Thursday, January 03, 2019

NM DC Delegation Goes To One Party Control Today For Only 2nd time in Decades; Haaland And Torres Small To Take Oath, Plus: Some Leftovers From The Old Year 

New Mexico's five member congressional delegation switches to all Democratic today, only the second time that a single party has controlled the entire delegation in recent decades and another sign of the growing dominance of the Dems in New Mexico this century. (It also happened in '09 for two years when Dem Harry Teague was elected to the southern congressional seat)

Dem Xochitl Torres Small, 34, will be sworn in today on Capitol Hill as the new congresswoman for the sprawling southern district, taking the place of Steve Pearce, the last remaining R in the delegation.

Deb Haaland will take the oath and assume the ABQ congressional seat vacated by Gov. Lujan Grisham. Northern Dem Rep. Ben Ray Lujan will be sworn in for his sixth, two year term. Both of the state's US Senators--Tom Udall and Martin Heinrich--are Dems.

Four of the five seats are rated as "safe Dem." Torres Small's seat is the only swing district. In an under-the-radar move she has begun positioning herself for her 2020 re-election bid. She has joined the Democratic Blue Dog Coalition, a group of congressional reps who are self-described "fiscal conservatives" and strive to work across the aisle.

Torres Small won the seat based on the strength of Democratic Dona Ana County. Her joining the conservatives is setting off some grumbling. But Torres Small backers say it's a smart move because it will quiet opposition to her on the conservative eastside where a big push against her in '20 could return the seat to the R's.

Torres Small, whose husband State Rep. Nathan Small is one of the most liberal members of the NM House, is walking an ideological tightrope. Would she have been better off letting her voting record speak for itself rather than risk dampening enthusiasm among her liberal base by going Blue Dog? It's hard to say. And that's why they call it a tightrope.


At 34, Xochitl is the youngest person ever elected to a US House seat from New Mexico since statehood in 1912. While you were busy shoveling snow, we checked it out. Maybe she'll throw a party to celebrate. Heck, she's so young the birthday candles would fit on a good sized cupcake.


Haaland, 58, has her staff named and read to go. The full list is here. It includes political constant Scott Forrester, who will shed that title to become Haaland's district director based in ABQ.

Forrester is one of several local Dem political consultants to call it quits and go for the security of a government job. Dem consultant Alan Packman folded his consulting tent last year and went to work for the mayoral administration of Tim Keller, who he had previously consulted. And Tarin Nix, who served as political consultant to State Land Commissioner Stephanie Garcia Richard, is now her director of communications.

Consulting is exciting and potentially lucrative but the big bucks are now being gobbled up by the DC crowd.

Another new employee of the land office is Sunalie Stewart, who is leaving his job as Chief of Staff to Mayor Keller to become Deputy Commissioner of Operations in the land office. He was also a deputy commissioner when Dem Ray Powell was commissioner. Stewart, 41, was also a top staffer to Keller when he was state auditor. The job is open so if you're looking for a six figure job gig your resume to the Mayor, but make sure you can handle the pressure cooker.


Haaland, a member of Laguna Pueblo, was all set to become the first Native American woman elected to the US House but she had to share the title with Sharice Davids of Kansas who won her seat the same night as Haaland. I asked the incoming congresswoman about Davids, a member of the Ho-Chunk Nation, a Native American tribe in Wisconsin. She gave a broad smile and described her as thoughtful and quiet. Will we see the two history makers together in ABQ soon? Don't be against it.


A couple of things left over from the old year we wanted to get to. While the Alligators are more often than not spot on in their predictions, they did not get it right when they opined that longtime government administrator Lawrence Rael could end up as Gov. Lujan Grisham's chief of staff. He remains with the city of ABQ. Lujan Grisham named John Bingaman her chief.

And when we interviewed House Speaker Egolf late last year he predicted the state could have a surplus of up to $2 billion. That made news but the state's projected surplus for the budget year that starts next July 1 is $1.1 billion. However in fairness to Egolf,  it will be over $2 billion if you count the huge reserves that are being accumulated in the current budget year--$925 million. Most of that money, however, will be kept in reserve leaving the $1.1 billion to be spent.

Finally, it will take some getting used to so we weren't too upset when we referenced Teresa Casados, the Governor's new Chief Operating Officer, as Teresa Cordova.

Teresa Cordova is a former Dem BernCo commissioner we covered. She served one term but was defeated for a second in 2008. She now lives in Chicago where she's the Director of the Great Cities Institute (GCI) at the University of Illinois at Chicago. She is also Professor of Urban Planning and Policy in the College of Urban Planning and Public Affairs.

Teresa Casados was Director of Senior Services for Santa Fe County as well as a deputy cabinet secretary under Big Bill. Next time we'll be sure to keep straight our high-powered Teresas.

A pretty busy week around here. Ya think? Thanks for stopping by. And one more time: Happy New Year!

I'm Joe Monahan, reporting from Albuquerque, NM.checked it out.

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Wednesday, January 02, 2019

New Beginnings: Michelle Lujan Grisham Sworn In As Governor; The Takeaways From Day One, Plus: T.J. Trout Back In Town And Coming To A Radio Near You  

The mainly Democratic crowd gathered for the public inauguration of Michelle Lujan Grisham at the Santa Fe Convention Center New Year's Day was celebrating the departure of the Republican Governor as much as the arrival of one of their own. For them, to paraphrase Gerald Ford as he assumed the reins from President Nixon, the long state nightmare is finally over.

(Complete text of inaugural speech here. Complete video here. Video of midnight Capitol swearing in with New Year's countdown here. )

Here are the takeaways:

---The new Governor's first public statement was not verbal; it was made by her wardrobe. In a departure from the political norm, she donned a stylish bright white dress that magnified her presence. In psychology white is the color of new beginnings; it's a blank canvas ready to be written upon. (It is also symbolic of women’s suffrage). And so the new gubernatorial era began.

--A needed dose of self deprecating humor came at the outset of her speech. Almost always the shortest person in the room, she declared that all state podiums will now be lowered to match her stature. That got them laughing. It made her more approachable to New Mexicans but also served to take the edge off an environment where everything and anything is labeled politically incorrect.

--There was little news in the 30 minute speech, with the exception of this: She said she would propose the total elimination of the cap on financial incentives offered to the film industry, not just raising the cap. She referenced the over $180 million liability (and growing) accumulated under the current $50 million in incentives available annually to the industry and pledged to pay it off quickly.

--Eliminating the cap will be a battle. A number of states have backed off their incentives (Texas is considering eliminating them entirely), saying they can't clearly determine the financial benefits and that they feel blackmailed by Hollywood. Also. . .

--ABQ's win in getting a Netflix commitment to invest $100 million a year for ten years have some arguing that NM's incentives have done their job and now it's time to maximize that deal and move on to attracting other industries. And. .

--Film and TV production mainly benefits the ABQ/Santa Fe area. That leaves a lot of lawmakers skeptical of eliminating the cap when in their view that money could be put to use for the entire state.

At The Ball
---MLG made a significant rhetorical turn in her speech. In her advocacy for devoting a small portion of the Land Grant Permanent Fund to early childhood education, she used the official title of the $18 billion reserve, calling it the Land Grant "Permanent School Fund." That was an effort to make the constitutional amendment needed to tap the fund even more palatable to the public and to frame the debate not as a "raid," as opponents assert, but as an historically legitimate use of the 107 year old fund.

--By again signaling that she is all in on the constitutional amendment, she is setting herself up for an early, defining moment. Can she get it through resistant state Senate conservatives this session? If she does (and without reducing the amount to mere symbolism) it will be an epic victory. But what if she doesn't? The suspense is building.

--Fortysomethings Attorney General Balderas, ABQ Mayor Keller and Secretary of State Toulouse Oliver were all seated right next to each other on the inaugural stage, a reminder that a new generation of Democrats lurk, waiting for bigger things.

--The older generation of Dems was represented by 70 year old Senator Tom Udall (up for re-election in 2020) and his 80 year old wife, Jill Cooper Udall. She served as primary master of ceremonies and pulled it off with élan, dignity and without a hitch.

--The Republicans were pounded at the polls in November, but they had to be proud of their representation at the inauguration. Popular ABQ R Judy Nakamura, Chief Justice of the NM Supreme Court, was called on to make remarks. She did so with good humor and grace, giving the GOP a moment of pride.

--An emotional highlight of the ceremony came when new national singing sensation Chevel Shepherd of Farmington delivered a compelling version of God Bless America. The 16 year old was a reminder of the state's youth and its great potential, a major theme of the new Governor's speech.


All the hallmarks of the now finished Martinez/McCleskey administration seem epitomized in this statement left on the door of her communications director on his last day.

The spite, vindictiveness, vengefulness and yes, the hatred, that was the common currency of Susan Martinez's eight years in office is on full display in her final moments. And ultimately it was her undoing. What a waste. As for her legacy, readers of this blog know it all to well. We wrote it as it happened--for eight long years. Frankly, we don't care to devote more time to the subject. We've had our fill. Besides, it's sad.


Can a 63 year old former big name shock jock rejuvenate an ailing conservative talk station with an aging audience? That's the question ABQ's KKOB radio will soon answer as they add to their line up T.J. Trout, the morning jock who held forth for 25 years at ABQ's 94 Rock (KZRR-FM) until he hung up his microphone in 2011.

Radio insiders tell me Trout will replace talker Scott Stiegler on KKOB's 3 to 6 afternoon show this month, returning from his hometown of Cleveland where he retired to after his ABQ run. They hope Trout can give some spark to the 50,000 watt iconic station that has seen much better decades than this one in which they lost their #1 rating as well as considerable revenue.
T.J. Trout

Trout is respected as a clever entertainer but not known as a political guy. There's speculation that the station will try to keep him on a pop culture track, but that won't be easy considering the star personality on the station is right winger Rush Limbaugh. KKOB (770 AM and 94.5 FM) is decidedly pro-Trump so it will be interesting to see how Trout ignores that elephant in the room--if he does.

Trout, whose wife is in radio advertising, was a highly paid announcer in the heyday of ABQ radio before the Internet and smart phones marginalized the medium. When he departed he had to work to quash rumors that KZRR owner Clear Channel was dumping him to save money. Radio advertising in the ABQ market--ranked 69th in the nation-- has been flat for years. Trout won't be coming back to big bucks but the challenge should keep him focused. And unlike his past gig here he won't have to hear the alarm go off at 4 a.m.

KKOB is running ads teasing the return of a mystery big name to ABQ radio. Our Alligators spoiled that party today. They also put to rest the rumor that another big radio name from the past who recently returned--Jim Villanucci--would be Stiegler's replacement.

Villanucci, 56, who had outsized success as the KKOB afternoon show before being squeezed out, says he is staying put as the afternoon host at sports talker 101.7 The Team. Still, with TJ coming back to town and directly competing with him in the afternoon the "V" will have to keep his "A" game going.

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Tuesday, January 01, 2019

MLG Names Top Staffers But Makes Clear She Is Top Dog; Bingaman Son Debuts As Staff Chief, Plus: Who's Not In The Michelle Mix?  

Bingaman, MLG, Casados (Nott, New Mex)
Did you hear who's in charge of running the Governor's office and day-to-day government? Why, it's Michelle Lujan Grisham, that's who.

But what about newly named Chief of Staff John Bingaman, the 39 year old son of former Senator Jeff Bingaman, and Teresa Casados, the 55 year old government veteran who MLG named as Chief Operating Officer and said would be "co-equal" with Bingaman. Aren't they running the show? Well, sorta, kinda but. . .

If there was ever a Governor ready to get her hands dirty in the nitty gritty of the state bureaucracy it is Lujan Grisham. The splitting of the duties of the Governor's Chief of Staff is unprecedented. If it doesn't weaken the position it certainly gives her more room to maneuver--and control.

Some analysts immediately speculated that Bingaman and Casados are being set up to go at each others throats while MLG keeps everyone in check. But while Bingaman has built a successful private sector biz career he has no direct experience in government or the power playing that accompanies it. Casados is described by those who know her as mild-mannered, although she has plenty of local and state government experience. Those looking for a blood sport on the Fourth Floor may have to wait.

Casados did get her beak wet in the power pond when she served for a year as Governor Big Bill's Deputy Chief of Staff. She is currently Director of Senior Services for Santa Fe County, a subject near and dear to the heart of her new boss.

So, if Bingaman, an investment banker, "will oversee policy development, the legislative team and legal operations in the Governor's office" and Casados will "oversee the execution of policy and legislation, Cabinet Secretaries and manage constituent services," who's really in charge? Well, those descriptions could easily overlap so this appears to be a new experiment in running the government.

MLG is an old government hand with years of experience as a cabinet secretary, BernCo Commissioner and congresswoman. She is known for a very hands-on approach, if not micro-managing. Her top two staffing appointments tell us that style is not about to vanish. She will remain the strongest personalty in the room at staff meetings. But before the cries of "Dictator" are unleashed, remember that unlike Susana Martinez there will be no political operatives like Jay McCleskey being the "Shadow Governor." The elected official will own the government's decisions, not the political operatives or even the staff.


Of course the Alligators were chewing over what John Bingaman's entry into the political arena could mean. He has been mentioned in the past as a possible candidate for higher office but now the mentioning has taken on new meaning.

They quickly agreed that Senator Bingaman, who served as MLG's transition chairman, was instrumental in setting up his son for the job. That explains why though inexperienced in government he is starting at the top of the political world and not as an intern in the basement of the Roundhouse. And about those politics. . .

As the son of two outstanding political parents--Anne and Jeff--and with name ID and a family fortune behind him--the Gators could not be stopped from musing that if this new gig works out, it could be “like father like son”—and that US Senate or some other office could be in J.B's sights. Well, that's like forecasting it's going to be butt freezing weather in Santa Fe today. Duh. . .

By the way, that moaning you hear is from 40 something up and comers Hector Balderas, Tim Keller and Maggie Toulouse Oliver, among others. Now they have to welcome a new member to the rising star circle. Hey, Maggie, Tim and Hector, just don't grit your teeth when you shake John's hand.


There's a name missing from the Michelle Mix. That would be former BernCo Commissioner Deanna Archuleta, a reputed BFF of the Guv but now, according to the Gators, looking rebuffed. She has yet to land a position with the new government and while she was part of the transition she did not appear to make much of a dent. Did she push her newly powerful friend too hard? Hey, we can only tell you what the chatter is at the Gator pond.

And let's bring ABQ City Councilor Pat Davis back into the Michelle Mix. We blogged Monday that he is expected to run for re-election this year to his SE Heights seat, but friends say don't count him out as a possible for a position in the state Department of Public Safety which would mean he would likely have to leave the council. If Pat dances with Michelle, Mayor Tim could get to name a replacement for him. Hmm. Wonder how that new guy or gal would be voting on Tim's plans?


More on John Bingaman's background herehere and here. More on Teresa Casados here and here.

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Monday, December 31, 2018

First Decision Of Guv-To-Be Welcomed By Chilly New Mexicans, Plus: Veteran ABQ Councilor Prepares Re-election Bid, And: Happy New Year, New Mexico! 

The first major decision of Guv-to-be Michelle Lujan Grisham is turning out to to be a wise one. She's keeping the inauguration safely indoors and away from what is expected to be one of the coldest days of the winter season tomorrow when she is sworn in as New Mexico's 32nd governor. The Santa Fe forecast calls for a couple of inches of snow, a high of only 21 and temperatures actually lower when forecast winds of over 20 mph are accounted for.

At her first inauguration eight years ago Gov. Martinez encountered bitter cold and wind that that took the chill factor below zero, testing the sturdiness of the shivering attendees. In her inaugural speech the new Governor declared, "let us be brave together" which applied as much to the weather then as to the future of the state.

The departure from an outdoor ceremony will be the first of what is expected to be many shifts in tone and policy as a Democrat replaces an R at the helm of state government for the next four years.

The extreme cold snap could reduce the number of revelers at the inauguration and the two inaugural balls but the addition of Chevele Shephard, the new national singing star from Farmington, could give the festivities a boost.

The Governor-elect and Lt. Governor-elect Howie Morales will be sworn in at noon at the Santa Fe Convention Center. Immediately after she will deliver her inaugural address. The event is free and open to the public.

(New Governors actually take office at midnight January 1 at a private ceremony. MLG's sister-in-law, retired District Court Judge Sandra Grisham, will administer the oath at the Capitol at midnight.)

Before she is inaugurated Lujan Grisham will attend the 9 a.m. mass at The Cathedral Basilica of Santa Fe.

There are two evening inaugural balls, one at the Santa Fe Convention Center where tickets are $100 a person and a high roller ball at the tony Eldorado Hotel where entry is $500 a pop. More details on the inaugural events are here.

Other statewide elected officials who won four year terms in November will take their oaths of office at 3 p.m. Tuesday at the Capitol Rotunda. They are all Democrats: Secretary of State Maggie Toulouse Oliver, Attorney General Hector Balderas, State Land Commissioner-elect Stephanie Garcia Richard, State Auditor-elect Brian Colón and State Treasurer Tim Eichenberg. The event is open to the public.


It's undoubtedly a bee hive of activity behind the scenes but publicly this transition to a new administration has been decidedly low-key. There have been no public controversies, no big surprises (so far) with the cabinet picks and no major policy announcements. In fact, there has been little news, with insiders reporting that the chief worry is that they have fallen behind in the transition in part because of Lujan Grisham's congressional duties. Her ABQ US House seat will be filled by Democrat Deb Haaland on Thursday when she is sworn in at the US Capitol.


ABQ  District 2 City Councilor Isaac (Ike) Benton was first elected to the council in 2005 but his latest term has been the rockiest. The past four years the city endured record breaking crime and ART,  the botched Central Avenue transit project.

Benton, a supporter of ART, hosted a public meeting on the project in 2016 that was one of the most boisterous ever held by a councilor. Opponents railed against the bus plan and Benton. (Video here.)

But Benton, a retired architect and avowed urbanist, still enjoys the job and told me over the holidays he will seek another four year term in 2019. He represents a large swath of downtown and the North Valley which leans left. He has had only token opposition in his re-election bids. He ran unopposed in 2015.

He said that revitalizing the stalled renovation of the historic ABQ Railyards near downtown is a key issue and he would like another term to see it through.

Benton has chiefly concerned himself with environmental and urban issues while letting the mayoral administration lead on crime and homelessness that are ongoing issues in parts of the district.

Benton, 67, says he toyed with the idea of not seeking re-election and even looked around to see if a younger, qualified person was waiting in the wings, but he said he found none so he is off and running.

And how about riding on ART sometime? Benton still holds out hope that the long delayed rapid bus route will eventually be up and running and that when all is said and done it will be a boon for the city.

No other candidates have yet announced for his seat which is up for election in October 2019.

Three other councilors also face re-election in 2019. ABQ SE Heights City Councilor Pat Davis (Dist. 6), a Democrat, is expected to make a bid for a second term. However, Republican NE Heights Councilors Brad Winter (Dist. 4) and Trudy Jones (Dist. 8) may relinquish their seats after long stints, giving the council some new faces late next year. The council is currently controlled by the Democrats, 6 to 3.

That's it for 2018. Thanks for your continued interest and support and. . .

Happy New Year, New Mexico!

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