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Thursday, February 08, 2018

BernCo DA Torrez Gets Major Pushback On 30% Budget Hike Plan, Alligators Pile On With Powerful Info As Senate Handles This Hot Potato, And: ABQ Congressional Race Heats Up Over Money Reports  

DA Torrez
The heat is on in the Senate Finance Committee to cave on a major funding increase for the office of Bernalillo County Democratic District Attorney Raul Torrez.

For example the conservative media--e.g. KOAT -TV 7--has started some kind of war to get the money. The general manager is urging viewers to jam the phone lines of committee members to get them to support a whopping 30 per cent budget increase for Torrez--$5.4 million--that is being supported by GOP Gov. Martinez.

Torrez maintains he cannot fully prosecute criminals without the extra funds and says in addition to felons walking, the office has a low DWI conviction rate because of a lack of resources.

But as Senate Finance prepares to meet on his request this traffic case apparently involving a former NM Cabinet Secretary under Gov. Martinez is making the rounds, raising questions at the Roundhouse about how Torrez handled it (were the charges the result of a plea down from a more severe offense?) and how it could impact his money request.

What gets your attention with this case is that the ABQ attorney for the former government official shares office space (201 12th St.) with attorney Paul Kennedy, the legal Mr. Fix-it for Gov. Martinez who has had hundreds of thousands in contracts with the state (maybe more but the state won't release the contract totals to the media).

Kennedy once defended Martinez in court by calling journalism "a racket." Maybe the news department at KOAT might want to look into this? They wouldn't want to be part of a racket, would they?

As for the media, go ahead and advocate, play favorites and show your true agenda. We won't mind. Just stop trying to bullshit the public that that this is any kind of objective "journalism." Because it isn't.

TEARING ON TORREZ

That's not Raul's only problem as he tries to pressure rural lawmakers for more money. Critics are coming out of the closet, like Pete Dinelli, a Dem who served as the Chief Deputy District Attorney for BernCo in the 90's:

Torrez wants funding for an additional 34 attorneys without explaining why he cannot fill the 18 attorney vacancies he has. Torrez has given no explanation how he is going to recruit so many more prosecutors to work for him while competing with other District Attorney offices in the state. What is known for sure is that Torrez is hiring retired Assistant District Attorneys and retired former Assistant United States Attorneys, some on contract, and paying them anywhere from $75,000 to $125,000 a year which is significantly more than entry level positions that pay between $45,000 to $50,000 a year.

In his first year in office Raul has railed against the judges and now he and his political consultants have employed the media to ride herd on the Legislature and shift the blame for the crime wave to them. But where is the coverage of the concern of how he is handling the budget he already has? We suppose the Senate Finance Committee will have to provide that.

ALLIGATOR PILE ON

The Alligators are everywhere on this one. Yet another Torrez takedown as the DA and his consultants attempt to redefine the criminal justice system to his liking but finding it's a tough sell to those in the know. Heads up Senate Finance. Here's the real deal:

It is short sighted to believe that the funding of the DA will actually solve anything. The DA wants 34 more attorneys to prosecute an additional 2,000 felony cases. The next step, the legislature would have to increase funding for public defenders who represent 85% of those cases. Then the legislature would have to fund the courts to pay for additional judges and jurors needed to handle all these cases.

And most costly, there will be additional funding to the Dept. of Corrections. For example, if the DA got a 1 year prison sentence on 10% of those 2,000 cases then that would be an additional 200 people in prison at 36k per year for a total of $7.2 million. Probation costs DOC $2,700 per year, so if the DA secures 1,000 additional people on probation then that would add up to $2.7m.

Senate Finance is staring at a $20 million hole if they go the DA's way and they know it.

Assuming the legislature is going to spend $20m to address the crime problem in Albuquerque, the question becomes 'what is the best use of that money? Torrez subscribes to locking people up in a cage as a way of addressing the problem. Many nationwide trends and majority of think tank institutes believe there are better ways. Education and prevention lead the way. Once a person is identified as having a mental illness or substance abuse addiction, it is far more effective and less costly to address and treat the underlying issue. 

First the DA chose to blame the district judges for his bad results. Then the DA blamed the defense attorneys for his bad results. Then the DA blamed the New Mexico Supreme Court's rules for his bad results. Now, the DA admits that his office fails to open cases, loses cases and is ineffective in its prosecutions. Would we allow a coach of a losing team to blame the referees for the loss, then blame the other team for cheating, then declare that the rules of the game must be changed. And would we then support that coach to get a pay raise and be promoted to athletic director?

Oh, my, Raul, you've let the Gators out of of their cages and there's not a darn thing KOAT's Mary Lynn Roper, KRQE's Larry Barker or the editorial writers at the Journal can do for you. That $5.4 million increase is not happening. Something less, yes, But all is not lost. You can then add Senate Finance to the list of those to blame for the crime wave that you were elected to help resolve.

A WILD ONE

That six way battle for the Dem nomination for the ABQ congressional seat is getting really heated. One of the Gators came with a round of analysis of the recent fundraising reports that had Damon Martinez, Antoinette Sedillo Lopez and Deb Haaland in the top tier and he took a bite out of Haaland for having spent so much of what she has raised. Another Gator has an angle more friendly to her:

Hey Joe, The analysis by one of the Alligators of the CD1 money race was a little bit misleading. Antoinette Sedillo Lopez raised $506,000 total so far but gave herself a $50K loan, her actual fundraising is at $456,000. Therefore she has $347,000 with the loan cash-on-hand but without the loan it is $297,000 cash. Sedillo Lopez has spent about 158K, most of it on her staff but some on media consulting. 

Damon Martinez has raised $370,000 total but gave himself $60K in loans, meaning his actual fundraising is closer to $310K. He has $322,000 on hand with his loan, $262,000 without the loan. Damon did spend very little of the money he raised--47K. This is not necessarily a good thing, there are very little payments for staff, and Damon does not have a lot of name recognition not to mention he entered the race late. 

Deb Haaland has raised $386,000 and has given herself no loans. She has 195K on hand which seems low, but why? Her expenses were $190K so far. This may seem like a lot and it is, but for good reason. Deb has already solidified her staff and media consultants, the other candidates have not.

DAYS OF DAVIS

And what about ABQ City Councilor and congressional candidate Pat Davis not making the top tier in Alligator land in this race? Davis has been a punching bag for just about everyone with a beef with the city. Here's Davis supporter Noah Seligman with some equal time:

I definitely consider Pat Davis a top tier contender. No other candidate can match his progressive credentials given his strong record in City Hall and with ProgressNow. He also is quietly building a top level field operation. His opponents will have to spend some of their money on expensive ads to introduce themselves to the small primary electorate. Meanwhile, Pat can invest more in field and targeted GOTV. I don't believe fundraising prowess or burn rate will be determinative. There's definitely lots of great energy for Democrats this year, but that doesn't mean turnout will equal general election levels. So that benefits the candidate with the strongest field operation and that's clearly Pat Davis.

Okay, Noah, and let's keep on our radar Damian Lara and Paul Moya, the two remaining candidates. This one is getting wild. Just the way we like it.

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Wednesday, February 07, 2018

Filing Day Focus: Heinrich Preps For Re-Elect, Father And Son Team Will Be On State Ballot, A Jumbled Dem Light Guv Race, Plus: Early Childhood Amendment Passes House After Insightful Debate, And: PNM Embraced By The Bear; Stock Hit In Sell Off 

Filing day has come and gone. All those making bids for the Federal and statewide offices in Election '18 are listed here. Now to the action. . .

The 2018 New Mexico US Senate match-up will be between incumbent Democrat Martin Heinrich, Republican Mick Rich---and Aubrey Dunn.

If you're more familiar with Richie Rich than Mick Rich, you're not alone. National R's with the deep pockets are taking a pass on spending the millions it would take to unseat Heinrich so Rich, a political neophyte, will be left to his own devices to try to pull off the upset.

What about Land Commissioner Dunn, the Republican castaway? Yes, he is running as the Libertarian Senate nominee. The Heinrich camp will keep a very close eye on him but it would appear Rich and Dunn could split the GOP and anti-Heinrich vote. Still, Dunn is sure to give Heinrich a good pounding.

Rich has personal wealth from his contracting business that could keep his campaign afloat. And Heinrich's approval rating is below the 50 percent mark, giving Rich and Dunn a sliver of an opening. But with the state voting solid Blue in Senate contests for nearly a decade and Trump's unpopularity dragging them down, that sliver might only be wide enough for an ant to crawl through. Also, at the end of last year Heinrich reported $4 million in cash on hand while Rich reported $250,000. Dunn will need to play catch-up.

When you think about it Heinrich is probably more vulnerable to a Democratic primary challenge than from a GOP opponent. Money he has raised from corporate America--including the pharmaceutical and defense industries--has tarnished his star with the Bernie Sanders wing of his party--but not enough to cost him a free primary ride and clear front-runner status for the general election.

By the way, with this kind of lead there's no need to bash Trump and stir everyone up. Heinrich's filing day statement:

. . My top priority is diversifying New Mexico’s economy and creating new jobs--whether by securing forward looking missions for our military installations, pushing for public land protections that fuel our thriving outdoor recreation industry, or working to position New Mexico as a leader in renewable energy.

MORE FILING DAY ACTION 

Let's pick some other cherries from filing day. It will be Attorney General Hector Balderas facing ABQ GOP attorney Michael Hendricks and a Libertarian nominee in November. Neither drew primary opponents. Balderas will be heavily favored as no R has been elected AG in decades and Hendricks will face a challenging fundraising environment.

ABQ Attorney Blair Dunn, son of Land Commissioner Aubrey Dunn, is running as a Libertarian.That gives us a father-son team on the statewide ticket. For the first time?

State Treasurer Tim Eichenberg will face ABQ Republican Arthur Castillo. Neither contender drew primary foes. Eichenberg  is a former BernCo treasurer and state senator with name ID in the metro. Also, when the last R was elected treasurer the Beatles were still together.

You know the drill on the Guv's race. The four Dems filed and now everyone is waiting for something to happen. Will Jeff Apodaca, Joe Cervantes or Peter DeBenedettis begin negative campaigning of consequence against Dem front-runner Rep. Michelle Lujan Grisham? The primary election is June 6.

Whoever wins that Dem nomination will face GOP Rep. Steve Pearce in November. He has no primary challenger. The Dem hopeful will be favored to beat him. Fortunately for Pearce, however, he will not have to deal with a Libertarian candidate. They took a pass on the Guv race.

ABQ's Michelle Garcia Holmes was the only Republican to file for the office of lieutenant governor and she just switched to the party. That gives you a clue on how R's feel about their Guv prospects. Still, Pearce is a player and the race is not going to be a rollover.

In the Dem lieutenant governor race it's a five way dash, with three veteran politicos leading the way. They are State Senator Howie Morales of Silver City, former ABQ State Rep. Rick Miera and Santa Fe Mayor Javier Gonzales. Billy Garrett, a Dona Ana County Commissioner, is also running as is Taos educator Jeff Carr. The mid-March Dem preprimary convention will help us sort this one out.

EVEN MORE ACTION

Incumbent Secretary of State and Democrat Maggie Toulouse Oliver is considered safe against GOP attorney JoHanna Cox who is the sole R running. Former State Rep. Sandra Jeff is running as a Libertarian and that could liven up things.

The land commission race features three Dems chasing the nomination--State Senator George Munoz, State Rep. Stephanie Garcia Richard and environmentalist Garrett VeneKlasen. Former land boss Pat Lyons will again be the GOP nominee. Libertarian Michael Lucero will carry his party's torch.  The seat is likely Democratic. The D nomination battle will come more into focus at the March preprimary.

State Auditor Wayne Johnson was appointed by Gov. Martinez to fill the shoes of Dem Tim Keller when he was elected mayor of ABQ. He will carry the R banner. Dems Brian Colón and State Rep. Bill McCamley will battle for the Dem auditor nod. Colón has the edge because of his name ID in the ABQ metro. The winner of the Dem nomination will be favored to win, but Johnson will have the advantage of the incumbency and we'll see what he makes of it.

We covered the ABQ congressional race on the blog this week. We'll scope out the others for you in the days ahead.

THE GREAT DEBATE

The three hour debate on the state House floor over the early childhood constitutional amendment Tuesday was one of the more meatier and informed ones you will see. No wonder. The proposal, according to amendment advocate Allen Sanchez, president of Chi St. Joseph's Children, has been introduced a total of eight times. The debaters know this issue inside out and it showed Tuesday.

Republicans Rebecca Dow of T or C and ABQ's James Dines did their best to take down ABQ reps and amendment co-sponsors Moe Maestas and Javier Martinez but they more than held their ground. No minds were changed and the amendment passed the House for a second year in a row, mostly on a party line vote of 36-33 with no Republicans breaking ranks.

(Hey, what happened to all that "bipartisanship" everyone was touting in Santa Fe? As we blogged, that's only for the fluff.)

Amendment advocates such as ourselves were disappointed to see ABQ GOP State Rep. Sarah Maestas Barnes "take a walk" and fail to cast a vote. Don't her constituents in her ABQ NE Heights swing district deserve to have their voices heard on this landmark legislation?

Make no mistake. This is landmark stuff. The Amendment would tap the state's $17 billion Land Grant Permanent School fund for $150 million a year and devote it mainly to early childhood--ages zero to five--when brain development is at its most critical stage. If the investment proved successful, it could bring dramatic improvement to the future NM workforce and put us on a path to correcting the state's long-standing social conditions crisis.

Like last year the amendment is now headed to the state Senate where Republicans, in coalition with a group of conservative Democrats, have their swords drawn to kill the measure again. Maybe Senate Leader Wirth should invite Representatives Maestas and Martinez over to replicate their spirited and passionate House debate for those wary Senate conservatives. It just might make a difference,

PNM'S BEAR HUG

The wild gyrations on Wall Street have sent the state's only New York Stock Exchange listed company into a bear market. PNM's most recent stock peak was $46 a share but Tuesday it was trading below $35, a plunge of about 25 percent from the top. A bear market is defined as a decline of at least 20 percent. The culprit is primarily higher interest rates now available from government bonds. Investors in search of yield are fleeing utility stocks for the more secure government income.

PNM's annual dividend now amounts to 3 percent annually, but some experts say investors will be demanding even higher returns as government bonds provide stiff competition. That could mean PNM and other utility stocks stay in the cellar.

For long-term investors in the electric utility the picture is less sour. PNM traded at around $22 a share in February of 2013. Those investors are still up 50 percent, not counting their dividend payments.

There is some more bad news for PNM shareholders to contemplate. That controversial bond proposal the company put before the Legislature to pay the costs and lost profit of shutting down a coal-fired plant in the Four Corners was tabled by a state Senate committee, signaling the end of the deal--at least until the 2019 session,

The bill was pushed hard by ABQ Dem Senator Jacob Candelaria, despite widespread opposition among progressives and environmentalists. His advocacy of the measure has raised talk of a possible primary challenge to the ABQ westside senator in 2020. But that's a long way off.

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Tuesday, February 06, 2018

Primary '18 To Pick Up Today As Candidates For Statewide Offices And Congress File Their Papers, ABQ Congress Contest Appears To Narrow And Reaction To State House Dems Bipartisan Play With R's  

It's filing day for Primary Election '18. No surprises are expected when candidates for US Senator, US House, governor. lieutenant governor and all the statewide offices file their declaration of candidacies today along with required option signatures to make it on to the June 6 primary ballot. But you can make sure of that by following the filing action at the Secretary of State's office here.

One of the more competitive races this year is the battle for the ABQ Congressional seat being vacated by Rep. Michelle Lujan Grisham who seeking the Dem nod for Governor. But according to the latest finance reports, the race has become a bit less competitive.

Insiders, analysts and Alligators seem to agree that there are now three leading contenders who have emerged for the Democratic nomination--Antoinette Sedillo Lopez, Damon Martinez and Deb Haaland.

And the nomination is nearly tantamount to winning in November because the district has been in Dem hands for a decade. Here's one of the Alligators with the first winnowing of this multi-candidate scramble as he assesses the fund-raising:

Although (ABQ attorney) Antoinette Sedillo Lopez has a slight lead over (former US Attorney) Damon Martinez in their current cash-on-hand, Martinez is clearly the more efficient fundraiser and was raising money at a faster rate than anyone by the end of the year. He has $322,00 on hand but only spent 12% of what he raised to get there. Sedillo Lopez had $347,000 on-hand but spent 31% of what she raised in ’17 to get there. It appears that Martinez and Sedillo Lopez both will have the funds needed to launch a media campaign. Sedillo Lopez needs to trim her expenses if she’s going to keep up with Martinez. She paid a hefty $13,000 in December for staff. Someone needs to remind her she’s not running for U.S. Senate (yet, right?).

(ABQ attorney) Damian Lara has $147,000 on-hand and (ABQ City Councilor) Pat Davis is sitting on $73,000. The real story of the reports is the disappointing showing by (attorney and former NM Dem Party Chair) Deb Haaland. She’s got only $195,000 on hand and almost spent more than she raised. She’s barely outpacing newcomer Lara.

Political consultants should bring their buckets to the Haaland HQ ASAP to catch all the cash she’s shoveling out the door. Last November she spent a whopping $34,000 on consultants and staff. She hasn’t even dipped into paying pricey media consultants and pollsters. Last fall she gave out staff bonuses (guess it wasn’t a “win” bonus, huh?). If she had spent at the rate of Damon Martinez, she’d be sitting on $340,000 right now. Hey, but at least the consultants and staff are fat and happy—that what’s really important!

That's a pretty good drubbing of Haaland but she has fallen considerably behind her two main foes in the cash contest. However, we would add that her candidacy has powerful symbolic appeal. She would be the first Native American woman elected to the Congress and that's something the party faithful respond to. Still, we have a race to watch here in the top tier.

MORE ON "BIPARTISAN" D'S

Our Monday blog scoring the state House Democrats over their anxiousness to make "bipartisan" deals with the House R's in an election year where they should be looking to take advantage of the R's weakness drew some insightful comments. First, this from the "On the Sidelines Alligator:"

Joe, I have a slightly different take. In the parlance of the weekend, I think we need to wonder whether this year's "bipartisan" approach is a preventive defense designed to run out the clock on the upcoming election. It is a 30 day session with a Governor who still has a veto pen. Why take the chance of giving up a Hail Mary pass to the Republicans this late in the game by creating an election issue? If this strategy works, I expect in 2019 we will see a no huddle Democratic offense with the Republicans unable to blitz.

We'll see about that '19 call as conservative Senate Dems continue to dominate liberal Majority Leader Wirth. We asked this Gator why don't the Democrats at least force controversial votes that could be used against House R's in swing districts regardless of whether the bills have any chance of being signed by the Governor. After all that's what R's did when they recently controlled the chamber:

I think theirs is a risk adverse strategy. The Democrats would just as well have the election tomorrow and don't want to raise any new issues. That approach does not come without its own risks but they are playing it safe. None of this, of course, has much to do with defining and enacting policy, at least until next year.

Another Alligator of the Dem variety is not pleased with his party's action at the session:

Those of us who receive non-stop solicitations from the House Majority Dems will think twice about contributing if it means supporting House Minority Leader Nate Gentry, ABQ GOP Rep. Sarah Maestas Barnes (who are in key swing districts) and other Republicans who receive assistance and cover from House and Senate Dems. Why are our Democrats engaged in giving these Republicans legislative victories that they will then use to claim they are “bipartisan” on the campaign trail? They never did the same for us! ABQ Dem Senator Daniel Ivey-Soto has 5 bills he’s cosponsoring with Gentry and 3 with Sarah Maestas Barnes. Last election cycle Gentry and Barnes were two of Dems’ top targets. Our Democratic leadership should be busy digging the graves for Barnes’ and Gentry’s political careers not finding ways to extend their terms.

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Monday, February 05, 2018

Getting Partisan Over "Bipartisanship"; Santa Fe's Latest Mantra Rings Hollow In Face Of A Crime Wave And Long Economic Decline; Our Analysis And Commentary Are Up Next  

How do you make people believe you're doing something when you really aren't doing much of anything? Well, in the bubblefied air of the Roundhouse in Santa Fe you crow  about "bipartisanship" and how we are all there to work together, like you're in church and everyone is singing songs from the same page even if they harbor deep disagreements with the neighbor sitting next to them.

For Democrats, who seem genetically incapable of putting up a fight, bipartisanship is the perfect cover for preserving the current order. It's a lobbyist's wet dream. And with only days left in the '18 legislative session the Dems began to lay the groundwork for that to become their closing theme.

Heck, the cries of bipartisanship are so ubiquitous they should name a soup after it at the Capitol snack bar. While they're at it they should drop the tortilla burger from the menu because this is an all vegan session with no red meat on the table.

Take, for example, the triumphant bleating over a "bipartisan crime package" that passed the House on  a 66-1 vote. First, anything that passes by that margin is sure to lack any political protein. Let's get out the soup spoons and do a taste test:

The proposal would increase penalties for violent felons caught with firearms, provide retention bonuses to veteran police officers and reclassify certain nonviolent offenses.

That's it? That's what is supposed to begin putting a halt to an historic crime wave? Talk about thin gruel. Bonuses to retain officers is a nice morsel but its hardly earthshaking and hardly controversial which is why it flew through the House. Increasing penalties for violent felons is another no-brainer vote, even if you have the brains to realize it will have zero impact on crime. Ditto for "reclassifying certain nonviolent offenses?" Boy, the criminals are really shaking in their stolen cowboy boots over that.

But House Speaker Brian Egolf and House Minority Leader Nate Gentry unabashedly touted this as some kind of distinct change in crime fighting and even called it a "comprehensive framework that will keep out communities safe."

Only in Santa Fe's thin air could that definition of this skimpy crime package pass muster. And if the air didn't do the trick, you imagine lawmakers throwing down a couple of shots of Johnny Walker at the Bull Ring to convince themselves of the fantasy.

But what is quite sobering in Santa Fe is the alarming way in which Speaker Egolf has laid down his arms against Minority Leader Gentry, the guy whose hair you would think he would be mussing every morning in preparation for the '18 election.

Time and again it has been pointed out that Gentry's ABQ NE Heights district is vulnerable to a Dem challenge. You wonder what Natalie Figueroa thinks of these goings on as she weighs another run against Nate after a strong showing last time. But the Speaker apparently didn't get the memo:

When I started as speaker,” Egolf said, “I was disgusted by what I saw in D.C., and I was very disappointed in a lot of the politics I saw in New Mexico.” He said he wanted to help change that, and he has found an ally this session in Gentry, the Republican minority leader.

Change it to what end? To produce tepid crime packages that give Gentry political cover but little else? As a former state legislator said of this maneuvering:

Don’t worry, Nate! We Dems love having you here! We’ll do everything we can to make sure you stay! And so will the Journal! It’s all about Being There - and we’re all going to be there in Santa Fe 4ever!!

For seven years Governor Martinez and her Shadow Governor Jay McCleskey banned bipartisanship from the dictionary, waging a fierce political operation against the House Dems and ousting them from power for two years in the '14 election. Apparently the Speaker wasn't "disgusted over that" and is letting Gentry, a leader of that attack machine, off the hook and in fact rewarding his hyper-partisan activity.

As our former legislator said (wonder who that is?) in Santa Fe it has become all about "being there" and preserving the status quo. And that's really what "bipartisanship" is all about.

Not to belabor the point but the inanity of this bipartisanship play is just plain insulting to the intelligence. Look at what else they are extolling as bipartisan achievement:

Without a dissenting vote, the Senate and House passed a measure signing New Mexico on to a multistate compact allowing nurses licensed elsewhere to continue practicing here.

You mean there was some danger that dreaded "partisan politics" was going to thwart that piece of political pablum from passing unanimously?

REALITY BASED NM

Meantime, back in reality-based New Mexico, Jim Peach of NMSU, a charter member of our "No BS Economists" club, comes with this news that ought out to crack the Roundhouse walls but probably won't even penetrate them:

“We are now identifying what are those three to five critical areas that help turn the economy around,” he said. There would be costs in making the investments needed to change the structure of the state’s economy. Fully funding early childhood education, for example, would take tens of millions of dollars a year, advocates say. And that’s just the start. To really put new muscle in New Mexico’s economy, Peach said hundreds of millions of dollars in investment are needed.

You read that right. "Hundreds of millions in investment." Raise your hand if you think "bipartisanship" is going to free up that money and start to get this 50th in everything paradise turned around. Yep. No hands.

We have unanimous agreement here, Santa Fe.  Can you put that in a "bipartisan" package so we can all get to work?

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