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Thursday, March 01, 2018

Was The Fix In For Flynn? Investigative Report Casts Major Doubt On DA Torrez Decision In Politically Connected DWI Case; Questions Over A Susana Link And DA Office Funding Explored  

DA Torrez
The peculiar alliance between Democratic Bernalillo County District Attorney Raul Torrez and Governor Martinez and her political machine and how that played into Torrez reaping extra millions for his budget from the recent session of the Legislature is back in the spotlight. It raises anew serious questions about how Torrez's office handled a DWI bust of former Martinez environment cabinet secretary Ryan Flynn, who is now executive director of the NM Oil and Gas Association.

An investigative report from the Santa Fe Reporter and NM In Depth explores questions first asked here in a January blog:

Was the fix put in for Flynn when he was arrested for aggravated DWI last May and when Torrez's office reduced that to the much less serious charge of careless driving? And was that a favor rewarded by Martinez with her unprecedented public support for his increased budget request and other political snuggling they have engaged in? 

Torrez is all over the map on this one. He told the Legislature he needed extra money in part to increase his DWI conviction rate, but the veteran officer who arrested Flynn says it was a no-brainer that Flynn had been drinking to excess, had bloodshot eyes and smelled of booze and booked him for DWI. So why go light on Flynn if you are truly trying to improve drunk driving convictions? The DA's office gives a tortured explanation with Torrez himself saying he was not "directly involved" in the Flynn decision. But then a spokesman for Torrez called the reporters back and says the DA was not involved at all in the Flynn case. What is one to make of that?

The investigative report, replete with the officer's lapel camera video of the Flynn arrest, casts major doubt on the DA's decision.

We can add some context from our sources: On the night of his arrest Flynn, 39, was attending a fund-raiser hosted by Gov. Martinez for her Legacy PAC at the Marriott Pyramid. After the event ended Flynn and Jessica Perez, Martinez's finance director, drove to a Nob Hill bar to host some donors. Later they left the bar to go back to the Marriott Pyramid where Flynn's erratic driving led to his arrest around Midnight.
Flynn DWI test

Ironically, on the same day the investigative report was published this week the Martinez-friendly ABQ Journal editorial pages, which started out not liking Torrez but since have embraced him, was publishing a glowing editorial about his stance on guns.

Torrez received an extra $4 million from the Legislature after he enlisted the Governor, the media and the public to put pressure on the Senate Finance Committee. That's when the Flynn/Torrez connection surfaced on our blog. Senate Finance Chair John Arthur Smith was reluctant to give him the money but he caved under the pressure while warning the DA he will have to show results.

Now that the Flynn Fix has been uncovered it is sure to haunt Torrez as he pursues his political future. But for the Martinez machine it's just another day in the life. Flynn says  the New Mexico Oil and Gas Association will be "the most powerful organization in the state of New Mexico." 

GUV HEAT

Lujan Grisham
Jeff Apodaca told us this week the Dem pre-primary nominating convention is being "rigged" by the party for Rep. Lujan Grisham, and with her complicity. She's expected to come out on top at that March 10 convention and her campaign responds that Apodaca's accusations are "baseless:"

It is disappointing that Jeff Apodaca is making baseless accusations against our campaign and against the droves of supporters who have shown up at meetings across the state to support Michelle. She has been overwhelmed by the support she has received at these grassroots meetings from Taos to Las Cruces and from Gallup to Loving. We understand that Jeff and his campaign are disappointed by the lack of support for his campaign but to try cast doubt on the votes of hundreds of New Mexicans who turned out to vote for Michelle is unfortunate and a slap in the face to the thousands of volunteers organizing for Michelle across the state.

People are excited about the opportunity to represent Michelle at the state convention and see her as our next Governor. That excitement continued to build in every corner of the state over the last few months at delegate trainings, grassroots organizing meetings, and at local democratic conventions attended by hundreds of supporters, including many who have never been involved before.

THE BOTTOM LINES

In a first draft Wednesday we called the ABQ westside district of Senator Jacob Candelaria "heavy R." We meant to say it is "heavy Dem." And about Candelaria's resignation as Senate Dem Caucus Chair because Majorly Leader Peter Wirth is celebrating the death of the PNM bond bill Candelaria sponsored, reader Savannah Baca writes:

I'm glad Senator Wirth stopped that Bill! PNM has profited huge from the plants in Farmington. Why should we consumers be saddled with the recovery costs? Farmington talks about job losses  If you look at the power company that supplies power to the northeast corner, they don't even buy their power from those plants. I wasn't surprised Candeleria sponsored that bill. Industry knows what senators and representatives are for sale.

Candelaria's arguments for the bill were covered extensively here Wednesday.

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Wednesday, February 28, 2018

Tensions Rise in Dem Guv Race: Apodaca Accuses Party Of "Rigging" Preprimary For Lujan Grisham, Plus: Sen. Candelaria's stunning Rebuke of Dem Senate Leader Wirth; He Resigns As Caucus Chair; "I'd Rather Die Standing Than Live On My Knees." Strap Yourself In For the Wednesday Blog 

Jeff Apodaca
Tension is rising in the camps of the four Democratic gubernatorial candidates as the critical March 10 pre-primary nominating convention looms. Jeff Apodaca is going public with the friction and accusing the campaign of Rep. Michelle Lujan Grisham and the Democratic Party of "rigging" the recent county ward meetings at which delegates were elected to the statewide convention. He told us he has video of a number of violations of party rules and will be releasing it to support his accusations.

Apodaca's campaign says it notified State Dem Party Chair Richard Ellenberg and BernCo Chair Bill Peifer of the alleged violations but said the chairs denied there were any.

Apodaca said he personally saw paid campaign staffers for Lujan Grisham's campaign helping ward delegates in Socorro and Torrance counties fill out their ballots when making their choice for governor, a practice prohibited by the party. He also said there was proxy voting permitted at some ward meetings when there's not supposed to be any.

Apodaca's charges that the party is rigging the pre-primary for Lujan Grisham comes amid speculation that she could chalk up a blowout win at the convention. Delegates sent there will vote on who to place on the June primary ballot. It takes 20 percent to win a spot but if a candidate doesn't make the cut they can file additional petition signatures to gain ballot access.

However, failure to make the 20 percent is almost always a death knell for a campaign. Money dries up and supporters grow discouraged. Only once in pre-primary history has a candidate won the June primary after failing to get 20 percent. That was in 2014 when Gary King did not reach the mark.

Apodaca says he is "very confident" that he will get the necessary 20 percent but if Lujan Grisham comes with something in the 65 percent area the race could be seen as a done deal. The other hopefuls, State Senator Joe Cervantes and Santa Fe's Peter DeBenedittis, could be in jeopardy of not getting official ballot approval if that scenario plays out.

2002 REDUX?

"Prince of Darkness"
Apodaca campaign manager Chris Khoury noted that in 2002 Bill Richardson played hardball in keeping Gary King and Ray Powell below the 20 percent mark, effectively ending that year's Dem primary Guv battle. Political strategist Dave Contarino worked for Richardson at that convention and he is working this time with Lujan Grisham. Khoury told us:

 I have worked with and like Dave but we call him the "Prince of Darkness." He will do anything to win and he and Michelle crossed the line this year." 

Contarino later served as chief of staff to Gov. Richardson. He now lives out of state.

Apodaca, a onetime UNM football star, is stoic in the face of his uphill climb:

I'm able to take the hit and get back up. We knew this was coming.

Well, none of the Guv contenders are taking off their helmets at this stage of the game.

CANDELARIA VS. WIRTH

A family dispute erupted among state Senate Democrats Tuesday with ABQ Dem Senator Jacob Candelaria resigning as Senate Democratic Caucus Chair and in the process delivering a rare and scathing public rebuke of a Senate Majority Leader, in this case Senator Peter Wirth.

We broke the news on social media of Candelaria's email critical of Wirth (posted here) that scored the leader for sending an email to his Santa Fe constituents boasting that "we stopped Senate Bill 47, a utility bill asking the state to securitize energy bonds."

Wirth and Candelaria
With that, Candelaria went ballistic and came with a stunning email takedown of Leader Wirth that he shared with fellow Democratic senators. It not only discussed a policy dispute over a complex bonding bill on behalf of PNM that Candelaria was sponsoring but revealed the ethnic tensions in the Senate:

. . . I have never seen legislative leadership message against a bill sponsored by a member of their own caucus. Your use of the collective "we" also implies that stopping this bill was a Democratic initiative/priority. This was not a utility bill. This was my bill.

Your email goes on to say that a problem with the bill was it "went too far by guaranteeing 100% stranded asset recovery.". . . In addition to the stranded asset recovery, the bill also included an increase in the state renewable energy portfolio standard to 50% by 2030. It also required that PNM re-invest nearly $20 million in the Farmington community for job training and economic redevelopment. 

. . .I believe it is the role of leadership to foster an environment where the diverse opinions and political beliefs of our caucus are respected. I do not see how attacking a Democratic member's bill in this way accomplishes that goal. I also respect that we can disagree about policy. We can debate bills, as I have certainly done, in committee and the floor. But I feel that claiming that the defeat of a Democratic member's bill is a key legislative accomplishment is something quite different than that. 

As such, I am resigning my position as caucus chair effective immediately.

(Your) email further confirms that diverse voices and opinions are not being represented, or empowered, in our caucus. I feel this is the right thing to do, regardless of the repercussions. As the old saying goes...prefiero morir de pie, que vivir de rodillas. 

(I'd rather die standing than live on my knees.)

Wirth kept his cool, reacting this way:

Sen. Candelaria has been a valuable member of our leadership team and I am sorry to see him resign as caucus chair.

It won't be the PNM dispute remembered from this flare-up but Candelaria baring the racial divide that has crept into the Senate since Wirth became Majority Leader. For the first time in memory Anglos hold the two top positions in the Legislature--Majority Leader and Speaker of the House. At the legislative session in January Candelaria spearheaded the formation of a Senate Hispanic Caucus, saying Hispanics are underrepresented in the government.

The Candelaira takedown was so scalding that it immediately led to speculation that he is done with the Senate and will not seek re-election in 2020 or if he does he will draw a primary opponent in his heavy Dem westside district. He was re-elected with no opposition in 2016. But he told us he is ready to defend his seat from all comers:

I’ve been a 100% supporter of early childhood and women’s healthcare access. I’ve passed bipartisan bills that have been signed into law that expand broadband access and bring more technology to schools. And I got a Republican governor to sign a bill banning conversion therapy. I’m proud of my record, and ready to run on it.

As for PNM's controversial bond bill, remember they won our 2018 Legislative Sore Loser Award when they took out newspaper ads slamming an environmental group that helped kill the bill. Our Facebook readers launched a spirited discussion of the measure in the wake of Candelaria's resignation from the leadership.

No guesses yet on who replaces Candelaria as Caucus Chair. It is not the most sought after of positions.

This is the home of New Mexico politics.

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

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Tuesday, February 27, 2018

Probing ART: Transit Project Under Scrutiny Now From Three Different Sources, Plus: Should Pearce Make A Power Play And Endorse Herrell?  

The most worrisome aspect of the ART debacle is the citywide whispering over whether there has been criminal wrongdoing, akin to what happened with the notorious ABQ Metro Court building scandal that ended with indictments of prominent politicos. We and others questioned the statements of ABQ inspector General David Harper about his "review" of the ART project wondering if he would be too soft in his approach. His response:

We do not have allegations of fraud or corruption (bribery, conflicts of interest, etc.) involving the ART project, but based on a number of troublesome issues, I have decided to proactively review several aspects of this project. If during the process of the review, we discover potential misconduct, then we can spin off an investigation (which may include partnering with federal or state agencies). In fact, we will do that for one particular situation involving an employee.

As a retired federal criminal investigator who focused on procurement fraud for 35 years, I am certainly sensitive to the possibility that civil or criminal wrongdoing might exist in the project; should information be developed that warrants an investigation, we will not hesitate to initiate an investigation and coordinate with appropriate authorities. My background in procurement fraud involved fraud perpetrated by large defense contractors and I am very familiar with the various fraud schemes that could occur.

Meantime State Auditor Wayne Johnson says he has:

. . . issued a letter to the City  designating the City’s Rapid Transit Project, A.R.T., for a special audit engagement. The letter cited concerns about the funding and implementation of the project, and whether state, federal and local laws were followed.

"We have directed the City to engage the services of an independent public accountant to conduct the special audit.  While I recognize that the City’s independent Inspector General is also conducting a review, it is clear that the gravity of the situation warrant a special audit conducted by an independent accountant to ensure that taxpayer dollars have not been misspent.”

So we now have three watchdogs on ART--the IG, the state auditor and an independent public accountant. Some have suggested BernCo DA Raul Torrez conduct a grand jury probe and others have said because of the federally funded nature of the project the US Attorney's office should be poised to look at ART as the findings unfold.

At City Hall they are not pushing the criminal angle, with one insider saying it appears that many ART problems were caused by Mayor Berry's rush to finish the project before he left office to further his legacy and that's what encouraged incompetence. Time will tell. . .

ENDORSE HER?

In the wake of her blowout win over Monty Newman at the state GOP pre-primary convention some R's are asking if Rep. Steve Pearce should formally endorse State Rep. Yvette Herrell. They say such an endorsement would essentially end the contest and show Pearce, the GOP candidate for Governor, as a decisive power player.

Herrell crushed Newman 58% to 26% at the convention but Newman, a former NM GOP chairman, vows to fight on. But a Pearce public endorsement of his rival could be tantalizing, He could ensure he is succeeded in the southern congressional district by an ally and he could also put Gov. Martinez and her political adviser Jay McCleskey in their places after they have allied with Newman and for years have scorned Pearce.

Pearce and his forces have been in Herrell's corner since the beginning but one worry about taking it to the next level is that it could alienate some R's who are supporting Newman and the other lesser known primary candidates, but with Newman only getting a quarter of the convention support and the others even less the danger seems minimal.

There is precedent for a Pearce endorsement. US Senator Pete Domenici cleared the field in the GOP primary for the ABQ congressional seat in 1998 when he openly endorsed Heather Wilson for the nomination. She went on to a primary and general election win and a long alliance with Domenici.

Meanwhile, the Dems say that they are indeed targeting the conservative southern district for a takeover this fall. Their favored candidate is Xochitl Torres Small and she is on the DCCC's list of 24 seats it is targeting to to switch from red to blue.

We blogged that the national D's have not yet targeted the seat and we are not quite ready to walk that back. Small may be on the list but she still has to  win a contested Dem primary. Also, to be truly targeted the D Trip will poll and then decide if the race is in play and whether significant money and resources will flow the nominee's way. So we are a ways off from the national Dems final stance on that contest.

THE BOTTOM LINES

It will be no free ride after all for Dem State Treasurer Tim Eichenberg. His GOP opponent survives to fight another day:

Arthur Castillo, the Republican candidate for state treasurer, survived a challenge to his petition signatures and will remain on the ballot under a court ruling. . . District Judge David Thomson dismissed a lawsuit that alleged Castillo had failed to gather enough petition signatures to make the ballot.

That huge Trump corporate tax cut continues to have some NM trickle down. First PNM slahed its rate increase request and now:

The NM Gas Co. is seeking a 1.4 percent rate hike, marking its first new rate request with the state Public Regulation Commission in six years. . . The amount requested is much lower than it would otherwise have been thanks to the federal tax reform approved last fall, which lowered the corporate income tax rate from 35 percent to 21 percent.

Here's an interview of interest with the "Arch-Activist" otherwise known as Archbishop John Wester.

This is the home of New Mexico politics.

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

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Monday, February 26, 2018

GOP Preprimary Meet: Herrell Trounces Newman In First Round As GOP Southern Congress Race Takes Shape, New GOP Guv Ticket Makes Rounds And: How WhistlePig Whiskey Could Keep Carl Trujillo In His Roundhouse Chair  

Rep. Herrell
Southern GOP Congressional hopeful Monty Newman was knocked to the canvas at this weekend's GOP pre-primary convention. He's now up and about but he's staggering as he reels from the blow delivered to him by Alamogordo State Rep. Yvette Herrell, his chief rival for the June 5 nomination.

Delegates voting to decide which candidates will be placed on the June primary ballot gave Herrell 58% of their votes, an impressive win in a five way race. Newman, a former Mayor of Hobbs, secured only 26 percent support. The other three candidates lagged. It took 20% to get ballot designation. The candidates that failed to reach that mark can file extra petition signatures to get on the ballot, but the delegates essentially narrowed this to a Herrell-Newman contest, and it should be a good one.

Newman's forces knew they had a tough task at the pre-primary but the scope of the defeat was not anticipated. Newman could only say after the debacle that he was focused on voters outside the convention hall and not a "symbolic victory among insiders."

But hold on. Newman is one of the biggest insiders of them all, having been a former chairman of the NM Republican Party. And his drubbing was due in large part to his decision to associate with another insider--the controversial Jay McCleskey, the longtime adviser and political enforcer for Gov. Martinez who Newman has hired to run his effort.

The large anti-Martinez/McCleskey faction in the GOP was having none of it and smacked Newman down hard. An insider sympathetic to Herrell said It could be a turning point for her:

With activists so solidly and decisively behind her she's going to be hard to beat. Financially, I expect her to do better than Monty in this reporting period. His numbers have been inflated by donors giving him both primary and general election contributions. If you take the general election money out, Yvette is already bringing in more, plus she has a vast majority of support from the GOP legislative caucus.

Those are fighting words for McCleskey (what words aren't?) who can be expected to bring out the slash and burn tactics against Herrell that he is noted for but which also got him in so much trouble with his own party.

The money will indeed be key. That's been Newman's boast from the start--that he is far outraising her and the nomination is his. But if the Herrell pre-primary win changes the psychology and the cash starts flowing, she, not Newman will be in line to replace Rep. Steve Pearce in the seat.

We say replace Pearce because while the Dems have fielded a number of candidates the district has yet to be targeted by the national Dems and is sympathetic to President Trump. While not tantamount to getting elected the June GOP primary is close to it. That's why Herrell's resounding victory is important. Newman could not keep her off her horse. She's out of the corral now and riding hard. More as it develops.

THAT'S THE TICKET

Here they are--your 2018 New Mexico Republican gubernatorial ticket. Steve Pearce and his running mate Michelle Garcia Holmes made the rounds at Saturday's ABQ pre-primary and were greeted warmly. They are both running unopposed. This may be shaping up to be a Democratic year but Republicans could have done worse by going with a sacrificial lamb. Pearce is not that, not by a long shot.

Garcia Holmes has recently switched from independent to Republican. She picked up valuable campaign experience when she ran for ABQ mayor last year and she works well for the R's in the optics department. She's a relatively youthful Hispanic woman who will contrast well with the Dems, especially if Rep. Michelle  Lujan Grisham is the nominee.

The Guv race looks good for the D's but Pearce is going to put on a show and if he can force some fumbles, who knows what might happen. The Democrats have their pre-primary convention March 10.

SO BUSTED

Andrea Romero, who is challenging Santa Fe State Rep. Carl Trujillo in the June primary, you are so busted. There's no other way to say it. Look:

. . . Officials from Northern New Mexico traveled recently to the nation’s capital on a trip sponsored by the Regional Coalition of LANL Communities, a public agency that has largely operated under the radar. . . On the first night. . . the group, including Santa Fe Mayor Javier Gonzales. . . gathered for dinner at Casa Luca, an upscale Italian eatery (near) the White House. . .The three-course meal for 16. . . came out to $1,850. The alcohol alone totaled $380 and included two $70 bottles of Valdipiatta wine, four Birra Moretti beers that cost $8 each and a $28 glass of WhistlePig whiskey. Though the coalition’s travel policies expressly prohibit alcohol as an allowable expense, Executive Director Andrea Romero submitted the $1,850 invoice to Los Alamos County, which serves as the agency’s fiscal agent, and was reimbursed. . . The reimbursement for alcohol and other payments issued in violation of the coalition’s travel policies have created a big headache for Romero, who is now under the gun for allowing taxpayer-funded excesses as she seeks a seat in the state Legislature. Romero said that politics are at play.

No kidding politics are at play, Andrea. This looks like a nicely executed Trujillo Movida and there's much more material in that news report, enough to fill a large mailbox with Trujillo campaign flyers.

Imagine the flyer with the the bottle of WhistlePig Rye Whiskey on the cover. That ought to get their attention. Not to mention that Romero is getting paid $140,000 a year for a job with minimal duties. That ought to go over well with humble Norteños.

That pretty much spells out Romero's chances of upsetting Trujillo in the primary. For November, the district is all D the time. No R's need apply.

But we still don't know who the official was who ordered the $28 shot of WhistlePig. That can't be you, Javier. You have enough trouble already. In any event, Andrea, Cheers! Or something. . . .

This is the home of New Mexico politics.

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

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