Friday, June 28, 2019

Friday Clippings From Our Newsroom Floor 

Mayor Miyagishima
ABQ isn't the only large NM city having a November election this year. We take you south to Las Cruces today where voters will decide city council races and mayor.

Mayor Ken Miyagishima has yet to announce whether he will seek another term, even though the election is drawing near. We asked veteran news reporter Mike Cook of the Las Cruces Bulletin for a report:

Hey Joe, Thanks for your email. I interviewed Ken a couple of months ago and he told me at that time he hadn’t made up his mind but he would let me know. I’ve heard nothing further and I’m not aware of an announcement pending. Having said that, I would bet (for whatever my opinion is worth), he will run for a fourth term. Between city council and Dona Ana County Commission, he now has almost 26 years elected service. With Gina Ortega running again for mayor and Councilor Greg Smith also in the race, it should be something. And, this will be our first ranked-choice ballot and the first time we’ve combined city, school board and soil and water conservation district. Hope you are doing well.

Thanks, Mike. A fourth term for Miyagishima? 16 years?  That could set a record for the longest consecutive stretch of mayoral terms for any of the state's four largest cities of ABQ, Rio Rancho, Santa Fe or Las Cruces. We know it would be for ABQ and Santa Fe. We'll check further while we're swinging away in the summer hammock.


One of the top tier candidates in the chase for the Dem northern congressional nomination was given a big boost this week when Emily's List, the prominent women's political group in DC, endorsed the candidacy of attorney Teresa Leger Fernandez. That means hefty campaign contributions and strategic help in winning the nomination next June in what has turned out to be a crowded field.

The seat is being vacated by Dem Rep. Ben Ray Lujan who is running for US Senate. Winning the Dem nomination in the north is essentially the equivalent of wining the congressional seat in the heavy D district. The top tier contenders in the race (as we see it) are Leger Fernandez, Santa Fe District Attorney Marco Serna and former CIA operative and author Valerie Plame. State Rep. Joseph Sanchez is another contender of note.


How many times have we heard this over the years? But is the long tease finally about to end?

Commercial space travel is expected to happen next year, Virgin Galactic officials confirmed at a a news conference . . Operations for the flights will be based out of the Spaceport America facility in Truth or Consequences,  Initially, 700 tickets are being sold for suborbital flights lasting about six minutes that provide what was described as a "beautiful view of earth."

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Thursday, June 27, 2019

Billions Of Revenue Flood Santa Fe But Scattershot Spending Could Spoil Party, Plus: Covering The ABQ Council Clashes  

Not to get all nerdy but our state desperately needs a Capital Outlay Commission--like yesterday.

State revenue is exploding as the oil and gas boom in the Permian Basin continues unabated and with no end in sight. So much money is accumulating that Sen. John Arthur Smith, chairman of the Senate Finance Committee, is already talking about taxpayer rebates. He fears the state can't responsibly spend the revenue.

But it's not that there isn't responsible ways to spend this historic treasure, it's the antiquated system we have for disturbing that money for roads, bridges, school buildings and other "infrastructure" that is the problem. Money gets appropriated for projects of questionable value or simply sits appropriated but unspent--by the hundreds of millions.

It's been repeatedly reported that New Mexico is the only state in the nation that lets its legislators appropriate major amounts of capital outlay for their pet projects. And the proposal to have an appointed commission to rank the importance of capital projects and take the decision making away from our politicos has been before the legislature for years. Nothing has changed. But things are different today.

We're now headed for the second year of a budget surplus well above $1 billion. That has never happened. More such years are likely. And the current budget year that wraps up June 30 has seen additional hundreds of millions of unexpected revenue flooding into the treasury, further inflating the surplus. This is extraordinary but will be sadly ordinary if much of the wealth is squandered on political projects or small, inconsequential tax rebates.

Sometimes the nerds have it right. The time for a capital outlay commission has urgently arrived. The Governor and Chairman Smith can make it happen--if they have the guts to take on the status quo.


In crowded races we narrow our coverage to who we consider the leading candidates, like the ABQ City Council District Two contest that may feature six candidates when the final petition signatures are counted at month's end. We have ABQ Councilor Ike Benton and challengers Zach Quintero and Joseph Griego in the top tier. Reader Terry Storch makes a case for another:

You consistently leave out Robert Blanquero Nelson as you discuss serious candidates for District 2. If you look only at the city site for the candidates, he has outpaced Joseph and Zach in the number of qualifying petition signatures to get on the ballot, and outpaced Joseph on qualified contributions and nearly equals Zach in that category. Readers may think he is a non-starter and that is far from the truth. BTW it took you until right up to the election to even mention Charlene Pyskoty, who won her county commission seat.

We did feature Nelson as our lead story not long ago, noting he would be the first Asian ever elected to the nine member council. We'll keep an eye on him.

As for BernCo Commissioner Pytosky, we did not cover the commission much because it was clear that the partisan make up of the panel would not move away from the Democrats and no incumbents were endangered. Pytosky did, however, flip that East Mountain seat, increasing the Dem presence on the commission to 4 to 1.

Speaking of the commission, we had a contest to help them name the Alvarado Square building they are renovating at a cost of nearly $50 million but this week they settled on "Bernalillo County @Alvarado Square. " Yawn. . .

And another city/county note: We had a bit of trouble with the ages of some of the city council candidates this week, including Zach Quintero who is actually 28 not 29. He'll be the big 3-0 soon enough, so we don't want to rush him.

There are also contested city council races in Districts 4, 6 and 8 this year. Two is getting the early coverage here because Benton is the most endangered incumbent (Davis and Jones are the other incumbents running).

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Wednesday, June 26, 2019

Clamoring Over Clemente: New Possible Foe Surfaces Against Coalition Senator Sanchez, Plus: ABQ Council Candidate Rejects Negative Bait  

Pam Cordova
The effort to break the powerful conservative state senate coalition appears to be getting more serious with word that Pam Cordova, president of the NM Federation Democratic Women, is contemplating a primary challenge against Dem State Senator Clemente Sanchez who is embroiled in a feud with the progressive wing of the party and who is a key member of the coalition.

Cordova, 62, is widely known in Dem circles and has a political pedigree. Her mother, Kandy Cordova, was a six year state representative (2001-'07) from Valencia County. Pam Cordova is registered to vote in Rio Communities near Belen. She is retired from a 26 year teaching career at Belen and Los Lunas public schools.

Sanchez is seeking his third term in Senate District 30 next year but must get past the June primary where in the past he narrowly survived a challenge. The district is made up of parts of McKinley, Cibola, Valencia and Socorro counties.

The coalition busters think that a Hispanic woman may have the best shot of wining a primary against Sanchez as well as Senator John Arthur Smith of Deming, chairman of the Senate Finance Committee and the leader of the coalition that counts as its members all 16 GOP state senators and a handful of conservative Senate Dems. Together they can form a majority in the 42 member body and vote to thwart progressive legislation or stifle it at the committee level.

One proposal that has raised the ire of the anti-coalition D's is the repeated defeat of the proposed constitutional amendment that would allow a portion of the $18 billion Land Grant Permanent Fund to be tapped for early childhood education. It is backed by Gov. Lujan Grisham but she was frustrated by the coalition at this year's legislative session. The measure passed the House but failed to get traction in the Senate in the face of coalition opposition.


Sen. Sanchez
The Governor's fingerprints are not showing up in the early stages of the Senate primary races but no one has more at stake in the outcome. The coalition has accumulated major power in the past ten years and has pushed aside two Senate Majority Leaders in doing so. And now this Governor who unlike her predecessor does not always share their ideology.

Sanchez and John Arthur Smith are top targets of the anti-coalition D's but even northern Dem Senators like Pete Campos and Carlos Cisneros, who are not usually aligned with the coalition, are preparing for primary challenges because of their conservative stances on social issues such as abortion. Pro-choice groups could come with major league money in their primaries and others.

Pam Cordova has not made an official announcement about challenging Sanchez. Political insiders in Valencia are saying they think she is a go but do not expect a formal announcement until after summer. She did not respond to an inquiry for this report.


One of the major candidates in the race for the ABQ city council seat held by Ike Benton isn't taking the bait. Joseph Griego of the North Valley says he won't conduct negative campaigning based on that embarrassing video of Benton phoning into a city council meeting attacking city firefighters that was featured on the Monday blog. Says Griego:

Today’s politics are filled with too many candidates playing the game of gotcha. The fact of the matter is that Councilor Benton has apologized to ABQ Fire Chief Dow for his colorful remarks and it seems the Chief has accepted. That’s good enough for me. Many political talking heads have made statements about whether or not myself or my fellow candidates will be making hay of this in our campaigns. I am committed to running a clean campaign, a campaign that talks about the issues that are affecting our communities. Not the gaffe’s of another candidate. I am further committed to not allowing any independent expenditure or outside committee to attack any of my opponents on issues like this. . . 

Well, Griego may be committed to "not allowing" independent committees from nuking Benton over his attack on city firefighters but that can't stop them. As for Benton, let's take a year off his recently listed age. He just turned 68--not 69. Griego is 29. Benton opponent Zack Quintero is 28.

Hey, it takes at least two Millenials to bring down a Boomer.

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Tuesday, June 25, 2019

Roosevelt And Curry: How Dry They Are How Wet They May Be, Plus: On The Econ Beat In Hobbs And Estancia, Also: ABC's Before Aerospace?  

While ABQ's Nob Hill hipsters battle for legal pot there's some unfinished mind-altering business left over from the last century for New Mexico to deal with--and it is. From Portales:

Depending on the will of the voters in Roosevelt and Curry counties, the number of dry counties in New Mexico next year could go from two to zero. . . After Curry County had a similar resolution, the Roosevelt County Commission will consider a resolution calling for an election to allow alcohol sales in the unincorporated parts of the county. . . 

The Curry commission unanimously passed their version of the resolution, with commissioners noting they weren’t stating their views on alcohol sales in the county but instead leaving the question up to its residents. Curry and Roosevelt are the only two counties in New Mexico that are dry. The dry status does not apply to cities within those counties that choose to offer alcohol sales.

So come next summer the cowboys in Curry and Roosevelt could be enjoying a cold (and legal) brew in the far reaches of those sparsely populated counties. Will by then the Nob Hill crowd be legal when they toke on their joints? We'd bet the Curry County beer gets there first.

And the boom goes on:

Devon Energy Corp. announced plans to open a new office in Hobbs with about 40 employees. . . Devon is a leading independent energy company engaged in finding and producing oil and natural gas. Based in Oklahoma City, Devon's Hobbs office is expected to open later this summer and  house approximately 40 of Devon’s 225 employees in the currently booming oil and gas region.

Another rural area is about to get a revival. It's Torrance county, where the closing of the private jail two years ago caused hundreds of lost jobs and devastated the economy, but now in Estancia:

. . . The town lost a million dollars in tax revenue and other payments. Then in May, Torrance County landed a contract with the federal government to re-open the jail--mostly to house migrants detained by Immigration and Customs Enforcement. . . “Now that it’s comin’ back, money’s comin’ again!” exclaimed Bo Bardy, who has worked at Gustin Hardware in Estancia. . . That money derives from the business of incarcerating migrants, many of whom are coming to the U.S. from Central America to seek asylum. U.S. Customs and Border Protection stopped about 144,000 people near the Mexican border in May. . . 

"Money's comin' again!" In rural NM that ranks up there with getting rain ten days in a row.


Sec. Keyes (Journal)
How about we keep the econ ball rolling with some more call centers for ABQ? Well, maybe not:

Economic Development Secretary Alicia Keyes told a panel of lawmakers that jobs at call centers don't generate high enough wages in general to warrant major grants under the state's Local Economic Development Act. At most the state will offer $1,000 per new job to offset infrastructure investments at urban offices that handle telephone calls for business customers. Recent state grants in urban areas provide about $6,000 per job created. Keyes said that state intends to focus business incentives instead on sectors such as aerospace, film, cybersecurity, biosciences and clean energy that offer jobs requiring greater skill and higher pay.

But where is the ready workforce for such highly skilled jobs in NM? Heck, high-paying Intel has had a hard time finding local talent. And what about all those high school grads who don't go on to college? Call centers still work for them (not that we need to pay 6 Grand for each job). And will the film industry hog too much of the LEDA money as it parachutes in for the increased film subsidies, leaving little for other industries? Thank you for the floor, Mr. Chairman.

Cybersecurity, aerospace and the like are great growth sectors of the economy but when you are once again 50th in the nation in the child well-being rankings, you aren't exactly grooming a promising future workforce. The NM section of the Annie E. Casey Foundation annual Kids Count Data Book makes for somber reading. First, the ABC's then the aerospace?


We misidentified ABQ City Council District 2 candidate Joseph Griego on the Monday blog as Joseph Sanchez. Sanchez is a candidate in the Dem primary race for the northern congressional district,

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Monday, June 24, 2019

Council Election '19: Benton Works To Preempt Embarrassing Video As He Faces Multiple Foes In Re-elect Bid  

Councilor Benton
In what appears to be an effort to preempt campaign attacks longtime ABQ City Councilor Ike Benton, seeking re-election in November, is out with an apology for a critical statement and a curse he uttered at a May 2018 council meeting where ABQ Fire Chief Paul Dow was making his case for a pay raise for firefighters.

Video of the meeting, which Benton attended via telephone and not in person due to eye surgery he had that day, has been making the rounds. On it Benton berates firefighters and their Chief Paul Dow for advocating for higher pay.

"These firefighters never stop. I'm going to vote against it," declares Benton as Dow begins his remarks to the council. Later, as Dow explains why he believes the pay boost is needed, Benton talks over him on the phone and says derisively, "Fuck you."

Here is the video. Benton's declaration that he will vote against the pay raise is at the beginning of the three minute tape and his cursing is at about 1:40.

District 2 Councilor Benton, a Democrat who was first elected to the nine member panel in 2005, says he thought his phone was muted during his controversial outbursts, but it wasn't and the comments he says he was making to his wife were heard by the full council and taped for posterity.

None of Benton's foes have yet used the tape against him in paid campaign pieces but it appears Benton wants to get ahead of the curve and try to dampen any attacks when and if they do come. Here's some of what he says in an email to supporters:

. . . Thinking my phone was on mute, I expressed frustration as well as my intention to vote against (the raises). About fifteen minutes later, I uttered a curse—also heard by others. I apologize. . . Nevertheless, in my considered judgment it did not seem fair for firefighters to get another raise on top of the one they had already secured while so many of the City’s rank and file employees were stuck with receiving much smaller raises. . . My cursing was absolutely not directed at Fire Chief Dow. My utterance was intended to be private and self-directed, and in no way directed to Chief Dow or the firefighters.

Benton, 69, a retired architect, says in his constituent email of Chief Dow:

I am extremely embarrassed that it was heard. I have apologized to the Fire Chief and he seems to accept that it was taken out of context.

"Seems to accept" isn't exactly a statement of forgiveness or acceptance of an apology, and Benton strains credulity when he says his "fuck you" was "self-directed."

Twentysomething hotshots Zach Quintero and Joseph Griego are considered Benton's two most formidable foes. Will one or both of them try to exploit the blunder? Or will one of those outside committees that now form for council races pop up and do the dirty work? (Benton says he will not be getting the firefighters endorsement. Their union has in the past financed committees producing campaign ads).

If his opponents do fire Benton will have plenty of 'splanin to do. However, given the large percentage of money that public safety receives in the city budget his comments were understandable, but in this case it's all in how you say it.

Benton's District 2 seat city includes downtown, old town, parts of UNM and the entire valley east of the river.


Moldy leftovers from the Martinez era continue to surface. Like this. The state paid out. . .

$80,000 to settle claims that then-Gov. Susana Martinez’s security team defamed and assaulted two people who showed up at a political event in Deming. The plaintiffs in that case, Scott and Colette Chandler, run a youth ranch and wanted to deliver a petition to the governor.

The case was settled last year but the payment was just disclosed. Background on the case here.
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