Thursday, May 14, 2020

To Mask Or Unmask? MLG Order To Don Masks In Public Opens City-Rural Divide, Plus: Conservative Coalition Senators: Which Survive? 

(Moore, Journal)
So who will be the first sheriff to appear in public without a mask and defy MLG's order that everyone going into the public square wear one? Who will be the first GOP lawmaker to ignroe the order? And where and when will we see the first "unmasked" rally in the state?

All those events could be coming to a TV screen near you as MLG loosens restrictions on businesses effective May 16 but also ventures into politically volatile territory with the requirement that all citizens wear a mask when in public.

To mask or not has already caused scuffles and dissent around the nation. It is a hot button issue and especially so in the wide open spaces of New Mexico where folks are mindful of their personal freedoms, perhaps more than their brethren in the crowded cities. And, of course, the mask has become a political symbol. President Trump's refusal to be shown wearing one says it all.

As you would expect, the mask mandate brought emotional and frank reactions on social media. One critic put up a meme that said:

Making a mask mandatory after two months of a pandemic is like putting a condom on after the pregnancy. 

A defender of the MLG mask move countered:

I wear a mask in public places to protect you. I appreciate the same courtesy. I am very happy with our governor's mandate, she is doing a fantastic job for our state.

30 years from now youngsters will be asking their grandparents, "Did you or didn't you?" It won't have anything to do with their private lives--but about the public faces they sported during this most strange time in their lives.


On the political front, State Senator Mary Kay Papen's race has gotten a bit more interesting. Tracy Perry, one of two women challenging Papen in the June primary, has dropped out citing medical reasons. That means it's now a one-on-one way race to take Papen out.

Papen, the Senate President Pro Tem who influences what appointments senators get to committees, is being targeted by progressives, along with other conservative Dems. But there's a catch in this news. The candidate dropping out did so too late to have her name removed from the ballot. Also, that PAC financed by Chevron is not forgetting the 88 year old Papen and is flooding her district with pro-Papen literature.

So of the five conservative/moderate Dems who are chief targets of the Dem progressive wing which are truly vulnerable?

It appears appointed Senator Gabe Ramos of  Silver City is near the top of the list and is joined there by Sen. Clemente Sanchez of Grants. Deming Sen. John Arthur Smith and Gallup's George Munoz and the aforementioned Papen seem more secure.

Ramos, a Silver City insurance agent, was appointed to the SW NM seat to replace Howie Morales when he became lieutenant governor. School psychologist Siah Hemphill is working the district and it would not be remarkable if it were returned to someone like her with a more liberal bent.

MLG has endorsed Hemphill, the only one of the progressive challengers running against the conservative Dems that has won her official backing. Remember, MLG was outmaneuvered on the Ramos appointment. The county commissions for the district all sent his name up to her without any alternatives and refused to send her other names when she asked. She was stuck and had to name him. The lesson being that the then new governor had been caught flat-footed. 

Then there are those Chevron backed ads that try to imply that MLG is endorsing Ramos as well as other conservative coalition Democrats. Those ads did not sit well with her. Not that she is working to bust the Senate conservative coalition. She is not. Her decision not to endorse any other progressive challengers is evidence of that as well as a political calculation that she does not believe those senators can be defeated.

Sanchez is being challenged by longtime Dem activist Pam Cordova. Sanchez is known for running close races and this could be another. However, insider polling in the early going gave him an edge.


The NM GOP painted a dystopian picture of the state after MLG announced Wednesday she was not completely opening businesses up as they would like. Instead many will now operate at 25 percent capacity. Said the GOP:

Industries are dying, businesses are crumbling and hope is withering.

MLG will support economic aid for restaurants and the like at the June special legislative session. That would be coupled with federal assistance already here. But the economic damage is major and much of it long-lasting. MLG's high approval rating for her handling of the coronavirus crisis will be tested in the fall and winter when the carnage is more visible and the R's try to make it an election issue.

We don't know if the editorial endorsements of the ink-stained wretches matter much in this digital era but they are usually well reasoned. Some endorsements so far: The Taos News and Santa Fe Reporter are endorsing front-runner Teresa Leger Fernandez for the Dem nomination for the northern congressional seat. The ABQ Journal has given the green light to Mark Ronchetti, the front-runner for the GOP US Senate nomination.

Ronchetti has come with his second TV ad, one supporting Trump's border wall. We blogged that candidate Gavin Clarkson was not on TV yet, but a supporter said he has an ad on Fox News. The ad is not posted on the Internet.


debate of interest is on the air today. That would be the three way race for the southern GOP congressional nomination featuring Claire Chase, Yvette Herrell and Chris Mathys:

The forum airs on KRWG-TV at 7 p.m. Thursday; 5 p.m. Saturday; and 11 a.m. Sunday. It will also air on KRWG-FM at 1 p.m. Friday. The video will be posted at www.krwg.org. The candidates respond to questions on COVID-19, gun safety legislation, healthcare and more.

When we come back next week we will be only two weeks away from Primary Election Day. We've covered quiet campaigns before but given the news backdrop this one could be remembered as The Hidden Campaign. We'll uncover more of it in the days ahead.

Thanks for stopping by.

Reporting from an undisclosed quarantine location, I'm Joe Monahan.  And this. . .

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Wednesday, May 13, 2020

Ranking The Races; Alligators Analyze Major Primary Contests; Plus: Farmington In The Crosshairs--Again  

It's a primary season like no other with the candidates fighting for oxygen as the coronavirus crisis continues to dominate. But the political community is hot on the campaign trail and our trusty Alligators are chiming in on where the major races stand today:

Northern Congressional District---This race for the Democratic nomination is leaning toward Teresa Leger Fernandez, say the Gators watching closely. The other major contenders are Valerie Plame, Marco Serna and John Blair. TLF won a sweeping March win at the Dem preprimary convention, has been endorsed by major national Dem interest groups, has raised adequate money,  run decent TV and has made no major mistakes. In sum, nothing much has changed since she took the pole position with that March win. Will Plame's flamboyant TV ads kicks in and she closes? The primary victor is nearly guaranteed to take the heavy Dem seat in November and succeed Rep. Ben Ray Lujan.

Southern Congressional District--The bitter race between Claire Chase and Yvette Herrell for the GOP nomination for the southern seat has drawn interest but the fundamentals haven't changed, says a consensus of Alligator opinion. They have Herrell taking the prize as she did at the GOP March preprimary. Chase has a lot of money and is spending but Herrell isn't in the poorhouse. There have been no breakthrough moments yet to change the incline of this contest toward Herrell. Can Chase throw  a needed curve ball? The winner faces Dem Rep. Xochitl Torres Small who will be seeking her second term.

US SENATE--Rep. Ben Ray Lujan is unchallenged for the Democratic nomination. The R's appear to be leaning toward former TV weatherman Mark Ronchetti as their nominee. He is the only one of the three  hopefuls up with a TV buy, has raised the most money and had a decent second place showing at the GOP preprimary. There is a caveat. Former Trump administration official Gavin Clarkson appears to be on the move as Elisa Martinez, the preprimary winner fades. Clarkson might make some waves as he continues to paint Ronchetti as an anti-Trumper but voters have to see and hear more of Clarkson.


Rural New Mexico is getting slammed by the corona shutdown and none harder than already suffering Farmington in the Four Corners where the 2008 natural gas price crash stayed and never left. The city of 40,000 was already in a death spiral then came the shutdown. The NYT picks up the story. With portions of the county overlapping the virus-stricken Navajo Nation there isn't much hope that the embattled city will get any breaks soon.


Reader Carl Baca of Las Cruces writes:

The lockdown in Gallup ended Sunday at noon. Shouldn’t the lockdown have lasted 2 weeks? If I come in from out of state or think I have been exposed it is recommended I self quarantine for two weeks. How come the Governor didn’t extend it for two weeks? Is this really the safe thing to do? I read since the mayor didn’t request it that it was not extended. Given the rate of infections I think it should have been locked down for longer. Is this really keeping up the governments side of the social contact the Governor keeps talking about?

Reader Jim Southard writes:

I don’t think it’s been widely noticed but the mail delivery system is almost broken. It took 2 weeks to get a registered letter from Minnesota to Denver. I am waiting on another from Denver than is over 2 weeks at this point. Anyone else still use snail mail?

Former NM first lady Clara Apdoaca, who was married to Dem Governor Jerry Apodaca, writes to says she believes New Mexico Dems "need moderates" in the state Senate:

It is with utmost trust that I endorse Senator Clemente Sanchez for re-election to the Senate representing District 30. As Chair of the Corporations and Transportation Committee and member of the Legislative Finance Committee Senator Sanchez has proven his commitment to fiscal soundness while still supporting workers and our educational and health systems.

Sanchez of Grants is being challenged in the June Dem primary by longtime Dem activist Pam Cordova of Valencia County.


The Dem candidates for the northern congressional seat will appear on KOAT-TV at 4 p.m. Sunday, May 17. The station says the forum will be conducted “virtually." The candidates are John Blair of Santa Fe, Teresa Leger Fernandez of Santa Fe, Sandoval County Treasurer Laura Montoya of Rio Rancho, Valerie Plame of Santa Fe, state Rep. Joseph Sanchez of Alcalde, 1st Judicial District Attorney Marco Serna of Santa Fe and Kyle Tisdel of Taos.

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Tuesday, May 12, 2020

Native Lawmaker Talks Corona Crisis; Causes And Way Forward, Plus: Debating A Conny Amendment To Fill Budget Hole 

Rep. Lente
A culture of low expectations, drastic health disparities and an underfunded and "fractured" Indian Health Service combined to bring the COVID-19 calamity to the Navajo Nation, declares Democratic State Rep. Derrick Lente, a two term legislator and Sandia Pueblo member.

Lente represents portions of San Juan, Rio Arriba and Sandoval counties. San Juan and McKinley are at the epicenter of the state corona crisis. We asked him what we can learn from the tragedy:

This pandemic hit us like a bag of nails. It revealed for all to see the dire straits the Navajo Nation is operating under. We as tribes have to refocus. The pandemic has annihilated our people to a point where we had to take any help that was out there and we are glad to have it, but those elected to office--including me--have to have a higher standard going forward. The need to reprioritize is obvious. 

Lente says expectations in Indian Country are so low that taking hours to get a prescription filled far from home or being able to see a doctor only once a week are accepted:

I would be shocked and dismayed if we were to see the status quo continue after this. We have accepted this lifestyle, saying that this is just the way is, that this is the way government operates. We have to get out from under that shadow. Our people need to tell their leadership what they felt were the worst aspects of this tragedy. That's where the accountability and change will begin. If not, then the people impacted the most--those who have or will lose their lives and those who have gotten sick--will have done so in vain.

Bureacratic entanglements have not only plagued the federal government, they have also hampered the Navajo Nation government. A 2016 Arizona Republic series laid out in exacting detail how over $1.66 billion in federal housing funds were so mishandled that it barely made a mark on the Reservation housing shortage.

More running water, more electricity, more broadband, more housing, more medical care and more halthcare prevention are among the litany of tangible and pressing needs facing Navajos. But it's a more intangible need that has eluded the Nation and is also key to its recovery and improvement--strong leadership capable of reversing decades of neglect.


The up and coming Lente was speaking with the NYT before he conducted our interview. He is known in Santa Fe as bright and articulate, but he is not immune to opposition. In fact, James Madalena of Jemez Pueblo, 71, the man who held Lente's House seat from 1985 to 2017, is running against Lente in the June primary.

Madalena's son was defeated by Lente in '16 when he tried to succeed his father. Now the father's comeback is threatened by the young and aggressive Lente.


Senate Finance Committee Chairman John Arthur Smith and his allies have been pushing the notion that in order to tap the state's $17 billion Land Grant Permanent Fund (LGPF) via a constitutional amendment an act of Congress must be approved. Not so. In 2003 then Gov. Richardson proposed a constitutional amendment that was approved by the Legislature and adopted by voters for school reform and to raise teacher salaries. There was no act of Congress required and the teachers received their pay hikes.

The LGPF was set up at statehood to fund a variety of beneficiaries, all of them related to education. If the Legislature at the June special session were to approve a constitutional amendment that benefitted the public schools--one of the LGPF beneficiaries--there would be no need for congressional approval.

MLG has talked about an amendment to fill the developing huge budget gap. That amendment would have to be phrased to specifically benefit a beneficiary. That is easily done and if approved the money could flow into the public schools budget. Money previously appropriated for the schools could then be used to help resolve the overall budget shortage.

As for whether a constitutional amendment can only be introduced at a "regular" session of the Legislature, does that include an amendment Governor Lujan Grisham puts on her "call" when ordering a special session? That's a question the attorney general could answer and the courts could quickly settle, if called upon.


The League of Women Voters of Central NM is out with their June primary guide...House and Senate Dem candidates and others come with a site to provide info on the coronavirus crisis. http://coronavirusnm.org/

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Monday, May 11, 2020

Debating Dr. No; Senator Smith Challenger Fails To Make A Dent In Hour Long Showdown, Plus: More Debate Action In June 2 Primary  

Sen. Smith
State Senator John Arthur Smith, chairman of the powerful Senate Finance Committee, easily dispatched his Democratic primary opponent in an hour long radio debate, schooling her and the audience on the minutiae of the state budget and his prominent role in setting its course during a 32 year tenure that began in 1989.

The full debate on KTAL 1050 FM  in Las Cruces is here.

Smith, who has earned the moniker "Dr. No" for his budget cutting-ways, was only occasionally challenged by educator Neomi Martinez-Parra who seemed content to give short and incomplete answers. She let Smith walk away from the debate with an even clearer path to a primary win and a November victory as well. That's in spite of efforts of national and local progressives to oust Smith whose austerity politics has made him a target.

Smith, 78, was not willing to give more than an inch and maybe not even that. He defended the huge personal income tax cuts for high earners under Gov. Richardson and the corporate tax cut under Gov. Martinez. He said the the risk taken was to foster "economic development." Left on the table by his challenger was the fact that the cuts did not create jobs as promised and caused large budget shortfalls that continue to haunt the state.

Challenger Neomi Martinez-Parra was no match for Smith, whose budget knowledge isn't as familiar as the back of his hand but after thousands of hours in committee hearings, he knows the ins and outs. Martinez-Parra, a former vice-chair of the NM Dem Party, was caught flatfooted and reduced to repeatedly asserting that she is for "working families." But she did not put any meat on that bone nor did she even once rattle Smith.

Not that she didn't have a few good moments, especially when talking about her personal struggles and scoring Smith for voting against an increase in the working families tax credit. But that was just a nick as Smith comfortably conducted a budget tutorial for most of the telephone debate.

The Deming lawmaker, a real estate appraiser, continued to argue against using the over $17 billion Land Grant Permanent Fund (LGPF) to plug the state budget hole or for very early childhood education. Martinez-Parra said she was in favor of using the fund but lacked specificity and failed to hold Smith accountable for killing the early childhood amendment in his committee as he boasted of his sponsorship of early kindergarten.

The debate made this news: Smith singled out the film industry and the generous rebates the state approved during MLG's first year in office. He said those rebates, which are costing the state over $60 million a year, but are set to soar into the hundreds of millions, are ripe for the plucking.

He said for every dollar the state spends on film rebates it gets back only forty-six cents in economic activity. "Those aren't my figures, they are from the Federal Reserve," he argued.

That was the only tax break Smith mentioned but again said that "everything is on the table" when it comes to trimming the  $7.6 billion state budget during a special session MLG says she will call for mid-June.

The Smith-Martinez-Parra contest in District 35 in the southwest is the most important of a number of Senate primaries the progressives are involved in as they target conservative D's. Others include Sens. Clemente Sanchez and Gabe Ramos. Those senators along with several others caucus with Senate Republicans to form a formidable conservative coalition that has ruled the chamber for a decade and thwarted liberal legislation approved in the House. But the progressives are drawing a bad hand this cycle.

First, Martinez-Parra looked great on paper but fizzled on the debate stage, the coronavirus has halted  person-to person campaigning and there's $350,000 in Chevron oil PAC money supporting three targeted senators--Smith, Sanchez and Ramos.

At the end of the first quarter Martinez-Parra reported $12,000 in cash on hand. Smith reported $98,000. She is getting some PAC help as he has but that is not the total anti-Smith forces were expecting.

If the Governor thought that she might have an easier path in the senate following the June primary, she can probably put it to rest.


The two Dem candidates for the northern Public Regulation Commission (PRC) seat being vacated by Dem Valerie Espinoza squared off at an Internet debate sponsored by the Los Alamos branch of the League of Women voters. (Full debate here.)

Former Espanola Mayor and Santa fe City Councilor Joe Maestas and attorney Brian Harris disagreed on the  proposed constitutional amendment voters will decide in November that would eliminate the elected five member commission and have the Governor appoint three members to a revamped PRC.

Harris, who has worked on utility issues for the PRC and attorney general's office, said it's time for an appointed commission, saying it would professionalize the panel.

Maestas said it has been proven that states with elected commissions have lower utility rates and he rejects the amendment.

The League also sponsored a debate between Dem state Senator Richard Martinez and his primary challenger Leo Jaramillo. That debate is included in the link above.

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