Thursday, February 15, 2018

Low Energy, Small Ball Session Crawls To Close; "They Came Here Already Checked Out." Plus: '18 Session Sore Loser Award And Sex Assault Charge Rocks Gonzales As He Quits Lt. Gov. Race  

The low energy, small ball legislative session of 2018 crawls to a close today. As one Wall-Leaner put it:

Joe, they came here already checked out, acted that way for the month and then just checked out. There was no energy."

Checked out meaning they were exhausted from the 7 years under Gov. Martinez and just waiting for it to end and get on with whatever comes next.

That it was a small ball session was not a disaster. The lawmakers did do their main job for a short session. They passed with little rancor a budget for the fiscal year that starts July 1. And while you will read of long lists of "accomplishments" in the press and elsewhere, that was the major significance of the 30 day meet.

Not that Santa Fe went on a spending spree. They didn't have the money to do that. As we have pointed out, the $6.3 billion general fund budget just approved is lower than the budget passed 10 years ago when adjusted for inflation.

Democrats decided to go easy on the minority R's, even to the point of giving some of them in theHouse ammo for their re-election campaigns. But the D's believe this cycle belongs to them so they assume this "checked out session" preserves the gains they see coming in November in the governorship, the statewide offices and in the House.

The 30 days is best compared to this year's annual Senate-House basketball game--unlike past games there were no injuries and no tackles.


If there was a big winner in Santa Fe this year, it came from the outside. BernCo District Attorney Raul Torrez received a big--a really big increase--in his budget after marshaling the media and convincing lawmakers who were afraid of being cast as "soft on crime."

It was well done as not one story appeared in the mainstream media--TV or newspaper-- about how Torrez is handling the money he already has, the office vacancy rate and whether current pay levels are appropriate.

State Senators put off by the Torrez pressure are now laying in wait and come next January will be expecting glowing reports from him about how ABQ crime is rapidly receding because of all that new money. Good luck with that.

And that so-called "bipartisan crime package,"containing as it does measures that have about as much bite as a month old puppy, was, like the DA budget boost, just an optical play by both sides to assure the public that were doing something--anything--about the crime waves that roll through the state.

Gov. Martinez laid low for the most part for her final legislative session. Like everyone else the fight is out of her. With only 10 months left her staff can be expected to start looking for work elsewhere and so can she.


This year's capital outlay or "pork" bill is about $180 million for projects across the state.  You can find a list of those projects for your area here. They are mainly financed with bonds drawn from the Severance Tax Permanent Fund which gets its money from oil gas taxes and royalties. And those have been going back up as oil recovers.

That pretty much sums up the major themes, but one final note. . .


On Wednesday we referenced a "backstory" on Santa Fe Mayor Javier Gonzales when we reported of his withdrawal from the race for the Democratic nomination for lieutenant governor. Wednesday night that backstory went front and center when charges made against Gonzales at a Santa Fe City Council meeting from two weeks ago surfaced.

KRQE-TV decided to run tape from that meeting of Roger Rael addressing Gonzales at that council meeting and repeatedly demanding he answer his question: "Did you sexually assault a member of your family"? (Full news report here.)

Gonzales interrupted Rael and urged him to move on or he would be removed from the meeting. The TV station asked the NM State Police if they are investigating the charge that Gonzales assaulted a family member some 35 years ago when he was a teenager.
The agency confirmed it was investigating but added what the station called an odd addendum by saying that it is not naming any suspect because no crime has yet been charged.

The shock claim from Rael was rebutted by Gonzales' campaign who characterized him as a "right-wing nut job, an anti-Semite, anti-African American" and urged anyone who believes he has credibility to Google and YouTube Rael's name. Gonzales said in a statement that the charge dates backs to when he was going through a divorce. Gonzales has come out as a gay man but was formerly married and is the father of two daughters.

Gonzales denies that the charge had anything to do with him withdrawing from the Light Guv race. He said he got out because "my heart is no longer in it."

Whatever the reason for the withdrawal this mess would have been sure to sully the atmosphere for the Dems if Gonzales had become the ticket's #2. You can bet after getting an earload of this the Dem candidates for Governor are glad to bid Javier "Adios."

Earlier, ABQ Dem State Senator Michael Padilla withdrew from the Light Guv race because of decade-old sex harassment charges that resulted in the city of ABQ paying a lawsuit settlement.

Republicans have relished the Dem dysfunction from the sidelines and hope that there is more to come in this sex opera. The Dems are praying that the Gonzales mess is the end.

But it isn't the end of the Dem sex woes. The latest from the Dems PR arm at the Roundhouse:

After official allegations of sexual harassment against Dona Ana County Commissioner Vasquez came to light, Democratic Senators Mary Kay Papen (SD38), Bill Soules (SD-37), and Jeff Steinborn (SD-36) and Democratic Representatives Doreen Gallegos (HD-52), Bealquin “Bill” Gomez (HD-34), Bill McCamley (HD-33), Angelica Rubio (HD-35), Nathan Small (HD-36), and Joanne Ferrary (HD-37) released the following statement:

“As elected officials it’s essential that we conduct ourselves professionally and treat all citizens with respect. We are very troubled by reports of Doña Ana County (Democratic) Commissioner John Vasquez engaging in harassment and unwanted sexual behavior. We stand with the women who have come forward and been affected by this behavior, and call on Doña Ana County to immediately investigate and take action."

That one is dragging in Richard Ellenberg, chairman of the NM Democratic Party. And we thought the election was about the economy. Silly us.


The sore loser award for the session goes to PNM. Get a load of this from the electric company:

Public Service Co. of New Mexico wants to stir a public backlash against the Santa Fe-based environmental group New Energy Economy for its role in defeating a legislative bill this month that could have accelerated the utility’s replacement of coal-fired generation with renewable energy.

That statement after PNM received a giant federal tax cut that made unnecessary any major rate increase, sparing them more public enmity and also after years of increasing profits courtesy of previous rate hikes.

Hey, PNM, its not a winner take all game anymore. And for not recognizing that, you're the winner of the 2018 Legislative Sore Loser Award. Congrats or something. . .

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Wednesday, February 14, 2018

Trump's NM Numbers Still In Cellar: A Boost For Dem Hopefuls? Gonzales Is Gone; Ends Bid For Light Guv Nod And BernCo Dem Chairman Praises Socialism 

He's more popular here than Gov. Martinez but not by much and that could boost the Dems chances to pick up some strength this November.

President Trump, according to a Morning Consult poll taken January 20-29, has an approval rating of only 38% among the state's registered voters. The R's knew it was going to be a tough year for them and this survey signals the rough waters ahead as they attempt to hang on to the governorship and prevent erosion in their numbers in the state House.

Gov. Martinez had an approval rating of 33 percent in a Morning Consult poll that was conducted over the last three months of 2017.

Still, R's warn, the Dems could overplay their hand by going anti-Trump all the time, pointing out that there are a bevy of local concerns that they will use to keep the focus away from their White House weakness.

In neighboring Texas the GOP can breathe easier. Trump wins an approval rating of 51 percent in the Lonestar State. To our north, Colorado voters are similar to ours when it comes to Trump. Only 41 percent approve of the president's job performance.

One of the ABQ congressional candidates isn't wasting any time in trying to use Trump's unpopularity to his benefit. ABQ City Councilor Pat Davis, one of six hopefuls for the seat being vacated by Dem Rep. Michelle Lujan Grisham, came with a TV spot Tuesday that said in part:

. . . He'll be a leader to battle Trump and fix a corrupt political system. With all that's going on we need Pat Davis in Congress.

A consultant for an opposing campaign said Davis only spent about $2,500 on the ad for a one month run and that it will air only on MSNBC. Davis has lagged in fund-raising compared to Deb Haaland, Damon Martinez and Antoinette Sedillo-Lopez.

But Davis is preaching to a small audience right now--the hundreds of delegates who will attend the March pre-primary convention where there will be a vote on the hopefuls. Whoever comes out on top or near it will claim momentum for the June primary.


Is there a back story on why Santa Fe Mayor Javier Gonzales has decided to end his run for the Democratic nomination for lieutenant governor? He confirmed he was out shortly after Alligators put out the word on the blog yesterday that he could be headed for the exits.

It was odd that he got in the race after saying he was getting out of politics to tend to the needs of his daughters. Then on his way out the door there were some nasty reports about Gonzales that were floated to this blog and to the New Mexican. They did not see publication but still. . .

Then there was Dem gubernatorial front-runner Rep. Lujan Grisham. Did she really want to run with Gonzales thinking he would be highly popular in the North? He would not have been, judging by his polling numbers in his own city.

In any event Gonzales's departure leaves four contenders for the #2 spot: Taos educator Jeff Carr, Doña Ana County Commissioner Billy Garrett, former House Majority Leader Rick Miera and state Sen. Howie Morales of Silver City. Morales and Miera are seen as the two to watch.


Here's some Dem messaging that had us doing a double take. BernCo Dem Party Chairman Bill Peifer recently wrote to party members:

Dear Democrat, Most Republicans believe that "socialism" is a terrible thing. They incorrectly equate it to communism, which they again incorrectly equate to despotic dictatorship. Most of them can't even comprehend situations where socialism works better than greed-based capitalism, even when they are themselves being helped by socialistic entities. . . In fact, sometimes they can't even see socialism working better than capitalism when it IS right in front of them.

. . . W can see dozens of areas where competitive capitalism just doesn't work. Socialism isn't a pervasive evil that needs to be eradicated. In general, it can be argued that the things for which all of society has an overwhelming need are best left to a socialized system. Fire protection, law enforcement, education, culture and basic old-age pension fall into that category. Quality healthcare is certainly another overwhelming need of society in general. Every other civilized country in the world has recognized that fact, and have socialized their entire healthcare systems. It's time for America to move into the 21st century and do the same.

Peifer has been one of the more active BernCo Party Chairs in recent years and has reinvigorated the base with fighting words like those. Of course, the R's could soon use those same words against him (and Dem candidates) to ignite their own base.


"Dr. No" is at again.  Senate Finance Committee Chairman John Arthur Smith says he will not give a hearing to the proposed constitutional amendment to use a portion of the state's $17 billion Land Grant Permanent School Fund for very early childhood education. That's par for the course for the Deming lawmaker who has killed the measure in the past, despite its approval by the state House.

The amendment continues to pick up public and media support and will be back in the '19 session when supporters say if a Democratic governor is elected that could help win Senate approval and send it to the voters in 2020. . .


Ray Moran
Media and business old timers in ABQ and NM will remember the name Ray Moran, the pioneer broadcaster who in the 70's and 80's served as General Manager of radio stations KRST and KRZY in Albuquerque, growing them to industry prominence. He founded KTEZ radio in Lubbock in 1972. In 1981, Moran's Ramar Communications launched channel 34 in Lubbock, RX as an independent TV station.

We worked for Ray at ABQ's KRZY-AM and KRST-FM as a news director in the late 70's. He always gave us the freedom to report the news free of any commercial restraints or pressure. He believed in talent and we grew and prospered because of it.

Moran, 82, a past president of the NM Broadcasters Association, died February 11 in Lubbock. Ramar Communications currently has 16 TV and radio stations in Texas, New Mexico and Colorado.

Well done, Ray, and thanks. Those were the good times. RIP. . .

Political consultant Chris Brown is already earning lashes with the wet noodle. He made an error in predicting the Santa Fe City Council District 4 race on the Tuesday. His actual prediction is that JoAnne Vigil-Coppler will take the race, not the candidate he first mentioned here.

If his predictions don't pan out at the March election a more stern punishment of no green chile for a month will be handed down.

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Tuesday, February 13, 2018

Martinez Kisses Trump Ring At WH Meet, Keller Hits DC For ART Money, John Sanchez In Line For Something Big? And Santa Fe Mayor Predictions  

DC sources close to the congressional delegation report that ABQ Mayor Keller was in Washington in late January making the rounds for $75 million in ART funding. They say he focused on the staffs of the House and Senate Appropriations Committees where any bill that includes the delayed ART funding would be written.

His chances of getting the stalled cash for the so fair failed transit project appear to have improved. There are big dollar increases in the recently approved two year Federal budget so money for the ART project on Central Avenue might have have a better chance of getting here.

Keeping it on Capitol Hill. . .

When the star of US House Minority Leader Nancy Pelosi shines bright so does that of her NM protege, Dem Rep. Ben Ray Lujan. Right now the Pelosi star is looking a bit faded:

David Wasserman, who tracks House races for the nonpartisan Cook Political Report, said that in an era when voters are disaffected with Washington, it is difficult for Democrats to make the case that they are change agents with Ms. Pelosi at the helm.

Ben Ray is chairman of the DCCC, charged with the campaign strategy to take back the House for the Republicans in 2018. He and Pelosi we're also in charge of that task in '16 and took heat for making only a tiny gain, but they survived. This could be the pair's last try. If they can't bring it home this year when the President's approval rating is so low, this could be their last hurrah as key national players.

We've reluctantly come to this same conclusion but see zilch in the way of momentum for a constitutional amendment that would be needed to make the switch:

. . . Upgrade the quality of legislators by paying them a base salary. A fair amount would be $50,000 a year. . . Having a reasonable base salary would allow people of every demographic group to run. By expanding the pool of candidates and, more important, the pool of talent, New Mexico might get better lawmakers. . . Some will say New Mexico cannot afford to add 112 legislators to the payroll. . . Good legislators are essential for state government to be what it often is not--efficient, open and competent. There are plenty of places to cut fat, starting with the job of lieutenant governor. That position pays $85,000 a year and the office drains another $447,000 annually.

Speaking of the lieutenant governor, the current one is John Sanchez whose political career has become roadkill under unpopular Gov. Susan Martinez. But all may not be lost. The rumor mill--and we stress it is the rumor mill--has Sanchez under consideration for a possible appointment as a US ambassador to somewhere. Well, considering what has happened to him here, John would probably welcome relocating to an exotic locale.

Is Santa Fe Mayor Javier Gonzales dropping out of the race for the Dem nomination for lieutenant governor? Alligators raised the question and we asked Gonzales and his consultant for comment but got none. Phone home when you're ready, Javier. . .

UPDATE: Gonzales ended his candidacy Tuesday afternoon, saying when he got in he feared there were no progressive candidates in the contest:

. . . The progressive voice across the state is strong, and that many qualified candidates are bringing their passion and perspective to the Lt. Governor race. Unfortunately my heart is not in this race, so with a clear conscience, I have decided to end my campaign

Gov. Martinez was at the White House along with other Governors and politicos for a meeting with President Trump Monday on his infrastructure plan, She clapped approvingly and smiled cheerily at the man she refused to endorse for the presidency and which surely got her into his dog house. But now with limited time left on in her governorship maybe she's looking to get out of it and dropped off her resume during her visit. Can she at least join Sanchez on that rumor list of possible ambassadorial appointees? Knowing Trump he'd send her to Siberia if he could.


More Alligator musings on this week's candidate filings for statewide offices. This one deals with the Court of Appeals in which five seats are on the ballot:

Joe, it's interesting that it's 4 Republican men versus 5 Democratic women in the Court of Appeals races. And if my sources are correct, all the woman are graduates of the  Emerge program  designed to get Democratic woman elected to office. This would put 8 women on the ten member bench. Bad optics for the Republicans IMHO.

There are currently three women judges on the court and with the state leaning blue in the statewide races, we could easily get to 8. Dem Judge Jennifer Attrep is one of them and a sure thing. She was appointed to fill a vacancy but drew no GOP opposition.


Now that he's the clear front-runner in the Santa Fe march mayoral election, it's time Alan Webber to take the hits. Here's reader Savannah Baca taking a swing:

Webber is with the sugar tax bunch that were defeated soundly! The New Mexican endorsement can also be the kiss of death! Ron Trujillo has a strong and aggressive grass roots campaign so don't count him out.

Trujillo is a Santa Fe City Councilor and seen as one of the leading challengers to Webber in the five way race.

Longtime NM political consultant and media buyer Chris Brown, also a longtime resident of Santa Fe, starts the countdown fun to the March 6 mayoral election with the first round of predictions. Here they are:

Mayor Alan Webber. Broadest support, best ideas. Most money, but he started slowly. I don’t think his money or newspaper endorsement(s) will be decisive. He does have by far the most membership organizations endorsing him, so that has to be a plus.

Mayoral surprise: Ron Trujillo will get more eastside votes than one or both of our councilors, Maestas and Ives.

Mayoral top three in ranked order, as we say: Webber, Trujillo, Noble, in that order, all with strong showings. Then a big gap to Ives and Maestas

District 1--Incumbent Signe Lindell; 2--Carol Romero-Wirth; 3--Roman "Tiger" Abeyta (unopposed);4:Joanne Vigil Coppler.

In District 2 the edge goes to Romero-Wirth because of the Sierra Club endorsement which goes a long way in that area.

If Chris is wrong there will be punishment--at least 25 lashes with a wet noodle made fresh from one of this fancy Italian restaurants up there.

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Monday, February 12, 2018

Trouble At The Journal And What Its Troubles Stem From, Plus: How Low can She Go? Susana Polling Slump Bad But Not Worst, And Webber Mo; Can He Keep It as Santa Fe Election Nears?  

The good news for the ABQ Journal is that the cartoon that caused such an uproar, well, caused such an uproar. It spoke to the relevancy (if still waning) of the only paper in town. The bad news? The cartoon again revealed the identity crisis the Journal now struggles with. Here are the key points:

--The state's population is now over 60 percent majority-minority, with Hispanics making up nearly 50 percent of that total. In BernCo 65 percent of the population fits the majority-minority definition. If the media can't stay in touch with that dramatic demographic change, it's in trouble

--The Journal has an aging, Anglo leadership which represents the demographic that is shrinking here. The publisher, the senior editor and the editor are all well into their 60's. All joined the paper when the city was a drastically different place economically and socially.

--That's not "ageist." It's just a matter of fact that keeping up with and truly understanding marked cultural change is more difficult when your point of reference is a world and decades away.

--The trouble the Journal is having adjusting was laid bare in the October mayoral election when for the first time they endorsed two candidates as they tried to navigate the new electorate that apparently so baffles them.

--The paper needs to attract more younger minority journalists who are tapped into the city's new zeitgeist and who can bring the paper more fully into the community.

All of that is a tall order for the 125 year old Journal which was founded by and for the town's new Anglo business interests who began to build the city in 1880 when the railroad arrived.

The Journal has adhered to those roots, catering to the local business community and quite often to the Republican Party. But corporate America has driven prominent local businesses from the picture and we now have the aforementioned demographic shift to a majority minority population. On top of that, the Republicans have been sent into hibernation in Bernalillo County, possibly for many years.

In other words the constituency the Journal is so accustomed to serving has shrunk and continues to shrink while the new constituency and its agenda is being ignored and waits restlessly for its majority voice to be recognized.

Whether the paper is even profitable at this point or being carried by the Lang family's real estate interests is unknown, but just about all newspapers today face financial challenges. The current publisher--William P. Lang--is known for his business acumen, but according to one source who spoke with him directly, he does not have a deep interest in day to day news operations.

Rather than fight for survival amid even more sea changes that are coming to the state's population and economy, this would seem a good time for the Journal's publishing family of nearly 90 years to sell the operation. But are there any buyers? Papers in DC, LA and Las Vegas have all gone to billionaires who are willing to assume some risk in exchange for the power of the publisher. But there are no billionaires here.

The often brilliant and now retired public relations executive Lanny Tonning once said: "The ABQ Journal: The only newspaper that resents the town it covers."

That may or may not be true but unless there is a reshaped agenda and leadership at the state's largest paper what it says in the future--no matter how controversial--may be greeted by the silence that accompanies irrelevancy rather than citizen demonstrations and condemnations from politicians.


Gov. Anaya 
How low can she go? Gov. Martinez's approval rating has plunged to 33 percent in the latest Morning Consult survey. That ties the low registered by Dem Gov. Richardson in his last year in office in 2010.

Martinez would appear to have hit bottom but if she hasn't she could still drop a long way before she became the state's most unpopular governor in polling history.

When Democratic Governor Toney Anaya ('83-87) was about to leave office in November 1986, an ABQ Journal survey had his "favorability" rating at an astounding low of 12.2 percent.

Toney's authoritarian instincts put off the electorate and his four year term was chaotic. But 12 percent? We dare say that's a record like DiMaggio's hitting streak--a record that will never be broken.

The irony for Martinez, of course, is that she rode Big Bill's unpopularity into the Fourth Floor in the 2010 election. Now the Dems appear about to do the same with her own unpopularity.

In practical terms Martinez's bad polls makes vetoing bills a more difficult prospect as even Republicans might be prone to override her. And her power to put public pressure on the Legislature is weakened.

And pity Steve Pearce, the GOP Guv nominee-to-be. He not only has Susana's baggage to carry but the Donald's as well. That's what you call a heavy load.


With the Santa Fe mayoral election now less than a month away, he's got the mo and the money, but the often topsy-turvy politics of the City Different have been known to turn quickly so entrepreneur Alan Webber may find himself tested in the final weeks.

Besides raising more money than his opponents, Webber, who became know politically when he unsuccessfully sought the 2014 Dem Guv nomination,  also picked up the endorsement of outgoing Santa Fe Mayor Javier Gonzales. That might be a mixed blessing in a two way race. The Gonzales tenure has proved divisive and not all that popular, according to the polls. But the endorsement math works for Webber in this five way contest.

Webber has also won the endorsement of the New Mexican.

The mayoral campaign has been less aggressive than those of the past. The new system of ranked voting in which candidates need to appeal to voters not only to be their first choice but also their second--has calmed the animal spirits that usually take hold at this point.

Webber has worked the beat hard and assumed the front-runner position, making the question of the campaign not "Why Webber?" but "Why Not Webber?" Will any of his foes take up that question?


At the Roundhouse, it appears BernCo DA Raul Torrez will walk away with a big budget boost, if not all that he wanted. The Dem DA can thank GOP Gov. Martinez and the unrelenting crime wave that has caused near desperation as citizens look for solutions. . .

Some are saying that Senate Finance Chair John Arthur Smith has now given Torrez "enough rope to hang himself" if the money doesn't make much of a difference. And it may not.

By the way, not a bad play for lame duck Martinez in how she got Senate Finance to give in on overall crime funding.  No one likes being "soft on crime.". . .

The state budget for the fiscal year that starts July 1 is coming in at around $6.3 billion. Despite having about $300 million more to appropriate, mainly because of rising oil prices, that budget is less than a 5 percent increase from the general fund budget of 10 years ago. How about that?. . .

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