Thursday, August 08, 2019

Update: Epstein Dead In Apparent Suicide; Ex- Gov. Richardson Denies Involvement with Epstein "Sex Slave"; Epstein's NM 'Baby Ranch' In National Spotlight; Plus: King Family Back In La Politica; They Target House Seat Once Held By Gov Bruce, And: A New ABQ Newspaper  

This story has required several updates since we first posted Thursday. The latest is the news that Epstein died of an apparent suicide in his New York City jail cell early Saturday. 

The news that broke Friday regarding former Gov. Richardson in the Epstein scandal is in this report.

The notorious New Mexico ranch owned by wealthy financier Jeffrey Epstein, now jailed in New York  on charges of sex trafficking in underage girls, is examined in detail this week by the Daily Beast. Other recent reports contain the bizarre news that Epstein hoped to seed the human race with his DNA by impregnating women at the huge ranch.

The Daily Beast report is headlined: "Epstein Seen With Young Girls as He Shopped for ‘Baby Ranch’ in New Mexico."

The article contains titillating tidbits for followers of La Politica. Some samples:

He chose to buy a ranch through another realtor, Rhonda King, who was also then a representative to the New Mexico legislature. The purchase of the 10,000-acre Zorro Ranch came with an additional, instant political connection, as Epstein bought it from the realtor’s uncle, former Gov. Bruce King.

Epstein proceeded to build a 26,700 square foot hacienda-style hilltop mansion, the largest private home in Santa Fe County, perhaps the state. The former governor’s nephew, New Mexico State treasurer David King, was quoted saying of Epstein, “He’s building what you want as a heavenly ranch.”

And another:

Visitors to the mansion included the leading candidate for governor in 2002, Bill Richardson, who was later quick to say that he was accompanied by his wife. Epstein contributed $50,000 to Richardson’s campaign. Epstein kicked in another $50,000 towards Richardson’s successful run for reelection in 2006.

Gary King, the former governor’s son, was running for state attorney general that year and Epstein donated $15,000 to his primary campaign. Epstein also donated $10,000 toward Jim Baca’s campaign to become head of the land commission and $2,000 toward Santa Fe County Sheriff Jim Solano's bid for reelection.

In the meantime, Epstein was apparently flying in underage girls as well as fresh bread, usually through Santa Fe when he was using his Gulfstream, or the larger Albuquerque airport when using his Boeing 727. One of his accusers would say that she was raped at the ranch when she was 15.


On Friday the Daily Beast came with this:

A young woman who says financier Jeffrey Epstein and socialite Ghislaine Maxwell kept her as a sex slave also accused a host of high-powered men of being involved in Epstein’s alleged sex-trafficking ring, according to court records unsealed Friday....Virginia Giuffre, who says that Epstein and Maxwell trafficked her to powerful people for erotic massages and sex, claimed in a 2016 deposition that Maxwell directed her to have sex with former New Mexico Gov. Bill Richardson, Britain’s Prince Andrew (whom she has accused before), wealthy financier Glenn Dubin, former senator George Mitchell, now-deceased MIT scientist Marvin Minsky, and modeling agent Jean-Luc Brunel, as well as “another prince,” a "foreign president," and the owner of a “large hotel chain” in France.....

A spokesperson for former Gov. Richardson told The Daily Beast, “These allegations and inferences are completely false. Governor Richardson has never even been contacted by any party regarding this lawsuit. To be clear, in Governor Richardson’s limited interactions with Mr. Epstein, he never saw him in the presence of young or underage girls. Governor Richardson has never been to Mr. Epstein’s residence in the Virgin Islands. Governor Richardson has never met Ms. Giuffre."

Giuffre said she was directed to have sex with Richardson while he was Governor at Epstein’s secluded ranch in Santa Fe County.

The released court documents are listed below this story regarding the accusations against Richardson and other well-known men.


The King political dynasty went dark after Gary King lost the 2014 gubernatorial race to Susana Martinez, but now word comes that it could be resurrected:

King Spindle
Rebecca “Becky” King Spindle a rancher and the granddaughter of former New Mexico Governor Bruce King announced her candidacy for the NM House of Representatives District 50. Becky has served for the past three years as a member of the Moriarty School Board and was proud to support the district in their lawsuit against the State to increase funding to our students. . . King Spindle graduated from Moriarty High School and later attended New Mexico State University where she studied Animal Science. She has been married to Tommy Spindle for 24 years and has four children. 

King Spindle, 44, is the daughter of rancher Bill King, one of Bruce King's sons.

She is showing some bravado in her first political outing by challenging Dem Rep. Matthew McQueen in next June's primary. McQueen has held the seat, which includes portions of Bernallio, Santa Fe, Torrance and Valencia counties, since 2015. The primary winner is likely to take the seat in the Dem district next November.

McQueen is liberal. King Spindle is expected to run as a more centrist candidate in the largely rural district which was once held by her grandfather governor as well as her attorney general uncle Gary King.


Reader Peter Rice writes to tell us he has started a newspaper to cover the ABQ Downtown area:

Hi Joe, Downtown Albuquerque News. ., (is) covering Downtown neighborhoods a mile deep. This is a publication for the. . . population who care obsessively about Downtown development projects, transport, homelessness, culture, recreation. . . and are willing to pay a few bucks a month for the quality and detail they can't get elsewhere. DAN will be published weekdays. . . It'll just be for subscribers ($10/month or $100/year) who will receive it via email. Folks who sign up get the first two weeks free. 

Rice is a former ABQ Tribune reporter who has also worked for newspapers in Oregon and Colorado.

Good luck, Peter.

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Wednesday, August 07, 2019

No Sixth Racino For NM, Trump In El Paso Today, Torres Small Race Complex And More Permian Notes  

Gambling peaked in New Mexico several years ago and there's no sign that it's about to take off again. That's clear from the decision of the NM Racing Commission to forego awarding a license for a sixth racino. The best place to have put it would have been on the east side to capture the Texas traffic, but getting enough horses is an issue. A casino without horse racing might fare better but that's not allowed. Meantime, Native American casino gambling profits are still there but relatively flat for this decade.

President Trump is in El Paso today, scene of a mass shooting that claimed the lives of 22. It's a visit that will be heavily covered in the NM southern congressional district where Republicans hope to oust Dem Rep. Xochtil Torres Small next year. She continues to thread the needle in this complex district that has plenty of liberals and conservatives. She appears strong going into her re-elect but still. . .

Las Cruces liberals have another reason to ponder a primary challenge of Torres Small:

Reps. Ben Ray Lujan and Deb Haaland voted for the bill commonly called the Charleston Loophole which would expand the time for background checks (for gun sales) from three days to 10. Representative Xochitl Torres Small was one of seven house Democrats to vote against it.

Previously Torres Small voted against increasing the federal minimum wage to $15 an hour and has not called for impeachment proceedings against the president as have a majority of Dem House members. That latter issue has stirred Mad Hildebrandt who was defeated by Torres Small in the '18 Dem primary. She criticized Torres Small on her Facebook page. Is that the prequel to another primary challenge?

Dem presidential hopeful Pete Buttigieg swept into Santa Fe over the weekend to pick up some campaign cash. Insiders say the openly gay contender's fundraisers at two private homes drew Santa Fe's large gay community. Also, two noted politicos were spotted meeting with Mayor Pete--Santa Fe Mayor Alan Webber and MLG.

In an exceptionally violent month, ABQ's ongoing crime problem isn't going unnoticed. Take a look at this eyebrow raiser:

Uruguay's Foreign Ministry urged citizens who travel to the U.S. to take "extreme precautions." Uruguay specifically warned against traveling to Albuquerque, Baltimore and Detroit, which it claimed have been ranked among the most dangerous cities in the world.

At least Trump isn't tweeting about us--at least not yet.


Readers continue to chime in on our special report this week from the Permian Basin oil boom in SE NM. From DC a Senior Alligator writes:

Joe, A tip of the cap to your most excellent dispatch from Eddy County. It's been too long since I've been in Carlsbad, but  Hyatt and  Hilton building there was the perfect detail to capture the boom. 

The late, great Lea County state Senator Billy McKibben--a true country wit--observed that after God created Eddy and Lea counties He looked back and said, "My, that's awful ugly." So, He put oil and the Ogalala aquifer under the surface.

John Strong writes:

Thanks for writing such a good in-depth article. It would be nice for you to do an in depth piece like this once in a while on other topics! Well done.

Thanks, John. A number of readers made similar comments. Any suggestions out there on what we might tackle next time?


In a recent blog we had Senator Mary Kay Papen serving as President Pro Tem for "nearly ten years." She was elected to the post in 2013 and will mark 7 years in the post at the next session.

If Papen is re-elected next year she would turn 92 in the final year of her term, but she would not be the longest serving senator in history as we blogged. That would be Sen. John Pinto who died this year at 94. However, Papen would be the oldest female senator in state history. In fact, she may already hold that title.

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Tuesday, August 06, 2019

Major GOP Primary Battle May Be Shaping Up For Southern Congress Seat; Chase Appears Poised To Take On Herrell, Plus: Feedback On The Permian  

Claire Chase
Republicans are bracing for another knock down, drag out fight for the 2020 GOP southern congressional nomination. Alligators and insiders are saying that Claire Chase is now poised to enter the fray in the weeks ahead, setting up a major face-off with 2018 nominee Yvette Herrell as well as Las Cruces businessman Chris Mathys.

Chase, 35, is chairwoman of the NM Oil and Gas Association board and from a wealthy SE oil family. She could be expected to put family money into the race. We covered her background on our February 7 blog where we first broke the news of her interest in the contest.

Some R's fear that their quest to take out Dem freshman Congresswoman Xochitl Torres Small will be damaged by a bitter primary fight as it was in '18. That's when former Hobbs Mayor Monty Newman and Herrell clashed. She won the primary but it appeared numerous Newman supporters shied way from her in the November election, helping to give Torres Small an upset win.

Herrell has been running again since she lost and has secured top tier party endorsements, including from state House Minority Leader Jim Townsend and other state reps she served with in Santa Fe. But her loss to Torres Small makes her appear vulnerable and Chase is apparently ready to pounce, say a number of prominent southern R's.

Newman was roasted (and hurt politically) for using controversial Susana Martinez political consultant Jay McCleskey on his '18 campaign. A Chase family member told one of our Alligators that, contrary to rumor, Chase "will not" be using McCleskey if she runs.

Meanwhile, some R's are voicing an option that was floated here a number of months ago--that Chase go after the GOP US Senate nomination rather than the southern US House seat. The theory being that a Senate loss against the favored Dems could set her up for bigger things but that a loss at home for the congressional seat could hurt her future chances.

Torres Small has to be welcoming a possible GOP brawl as she works to get re-elected to the district which has historically favored the R's. However, liberal Dems could primary her over her refusal to support impeachment of Trump as well as her refusal to back a $15 an hour minimum wage.

Attorney Rocky Lara, who was the Dem nominee for the southern seat in 2014, told me while I was in Carlsbad last week that she doesn't see Torres Small as vulnerable to a primary challenge and said her chances of winning a second term are "excellent."

Torres Small of Las Cruces has used the incumbency to build fences with conservatives in the SE.


Feedback on our special blog Monday on the Permian Basin oil boom in SE NM and what it could mean to the state's future. Reader George Richmond writes:

Very well done, and all of our State Legislators should read it.

Reader David Ryan writes:

Hi Joe, I enjoyed your write-up on the Permian Basin. My dog and I took a drive there back in May, and it was amazing. I wrote about it my wandering blog. Here’s the link.

Former ABQ Mayor Jim Baca, who is also a former director of the federal Bureau of Land Management, took a contrary view from ours:

This is all headed for a disaster in terms of climate change. If the Permian indeed is the biggest producer on the planet, then we should be ashamed. Climate change is real. Fossil fuels are making it happen. Yes, the money is good, but the Feds and state are letting the oil and gas go for a song. I was the last Commissioner to raise royalties and the feds have never done so. It is almost criminal. Joe, you need to write on the bigger picture. You spent time with the cheerleaders but not with the scientists who say time is running out. And it is.

Well, when we spot something real that can better New Mexico, we get the cheerleader pom poms out.

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Monday, August 05, 2019

Special Report: Blog In The Basin; Historic Oil Boom Examined From The Ground And Air; Why It's Different This Time And What That Could Mean For New Mexico's Future 

Oil Drilling Pads In Permian
Flying low over the Permian Basin to look directly in the eye of the latest and perhaps most profound chapter in New Mexican history, it is the vastness of the oil fields that leave you awestruck. Inevitably an emotional chord is also struck. The realization, held until then in the abstract, is now crystallized. What lies below has the power to literally transform this state from being perennially last in the nation in a basket of vital social standings to a stand-out state where poverty is finally shoved into the back seat and where opportunity is a neighbor not a stranger.

The Permian, mostly in Texas but crossing the border into SE NM and especially southern Eddy County, is now the largest oil producer on the planet. Staring down at the immensity of this enterprise I thought, "Okay, now I really get it. This is how you get billion dollar state budget surpluses."

Coincidence made the awareness even more keen. Just as our group took flight Friday from the Carlsbad terminal Exxon dropped its second quarter earnings. In just those three months the company earned $3.1 billion, a good portion of which came from the Permian.

"It's a wild ride," longtime Carlsbad Mayor Dale Janway told me. "Exxon recently held a Board of Directors meeting here. Who would have thought?"


Carlsbad, a half hour drive from the fields, is at ground zero for the NM portion of the boom as is Hobbs. 2018 estimates put its population at 29,000, the largest in history. But Janway says local water usage indicates it is much higher.

The tight-knit community and its political leadership is not unlike a juggler with a dozen plates in the air, trying to keep them spinning and not crashing to the ground.

On the plus side, the job market is so robust a Taco Bell is already offering the $15 an hour wage being sought as the federal minimum by many Democrats. Some restaurants have had to abbreviate their hours because potential employees have been lured to the Permian. Truck drivers there can earn well north of $30 an hour.

Mayor Janway at Hyatt
The real estate market in Carlsbad is soaring. Locals are able to sell their homes and build new, upscale digs, like those dotting the scenic and soothing banks of the Pecos River that runs through the city and which we boated on with community leaders.

Developer Valerie Murrill says she is getting ready to build more apartments. Others are too.

"Man camps," small housing units strung together, have sprouted up across the city to meet the heavy demand to house the young men who work the fields. 

Calling into direct question the contention that the Permian Basin boom is just another in a century long line that will end in a bust, the Hyatt and Hilton chains are now building hotels on Main Street. Exxon and Conoco are establishing permanent Carlsbad headquarters.

That is the crucial and historic difference. Like past booms this one will no doubt level off but it is not going bust--not anytime soon.


At the local Bureau of Land Management (BLM) headquarters, swamped with applications for drilling permits and other regulatory issues on the state’s federal lands that host much of the boom, I met with four experts. One helped me understand things this way:

Joe, imagine a layer cake with 27 layers. That's the Permian. This large number of oil layers to frack is very unusual. Each one will be tapped for the oil it holds.

"How long will this go on?" I ask. Cautious not to be too specific, the BLM manager replies: "For years."

You can throw out the conventional wisdom prevalent in many quarters in Santa Fe that the immense wealth being accumulated by the state needs to be mostly hoarded and used to preserve the failed status quo when the inevitable bust comes.

The reluctance to deal with the new paradigm is somewhat understandable. A hundred years of boom and bust gets into the political DNA. But the state's political leadership will soon be unable to push away the challenges of dealing substantially with this epic event. You can only save so much. As Robert Defer, CEO of the Carlsbad Chamber of Commerce, put it to me:

So you save. Fine. But what do you do about being 49th or 50th in the nation?


Monahan & Sen. Fulfer
It was fascinating to see that turn in thinking in this traditionally conservative region. The unbridled capitalism that is on the loose and shaking up their economy and society seems to have invigorated the risk appetite of the SE business and political community.

Even the little guy is getting in on the act. A food truck belonging to the Chubby Burrito chain parked on one of the busy oil field roadways alerts potential customers that they accept debit cards, credit cards as well as cash.

The Carlsbad leaders we spoke with took to heart that simplistic notion that "it takes money to make money.” It is playing out before them in ways never seen in NM and it has them looking through the lens of opportunity, not the poverty mentality that has been a state mainstay.

Again, that's different from the past. Uncertainty remains part of the picture but fear of failure has been replaced with the fear of missing out. As Eddy County Commissioner Susan Crockett said over lunch at the Carlsbad Country Club:

What worries me is that we do not provide the proper infrastructure--the roads, the housing the education and other necessities and amenities, We could end up keeping the oil but the people move across the border to Pecos, TX.

GOP state Senator Gregg Fulfer of Jal, an energy industry veteran, frets over possible regulatory overreach, citing a bill introduced at the last legislative session to slap a statewide moratorium on fracking because of environmental concerns. The bill went nowhere but he said "it sent a shudder" through the industry.


We asked the BLM officials about the environmental aspect of the boom. They report that the land that the drilling pads are on is eventually reclaimed and restored to its original condition. The huge amounts of wastewater created by the the fracking process is not a major problem especially now that new state regulations encourage recycling. A cottage industry valued in the billions has popped up to handle the recycling.

There is work to be done on methane and natural gas flares that contribute to climate change. The MLG administration is working on new rules and the oil industry is not resisting. We did not meet any climate change deniers during our visit.


Some of our readers come at this boom from the perspective of climate, saying that encouraging oil and gas production is inherently wrong because of the climate crisis caused by fossil fuels. We come at it from a pragmatic view, that the Permian oil boom is here for the foreseeable future. It is not a moral failing to advocate for having the resulting monies put to work to reverse our high rate of poverty and our very low child well-being ranking. In other words, to change the course of state history.


Many of you have heard about what amounts to an emergency on state roads in and out of the Permian. Their rapid deterioration from heavy use and the unsafe driving sparked by the oil field frenzy have led to a dramatic escalation in fatalities--at least several each week. When I asked anyone in Carlsbad about the boom it was always among the top concerns.

Carlsbad "Man Camp"
One afternoon Carlsbad banker Jay Jenkins and I braved some of the worst stretches. We cruised in his SUV absorbing shocks from the washboard like roads also riddled with potholes. It wasn’t long before an 18 wheeler that meant business came barreling down a narrow two lane unstriped roadway. Much of the lanes were chipped away leaving it more like one and a half lanes. No problem for that trucker. He created a wider lane out of the dirt berm, forcing a third of his trailer onto it as Jenkins jerked to the right to make more way for him and to ensure the oil patch did not become our final resting place.

That experience was repeated throughout the tour with speeding welders in pickups and other workers trying to navigate now decaying roads that were built for leisurely drives of the last century not for the pressure packed business of extracting black gold from the largest producing oil fields on planet Earth.


Ernie Carlson (Current-Argus)
Eddy County Commissioner Ernie Carlson is determined to resolve the road woes as is GOP state Rep. Cathrynn Brown who is seeking specific funding for the most dangerous stretches. And the legislature has passed a several hundred million dollar road bill that will begin to bring relief.

But Carlson says Eddy County needs a dedicated stream of revenue from the state as the boom stretches into the next decade. He warns:

We need to get back some of our taxes from this boom that is going up to Santa Fe so we can address the road danger. That is good for our citizens, the energy business and the entire state. Otherwise, we are going to jeopardize the opportunity this once-in-a-lifetime event represents.

Carlson is a long ago Democrat turned Republican, a semi-retired chief financial officer who sports a CPA title along with Ostrich cowboy boots. He is representative of the new thinking in some conservative circles regarding the boom, arguing that missing the opportunity to turn around the state with an education investment is as important as not recklessly squandering the newfound treasure. He says:

You can't budget for when you think the sky is falling. You've got to budget and invest for the opportunity that is right in front of you. For New Mexico and Eddy County that time is now. 


The Permian is not a magic wand. The employment it offers is confined to the region and suitable for a select group. The direct economic impact will be largely confined to Eddy and Lea Counties. That’s why the immense surplus being accumulated in Santa Fe is so critical. The Governor and the legislature will be challenged to effectively deploy those funds to benefit the entire state, especially in delivering an educational system that reaches all and that will be key to changing the poverty culture that has held us back. 

It will be the next generation of students funded by this boom who can begin to resolve the dilemma of dangerously dysfunctional families, who can be taught to adapt to a more entrepreneurial culture and who can be made employable here or most anywhere. Those oil fields can be their field of dreams.

The last legislative session had some promising starts but those in Santa Fe who would stuff the hopes and dreams of the coming generation into the savings mattresses still don't get it. For them we recommend a long, contemplative flight over the booming Permian Basin to rethink their position.


Thanks to Carlsbad Mayor Dale Janway and his assistant Kyle Marksteiner for a productive and intense tour of the region. Thanks also to Valerie Murrill for the lodging; to Jay Jenkins for the daredevil chauffeuring; to pilot James Ballard and Chandler Aviation for the flight over the Permian; to Carlsbad City Administrator Michael Hernandez for assisting with photos and to all of those in Eddy County who took the time to inform us for this report.

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