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Thursday, June 18, 2020

It's The Budget Plus More For Special Session; We Game The Action, Plus: La Politica's Dorothy Runnels Passes  

Lawmakers gathering today for a special session of the Legislature seem to be on the same page when it comes to plugging a shortfall of as much as $2 billion for the budget year that starts July 1 so they will have time to consider other proposals sent to them by the Governor. Here are the highlights from her call and the blog take:

— Requiring police to wear cameras, banning chokeholds and making officers’ disciplinary history a matter of public record.

Blog take: The camera requirement is particularly important to Bernalillo County where Sheriff Manny Gonzales has refused to allow them. If the Legislature forces him to do so, it will actually help him by taking a thorny issue off the table for his planned run for ABQ Mayor in 2021. Sidebar: Smaller NM police departments have pleaded poverty when it comes to supporting the cameras, but federal money is available.

— Authorizing county clerks to mail ballots to registered voters without requiring the voter to fill out an application first during a public health emergency. Ballots would go only to voters with a current address.

Blot take: This might be biting off too much for a special session. R's are strongly opposed to mailing out absentee ballots without voter requests, although they did support the mailing of absentee ballot applications by county clerks in the primary election. That worked out pretty well. The Legislature should make technical changes so the clerks can better process the anticipated heavy load of absentees in this year's general election, but an already controversial presidential election is not the time to allow individual clerks to decide whether to mail every voter in their county an absentee. The special can make needed technical changes to speed the counting of the absentees and leave the rest to a regular session.

— Waiving penalties and interest for small businesses and individuals who are unable to pay their property and gross receipts taxes on time.

Blog take: That's not too complicated in the harrowing economic times brought about by the pandemic.

--Directing the state investment officer to use some of the Severance Tax Permanent Fund for loans to help small businesses and municipalities damaged by the pandemic.

Blog take: But keep the interest rates very low--not like a recent State Investment Council effort--and fully fund the loans--on the order of $500 million or more. This proposal is what deficit-plagued Santa Fe and other cities badly need to avoid widespread layoffs and/or furloughs which would only add to the economic misery and worsen the downturn.

The special session is expected to wrap up over the weekend.

DOROTHY RUNNELS

Dorothy Runnels, who died Monday morning at her Humble City, NM home (between Hobbs and Lovington), was at the center of one of most fascinating dramas in state political history. It began August 5, 1980 when her husband, southern Democratic Congressman Harold Runnels, was claimed by cancer at 56. The race was on for the seat in the upcoming Nov. election and Wikpedia picks up the story from there:

The attorney general, a Democrat, announced that the Democrats could replace Runnels on the ballot but that it was too late for the Republicans to do so. Republicans were outraged and rallied behind a write-in effort by Skeen, while the Democrats selected Governor Bruce King's nephew, David King, over Runnels' widow, Dorothy Runnels. To complicate matters for the Democrats, Dorothy Runnels was so angry at how the Democrats treated her in the primary that she elected to run her own write-in campaign. Furthermore, David King had only moved his voter registration into the district some ten days after Runnels died. Skeen was elected with 61,564 votes (38 percent) to King's 55,085 (34 percent), and Mrs. Runnels' 45,343 (28 percent). He was helped by the split among the Democrats, as well as Ronald Reagan carrying the district. Skeen was only the third person in U.S. history to be elected to Congress as a write-in candidate.

I was staffing Congressman Manuel Lujan, Jr. in Washington back then and ended up sharing space with Skeen in Lujan's office in the Longworth Building while his office was being prepared. He was constantly peppered with media calls about how he had pulled off the nearly unthinkable.

Dorothy Runnels continued on, running the family's successful oil business and encouraging her son Michael, who like his father took the political path and became lieutenant governor under Gov. Toney Anaya. Mike died at age 69 in 2015. Her other children are Matt, 64, Phillip, 33 and Eydie.

Dorothy Runnels gave it her all, but it would not be until 38 years later, in 2018, that a woman would finally represent the southern district when Xochitl Torres Small took the seat.

Dorothy Runnels was 97. She surely earned her chapter in the never ending book of La Politica.

HEAT ON THE HEAT

Lots of fallout over the police response to the Monday melee at the Oñate statue at the entrance to ABQ's Old Town where shots were fired and a main was critically injured. The event received worldwide attention, including in the NYT where one of the authors of their reports--Las Vegas, NM native Simon Romero--sounded a common complaint:

I've covered violent street protests in Caracas & Rio. Never felt as threatened as last night in Albuquerque. At one point an armed militia member taunted me for working at the NYT. No police were in sight. Why did authorities cede control of the scene to extremist gunmen?

Oh, my. What a week. Grab your facemasks, kids. We're Flyin' Down To Rio.

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Wednesday, June 17, 2020

A Tale Of Two Mayors: ABQ's Keller Wrestles With Another Round Of Street Violence While Santa Fe's Webber Grapples With Enormous Budget Shortfall, Also: Why You Can't Email Your Absentee Ballot  

Mayor Keller
It's been a tough stretch for ABQ Mayor Tim Keller who is now getting it from both sides.

His fellow progressives--Dem City Councilors Pat Davis and Ike Benton--complain of the police response to the downtown riots and now to Monday's protest and shooting incident at the Oñate statue near Old Town. (Statements here).

Meanwhile, Republican Councilors Trudy Jones and Brook Bassan announce themselves skeptical of the Mayor's Community Safety Department aimed at relieving police and having them concentrate more on violent crime.

At a news conference (complete video here) Keller took a measured response to the latest mayhem showing little emotion and sticking to the facts of the Oñate statue violence and not sending a broad message of concern to the city as a whole. He defended the police, saying they need a crime to occur before they intervene but Benton saw it differently:

It is the responsibility of the police and senior leadership to understand and anticipate the dynamics and potential conflicts, and take appropriate precautionary measures. In events last night and a few weekends ago, the City failed to plan for or respond quickly enough as the dynamics evolved. There is now an unfortunate perception that the City has been willing to stand aside as destruction occurs. That perception must be changed. 

Critics of Benton and Davis were quick to point out that while serving with Republican Mayor RJ Berry and when APD was descending into dysfunction, costing the city millions in lawsuits and the many lives of wrongful shooting victims, they were more or less bumps on the log.

How police conducted their interviews and investigation of the Monday Oñate protest is also being questioned. And all of it raises questions about just what kind of APD do we have after six years of federally mandated and expensive reforms? Does anyone really know?

Keller is seeking re-election next year and his potential foes are probably stockpiling video of the riot-torn downtown and the wild protests near Old Town. Soon the city will know more about the huge budget deficit it faces because of the Covid-19 shutdown, That will be another shoe dropping, but that's now a familiar sound in our town in these most troubled of times.

CHEESE AND CRACKERS

Mayor Webber
The state has huge cash reserves to deal with the economic crash, but what about a place like tourist-reliant Santa Fe where the estimated shortfall for the budget year that starts July 1 is a startling $100 million out of a budget of about $400 million?  Only a massive tax increase or massive layoffs will make up that kind of money. Santa Fe Mayor Alan Webber, who has probably been plodding around his kitchen at 3 a.m eating cheese and crackers and fretting over what to do, comes with this:

The. . . proposal, which Webber called the “most important one and the one that promises a great deal of help,” is the creation of municipal emergency loan program with money from the state’s Severance Tax Permanent Fund. “Cities could avail themselves of a long-term, low-interest loan to cover our revenue shortfall,” he said.

Webber would like the Governor to have that measure considered at the special legislative session that begins Thursday. It's not a handout so Webber might be able to get buy-in from the budget hawks, especially if the loan program includes other small cash-strapped towns and cities

If there is no relief from somewhere (the state, the Feds) then there's probably more insomnia in store for Webber and more economic pain across the board for the denizens of the City Different. (No, we don't think a GoFundMe drive would do the trick.)

Webber is up for re-election in November 2021 and told me recently he will run again. Insiders report that Santa Fe City Councilor JoAnne Vigil Coppler is looking at opposing him.

NO EMAIL, PLEASE

A recent blog suggestion that the state look into having absentee voters send their ballots in via email brought a considered reply from C. M. Sperberg-McQueen of Black Mesa Technologies:

No one knows how to make such votes secure against tampering. The most reputable security specialists seem to agree: the system has not been designed that could make email voting (or internet voting in any form) secure, confidential, and tamper proof. There are those who say otherwise; they generally have a product to sell, and the product has so far always turned out to be snake oil. 

The internet in general, and email in particular, were designed to enable cooperation among people who wanted to collaborate to get things done. It is very hard to adapt systems designed in that way to withstand attacks by adversaries who do not want to cooperate. Most security experts say it’s not just hard, but basically impossible: their advice on building secure systems is, if you did not design it for security from the ground up, then start over and do so. Please don’t propagate the idea that internet voting would be a good idea, or would be feasible if only a few nerds would put their minds to it. A lot of very smart people have put their minds to it, and what they have told the rest of us is: there are no proposals for internet voting that stand up to even light scrutiny. 

Thanks, C.M. We just bought a bunch of stamps and are ready to snail mail one and all.

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Tuesday, June 16, 2020

Will Trump's NM Tease Prove True? Options Weighed, Plus: Debating APD And Reform And More Violence On ABQ Streets 

Will they or won't they? That's the question Democrats are asking about the tease from President Trump's campaign last September that they will contest the state's five electoral votes and which would mean pumping in millions of dollars of TV advertising into the Land of Enchantment.

The question is important not so much for its impact on the presidential race. Few political pros give Trump anything more than a very longshot chance at carrying this blue state. But Dems are concerned that a heavy Trump TV schedule could influence voting in the key southern congressional race featuring Dem Rep. Xochitl Torres Small and GOP nominee Yvette Herrell.

The race is ranked "lean Dem" by national political handicappers but if Trump were to landslide that district against Joe Biden the impact would reverberate in the congressional battle. In 2016 Trump carried the district by 10 points. In 2018 Torres Small defeated Herrell there by boosting turnout in liberal areas such as Dona Ana County. She will have to do that again, but also survive any unexpected Trump surge elsewhere in the district that could deliver a tight race to Herrell.

The good news for the Dems is that so far the Trump campaign has teased but not spent any TV money here:

The Trump campaign has spent nearly $20 million on television ads since mid-March when the pandemic began to shut down the United States, according to tracking by Kantar/Campaign Media Analysis Group. That spending includes more than $4.6 million on television in Florida, nearly $2.5 million in Pennsylvania, nearly $2 million in North Carolina, and more than $1 million apiece in both Michigan and Wisconsin. The president's ads are also getting airtime in states like Arizona, Ohio and Iowa.

Another point Dems are making: If Trump and/or his PAC allies come into the state in a big way they might get involved in competitive state senate races. The NM senate is on the verge of taking a major swing to the left as a result of progressive Dem primary wins and several Republican senators are at risk, including ABQ area Senators Sander Rue and Candace Gould.

Even if Trump is seen as unable to win here, there could still be reasons to persuade the Red team to play here. A defeat of Torres Small or interrupting the liberal direction of the state Senate might be seen as potential accomplishments that deserve some cash behind them. Stay tuned.

DEFENDING APOA

Sean Willoughby
We gave ample space  Monday to reader and former ABQ police oversight task force member Alan Wagman and his plea to city leaders that the contract for the ABQ police union--APOA--not be reined as a means of using leverage on the department to be more responsive to federal reform efforts. Today rebuttal from APOA President Sean Willoughby:

The Albuquerque Police Officers Association has been and will continue to be a good partner in the reform of this police department. Anyone who says otherwise is just using uninformed, cliched talking points. For six years, we have been putting in the hard work that our community and our profession has demanded. I call on your readers who are passionate about police reform to first spend time reading our Court Approved Settlement Agreement (CASA), reviewing the federal court hearing minutes and reading the Federal Monitor’s Reports. That way they can see for themselves how far we’ve come from where we were and the current track we’re headed on before requesting a different reform process.

Claims that our contract is impeding reform are also off-base. We have worked with the City to include language from the CASA to actually support reform efforts. Yes, our contract outlines the timeline for disciplining officers. However, it’s not in an attempt to circumvent discipline, but rather to provide officers due process. It also assures the public that officers who are guilty of wrongdoing are held accountable in a timely manner.

We believe our contract is fair and one of the most dedicated to reform in the entire country. It should be noted that our contract is evergreen upon expiration, and the City has already agreed to continue our current contract till the end of the year because of the economic effects of Covid-19 on the budgetary process. Therefore, our current contract will remain in place until a new contract is agreed upon.

As for Council President Davis, my frustration is over what appears to be him pandering to the national Defund Police movement when he is so intimately aware of our reform process, as well as our city’s officer shortage and staggering crime numbers. He’s right, the city, and state for that matter, should be investing more in behavioral health, but to do so on the back of a police department that is already underfunded defies logic.”

Retired APD Sergeant and public watchdog Dan Klein came with this:

Wagman blames the APOA for the due process time limit on investigations. His angst is better directed toward the mayor and the police chief who agreed to the time limits and then failed to staff the disciplinary investigative units with enough employees to get the job done. Wagman blaming the APOA is akin to blaming a defense attorney for representing a client to well when the district attorney misses deadlines. What world is Wagman living in?

OLD TOWN CHAOS

Meanwhile Mayor Keller tried to make a splash by announcing a new Community Safety Department Monday that he says will allow APD to focus more on violent crime. So what happens hours later? An unruly protest erupts near Old Town over the removal of the Juan de Oñate statue, "La Jornada", outside the Albuquerque Museum. It turned violent when a man was shot. A self-described militia supporting the presence of the statue clashed with those trying to pull it down. That came after rioters days ago destroyed many downtown businesses. Keller said as a result of last night's violence the statue will be taken down for now. Uh, about that Community Safety Department. . .

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Monday, June 15, 2020

Criminal Justice Beat: Delay APD Union Contract To Make Way for Reform? Plus: Talk Of Police Reform For Upcoming Special Session 

Mayor Keller & Chief Geier
We're on the criminal justice beat today and away we go. . .

The arduous process of getting the police department ABQ wants is again front and center, a result of the George Floyd case. Alan Wagman, a former member of the city's police oversight task force, believes the city should take the rare step of delaying approval of the contract with the police union. The current one expires June 30. His analysis:

People who want change should be demanding that Mayor Keller not renew the city’s contract with the Albuquerque Police Officers Association (APOA) until after the public has been engaged in a meaningful examination of what kind of police department we want.

If you want only that APD make the changes the city agreed to and the federal court ordered five years ago, you will lose your opportunity to get what you want if the mayor enters a new contract with APOA. The city will continue to pay millions of dollars to the federal monitor because its obligations will remain unfulfilled. 

If you want to see APD abolished, you will lose your opportunity if the mayor enters a new contract. If you want something in-between, something that involves real change in who responds to medical emergencies (police or EMTs?), who responds to the mentally ill (police or counselors?) or who deals with the homeless (police or social workers?), you will lose your opportunity if the mayor enters a new contract. If you want yet something else, you will lose your opportunity if the mayor enters a new contract.

Six years ago, I served on the city’s Police Oversight Task Force charged with making recommendations for a new oversight ordinance. We discovered that the city’s contract with APOA set a time limit beyond which discipline could not be imposed, and the civilian oversight statute required a process which pushed civilian oversight beyond the contract’s time limits. The result was no discipline. The Task Force raised the issue and the Berry administration responded by renewing the APOA contract, preventing oversight and avoiding discipline.

Under Mayor Keller’s APOA contract, the federal court monitor has been reporting for years that the road block to progress remains unchanged. Supervisors stall the disciplinary process until it gets beyond the deadlines set in the contract. Result? Cops aren’t disciplined; APD does not change and taxpayers continue shelling out money to the federal court monitor. 

Without an APOA contract, the city can make whatever change the public desires and force APD  compliance with the federal lawsuit and save millions of dollars.  Without an APOA contract, the city can reallocate money to better and more humanely serve the city. 

Serve us, the people, Mayor Keller. Do not enter into a contract with APOA.

Well argued, but what if APOA strikes because of no contract? There was a police strike back in the mid 70's

APOA President Sean Willoughby is raising objections to proposed police reforms from ABQ City Council President Pat Davis.

Willoughby called the proposal of possible cuts to funding “ignorant, idiotic and ludicrous,” saying the department is already understaffed. He said, if Davis wants better community policing, they should invest in more officers not take money away and undermine reform efforts.

"Ignorant and idiotic" to the president of the City Council? Well, that shows how intoxicated APD has become with its power over civilians who in the past have been apathetic or intimidated into not exercising their oversight responsibilities. 

SPECIAL REFORMS?

Police reform could be elbowed on to the Governor's call for this week's special legislative session. Attorney and Dem state Rep. Moe Maestas is doing the elbowing:

Maestas is asking the Governor’s Office to support legislation that would strike language automatically inserted into police contracts dealing with investigations into police misconduct. State law requires certain parameters when it comes to probing into police misconduct cases. Maestas argues the law shields police from accountability as a matter of routine.

House Speaker Egolf also says police reform should be on the Governor's call:

One bill would prohibit New Mexico officials from claiming “qualified immunity” — a legal doctrine that can shield them from being held personally liable for actions that violate a person’s constitutional rights. “This is a glaring hole. It is a big, big problem. 

Others argue such ideas deserve a full airing and should be taken up at the 60 day session in January.

One measure that might not cause headaches during the special is mandating police to wear body cameras. That proposal has been throughly debated and found effective. APD is among the departments that have them. The BernCo Sheriff's Department does not.

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