Thursday, April 18, 2019

A Big Foot Drops: Speaker Pelosi Pushes And MTO Teeters; Deal Sealed With Endorsement Of BRL? Plus: Rep. Haaland Lines Up With Nancy; Endorses BRL For Double Whammy  

US House Speaker Nancy Pelosi moved to clear the field for Rep. Ben Ray Lujan in the contest for the 2020 Democratic US Senate nomination Wednesday, issuing an endorsement of Lujan that jarred the camp of Secretary of State Maggie Toulouse Oliver and raised the possibility that there could be no big name challenge to Lujan or, if there is, it would be flaccid.

It was a double whammy for MTO who says she will make a decision on the Senate race at the end of the month but has been giving hints that she wants to get in. Not only did Speaker Pelosi go all in for Lujan but she was joined in endorsing the northern NM congressman by his colleague, ABQ Dem US Rep. Deb Haaland.

(The complete Pelosi and Haaland endorsements are below).

Haaland, the first Native American congresswoman, is the darling of the liberal nominating wing of the Democratic Party in big Bernalillo County which is also the county where MTO is most popular. Haaland slamming the door shut on her was almost as deafening as Pelosi's door slammer because MTO and Haaland share a large base of supporters.

Pelosi is a longtime mentor of Lujan's and has been instrumental in advancing his political career so her coming with an endorsement before MTO could spoil his party was not unexpected. But it also had national implications as this Senior Alligator of the Dem variety explained:

The Washington Democratic establishment does not want a fight down there. They don't want to worry about the race in New Mexico. Also, they don't want a lot of left wing people running here and elsewhere and not winning and possibly endangering their chances of taking the presidency next year. 

A run by Toulouse Oliver is seen as forcing Lujan to spend much of his campaign cash and setting up an opening for a Republican in the 2020 general election. NM is safe Dem and this is their way of keeping it that way.

It's not quite time to reference MTO's possible candidacy in the past tense, but with the Pelosi shoe dropping and others probably lined up to do the same, it's hard to see a viable fund-raising path for the secretary of state, but we do glimpse one.

Pelosi and Haaland
MTO could go all in with the AOC wing of the Dem Party and ignore Pelosi's endorsement, arguing that she is an enemy of the progressive wing of the party. That could attract national grassroots money that has been alienated by Pelosi as she wrestles with how to handle the aggressive AOC caucus.

That route, however, would make MTO enemies for life and at only 43 she will want to be a viable player in the decade ahead for whatever political opportunities arise. That's why the Pelosi/Haaland endorsement could be a door closer for her for 2020 and just what the doctor ordered for the 46 year old Lujan who does not want a divisive, negative primary campaign, no matter how much he is favored to win.


During the 2018 cycle and under the threat of a gerrymandered map, Congressman Ben Ray Luján (who served as chairman of the Democratic Congressional Campaign Committee) led our House Democrats to an astounding Majority not seen since Watergate. From his fight for health care to his resolve for the people and determination to advance a progressive agenda, I am confident that he will serve the great state of New Mexico as its next U.S. Senator with honor.


New Mexicans deserve a public servant who can fill the shoes of Senator Tom Udall, and continue the legacy of Senator Dennis Chávez by fighting for working New Mexicans and prioritizing public education. I believe that person is Ben Ray Luján. Last election cycle under Ben Ray’s leadership, Democrats took back the Majority in the US House, and he has been a champion for protecting the ACA, ensuring that all New Mexicans have accessible and affordable healthcare. He champions issues for Native Americans, and I am proud to endorse my friend Ben Ray Luján for US Senate.


A sidebar: BRL's father was NM Speaker of the House Ben Lujan. By working with then-Gov. Richardson the elder Lujan was key to BRL winning a seat on the Public Regulation Commission (PRC) that launched his career. Now comes another Speaker--Nancy Pelosi--doing much the same. BRL will never get to be a Speaker, as seemed possible before he launched his Senate bid, but he has taken advantage of the power of two speakerships without ever holding them.

And with that we break for the holiday and say, Happy Easter, New Mexico.

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Wednesday, April 17, 2019

House Speaker Pelosi Endorses Lujan Candidacy; No Money Bomb For Ben Ray But No Trouble Either; MTO Carefully Eyes His Totals, Plus: Torres Small's Difficult Immigration Dance 

Lujan and Pelosi
Wednesday afternoon US House Speaker Nancy Pelosi officially endorsed the Senate candidacy of Rep. Ben Ray Lujan. ABQ Dem US Rep. Deb Haaland also endorsed Lujan. The dual endorsements delivered a blow to the possible Dem Senate candidacy of Secretary of State Maggie Toulouse Oliver. 

There was no Ben Ray money bomb but neither did he bomb in his first quarter fund-raising. Lujan, the only announced candidate for the 2020 Dem US Senate nomination, reported that as of March 31 he had $650,000 cash on hand after raising $500,000 in the January-March quarter which came before he announced his Senate candidacy April 1.

That's an ample sum but not a seven figure "money bomb" some insiders speculated could come and would have all but shut the door on a primary challenge.

We were told by a close friend of Lujan's to look for his coffers to get to $1 million during the quarter because his new leadership position in the US House would attract national cash for him to disburse to fellow Dems. We took the bait and blogged it, but now that Lujan has not reached that mark, deserved or not, he gets an Alligator strike:

You had heard BRL will "blow the doors off" and have "at least seven figures." Well he came up very, very short on that. Pretty disappointing considering the fanfare. And when you dig into the money, it doesn't really get better for him. It's overwhelmingly corporate money: pharma companies, Walmart, fossil fuels and coal...to name a few. Not a good showing for all the bluster and what he did raise is a tough pill to swallow with the Dem primary base.

Point taken but no one is sneezing at the $650,000 the northern Dem congressman has banked. And he remains far and away the heavy favorite to take the June 2020 Dem nomination. Still. . .


While Ben Ray won't be seen at any payday loan stores, the fund-raising report could give a bit of encouragement to Secretary of State Maggie Toulouse Oliver who is thinking about challenging Lujan for the nomination.

MTO's fund-raising would start at ground zero. The little she has in her state campaign account could not be directly shifted to a Senate race. Her hope is that national women's groups will rally to her side and kick in the cash needed to make a respectable run. But if she can't line that up it won't matter much if Ben Ray is at 650K or $1 million.

It's reported that MTO has been in contact with Emily's List as she mulls over her Senate decision. But that powerful group is aligned with US House Speaker Nancy Pelosi who is an ardent backer of Ben Ray and who could be expected to run interference for him, but you don't know until you know.

Meanwhile, the BRL camp would be wise to line up a formal Pelosi endorsement before MTO has a chance to jump in. (He rolled out his first endorsement this week--from the NM Professional Firefighters Association).

A contested Dem Senate primary would cost in the area of $3 million or more, say the consultants. As Assistant Speaker with national connections BRL has the ability to get there. MTO probably does not.

The SOS has little to lose if she does make a run at the Dem nod and comes up empty--except perhaps her pride. She is not up for re-election until 2022 and if she gets in and something out of the blue happens that changes the narrative for a BRL win, she is there to take advantage. She is already indicating those are enough reasons to get her on the campaign trail. But none of them have dollar signs besides them and therein lies the rub.


The Republicans have their first official US Senate candidate on the campaign trail, but you're not hearing yelps of delight from them. That's because Gavin Clarkson, a Las Cruces business law professor who served in the BLM in the Trump administration, is not seen as a first-tier contender. He was the GOP nominee against SOS Toulouse Oliver in '18 and was easily defeated. He says he will hammer hard at the the immigration crisis on the border. That will help him with the GOP base, but this candidacy has narrow casting written all over it.

Insiders are starting to conclude that the GOP is not prepared to field a top tier candidate in the Senate race and won't. And that makes the Dem nomination all the more valuable.


Let's keep in the south and with Rep. Xochtil Torres Small. She reports raising $452,000 in the first quarter and had $519,000 in cash. It was a solid quarter and she needs each of them to be equally good or better. The R's will work hard to take this seat back and they will use immigration as their lever. Here's an interview Torres Small did with the WaPo that shows just how tricky this issue is for a southern Dem:

Torres Small wants more people to come into the country legally, and she supports issuing more work visas and simplifying the asylum process. But she also wants to secure the border. The best way to do that, she says, is not by building a continuous wall, but by hiring more Border Patrol agents and making sure they have all the resources they need. . . 

When talking to Torres Small about border security, there is one particular phrase that comes up a lot: “We need a clear and moral immigration system.” In a 30-minute conversation, she says it three times. The tag line, taken straight from a campaign ad, is hard to argue with. It’s also extremely vague, somehow appealing to many on both sides of an issue where the sides agree on almost nothing. There aren’t many of those types of phrases. So Torres Small says it again, and again and again.

As we blogged yesterday, GOP southern hopeful Yvette Herrell had $285,000 at the end of the quarter. Las Cruces businessman Chris Mathys, the other GOP hopeful, did no fund-raising but loaned himself $76,000.


We’ll join veteran radio personality T. J. Trout at 5 p.m. today and kick around the latest La Politica on 770 KKOB-AM and 94.5 FM. Hard to believe that after all these years we have not met him in person. Heck, maybe we should wear a tie. 

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Tuesday, April 16, 2019

APD PIO On The Firing Line Over Big Payday; Case Seen As Test For Mayor And Chief, Plus: Herrell Makes Some R’s Nervous, And: Bursting Bladders Banned In Santa Fe (Finally)  

Officer Drobik
The heat is on Mayor Keller and APD Chief Mike Geier to get rid of Public Information Officer Simon Drobik after it was revealed he pulled in nearly $193,000 in annual salary. That makes Drobik, whose visage has become well-known to TV news viewers because of the constant crime coverage, the highest paid employee for the City of ABQ.

The Civilian Police Oversight Commission (CPOA) found him in violation of city rules for calculating his overtime and other payments and is calling for his ouster. The ABQ Report, which broke the original story about the immense amount of overtime claimed by Drobik, is piling on:

If Mayor Tim Keller and Albuquerque Police Chief Mike Geier don't fire officer Simon Drobik they will support and defend sleaze and corruption at APD. Human Robot Officer Simon Drobik made $192,973 last year, making him the highest paid city government employee.  Drobik put in for 2,809 hours of OT in 2018. Drobik billed the taxpayers for 5,063 hours of work in 2018. To accept and reward corruption, or to punish it immediately so it does doesn't spread and become a routine way of doing business?

Mayor Keller's office says he cannot be involved in the firing of a classified employee such as Drobik, but Mayors can and have found ways of making their feelings known on such matters.

Former BernCo Chief Deputy District Attorney Pete Dinelli, writing for his web site, questions why the TV news departments that made Drobik famous in the community have shied away or ignored the Drobik overtime story and the call for his firing. What's up with that, newshounds? Drobik is nearly as recognizable as the anchor people.

Also on the PIO front, a couple of newsroom veterans have found new homes in state government. Thom Cole, formerly of the New Mexican, is writing the "propaganda" for the General Services Department and former high-profile KOAT-TV news anchor Marisa Maez has signed on as the PIO for the Dept. of Transportation.


Republican Yvette Herrell wasted no time after losing her bid for the southern congressional district to Democrat Xochitl Torres Small last November. In January she was already an announced candidate for the 2020 GOP nomination. In the first quarter she reports raising $200,000 and now has $285,000 in cash on hand.

Torres Small’s campaign reported $441,000 in donations and about $519,000 cash on hand at the end of the first quarter.

The issue here is Herrell. Some Republicans remain nervous about her chances and doubly so now that Torres Small appears more vulnerable than just a few months ago. That's because of the immigration crisis at the border and the congresswoman's challenge in threading the needle on the complex and fiery issue.

In '18 Herrell refused to debate Torres Small and refused to answer TV attacks over her alleged self-dealing with the state government while she served as an Alamogordo legislator. As we've blogged, the nervous R's are casting their eyes at Claire Chase from a wealthy SE NM oil family as a possible GOP hopeful. But she has given no signals.

A 61 year old GOP Las Cruces businessman, Chris Mathys, has announced a run, but is not expected to be able to raise substantial funds.

There is no recent record of a losing general election congressional candidate in New Mexico coming back and winning the second time. Democrat Richard Romero tried it in 2004 after losing the ABQ seat to Republican Heather Wilson in 2002 but lost to her again in 2004.

But it may be too late to have Herrell step aside or be challenged. She is off and running and the National R's seem to think even a somewhat damaged Republican can take back the seat given the higher turnout expected in the conservative SE in a presidential election year.


There are no FEC money reports yet for the northern congressional seat being vacated by BRL because there were no candidates in the first quarter. But there should be plenty to come this quarter. Already two Dems have announced for the nomination with more more lining up.


And these really are, well, bottom lines today. . .

Santa Fe is finally getting a water closet on Water Street in the restroom starved downtown:

Finding bathrooms around the plaza has been a challenge for years, even prompting one business owner to propose an app to help people find businesses with bathrooms available. Now, thanks to $550,000 from the legislature, the city plans to build a restroom near the Water Street garage. The preliminary design includes 22 stalls and a family restroom. Construction is expected to start in the fall.

Here's to no more bursting bladders among the tourists. We were about to invest in a diaper store up there.

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Monday, April 15, 2019

Owning It: State Dems Euphoria Interrupted By Crime Crisis, Plus: Heinrich Taking Heat On Interior Nominee Vote; Sights On Bigger Things? 

The state's Democratic leadership--specifically the Democratic Governor and Democratic Mayor in ABQ--are finding out what it's like to take ownership of the crime crisis that continues to engulf the ABQ metro and makes itself known with regularity in other locales.

They seemed caught off guard by by the recent outbreak of violence in a short time span involving the deaths of children and murders in ABQ and Farmington. The spree included the shooting death of an eight year old girl, the child abuse deaths of an 11 month old infant and a 5 year old as well as assorted other killings that made for blaring headlines.

Gone were the sunny Dem declarations heard in the aftermath of the recent legislative session that everything was coming up roses and lollipops--or soon would be. They found themselves on the defensive and dealing with the stark reality that remains New Mexico today.

CYFD Secretary Brian Blalock did the heavy lifting for the administration making sure to note that the new Santa Fe leadership is inheriting the trouble;

We grieve the recent deaths. We as a new leadership team are constantly looking to learn from the mistakes of the past. The safety and welfare of the children and other victims is and will always be our first priority.

For now time is the friend of the administration but if the killings and mayhem continue, time will become the enemy.

For ABQ Mayor Tim Keller who has been in office well over a year this wasn't the first occasion his administration had to put out a statement denouncing yet another outbreak of shocking violence. APD Chief Mike Geier, saying:

We are hiring more officers and making progress toward fighting crime, but this week’s violence points to the larger issues of gun violence, child abuse and domestic violence that we are taking on as our top priorities. I want people to know that we are working hard, and developing multi-pronged approaches to each of these challenges.

The chief forgot something--drugs. That would be D-R-U-G-S, Chief, but your boss did cover it a bit below.

The two child abuse deaths came in the middle of Child Abuse Awareness Month, making a weekend March marking its observance all the more poignant:

Mayo Keller joined (CYFD) Secretary Blalock and hundreds of Albuquerque residents for a March Against Child Abuse. . . (It) leaves us heartbroken and angry, it robs us of hope. . . But it must also leave us determined to act. . .That means each of us playing a role and joining partners in government, law enforcement, and the community. If even one child’s life can have a different outcome, it’s worth every ounce of effort.” 

Keller says the city is "expanding the number of places for kids in Early Childhood programs that break the cycle of poverty and violence and give professionals a chance to catch signs of abuse and also addressing the behavioral health and addiction challenges that are underlying contributing factors to child abuse."

So MLG, Blalock and Keller want to get the hobbled behavioral health system restored and hopefully start chipping away at the drug epidemic. But a boost in old fashioned policing and jailing of the drug pushers probably needs to be part of the equation. That may be easier for Republicans to say, but it's the Democrats who are in charge now.


It's a rare sight indeed to see one of New Mexico s environmentally oriented US Senators being attacked in statewide TV ads by one of the leading environmental groups. But Dem Senator Martin Heinrich's vote to confirm David Bernhardt as Secretary of Interior enraged the Western Values Project and they have put up what they say is a "six figure" TV buy attacking Heinrich for the vote.

Bernhardt is an attorney who worked as a lobbyist for mining and oil companies.

The group's news release attacking Heinrich's vote and the TV ad are here but the ads came right after the full Senate vote so they were for naught if meant to influence  Heinrich's vote. They may be inflicting some political damage but Heinrich was safely re-elected last year and doesn't face re-election until 2024.

Meanwhile, Dem Senator Tom Udall vigorously opposed Bernhardt, who worked at Interior in the Bush administration, and voted against his nomination. Still, he was confirmed on a 56-41 Senate vote. Heinrich says:

While we do not — and will not — agree on many issues or policy decisions, I have found that acting Secretary Bernhardt has always kept his word.

Heinrich adds that Bernhardt has supported protections for White Sands Missile Range.

DC insiders and Alligators here are gaming the politics of Heinrich's unusual vote. They say Heinrich has long had his eye on someday becoming Secretary of Interior, They speculate that his vote for Bernhardt could win him goodwill from Republicans who control the Senate and are expected to still control it after the 2020 presidential election.

The thinking goes that if a Democrat takes the White House Heinrich would have a shot at being nominated to Interior and would face a confirmation vote in the Senate--a vote that would now be easier for GOP Senators to take. But maybe not so easy for some of his fellow Democrats.

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