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Thursday, July 23, 2020

White House Rolls Out Smooth PR Show As It Raises Hackles Over Sending Crime Fighting Agents To ABQ  

Jacqueline Vigil
It was as smooth as it was divisive when President Trump Wednesday rolled out the placement of 35 federal agents to fight crime in ABQ. (Transcript here.)

The highlighting of the tragic murder of Jacqueline Vigil, the mother of two state police officers who was shot to death earlier this year while in her car on her westside driveway, was especially poignant. The crime shocked the city like few others and the FBI establishing a $25,000 reward Wednesday for information leading to an arrest, was a reminder of the appalling state of crime in the metro. Sam Vigil, the widow of Jacqueline, said at the White House event:

It’s been eight months and there have been no arrests at all, There are other victims in Albuquerque that are in the same boat.

Even though he has now become the target of vitriol from the Democratic Party's left wing, the presence of Bernalillo County Sheriff (and possible 2021 ABQ mayoral hopeful) Manny Gonzales at the White House for the unveiling of "Operation Legend" was also a PR coup. Trump spotlighting himself with an Hispanic Democratic sheriff placed him in a different context--and a more favorable one (although Gonzales sought political cover by rebuking rumors that he had invited the federal agents to ABQ).

Then there was the deployment--35 agents from the many agencies under Homeland Security. While the far left may call that "Gestapo" "Stormtroopers" and worse, for the man in the street it seemed a measured response after the recent uproar in Portland where a federal deployment there raised serious questions.

Then there was the statement from the local FBI, cognizant of the Portland mishap, reassuring the public here that the agents would not be involved in immigration laws or protests but concentrating on violent crime, drugs and firearms activity. The civil liberties watchdogs may doubt it--and that's healthy--but it helps dampen concerns about federal overreach.

Then there's those millions of dollars going to Chicago, Kansas City and ABQ to combat crime as part of Operation Legend. That makes it even more palatable, even as the city complained it has yet to receive $10 million promised by the Feds when they stepped up enforcement here late last year.

But for the not so average voter in the left wing of the Democratic Party Wednesday was apoplectic, with Senator Heinrich getting caught up in the frenzy, labeling the agents "stormtroopers" and making an over the top call for the resignation of Sheriff Gonzales that may be backfiring, especially with Hispanics. Other elected Democratic officials called the agents "Gestapo."

Mayor Keller also strayed from the mainstream, repeatedly calling the agents "secret police" even though they were announced on national TV, hardly a hallmark of secrecy. 

In his longshot campaign for New Mexico's electoral votes, Trump has been citing violent crime in his TV ads. While there's no question this decision Wednesday stiffened the resolve of his opposition, it gave his campaign a window into the world of crime-sickened citizens who don't feel the Gestapo is coming but hopefully some relief--as farfetched as that may be, given a similar "surge" by MLG's State Police into ABQ last year. Most of the arrests did not pan out.

Senator Udall, who is retiring, came with reasoned opposition to the deployment:

We must and will be vigilant about the expansion of ‘Operation Legend.' New Mexico leaders. . . should not tolerate the use of federal forces for political purposes. . . and violate constitutional rights. And we certainly do not need presidential attacks on New Mexico that only inflame tensions in an effort to politicize serious issues like improving community safety, achieving racial justice and better supporting those struggling with addiction. . .I am seeking answers about the exact authorities, missions, duration and conditions attached to this operation. . .and will do everything in my power to protect the constitutional rights and freedom of New Mexicans.

Tom must have forgotten the parts about the Gestapo, Stormtroopers and kicking the Sheriff out of town.

Don't forget. ABQ would not be in the unwanted national crime spotlight and subjected to the President's crime fighting whims if we had done our job and made this a safe and healthy city, instead of the poster boy for violence, mayhem and dysfunction. Parts of the governing political class, so out of sorts over what happened Wednesday and seemingly out of touch when it comes to crime, might want to think about that.

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(c)NM POLITICS WITH JOE MONAHAN 2020

Wednesday, July 22, 2020

The Manny-Martin Face-Off; Senator Claims Sheriff Invites Trump To Send Federal Troops To ABQ; Calls For His Resignation; Gonzales Denies Charge; Calls It "Outlandish", Plus: Defending MLG  

Sen. Heinrich
US Senator Martin Heinrich lowered the boom on fellow Democrat and Bernalillo County Sheriff Manny Gonzales Tuesday, calling for the Sheriff's resignation because, Heinrich claimed, Gonzales has invited President Trump to place federal troops in Albuquerque to fight crime as he has done in Portland and is threatening to do in other cities.

But in a phone interview last night from Washington where Gonzales was preparing for a meeting today with the President and Attorney General Barr, he called Heinrich’s claim "outlandish" and added,  "I have no idea where he got that from."

Heinrich did not cite a source for his assertion. In a statement he said:

. . . Instead of collaborating with the Albuquerque Police Department, the Sheriff is inviting the President’s stormtroopers into Albuquerque. If we can learn anything from Portland, it’s that we don’t need this kind of 'help' from the White House. The President is currently using federal law enforcement agents like a domestic paramilitary force. That’s precisely how fascism begins and none of us should ever encourage or accept it.  I believe that it is time for Sheriff Gonzales to step aside and make room for someone who will make maintaining the peace and promoting the safety and protection of Bernalillo County residents our law enforcement’s top priority.

Gonzales said from DC:

I am having a follow-up meeting on crime in our cities with the President and Attorney General. We have a had a surge in crime across many American cities and we will discuss solutions. This has nothing to do with Portland or troops. We met last year when Operation Relentless Pursuit was established and that is what the meeting is about. Nothing else. This is an opportunity to reach across the aisle in the fight against crime. 

Operation Relentless Pursuit was initiated in seven high crime cities last year, including ABQ, and saw an increase in federal law enforcement and cooperation. 

Gonzales’ White House meeting comes on the heels of a TV ad buy from the Trump campaign in New Mexico that concentrated on the violent crime issue. Trump is making a long shot play for the state in the November election. 

CBS News reported that Albuquerque is one of the cities mentioned for possible federal troop placement in a Department of Homeland Security memo.

Sheriff Gonzales
Gonzales said of Heinrich:

Regrettably, Senator Heinrich couldn’t be more political and out of touch with the local social problems and the great work being done by our deputies and the other first responders.  BCSO continues to combat the Albuquerque crime crisis in partnership with federal agencies. . .Along with our federal partners, we pledge to hold accountable the trigger-pullers, firearm traffickers, violent criminals and those who supply them the guns to terrorize our communities. 

The rhetoric of Heinrich and his fellow Dems, including ABQ Congresswoman Haaland, who also called for Gonzales' resignation, has been red hot as they label troops from Homeland Security “stormtroopers.” That’s a controversial term sure to fire up the left of the Democratic Party but that still leaves part of the field for Gonzales to play in.

And the play he's seriously considering is a run for ABQ mayor against Tim Keller next year. Gonzales appears to be looking at resurrecting the old ABQ coalition that repeatedly elected conservative/moderate Democratic Mayor Marty Chavez. That would be westside Democrats, NE Heights Republicans and some downtown areas. Crime would be the unifying message as it was for Chavez.

But does that coalition still exist? The NE Heights and much of the rest of the city have grown increasingly Blue. Gonzales may have to do better with Democrats than he thinks if Manny wants to be the new Marty.

As for Keller, he did not pile on Manny, leaving that to Heinrich, but he did get this dig in:

There’s no place for Trump’s secret police in our city. If this was more than a stunt, these politicians would support constitutional crime fighting efforts that work for our community, not turning Albuquerque into a federal police state. 

NO FLAT TIRES

MLG Director of Communications Tripp Stelnicki writes to take issue with much of Tuesday's blog (which was posted later than usual and is below). The sentences in italics are from the blog and the bold faced copy is from Stelnicki:

The administration Monday failed to respond to a lawsuit brought by the NM Restaurant Association and others accusing MLG of targeting restaurants in her recent public health order that again closed in-door dining. Carlsbad District Court Judge Raymond Romero approved a temporary restraining order allowing in-door dining for the next 10 days--until the current health order expires. 

I know (MLG General Counsel Matt) Garcia talked to you. We did not fail to respond. The judge knew our response was coming within hours and issued his order anyway. Most courtrooms will give both sides a chance to respond. This one did not and in his order simply invented an arbitrary deadline he said had passed. Folks looking for an angle can run​ with the "missed deadline" BS but that doesn't make it true.

It was MLG's first legal defeat since the onset of the virus. True, hours later the Dem majority NM Supreme Court issued a stay of the lower court ruling, forcing the dining rooms to stay closed, but the public legal maneuvering jarred thousands whose jobs are at stake and confused the public. 

Whose fault is that? Why would you blame the governor for a bad ruling by a judge causing chaos for business-owners and employees? If he'd waited for our brief that he knew was coming he would've saved a lot of people a lot of whiplash. Alas.

The PR mess over the dining room closures comes on the heels of an investigative TV report that had MLG’s Deputy Chief of Staff trying to explain--with difficulty--how he had signed off on an apparently bogus $8 million state contract for PPE. And then there was the news about MLG's pandemic jewelry buying that have a sticktoitiveness to them. 

(KRQE-TV) is fair but did not include the fact that the state did not pay for anything that was defective. That would've derailed the "state was bamboozled" thrust of his story but it's true nonetheless. We detected potential fraud and acted quickly on the taxpayers' behalf -- and acted as quickly to buy necessary supplies to keep New Mexican front-line health care workers and more safe and alive.

Part of this is due to the Governor's singular focus on the pandemic with little emphasis on the economic disaster that many in the state face. Witness the inactivity of her Economic Recovery Council. 

So marshaling support for the hundreds of millions in business and local government relief in the special session is "little emphasis"?  How about the $1 billion in pandemic assistance unemployment the state has provided to New Mexicans? Take a look at other states where the lines to talk to anyone about unemployment stretch for miles. We're one of the few that has executed all of the unemployment programs and dollars available to us. That's "inactivity"? 

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E-mail your news and comments. (newsguy@yahoo.com)

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(c)NM POLITICS WITH JOE MONAHAN 2020

Tuesday, July 21, 2020

Dog Days Of Summer Dogging Governor; Issues Accumulate As Fight For Political Narrative Goes On, Plus: Unforced Departure; Rep. Lewis Leaving Roundhouse  

The wheels aren't coming off but some of the tires are flat. That's the take on MLG in these Dog Days of Summer as she fights to contain the political narrative during the coronavirus pandemic. She's had some success but a Monday court ruling, combined with other developments, reveal the complexities and challenges facing her.

The administration Monday failed to respond to a lawsuit brought by the NM Restaurant Association and others accusing MLG of targeting restaurants in her recent public health order that again closed in-door dining. Carlsbad District Court Judge Raymond Romero approved a temporary restraining order allowing in-door dining for the next 10 days--until the current health order expires.

It was MLG's first legal defeat since the onset of the virus. True, hours later the Dem majority NM Supreme Court issued a stay of the lower court ruling, forcing the dining rooms to stay closed, but the public legal maneuvering jarred thousands whose jobs are at stake and confused the public.

The public is also getting itchy and there could be political slippage for the administration. Take a look:

Las Cruces Mayor Ken Miyagishima co-signed a letter with Carlsbad Mayor Dale Janway that calls on (MLG) to let restaurants reopen indoor dining. . . Miyagishima. . . headed home from a city council meeting. . . .passed shuttered restaurant after shuttered restaurant. It was "kind of eerie," he said. . .The letter states the mayors don't see a connection between rising virus cases and reopened restaurants, since many have "set the example" by training their staffs to adhere to COVID-safe practices. . . The mayors say the move to reimpose restrictions hurts vulnerable employees and say outdoor dining is less than desirable when it's 100-plus degrees outside.

Migayashima is mayor of one of three progressive cities that are the backbone of MLG's support. The others being ABQ and Santa Fe. The Mayor's break with her over the pandemic is the first by a notable Dem officeholder in the three cities. 

Then there was the questioning of the order on Facebook by the owner of the ABQ Flying Star restaurant chain, a popular hang out of the progressive classes. How progressive? Well, the owner was scorched with scathing criticism from her customers for daring to question the closing of indoor dining, but her point had been made. Fissures are developing.

Part of this is due to the Governor's singular focus on the pandemic with little emphasis on the economic disaster that many in the state face. Witness the inactivity of her Economic Recovery Council.

The PR mess over the dining room closures comes on the heels of an investigative TV report that had MLG’s Deputy Chief of Staff trying to explain--with difficulty--how he had signed off on an apparently bogus $8 million state contract for PPE. And then there was the news about MLG's pandemic jewelry buying that have a sticktoitiveness to them.

Add in the bipartisan move in the Legislature demanding that MLG explain her spending of millions on the pandemic that lawmakers believe they should also have a say over.

The problems are piling up and the decision making process on the Fourth Floor is looking wobbly. That's not going to help her public standing or her chances of being in a presidential cabinet.

LEWIS ADIEU

Rep. Lewis
There will be a new Republican face filling House District 60 in Rio Rancho now that ten year Rep. Tim Lewis has withdrawn his candidacy.

We say Republican because no Democrat filed to run for the GOP leaning seat in the June primary and it is too late for the party to name a candidate for the November election. That means the person that members of the Sandoval County GOP Central Committee pick to replace Lewis on the ballot will become the new representative. But not until January. While Lewis has withdrawn his candidacy, he says he will serve out his term.

Lewis, 57, said he never intended to "make a career out of politics" and wants to spend more time with his family which includes four young boys. The longtime ABQ public schools high school teacher cited several accomplishments as he announced the withdrawal, including a measure that increases benefits to the children of fallen first responders and another that gives school credits to college bound students who choose Career and Technical Education courses.

Lewis, a staunch Republican differed often with his Dem colleagues, but remained well-liked and respected. ABQ Dem Rep. Javier Martinez tweeted of Lewis' departure:

Sad to see Rep. Lewis go. He was always a gentleman and never mean-spirited even though we disagreed on our votes 99% of the time. I’ll miss you, friend!

Lewis was the recipient of a kidney transplant but his brother Dan, a former ABQ city councilor who donated the kidney, said his brother's health is good and was not a reason for leaving the Roundhouse.

This is the home of New Mexico politics.

E-mail your news and comments. (newsguy@yahoo.com)

Interested in reaching New Mexico's most informed audience? Advertise here. 

(c)NM POLITICS WITH JOE MONAHAN 2020
E-mail your news and comments. (newsguy@yahoo.com)

Monday, July 20, 2020

On The Econ Beat: NM Jobless Eye Congress As Supercharged Benefits Set To Expire, Bean Counters Look Ahead At NM Budget And A Wee Bit Of Good Budget News For Santa Fe  

A lot of New Mexicans who usually give congressional activity only a passing glance will perk up this week when lawmakers return to DC. The reason? The money in their pockets.

Since the start of the pandemic over 238,000 New Mexicans have filed unemployment claims. Tens of thousands of them are still jobless and receiving regular benefits plus an extra $600 a week in a special federal benefit. But the supercharged benefit is set to expire at month's end--unless Congress reauthorizes it or a lesser amount.

The battle is in the GOP controlled Senate--the House has already approved an extension. The critics think the weekly $600 has dissuaded folks from going back to work. They propose a back to work bonus and are also considering a benefit extension of less than $600.

Combined with regular unemployment checks that average around $300 a week, that $600 has many working class employees taking home $3,600 a month for three months or $10,800. In relatively inexpensive New Mexico that’s enough to cover the rent or mortgage, utilities and other necessities. The funds have also helped prop up the recessionary economy.

BUSY BEAN COUNTERS

The Santa Fe bean counters, fresh off a $2 billion fix in the June special legislative session for the current budget year, are already eyeing the budget for the year beginning July 1, 2021. What these fortune tellers see isn't pretty--another deficit of nearly $1 billion in the now reduced $7 billion state budget.

That's another reason why New Mexico's eyes are on the Capitol this week. Congress will debate whether to approve direct cash payments to deficit-ridden state and local governments to ease the downturn’s impact.  If they do, there's a good chance that our little corner of the world will get something in the $1 billion area--enough to cover the forecast deficit, or even more if the bean counters prove overly gloomy.

There's more econ news. Federal eviction protections are set to expire July 25. That could mean an increase in the already burgeoning homeless population, especially in ABQ. The good news is that the NM Supreme Court on March 24 ordered a temporary moratorium on evictions for an inability to pay rent. The court order remains in effect until "amended or withdrawn."

There is a glimmer of good news to push back against the Gloomy Gus scenarios, but just a glimmer. Instead of  a $100 million deficit in its annual $377 million budget, the city of Santa Fe could see that drop, says City Councilor and Finance Committee Chair Roman "Tiger" Abeyta:

Initially we expected GRT to drop by 25 to 30%. But the April numbers show that it was actually closer to a 19% drop. . . I don't think we're going to see a $100 million deficit. . . maybe we're looking at $70 to 80 million as opposed to $100 million, so there's going to be an adjustment…We are going to have to continue to readjust the budget throughout the year because with COVID-19 we have no idea what's going to happen.

Wiser words could not be spoken: “We have no idea what's going to happen." And that goes for. . .well. . .everything.

CASH FLOW 

No surprises in the latest money reports for the state's congressional hopefuls. In the US Senate race Dem Rep. Ben Ray Lujan reports stockpiling $3.3 million in cash as of June 30. His GOP rival, Mark Ronchetti, reports $570,000 in cash on hand.

In the ABQ congressional contest Dem Rep. Deb Haaland reported $352,000 in cash while Republican challenger Michelle Garcia Holmes reported $145,000.

In the southern congressional district, Dem US Rep. Xochitl Torres Small reports $3.9 million in cash while Republican Yvette Herrell reports only $379,000. However outside PACS are poised to pump millions into the district to level the playing field for Herrell.

In the northern congressional district Teresa Leger Fernandez reports $232,000 in cash while her GOP opponent, Alexis Johnson, has only $6,100 in cash and $6,954 in debt.

The ratings pundits rank the Senate contest as likely Democrat, the northern and ABQ congressional district as safe Democrat and the southern congressional race as a toss-up.

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