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Thursday, January 11, 2018

ART Boondoggle Gets Readers Fuming; They Rage, Vent And Joke Over Epic Mismanagement, Plus: NM Water Wars And Latest Heinrich Senate Ranking  

It is one of the most outrageous publicly financed boondoggles in city history--perhaps state history--so it's no wonder readers are fuming over the revelations about the incompetence that surrounds ART, the now stalled ABQ Central Avenue rapid bus project that the city has spent $135 million on. No need for further ado, Vox Populi is rarin' to go and Jim McClure starts us off:

Joe, there may be an upside to the ART fiasco. ABQ Mayors seem to get this inexplicable compulsion to build transit systems. Marty Chavez wanted a streetcar and Berry almost got his electric bus. Perhaps there’s something in the water at City Hall.  Confronting the ART fiasco may enable Mayor Keller to get the public-transportation bug out of his system, kind of like a vaccination. He certainly will find things to build during his term, as mayors do, but probably will stay away from fanciful transit projects. 

Longtime reader Mick writes:

How about a list of the contractors on the (F)ART project? And maybe a list of Mayor RJ's campaign contributors. Might be interesting. And where have RJ's directors landed after fleeing from City Hall? I'm just askin'.

Reader John writes:

Hello Joe, here is my two cents on ART.  The contractors should be sued into bankruptcy, the design engineers sued, the project engineer for the city fired, the project mgr. for the city fired and the project inspectors for the city fired. All those who patted themselves on the back for how well the project was proceeding should be fired. But as we all know none of this will happen and all of us who said "told you so" will pick up the tab for this gross incompetence. Last word, Joe: MOVIDA!

Melanie Majors writes:

Joe, Why is the city advertising ART on billboards? Saw it on one of those electronic billboards when coming into town. “Central is Open” and the big ART logo.

They may have to take that down soon, Melanie, because at least two of the ART intersections need to be reconfigured, according to the city, and that is going to cause more traffic headaches on Central.

Abinash Achrekar MD writes:

My wife and I are professionals with a young son living downtown. I'm a professor of Cardiology at the University. We are so frustrated with the year of construction that has resulted in a loss of businesses and continuity in our community due to ART. My wife had a fantastic idea and I was curious of your thoughts.

At least the Stations from Old Town to East Nob Hill could be turned into small parquitos--little parks that have been experimented with in cities like Salt Lake City and Denver. One of the ART bus lanes could be used for bike traffic and maybe the other for pedestrians. In fact the city may be able to rent the space to little coffee pagodas or tiny restaurants that one sees in cities like Austin.

No kidding? Interesting. . . .

Reader Bruce Shah scores the city council:

Joe - Gotta love our City Council as they run from the ART mess like a cat from the litter box. Particularly the oh-so-statesman-like Ken Sanchez. Perhaps we can "claw back" their salaries for failing to remotely exercise any oversight? And, while we are at it, see about eliminating the Berry/Perry pensions. 

For the record, City Councilor Klarissa Pena opposed the project as did Dan Lewis who is no longer on the council.

Reader John Gniady writes of his contact with electric car manufacturer Tesla:

While I’m sure you need another project like a new hole in your head, this strikes me as a nice new market for Tesla. As I’m sure you’re aware, the city of Albuquerque embarked on the first all-electric rapid transit corridor in the US about a year ago. With construction almost complete, there’s only one little problem, the electric buses don’t work. That’s where Tesla comes in like a white knight to save the day.

While it’s a tad early to give up on the original bus contractor, a Chinese company with a dubious name “Build Your Dreams,” that time is not that far away. As I see it, the electric drive train for Tesla’s newly announced semi-truck would be ideal. If there is anything I can do to facilitate this, don’t hesitate to ask. And I work for free :–)

WATER WARS

An environmental reporter took a bite out of the representation the state has hired in a New Mexico-Texas landmark water rights case that was heard before the US Supreme Court this week:

Of the four parties, New Mexico was the only one to have a private attorney stand before the mahogany bench. Marcus Rael Jr. of Robles, Rael & Anaya in Albuquerque represented New Mexico; his former law partner, the New Mexico Attorney General Hector Balderas, watched from the gallery. Rael may be politically connected, but he’s not a water attorney. And until Monday, he also lacked experience before the high court.

The Robles, Rael and Anaya firm is indeed politically connected, handling many cases for state and local governments. Dem State Auditor candidate and recent ABQ mayoral contender Brian Colón is associated with the firm. The state has so far spent $15 million on staff and legal fees in this critical water battle with Texas.

SENATE RANKING

At the top of the '18 NM ticket, DC's Inside Elections ranks the US Senate race here "solid Democrat." Sen. Martin Heinrich is seeking a second, six year term. Republican Contractor Mick Rich is the sole GOP contender.

The ranking is not surprising, considering no NM US Senator has lost a re-election bid since 1982 when Jack Schmitt was ousted by Democrat Jeff Bingaman.

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(c)NM POLITICS WITH JOE MONAHAN 2018

Wednesday, January 10, 2018

ART Facade Collapses Under Fresh Scrutiny; Berry's Folly Is Now Keller's "Lemon" Plus: How To Fix It And Who To Hold Accountable  

Maybe Mayor Keller ought to give a contract to Merry Maids for a year considering the amount of mopping up there is to do of the epic messes left by Mayor Berry's administration.

Nowhere is the mess more in plain view than the ART project on Central Avenue, the subject of a Keller news conference Tuesday where the ugly truth about the widely criticized bus plan finally surfaced. In short, the project is a "lemon" Keller reported and there is no way to say when it will be operational. (Full video here.)

Sounds like the NM Spaceport, doesn't it?

The myriad flaws in ART include the electric buses from a California-based Chinese owned company that were red flagged back in 2013. The company is called BYD for Build Your Dreams but for ABQ it's more like Bring Your Dollars--and don't expect them back.

More on BYD's history of problems herehere and here.

WHAT NOW?

What to do? The Alligators, always eager to get in on a crisis, come with this:

--Forget the electric buses and use and/or refurbish the current Rapid Ride buses and cut your losses.

--Consider suing the Chinese company for its incompetence which has helped cause the delay and use any compensation to help pay for ART. (Can American courts even get at the firm?) (The city doesn't have to pay for the buses until the company fulfills the contract of over $20 million).

--Audit the bus purchase deal. Was it "greased" as was the city contract for Taser for police lapel cameras that was investigated by then-Auditor Keller, an investigation that still sits on the desk of Attorney General Balderas.

--Request that State Auditor Wayne Johnson probe the bus contract and hold the Berry administration accountable. (Or Hector probes?)

--Hold accountable the local contractors whose work is going to have to be redone because of their errors and don't use tax dollars to pay for the needed repairs.

--We may need some kind of financial breaks for businesses along Central that have been hoping and praying that the project would be up and running but now could face a year of more lost business.

--Hire more transit police to encourage more ridership on the system, the number one reason people cite for not taking the bus.

MORE ARTIFACTS

It isn't only Mayor Berry and his Chief Administrative Officer Rob Perry who are responsible for what may be the most bungled capital improvement project in city history. It is also the asleep-at-the-switch City Council that apparently signed off on the Chinese buses and the entire ART concept, all the while ignoring outraged citizens who predicted the disaster.

Keller made sure he said he "inherited" the boondoggle lest the public start turning on him, a public that polling shows is overwhelmingly opposed to ART.

Now Keller will soon be off to Dallas to meet with federal transit officials about $75 million in federal money that Mayor Berry said was a lock for ART. Only it isn't and Keller held open the possibility it may never come.

Build your dream, Albuquerque, only find one other than ART. That's now a dream that used to be.

MAYORAL ADVICE

Before the Mayor's new conference veteran ABQ PR man John Cordova gave him this advice:

Keller must be clear about the failure to include the public in the planning for ART. The consequences of that failure is what we are seeing now. The business owners and engaged public knew that the ART plans were not realistic or practical but were ignored.  They sensed that ART was not primarily a transit project but a real estate development project. Keller must be completely honest about this failure or the Berry people will hang this failure around his administration's neck.

ART PAYNE

Former ABQ Transit Director, city councilor and ABQ attorney Greg Payne, who is on Mayor Keller's transition team for the transit department, came with this:

There really are only two possible explanations for the A.R.T. fiasco. Either this was gross negligence and incompetence on the part of city officials like R.J. Berry, Rob Perry, and Transit Director Bruce Rizzieri - or we’ve got some very serious Taser-like corruption on our hands that demands a full accounting and a thorough investigation. 

This disaster didn’t just happen for innocent or inexplicable reasons. And we shouldn’t just shrug our collective shoulders as a city - like we usually do -and try to put lipstick on this latest City Hall pig. There needs to be an accounting, and people need to be held responsible.

ALMOST FULL TICKET

With the addition of a candidate for State Treasurer the R's now have contenders positioned for all the statewide executive offices on the '18 ballot--except Sec. of State:

New Mexico native Arthur Castillo announced his candidacy for State Treasurer. As the former CFO for the Treasurer and Director of Budget and Finance, Castillo has the passion for New Mexico and experience to manage the State Treasurer’s Office. “As a proven financial planner, budgeting professional, grant writer, and administrator, I plan to restore honesty, responsibility, and accountability to the Office of State Treasurer,” Castillo said. 

That sounds like a slap against current Dem State Treasurer Tim Eichenberg who is seeking re-election and unopposed for the Dem nomination. He is heavily favored for another term but it appears Castillo will try to put him through his paces.

THE BOTTOM LINES

We were saddened to learn of the death of Stan Fulton, the 86 year old owner of the Sunland Park Racetrack and Casino in Dona Ana County. We worked closely with Stan years ago when our PR firm advised him in a lengthy battle over the proposed opening of a rival casino. He was a salt of the earth guy who made a fortune in the slot machine business in Vegas and bought Sunland Park in 2000. Sunland's longtime lobbyist Scott Scanland said:

Stan leaves a tremendous legacy. Over the years he made contributions of $17 million to NM State University and he didn't even live here but resided in Las Vegas. That legacy will continue for the university since he has left a share of the ownership of Sunland Park to the school.

NMSU Chancellor and former Governor Garrey Carruthers will travel to Fulton's funeral Friday in Maryland, bringing with him the spirit of a deeply thankful university community. RIP, Stan. . . .

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 2018

Tuesday, January 09, 2018

A "Softer Susana?" Fuhgeddaboudit! She Comes Out Swinging Against Lawmakers On Crime Epidemic, Plus: The Libertarian Party Plays In The Political Big League 

Gov. Martinez (Sorber; Journal)
What's that about a "Softer Susana?" Fuhgeddaboudit!

No sooner had our digits hit cyberspace Monday speculating about a softer gubernatorial approach when Gov. Martinez reverted to form--blasting lawmakers from Mora to Mesilla and pretty much blaming them for the entirety of the ABQ and NM crime problem, even though she is now in her 8th year of governing.

Back in play was the stern look and the lecturing manner of a judgmental parent. And also back were the same wheelbarrow full of crime-fighting proposals that have been wheeled out year after year.

“Enough is enough,” Gov. Martinez said. That was the common threat throughout the governor’s speech Monday as she discussed her anti-crime agenda.“Every year since taking office I have called on lawmakers to get tough on crime,” she said. “Over and over again our legislature has failed to act.” 

Gov. Martinez is putting a lot of blame on lawmakers. She says she’s sick of being number one for car thefts and seeing the constant stories of criminals getting arrested over and over again. “That’s the revolving door I’m talking about. They’re making a mockery of the criminal justice system.”

Well, she certainly made a mockery of our hope that the softer Susana that unveiled her budget plan would stick around. But she is back to doing what she is most comfortable with and what she does best--attacking, blaming and campaigning.

Nowhere in her legislative agenda is there a mention that the crime epidemic here needs to be fought not only on the criminal justice front but also on the poverty, drug abuse and cultural (educational) fronts.

For most of her two terms she had a fellow Republican in the ABQ Mayor's office to help her kick-start major reforms but nothing happened. And her party controlled the state House for two years and could have perhaps compromised to get some of the agenda through. But her and Mayor Berry rarely collaborated and there was never any serious negotiating with the Legislature--just political posturing for whatever campaign loomed.

Lawmakers will relish rejecting just about all of Martinez's proposals, many of which are political window dressing, like the reinstatement of the death penalty for certain crimes. And she will probably relish believing that history will say she tried and tried, but those awful legislators would not cooperate and it is they and they alone who let the state sink into the cellar.

The Governor's crime plan is a script to absolve her and her administration from the damning verdict already being delivered to them in the public opinion polls. Softer Susana? Fuggheddabout it!

REBUTTAL

Rep. Ely 
Sandoval County Dem State Rep. and attorney Daymon Ely came with this op-ed that lays out a crime agenda different from the Governor's:

. . . But the biggest and most challenging problem is our mental health care system and lack of substance abuse treatment facilities. Our behavioral health care system has been decimated. 

People with, or at risk for, mental illness and substance abuse often have nowhere to go. As a result, MDC (the jail on the west side of Albuquerque) is now the largest provider of mental health therapy in the state. Once the inmate is released both the individual and the community are now at risk.

The citizens of New Mexico need more and better paid police officers, prosecutors, public defenders, judges, court staff, corrections officers, pre-trial service providers, and early childhood intervention, particularly at schools, and at behavioral health and substance abuse treatment centers.


THE LIBERTARIAN FACTOR

Never mind the four Democrats chasing the governorship, presumed GOP nominee Steve Pearce first has to worry about trouble that could pop up in his own backyard. No, there's no talk of another R entering the race but there are rumblings about a Libertarian getting into the chase. That would be highly problematic for Pearce.

The southern NM congressman will need a unified conservative GOP base if he is to have a realistic chance to prevail over the Dem nominee in November. Even if a Libertarian took only two or three points in a three way race, it could spell Pearce's doom. That's because even the most optimistic of Pearce's supporters see only a very narrow win for him in a two way contest with his Dem rival.

The rumblings about a Libertarian entering were first heard when GOP Land Commissioner Aubrey Dunn, Jr. said he was thinking about it. Meanwhile, Dunn's son, ABQ Attorney A. Blair Dunn, has launched a Libertarian candidacy for attorney general.

Libertarian Princeton
And Lloyd Princeton who describes himself as a small business owner and entrepreneur is a Libertarian running for the ABQ congressional seat being vacated by Rep. Michelle Lujan Grisham who is running for Governor.

In the past the Libertarians have often found it difficult to get on the ballot because of the large number of petition signatures required of third party candidates.

Libertarian presidential candidate and former NM Governor Gary Johnson made it much easier for the 2018 cycle when he scored over 5 percent of the state vote in the NM '16 presidential election--the threshold for a party to secure major party status and thus lowering the signature requirement.

While we wait to see if Dunn or another possible Libertarian Guv contender emerges and causes Pearce to lose what hair he has left, we can say that the entry of Blair Dunn into the AG's race is an unwelcome development for ABQ attorney Michael Hendricks, the sole R seeking the nomination. Democrat Hector Balderas is unopposed for the nomination and favored for re-election in November. Sharing his GOP vote with Dunn was not in Henrdicks' game plan.

Former GOP state Rep. Janice Arnold-Jones is the lone candidate for her party's nomination for the ABQ congressional seat. Having Princeton on the ballot isn't going to help her any, but then the national R's don't seem interested in targeting the seat anyway.

Back on the Guv deal, the irony here is that it was a former GOP Governor--Johnson--who by performing well in '16 made possible an easier entry for a Libertarian Governor candidate that could be poisonous to Pearce. Maybe Steve should pick up the phone and ask Gary to keep the coast clear of any Libertarian Guv hopefuls. It could make the difference in who wins, or at least stop Steve from losing the last of his hair.

THE BOTTOM LINES

About that photo of Dem State Auditor candidate Brian Colón on the Monday blog. It was taken by reader Gabe Gallegos. Thanks for the fine shot, Gabe.

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

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(c)NM POLITICS WITH JOE MONAHAN 2018

Monday, January 08, 2018

Brian Colón To NM: Let Me try Again; After Mayoral Setback He Announces Bid For State Auditor, Plus: A Softer Susana Emerges To Announce Her Budget; Will It Last? 

Brian Colón (Gabe Gallegos '17)
Can Brian Colón pick up the pieces of a political career shattered by a triple whammy? He had a bumpy tenure as state Democratic Party chairman, a disappointing run as the 2010 Democratic lieutenant governor nominee and most recently suffered a big defeat as a contender for ABQ mayor, a campaign in which he spent over $800,000 and still came up empty-handed.

Despite those setbacks the intrepid Colón will give it one more shot. He announced Sunday that he will seek the 2018 Democratic nomination for State Auditor. And his friends think he may have finally hit upon a winning formula. One of them put it this way:

Brian has been trying to go from zero to 60, seeking high level offices before he accumulated any political experience. Serving as Auditor could give him the chance he needs to prove himself to the voters. 

Colon pushes back against criticism that he is running just to run. He told us the once sleepy office of Auditor "has become exciting since Hector Balderas and Tim Keller held the position."

"Many of the issues that have come to the fore in the Auditor's office--crime fighting, the education system and waste and fraud--are issues that I ran on for Mayor." He said.

Needless to say, both Balderas and Keller climbed higher on the political ladder from their Auditor perches.

Colón, an ABQ attorney, has become the Happy Warrior of La Politica. His presence on social media and at social events is ubiquitous. Always armed with a smile and looking as if he is about to break into a cheer over something--anything--Colón has built a considerable following, just not enough for electoral success. But now that could change.

The only other announced Dem hopeful for Auditor is State Rep. Bill McCamley of Las Cruces but Colon's well-known ability to raise money, his name ID in the ABQ metro and his Hispanic heritage that could position him for a big win in the North, appear to put him in the driver's seat.

McCamley has said he is giving up his House seat to run for Auditor. He is able to spend $50,000 he had in his House campaign account as of October on the Auditor run. One question may be how negative he goes, if at all, against the better known Colón. McCamley does have roots with labor and progressives, both important Dem constituencies and that gives him a shot.

When Colón, 47, took a tumble in the mayoral race he also dragged down his BFF--Attorney General Hector Balderas who went all in for him with TV ads that fell flat. But the two amigos are nothing if not political wind-sniffers and this time they think it's finally the smell of victory wafting Colón's way.

FACING JOHNSON

Whoever gets the Dem nod in the June primary their chances of a November victory are high. Appointed State Auditor Wayne Johnson will seek to become the first R to be elected to the position since the 60's. Harold Thompson was the last R Auditor. He won election in 1966 and re-election in 1968. That's not a promising history when combined with what is shaping up as a Democratic year. But Johnson is an able campaigner who was twice elected to the BernCo Commission and is busy collecting his petition signatures. Johnson told me Sunday he is definitely running for Auditor and added that he will be resigning the commission seat.

SOFTER SUSANA

(Journal; Moore)
The gubernatorial attitude prior to this upcoming legislative session is markedly different than years past. Rather than attack and prod lawmakers--her traditional approach--Martinez unveiled her proposed budget and legislative ideas in a more concilatory fashion. House Dems took note of the lame duck Governor's softer side, but remained wary that the rough and tumble Susana could come out when the 30 day session kicks off January 16 and she punishes lawmakers with an all crime all the time agenda.

But it seems unlikely. Martinez appears to want to put a few points on the board with tax reform, crime and make the peace over a budget that finally has some surplus money. Then she could take her walk into the history books diplomatically.

Others will say she is gunning for a presidential appointment to one of two soon-to-be vacant NM Federal judgeships--a lifetime appontment--so she's on her best behavior. (Would Trump give it to her after she refused to endorse him?).

Whatever the motivation, there is surely a case to be made for a subdued Susana. Two disastrous vetoes in recent years helped plunge her approval rating to 37 percent. One year she vetoed the entire capital outlay budget, prompting an uproar in the business community and forcing her to call a special session to undo her handiwork. The other came last year when in a fit of pique she vetoed the entire higher education budget, causing alarm statewide. That also had to be undone.

The Martinez years will be mainly remembered for the campaign-style attacks she led against her foes, whether it was an election year or not. She succeeded politically for a time, but the constant warfare produced no memorable legislation that dramatically altered the course of the state.

With DC in chaos and the public here weary of her administration, Martinez's initial approach to her final legislative session fits the bill. In fact, it could help her get a couple of major bills passed for a change.

THE BUDGET

The beleaguered state budget will finally be budged upwards. Both the Governor and the bean counters at the Legislative Finance Committee agree the state should have at least $200 million more available for the budget year that starts July 1 compared to last year's budget.

Senate Finance Committee Chairman John Arthur Smith delivered a dose of reality when he informed New Mexicans that the increase is almost entirely due to a boost in oil prices. The state's overall economy remains anemic, albeit with a few bright spots.

Taking the general fund budget from $6.1 billion to around $6.23 billion, as envisioned by both budget plans, is not earth shaking, but there is also money to restore the state's reserve account which was drawn down to nothing and endangered our bond rating. It also is enough to award a symbolic pay raise of about one percent to state workers who have not had a pay hike in three long years.

The budget battle has been like a roller coaster since $100 a barrel oil disappeared in 2014. Lawmakers were strapped in and screaming as they dealt with the coaster's steep and scary declines. Now the coaster is on a flat section with a slight uprise and they can breathe a bit easier.

What will come next in their thrill ride? More flat track? A return to terrifying drops? Or a heart thumping ride upwards? Only the oil Gods know for sure and they don't care about our roller coaster.

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 2018
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