Thursday, November 29, 2018

Lujan Secures Top House Post As Udall Preps Senate Re-elect Bid, And: Navajo Gator Reports On And Analyzes Rez Election Outcome  

As we left you yesterday Rep. Ben Ray Lujan was about to become the fourth ranking Democratic leader in the US House of Representatives. And it happened. He was chosen without opposition as Assistant Democratic Leader.

And as we speculated, that means he holds the highest leadership post ever held by a NM US House member.

And he's probably the highest ranking NM leader ever in either the House or Senate. We've had powerful Senate committee chairmen but none that we are aware of in the upper ranks of the senatorial leadership. You can read more about Lujan's new role on the Wednesday blog. Now on to today's action.

Giving US Senators a stiff re-election challenge just doesn't seem to be in the DNA of La Politica. With Dem Senator Tom Udall indicating he will seek a third term in 2020 and prepping his fund-raising machine, there is nary a peep of even a rumor about what name Republican will surface to take him on.

Fringe candidate Gavin Clarkson, who was the GOP nominee for Secretary of State, is preparing a run which sounds like Mick Rich take two.

If circumstances remain apathetic we could have a repeat of the bust that happened this month in the Senate race that saw Dem Martin Heinrich re-elected. GOP nominee Rich was written off from the start and Libertarian Gary Johnson fizzled faster than a firecracker in a rainstorm. Obviously, Udall, 70, is hoping for something similar as he embarks on a campaign for what could be his final US Senate term.

If pressed, insider R's will throw out the name of Lt. Governor John Sanchez, but unconvincingly. Sanchez's star has faded along with that of Gov. Martinez who once was talked up as a potential Udall foe.

The last competitive Senate race featuring an incumbent was way back in 1994 when Republican Colin McMillan ran unsuccessfully (54-46) against Dem Senator Jeff Bingaman. And the last incumbent Senator to lose their seat was Republican Jack Schmitt back in '82 when Bingaman tripped him up.

On the other hand, when we had an open Senate seat in '08 we had a pretty fair campaign between Udall and GOP nominee Steve Pearce. And when Bingaman retired the match-up for his vacant seat between Heinrich and R  Heather Wilson was a race to watch.

A Senate campaign is a great platform for a vigorous debate over the national scene and the state's role in it, but not so much when the seat is filled with an incumbent. The R's will need to get going if they are going to make a serious try to overturn that history.


The possibility that Udall would not seek another term had the juices flowing among the new generation of Democrats who saw their names prominently mentioned as possible replacements. Now you wonder what will become of them. With Udall seeking re-election and Dem Michelle Lujan Grisham in the governor's chair, there are few higher office options for the trio of Attorney General Hector Balderas, ABQ Mayor Tim Keller and BernCo District Attorney Raul Torrez.

There is one long shot possibility that the trio will watch for--if a Dem president is elected in 2020 there is a chance that Sen. Heinrich could make a play to join their cabinet as Secretary of Interior. If that happened then the Governor would appoint a replacement to fill out his term. Of course, the Governor could appoint herself, again foiling the higher hopes of our stranded trio.


We still have a bit of clean-up to do from the midterm election and we get to it with the able assistance of Navajo Gator, who files this report direct from Indian Country:

Joe: The Navajo Nation is preparing to inaugurate its newest president after a landslide victory by Jonathan Nez, the current vice president. Nez defeated former Navajo President Joe Shirley, 39,783 to 20,146 votes, with about 64 percent voter turnout in Arizona, New Mexico and Utah. This election marks the end of the one-term presidency of Russell Begaye, brother of former NM Rep Ray Begaye, both of Shiprock. 

Nez will be joined by his vice president/running mate Myron Lizer, who is half Navajo and Comanche, a Baptist minister and Republican. There is a cloud of suspicion over the new administration, as President Begaye has charged that his vice president has taken personal travel on the tribal dime, hence calling for an investigation into Nez’s spending.  

Meanwhile, the Navajo Council has some substantial changes, with only 9 councilors winning re-election. There are now two additional women councilors, increasing to three the number of women on the 24 member Navajo Council. It will vote for its new Speaker after the tribal inauguration day January 15, 2019. 

The Navajo Nation has been credited with solidifying a lot of Democratic victories in New Mexico and Arizona, like Governor-elect Lujan-Grisham and Rep Ben Ray Lujan, but most profoundly in its support of Arizona US Senator-elect Kyrsten Sinema and US Rep. Tom O’Halleran. The Navajo electorate also aided the Democratic switch in the NM House race in which Republican State Rep. Sharon Clahchischilliage of Cudeii was defeated by Democrat Anthony Allison of Shiprock.

I hope this is helpful.

Thanks, Navajo Gator. Very helpful and insightful. We cover all the angles around here, and that's why. . . .

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Wednesday, November 28, 2018

Ben Ray Set To Rise To Top Leadership Ranks In US House; Key Meeting Today, Plus: Pearce Doubters Want Him To Nix Any Election Plans Before Taking GOP Chair Slot  

Rep. Ben Ray Lujan is about to secure the highest leadership post in the US Congress apparently ever held by a New Mexican. And if the stars continue to align for him he could reach even higher in a few short years. From DC:

The Democratic Caucus will meet (today) to nominate a speaker candidate for the Jan. 3 floor vote and to elect its other leaders for the 116th Congress. The races for the top four posts are uncontested, making it all but guaranteed that current Minority Leader Nancy Pelosi of California will be nominated for speaker, Minority Whip Steny H. Hoyer of Maryland will be elected majority leader, Assistant Democratic Leader James E. Clyburn of South Carolina will be elected majority whip and Democratic Congressional Campaign Committee Chairman Ben Ray Luján of New Mexico will be elected assistant leader.

Lujan, 46, represents a new generation of Democrats. He will be by far the youngest of the top four US House Dem leaders, the rest of whom are approaching 80 and presumably retirement.

That means when Pelosi and the others do retire Lujan could very well aspire to a higher leadership position, such as majority leader or majority whip. A Senior Alligator games it  out:

The Assistant Democratic Leader position is the fourth ranking leadership post. It means he will have a toehold in the leadership. He will be at the major meetings where policy is decided and the day to day floor schedule is decided. This is his opportunity to advance further in leadership. And that's where the real power is. He is the right age and he represents a heavy Hispanic district--a key constituency for the future of the Democratic party.  

In his new job Lujan will work with the various Dem caucuses and serve as a leadership liaison to the powerful appropriations committee.

His election success as chairman of the Dem Congressional Campaign Committee made possible his rise in the leadership ranks. That and a solid relationship with Rep. Pelosi. Also, his own political instincts, honed under his father, the late NM House Speaker Ben Lujan, have obviously served him well.

The impact on New Mexico that Lujan's rise in the leadership ranks will have is not immediately clear, but he will be well positioned to protect the state's interests and perhaps advance it by pushing for certain legislation to go to the floor. In the event a Democrat takes over the White House in 2020, he would be even better positioned.

Lujan was first elected in 2008 and in November was easily re-elected to his sixth term to his northern US House seat.

We said Lujan will "apparently" hold the highest leadership position ever achieved by a NM congressman or senator. That's to the best of our knowledge and that of other longtime observers. If we hear different, we'll let you know.


And some news on an outgoing congressman. That would be Republican Steve Pearce, who gave up his southern congressional seat to run for Governor but lost. His congressional term runs out in January. Pearce, not ready to retire, has announced he will seek the chairmanship of the NM GOP at its December 8 meeting. He is heavily favored to win, but. . .

There is grumbling that Pearce is not rejecting the possibility of making another run for the southern congressional seat in 2020. His doubters say if he is really serious about being party chairman and not just trying to resurrect his own political career he should state that he will not be a candidate.

The seat was won by Dem Xochitl Torres Small and she can be expected to seek re-election in 2020. But Pearce critics think that ABQ businessman John Rockwell, his opponent for the chairmanship, could pick up some steam if he presses the issue of Pearce's future political plans. The argument being that Pearce should be serving one master--the state GOP--not himself. The GOP Central committee meets December 8 to elect the new chair.


Voter turnout in the November midterm was higher than just about anyone expected. The Secretary of State has counted 701,654 votes. Only one of our predictors here got it right. ABQ radio talk show host Eddy Aragon said turnout would go over the 700k mark. That's about 56 percent of the registered--way high for a midterm. Good call by Aragon. The rest of us fell far short. And from the SOS:

New Mexico’s State Canvassing Board met Tuesday in Santa Fe and unanimously certified the official results of the 2018 general election. The Board also officially ordered automatic recounts in two electoral contests, with another recount scheduled to be ordered when the Board reconvenes on Friday of this week. The official, certified results for every 2018 general election contest except those with pending recounts can be viewed on the Secretary of State’s website. . . The three members of the State Canvassing Board – Governor Martinez, Secretary of State Maggie Toulouse Oliver, and Chief Justice of the New Mexico Supreme Court Judith Nakamura –were all in attendance. 

At the meeting, Susana and her GOP lawyer buddy Pat Rogers raised questions about online absentee ballot requests. They're upset that Dem Xochitl Torres Small beat Republican Yvette Herrell for the southern congressional seat. But even if all those online ballots were invalidated Torres Small would still have won.


A number of readers point out that attorney Alan Hall, whose Dem candidacy for the ABQ area state senate seat held by Republican Candace Gould we blogged of Tuesday, is married to Democratic Public Regulation Commissioner Cynthia Hall. That raises this question: Will a Hall dynasty of Alan and Cynthia replace the Gould dynasty of Candace and her lobbying powerhouse husband Leland Gould? Stay tuned. . .

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Tuesday, November 27, 2018

Dr. No Joins Yes Crowd On Budget Surplus; Says $1.5 Billion Extra Is "In Ballpark", Plus: State Senate 2020: Early Foe Surfaces For GOP Senator In ABQ Swing Seat  

Recent volatility has the worry warts fretting over the price of oil and what that could mean for the big projected state budget surplus. However, "Dr. No" is not among them.

In fact, Dr. No, aka, conservative Senate Finance Committee Chairman John Arthur Smith, is with the yes crowd and predicting that when lawmakers gather for a sixty day session in Santa Fe come January they should have at least an extra $1.5 billion on the table. That's up 25 percent from from the $1.2 billion that the state has been projecting:

"We’ve been anticipating $1.2 billion in new money for next year, but we could get another shot in the arm from next month’s lease sale,” Smith said. “I’m guessing it could generate $250 million more for New Mexico, putting us near the $1.5 billion ball park.”

Dem House Speaker Brian Egolf told us last month the surplus would total anywhere from $1.4 billion to $2 billion, a mammoth increase, considering the entire current General Fund budget is about $6.3 billion.

Dr. No could still be on the low side, but regardless of where the surplus ends up the argument will be the same: How much of that cash can be spent on budget items that will "recur" each year. For example, public school spending such as teacher pay hikes or adding state employees.

While the austerity hawks want much of the surplus to go for only one time spending, what if they're overly cautious and the budget surpluses accumulate at these levels for four years or more? What is the plan then? You can't put that kind of money away for a rainy day unless you think you're going to get a storm that would sink Noah's Ark. Surely that's something for the Governor-elect and her new budget team to think about.


Alan Hall
It's not too early for prospective hopefuls to be eyeing the 2020 races for state Senate.

Our speculation that GOP senators in the ABQ metro could be vulnerable because of the blue wave that washed through the area this year has already surfaced a Dem challenger to one of those R's. He's Alan Hall, an attorney with the Rodey law firm:

Joe, you speculated about the 2020 re-election prospects of Republican state senators in the Albuquerque area. I am going to run for the District 10 seat, currently held by Republican Senator Candace Gould. I am ready to invest a fair amount of money, and a great deal of time.

Hall, 65, practices in the areas of municipal bonds and general corporate work. He's been practicing in in the state for nearly 30 years.

His quest to unseat Sen. Gould, 60, who was elected to her first term in 2016, is no pipe dream. Look how close her contest was with Democrat David Simon in the swing district that takes in a  chunk of the liberal ABQ North Valley and extends into the city of Rio Rancho:

Gould 50.92% 10,530
Simon 49.08% 10,151

Sen. Gould
Sen. Gould, the executive director of the Heart Gallery of NM which helps foster children, is married to lobbyist Leland Gould, 62, whose chief client is Andeavor, parent company of Western Refining. The company makes generous donations to legislators.

In 2013, the Goulds made the blog news when they hosted a high dollar New Year's Eve party for Governor Martinez. They have remained close to her political machine, although with the Dems taking over the lobbying corp is sure to be more cozy with them.

It wouldn't take much of a blue wave for Gould to be ousted. If Trump is the presidential nominee and the metro remains negative on him, that alone could be enough.

Gould is not known as a hard right conservative but she is conservative nonetheless. Will she (and the other metro GOP senators) soften some now that attorney Hall has put his picture in the window and other Dems may be waiting in the wings?

We'll be watching.

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Monday, November 26, 2018

One Year Of Mayor Keller; How's He Doing? Perspective Offered And Grades Assigned  

One Year Ago
ABQ Mayor Tim Keller marks his first year in office this Saturday. So how's he doing? Down at the Alligator pond where they keep a close eye on all things La Politica the fresh-faced, energetic 41 year old earns a grade in the B to B+ range. Here's how it shapes up, starting with the positives:

--Unfortunately the crime wave rolls on but Keller and APD have stabilized it somewhat. Sure, it's hard to see how crime could have soared any higher as the city already ranked at or near the top of the nation in the stats, but stabilizing the rate is an important first step.

--Like it or not, Keller pushed through the city council a tax increase that is bringing in $50 million a year or more to city coffers with most of it pledged to the crime fight, including hiring more cops. That tax will be crucial to any future success he has on the crime front and which will ultimately determine his political fate.

--APD is making incremental progress as it operates under the Justice Department consent decree. Gone are the days under Mayor Berry when he and his minions brazenly thwarted implementation of the decree.

--On the economic front Keller had a big catch with Netflix. It announced a ten year, $1 billion investment here in film production. His administration doesn't get all the credit but it gets enough. In one fell swoop the talk of a profitable "creative economy" became a reality with the Netflix deal. Weeks later, however, government contractor Honeywell Aerospace announced it was pulling up its ABQ stakes and laying off hundreds, again revealing the fragility of the city's economy.

--Changing the psychology of the city after the failed eight years of Republican Mayor Richard Berry was essential if ABQ was to look more hopefully at the future. Keller, a peripatetic politician who loves the camera, has been accused of showboating but his cheerleading has the city thinking more positively about itself,  an important aspect of executive leadership. His One ABQ campaign has been criticized as trite and political sloganeering, but this past decade the city has been severely fractured both economically and socially. From that perspective and as the city continues to grow even more ethnically diverse, the One ABQ pitch resonates.

--ART. There are positives and negatives to how Keller has handled the ignominious, scandal-ridden transit plan. The most bungled public works project in city history was left on his desk by Mayor Richard Berry like a rancid sandwich. He is now embroiled in a high-risk legal tempest with the providers of the electric buses for the project. ART could still cause Keller to stumble, but his first foray at trying to make sense of the mess have been, well, sensible. This is truly a no-win situation and containing the damage is the best that can be expected.


So why doesn't  Keller get an A or A plus from those Alligators watching over their fair city? Well, perhaps he will get there in the years ahead but in the first year. . .

--Keller and APD still have major issues. Early in his term he and his police chief mishandled a high profile case of a sexually abused 7 year old girl and appeared to be attempting a cover up of APD incompetence. That Keller was buying into the culture that brought down the department was startling. And it was one of several instances that raised issues about his dedication to transparency. (He walked back his support of the policing in the case of the 7 year old).

--That tax hike the Mayor engineered worries the Gators as they look at the still off-the-charts overtime that many at APD are receiving. The administration will argue it's because of the cop shortage but a cop doing PR and pulling down close to $200,000 a year is a major optics issue and raises the question of whether Keller will efficiently spend the hundreds of millions in new tax money. And does he have command and control of APD or do they have it of him?

---Keller's APD pay package to resolve the cop shortage is attracting officers from Rio Rancho and other area cities. Does that undermine the overall safety of the metro? And will those officers have a strong commitment to APD cultural change that first time officers would? Critics argue it was the hiring of "laterals" from other police departments  that caused much of the problem we had with fatal police shootings that forced the Justice Department to come in here and that has cost the city tens of millions in lawsuit settlements.

--While crime has leveled off in some categories, ABQ remains a very violent city. Murders continue to hold at or near record levels and citizens continue to complain of repeat burglaries at their businesses and homes. Complaints are also heard that the city/county jail, once overcrowded, is now too empty. Keller and APD Chief Geier remain vulnerable to the "not tough enough" on crime message.

--The Topgolf veto. Keller's veto of subsidies for this project was unanimously overridden by the City Council. His boots in cement approach didn't do him any favors and cost him political capital. But his relationship with council has been a bit better since that fiasco. Write it off to a rookie mistake?


Mayor Keller faces a city with a soft underbelly of crime, violence, poverty and drugs that continues to hinder economic development and encourages the city's best and brightest to head for the state line. These are the same problems that bedeviled the previous administration but were left to fester and worsen.

The city ached for change and a new face when it elected Keller in a landslide last November. His first year put to rest concern that he would be overwhelmed by the job as he demonstrated a basic and sometimes elevated competence. He and the city he leads still face a long road ahead in remaking ABQ into a more economically vibrant and safer place but he has taken the first steps of the journey.

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