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Thursday, November 19, 2020

Final Hours Jockeying By Senate Dems Underway For Top Leadership Post, A Covid Disparity And Our Bottom Lines 

Senate Republicans delivered a bit of a surprise this week when they ousted their longtime Minority Leader Stuart Ingle in favor of Sen. Greg Baca. Now it's the Senate Dems turn to put new faces in their leadership. They caucus Saturday to select their picks.

The final hours positioning is over who the Dems name to become the next Senate President Pro Tem. Supporters of ABQ Dem Sen. Mimi Stewart argue she's the best choice among the five contenders for the post which is key in determining committee assignments of senators. 

They cite Stewart's stewardship of the Dem state senate campaign. Dems picked up one senate seat in November and now control the chamber 27-14. That doesn’t reveal the leftward shift the Senate has taken as a result of primary elections that saw several conservative-leaning Dems lose their seats. 

Stewart's backers also argue that Pro Tem hopeful Pete Campos, the senior member of the Senate, should not get the job because he was among the senators who voted against repealing an outdated abortion law. That vote was a major reason progressive groups targeted conservative senators with primary challengers. 

Campos supporters argue that Stewart, 72, is a liberal firebrand who would be divisive as Pro Tem. They add that she has baggage of her own, noting that she flipped from her long held position of supporting a measure to use a small portion of the $20 billion Land Grant Permanent Fund for early childhood education. They say she flipped to appease Senate Finance Committee Chairman John Arthur Smith. 

Besides Campos and Stewart, ABQ Sens. Jerry Ortiz y Pino, Linda Lopez and Daniel Ivey-Soto are also seeking to become Pro Tem. The pick of the Dem Senators will then be voted on by the full Senate at the legislative session in January. Insider betting now has Ortiz y Pino showing strength, but a caucus is not known for its predictability. 

COVID DISPARITY

There's quite an ethnic disparity in NM Covid cases. The Health Department says 43 percent of the cases have been among Hispanics, 18 percent among Native Americans but only 14 percent among Whites. About 20 percent of the cases are said to be among individuals whose ethnic identity is "unknown."

Thirty-seven percent of the state's population is White. Hispanics make up 49 percent and Native Americans 11 percent, according to the Census Bureau. Racial disparities are also common in the state's eduction system and income levels. 

THE BOTTOM LINES 

There's a new conservative blogger on the block. On the big issue of the day Joaquin Roibal calls it "the Lujan lockdown" and says: 

In an attempt to further her own political ambitions as US Health and Human Services Secretary, Michelle Lujan Grisham has instituted a second, more restrictive “Lujan Lockdown” on the great people of New Mexico who have been battered and bruised by 8 months of economic, social and spiritual restrictions." 

Not that the Governor doesn't have her share of supporters. Cynthia Schanwald, writing on MLG's Facebook page, says:

Heartfelt condolences to all the families whose loved ones have passed on. I’m sure you miss them. Thank you Governor for shutting us down and doing the best that you can for our state. Now it’s up to us to slow the spread of this invisible terror wreaking havoc on humanity throughout the world.

Foes of the latest Covid restrictions will rally at the state capitol at noon Saturday. 

This is the home of New Mexico politics. 

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Wednesday, November 18, 2020

Election Fallout: Ingle Ousted As Senate Minority Leader; Sen. Greg Baca Takes Leadership Mantle As R's Fight To Regain Relevancy, Plus: Haaland Stays In Interior Mix And Keller's APD Woes Are Unrelenting  

Sen. Greg Baca
State Senate Republicans have turned the page on the Ingle era. Longtime Senate Minority Leader Stuart Ingle was ousted by the Senate GOP caucus Tuesday night as they chose Senator Greg Baca of Valencia County as his replacement.

The ouster of Ingle comes after the Republican minority was reduced by one seat in the recent election and three Republican senators in Bernalillo County lost their reelection bids. 

Also, the Senate coalition in which Senate Republicans allied with conservative leaning Senate Democrats is finished as a result of the primary election defeats of the conservative Dems. That further weakened Ingle’s position.

Baca, 49, is a Valencia County native, a decorated Gulf War veteran, an attorney and businessman who practices law out of Los Lunas. He beat Paul Baca in this month's election to win his second term. 

Senator Baca is apparently the first Hispanic Senate Republican leader in the modern era. 

Valencia County voted heavily for Trump and also put into office GOP Sen.-elect Josh Sanchez who scored an upset win over well-financed Democratic contender Pam Cordova. This was the party's best showing in the ABQ metro. 

Ingle, 72, is currently the longest serving state senator, taking his Clovis area seat in 1985. He farms and ranches in Portales. He was first named Minority Leader in 2001 and his 20 year run is one of the longest on record. He is well-versed in policy and liked and respected on both sides of the aisle. But the party decided it needed new faces to pull it out of a very deep cellar. 
Sen. Ingle

The switch in Republican leadership is from rural to urban. It is the urban areas of Albuquerque, Santa Fe and Las Cruces that have been pummeling the state Republicans into oblivion. They currently hold no statewide executive offices and Democrats control both houses of the legislature.

Leader Baca’s election also represents a generational change in leadership as the R’s fight to regain relevancy. Their next challenge is the redistricting of the legislature in which more of their seats could be placed in jeopardy. 

When the new legislature is seated in January the 42 member Senate will have 27 Democrats and only 15 Republicans.

Meeting at the Capitol, the GOP caucus also selected Rio Rancho Senator Craig Brandt as their Minority Whip. Sen. Mark Moores, the only surviving GOP Senator in BernCo, was named Minority Caucus Chair. 

Again, these selections are from the ABQ metro where the R's have faltered in recent cycles. One lack in the new GOP leadership line-up Is the absence of any women who continue to bolster the Democratic Party.

HAALAND VS. UDALL?

We noted Tuesday that Sen. Tom Udall seems to be making headway in his effort to nail down a Biden appointment as Secretary of Interior but it's fellow New Mexican and ABQ Dem Congresswoman Deb Haaland who’s giving him a bit of competition.

House Interior Committee Chairman Raul Grijalva has thrown his support behind Haaland, pointing out that she would be the first Native American to become Interior Secretary. Grijalva had been the pick of the Congressional Hispanic Caucus. Progressive groups are also banging the table for Haaland who is one of the most liberal members of the House. The Hill reports the Biden team is vetting Haaland.

Haaland was was seeking a leadership position in the the House but has now given that up amid the rumors swirling about Interior. She was elected to her second term in the House this month. If she were to leave her congressional seat there would be a special election held to full the seat. 

GETTING WORSE

It just keeps getting worse

A city performance audit of APD's overtime practices and internal controls found four employees accrued more than 2,000 hours of overtime in fiscal year 2020 – which averages out to a staggering 38 hours of overtime each week. The year before it was two employees who exceeded 2,000 hours. . . Salaries account for about 78% of APD’s budget (or $211 million) in fiscal year 2020, according to the city’s audit report. “Overtime related costs constituted a large portion of total APD salaries paid for both years,” the report states. “Specifically, in fiscal years 2019 and 2020, APD paid $17.9 million and $18.3 million in related overtime costs.” And in each year two employees made more than $100,000 in overtime. 

State Auditor Brian Colón has an ongoing investigation into the overtime problem. 

Bernalillo County Sheriff Manny Gonzales is gearing up for a 2021 run against Mayor Keller who like previous Mayor RJ Berry has been overwhelmed by the intransigent APD culture. Berry managed to get re-elected amid the wreckage in 2013. But this time the APD abuse is combined with record high crime. The city election is now less than a year away and will be held Nov. 2, 2021.

Meantime, the city has put up this survey for citizens interested in chiming in about the qualifications for a new police chief. Keller has launched a national search. Interim Chief Harold Medina says he is interested in the permanent position. 

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Tuesday, November 17, 2020

Udall Seems To Be Closing In On Interior Appointment, Plus: Big Campaign Contributors Prep For Legislative Session 

The press machine is going to work as retiring NM Dem US Senator Tom Udall appears to be closing in on winning the position of Secretary of Interior in the Biden administration: 

A plan championed by retiring Sen. Udall to harness the nation’s lands and ocean waters to fight climate change is getting a boost from President-elect Joe Biden, who has made slowing climate change a priority for his incoming administration.  

Udall, 72, is seen as the candidate with perhaps the best chance to win an easy confirmation from his colleagues in the Senate. Republicans may not like his views but he is not a lightning rod. And the AP reporting that Udall worked as an aide for Biden in the early 70's is more grist for the mill. 

As for how a Udall appointment would impact New Mexico, it's a mixed picture. Oil and gas would fear his climate change agenda and how it might impact their activity on public lands. Enviros would welcome his emphasis on climate and conservation. 

Udall's prospects may have improved in the aftermath of the election. For the first time since 1996 Arizona this year voted for the Democratic presidential candidate. That will make the Grand Canyon state a swing state in the 2024 election. 

While a long-serving New Mexico politician, Udall and his family legacy are inextricably linked to Arizona. Udall's father, Stewart Udall of AZ, was Secretary of Interior under Presidents Kennedy and Johnson and served from January 1961 until January 1969. His uncle Mo Udall served in the House from the Tucson area and was a high-profile chairman of the then Interior Committee. Those are not only environmental credentials but political ones. Taken together the surprise wouldn't be that Udall gets the nod from Biden but that he doesn't.

THE THIRD 

Udall would be the third New Mexican to serve as Interior Secretary. Albert Fall held the position from 1921-23. He was named to the cabinet by President Harding while serving as a US Senator but lasted only two years before being felled by the Teapot Dome Scandal. Former ABQ GOP Congressman Manuel Lujan was elevated to the post by President H.W. Bush in 1989 and served until 1993 when the defeated Bush left office. 

FOLLOWING THE MONEY

Major private interests were big donors in Campaign '20 in anticipation of the 2021 legislative session, including cannabis, guns and payday loans. NM Ethics Watch has been tracking the action:

The cannabis industry reported spending nearly $90,000 in general election campaign contributions to cultivate influence with new -- and old -- lawmakers. And with efforts to create tougher regulations for installment loans --popularly called “payday loans”-- also likely to be debated in the Legislature next year. . . companies associated with such lending handed out more than $40,000 in campaign contributions.

There has been no indication of proposed gun legislation for next year’s Legislature. But pro-gun control organization--Everytown for Gun Safety--backed by billionaire Michael Bloomberg--continues to contribute to state Democrats. The group gave $215,000 to candidates and political action committees (PACs) during the general election period. By contrast, the National Rifle Association has contributed $2,500 to candidates here, all of  it to Republicans. 

“Big businesses as well as large advocacy groups know that one of the best ways to establish friendly relationships with lawmakers is to donate to their campaigns. It’s impossible to say that big contributions `buy access’ to officials. But they certainly don’t hurt,” said Kathleen Sabo, executive director of NM Ethics Watch.

Large recipients of cannabis money during the general election included ABQ Dem Rep. Javier Martinez and Roswell GOP Sen. Cliff Pirtle. Both received a $5,000 contribution from Ultra Health, the state's largest medical marijuana distributor.

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Monday, November 16, 2020

Virus Fatigue Could Impact NM Lockdown As Economic Consequences Continue To Bedevil Santa Fe; Course Correction Awaited 

The lockdown is on again but the state, with what are said to be the most restrictive pandemic measures in the USA, is now up against a serious case of virus fatigue:

A new Gallup poll finds that just 49% of Americans say they would shelter in place if public health officials recommended it because of a coronavirus outbreak. That's down significantly from the 67% who said so during a Gallup poll taken in late March and early April. 

The economic consequences of the virus continue to bedevil the state. Santa Fe pushed out a $400 million loan program to ease the impact on businesses and employees but the program has been a bust because it was too restrictive. It now has to be reworked, likely in a special legislative session that MLG says will soon be called. She also plans to put $100 million of federal coronavirus funds to work to alleviate economic pain, with an eye on the high jobless rate. 

Even a rewritten loan program could be behind the curve. To thwart the virus the state has shut down thousands of businesses and again thrown thousands out of work for the rest of the month. This time it is in the most economically active quarter of the year. If the virus is not restrained, the shutdown could be continued. Instead of loans the city of ABQ is using $10 million of its federal coronavirus money for direct grants to businesses with fewer than 50 employees threatened with collapse. Big boys like Wal-Mart and Target can ride out the storm. If Santa Fe simply copies the ABQ program the money could quickly get out to impacted businesses and workers now--not months from now or never (if there's a problem with the state anti-donation clause charge a small fee.)

Santa Fe's damaging penchant for fiscal austerity lingers. If the state is going to get as serious about the impact of lost livelihoods from the virus as it is about the health consequences it's going to have to start showing the money--not impossible to get loans with fine print conditions but cash in hand with few restrictions. The government has shut the state down. Business and workers are not to blame. The virus is. 

As for that special session, House Speaker Egolf believes it could last just one day and be held remotely. He foresees one omnibus economic package on the table.

Then there's the regular 60 day session in January. Gathering 112 lawmakers remotely amid the virus for that length of time is unrealistic. A truncated session of a week could get a budget crafted for the fiscal year starting July 1, keeping in mind that another special session might be needed before then. 

Also, lawmakers could easily repeal that outdated abortion statute that caused so much upheaval in the June primary and has already passed the House. 

In addition, the long debated proposal to tap the $20 billion Land Grant Permanent Fund for early childhood education could pass quickly in January now that its chief Senate foes are gone. The measure has repeatedly passed the House. The amendment could be put before voters at the regularly scheduled municipal elections in November. 

Given the technical challenges, legalizing recreational marijuana could have to wait for a special session called in late spring to finish the work of the shortened 60 day meeting. 

For the 2021 legislative session less is better--much better--as we await the arrival of a vaccine. 

THE BOTTOM LINES

We knew that ABQ streets get their names from the developers of the particular subdivisions but we didn't know that if you and your neighbors want to change the name on your street there is a process to do that. . . 

We blogged last week that the last incumbent NM US Senator to be defeated was in 1976. Actually, it was 1982. That's when Dem Jeff Bingaman defeated Republican Sen. Jack Schmitt. It was 1976 when Schmitt beat Dem Senator Joe Montoya.  

Anna Muller, a well-known Republican politico and accomplished ABQ business leader, has died at the age of 77. And Johnny Morris, who for decades held forth on the ABQ TV airwaves as a well-liked news anchor, has passed away. He was 96. 

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. 
 
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