Thursday, November 21, 2019

Somber Mayor Confronts Record High Murder Rate In A City Unnerved; Our Readers React, Plus: GOP Gets Another US Senate Hopeful 

Mayor Keller
ABQ Mayor Tim Keller's trademark broad smile was nowhere to be seen at his Wednesday news conference, and with good reason. Keller was there to comment on the unnerving murder of 55 year old Jacqueline “Jackie” Vigil, the mother of two state policemen who was shot to death while warming up her car Tuesday morning outside of her westside home in a good neighborhood. (Complete news conference here.)

One question asked of the Mayor and APD Chief Geier was whether the woman may have been targeted for murder. They could not answer that but said the initial investigation points to robbery or a carjacking.

A targeted killing of a woman so closely linked to law enforcement would be chilling and raise even more troublesome questions about the nature of the violent crime epidemic here. A Cartel hit?

Another reason for Keller's somber mood was the news that ABQ has now had 72 murders in 2019, tying the all time yearly record and nearly certain to go higher in the final weeks of the year.

That makes for arguably the low point of his two year old administration.

While facing the bad news head-on, the Mayor and Chief could not offer any hope that in the short-term the violence will subside. Keller did say he will ask the Legislature for $20 million to update how APD deals with data, but for now what you see is what you get. And that's nothing to smile about.


Reader Mike Connealy joins us on the crime beat and doesn't agree with the assessment offered here Wednesday by retired APD Sergeant Dan Klein:

Klein, with his opportunistic law and order pitch, would have us conveniently forget that we just recently got rid of a "law and order" governor who did nothing to effectively combat crime in New Mexico. In fact Martinez starved and disrupted the public services institutions which are crucial to real progress. Lessening police oversight now is one sure way to undermine social justice while doing nothing to affect the root causes of crime in our State.


Reader Dave came with this:

What we have in NM is a liberal policy problem. As long as Texas is red, they wont have these issues. The voters have done this to themselves, and will continue to repeat their mistakes because the opposing party (Republicans) has been labeled as racists, nationalists, and a host of other names. 

The truth is, the way to solve the crime problem is to move out of New Mexico to a state that has effective policies. We are so sick of the crime, but have no leadership to deal with it. At this point, I would be for dissolving APD and giving (BernCo Sheriff ) Manny Gonzales the resources to cover the entire city. Then maybe things would improve. The Chief of APD didn't even attend the ABQ law enforcement meeting with Attorney General Bill Barr, that is sickening, partisan, and completely unacceptable.


Jackie Vigil
Another reader came with this on the Jackie Vigil slaying:

The Mayor referenced "gun violence." This isn’t gun violence! It is criminal violence…criminal behavior perpetrated by criminals! They used a gun but just as easily could have used some other weapon. 

To be sure, if law-abiding citizens don’t have guns those that aren't law abiding could give a damn about a law and they will be armed. Have a nice day.


Amid the violent crime wave, Rep. Bill Rehm, the lone Republican in the Bernalillo County state House delegation and a retired lawman, comes with this:

Rehm announced his plan to seek bail reform legislation designed to keep dangerous suspects off the streets. "The function of political leaders is to protect the safety of the community," said Rehm."And right now, communities don't feel safe." Rehm’s legislation would force judges to consider the seriousness of the suspect’s charge, the suspect's past criminal history and the defendant's court appearance record. Rehm wants a new law to consider these and other factors when courts consider release. . . The bill would modify the 2016 Constitutional Amendment that allows courts to deny bail to a defendant charged with a felony if a prosecutor proves the defendant a threat to the public. Rehm calls that a failed amendment that has led to release after release of dangerous suspects. 

It will be interesting to see if any Dems emerge to co-sponsor Rehm's bill.

Reader Richard Flores writes:

If we don't address the root causes of poverty, other proposals to address the scourge of drug addiction and violence are simply "band aid" solutions. Crime and drug addiction go hand in hand. I agree that the state and the feds must increase their efforts to stem the flow of drugs into New Mexico, but also into the country, because it is a nationwide problem. But our "political will" must first and foremost address the disparities in our educational system, starting with implementation of across the board early childhood education so that all of our children have the opportunities to succeed in school and to achieve their goals.


Elisa Martinez
There are now three GOP candidates for the 2020 US Senate nomination but none appear to pose a major threat to likely Dem nominee US Rep. Ben Ray Lujan.

Elisa Martinez, who was raised in Gallup and is of Hispanic and Native American descent and a member of the Navajo Nation, entered the race this week. While attractive and well spoken, her announcement did not present the Dems with any curve balls. It was mostly Republican boilerplate about "values."

Martinez says:

I believe I have the ability to connect with groups that maybe Republicans haven’t been able to connect with in the past.

But Martinez, 46, is executive director of the pro-life NM Alliance for Life, a group whose positions in the state are distinctly in the minority. Given that, how she is going to relate to Democratic women who are overwhelmingly pro-choice? That's a connection the R's are going to have to make to dig themselves out of a very deep hole.

(No Republican has won a NM Senate term since Pete Domenici was re-elected in 2002.)

Not to say Martinez doesn't have a shot at securing the GOP nomination next June. Her two opponents, Gavin Clarkson and Mick Rich, remain unknown. But without plowing fresh ideological ground for the Republicans, capturing the Senate seat remains a fantasy.

By the way, ABQ radio talk show host Eddy Aragon is exploring a possible run for the GOP nod and will make a final decision in January, and there could be others.

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Wednesday, November 20, 2019

ABQ Homicide Total Headed For Record Books; Slaying Of Mother Of State Cops Sends City Reeling; We're On the Crime Beat, Reporting Where We Are And Where We're Headed  

The crime cancer continues to metastasize across the ABQ metro, and the latest shocking murder is sure to increase the pressure on the Governor, Mayor, Legislature and City Council for more effective strategies in fighting the scourge.

That latest murder, in a comfortable, upscale west side neighborhood, claimed the life of a mother of two state police officers, driving home the growing danger of the gun violence and putting the city on the path for a record breaking year for homicides (now over 70).

Governor Lujan Grisham earlier this year temporarily assigned state police to ABQ to combat the crime epidemic. She may feel the heat to do so again. Mayor Keller begins his third year in office in December and the 2021 election calendar is drawing ever closer. The more the sickening crimes continue, the more likely he draws more effective challengers.

The question in front of us right now is what can be done?

Retired APD sergeant, private investigator and sometime reporter Dan Klein and I discussed the matter at length as the city reeled not only from the murder of that mother, but also the release from jail of Fabian Gonzales. He's charged in connection with the most horrific murder in memory--the 2016 killing and dismemberment of 10 year old Victoria Martens.

Klein says he expects to see Bernalillo County Sheriff Manny Gonzales again step up his unprecedented crime fighting efforts within the city limits, despite the tension it causes with the Mayor and APD. (Gonzales has not ruled out running for Mayor himself in 2021). 

Keller said of the latest murder:

We lost a member of our community—a mother to two state police officers—to gun violence. This is a senseless, tragic, and heartbreaking loss, for her family and for Albuquerque. We are working tirelessly to bring the killers to justice, and we are committed to continue the fight against criminals who perpetrate violence in our city.

Klein says:

The Sheriff is the only one really reacting to this crime wave. The citizens have supported him and he has shown results. The Governor may call in the state police but she can't keep them here permanently. Gonzales can keep at it. At this point he might want to go before the City Council and ask them for some resources to help him. 

Klein says APD has been slowed by the federal consent decree the agency has operated under for five years, costing taxpayers millions in enforcement costs but also cutting down on costly lawsuits for APD's use of excessive force.

The Mayor needs to forcefully ask the Feds to get us out from under that decree. APD has enacted most of the reforms. Unless we reduce the number of officers enforcing the decree in one way or another--and keeping them from being on the streets--the worse the crime gets. 

Klein says the recent ABQ visit of Attorney General William Barr would have been a good time for Keller to ask for federal relief, but political differences apparently prevented any type of communication between the pair. Barr pledged more federal involvement over crime here, while criticizing the judiciary for being too soft on the criminal element.

The Barr visit drew speculation that President Trump may try a tough on crime formula to make political gains in ABQ and the state in next year's election.


Raul Torrez
Meanwhile, Bernalillo County District Attorney Raul Torrez went before the ABQ Chamber of Commerce Tuesday and repeated that certain ABQ crime categories have fallen from their peak while homicides continue to reach record levels. But he admitted those other categories--auto theft and the like--are still among the highest in the nation.

Democrat Torrez is seeking re-election next year and can be expected to try to paint a positive picture. It's not easy. Torrez addressed the chamber only hours after the mother of the two state policemen was shot to death outside her home. So far, there are no announced Dem or R opponents running against Torrez.

Torrez's failure to take Fabian Gonzales to trial after he has languished in jail for over three years hangs over the DA's head as does his handling of the entire Martens case. Gonzales getting released by court order Tuesday to await the DA's next step was another jolt to crime weary Mr. and Mrs. Albuquerque.

Torrez received $4 million in increased funding during the 2018 legislative session, after tremendous pressure was placed on the lawmakers. For some of those lawmakers, Torrez has not been specific enough on how that money has made a difference--if any--in fighting crime. Those legislators are getting antsy and the matter could come to a head in the legislative session that begins in January.

In addition, the Mayor and City Council in 2018 enacted an increase in the gross receipts tax that raises some $60 million a year, the majority of which is devoted to public safety. Soon, if the violence and mayhem fail to fade, it will be time to question if those funds are being efficiently utilized.

In 2014 voters approved a BernCo tax hike that takes in $18 million a year for behavioral health. And city voters this month approved a $14 million bond for a new homeless shelter that will also help tackle the addiction explosion.

Critics worried when BernCo won that tax increase from voters in 2014 without having a detailed plan. Those worries have panned out as much of the money has piled up as the addiction crisis deepens and the county slowly implements programs.


The crime wave took hold with fervor in 2016 and has kept a tight grip ever since. It has contributed mightily to the lack of business development, the stagnant population growth, the untold numbers of people who have moved away and, most important, to serious trauma in the lives of tens of thousands of residents.

Chatter is now starting that the New Mexico Governor needs to get serious about drug interdiction on the state's interstates and elsewhere to reduce the Cartel supplies of meth, heroin and fentanyl and forcing the drugs onto a different path.

We could see bipartisan efforts in January to revisit the bail reform constitutional amendment that some blame for putting too many criminals back on the streets.

As radio talk show host Eddy Aragon told his listening audience Tuesday as they absorbed the latest shocks from the crime beat:

There are many, many answers out there. We just don't seem to have the political will to go after them.

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Tuesday, November 19, 2019

MLG's Quandary: Who To Appoint To Cisneros Senate Seat, Plus: Lawsuit Settlements Involving Ex-Gov. Martinez Further Her Long Fall  

One of the more important state Senate appointments by a Governor in recent years is about to unfold, so there's  plenty of drama over who Gov. Lujan Grisham will choose.

In question is the unexpired term of northern Dem Senator Carlos Cisneros who died in September. The Santa Fe County Commission and the Los Alamos County Council have nominated Taos Land Trust Director Kristina Ortez for the post while the Taos County Commission selected 25 year state Rep. Bobby Gonzales to replace Cisneros.

Ortez is the progressive. Gonzales is the centrist. The Governor's appointment could have major impact on whether the conservative coalition made up of GOP senators and several Democrats continues to hold sway in the Senate. Our  analysis comes from a Senior Alligator:

MLG is in a quandary over who to select to replace Sen. Cisneros. If she appoints Bobby she sends a legislative dinosaur and a bit of a wild card to the Senate. Remember, he challenged Rep. Egolf for the speakership and is friendly with long-serving conservative Dems in the Senate and aging Dems in the House. 

Cisneros was cozy with conservative Senate Finance Committee Chairman John Arthur Smith, a leader of the coalition. Gonzales may be less cozy, but not much. He has a lifetime voting average of 76% from Conservation Voters Alliance--which is on the lower end for Dems. A Gonzales appointment won’t make progressives happy. 

If MLG appoints Ortez, she gets a progressive in the Senate, increases the number of women Senators and pleases progressive interest groups. But under that scenario MLG would make an enemy of Gonzales, a House committee chairman who is known to carry a curmudgeonly grudge for those who cross him. Gonzales might then run against Ortez in a bloody primary next June. 

All 42 Senate seats are up for election next year. If a couple of the conservative Dems lost to progressive primary challengers, it could spell the end of the coalition and if the coalition survives the challenges, it could gain strength.


Happier Times
While MLG works to craft a legacy as she comes up on her first full year in office, her predecessor remains mired in scandal and disgrace. . .

The long unwinding of what certainly is in competition for being the worst gubernatorial administration  in New Mexico history continues. State Auditor Brian Colón is the latest to come with an assessment.

He reports on those lawsuit settlements that cost NM taxpayers $2.7 million in what appears to be a shake-down to prevent disclosure of damaging personal information about now former Governor Susana Martinez. It's pretty outrageous stuff, most of it centered on an alleged sexual affair she had with her state police bodyguard. Colón has forwarded his audit of the lawsuit settlements which he says are "an abuse of power" to Attorney General Balderas and the Santa Fe County DA's office, but the AG has been quiet, showing little interest in a possible further investigation.

The dubious achievements of Martinez are long and sorrowful. They include the down and dirty Downs deal, the cruel disruption of the behavioral heath care system, the blatant racializing of state politics over driver's licenses and her incessant intimidation, bullying and vindictiveness towards even mild political foes, And that's only a part of her ignominious legacy.

Even as she falls, the state GOP, now led by her longtime rival Steve Pearce, could not help piling on:

The Party believes all public officials should be held accountable for their actions, held to the highest standard and that all governmental activity should be honest and transparent. No one is above the law. In addition, it is imperative that any such settlements never be a burden on New Mexico taxpayers.

Now the insiders report that Martinez has moved to ABQ and is living in the house of former ABQ GOP state Rep. Monica Youngblood who has moved to Wisconsin after her political career also ended in disgrace and humiliation when she was busted for DWI. How fitting.

We can't say we're surprised in the least by the destruction of Martinez politically and personally. We long ago predicted her demise. It just didn't come soon enough to spare the state. And we didn't imagine that her inevitable downfall would be so profitable because of a secret tape recording of her own husband, Chuck Franco, in which he delves further into Martinez's personal life.

The fact that the state says it can't find that recording that cost it so much and that the AG is not trying to find out why, shouts out for further inquiry.

As for Susana Martinez she's been thrown to the Alligators and now lives with the fishes. RIP or something, Guv. . .

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Monday, November 18, 2019

More Oil Boom Billions Predicted But State Still Reluctant To Deploy Newfound Wealth, Plus: Election Time--Again 

The bright economic spots may not be lighting up enough of the state but where they do shine, sunglasses are in order. For example, even those who have been bullish on the SE NM oil boom continue to be taken aback by the historic numbers:

. . .Production could increase by another 300% over the next decade, generating about $8 billion in annual revenue for the state by 2030. . . That’s nearly four times more than the $2.2 billion the government collected from industry activities in fiscal year 2018. “High production really is the new normal for the foreseeable future in New Mexico,” NM Oil and Gas Association executive director Ryan Flynn said. “The industry has consolidated around the Permian Basin and we believe production will remain at record levels.”

So how could this be a problem for the state? Well, the state still is unwilling to come up with a robust multi-year investment plan to deploy these new riches:

Drilling operations have slowed in other places in recent months, with active rigs declining by about 50 in Texas compared with last year, said Sen. John Arthur Smith, a Deming Democrat and chair of the Legislative Finance Committee. The rig count in New Mexico has remained steady, but production could slow down here in the coming months, he said.

The problem is that as the billions come in no one seems confident that state government can effectively deploy the wealth. Rather than emboldening policymakers, it scares them. It's not a concern that can be dismissed out of hand. Take a look:

The Fed have sent some $300 million into the state, all to spread broadband access, especially in rural access. And here's what you get:

. . . New Mexico lags when it comes to high-speed Internet and efforts to address access are disjointed and scattered across multiple agencies. Federal officials point to census figures that show almost 30% of New Mexico residents have no internet subscription of any type while 55% of residents have a subscription such as fiber, cable or DSL at home. Legislative analysts looked at how New Mexico compares to other states and territories and found it trails all but Mississippi and Puerto Rico in household broadband penetration. Two of New Mexico's neighbors--Utah and Colorado — rank in the top five most connected states while Arizona ranked 14th.

If you can't get it right with that $300 million, the conservatives argue, how can you get it right with the new oil billions pouring in? Best to save the cash or rebate it to the public, they contend.

Poor states like New Mexico and Mississippi come at things from a deprivation point of view. They don't think of what progress can be made with newfound wealth, but what can go wrong. It's a view that is bolstered each time there is a case of government bungling.

New Mexico is at a crossroads, blessed with billions but lacking the self-confidence to look at a changed future. That's why the "new normal" makes Santa Fe so uncomfortable.


We just finished the Nov. 5 ABQ election but it's already time to prep for the December 10 run-off elections in ABQ city council Districts 2 and 4. BernCo Clerk Linda Stover says:

Early voting for the Dec. 10 Election begins Tuesday, Nov. 19. Five early voting locations will be open Monday through Saturday 8 a.m. to 8 p.m. from Tuesday, Nov. 19 to Saturday, Dec. 7. Early voting locations will be closed Nov. 28-30 for Thanksgiving. The locations are as follows:

Clerk’s Annex – 1500 Lomas Blvd NW, Suite A
Daskalos Center - 5339 Menaul Blvd NE
Holly Plaza – 6600 Holly Ave NE, Suite B-6
Los Ranchos Villa – 6601 4th St NW, Suite E, F
The Shoppes at 6001 San Mateo – 6001 San Mateo Blvd NE, Suite B-3

In District 2 in the ABQ Valley Councilor Ike Benton faces Zack Quintero in a run-off. Both are Democrats. In District 4 in the NE Heights Republican Brook Bassan faces Democrat Ane Romero.


In a first blog draft Thursday we reported that Senator Heinrich's new chief of staff is one of three Hispanic staff chiefs on "the Hill." There are three in the Senate, in addition to those in the House.

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