Thursday, September 26, 2019

ABQ Council Election Action, Trump's Chances In NM, No Gun Ban For Xochitl And 36 Hours In ABQ 

Things are starting to heat up in ABQ City Council District 4 in the NE Heights where observers expect a spirited battle between the top two contenders--Republican Brooke Bassan and Democrat Ane Romero. The sparring has already started with some Romero supporters questioning how much of a Republican Bassan really is. One of them writes:

Joe, There seems to be some confusion on the part of Brook Bassan as to her party affiliation. I went to the County Clerk's office and asked for her history. It showed that she switched to being a Republican on May 20, three weeks into the month of raising the $5 contributions toward public funding. But her yard signs are blue.

Records also show that Bassan switched from the R's to the D's in 2017. 

Bassan is counting on a solid block of GOP voters to put her over the top in the seat that is being vacated by R Brad Winter and who has endorsed Bassan. She has also won the support of the ABQ police officers union. Romero has been endorsed by Mayor Keller and US Rep. Deb Haaland. The other candidate in the race is Athena Ann Christodoulou.

A District 4 candidate forum is scheduled for tomorrow at 6:30 p.m. at the North Domingo Baca Community Center. The election is November 5. City-wide in-person early voting begins October 19.


Veteran political pundit Larry Sabato of the University of Virgina was prompted to take a closer look at our state's presidential outlook in the wake of President Trump's recent visit here. He sees an interesting landscape but rates New Mexico as "Likely Democrat” for the 2020 race:

. . . One wild card, though, is that Libertarian Gary Johnson attracted a significant share of the vote in his home state’s presidential race in 2016 (9%) and Senate contest in 2018 (15%), a sizable bloc of voters Republicans hope will significantly break toward them without Johnson on the ballot.

Still, New Mexico also has the largest percentage of Hispanic voters of any state, a group that as a whole is considerably more Democratic than non-Hispanic whites. Clinton also won 48% of the vote in New Mexico in 2016, meaning that Trump (who got 40%) likely would have to convert the lion’s share of the Johnson voters to his side in 2020 in order to win the state. . .

We rate New Mexico as Likely Democratic for the 2020 presidential election. . . Not a total slam dunk for Democrats, but not a true swing state either. . . However, that is all a long preamble to a larger point: Trump and his team are wise to try to expand the electoral map.

ONE OF 26 

More than two dozen Democrats in the US House will not co-sponsor a bill banning assault weapons. One of them is southern NM Dem Xochitl Torres Small whose district bumps up against El Paso where a mass shooting at an El Paso Wal-Mart claimed 22 lives and injured 24. From The Hill:

Rep. Xochitl Torres Small Did not respond to a request for comment. The Las Cruces Sun News reported this month that when Torres Small was asked about her position on gun control at a recent town hall meeting, she responded, "The Second Amendment right comes with its responsibilities, and that's why I voted for comprehensive background checks. Because I think, like most gun owners do, that we have to act responsibly and make sure we're keeping our communities safe."

Torres Small is unopposed in next year's June Dem primary. Three R's are vying for the GOP nomination.


You can cover a lot of ground if you only have 36 hours to spend in ABQ, says this NYT report:

Get your bearings on a “Mezcla de Culturas” walking tour with Heritage Inspirations. Among its guides, Bobby Gonzales, a 13th-generation New Mexican, leads two-hour rambles ($75) through Old Town, Albuquerque’s original settlement. . .

Dating back to 1942, when drugstores commonly had soda fountains, Duran Central Pharmacy has expanded on the tradition and given it a New Mexican accent. Guests enter through the pharmacy and gift shop and follow their noses to the bustling diner on the left where orange vinyl stools line the curved lunch counter, and the griddle behind it sears hand-rolled flour tortillas. They come ready to dip into the green or red chile sauce smothering the huevos rancheros ($9.30) or concealing a chile-topped burger ($10.30). On your way out, browse the gift section for jars of the restaurant’s signature chile sauce. .

El Modelo's tamales also get an NYT shout out. And there you have your weekend marching orders. 

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Wednesday, September 25, 2019

Wednesday Political Potpourri 

Nothing better illustrates the fine political line New Mexico Dems are walking amid the state's historic oil boom than these news reports on the same day this week:

Gov. Michelle Lujan Grisham is traveling to the East Coast this week to take part in several political events--including a panel on climate change in New York City.

And then this:

New Mexico's ambitious target to produce half its electricity from renewable sources by 2030 will not come at the expense of the state's booming oil and gas sector, Energy Secretary Sarah Cottrell Propst said.

So, both sides are happy now, right?

No question that Dem US Rep. Ben Ray Lujan is the front-runner for the 2020 Dem U Senate nomination but Sec. of State Maggie Toulouse Oliver does not appear to be on her way to suffering a blow-out. She is rounding up support from women voters that should translate into votes. For example

Representatives Patricia Roybal-Caballero, Day Hochman-Vigil, Debbie Sariñana, Natalie Figueroa, Joy Garratt, Joanne Ferrary, Angelica Rubio, and Christine Trujillo have all personally endorsed present Secretary of State Toulouse Oliver in her candidacy to become New Mexico’s first female Senator.

Toulouse Oliver continues to hit the theme that NM should elect its first woman US Senator this year. The Lujan forces restore that its; long overdue to have Hispanic representation from NM in the senate.


Southern GOP congressional contender Yvette Herrell is trumpeting news on Facebook that President Trump has shared on his Facebook page an op-ed piece she authored touting the building of Trump’s border wall,  Is that a sign that the Trump/Pence camp is no longer flirting with the Claire Chase camp and is coming back home to Yvette? After all, Claire was outed this month for saying nasty things about Trump in 2015 on Facebook. Who knows for sure? But it does illustrate how messy the GOP campaign for the southern seat has become. It's enough to have the race start as "Lean Dem" for Rep. Xochitl Torres Small.


The good news is this:

New Mexico is the second-least expensive state for college tuition in the United States, with an average in-state tuition of just $7,154 a year and an average out-of-state tuition of $10,695.

But then there's this:

New Mexico ranks 49th in the nation in median income in 2018.

MLG's plan to provide free college tuition to all New Mexico students has received a generally warm reception, but there are concerns that the plan tips toward well-off families. Education analyst Wesley White, writing in Forbes, comes with his solution:

New Mexico should consider changing the proposal to a first-dollar approach, paying the tuition before other sources of financial aid. First-dollar programs are more progressive and are a more equitable use of tax dollars. That change would allow low-income students to use aid like Pell Grants to cover their living expenses. If budgetary constraints are the reason for limiting to a last-dollar approach, New Mexico could consider placing income thresholds on the scholarships to exclude the wealthiest of students. The legislature could also consider a scaled approach, reducing the scholarship as family incomes rise.

As proposed the free tuition plan is estimated to cost the state $25 million to $35 million per year


In response to our Monday blog on how state Senator John Arthur Smith, chairman of the Senate Finance Committee, is confounding MLG, Fred Moran writes:

Joe, Time for Smith to go! Neomi Martinez Parra is just what NM Dems need to move the Governor's agenda forward. Smith has built his reputation at the expense of progress in virtually all areas. If he wants to hold the Governor's agenda hostage, time to vote him out.

Smith is being challenged in next June’s Dem primary by Neomi Martinez Parra, a former vice chair of the state Dems, so voters will have a choice in the Deming area district.

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Tuesday, September 24, 2019

High Paying UNM Lobbying Job Said To Be On Hold, One And Done For Rep. Bill Pratt And No Green New Deal For Serna  

That high-paying UNM lobbying job we broke the news of August 26 is turning out to be too hot to handle. Insiders say the powers-that-be at our Harvard on the Rio Grande have postponed filling the job until after the 30 day legislative session kicks off January 21.

It's now confirmed that the names first dropped here are in play for the gig which has a starting salary set at anywhere from $117,922 and all the way up to the outrageous $235,844. In our initial blog our sources told us the low end of the starting salary was $175,000 and the high end $250,000.

The names applying include Dem BernCo Commissioner Maggie Hart Stebbins, Dem state Senator John Sapien and a real wild card--former Gov. Martinez Chief of Staff Keith Gardner. He's been doing a bit of lobbying but has yet to see any big paying doors open for him since he ended his tenure with Martinez. We would not look to UNM to change that, unless they think the R's are back in control of the Roundhouse and 4th Floor.

Also, applying for the plum post is ABQ Mayor Keller's chief of staff Santiago Chavez. But didn't he join Keller on the 1lth floor only at the start of the year? Indeed he did, but the Alligators report Santiago has already been moved out to another department. Guess he wasn't quite the fit Keller was looking for. That's like what happened when His Honor hired an "Assistant Mayor." He also quickly disappeared. If this keeps up it will be be like a missing persons bureau up there.

So why delay filling the newly created UNM "government relations officer" post? Well, perhaps UNM has enough boats rocking without causing upset among those who are ignored for the job and could use their current positions to rock UNM's boat during the legislative session. Really? Really.


It's one and done for Dem State Rep. Bill Pratt. The retired physician pulled off what might have been the upset of the year when he snagged a far NE Heights GOP seat in 2018 that for years had been held by Rep. Larry Larranaga who did not seek re-election and soon after passed away.

Pratt is well into his 80's and has his own ailments to attend to, say his friends, so he will not run again.

The one termer did bring a sense of humor to the job that will be missed. From an interview:

Do you support or oppose legalizing recreational marijuana use in New Mexico and taxing its sales ?

Support: Even so, my message to “recreational’ marijuana users is “Get A Life. Marijuana Shrinks Testicles.” Emphasis should be preventing childhood use.

Hmm. Will that warning give ABQ City Councilor Pat Davis, chair of the Guv's task force studying the legalizing of pot, second thoughts about toking up?

Pratt narrowly beat Republican Bob Godshall in '18. Our R's say he may give it another try in 2020. Meantime, the Dems are looking for another upset champion to replace Pratt.


Marco Serna
Here's something different in that multi-candidate crowd seeking the Dem nomination for the northern congressional seat. Three of the contenders in the liberal district are pledging support for the Green New Deal but not Santa Fe County District Attorney Marco Serna:

While highlighting that climate change was very real and a threat to our survival, he rejects the “Green New Deal” proposed by Representative Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez. . . 

"I join with the national AFL-CIO in opposing the Green New Deal. . . It would have a devastating effect on New Mexico’s economy and the state budget. It has the potential of ruining our cattle and dairy industry and bankrupting many small businesses. Even more compelling is the fact that it would eliminate the $934 million of gas and oil revenue that pays for our education system. . . As written, the Green New Deal is a disaster for New Mexico.”

That's a run to the middle by Serna who may see gold there. The other top contenders for the nomination--Valerie Plame and Teresa Leger Fernandez--firmly hug the left.

Meantime, freshman State Rep. Joseph Sanchez of Alcalde is trying to break into that top tier. He gets some attention from the Alibi, offering his thoughts on going Green:

The reality is that we really need the fossil fuel) industry right now in New Mexico. The focus needs to be on doing it [using fossil fuels] as cleanly as possible, making especially certain that such operations don’t harm our water sources or our cultural sites.

Lots of twists and turns in an intriguing northern race.

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Monday, September 23, 2019

How To Deal with Dr. No? Chairman Of Senate Finance Committee Confounds MLG  

MLG (by ABQ Journal)
Historic budget surpluses continue to accumulate in Santa Fe but they may not go for historic purposes, if Governor Michelle Lujan Grisham cannot find a way around state Senator John Arthur Smith, the longtime chairman of the powerful Senate Finance Committee.

Smith's penchant for opposing spending plans of chief executives and others has earned him the title "Dr. No."

In her first year MLG has managed to get low lying fruit from the Deming lawmaker--teacher pay raises and money to shore up the beleaguered Children Youth and Families Department are two examples. But when it comes to the immense surpluses going forward the Governor has lost the narrative to the state's minority conservatives who argue that the stunning sums totaling in the billions should not be used for spending that reoccurs annually.

That is a dream killer for New Mexico. If this Governor is unable to redefine the narrative she could go down in history as an aside to the surpluses, unable to use them to implement significant or even transformative change in a state that stubbornly clings to the bottom of most national rankings.

So what to do? There is plenty of advice for MLG to ponder. Insiders say she has met often with Dr. No but gets limited results. For example, the political community was set on its ear when Chairman Smith said he was not yet on board with the Governor's plan to provide free college tuition for all New Mexico students. In fact, Smith issued skeptical statements about the proposal, again arguing that the state should be wary of spending that reoccurs each year because oil prices could crash and the programs could not be funded. Take that, Governor.

Keep in mind that the tuition plan is a mere $25 million to $35 million annually, a drop in the multi-billion dollar budget buckets in Santa Fe. The Smith resistance publicly signaled that MLG truly has a fight on her hands.


This is a Governor elected with 57 percent of the vote due to landslide margins in the Democratic cities of ABQ, Santa Fe and Las Cruces. She was elected to deliver and must find a way to pick the lock that sets her free from Smith, who nominally shares the title of Democrat with her. So on to the advice.

--Smith has an opponent in next June's primary. Neomi Martinez-Parra believes Smith's austerity has hurt the Deming area and the state. As the primary approaches she could pressure the 78 year old lawmaker. The Governor won't want her fingerprints directly on it but there are ways and there's a chance Smith could lose if he doesn't take the hint.

Sen. Smith
--Leverage the power of Rep. Patrica Lundstrom, the new chairman of the House Appropriations Committee. There is no love lost between Smith and Lundstrom. She has the power to take him down a notch. It was not that long ago when the chair of House Appropriations was the center of the state's financial universe, not Senate Finance. Far from a liberal but more a practical moderate, Lundstrom is now in competition with Smith. Use her.

--If Smith remains reticent the Governor can  work around him and try to persuade his colleagues that at this time in history he needs to be bypassed, that "prudent" increases in annual spending are needed to make a long-term difference.

If Lujan Grisham is confined to building new schools, dams and roads, as Smith and the Republicans seem to want, she will be remembered as a mere transitional figure, like her predecessor.

In her first year she should be at the peak of her power but Smith's power seems equivalent. Some speculate the Governor--who perplexingly described herself during a campaign interview as a "fiscal conservative"--is not entirely unhappy with Smith watchdogging her. Well, if that's the case come out and say it and the argument will go away. That one is hard to believe.

Others believe the Fourth Floor is misjudging. It is pitched rhetoric on hot button social issues such as gun control and immigration that have gotten MLG in some trouble. The public is not going to be at her throat for wanting to spend money for lasting improvements, if she isn't asking for tax increases. They have and will support that spending but you have to fight for it.

There won't be much of a legacy or a real difference in people's lives if this Governor can't elbow herself onto the field now controlled by the opposing team and make some big plays.

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