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Thursday, August 15, 2019

Endorsement Row: ABQ Councilor Benton Answers Rejection From Firefighters Union And MTO Gets Progressive Party Backing, Also: Tales Of A "Gay Tech Republican" 

Defeating Democratic ABQ City Councilor Ike Benton just got harder. Benton has recovered from the hit he received when the ABQ firefighters union refused to endorse his re-election and instead backed challenger Zack Quintero. Benton answers with a union endorsement of his own that more than neutralizes the firefighters:

Of the over 6,000 city employees, nearly 2,500 belong to AFSCME (American Federation of State, County and Municipal Employees), the union that represents them. I am proud to announce the support of our city's dedicated workers, AFSCME Council 18, for my re-election campaign. ''

Casey Padilla, President of AFSCME Local 624 Blue Collar workers, said of District 2 Councilor Benton:

"Ike has been a constant and reliable advocate for labor, and for city workers in particular. He has a record of fighting for us to make sure we have decent working conditions, benefits and a fair compensation. We’re proud to support his re-election effort.”

Benton alienated the firefighters union when he was recorded at a city council meeting berating them for what he sees as their overly persistent demands for more raises and benefits. No doubt that tape is being prepped to be used against Benton but to what effect if the largest city workers union says Benton is one of the good guys?

Besides Quintero, Benton faces Joseph Griego and Robert Blanquero Nelson in the November election. If no candidate gets 50 percent of the vote the top two advance to a runoff. But get this. The run-off is expected to be held December 17, right near the peak of the holiday season. That favors Benton if, as expected, he makes the run-off.

Four of the nine city council seats are on the November ballot.

MTO VS. BRL

In the Dem race for the US senate nomination, Secretary of State Maggie Toulouse Oliver has picked up the endorsement of the progressive Working Families Party:

Working Families executive committee member Andrea Serrano said the endorsement is based in part on Toulouse Oliver's aggressive stances in favor of impeachment proceedings against President Trump and dismantling Immigration and Customs Enforcement. Environmental and health care policy also weighed in the choice. The group operates a political committee in New Mexico and acts as a political party in some other states.

Congressman Ben Ray Lujan, MTO's rival for the Dem nod, has received the backing of House Speaker Nancy Pelosi.

WHAT TAX RETURNS?

A couple of weeks ago MTO released her 2018 federal and state income tax returns for public scrutiny, but the forms aren't getting much of a once over. The campaign gave the returns to only the Santa Fe New Mexican and the Associated Press and neither news organization has posted the tax returns on line. MTO's campaign says it won't either. So where are Mr. and Mrs. New Mexico supposed to see the returns? Good question. Here is the AP coverage of the returns and the New Mexican's. Lujan says he will not follow MTO's and release his tax return but he does file required congressional financial disclosure forms.

NICHE PLAYER

Kokinadis
Talk about carving out a niche in the political landscape. Take a look at this one:

The Only Gay Tech Republican Congressional Candidate Endorses Trump for 2020

Brett Kokinadis, the only gay tech Republican Congressional Candidate, endorses Trump for 2020 and is running against Rep. Deb Haaland in New Mexico's first congressional district.

"Rep. Deb Haaland endorsed Elizabeth Warren for President. Who a candidate endorses for President says a lot about them. Democrats may not like the President and want to continue to work against him instead of focusing on the work that needs to get done. It's hard to argue with the President's success." Said Kokinadis. 

So far Haaland is unopposed for the 2020 ABQ Dem congressional nomination but as a former Dem Kokinadis probably has that covered as well.

I’m Joe Monahan, reporting to you from Albuquerque, NM. 

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Wednesday, August 14, 2019

Commentary Corner; Parsing PERA: Raise The Retirement Age And Leave Worker Contributions And Cost Of Living Increases Alone  

The sky is falling again in Santa Fe. The Governor's Public Employees Retirement Association Solvency Task Force bought into the argument that the PERA fund is destined to go broke and make homeless thousands of retired state workers. But many of those retirees, fighting the more austere proposals to "shore up" the retirement fund, are pushing back, calling the task force recommendations "fake news." Among them is retired APD sergeant and PERA watchdog Dan Klein:

PERA was only 70% solvent during the 2007 fiscal collapse and we survived it just fine. The  proposal to make the fund 100% solvent in 25 years is unnecessary. How do we know this? Because pension experts have studied the issue and told us. This report, The Sustainability of State and Local Government Pensions, by Lenny (bank of England), Lutz (Federal Reserve Board of Governors) and Sheiner (Brookings institute) destroys the PERA argument that the sky is falling and we must be 100% solvent.

PERA has a myriad of funds under one umbrella for a variety of local and state government workers. The funds for state government workers and firefighters need adjusting because the benefits going out don't match what's going in. However, 72 percent of PERA's anticipated needs over the next several decades is currently covered. Not exactly a crisis. There is no current threat to anyone's retirement check and you are hard-pressed to see a time there would be.

Task force proposals to eliminate or reduce the 2 percent COLA--the annual cost of living adjustment that doesn't kick in until a retiree is retired for seven years--and raising employee contributions to the funds--already in double digits--would discourage superior candidates from joining the government and are fiscally unnecessary.

THE BEST FIX?

The best fix? Setting a minimum retirement age as they do in other states is prudent but it isn't an option mentioned by the Governor's task force.

Currently most new state workers must put in 30 years to get a full retirement check. But there is no age requirement to retire. If the Legislature set a minimum age of 58, it would do much to strengthen PERA. Firefighters, police and corrections officers could have a minimum of 52 before being allowed to collect. That means no more fortysomethings collecting checks for forty years.

In Colorado state workers who began employment after January 1, 2011 can retire at age 58 with 30 years service but not before. They can retire at any age with 35 years of service. NM state employees can retire at any age with 30 years of service. Police and firefighters can exit once they have 25 years on the job. In the age of longer lifespans, that is no longer realistic.

After enacting age reform for new hires, the Legislature could then authorize a cash infusion into PERA from the huge surpluses accumulating from the oil and gas boom. That money will compound over the decades giving the funds even more breathing room.

BAD TIMING

In an era of extreme income inequality and record NM surpluses is it really time to force state employees--most of them modestly paid--to fork over even more of their paychecks to make a fund 100 percent solvent for a generation not even working yet?

The bottom lines: House Speaker Egolf needs to kill ill-advised retirement austerity measures. As for the task force, can they please stop yelling "Boo!"? Save the fake theatrics for Halloween.

RUNNING RULES 

Several readers asked about the state senate candidacy of David Wilkinson, the chief information officer for the state court system, questioning whether he can keep that job while running for the Dem primary nomination for the senate seat held by Republican Senator Greg Baca of Valencia County. Artie Pepin, director of the Administrative Office of the Courts, responded:

Management of the Administrative Office of the Courts is aware of Mr. Wilkinson's interest in running for a legislative seat. Mr. Wilkinson also is aware of a requirement under the Judiciary's personnel rules to resign from his job if he is elected in 2020, and that he must use annual leave if campaigning requires him to be absent from his job during working hours. 

Belen businessman Paul Baca is also seeking the Dem nomination for the Greg Baca seat.

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(c)NM POLITICS WITH JOE MONAHAN 2019

Tuesday, August 13, 2019

Veteran Political Reporter Steve Terrell Calls It A Career; Announces Retirement From New Mexican, Plus; Defending Big Bill In Epstein Scandal; Dem Consultant Fires At Ex-Guv's Detractors  

Steve Terrell
Veteran political reporter Steve Terrell will leave the Santa Fe New Mexican later this year after 32 years of being a beloved ink-stained wretch of La Politica.

Terrell, who will turn 66 next month, is known for his wry sense of humor, a dash of cynicism and mostly for his depth and fairness. He announced on Facebook he will finish his newspaper career around Thanksgiving. One of his followers asked, "then what?" and he replied:

Not worry about daily deadlines. See more of my kids and grandkids. Watch TV. Yell at kids on my lawn. (First I gotta get a lawn).

Terrell's jovial presence has been a fixture at the Roundhouse and on the campaign trail for decades. Before joining the New Mexican he was a reporter for the ABQ Journal North. He is also well known in northern New Mexico for his weekly alternative music program on KSFR-FM.

Terrell is a consummate journalist, playing fair with both sides but not backing off when facing pressure. Both Democratic Governor Bill Richardson and Republican Susana Martinez sometimes showed their annoyance with him as he asked and reported the difficult questions and issues.

The days of a reporter being able to stay at the same paper for 30 plus years and developing valuable institutional memory are coming to a close in the new media age. Terrell made the most of the time given him. His many readers were the grateful beneficiaries.

Quite the run, Steve. Congrats. (And if this sounded like an obit, forgive us.)

DEFENDING BIG BILL

Speaking of Big Bill we blogged Monday of his reputational woes after being linked to the Epstein scandal by a woman who said she was directed to have sex with him when she was a young "sex slave" for Epstein. We implied that Richardson may be persona non grata at the national news networks he often frequents until this story blows over. The former two term governor has denied ever being with the woman as have the other high-profile men she named in a court deposition. Also in that Monday column, a Senior Alligator faulted both Richardson and Martinez, claiming the state hasn't had a governor who wasn't deeply flawed since Democrat Bruce King.

Longtime Dem consultant Chris Brown of Santa Fe thought all of that was a bridge too far and came with this critique:

"Richardson’s final fall.” What? Richardon’s Spaceport is now high and rising. Its high-tech, big-ticket missions could lift much of New Mexico. Do you seriously think that the national broadcast media will blacklist either him (North Korea expert, former U.N. ambassador and U.S. Energy secretary), or just as broadly accomplished Sen. George Mitchell, when they need a talking head to counter Trump nonsense? 

Trump's not only named in your link, but was often-photographed with Epstein over the decades. Are you also saying Trump's now toast in 2020? Holding up three-term Governor Bruce King as an aspirational model? He had half again more years in office to do something than the last three governors. What legacy did he leave us? I have no idea: refresh our memories. For much of 2016, former Mass. Gov. Bill Weld and “self-aggrandizing” ski-bum and triathlete Gary Johnson offered a credible alternative to the “political stink” and off-the-rails parties. Alone of any candidate before or since, he not only patronized but praised immigrants as America’s "best workers.” 

Joe, you've seen this movie before, In 1974, Albuquerque's Yellow Journalism rag tried to bury Jerry Apodaca’s gubernatorial candidacy by tying him to an imaginary Las Vegas mob-conspiracy to legalize slots here. Instead he hired UNM experts to streamline cumbersome and patronage-stuffed state government - reforms later undone by his successors. Hey, maybe that’s real grist for an informative column, not more innuendo and guilty until proven innocent screeds. Yes, unfortunately this saga will drag on, because it’s hard to disprove a reputation-tarnishing negative by documenting "I did not do it."


Sometimes they like to give it to us and the Gators right between the eyes. And that was just one of those times.

THE BOTTOM LINES

We had the age of retiring Santa Fe New Mexican political reporter Steve Terrell as 64 on the Tuesday blog. He will turn 66 next month. We thought he had us by a couple of years.

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Monday, August 12, 2019

Two Governors In A Row Fall From Grace: Martinez And Richardson Battle Sex Allegations, Plus: A Reader Lament Over NM Politicos 

Richardson and Martinez (2010)
The stunning fall from grace of the past two New Mexico Governors---Democrat Bill Richardson and  Republican Susana Martinez--may cause glee among hardcore partisans but for everyone else the slow motion train wreck of the pair has been a sad turn of affairs.

Allegations over Martinez's sex life involving a state police bodyguard and other salacious information caused $1.7 million in secret lawsuit settlements, allegedly to keep things quiet. That was the final nail in her political coffin. Sex was also the cause of Richardson's final fall as Friday's revelations in the Epstein scandal had him front and center across the globe in a most negative way.

Big Bill had already suffered a decline here, but his national and international reputation was still solid, Since leaving the Governor's office in 2011 he has made frequent appearances on the cable news channels, traveled to the world's hot spots to put out fires, written regular op-eds and presided over his foundation. Now all of that is jeopardized by the sensational allegation--which he firmly denies--that an underage "sex slave"' of Epstein's was involved with him.

Legal experts say Epstein's apparent suicide is not going to end the pain for Richardson, that his name and those of other other luminaries involved with Epstein will see their names "prominently mentioned" in legal proceedings for years to come. Whether Richardson faces legal action is unclear. A woman who claims to have been a teenage "sex slave" for Epstein says she was directed to have sex with him and other well-known men, but she did not say in her court deposition what her age was at the time or whether she actually had sex with the former Governor.

One of our Senior Alligators (sources) comes with a timely lament:

The allegations that Epstein sent a sex slave to Richardson just tarnishes his record further--whether the allegations are true or not. Ditto for the trashy allegations recently about his successor, Susana Martinez. What happened to the low-key, humble public-servant governor? 

We haven’t been without an egotistic, self-aggrandizing, national-profile-seeking Governor since Bruce King left in 1994 (whether MLG can distance herself from that record is yet to be seen). Other politicos in high-profile state jobs aren’t any better. They’ve been part of a never-ending drum roll of drunk-driving, harassing people of the opposite sex, profiting from their positions, paying settlements to friends, saying stupid stuff and sleeping around. Rarely do these egomaniacs appear truly embarrassed, humbled or apologetic for their actions.

The inept Republican Party and the enabling Democratic Party don’t seem to be offering any true deviation from this course. Sadly, the next generation of politicos pursue their own Millennial version of corruption and self-serving behavior. 

The more the political stink grows and the parties run to opposite ends of the spectrum you would think the path is open for a moderate, independent, responsible party and/or politicians that aren’t personalities. But, alas, it’s New Mexico and it seems like this trend will never end—but it will certainly provide plenty of material for bloggers such as yourself.

HELP WANTED

It's not news that making a buck in the newspaper business is as difficult as getting a red chile stain out of a white dress shirt, but what is news is how the business is trying to survive. Take, for instance, the Santa Fe Reporter, a weekly founded in 1971 and robustly supported during that time by advertisers and the community. The paper now says that's not enough. In a note to readers editor and publisher Julie Ann Grimm, writes:

Local business advertising has long been the way we pay for it all. The business model, however, is changing. But, we’re not giving up. Not by a long shot. What we’re doing is opening a new way forward. If you value journalism like ours, and you want it to be here in the future, be a friend. Join Friends of the Reporter.

Grimm says the paper's goal is to raise $20,000 during the rest of this year.

This is the home of New Mexico politics.

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