Thursday, October 01, 2020

Some New Mexico Political Potpourri To Kick Off The Final Full Month Of Campaign '20 

A sigh of relief in Santa Fe. Things don't look quite as bad as the bean counters have been predicting: 

Revenue for fiscal year 2022, which begins in July 2021, is now projected to be between $6.8 billion and $7.6 billion, according to the new estimates. In June, economists had estimated that figure at only $5.9 billion. 

The current state budget is $7.2 billion so we're on track to avoid big budget cuts. And get this. State reserves are expected to swell to over 29 percent percent or $2.1 billion as we head into the next budget year. That budget gets hammered out at the legislative session in January.

While the budget news is less gloomy we still have heavy lifting to do to get people back to work:

New Mexico’s unemployment rate was 11.3 percent in August down from 12.7 percent in July 2020 and up from 4.8 percent in August 2019.  New Mexico’s labor force dropped to 895,468 in August 2020. This was an over-the-year decrease of 61,780. The labor force participation rate also dropped to 54.3 percent.

When the legislative session gets underway who will be filling the powerful position of Senate President Pro Tem, the Senator who determines who sits on what committees? Well, add ABQ Dem state Senator Jerry Ortiz y Pino to the list of possibles and also northern Sen. Pete Campos. They join ABQ Sen. Ivey-Soto who has already said he' d like the job. Two women senators--ABQ's Mimi Stewart and Santa Fe's Nancy Rodriguez are also said by Roundhouse watchers to be interested. 

Back on the campaign trail the state GOP comes with a 60 second ad titled "Save New Mexico" that features Democrats who have switched to the R's. The party says the ad "showcases the fears, frustrations and anger among Democrats who feel betrayed or abandoned by the Party’s radical shift to the left."

The ad onslaught continues in the hotly contested southern congressional race between R Yvette Herrell and Dem Rep. Xochitl Torres Small. Here's Torres Small's latest--on prescription drug costs. (Hey, a Xochitl commercial without a gun? What's that race coming to?)

New Mexico's election system wins praise in a write-up from digital news site "The Fulcrum

New Mexico entered the year better positioned than many states because it was already doing two things election security experts view as essential for assuring election integrity. Back in 2006, it became one of the earliest states to mandate the use of paper ballots, which create a tangible record for use in recounts, to resolve disputes or to check suspicions of results being hacked. The state also claims to be the first to adopt what's seen as the gold-standard for those checks: so-called risk-limiting audits, in which random samples of ballots are recounted until officials have statistical certainty the overall results are accurate — similar to the sampling used in public opinion polls.


With county clerks set to begin mailing absentee ballots out October 6, the US Senate campaign of Dem Rep. Ben Ray Lujan comes with what it hopes will be one of the death blows to the campaign of Republican rival Mark Ronchetti. Their new ad ties Ronchetti to President Trump and his handling of the coronavirus and his push to overturn the Affordable Care Act. For the first time Lujan puts photos of Ronchetti and Trump together on the screen. Trump remains  unpopular in the state's major cities of ABQ, Santa Fe and Las Cruces. In the month ago ABQ Journal poll Biden led Trump in NM, 54-39 percent. 

Ronchetti is not from the Trump wing of the party and has not been openly embracing the President. This is Lujan's attempt to push them together and increase his polling lead from the 49 to 40 percent in last month's ABQ Journal poll that has given Ronchetti's supporters hope that they can pull off a major upset. Ronchetti has received some PAC support and there has been a barrage of negative TV against Lujan.

Ronchetti, a longtime TV weather forecaster, is an accomplished performer and his ads reflect that. Compared to Ronchetti's polish before the camera, Lujan has sometimes appeared to have a forced smile and be a bit stiff, but his producers have been improving. This new ad touting Lujan's support of Sandia and Los Alamos National Labs is an example. 

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Wednesday, September 30, 2020

"Clown, Liar, Socialist!" One Debate Is Too Many; Trump-Biden Becomes A Dark Moment In History, Plus: The Absentee Avalanche; Whose Advantage?  

If last night was a debate, we don't need any more of them. Let America vote and move on. Dispiriting, embarrassing, mortifying, demeaning. Choose your own adjective from the Thesaurus, the Trump-Biden spectacle will go down in history as a very dark moment when viewers looked at each other and truly worried about the future in a way they might if the nation were at war and losing. 

Like our diseased social media--Facebook, Twitter and the like--the debate stood out for its childish behavior and unenlightening discourse accompanied by schoolyard insults. More powerfully, it was a definitive demonstration of how our politics is now infected with a virus as potent as COVID could ever be. Will someone discover a vaccine to free us from this malady? 
For a "debate" that appeared to defy traditional analysis, we turn to old hands who have seen a lot--but nothing like this. Independent Greg Payne, 53, attorney and longtime political strategist: 

 It may have been one of the sorriest, most undignified, and without question unpresidential debates in the Republic's history. And there's only one person responsible: Donald J. Trump. Still, for the first few rounds, the POTUS was winning. At least on points. Biden didn't seem completely on his game, and Trump was pushing Biden and debate moderator Chris Wallace around, almost at will. But, about halfway through, Trump decided to attack the former VP's son - Hunter Biden - personally. And it backfired. Biden fought back like any parent would in defense of his son, and brought his deceased son Beau and his military service into the equation. It was the turning point. Biden takes the first debate as a TKO.

Veteran radio talk show host, political candidate and analyst Mike Santullo, 73, came with this: 

Trump bulldozed this way through the entire debate and even managed to minimize moderator Chris Wallace who lost control early. The constant interruptions by Trump were over the top. All in all it was a poorly designed format and cries out for change.

CNN political correspondent Chris Cilliza summed up the toll the debate took on the political community in New Mexico and the nation: 

Because I love politics so much, it was deeply disappointing to watch the debacle on my TV screen on Tuesday night. It didn't make me mad. It made me sad. Because politics is -- and has to be -- better than this. 

In the immortal words of boxer Roberto Duran when he could take no more of a beating from Sugar Ray Leonard: 

No Más!


In the June primary 63 percent of the ballots were cast by mail and it appears we may challenge the 70 percent mark in the November election. The Secretary of State reports nearly 272,000 New Mexicans have requested absentees and the numbers grow daily. 

Dems say there's a warning sign in that huge number for Republicans. Democrats make up 45.6 percent of those registered but make up 63 percent of those requesting absentee applications. The R's make up 31 percent of the registered, but only 20 percent of application results come from them. Independents are 22 percent of those registered and make up 15 percent of absentee applications. 

The R's will argue that they are urging their voters to go to the polls in person because of distrust over mail-in ballots but Dems believe the numbers show voter enthusiasm  this cycle is again on their side.

Will the pandemic be the beginning of the end for Election Day voting? Experts say voters are creatures of habit and this year's election may signal that at least a majority of ballots in the state will henceforth be cast by absentee. 

At the end of August there were 1.3 million registered voters in New Mexico. Absentee ballots will be mailed by county clerks to those who requested them beginning October 6. You can request an absentee here


We get this from the energy industry supported NM Strong PAC:

State Democratic officials on your Monday blog falsely and erroneously accused New Mexico Strong of being part and parcel with a group called Common Sense New Mexico, a Virginia-registered independent expenditure committee currently engaged in New Mexico's U.S. Senate race. Referencing your blog: "State Dems come with this: Common Sense New Mexico is an out of state, dark money group who has the same treasurer and P.O. Box as a group (NM Strong) that spent $2.5 million in New Mexico elections in 2018." 

While Common Sense New Mexico has apparently retained the same political compliance firm as New Mexico Strong, let's be absolutely clear: New Mexico Strong is not affiliated with Common Sense New Mexico. . . Furthermore, as a state-focused entity, New Mexico Strong has no interest whatsoever in the outcome of any federal campaigns -- and that includes New Mexico's U.S. Senate race. . .Any attempt to draw a connection between New Mexico Strong and Common Sense New Mexico on the basis that the two organizations happen to share the same third-party compliance vendor is deliberatively deceptive and deceitful. 

. . . New Mexico Strong vehemently opposes so-called "dark money" efforts and we have a strong track record of fully disclosing all of our contributions and expenditures with the New Mexico Secretary of State. 

Oil company Chevron has been one of the primary financial backers of NM Strong. 

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Tuesday, September 29, 2020

Hold On Howie And Would-Be Howie Challengers; MLG Cabinet Job Not Set In Stone; Vetting Underway, Plus: Senate Race Attracts Outside PAC Attacks 

Hold on Howie, Hector, Martin, Brian and other interested parties. Now the hard part begins. What was spun as a no-brainer for MLG is turning into a tougher hill to climb, according to the rumor mill intently watching the New Mexico Governor for a possible appointment to a Joe Biden cabinet. 

MLG was not vetted for vice-president by the Biden team despite being frequently mentioned as a possible pick. Her shot at becoming the next Health and Human Services Secretary is seen as more likely. This time, one of the Alligators reports, she is indeed being vetted. 

Will that be troublesome? It won't be without its bumps. What's been tagged "Crotchgate" will be gone over with a fine tooth comb, the incident where she's accused of throwing water on the pants of a campaign aide and then grabbing his private parts. That's especially sensitive in these #metoo times. 

Then there's her somewhat turbulent management style that was on display Friday when she suddenly axed the Secretary of the Public Safety Department, apparently a sacrificial offering to the progressive left. That follows other abrupt cabinet dismissals.

Then there's the matter of her finances and that health care consulting firm she ran with State Rep. Debbie Armstrong that caused so much controversy in the '18 campaign. Throw in that ill-advised jewelry purchase during the COVID restrictions. Vetters will give that another going over. And what about  "whatever else?" All of the above is known to the public. Any negative surprises the political detectives turn up could send her cabinet chances tumbling. 

There is also the matter of competition. Since being touted as a possible HHS Secretary and her aides letting it be known she's interested, others who have their eye on that position have to be itching to give our Guv a black eye or two to enhance their own chances. 

There's also the lesser concern that giving MLG a cabinet post as well as naming outgoing Senator Udall as Sec. of Interior puts too much New Mexico on the list. 

So heads up Lt. Governor Howie Morales, who would be Guv if MLG departed, and also AG Hector Balderas, Senator Martin Heinrich and House Speaker Brian Egolf, all of whom are already weighing primary challenges to Morales should he take over the Fourth Floor. Don't, as they say, start measuring the drapes yet. But thanks for the entertainment, fellas. If nothing else, you're a relief from the pandemic headlines.

P.S. Are there no gals who want to take on Howie if he becomes the next Dem Governor or will he name Secretary of State Maggie Toulosue Oliver as his lieutenant governor to fend off the progressives who want to challenge him? Just wondering.


Reader Manuel reacts to our coverage of the weekend Herrell-Torres Small KOAT-TV debate:

I said it two years ago and I will say it again, XTS needs to make up her mind if she is a Las Cruces Liberal or a Roswell conservative. As Jim Hightower once said, "the only thing in the middle of the road is a yellow line or a dead armadillo". On the plus side if XTS wins, the redistricting should put a few more Democrats in her district for the 2022 race.

Reader Len Padilla sees it this way: 

Can't believe I watched the same debate described on your blog. The bar must be set really low for Herrell if she is considered to have prevailed. Go back and listen to her answers to questions about health care and pandemic relief. Props to you if can actually discern her plans, which consist of vague "structural" references. Compare that with Xochitl 's specific examples of what she has done and what needs to be done. At least Herrell got to use God and guns in the same sentence. Guess that counts as a win around these parts.  


A reader retired from state government writes of the recent board election for the Public Employees Retirement Association (PERA):

The current PERA Board, which instead of supervising PERA executive staff became a rubber stamp for them, went along with the cost of living adjustment (COLA) reduction for retirees (the average retiree earns $30,000 per year before taxes). Retired Public Employees of New Mexico (RPENM) have now exerted their muscle and so far they are batting 100% in removing the rubber stampers from the PERA Board. There's one more election in November. I am sure PERA Executive staff are not to happy that the Board is changing back to what the statute demands--and that the Board is the boss, not Executive Director Wayne Propst. 

Francis Page won the Retiree position on the PERA board. Roberto Ramirez won the Municipal member position. 


Dem US Senate hopeful Ben Ray Lujan comes with Spanish language TV ads in his campaign against Republican Mark Ronchetti. Meanwhile, Ronchetti's TV presence is perhaps more than expected in the race which heavily favors Lujan. That's because ad buys attacking Lujan have been made for Ronchetti by out of state PACS. State Dems come with this: 

Common Sense New Mexico is an out of state, dark money group who has the same treasurer and P.O. Box as a group that spent $2.5 million in New Mexico elections in 2018. The Republican Campaign Committee of New Mexico, which has begun buying coordinated advertisements with Ronchetti, has received over $1.5 million from the Republican National Committee and the National Republican Senatorial Committee.

The NM Senate race is ranked "Solid D" by the Cook Political Report but there have been no recent public polls. The ABQ Journal survey taken a month ago had Lujan leading 49 to 40 percent.

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Monday, September 28, 2020

ABQ Crime Crisis Pushes Election Aside As Bitter Confrontation Erupts Between Ousted APD Chief And Keller Team, Plus: Herrell Takes It; First TV Debate In Hot Southern Congress Race Tips Her Way  

The ABQ crime wave is so entrenched and so powerful that it even pushes aside a presidential election. The story has now devolved into one of backbiting, gross mismanagement, an unclear path forward and a weary continuation of the violence and mayhem caused primarily by meth trafficking, according to the DEA.

The spectacle of ousted APD Chief Mike Geier splashed across the front pages as he decried the administration of Mayor Keller and Chief Administrative Officer Sarita Nair had to be bizarre to casual observers. Only days earlier Keller tried to spin the Geier retirement as a mutual decision and Geier played along. But now a bitter Geier has let loose a barrage of accusations asserting that Keller and Nair mismanaged and micromanaged APD and in the process shoved him aside. They are the kind of charges that will shadow Keller well into the future. The administration could not manage APD with Geier there and now it failed to manage his departure. 

As for Geier, if he was so upset about straining under the micromanagement of the 11th Floor why didn't we hear that from him years ago? He had enough time in to quit or risk being fired and still get a retirement check well into the six figures. Spilling the beans at this late date isn't exactly a profile in courage nor was his quiet, if tortured, acceptance of being belittled during his tenure. 

Newly named Acting APD Chief Harold Medina, promoted from deputy chief, and who clearly had his knife out for Geier's scalp and got it, tried to assure the public in TV interviews that APD is in steady hands, but he had to do it as his controversial APD past was rehashed, already damaging his ability to lead.

Now that he finally has the power he has thirsted for, Medina may turn out to be an able administrator but is there much hope for changing the aggressive and inbred APD culture that dates back to the post 9/11 era with an insider like Medina? Still, it does no good tearing him down. Medina has the watch now and the city can only hope that his checkered past is not prologue. 

Our young and enthusiastic Mayor made his bed upon taking office and refused to do a housecleaning which would have included bringing in a police chief from out of state. Not that Keller is solely responsible for the wayward APD and crime debacle. It bears repeating that his two predecessors also failed and left him the spoiled cheese. But he can still consider an outside chief, improve cooperation with the feds Operation Legend, get a new homeless shelter built and work with Bernalillo County to further drug addiction treatment with millions that a behavioral tax generates annually. (Share the wealth, BernCo).

But Keller will head into election year '21 saddled with his 2017 decision to not rock the APD boat and a city whose spirit has been broken by unrelenting tales of a breakdown in law and order. A "satisfaction survey" conducted for the city shows growing concern over the city's direction with 51 percent of respondents worried that ABQ is headed in the wrong direction. Or maybe they're worried because it often seems there is no direction.

The first thing that came to mind after watching the KOAT-TV debate between Democratic Rep. Xochitl Torres Small and Republican Yvette Herrell was how egregious a mistake the Herrell campaign made in 2018 when they refused to debate Torres Small. She went on to lose that election but she won their first 2020 debate Sunday--on the issues and the optics. Going into the hour long event with low expectations didn't hurt. (Full debate here).

The most crystallized moment was when Herrell asked Torres Small for a yes or no answer on whether she would vote for Joe Biden. It summed up the congresswoman's predicament as she tries to satisfy a large liberal constituency in Las Cruces that contrasts with much of the remainder of the district which is rural/conservative. In her 90 second response Torres Small danced, falling back on her campaign theme that "she will work with anyone who wants to deliver for New Mexico." Offered rebuttal Herrell asked XTS if "that was a yes or no" on how she will vote. Some real suspense there. But a KOAT moderator, somewhat shockingly, refused to let XTS answer:

I don't believe this is a Q and A, it's a rebuttal only."  

No one wants to know if Xochitl will vote for her party's standardbearer? That's a linchpin question in the pro-Trump district she represents and of critical importance to voters. Whatever rules KOAT was abiding by need to be retired. Fortunately, later in the debate Torres Small affirmed that "she would vote for Joe Biden" as she outlined concerns she had with him. 

Veteran NM politics watcher, participant and ABQ talk radio pioneer Mike Santullo, now an independent, is watching this too hot to handle race closely, and comes with this summation that highlights the optics:

While Torres Small had some good answers she made it an art to duck and not answer directly, giving answers that were general and not specific. She was trying to please both her party and the district and it came out badly. Also, the room Torres Small chose to broadcast from was not suitable. It was a large room with no sound cushioning and the acoustics were terrible. That was a big distraction. Her voice came out high-pitched and it did her damage. Also, her pacing was too hot for a cool medium, unlike her TV spots which showcase her so effectively. 

Herrell was pretty good answering questions directly. Her acoustics were much better and made her more compelling but what was with the long strand of hair running down her nose? Xochitl looked pasty under the lighting, and the big colorful flags behind her didn’t help. Herrell appeared in an home office setting that imparted a quiet authority. 

KOAT did not encourage debate between the candidates. They each gave their 90 second answers and there was little rebuttal. It was more of a forum than a debate. Finally, the station should have had the candidates in the studio with social distancing. The Zoom format simply does not work for candidate give and take. One hopes KOB-TV will not follow in those footsteps for their debate. 

The money lines of the debate came from Herrell. She is all black and white in these final days and her  clarity resonates in a TV debate setting: 

I am unashamedly pro-God, pro-life, pro-gun, pro-business and pro-family. Those are the values that are important to the New Mexico 2nd Congressional District.  

Well, she did leave out the "Pro-Trump" line she used in the primary but the contrast was stark with the tip toe through the land mines approach that Torres Small has to take. Whether it makes any difference at the polls is up in the air but it helped Herrell win their first face-off. 


If you think so, here's some spin from the state Dem Party to back that up:

Here’s how she misled voters about her own record: Herrell’s support for a full repeal of the Affordable Care Act stands in stark contrast to her claim this afternoon that she supports protecting people with pre-existing conditions. The truth is, the plan Herrell supports would strip coverage from people with pre-existing conditions, including those with diabetes, New Mexicans who have contracted COVID-19, and even new mothers. After long saying that she would not support another stimulus package, Herrell looked straight into the camera and claimed the opposite today. 

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