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Thursday, July 13, 2017

Higher Ed Pummeled By Enrollment Decline And Battered State Budget; Time to Downsize And Change Constitution? Plus: Readers On Denver And Our Bottom Lines 

New Mexico higher education leaders keep trying to patch up their leaky boat with never-ending tuition increases and pre-doomed marketing campaigns to attract more students. In short, they're doing a lot of stuff to try to arrest the secular decline in student enrollment brought about by recent demographic changes--not enough college aged kids, New Mexico's stagnant population growth and its lousy economy. They seem to be talking about everything but the obvious--that the state is overwhelmed with colleges, universities, branch colleges, etc. etc.

Education leaders, including university presidents, legislators and NM Higher Ed Secretary Barbara Damron will gather to discuss this "crisis" at a town hall meeting July 19 at 7 p.m. that will air on KANW-FM 89.1.

For decades New Mexico has been in the grip of a state Constitution that went overboard with pork barrel politics and established too many schools. We've been off to the races ever since adding dozens of institutions for a small state of 2 million and one whose once promising growth has been halted for the better part of a decade.

The question for education leaders and the next Governor is not how to keep patching the old boat but to build a new, slimmer and more efficient model for a state that shows no signs of the major economic turnaround needed to sustain the top heavy higher ed establishment.

However, the desperation to cling to the model of the past, which supports so many well-paid administrators, endures. NMSU Chancellor Garrey Carruthers continues to maintain that his school can and should attract thousands of students from Mexico to sustain the failed model. Why? To sustain a super sized education system--31 universities and brain colleges-- that demands right sizing?

If the talking heads at the townhall really want to get serious, they can start talking about this and urge the next Governor to lead the way. NM House Appropriations Committee chairwoman Patty is nibbling at the edges:

(Rep.) Lundstrom – like many others – questions the viability of a higher education network that includes so many points of access. She noted that Silver City-based Western New Mexico University has a presence in her Gallup district, approximately a half-mile from the University of New Mexico’s Gallup branch. She said there are many similar examples around the state. “It’s a lot of money (going to higher education). And we want to make sure it’s going to the best, most efficient system,” she said.

And what about the gubernatorial candidates? Will any of them step forward and question the wisdom of having seven, four year schools embedded in the state Constitution in this era? Will any propose a constitutional amendment for reform? Former GOP Governor Carruthers  analyzes that:

You want to get a governor right at the end of a term to do it,” he said. “… I will tell you it would take a lot of political courage to do a lot of work on that and perhaps it’s time we found somebody with the political courage to do it.

Only when you start hearing specific and multiple references to some of those 31 higher ed institutions whose time has passed will we know that New Mexico is getting serious about building that new boat and finally retiring the leaky craft that our leaders keep trying to plug.

DATELINE DENVER

Quite a number of responses to our essay on our recent trip to Denver and contrasting it with ABQ. Some readers, including Nicolas Cordova, thought we may have downplayed Denver crime. For example, this dispatch from the Denver Post:

Crime rates dropped or remained static in many of the nation’s 30 largest cities last year, but in Colorado the crime rate per 100,000 people spiked by 3.4 percent, fueled by a rise in auto thefts, rape, murder and robbery. Colorado’s crime-rate increase in 2016 was more than 11 times the 0.3 percent average increase reported in the 30 largest cities in the nation, according to the Brennan Center for Justice. Last year’s number of homicides — 189 — marked an 9.9 percent increase over the 172 in 2015, according to the Colorado Bureau of Investigation report “2016 Crime in Colorado.” Nearly one in three homicides were committed in Denver.

Not good, but not so bad that it seems to be interfering with Denver's growth path and prosperity, unlike here.

Former Duke City resident Scott Maddaux writes from Denver:

Hi Joe, I made the move to the Denver area about 4 years ago after getting laid off from my job in Albuquerque. It was bittersweet as I am a native Burqueno and I was one of the last of my circle of friends to stick around ABQ. For the longest time I was convinced I was never going to leave. I felt that I had to stay in my home state to help contribute in some way. I didn't want to be just another person who gave up on New Mexico. Alas, I became yet another victim of the stagnant economy and had to leave to find gainful employment. In the end, moving to Denver was one of the best decisions I ever made.  The economy is booming, there's tons of cultural, sporting, and outdoor activities, and it's overwhelmingly safe. I bought an alarm system for my home two years ago and my wife and I rarely remember to turn it on. You just don't have that low-key sense of menace here that you have in Albuquerque. You can relax a bit more. My parents still live in the Duke City and I'm trying to encourage them to move here. They are retirees, and at times I fear for their safety. My dad recently told me that he's taken to carrying a knife when walking the dogs. I just had to shake my head. What is happening to my city?

And Isabelle Zamora wrote:

Joe, a couple years ago in graduate school, I did a paper on Denver’s economy. What struck me was the emphasis they placed on the children beginning in preschool. I really believe many professionals move to or leave a state with their children’s future in mind. 

Isabelle sent this link to the Denver city budget which highlights the city's investment in early childhood programs.

THE BOTTOM LINES

We blogged this week that Dem Guv Candidate Michelle Lujan Grisham held her fire and did not attack GOP Congressman and freshly minted Guv candidate Steve Pearce on the day he announced his Guv bid, but this reader says while Michelle may not have beaten up on Pearce, that doesn't mean her fund-raising arm held back. This letter from hit soon after Pearce made it official:

Pearce will never stand up to Trump's dangerous agenda – because he agrees with it. He's voted with Trump 95% of the time so far, including voting for the deadly GOP health care bill that would rip insurance away from 23 million people. Between him and Michelle, the choice couldn't be clearer – and the stakes couldn't be higher . . .If we don't fight to support Michelle, Pearce could turn New Mexico into Trump Country. We need to get $10,000 in our rapid response fund by midnight. . .

Hey, there could be an idea there. We appeal to the President's ego by changing the name of New Mexico to "Trump Country" and sit back and watch the dollars flow. Imagine, a new Trump Tower" in Old Town! Yeah, now we're bloggin'. . .

This is the home of New Mexico politics.

E-mail your news and comments. (jmonahan@ix.netcom.com)

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(c)NM POLITICS WITH JOE MONAHAN 2017

Wednesday, July 12, 2017

Dateline Denver: What Do They Have That We Don't? A Summer Trek To The Mile High City Shows The Upside And Downside Of One Of The Nation's Fastest Growing Metros  

It's not a Utopia. Far from it. But a trip to Denver, just a six hour drive from ABQ,  brings you to one of the most thriving and  fastest growing metro areas in the nation. It also reveals reasons why that is and what keeps our city from matching some of that success.

--First, the most obvious reason. Denver does not have a crime epidemic. People you speak with feel safe in their homes and cars. That's what a booming economy does--it circulates money and jobs. For too many ABQ has become a fearsome place to reside.

--Denver has a metro population that is now over 3 million.  The ABQ metro has yet to breach the  one million mark and stands at around 900,000. That's a huge difference in potential.

--Denver and Colorado have billionaires. From fortunes in high tech to cable TV, they've minted five of them. And they are rooted in the state, giving immense sums to enhance the culture and arts which in turn attracts bright young people seeking an exciting lifestyle and good jobs. In NM, the richest person is said to be oilman Mack Chase with assets of $650 million (maybe less in the wake of the oil price debacle). Even though he is a non-billioanire, he still has very few peers keeping him company.

--Denver has an incredibly diverse economy, attracting professionals in the high tech, biotech, financial services and health care fields. Denver's culture is entrepreneurial while ABQ's is governmental. When federal spending began to collapse here, that was the end of the party. Denver was also hit by the Great Recession but it had such diversity it soon bounced back.

--Like ABQ, the Denver area is set against a magnificent natural setting and blessed with a relatively moderate climate. Without the widespread crime and poverty that afflicts ABQ, it has proved more attractive to the legions of Easterners and Midwesterners who have been gravitating West in recent decades.

DOWNSIDE OF DENVER

Their problems? They are not little. Homelessness has increased and experts generally agree the legalization of marijuana exacerbated the situation. The homeless more than dot the landscape as you walk the cultural district into downtown. They seem to be everywhere.

Homeless in Denver
Housing costs can be stiff, with some regular neighborhoods even selling homes for nearly $500 a square foot and the average price of a one bedroom apartment is near $1,400 a month. Housing prices have soared but appear to be finally leveling off. Still, it's expensive. Well-paying jobs make it possible but many Denverites are getting squeezed hard.

In the early 90's Colorado added budget restrictions to its Constitution and some believe they are cramping its style. Miller Hudson, a government relations pro we lunched with at one of the many trendy restaurants on downtown Denver's 16th Street Mall, is one skeptic.

He explains that the Taxpayer Bill of Rights (TABOR) passed in the early 90's restricts increases in government spending to population growth and the rate of inflation While that has kept the reins on government, the state now ranks 49th in per capita spending on higher ed and 44th in road spending.

We need more and better roads to handle the wave of growth and keep the momentum going, but the restrictions are hurting us. Reform is getting serious discussion as we work to keep up with the growth, 

Hudson also pointed out that Denver's housing boom has been egged on by very low property tax rates:

A home that went for $400,000 in our neighborhood a decade ago was recently valued at $700,000. Still, the property tax is only $1,300 a year.

Well, homeowners will fight with their lives to keep that tax rate.

Adding momentum to the economy--along with some headaches--is the 2014 legalization of marijuana in Colorado.. It has brought droves of tourists to the city who spend millions. Then there's the $150 million a year in taxes legalized pot generates. That sounds like a lot but with a state budget of $27 billion a year, that's only a few drops in the bucket.

THE TAKEAWAY

Our visit made us a little bit more understanding of the Innovate ABQ concept that has been launched to spark more entrepreneurial activity, but it also reinforced our belief that Innovate ABQ is akin to putting the cart before the horse.

Too much of our workforce remains unprepared for the 21st century economy of cities like Denver. The social conditions crisis here--crime, poverty, lack of early childhood education and drugs--must be fully attacked and contained if we are to advance in a meaningful way. The recent threat of high tech company Lavu to leave ABQ and NM because of crime is undeniable evidence of that.

IF YOU GO 

The ART, a hotel, with a lot of whimsical art decorating the place, is right in the middle of the cultural district, next to the Denver Art Museum and across the street from the History Colorado museum. (Both are well done).

It's a short walk to catch the shuttle to the 16th Street Mall to downtown and its many attractions, or the hotel shuttle will take you. It's also a short walk to the state capitol where there are regular and informative tours.

There's a decent on-site restaurant at the ART, but a Denver breakfast institution--Dozens--is only a short walk away and filled with down home comfort. Downtown, the restaurant Rioja is touted as the best in the city and is worth a stop. Ditto for the top notch chain steakhouse Capital Grille. The Crimson Room is a cool Larimer Square jazz venue. We ran into Stu Macaskie playing there, who for years was a fixture on the ABQ music scene, but has found a better vibe in the Mile High City. He misses ABQ but said the opportunities here dried up.

If you are driving, on the way back you can treat yourself to a bite to eat at one of the finest resorts in the USA--the Broadmoor in Colorado Springs. A casual lunch at La Taverne and a stroll around the grounds will do you a world of good.

This is the home of New Mexico politics.

E-mail your news and comments. (jmonahan@ix.netcom.com)

Interested in reaching New Mexico's most informed audience? Advertise here.

(c)NM POLITICS WITH JOE MONAHAN 2017

Tuesday, July 11, 2017

Picking Apart Pearce: Why Run Against Long Odds? How Did The Roll Out Go? Who Will Be His Lt. Gov.? Who Takes His Congressional Seat? Complete Coverage And Analysis Is Up Next 

Steve Pearce knows the odds are against him winning the governorship. So why did the southern NM Republican congressman roll the dice at the age of 69 and give up his US House seat in what could turn out to be a quixotic bid for the Governor's chair? (Video here). Long time political consultant Steve Cabiedes offered one school of thought:

Pearce knows this is going to be rough sledding in a Democratic state but he is taking one for the team. If he didn't run the R's would be in a desperate position. They have no bench to speak of.  The Pearce candidacy will at least get out the base GOP vote and help protect Republican state House seats. Also, he could win. It would be like a lightning strike but such things do occur, if rarely. 

And, remember, Pearce is friendly with President Trump and Vice-President Pence. Perhaps they would put some salve on Pearce's wounds in the form of a role in the administration if he goes on to lose? Otherwise, he and his wife Cynthia have millions in personal wealth they could enjoy spending. Looks like a pretty soft landing one way or the other.

The Pearce move certainly does allow some dominoes to fall into place. Like Lt. Governor John Sanchez perhaps soon announcing a bid for the US senate seat held by Dem Martin Heinrich. And GOP State Land Commissioner Aubrey Dunn seriously eyeing the GOP nomination for Pearce's congressional seat, a seat Dunn once ran for. Dunn is the strongest contender of all the names floating, but in the hours following Pearce's announcement Monday, a top GOP operative described the positioning as "wide-open and wild and crazy. It will take time for it to settle."

"Wild and crazy?" Hey, we can live with that. 

(Alamogordo state Representative Yvette Harrell announced Tuesday she would seek the Republican nomination for Pearce's congressional seat.)

THE ROLL OUT

The Pearce roll out was solid, as it should be from someone who has run so many contests, including statewide. The news popped on the GOP friendly ABQ Journal at about three in the morning. It was also leaked early enough for it to make the print editions that the older voters still read. Pearce appeared early morning on conservative radio talker KKOB-AM, another place the GOP base is tuned into.

The announcement got solid notice on social media, but excitement about it was not much in evidence, signaling the difficulty the candidacy faces. TV coverage included sound bites from Pearce.

The messaging was solid. He cited people fleeing the state for jobs, too much poverty and bettering education. The problems will come when the Pearce policies to those pressing matters are unveiled. Meantime, he can take heart that his campaign seems up and ready for the challenges ahead.

INSIDERS OUT GUESSED

That Pearce decided to run appeared to be one of those rare occasions when the insiders were more surprised than the public. Pearce had been telegraphing a run in news stories and on his tours of the state, but many veteran R's were not taking the bait. Thus when he announced the scurrying by the GOP political class got underway in earnest.

From our corner, Pearce's entry will cost us a steak dinner from a GOP insider. Fortunately, we hedged our bet and said the loser takes the winner to the Monte Carlo not the uber-expensive Ruth's Chris. No hard feelings, Steve. We'll do our best to present unbiased analysis even if you have already taken a bite out of our hide.

One insider who wasn't fooled was Roswell oilman Mark Murphy who has been involved in GOP politics for years and is a close friend of Pearce's. A Pearce friend tells us Murphy will serve as chairman of the gubernatorial campaign to come.

BRING BACK PAT?

Old reliable Pat Lyons heard his name being tossed around in a more serious vein in the wake of the Pearce decision. How about letting him run for land commissioner for the GOP if Dunn goes for the congressional seat? Lyons, currently term limited on the Public Regulation Commission, is a former land commissioner.

PEARCE'S LIGHT GUV

Luarkie
As for a lieutenant governor candidate to run with Pearce, the pros were quick to call for a Hispanic woman to take on the task and waited for the names to start floating. One did bobble up but was not an Hispanic female. How about Dr. Richard Luarkie, the former Governor of Laguna Pueblo who Pearce has spoken highly of and who has a business background? He is also African-American.

So, as you can see the Pearce decision does indeed have the embroynic makings of a statewide team for the R's who have to face an electorate poised to go Democratic after eight years of Susana Martinez. But sometimes not losing badly is almost like winning.

NO BLOW OUT

For his money Cabiedes says a Guv run for Pearce does not risk a blowout of 62 to 38 as Pearce suffered at the hands of Tom Udall in 2008 when the duo faced off for an open US Senate seat.

Pearce will bring the troops home and raise the flag. That will keep the winner's circle in his sights, if not within walking distance.

Still, the early odds of a Pearce win in Dem NM following 8 years of a now unpopular GOP Governor have to be on the order of 6 to 1? What do you think?

MICHELLE QUIET

For Dem Guv front-runner Michelle Lujan Grisham the less said about Pearce on Monday, the better. She followed the old school rule of letting your opponent have his day in the sun and let the head banging chores go to Dem Party Chair Ellenberg who ably wielded the Dem hammer on the conservative Pearce.

THE OPEN SEAT

Down south, there's pretty much complete disarray in the Democratic ranks when it comes to the nomination for the congressional seat to be vacated by Pearce. There are four candidates running but none of them are seen by veteran observers as top tier. Still, what you see is what you may get, unless the likes of Senator Howie Morales emerges. Or how about former state Rep. Jose Campos of Santa Rosa who has talked about running for the seat if someday it became open. Well, Jose, it's open.

And forget about Dem state Senator and freshly announced Dem Guv candidate Joe Cervantes doing an about face and dropping his bid for governor to run for the congressional seat. Not going to happen, say those close to him.

Because it is conservative country and there are no big Dem names in the race yet, we are going to rank the seat in the early going as "Lean Republican."

BIG CITY BEAT

Back in the big city, money raising is the news in the Dem fracas for the US House seat being vacated by Rep. Lujan Grisham. Former NM Dem Party Chair Deb Haaland is touting the $150,000 she raised in the first two months of her campaign as putting her on track to become the "first Native American Woman in Congress." But attorney Antoinette Sedillo Lopez is putting a hurdle up for her to jump. She says she raised $200,000 in the first three months of her campaign for the Dem nod.

The Republicans? Former State Rep. Janice Arnold-Jones is the only announced hopeful. But let's get crazy for a minute. Now that Pearce is in the Guv race and has seemingly dashed any hopes of Mayor Berry to get in that contest, how about if Berry runs as a Republican for the congressional seat? Hey, stop your snickering. We did call it getting crazy.

There's more on the Pearce run on our special Monday blog. Just scroll down.

This is the home of New Mexico politics.

E-mail your news and comments. (jmonahan@ix.netcom.com)

Interested in reaching New Mexico's most informed audience? Advertise here.

(c)NM POLITICS WITH JOE MONAHAN 2017

Monday, July 10, 2017

Pearce's Guv Run: Smooth Flying For The Nomination But A Kamikaze Mission For The General?  

Steve Pearce will be the Republican nominee for Governor. He is popular in the party, will be well-financed and has the conservative credentials the nominating wing of the GOP  demands. It is highly unlikely now that any other name brand candidate will run. Beyond that, however, Pearce's path to the governorship looks very cloudy.

(Pearce's video announcement for governor is here.)

His statewide loss to Tom Udall for the US Senate seat by a margin of 62 to 38 in 2008 illustrates the problem. He was crushed in the ABQ metro and the Hispanic north while competing in the less populated southern district. Unless he or the electorate changes in a dramatic way, he faces a possible repeat.

Pearce's long-held conservative views--all on the record--will be his chief obstacle. His determination to repeal Obamacare in a Medicaid dependent state is just one example of what will be a major attack point for the Democratic nominee. His support of Trump is also problematic, given that the president lost this state by 8 points. Pearce has some degree of separation from unpopular Republican Governor Susana Martinez, but the Democrats should have an easy time linking him to her, despite his protests.

In his last political hurrah Pearce, who turns 70 in August, seems to be betting that whoever the Democratic nominee is, they will be weak and prone to mistakes while a political pro such as himself can dodge the minefields to come.

Pearce, who served as an air force pilot and who recently flew a small plane around the world in honor of American veterans, will need perfect flying conditions to pull off the upset and extend eight years of Republican rule to twelve. Otherwise, this is going to look like a kamikaze mission.

This is the home of New Mexico politics.

E-mail your news and comments. (jmonahan@ix.netcom.com)

Interested in reaching New Mexico's most informed audience? Advertise here.

(c)NM POLITICS WITH JOE MONAHAN 2017
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