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Monday, November 29, 2021

Conservative Pastor Smotherman Butts In On Council Runoff And Trouble Starts, Plus: Readers Rebuke Senate R's For Attacking Roundhouse Vaccine Requirement  

Pastor Smotherman
Conservative Pastor Steve Smotherman has done a favor for ABQ City Council District 7 runoff candidate Lori Robertson that she may have liked to do without--he openly backed the Republican hopeful from his pulpit at a November 16 service. 

Robertson's opponent, Democrat Tammy Fiebelkorn, now questions whether Smotherman violated IRS rules governing nonprofits such as his Legacy Church. (Video here.)

The open campaigning by Smotherman could indeed be an IRS violation that he may or may not get called out on, but his political fervor for Robertson violated what has been her political rule for this election--keep her conservatism low key. 

The last thing the real estate broker needed in the December 7 runoff in a Democratic dominated district was a loud whistle from Smotherman who appeals to Republicans but not to run of the mill Democrats and probably not much to independents.

Robertson complains that Fiebelkorn has “repeatedly tried to paint me as a right wing extremist." Never mind Fiebelkorn, Smotherman's heated rhetoric on Robertson's behalf did the job. He told the church gathering:

We need people like her (Robertson) on the City Council to make sure this crazy guy they call mayor doesn’t continue to push his agenda.”

That statement pinned Robertson firmly to the corner of a right wing wall. That could help rouse R's but is not a good look in a district where Dems outnumber the GOP 49% to 26%.

As for Pastor Smotherman, he is an effective and successful leader of his church but perhaps should leave the political analysis to the pundits and bloggers. 

Congrats on your endorsement, Lori. . . or something. 

ENDORSEMENT GAME

Let's look at the major Dem endorsements in the District 7 and 9 runoff races to get a feel for the politics at play.

We note that Gov. MLG endorsed fellow female politico Feiblekorn but did not do the same for Dem Rob Grilley in the more moderate District 9 where he faces Republican Renee Grout in the runoff. Grilley is touting endorsements by Dem Attorney General Hector Balderas and BernCo DA Raul Torrez.  

Progressive Fiebelkorn did not receive an endorsement from the middle of the road Balderas, but the DA did endorse her. Mayor Keller endorsed both Fiebelkorn and Grilley.

Grilley has been walking a fine line in the far NE Heights district that includes affluent Four Hills. He would be the first nonconservative to win the district since its inception in 1974. The strategy being that Balderas is a better endorsement fit in his district than MLG who is also a middle of the road adherent but seen as more partisan. 

COVID COMMENTS 

The statement from state senate Republicans on the Thursday blog condemning the vaccine requirement for Roundhouse visitors to the special legislative redistricting session next week and the regular session in January drew sharp pushback from Covid watchers. Here's that statement again: 

This is not a COVID driven policy. If it was, the clear evidence of vaccinated individual’s ability to spread the virus would negate the reasoning for the rule. Instead, COVID has proven to be an effective means by which the political elites can justify their power grabs and limit public access.

Larry Gioannini in Las Cruces has the pushback: 

Unfortunately, I'm not surprised about the Republican canard that vaccinated people spread Covid. True, vaccinated people who get a breakthrough infection spread Covid like the unvaccinated but the much, much larger population of vaccinated people who do not get infected do not spread Covid. That's how we get back to "normal" ASAP. 

Reader Lissa Knudssen weighed in with this:

Joe, I saw the quote you used from the Senate Republicans about the “vaccinated individual’s ability to spread the virus” and thus there not being a need for a vaccine mandate in the Roundhouse. I am forwarding this blog post about this topic from a reputable epidemiologist and I am asking that you include some follow up for your readers as it is a matter of life and death in NM. 

Some lawmakers have not had vaccinations but will be allowed to enter the Roundhouse during the sessions because of constitutional provisions.

From Cedar Crest reader Andre Larroque writes: 

What disturbs me most about the Legislative Council Service rules is the necessity for increased security measures like bag checks, etc. at the building entrance. Our fully accessible and welcoming Roundhouse has become an unfortunate victim to the sometimes armed ‘shows of force’ exhibited at other state houses and the events at our national capitol building on Jan.6. 

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Wednesday, November 24, 2021

Vax Cards And No Guns For The Next Rounds At Roundhouse, Plus: Former Senate Powerhouse Jennings Looks For Comeback, And: Happy Thanksgiving, New Mexico  

Bring your vax card and leave your gun at home. Those are the marching orders for attending the special redistricting session that kicks off at the Roundhouse December 6 and for the regular legislative session that begins January 18. 

From the Legislative Council Service: 

The Roundhouse will remain open to members of the public for the special and regular sessions. Proof of full vaccination will be required. The Rotunda will not be used for displays, booths, presentations, special days, etc. Pages will not be used by the House or Senate. No tours will be conducted. Masks will continue to be required throughout the Capitol Complex. In addition, carrying weapons into the Roundhouse is prohibited effective December 6. All members of the public will be subject to magnetometer screening (or bag search) when entering the building. 

But don't expect to see all your favorite committee meetings in person. Speaker Egolf adds:

Virtual participation in the legislative process will continue while the policies announced allow for the safe reopening of our state’s Capitol to all New Mexicans.

Senate Republicans don't like it much:

This is not a COVID driven policy. If it was, the clear evidence of vaccinated individual’s ability to spread the virus would negate the reasoning for the rule. Instead, COVID has proven to be an effective means by which the political elites can justify their power grabs and limit public access.

FINAL COUNT

The final official vote counts from the November 2 municipal elections have been certified by the State Canvassing Board. SOS Maggie Toulouse Oliver once again disappointed conspiracy theorists:

(Tuesday's) State Canvassing Board meeting reinforced that every New Mexican voter should have the highest level of confidence in these official election results and in the conduct of our state’s second-ever consolidated statewide local election. I want to thank all the election administrators who ran this election with efficiency and integrity, and I want to thank all the voters who turned out.

All the final returns are posted here.

MORE ELECTIONS

There won't be much of a post-Thanksgiving political lull in Roswell or Rio Rancho as candidates there begin prepping for the March 1, 2022 city elections. Those locales and others did not adopt the new consolidated elections held in November. 

The mayoral race in Roswell is one that will get statewide attention. Former Dem State Senator Tim Jennings is trying to stage a comeback and defeat incumbent GOP Mayor and former State Rep. Dennis Kintigh

Jennings, 71, has major donors, despite losing the senate seat in 2012 that he held for 34 years to Republican Cliff Pirtle. Kintigh, 69, is going for his third, four year term and the Jennings forces believe the electorate is primed for a change. Even though Roswell leans Republican they say Jennings' conservative Dem credentials will stand the test. 

Somehow the Roswell newspaper managed to cover Jennings' mayoral announcement without once mentioning the current mayor. Well, it is the city known for unidentified objects.

That's it for now. Happy Thanksgiving, New Mexico. 

Reporting from Albuquerque, I'm Joe Monahan and. . . 

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Tuesday, November 23, 2021

Lewis Camp Preps For Battle; Demanding "Accountability" From Keller Administration; Predict GOP Takeover Of Council; Says Current Council "Has Been A Joke," Plus: Leading Las Cruces: Miyagishima Becomes City's Longest Serving Mayor 

Lewis and Keller 
Supporters of ABQ City Councilor-elect Dan Lewis unloaded on the administration and the current council following our Monday blog about his opposition to a $110 million bond package being pushed by the Keller administration and Republican City Councilor Brook Bassan.

Republican Lewis predicts the package, which would require seven affirmative votes, will be defeated before he joins the council January 1.  

Backers of Lewis who have spoken with him said he "will demand accountability" from the administration and shake up the council which they say "has been a joke."

Lewis previously served on the council for two terms and ran unsuccessfully for Mayor against Keller in 2017. His backers are now predicting that Republicans will prevail in the two city council run-off elections set for December 7 and where early voting is currently underway. They say the national environment has a big influence on the election and that Renee Grout will win in District 9 and Lori Robertson will take District 7.

Critics of the council following the Lewis line also blasted the council's Zoom meetings held since the start of the pandemic, calling them disorganized and unproductive. They believe Lewis will be the net council president, end the Zoom sessions and that the ABQ police chief, department directors and the mayor's representatives will be questioned rigorously at council meetings--in person. 

Lewis himself did not go on the record with the retorts to the Monday blog but neither did he disagree with them.

The promise from the Lewis camp to flex political muscle comes as no surprise to Keller and company who are working overtime in those council runoff elections to prevent a GOP takeover which would occur if both seats went into the GOP column. However, Councilor Bassan's warm relationship with Keller calls into question whether the GOP would operate in lockstep against the Mayor. 

Lewis allies now say they expect Louie Sanchez, a conservative Democrat who will take his council seat along with Lewis January 1, will be a Lewis ally. 

No matter the politics, Lewis, 51, appears determined to rock the boat.

With progressive Councilors Benton and Davis having independent streaks there is plenty of unpredictability to contemplate, even though Keller was re-elected in a November 2 landslide.

McCLESKEY VS. CHANDLER

A reader writes:

Joe, if political consultant Jay McCleskey has indeed settled his defamation suit with former GOP state House candidate Scott Chandler it is a big relief for former Gov. Martinez. Imagine if she was included in the lawsuit as Chandler has requested. She would be subjected to being deposed which could mean a wide range of questions shot her way. The risk of perjury or other embarrassment would be very high. That’s why I think McCleskey rushed to announce this supposed agreement with Chandler. Let’s see if a final deal is announced.

LEADING LAS CRUCES

Mayor Miyagishima
While ABQ mayors quickly learn that a second term in the state's largest city is fraught with political peril, in  Las Cruces--New Mexico's second most populous city (111,000)--the mayoralty has been a sea of calm. So much so that many were surprised to recently learn that on November 20 Las Cruces Mayor Ken Miyagishima, serving his fourth, four year term, became the longest-serving mayor in that city's history: 

Miyagishima, then a member of the Las Cruces City Council, won the 2007 mayor’s race, defeating incumbent Bill Mattiace by about 80 votes. . . Martin Lohman, elected in 1907, was the city’s first mayor. . . Through 1990, mayors were elected by city council members from among the council. Only Miyagishima and predecessors Mattiace and Ruben Smith have been popularly elected. . .He was tops among 10 mayoral candidates in (the 2019) race, as the city used ranked choice voting for the first time.

Miyagishima and Cruces have chemistry. That's probably the best explanation for his success. He has appeal across the political spectrum and it has helped him make progress in building up the downtown and expanding recreational opportunities in addition to attending to the cites growing infrastructure needs. 

Importantly, there has been no major scandal in city government in all the years Miyagishima, 58, has served. He prides himself on running an open and transparent government.

With all of that the Dem Mayor would appear to have statewide appeal, and he has been prodded to reach higher on the political ladder. But leading Las Cruces with such deep support is tough to beat. And if he seeks a record setting fifth term in 2023 Miyagishima will be tough to beat. 

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Monday, November 22, 2021

Returning GOP Councilor Lewis Balks At Eye Opening Welcome To City Council; Republican Bassan Teams With Mayor Keller For $110 Million Bond Investment, Plus: McCleskey Settles Defamation Lawsuit 

Councilor-elect Dan Lewis
Dan Lewis
 hasn't even been sworn in for the ABQ city council term he was elected to November 2 and already hurdles are going up in front of the onetime mayoral candidate--and they are coming from his own side of the aisle. 

GOP Councilor Brook Bassan has formed an alliance with Mayor Tim Keller for a $110 million bond package for citywide improvements that could be approved before Lewis and other new councilors take office January 1. Lewis is steaming: 

Four city councilors who would make a decision on this won’t even be here in January. For that reason alone we need to deal with this with a new council in January.” 

To which Bassan says: 

I think right now is a really good time to recognize the continued priorities that were in the council before we have a new turnover of the council, at which point priorities could change. 

Lewis, who served two terms on the council (2009-'17) and lost in a landslide (62-38) to Dem Keller in the '17 mayoral runoff, is widely seen as using the council as a springboard for another shot at the city's top job. But he probably wasn't counting on Bassan to be the oil slick on his pavement. 

Bassan started her council term in 2019 with firm conservative rhetoric but since has floated toward the middle while Lewis has stayed on the right. In addition to her non-austerity position on the proposed bonds, she also advocated at the recent election for the APS bonds and mill levy, the latter of which is a tax and won only narrow approval with conservatives voting against. Given that backdrop her clash with Lewis is not going to be a one and done deal.  

Councilor Bassan
The council is currently divided 6 to 3 with Dems in control. However, the offices are officially nonpartisan and that DNA sometimes runs through the council's bloodstream with Bassan the latest example. 

The new bond issue would not require voter approval if it won backing of seven of the nine councilors. Progressive Dems Ike Benton and Pat Davis are already opposed so it will be a tight squeeze.

It's odd to see the council's two most "progressives" oppose the $110 million investment in the city's infrastructure after they loudly backed the unpopular and ill-fated proposed $50 million bond giveaway for a soccer stadium. It's that money rejected by voters that the new bond package would deploy for housing, public safety, parks and other needs. 

Pat and Ike represent two of the oldest and most in need districts. Why not get with Keller and Bassan and help roll out this needed investment instead of suddenly transforming into budget hawks?

But it's the GOP split developing that is the news. Without a unified Republican block the City Council is not going to take a conservative turn on social or budgetary issues. And odds are that following the December 7 runoff elections in two city council districts the Dems will still maintain the majority. 

Actually, Bassan's middle of the road approach ala Pete Domenci and Manuel Lujan from the old days may be the R's way out of the wilderness in a liberal ABQ. For now she has no problem schooling Lewis in the new order. 

Welcome back, Dan. . .or something.

DEFAMATION SUIT SETTLED

Martinez and McCleskey
Both Lewis and Bassan employed controversial political consultant Jay McCleskey in their campaigns and once again McCleskey is making news of his own. The latest is the settlement of that defamation lawsuit against him that we reported on earlier this month.

McCleskey was anxious to announce the settlement and did so by contacting the newspaper. Scott Chandler, the GOP state House candidate who filed the suit against McCleskey and recently sought to include Gov Martinez in it, said it's true that a settlement has been reached but he wants to see the payout check before he drops the matter. 

With the settlement Martinez is out of danger of being included in the defamation case.

The Martinez/McCleskey governmental attacks on Chandler's youth ranch near Deming (separate from the campaign flier hits from their PAC) have already cost the state $1 million in lawsuit payouts.

McCleskey sued his insurance company when it refused to cover his legal expenses for the defamation suit but now a compromise has been reached and Chandler will get damages for the attack mailers used against him by McCleskey in his 2016 state House run in SW NM. How much is still not public.

This also matters because McCleskey is back on the scene, consulting GOP Guv candidate Mark Ronchetti who is shaking the money tree hard. A defamation lawsuit by a fellow Republican against his lead consultant doesn't help that cause. No wonder McCleskey was anxious to report the "good news."

The cash settlement is not a finding of guilt but implies that McCleskey and his legal team did not want to withstand the risk of a trial. 

McCleskey, who led Susana Martinez's two Guv campaigns, remains a well-known and divisive figure in the GOP (his recent consulting for Dem mayoral candidate Manny Gonzales didn't help). That's an issue Ronchetti will have to grapple with as he faces state Rep. Rebecca Dow and financial consultant Greg Zanetti in fighting for the '22 nomination, along with several others. 

Uh, Joe, that's background you won't get anywhere else. Well, that's why. . . 

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Thursday, November 18, 2021

Supremes Clip MLG's Wings; Legislature Is Dealt In On Uncle Sam's Pandemic Plan; Over A Billion In Play; Guv Takes Hit To Prestige And Political Standing, Plus: MLG Taps Ex-Mayor Chavez For Fed Infrastructure Rebuild 

Justice Thomson
MLG had her wings clipped by the NM Supreme Court Wednesday, losing a legal battle that was unnecessary and that will now cost her politically.

The blow to gubernatorial prestige was swift and unanimous as the five member court--all Democrats--ruled that Lujan Grisham did not have the sole power to appropriate over $1 billion in federal pandemic aid, that the job must be done by both the executive and the legislature. 

The Fourth Floor's legal challenge was so constitutionally lame that Justice David Thomson nearly ridiculed the Governor's intentions, saying:

I learned that in second grade — they (the legislature) control the purse-strings.

And Thomson is an MLG appointee. 

The Senate has a way of getting under the skin of every Governor. That's their role. But to take it to court and lose when compromise is sitting there like a cute dog waiting to be petted? 

The court suit was not only a major political miscalculation by the Governor but also delayed the roll out of those federal dollars while other states long ago divided up their share--for the good of their public. 

MLG still has not come with a plan for that $1 billion but neither have the group of state Senators that successfully brought the suit against her. 

Worry is growing that despite the historic influx of federal pandemic dollars and equally historic oil boom surpluses totaling in the billions that the state is going to end up right where it started when the newfound wealth is all spent. Senior Alligator analysis:

Joe, at this point the state needs to do something really big with this money. Something like taking $500 million and completely rebuilding the shattered behavioral health system. That would impact the long term crime and homeless issues. The fear is that dribbling out this money into current channels with no transformative planning is not going to move the needle. 

MLG has proven herself head strong and determined. Transformative? Not so much. 

THE SENATE WIN

 Ivey-Soto, Candelaria & Cervantes (Journal)
Meanwhile, back at the Senate the court ruling was also embarrassing for the Guv because the winning argument was presented by attorney and Dem Senator Jacob Candelaria who has become an outspoken foe of MLG. Now he can argue he has put her in her place. He will and so will the GOP as they eye the election calendar. The R's long-running argument that the Guv has gone too far in exerting control during the pandemic has now essentially been ratified by the Supreme Court. 

Oh, look. This just in from the GOP:

We are reassured. . .The High Court properly ruled that it’s the legislature’s role to allocate funds as decreed in our state constitution. Gov. Lujan Grisham again exceeded her authority and didn’t play by the rules. She tried to take the constitution for herself in a power grab, but the Supreme Court reminded Lujan Grisham that we have three equal branches of government, each with a specific role. 

Will Dominic Gabello, Diego Arnecon or Dave Contarino or whoever is supposed to have the political smarts up there have the moxy to give this Guv some tough love before she sends us back into the dark ages with Susana Martinez and company? Come on, fellas. 

And look at the nonliberal senators who supported the suit--Cervantes, Ivey-Soto, Munoz and Republican Leader Greg Baca. That sounds like the old days when a conservative coalition ruled the chamber. Those senators now have added political muscle and everyone waits to see if that translates into public policy. Keep your eyes open, progressives.  

ADVISERS NOT CZARS

Chavez
The high court ruling came down while MLG was telling reporters about her new appointments to help direct the $3.7 billion in federal infrastructure money about to start flooding into the state. 

Chief among them is former ABQ Mayor Martin Chavez. But he won't sport the title of "Infrastructure Czar" that we tried to hang on him. He is a mere "adviser." (Hey, there's only room for one Czar or Czarina at the Roundhouse.)

Chavez, 69, who will make $143,000 a year, has the smarts and as a former state senator can deal with the friction. Including the legislature in the massive new spending is critical in light of the court ruling. Heck, like the black robes ruled, it should have always been critical. 

There's also a new broadband boss. Matt Schmit, 42, a former Minnesota state senator who has been director of the Illinois broadband office, moved $400 million to help wire that state. He faces major challenges here. He has money to play with--hundreds of millions in state and federal funding--but executing is excruciating. Rights of way, equipment and staffing needs are hurdles and will require a grade A performance. The last out of state beacon of light MLG brought to town was the head of CYFD. Let's not have a repeat

Mike Hamman, a long established expert in his field, will leave his post as CEO of the Mid Rio Grande Conservancy District and will be water adviser. He'll work on a long range water plan including climate change.

These type of additions have long been pushed by the peanut gallery that sees little gravitas in the policy making arm of the administration in addition to the obvious political weakness that was there for all the state to see as the Supremes lowed the boom.

After the legal brouhaha New Mexicans now await an answer to this question: How are these incredible sums of money going to impact my quality of life and the life of our communities? We'd wager they'd like to hear more about that instead of arguments before the Supreme Court.

THE BOTTOM LINES

In a first draft we had incorrect percentages for the Nov. 2 vote in ABQ City Council District 9. Byron Powdrell received 28 percent and Rob Grilley received 29 percent. 

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This is the home of New Mexico politics. 

Wednesday, November 17, 2021

MLG And The Treacherous Politics Of Covid, Plus: Key Endorsements In ABQ Council Runoffs And More Tax Talk Over State Surplus  

Our Alligators are reporting that former three term ABQ Mayor Martin Chavez, 69, will be named a "czar" for some of the federal money coming into the state. More details expected later today.

She aced Covid for well over a year but now the virus is back in a big way and washing away political gains MLG made. She no longer appears at the state media briefings or comments regularly on the explosion of Covid that has vaulted New Mexico to the top of afflicted states. Instead, she is on defense, arguing with the Colorado governor who repudiated her continued use of indoor mask mandates as a means of quelling the contagion.

Covid is out of her control and that of the health experts but if history is a guide the latest outbreak will soon peak. Whether there will be another is unknowable.

What we do know is that MLG's handing of the virus is no longer routinely hailed because of those freshly crowded ICU units and that red state governors who have done little to combat Covid are no longer dismissed. 

A reader reports: 

Florida (FL) has a population of 21.48 million. NM has a population of 2.097 million. So NM’s population is 1/10 the population of FL. As of Monday, November 15 the NYT reports NM had a 7 day average of 1,383 COVID cases per day. Similarly, FL had 1,471 cases per day. That’s roughly the same as NM but with roughly 10 times the population. Said another way, NM should have about 147 cases per day. Something is really not making sense here. What does (Florida Governor) DeSantis know that MLG does not? Inquiring minds would like to know? 

DeSantis probably doesn't know anymore than MLG. In fact, the death rate from the virus is 247 per 100,000 population in New Mexico, less than the 283 recorded by Florida. 

Covid is so wily and treacherous that the politics of the pandemic have turned into the luck of the draw.

COUNCIL ACTION

Powdrell
Checking in on the December 7 runoff elections for ABQ City Council Districts 7 and 9 in the NE Heights we find some key endorsements.

In District 9 where Dem Rob Grilley is battling R Renee Grout, the candidate who nearly upset Grilley and came in second and almost took his place in the runoff has given Grilley his backing. 

Byron Powdrell, the longtime community activist from the famous ABQ barbecue family, tells me:

After much thought and homework I will endorse Rob. I did tell him I would stay on his ass.

Powdrell received 28 percent to Grilley's 29 in the first round of voting. Grout came in first with 43 percent. 

Powdrell benefited from his well-known name but also from his more progressive politics. He also garnered votes from an unusual endorsement by the ABQ Journal who gave him the nod after candidate Grout failed to show up for an endorsement interview. 

The district has always had conservative representation--either a conservative Dem or a Republican. Dem operatives remain cautious about flipping the district which includes affluent Four Hills. Grilley has been staffed up with more consultants and is busy raising money for the final weeks. 

In District 7 centered in the Mid-Heights, the Dem trackers are more sanguine over the prospects of Tammy Fieblekorn who faces R Lori Robertson. Registration is overwhelmingly Democratic and the politics there are more progressive than District 9. 

Fiebelkorn is also bringing home her opponents, securing endorsements from fellow Dems Mauro Walden-Montoya and Travis Kellerman who she bested in the Nov. 2 balloting. 

(First Endorser Martin Heinrich endorsed Grilley and Fiebelkorn on Monday.)

The R's would have to win both council seats to take back the majority from the Dems on the nine member council. 

EARLY VOTING 

BernCo Clerk Linda Stover has rolled out early voting for the council runoffs:

Eight Early Voting Convenience Centers (EVCCs) will be open for the Albuquerque Runoff Election – November 16 to December 4. All locations are open Monday to Saturday from 10 a.m. to 7 p.m. Voters may vote in person or hand-deliver a completed absentee ballot at any of the early voting locations.  November 25, 26, 27, all locations will be closed for Thanksgiving. 

TAX TALK 

Talk of tax rebates surfaced on the blog this week because of the huge surpluses being accumulated in Snata Fe due to the energy bull market. Other tax relief suggestions landing in our mailbox include:

--Suspend for one year the state tax on Social Security, a tax not paid by most recipients but one that takes a bite out of those that do.

--Given the immense amount of money coming to the state from the feds infrastructure bill over the next five years ($3.7 billion with over $2 billion for roads and bridges) reduce the $0.17 a gallon gasoline tax for two years. Shaving it in half would give drivers relief and the money lost to local road funds could be made up by the federal largesse. 

--Do electric vehicles pay motor fuel taxes? Of course not, but they wear out roads and bridges. Adopt a vehicle registration fee based on the vehicle value, so the more expensive the car the higher the tax. Also it is time to make the property tax proportional and not a flat tax. 

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Tuesday, November 16, 2021

About Those Record Surpluses: Tax Relief Anyone? Ideas Float As Oil Money Grows, Plus: Big Bill's Birthday Present And Talking Infrastructure  

NM Permian Basin
Forget about that $1.4 billion projected state budget surplus. Prepare for $2 billion or more as oil prices soar over $80 a barrel and oil production ramps up in SE NM.

With that kind of money there is something for everyone but the lack of public discussion of a comprehensive spending package from either side of the aisle has been glaring. Eventually MLG and the Dems can be expected to push harder on the spending side but where are the R's? 

The state made a mighty error under Dem Gov. Richardson when it permanently slashed state income tax rates, costing at least $300 million a year and contributing to a decade of austerity. That's a road best left untraveled. But with inflation rising, the pandemic continuing to thwart economic recovery and the aforementioned surplus set to soar higher, talk of responsible tax relief is beginning to surface. 

One suggestion is for MLG to steal the GOP's thunder by mimicking a popular rebate program Gov. Richardson deployed in 2008 when surpluses were at record levels. The criticism then was that the rebates were measly--only $50 for tax returns with income up to $30,000; $40 for returns between $30,000 and $50,000 and $35 for returns between $50,000 and $70,000. There were no rebates for incomes over $70,000. The total cost of the Richardson rebates was just $56 million. 

With the vast sums New Mexico is dealing with today, those rebates could be much, much more and not make a dent in the state's financial standing and provide needed stimulus for a sluggish economy and an increasingly beleaguered consumer--especially those with low incomes and/or senior citizens on fixed incomes. Also, the rebates could apply to New Mexicans not eligible to file tax returns. 

Rebates that matter would begin with a big shot in the arm--at least $500--for incomes below $50,000 where the money would be rapidly spent and where inflation hurts most. But the income roof for the rebates could also be raised to include household with incomes up to $150,000. Why not? The energy boom belongs to all New Mexicans. 

Given that Santa Fe continues to shy away from big picture programs that carry political risk and controversy, rebates would seem an alternative. The Santa Claus suit is dry cleaned. Who will don it?

BILL'S BIRTHDAY PRESENT 

Richardson and freed journalist
Of course it was more of a present for freed American journalist Danny Fenster than for former Gov Bill Richardson, but Big Bill was instrumental in the Fenster release, deploying his old bag of diplomatic tricks with a rogue regime and leaving with a prize. 

The cherry on the sundae was the release coming on Big Bill's 74th birthday Monday. It's surely one he and Fenster will long remember:

“I’m feeling all right physically,” a bearded Fenster, in baggy drawstring pants and a hat, said. . .Fenster, the managing editor of online magazine Frontier Myanmar, was convicted Friday of spreading false or inflammatory information, contacting illegal organizations and violating visa regulations. He is one of more than 100 journalists, media officials or publishers who have been detained since the military ousted the elected government. . . “This is the day that you hope will come when you do this work,” Richardson said. “We are so grateful that Danny will finally be able to reconnect with his loved ones, who have been advocating for him all this time. . . 

Richardson, a former UN Ambassador, has laid relatively low since being dragged into the Epstein scandal last year. His TV appearances have been rare and the media now calls him a "former diplomat." But his freeing of Fenster shows he still has some gas in the tank and the Biden administration had to be pleased with his success, although his mission was not officially sanctioned.

Richardson explained his successful (and sometimes not so successful) methods in dealing with dictators and other questionable characters in his 2014 book “How to Sweet-Talk a Shark." It's an entertaining romp around the globe. 

The ex-Guv is a graduate of the Fletcher School at Tufts which specializes in international relations. He now splits his time between Santa Fe and his home state of Massachusetts.

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Monday, November 15, 2021

All ABQ Council Runoff Candidates Reject Public Financing; Updating The Races And What They Could Mean To ABQ's Future 

The state continues to enjoy the fall colors before making way for winter. Here's a recent snap of the foliage at ABQ's Tingley beach from photographer Richard Lind shooting for the Downtown ABQ News. Nice stuff. 

Now let's get to the action. 

Public financing of ABQ elections is full of shortcomings and we're again seeing that as candidates in two city council runoffs reject the meager amount offered in taxpayer dollars (about $14,000 each) and opt to run privately financed efforts for the December 7 election. 

In District 9 in the far NE Heights Dem Rob Grilley's campaign says Renee Grout, his GOP opponent, announced before he did that she would go to private financing:

We saw in the 2019 council runoff election the NM GOP come to Brooke Bassan’s aide and funded her campaign. Rob Grilley's campaign couldn't unilaterally disarm. It’s important for voters to see the contrast and it would be difficult if the GOP money machine is planning to raise 5 times more money than what was afforded by public financing. We need to fight fire with fire. Rob Grilley is open to reforming the public financing system in the future to give equal footing to runoff candidates. 

For her part, Grout says:

In order to financially compete in the runoff against my opponent and the leftwing PACS. . . I have opted to pursue public financing. That means I must raise contributions up to $1,499 per person/per business.

In District 7 in the NE Heights Dem Tammy Fiebelkorn is going private as is Republican Lori Lee Robertson. 

How much will the candidates raise combined with any outside PACS that chime in? Well, Bassan's council campaign two years ago broke $80,000. PACS for local R's spent heavy in the Nov. 2 council election. They can expected to be back as can Dem groups.

As for the politics, Fiebelkorn, who owns an environmental and business consulting firm, is a heavy favorite in the District 7 race. Progressive Dem Councilor Diane Gibson is giving up the seat. Robertson is a commercial real estate broker. The district breaks down 50 percent Dems and 26 percent R's, giving Fiebelkorn a clear playing field. Still, she will have to hustle as the R's are mounting a serious challenge. 

MORE COMPLICATED

Grilley and Grout
In District 9 it's more complicated. The area has traditionally been conservative but has been changing rapidly. Longtime GOP Councilor Don Harris is giving up the seat. Dem Grilley, 37, is a relative newcomer to the area arriving in 2014 and is president of the gay rights group Common Bond. So his candidacy is a leap for the district which is 41 percent Dem and 32 percent R. 

Grout has been in the district as a small business owner for decades and is a traditional Republican. But outgoing Councilor Harris has told friends he is glad he is not running because the dramatic economic change in the area has made it less GOP friendly 

Grout scored a solid 43 percent in the November 2 balloting. Dem progressive Byron Powdrell, an African American, almost upset Grilley for second place, getting 28 percent to Grilley's 29. With the independents up for grabs, there is a path to victory for Grout. 

Grilley's middle of the road approach didn't sell well enough in round 1 against Powdrell. Now he has to thread the needle and get the Powdrell progressives as well as keep conservative leaning independents satisfied. If the R brand has declined enough in popularity that shouldn't be too difficult. If not, the race could be interesting. 

THE OUTLOOK

District 7 is likely Dem. District 9 leans Dem.  

Turnout will go down from the Nov. 2 balloting but it won't crash as both sides spend heavy. This pic of Mayor Kelker already campaigning in District 7 sets the stage for the next three weeks.

Only if both districts go Republican would the current Dem majority on the nine member council be flipped to the R's by 5 to 4. 

That would not be good news for Dem Mayor Keller, but what's more worrisome for him is that incoming Dem Councilor Louie Sanchez has a decided Republican lean and could at times vote with the R's. That would give them a 6 to 3 margin and enough to override any Keller vetoes.

On the other hand, if Grilley and Fiebelkorn win the council stays 6 to 3 Democratic, giving Keller a status quo council.

It's notable that much of Keller's program for the city--a tax hike for public safety, funding for the Gateway Homeless Shelter and establishment of a Community Safety Department--are already in place. That won't change no matter which party dominates the council. 

The major change if Republican strength grew on the council? That could be disputes over the administration and direction of the ABQ police department.

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Thursday, November 11, 2021

An All Women Council For Cruces 

Just a short note today as we pause to observe Veterans Day 2021.

If this keeps up, soon it will be news if a man gets elected in Las Cruces. 

Here they are, the new all female six member Las Cruces City Council. Three of them are freshly elected from Nov. 2 and the other three were already on the panel. 

Unlike ABQ where two conservatives elbowed their way onto the city council and one in Santa Fe, Cruces maintains its all Dem progressive stance with this new council after last month's election.

Las Cruces Mayor Ken Miyagishima also sits on the council as an at-large member. 

No pressure, Ken, but the weight of the brotherhood is on your shoulders. 

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Wednesday, November 10, 2021

New Majority Leader Martinez Staffs Up, Plus: Ex-Guv Martinez Pulled Into Defamation Lawsuit Against Consultant McCleskey 

Rep. Martinez
New state House Majority Floor Leader Javier Martinez has hired Alicia Manzano, a former top aide to ABQ Mayor Tim Keller, as his Chief of Staff as he prepares for his first stint as leader at the December redistricting and 2022 legislative sessions. That's pretty heady stuff for a fellow who grew up in an El Paso Barrio as the son of Mexican immigrants and just steps from the border. 

Martinez, about 40, is an attorney but not in private practice, serving as Executive Director of the Partnership For Community Action," a community-based organization that works to build healthy communities."

Previous majority leader Sheryl Williams Stapleton was forced to quit after being accused of embezzling nearly $1 million from APS where she was employed.

Manzano, an ABQ native with a Masters in Public Administration from UNM, has served as Keller's dorector of communications as well as his liaison for strategic partnerships.

While there' been some buzz about Martinez eventually ascending to the Speaker's chair current Speaker Brian Egolf has signaled that he will seek another term from the House Dem Caucus following the 2022 election. He has served in the post since 2017.

THE DEFAMATION BLUES

Scott Chandler (Deming Headlight)
A closely watched lawsuit by La Politica insiders continues to bubble up. 

The latest is a request by Scott Chandler, a former GOP state House candidate who is suing longtime GOP consultant Jay McCleskey for defamation and seeking $1 million in damages, to add former Gov. Susan Martinez's name to the lawsuit:

Due to Jay McCleskey's sworn testimony in a lateral lawsuit which brings to light Governor Susanna Martinez's intimate involvement concerning the defamatory fliers used in the 2016 State Representative District 32 primary, we found it necessary to name her in this amended complaint. 

Full complaint here.

The case centers on a flyer attacking Chandler that was sent by the Advance Now NM PAC run by McCleskey. Chandler ran a ranch for at risk youth and the hit piece asked: 

How did a business accused of child abuse and torture avoid government oversight?

But Chandler and the ranch were exonerated from any wrongdoing despite attacks from Martinez and McCleskey. Chandler has previously won lawsuit settlements from the state for the state's public attacks on him so the defamation suit is no shot in the dark.

The Advance Now PAC was active in pursuing legislative Republicans who were not supportive of Martinez.

McCleskey lost a key decision in the case in December of last year when a Luna County District Court Judge ruled the case would proceed and shot down down a defense motion to dismiss.

McCleskey and Martinez
In the "lateral lawsuit" mentioned in the motion to include ex-Gov. Martinez in the defamation lawsuit, McCleskey is suing his insurance company for refusing to pay for his defense. The company argues that there is a policy for McCleskey's media firm but not the political action committee that he ran with the advice and assistance of the Governor.

It's quite the legal mess for McCleskey, known for his slash and burn attack ads, as he struggles to get back in the winner's circle. In November he lost the high profile ABQ mayoral race when his client, Democrat Manny Gonzales, tanked. In 2020 he managed Mark Ronchetti's media for the US senate race but again came up short. 

Now Ronchetti is again employing McCleskey in his high dollar race for Governor, dollars the controversial consultant can surely use as he fights for his political life against a rancher whose spurs are digging into him deeply. 

By the way, the attorney for Chandler is none other than Pete Domenici, Jr. who lost the 2010 GOP Guv nomination to Martinez. 

Well, Jay and Mark, good luck with all of that. . . or something. 

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