Thursday, May 04, 2017

Guv Friendly City Council Candidate Robert Aragon On Campaign Trail, State Permanent Fund Soars As State Stagnates And Trump's Favorite Guvs (Not Susana) 

Robert Aragon
A member in good standing with the Guv's political machine is poised to become a member of the ABQ city council, say city politics watchers checking in here.

Attorney Robert Aragon, appointed to the state Board of Finance by Gov. Martinez, is the early favorite to replace Dan Lewis in a six way battle for Lewis' west side council seat. Lewis is vacating the post to run for mayor.

Many politicos will recall how Aragon was tossed from his position as a Democratic ward chair for supporting GOP congressional candidate Jon Barela back in '08. He has since hooked up with Martinez and the R's. It would not be a shocker to see Martinez's political action committees supporting him financially. They did exactly that for Robert's wife, Peggy Muller-Aragon, donating $15,000 to her campaign when she won a spot on the ABQ School Board. From that perch she tirelessly carries water for the Fourth and Fifth floors.

Aragon, 59, is a respected attorney who has been in the political game for years. Oldtimers will remember him for getting elected to the state House at the age of 21 and serving three terms beginning in 1979. His father Bennie Aragon was a longtime power player in the House. His sister, Margaret Aragon, was first lady of ABQ when married to former Mayor Martin Chavez. His uncle Mel Aragon was a member of the ABQ city council back in the 70's. His cousin, Manny Aragon, was one of the most powerful state Senate leaders in NM history.

With that political pedigree and his Machine credentials in the GOP leaning seat,  Aragon's foes are going to have their hands full keeping him from capturing a seat on the nine member council.


A subplot involving Aragon that has been making the rounds may have been put to bed with his council candidacy. That plot had Aragon being appointed State Auditor by the Governor if current Auditor Tim Keller is elected mayor this year. Aragon was the Republican nominee and lost against Keller in 2014. The new subplot has Aragon possibly becoming the chief council critic of Democrat Keller if both men are successful in their campaigns this year.


So what's the early take on what the partisan breakdown of the ABQ City Council will be following this fall's election? It's currently controlled by the Dems 5 to 4 and that may not change. Councilors Ken Sanchez, Don Harris, Klarissa Pena and Diane Gibson are all favored for re-election. If they all win and if, as expected, an R replaces Councilor Lewis, we will stay at five to four.


The bull market in stocks has the Land Grant Permanent School Fund soaring to a value of $15.8 billion at the end of March. But with New Mexico lagging in just about all the major social conditions indicators--poverty, education, crime etc.--the calls continue to invest more of the money directly in the state's people. Dem ABQ State Rep. Javier Martinez, a longtime advocate for a constitutional amendment that would ask voters to tap a portion of the huge fund for very early childhood programs, comes with this reaction to the Permanent Fund closing in on $16 billion:

We're in a moral crisis of historic proportions. This state is bleeding and screaming out in pain. The status quo of the political and business classes has failed us. And now we learn that our land grant fund increased in value (again) and now sits at $15.8 billion, all the while NM's kids continue to suffer unimaginable trauma and neglect. All we're asking for is a 1% investment. We've addressed all of the concerns of the opposition. Rep. Moe Maestas and I have a very strong bill with support from a wide cross-section of New Mexicans from all over the state. House Dems stand ready to lead and send this proposal to the Senate again for its consideration. It's time. No more excuses.

The constitutional amendment has passed the House but for years has been blocked in the Senate by Finance Committee Chairman John Arthur Smith.


One of the Alligators sends this in along with a note saying, "this pretty much confirms that the NM Governor is not a Trump favorite":

President Trump selected seven governors he will appoint to two-year stints on the Council of Governors, according to a White House statement issued Monday evening. Among the three Republicans, three Democrats and one Independent to be nominated are some of Trump's favorite conservatives who he was endorsed by during his campaign or later befriended following the contentious election. Republican Govs. Mary Fallin of Oklahoma; Rick Scott of Florida; and Eric Greitens of Missouri were tapped to sit on the National Governors Association board.

Gov. Martinez refused to endorse the Trump candidacy.


Santa Fe Mayor Javier Gonzales interviews with radio host Ricard Eeds on Tuesday's defeat of the sugar tax he pushed so hard for.

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Wednesday, May 03, 2017

A Stinging Rebuke For Santa Fe Mayor As Sugar Tax Fizzles, "APO" Comes Into Dem Guv Race, PNM Stock Soars On Rate Increase And New BernCo Dem Chair Says He's Not Too Old  

Well, that ought to stop the talk about a "Governor Gonzales." In a stinging rebuke to Mayor Javier Gonzales, Santa Fe voters turned sour on the proposed sugar tax and in doing so probably ended the chatter of Gonzales pursuing the '18 Dem nomination for Governor. The display of political weakness--even if national money played a big role in the victory--is still a loss of prestige and mayoral power. The measure was going down late Tuesday by a 57% to 43% margin.

The size of the defeat surprised many observers, including us, given Santa Fe's fairly liberal nature. But special elections can often deliver curve balls and Gonzales made a major miscalculation in bringing the Bloomberg-backed tax into his town and losing.

The money raised would have been used for pre-kindergarten programs and the defeat had conservative groups such as the Koch Brothers funded Rio Grande Foundation gloating over the loss, saying it signals NM voters are not really that much in favor of pre-K. But the proposed constitutional amendment that would ask voters to tap a small portion of the nearly $16 billion Land Grant Permanent School Fund for very early childhood education programs would not mean a tax increase and it has overwhelming polling support, according to the ABQ newspaper.

Carolyn Serafin-Abeyta wrote on Facebook:

I'm an educator, and didn't feel this was the best way to fund any form of education. What NM citizens are failing to recognize is that this entire election stems from desperation. The real issue is the fact that certain elected legislators along with this do-nothing governor have neglected the needs of education for far too long...

And Gerald Pacheco reacted to the vote this way:

We have become so self-absorbed that we are trying to tax working families to fund state initiatives and wealthy elite interests. The elite political class in Santa Fe ignored their working class base. If Democrats want to win again, go back to your base.

And then there were the well-compensated Gonzales consultants. Hello, Sandra Wechsler and Eli Lee, this Alligator strike appears meant for you:

This vote is like Trump winning Santa Fe County 60-40%. Any Dem consultant who had their fingerprints on any part of this disaster should never be allowed to work in he state for another 5 to 10 years. But they'll probably be allowed to move on to the next cow that they get to milk.

To the victor go the spoils. To the losers, go the long knives in the back.


Jeff Apodaca, 55, made it official Tuesday, launching a 90 second video to introduce himself as a Dem candidate for Governor.

Apodoca is the son of former Dem Guv Jerry Apodaca ('75 -79) but says he won't campaign in his shadow, saying he is not a "legacy" candidate but someone who brings his own skill set to the race as a businessman and wants to turn NM around by increasing investment in local businesses and education.

It didn't take long for the Alligators to strike Apodaca, (welcome aboard, Jeff) singling out his somewhat ambiguous logo, "APO 18." For a candidate needing name ID, they digged, that leaves a lot on the table. One wag scoffed that the symbol looked more fitting for a comic book cover than a Guv run. And another mused: "Is that "APD?"

Fortunately for Apodaca, his smoothly produced video went over better. He appeared knowledgeable and likable. Like his father before him, the camera likes him. One GOP consultant said: "There's a lot of  'I want to win the Hispanic and Catholic vote' in that video."

However, Apodaca looks more comfortable in his citified sport coat than when he does what all Guv candidates eventually do--dons a cowboy hat to cultivate the rural crowd.  Well, as long as he doesn't try to rope a steer on camera, we suppose the state is safe.

(Anti-alcohol abuse candidate Peter Debenedittis of Santa Fe is also running for the Dem nod for Guv but is not expected to be a major player.)


Hey, PNM, your stock price is already trading in record high territory.. Can you slow the rate train down now?

Public Service Co. of New Mexico’s net earnings rose four-fold in the first quarter of 2017, from $4.1 million in the same period last year to $16.5 million this year.The increase largely reflects a 10 percent rate hike for average residential customers that took effect last October. . . The utility is seeking Public Regulation Commission approval for another 14 percent rate hike that would be phased in over two years.


New BernCo Dem Party Chair Bill Peifer responds to criticism heard here that the party i tilting too old and too white under his watch:

Your “Alligator” is a bit off base with his comment about me and their analysis of the appointments that I made. I’m 67, not 68. That’s minor, but I make it in the interests of accuracy. Not so minor is the observations about the appointments that I made which include Treasurer and Finance Committee Chair Steve Estrada (obviously a Hispanic) and Co-Chair of the External Relations Committee Ane Romero (36 and Hispanic). 

I made appointments based on my confidence in the individuals to do their jobs well. Naturally, age and experience are somewhat key to being able to judge “past performance” so it’s not terribly surprising that people of somewhat greater age and experience were tapped. As younger people step up they will replace, as quickly as possible, those older people. 

As far as race, I am seriously color blind. I wouldn’t have noticed that Anglos dominated if your “Gator” hadn’t pointed it out. “People of color” are absolutely encouraged to get involved, and when they do they will be integrated into the structure I’m building and move, as their display of dedication warrants, into leadership positions. But the task in front of us is far too important for me to put an inexperienced person in charge of an important committee just because some nay-sayer thinks that the color of one’s skin is more important than experience.


A reader writes of the ABQ Public Schools budget controversy:

In 2009 APS received $621 million from the state. For the current year the figure was $620 million. The PED says that is a result of a decline in enrollment. However, I found an inflation calculator online that says $100 in 2009 is equivalent to $113.55 in today’s dollars. $621 million = $705 million in inflation adjusted dollars. That's a serious cut in funding just in accounting for official inflation figures alone and not including teacher pay increases mandated by the tier system.


In a first draft we had the incorrect year for the last time an ABQ mayoral election did not feature an incumbent. The correct year is 1997 when Democrat Jim Baca won. . . And readers continue to weigh in on our blog from last week that called into question the performance of APD Chief Gorden Eden. This reader scoffed at praise given to Eden by Ray Rodgers:

Hello Joe , if Mr. Rogers considers us "lucky to have his experience" what the hell does he consider unlucky? Chief Ray Schultz, Daryl Gates of Los Angeles? I guess Mr.  Rogers has set the bar very low when it comes to law enforcement. Eden's law enforcement expertise is nonexistent. He is a political hack who was forced to remove service hash marks from his sleeve.

It will be a crowded field for the Dem nomination for the ABQ congressional seat being vacated by Rep. Grisham. The latest to file the official paperwork for a run, as expected, is former NM Dem Party Chair Deb Haaland, a native of Laguna Pueblo. . .

The ability for readers to comment below the news stories in the ABQ Journal has been restored after being eliminated recently and drawing criticism. The Journal's Donn Friedman says:

The Journal has restored the Facebook commenting feature to the bottom of stories after looking at options to better serve our readers and customers. Just click on "Load comments" at the bottom of any story to comment or to read the comments. Clicking on Load comments will load the comments box. It may take a few days for this to appear on all new stories.

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Tuesday, May 02, 2017

Hector And Michelle: Honeymoon On? Plus: Mayor's Race Thins Some But Not Much, And: UNM Economist Defends Susana  

Balderas and Grisham
It looks as though the honeymoon is on. Here's a revealing pic of NM Attorney General Hector Balderas carrying ABQ Dem Congresswoman Michelle Lujan Grisham like a new wife and looking for a threshold to carry her over.

The photo was snapped at this past weekend's Democratic Party Central Committee meeting where attorney and former Santa Fe County Dem Party Chairman Richard Ellenberg was elected in a landslide to become the new state party chair. But the real news is the pressing matter of the '18 Dem gubernatorial contest and whether Balderas will challenge Grisham for the nomination. .

Our very timely pic, delivered promptly by an Alligator, is the latest signal that Balderas will take a walk on the '18 race, choosing to run for re-election as AG. It's a big deal because Grisham has already raised close to $900,000 and credible challengers--other than Balderas--are few and far between.

Insiders report that the pair have been communicating occasionally about the Guv race but this picture intimates that the relationship is now on the verge of blossoming into a political love affair. Spring is in the air, Gators. We'll let you know when the wedding invitations go out.


The mayoral field has been thinned but not quite as much as observers expected, leaving an already topsy-turvy race even less predictable. Nine candidates--maybe 10 before all the counting is done--collected the required petition signatures to make the October 3 ballot. That's the most since 1993 when voters chose among 11 contenders. Interest is higher than usual in part because the '17 race is the first since 1997  that does not include an incumbent mayor. Republican Richard Berry did not seek a third term and will end his run December 1 when the new mayor is sworn in.

City elections are officially nonpartisan but the voters break along partisan lines. This year both major parties face the prospect of seeing their vote split among multiple hopefuls.

For the Dems State Auditor Tim Keller, former NM Dem Party Chair Brian Colon and ex-BernCo Commissioner Deanna Archuleta are the top three. Keller appears to be leading the grassroots campaign while Colon is the top dog in the money race. The Archuleta candidacy has shown early strength with Dem women voters.

3,000 voter signatures were required to make the ballot. Keller came with over 9,000, the most of any candidate. If he could  translate that into actual voters it would be major boost as about 85,000 to 90,000 voters are expected to turn out for the election. As for fund-raising, Keller qualified for public financing and receives about $380,000 for the campaign. Former GOP BernCo Commissioner, city councilor and state Senator Michael Wiener thinks for now Keller has the pole position:

After 8 years of a Republican mayor and considering the challenges we continue to face, the city will be ready to reverse. Keller is showing the potential to capture first place among the Democrats in a nine way race and that would land him in the run-off election. 

With so many candidates a run-off election is a near certainty. A candidate would need to win 50 percent of the vote to win the race outright. If no one does that, a run-off would be held between the two top- vote-getters a month after the October 3 balloting.

On the Republican side the three major candidates to make the ballot are City Councilor Dan Lewis, BernCo Commissioner Wayne Johnson and businessman Ricardo Chaves who muscled his way into the race by coming with $300,000 in personal campaign cash.

GOP analysts say Lewis has the early edge to lead their party's pack. That's because he has a political base on the Westside which he represents on the council and also has appeal in the conservative far NE Heights where most Republicans votes are cast. He also has been adept in the early fund-raising, although the rate at which he is burning cash could be an issue.

With the GOP vote subjected to so much splitting the prospect of a run-off featuring two Democratic candidates has also begun to float, with the speculators pointing to Keller and Colon as the two most likely in that scenario,

But with nine hopefuls in this race the crystal balls are foggy if not downright muddy. Any number of surprises and plot twists await. Not only is this the most crowded mayoral contest in years, it could be one of the most interesting.


Mitchell (Journal)
You have to feel a bit of sympathy for economist Jeff Mitchell, head of the UNM Business and Economic Research division. He's caught between a rock and a hard place. Gov. Martinez has vetoed the state's higher education budget, threatening his livelihood and that of his colleagues and at the same time they are charged with attempting to deliver objective analysis  of the state's dismal economic conditions. How does that play out? Look at these more than charitable quotes from Mitchell after more than six years of Gov. Martinez and see for yourself:

“I do not think  (the economy) is as simple as political leadership or a governor. Their influence on the economy is greatly exaggerated on every level. . . It's “far too lazy of an analysis” to blame one gubernatorial administration or another. Their influence on the economy is greatly exaggerated on every level.”

Well, that ought to keep Jeff's division from the budget axe. But no one with any real knowledge is saying this Governor or any other Governor is entirely responsible for NM's economic woes. Mitchell is giving us a classic straw man argument there.

The reality is that a Governor's policies are pretty darn important to economic outcomes in this state. Just one example: Martinez and (Richardson) cut taxes by hundreds of millions, promising it would attract jobs. It didn't, but for a decade it has comprised the main economic development plan for the state. We took the wrong direction and are paying a mighty price for the mistake. Also, Mitchell contradicts himself when he says:

Decades of under-performance and under-investment in New Mexico’s schools as the economy shifts to knowledge and skill-based jobs may also be coming to a head now, Mitchell said.

Well, that "under-performance and under-investment" is directly related to the policies of the Governor and the Legislature. That is not a "lazy" analysis. It is objective reality.

This is not a time to let state political leaders skate away on arguments that it's really not their fault--no matter how ineffective their polices may be. Now more than ever they need to be held accountable for their actions and we need vigorous debate over the economic future of our state. But we understand that's not the easiest thing to do when you have the Governor dangling a budget sword over your head.


Reader Ray Rodgers writes

Joe I enjoy reading your column but I really disapprove of your depiction of ABQ Police Chief Gorden Eden. I've known the Chief for many of his law enforcement years-- since he was an instructor at the Law Enforcement Academy. I am not a close personal friend but do know him up close having worked with him in numerous state safety strategies and I was fortunate to know his father. He was in law enforcement and I considered him to be a fine man. Anyway, I would appreciate you easing up on Chief Eden. We are lucky to have him and his depth of knowledge. . .

We take a look at the '18 Governor and US Senate race here with Dateline New Mexico and host Tom Trowbridge. The four minute program is here.

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