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Thursday, July 12, 2018

Replacing Nate: Dems Look To Take Seat of House Minority Leader; Changing District Gives Them A Shot, Plus: Poverty And Drugs Make Way On To The Guv Campaign Trail 

Is the ABQ seat of House Minority Leader Nate Gentry destined to go to the D's this year?

For sure, it's going to be a blistering battle to replace Gentry who opted not to run for re-election, perhaps in part because his NE Heights district is rapidly becoming more blue.

Coming back for a second shot at the seat is Democrat and Spanish teacher Natalie Figueroa who lost narrowly to Gentry in 2016 (52%-48). On the GOP side John Jones, a retired Naval officer and husband of ABQ GOP Congressional nominee Janice Arnold-Jones, will try to keep the seat in the R camp.

The first finance reports give an edge to Figueroa. She reports $49,000 in cash on hand while Jones reports $39,000. Also, Clinton carried the district over Trump by 10 points two years ago, revealing the rapidly changing nature of this once economic high-end area which has become less affluent like so much of the city. The caveat being that turnout in mid-term elections is lower than presidential years and can tilt more conservative. Look for the outside PACS to play big in this one.

GOVERNING A CRISIS

An interesting development in the early going in the race for Governor has been the two major candidates focusing on the state's social condition crisis. Republican Steve Pearce even trotted out the "P" word in one of his first ads. Hearing a Republican decry poverty is a rarity and demonstrates the depth of the crisis here.

And Dem Michelle Lujan Grisham is out with a spot devoted exclusively to the drug addiction problem, a constant issue but one that has not garnered much attention on the campaign trail, until now. She says in the ad that, if elected, "I'll force the drug companies to stop pushing opioids and start paying for treatment."

Her campaign says:

. . . In particular she would continue to support the ongoing lawsuit Attorney General Balderas has brought along with other states to hold drug companies accountable for the damages caused by pushing highly addictive prescription drugs. The lawsuit specifically seeks damages for costs for providing medical care and treatment, costs of providing treatment, counseling and rehabilitation services. . A copy of the complaint can be found here.

The pharmaceutical companies are a touchy issue with the Democratic base, part of which rebelled when Dem US Senator Martin Heinrich last year voted against a Bernie Sanders measure that would have allowed cheaper Canadian pharmaceuticals to be imported into the states.

A check of Lujan Grisham's "major" donations thus far in the Guv campaign does not show any from the drug industry

MONICA AND SUSANA

Republican Guv nominee Pearce isn't the only R taking heat over his decision not to call on ABQ State Rep. Monica Youngblood to step down after being arrested in May for aggravated DWI. Gov. Martinez, who has governed on an anti-crime platform more than any Governor in the modern era, is also taking hits over her silence on Youngblood, a key political ally. A reader comments:

No surprise to see Susana's wing man attorney Paul Kennedy turn up battling a DUI on behalf of her hard-core acolyte Monica Youngblood. If Kennedy's in the picture whining about a jury trial in the face of Youngblood's infamous DUI video, you know the gov personally dispatched him. Where's the gov's shoot-from-the-lip tough on crime rhetoric now? DUI is historically such a serious problem for NM, thus this particular case demonstrates in spades what a hypocrite Susana has always been. I've lost track - is there an ethics investigation of Youngblood for throwing her office around in the effort to skate on the DUI?

As far as we can determine, there has been no comment from the Governor on the Youngblood arrest.

As for an investigation, Attorney General Balderas says he is reviewing the video of Youngblood's arrest to determine if she attempted to use her political position to convince the officer who was making the arrest to let her off.

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Wednesday, July 11, 2018

Monica Update: Her DWI Trial Comes One Day After Deadline To Withdraw From Race; So Far She's All In Plus: Hector's Hefty Cash Stash  

Rep. Youngblood (Thompson, Journal)
GOP State Rep. Monica Youngblood, charged with aggravated DWI and facing a campaign in which an embarrassing video of her arrest and its aftermath will go viral in her ABQ NW District, shows no signs of quitting the race. Her trial on her May DWI arrest has been set for August 29.. Meantime, August 28 is the last day for a general election candidate to withdraw their candidacy.

Does she do some polling and let that guide her in her ultimate decision?

Youngblood, who has prided herself as a tough on crime (including DWI) Republican, reports having $37,000 in her campaign account, not an insignificant sum. Democrat Karen Bash reports $13,000 but is sure to attract more as the Dems target a weakened Youngblood in a seat that should never have been in its sights.

Nervous Republicans fret over Youngblood but none, except attorney general candidate Michael Hendricks, has had the moxy to tell Youngblood to get out of the race. That's fine with the Democrats who have been offered a gift. Still, the untested Bash is going to have to run a solid campaign, if Youngblood is to fall

One question still dangling: Will Dems try to make the Youngblood candidacy a point against Republican Steve Pearce who has refused to say she should leave the seat? They could, given the state's ongoing substance abuse problem.

HECTOR'S HEFTY STASH

He grew up a humble youngster from Wagon Mound but today he is nearly a millionaire. Well, at least in his campaign account. We speak of Democratic Attorney General Hector Balderas, who this month reported having over $900,000 in campaign cash on hand.

That's a boatload of dough and there's no way he's going to spend it down much in his campaign for a second four year term against Republican Michael Hendricks. No R has been elected AG since the 80's and Balderas is heavily favored.

So what if Hector keeps that stash around for some future race, like US Senate, a post he sought in the past? The problem is while a candidate can transfer money from his federal campaign account to his state account, as Rep. Steve Pearce did, a state candidate, we're told by finance mavens, is not permitted to transfer their funds to a federal account.

So if Dem US Senator Tom Udall were to decline to run for another term in 2020 and Balderas got in the race, he would be limited to giving his Senate campaign a tiny silver of his 900k.

But he can dole out contributions up to $5,500 to statewide candidates this year, and now that the contenders have heard how much he has in the bank the line is forming.

Hey, no shoving, guys.

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Tuesday, July 10, 2018

Victoria's Murder Prompts Early Political Fallout; Possible Major Dem Primary Foe For DA Torrez Emerges 

Ahmad Assed
The murder case that has rocked the city like no other could soon be rocking the political scene, with word circulating that veteran criminal defense attorney Ahmad Assed is seriously weighing a run against BernCo District Attorney Raul Torrez in the 2020 Democratic primary.

That may seem a long way off but the horrific murder of 10 year old Victoria Martens will be remembered far into the future and Torrez's handling of the case would be front and center if Assed makes the run, say those pushing him to take on Torrez.

Torrez has been making the media rounds in recent days trying to quiet public outrage over the Martens case, including the stunning plea bargain his office made with Victoria's mother. It was a deal that could see her serving as little as half a dozen years in prison and has not gone down well in a community scarred by the ghoulish murder. Victoria was raped, strangled, dismembered and her lifeless body set afire in an apartment bathtub.

The revelation that Michelle Martens was not directly involved in her daughter's slaying but was away from the apartment searching for drugs with boyfriend Fabian Gonzales at the time of the killing had the city reeling from shock. For nearly two years they (and the authorities) believed the false confession the mother had given and that Victoria would have justice. When Torrez announced that Michelle Martens was lying and that an unidentified fourth suspect is now being sought in the sensational case, the city again gasped.

Now Assed, a UNM law school grad with deep community ties, enters the picture. His voice has been heard on the case via his role as a legal analyst for KOB-TV and he hasn't backed off from criticizing Torrez's handling of the notorious murder. For example, he said this about the "John Doe" suspect whose DNA, Torrez announced, was found on Victoria's back:

Why do we publicize that we are looking for this unidentified individual? And if he does exist, why do we put him on notice that we're looking for him? This is a big problem for me. I'm sure maybe the DA's office has their reasoning for doing that.

And Assed told the viewing audience that the entire case could be in danger of collapsing:

It's a leap to associate the finding of the DNA – those samples – with a crime.  There's transferred DNA that happens all the time. I don't know how long that DNA's been there—could have been there days, could have been there months, could have been three hours.

Based on the District Attorney's Office view of the case in the beginning and the investigation and the hyping of the case, it is extremely difficult for us to believe anything that the District Attorney's Office is going to say about a fourth component, unidentified individual. What they need is evidence.

THAT PLEA BARGAIN
DA Torrez (Brose, Journal)

But it is that plea bargain that Torrez said he had no choice but to make that is the DA's soft underbelly and what Assed is sure to key on if he enters the race. Here's how one of those egging on Assed puts it:

Raul’s had the case for a year and a half and cut a BS plea deal with her scumbag mother, but the Journal wants the public to give him credit for being on top of the case, for some bizarre, twisted reason--even though Torrez has said he’s not going after the guy who gave 10-year-old Victoria a sexually transmitted disease. What a bunch of BS.

Former BernCo Chief Deputy District Attorney and '13 ABQ mayoral candidate Pete Dinelli also believes the plea bargain poses political trouble for the DA:

The leniency Torrez showed towards a mother who placed her 10-year-old child in harm’s way and made the child a victim of one of the most horrendous murders in Albuquerque history will be remembered given his own past statements on our criminal justice system and conduct towards Judges. In 2016, when Torrez was running for District Attorney, he proclaimed that our criminal justice system was broken and that he was the guy who could fix it. Just a mere year ago, Torrez again claimed that our judicial system was broken stating the decisions by the judges to dismiss cases were “absurd.” Torrez proclaimed defense attorneys were “gaming the system” to get their clients off.

The ABQ Journal ran a weekend editorial about the case, largely exonerating Torrez of any blame for the mishaps that have occurred in the Martens case. The DA has ingratiated himself with the GOP-oriented paper as well as the Gov. Martinez political machine. That's making some Democrats antsy. Further, his critiques of local judges have made him enemies and could help an opponent like Assed raise a hefty amount of cash to finance a primary challenge.

The 2020 Dem primary will likely be decisive. Republicans have shown no interest in the race, letting Torrez run unopposed in 2016.

In reality much of the blame for the failed investigation of Victoria's murder can be laid in the lap of APD but Torrez has been easy on them, saying his office and APD will learn from the mistakes but his reticence to hold APD more accountable makes him more of a target.

DA Torrez has often been mentioned as a candidate for higher office someday but right now holding on to the one he has may be the stiffest political challenge he ever faces. Stay tuned.

THE BOTTOM LINES

No one needs to be reminded of the historic accomplishments of Harrison "Jack" Schmitt, the former GOP NM US Senator who walked on the moon. But in our first draft Monday we omitted one of his accomplishments when we listed Schmitt as among the major politicos of the last half century who did not serve in the military. Well, not quite:

As a civilian, Schmitt received Air Force jet pilot wings in 1965 and Navy helicopter wings in 1967, logging more than 2100 hours of flying time. . . Selected for the Scientist-Astronaut program in 1965, Schmitt organized the lunar science training for the Apollo Astronauts, represented the crews during the development of hardware and procedures for lunar surface exploration, and oversaw the final preparation of the Apollo 11 Lunar Module Descent Stage.

We relied on Wikpedia for our initial info on Schmitt and it did not mention his Air Force jet pilot wings nor his Navy helicopter wings. Schmitt served just one US Senate term, suffering a re-election defeat in 1982. But his name is forever etched in the history books.

One other note on this from Santa Fe's Jerome Block:

Joe, Regarding your article of military service: Only two Vietnam Veterans have been elected to statewide office in NM. Ironically, both Jimmy Glenn and I were elected to the State Corporation Commission.

The Corporation Commission is now known as the Publica Regulation Commission. Thanks, Jerome. . .

And thanks to you for checking in with us today.

This is the home of New Mexico politics.

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

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(c)NM POLITICS WITH JOE MONAHAN 2018

Monday, July 09, 2018

One Down And Four Months To Go In Guv Derby: How Are They Doing? Plus: At Your Service: Our Politicos And Military Service; Does It Make A Difference?  

It's one month down and four to go in the 2018 gubernatorial derby. Neither candidate tried for an early knockdown, unlike 2010 when then Dem Guv hopeful Diane Denish tried unsuccessfully to take out Republican Susana Martinez with a spate of negative TV ads only days after that year's June primary.

Both Dem nominee Michelle Lujan Grisham and Republican hopeful Steve Pearce put up TV ads for the first month but they are positive bio spots that aim to build good feelings among the electorate before the heavy hitting starts after summer.

The major development in the first month since the June 5 primary was the release of two public polls that both showed Lujan Grisham over the critical 50 percent mark, with SurveyUSA calling it 51% to 38 for her and the Carroll PR landline survey showing similar results. That put Pearce on defense as his pollsters pushed back against the methodology of the polls. Still. . .

The greatest fear of Pearce is that the race will be put to bed early with a series of polls showing Lujan Grisham with a firm lead that will scare off his donors. That's why he pushed back hard against these first surveys, but tellingly his campaign has not released any fresh polling of its own. For what it's worth Dem insiders think Lujan Grisham has the lead but more on the order of eight points rather than the double digit lead she sports in these early surveys.

Because of her post-primary polling lead and the way she crushed her two Dem rivals in the June primary by garnering 66 percent of the vote, Lujan Grisham retains the title of front-runner going into the second month. Also, even though her cash on hand has gone below Pearce's because of money she spent in her contested primary, she did out raise him in the campaign's first month--$433,000 to $321,000--further cementing her front-runner status.

Lujan Grisham reported $873,000 cash on hand in the first report following the primary and filed last Thursday. Pearce reported $1.943 million in cash. Pearce had no primary challenge.

Going forward big picture trends demand Pearce's attention. No two term governorship has been followed by a governor of the same party. Can he successfully separate himself from unpopular GOP Governor Martinez or will she be hung around his neck? Also, how can he attract more women to his candidacy in a year when Democratic women are hitting it out of the park?

For Lujan Grisham the task for the next thirty days is the same as the last: Don't fritter away your lead by dropping the ball and giving Pearce an opening--and prepare for the guns of August.

AT YOUR SERVICE

Pearce's current TV ad highlights his military service in Vietnam which made us wonder just how many of the state's top politicos of the past 50 years or so served in the military. Actually, few of them is the somewhat surprising answer. Here's a look:

US SENATE--Democratic Senators Dennis Chavez, Clinton Anderson, Joe Montoya, Martin Heinrich and Tom Udall did not serve in the military. Neither did Republican Senators Pete Domenici. Sen. Schmitt, an astronaut who walked on the moon, received Air Force jet pilot wings in 1965 and Navy helicopter wings in 1967. Senator Jeff Bingaman was a member of the US Army Reserve from 1968 to 1974.

GOVERNOR--None of the last three Governors---Martinez, Bill Richardson or Gary Johnson--served in the military, Former three term Governor Bruce King served in the Army in WWII. Former Governor Jerry Apodaca ('75-'79) served in the Marines.

ABQ CONGRESS--You find more military service with our US House reps. However the man who represented the ABQ district longer than anyone--Congressman Manuel Lujan-- ('69-89) did not serve. Republican Steve Schiff, who followed Lujan, was a reservist in the NM Air National Guard. Heather Wilson, who succeeded Schiff, was an Air Force officer for seven years and was the first female military veteran elected to a full term in Congress. Today she is Secretary of the Air Force.

SOUTHERN CONGRESS--Democrat Harold Runnels '71-80 served in the US Army Air Force Reserves in WWII; Republican Joe Skeen, who held the seat for over 20 years, served in the US Navy in WWII; Current Rep. Steve Pearce served as an Air Force pilot from '70-76. Dem Harry Teague, who held the seat for one term, had no military service.

NORTHERN CONGRESS---Bill Richardson and Tom Udall both had this seat and as mentioned earlier neither served in the military. Current Dem Rep. Ben Ray Lujan has no military service. However,  Republican Bill Redmond, who served one term in a fluke election in the heavy Dem Northern district, did serve in the US Army Reserve.

And there you have it. It seems military credentials might bolster a candidate but they are far from necessary to climb to the top of the ladder of La Poltica.

THE BOTTOM LINES

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