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Wednesday, November 30, 2022

It's Official: State Certifies 2022 Election Results; No Protests Or Election Denying Activity As Canvassing Board Sends Results To The History Books 

2022 State Canvassing Board
The state Canvassing Board meeting to certify the results following a statewide election is an obscurity to most New Mexicans but with democratic elections under attack, each step of the process now draws intense scrutiny--as it should. 

There were no election deniers protesting outside at Tuesday's meeting of the Board comprised of Gov. Lujan Grisham, Sec. of State Maggie Toulouse Oliver and NM Supreme Court Chief Justice Shannon Bacon. Nor were there any disruptions as the trio did their business inside the Capitol. (Complete official 2022 election results here.)

The certification of the November 8 results went off without a hitch at the largely ceremonial session but there was much hard work and due diligence brought to bear before the Board approved the results for the history books. From the SOS:

The “canvass" is the process of reconciling and confirming the accuracy of the election results and reporting those results to the county and then to the state. The State Canvass Board meeting comes after all thirty-three New Mexico counties canvassed their own results and had those results certified at the county-level by county boards of canvass. The Secretary of State’s office then canvassed the county results as an additional check to ensure the accuracy of the results. An independent audit of the results was also performed by Santa Fe-based CPA firm Zlotnick & Sandoval and no discrepancies were found.

Santa Fe County Clerk Katherine Clark adds:
Clerk Clark

The results we upload on election night are the unofficial results and the canvass process at the local and state level with auditor oversight is a triple check on the ballots cast during every election. The canvass process at each level checks every tabulator tape, every provisional and hand tally ballot to ensure that the results are accurate. 

The auditing firm randomly selected precincts last week for counties across the state to recheck the closest statewide races, thus proving the veracity of the tabulated results. The formula for randomization and number of precincts ensures robust statistical power. This is a further step beyond canvass that ensures results are accurate in one of the best if not the best system in the country.

UNSETTLED PAST

Clerk Clark is correct that the state election system has proven to be resilient and one of the "best" in the nation thanks to several generations of election officials, state legislators and governors. 

Students of La Politica well know it wasn't always that way. Bitter accusations of voter fraud and bad ballot counting haunted numerous statewide elections, including the US Senate elections of 1934 and 1952 featuring Democrat Dennis Chavez (1935-'62).

In the early part of this century it was new computer technology--not nefarious activity--that nearly destroyed confidence in the Bernalillo County voting process. 

And in 2000, the Dona Ana County Clerk's office was in the national spotlight over their inability to properly track ballots in the hotly contested presidential race between Al Gore and George W. Bush. (Gore ended up carrying the state by 366 votes.)

We've come a long way. 

RECOUNT TIME 

Because of their closeness two state House races were ordered by the Board to undergo automatic recounts. They are District 32 in the SW where Democrat Candie Sweetser of Deming is behind Republican Jenifer Jones by 36 votes and in District 68 in the NW ABQ metro where Democrat Charlotte Little leads Republican Robert Moss by 36 votes. 

Those are close but it is very rare for margins of those sizes to be changed during a recount. If that is the case the state House will start its business in January with a 45 to 25 Democratic majority. 

The Canvassing Board will meet December 13 to certify the final outcome of those contests.

FINAL GUV NUMBERS

MLG beat Republican Mark Ronchetti by 6.3 percent to win a second gubernatorial term, according to the final official numbers. She took 51.97% to his 45.58% with Libertarian Karen Bedonie getting 2.44 percent. 

In 2020 Ronchetti ran against Democrat Ben Ray Lujan for an open US Senate seat. In that race Ronchetti lost by 6.1 percent or 51.7% to 45.6% with a Libertarian getting 2.6 percent. 

The MLG '22 win was solid but not overwhelming and historically it was close. In fact, it was the closest NM governor contest since 1978 when Democrat Bruce King edged out Republican Joe Skeen by a mere 1.1 percent. 

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Tuesday, November 29, 2022

Already? Herrell Preps For Rematch With Dem Vasquez; Files With FEC Even Before Gabe Takes Oath  

Gabe Vasquez won't be sworn into office as the new southern congressional representative until January 3 but outgoing GOP Yvette Herrell is already dreading her loss of power and has essentially announced she will seek to unseat Gabe in 2024. 

The one term rep, who lost this month by a razor thin margin to Vasquez (50.34% to 49.66% or 1,342 votes), has filed  a Statement of Candidacy with the Federal Election Commission that will allow her to keep raising campaign funds and also puts on notice other Republicans who might be angling for the chance of being the GOP nominee.  

Even though the district now has a Democratic lean with about a third of the votes coming from new Dem precincts in Bernalillo County,  Herrell sees a silver lining in the election results, telling supporters in a fund-raising email before Thanksgiving:

. . . We lost this seat by less than 1% in a district that was intentionally re-drawn to take me out of office. . . In fact, we had amazing gains in every Democrat county – including Dona Ana where we took 43% of the vote--which was a five point gain from just two years ago!. . .We can see by our data that voter turnout, by both parties, was lower than anticipated, but sadly, lower in some of the large Republican counties that could possibly have tipped the scale. We know our work in Washington was not completed, and hundreds of people from all over the District and colleagues in Washington have asked me to stay in the fight. All options will be on the table--so stay tuned. 

Vasquez isn't doing any second guessing, telling his supporters a "rematch" is indeed in the cards: 

Gabe is preparing to serve New Mexico’s working families in Washington this January, but in the meantime, we need to rebuild our campaign’s funds to prepare for the rematch ahead.  

This has to be some sort of record for an early start to a campaign. Vasquez has barely had time to switch from blue jeans to blue ties. But the district will again be a national target and Herrell knows the ropes. In 2018 she narrowly lost a bid to Dem Xochitl Torres Small but came back in 2020 and defeated her. The big difference this time, however, is the redistricting that left the door open for Vasquez. 

QUESTIONS RAISED

Blog reader Kathryn Carroll comes with several questions about the early southern scramble: 

Herrell will be running for the next two years to win her old seat back. She's now lost two elections. Do you think she'll be primaried by some Republican in the newer part of the district in Bernalillo County? 

She could. An Hispanic Republican might be a better fit for the new district than Herrell whose association with Trump is also a major negative. She, of course, is hoping a legal challenge to the redistricting will prevail and the old borders will be restored. That's a long shot.

I wonder what she'll do the next two years? I wondered if she'd become a Republican House staffer and stay in Washington. 

She will likely raise money most of the time. Her family does have real estate interests that need tending, but we would expect Herrell to make campaigning and criticism of Vasquez nearly a full-time endeavor. As for becoming a staffer, that is a step too far down the ladder. 

The equally important question is what Vasquez will do in the next two years. He certainly does not look like a dud, pulling off a surprise upset and already showing convincing knowledge of the issues of the day. The Dems will be there for him. 

So it's a campaign before there's a congressman. That's a new one but campaigns are now like CNN. The news never ends. 

THE BOTTOM LINES

In a first draft Monday we had Republican Robert Aragon running against Dem Tim Keller for State Auditor in the wrong year. They faced each other in 2014. 

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Monday, November 28, 2022

NMGOP Chair Race: Pearce Appears In Driver's Seat But Getting Strongest Challenge From Newcomer Allen; Aragon Runs Too, But In Martinez Shadow  

Despite a disappointing performance in the '22 election and calls for his head because of it, Steve Pearce may yet become one of the longest tenured chairs of the NM Republican Party.

First chosen for the post in 2018, this Saturday delegates from the GOP Central Committee will gather at the NM Farm and Ranch Heritage Museum in Las Cruces to select a chair for the '24 cycle and the evidence points to a third two year win for the 75 year old former southern NM congressman. 

Lets take a look at his foes and handicap the race with the help of our insightful Alligators who have the inside scoop you get only here: 

Sarah Jane Allen, 48, vice-chair of the Bernalillo County GOP, appears to be offering the most robust plan for change of the candidates running against Pearce. She has offered numerous details for turning around the beleaguered state GOP, including better recruitment and coaching of candidates, helping the county organizations more and "rebranding" the GOP, although on that she is light on details. 

Allen
In a zing at Pearce she also argues the party is in need of "fresh leadership" and notes that in Pearce's home county of Lea in SE NM only 38 percent of registered voters cast ballots this month, far below the state average of about 52 percent.

Allen, a mother of six, whose husband is in real estate, also has some street cred, pointing out that. . . 

She founded the first Moms for Liberty chapter in New Mexico to organize parents and combat leftwing indoctrination in schools. In 2021, she successfully helped school board candidates win election to the Albuquerque Public School Board. The school board is now more conservative than it has been in 25 years.

On the downside, Allen's critics site this video being circulated by Pearce supporters that says Allen has failed to vote in four of the recent statewide primary elections dating back to 2012, as well as the 2021 special ABQ congressional election and has not been a donor to the party. 

They also assert that delegates won't be comfortable to learn that Allen has dual American and Canadian citizenship. She says she grew up on a "small farm" in Alberta, Canada and settled in ABQ 26 years ago, (Allen's campaign video is here.)

ROBERT AND JAY

Aragon
Robert Aragon is a well-known Republican, although he started out as a Democrat in his younger days in the early 80's when he won a seat in the state House from ABQ's Westside. Aragon, 65, an attorney who has served as chair of the BernCo GOP and as a vice-chair of the state party, was the R nominee for state auditor against Dem Tim Keller in 2014. .

Aragon is best known for his deep association with former GOP Gov. Susana Martinez and her controversial political consultant Jay McCleskey who also was the lead consultant for failed '22 GOP Guv candidate Mark Ronchetti. It is that association in a party divided between the Martinez and Pearce factions that makes his run for chair problematic. 

Jay Block, a Republican Sandoval county commissioner who ran against Ronchetti for the GOP Guv nomination, has put up this video, stating that "Jay McCleskey has divided and ruined this Republican Party. . . We need new blood, new vision. This party is in tatters." Block nudged his supporters toward Allen. (His commentary on the party chair election starts at 5:50.)

The anti-Aragon camp also frets that his chairmanship could be a stalking horse for a possible 2024 US senate candidacy by Martinez, consulted once again by McCleskey, that would be destined to lose but perhaps provide another big payday for the consultant who they say has become the de facto head of the GOP. 

(Yes, you read that right.)

Aragon's supporters argue that he is smart, has the organizational ability to get the party moving and knows how to raise money. Aragon says he wants a GOP "built on the Republican values of faith and family" and pledges to appeal to more working-class and rural voters, if elected chair. 

Other candidates are radio talk show host Eddy Aragon, who ran against Pearce two years ago, and Rodney Tahe from Gallup. Neither is garnering significant support. 

Aragon's website is here along with a video of support from conservative Pastor Steve Smothermon. 

ALLIGATOR ANALYSIS

Senior Republican Alligators point out that three of Pearce's four challengers are from ABQ and could split the anti-Pearce vote. Also, the convention is being held in Las Cruces and that could attract more Pearce supporters. About 500 delegates from across the state are eligible to vote. 

For his part Pearce has blamed Democratic "gerrymandering" for the party's failure to increase its representation in the state House this cycle. But the wipeout of the party's statewide executive candidates--attorney general, treasurer etc.--continued under Pearce. Not to mention the re-election of Democrat MLG.

But Pearce can raise funds and he retains a reservoir of support in oil country that is important to the GOP. Pearce comes from the industry. He sold his oil related services company for $12 million in 2003 and presumably has added to that fortune in the years since. That goes a long way in a party that is dominated by business and respects wealth. 

Most important, the GOP here (and elsewhere) seem to be waiting for Trump to eventually exit which will make healing divisions and envisioning a party that appeals to newer generations more plausible. 

For now that puts Pearce in the driver's seat with great unknowns ahead for a state GOP struggling to cling to relevancy. 

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Wednesday, November 23, 2022

Clippings From Our Newsroom Floor For Thanksgiving '22  

As it is every four years the holiday season will be an extra busy one for the inaugural party planners.  

Governor Lujan Grisham and Lieutenant Governor Howie Morales announced their 2023 Inauguration will be held on New Year’s Day, following tradition. Their inauguration will include an inaugural ceremony and an inaugural ball to launch their second term serving the people of New Mexico. Former Representative Deborah Armstrong and senior political advisor Victor Reyes will serve as the Co-Chairs of the 2023 inaugural committee. John Wertheim will be the committee’s treasurer.

MLG raised nearly $900,000 for her inauguration four years ago and spent over $720,000. With inflation the first $1 million inaugural fund-raising is in sight. Organizations and corporations like Presbyterian and Coca Cola traditionally donate the lion's share of the funds. The media will need extra trackers to monitor how all the money is spent and they need to. 

The Governor took the oath and gave her inaugural address in 2019 at the Santa Fe Convention Center. There were two inaugural balls--one at the Center and the other at the Eldorado Hotel. The sites for this year's events have not been announced. Those wanting to follow the latest inaugural activities can do so here--even Republicans.

TV NEWS 

Here's something we haven't come across in a very long time--the ratings for the news broadcasts for the ABQ TV market, the 48th largest in the nation. With all that political ad money this year going to the stations we were curious who was leading the pack:

DMA No. 48 is a rare Nielsen market that covers its entire state. Salt Lake City is another. Large, powerful owners make for strong stations and good competition, but KOAT is a ratings powerhouse. The station won the 6 a.m. news battle, in both households and viewers 25-54, in September, and won the 5 and 6 p.m. derbies too, with KOB the runner-up. At 10 p.m., KRQE had the top household score, at 3.7, ahead of KOB’s 3.1 and KOAT’s 2.9, while KASA and KLUZ both had a 0.4. KOAT had the top demo score at 10, its 1.2 just ahead of KRQE at 1.1. KOB scored a 0.8, KLUZ a 0.3 and KASA a 0.1. 

ABQ Media strategist Susan Bradley points out that the article being quoted errs when it says the ABQ DMA covers the entire state. She says: "It does not include the following counties: Dona Ana, Curry, Lea, Union, Quay, or Roosevelt. Our fellow New Mexicans in these counties are included in a variety of Texas DMAs (El Paso, Lubbock, Amarillo) and tend to get their local news from Texas TV stations."  

KRQE's rating at 10 p.m. translates into 3.7 percent of all homes with a TV set are watching. There are 678,000 TV homes in the ABQ market so about 25,000 homes with TV were watching the station's 10 p.m. news. The "demo score" measures views in the coveted 25 to 54 year old age group. 

AN EXCLAMATION POINT

He was the most powerful opponent of the constitutional amendment to tap the state's over $21 billion Land Grant Permanent Fund for early childhood education, but in the end his now former constituents disagreed with ex-state Sen. John Arthur Smith. In Luna County, the main one in Smith's district, the amendment passed by a hefty 65 percent. Statewide the amendment won 70 percent approval. Conservative Democrat Smith was chairman of the Senate Finance Committee and for years used his position to thwart the amendment from getting to the voters. The Luna County win put an exclamation point on the night for amendment backers who now await final approval for the measure from the US Congress which is expected in early 2023. 

THE BOTTOM LINES 

Domingo Martinez
We botched the details on our Tuesday blog of how Hector Balderas became state auditor in 2006. He was not appointed to the position. What happened is that the Dem candidate for auditor was consumed by scandal and Balderas was chosen by the Democrats to replace him--with a big push from Gov. Big Bill. He went on to win the general election in November of that year. 

We covered those events extensively right here on the blog that year but our memory did not serve us. Here's our report from August 30, 2006: 

 New Mexico Democrats let out a sigh of relief that rivaled the force of Hurricane Katrina Tuesday as embattled Dem state auditor candidate Jeff Armijo bowed to the will of Big Bill and ended his candidacy. The mid-afternoon announcement immediately set off a contest to replace him, with ambitious politicos grabbing their phones to lobby members of the Democratic Party Central Committee which will name the new auditor candidate September 9th.

That new Auditor candidate would be Hector Balderas. 

The State Auditor prior to Hector taking the job was Domingo Martinez who "was not consumed in scandal" as our mistaken blog left the impression. And we heard from him about it:

Your comment that Hector Balderas’ predecessor resigned due to scandals is not correct. 

I, Domingo P. Martinez, never resigned but did stand up to corruption and bad accounting practices by government entities

Domingo served two terms from 1999-2006 and was (and is) a well-respected public official. 

And on that note we wish you a Happy Thanksgiving!

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Tuesday, November 22, 2022

The Dynasty That Wasn't: Tag Team of AG Balderas And Auditor Colón Nears End 

Early Days: Colón & Balderas
They set out to occupy and dominate the upper echelons of New Mexico public life, hoping to call the shots from a business friendly Democratic perspective. But like so many dreams in La Politica this one ended with a whimper. 

After a good run blessed by serendipity Attorney General Hector Balderas and State Auditor Brian Colón will exit stage right come New Year's Day. 

Hector is off to become the new president of Northern New Mexico Community College in Rio Arriba County and Brian will look at his options when his four year term as Auditor ends.

Balderas fell into the hands of fate when he was serving in the state House in 2006. The then state auditor Democratic candidate was consumed by scandal and forced to end his candidacy. Gov. Big Bill pushed Balderas and he was selected by the Dem Party as their replacement nominee. For a time a star was born. Balderas was elected Auditor and then went on to secure two four year terms as attorney general, along the way becoming one of the most popular vote-getters in Democratic Party history. 

Colón, who started his climb as chairman of the Democratic Party and with the backing of Big Bill, was the epitome of the backslapping, baby kissing politico, and took longer than Hector to find electoral success. He was pushed backed in bids for lieutenant governor and mayor of ABQ. But in 2018 his ship came in and he managed to take the Auditor's post, only to see that ship now docked.

The political tides brought in a more progressive wave of Democrats in recent years and the moderate ways of Balderas and Colón were pushed aside. 

NOT STREET FIGHTERS

Balderas had a chance to alter the future early on when he sought the Democratic nomination for US Senate against Martin Heinrich in 2012 but backed off from going negative against Heinrich and settled for the name ID that the Senate run brought him and ultimately made him attorney general. 

Similarly, Colón retreated from the vociferous attacks necessary to take out BernCo District Attorney Raul Torrez when the two competed for the Dem nomination for attorney general this year and the right to succeed Balderas. Torrez did not hesitate in aggressively taking Colón down.  

Balderas and Colón were never street fighters. They were two pals who wanted to make more pals--and be the backroom negotiators. But advancement requires intense engagement in the often brutal political ring and that was not their thing.

Balderas will continue his public service in his new high-paying job which will eventually pad his state retirement check. The last NNMC president was making $190,000 per year when he left for another job in January. 

Colón could opt to return to the Robles, Rael & Anaya law firm that has shadowed the pair throughout their political careers. Given his gregarious nature, he might make another try for elective office someday. 

As for middle of the road Democrats, they are still out there. State Rep. Patty Lundstorm chairs the important House Appropriations Committee and fellow moderate Dem George Munoz chairs the Senate Finance Committee. 

With the Republicans back benched for the foreseeable future, progressive Dems will face an opposition force from with their own party as a counter balance. But it won't come from Balderas and Colón. They rode the rails well together but found the climb too steep to grasp the highest rungs of political power. 

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Monday, November 21, 2022

Seeking A New BernCo DA; Will The Pick Come From The Inside? DA's Staff Weighs In As Guv Starts Taking Applications 

Diana Garcia
Now it's time to find a new DA.  

With the new normal in the ABQ metro an ongoing crime wave still capable of delivering shocks, there are major challenges for the next BernCo district attorney. An appointee will finish out the term of current Dem DA and soon to be Attorney General Raul Torrez whose term runs through 2024. The Governor will make the appointment and her office is now taking applications. Torrez takes office as AG January 1.

Perhaps the post will go to someone already in the office and already up to their neck in the caseload. Deputy District Attorney Diana Garcia says she's applying. Garcia has been with the office over 16 years and has 25 years experience in the criminal justice system. If appointed, she would be the first female Hispanic woman to be BernCo DA. Meanwhile, a letter signed by 49 of the 55 non-supervising attorneys within the DA's office has been sent to the Governor asking her to appoint either Garcia or two other DA employees--Deputy DA Joshua Boone and John Duran.

Josh Boone
In regards to Boone, in a 2018 blog we questioned why a DWI charge against former Republican Gov. Martinez cabinet secretary Ryan Flynn was being pleaded out by the DA's office instead of prosecuted. That led other news media to investigate and they found:

. . . Additionally, because Boone’s direct supervisor, Metro Division Chief Jason Greenlee, was “really good friends” with lawyers on Flynn’s defense team, Boone told Torrez prosecutors had removed Greenlee from making any decisions about the case. But the Santa Fe Reporter and New Mexico In Depth have found that Greenlee was intimately involved with assessing evidence and negotiating Flynn’s plea throughout the case. Further, Boone, Greenlee and others misled SFR and NMID about the strength of Flynn’s case.

Outgoing District Attorney Torrez worked closely with the Martinez administration to successfully pressure the state Senate Finance Committee to secure more funding for his office.

John Duran
Duran is a former BernCo Metro Court Judge who has been associated with Martinez. She appointed him to the bench in 2013. In 2014 he ran for the seat as a Republican and was defeated. Martinez reappointed him soon after. In 2016 he ran as a Democrat in that year's primary but was defeated. 

Whoever gets the appointment can be expected to seek a full four year term beginning with the Democratic primary in 2024, assuming the Democratic Governor will appoint a Democratic DA--and one with little political baggage. 

Here are excepts from the letter to the Guv from attorneys in the DA's office: 

Those of us signing this letter are line attorneys from various divisions within the Second Judicial District Attorney’s Office. We all want to do everything in our power to keep Bernalillo County safe, and we need a leader who will enable us to do exactly that. In light of Raul Torrez’s recent election as the Attorney General, we are respectfully writing you to request that Joshua Boone, John Duran or Diana Garcia be appointed as the next District Attorney of the Second Judicial District. . . 

Under (Torrez')leadership, our office cleared out an extensive back log of cases that. . .Now, we are facing a backlog of cases that accumulated under the delays caused by the pandemic. In the first half of 2023 alone, the next District Attorney will have to deal with over a thousand cases that have been set for trial in the District Court. It will be imperative to the success of this office, and therefore the safety and welfare of our community, to have a District Attorney that can hit the ground running, that already understands how this office has been run and the systems that are already in place. . . 

The herculean job of the next District Attorney will require someone who already has considerable, and recent experience managing the people of this office specifically. As our caseloads continue to skyrocket and we struggle to fight the crime of the past and present simultaneously, we are asking for a leader who knows what we are up against, because they have been in the same position themselves. We are asking for someone who already knows the strengths and weaknesses of the individual employees, and already has a team in place that can immediately continue where DA Torrez left off. We believe that leader is already in our office. 

THE BOTTOM LINES

The state GOP House caucus has dumped two of its leaders following disappointing election results. 40 year old Rep. Ryan Lane of Aztec, just elected to his second term, is the new minority leader after Rep. James Townsend decided not to run again. GOP Whip Rod Montoya is also a goner. The new whip is Rep. Jason Harper of Rio Rancho and the caucus chair will be Rep. Gail Armstrong of Magdalena. The Dems are expected to have a 45 to 25 majority going into the 2023 session, so the GOP leadership change commanded little attention. . . 

In a first draft Thursday we blogged that the southern Second Congressional District originated in 1970. It actually was 1968. That's when that November Republican Ed Foreman was elected the first congressman from the district. 

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Thursday, November 17, 2022

Thursday Photo Blog: New Mexico's DC House Trio 

Stansbury, Vasquez and Leger Fernandez
Here they are--the three members of the New Mexico US House for 2023-24, including newcomer Gabe Vasquez whose addition flips the delegation from all female to include a Hispanic man from the southern congressional district. That's a first in the history of the 2nd CD that dates back to 1969.

Vasquez, 38, is also the first Millennial man in the NM DC delegation that also includes Dem Senators Ben Ray Lujan and Martin Heinrich. 

Like a true Millenial and in contrast to the baby boomers, Vasquez did a lot of job hopping before landing his dream job this month when he defeated GOP US Rep. Yvette Herrell:

From 2008 to 2011, he was the business editor of the Las Cruces Bulletin. In 2011, he was the executive director of the Las Cruces Hispanic Chamber of Commerce. From 2013 to 2015, he served as a field representative for then-Congressman Martin Heinrich. In 2015 and 2016, Vasquez was the vice president of communications for First Focus, a Washington, D.C.-based advocacy organization. From 2016 to 2018, he was the director of community relations for the New Mexico Wildlife Federation. In 2018 and 2019, he was the deputy director of New Mexico's chapter of the Wilderness Society. From 2019 to 2021, he worked as deputy director of the Western Conservation Foundation in the federal lands department. From 2017 to 2021, he served as a member of the Las Cruces City Council.

That's a whole lot of moving going on but now Vasquez has a good shot at longer term employment. 

While the Dems don't have a lock on the 2nd CD it does lean their way and Vasquez has already shown the flexibility needed to appeal to a diverse constituency that includes oil fields and environmental treasures. 

He will take the oath in January and is preparing for his two year term:

I’m pleased to announce that Rebecca Avitia, Senator Heinrich’s Chief of Staff, and Nayomi Valdez, former District Director for US Rep. Xochitl Torres Small, will be leading my transition.

ABQ Rep. Melanie Stansbury, 42, and northern Rep. Teresa Leger Fernandez, 63, are also celebrating their election to brand new districts. But they now have the challenge of being in the minority as the GOP took control of the House this cycle. 

Fernandez was aided in her re-elect by veteran NM and DC political operative Dan Sena and his team. They came up with widely praised TV spots for the congresswoman who was justifiably nervous in seeking her second two year term in a new district. Sena also has close ties to Sen. Ben Ray Lujan.

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Wednesday, November 16, 2022

Moe's Movida: Outmaneuvers Progressives To Win State Senate Appointment But Now There's A Target On His Back, Plus: In Search of The "Saboteur"; NMGOP Spooked By Election Results; Party Getting Unraveled  

Sen. Moe Maestas
After weeks of turmoil the Bernalillo County Commission last night appointed ABQ state Rep. Antonio "Moe" Maestas to the westside state senate seat that Jacob Candelaria resigned last month. But the appointment--on a 3 to 2 vote--came with a target on Maestas' back. Progressives are already vowing to run a candidate against him in 2024.

But Maestas is a political pro and observers think it will take a strong Hispanic opponent to stop him from getting elected to the seat. 

The  district is solid D so the only action will be in the Dem primary.

Maestas angled for the appointment since Candelaria let it be known last year that he was going to resign the District 26 seat. When Candelaria resigned in October progressive opponents of Maestas immediately accused him of engineering a movida with Candelaria to steamroll the appointment before two new progressive commissioners elected this month could be seated January 1.

Movida or not, Maestas had his ducks in a row. Dem Commissioners Quezada, Pyskoty and Republican Walt Benson sided with Maestas and progressive commissioners Barboa and O'Malley opposed. 

It was a somewhat nasty meeting with the commissioners bickering and questioning each other's motives. The animosity over the appointment went public earlier following another commission meeting where Commissioner O’Malley called Pyskoty a bitch. 

Eight people applied for the post. 

The main attack on Maestas, who has been in the House since 2007, was over his wife, Vanessa Alarid, and her role as a major business lobbyist with clients that include the Santolina land development company that has proposed a giant controversial development on the county's westside. 

O'Malley tried to disqualify Pyskoty from voting because she had received a $5,000 contribution from Alarid but Pyskoty dismissed the ethics accusation, pointing out that the money was not given to her by Maestas. She also noted that Commission Chair Barboa is a lobbyist. (She lobbies for a nonprofit). A hearing on O'Malley's ethics complaint will be heard in December. 

A progressive Maestas foe reacted: 

Pyskoty refused to recuse herself from the appointment vote, further imperiling her ethics situation. The County Code is clear--Commissioners must recuse themselves when any person within the third degree of relations has any substantial interest in her vote. As Charlene's largest donor, Vanessa Alarid is a first degree relation to Charlene and Vanessa has a substantial interest in seeing her husband appointed to the State Senate.

Maestas took note of the rancor over his appointment following the affirmative vote:

It’s a great victory for the West Side, a great victory for a Hispanic-majority district. It’s unfortunate that personal hatred and animosity came into play. The community deserves better.

The 54 year old has a long track record in political and public service and was instrumental in winning voter approval of a constitutional amendment last week that creates a revenue stream for early childhood education from the state’s Land Grant Permanent Fund. 

Lobbyists married to state lawmakers has been a touchy issue. Last Saturday Las Cruces state Rep. Doreen Gallegos, wife of prominent lobbyist Scott Scanland, tried for the position of majority floor leader at the House Dem caucus. She was rebuked, in part, observers say, because of her spouse's lobbyist status.

Maestas has time to establish himself in the seat and is already well-known because his House district overlaps the senate district, even though he moved into the senate district only this past year. 

The Maestas Movida was masterfully done Tuesday evening but it will be another Tuesday evening in June 2024 when he will have to cement the deal with the people of the district. 

The bickering commission is not through with all of this. They now have to fill Maestas' vacant House seat. 

THE SABOTEUR!

Chair Pearce
The crazy-making continues at the NMGOP as it continues to reel from the election results and argue over who will chair the party following their poor performance. Republicans will grimace when they read this missive form the state party and Dems will roar with glee: 

SABOTEUR SEEKING TO OUST RPNM CHAIRMAN AND EXECUTIVE DIRECTOR SENT EMAIL UNDER FAKE NAME 

. . . A member of the Republican Party circulated a bogus email in an effort to boot Chairman Steve Pearce and Executive Director Kim Skaggs from their offices. It’s dismaying that two major New Mexico newspapers reported on this phony email without any verification. The media has the responsibility to check and confirm facts and at least try to contact the author of such a message before publishing. 

RPNM has combed through records, voter rolls and has checked numerous sources, but there is no record anywhere of a James Navarette. So bogus was this message that the author even misspelled the phony name at the bottom of the email—Navarrette. 

Robert Aragon 
The email, sent to hundreds of people affiliated with the Republican Party of New Mexico, launched unjustified attacks on Pearce and Skaggs. This was simply a cowardly smear campaign, a weak, juvenile effort to undermine Pearce, Skaggs and the RPNM. It is possible that this bogus email came from a disgruntled party officer with personal political aspirations in mind. RPNM’s State Central Committee members will elect their next Chairman and officers in Las Cruces next month. 

“Hiding behind such a fake email and criticizing the RPNM Executive Director, who has donated an entire year of her time to the party, is a despicable act,” said Pearce. “It’s dishonest, seedy and shows a nadir of character. I can accept fair criticism, but this sneaky tactic of an email under a pseudonym is about as cowardly and low as you can get. 

RPNM has built a good management team of elected officers, is building solid county infrastructure in many counties and is set to appear in front of the New Mexico Supreme Court in January to argue the case against the egregious gerrymandering that (House) Speaker Brian Egolf and the progressive Democrats passed through the last legislative session. It is my intent to run again for Chairman of RPNM to continue to build the party.”

ABQ attorney Robert Aragon of the anti-Pearce faction of the GOP led by former Gov. Susana Martinez and consultant Jay McCleskey has announced he will challenge Pearce for the party chairmanship at the Dec. 3 meeting where the GOP will choose new officers. There could be more challengers.

Meanwhile the "Saboteur" remains at large. If you have any idea where they are, please call 505-242-COPS.

MORE ELECTION REACT

Reader Kelley Vigil weighs in with this:

As long as the GOP is a threat to women’s rights, climate, LGBQ rights and puts social security, medicare and democracy in peril, I will vote for the MLG’s who are running. Even if I have to hold my nose. 

As usual, great coverage this election this year. What would we do without you?! 

And this from an Alligator on the future of defeated TV weather forecaster Mark Ronchetti

First, a clarion call with trumpets & rolling drums. . . Cue announcer:

And, now, with the news, it's Kari Lake, featuring tomorrow’s weather with Mark Ronchetti and special political analysis from veteran anchorman Dick Knipfing. 

Reader Mike Connealy says:

Ronchetti's claim in his concession speech that "This campaign was a grassroots movement..." is laughable considering the big outside money that was poured into the campaign. Unfortunately, the Dems cannot claim the "grassroots" label either. It seems like an issue that both sides should get together on. 

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(c)NM POLITICS WITH JOE MONAHAN 2022

Tuesday, November 15, 2022

Questions Raised Over Future Of NMGOP And '22 Key Players; Where Do They And The Party Go From Here After Another Dismal Election Night  

Inquiring minds want to know. 

We've received a number of variations of several questions regarding the state Republican Party since the election results rolled in. Today we'll take a stab at answering them. Here they are: 

1) Where will Mark Ronchetti move to? 2) Where will Jay McCleskey go now? 3) Is Trump finished? 4) Steve Pearce--to resign or be removed?

In his concession statement Ronchetti gave no indication what his next move will be and whether it is outside the state. The Vermont native had a lucrative career as a TV weatherman and may try to re-enter that field. but given his two very heated runs for office--the 2020 Senate race and the 2022 Governor's race--we don't see him returning to the airwaves here. 

KRQE-TV made that mistake when Ronchetti left the station to run for senate but was rehired after the loss. Controversy erupted. The owners of the CBS affiliate (publicly traded Nexstar) aren't about to go there again. 

Whether stations outside of New Mexico would consider employment for Ronchetti is unknown, but with his meteorology background he could pursue a job other than broadcasting. As for another run for office in New Mexico, the chances of that appear slim to none. After two sound defeats, the third time is not the charm. 

THE McCLESKEY FACTOR

Where will political consultant Jay McCleksey go after heading up Ronchetti's two unsuccessful campaigns as well as another losing effort in '21 when he did the media for the ABQ mayoral effort of Sheriff Manny Gonzales?

Well, he won't be going anywhere if he can continue to convince big dollar donors to finance his candidates even as he sports that sour 0-3 record. Ronchetti raised over $9 million for his Guv campaign and a good chunk of it went to McCleskey's media firm which handled much of the TV and other advertising, 

In effect McCleksey has become the head of the state GOP, deciding who will run for the major offices. The problem is that his methods no longer resonate with the public and he is now losing. His plans do not include helping to rebuild the downtrodden GOP, only ensuring that he has a candidate to consult and a paycheck to pocket. 

His presence has divided the party but that division has existed for years now and still McCleskey is given carte blanche. His path forward in NM, however, may be limited by the unavailability of any major offices to seek. There is the '24 Senate race when Sen. Martin Heinrich is expected to seek re-election but getting financing to take him on could be a challenge as the state has again proven itself solid blue. 

Ronchetti did entertain several of the possible GOP presidential candidates here this cycle. Perhaps McCleskey looks there for a future or with his allies at the Republican Governors Association who, despite bad polling, pumped $6 million into the race to save Ronchetti. Why they did that when Republican Kari Lake could have used that cash for her Guv run in neighboring Arizona is a debate-worthy question for the RGA. Lake was declared the loser Monday night. 

THE TRUMP FACTOR

Is Trump finished? Well, he is finished in New Mexico in terms of carrying the state but he remains a major factor. In a cruel irony for Republicans, he stimulates turnout--but for Democrats. So Trump, if he's the '24 GOP prez nominee, will continue to be the gift that keeps on giving here but not for the party whose banner he sports. 

As for Steve Pearce, he has already announced he will seek another two year term as NMGOP chairman, despite his party giving up even more ground under his watch. In fact, there's little left to lose. The prospect of keeping Pearce on board speaks to the exhaustion of the GOP.  

There is simply little interest by up and comers to get involved in a group that is divided so bitterly between the ex-Gov. Martinez/McCleskey faction and the Pearce faction, and in a state where voters have turned their backs on Republicans. 

Until new faces arise on the scene the stagnation and the losing that is now habitual for the Republicans could continue for the foreseeable future.

Have your own view on the future of the GOP?  Emails are welcome. 

RONCHETTI SIGNS OFF

Here is the concession issued by GOP Guv hopeful Ronchetti following his defeat:

Unfortunately, things did not turn out the way we hoped on Tuesday night. After a long year on the campaign trail, the voters of New Mexico chose a different path than the vision our campaign laid out. I got into this race last year for the same reason I ran for US Senate two years ago - I love this state & would do anything to try to make this a better place to live for New Mexican families. 

Safe streets, better schools, and more support for working families to make it to the end of the month should be the expectation, and for far too long our leaders have failed to set us on the path to attain that. I truly hope that Governor Lujan Grisham finds success on those fronts, because that means the people of this beautiful state will be better off. 

I also hope the Governor takes note of the results & prioritizes listening to those in our rural communities, and realizes that for far too long rural New Mexico has felt forgotten. Most importantly, my family and I want to thank the thousands of you who supported my campaign with your time, resources and prayers. 

This campaign was a grassroots movement of people desperate for change, and it was an honor to represent you on the campaign trail and on the ballot. I could never have made it to Election Day without the support from all of you. Every last one of you who I came into contact with shaped my perspective and vision. This state has given so much to my family and I, and for that I will always be grateful. God Bless.

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Monday, November 14, 2022

House Speakership Set To Go To ABQ For First Time In Over 20 Years; New Majority Leader Also From City; We Take You Inside The Caucus Where Power Was Passed, Plus: Trying To Push Pearce Out And Pundit Owns Up On Errant Congress Call  

ABQ emerged the big winner at the caucus of state House Democrats Saturday as the speakership, one of the most powerful positions in state government, is now set to go to 41 year old ABQ Rep. Javier Martinez and the position of Majority Leader to ABQ Rep. Gail Chasey. 

Each dispatched two rivals to snag the leadership posts that will preside over the future House agenda beginning with the 60 day session that kicks off in January. 

It's the first time the speaker's gavel will be in the hands of a Duke City rep since Raymond Sanchez wielded the gavel in 2000. 

And to the relief of the Democratic Party the speaker is Hispanic, putting a person of color in charge in the House in contrast with the top Anglo leadership in the Senate. 

And why not ABQ? In recent years the city has been delivering huge winning margins to national and local candidates, transforming NM from a swing state to a solid blue one. Only last Tuesday Gov. MLG wracked up a 41,000 margin over her GOP rival in Bernalillo County, effectively ending the race when early voting numbers were released shortly before 8 p.m. 

Also, as long noted by former ABQ Mayor Martin Chavez the city is "the economic engine" of the state. But it needs work--better education, infrastructure investment for its aging neighborhoods, assistance with a thorny crime problem and state help with serious homelessness.

Homelessness especially requires mega-funding for new construction. It is mainly a city problem that is most severe in the metro and an obstacle to keeping that economic engine humming. 

Martinez, a pragmatic progressive and attorney for a nonprofit, has served in the House since 2014. He is fully aware of ABQ's special niche but will not meet its needs by sacrificing those of the rest of the state. After all, with the oil boom there are plenty of dollars to go around.

INSIDE THE VOTE

At the caucus of the 45 Dems Gallup Rep. Patricia Lundstrom challenged Martinez even though the election results did not break for conservative/moderate Dems of which she is one. ABQ Rep. Miguel Garcia also ran. 

Our reliable caucus sources report that Martinez won a majority of the votes needed on the first ballot and that was that. His nomination by the Dems must be approved by the full House but that is pro forma given the party's huge majority of 45 to 25. 

In the Majority Floor Leader contest Rep. Doreen Gallegos of Las Cruces and Derrick Lente of Sandia Pueblo also made plays but it was Rep. Chasey, the longest-serving member of the House who represents ABQ's liberal SE Heights, who claimed the win. It took two ballots for her to get the majority, according to our sources. 

Chasey, 78, is the longest-serving House member, first winning in 1996. Retirement could soon beckon so those hoping to rise in the leadership may get another shot in the not too distant future. 

For Rep. Gallegos, who gave up the majority whip position to take a shot at Floor Leader, her quest may be over permanently. Caucus members were said to be queasy ever since she made her interest known for the post because of her marriage to powerful and longtime lobbyist Scott Scanland. The Dems did not want uncomfortable questions going forward and refused to mix business with their mostly progressive politics and Gallegos was defeated.  

For a new Majority Whip the caucus turned to just elected Santa Fe Rep. Reena Szczepanski, a protege of outgoing Speaker Brian Egolf who she served as Chief of Staff. But she also has prior policy savvy as  a former executive director of Emerge NM, the group that for years has been successful in fielding female candidates. Progressive Szczepanski was challenged for Majority Whip by moderate ABQ Dem Rep. Day Hochman-Vigil who was first elected in 2018. Like the new whip, she is seen as a rising star for the Dems. 

MLG REACT

The Governor took note of her legislative goals in congratulating the caucus winners: 

I look forward to advancing our shared priorities of tackling crime, increasing affordable housing options, and ensuring equitable healthcare access for all New Mexicans. Let’s get to work.

With their relatively small presence Republicans will continue to play the role of boo birds from the sidelines but will have little say in the main game--unless they can somehow pivot to more centrist positions and rebuild their party.

Speaking of which, 75 year old Steve Pearce, target of a shower of criticism for the failure of Republicans at the polls last week, says he's ready for more punishment and will seek will seek another two year term as party chair next month. ABQ attorney Robert Aragon has announced he will also run. Santa Fe county GOP Vice-Chair Brett Kokinadis sums up the case against Pearce:

 I was criticized when I called for Steve Pearce to resign in 2019. Maybe I was ahead of the curve, but it's time for a change. Republicans need leadership willing to listen and adapt to new ideas. 

For his part Pearce pins the GOP debacle on "gerrymandering." 

STATE OF PLAY 

Let's go to one of our Senior Alligators for an overview of the state of political play in these parts.  

As we should come to expect in our blue state, the Democrats performed well. It’s just too hard for Republicans to make gains at the moment, especially with the weak organization that they have. The fact that they couldn’t save senior Rep. Jane Powdrell-Culbert or stop Dem Tara Jaramillo in a Socorro area district, says a lot, In the face of the Dems excellent House campaign effort, it’s just not a fair fight at the legislative level anymore. Dem candidates are well-funded and well-organized. 

On the Governor's side, the Dems dodged a bullet. MLG’s meager 52% was the lowest re-election percentage of any NM Gov since 1994 and that’s in a state arguably bluer than any of those years and against a weak, inexperienced candidate. 

She also performed worse than other Dem governors nationally from blue states like Illinois where Gov. Pritzker won 55% and Colorado’s Polis 62%. Dem leaders should really think about that as they decide their path forward. 

With the election of Gabe Vasquez to the southern congressional seat we now have a rare all-D congressional delegation. Dems can learn from 2008 and 2018 that it’s tough to hold on to that. Sen. Martin Heinrich remembers those years and if he plans to run for Governor has a chance to get this delegation organized to assist him. 

Vasquez should change his image from progressive rabble-rouser to champion of the working class to stay in that seat. Clearly the Dems need shoring up with working people and non-college educated voters. The Governor would be smart to set a new direction that does that especially if there’s any kind of effective reckoning by the NMGOP.

PAYNE'S PAIN

On that narrow win by Vasquez over Republican Rep. Yvette Herrell, leading pundits could not get it right. Attorney Greg Payne who analyzed the races for us this cycle predicted the Governor's race would finish with MLG winning 53 to 45 over Ronchetti. She received 51.9 and he got  45.6 with the Libertarian getting the rest. But then he called for Vasquez to lose 53-47. We ask him what happened:

Simply put, I did not study the new district closely enough. I was wedded to an analysis that put too much stock in the historically conservative nature of the district. The new district broke the mold and I missed it. 

Okay, does that humility prevent Payne from being punished for his errant call with ten lashes from a wet noodle? We may have to have Rep.-elect Vasquez decide. . . Look out, Payne. 

COVERAGE COMMENT

Reader Frank Aranda writes: 

Joe, thank you for the superb coverage this election year and for the great KANW election night coverage- my wife and I depend on you to make sense of our state’s politica Thanks again.

Thanks for tuning in here and on the radio, Frank. And thanks to our many sources--public and private for making our task easier. 

ED TINSLEY 

Ed Tinsley has died. The well-known GOP politico, rancher and businessman (he founded the K-Bob's steakhouses) passed away November 1. He was the GOP nominee for the southern congressional district in 2008 and lost to Dem Harry Teague. 

That campaign provided many memorable blogging moments. One of them was when we wrote of the withering criticism Tinsley came under from the Dems when it was learned he had a second home in the wealthy Las Campanas community near Santa Fe. Even though he was a committed southern New Mexican with a ranch he loved and the aforementioned successful restaurant business, the damage was done. 

Also memorable was when after winning the GOP nomination Tinsley replaced the word "Republican" on his campaign signs with "Conservative." Judging by last Tuesday's election results he may have been ahead of his time.

Tinsley died of cancer. He was 72. 

This is the home of New Mexico Politics. 

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