Thursday, July 16, 2020

Colón-Balderas Tag Team Comes For Keller As APD Overtime Scandal Escalates; "City Has Failed To Hold APD Accountable," Plus: The Duping of the Fourth Floor And A Spaceport Follow-up 

Couping Keller?  Colón & Balderas
Never mind BernCo Sheriff Manny Gonzales unveiling an off the grid plan to have deputies use smartphones instead of body cameras to record crime scene video, the most telling moment of his news conference Wednesday was his reference to the latest bout of rampant violence in the city of ABQ:

Our hearts go out to the victims, the five people that were murdered the past week in the city of ABQ. I want to make sure the families understand we are thinking about them and are concerned about them.

That veiled broadside at the administration of ABQ Mayor Tim Keller and APD Chief Mike Geier is the sound of Gonzales ramping up his planned campaign for mayor next year.

It came as the APD overtime scandal escalated with State Auditor Brian Colón, who ran for Mayor against Keller in 2017, now asking Attorney General Hector Balderas to assign special agents to work with auditors in examining APD overtime abuses. If Keller didn't get the message, Colón unloaded this:

The allegations of potential criminal activity concerning APD overtime abuse are severe. I have engaged Attorney General Balderas to bolster our investigation. Together, we intend to determine what is really happening at APD. We will collaborate, bringing our respective strengths and skills to this investigation, to ensure no stone is left unturned.

"Criminal activity?" The 11th Floor at City Hall shook. Shortly before that announcement Keller was trying to get ahead of the rolling boulder, with APD saying it has its own internal investigation into the overtime.

But the Mayor had his chance when one cop doing PR earned over $192,000 in a year and his firing was demanded by civil overseers. That was well over a year ago. Keller and Geier ignored that call and now longtime BFF’s Colon and Balderas are making their move. Fired Colón:

The City of Albuquerque has continually failed to hold APD accountable.

Balderas was quick to join the hunting party:

“We have received the Auditor’s request and have assigned law enforcement to assist in this matter,” Balderas said.

Never mind that AG Balderas turned his back on another APD scandal in 2015 when Republican Mayor Berry was in charge. That's when then State Auditor Keller investigated APD Chief Ray Schultz for allegedly wiring a city contract for APD body cameras from the firm Taser. That probe is apparently still gathering dust on Balderas' desk.

Politics lurks everywhere. Colón is hardy disguising his plans to run for the Dem nomination for attorney general in 2022 and Balderas is looking to land. . .well. . .somewhere when his term ends that year. Both of them are from what's left of the conservative/moderate wing of the Democratic Party while Keller waves high the Anglo progressive banner. And the Colón-Balderas tag team plays right into the hands of none other than Mayor wanna be Manny, another conservative D.

Gonzales continues to drag his feet on complying with the state mandate that all law enforcement be equipped with body cameras this year--the smartphone plan has no chance of going on line anytime soon. That's news but the emerging Colón/Balderas/Gonzales alliance against Keller and the progressives trumps it.

Finally, here's state Sen. Joe Cervantes, chairman of Senate Judiciary, commenting on Manny's manuever:

I’m pleased to see the sheriff is finally willing to adopt one of the tools of modern law enforcement. We passed a law that requires body-worn cameras, so if he wants to do it by duct-taping iPhones on his officers’ chests, that’s his prerogative, although I think it creates the possibility of becoming a laughingstock.


The Legislature is demanding more oversight of MLG's spending during the Coronavirus pandemic, concerned that she is bypassing them when it comes to emergency spending. No wonder. It turns out her office (and state taxpayers) were duped out of millions when the pandemic took hold:

Urgently in need of protective equipment, the Governor’s staff authorized the purchase of millions of dollars of medical supplies from Bionet NM. KRQE News 13 asked Diego Arencón how an obscure firm like Bionet ended up with nearly $8,000,000 in-state purchase orders? “It’s a great question,’ Arencón said. It was a multi-million dollar business relationship that soured from the get-go. Over the course of just 30 days, a mysterious forgery would surface, there were truckloads of questionable face masks, and state and federal investigations were launched. The Governor’s staff now admits they were duped.

The news for MLG wasn't any better on the virus front. New cases announced Wednesday tied the state's record high, although the six deaths recorded were not a record and five of those deaths were of persons with underlying health conditions.


On the blog this week consultant Brent Eastwood, Ph.D, an avid Spaceport watcher, opined:

The North-South runway at Spaceport America is problematic because in that part of the country, the prevailing winds blow west to east or east to west. This creates crosswise wind shear on takeoff and landing making things more dangerous and risky than necessary.

That brought this retort from Kent Freier of Molzen-Corbin, the ABQ engineering and architectural firm and the man who was the design engineer for Spaceport America:

I read your interview with Dr. Eastwood and became a bit upset with his flippant comment that Spaceport America won’t attract business due to the runway orientation. I was the design engineer for the Spaceport. When we got the project in 2006, (studies) showed the runway in an orientation that ran it under a 345 kilovolt power line that is an essential interconnect between PNM and El Paso Electric. How do you put a runway under a big power line? Relocation of that power line would have cost millions and years in environmental assessment. That power line (ran) basically north south.

I managed to get data from White Sands Missile range and analyzed that data in a wind rose. The wind data showed that the preferred wind direction was north south. That is because the Jornada del Muerto is in a valley, with mountain ranges on the west and east, the San Andreas to the east and Fre Cristobal to the west.

That creates a condition whereby the winds tend to flow up and down the canyon, i.e., north/south, almost as water flows, a condition that Dr. Eastwood should understand. So the WSMR data showed a north/south alignment is preferred. So I tweaked it a bit to be parallel to the powerline and kept the runway 1,700 feet away from the power line and lost virtually no wind coverage. Therefore, the Spaceport could be constructed without that huge power line being an obstacle or obstruction for flights. . . Once this runway alignment was established, the rest of the Spaceport design fell into place. The wind data virtually saved the ability to construct the Spaceport. 

The east/west preferred alignment for runways is a fallacy. Virtually all of our airports in NM were constructed by the military for bomber training in the 1940’s. The military did not have wind data. They simply built three runways, one on an east/west alignment, one on a NW/SE alignment, and one on a NE/SW alignment, figuring that at least one of them would work for any wind condition. There are an abundance of east/west runways in NM for that very reason. So perhaps for that reason, everyone thinks that runways in NM should be east/west. That is not true when you have actual wind data to analyze. Canyon winds change things and actual data that we have today enable us to better analyze runway orientations. Those of us involved in airport design understand that. 

The runway orientation at Spaceport America is not a deterrent to activity or development. Dr. Eastwood’s unstudied assumptions are simply wrong as we have scientific data that shows that the Spaceport is, in fact, in the most beneficial orientation, so that pilots are not fighting crosswinds at the present time. An east/west orientation of the runway would have been a big mistake for aircraft operations and for construction costs.

Eastwood responds:

Looks like I struck a nerve. It's about time people discuss their rationale for the design. The safety of that runway is critical and no one has ever been held accountable for the decisions they made in design so I am glad I forced some conversation on this. Hopefully some pilots who have flown those skies and have landed and taken off down there will reply too.


US Sen. Martin Heinrich writes on Facebook of his mother Shirley:

My mother was a truly amazing woman. She taught me to always work harder than anyone around you, but also to embrace every opportunity for adventure or just a good time with family and friends. 
She inspired me to the end. Goodbye Mom. I'm sure going to miss you. Shirley Heinrich 8/13/1940 – 7/12/2020

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Wednesday, July 15, 2020

Summer Campaign Trail: Lujan Comes With First TV Ad; Reports Another Big Money Haul; Southern Congress Poll Has It Very Tight And Restaurant Closures Surface As Campaign Issue 

Head out with us to the hot and dusty New Mexico campaign trail. . .

In the US senate race Rep. Ben Ray Lujan is up with his first TV ad. It's not going to rock any boats just build the name ID of the Dem front-runner and remind voters that unlike his Republican rival Mark Ronchetti, he is a native New Mexican:

Growing up in New Mexico. Working the land. I hear the voices of my family and the generations who came before us. I’ve always said New Mexico is worth fighting for. That’s why I work every day to lower prescription drug costs, help veterans in rural communities get the benefits they’ve earned, and protect the water that’s the lifeblood of our communities.

The ad shows Lujan with a group loading hay and looking very unlike the DC swamp creature that Ronchetti is sure to present him as.

The ad is serviceable and works well with Lujan's narration but when he faces the camera he appears to squint and is not relaxed with his lines. To his credit, Lujan is at his TV best in high pressure broadcasts such as Meet the Press. He can't be expected to be as smooth as TV pro Ronchetti, a former weather forecaster, but this is now the United States Senate.   Stepping it up a notch is in order.

Ben Ray will have plenty of money for more ads. He continues to pile up the cash:

. . . Luján raised more than $1.5 million during the second quarter  – his highest fundraising haul for a quarter. . . Luján. . . rejects corporate PAC money. Between April 1st and June 30th, he raised over $1.5 million from more than 21,000 supporters, including contributions from each of New Mexico's 33 counties. Over 89% of donations were $25 or less. 

Lujan had $2.7 million in cash as of May 13. Now this haul. Ronchetti last reported $430,000 in cash. He has not released his latest fund-raising totals. DC's Nathan Gonzales of Inside Elections rates the Senate race "solid Democratic."


The first TV ad in that hot southern congressional contest between Dem Rep. Xochitl Torres Small and Republican Yvette Herrell comes from Torres Small. She wastes no time mentioning President Trump and in a positive way:

. . . I put politics aside and worked with Republicans, Democrats and President Trump to pass the coronavirus relief plan.

Okay, watching a dyed in the wool liberal like Torres Small trying to cozy up to Trump will make her progressive fans queasy, but it's smart politics and could stop a conservative anti-Xochitl frenzy from developing.

The ad is well-produced and the young Torres Small is a convincing narrator and pleasing presence. The Republicans are going to need their best to take the prize from her.

There is also new polling. It comes from a Republican pollster but the Tarrance Group has been around forever and polling the state almost as long.

The survey conducted among 400 voters July 7-9 for the National Republican Congressional Campaign Committee has the race a dead heat with each contender getting 46 percent and 8 percent undecided. Says the polling memo:

Yvette Herrell emerged from the Republican primary with an image stronger than how she ended the 2018 campaign. She is well positioned for a vigorous give and take against the Congresswoman this Fall.

Yvette better be positioned for a "vigorous give and take." When she faced Torres Small in 2018 she copped out of TV debates. 


There has been little chatter on the trail about MLG's new public health order closing restaurant dining rooms but Republican state Senate candidate John Morton, facing Dem Dr. Martin Hickey in a battle for the seat being vacated by Bill Payne in ABQ's NE Heights, wades into those waters:

. . . While large crowds are allowed to patronize Big Box Stores, mom-and-pop restaurants are asked to suffer more economic hardship. This arbitrary, inconsistent forced shutdown order will devastate hard-working restaurant owners who have done all that's been required of them to keep their customers safe. I urge the governor to immediately reverse her ill-considered shutdown order and allow restaurants to resume safely serving New Mexicans. 

Dems are hoping Hickey's timely medical credentials (he is a longtime physician) and less enthusiasm for President Trump will combine to flip the seat which has long been held by the R's. Morton is a retired Air Force intelligence officer.

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Tuesday, July 14, 2020

Tempest In A Teapot At Spaceport; Political Infighting Appears Reason For CEO's Forced Leave, Plus: Where the Spaceport Stands Today 

Spaceport CEO Hicks
Talk about a tempest in a teapot. When we heard that Spaceport America CEO Dan Hicks was placed on  "administrative leave" and the reasons were being kept secret, we sent out a call to our Alligators (senior sources) for some insight. We received that as well as a report from the Las Cruces Sun News that reveals that Spaceport Chief Financial Officer Zach De Gregorio has filed a whistleblower complaint against Hicks and has now resigned his position.

The problem? The complaint alleges no criminal wrongdoing--like wiring contracts for buddies or diverting funds--instead it reads like a memo on bureaucratic infighting. It's accompanied by a 14 minute phone call that De Gregorio taped--unbeknownst to Hicks. During the call the CFO pontificates about his supposed right to talk directly to the Spaceport board and Sec. of Economic Development Alicia Keys independent of Hicks. Hicks rationally responds that as CEO he would like to be advised of any such communications.

Secretary Alicia Keyes is a major figure in the power struggle. She is the chair of the Spaceport Board of Directors and obviously in the De Gregorio fan club. MLG adviser Dominc Gabello is also brought up as also in the loop on Spaceport internal affairs.

As the Sun-News reported, the complaint "makes clear no laws or regulations" have been broken. It appears Hicks is on administrative leave because he believes the initials CEO stand for Chief Executive Officer and that he's in charge. Sec. Keyes and the administration seem to want a poodle in the position. Work it out folks, the Spaceport has enough challenges without public bureaucratic battles harming its stature.

Sidebar: De Gregorio has a B.A in cinema from the University of Southern California and has worked in the movie biz. Keyes is the onetime Executive Director of Worldwide Acquisitions for the Walt Disney Company. Interesting. . .


The Keyes-Hicks-De Gregorio kerfuffle did surface something worthwhile--a helpful backgrounder on the Spaceport and where things stand today. Reader George Richmond posed a series of questions that we sent to Brent Eastwood, Ph.D,  political scientist, author, political consultant, intelligence analyst and former director of business advocacy for the state Economic Development Department.  That's a lot of hats and Richmond has a lot of questions.

Richmond: Why aren't the big hitters, Blue Origin and SpaceX, at this center?

Eastwood: Blue Origin and SpaceX launch out of Texas. It is better to launch in Texas because it is closer to the equator. The earth is spinning faster the closer you are to the equator so spaceships get an extra boost on liftoff in Texas. Texas is more business friendly than New Mexico. Also, NASA has been in Houston forever. Texas has more people and thus better human capital than New Mexico. 

Richmond: What is it about Spaceport America that the big hitters do not like?

Eastwood: That's a tough one. New Mexico is not known for space like Texas and Florida. Again, as a small state New Mexico does not have the human capital (aside from LANL and Sandia and New Mexico Tech) that lends itself to producing, recruiting, and retaining scientists and engineers. 

Richmond: And will Spaceport America meet their needs?

Eastwood: The North-South runway at Spaceport America is problematic because in that part of the country, the prevailing winds blow west to east or east to west. This creates crosswise wind shear on takeoff and landing making things more dangerous and risky than necessary. There is not a major airport close to Spaceport. The closest one is in El Paso. There is not a luxury hotel near the Spaceport either. New Mexico State University is not known for aeronautics or aerospace engineering. This makes it more difficult to produce human capital that can make states competitive for space flight. 

Richmond: Can you get Q 1 2020 revenues of Spaceport America? And expenses for the same time period?

Eastwood: You can get numbers from Virgin Galactic because it is publicly traded. In 2019, Virgin Galactic had $3.8 million in revenue and it lost $210.9 million! In the first quarter of 2020, Virgin Galactic had revenue of only $238,000 and lost $60 million! 

Richmond: Who are the five largest clients, in revenues, of Spaceport America?

Eastwood: Spaceport as of July 2020 claims these companies as clients: Virgin Galactic, Boeing, UP Aerospace, EXOS Aerospace, and SpinLaunch. EXOS and SpinLaunch are small startups. UP Aerospace is headquartered in Denver. UP has only done 18 launches at Spaceport since the early days and that's really not many. There are very few days at Spaceport when there is activity or launches. Most days at Spaceport there are no space launches and no activity. I don't know the revenue of those other companies but Virgin Galactic pays Spaceport $1 million a year.

Richmond: How will Virgin Galactic conduct its space flights? Will passengers wear masks? Social distance?

Eastwood: Spaceport on its website says its personnel are working from home. VG is working from home and on site. There was a VG glide test launch in June, but if Spaceport personnel are working from home because of Covid and their CEO is on admin leave, it is difficult to see how there will be regular launches of tourists this year.

Richmond: How about more shooting of TV ads, movies and TV shows at the Spaceport?

Eastwood: I don't agree that TV ads, movies and shows are a viable business model for the Spaceport. You don't build a $250 million movie set in the middle of the desert and then get paid a pittance for commercial shoots. That is just a silly waste.

Richmond: And what states have space operations of any consequence, after FL, CA and TX? Where does NM rank? 

Colorado has a Spaceport. As do Hawaii, Alaska, Virginia, and Alabama. New Mexico Spaceport has just had too many delays. If it could have launched regular flights 10 years or even 5 years ago, it could have scared off the competition. Now there is too much competition.

Delay and hype have been the words most associated with the promising Spaceport in Sierra County. It appears that will hold true at least through this calendar year.


In a first draft Monday we had John Sanchez finishing his tenure as lieutenant governor at the end of 2010. The correct date is the end of 2018.

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Monday, July 13, 2020

Southern Congress Race In National Spotlight, Plus: John Sanchez Reemerges; Rose Garden Event With Trump Who Appoints Him To Hispanic Commission Sparks Political Speculation  

Only a handful of swing seats are up for election to the US House and one of them is right here and starting to draw national attention.

We talked with NPR's "Here and Now" about the spirited southern congressional race between Dem Rep. Xochitl Torres Small and GOP challenger Yvette Herrell. The full interview is here and here's an excerpt:

JM: It's all about turnout (for Herrell), especially in the southeastern part of the district which is conservative and which has the big oil and gas industry. That's what the race comes down to--who can get the vote out. Now Torres Small got her progressive base out in Las Cruces in a big way two years ago, and narrowly won the race by  less than three thousand votes, and it looks like we're headed for another barnburner. . 

A lot of  is going to depend on how the President performs. He won the district by ten points in 2016. If he falls below that level you would have to say that the prospects of Torres Small are improved. . . 

Here are the campaign websites for Herrell and Torres Small.


Sanchez with Trump at White House
Former NM Lt. Governor John Sanchez reemerged in a big way last week, regaled by President Trump at the White House Rose Garden as Trump named the New Mexico native to his new Advisory Commission On Hispanic Prosperity. Sanchez cheerfully posed with Trump as he signed the executive order establishing the White House Hispanic Prosperity Initiative.

It was a resurrection of Sanchez in Trumpland as insiders recalled that early in the administration he made a play to become ambassador to Panama but was passed over. The appearance sparked speculation about what political plans--if any--the prominent ABQ Republican has for the future.

Sanchez, owner of a successful ABQ roofing company, withdrew from the political scene when at the end of 2018 he finished his 8 year stint as the state's number two. We blogged then that his political career could be over, but he contacted us to say don't count him out and reminding us in the aftermath of the 2018 Dem sweep that the political pendulum swings both way

Sanchez, 57, was the GOP gubernatorial nominee in 2002, losing to Big Bill. In 2012, he ran a campaign for US Senate but aborted it less than a year into the effort.

His 8 years under Gov. Susana Martinez, starting with her 2010 election, were not the happiest. She gave him the cold shoulder and shut him out of major policy decisions. When he announced for Senate she actually put out a statement saying his responsibilities would be limited because of his candidacy. Brrrr... But Sanchez plodded ahead, competently fulfilling his duty of presiding over the state Senate and making friends across the state.

The GOP bench is starving for talent as the party has been wiped out from major offices. That is not an alluring scenario for any prospective hopeful, even the well-known Sanchez. But he can watch and wait as Gov. Lujan Grisham plays her hand and if she falters it might be the signal to get off the bench. Meanwhile, getting invited to the Rose Garden is a reminder for the Sanchez fans that while Gov. Martinez--who opposed Trump and minimized Sanchez--has ignominously faded into history, Sanchez has managed to stay around. And in politics that's half the battle.

Video of Trump introducing Sanchez and Sanchez's Rose Garden remarks here. White House transcript here and below:

PRESIDENT: I will be naming a leader of incredible vision, former Lieutenant Governor of New Mexico John Sanchez. And I know he’s here. John, I’d love to have you come up and say a few words, please.

LIEUTENANT GOVERNOR SANCHEZ: Well, thank you, Mr. President. What an honor it is to be here with you and everybody else here in our nation’s capital.

Let me say, from a young boy who grew up in absolute poverty, the youngest of eight kids with a single mother, I understand what it is for the challenges facing all families, but especially Hispanic families in this country. But because of her leadership through personal responsibility — stay in school, get a good education — we have lived the American Dream.

As a young boy, I used to go and search for cardboard boxes out of the trash cans of grocery stores because we didn’t have the soles, Mr. President, on our shoes. We would hope and pray that it wouldn’t rain so the cardboard wouldn’t melt on our way to school. Here now, almost 50 years later, I stand next to the most powerful man in the world, in the most powerful city in the world, at the White House, with all of you fine folks.

Today, I have lived the American Dream. I look at my brand-new black shoes. That’s the American Dream. (Laughter.)

THE PRESIDENT: Nice shoes.

LIEUTENANT GOVERNOR SANCHEZ: Mr. President, your leadership, when it comes to job creation; education reform; choice, when it comes to education, will allow this country to fulfill its American Dream. I’m honored to be here with you, Mr. President. Your great leadership, making America great — we stand with you. We’ll keep America great under your leadership. God bless you. Thank you very much. (Applause.)

THE PRESIDENT: Thank you, John. Great job, John. Thank you very much. Great honor.

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