Thursday, September 05, 2019

Another NM Money Tree Is Growing, Does Keller Have Another ART On His Hands? And Readers Write 

State employees take their share of heat as overpaid desk jockeys, but then there's this from the Legislative Finance Committee:

New Mexico state employee take-home pay is the lowest in the region, largely due to the comparatively higher cost of health insurance. New Mexico state employees receive approximately 70 percent of their total compensation in salary, roughly in line with the seven surrounding states. However, employees’ take-home pay is just 55 percent of total compensation, lower than surrounding states.

That's the best part of the August LFC newsletter. Most of the rest is filled with scary stories about oil prices crashing and the state being sent to the poor house soon.

There is nearly zero recognition among the LFC economists and other Santa Fe policy wonks that this time could be different, that the boom, or at least steady surpluses, could continue for much longer than they expect. Where's the plan for that?


There's another money tree growing besides the one in the oil patch:

LANL has outlined an initial five-year, $5 billion institutional infrastructure plan to upgrade the lab as it gears up for annual production of 30 nuclear pits — the triggers that set off nuclear weapons — by 2026. In all, the infrastructure improvements could reach $11.2 billion over 10 years, all subject to congressional budgeting approval. . . 

The Feds are also expanding the budget and jobs at ABQ's Sandia Labs. Diversify the state's economy away from the oil patch and the Feds? That'll happen when they ban the burning of Zozobra.


The rapid transit project for ABQ's Central Avenue know as ART is widely regarded as the worst public project in the city's modern history. It was authored by GOP Mayor RJ Berry who left office with no political future, in part, because of it. Now in light of recent developments, the question arises if Dem Mayor Tim Keller is going to be the author of another White Elephant:

Preparing the Albuquerque Rail Yards for redevelopment could cost the city between $50 million and $80 million in infrastructure, environmental remediation and structural renovations, according to a preliminary analysis by an outside consultant. Leland Consulting Group said in a draft report filed with the city this month that the range reflects three development scenarios: $50 million is the estimated cost to ready the Rail Yards for a low-density redevelopment strategy, while $80 million is for a more intensive plan.

That's a huge amount of cash and the city has yet to pinpoint where it would come from. On the November election ballot voters are being asked to approve $5 million in bonds for the rail yards development. But it has been under study for nearly a decade and nothing much has happened. The city says it would like to get the private sector involved but after ten years there are no takers. What does that tell us?

First there was ART, the ABQ Rapid Transit project. Now there's the ABQ Rail Yards or ARR. The similarities are getting too close for comfort.


Here's the self-proclaimed "Crockagator" commenting on the huge state surpluses due to the SE oil boom:

Joe, I am wondering why the state doesn't use the new income to pay off the bonded debt the state currently has thereby lowering the tax we pay on everything but groceries. This to me would be sharing the wealth with all New Mexicans. The Crockagator.

Interesting suggestion. Legislators had so much cash last session that they paid cash for road projects without floating bonds. That had to be a first.

Reader C.T. writes of the GOP southern congressional race:

Joe, You mentioned Yvette Herrell being on the defensive. On a recent weekend she was in Deming participating in the Great American Duck Race Parade, only she had no campaign material up. She rode on a horse with a group called “Cowboys for Trump.” Again, no one was made aware that she was a candidate for Congress. Seems Yvette has not learned from her first failed attempt at CD-2 and is continuing to misstep. It definitely is going to be a steep uphill battle for her to win this primary.

No doubt Herrell is going to have to bring her "A Game" as her GOP foes Claire Chase and Chris Mathys apply maximum pressure.


ABQ City Councilor Ike Benton was first elected to the council in 2005 and Martin Heinrich in 2003. We had different dates this week. . . And John Blair was the deputy secretary of state not the deputy chief of staff which we blogged in a first draft.

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Wednesday, September 04, 2019

Top R Tries To Keep GOP Congress Hopefuls In Line, Councilor Benton With Another Big Name Endorsement But All Are Not Convinced 

Joe Monahan (2007)
The heated race for the GOP nomination for the southern congressional seat is putting NM GOP Chairman Steve Pearce on the hot seat. He reports he's been getting phone calls about who he might endorse for the seat he once held. But as party chair Pearce is prohibited from endorsing any of the contenders and says he won't.

The spirited battle between Yvette Herrell, Claire Chase and Chris Mathys also apparently had Pearce fielding inquiries about that debut video Chase produced to announce her candidacy. In it she left the clear impression that VP Pence was endorsing her, but he has not. Said Pearce:

I ask that each candidate make a pledge now to back the winner, regardless of outcome and that these campaigns remain above reproach by not insinuating endorsements in mailers, photos, or verbally as they work to earn your vote.  As Chairman of the Party, I pledge that we will steadfastly work to support whichever candidate the voters decide will best represent us.

It is critical for Pearce to keep the three hopefuls from letting the campaign get so out of hand that there's a repeat of the '18 southern GOP  nomination battle. That year Monty Newman lost to Yvette Herrell and the bad blood was never rinsed away. It's blamed, in part, for Herrell's upset loss to Dem Xochitl Torres Small.


Ike Benton, the incumbent Dem City Councilor seeking re-election this year, seems to be calling in a lot of favors. First he was endorsed by AFSCME, then came ABQ Mayor Tim Keller and Dem US Rep. Deb Haaland. Now he scores the endorsement of Sen. Martin Heinrich, who says of the veteran councilor:

Ike is all substance—a policy wonk, a details guy, with a nose-to-the-grindstone work ethic. He’s not flashy. Just effective. Today, Ike and I are working together to raise the bar on energy efficiency in Albuquerque and I support his work updating Albuquerque’s Energy Code, which we collaborated on years ago as City Councilors.

Benton, who represents the Downtown/North Valley/UNM District 2 seat, has five opponents but the top-tier endorsements he's getting have them scrambling. (Zack Quintero has been endorsed by the unions presenting police and firefighters.)

Heinrich was elected to the city council in 2003 in what was his first bid for elective office, the same year Benton was elected. Unlike Benton, Heinrich had a hard time getting the then-Mayor to endorse him. In fact, Mayor Martin Chavez worked against him but Heinrich won anyway. Benton's opponents are obviously hoping this year's mayoral endorsement gets a similar response.

As for Heinrich, his endorsement record could stand some improvement. In recent years he gave his nod to Dem presidential candidate Hillary Clinton and Land Commissioner hopeful Garrett VeneKlasen. Remember them?


The big name endorsements of Benton are drawing fierce criticism from those who blame Benton for supporting the disastrous ART project and assert he did nothing substantial as the city was plunged into an historic crime wave that changed the very fabric of the city. A former top city official sums up that line of thinking in urging that Benton be defeated:

Albuquerque can tolerate all sorts of things: crime, homicide, a minimum wage economy, a substandard educational system. But the one thing it especially can't stand is criticism of its status quo leadership (the city is still moving forward with ART?WTF?). And it’s not because the criticism is invalid. It’s because the truth hurts but not as much as their failed leadership continues to hurt the city. In this case we’re talking about a pack of political peacocks and their hurt feelings. The public and the voters are supposed to be grateful for their uncanny ability to run what was once a great forward moving city into the ground. But here’s the real issue: the voters of Albuquerque are choosing to support these people. So it’s not just indictment on the political and community leadership. It’s an indictment on the city as a whole.

Benton's opponents have so far refrained from that kind of tough talk about the state of the city. However, former ABQ City Councilor Pete Dinelli has called for the defeat of Benton as well as Councilor Pat Davis, placing blame on them for the city's economic and social downward drift.

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Tuesday, September 03, 2019

Sen. Martinez DWI Bust Starts To Enter Political Arena, Dark Money In Southern Congress Race And A New Candidate Gets An Alligator Strike  

The aggravated DWI arrest of northern Dem Senator Richard Martinez is starting to get politicized. Attorney Alan Hall, Democratic primary candidate for the ABQ North Valley and Sandoval County state senate seat (District 10) held by Republican Sen. Candace Gould, comes with this:

Joe, When I moved to New Mexico in 1983, the drunken driving fatality rate was multiple times what it is now. (Still plenty of room for improvement, of course.) Changing New Mexico’s DWI culture has been an arduous struggle involving the dedicated efforts of thousands of citizens. With acceptance of proper punishment, and genuine contrition, the ordinary Joe can perhaps be excused for driving drunk---once. But a state legislator driving drunk, and then not promptly resigning, cannot be forgiven. In New Mexico, it is unforgivable.

Hall's position may not go down well with the Santa Fe Dem insiders who refuse to take a stance on the Martinez arrest, but then Hall isn't an insider--at least not yet. However, he is the husband of Public Regulation Commissioner Cynthia Hall. Meantime, Sen. Gould has no opposition for the GOP nomination. She is seeking a second four year term. She will have a fight. In 2016 she beat Dem David Simon by the slim margin of 51 to 49%.

As for Senator Martinez, his case has not yet gone to court but he says he will seek re-election. No Dem primary opponent for him has yet surfaced.


You may have seen that TV ad running during the August congressional recess touting the health care record of Dem southern Congresswoman Xochitl Torres Small. It's not being paid for by the Torres Small campaign. We can't tell you exactly who is paying for it. Here's the deal:

A new “dark money” group funded by secret donors plans to spend almost all of its $10.4 million budget on ads helping Democrats in House races heading into 2020. House Majority Forward was quietly incorporated in March but operated under the radar until its public launch in July as a new 501(c)(4) arm of House Majority PAC, the Democrats’ flagship super PAC for congressional races that is closely aligned with Democratic House Speaker Nancy Pelosi. Unlike the super PAC, HMF can keep its donors, as well as many details of its activities and finances, hidden from the public.

The campaign for the southern seat is expected to be one of the hottest in the nation as Torres Small seeks a second term. Three Republicans are running for the GOP nomination.


John Blair
He's won accolades for his service as a congressional aide, a top Interior Department official as well as Deputy Chief of Staff at the Secretary of State's office. But now John Blair is a candidate and how the game changes. His entrance into the race for the Dem nomination for the northern congressional seat brought this Alligator strike against the freshly minted candidate:

John's announcement from a scenic patio in Santa Fe talking about swimming at Santa Fe High, playing in the band and Santa Fe getting the short end of the stick makes you wonder if he knows the district he is running to represent. No one in Clovis or on the Navajo Nation thinks that. And now that the Santa Fe vote is going be split so dramatically, the candidate who has roots in the district, not just Santa Fe, has the upper hand. That is what puts Teresa Leger in the frontrunner spot--longtime family and progressive roots in San Miguel County, strong connections with the northern Indian Pueblos and the EMILY's List endorsement.

Leger Fernandez appears to be the front-runner of the moment for the nomination in the ten person field but there's a long way to go until the June primary. As for Blair, welcome to La Politica, John. Don't worry. That soft staffer skin will get tough quick--just like a Gator's.


Former NM Supreme Court Chief Justice Charles Daniels died Sunday at 76. He had been ill with Lou Gehrig’s disease for several months. His was one of the more important legal careers in state history. Gov. Lujan Grisham issued the following statement:

I am truly saddened by the loss of an undisputed leader in the New Mexico legal community. Justice Daniels was an honest and committed jurist, a man of stellar wit and devotion to fairness and equity. As chief justice, he led New Mexico’s highest court with clarity and conviction, leaving a legacy rivaled by few. Not only was he professionally talented, he was incredibly kind, with a warm personality that drew so many people to him, including myself. I am incredibly grateful for his many years of service to the people of New Mexico. . . 

ICYMI, second-tier Dem presidential candidate and US Senator Cory Booker made a stop in downtown ABQ recently to raise money for his effort. . . John Jones will try again. He was defeated in '18 by Democrat Natalie Figueroa for the District 30 state House seat in ABQ's far NE Heights. He has announced he will run in 2020.

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