Thursday, August 03, 2017

Notes From The Trail: SOS Oliver Dissed By Dark Money Groups But No Major Election Challenger Expected, Yet Another GOP Contender For Southern CD And A Dispiriting Display Of City Corruption Makes News 

Notes from the campaign trail. . . She's been plunged into a sea of controversy over her proposal broadening just what groups need to publicly report who gives them money, but that doesn't mean Dem Secretary of State Maggie Toulouse Oliver is going to get stern GOP opposition. No GOP challenger has emerged for '18 and Republican insiders say don't expect one.

Oliver had no trouble last year when she crushed GOP foe Nora Espinoza 57% to 43% and was elected to fill out the final two years of the term of Republican SOS Dianna Duran. She resigned after a corruption scandal. Oliver will be seeking a four year term next year.

Here's the Oliver proposal that is causing the dark money groups such pain:

Under Toulouse Oliver’s proposed rules, a group that spent money on advertising or other communications to influence an election would have to file a report with the Secretary of State’s Office identifying itself. If it spent more than $3,000 on an election, the group also would have to identify some of its bigger donors. The revised proposal would raise the threshold for reporting spending intended to influence statewide campaigns to $7,500 from $3,000, differentiating between the race for governor, for example, and the race for a county commissioner’s seat.

Both the left and right are attacking Oliver's changes. Lefty state groups backed by dark money from the network of billionaire George Soros are sour on the idea as well as those getting cash from the conservative billionaire Koch Brothers network. Meanwhile, the general public is probably about 95 percent in favor of more transparency. It's about the only weapon they have against the avalanche of cash that the billionaire class uses to advance their own political agendas.


It's getting mighty crowded in one of the largest congressional districts in the USA. We blog of the race for the Republican nomination for the NM southern congressional seat. No sooner had we reported that former NM GOP Chairman and ex-Hobbs Mayor Monty Newman is seriously eyeing a bid when former Eddy County Commissioner and Carlsbad pharmacist Jack Volpato beat him to the punch.

Volpato pledges to fight for New Mexico job creation by promoting oil and gas production and exportation and an end to the damaging overregulation of the industry. He promises to support the district’s key industries, including potash and agriculture, by ensuring fair competition and advocating for necessary roads and infrastructure.

Volpato didn't mention the huge federal military presence in the district, protection of which is really job #1 for the southern congressional representative. Well, maybe even mentioning the word "federal" in the district carried by Trump is now verboten.

How we see it: State Land Commissioner Aubrey Dunn, Jr. is the frontrunner for the nomination. If former Mayor Newman gets in he's probably second. Alamogordo Rep, Yvette Harrell is third, but has potential. And Volpato is in fourth, but not condemned to stay there if he can raise funds. As for the Dems, their candidate mix is making this one look increasingly like a long shot indeed.


Well, no matter who is elected ABQ's mayor this fall the change can't come soon enough. The latest dispiriting display of corruption is a heart breaker:

A Civilian Police Oversight Agency investigation has concluded that two Albuquerque Police Department spokespeople lied to the public about the department’s role in the Victoria Martens case before the girl was drugged, raped, murdered and dismembered.
The spokespeople, officer Fred Duran and civilian Celina Espinoza, lied when they told a reporter earlier this year that APD detectives had investigated a report that the boyfriend of Victoria’s mother had tried to kiss the 10-year-old girl several months before she was murdered in August of 2016. No APD personnel ever visited Victoria or her mother to investigate the allegations, the investigation said.

We've got four months more of this before the next mayor takes over December 1. Will that mayor have the intestinal fortitude to use a big broom and sweep City Hall and APD clean? Is it an overstatement to say the city's future literally depends on it?

Mayoral hopeful Michelle Garcia Holmes, who put in a lot of years with APD, reacted to that by again calling for APD Chief Eden to resign. Ya think? By the way, we referenced Garcia Holmes this week as a Dem candidate. She is a registered independent.


Damn the apathy. People do care but they need leadership. For example:

The Neighborhood Alliance Against Crime will hold a “Downtown Crime Tour” for ABQ mayoral candidates on August 6th at 3:00pm. The event will draw attention to the rise in crime in the downtown area and also show mayoral candidates firsthand the problems residents face on a daily basis. All eight mayoral candidates have agreed to attend. “One of these eight candidates will be the next Mayor and we want them to head into office having seen for themselves the problems we have with crime downtown," said Terry Brunner, downtown resident and organizer of the event. 

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Wednesday, August 02, 2017

Hector-Brian Bromance Comes To ABQ Mayor Contest, Latest On Keller-Balderas Tension On Presbyterian Probe And New Major GOP Candidate Poised To Enter Southern Congress Race 

The Brian Colón/Hector Balderas bromance shows no signs of cooling. In fact, Attorney General Hector will be the featured guest as Colón opens his mayoral campaign headquarters Thursday evening in ABQ's SE Heights.

The two Dem lawyers have long been friends, plotting their futures together. But the ant at their political picnic today is State Auditor and fellow Dem Tim Keller who is leading in the early insider mayoral polls for the October 3 election. Colón is running third behind Keller and Republican Dan Lewis. Only the two top vote getters will advance to a Nov. 7 run-off, assuming no candidate in the crowded field pulls in 50 percent of the vote needed for an outright victory.

The Colón crowd sees Keller as an upstart and outsider who thrives on naked ambition. The Keller crowd sees Colón and Balderas as throwbacks to the patrón system replete with shady undertones.

Balderas can help Colón because Colón is of Puerto Rican descent and not a native Hispanic like Balderas who was born in Wagon Mound. Among the major candidates Colón may have the best shot of grabbing a large share of the Hispanic vote. GOP businessman Ricardo Chaves and Dem Michelle Garcia Holmes are native Hispanics but are battling it out in the lower tier of the eight person contest. Giving Balderas top billing at his campaign bash is the opening salvo in Colón's quest for this important ethnic bloc.


Both Keller and Balderas have been actively investigating claims that Presbyterian Healthcare, the largest employer in the city, has not paid its fair share of premium taxes to the state. Balderas outscored Keller in the PR department when he went nuclear on Presbyterian, amping up his rhetoric and vowing to extract unpaid taxes from the healthcare giant who he accuses of fraud. Keller has been critical of Presbyterian but more circumspect in his statements. Balderas has been criticized for failing to wait for the completion of Keller's audit before filing a lawsuit against Presbyterian.

Happier times
Also, Balderas may have reaped PR from the Pres charges but it also brought digs his way, including one that asked, why, if he is so intent on fighting for the taxpayers, has he yet to do anything with the corruption investigation involving former APD Chief Ray Schultz and his dealings with Taser? It has been a couple of years since Auditor Keller dumped his damning investigation into Hector's lap which said it appeared ABQ's purchase of Taser's products was rigged by Schultz and perhaps others.

Back on Presbyterian, no doubt the bean counters there have been aggressive in holding down their taxes, but they are also easy pickings for the AG and Auditor. Big Healthcare is not beloved so bashing it comes with little political cost. But Presbyterian has labored for decades to build public trust here and has been free of major scandal.

Gov. Martinez's administration roiled the behavioral healthcare system by wrongly accusing the NM providers of fraud and replacing them with out of state providers. The charges were found to be hogwash but behavioral health (and the lives of many of its clients) was severely damaged. Certainly, if Presbyterian owes taxes, they need to pay them. But to accuse it of fraud and possible criminal behavior, as the AG is doing, and to do so without concrete evidence put before the public, is a dangerous game to be playing.


Keller's forces are nervous about what we call the half million dollar money bomb that Colón will soon start dropping. They argue (and hope) that the onetime lieutenant governor candidate doesn't have the savvy to craft a winning message. And they also argue, somewhat nervously, that Colón's cash on hand---the aforementioned half million--may be overstated because Colón may be deferring paying campaign bills until later in the campaign or even after it. Still, with Keller confined to a public financing budget of $380,000 they have good reason to use the worry beads as they ponder Colón's cash.


Not all voters want the campaign to be all about crime, but how can that be when crazy stuff like this is happening here and making national news:

Police are investigating a bizarre heist of a 1,700-pound barbecue pit from a popular Albuquerque restaurant. . . Police say the black and red 200-gallon smoker was stolen early Sunday. Daniel Morgan, the owner of Pepper's Ole Fashion BBQ, says the smoker was cooking up a batch of brisket when it was taken. Morgan says most of the meat the restaurant serves is prepared in an indoor barbecue pit and he uses the custom built apparatus for catering gigs.

And the solution to the barbecue pit caper? Well, let's put it this way--it lacks red meat. The vegetarians in charge of fighting crime around here--the Mayor, police chief and DA--are again deflecting responsibility and want you to do their job for them:

The city of Albuquerque and the 2nd Judicial District Attorney’s Office announced the creation of an initiative called SCAN, or Security Camera Analytical Network. The idea, explained Mayor Berry, is to get the owners of existing security cameras at homes and businesses to voluntarily register their cameras and become part of a potentially large security camera map. Police would then look at the whole collection of video taken in a crime area for suspects or details of a crime or maybe even track an escape route.

How in the name of Powdrell's and Rudy's is that going to stop a stolen 1,700 pound barbecue pit from whizzing down the avenues of ABQ with its smoky trail pleasing the nostrils of the criminals laughing at its passing? Nice try mayor, police chief and DA, but no brisket for you.


Monty Newman
Alligators of the R variety are giving us heads-up on a possible significant development in the race for the GOP nomination for the southern congressional seat. They report that former NM GOP chairman and ex-Hobbs Mayor Monty Newman is poised to join the race.

Newman ran for the nomination the last time Rep. Steve Pearce vacated the seat to run for higher office. That was in 2008 when Pearce unsuccessfully sought a US Senate seat. This time Pearce is leaving the seat to try to become governor.

Newman, who is in the real estate business, had big time financial support from national real estate interests in '08 but he came up short and the nomination was won by businessman Ed Tinsley who was defeated by Dem Harry Teague in the general election.  Also in that GOP nominating race was none other than Aubrey Dunn, Jr. who is now the state land commissioner but has decided to give that post up to again run for the southern CD.

If Newman gets in he can be expected to get financial support from the oil and gas industry. They've had their differences with Aubrey. Watching this closely is Alamogordo State Rep. Yvette Herrell, the underdog candidate, who has to be hoping that Newman and Dunn start a dust-up with one another and that it benefits her.

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Tuesday, August 01, 2017

Two Months To Go In ABQ Mayoral Race But Strong Chance Of Run-Off Keeps The Crowd Looking Ahead, Plus: Readers Get In On Higher Ed Debate  

As we turn the calendar to August expect the ABQ mayoral race to heat up some, but perhaps not as much as you would like. There are eight candidates in the contest and because none of them is expected to get 50 percent of the vote a run-off between the two top finishers is expected November 7. Political observers say that expectation may be dampening interest in the first round of voting slated for October 3.

It seems much of the media and the public is treating this election as a primary which in many ways it is and that may be stifling enthusiasm and interest somewhat, although turnout at several of the mayoral forums has been robust. KNME-TV will sponsor a two hour mayoral debate on Tuesday, August 15th from 6 to 8 p.m. and KOB-TV will do a Friday evening September 15 debate,  but it appears the other major commercial networks (KOAT and KRQE) will take a pass on debates and wait for a run-off featuring the two top finishers. The venerable Temple Albert Mens Club, long a reliable political debate sponsor, is taking a pass on the Oct. 3 contest, saying it will only host a run-off debate.

It is the first time in a long time that a run-off seems likely thus lessening the impact of the initial voting round. In 2013 it was a two person race with a winner guaranteed in the first round. In 2009 it was a three person field but it took only 40 percent to avoid a run-off so the first round was seen as being definitive. In 2005 it was again a three person field and incumbent Mayor Chavez was heavily favored to win with more than the needed 40 percent in the first round and he did.

While some of the public may be waiting to see who makes the run-off before fully engaging in the campaign, the candidates trying to be one of the two who get to the final round will soon be roused. The big question is the half million dollar money bomb Democrat Brian Colón is expected to drop on the race. What will his message be? It will be the most critical decision of his political life. He is running third in the early polling and must utilize that money perfectly in order to get into a run-off with probably either Democrat Tim Keller or Republican Dan Lewis, the two polling frontrunners.

The candidates have been meeting in periodic forums that have received little media attention but have led to a discussion of the major issues including the one that dominates--the crime epidemic. The crucial question is which candidate captures the outrage of the public over the disintegration of law and order and the shrinking of the police department. Facts and figures the candidates have, but so far none of them has broken through emotionally and got the voters to say, "Okay, that's who gets it." The paid media to come could be decisive.


There are five city council races on the October ballot and activity is picking up. David Haughawout, president of the District 7 Coalition of Neighborhood Associations, writes:

The city council District 7 debate hosted by the D-7 Coalition of Neighborhood Associations will be held Wednesday, August 2 at the Sheraton Uptown Hotel from 6:30 to 8:30 p.m.  The debate between Councilor Diane Gibson and candidate Eric Lucero is open to the public and everyone is welcome.

Gibson is the Democratic incumbent in the NE Heights district. Lucero is a Republican.


Reader Charles Sullivan's comments comparing the number of higher ed colleges in New Mexico to Arizona brought in quite a reaction--both pro and con. Bernalillo County Dem Party Chair Bill Peifer writes:

You published Charles Sullivan’s “relevant math lesson.” Unfortunately, his math is largely irrelevant. Comparing Arizona’s and New Mexico’s higher education system based simply on population of the states is like comparing apples and oranges based on the number of seeds inside. Well over half of Arizona’s 7 million people live in the greater Phoenix metropolitan area. With 4.3 million people living within about a half hour drive of Arizona State University, that portion of the population can conceivably get by quite nicely with just that one university with its four campuses. Another million plus people live in the Tucson metro area and are within an easy drive of the University of Arizona’s campus. 

Our population is more spread out than Arizona’s. It would be very difficult for students from Farmington, Raton, Las Vegas, Portales, Roswell, Carlsbad, etc. to commute to any of our larger universities. We could save some money on regents’ stipends and salaries by turning Highlands, Eastern and Western into branch campuses, but the percentage of the costs saved would be negligible.

But Peter B. Ives, retired UNM Business, Economics and Geography Librarian sided with Sullivan:

Joe, Charles Sullivan makes a good point, although the trade-off is that two of their three universities are massive and the smallest, Northern AZ U in Flagstaff, has about  30,000 students and is larger than UNM. However, their 2-year, or community colleges, take an opposite tack. They are quite numerous and geographically extensive. For instance, look at Wikipedia's "List of colleges and universities in Arizona/" I counted around 50, 2-year colleges. So you have a two-level system (as opposed to the California three-levels: community colleges, Cal State and branches and the University of California and branches). Other states like Wisconsin, Texas, and New York have well-known, multi-level systems.

NM's "system" seems rather poorly thought-out and too political. That said, I was encouraged by the remarks of  state education leaders Abdallah, Carruthers, Winograd and others on progress they've made with management and curriculum efficiencies. That needs to be accelerated. I was also heartened by the NMSU Faculty President's mention that their voice was heard--reform can be done without "business-like" autocrats giving top-down decrees. 


Staying with higher ed, this anonymous reader has thoughts one the UNM Pit skybox scandal in which skyboxes were awarded but not paid for:

The problems of these suites is that they were poorly conceived. The views are terrible and few would actually want to sit there. Just guessing, but it could well be that the athletic director begged people to sit there so the fact they are white elephants might not be so obvious—and without any commitment from the users. Who knows? It was a screw-up of major proportions to even think someone would sit there much less pay thousands for the privilege.

Reader Richard Flores came with the obvious--that the skybox scandal could have been avoided if then Athletic Director Paul Krebs and UNM Executive Vice-President David Harris had insured the boxes were paid for in advance.


No wonder the cost of advertising on the 10 p.m. news in New Mexico has been more than halved in recent years. The audience is drifting away:

In 2016, viewership for network local affiliate news stations (ABC, CBS, Fox, and NBC) declined in key time slots – morning, early evening and late night, according to Pew Research Center analysis of Nielsen Media Research data. Since 2007, the average audience for late night newscasts has declined 31%, while morning audience declined 12% and early evening audience fell 19%. Local TV noon and 7 p.m. news viewership also declined.

Th local stations still stand to make a pretty good buck in the upcoming election cycle because candidates want to appeal to the over 50 crowd that still tune into the late night TV news and are the most likely voting group. Still, it will be interesting to see if in this changing media environment those candidates budget the same amount for TV news as they have in the past.

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