Friday, March 13, 2020

Special Friday Edition: In These Troubled Times Of Ours; A Laugh And A Wish 

Joe Monahan
The torrent of news this week--the coronavirus count, the school closings, major public events being cancelled and the runs at the grocery and other stores--was enough to make an Alligator (our senior political sources) curl up and shed their skin. But then there's always a streak of optimism and humor in those critters. One of the political consultant variety opines:

Joe, I'm really worried about getting voters to the polls for my candidate for the June primary. Voters aren't going anywhere for a while. The only way I think we can get them there is by offering free hand sanitizer and a roll of toilet paper.

Great idea. And if you throw in a free Netflix subscription for their bunkers, you're going to own them.

What we need newswise to get out of our current extraordinary distress and what we will get could be worlds apart as we look deep into the abyss going into this historic weekend. So here's a wish list for our beleaguered and anxious Land of Enchantment. It may be fair to call some of it wishful thinking but off we go. . .

--The coronavirus stalls out here in part because of the cancellation of public events and other measures. The scientists and medical community give us a decent shot.

--That Saudia Arabia and Russia unexpectedly reach a deal and halt their oil price war. Then, that  sends prices soaring to over $40 a barrel and lessens the financial pressure on the state's oil-dependent budget. A deal could ward off state government pay freezes and/or layoffs as well as thousands of lost jobs in the SE NM oilfields.

--That the virus news gets good enough and fast enough to keep customers coming into our small businesses thus avoiding bankruptcies which at this point appear inevitable.

--We wish New Mexicans in their teens, 20's and 30's and who are exempted from getting seriously ill from this bug will carry the ball for the older generations. They can do that by continuing to go out to their favorite entertainment venues and restaurants. It's simple. Keep enjoying life while helping to keep people on the job.

--We wish as things gradually return to "normal" that we don't have to cancel the State Fair and Balloon Fiesta because we are on course to do just that.

--We wish for families and friends to pitch in and help out with all the kids out of school for the next three weeks. That's going to be one of the bigger challenges facing parents, especially those who work outside the home and that's most of them.

Finally, even in these troubled, dystopian times laughter remains the best medicine (short of a coronavirus vaccine).Try this one from one of our Alligators:

Joe, I couldn't find any hand sanitizer at the store so I'm making a homemade batch. It's three parts gin, two parts vodka and a bit of vermouth. You drink that and then wash your hands with a good Scotch.

Oh yeah, Mr. and Mrs. New Mexico are all in on that one. Cheers!

I'm Joe Monahan, reporting to you this week from Albuquerque, New Mexico.

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Thursday, March 12, 2020

Coronavirus Arrives And Will Test The Mettle Of State Leaders; Guv Declares Public Health Emergency; GOP Senator Derides Action, Plus: Some "Emergency History" and A New ABQ City Councilor  

(Moore, Journal)
Governor Lujan Grisham Wednesday became the first New Mexico Governor to invoke the 2003 Public Health Emergency Response Act (PHERA), issuing an executive order giving her administration broad powers to deal with the coronavirus which was has now been confirmed in four New Mexicans.

MLG news conference here. AP coverage here. Journal coverage here. New Mexican coverage here. Sun-News coverage here.

Her hour-long news conference announcing her action sometimes seemed surreal. After all, when do you hear a Governor say something like this:

You should think about not going to church. You should think about not going to your community meeting. You should think about not going to a neighborhood association meeting.

Only one other time in state history--during the 1918 Spanish Flu epidemic--has the state's chief executive uttered similar advice.

Sometimes the moment meets the man or woman. And in the case of New Mexico and coronavirus, this is one of those times. From 2004-2007 MLG served as the Secretary of the Department of Health, the agency that now assumes power in making decisions regarding coronavirus and public safety.

She also served as a longtime director of the New Mexico Agency on Aging (now the Aging and Long-Term Services Department). That experience is also timely because the coronavirus is most serious for individuals over 60, many of whom are in nursing facilities that in the past MLG oversaw.

Kathyleen Kunkel, Secretary of the Dept. of Health, is an attorney who has seven years in the department and more with the attorney general's office.

"She has the experience and knowledge to handle this," offered Cliff Rees, an attorney who has worked with her and who helped author the Public Health Emergency Response Act invoked by the Governor, along with two other acts to deal with the virus.

Dr. David Scrase, Secretary of the Human Services Department, is another key player in the state's management of the virus. Insiders called the 30 year physician one of MLG's best cabinet picks when she came into office in 2019. He previously served as Chief of Geriatrics at UNM, a timely background during this pandemic.

All that experience showed as the emergency powers were announced, with the state leaders fielding questions for an hour, including Dr. Chad Smelser, a DOH epidemiologist who kept it cool, calm and informative. Nothing was left unanswered. So far so good.


Sen. Sharer
In this era nothing goes unpoliticized, and boy, did GOP State Senator Bill Sharer do his part as he unloaded on the Governor for invoking a public health emergency. "Wash your hands and ignore the panic," he declared, adding:

The Governor has called for mass panic, then told us not to panic. . . I encourage people to take common sense measures to prevent the spread of any disease. We all should take the same precautions as we do to avoid the flu. If we put this in perspective, many more people get sick and die from the seasonal flu in our state every year than have contracted COVID19 in the entire United States.

While we are concerned about the seasonal flu, we don’t declare states of emergency and cause panic over it. The governor’s emergency declaration is already having huge negative effects, The governor has touted tourism as the way to move away from the fossil fuel industry that currently funds the state budget. As of today’s emergency declaration, she is actively destroying that industry as well. . . The panic the governor induced in New Mexico has the potential to go on and on. Wash your hands and ignore the panic.

No question the emergency declaration will have an adverse impact on business and tourism, but the spread of the virus is what's causing the panic in crashing financial markets and the run on stores--it's not the action of the government. In fact, it has been what the markets see as governmental inaction in confronting the virus that is cited as a reason for deep concern, if not panic.

And the Governor's first major decision to halt a large public gathering --the annual Native American Gathering of Nations that draws thousands to the UNM Pit--set off a dispute between her and the director of the event who claimed he had not been advised of the postponement. The Governor's office strongly disagreed.

And the Governor’s comments about considering not going to church did not settle well with Reverend Smotherman of the large Legacy Church in Albuquerque who criticized her comments as “fear mongering.”

You can easily imagine more tensions arising if ABQ Isotopes baseball games are called off, if the State Fair is cancelled, if Balloon Fiesta can't take off, if Zozobra can't burn, if Popejoy Hall can't present, if Santa Fe's Fiestas can't celebrate and if the Whole Enchilada Fiesta goes away.

The coronavirus will now test the mettle of New Mexico's leaders and the patience and nerves of an anxious public.


That PHRA invoked by MLG was sponsored in 2003 by then-ABQ Dem State Senator Dede Feldman and then-Dem State Rep. John Heaton of Carlsbad, informs attorney Cliff Rees who helped draft the act approved by the legislature.  Rees told me:

We were thinking of infectious agents, heat waves, anthrax attacks and other calamities that could befall the state. We had just been through 9-11. We saw holes in state emergency health management which was first put on the books in 1919 during the Spanish Flu epidemic.

Is Rees surprised that he is around to see the act employed for the first time?

No. That's why we wrote the law. As the Governor said Wednesday she will use "every tool in her toolbox" to fight the coronavirus. This is one of those tools that the Legislature wisely saw a need to put in that toolbox.


On any other day the signing of the new state budget by the Governor would dominate the news, but it was brushed aside somewhat this year as the virus news broke. However, MLG did veto another $100 million for infrastructure projects that now goes to build up state reserves as oil prices enter a bear market. Total infrastructure vetoes: $150 million.


Councilor Lan Sena
From ABQ Mayor Keller's office on the replacement for City Councilor Ken Sanchez who died in January:

Mayor Keller announced the . . appointment of Thanh-Lan “Lan” Sena to the City Council District 1 seat. Sena brings a fresh perspective and unique background. . . Lan is a first generation daughter of a refugee, and was born and raised in the Duke City. 

She is a Westside neighborhood leader, healthcare advocate, and three-time cancer survivor. She will be the first woman to represent the district, and the first Asian (Vietnamese) American to sit on the City Council.

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Wednesday, March 11, 2020

BernCo DA Gets Free Election Ride, Mayor Marty Back In La Politica, GOP Senate Race Trimmed And Alternative Drugs? 

It’s a free 2020 election ride for Democratic Bernalillo County District Attorney Raul Torrez. Neither a fellow Dem or Republican filed to run against the incumbent Tuesday as he seeks a second four year term. 

The crime epidemic has slowed little, if any, since Torrez was elected in 2016. But despite his mixed record there is no interest in the job among the multitude of attorneys in the metro who apparently view it as a thankless position and/or a dead end. The Torrez supporters would say he has no opposition because he’s doing such a bang up job. 

Torrez is often mentioned in Dem circles as a potential candidate for state attorney general in 2022, along with numerous other possibles. The free ride ends at the BernCo border. 

More BernCo office filings are here. All state legislative filings and other offices are here and news coverage here.


Mayor Marty is back in La Politica. Former three term ABQ Mayor Marty Chavez was elected New Mexico Dem Party National Committeeman at Saturday's pre-primary convention.

Chavez, 68, was a successful mayor and before that a state senator. But that success never translated to higher office. He campaigned for US House, Senate and NM Governor. He lost a bid for a fourth mayoral term in 2009.

Chavez was an ardent Hillary Clinton supporter in 2016. An attorney, he serves on the Board of Directors for the Mexican American Legal Defense and Educational Fund (MALDEF) and American Rivers.

The Dems Saturday chose Trish Ruiz, a Hobbs high school counselor and a co-chair of MLG's transition team for the Workforce Solutions Department, as their National Committeewoman.


It will be a one woman, two man race for the GOP nomination for US Senate. After failing to receive the required 20 percent delegate support to win an official spot on the June 2 primary ballot, Mick Rich and Louie Sanchez folded their campaigns. That leaves pre-primary winner Elisa Martinez, founder of the NM Alliance for Life, former KRQE-TV meteorologist Mark Ronchetti and Gavin Clarkson, an associate business professor at NMSU, in the contest. Clarkson also failed to get 20 percent at the convention but is filing additional petition signatures to make the ballot. Neither Rich or Sanchez endorsed any of their rivals as they headed for the exits.


The unsolved ABQ murder rate made blog news recently. Maybe the rate is higher because a considerable member of the killings are related to drug trafficking and difficult to pin down?

The former El Paso U.S. Marshal said that a Drug Enforcement Administration plan to fight a meth uptick in key U.S. cities like El Paso is needed. "I think what it takes is law enforcement being proactive and going after the cartels, going after the drugs that are coming across border - with the emphasis on taking down more of these loads along the border," said former federal marshal Robert Almonte. 

DEA seizures of methamphetamine in the U.S. increased by 127%, from 49,507 pounds to 112,146 pounds between 2017 and 2019, and DEA arrests related to the drug rose nearly 20%, the agency said.


Here's an interesting angle in the drug epidemic from reader and ABQ attorney Jeff Baker:

Joe – perhaps you could invite readers with medical backgrounds to comment if there are medically safe alternatives to the narcotics being distributed by the Mexican cartels. Let’s remove the stigma of “drug addict” from the conversation, and be more effective than “Just Say No.” As long as demand exists, we will lose the “war on drugs.” Are there “safe” alternatives to street drugs? If the answer is yes, the challenge will be to get these safer drugs to folks who otherwise would be buying their next fix from a dealer. Let’s attack this problem from a marketing perspective – the government’s product is safer, better, and cheaper (with one part of the user’s cost being a requirement for counseling). But even if counseling fails, a government run program will not involve gang involved murders.

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Tuesday, March 10, 2020

Strap Yourself In New Mexico, It's Going To Be A Bumpy Ride 

The breathtaking nosedive in the price of oil, accompanied by a plunge in stock prices, stunned the state Monday with hints of panic seeping into conversations, not unlike what was happening in the financial markets.

With the $7.6 billion budget for the fiscal year that starts in July about to be signed by MLG conservatives were already clamoring for budget vetoes in anticipation of a steep decline in state revenue because of the oil price crash. They point out that nearly 40 percent of state revenue comes from energy production.

And they didn't have to wait long to get what they wanted. The Governor took the bait and in reaction to the market chaos vetoed $50 million in capital outlay projects--mostly for roads—and the money was moved to the state's burgeoning reserves.

Was it a panicky move? It was certainly premature, seemed impulsive and an act that cast doubt on the work she did on the just passed budget and spoke so glowingly of. Let's explain. . .

Oil crashed to around $30 a barrel Monday. The break even price for the Permian Basin producers in SE NM is around $40. The budget starting in July anticipates a price of $51 so for now we are deeply under water. But, and it's a big but, for a fiscal crisis to develop oil will have to stay well below that $51 level for a number of months and volumes would also have to drop dramatically from current record-setting levels. Only time will reveal the ultimate reality. Then you can make sound policy—not on a single day of panic selling.

The state budget places in reserve 25 percent of the entire budget or about $1.7 billion. That's not all. A new stabilization fund designed to protect the state from the vagaries of oil prices has $1.3 billion. While this oil collapse is breathtaking, the state has breathing room. As we say, the time may indeed come to go looking for more money to stuff the mattress, but today or tomorrow isn't that time.

The Governor would be better off standing by her budget and avoid cutting needed road projects noting the historic reserves put in that budget because of the possibility of the very events we see unfolding.

It's understood that the Governor trembles at the thought of being portrayed as fiscally irresponsible in the 2022 election but yielding to the fiscal hawks at the first sign of trouble only puts the power of your governorship more firmly in their hands. How about this instead:

I am pleased to sign the state budget today, probably the most timely one ever crafted. It contains historic amounts of reserves to weather even a severe economic storm. We will carefully monitor the financial markets going forward and make any necessary adjustments. For now New Mexicans can be assured that the budget being signed today safeguards our financial standing and provides funding for programs that will improve their quality of life, 

Maybe they need a sign on the Fourth Floor that says: "Don't Feed The Hawks" because once you do they are going to demand more, even if it's based on their belief that they can read the future. (They now want another $200 million in cuts on top of the $50 million).

Vetoing necessary infrastructure to pacify the consultants and the hawks is not crisis governing. If we are headed into recession, the state economy will need stimulus--like that $50 million in construction that was vetoed.

(If you have to veto $50 million how about the $55 million that was appropriated to resolve the fake PERA retirement crisis?)

It's the Governor's call if she wants Senate Finance Committee Chairman John Arthur Smith to continue as her shadow Governor and not formulate a fiscal policy of her own. If she doesn't want Dr. No calling the shots, she may want to add a stockbroker to her staff. The advice to her would be similar to what the broker is telling clients this shaky week:

Don't panic. Don't take unnecessary action just to act. And strap yourself in, because it's going to be a bumpy ride.


Here's information on the upcoming funeral services for Bill Fulginiti, the longtime executive director of the NM Municipal League. 

A visitation will be held on Thursday, March 12th from 4:30 p.m. to 8:00 p.m. at the Santa Fe Elks Lodge, 1615 Old Pecos Trail. A memorial service will be held on Friday, March 13th in the State Capitol Rotunda at 11:00 a.m., followed by a reception at the Eldorado Hotel at 2:00 p.m. A private burial will take place at a later date. 

Pallbearers include Senator Tim Jennings, Tom Horan, Larry Horan, Mike Miller, Tony Trujillo, Harry Georgeades, Joe Shepard, R.L Stockard, A.J. Forte, and Mike Bowen. Honorary Pallbearers include NMML Past Presidents', NMML Board of Directors', and the NMML Membership. . . If you plan on attending the services, please RSVP by Monday, March 9th to info@nmml.org or call the League Office at (505) 982-5573.

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Monday, March 09, 2020

2020 Pre-Primary Conventions: Leger Blows The Doors Off; Plame Reels, Yvette Crushes Claire, Elisa Who? Tops GOP Senate Race, Complete Coverage And Analysis  

Leger Fernandez
Dem pre-primary results here. GOP results here.

Teresa Leger Fernandez blew the doors off Saturday's Democratic Party pre-primary convention as she garnered 42 percent of delegate support in the 7 way race for the northern congressional seat. The overwhelming win cemented her as the undisputed front-runner and delivered a near fatal blow to the candidacy of her chief rival, nationally known Valerie Plame whose tiny 5 percent showing sent her to the canvas.

The landslide left only Sandoval County Treasurer Laura Montoya standing. She earned (by two votes) the required 20 percent delegate support and joined TLF in getting an official spot on the primary ballot.

That Sandoval County played a much larger role than usual at the convention is a testament to Montoya's political savvy but also the population growth of Rio Rancho and the lack of it in other parts of the district. A harbinger of the future?

Plame and the other disappointed also-rans, including Santa Fe County District Attorney Marco Serna, now face the humbling task of submitting more petition signatures to ensure they are on the June 2 ballot.

The blow-out was not forecast but Leger-Fernandez, 60, has been showing signs of organizational strength as she nailed down endorsements from Emily's List and other national groups, including from the AOC PAC and the left-wing Working Families Party. In addition she comes from a political family in San Miguel County and has practiced law for several decades, immersing herself in regional issues.

Leger Fernandez, a Yale law school grad, has moved to unabashedly embrace the dominant Dem left wing. Moderates split their votes among Laura Montoya, Serna and State Rep. Joseph Sanchez. Serna received 13 percent support and Sanchez 12 percent. 

Former congressional aide and progressive John Blair was also left eating dust, managing only 4 percent and the unknown but well-informed Taos progressive Kyle Tisdale got 2 percent.

Plame has the cash to hang around and Montoya may get a boost in fund-raising and try to position herself as the alternative to TLF but this one now seems like TLF's to lose. Her opponents are going to have to go negative and fast.

Plame's campaign dismissed the convention results, saying TLF was anointed by "insiders." But the pre-primary surfaced deep problems Plame has in attracting Hispanic and Native American support, groups that comprise a majority in the diverse district.

Her lack of a record of significant involvement in the district and the charge that she "parachuted" into the race with a sense of entitlement all combined to wreak havoc on her maiden political outing. It will take more than national Internet money to get her back on her feet.

The June 2 Dem primary is the be-all-end all for this congressional seat. Only once in its 38 year history has it elected a Republican.

At the GOP pre-primary Saturday longtime Santa Fe politico Harry Montoya received 39% of the delegate votes and Native American Karen Bedoni earned 31% as both secured official primary ballot spots for the congressional seat.


Yvette Herrell
Yvette Herrell crushed Claire Chase at the Republican pre-primary convention Saturday, taking the pole position for the June 2 southern congressional primary that will decide who will take on Dem Rep. Xochitl Torres Small in one of the nation’s most closely watched congressional races.

Herrell, reeling from her narrow 2018 defeat by Torres Small, found firm footing Saturday and won 66 percent of delegate support to earn the top spot on the primary ballot. Despite a six figure TV buy leading into the convention, Chase was damaged by Herrell, coming in with only 33 percent. Businessman Chris Mathys managed only the support of three delegates and will have to file additional petition signatures to make the ballot.

The 36 year old Chase is expected to again tap into family oil money to stay in the game. But history says a landslide pre-primary defeat could be the beginning of the end. The caveat being the huge oil money still behind Chase.

The political neophyte was attacked before the convention for her anti-Trump Facebook postings of several years ago. Trump appears stronger than ever in the conservative south and overcoming those postings may be a job even too big for Chase's big budget. They certainly were Saturday.

Still, some R's fretted over the Chase setback, saying the newcomer is the party's best hope to take the seat back, pointing to the poor campaign Herrell ran two years ago. They see a repeat if the former state representative is again the choice.

Herrell says she has seen the light and is running a more professional effort than '18 but national Dems immediately pounced in the wake of her victory, with the DCCC saying:

Republicans. . . are setting themselves up to repeat history with a drawn out, damaging race to the right. While today's showing suggests an effort to coalesce around frontrunner Yvette Herrell, general election voters won't forget the serious ethics problems that sunk her campaign last cycle.

The Herrell-Chase race is again ripping the southern R’s apart as the two major factions pick sides. That happened in '18 when Herrell defeated former Hobbs Mayor Monty Newman. Some observers believe that primary warfare contributed to Herrell's loss to Torres Small.

For now, Herrell has been forgiven of her past sins by her party brethren and Chase has been denied their blessing. But the Holy War for the nomination goes on.


Elisa Martinez
As a weather forecaster Mark Ronchetti was used to being atop the TV ratings, but in his first outing in the rough and tumble of La Politica he had to settle for second place. Elisa Martinez came roaring into the pre-primary like one of those storm fronts Ronchetti used to track. She didn't blow him away but did score a notable and unexpected win by garnering 35 percent delegate support to his 29 percent.

Three other senate hopefuls failed to get official primary spots. Mick Rich, Louie Sanchez and Gavin Clarkson could not reach the required minimum of 20 percent delegate support.

Expectations for Martinez were lower than those for celebrity Ronchetti whose January entrance made a big media splash. She is a well-known anti-abortion activist in the GOP but otherwise flies blow the political radar--until now.

The founder of the NM Alliance for Life surprised by pivoting to issues other than abortion,  made a smooth appearance on national TV and then gave a barnstorming speech Saturday. That she is a Native American and Hispanic woman is seen as a  plus for the party as it attempts to expand beyond its white male base. But Ronchetti has good name ID and his second place showing is respectable for a first-timer and make him a formidable foe.

Former GOP Chairman Allen Weh touts Ronchetti as the candidate who can bring the party together as they labor to defeat Dem Rep. Ben Ray Lujan in November but the party Saturday appeared more torn than ever, with the Martinez-McCleskey faction backing Ronchetti and the Herrell-Pearce faction strengthening Martinez.

Key to Martinez's victory appeared to be solid support in the southern congressional district which actually sent more voting delegates to the convention than the more populous ABQ district.

Martinez and Ronchetti will now escalate the money race, hoping to outdo each other with media buys.

Things could get rough. An anonymous email that the Ronchetti forces called a "smear" circulated among the delegates prior to the vote pointing out that Ronchetti has never voted in a GOP primary or donated to a Republican candidate. Meanwhile, Martinez, who has worked to avoid being tagged as a one issue candidate (pro-life), was nevertheless labeled just that by her foes.

The Martinez-Ronchetti race should be entertaining for political junkies but it may not have a second act. Lujan is heavily favored to win blue New Mexico and the national R's appear to have no plans to target the race.


It appears that Dem Rep. Deb Haaland will be facing Republican Michelle Garcia Holmes in the June primary. Garcia Holmes, a retired APD detective who has made runs for lt. governor and ABQ mayor, was the convention favorite, winning 66 percent of the delegates. Recent law school graduate Jared Vander Dussen received 25% to join her on the primary ballot. Brett Kokinadis failed to reach 20 percent.


Newly appointed Court of Appeals Judge Shammara Henderson, the first African-American on the court, ended up unopposed for the Dem primary nomination. Republicans made attorney Gertrude Lee their primary choice. . . The odds are growing that all three NM congressional seats will be occupied by women. That's a certainty in two of three districts and if the northern district elects a woman this year that would make it unanimous. . .

Only one political candidate who failed to reach 20 percent delegate support at a state pre-primary convention has gone on to win the June primary. Gary King is the exception. He did not reach 20 percent at the 2014 pre-primary but went on to win the June Dem Guv primary.

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