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Thursday, March 15, 2018

Dems Raise Expectations For State House As Dust Settles From Filing Day And The Contest For A BernCo Commission Seat Gets Strange Indeed 

Now that the dust has settled from Tuesday's filing day for the 70 state House seats the spinners have taken to the playing field. Over at State Dem Party headquarters they are setting the bar high, really high:

Five newly-open Republican seats in the New Mexico legislature are now up for grabs and Democrats have fielded a strong slate of candidates to run in each race. Open Republican seats include HD-15, HD-22, HD-30, HD-51, and HD-67. If these seats are gained and current Democratic seats successfully defended, Democrats will have a 43-27 majority in the New Mexico House of Representatives.

To get to 43 the Dems would have to take the Gentry and Maestas Barnes ABQ seats which they are vacating.

House Speaker Egolf currently has only a small majority over the R's of 38 to 32. A 43 seat Democratic House would strengthen his hands in all sorts of ways, including keeping a better check on powerful State Rep. Debbie Rodella who can team with a couple of R's when need be to upset Egolf's apple cart.

By the way, Rodella has drawn a Dem primary opponent up in Rio Arriba County. Of course, Speaker Egolf's team would have nothing to do with that. Right? No way. No how. Of course not. . .

CHAOS IS GOOD?

The R's said the recent Dem pre-primary convention was riddled with "chaos" including the arrest of a protester. A Dem responds:

It’s not surprising that the GOP thought that our convention was a little bit chaotic. We Democrats actually like a little bit of chaos. That’s bound to happen when you let your delegates choose from among multiple candidates instead of the party telling the delegates up front who the winners are going to be.

A reader writes:

What do you mean, Joe, that if State Senator Howie Morales of Silver City is the Dem nominee for lieutenant governor and Rep. Michelle Lujan Grisham is the Guv nominee the ticket would be "ethnically balanced?"

We can phrase that better. The all Hispanic Republican ticket of Governor Martinez and John Sanchez broke new ground and in a increasingly majority minority state that kind of ticket could be the new norm. Such would be the case if Lujan Grisham and Morales were the '18 Guv ticket. We should say "ethnically representative" rather than balanced.

Here's a little noticed development that could mean some trouble for the GOP with the statewide races:

Democratic Secretary of State Maggie Toulouse Oliver says she still wants to restore straight-ticket voting in which a slate of major-party candidates can be chosen all at one time. . . She hopes to allow straight-ticket voting in fall elections. . . The option was removed beginning in 2012 by then-GOP Secretary of State Dianna Duran. The National Conference of State Legislatures says the number of states with straight-ticket voting dwindled to nine last year.

MACHINATIONS AND MYSTERY

John Jones 
What happened to that face-off that we were expecting for the BernCo Commission seat in the far SE Heights and East Mountains? Well, former GOP commissioner and radio station manager Michael Brasher, who had said he was going to seek the seat that was vacated by Wayne Johnson when he was appointed state auditor by Gov. Martinez, never filed for the slot Tuesday. That mystified, and according to insiders, miffed John Jones, a water expert who had already announced his commission candidacy. Jones ended up abandoning his commission race and running unopposed for the GOP nomination for the House seat being vacated by Nate Gentry. So how did that come down?

Jones, the husband of Gov. Martinez political rival and ABQ GOP congressional candidate Janice Arnold-Jones, wanted the commission seat most but an associate of his says when he asked Brasher about rumors that he would not run, Brasher went silent. So when the opportunity came for Jones to run for the Gentry seat Jones took it thinking that he would be avoiding a tussle with Brasher, when in fact he could have filed for the commission seat and had no opposition because Brasher was actually out.

Rep. Jim Smith ended up as the major GOP candidate for the commission seat. However, Smith did not file until very late Tuesday apparently awaiting word from the Governor's office that if he ran she would appoint him to fill the Johnson vacancy so he could run as an incumbent. He got late word and filed his candidacy just before the deadline.

As to how and why Rep. Smith suddenly emerged, that's another story we'll have to piece together.

For his part, Brasher isn't saying why he did not run. There was speculation that FCC equal time rules could be a problem for Brasher who appears regularly on KANW-FM as an announcer. The station may have had to provide equal time to any Brasher campaign opponent that requested it or else he would have to leave the air.

So now we expect Martinez to appoint Rep. Smith to the $30,000 a year position just as everyone expected her to appoint Brasher, who she previously named to the state Board of Finance.

There is another Republican seeking the commission seat, political unknown Natasha Hadrych Rosier. Charlene E. Pyskoty is the sole Dem contender and there is also a Libertarian candidate. This seat is all R all the time and Smith will be in the driver's seat.

Sometimes covering La Politica like this we think we're going down a never ending rabbit hole.

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Wednesday, March 14, 2018

An Eventful Day In La Politica: House R Leader Gentry Leaves The Stage And So Does The Chairman Of The Dem Party; Complete Coverage  

Leader Gentry
Two high profile departures shook La Poltica Tuesday with one signifying a retreat in the fortunes of state Republicans and the other reinforcing a cultural trend that is impacting politics.

The decision of House Minority Leader Nate Gentry to not seek re-election to his ABQ seat which was only revealed when he did not file his official paperwork with the Secretary of State as required Tuesday. (All filings here.)

GOP consultant Bob Cornelius summed up the reaction in the political community:

That's huge!

Huge because Gentry cashing out is the ultimate symbol of the retreat from power of state R's as a Democratic trend led by the President's unpopularity is setting in for the November election. It also signals yet again compelling demographic changes that are casting doubt on the long-term prospects of the GOP in a state where they now seem like the proverbial fish out of water.

Gentry's far NE heights district is being gradually engulfed by a  sea of blue. He only won re-election by four points in 2016 and the same Dem opponent filed Tuesday to run again. Gentry also faced the prospect of leading a diminished minority next year and likely facing a Dem Governor. And we won't get into the negative campaigning that was about to be unloaded on him.

Gentry isn't the only R seeing the handwriting on the wall. ABQ GOP State Rep. Sarah Maestas Barnes is not seeking re-election to her swing seat district and Rep. Dennis Roch of Tucumcari, a natural replacement for Gentry as minority leader, also took a pass on a re-election bid. (Look for Valencia County Rep. Kelly Fajardo to make a move to replace Gentry as minority leader).

The Gentry departure will coincide with the end of Gov. Martinez's eight years at the helm. They both arrived in 2011 and both will leave at the end of the year. Gentry formed a deep alliance with her political consultant Jay McCleskey and they employed hardball tactics and took advantage of a redistricting designed with a GOP Governor in charge. That put the House in Republican hands for two years following the '14 election and  Gentry sported the title of House Majority Leader before he turned 40. But later he  broke away from McCleskey and now both are in the political wilderness.

The Gentry departure is one of the last wheels to fall off the once mighty Martinez political machine. Not everyone thinks it had to be that way. Former Republican turned Democrat and former state legislator Greg Payne said the Machine got the demographics right by securing many Hispanic Republican for politics but:

They wasted seven years arguing over driver's licenses for undocumented immigrants. Their candidates had the right profiles but the wrong policies. No way was that Machine built for the long-term. Now we are entering an era where New Mexico will be much like California, dominated almost completely by Democrats and the party breaking into more sharply defined progressive and conservative wings.

Cornelius shares that view, pointing to the state's economy as a chief reason:

We don't have a robust economy that would be more Republican friendly. It has become more and more a welfare state as the economy has declined. Unless (Governor candidate) Steve Pearce can pull a rabbit out of his hat, I agree with Payne that New Mexico is going more Blue and staying that way for a long time.

The R departures from the House seem to nearly guarantee that the Dems will grow their 38-32 majority by at least one and maybe quite a bit more. And that takes us back to the secular political trend that is ready to take hold here.

With a legislature controlled by the Dems as well as the governorship, the legislative redistricting of 2021 might be called The Day of the Donkey. The possibilities include the southern congressional district becoming Democratic and the state House revamped to create even more Dem dominance.

Could anything stop the train that Gentry and others are jumping out of the way of? With Trump at the helm and the GOP locked down, the party is looking more defiant and ready to make a last stand and not change its ways. Reps. Gentry, Maestas Barnes and Roch know how that movie ends.

HIM TOO

Ellenberg
NM Dem Party Chair Richard Ellenberg is the latest to fall to the #metoo movement after putting his foot in his mouth. Ellenberg cast doubt on sexual misconduct allegations made against prominent Democrat and union leader Jon Hendry who Ellenberg happens to own property with. That came after a sexual misconduct flap with a Dona Ana Dem county commissioner in which Ellenberg was accused of trying to get the commissioner's accuser to back off.

Well, he's gone. The state's Dem congressional reps and SOS Toulouse Oliver issued a joint statement as they placed Ellenberg in his political coffin:

As Democrats, we stand with the silence-breakers who have come forward to share their stories of sexual harassment and abuse. Questioning the credibility of sexual misconduct allegations is contrary to our values, and it is time for new leadership that better reflects them. 

Of note is that the woman involved in the Dona Ana County case is Neomi Martinez-Parra, the vice-chair of the Dem Party. She will now become chairman and perhaps seek the permanent chairmanship when the State Central Committee fills the post. Others may compete.

So what does it matter? The parties are shells of their former selves with the campaigns running the show with their big money. Dem analyst and operative Israel Chavez explains:

The party plays a key function in organizational structure that supports the candidates when they're not running. 

Union chief Hendry was a key player in corralling cash for the state Dems but Chavez said the union money will still be there, no matter who heads the party. He adds:

The individuals come and go but having leaders that reflect Democratic values is essential.

Consultant Cornelius said he and many of his fellow R's thought the Ellenberg axing was an overreaction, saying he only defended Hendry, an old friend, and was not accused of misconduct himself.

Politics watcher Steve Cabiedes, without offering an opinion on Ellenberg getting the boot, opined:

We are living through a cultural shift. In the rush to change in some cases the punishment may fit the crime or may not. The hope is that in the long-term this period will end with fewer instances of sexual harassment.

FILING DAY NOTES

Hochman
Republican John Jones, the husband of ABQ GOP congressional hopeful Janice Arnold-Jones, filed to run for the Nate Gentry House seat. He had been running for the BernCo Commission seat vacated by Wayne Johnson who was appointed state auditor. Natalie Figueroa is the Dem hopeful for the Gentry seat.

Can City Councilor Brad Winter keep the Maestas Barnes House seat in GOP hands? He'll try but he will have to overcome Dem attorney and political newcomer Dayan Hochman. She specializes in aviation law. Winter's council district overlaps some with the portion of the House district in the NE Heights. If Winter wins does he have to leave the council to serve in the Legislature and would Mayor Keller get to name his replacement? The way we read the law he would.

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Tuesday, March 13, 2018

"Dr. No" Seems Ready To Tangle With New Governor Over Budget; Calls For Even Higher Reserves Amid Oil Boom, Plus: Damon Martinez Soldiers On And Heinrich "Evolves" On Assault Weapons 

Sen. Smith 
Is the next Governor already destined for a battle with State Sen. John Arthur Smith? The chairman of the powerful Senate Finance Committee has earned the moniker of "Dr. No" for his affinity for fiscal austerity. Now with a record oil boom replenishing state coffers Smith is firing a warning shot about spending those funds, and that could cramp the style of the new Governor, especially if that Guv is a Dem. Here's Smith's shot:

. . . The state should use the new-found oil boom to raise reserves to 20 percent to prepare for future busts.“We’re still on a feast-or-famine feed cycle,” Smith said. “We need to take advantage of the current revenue stream to mitigate the hills and valleys.”

Twenty percent? That's double what even conservative economists recommend keeping in reserve, but Smith is nothing if not a protector of his turf. By raising the reserve ante he is positioning himself at the negotiating table with the next chief executive. It's a long way off, but that already seems to be the big story of Legislative Session 2019.

Meanwhile, the outgoing Governor is getting all the barbs that come with being a lame duck with low poll numbers. The Las Cruces Sun-News, Susana's hometown paper, is even piling on. Walt Rubel writes:

The governor proved her first year that she could veto bills with the best of them, but she never proved she could legislate. As a result, she will leave office with nothing permanent to show she had ever been there.

HE SOLDIERS ON

Martinez 
After getting crushed at Saturday's liberal dominated Dem pre-primary convention, garnering only 10% of the vote, former US Attorney Damon Martinez is working furiously to keep his candidacy for the ABQ congressional nomination alive. He comes with an endorsement from ABQ City Council President Ken Sanchez to stem the tide:

I was impressed by his work bringing people together from all sorts of professional and personal backgrounds to address the city and state’s opioid crisis through the HOPE Initiative.

We reported how Martinez still has some $300,000 in cash for the race which was dominated at the convention by first place winner Deb Haaland and second place finisher Antoinette Sedillo Lopez. There are also rumblings that Martinez will be getting third party TV support for the June 5 primary.

The Sanchez endorsement makes sense in that it is  moderate and conservative Hispanics, like Sanchez, who most support the like-minded Martinez. Their hope is that the two progressives will split that vote and Martinez can run up the middle and take the prize. It's an interesting race to the June 5 primary.

THE HEINRICH EVOLUTION

Senator Martin Heinrich has been flying under the radar recently when it comes to the controversial topic of banning military assault weapons. The Democratic lawmaker still does not support the long-standing and sweeping Feinstein bill calling for a ban of assault weapons but his position on a ban has quietly changed. He now says:

I will be working with my colleagues on both sides of the aisle to craft an assault weapons ban. Those of us who know firearms well have a duty to lead these efforts and to get the details right.

That is from a statement on his website. We have not seen any other public pronouncement of his change--other than a blurb deep down in a news story--which is why we dubbed it flying under the radar.

The low-key shift put Heinrich, 46, in a more politically tenable position and also prevented him from getting dragged into the raging gun debate in the immediate aftermath of the student murders in Parkland, Fl.

The issue arose on the Monday blog when we contrasted Heinrich's position with that of Michelle Lujan Grisham's, who has been advocating an assault weapons ban since she became a congresswoman-elect in 2012. We wondered if Heinrich's position would change. Well, it turns out it had but the switch still leaves open the important question of how comprehensive a ban he will support. What will be those "details?"

The Feinstein bill was again introduced last year and it had the support of nearly two dozen Democratic senators but not Heinrich, who is an avid outdoorsman and who in 2016 announced he had given up his NRA membership in 2012.

A Heinrich campaign insider said the senator's position "has evolved" in the wake of the Parkland shootings and he deserves credit for his flexibility. However, in his media statements following the Parkland slayings Heinrich did not mention assault weapons:

He says he wants to see a federal ban on bump stocks, high-capacity magazines, and clarify the rules on universal background checks.

Heinrich soft pedaling the assault weapons ban he is now working on could be fodder if he had a Democratic primary opponent who supports the Feinstein bill. But he has no primary challenge and his two conservative foes in the general election are not supporting a ban. Given that backdrop, Heinrich, who is seeking a second term this year, gets to give both sides of the equation a little something.

The switch comes after years of advocacy for Second Amendment rights by Heinrich. Many observers think his pro-gun stance made the difference when he beat Republican Darren White for the ABQ congressional seat in 2008 and when he took down Jon Barela in his 2010 re-elect. But times change and that horse no longer runs.

Then there's the fund-raising. With his campaign budget in the multi-millions, Heinrich will travel to deep Blue states like California for the necessary cash. There he no doubt will be asked how he stands on the assault weapons ban. Now he has an answer that may not be exactly what they want to hear but it is much better than nothing.

And that, gentle reader, is how this game of ours is played in the quest for a seat in the United States Senate.

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Monday, March 12, 2018

Martinez Sapped The Dem Energy But Trump Brought It Back; Delegates Frolic At Pre-Primary Convention As They Winnow The Field In Key State Races; Complete Coverage And Analysis Is Up Next  

Rep. Lujan Grisham
Governor Martinez took it away but President Trump helped bring it back. After eight nearly years of being browbeaten by the R's the New Mexico Democratic Party was reenergized this weekend at its pre-primary convention. The 1,500 delegates to the ABQ convention acted like freed hostages hooting and hollering at the speeches and nearly gloating over their improved prospects this cycle.

Even while basking in her landslide convention win that matched expectations, Democratic gubernatorial hopeful Michelle Lujan Grisham declared that complacency may be the D's newest obstacle, warning that beating Republican Steve Pearce will not be a lay-up.

(Complete results for all offices here.)

But the congresswoman was one of the few fretting. Delegates were relishing the upcoming November election in which pundits of all stripes are predicting the Governor's office will return to the Dems and that their chances to take all of the statewide offices up for election hasn't looked this good in years.

The state GOP did its best to restrain the frolicking, calling parts of the convention "chaos" but that only underscored their defensiveness, a fresh posture for the minority party that now looks at November 6th like a date with death row. Now on to the action.

GOVERNOR 

Out of deference to possible future events we won't call Rep. Lujan Grisham the "probable nominee" for Governor but right now she is. When you score 67% of the vote, deny two of your three opponents the needed 20 percent to get an official ballot spot and when your lone foe to make that crucial mark--Jeff Apodoca--does so with only a point to spare, a sense of inevitably begins to surround a candidacy.

Apodaca is known for his feistiness and is expected to battle on but veteran analyst Greg Payne says his challenge is daunting:

Dem Guv Candidates
He will have to raise a lot of money which won't be easy after what happened at the convention. And he is faced with deciding whether he wages a fierce negative campaign against Lujan Grisham who just scored an outsized win in his party. It may be his only viable option but I think we will be wary of going there. 

State Senator Joe Cervantes vows to fight on, despite garnering only 10 percent of the delegate votes. He also faces a tough decision--does he put up at least $1.5 million of his  personal wealth to take on the front-runner? Now that's a craps game we'd like to watch.

Longshot progressive Peter DeBenedettis doesn't have any decision to make. He withdrew at the convention and endorsed Apodaca. And that means for the first time this election year we get to use that old standby: "Politics makes for strange bedfellows."

What's next? Apodaca will likely take some measured digs at Lujan Grisham, hoping to force here into a fumble on which he could pounce and use to redefine the race which was so clearly defined Saturday.

LT. GOVERNOR 

Howie Morales came in first at the 2014 Dem pre-primary when he ran for Governor, only to lose the June primary nomination to Gary King. History is not likely to repeat.

The Silver City state senator scored an impressive 50 percent of the vote in a four way contest for lieutenant governor Saturday. He does well on TV, balances the ticket ethnically (Hispanic male) and geographically if Lujan Grisham is the nominee. He's on his way.

Former ABQ State Rep. Rick Miera is one of the most qualified lieutenant governor candidates the state has seen but he managed only 28% at the convention, another sparkless performance which mimics what's been happening on the campaign trail.

ABQ CONGRESS

The delegates did their job and winnowed this six way race for the Dem nomination for the ABQ congressional seat to two, well, maybe two and a half. Former NM Dem Chair Deb Haaland won with 35% followed by law professor Antoinette Sedillo Lopez with 25%. The other three, including ABQ City Councilor Pat Davis whose supporters touted his organizational ability, were crushed. Davis won only14%. Former US Attorney Damon Martinez did even worse, coming in at 11% and Damian Lara at 12.

So if Haaland and Sedillo Lopez are the two left standing who is the "half candidate?" That would be Martinez who raised over $300,000 before the convention and hasn't spent much. Can he defy history and win? Probably not. The party has signaled that it is looking for a progressive candidate to replace Lujan Grisham and Martinez does not fit the bill. The ABQ Dem party of today has moved away from the pragmatic centrism that Martinez represents and once was essential to winning the seat. No more.

What to look for: Will national Native American money come in heavier for Haaland in the wake of her win? And what about her loose campaign spending ways that have been criticized? Her staff says she has reorganized and the money is not moving out the door like it was.

Sedillo Lopez supporters say Haaland underperformed at the convention given that she once led the party, but the same might be said of Sedillo Lopez. She has led the fund-raising but failed to keep the convention race close.

SOUTHERN CONGRESS

No surprise here. National and local Dems have anointed Xochitl Torres Small of Las Cruces as a rising star and she scored a 65% to 35% pre-primary win over Soccoro's Mad Hildebrandt. Something similar can be expected in the June primary. It may not be fair to Hildebrand that the Dems cleared the field for Torres Small, but when does that matter?

LAND COMMISSIONER 

Heinrich & VeneKlasen
Yes, there was a snafu on this one in Alligator land, but as in every other contested race, the Gators nailed the land commissioner winner which in this case was State Rep. Stephanie Garcia Richard who claimed 44%. But the pre-primary preview blog had Gallup State Senator George Munoz coming in second and environmentalist Garrett VeneKlasen third. But it was VeneKlasen getting 39 percent for second and Munoz in third with 17 percent.

What happened? Well, we got sloppy. A survey of the delegates floated before the pre-primary had Munoz running third but several of the Gators thought it was second.

For our part, we forgot that Sen. Martin Heinrich has endorsed VeneKlasen, even nominating him at the convention, giving him added momentum. Not that Heinrich is especially forgettable. We just weren't paying close enough attention,

For those hoping that our error means punishment by 10 lashes with a wet noodle, you can keep your pasta in the pantry. The Gators called the winner and that's the main event.

As for the June 5 primary, Munoz will have to hustle to prevent this one from quickly becoming Garcia Richard vs. VeneKlasen. His17% showing is ominous. We recall only one candidate going on to win a statewide primary when failing to get the 20 percent needed for an official ballot position. That was the aforementioned Gary King in 2014.

Longtime analyst Steve Cabiedes says political rookie VeneKlasen may need even more bolstering from Heinrich and company and Garcia Richard will need to hope that Munoz doesn't get off the canvas after his knockdown. If he stays down it would give her an easier path in the heavy Hispanic north.

STATE AUDITOR 

Driving I-25 north Saturday in the hours after the convention we spotted a billboard for Dem State Auditor candidate and Las Cruces area State Rep. Bill McCamley. The billboard was paid for by an independent group whose name we did not make out. That's a potentially important development in the chase for the Auditor's office. As predicted here, the more liberal McCamley handily dispatched former NM Dem Party Chair Brian Colón 60.46% to 39.4% but Colón is known for his fund-raising prowess. If independent groups can narrow that gap for McCamley it could change the character of the race.

Analyst Cabiedes said:

As the Hispanic candidate Colon benefits from compelling demographics that could propel him ahead. However, there may be some Colón fatigue after he served as party chair, ran and lost for mayor last year and in 2010 ran for lieutenant governor. McCamley's challenge will be to get people to pay attention to this dow ballot race and disrupt Colón's demographic edge.

The Democrats had no competitive contests for US Senate, the northern congressional seat, secretary of state, attorney general or state treasurer. All are held by incumbents and considered safe in the general election.

MEDIUM RARE, JEFF

Carr
Lt. Gov. hopeful Jeff Carr tangled with the Alligators when they predicted he would not make the 20 percent mark at the convention. The Taos educator upped the stakes and declared that he would not only reach 20% but get to 30% and that when he did he expected us to buy him dinner. We countered that if we were right we were expecting a steak dinner from him at ABQ's ritzy Ruth's Chris steakhouse.

Carr scored only 13 percent. So. . .

Jeff, don't spend all that leftover campaign money at Doc Martin's up there in Taos. We've got a medium rare rib eye in our mind's eye and with your name on the check.

THE BOTTOM LINES

For policy nerds only: The State Dem Party Platform passed with 90% support. You can read it here. . .

We've blogged that Gary King is the only candidate to win a primary after failing to get 20 percent of delegate support at the pre-primary. Both the Journal and New Mexican said there have been "candidates" who have accomplished the feat. We asked veteran Journal capitol reporter Dan Boyd who were the others. Neither he or I could come up with another example. So until we're shown otherwise, Gary is the sole politico to accomplish the feat. . .

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