Thursday, July 30, 2020

On The Econ Beat: NM Budget Fix Set To Get Feds Approval; New Cash Injection Up In Air, Bear Market In Permian Appears To Be Bottoming And Big Budget Increase In Making For NM Labs 

Fears should be subsiding about that unauthorized shift of $750 million in federal coronavirus money to plug the state's budget gap at the recent special legislative session. Congress is stuck on a new relief bill but R's say they do want to provide more flexibility for the previously approved virus funds:

Democrats proposed nearly $1 trillion for the local governments confronting COVID-19 emergency costs and declining revenues during the stay-home shutdowns. Republicans offered no new money, preferring instead to give states flexibility to use an earlier $150 billion allotment as needed.

While the state can breathe easier about that $750 million, the foundering of the Dem proposal to provide direct relief to cash-strapped states and cities for the next budget cycle is worrisome for New Mexico. The state is expected to have more budget shortfalls for the fiscal year starting July 2021 and the federal money would help.

That extra $600 a week some 135,000 unemployed New Mexicans have been getting is ending this week. The Congress remains deadlocked on an extension. A plan to reduce the extra payments to $200 a week is circulating. Either way, the state's economy would take a big hit from the reduced stimulus.

One positive: the bear market in the SE NM Permian Basin appears to be bottoming out. Oil is trading at around $41 a barrel, higher than the state was planning on. However, oil demand is expected to remain below 2019 levels.

Perhaps to the chagrin of small government conservatives, federal dollars are taking an even bigger role in the state economy. Significant budget increases for Sandia and Los Alamos Labs are in the works starting Oct. 1. From Sen. Heinrich's office:

Senator Heinrich supported full funding authorization for the NNSA’s nuclear weapons and security programs. For fiscal year 2021, the bill authorizes $2.6 billion for Sandia National Laboratories, an increase of $330 million over fiscal year 2020. For Los Alamos National Laboratory, the bill authorizes FY21 funding of $3.22 billion, up from $2.3 billion in fiscal year 2020. 

The money still has to be finalized but that is a towering increase of $1.25 billion that would soften the economic blow of the coronavirus, even as questions are raised about that Los Alamos increase.

That potential federal shock absorber comes as the Yelp Economic Average report reveals the devastation being wrought by the pandemic:

The Yelp report found that from March 1 to July 10, at least 381 Albuquerque businesses closed-- 199 of those were permanent closures. And in Santa Fe, 88 business closures, 45 of those also permanent. . .  The Yelp report also found that in the state, there were 687 total business closures, in which at least 355 of those were permanent closures.

The NM Restaurant Association says at least 200 of those permanent closures were of restaurants. They have not released a list.

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Wednesday, July 29, 2020

Call To Cancel ABQ Councilor Fizzles, Plus: More Ben Ray TV To Review  

Pat Davis (Moore Abq Journal)
That "cancel culture" call last month from progressive group ProgressNowNM for ABQ City Council President Pat Davis to resign has fizzled. No other groups joined in the call. In fact, two Dem ABQ legislators who are progressive on many issues--Sen, Mimi Stewart and Rep. Debbie Sariñana, authored an op-ed to defend former cop Davis:

We were saddened to read “Progressive group wants City Councilor Davis to resign” about ProgressNow New Mexico’s unfortunate demand that Albuquerque City Councilor Pat Davis resign. Our legislative districts overlap with City Council District 6, where Councilor Davis has been a key leader and ally to us for years on progressive policies related to gun control, criminal justice and police reform, immigration, cannabis legalization, LGBTQ protections and many other important issues.

ProgressNow wanted Davis to resign over his 2004 shooting of a black man while serving on the DC police force. The call was a misfire for the very group that Davis himself led as executive director at its inception. Now ProgressNow and its new leadership may have to keep an eye on its donor base.


Dem US Senate hopeful Rep. Ben Ray Lujan comes with his second TV ad which focuses on the negative impact the coronavirus has had on restaurant sales and Lujan's support (and that of about every other congressman and senator) of the PPP program that is helping restrauteurs and other businesses stay afloat. 

Lujan and Santa Fe Bite owner John Eckre both appear in the required face coverings throughout the spot. Eckre narrates the ad as the video shows his employees preparing takeout with close-ups of scrumptious looking menu offerings. The script:

Eckre: The restaurant’s been around for about 70 years. We’re struggling to keep the doors open because of coronavirus. We’ve had to adapt. Thanks to Ben Ray Luján, we’re staying afloat. That PPP loan is like a lifeline for our business. So we can focus on getting our team back to work. In times like these, I’m just glad there’s someone like Ben Ray looking out for us. Ben Ray: I’m Ben Ray Luján, and I approve this message.

Eckre does a solid narration, coming across as sincerely grateful and authentic. There are no factual errors in the ad and the script is clear. But at the risk of nitpicking. . .

Eckre, who is a tall drink of water, is seen with Lujan walking through the restaurant side by side towering over the much shorter Lujan. And at the end of the 30 second spot, the director scores a perfect close-up of Lujan smiling as he listens, but instead of ending there, the ad cuts to a less flattering profile shot of Lujan standing at the restaurant counter with Eckre. 

So the ad ends up very good but not excellent. Lujan has a big polling lead and is heavily favored to win, but he is pumping big money into this campaign (already $3.3 million in cash on hand ) and with his TV pro opponent Mark Ronchetti warming up in the wings, excellence should be par for the course.


A possible replacement for Rio Rancho GOP State Rep. Tim Lewis who has withdrawn his candidacy? How about GOP Rio Rancho Mayor Gregg Hull? His name has been circulating. . .

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Tuesday, July 28, 2020

New Race Ratings For Fed Contests Here Tilt To The Dems, Plus: MLG As VP? Probably Not But Guessing Game Goes On 

Let's update the two big congressional races in the state with now less than 100 days before election day and a whole lot closer than that to significant early voting. . .

Is the southern congressional contest starting to tilt toward incumbent Dem US Rep. Xochitl Torres-Small? Although national R's say they will come with millions in PAC money to support GOP challenger Yvette Herrell recent fund-raising reports from the individual campaigns prompted longtime pundit Larry Sabato of the University of Virginia to rerate the race from "toss-up" to "lean Dem." His reasoning:

. . . Herrell (won) a nasty primary over Claire Chase, who some Republicans thought could offer the party a fresh start. . . Torres Small more than tripled Herrell’s campaign spending in 2018; that edge could get even more pronounced in 2020, as Torres Small holds a $3.9 million to $379,000 cash on hand edge over Herrell in recent reporting. This is definitely a GOP-leaning district: Trump won it 50%-40%, with another 8% going to Libertarian Gary Johnson. In all likelihood, Trump will carry the district again, although perhaps with a reduced margin. The race is arguably very close right now -- a Republican internal poll released recently had it tied 46%-46% and probably will be close in the end. But we suspect Torres Small will be able to generate enough crossover support to hang on. 

There has been no public polling on the presidential race in the southern district but insider polling we have seen is worrisome for Herrell. One survey showed Trump beating Biden by only one point--not nearly enough to push Herrell over the top. Of course, the southern Congress race is volatile. Things can change.

And the GOP is also fighting new headwinds in the US Senate race where Dem Rep. Ben Ray Lujan faces Republican and political newcomer Mark Ronchetti. The Cook Political Report's new ranking of that race moves it to the "solid Democratic" corner from "likely Dem." Again, fund-raising is a cause. At last report Lujan had $3.3 million in cash on hand and Ronchetti less than $600,000.

In the only public polling on the statewide presidential race, PPP in mid-June had it Biden 53 and Trump 39. In the Senate race the survey had Lujan leading 48-34.

JOE'S #2

In that race to be Joe Biden's running mate, MLG still earns a mention but not much intensity. The pundits are more prone to think her chances are more realistic for a slot in the Biden cabinet (e.g. Sec. of Health). Still the summer guessing game continues and provides some entertainment before the campaigns pick up. Here's the latest from Politico on MLG and Joe:


. . . She would bring plenty of political and policy-making experience to the ticket. She was chair of the Congressional Hispanic Caucus in her third and final term in the House, and she has major bona fides on the critical issue of health care from her previous positions in state government.

Like Biden, Lujan Grisham has suddenly lost a spouse: Her husband collapsed on a jog in 2004 and died the next day. And Lujan Grisham has a strong electoral record in a state the Trump campaign has crowed about trying to put in play: She routed her GOP opponent in 2018, then-Rep. Steve Pearce, running up a margin of 57 percent to 43 percent in a high-turnout contest.


. . .Despite a recent rollback of reopening measures, New Mexico is still seeing a spike in coronavirus cases. She also came under fire back in May for a remote jewelry purchase that was conducted without unsafe personal contact — but also came before the state began allowing retail curbside delivery. Pearce, her 2018 opponent who now chairs the state GOP, called it “really disgraceful.”

She’s the governor of a small state, and few strategists on both sides buy into the Trump campaign’s bravado about contesting New Mexico’s five electoral votes this fall. That means Biden might rather look elsewhere for a home-state bump. And. . . she lacks the national profile that senators have built. . . 

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Monday, July 27, 2020

Reader Vox Populi: They Debate Trump's Move Into ABQ And Heinrich, Manny And Keller And More  

The temperature is cooling after a firestorm was ignited over Trump's decision to send several dozen federal agents to fight crime in ABQ. Emotions ran high, with warnings that the "secret police" "stormtroopers" and the "Gestapo" were set to swarm into the city to incite violence and cause mayhem. Troubled Portland being the example given.

Our view is that we are not going to be another Portland and that Trump's ABQ deployment--which was not prompted over statue pulling, street protests or damage to federal property as in Portland--is essentially a campaign stunt as he makes a longshot play for the state this November. Also, we point out that ABQ's unrelenting crime wave, unresolved by local officials for years, set us up for further federal intervention--and not without public support.

Our Facebook was scorched with dissent over our being lax in recognizing a clear threat to civil liberties and for trusting anything Trump says or does.

Rather then work independently from APD, the agents will work with it. Contrary to Mayor Keller's initial statement, these aren't secret police. In fact, after the emotional turmoil settled the Mayor and APD chief began to walk back earlier perceptions:

. . . Keller categorized the federal agents as "secret police." KOB-TV asked Keller if he regrets classifying the agents in that manner. "Well it was just two days ago when that's what the president was explicitly talking about," Keller said. "So you know, one day has changed. . . . We're all very concerned about what this is and what it's not. Because the president is saying one thing and I think our local officials are saying another." . . . The federal partnership is not an uncommon practice for the APD. "It's really the original plan from Operation Relentless Pursuit," said Chief Michael Geier. Attorney General Barr said the program was paused due to the pandemic. "It seems to be the same thing. From everybody I talked to in the federal partners they insist it is the same thing and that they're not even here to take it over from us," Geier said. "They're going to work side by side with us."

The Mayor issued a warning letter of sorts Friday to US Attorney John Anderson saying ABQ "does not welcome federal agents hiding their identities or use of unmarked vehicles" and "the City welcomes the continued federal partnerships to carry out those task force operations as they currently operate."

The possibility of an infringement on civil liberties should not be belittled. Heck, in 2016 the ATF came to ABQ and joined with APD in an operation in the SE Heights that seemed to target black residents--and that was under the Obama administration. The latest deployment bears intense scrutiny (as the Mayor is doing) but this is not another Portland. For example, the Border Patrol Tactical Unit wearing camouflage is not coming here as it did in Oregon--and let's keep it that way. Now on to Reader Vox Populi. . .

Mayor Keller
Reader Mitchell Freedman sums up what happened with the heavy handed remarks of Keller and Senator Heinrich, who called for the resignation of Bernalillo County Sheriff Manny Gonzales who was at the White House for the deployment announcement:

 I was very angry at what happened in Portland, I think that is what prompted Henrich and Keller's remarks. I would not have been as critical of their jumping out in front if Trump is saying he wanted to expand what happened in Portland to ABQ. It ended up being something very different, but one has to be cautious with anything Trump does as he gets more desperate and cops get more anxious about their power position in municipal and county governments.

Reader David Ryan writes:

Hi Joe, Being appalled by the militarized law enforcement actions in Portland does not make one a hard left Democrat. Heinrich may have jumped the gun regarding Manny Gonzales. However, one can be suspicious about Gonzales’ participation in a desperate Hail Mary photo op with a clearly unsuccessful president. One can also be suspicious about Gonzales’ refusal to equip his department with body cameras. Based upon Manny Gonzales’ history, Martin was not out of line.

There was no "photo op" with Gonzales and Trump. Gonzales, a likely 2021 ABQ mayoral candidate, made sure of that.

Reader Mark Horst writes

Joe, your idea of "mainstream" is preposterous. You don't have to be a left-wing firebreather to have serious questions about the use of federal agents that we've seen in Portland. And your idea that "the man on the street" thinks bringing in agents without coordinating with local elected officials is good thing--is absurd. I think you're drinking Trump's bleach!

An anonymous reader writes:

Joe, how about that Martin Heinrich. He sure is getting awfully full of himself, isn't he? Sheriff Gonzales may just take a pass on opposing Keller and instead gear up for a run against Heinrich in 2024. I think it is getting more likely all the time that Heinrich will face some primary opponent in 2024. He is full of hubris, and hubris comes before the fall.

Mike Santullo, former communications director for ABQ Mayor Ken Schultz in the 80's, writes:

While some may say it is political I commend him for sending the federal agents. This damn city is totally in the shitter. Crime is at an all-time high, we have a police chief who's not even awake and a mayor who only cares about kissing babies and cutting ribbons while Rome burns. It's about time we concentrated on the high numbers we have for auto theft, burglary and murder. It's about time we sent out a strong message to these criminals that the party is over. I welcome the federal presence into this city. Then and only then will the pretty faces at City Hall get the message loud and clear.  Enough is enough!

ABQ attorney Israel Chavez writes:

Sen. Heinrich
Pouring in more police is not the answer to crime. As a prosecutor, I take the health and safety of our communities very seriously. But that means. . . taking a broader view of crime. We must be focused on rehabilitative solutions for those struggling. . .It’s not just about punishment it’s about what the road ahead looks like. Our collective well-being. Deploying federal agents to agitate in an effort to curry political capital as “tough on crime” will not produce the results we need and arrests often have years-long consequences for those affected. Additionally, I call on each of those prosecutors employed in the US Attorneys office to condemn these actions. The oath we all swear on admission to the bar demands it. If you are silent then it is noted.

Meli Romero writes:

We’ve got people claiming crime is under control and that the people of Albuquerque, who have been living with the fear of crime for years, have more to fear from 35 publicly announced federal agents than from the violence that puts us on the list of most dangerous cities. That seems very political to me. That’s the only way to explain why the party that claims to stand for Hispanic New Mexicans is not out demanding answers over violence that is disproportionately taking the lives of Natives and Chicanos.

Kevin Wenderoth writes:

Joe, perhaps "Gestapo" or "stormtroopers" is hyperbole. But I can't help but disagree with your calling Mayor Keller's comments "out of the mainstream." President Trump's Federal Protective Service are going around Portland wearing battle fatigues (not police uniforms) that don't have any identifying information (names, agency, or otherwise), driving rental vans with no identifying information, and apprehending & questioning people without probable cause. What else can you call them other than secret police?

Thanks, Kevin. Our answer is that we can't call them secret police in ABQ until we see the same conduct here.

Maria Estela de Rios writes:

The dispatching of Federal agents by the President to “assist” in fighting our violent crime problem angered me. Trump’s hypocrisy and self-serving nature coupled with his incompetence and lack of empathy not only threatens to completely collapse our country but also endangers the lives of so many; some now dead. Faced with a possible loss in November, he has ratcheted up the heat under the guise of law and order. What is worse, his move into New Mexico has been aided and abetted by New Mexicans for their political expediency, many who stand under the banner of States’ rights. Make no mistake, I am appalled at the crime stats for Albuquerque and support a multi-pronged approach with additional resources to help solve our crime problem. 

Laura Sanchez writes:

Joe, I think it’s very touching that you trust the Trump administration to send federal officers to help Albuquerque. However I disagree that they are coming to help us. 1. Trump lies about everything.
2. Trump has never shown interest in helping ordinary citizens, only in aggrandizing himself.
3. About the only support he has left is his “base,” which needs regular doses of red meat.  
4. Albuquerque is not facing a specific crisis at this moment, but New Mexico has a Democratic Hispanic woman governor, a Democratic congressional delegation, Democratic mayors of its largest cities, and a minority/majority population--entirely too tempting a target.
5. “Outside forces” have previously tried to clean up APD. How’s that working out for you?

We didn't say that we "trust" Trump but that the deployment decision did not equate to Portland.

Sheriff Gonzales
Dave Marash of KSFR radio comes with some humor on Trump's rollout of the agents and our calling it a "smooth" PR ploy:

The smoothest thing about it was Sheriff Gonzales' silence. But he did apparently find a camera he's not scared shitless of.

Gonzales has been derided for refusing to equip his deputies with lapel cameras. Marash, a former ABC-TV newsman, lives in Santa Fe. You can listen to his regular podcasts here.

John Rey writes:

Joe, just watched Manny’s excuse news conference. Manny you are a sell out. Here in Crime Ridden Alb. U pose with a mask on but in DC you pose sans mask, why? Because your new best friend orange sunshine doesn’t wear one. 

Dan Klein writes:

After Jacquelyn Vigil’s murder here is Tim Keller accepting assistance from President Trump's law enforcement. Heinrich, Lujan Grisham, Haaland, Torrez, Geier, were all on board in 2019. Eight months later Democratic Sheriff Manny Gonzales accepts the same type of assistance and oh, the outrage! The word “hypocrite” doesn’t do justice to these Democrat progressives.

Thanks to all who took time to write and make this yet another worthy edition of Reader Vox Populi!

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