Thursday, February 25, 2021

Color Them Turquoise: Only Four Counties Get Coveted New Covid Ranking, Plus: MLG Political Pandemic Struggle; Impatience Grows; Does She Run Again? And: State Budget Bosses; Lundstrom In The Groove; Munoz Tries To Find Footing  

NM GOP photo
The state's most popular color grew even more so this week as MLG announced a new "turquoise" level for the coronavirus pandemic. Once reached, it allows a county to partially open their bars and entertainment venues. That's a biggie because they've been closed for nearly a year. 

Of course, this being Covid there's a hitch. Right now the counties of Catron, Harding, Sierra and Union are the only ones to reach the now coveted turquoise rank. And the last we looked there wasn't much nightlife or even day drinking going on in Pietown in Catron County. 

Still, it was a sign that gradually--ever so gradually--the pandemic is relenting. 

And that is none too soon for the Governor's political prospects. The impatience is palpable now, with high school students holding protests and coaches pondering a lawsuit to get out from under the restrictions that keep them from their sports. 

MLG has not often shown a stubborn streak but she has more than made up for it by adamantly refusing to let the kids resume their fun on the soccer and football fields. She is nearly alone in her position in the entire nation. 

It's not just high schoolers who are rebelling, signs are popping up around ABQ that take the Governor to task for the ongoing restrictions. 

Even the state's roll out of the virus vaccines, widely praised and ranked near the top in the USA, is the subject of growing criticism as citizens fearful of COVID but under the age of 75 remain largely shut out from getting shots. 

As for those political prospects, the Alligators and insiders now wonder aloud if those are being shaped with an eye toward a second try at a top job in the Biden administration, rather than a second run for governor next year.

MLG has $351,000 in her campaign account (although that dates from last October) not meager but not outstanding either for a race that will cost $5 million or more. 

And she's not known for a long attention span, jumping from the Bernalillo County Commission to Congress to Governor all in the span of only six years. 

We're not about to bellow "you heard it here first" but there is a vibe in the air. (No, Howie, our "Howie Watch" is not coming back quite yet.)


ABQ Rep. Deb Haaland was questioned for another day at her confirmation hearing before the Senate energy committee Wednesday, but the highlight of the day came after the hearing ended. (Video here.)

That's when committee chairman and key Dem Senate swing vote Joe Manchin of West Virginia announced he would be voting for Haaland's nomination as Secretary of Interior in committee and when it goes before the full Senate. 

His decision paves the way for the Laguna Pueblo member to become the first Native American cabinet secretary in history. Haaland, who has been under increasing attack from oil state GOP Senators, may have to name a West Virginia building after Manchin when she finally takes the helm at Interior.


Rep. Lundstrom
Big spenders quibbled with the proposed state budget as discussed here this week, but at least there is no train wreck over the main order of business of the session. The House passed the $7.4 billion document Wednesday, sending it over to the Senate on a 60-10 vote, with the votes against all coming from R's. 

The budget was ushered through by House Appropriations Committee Chair Patrica Lundstrom. Her increase in stature was noticeable. 

With John Arthur Smith, the longtime chair of the Senate Finance Committee no longer in Santa Fe, Lundstrom (and the House) are gradually taking back some of the power that was accumulated under Smith. Or you might say restoring the balance of power between the two chambers. 

Without Smith, known as "Dr No" for his tight fiscal practices, more moderate state budgets are in the offing.

Meanwhile, the new chair of Senate Finance, George Munoz, ran into trouble this week when a bill he sponsored (SB 226) to help out small cities, including his hometown of Gallup, was defeated on an 8 to 3 vote in the Senate tax committee. 

The measure would have provided a handful of cities with populations of 10-25K some relief for money they are losing because of the state's repeal of the tax on food. A hold harmless provision that has the state reimburse the cities for the lost revenue is being phased out. The Munoz bill would have allowed the small cities to continue to receive much of the reimbursement.

It wasn't an earth shaker, but six of the no vote were from fellow Dems of Munoz, chair of the powerful Finance Committee, so what gives? 


This week we referenced the district of retiring ABQ City Councilor Don Harris as being in the the far NE Heights. His district is mainly in the SE Heights. 

Finally, on the wagyu beef beat--Japan or local--we get this from reader Andre Larroque: 

Anyone can take their Toyota, Honda, or Kawasaki down the Turquoise Trail to Madrid and pick up a ‘Mad” Chile burger at the Mineshaft Tavern. It’s made from the real local Wagyu beef you mentioned and sourced from a little ways further down the road at that same place which has a gate on the road - a Wagyu-gate.

Have a beef?  We welcome your comments, criticisms, original recipes and cries of existential angst.

Reporting from Albuquerque, I'm Joe Monahan. 

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Wednesday, February 24, 2021

Haaland's Potent Symbolism Confronted By Rigorous Questions From GOP Senators At Confirmation Hearing; They Drill Down On Hot Buttons; She Defers To White House, Plus: More From The Waygu Beat  

Rep. Haaland
Republicans on the Senate Energy Committee didn't deliver a make or break moment as they went after the nomination of ABQ Dem Congresswoman Deb Haaland for Secretary of Interior at her confirmation hearing Tuesday. But their repeated drilling down on complex issues facing the department revealed anew the symbolic nature of the Haaland appointment--as the first Native American to serve in a presidential cabinet--not someone who is going to be barking orders or pushing back against the White House on policy. (Full hearing here.)

Haaland repeatedly deferred to the new president's policies when confronted with her progressive (and often controversial) stances in favor of banning oil fracking and new oil pipelines. She didn't disavow those positions but said they are not those of the president's and that is what will guide her as secretary.

Haaland repeatedly told the GOP questioners that she would "study" and "be briefed" on a wide array of issues, even though she was nominated by Biden over two months ago. That broadbrush response would probably not be acceptable for another nominee, but again the massive symbolism (or identity politics) surrounding this nomination has given Haaland more leeway than a run of the mill appointment and she took full advantage of it. 

The Dems exercised a deft political move when they had legendary Alaska GOP Rep. Don Young, the longest serving GOP member of the House (50 years!) and a master of Interior issues, introduce Haaland to the committee along with Sen. Martin Heinrich. Young's support may have dampened the enthusiasm of the Haaland opposition. 

Also, there were more high profile cabinet confirmation hearings being held at the same time as hers (attorney general and HHS Secretary) and that meant banning fracking was not going to be an excitable headline in the national media.

Other takeaways from the first round of the hearing with the second round today at 8 a.m. NM time. (Stream here.)

--As Haaland repeatedly told the Senators she would defer to the White House on key decisions, a GOP lawmaker reminded the nominee that she would be asked to make recommendation on those issues, not just play along. That revealed the challenge ahead for Haaland to distinguish herself as secretary beyond being a symbolic first. 

--Haaland's non-confrontational demeanor served her well when her positions were challenged. She was careful not to pick a fight that could ramp up opposition in the full Senate which is evenly divided between R's and D's and who must confirm her appointment after Senate Energy. 

Van der Heide
--Haaland's generalized answers put insiders on notice that staff power will be significant at Haaland's Interior. That points to Jennifer Van der Heide who the Biden administration recently named Chief of staff at Interior. Until then, she was Chief of Staff to Rep. Haaland. Van der Heide is an attorney with deep experience in tribal policy and is seen as an important player in securing Haaland's nomination. And if anything left of center is going to get out of Interior, Van der Heide's fingerprints will be on it. 

--Members of the committee were an impressive bunch. From Dem Sens. Manchin and Wyden to R's Barrasso and Daines, there were no slouches. All were at the top of their games and Haaland had to take notice. She's a relative newcomer to that kind of lion's den but she handled it with humility. Asked by Chairman Manchin whether she would be willing to come back today for a second round of questions, she replied: "I'll do whatever you want me to." That had to be music to the senatorial ears. 


While Haaland was testifying the campaign to take her congressional seat continued. Dem Victor Reyes announced that Sec. of State Maggie Toulouse Oliver will do a Facebook event with him tonight at 6 p.m. And Dem Antoinette Sedillo Lopez has been endorsed by the Adelante Progressive Caucus. 


In blogging about MLG's contingency fund purchase of expensive Wagyu beef, much of which is imported from Japan, reader Bob Owen chimes in:

Wagyu beef is raised at the New Mexico’s Lone Mountain Ranch near Madrid. Perhaps the governor is keeping it local by supporting New Mexico ranching and business. 

The Guv Mansion Wagyu was purchased at a Santa Fe grocery store and is indeed likely of the homegrown variety. But then with rich guys like Alan Webber and Jerry Peters hanging out up there, it might be the imported stuff. (Hey fellas, we're free for lunch.)

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Tuesday, February 23, 2021

State House Budget Makes Modest Attempt At Putting Huge Surplus To Work, Plus: How Fiscal Conservatism Endures In Santa Fe No Matter Who Is Elected, And: Longime ABQ Councilor Harris To Retire 

A pedestrian FY 2022 state budget that makes a modest attempt at putting to work an immense budget surplus in what will soon be a post-pandemic New Mexico passed the House Appropriations Committee Monday and headed to the full House.  

When all was said and done the budget stood at $7.4 billion, a 4.6 increase over the current one that ends June 30. The reserves, which have skyrocketed to $2.7 billon or over 35 percent of the budget because of a new bull market that has taken the oil price over $60 a barrel, were tapped for $1 billion, leaving $1.7 billion in reserve or just under 25 percent, more than double the traditional reserve of 10 percent.

The budget does contain $400 million in needed pandemic economic relief but contains no sweeping measures. State employees and teachers get a 1.5 percent pay hike that will barely register when their health costs are accounted for, and while the House speaker says the budget "reimagines" the state economy, the major attempt at that seems to be a $300 million one time appropriation for roads. Broadband gets a mere one time pop of $30 million. What if the legislature reversed those numbers? That would be reimagining.

The budget passed the committee, chaired by Rep. Patricia Lundstrom of Gallup, unanimously. Not one dissent to the state's governing document among the 19 members? How's that for the fighting spirt? Then there's that news release from the state GOP actually praising the new budget. 

You did some good work, Patty, but when no one complains and the R's tout a budget, you left too much money on the table. Why? To avoid an argument?  Did the R's seek unanimous budget compromises when they controlled the House for two years starting in 2015? Not a chance. 

With a 45-25 majority, House Dems have more than enough troops to wage battle and recast policy for a rapidly changing economy and a fading New Mexico. But they don't like to fight. They like the status quo and ultimately they lack the will. And that bring us to this. . . 


How does mostly conservative fiscal policy endure year after year in Santa Fe Fe no matter the economic outlook or the partisan breakdown of the legislature? To find out travel into the legislative weeds with a Roundhouse veteran.  It's a bit lengthy but whether you're a newcomer or an old-timer it is a must read:  

Joe, I was at the legislature as an agency representative for 14 years. In my view, most legislators want to do the right thing. They take their jobs seriously. But they get a whopping 30/60 days to pass all the bills for the year, on top of making sure they bring home the bacon for their districts. They can't possibly have all the necessary information to make sound decisions, so this means they rely heavily on one guy: David Abbey, director of the Legislative Finance Committee.

David Abbey
David and his staff theoretically are supposed to provide complete and, ideally, neutral, information to the members and let them draw conclusions based on facts alone. But in my experience, that's not what happens. Instead, David imposes his will on the members through the analysts, and their Fiscal Impact Reports (FIR). Want a good bill to die quickly? Give it a scary FIR analysis and load it up with millions of dollars of costs that may or may not bear any relationship to reality. Want a terrible bill to pass? Edit out any negative language, lowball the financial impact and you're good to go. 

David and his staff are among the first to meet and "train" every incoming legislator. Why do progressive ideals die as soon as newbies walk through those heavy, brass doors at the Roundhouse? It's not because the legislators magically lose the will--it's because they get the scare treatment and quickly learn to fall in line if they want to accomplish anything. This isn't to say David is a bad guy, he's not at all, he's just fiscally conservative. He has done tremendous work for the state, if you believe that pinching every penny is the right thing to do. 

For decades he successfully executed the will of (former Senate Finance Committee Chairman) John Arthur Smith and other conservatives before him, and, to his credit, he has saved the state from some real financial disasters. But this is to say that you cannot look only at the legislators and wonder why things aren't getting done. There is a huge and powerful organization (the LFC) choreographing both legislative chambers that is unknown to 99% of the voting public, and they are staunchly conservative. If the progressive arm of the legislature has any hope of executing their agenda, they have to replace the leadership at LFC. They have to hire people who will support investment in early childhood education, who will take risks on new and innovative programs to attract good businesses and educated, qualified people to this state. 

We have seen what 20 years of fiscal conservatism has done for New Mexico--it has kept us at the bottom of all the good lists and at the top of all the bad ones. The voters here want change; they've told us this loudly and clearly by eviscerating every politician who trends conservative. So why do we have the most powerful and influential legislative organization still being run by a fiscal conservative? Why do the progressives keep employing someone who works against their interests?  They need to hire someone who will more than reluctantly support their agenda, someone who has serious progressive chops and who will help them push these policies through. 

Now that is excellent analysis, and you ain't going to get it anywhere else, kids. 

Abbey is a highly competent public servant who is in his late 60's and has given signals that he may retire in the not too distant further. When he does the fiscal hawks will move rapidly to clone him. Will the centrists and progressives have the will to break their grip on all that budget power? That's the question. The answer is worth billions.


Councilor Harris
Longtime GOP City Councilor Don Harris says he will not seek re-election to his far SE Heights ABQ City Council seat. The decision is a blow to the R's who now face the prospect this November of losing District 9 which has grown more moderate and Democratic during the Harris years. The Council is currently divided 6 to 3 and could go to 7 Dems because of the Harris retirement. 

Harris, an attorney, was first elected in 2005. His departing release says:

"One of his most impactful pieces of legislation was the resolution that devotes 2% of the biannual bond proceeds for Open Space purchases, which has resulted in millions of dollars of Open Space purchases, and will continue for the foreseeable future. . . . He (was among) the deciding votes that stopped a street car from being built along Central Avenue. “I have worked with three excellent Mayors,” Harris said. “There is no ‘aisle’ dividing our dais at City Hall. We all do our best to work together for our great City.” 

Harris, 58, survived a recall election early in his tenure and never looked back, winning re-election with solid margins. And he probably would have an easy run for re-election this year. 

He tended to his district well, but Harris and the "excellent mayors" he served with reigned over a city increasingly besieged by an ongoing crime wave that crippled the economy, put the brakes on population growth and has seen APD become a shell of its former self.  

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Monday, February 22, 2021

Waving The Wagyu: MLG'S Trio Of Missteps Finally Give GOP Something To Work With; Consultants Weigh In On Damage, Plus: Another Divide: Pricey Private Schools Swing Open their Doors While APS Kids Remain Locked Out  

Wagyu ribeye
It's been a miserable streak for the GOP but they're getting a break, thanks to a trio of missteps by Gov. Lujan Grisham. Whether the errors translate into election success is another matter, but the R's now at least have material to work with. 

None of the three missteps alone is that impactful, but if tied together consultants on both sides say they could do lasting damage to the Guv's image. One explains it this way: 

First, there was "jewelrygate" where MLG had an ABQ jewelry store open their doors to fulfill a remote order, despite such retailers being shut down because of the pandemic. 

Then there's those big pay raises she gave to key staff members as most New Mexicans did without raises or worse. 

Now there's the reveal of her purchase of over $6,000 of groceries--some quite expensive--with her contingency fund. 

The groceries were for pampering guests at the Governor's Mansion, even as she warned folks not to share their homes with people other than family and while many New Mexicans lined up at food banks. 

Taken together, that's enough to craft an advertising campaign positioning her as an out of touch, spoiled aristocrat. Whether the incidents stand the test of time is the issue. 

The state GOP has gone to work, calling the Governor "Living Large Lujan" and "Greedy Grisham:"

Greedy Grisham’s behavior, while it may be legal, is hardly gubernatorial; it’s cruel, insensitive and reinforces the image of a governor who kills jobs for some New Mexicans while living large. It is ever clearer who our Governor really is and what her priorities are. This is not good government. This is not efficient government. This is hypocritical government.

MLG admits she fumbled on the groceries that included a cut of Wagyu beef, a fat-laden steak, the best of which is imported from Japan and sells for $15 an ounce or more. (Wagyu is not related to the lowly chicharrone, the fatty snack of choice of many of her constituents.)


Sen. Cruz
The electorate loathes when politicos preach one thing and do another e.g. the recent flaps with Sen. Cruz over his Cancun trip and California Governor Newsom's pandemic outing to a pricey restaurant.

Never mind that the infractions are relatively minor, they can leave indelible marks on a leader's character and crater their polls. 

Our previous Governor saw her political aspirations collapse when in 2015 she hosted a staffer Christmas party at an upscale hotel where she got drunk. In comments captured on tape she berated hotel staff when they brought noise complaints to her attention. 

For MLG, the first order of business is to stop the self-inflicted wounds and meet with regular New Mexicans. She's been closed off from the public, sticking to a stay-at-home schedule that has left her vulnerable and perhaps out of touch.

For the GOP the job is to keep alive the negative MLG imagery and finding a strong Governor candidate, a task that's proving as elusive as finding Wagyu beef at your local Smith's.


MLG took a hit for the wagyu mishap but she's speaking for the majority of parents as she comes down hard for returning kids to schools after a nearly year-long absence. Her view clashes with that of the teachers' unions who, despite recommendations from national health authorities, continue to fight to stay home.

The Governor criticized APS when the school board voted 4-3 to continue to keep students out of classrooms. It's not only health concerns driving that decision, APS is having a hard time getting teachers to go back to class. They just won't go. 

The school board and the kids are essentially held hostage, even as the pandemic dissipates. (The governor does have the power to let school sports resume and impatience is growing over her reluctance.)

The public school closings reveal a great divide. While APS students remain shut out, students at ABQ Academy, where tuition runs over $25,000 annually, kids started to return to campus this month and all students will be back in the classroom today. Ditto for other private schools where kids are in class with their friends and in a social structure that keeps them mentally healthy and advancing academically. (And that's happening across the nation).

No wonder so many NM parents do whatever it takes to get their kids into elite schools and leave behind the bickering of the public sector.


State Rep. Melanie Stansbury has won the endorsement of Washington Senator Maria Cantwell for the Dem nomination for the soon-to-be vacant ABQ congressional seat of Rep. Deb Haaland:

. . . A sociologist who works on water, climate, and science policy, Melanie has spent her career working to address the economic, social, and environmental challenges our communities face and I know she will do the same in Congress.

Cantwell is a member of the Senate Committee on Energy and Natural Resources which tomorrow morning at 7:30 NM time will begin confirmation hearings for Haaland as Secretary of Interior. The hearing will be streamed live on the committee's website and archived for later viewing.

We reported about the lawsuit filed by GOP congressional hopeful Eddy Aragon that asks a NM federal court to stop the major parties from having their central committee members pick the nominees, in effect forcing them to conduct primary elections. Here's a copy of that lawsuit and an excerpt:

Allowing unconstitutional appointment of candidates in the 2021 special election for New Mexico's 1st congressional district to proceed would irreparably harm Plaintiff and the voters of New Mexico both by denying representation of the voters. . . in the near term, and by permanently sowing distrust in federal elections. The U.S. Supreme Court has found such threats to constitute irreparable harm on numerous occasions. The stakes in this case are too high to ignore.    

If the process is not interrupted, the special election for the ABQ seat could be held in June.  

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Thursday, February 18, 2021

Same Old Record In Santa Fe; Record Revenue But Few Plans To Invest; Mattress Stuffers Prevail, Plus: Broadband Discontent Meets New Senator Lujan, And: Media's Larry Ahrens And Why He's Outta Here 

"A billion here and a billion there and soon you're talking about real money." So famously opined the late US Sen. Everett Dirksen. And so it is in Santa Fe. 

First, MLG said the $1.9 trillion stimulus package pending in DC would flood the state with $2 billion, Well, make that $3 billion, says Senate Finance Committee Chairman Georg Munoz.  

But who's counting? The sky is falling crowd immediately wailed the cry of the hoarders and said the oil fields of SE NM were being put out of business by Biden and that the state economy will soon crumble. Get the posturepedics out of storage, they cried, and stuff them so full they're as lumpy as your grandma's gravy.

The scare is not true, of course, but that's the only record the hawks have in their oldies collection. And they play it over and over.

They not only put it on the vintage turntable Wednesday when the $3 billion was rolled out but also when this news came: 

. . .Revenue levels in the coming fiscal year are now expected to exceed the state’s current $7.2 billion budget — that was pared back by lawmakers during a special session last summer — by $338 million. That’s double the estimated $169 million in “new money” from December. 

You would think Republicans would be talking about returning some money to the citizenry. Not to mention the Guv and Dems doubling down on the state's $200 million grant package for small businesses, or even some of the ideas featured here this week.

We're used to the hawks, as tiresome as they get. Actually, the most disappointing aspect of this session is the performance of the newly elected senators and representatives. No names necessary but have any of them come up with just one bold and publicly stated idea challenging the status quo and the crummy standings we suffer from in just about everything that matters? 

Not that our wax-free ears have heard.

Each legislature seems to end up the same. Newbies get there, quickly join the don't rock the boat club and become squishy cousins with the lobbyists who run the place (and rather effectively for their clients). 

Kick us if we're wrong but before you do please explain how else you become last in the nation year in and year out. Take your time. . . 


Sen. Lujan
Speaking of being last, on the state's broadband woes there's this: 

Senator Ben Ray Lujan held a virtual roundtable with members of New Mexico’s Homework Gap Team to discuss how to close the digital divide for the one in four New Mexico students who lack access to high-speed internet. . . Senator Luján highlighted his continued efforts to expand broadband access and asked panelists how he could support their work from the Senate Committee on Commerce, Science, and Transportation.

How can Senator Lujan "support" their work? How about a five year plan to wire 90 percent of the state, money to go with it and a plan for cooperation between the state, the feds, local governments and private interests to manage the job? Lujan will get plenty of support from everyone, if he steps up with a comprehensive plan. Heck, any of our state's politicians would. 

Mabye reader David Strip near Cuba, NM can help. David reacts to our recent blogging about internet satellites as a possible longterm solution:

I've been waiting for someone in political circles to notice the Starlink and Kuiper efforts and connect them to rural internet issues in NM. As you suggest, there is no amount of money that will bring internet to everyone in NM if we rely on ground-based technologies, especially those that require wire or fiber to households. In the truly rural parts of the state where it can be miles between houses, the cost of running and maintaining a physical connection will be prohibitive. In addition, running new connections may require new rights-of-way.

New Mexico needs to break it's initiative into two parts. Identify unserved parts where dwellings are close enough together to use ground-based systems and those parts where space-based systems are most practical. The communities amenable to ground-based solutions will be served by a mix of wired and wireless technologies. The communities relying on space-based internet may still benefit from shared community connections to reduce the per household cost.

Finally, the state must review regulatory structures. The incumbent carriers in many cases provide awful service because they lack meaningful competition or won't meet their obligations to provide service. Two cases are Tierra Monte, north of Albuquerque, and Youngsville, near Abiquiu Reservoir. In each case, there is a community of 30-40 households, virtually all of which would subscribe to service. In each case, they are a few miles from a likely connection to the telco infrastructure. Each has tried for years to get service, to no avail. New options for rural internet, such as satellite, are becoming a reality and any legislative action toward universal access in NM must incorporate them. 

Geez, David, you're not even on the government payroll and came with a plan. Now do you have a billion or two to spare so we can get to work? 


Veteran ABQ media personality Larry Ahrens, who held forth on mornings on KKOB radio for 27 years '(80-'07) and later to other postings, announced on Facebook he has moved from ABQ to Scottsdale, in part because of the economic outlook and quality of life here:

My years in Albuquerque have been a wonderful blessing. The community has given me so much support and I've enjoyed tremendous success because of it. I have loved living in New Mexico. But there's a vibrant atmosphere (in Scottsdale) that is very evident. I only wish it would be evident in NM. . . People here are upbeat, friendly and happy. For many years on the air I advocated for a great economy and opportunity for New Mexico. The city and the state have so much potential. I'm afraid now that it's going to take several years to climb out for the hole created by COVID and the lockdown. Life is short. I'm ready for something new. So here's to new beginnings and old friends. 

Ahrens, 70, briefly ran for the GOP gubernatorial nomination in 2002.  

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Wednesday, February 17, 2021

On The Econ Beat: Lifting New Mexico; How To Use That Heaping Reserve; Broadband And A New Tingley On The List, Plus: More Congress Watch  

News arrived late Tuesday that a confirmation hearing for ABQ Dem Rep. Deb Haaland as Secretary of Interior will start Tuesday, February 23 at 7:30 a.m. ABQ time. 

The hearing is before the Senate Energy and Natural Resources Committee. If approved there, the nomination will advance to the full Senate for a vote. 

GOP opposition to liberal Haaland has grown more noticeable in recent days but she is still expected to become the first Native American to serve as Interior Secretary. 

Our sources were calling for a late February committee hearing followed by a full Senate vote in March. That appears the way will it come down and will place the special election to replace Haaland into June.

Now on to the econ beat. . . 

With the pandemic crippling large swaths of the economy, we quoted retired NMSU economist Jim Peach January 12 saying spending down the state's budget reserves--even towards zero--would not be irresponsible given the economic backdrop. 

The only trouble with that quote is that it wasn't from Peach. It was from another noted NMSU economist, Chris Erickson, who has advocated for aggressive stimulus. We asked Dr. Erickson for his latest assessment: 

Joe and Jim, My testimony before the Economic and Rural Development Interim Committee included the following statement: The legislature should not be afraid to run down reserves to near zero [paraphrased]. However, circumstances have evolved. At the time of my testimony the forecast was for an additional large revenue shortfall. Now the forecast is for “new money.” A 25% reserve is too large, but “near zero” is too low in the current circumstances. One can argue what the correct level should be but 10% seems reasonable.

At last report the reserves were at a record-setting $2.5 billion or 35 percent of the $7 billion General Fund budget. Rising oil prices and federal economic relief have helped. 

Economic authorities around the globe agree with Erickson, urging governments to continue aggressive stimulus to prevent a move backwards.

In New Mexico, after more than a decade of dominance by austerity hawks and a tradition of fiscal conservatism by the Legislative Finance Committee, there are not many in Santa Fe willing to embrace that paradigm, but it's not too late to start.


So where to start? Well, that's an easy reach. 

--Start with establishing a $600 million broadband fund to lift our connectivity ranking from 49th in the nation. A bill (SB 93) has begun to move in Santa Fe that establishes an office of broadband, separate from one that now does broadband work but combines it with other tasks. 

A broadband planning office without a major cash commitment is like an office without furniture. Unless there's an economic collapse of Depression caliber, that $600 million would hardly be missed. 

--Establish another fund of $200 million dedicated solely to satisfying the requirements of the Yazzie lawsuit. The court found the state to be in violation the state Constitution by failing to provide adequate education to thousands of at-risk public school students--mostly students of color. A $200 million fund would give the state a plan to easily measure progress or lack thereof to report to the court and finally provide the level of education those deprived deserve,

--One more. $100 million to build a 21st century multi-use facility at the NM state fairgrounds to replace the nearly 70 year old Tingley Coliseum. Never mind that $40 million state bond ask from the NM United  soccer team who want their own dedicated and mostly taxpayer funded stadium. 

That is high risk. For decades every attempt at starting a lasting ABQ sports franchise has withered. But NM United could use the new multi-use facility, as could major touring concerts, the annual Pow Wow of Nations, horse shows, conventions, the annual state fair rodeo and a myriad of other activities that would address a gap in quality of life amenities. The next generation is looking for opportunity and quality and they are not finding it here. 

These proposals total $900 million of that $2.5 billion reserve, leaving $1.6 billion under the mattress for the sky is falling crowd. 

There are points to be put on the board, but only if we have leadership determined to take the risk to make the big play for the big pay off.


Dem congressional hopeful Randi McGinn told blog readers Tuesday that it should come as no surprise that she was unable to get elected to the Dem central committee from her ward as well as losing out on becoming precinct chair. She said: 

I was told in advance that running for county central committee or precinct chair would likely be futile because. . . I would be seen as a party outsider because I have had to sit on the sidelines as a political eunuch for the 12 years my husband was on the Supreme Court.

But in a social media post ABQ attorney Eric Shimamoto questions that explanation

It's odd that Randi would suggest she couldn't volunteer in her ward for the 12 years her husband (Charles Daniels) was on the Court: she continued to practice law in the courts of this state that entire time. The latter seems much more likely to lead to a conflict-of-interest than the former. 

For her part McGinn has now brought her grandchildren onto the trail, posting videos of the little ones as part of her #Grandi for Congress campaign. 

Now, if only they were old enough to be on the state central committee. . . 

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Tuesday, February 16, 2021

Congress Watch: Bill To Restore Primaries For Vacancies Eeks Out Win But Passage Questionable, McGinn Falters At Ward Meet As Mailers Drop, Plus: Race Bait: GOP Senate Leader Apologizes To Cabinet Chief For Dubious Comments  

The bill that would have nominees for the expected vacancy in the ABQ congressional seat selected by primary elections, instead of by small groups of the parties central committee members, eeked out a narrow win in the Senate Rules Committee Monday. 

The measure passed 6 to 5 with most Dems voting against, including committee Chairman Daniel Ivey-Soto. 

The bill would require approval of two thirds of the House and Senate to take effect in time for the vacancy which is expected in March after Rep. Deb Haaland is confirmed as Secretary of Interior by the US Senate. The close committee vote signals that two-thirds approval is not going to happen.

The measure is sponsored by Rep. Daymon Ely who says the current system is "undemocratic." The Senate sponsor is ABQ GOP Sen. Mark Moores. 

It may be too late to change the rule for the Haaland vacancy but what about a bill to restore the primaries (and democracy) for future congressional vacancies? Ely and Moores ought to be able to handle that assignment.  


The Alligators are out of the pond on the Ely bill. They see it as a play for Dem congressional hopeful Randi McGinn, a trial attorney with considerable personal wealth. She would be the obvious beneficiary of a primary election because her opponents lack her resources.

McGinn ran into trouble at her Saturday ward meeting where she was unable to get elected to the Bernallio County Central Committee which in turn selects members to the state Central Committee who will choose the congressional nominee. She also ran for precinct chair and lost. 

While McGinn is well-known in Dem circles as a major money donor, she has never sought public office. Her critics say the failure at the ward level shows she has few connections to the grassroots and is trying to buy the congressional seat. 

We asked McGinn about her ward defeat: 

I was told in advance that running for county central committee or precinct chair would likely be futile because, despite my 40 years of work in the party. . . supporting candidates, I would be seen as a party outsider because I have had to sit on the sidelines as a political eunuch for the 12 years my husband was on the Supreme Court. I ran anyway out of respect for the local process. We re-elected the current precinct chair and I have volunteered to help him walk the neighborhood to engage more voters. 

Even though the Dem nominee will be chosen by around 200 commitee members or fewer, McGinn is already spending major money, anticipating the general election with the GOP nominee (and independent contender Aubrey Dunn Jr.). A Corrales reader informs:

We just got our 3rd full-color mailer from her. Messaging on one was targeted at female voters: "A fighter for the women of New Mexico.” The message on another was more generic, “We need a fighter who will put people before politics.” That one bore the almost-endorsement from Nancy Pelosi. All of them were glossy. 

How about that description of the House Speaker's recent flirtation with McGinn as an "almost endorsement?" That's exactly what it was and looms large as the other Dem hopefuls--Reps Stansbury and Lewis, Sen. Sedillo Lopez, politico Victor Reyes and activists Selinda Guerrero and Francisco Fernandez--work feverishly to secure committee delegates. 

The special election is expected sometime in June. 


Sonya Smith 
Comments about race by Senate Minority Leader Greg Baca led him to apologize Monday to Veterans Services Secretary-designate Sonya Smith for his "insensitive line of questioning."

At Smith's confirmation hearing before Senate Rules, Baca pointed out that Blacks make up less than 3 percent of the state's population and that Hispanics comprise 48 percent, saying to Smith: 

Do you expect that in your time here, in seven years, that you’ve been immersed in this culture enough in this state that you feel comfortable entering a position? Do you feel like you are comfortable adequately representing both cultures — white, Native, Hispanics? 

Baca did not apologize in the aftermath of the Friday hearing but on Monday he came with the overdue mea culpa:

I spoke to her and did apologize to her for that insensitive line of questioning that I did lead her through. We had a great conversation and talked about New Mexico and our families and really just a great lady that I plan on supporting on the (Senate) floor.

Sen. Baca
Baca, an attorney in Belen, pulled off a mini-coup when he ousted longtime Senate Minority Leader Stu Ingle of Portales. He was tapped because R's wanted a more aggressive posture and a leadership presence in the vote-heavy Rio Grande corridor that has overpowered GOP dominated rural NM. 

Despite the apology, a Dem consultant took this swipe: 

Baca's comments reveal that he is undeserving of the leadership role given to him by his fellow GOP Senators. He does not have the experience nor the intelligence to lead.

The misstep reminded veteran observers of a more sensational wayward moment in 2011 when House Majority Whip Sheryl Williams Stapleton, a Black ABQ lawmaker, spoke of GOP Gov. Susana Martinez during a House debate. She accused a Republican lawmaker of "carrying the Mexican's water on the Fourth Floor." She later apologized, saying she had "lost it."

Secretary-designate Smith, who served as a medical technician in Operation Desert Storm, played it well and graciously answered Baca's questions. After the meeting she refused to comment on his racial inferences. Thankfully so.

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Monday, February 15, 2021

Presidents' Day Blogging: Immense Budget Surplus Accumulates in Santa Fe As Oil Rebounds, Plus: $2 billion Fed Dollars May Be On Tap, And: Media Beat Sees News Anchor Headed Away 

The riches are piling up in Santa Fe and the stockpile could soon get a whole lot bigger. With rebounding oil prices helping, the state is now sporting a record-setting budget surplus of $2.5 billion, or 35 percent of the current $7 billion General Fund budget. 

And coming out of a White House meeting Friday with President Biden and other government leaders, MLG reported that New Mexico stands to gain $2 billion from Biden's proposed $1.9 trillion coronavirus relief package. The package contains $350 billion in aid for local and state governments. The $2 billion would be specific to the coronavirus impact but the Governor did not exaggerate when she called the huge sum "a game changer for us."

Photos showed MLG seated prominently near the President and VP at the Oval Office session. It seemed as though she had been rehabilitated from the fallout that occurred when she pursued a cabinet post, only to run afoul of Biden's staffers. The White House gabfest renewed speculation that MLG could still score a one way ticket to DC. Is it time to reboot our Howie watch?


While that $2 billion potential windfall from the Feds is celebrated, New Mexico's Democratic political class is tied in knots over Biden's decision to freeze oil and gas leases on federally-owned oil lands in NM and elsewhere. Insider DC publication E&E goes heavy on the NM angle:

Democrats. . .are torn between wanting to support their new president and responding to deep anger and uncertainty back home. . . "It's a double-edged sword," said Joe Monahan, a local blogger and longtime political observer in the state. "The economic ramifications overall to the state budget and state economy loom very large." Oil and gas, he added, is "not a popular industry, but an industry that is treated with cautious respect." 

At the center of the debate is. . .how quickly the leasing freeze will be felt. . .Critics of Biden's executive order, like GOP Rep. Yvette Herrell, say the effects will be immediate and there is no salve other than a reversal of the policy. 

Sen. Ben Ray Luján said it's reasonable for Biden to "do a review" of existing leases as long as there is "robust public comment" as final decisions are made, with Sen. Martin Heinrich saying he opposes a "complete ban or moratorium." 

(MLG) has trod softly, neither condemning nor supporting the executive order. Her reluctance to come down on either side has worried oil and gas interests. . .Her spokeswoman said the governor recognized "the urgent need for federal action to combat climate change" (and) that Lujan Grisham remains "optimistic". . .  the state is not "punished for its high concentration of federal lands."


KOB-TV anchor Steve Soliz will wrap up a nearly four year stint as a news anchor for KOB-TV at the end of the month, report our media mavens. Details of the departure are light but one of the mavens says Soliz has an interest in working with Hispanic journalistic groups.

Soliz came to the station from south Texas and was soon in the middle of a restructuring of the 10 p.m. news which is now labeled "Nightbeat." The new format seemed overly melodramatic for the serious Soliz as well as viewers who were accustomed to a more sober and concise rendering of the day's top events. Of course, if it works in the ratings, all is well. 

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Thursday, February 11, 2021

GOP Congress Hopeful Preps Lawsuit To Force Primary Elections For Haaland Vacancy; Closed Door Method Called "Insanely Un Democratic", Plus: Some Reader Mailbag 

Eddy Aragon
There's not much public support for the closed door method that will be used to pick the major party nominees when the ABQ congressional seat becomes vacant upon the Senate confirmation of Dem Rep. Deb Haaland as Sec. of Interior. And now there's a lawsuit to force open those doors. 

GOP congressional hopeful Eddy Aragon is going to court to force the major parties--Dem, R and Libertarian--to have primary elections to choose their congressional candidates, instead of the small group of party central committee members that are responsible under current law with doing the task.

Aragon, an ABQ radio station owner, and a proud Trump Republican, says:

It is insanely un-democratic for a group of 134 people to determine a nominee for a federal election – or any election. Given our state’s long history of corruption, you’d hope that back-room deals between elite power brokers would be in our past. But it’s happening again, right now.

The fiery Aragon, who recently made an unsuccessful challenge to unseat NM GOP Chairman Steve Pearce, added:

The Republican Party is becoming more and more irrelevant. They act as elites, but grassroots Republicans are now strongly anti-elitist. . . My campaign ushers in a new political and social era. We common people, we working people, are not going to take any more abuse from the political ruling class.

Aragon is suing the the Secretary of State in federal court to make the change to a primary system. Details have not yet been released for what will be a long shot lawsuit. 

The court action comes with the special election looming. Haaland is expected to be confirmed in March. The election will be called by the SOS for no later than 91 days after the vacancy. Aragon would like a primary during the first month and two months for the general election.

In addition to Aragon, Michaela Chavez, Ron Lucero, Peggy Muller Aragon and Jared Vander Dussen are seeking the GOP nomination. 

The bad news for that group is that the ABQ seat is decidedly blue and the GOP nomination is worth about the same as a current season ticket for Lobo basketball. Not much. 


Meanwhile at the Roundhouse, a bill from Rep. Daymon Ely that would implement a primary system for congressional vacancies is getting the slow roll treatment from ABQ senator and election law powerhouse Daniel Ivey-Soto. He was the major author of a reform bill that did away with primaries for congressional vacancies. 

Ivey-Soto's quip that he would "give the bill a hearing" in Senate Rules Committee, which he chairs, was seen by wall-leaners as the kiss of death for the measure this year.


Aragon's lawsuit comes on the heels of Roswell area State Rep. Phelps Anderson switching his party registration from Republican to independent after getting intense heat for a pro-choice vote he cast in a House committee. The state GOP is now calling on Anderson to resign:

He has betrayed the people of his district. He ran as a Republican, and he’s chosen to leave those who had trusted him to represent them in Santa Fe. . .The principled action would have been to re-register before the election. Instead, voters got a bait and switch from someone they trusted with their vote.

While the GOP squabbling intensifies, their plight has not hit bottom. Later this year it's expected that legislative Democrats will redistrict the southern congressional seat to make it more difficult for GOP Rep. Yvette Herrell to win re-election.


Santa Fe reader Chris Brown, a political junkie as well as an astronomy/photography buff, writes of our Wednesday blog on broadband:

Congratulations on highlighting space-based internet as the realistic rural broadband solution. Wondered how many in the legislature knew about it?

What would it cost the state to make up the difference for rural folk between $100 per month for a satellite service vs. the average cost of $65 (PC Mag) the rest of us pay? If multiple companies begin providing service, the state could request competing bids to get the best price. Elon Musk has orbited thousands of Starlinks. 

Here are some Starlinks in the Big Dipper last year before SpaceX dimmed them at the request of astronomers. 

Thanks, Chris. A very cool snapshot. 

Reader Thom Cole takes issue with our description of Columbus, Ohio as "unheralded":

I don't know what you mean by unheralded. It is the capital of Ohio and home to Battelle Memorial Institute, Fortune 500 companies and The Ohio State University, one of the nation's great land-grant schools.

All hail Columbus!


The Guv announced Wednesday more counties will be able to operate under fewer restrictions as the COVID pandemic eases. For those of us who haven't been inside a restaurant in a long while, that gets us wondering about where to make our first stops. No challenge here. We've been unable to collect on a friendly wager from the November election. But that all changes now. There's a table at the Santa Fe Compound with our name on it so get busy Chef Kiffin. 

Thanks for stopping by. 

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Wednesday, February 10, 2021

Billionaires Could Hold Solution To NM Woeful Broadband Coverage, Plus: Webber Raises Questions About Second Term And ABQ Is Remote Ready 

Will innovative billionaire Elon Musk or Amazon's Jeff Bezos or both finally provide New Mexico with desperately needed broadband for underserved rural New Mexico? They could, even though the wait could be five years or longer for their worldwide internet satellite delivery systems to be available here. 

Well-meaning but largely toothless legislation to deliver broadband to the many without is making the rounds at the legislative session. For example HB10 establishes an office to "coordinate (government) resources. . .to connect every community in new Mexico" and "create a comprehensive plan."
SB 93 is similar. 

What the bills don't do is put up enough cold hard cash to build out broadband. MLG daydreams about lawmakers giving up half their capital outlay to build broadband. But even if they did it would only generate $200 million when twenty times that amount or more is needed. A state estimate last year put the cost at $2 to $5 billion. It is wildly expensive

The Federal Communications Commission approved $165 million (in 2020) to 18 companies to build out broadband infrastructure in underserved areas of New Mexico. Over the next 10 years, the funding is expected to support buildout of broadband services to 64 thousand houses, businesses, and other locations.

That's where the satellite plan from Musk as well as one called Kuiper from Jeff Bezos comes in. 

While it could be years before Musk's worldwide internet makes it here, at the snail's pace we're expanding internet it may be the ultimate solution, even if the wait is painfully long:     

SpaceX has widened the scope of the public beta test of its Starlink satellite internet service, saying it is accepting preorders from potential customers. Prospective Starlink users can enter a service address on the company’s website, with preorders available for $99. Some regions show preorder messages that say SpaceX is “targeting coverage in your area in mid to late 2021,” while other preorders say 2022. The service will be offered first in the U.S., Canada, and the U.K. The company’s website emphasizes that the preorders are “fully refundable,” but notes in fine print that “placing a deposit does not guarantee service.” SpaceX also says that “orders may take 6 months or more to fulfill” depending on where users are located.

If they haven't already state policy makers ought to be tapping into what Musk and Bezos have going. At least it's something other than the piecemeal, hurry up and wait plan that Santa Fe offers. 


Monahan and Webber
Santa Fe Mayor Alan Webber had them doing a double take when he said this week he has not decided whether he will seek another term this November. He told the newspaper and radio talker Richard Eeds that he was focused on the work at hand and not his political future. 

However, a source close to Webber believes that like any politician he is trying to stay a noncandidate as long as possible. That source was firm in saying Webber is indeed running. 

The Mayor told us as much before the pandemic struck but given the drastic changes since, a decision not to run would not be a shocker. 

Webber's chief rival is expected to be Santa Fe City Councilor Joanne Vigil Coppler. There could be more foes as Santa Fe's traditional factionalism has intensified during the COVID crisis. 

Criticism of Webber has often been brutal but with a large progressive base he will be tough to beat. A second term won't be much smoother, says Eeds. "The place is so factionalized, it's basically ungovernable," he opined. 


This view seems  a bit pollyannish but ABQ could use some good news during these trying times, so here it is. Livability.com places ABQ in its list list of top ten remote ready cities (#8), saying: 

Working remotely can be isolating, but in Albuquerque, you’ll find a true sense of community and place. . . Whether you love watching (or learning!) flamenco, learning about Hispanic and Native American heritage, eating farm-to-table meals, wandering through art galleries or hitting the hiking trails after work, you’ll be able to find your niche right away in this eclectic southwestern city. If you decide to change career paths or you just want to bolster your resume, Albuquerque has an incredible mix of high-wage jobs and offers great access to continuing education, professional certificate programs, workshops, lectures and seminars. Nearby schools include the University of New Mexico (the state’s flagship university), Carrington College, Southwestern Indian Polytechnic Institute, Southwest University of Visual Arts, Brookline College Albuquerque and Central New Mexico Community College. 

The #1 remote ready city on the list is unheralded Columbus Ohio.  

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