OMI require "an inquest." That does not necessarily mean a formal court-like proceeding but does require a formal process setting forth how people can access the OMI pathologists to challenge their autopsy reports and death certificates. The OMI only has a webpage that says "contact OMI" and just has email contact info for the administrative staff and the supervisor of field investigations.

No one at the legislature has made certain OMI is following its own laws for over 30 years. The legislature has just been rubber stamping the OMI's annual budget without making sure it is following the law. It took this (Han) trial to bring it to light and prove that sometimes the OMI chief will grant a review and sometimes not. Government requires due process and the OMI, whether they like it or not, are part of state government.

A district court judge will soon decide whether Han's death certificate should be changed from suicide to "undetermined."


Finally, Sue George sends along an email that counters the argument that the cuts to the public schools being approved by the legislature and Governor are not impacting the classroom:

Joe, I thought you might be interested in this email from the director of my childrens' school. For the Governor to say that the budget cuts won't affect the classrooms is flat out wrong, as evidenced by the email below--and this is just the first of many cuts this school (and I'm sure many others) will be making. I dropped off supplies (they're down to a case and a half of copy paper). We live in a beautiful, multi-cultural state with talented, creative people, but this beauty and talent is being wasted by an administration that refuses to put people over ideology and profit. It is a crime not to do better by our children.

From: Sam Obenshain
Sent: Tuesday, February 7, 2017 5:15 PM
To: 'Everyone'
Subject: Budget update - Help needed

Dear Parents and Friends of Cottonwood:

. . . The legislature passed a “solvency bill” that was approved by the Governor last week. This solvency bill has cut this year’s budget for many schools and districts across the state. Cottonwood will lose $18,693 from this most recent cut on top of $122,000 that was cut in the special session in the Fall. This will have certain impacts to the operations of our school for the remaining 4 months of our school year. . . I will let you all know as soon as possible what actions we will be taking to address these cuts.

In the meantime, I have put a freeze on all non-essential spending at Cottonwood. This will have an impact on your children as we are not purchasing some basic school supplies and materials for the foreseeable future, have cancelled school field trips that asked for bus transportation, and are reducing bus transportation for athletic teams for the remainder of the school year.

I am pained to have to make these decisions since we have done a great job managing our budgets over the years and have not had to resort to these kinds of drastic measures in the past. However, we cannot make it through the year without figuring out how to cover the state-imposed shortfall that we will begin experiencing here as soon as the Public Education Department begins adjusting the monthly distribution that comes from the state.

So, we need your help. If you are able to donate any supplies or materials, most notably copier paper (we are down to our last case and a half since I imposed a freeze), dry erase markers, pens and pencils, notebook paper, tissue paper, paper towels, etc., it will go directly to the classrooms! I know the kind of community that we have here and thank you in advance for your support.

While there will be more decisions that we will have to make before this is over, this first step will get us through the issues that are most pressing right now!

You can bring supplies to our front desk, or send them with your child to his/her first period teacher.

Thanks for your continued support of our school, the teachers, and your children!

Sam Obenshain
Executive Director
Cottonwood Classical Preparatory School

And that concludes this edition of reader Vox Populi. You guys really outdid yourself this time. The discussion goes on around the clock on our Facebook page where you are also always welcome.

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Wednesday, February 15, 2017

UNM Vs. The Public Schools; Weighing The Budget Cuts, Plus: Send MeDown To Tucson And Heinrich Set To Kick-Off '18 Campaign 

While legislators carve up the public schools, a much more enticing budget-cutting target has to be the University of New Mexico. The bulky bureaucracy there is looking more and more vulnerable as this trend accelerates:

With falling enrollment and stagnant funding, Pennsylvania's state university system is undergoing a strategic review that could result in the merger or closure of some of its 14 campuses, according to system officials. It's the first time in the Pennsylvania State System of Higher Education's 35-year history that such options will be looked at, according to a system official. The decision comes as many colleges across the region and nation have struggled with falling enrollment as the number of high school graduates declines and the higher-education market becomes more competitive.

In New Mexico, NMSU has undertaken structural reforms for a future of fewer students, but UNM has only been nibbling around the edges. Meanwhile, support for the public schools remains stronger among voters than it is for higher education. You would expect to  eventually see that play out as the endless cutting goes on and on. . .

Don Tripp won't be getting  a bird's eye view of what happens at UNM. The former GOP NM House speaker has withdrawn his nomination as a UNM Regent, citing possible constitutional conflicts. Gov. Martinez immediately said she would name Alex Romero, the soon-to-retire CEO of the ABQ Hispanic Chamber, as her new nominee. Romero recently kicked around possible political ambitions for when he leaves the Chamber.

Gov. Martinez will have the votes on the regents to influence the choice of the next UNM president to replace Bob Frank who resigned. That influence would extend well beyond her term which concludes at the end of 2018.


It's just crazy the difference between what is happening here and in similarly sized Tucson, as reader Ron Nelson informs:

When I read this article this, I almost fell out of my chair. Note this projection is just for one city and not the whole state. "The Tucson area is expected to add about 7,100 jobs in 2017, so home prices and commercial brokers predict rents for residential and commercial properties will begin a steady rise. All markets are responding to the long-awaited good news that 2016 brought and forecasts for 2017 are equally positive."

Okay, we don't want to Californicate New Mexico, but we'd sure like a piece of that pie they're eating in Tucson.

What better time to bring in conservative reader Jim McClure to further lament the state of the state:

Joe, the only surprise in a recent poll is that it shows 16% of business leaders still believe New Mexico is on the right track. Perhaps they’re owners of marijuana dispensaries. Or customers. Your assessment indicates that New Mexico’s leaders are out of ideas and are falling back on ideology. The R’s squandered their partial control of state government on tax cuts and failed to push through the deregulation and government reform that has helped other states. Now that the Dems have regained the legislature, they are recycling the traditional party line of raising taxes, imposing new employer mandates, reversing education reform, ignoring crime and making dubious “investments” in social programs. The most bizarre development is that both our US senators apparently believe that slandering cabinet members on the Senate floor is the best way to keep federal dollars flowing to New Mexico. I still think the answer is to rescind statehood and outsource our governance to Arizona, Colorado, Texas or Mexico.

Anywhere but Texas, Jim. Anywhere!


There will be dozens and dozens more in the next two years, but the first fund-raiser is noteworthy as it signifies the start of the 2018 US Senate race:

Join Senator Martin Heinrich For a Lunch Reception To kick off his re-election campaign With Special Guest Senator Cory Booker Saturday, March 4, 2017 11:00 – 12:30 pm at The Home of Greg Levenson. Suggested Contribution: Host - $2,700 Guest - $1,000 Current Heinrich Trust members - $250.

Booker is a former mayor of Newark. Heinrich is seeking his second term. His only announced GOP opponent so far is ABQ contractor Mick Rich.


From the SOS:

Secretary of State Maggie Toulouse Oliver has made available all of the 2017 Financial Disclosure Statements for public officials (2017 Statements) on the SOS website. The 2017 Statements can be found here. In the coming months, the Office of the Secretary of State (the Office) will also post online the financial disclosure statements for the previous five calendar years.  All statewide elected officials, state legislators, and state agency heads. . .are required to file an annual statement.

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Tuesday, February 14, 2017

How About A Political Odd Couple? Big Bill, Trump And The Diplomatic Front, Plus: Pearce's Place; He Revs Up Guv Engine With Jobs Talk 

Big Bill bashers, here's your chance to skip to our next story because. . . What would you think of the former two term NM governor and diplomat teaming up with Trump? After all, two of the most troubling foreign policy issues are in Mexico and North Korea which just sent up another ballistic missile. Richardson is expert in both nations.  He never has been a wallflower and has recently been offering Trump advice on the op-ed pages, even revealing that he has read the President's book "Art of the Deal". On Mexico, Richardson is saying:

The threats on paying for the wall, the threats to renegotiate NAFTA, the threats of the import fee have stoked a real nationalism in the Mexican people that is going to give President Peña Nieto very little room to maneuver.

Time is running out for Richardson to climb to the highest rungs on the diplomatic totem pole. After years of speculation that he would become secretary of state or the first ambassador to Cuba, the Democrat and former UN ambassador has come up empty handed, stymied by his rocky relationship with the Clintons and a lukewarm one with Obama.

Richardson turns 70 this year and now might be his last best chance to top off his colorful career by cutting a deal with the author of the "Art of the Deal" to put him on the world stage. Far fetched? Maybe. But look who's president.


GOP Congressman Steve Pearce is sounding more like an '18 Republican contender for Governor as he works the jobs angle and extends an olive branch to Democrats, even as he takes a thinly disguised jab at them in the way he describes their party:

I continue to pursue and work for opportunities that can bring jobs and greater economic development to the state of New Mexico. One item of note is the construction and operation of a new oil refinery that would be built using private funds. I have offered to work with the democrat leadership in the State House and Senate to get the most environmentally friendly, state of the art construction.

Uh, Steve,  That's supposed to be "Democratic" leadership not "democrat."  Guess he doesn't want to look too cozy with the Dems as he romances that big block of Trump supporters he would need to win his party's gubernatorial primary election.

As for another oil refinery in New Mexico (there are now two), we've blogged about hat periodically when the oil companies blame increasing gasoline prices on the lack of refinery capacity. The oil experts say getting more refineries built is problematic because of stringent environmental regulations so they add capacity by expanding existing refineries.

Pearce's proposal merits serious consideration from the "democrat leadership." The resulting jobs would pay well and be more stable than those on the drilling side. Former ABQ Democratic Mayor Jim Baca disagrees:

Pearce's solution to the fate of the state is planet killing fossil fuel. He is ignoring the fact that renewable energy, especially solar, is providing the real future of the country. And yet he wants to leave the Land of Enchantment at the starting gate.

Pearce made his refinery proposal in a speech to the legislature. It can be seen here.


A Senior Alligator of the Dem variety reacts to the news here that GOP state Senator Craig Brandt is offering a bill to plug the hole in the budgets of the public schools by using unspent capital outlay money and by delaying the payment of film tax credits. Consider this an Alligator strike:

A bigger question than why Sen. Brandt is offering Democratic-like legislation is why are the Democrats allowing the minority party to have any say at all in this session? Dems may have taken over the Roundhouse but GOP senators and reps still strut around like they own the place. They are in every press report on the session and seem to be the more aggressive legislators. If I see any more Democratic legislators, elected officials, mayoral candidates or lobbyists gleefully pose for pictures with Republican Reps Sarah Maestas Barnes, Monica Youngblood or Kelly Fajardo, I'm going to puke.

House Speaker Brian Egolf and Senate Majority Leader Peter Wirth and their associated committee chairs have to learn to flex their muscle. If they don't want to be in power and control this session I'm sure Republican Rep. Nate Gentry and his ilk would gladly take over.

For those new around here, an Alligator is one of our reliable but anonymous political sources who have seen more than their fair share of La Politica and have the instincts and striking speed of a gator.

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Monday, February 13, 2017

Not The Same Old Susana; An Air Of Melancholy Surrounds Chief Executive As She Rebuffs Reporters, Plus GOP Freelancing: Senator Balks At Public School Cuts 

It's just not the same old Susana. The statements emanating from her Fourth Floor suite still reek of the familiar fire, brimstone and vindictiveness but the personal change in the Governor is unmistakable. She is much less gregarious and her world has becoming increasingly isolated. Take a look:

Martinez made a rare public appearance in the Capitol--her first since her State of the State address on Jan. 17--to speak to a group of Gallup business leaders.   Four reporters waited in the Rotunda for a chance to ask Martinez questions. Martinez, surrounded by aides and state police officers, walked briskly to her private elevator just off the Capitol’s east lobby, ignoring reporters’ questions. 

In what might be a first, State Police actually blocked reporters from getting too close to the governor, telling them to stay back. “If you send her an email, she’ll be more than happy to get back to you guys,” one aide told reporters while the governor kept walking a few feet away. At one point Martinez told one reporter, “I’ve got to get to my next appointment.”

The dissing of the press and the formation of  a movable human bunker for her to hide in led us to ask a veteran legislator what he is hearing:

One of those closest to her tells me that the Governor feels entirely isolated, and without friends who she doesn’t perceive wanting something from her. She relished her position as chair of the Republican Governors Association last year and traveling for those activities where she could escape everything here.

Martinez's frustration and alienation fully emerged when she recently claimed that the state's budget dilemma "is none of our fault."  But with her once sky high approval ratings plummeting to 36 percent (SurveyUSA) and with a seemingly endless state budget crisis confronting her and eating away at whatever legacy she hopes to leave, Martinez seems to be functioning on automatic pilot. The air has been let out of her balloon and how she can ever make it fly again is her conundrum.

No matter her personal melancholy she still wields the formidable power of the veto and still has nearly two years left in her second term. As she said in rebuffing Capitol reporters, she's "got to get to my next appointment." No matter how dreary and unfulfilling that prospect seems to have become for her.


Sen. Brandt
With Gov. Martinez vowing to veto any revenue increases she deems a tax increase, one GOP state senator, whose wife is an educator, has come with an idea:

Sen. Craig Brandt (R-Sandoval) has introduced a bill to restore $46 million to school district cash balances across the state. Senate Bill 332 would use funding earmarked for capital outlay projects and the state’s film tax credit to relieve the budget hit to New Mexico’s schools. Brandt’s bill proposes to shift $26.1 million from capital outlay funds and delay $20 million in FY 2017 payments on the film tax credit to cover the $46 million that was swept from school district reserves. Payment of the suspended film tax credits would resume on July 1, 2017. “When times are tough, the budget decisions we make reflect our priorities,” said Brandt. 

That's some interesting freelance GOP thinking. The capital outlay sweep he proposes is a no-brainer but the film industry is a poison pill. Why not get the entire $46 million from unspent capital outlay?

Brandt was one of only two senators to vote against the raid on the public schools cash reserves. Like we said, there's a bit of freelance thinking bubbling up in the GOP as it begins the long transition to the post-Martinez era.

One other note: Why is it a GOP senator making the play to reverse the budget cuts to the public schools? Isn't that supposed to be a core value of the legislative Democrats?

Well, the Dems could go along with it and then list every worthwhile capital project (community centers etc.) that will be sacrificed because the administration will not raise money to fully fund the school system. (Folks, this stuff is really not that difficult.)


The newspaper is running an informative six-part investigative report on drug cartels that it calls "a criminal enterprise wreaking havoc across the country." But how about a series on what the former BernCo District Attorney called "a criminal enterprise" operating at the ABQ police department? This news out of a federal grand jury:

The scope of an ongoing federal criminal investigation into events surrounding the fatal shooting of a 19-year-old woman by an Albuquerque police officer in 2014 stretches beyond what has been previously reported. That’s according to the lead investigator for the city’s independent police watchdog group. Department of Justice officials took the rare step of confirming an investigation into allegations made by a whistleblower that APD employees tampered with video from officers’ body cameras and other sources, including video from the early morning hours of April 21, 2014, when then-APD officer Jeremy Dear shot Mary Hawkes. But Ed Harness, executive director of the Civilian Police Oversight Agency (CPOA), said in an interview that federal authorities are “looking into the entire case,” including whether the shooting itself was unlawful. In a series of presentations to Justice Department officials, Harness turned over information gathered during an administrative review of the shooting.

All the APD news being left to be covered by the alternative media could make for a twelve part series, if the ink-stained wretches suddenly become interested in what is really going on around here.

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