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Tuesday, January 31, 2006

Race Against The Clock: Still No GOP Light Guv Candidate; Damron To Fly Solo? Plus: The Case Of Colin & The Chicharrones, And: W Sets NM Intel Visit 

GOP Chair Weh
Has it ever happened before? I don't think so. But if the NM GOP doesn't hurry and soon field a candidate for Lieutenant Governor, they could become the first major party in modern NM history to run a candidate for Governor without a running mate. The situation is serious because any contender, and none have announced so far, needs to get some 1800 GOP petition signatures to make the June primary ballot and secure the nomination. Will there be a candidate?

"(NM GOP Chairman) Colonel Weh is having negotiations with several people. To my knowledge, none of them are legislators and there is not an announced candidate," GOP probable Guv nominee J. R. Damron told me from his Santa Fe medical offices Monday.

"Someone is missing a great opportunity," chirped the upbeat M.D., despite the long odds of victory over Big Bill and now the growing concern that the party could be embarrassed by failing to recruit a number two for Damron.

ABQ GOP State Senator Kent Cravens, mentioned here months ago as a possible, is a no go. "I am too busy with my business and the Legislature," Cravens told me over the weekend while I pondered the quandary during a brisk walk in a howling wind.

The deadline for getting the petitions is February 14. Yes, it can be done, even at this late date, but it will take a major effort as Damron told me after weeks of work he has yet to get all his signatures. And he is not alone. Getting people to sign anything these days is not easy and candidates from both sides of the aisle are fretting as the day of reckoning nears. Some of them are going to come up short and will be forced out.

WHAT IF....?

And what, in the not completely unlikely event that the R's fail to come up with a Light Guv hopeful in time to get the petitions? "They could file someone as a write-in and that person would have to receive as many votes as the petition requirement in order to become part of the ticket," offered one political pro.

But fielding a write-in candidate for the number two slot would send a message that the R's are practically giving the Guv a free ride, an argument they are already getting an earful of.

Why is it so hard to get someone to run? The obvious answer is that Big Bill is the odds-on favorite and this one is a loser from the start. Still, both parties have faced those prospects in the past, but managed to come up with an early credible ticket.

When Colonel Weh went looking for an ABQ GOP mayoral candidate last year, he nearly came up empty until Brad Winter got in the race, only to be landslided by Mayor Marty, in part, because of the late start.

The R's are doing OK on the other statewide races, all of which have announced contenders. But Lieutenant Governor of New Mexico is not an honorific position and the party risks harsh judgement if a serious problem becomes an embarrassment.

Who, if anyone, will step forward? Stay tuned.


Meanwhile, radiologist Damron continues to tour the state and argue that NM is "still at the bottom of all the right lists and at the top of all the bad ones." I asked if he was disappointed that his call for rebating to taxpayers half of the over half-billion dollar General Fund surplus has not gained much traction. "I still favor that. We need to fully fund current programs before starting new ones," he declared.

ABQ GOP Senators Ryan and Cravens have introduced a plan to rebate a third of the surplus, but the Santa Fe pork party is in full swing and chances of it passing are slim to none. Big Bill is proposing a $30 million tax cut.


Staying with the GOP theme, we are determined, I guess, to make Colin Hunter, legislative director for Rep. Heather Wilson, a persona of sorts. At our Barelas Coffee House chicharrones party, we ribbed him over his "preppy" style and "WASP" appearance. That after lousing up his last name. But Colin, don't worry. You've got friends.

"That boy is a New Mexico native. He has a law degree from UNM, and close ties to some of the state's ranching families down Roswell way," penned one Colin aficionado and blog Gatorette.

And another: "I've known Colin since before he entered kindergarten. He was born in Albuquerque, lived in Durango (CO) and the state of Washington and then returned to Albuquerque where he graduated high school," wrote Colin fan Amy Horowitz.

If Heather's support is as ardent as Colin's, she's going to have a heck of a year. And we should go easy on the "preppy" comments. You can dress me, a native of Pennsylvania, out of a Ralph Lauren catalogue.


President Bush will visit ABQ Friday as part of his post State of the Union speech tour. Word was circulating late Monday that Intel in Rio Rancho would be one of his stops. He will overnight Thursday in ABQ...If you don't think bloggers are held to high standards, read our e-mail some time. "It's Army 'Corps,' not 'corp' frowned Socorro reader David Findley in pointing out the error of our ways...Dem Public Regulation Commission candidate Andrew Leo Lopez reminded us that the deadline for getting petition signatures for the PRC races is March 21 not Feb. 14. Statewide candidates have until Feb. 14. We reported that State Senator Nava is collecting them for a PRC run down south.

Ah, the quest for infallibility. I'll keep trying, if Archbishop Sheehan gives me a pass. Meanwhile, thanks for the company today. Let's do it again tomorrow.

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Monday, January 30, 2006

The Education Of Cynthia; Sen. Nava Eyes PRC Bid, And: Pete Motors Ahead On Bridge, Plus: Big Bill's Ship Loads Up Cargo; It's Another Bloggin' Monday 

Senator Nava
The contest for the Public Regulation Commission seat held by Shirley Baca is one of the banner races of Primary 06' and it may be about to get another headliner. Alligators on the ground in the Las Cruces area and in ABQ are checking in with reports that well-respected Dem State Senator Cynthia Nava is preparing a run against Shirley, who is the current holder of the title of "New Mexico's Most Controversial Politician."

Reports have it that Nava, Chair of the Senate Education Committee who represents southern Dona Ana county, is circulating petitions to win a place on the ballot. If she gets in she will join incumbent Baca and NM State Fair Chair Sandy Jones in the Dem primary in vying for a seat on the five remember PRC, arguably the most powerful regulatory body in the state.

Nava is no stranger to power, or power struggles. She was first elected to the senate in 1992 and has quietly ascended the ranks. Friday she was having a news conference with Big Bill pushing a measure to improve math and and science education. When we rang her office phone she was not available to confirm or deny the PRC bid, but it comes from solid sources who usually are on the money. So onward we go...


Nava is also an associate superintendent in the Gadsden Independent School District, which was recently rocked by a recall election. We blogged in August that some insiders thought Nava could be ousted because of the controversy. But the old Gadsden board is out and new members, appointed by Education Secretary Veronica Garcia, are friendly to Nava. (One of the new board members, Andrew Moralez, runs Big Bill's southern NM office) so she can expect to stay in her nearly $90,000 a year job, a sum comparable to what PRC commissioners are paid.

No state senators are up for election this year, (all 70 House members are) so even if Nava ran and lost she would retain her senate seat. And that seat is safe. She ran unopposed in the 04' primary and general elections.

But Shirley's ABQ December 04' ABQ Sunport arrest for pot possession, even though it was eventually dismissed, makes her vulnerable.

"If Cynthia gets in she could be the frontrunner. She is respected and well-known in Dona Ana county. Jones would need to run a very aggressive campaign because Nava could consolidate the Hispanic vote if Shirley's numbers don't hold up," commented a Dem strategist follwing the action.

Top D's are breathing easier now that indicted and resigned Treasurer Vigil is off the campaign trail. They would like Baca gone too as ethics morphs into a hot-button issue nationally and locally. Some think Nava may be their best chance of doing that.

By the way, Dona Ana county is a powerhouse when it comes to that education committee. It's Vice-chair is Senator Mary Kay Papen of Las Cruces.


We said Cynthia was at a news conference with the Guv Friday to push a bill to improve math and science education. And look what was revealed at that camera session: About 25 percent of Hispanic ninth-graders and about 20 percent of Native American students are proficient in math, compared to 55 per cent for Anglos.

There is not just a rich-poor gap in NM. There is a startling ethnic gap when it comes to our state's young people, and not just in education. Ex-Guv Carruthers pointed that out earlier this year. Can't we have a task force to openly and directly confront this and report to the state? It would be a nice exercise in leadership.

Sen. Domenici
Speaking of leadership, even in this modern era where language parsing is a well-paid skill, sometimes you get some. So it has been with U.S. Senator Domenici and the Montano Bridge battle featuring the Army Corps of Engineers over which a Domenici chaired subcommittee has funding authority. Since Pete (and Dem ABQ Mayor Marty) came down on the Corps for holding up the crossing desperately needed by the working people of the city, things are starting to move and we should have the bridge fully opened in a month or two.

New Mexicans have invested heavily in the senator, giving him landslide margins and the longest senate tenure in state history. In the case of Montano, the investment is paying off handsomely.

As for the Mayor, who got kudos for his bi-partisan work with Domenici, his announcement that he could not come up with $800,000 to four lane the long fought over ABQ West Side Paseo Del Norte road extension has insiders baffled. They say this is his chance to finally put the festering road issues to bed. If he doesn't four lane now, will that mean another decades long battle, like Montano, further gridlocking political debate here? They're just asking.


Another state political elder is back in the game. Ex-GOP Guv Dave Cargo (1966-70) was named by Big Bill to the Cumbres and Toltec Scenic Railroad Commission. Is this the same Cargo who has been highly critical of Big Bill's "imperial" ways? Well, Cargo has been long associated with the up and down fortunes of the Chama Valley rail in far northern NM. But he has been more recently associated with Big Bill's lobbyist-of-choice Butch Maki, signing on as a consultant for the firm. Will that and his new appointment make Dave less critical of the Dem Guv in this election year? How could we think such a thing?

Send your political news, comments and corrections via e-mail. There's a link at the top of the page.

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Thursday, January 26, 2006

Caught In The Crosswinds: UNM's Caldera Crashes, Plus: Weekly Stops The Presses, And: Paper Ballots, Part II; Dig New Mexico? Then Come On In! 

Louis Caldera
Remember when Louis Caldera was introduced to the University of New Mexico back in 03'? Faculty members cried that the former Clinton Army Secretary, member of corporate boards and onetime California Assemblyman would bring too much politics to UNM. Ironically, it seemed to be President Caldera's lack of political skills in dealing with his onetime benefactor that was a key reason for the Harvard grads anti-climatic resignation Wednesday from our "Harvard on the Rio Grande."

Big Bill isn't the first governor to put his footprints on the sprawling campus and he won't be the last. But Caldera's resignation laid bare the Guv's deep involvement in all things Lobo.

Upon accepting Caldera's resignation the seven Regents agreed that David Harris, former Big Bill finance chief, now in charge of UNM's books, should be Acting President. It's a no-brainer that Harris will be more receptive to entreaties made by the Fourth Floor than Caldera, who will take a year off with pay before going into a nice, tenured position at UNM Law School.

Insiders offered a bevy of examples of Caldera's supposed snubbing of Santa Fe's Main Man, including his opposition to legislation setting up the new state higher education department and his reluctance to host a Big Bill event for visiting Mexican President Vicente Fox. There was also talk about the UNM Mesa Del Sol land south of ABQ and whether it was being developed quickly enough? Not exactly mortal sins in your book perhaps, but they don't call you or me "Governor."

Whatever the reasons, it's worth recalling that one of Big Bill's first actions in office was to demand undated resignations from his appointed Regents. That had the R's in an uproar, with Attorney General Madrid ultimately advising that the Guv could not execute any resignations against his "hip pocket Regents."

But who needs pre-cooked resignations when you have Jamie Koch, former Chairman of the NM Dem Party and one of its most profuse fundraisers as Regents chairman? Power players love to give orders and don't take a hankering to being told no, university president or not.


Jamie Koch
Caldera did himself no favors by failing to build support beyond the Ivory Tower while hauling in a paycheck north of $300 grand. Harris, according to campus sources, assumed more of the day-to-day operations in addition to his official duties overseeing a $1.5 billion budget.

All this this would be just fine, thank you, if only Caldera got the message to go along and get along. But having a mind of your own is a terrible thing to waste. Would it have killed anyone if taxpayers saved the $300 grand, which Caldera will collect during a year "long leave of absence" and let him stay on the extra year while searching for a new prexy?

Well, that might be the prudent thing to do, but not the political thing. Which brings us back to those concerns about Caldera politicizing UNM. Heck, the guy could not politicize himself. In the end, only GOP Congresswoman Heather Wilson, aware of Big Bill's Caldera problem and hoping to boost her fortunes with Hispanic voters, came to his aid.

The resignation had all the force of a wet noodle with press accounts relaying a tone of normalcy. Of course, when an educator in New Mexico answerable to the political arm is forced out, it is seen as, well, normal.

In the end everything old is new again. Remember 85-86' when then Governor Anaya put ex-Guv Apodaca on the Board of Regents? What was it, less than a year before Prez Tom Farer was ditched after his hiring practices did not suit the tastes of that dynamic duo of their day?

The final word on this goes to another ex-governor, Dave Cargo, who once said: "New Mexicans are experts in politics, just not government." This latest episode will enter Cargo's catalogue of examples and, of course, the never ending book of New Mexico La Politica.


I've been around long enough to say goodbye to a number of spirited weekly and monthly newspapers that brought valuable insight into our politics. So it is with Crosswinds Weekly, on the scene since 1988, but no more as publisher Steve Lawrence, citing a lack of advertising, stopped the presses on the well-read "progressive" weekly.

Crosswinds' departure may not be mourned by the powers-that-be in Santa Fe. It gave cutting commentary on the state's need to improve. Still, many of them, knowing the value of lively public debate, will miss the alternative voice.

There won't be any gloating at the ABQ Journal, Tribune or the Santa Fe New Mexican. They know the changing media universe leaves all outlets vulnerable. Besides, the competition kept them sharp.

Lawrence has been tough on bloggers, heaping blame on them for his paper's demise. But you can't argue with the marketplace. You may not like it and you may not think it's fair, but in America the readers cast the ultimate vote. But nothing will take away from the solid legacy Crosswinds leaves. It came at politics from the left, but was fair to the right. And, most important, did not waste your time.


Our Wednesday piece on county clerks being unhappy with the plan to switch to all-paper ballots brought insightful comments. A legislative insider pointed out that the paper ballots still have to be approved by the Legislature. He clarified that last year the lawmakers mandated that there be a "paper trail" of votes cast, not necessarily paper ballots. State Rep. Mary Helen Garcia is carrying the bill to go all paper (which is expected to pass despite the grumpy clerks) and provide $11 million for the switch. Thank you, Mr. Wall-Leaner.

Most of the non-anonymous e-mail faulted the clerks for fighting the switch. "Eleven counties already use paper ballots, so the new system will mean minimal change for them. An additional eight counties have already ordered the equipment needed to implement a paper ballot. The remaining counties should be following their lead." Penned Paul Stokes of United Voters of New Mexico in Corrales.

And Dem activist Terry Riley chimed in: "There is enough information available about the problems with the touch screen...machines that will guarantee legal challenges in any state that uses them. Paper ballots will give the public confidence that their vote can be checked manually if the electronic tabulating systems are questioned." Wrote Terry.

It's arcane, sometimes hard-to-get stuff, but important because of our ongoing vote-counting disasters.


You and I had a bunch of fun this week, breaking the Billy Sparks departure story as well as the PRC candidacy of State Fair Chair Sandy Jones. I say you and I because most of the stuff here comes from you. We do our darndest to get it right and when we don't, we are up fast with a correction. You are my understanding editors for a whole pile of La Politica.

And we're not done yet. Join me Friday night at 7 p.m. on KNME-TV (Channel 5) for the political gabfest known as "Thin Line." Look forward to seeing you then and back here again Monday.

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Wednesday, January 25, 2006

Paper Ballot Plan Shredded By County Clerks, Plus: Heather & Patsy's Early Skirmish, Part II, And: Media Beat News, It's A Political Fix From Route 66 

Mary Herrera
Could New Mexico be headed for yet another Election Night vote counting disaster, even though the plan to go to all-paper ballots counted by optical scanner is before the Legislature and $11 million in funding is being requested by Big Bill to implement it? If you listen to county clerks, especially Bernalillo County Clerk and Dem Secretary of State hopeful Mary Herrera, the answer is an unfortunate yes.

The clerks association dashed off a letter Tuesday to key lawmakers saying getting all the machines in place for the November election is a logistic nightmare and that training poll workers, most of them quite elderly, is a key issue.

Some Santa Fe insiders say the clerks are looking for cover, that if they system goes haywire they will be able to point fingers back at the Guv and legislators. According to these same reliable insiders, Herrera has had a sharp exchange with Big Bill on all this. But House Voters and Elections Chair Ed Sandoval is ready to sweeten the pot and propose money to pay off the debt on any machines now in use as well as more dough to certify poll workers on how to use the new ones.

The consensus is for the paper ballots, which will also provide a paper trail on each vote cast. But if the clerks can't get it together, it could be another long count. One possible solution would have half the new machines ready for November with the other half coming on line later. Stay tuned.


The early skirmishing between ABQ GOP Congresswoman Heather Wilson and her D opponent, Attorney General Patricia Madrid, has Patsy slapping back at Heather's attempts to link the AG to the corruption scandal in the State Treasurer's office. (See our Jan. 29 blog.) From the ABQ Journal's Michael Coleman:

"Madrid said she received complaints about allegedly shady deals in the state Auditor's Office in the late 1990s, (when indicted Treasurer Robert Vigil was Auditor) and that she referred them to the District Attorney's Office in Santa Fe, as well as the FBI.

"Questions were not raised in my office with regard to the treasurer," Madrid said. "There were no complaints made to me about the Treasurer's Office at all."

Madrid also pointed out that she has only six prosecutors at her disposal, and more than two dozen murder cases pending.

"We're very, very busy," she said, adding that she is "very proud of the work my criminal prosecutors and investigators have done."

Madrid's argument may seem like hairsplitting to some voters and Wilson is bound to continue to keep the heat on the AG under whose watch the kickback scandal occurred. But Madrid's sharp hits on Heather's money ties to indicted lobbyist Jack Abramoff and the money machine of indicted ex-House Majority Leader Delay are also fair game. Did Heather ever meet with Abramoff or any of his associates, including Michael Scanlon? Did that pair help get others to donate to a Wilson campaign? All this "fair game" is sure to be riddled with shotgun pellets by the time this one is over.


One of our creative readers, Dave Thomas, came up with the logo on the left to note the departure of KOAT-TV (channel 7) investigative reporter Priscilla Ress. The station is advertising to fill her job...Join me for some TV politics on KNME-TV's "Thin Line" at 7 p.m. Friday (channel 5). Steve Lawrence of Crosswinds Weekly is the moderator of this lively half-hour. This week's guest is high-powered ABQ attorney Roberta Cooper Ramo. I have no idea what we will be talking about, which should make it even more fun...

I usually like to know the author of a Web site before I link to it (for obvious reasons) but New Mexico Matters, doesn't seem to have an axe to grind, even though its author is apparently nameless. There are cool links to NM media and other stuff that should come in handy during this election year...And for those of you new to the blogosphere let me give a shout-out to the Duke City Fix. Their stable of writers don't always agree with our musings, but they are talented and always fresh...


And congrats to NM TV news dean Dick Knipfing. While guesting with him on the KRQE (channel 13) 4 p.m. news last week, Dick informed that he has signed a new three year contract with the CBS affiliate which is in a nip and tuck battle for 10 p.m. news dominance in the ABQ market. (Erika Ruiz is co-anchor) Dick has anchored news in NM for an incredible 42 years. That may be close to a national record. Whether he's number one or number three, his enthusiasm for La Politica never wanes. He noted the heated atmosphere of recent years saying partisanship out there has, regretfully, made him more hesitant to lend his name to community causes as the ideologues look to get attention. But he's insistent on playing it down the middle and holding firm. That in itself is a worthy community cause.


There are a slew of municipal elections in New Mexico March 7th and things are starting to heat up. You may have noticed the banner ad of former Santa Fe City Councilor David Schutz on the site. He's one of five City Different mayoral hopefuls seeking to succeed Larry Delgado who gave up the post to try to replace Lucky Varela in the Legislature. Varela is seeking the Dem nod for State Treasurer. Here's a primer on the battle for the capital city's top job from the New Mexican. And if you are seeking office this year and want to place your ad here, you are more than welcome. Just drop me an e-mail for details.


That was Colin Hunter of Rep. Wilson's staff who was at the Barelas Coffee House "Chicharrones party" I blogged Monday. Early morning readers saw another last name. Thanks to Colin acquaintance and GOP State Senator and U.S. Senate candidate Joe Carraro for the pre-dawn editing job.

There's more stuff going on, like Senator Pete getting in on Big Bill's train plan, but I'm out of time. Let's try to catch up together tomorrow.

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Tuesday, January 24, 2006

Sparks To Fly; Big Bill Alter Ego Exits; Saw The Action Up Close, Plus: My Chicharrones Party; It's All Up Next On New Mexico's Top Blog 

Billy Sparks
He was the Governor's alter ego, a senior adviser and his whipping boy. But now the multifaceted role played by Big Bill Deputy Chief of Staff Billy Sparks is drawing to a close. Speaking to me last night from the citadel of New Mexico power politics, the Fourth Floor of the Roundhouse, the 53 year old lifelong Dem confirmed our exclusive: "It is time for a break. I will leave next week."

What a long, strange trip it must have been. Sparks has been privy to the highest and lowest moments of one of the most demanding political figures in the nation, and has accompanied the chief executive from the first handshakes of campaign 02' to today as dawn breaks on the 06' race.

The 53 year old music buff, son of a full-blood Eastern Cherokee, became well-known for his long ponytail and his smooth relationship with NM reporters from all four corners. But closeness to Big Bill, or any leader of national ambition, has its price. Reports surfaced periodically of intense shouting matches between the pair and the beginning of the end was signaled when Sparks was removed from day-to-day press duties and given the honorific title of Deputy Chief of Staff for Communications. (Pahl Shipley, who spells his first name the way you see it, now runs the media shop)

But five years in the volatile environment of high-level politics is a good run, and while the relationship between the powerful Guv and his chief flack may have grown a bit icy toward the end, it was their deft handling of the media in the early years that will be long-remembered and studied by future power players.

As for his future, Sparks is talking with the University of New Mexico (Health Sciences) and other possible employers. UNM is already home to former Big Bill aides David Harris and Connie Beimer. The possibility of Sparks heading there comes in the midst of turmoil as the UNM Regents apparently prepare to have the head of UNM Prez Louis Caldera.


Sparks traveled the political circuit for years before landing in New Mexico in 1996 to work the Clinton campaign. But the big break didn't come until 2002, but it was indeed big. He found himself in the heady atmosphere of international politics, handling worldwide press and accompanying the Guv to North Korea. "That was a highlight," he reflected as night stole the day over America's oldest capital city.

He also leaves with the satisfaction, he said, of hearing ex-NM GOP Chair and respected foe John Dendahl basically concede this year's governors race. "In his appearance with you on KNME-TV (following the Guv's Jan 17 State of the State speech) he conceded the race and said the margin of victory would be less than the 16% we won by four years ago. And he did not even mention the name of their candidate. That's pretty good," remarked the veteran consultant in his last political analysis on behalf of Governor Richardson.

Sparks has a passion for his guitar and his six year old son. Both will now get more attention. For Big Bill the deadlines, the intensity and the adrenaline rushes from playing the game at the highest possible level goes on. For Billy Sparks there will be memories. But, oh my, what memories they will be.


Tito Madrid, the staffer who handles the ABQ Valley for GOP U.S. Rep Heather Wilson, had the right idea Monday. As he was preparing to exit the famous ABQ Barelas Coffee House on Fourth Street NW, he had a plastic bin of chicharrones tucked firmly under his arm. I noted that because I had ordered the large portion for my table of two and they give you enough to feed four. Madrid (no relation to Patsy, I think) dubbed the Barelas chicharrones the best in the city. Other knowledgable insiders agree.

Tito was squiring about Colin Hunter, Heather's D.C. legislative director, who looked every bit the WASP from prepville, but was happily becoming native as Tito planned to show him more of the local restaurant scene. Their other guest was the young guy who handles Heather's health stuff. Sorry, I forgot his name, probably because the last thing I wanted to be reminded of as I chowed down on the straight-to-your-arteries treat was my health.

Other chicharrones take-out players, realtor Bob and his wife Laura, told me on their way out that you don't want to microwave the leftover morsels. "Pan fry them," I was directed. And darn if he wasn't right. Last night as I worked the Alligator scene on the Billy Sparks story, I joyously finished juicy, not dry, pork bits.

And don't worry Heather. Tito and the D.C. gang were tight-lipped on any inside campaign info. Not an Alligator convert in the bunch, but someday...


And finally, in the nonpartisan spirit of New Mexico's #1 political blog, I also recently chatted up Heather Brewer who has taken on press duties for Dem congressional hopeful Patsy Madrid. Heather is fresh from the ABQ mayoral campaign of Eric Griego, who lost, but got a nice consolation job with Big Bill. And I noticed the other day there is yet another Heather in this race. Heather Wade is Heather Wilson's campaign press aide. Maybe sometime I will get all three Heathers together for lunch. Do you think they like chicharrones?

My blog is your blog. E-mail me your latest cool political stuff. Glad to have you aboard. See ya' tomorrow.

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Monday, January 23, 2006

Fair Chair Targets Shirley Baca; Pot Bust Headlines Race, Plus: Mickey & Maki; New Power Couple? And: Caldera's Cauldron On One Hot Blog 

Shirley Baca
The ethical thorn in the side of the New Mexico Democratic party was partially removed when indicted State Treasurer Robert Vigil resigned, but the operation won't be complete for some party insiders until NM Public Regulation Commissioner E. Shirley Baca joins Vigil on the sidelines. Baca, busted for possessing pot at the ABQ Sunport in December of 04', promises to fight for re-election. According to reliable sources, she will get that fight. NM State Fair Chair Sandy Jones will challenge the controversial Baca in the June Dem primary.

The pot charges against the 54 year old Baca were eventually dismissed, but not before she became the subject of ridicule on the media and talk show circuit. Despite it all, political pros running the numbers for us say Baca's defeat is not a done deal.

"The district is designed for an Hispanic representative. The pot bust should put the race in play, but if she is the only Hispanic candidate in the race, she stays in the game. It could take another strong Hispanic Dem, maybe two, to put her away," offered up our Dem analyst.

Baca won the seat in 02' with 54 percent of the vote. She won a three way primary battle with an impressive 51 percent.


Jones of Willamsburg, (south of T or C) was named Fair Chair by Big Bill and is close enough to the Guv to win a spot on his social calendar. (He donated about $1500.00 to Big Bill's 04' campaign)

The chair of the Fair is a rancher with a construction company background. He will have his work cut out for him as just about all the precincts in Shirley's vote-heavy home county of Dona Ana are in the district. It is uncertain how upset the hometowners are about her run-in with the law.

But Shirley's pot bust is the least of it as utility insiders and some legislators regret ever having the PRC made an elected panel with widespread authority over electric and phone companies and many other industries.

The cries first went out when the son of NM House Speaker Ben Lujan was given Big Bill's explicit backing and won a seat on the five member panel. Ben Ray Lujan, Jr., became a fast-riser and is now chairman of the PRC.

While a feather in the Lujan family cap, the Lujan ascendancy put Dad Lujan under the scope in the House where members still fret that the Lujan-Big Bill deal has made the House too subservient to the whims of the powerful Fourth Floor.

But right now the issue is campaign 06' and having Shirley Baca out there as a poster child for wayward ways of top ranking Dems. I have not heard yet of any Hispanic challengers to Baca, but the Jones entry could encourage some. Stay tuned.

Not a few Republican eyebrows were raised in our Enchanted Land when ABQ lawyer/lobbyist Mickey Barnett, leader of a break-away faction of the fractured NM Republican party, was quoted in the ABQ Journal as being the "personal lawyer" to top Democratic operative and Big Bill's favored lobbyist, Butch Maki. Barnett, ousted by the GOP faithful from his national committeeman post, continues to host a regular Thursday lunch for supporters as well as pursuing influence in state public affairs issues.

But this prominent R's association with top-tier Dems persists. Previously, he donated money to then Dem Senate Majority Leader Manny Aragon and was allied with prominent liberal Dem George Soros in efforts to legalize drugs in New Mexico. Now, the Maki tie-in, even while rumors surface that Barnett and his allies could again run a candidate or two against incumbent R state reps in the June primary as they did in 2004.

Of course, Maki has the right to hire anyone as his lawyer. But Republicans have the right to question the loyalties of Barnett as he seeks political power and influence. Barnett supporters have hammered at this space saying it has been a source of dissension, but a weakened, fractured opposition party has significant impact on public policy. It's fair game, fellas.

Specifically, the infighting weakened the opposition party in New Mexico and enhanced the power of a Dem Governor who not only benefits from a surplus of cash, but a surplus of ill-will among state R's. While Barnett can rightfully argue there is nothing amiss about his taking on clients, he cannot expect lifelong R's to put blinders on and ignore who he represents when he works to put his imprint on their party.

As for lobbyist Maki, being Big Bill's favorite promises to keep the lights shining bright on his ever-growing client list.

And how about Heather putting in her two cents on the apparent imminent firing or resignation of University of New Mexico Prez Louis Caldera? Heather is fighting for Caldera who is under the gun from Board of Regents chief and former NM Dem Party Chairman Jamie Koch. Heather's defense prompted the Alligators to note that the Anglo Congresswoman's support of Hispanic Caldera has obvious political implications. You mean in the ABQ South Valley?

As for Caldera, insiders point to his failure to strongly establish himself. Koch is also taking behind-the-scenes hits for failing to handle the touchy personnel matter quickly and quietly. The spectacle of a $300,000 a year university president being played like a puppet is not comforting.

But Big Bill is getting what he set up. Koch is first and foremost an instrument of La Politica and so is NM Highlands University President and ex-state senator Manny Aragon who has had his share of personnel hassles.

One watcher of this one asks us what the UNM PR department and Caldera have been doing. "The guy has been completely under the radar since taking over. Does he have nothing positive to report, or just isn't interested? Not good."

For now, Caldera is twisting slowly, slowly in the wind. Won't someone have mercy and either cut him down or let him hang in peace?

E-mail me from the top of this page your latest political news from across the state. We are interested in all of it and try to use as much as we can. You can remain anonymous, just be right. Thanks for tuning in today.

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Thursday, January 19, 2006

Heather Returns Madrid's Ethics Fire, Plus: PR Change At Key State Agency, And: Other Interesting Stuff From Your Home For New Mexico Politics 

It cost a thousand bucks a person to hear ABQ GOP U.S. Rep Heather Wilson fire her first return volley over ethics at Dem rival Attorney General Patricia Madrid. But you don't have to pay to hear it because we have Alligators who take care of that for you. The scene was the upscale North Valley digs of PNM Chief Exec Jeff Sterba. Our Senior Alligator was among the 100 or so who paid the big bucks to see Heather and her patron, GOP U.S. Senator Pete Domenici.

"Heather, responding to a question about Patsy, said she doesn't know Patsy well but does know that in 1999 that the problem of the State Treasurer was reported to Patsy and she did nothing about it," slammed Heather as reported by our Gator.

Madrid has been hammering Heather over collecting contributions from indicted lobbyist Jack Abramoff and also indicted former House majority leader Tom Delay. (She returned some of the contributions) Heather's hit at the Sterba gathering shows she is sensitive to the charges of a "corrupt Congress" and ready to engage Madrid who has been scored for not picking up on the largest corruption scandal in state history.

And a final note from the high-rollers for Heather bash:

"Domenici said (House Speaker)Hastert has appointed Heather to a group of 12 to look into the ethics issue in the House. Someone asked Heather if the group of 12 was bipartisan--she demurred and said that the group's questions would be posed to Democrats as well as Republicans," relayed our partygoer.

Shifting the hot-button ethics issue over to Madrid is wise politics for Wilson, who remains the favorite to retain her seat, but who has enough vulnerability to keep this one in play until November.


Sec. Bolson
There's been some high-profile trouble at the NM Childen Youth and Families Department this week, but agency spokesman and former KOAT-TV reporter Matt Dillman hasn't been around to help out. And he won't be. Insiders report Dillman left the agency last week. They did not say why. We just blogged yesterday that ex-GOP Chair Dendahl is slamming the department and it's secretary Mary Dale Bolson any chance he gets. Of course, the department has been unwieldy since its creation, including when it was headed by Dendahl favorite Heather Wilson who had her share of troubles.

As for Dillman, he drew the derision of the state's press corp when he authored an odd memo about how department employees sould handle the media. "Some reporters might use a `Jedi Mind Trick' to confuse an issue as they try to convince you to say something on the record. They'll try to pressure you, trick you, back you into a corner...whatever it takes to get you to give them something. Your way out is to always refer them back to me..." said Dillman.

Matt may be familiar with Star Wars, but the wars of La Politica are the real thing. And they can come with a price tag. He was making about $60,000 a year. The line for his job forms at Big Bill's door.

And you have to wonder how department boss Mary Dale Bolson is holding up after scathing criticism from the Legislative Finance Committee. As the New Mexican reports, a review by the LFC criticized CYFD for a lack of therapeutic and vocational programs for incarcerated youth, lack of oversight and leadership in the state’s other juvenile jails, high employee turnover and a lack of follow-up care for released youths.

And so it goes in the "Year of the Child."


Diane Dimond of Michael Jackson national reporting fame got it all started back in the 70's at ABQ's KKOB-AM and KRQE-TV. She returns to her old media stomping grounds Sunday, January 22 at 2 p.m at Borders Books at ABQ's Cottonwood Mall where she will sign her new book, "Be Careful Who You Love: Inside The Michael Jackson Case." Diane's mother still calls ABQ home and someday Diane plans to retire here, as long as there are no more Jackson cases to keep her busy...A Green going R? Yep. Steve Cabiedes, familiar to many of you from his analysis on this blog and Election Night on KANW 89.1 FM radio, has signed on as campaign manager for the U.S. Senate campaign of GOP ABQ State Senator Joe Carraro. Cabiedes is a longtime politico, specializing in gathering campaign petition signatures.

And those are the bottom lines from the on-line home of New Mexico politics. Thanks for the company. Drop by again soon.

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Wednesday, January 18, 2006

"Year Of The Child" Morphs Into "Year of The Re-Elect;" Big Bill Floods the Zone...Again; Opening Day At The Fabled Roundhouse 

What does it take for a hyperactive, always-on-the-go-Guv to relax? Apparently a half billion dollar surplus and almost certain re-election prospects are enough to do the trick. And probably a little professional coaching as well. The Guv unveiled his new speechmaking style with élan Tuesday as he stepped under the bright lights to deliver his fourth State of the State address to the packed chambers at the storied Roundhouse in Santa Fe.

"He looks natural. He doesn't appear to be reading every word," commented the ABQ Trib's Kate Nelson as we watched the stemwinder at the studios of KNME-TV. Ex-GOP Chair John Dendahl grudgingly agreed as he looked on with a mixture of bemusement and envy at the man who has come to dominate the state's political scene like no other in recent memory and hopes to replicate the feat on the national stage.

And being stage-ready has been one of his problems. But Tuesday a more steady beat and tighter writing helped the Guv score style points. Gone was the old pol who often looked pained to get the words out; words that often did not sound like his own. Tuesday, as Nelson picked up on, the big time beckoned and the Guv is preparing not only for his seemingly inevitable re-election, but also for the higher standards of national office.

Of course, confidence is boosted when you have a state flush with a half-billion dollar surplus and more coming in every day. Oil was back at $65 a barrel in New York as the Guv took to the podium.


In addition to improved cosmetics, there was also a more conciliatory tone to this one, analyzed KOAT-TV political reporter Matt Grubs. And why not? With the campaign coming, Big Bill needs a quiet Legislature not a "cantankerous" one as Grubs put it.

The goal is not a win, it's a landslide. To that end, the Guv scaled back the statewide minimum wage plan and moved to repeal the so-called bed tax on nursing home patients. Those are two items that the R's might have been able to score points on. No longer, as the "Year of the Child" morphed into the "Year of Re-election" before your very eyes.

"There will be no feeding frenzy on tax dollars this year," deadpanned the 58 year old chief executive. For sure. He's taken away a lot of the shark food by proposing big outlays for new schools, a spaceport, generous public employee pay raises and a $30 million tax cut to boot. But don't worry frenzy fans. KOB-TV's Stuart Dyson gleefully reported that some lawmakers are still calling the next 29 days: "Porkfest 06."

And therein lies the little problem that Big Bill did not talk about. Is it safe to funnel millions of extra dollars into state agencies that haven't exactly won excellence in government awards? Dendahl was quick to pounce pointing to what he claimed are ongoing problems at the Children Youth and Families department in this "Year of the Child."

But, for the most part, the R's seem content to oppose the bureaucracy and the Governor's program, not reform or hold accountable. But much of his program is going to pass. Why not accept the inevitable and get on with the task of demanding accountable spending and producing legislation to do just that?

Leader Sanchez
It was a glorious weather day with clear blue skies casting their spell across our fair New Mexico but, as he did last year, State Senate Majority Leader Michael Sanchez created a little rain shower for the Guv. In the hours before the speech, he said ethics legislation to clean up the Treasurer's Office is too complicated for a thirty day session. Last year on opening day, you may recall, he questioned the Guv's plans to pay for life insurance for NM National Guard members, but it flew through the Roundhouse. The ethics one is a little more testy for the lawmakers, but if nothing is done, as Leader Sanchez proposes, it could give the R's an opening on the campaign trail.


It came when Big Bill mentioned a transportation item and the clap of a lone applauder echoed across the chamber. Joked the Guv: "Thanks, Dan Silva, Chairman of the House Transportation Committee."

There was no laughing about that controversial commuter train the Guv is proposing. It wasn't even mentioned. (Is it not polling well?)) But the spaceport was in the Guv's orbit. That's the one with national appeal, in case you run for President. Probable GOP Guv nominee, Dr. J.R. Damron, took a swipe at the commuter train right after the Guv spoke. An Alligator at KRQE-TV noted the Guv's office refused to respond, calling it unfortunate "politics." How long will they be able to use that line?” He wondered. How long, indeed?


When the Guv announced the spaceport earlier this month, U.S. Senator Jeff Bingaman had prepared a video for the news conference that never was seen, resulting in a slight to the junior Dem Senator who is also seeking re-election this year. Big Bill went out of his way Tuesday to give Bingaman credit for, of all things, fighting obesity and junk food. Oh well, it may have been an awkward make-up moment, but it's the thought that counts, I guess.

Back to the Damron diatribe for a second. He also argued that it’s smoke and mirrors; that New Mexico has not improved its national rankings. Big Bill saw it coming and pointed out in his speech the significant increase in national rankings for teacher pay and education “accountability.” He will need as many of those as he can find if he’s to breach that magic 60% re-election margin.


I wish the hardworking Capitol press corps good luck in uncovering the various food fights that will develop in the next month, but don't see much coming of them....Why does Big Bill each year expose himself to the hit that he proposes too much, floods the zone if you will? There is a method to his madness. It makes him appear ahead of the parade, and while not everything he proposed will pass, he will be able to argue that he deserves another term so the solons can enact what remains of his ambitious agenda. The public will look at the final scorecard and see if he got the big ones, not the little ones. So far, he has.

It's worth repeating. The most important number in New Mexico is not the state budget or the current surplus, it's the price of oil. The Guv's term has been blessed with exquisite timing, but if the oil price starts to leak, watch out. Then you'll see a real feeding frenzy. As Roundhouse reporting legend Ernie Mills would say: "Don't say we didn't tell you."

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Tuesday, January 17, 2006

A Thousand Words On 30 Days; My Exclusive Analysis Of Legislature 06', Plus: Our Take On Big Bill's Speech Today At Noon On KNME-TV 

Try as we might, we cannot dig up significant opposition or conspiracies brewing beneath the surface that would derail the major points of the legislative agenda that Big Bill has been laying out. Checking with the Senior Alligators of La Politica turns up a few Movidas in the making, but this 30 day short session could be a slam dunk for the state's peripatetic chief executive if he doesn't overreach.

"We know where we are starting and probably finishing. There may be a few surprises in between, but this is one in which it appears the Governor's script will largely stick," analyzed a Senior Republican Alligator who is a veteran of two decades of Roundhouse watching.

So what about the predicted feeding frenzy over the historic surpluses? Why no major fights over all that money, or will they develop during the session?

"Most of the capital outlay (construction projects) proposed by the Governor are things the legislators also want. Even though he has already committed the lion's share of the $1 billion, there is still plenty for the legislators to divvy up, and with all 70 state representatives up for re-election, it is enough to keep them on board," explained our high-ranking Gator.

And he didn't even mention the surplus for the General Fund now a mind boggling half billion and still growing as a result of record oil and natural gas prices.

Senate Dems will hold a news conference following the Guv's State of the State. Let's see if they have any surprises.


The Spaceport ($125 mil over three years) has won the support of GOP U.S. Senator Pete Domenici and the R's in the Dona Ana county state delegation. The D's are on board. This one is ready for liftoff, but there will be a fight down the road over raising local taxes to help finance it.

The $290 million for new schools in the fast growing suburbs of ABQ and Las Cruces is also looking good, although Big Bill is taking no chances and telling parents to contact their lawmakers. Some are saying an equal amount of money has to be put up for other NM schools to stay within legal boundaries. That could spark fireworks.

Even the nearly $400 million dollar controversial commuter train has not been derailed. With the incredible amounts of money washing over Santa Fe, voters seem sunny about its prospects and lawmakers can be expected to toe the line. Most of the money to start it up has already been set aside.

And how about the semi-controversial pre-kindergarten program, the darling of Light Guv Diane D? It won $5 mil last year. Now the Guv is asking for $10 mil as he dubs this the "Year of the Child." How can lawmakers say no even if they have questions about its effectiveness? There is so much money that even programs without definitive outcomes are going to get a chance to prove themselves. Besides, the House rewrote this one to its satisfaction last year.

Some insiders thought the late 05' special session in which Senators rose up and forced higher rebates for taxpayers was a sign of further trouble to come for the Fourth Floor. But in retrospect, it looks more like a political error on the part of the Guv who underestimated popular support for tax refunds, rather than the beginning of a widespread palace coup. Maybe there will be cries for more tax cuts from the Senate Dems that could again test the Guv's political skills.

Strangely, as the R's probable Guv nominee, Dr. James Damron, advocates more tax relief, GOP Reps at the Roundhouse have been silent as a door mouse. Could all the prospective pork for each of their districts be keeping them at bay, or will they start the tax-cutting mantra when they breathe the light air of the City Different? (Big Bill is proposing $30 mil in tax cuts. Slam dunk that one.)


The first three years of Big Bill's tenure have been marked by legislative success. But building pre-session support seems to have been more smooth this time, and after some personal hits in the fourth quarter of 05,' he appears to have regained momentum. However, he continues to annoy portions of the electorate with non-stop PR stunts, a self-admitted inability to focus for long on any given subject, and a propensity for fundraising that leaves multiple conflict-of-interest questions in its wake.

The usual suspects are ready to take him on in public. Dem Senator Jennings, GOP Senator Carraro and R Rep Foley to name three. But they seem like lone voices in a very green forest. Senate Dem leader Michael Sanchez, the most powerful voice for Legislative independence, can be expected to make the Guv jump a few hurdles, but other Senate heavies are showing no appetite for any major election year power struggle, at least not yet. And we should note the NM Constitution gives the edge to the governor in the short budget sessions held in even-numbered years.

"A lot of us have been waiting for the Legislature to assert itself more with the Governor, but we forget that each year he is also learning to handle us better, even as we learn more about his weaknesses. And he remains popular with voters and a cinch for re-election this year. That's the real power," said an informer of the legislative branch.

We all follow politics in part because of the surprises. And there will be some, but the betting at the highest reaches of state politics is that they won't matter much. Some non-money initiatives could be left to die. But the agenda of our Enchanted Land, for better or worse, is firmly in the hands of Big Bill. And that seems to be just fine in the nose bleed sections inhabited by Mr. and Mrs. New Mexico as well as in the cozy seats of power warmed by 112 solons seated on velvet cushions stuffed with cash.


It will be Big Bill's fourth State of the State speech scheduled for noon today, but more likely to get going at least half an hour later. Please join me for post-speech analysis with the ABQ Trib's Kate Nelson on KNME-TV, Channel 5 in ABQ. And we will be back here tomorrow with more in-depth coverage of that speech as well as the Legislature's opening day. (If you were out for the holiday yesterday, keep scrolling down. There's a Monday blog for you to enjoy).


My early morning Monday readers pointed out our omission of State Rep. Jane Powdrell-Culbert as a prominent African-American New Mexico politico. The New Mexican's Steve Terrell was first with the editing pencil. You can count on Steve when it comes to the Legislature. He has bought a brand new army cot and will sleep in the Roundhouse press room for the next thirty days.

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Monday, January 16, 2006

Holiday Blog Cleaning; Clearing Out The Clutter On The Eve Of Legislature 06' 

Martin Luther King
Today is a holiday and many of you political junkies are reading this from your homes where you may be clearing away clutter preparing for the year ahead or, in the case of you diehards, the 30 day Legislative session which starts at High Noon Tuesday. It's also a good day to do some blog cleaning, mark the holiday and get to some items that have been lost in the busy shuffle of the new year.

First, let me remind you to join me Tuesday for Big Bill's State of the State address on KNME-TV Channel 5. I will join the ABQ Trib's Kate Nelson for commentary on the speech and the legislative session to follow. It is scheduled to go off at noon, but always starts later. There will be a lot to cover and KNME is giving us a nice chunk of time to get the job done.

If you can't get to the tube, you can watch the speech from Big Bill's Web site. Now, if they can get that done, why not stream the Legislative floor sessions? Maybe if the Guv doesn't again veto such a measure when it reaches his desk, we can count on that in future years.


Since we reported that James Lewis would seek the Dem nod for state treasurer, several readers pointed out that there is a second African-American seeking statewide office this year. He is George Bailey of Edgewood, a pastor with an impressive education background. Bailey decries the low rankings of New Mexico in education, but as of yet has not articulated a specific platform on how he would change that. He does, predictably enough, take a swipe at Big Bill and the state purchase of a $5.5 million jet airplane. While that may help get the R's unified around their eventual nominee, crucial swing voters and wavering Dems will want to hear specifics on policy. Will they get them?

It will be interesting to see if Bailey can muster enough support at the R's pre-primary convention to be placed on the ballot, or whether he's forced to get more petition signatures to win a ballot position. If they don't let him on, they take a hit for snubbing a minority. If they do let him on, he will probably pose little threat to Santa Fe M.D. James Damron who remains the party's probable nominee. Stay tuned.

Rep. Williams Stapleton
As for African-Americans in NM politics on this Martin Luther King Day, they can point to ABQ Dem State Rep. and Majority Whip Sheryl Williams Stapleton as a success, also, Steve Terrell of the New Mexican points out the House's other African American member is Jane Powdrell-Culbert, (R-Corrales) from the famous BBQ family, but there are no more examples, even though African-Americans make up about 3 percent of the state's population. There has been a NM Office of African-American Affairs since 99'. Dr. Harold Bailey (I don't believe he is related to the R Guv candidate) heads it up. But not much news has come from there, leaving one to wonder if enough is being done to advance its special mission.

Lewis, Stapleton and Powdrell-Culbert have been solid role models for a new generation of potential black New Mexico leaders, but those leaders have to be identified and groomed. Perhaps that is a task for the NM Office of African-American Affairs.


KOAT-TV assignment editor Cary Schwaintz writes in a Xmas card (yes, still catching up from December): "Nine years on the desk and no mention on the blog." Well, we just took care of that, Cary.

And there's this note from ex-Guv Garrey Carruthers whose column on education, Hispanics and Native Americans we picked up January 3.

"We are just not setting high expectations with our young people these days and part of it may be the result of low parental expectations. I have advised that we begin to teach students in the early grades that you are not through until you finish college."

We got a ton of comment on Garrey's musings and mine. Some misunderstood it, but most got the major point that New Mexico needs to aggressively tackle the poor education performance of minority students. Why should another generation be denied full access to the American Dream?


We did some e-mail with liberal ABQ Dem State Sen. Dede Feldman a while back when she started up her new blog.

"Every year I send a printed constituent survey with questions about what's coming up in the legislature, but that's just once a year. Hopefully this will stimulate conversation on a more frequent basis and allow me to report back." e-mailed Feldman who chairs the Senate Public Affairs Committee and who will again this session devote considerable time to health issues.

Maybe she will encourage more Santa Fe politician-bloggers. Last year ex-ABQ GOP State Rep. Greg Payne blogged live from the House floor.

Sen. Pete & Big Bill
Finally, maybe its not a bad day to give some kudos to the politicos since most of them are away. (I don't want to be accused of going soft.) That said, we take note of GOP NM Senator Pete Domenici's announcement Thursday chastising the Army Corp of Engineers for holding up the bridge projects for ABQ. We blogged that one heavily and the senator's heat should go a long way in finally getting the job done.

And yes, kudos to Big Bill. (No, I am not looking to join his ex-journalist heavy PR gang!) After reporting NM election results these many years, it was good to see his support for switching our state to all paper ballots counted by optical scanners. Having a statewide uniform system is long overdue. Senator Ortiz y Pino of ABQ also deserves a hand for getting this one through. After the Election Night nightmares we've had, this is real election reform everyone should give a chance.

Well, that's quite a boatload for a quiet day. Join me tomorrow as we get ready for Legislature 06'. And thanks for helping me clean up around here today.

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Thursday, January 12, 2006

ABQ Road Rage: Where's Pete, Jeff & Heather? Feds Rule The Roost While Workers Pay The Price; Mayor Marty's Montano Mess 

Sen. Domenici
One critical point has been missing from the wall-to-wall coverage over ABQ's latest road rage saga: Where the heck is New Mexico's high-powered congressional delegation? The bottleneck over making Montano Bridge in the city's North Valley four lanes instead of two is under renewed assault from the Feds, namely the Army Corp of Engineers. This as West Siders and others fume in clogged traffic trying to get to their jobs.

But the Army Corp is funded by the Congress, and the chairman of a key Senate subcommittee that holds much of the purse strings to that agency is none other than NM senior GOP Senator Pete Domenici. Does Mayor Marty have his phone number? Or Senator Bingaman's? Or Congresswoman Wilson's, who is running, in part, on her record of securing federal funding for the Coors-I-40 remodel?

The mayor, an ardent advocate for the bridge, a subject of debate for nearly 40 years, is threatening to sue if he is not again allowed to make this a four lane road. He began the process of making it four on Halloween only to be stymied by the Army Corp and its bureaucratic hurdles.

But the Mayor doesn't need to sue, he needs to call Domenici, or Domenici needs to call the Corp bosses. Heck, make it a conference call with Jeff and Heather on the line as well.

New Mexico returns its congressional delegation year after year, often with little debate. The power bestowed upon them by the electorate is not meant to wither on the vine, it is meant to be used. Will they get busy and use it?

Mayor Marty
And now the news that there is not enough money to make the also long-debated Paseo Del Norte West Side road extension four lanes. This, also in part, because the Army Corp has inserted itself into arguments that have been fully debated and resolved in favor of expanded bridges. Wasn't there an October 2005 election where a mayor and most city councilors were elected after strongly advocating four lanes for both Montano and Paseo? Or don't elections matter anymore?

Again, where is New Mexico's federal delegation? They can't be afraid of losing votes, can they? They get re-elected by huge margins. The pathetic federal response to Hurricane Katrina revealed a broken down federal bureaucracy. Will the long suffering commuters (mostly working families) of Albuquerque have to be helicoptered across the bridges like New Orleans refugees? Will Mayor Marty's legacy be another 30 year fight over expanding another bridge? It does not have to be, if our Washington representatives combine their muscle with the mayor's.

Environmentalists and bridge busters, please hold your fire. You have done your best. Montano and Paseo are the will of the people. There will be plenty of future road rage battles for you to engage in. But now is the time for power politics to implement the long standing will of the majority and let the working people of Albuquerque get on with their lives.

"Hello, Pete? Marty here..about that Army Corp budget..."

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Wednesday, January 11, 2006

Rehm Sinks Rowe's Boat; Veteran Lawman Headed To Roundhouse, Plus: The R's In Big Bill's World, And: Battle Of The Grandpas; All On A Winter Wednesday 

The Roundhouse
Bill Rehm, who waged a bitter 04' primary battle with former GOP State Rep. Greg Payne and lost (62% to 38%), reversed his fortunes last night and was appointed by the Bernalillo County Commission to fill the seat vacated by Payne when he signed on as Transit Director for the city of ABQ. The retired sheriff's deputy, now a private eye still involved with the department's reserves, will represent heavily GOP District 31 in ABQ's far NE Heights when the Legislature convenes for a thirty day session next Tuesday and is expected to seek election in his own right this year.

It was not only a night of payback for Rehm, who hit Payne hard in mailers during the 04' GOP primary, but also a night of glee for another longtime Payne nemesis--GOP County Commissioner Tim Cummins. It was Payne who ousted Cummins from a City council seat in 99', setting up a bitter rivalry that extends to this day. And last night it was Cummins, the senior R on the the five member commission, who joyfully placed the name of Rehm in nomination and shepherded it through. The Valley Alligators had warned us that the Rowe candidacy could hit the skids and so it did.

Albuquerque School Board member and attorney Gordon Rowe retained the support of R Commissioner Brasher, but his bid failed when there was no second to his nomination. His only chance now is to do what Rehm did and challenge an incumbent in the June primary.


Dem Commission Chair Alan Armijo recused himself from the vote citing his work with APS and relationship with Rowe, but it was also clearly a move to defer to Cummins, the senior R, since Rowe's nomination was never even voted upon.

Rehm will give the district a more distinct conservative hue than Rowe. Payne claimed during the primary that the now newest member of the 70 member State House was an ally of the somewhat decimated Barnett wing of the state GOP. Lawyer/lobbyist Barnett was prominent in the chambers as the vote went down.

But the Roundhouse's freshest face deserves a fresh start. When the commission finally voted, it was unanimous. So today it's congratulations to State Representative Bill Rehm, winner of the latest prize up for grabs in the competitive world of La Politica.

Sec. Prukop
In blogging on the Big Bill cabinet shuffle Tuesday, we mentioned that Eddie Lopez Jr., replaced at General Services by Arturo Jaramillo, might have been the cabinet's lone Republican. We hedged because we were not sure. And sure enough, there are more as explained by the Guv's press office:

"Governor Richardson is very proud of the FOUR Republicans in his Cabinet – Edward Lopez, John D’Antonio (State Engineer), Joanna Prukop (Energy, Minerals & Natural Resources), and Alan Varela (Workman’s Compensation Administration.)

Now we know.

Lopez takes over Jaramillo's old job as Superintendent of Regulation and Licensing. And for those of you who watch such things, here is a complete list of the Guv's cabinet.


Please add the name of Antonio "Moe" Maestas to one of my favorite contests this year. It's the "Battle of the Grandpas" in House District 16 on ABQ's West Side. Grandsons of Democratic political legends Bennie Aragon and Pat Baca are squaring off against each other as well as Dan Serrano. Now attorney Maestas will represent the thirtysomethings. The seat is being vacated by Dem Rep. Harriet Ruiz. No R's need apply; this one is solid donkey country.


Sometimes, not often, those Alligators go astray. Like telling us that NM GOP U.S. Rep. Steve Pearce would be in Rep. Roy Blunt's corner in the duel with Rep. John Boehner (R-Ohio) for House Majority Leader to replace Tom Delay. Not so. Pearce's name has turned up on a public list of supporters for Ohio's Boehner. Drat! I'm goin' Alligator hunting over this one. Either that or opening my own D.C. bureau. Heather, help find me a landlord.

The UNM Pit
Finally today, one for you sports fans. Larry Ahrens over at ABQ's KAGM radio (94.7 FM in Santa Fe) blogs in to us: "Look for Big Bill to propose dollars for a remodel and makeover of The Pit at UNM. The Pit is showing her age and needs an extreme makeover and the Guv is ready to help." Even better, how about a new one for the new century?

And that my good friends is what we call in the radio biz a wrap and a take. Let's get together again tomorrow. See ya' then.

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Tuesday, January 10, 2006

No Free Rides For Our U.S. Reps, Plus: Big Bill's Cabinet Shuffle, And: The Campaign Early Bird; You're At Ground Zero For La Politica 

Rep. Udall
All three of NM's U.S. House Reps have apparently been denied a free re-election ride in 06'. Word comes to us from up on the hill in Los Alamos that the GOP has finally found a taker to challenge Dem Rep. Tom Udall. He's Ron Dolin, assitant director of the Los Alamos National Laboratory's Center for Homeland Security. Dolin has made tentative steps toward a candidacy and is expected to make it official, according to insider R's.

As for Udall, this one looks like another cakewalk. He easily took out R challenger and San Juan County District Attorney Gregory Tucker in 04' and a similar result can be expected again in the heavily Dem north. But Udall's congressional career has been bittersweet; easy re-elections letting him concentrate on his work, but bitter because his work can be largely ignored in the GOP-controlled Congress.

The GOP's Steve Pearce faces token Dem opposition this go round, while ABQ Rep. Heather Wilson will again have to pony up big dollars to retain her House seat. By the way, Heather's Dem rival, AG Patsy Madrid, plans to post some big fundraising numbers in the report due out soon. That from campaign insiders who say showing dough now will make it easier to raise more later.

Eddie Lopez, Jr.
Late Monday Big Bill announced a rare cabinet shuffle with General Services Department chief Eddie Lopez, Jr.(I believe the lone Republican cabinet secretary) moved over to run the NM Regulation and Licensing Department. The superintendent of that agency, attorney Arturo Jaramillo, takes over GSD. Santa Fe was abuzz with the word most of the day and the Guv's office confirmed it after business hours.

Alligators at the Roundhouse were quick to point out that Lopez was having some tense relations over his department budget with the Legislative Finance Committee and that other cabinet secretaries have been grumbling about his "overreaching." And another weighed in that the "Save Smart" program, announced by the Guv to save millions on state purchases and under Lopez's supervision, has not lived up to expectations and was found to be wanting by the LFC as well as the target of criticism from the NM biz community which felt it was being squeezed out of lucrative state contracts.

Lopez also made headlines defending Big Bill's controversial purchase of a $5.5 million state jet which was purchased through GSD.

Lopez, son of the late, legendary Santa Fe State Senator Eddie Lopez, still retains cabinet rank, but the department he takes over does not have as powerful a presence. Still, he gets to keep a high-ranking job, not bad for an apparent demotion. As for the Guv, the shake-up is better now than later in the campaign when the R's could make more hay about the downsizing of one of their own.


Who is the earliest bird of them all? When it comes to paid advertising for this year's campaign it's none other than GOP State Land Commissioner Patrick Lyons who has put up a billboard on North I-25 in Albuquerque proclaiming that he is "Working for Education." Of course, Big Bill was the very first with paid ads, but they came late last year. Lyons has reason to get an early start. There's only been two GOP State Land Commissioners, including him, since the Great Depression.

Still on that Land Commissioner duel, we told you recently that San Miguel County Commissioner LeRoy Garcia was another of the Dems, besides former Commissioners Baca and Powell, who were in the Dem race. But Baca e-mails that "a little birdie" informs him that LeRoy is no longer running. If so, that would be good news for Baca who is working to consolidate the Hispanic vote behind his candidacy in what he now says is a two man race.


I am getting inquires from the political candidates about advertising here for the June primary and I welcome them. All I can say is get the ads up early. We sold out the last couple election years. To get started drop me an e-mail for further info. It's a good deal since your ad is guaranteed to reach guaranteed voters.

And, as always, e-mail your latest political news from the top of the page. Thanks to the Alligators for the work on the Eddie Lopez Jr. story. When it comes to late-breaking political news, we are 24-7. But you wouldn't have it any other way, would you?

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Monday, January 09, 2006

Goodbye Greg, Hello Gordon? Race On To Become Freshest Face At Roundhouse, Plus: Heather & Steve In A Shaky House; Come Blog With Me! 

Gordon Rowe
Who will be he freshest face at the Roundhouse? According to insiders, it just might be Albuquerque Public School Board member Gordon Rowe. But they caution this one is too tough to call. While they believe Rowe has a good shot to get the nod, the deal is not done.

Rowe is one of several GOP hopefuls lining up to replace ABQ GOP State Rep. Greg Payne who bid adieu to take a $96,000 a year job as ABQ Mayor Marty's transit director.

Now it's up to the Bernalillo County Commission Tuesday night to name a replacement. Will it be Rowe? They could do worse. Reached via cellphone while driving through Las Vegas, NM, Rowe told me he has sent a letter asking for the slot. GOP Commissioner Michael Brasher could be one vote for Rowe, but he needs three. Dem Commission Chairman Alan Armijo could be another. He has worked closely with the school board member in his role as a lobbyist for APS. Brasher is general manager of APS Radio station KANW- 89.1 FM.

Of course, the Dem controlled commission could always opt for a D for the seat, but if they did, that Dem's stint would be short-lived as they would surely be defeated this year in the Republican dominated NE Heights district.


Rowe informs that he has no baggage with the GOP having stayed out of the various Byzantine power struggles that have afflicted the state's minority party. "I am a moderate on social issues and a fiscal conservative," the real estate attorney and businessman explained. "I have an interest in education but also would like to advance business issues."

No tirades from Rowe on abortion, gay marriage, or preaching for the teaching of "intelligent design" theories. He is cut from the GOP center.

As for Payne, his litany of past sins have been well-documented and continue to be fodder for longtime foes. But voters vetted the negative against Payne and decided to elect him. That basically takes his past off the table. It's how Payne handles his new job and whether his performance earns him re-entry rights to the bright lights of our beloved La Politica or just memories of fleeting glory.


Will the shake-up in the U.S. House leadership impact NM GOP Congressman Steve Pearce? Friends of the two term lawmaker are watching the turbulence in the scandal-wracked chamber carefully. They say Pearce has close ties to Acting House Majority Leader Roy Blunt (He visited Pearce's district in a show of support) and can be expected to support the Delay protege in the upcoming leadership duel.

Pearce's support of Delay has not presented him with the problems it has Heather since he hails from a much more conservative district. Syndicated columnist Jay Miller notes the sophomore Congressman's somewhat rapid rise in the Delay-run House: "Pearce vaulted over nearly all members of the House Parks Subcommittee of the House Resources Committee to become its chairman early last year."

The first feather in Pearce's cap came early in his first term when he joined a short list of other freshman members to be tapped as an Assistant Majority Whip.

While Pearce may be concerned about the future House leadership, it appears he can relax about his 06' re-election prospects. His only D opponent is political unknown Al Kissling of Las Cruces.


There's good news and bad news for ABQ GOP Congresswoman Heather Wilson in the U.S. House upheaval that caused Rep. Tom Delay to give up his House Majority leader slot as the flames of the Abramoff scandal leapt ever higher. The hard-right policies of Delay never wore well in Heather's moderate district, and with him gone she will not have to worry about being tied to him during the campaign. The bad news is that D opponent Patricia Madrid will have an opportunity to tie Heather to the "corrupt Congress." Still, it won't be easy. Attorney General Madrid's own campaign fundraising and connections will get equal scrutiny if and when she unloads on Heather. Sounds like the makings of some pretty nasty TV spots from both sides.

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Thursday, January 05, 2006

It's Lucky Vs. Lewis: Ex-State Treasurer Throws Hat In Ring; Scandal Plagued Office Now A Featured 06' Primary Race; The Exclusive Details Only Here 

It's Lucky vs. Lewis for the Dem nod for New Mexico State Treasurer, an office embroiled in a historic scandal that has seen the indictment of two past treasurers and now being run by a caretaker appointed by Big Bill.

"I was driving to Atlanta over the holidays and I just got mad thinking about those auditing reports showing the incredible mismanagement," Lewis explained to me as he outlined his reasons for going after the job he was appointed to by Governor Toney Anaya and then won in his own right in 86.'

The 59 year old just finished a stint as Chief Administrative office for the city of Albuquerque. His resume includes stints as chief of staff to ex-Governor King and a run for ABQ mayor in 01.' He also served in the Department of Energy in D.C. under then Energy Secretary Big Bill and was elected Bernalillo County Treasurer. He has a reputation as a political fireman, able to quietly extinguish the flames of the numerous internal battles that are part of day-to-day governing.

Lewis will be up against veteran Santa Fe State Rep. Luciano "Lucky" Varela who has announced he will leave the Roundhouse to pursue his higher ambition. Varela brings to the table substantial expertise in government finance.

The scuttlebutt has been that Big Bill's camp was lining up in support of the Varela candidacy, but Lewis said don't believe it. "That's not what I have been told," he coyly offered.

The Roswell native says a strong base in ABQ combined with statewide name ID should give him the prize. But the Hispanic factor looms large. A majority of votes will likely be cast by Hispanics in the June primary but Lewis, an African-American, says he is not intimidated. "I think I can pick up some votes in my opponents legislative district up North. Forty percent of the people there did not vote for him," said Lewis as he prepared to take the battle to the heart of Varela country.

The corruption/kickback scandal that engulfed ex-treasurers Robert Vigil and Michael Montoya will play in the background during the campaign as their cases wind their way through the federal courts. "Ethics will be the obvious top issue," Lewis agreed.

There are no firm laws in our state governing campaign donations to the Treasurer. People who do biz with the office can and do give sizable campaign contributions. Lewis anticipates the primary will cost from $150,000 to $200,000 and said he hopes to raise the funds from a "sizable group of friends," but did not rule out accepting contributions from bankers and brokers.

Meanwhile, Lewis and other interested parties tell me that no Republican candidate has yet surfaced, despite the opportunity presented by the scandal under two Dem administrations. GOP leaders say they are working on that.


We've got banner races all over the primary ballot now. Another is State Land Commissioner where ex-commissioners Jim Baca and Ray Powell are squaring off. But don't forget LeRoy H. Garcia of San Miguel county. With a stint as county commissioner under his belt, Garcia has said he's in too. That complicates the Baca candidacy. A head-to-head with Powell with no other Hispanic would give Baca more momentum. Will Garcia be in this for the duration, giving Powell some ballast?

For his part, Powell is circulating this e-mail: "I received a call from Bruce Babbitt, former Governor of Arizona and two term Secretary of the Department of Interior under President Clinton. He called to pledge his support for my candidacy for Land Commissioner."

Powell did not mention that Baca was head of the Bureau of Land Management under Clinton and Babbitt, but was squeezed out over policy differences. Let the games begin.

Email me your political news, gossip and intrigue.

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Wednesday, January 04, 2006

Heather Goes "Kooky" Over Her Constituents While D's Obsess Over Her Past, Plus: Spacesport Feedback, And: Death Comes To GOP's Virgil Rhodes 

When the lefty group presented petitions at the offices of ABQ GOP Congresswoman Heather Wilson calling for a withdrawal from Iraq, the staffer who received the 2500 signatures called the group "kooky." One wonders if the staffer is aware that their comfy salary is paid by these "kooky" people. Maybe Heather needs to kick some pampered Congressional buttocks and tell that staffer when any constituents petition her they deserve respect, not insults. Something like: "The Congresswoman appreciates the input of all her constituents and will take their views under advisement. Thank you for the petition." Now, is that so hard?

On the flip side, when, oh when, is the NM Democratic Party going to stop with the "Watch Wilson Steal the File" story? This first surfaced back in Heather's first run in 98.' Voters vetted it (the KOAT-TV video was sent to thousands of households) and moved on. But the Dems have made it a mainstay of their Web site and also trotted it out in the 04' campaign. The "charges" date back to Wilson's tenure as the NM cabinet secretary for the Children Youth and Families Department. If you've been around any length of time, you know the rest.

Aren't there plenty of real issues for the Dems to assail Heather over, like the aforementioned Iraqi war and the congresswoman's role in assessing the intelligence leading up to the war? Voters sense what's important and what's not and they have spoken on this one, but for some reason the Dems refuse to hear them.


Did you see that "60 minutes" piece Sunday on space travel, playing up the proposed NM spaceport near Cruces and touted by Big Bill and the mega-wealthy Brit Richard Branson? It was gentle and stayed away from any criticism. But around here the spaceport is bring brought down to Earth by a number of critics. I've been a bit surprised by the grumbling, but there are a lot of needs in this state and subsidizing a spaceport is not at the top of everyone's list. Here's one in my mailbag from Michael Barnes of ABQ that sums up what we've been hearing.

"To hear Bill Richardson, Richard Branson, and "60 Minutes" tell it, the Spaceport is a done deal. End of discussion. I think there are a lot of questions to be answered before NM appropriates any money for the project. Why is NM paying for the project? It appears its sole purpose is to provide a place for Richard Branson to fly people into space at a cost of $200,000 a piece. This appears to be an amusement park for wealthy people.

"Other than tax inducements, I doubt that the residents of California paid for the construction of Disneyland. Richard Branson should be the one paying for the construction, not the taxpayers of NM. He appears to have enough money for it..."

And some southern New Mexicans will be asked to raise their taxes to help finance the spaceport. How's that going to fly, or won't it?


I remember Virgil Rhodes very well. He was the GOP Lieutenant Governor candidate in the first NM Guv campaign I covered back in 74.' He was teamed with GOP Guv nominee Joe Skeen. It was one of the best campaigns we've had and that was reflected Election Night when Skeen and Virgil lost to Dem Jerry Apodaca and his running mate, Bob Ferguson, 50.4% to 49.6%. Rhodes, an ABQ state rep when he joined up with Skeen, went back into private biz but resurfaced in 92' and became a state senator representing ABQ's East Mountains and some of Sandoval county. Rhodes, 81, passed from the parade of La Politica on New Year's Eve.

Speaking of GOP candidates for Lt. Governor, have you heard of any for 06'? The only name I hear so far is ABQ State Senator Kent Cravens who has told me in the past that he is not interested. But that could change. He's not up for re-election until 08' so he could run without risking his ABQ NE Heights seat. Stay tuned.

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Tuesday, January 03, 2006

Carruthers Unplugged And Uncut: Ethnic Factor Is Key To NM's Woes; A Cold Splash Of New Year's Reality; Hello 2006, Here We Come... 

Ex-Guv Carruthers
Those New Year's resolutions many of us make depend on reality. You eat too much, drink too much, smoke too much, maybe love too much. Whatever the case, it's all about defining the problem. What if New Mexico were to make a resolution for 2006 that faced reality? It would likely match what is outlined here by former GOP NM Governor Garrey Carruthers.

In a bold, blunt assessment, the dean of the New Mexico State University College of Business dares to say what the politicos can't or won't--our state's deep-seated education problems are race-based. The Anglos around here do pretty well, thank you. But widespread pockets of poor performance among Hispanics and Native Americans, not Anglos, is what keeps our state at or near the bottom of the important quality of life rankings.

Santa Fe could use the dose of reality administered by R Carruthers. But is there room for a dialogue that frankly confronts the ethnic factor, or will we get more chirpy talk about the beauty of diversity and how well everyone gets along in our little ol' corner of the world?

Diversity is indeed a strength if the people are strong. But in this majority-minority state the majority is neither strong or self-sufficent. Intentionally or not, Carruthers has opened a political opportunity for his Republican party. Tax cuts and biz incentives are not going to solve the educational issues Carruthers cites as the root of the problem. It's going to take a commitment to government.


The Big Bill administration has chipped away at the edges of the ethnic debate, arguing for more pre-k programs and improving scholarships and teacher pay. But being out of power gives Carruthers the advantage of being able to lay it on the line. As a group and generally speaking, Carruthers points out that White folks in New Mexico are getting along pretty well when it comes to education. Do you think NM Anglos, rated separately, would rank near 50th in all the important categories? No way.

What Carruthers did not say, but I will, is that Anglos also do not even come close to being afflicted with the rates of drug abuse, child abuse, spousal abuse, DWI, child poverty, learning disabilities and low wages that Hispanics and Native Americans confront. Don't want to deal with it? Then get ready for another 50 years of being fiftieth.

Hispanics and Native Americans have stuck with the Ds through thick and thin, but now with record surpluses available, the R's have a chance to broaden their appeal by following Carruthers and dealing with reality. If NM is to get out of the cellar, programs and policies need to be crafted that directly impact the particular woes of Hispanic and Indian New Mexico. Couldn't a middle-of-the-road GOP do that and not alienate its Anglo base? Why not? Could they do it in a fiscally responsible fashion? That's their calling card, isn't it?

Neither major political party or the biz community seems very comfortable in following Carruthers lead and calling a spade a spade and getting on with the game. But that's why we call them New Year's resolutions. They take resolve.


After the long holiday break, we could use your help in getting all of us back in the groove. Drop a line (email link at the top of the page) and bring us up-to-date on news we may have missed, or stuff that's coming up that you think is important. Meanwhile, thanks for coming by today and Happy New Year!

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