Thursday, November 14, 2019

Meth Takes Over As State's Most Deadly Drug, Plus: Worry Over Legal Pot  

The new year is right around the corner and with it renewed hope that the dangerous and costly drug epidemic will stall. But drug caused, skyrocketing crime and untold suffering among a wide swath of citizens shows signs of accelerating, not slowing. The latest:

New Mexico has seen a shift. For years, black tar heroin was the biggest problem, then prescription painkillers, said Dr. Michael Landen of the state’s health department. State meth deaths went from 150 in 2017 to 194 last year, vaulting meth to the top. “It’s really been the first time we’ve seen that,” said Landen. He attributed the surge in meth to its wide availability and low cost, and said he worried it could get worse. While there are programs to deal with fentanyl and heroin overdoses, there’s not much in place to prevent meth deaths, he said. “I think we’re potentially going to be caught off guard with methamphetamine deaths, and we have to get our act together,” he said.

That's not only bad news for drug addicts but for property, business and auto owners whose assets they prey upon.

So,will 2020 be the year the NM Legislature legalizes marijuana? Probably not. The huge medical marijuana program--nearly 80,000 patients--could be a major stumbling block as worries mount that legalization could put pressure on medical pot supplies.

2021 could be different, if the conservative coalition that governs the senate takes a hit at the ballot boxes next November.

There's also a medical issue with legalized pot that has been getting more attention. The US Surgeon General recently recommended that people under 25 not use marijuana because of possible adverse impact of high potency pot on brain development. (Yes, some studies have found no link.)


Scott Beckman, Community Development Manager for the North Central New Mexico Economic Development District, writes: :

Hi Joe, Here’s an update hot off the Legislative Finance Committee presses:

“Violent crime rates in New Mexico increased 10 percent between 2017 and 2018, to 856.6 per 100 thousand residents, FBI figures show. Property crime rates dropped 12.6 percent, to about 3,420 per 100 thousand people. The rise in violent crime was driven by increased rates of homicide, rape, and aggravated assault, which rose between 8.7 percent and 21.5 percent, while robbery rates dropped 24.2 percent.”

For perspective, a quote on violent crime direct from The New Mexico Gang Task Force:

“The gang problem in New Mexico has escalated in the last two decades from relatively traditional neighborhood gangs, found primarily in the state’s urban areas, to criminal gangs statewide. New Mexico’s gangs have evolved and continue to be more mobile, more violent, and more involved in high-level criminal activities.”


It's a step up for Rebecca Avitia who incoming Governor MLG asked to resign as executive director of the National Hispanic Cultural Center. Avitia chose not to reapply, although her tenure steadied the ship there. Since then the 37 year old native New Mexican has worked as state director for US Senator Martin Heinrich. Now she's been promoted to his Chief of Staff in his DC office, one of three Hispanic staff chiefs in the senate. Heinrich's office says:

Avitia grew up in Albuquerque’s North Valley. She is a graduate of Eldorado High School, Trinity University, and Columbia University School of Law. She was a practicing attorney in both New York and New Mexico.

Avitia will have time to settle in. Heinrich is not up for re-election until 2024. The senator’s ties to New Mexico came into question during his reelection campaign last year with his Republican opponent pointing out that he now lives in the DC area and not New Mexico. The Avitia appointment could help to dampen such criticism.

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Wednesday, November 13, 2019

AG Barr Gets Tough On NM Crime Wave As Trump Looks To Play Here in 2020, Plus: MLG's Polling Seesaw 

AG Barr In The 505 (Pierre Louis, Journal)
The political void in the midst of an ongoing crime wave is the lack of a law and order candidate or officeholder--a tough on crime guy or gal taking a populist approach to the crisis. Well, it turns out there is someone (besides Bernalillo County Sheriff Manny Gonzales who has tinkered with the role). It's none other than the guy in the White House.

Yep. Donald Trump, toying with the idea of corralling New Mexico's five electoral votes in 2020 in what would be a mega upset, saw his Attorney General William Barr Tuesday bring to ABQ the tough on crime credentials that many voters may hunger for as the murder and mayhem show no real signs of loosening their grip. 

Standing with local law enforcement and touting the results of a federal fugitive round-up operation here, Barr declared:

Unlike many cities in the United States that have seen violent crime rates fall, the violent crime rates in Albuquerque remain stubbornly high. In the months ahead, the federal government is going to be stepping up our efforts to work closely with our state and local partners to ratchet up the attacks on violent crime.

And in case New Mexicans didn't get the message, Barr piled on the judiciary here criticizing the controversial bail reform constitutional amendment as being too soft on the bad guys. Said the nation's top lawman:

That has the effect of not only allowing the offender back on the street where they can commit more crimes, but it also intimidates the neighborhood and prevents people from coming forward because they feel these people will be right back out on the streets. I think part of the problem there is the judiciary in New Mexico, not using the laws that they have to keep dangerous offenders in pretrial detention.

Whoa. Hear that Governor MLG, Mayor Keller and APD Chief Geier? Well, maybe not since none were at the Barr event. A US Marshal spokesperson said the Democratic mayor was not invited. Sheriff Gonzales, who has not ruled out a 2021 mayoral run, was there and posed for photos with Barr.

Seeing the growing public frustration with the unsuccessful fight on crime, the Governor recently announced a fugitive round-up operation of her own.

Mayor Keller and Chief Geier continue to pull as many rabbits out of the hat as they can, but the search goes on for solutions to a maddening crime spree that is now years-old.

Trump is nothing if not an opportunist. He knows that he only has a longshot chance in New Mexico next year because of heavy Dem BernCo. If he could trim his losing margin to a tolerable level here, he could put together a mathematical case for a slim win. And since BernCo is ground zero for the crime wave, here we are with Trump's AG sampling some of our fine green chile. (And don't forget Trump's own visit to the ABQ metro in September).

Winning here remains highly unlikely but Team Trump can be expected to continue to flirt with NM and pull up stakes only when polling shows that turning blue to red is as difficult as finding a rabbit trick that works on crime.


Who among the top three Dem presidential hopefuls would be toughest for Trump in NM?

Former VP Joe Biden would probably have the broadest appeal given his strength with minorities of which there are many in New Mexico. Also, he could dampen Trump's win in the conservative south by picking up conservative D's of his own.

Bernie Sanders has a strong base in big BernCo, Santa Fe and Las Cruces but probably wouldn't run as well as Biden in the north. Trump would work to radicalize the Vermont senator but it would be no easy task.

Elizabeth Warren would probably be the weakest of the top three hopefuls here. The Massachusetts senator has had difficulty making her case to minority voters. That would have to change if she were to keep Trump fully in check. Still, Trump beating Warren would be an uphill climb. She could coalesce the vote in the cities and take her thumping in rural areas while still taking the win.


MLG's camp was disturbed by an early round of Morning Consult polling that showed her near the bottom in popularity among the nation's governors. Now they get a little relief as the MC poll taken in the third quarter has the first year Governor garnering an approval rating of 47 percent, with disapproval at 37 percent and "don't know" at 16. In the first quarter MLG polled a skimpy 41 percent approval with 33 percent disapproval.

Those numbers leave room for improvement, considering she won election with 57 percent but the difference in the two surveys is night and day in terms of stirring her opposition. Now, if she could only figure out how to get around the Senate Finance Committee. 


Democratic state Senator Joe Cervantes represents District 31 in the Las Cruces area and ABQ GOP state Senator Sander Rue represents District 23. The numbers were in error in a first blog draft Tuesday.

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Tuesday, November 12, 2019

Off The Easy Chairs; Veteran Senators Draw Challengers 

Harold Pope, Jr.
Opponents continue to line up to take on veteran state Senators long comfortable in their seats but who are now being forced off their easy chairs and onto the campaign trail. The latest. . .

On ABQ's westside Democrats have been anticipating a stiff challenge for GOP Senator Sander Rue who narrowly escaped losing the seat in 2016 when educator Joy Garratt lost to him 52 to 48. That signaled the district was becoming more blue. Harold Pope, Jr. a retired air force officer, says he's ready to pick up where Garratt left off and is seeking the Dem nomination and right to take on Rue next November.

Pope, 45, is the only Dem running so far and it's expected to stay that way.

A major twist in this race is that Pope would apparently be the first African-American elected to the  state senate. Pope calls that historic but not why he is running. Instead, he faults Rue for not keeping  up with traffic and other infrastructure needs in the district. Pope also touts his strong support of teachers and his desire to concentrate on health care.

Rue, a member of the influential Senate Finance Committee, is liked on both sides of the aisle but the seat is too tempting and his defeat could have far reaching implications.

Pope tells me he would not support the conservative Senate coalition that controls the chamber. It's composed of all 16 Republicans and a half a dozen or so Dems. A knock out of Rue would be a big blow to the R's and that ruling coalition.

Rue, 65, has not been a GOP firebrand in the increasingly blue district. At first he embraced then GOP Governor Martinez but later had a nasty falling out with her when he urged more transparency for the Governor's contingent fund. That gave him some street cred with the D's and many independents.

Rue will need his A game next year. If the Trump vibe is bad he could be swept away as happened to many BernCo state House R's in 2018. Still, friends of Rue say he outpaces newcomer Pope in the knowledge and experience departments and his fund-raising should be solid.


Then there's Dem state Senator Joe Cervantes who suffered a third place finish in the 2018 Dem Guv primary and now seeks re-election to his legislative seat. Like Rue, Cervantes is being pushed into heavy door-knocking to keep Dona Ana County District 31 that he has held since 2012.

The 58 year old is being challenged by 45 year old Melissa Ontiveros, a decidedly more progressive Dem than the variety represented by attorney Cervantes.

She is is a Special Operations Coordinator for the nonprofit Community Action Agency of Southern New Mexico whose mission is to "partner with New Mexicans to overcome adversity by connecting our communities, encouraging family wellness, empowering families and bridging resources."

Cervantes served in the state House from 2001-12. He has not had a serious challenge since joining the senate but that will change in 2020. His family has deep and profitable ties to the agricultural industry in the Las Curce area so financing a campaign is no problem.

But Ontiveros could be a problem in Las Cruces where progressives have been showing muscle while Cervantes, chairman of the Senate Conservation Committee, has prided himself on being a middle of the road Democrat while many D's veer left.

Also, women voters and candidates were dominant in those '18 BernCo House battles. That's a trend that will keep the cerebral Cervantes on guard.

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Monday, November 11, 2019

Veterans Day 2019 

A lot of retired state employees are celebrating this:

State Senator George Munoz, chairman of the pension oversight committee, said that it will be hard to approve a pension reform bill during next year's rapid-fire, 30-day legislative session.

In the Dec. 10 run-off for the District 4 ABQ City Council seat in the NE Heights And Romero is working to consolidate the Democratic vote:

Athena Christodoulou endorsed Ane Romero in the run-off. Christodoulou placed third in the race, but garnered enough votes in the November 5 election to prevent either Romero or Brook Bassan from achieving 50% of the total vote, thereby triggering the run-off.

Republican Bassan came out on top in the initial three way race.

During the recent city election one of the Alligators--in a somewhat epic rant--blasted the entire public finance system while critiquing the Democracy Dollars proposition that failed. He asserted that since its beginning in 2005 public financing has given us one of the lousiest city councils in history. Then City Councilor Eric Griego, the current director of the progressive NM Working Families Party, sponsored the public finance legislation. He responded:

First, the voters passed public financing on the 2005 ballot by 69%. Is the anonymous critic saying the overwhelming majority of Albuquerque voters were wrong to try to reduce the influence of special interest donors? That might be great for corporate lobbyists who raise thousands for privately-financed candidates but not so much for average Burqueños. The anonymous critic also conveniently left out the privately-funded Mayor RJ Berry, who presided over the inept ART implementation and the recent crime wave. Berry was privately funded to the tune of $1 million from mostly big developers and corporate interests. How did that work out?

Also, that's a pretty long list of City Councilors the writer suggests are worthless. Does your anonymous alligator really think nothing good has happened in the city in 14 years? If so, maybe it's time for him/her to either run for Council or consider moving somewhere else. Maybe public financing could help with that.


Eric Lucero is a NM National Guard veteran who served in Iraq and a film reviewer in his spare time. On this day he comes with this:

Midway (2019), WWII War Epic (PG-13) *** Stars out of 5.

Director Emmerich (Independence Day, 1997) and company offers us this Veterans Day a true and compelling story of triumph and tragedy and a life and death clash of national wills as personified by both the US and Japanese navies during WWII.

Midway is a compilation of key naval events that ultimately turned the tide of WWII in our favor in mid-1942. Until then the Allies, which the United States was a full fledged member, were losing in both the European and Pacific Theaters.

This film details the horrid December 1941 Pearl Harbor attack with restraint. This “Day of Infamy” necessitated our entry into WWII, which would lead to the Doolittle Bombing Raid of Tokyo and later to the pivotal Midway Naval Battle.

Midway is a blunt and complex story with many character arcs. This single battle defined our willingness as a nation to meet and rebuff the Axis Powers extinction level threat to our representative democracy. Emmerich’s narrative will pull in both young and older viewers. This amazingly accurate, gripping and moving film is well worth the 2 plus hours of your time. You will clap at its conclusion.

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