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Thursday, January 20, 2022

Reader Vox Populi: They Write Of MLG And Masks And The Election To Come, A Possible Break Getting More Broadband And PNM And Avangrid, Plus: Speaker Defends Crime Bills 

As the legislative session winds down for the weekend, it's a good time for another edition of the always popular Reader Vox populi. Here we go. . .  

Masks remain a hot button issue as the state undergoes yet another Covid surge. We were reminded of that when we blogged Wednesday that by going maskless at her State of the State speech MLG "eased" some of the negativity surrounding her over the pandemic. On Twitter, MomK Ultra responded: 

So she can unmask but not one of the schoolchildren in this state can indoors? Some not even outside? I've actually never been more upset about these Covid policies than I am today. Nothing has eased. 

She was joined by Atomic Mom: 

Um, no. It has not (eased.) People are as frustrated as ever with her disastrous Covid rules. Where did you even come up with that? 

We came up with that from the angle that without her mask, the symbol many of her opponents connect with her, may have been "eased" for the moment and the speech had a better chance of getting her message through. We could be wrong. 

It does appear MLG and company agree that a lower Covid profile is the way to go. Take a a look

Wednesday’s (Covid) news conference is expected to follow a new format as announced by NMDOH. The department says it is now planning for shorter briefs to take place across 30 minutes every week. The briefings are expected to be comprised of a brief introduction and sharing of any pertinent new COVID-19 related messaging at the beginning of each meeting.

The message? Learn to live with it (and get your shots.)

PULLING BACK

That pullback from lengthy briefings comes as state Covid cases are higher than ever. This reader believes even if Covid fades the political consequences for the Guv will not:

Interesting how in 2020 Dems attacked Trump for mishandling COVID (or not taking COVID seriously, or  both) because they believed it helped them politically. But now, with the 2022 midterm elections looming, and the public increasingly worn-out with lockdowns, restrictions, school closures and increased skepticism of government dictates - and with Biden's approval ratings in freefall - Dems seem to have made the political decision that they need to ease up on voters and COVID. 

Politics is the only reason MLG made the State of the State address without wearing a mask. Not science. Politics. But not smart politics. The Left will feel betrayed as Dems ditch the mask. But the Right (and an overwhelming majority of Independent voters) won't forget the severity of the lockdown restrictions. They'll feel vindicated and even more determined to strike back in November. 

It's worth noting the Guv's handling of the pandemic among Democrats remains solid. But some progressive Dems are not thrilled with other polices. One writes:

She sounded like a Republican. The party refuses to push her to the left. It will discourage progressives from voting. 

BROADBAND BREAK 

Reader Marcus Martin in ABQ's East Mountains comes with news that could have statewide ramifications in expanding broadband availability:

Joe, Starlink has finally made it to the East Mountains starting last week. There is much rejoicing (along with everyone in the neighborhood trying to find spots with a clear view of the sky). That means Elon Musk has done a lot more for us out here than any politician and their "commissions to study internet access."

That satellite rollout is being closely monitored by policy makers. Will it be the ultimate solution for many of New Mexico's isolated areas, instead of expensive and complex wiring on the ground? Also, it would be more economical to subsidize satellite broadband bills for low income rural residents. Musk's moves continue to cast intrigue. 

Check out this report for the Legislature from Pivotal NM, a nonprofit consulting group, for a comprehensive analysis of broadband needs and solutions for the state.

PNM DIG

Reader Alan Schwartz gets a dig in on PNM's decision regarding it's proposed merger:

Joe, a recent headline says: "PNM extends "merger" agreement with Avangrid until April 2023." 

And my reminder: The Elected PRC will be dissolved 12/31/2022. 

The new PRC commissioners will be appointed by the Governor, not elected by the pesky public. They could again take up the merger after its rejection by the PRC. 

PNM is appealing to the NM Supreme Court the PRC decision denying the company's merger with Spanish corporation Avangrid. 

STATEWIDE CRISIS?

The argument over the Guv's crime bills at the Roundhouse is whether the crime crisis is statewide or mainly an ABQ problem that needs a local fix but not a change in statewide laws. House Speaker Brian Egolf tries some pushback:

It is a crisis of public safety in ABQ but it is not just there. In terms of per capita, the First Judicial District, which is Santa Fe, Rio Arriba, and Los Alamos counties has more violent cirme than ABQ. It  just that they are a smaller population and you don't see it as much. So it is statewide so this notion that it is an ABQ problem, I think, is a false notion and the solutions that work in ABQ will be some that are more focused on the large city. Some solutions that are focused on smaller towns and rural New Mexico but we can do it all. 

Egolf took a slice of the North to make his point but Senate Judiciary Committee Chairman Cervantes notes the south does not have ABQ-like crime violence. We're in for a robust debate.

THE BOTTOM LINES

It was a busy week in La Politica and we gave it a going over with Santa Fe radio host Richard Eeds on the KTRC airwaves

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(c)NM POLITICS WITH JOE MONAHAN 2022

Wednesday, January 19, 2022

MLG Gets A Reset; Sheds The Mask For State Of The State And Sheds Some Political Baggage, Too, Plus: You Are There; Our Opening Day Photo Special  

New Mexico's Governor had a new look at her first major speech of the election year--she wasn't wearing a mask nor was one dangling below her chin.

That symbol of our collective vulnerability that has become as central to MLG's wardrobe as her southwestern jewelry was shed for the annual State of the State speech. It made a difference. 

(Transcript here. Video here. AP coverage here. Journal coverage here. New Mexican coverage here.)

Appearing maskless, the negativity associated with her such as bankruptcies, death tallies, school closings and more, eased. 

And her disappearance in recent months from regular, live Covid updates and splashy media appearances made the midday speech--if not highly anticipated--at least somewhat novel. 

Badly in need of a reset as Covid stages a deadly resurgence, ABQ sets a homicide record and Biden's approval ratings plunge and hers remain mediocre, MLG's 25 minute speech delivered the political goods.

The conventional wisdom went along these lines as pulled from our mailbag:

This was one of her better State of the State speeches. There were no dumb jokes or asides. It had less swagger and more maturity. She took the event seriously and the talk was well-written. It turns out that taking her out of the usual setting of the state House chamber and speaking remotely from her office helped her focus and deliver. She did a good job of explaining her proposals and putting them in perspective. There might be holes in the details but any layperson would miss those. 

That she also may be wiggling free from the Covid trap was evident when one of the GOP Guv contenders put up a critical review of the speech that pointedly had MLG sporting one of her brightest masks--the R's way of trying to have her tied in political knots. 

The R's haven't lost their touch when it comes to slash and burn. The GOP Guv Association in DC came with speech reaction, declaring it would be her last such speech to the state and:

Michelle Lujan Grisham's tough talk on crime and turning around public schools are just empty promises from a scandal-plagued governor desperate to appeal to voters in an election year.

The Governor's reference to Covid was not cursory but brief, signaling her desire to move the political conversation ahead. After referencing the "pandemic that has wreaked havoc on the lives of every family," she was off to the races urging the Legislature to "think big:"

A timid mindset has afflicted people in this capitol building, a pessimism that can be self-fulfilling. Thinking small is a curse. Big and meaningful changes are possible, but the biggest change may be our attitude, our perspective. At a moment in time when we have the money to do it all, let’s not limit ourselves; let’s not be unnecessarily incremental.

That accurately sums up several generations of lawmaking that have been unable to free the state from the cellar in the major quality of life rankings. 

But her call for legislators not to be "unnecessarily incremental" could be said of her own policy pronouncements for the session--that what the Governor called "unimaginable financial resources" are not being deployed in a sweeping and innovative way that will eventually pry us loose from the cellar. 

Still, her mild rebuke of the institutional status quo sent the vibe that the state as a whole is finally rounding the intellectual curve and into new terrain that rebuts the notion that "this is the way it's always been and the way it always will be." 

In that context the policies outlined in the speech are small steps on the beginning of a long journey, certainly not an end game. 

Nevertheless, a Governor who has been appearing somewhat disheveled and out of sorts re-established her leadership credentials on the opening day of the '22 session. If perception is reality, she did herself a world of good by sealing cracks of weakness her opposition is counting on exploiting while giving voters what they must have--a smidgen of hope.

TAKING A SWIPE 

MLG's speech adhered to the high road but there was one swipe aimed at the lawmaker who is front and center this session.

Senate Judiciary Committee Chairman Joseph Cervantes is publicly frowning on the Guv's crime package, saying it reminds him of the punitive (and ineffective) proposals he would hear from GOP Gov. Martinez. Cervantes could kill MLG's bills and that got her attention in the State of the State:

We have got to get crime under control. I don’t accept the argument that this is an issue in only one part of our state. I don’t accept that any decision-maker in this building would say that somehow this isn’t their problem. We all have a role to play in keeping New Mexico safe. 

Cervantes ran for the Dem Guv nomination against MLG in 2018 and has been at the Roundhouse for 20 years. You can fill in the blanks. 

SCOTTISH LAND GRANTS?

Colón and Egolf
Even as the pandemic kept in check the pomp and circumstance and the senate continued its meltdown, it was still an opening day and was filled with the traditional bipartisan cheer and backslapping. It's a scene best told in pictures:

Here's a keeper. It features "The most photographed man in New Mexico," also known as State Auditor Brian Colón, and House Speaker Brian Egolf. 

The speaker is showing off his kilt in homage to his Scottish heritage and Colón, well, he's just showing up, this time as a Dem candidate for the nomination for attorney general. 

Colón's rival for the Dem nod, BernCo District Attorney Raul Torrez, is counting on Egolf to help shepherd the Guv's anti-crime measures and then go on to score victory over Colón. 

As for the speaker, just one question: Are there any Scottish land grants in New Mexico?

RICH HISTORY 

Lopez & Pinto
Do you think this pic reflects our state's rich history just a bit? 

Posing for the opening day cameras are ABQ Dem state Senator Linda Lopez and fellow Dem Senator Shannon Pinto of McKinley and San Juan Counties. 

Linda was roughed up some at the Sunday caucus of Dem senators when she tried and failed to push through a vote of no confidence in Senate President Pro Tem Mimi Stewart, but she seems to be taking it in stride. Maybe that's because so many Native Americans have come to her side for fighting against a senate redistricting plan they believed would dilute their voting strength and that Lopez was instrumental in defeating. 

As for Senator Pinto, in 2018 she filled the Indian Country seat her legendary grandfather, code talker and Senator John Pinto, held for so many years. He became famous for his singing of the Navajo Potato Song at the conclusion of each legislative session. Maybe Shannon will take up that tradition--once we all get our masks off. 

FRSHLY MINTED

Here's a good looking, freshly minted political family led by the newest member of the state House--Brian Baca of Valencia County. 

The Republican lawmaker was appointed to his seat this month by the Valencia county commission to succeed former GOP State Rep. Alonzo Baldonado who resigned. 

Baca is the deputy superintendent of Los Lunas Schools. 

Everyone is all smiles (beneath the masks of course) and, of course, Rep. Baca's smile may not be as noticeable when he soon confronts the overwhelming Dem majority in the House. But he can take solace in the fact that when he seeks election to the seat in November he should be a shoo-in. His district is crimson red.

THE BOTTOM LINE PIC

And yer little 'ol blog is always glad to be a part of the opening day information flow for folks across the state and at the Roundhouse. 

Here's a pic of a solon  browsing our Tuesday offering. No virus is going to keep our Alligators away from the action. 

Let's see what the 112 elected ones come up with as they get down to business. Like the pic says, we'll be looking over their shoulders--on your behalf.

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Tuesday, January 18, 2022

Roundhouse 2022: The "Bits And Pieces" Session; Sweeping Ideas Give Way To Election Year Reality As Lawmakers Begin 30 Day Confab, Plus: Losing Middle Class Voters Worries Dems, Crime Bills Already Struggling For Breath And The Lopez "Coup D'Nada" At Senate Dem Meet 

The engines of the progressive plane have sputtered, forcing a landing and setting the state up for a "bits and pieces" 30 day legislative session that will attempt to chip away at obvious deficiencies, even though financially the opportunity for game-changing plans are finally within reach. 

But the election beckons and the political opportunity has passed. Conservatives are on the ascent nationally and the Democratic Governor and legislative leaders are determined to conduct a pragmatic, low-key, risk-off session. 

A Senior Alligator of long standing (a darn good source for those new here) comments:

First and foremost this is about re-election. There’s enough in the governor's agenda to satisfy the Democratic base but probably not enough to please independents or build a bridge to Republicans. The crime proposals and things like new facilities for the T or C veteran's home are important to insulate her from attacks and will make for good media ads. She probably could use more around healthcare and rebuilding the system after COVID. But overall it’s miscellaneous bits and pieces. There is no overriding theme that you might expect in a soon-to-be post Covid era that has harshly exposed the fault lines in the state's physical and human capital infrastructure. 

Not that this is startlingly new. The administration has been all about centrism and small steps since taking office in 2019. That calculation will be evident when the next round of rankings are posted and reveal the state has either worsened or stagnated in education, incomes, child well-being, crime and addiction. 

There's no magic wand for all of that and no administration shoulders the entire blame but if the wand isn't waved, you get no magic. 

THE RISK

Top Dems say their risk lies with increasingly disgruntled middle class voters who have been hammered by the pandemic and turned off by the progressive agenda emphasizing, among other things, climate change and being "woke." Biden's numbers show many of them abandoning ship and the Guv's somewhat anemic numbers reveal the same. 

Senate Majority Leader Peter Wirth, sensing the changing tide, pledges tax rebates for low income households and those whose working lives have been impacted by Covid. The amount of those rebates will send a message to those voters. If they are akin to MLG's symbolic proposal of a one eighth of a cent cut in the gross receipts tax, they could border on pointless--except to the TV consultants.

BILLS BLOWING UP 

Cervantes and MLG
Watching the Governor's hydrogen energy and crime plans blow up even before the session begins has been out of the ordinary but seemingly of little concern to a Fourth Floor that appears content with election year positioning but not overly concerned with winning. 

Thus you get Senate Judiciary Committee Chairman Joseph Cervantes publicly executing MLG's chief crime proposals. The Las Cruces trial lawyer swatted them away with a statement that had the anti-ABQ throngs roaring approval:
 
 “It’s a problem that Albuquerque has largely created for itself,” Cervantes said, pointing out violent crime rates in some parts of southern New Mexico are much lower than in New Mexico’s largest city. “It’s not really about changing state law.” 

The crime administrations here--Mayor Keller and BernCo District Attorney Raul Torrez may have both been re-elected--but that doesn't mean their crime-fighting efforts have won the confidence of the state. They haven't. 

In 2018 Torrez's office (with the help of local media) publicly harangued the legislature to get a budget boost of over $4 million, saying it would result in crime reduction. It did not. 

In 2018 ABQ raised the gross receipts tax three eighths of a cent or over $50 million a year for mostly public safety and and that didn't do the trick, either. 

Cervantes is only pointing out the obvious--progressives have lost the fight against crime in ABQ and he isn't there to give them cover.

PROGRESSIVE FOLLY

Other blindspots include the Guv's highly touted hydrogen hub plan, already pronounced dead by the hard to please enviros. But "hydrogen hub" is another of those made for TV (and maybe campaign contributions) plays. 

Then there's the progressive folly of floating a $50 million bond issue that would raise state property taxes in the name of "conservation projects." Raising taxes on humble abodes in the middle of epic surpluses? Only an Ivy League graduate living in a $2 million Santa Fe hacienda with a three Volvo garage could dream that up. 

That, too, has (thankfully) been placed in an early grave by House Appropriations Committee Chair Patricia Lundstrom. 

Much of the state's giant surplus will be gobbled up by pay raises for teachers (over $400 million), more cops and better paid ($100 million) and pay hikes for state employees ($55 million.) That will finally end the parsimony of the previous Martinez administration when it comes to public employees.

The '22 session is set up for small successes and small losses. Anything else will be what we call "news."

COUP D' NADA

Sens. Stewart and Lopez
ABQ Dem Senator Linda Lopez has already become the first loser of the 2022 session. Her attempted coup Sunday of Senate President Pro Tem Mimi Stewart crashed and burned on the runway, or as one Roundhouse Wall-Leaner put it: 

Joe, it wasn't a coup d'état. it was a Coup d' nada."

(We broke the news Jan. 6 of Lopez's ambition to become pro tem).

The Sunday afternoon coup attempt came in the form of a no confidence resolution floated at the closed door meeting of Senate Dem Caucus by Lopez. She is upset with Stewart for advocating a redistricting plan that would have spared two senate Republicans from being placed in the same district and that would have diluted Native American voting strength. That plan ultimately failed.

Lopez was also encouraged in her coup effort by Stewart siding last year with a high-level legislative staffer who mocked Native Americans. She perhaps also saw fertile ground for a movida when House Speaker Egolf came under fire for dissolving the committee that dealt with the state's historic Spanish land grants. 

The caucus rejecting the resolution left Lopez open to the criticism that while Stewart has her issues, Lopez has lost her political instincts, raising the question of not whether she can take Stewart out after this year's election, but whether she will be challenged for her position of Senate Majority Whip. The thinking being if you can't whip a vote to advance your own cause, how good is your vote-counting on the Senate floor?

While Lopez is guilty of a poorly executed attempted overthrow, her not-so-shy play is a sign of a state that is ever growing in the percentage of non Anglo residents and a legislative leadership that doesn't quite represent that. Lopez's longing to oust Stewart may or may not go away but the thorny matter of race at the Roundhouse will not. 

INTO THE WEEDS

It wouldn't be the opening day of a legislative session without going into the weeds with a political junkie. Here you go: 

 Hi, Joe – I am on a crusade to try to eradicate the incorrect use of the term, “the call” when referring to short sessions. There is no “call” in a regular session, which this one is. The “call” refers to the proclamation calling the legislature into special session and specifying what can be considered in that special session. A regular session, on the other hand, convenes. 

This will be the second regular session of the 55th Legislature, which has had two special sessions that were called by the governor. What people probably are referring to as the "call" is the constitutional need for nonfiscal matters to be introduced with a message from the governor. Although not required, a governor may also issue messages on bills in the longer (60 day) sessions. Thanks, Jonelle Maison.

Thank you, Jonelle. We understand only two people at the Roundhouse knew that--lobbyists JD Bullington and Joe Thompson--who secretly rewrote the definition of those terms and had them approved on a midnight voice vote some 20 years ago. You have now outed them, and to the benefit of the Republic and our Great State. 

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Thursday, January 13, 2022

Nukes And Oil Still Powering State Economy, Plus: Egolf Makes Peace With Land Grant Advocates, State House GOP Primary Featuring Conservative Firebrand Draws Eyeballs And More Reader Debate On Repealing SS Tax 

Let's kick it off today with a few notable notes from the econ beat.

ABQ's Sandia National Labs reports their spending reached a record $3.9 billion in fiscal year '22, including $1.4 billion in annual payroll for over 12,200 NM employees. 

Then there's the announcement that oil giant ExxonMobil, a major presence in the oil fields of the SE NM Permian Basin, will be the main sponsor of the ABQ International Balloon Fiesta for the next three years. 

Permian production has exploded and energy taxes and royalties are largely responsible for the historic budget surpluses accumulating in Santa Fe. 

ExxonMobil recently announced that they plan to achieve net zero greenhouse gas emissions in the Permian by 2030. That's a sweetner for skeptical enviros.

Nuclear weapons budgets are projected to continue upward and the latest forecasts from Wall Street predict oil will again flirt with the $100 a barrel price point. It's back in the 80's as we write. 

New Mexico's economy today is tied more than ever to federal spending and oil exploration and it's hard to envision when it won't be.

MAKING THE PEACE

After widespread criticism over his decision to dissolve the House committee that deals with land grant issues Speaker Brian Egolf is making the peace:

Egolf announced. . .the new Rural Development, Land Grants, and Cultural Affairs Committee will be established in the coming session, and will be chaired by Representative Susan Herrera (D-Embudo). Two other standing committees will also be newly titled: the Agriculture, Acequias, and Water Resources Committee and the Government, Elections, and Indian Affairs Committee. Together, these committees will respond effectively to the needs of land grant and acequia communities within the Legislature. 

“Land grants, acequias, and their contributions to our state have been critically important to me. . .I am grateful for the advice and input that we received from land grant and acequia leaders. I am glad that we have charted a path forward which will result in a new committee structure that will both elevate land grant and acequia issues and bring positive change for every land grant heir and acequia parciante."

Hispanic lawmakers, in particular, saw Egolf's first move as a slight. This second one should be enough to keep the peace. 

BLACK VS. BLOCK

John Block 
There's another Republican primary besides the '22 Guv and Light Guv races that will keep GOP watchers entertained. That would be the nomination contest for state House District 51 in Alamogordo. 

The district is currently represented by Rep. Rachel Black who is seeking a third term but who has now drawn a challenge from young John Block, an unabashed Trumper and editor of the conservative news outlet the Pinon Post.

Block, an ardent critic of MLG and all things Dem, says Black is not strong enough on tax relief and missed an abortion vote that he didn't specify. He says: 

Alamogordo needs an America-First conservative champion who shows up and takes the fight to the Radical Democrats. The hard-working men and women of District 51 should not be forced to settle for a representative who takes them for granted. This election, our community finally has a choice. We need to finally send a fighter to the Legislature.

Rep. Black
Black, an Otero County Deputy Treasurer, says she has brought $4.5 million in capital outlay to the SE NM district. She has not yet commented on the Block challenge but the Black vs. Block race will soon be joined. Block has already released a slickly produced video announcing his candidacy. 

GOP consultants point out that the twenty something Block is an openly gay Republican and that Alamogordo is Bible Belt territory. They say that could be problematic in scoring an upset. 

Black took her seat in 2018, succeeding Yvette Herrell who is now the southern district congresswoman. No D's need apply in House 51. This one is all R all the time. 

SS REPEAL DEBATE (CONT.)

The debate over repealing the state tax on Social Security amounts to a tempest in a teapot, argues tax expert James O'Neill of ABQ's O'Neill Consulting who joins this week's blog debate on the matter: 

Joe: Lowering the state income tax on only middle- and upper-income New Mexicans can be done in many ways. One of the cheesiest is granting a deduction for the federally-taxable part of Social Security retirement benefits while claiming that it would be a great boon for the poor. 

Under current federal and state tax law, no one (except some married persons filing separately) whose only income is Social Security pays any New Mexico income tax -- even if the recipient gets the maximum benefit (over $90,000 for married couples). See for yourself by completing the worksheet on page 31 of the 2021 form 1040 instructions. Even when there is a small amount of taxable income at the federal level, existing provisions of New Mexico's law reduce the state liability to zero. The point of these proposals is to allow other features, like the standard deduction, to apply fully to other income. Even that benefits only New Mexicans earning at least median levels of income. The poor, as usual, get nothing. 

The 30 day session begins Tuesday and that's when we will next be with you at NM Politics with Joe Monahan. 

This is the home of New Mexico politics. 

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(c)NM POLITICS WITH JOE MONAHAN 2022

Wednesday, January 12, 2022

Pat Lyons Back In La Politica And Seeking State's #2 Post, Plus: MLG's Hydrogen Bomb And Debating State's Social Security Tax  

Pat Lyons
Look who's back in La Politica--or in his case let's call it the lion's den. 

It's none other than former state land commissioner, former public regulation commissioner and former state senator Pat Lyons telling all within shouting distance that he is running for the '22 GOP nomination for lieutenant governor.

Within the GOP Lyons, 68, doesn't have to shout very loud. He's a well-known campaign veteran who has brought home numerous wins for his party before losing a bid for land commissioner four years ago to Dem Stephanie Garcia Richard. 

Given his statewide experience, GOP insiders think Lyons of Quay County is the frontrunner for the Light Guv nomination. His main foe is former Dona Ana County Commissioner Isabella Solis who may be a better match demographically for the R's in the general election but who faces a major test against Lyons.

Solis switched from the Democratic Party to the GOP in 2019. In 2020, she ran unsuccessfully against Dem State Rep. Joanne Ferrary. 

Dems wil be ready for Lyons if he is the nominee. They already label him "pay to play Pat" over his fundraising techniques while serving on the PRC.

The GOP Lt. Guv race plays out this way. Solis, a Hispanic woman from the south, is a good match for either Mark Ronchetti or Rebecca Dow, the leading candidates for the GOP Guv nod. She balances the ticket nicely with either, but perhaps more with Ronchetti who comes from ABQ while Dow comes from the rural T or C area. 

Lyons matches up okay with Dow, but an all Anglo, all male ticket with Ronchetti would be a downer for the GOP. 

Aerospace engineer Ant Thornton is the third candidate in the race. 

NICE TITLE BUT. . . 

It may be a nice title but New Mexico's lieutenant governor gets little attention. Look at MLG's proposed budget for the coming fiscal year. Her office budget is proposed to go up a hefty 12.3 percent to $5.174 million. And for the office of Lt. Gov. Howie Morales? Her proposed budget for him is $585,000. That's an increase of exactly zero. 

LOSING EARLY?

She may call it her "signature legislation" for the 30 day legislative session that starts next week but it appears doubtful the legislation will reach her desk for her signature. 

The Guv is pushing hard for state hydrogen production to the chagrin of the environmental community and others who think this is a way down the ladder priority given other pressing matters facing the state.

What's surprising is how dismissive the Roundhouse already is to the Guv's proposal. Why is MLG willing to show such weakness so early in the campaign? 

TAXING SOCIAL SECURITY 

With the incredible amount of money in Santa Fe our motto for the legislative session is don't raise taxes on anything. In fact, consider rebating some of that loot to Mr. and Mrs. New Mexico. 

That brings us to Fred Nathan of Think NM that is leading the charge on the repeal (with sponsorship from ABQ Sen. Bill Tallman) of the state tax on Social Security. A good idea, we blogged Monday, until you get to the part that raises tobacco taxes to pay for the cut. Nathan explains:

Opponents were concerned that repealing the Social Security tax would deprive state government of $80 million. So we made the bill revenue neutral. Opponents also argued that wealthy New Mexicans should continue to pay the tax because they can afford it. So this year’s bill continues to tax seniors with incomes over $72,000 as an individual or $124,000 as a couple. This targets the tax relief to middle income seniors since very low income seniors already have an exemption. The reason that we decided to raise tobacco taxes is because health experts have been calling on the legislature to increase those taxes to combat youth smoking and vaping. New Mexico ranks third highest for teen vaping and fifth highest for teen smoking. Because teens have the least discretionary income, they are the most impacted by higher taxes. 

Instead of that $80 million some lawmakers fret over (a drop in the proverbial bucket with the mountain of money they have) what they should worry about is the 8 bucks or more their smoking constituents are ponying up for a pack of cigs while making 15 bucks an hour. Not even vice taxes deserve to be increased in this environment of riches. And finding recurring revenue to pay for the cut is a no-brainer.

But good luck, Fred, just pray they don't bring back the food tax. 

This is the home of New Mexico politics. 

E-mail your news and comments. (newsguy@yahoo.com)

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(c)NM POLITICS WITH JOE MONAHAN 2022

Tuesday, January 11, 2022

"Battle Ready" Rep. Herrell Makes First ABQ Appearance Since A Slice Of The City Was Sent Into Her District, Plus: Dan's Plan Dashed: Benton Takes ABQ Council Presidency Over Lewis, And: A Tax Cut Misfire  

Rep. Herrell in ABQ
Go ahead progressives, let those chills roll up your spine because here she is--right in your backyard. 

The "she" is none other than conservative Republican US Rep. Yvette Herrell who over the weekend made her first major public appearance in the city that contains the newest addition to her congressional district.

She appeared at the Bernalillo County GOP Pre-Primary Convention and cheerily welcomed any of her new ABQ constituents who may have been in the audience. 

Her new district takes in a large swath of ABQ's Westside and some South Valley precincts, a map the Dems hope will make Herrell vulnerable to defeat this November. But be careful what you wish for. 

Herrell has been nothing if not spunky and confident since the gerrymander, vowing to win a second term and not giving an inch on her conservative views despite having a good part of the big city now in her mostly rural and small town southern district.

Pundits are taking notice, questioning whether progressive former Dem Las Cruces City Councilor Gabe Vasquez, the only announced Democrat for the seat, is a step too far left in trying to put the district back in the Dem column. 

The progressive nightmare is a Herrell re-election, giving her a foothold in ABQ while that same circumstance is a Republican dream. 

Heck, don't be surprised if she soon opens up an ABQ office, further rattling Dem nervous systems.

Herrell is not shying away from her new challenge, according to delegates at that weekend convention who report she is "battle ready."

In a way she can thank the progressive Dems for her street fighting skills. She honed them during two of the toughest campaigns waged in recent state history against Dem Xochtil Torres Small (in '18 and '20), winning one and losing one. 

What will it be in '22? Who knows, but given Herrell's zeal for combat chilled progressive spines don't seem out of order. 

DAN'S PLAN DASHED

Councilors Benton and Lewis
The plan of freshly elected Republican ABQ City Councilor Dan Lewis to take the council by storm in the new year ran into an obstacle Monday. Councilors did not get aboard the Lewis for council president bandwagon, instead electing liberal Dem Councilor Ike Benton the new president.

Upon winning election to his westside council seat last November Lewis told associates he was confident he would be elected the new council president which added four new members as a result of the city election. But Lewis, who has made no secret that he harbors mayoral ambitions, could not build a coalition and that dashed Dan's dream. He was, however, elected council vice-president.

Insiders tell us Lewis thought he had a deal with Benton who would vote for him for president in exchange for making Benton chair of the council’s most important committee but pressure on Benton from Dems not to make a deal with Lewis prevailed and pulled the rug out from under Lewis. Councilors Bassan and Pena then provided the critical votes to make Benton president. 

GOP Councilor Brook Bassan will now chair the Committee of the Whole which presides over the city budget, the aforementioned most important committee.

Bassan and Lewis have a frosty relationship. That was made clear when with the backing of Mayor Keller last month she proposed a $110 million bond issue for city improvements that ultimately was shot down by the old city council. Lewis disliked the plan, saying it should be decided by the new council.

Lewis' misfire for the presidency was shared by another Louis--new Westside Dem City Councilor Louis Sanchez. He voted for Lewis and ended up a loser on his first major council vote.

Sanchez and Lewis have positioned themselves as major foils of Mayor Keller, which is fine, but they might want to do more homework before taking their next test. 

That next test for Councilor Lewis is a multi-pronged program, including a $70 million cut in the city's gross receipts tax and placing a limitation on the pandemic powers of the Mayor. He unveiled the plan shortly after his loss of the presidency.

THE BOTTOM LINES

Speaking of misfires, ABQ Dem state Senator Bill Tallman wants to eliminate the state tax on Social Security. Okay, so far so good. But then he wants to raise the tobacco tax to pay for the cut. That means the working class fella already paying 8 bucks or so for a pack of smokes now has to pay even more so the mostly comfortably retired Social Security recipients get a break? 

Come on, Bill, right now Santa Fe has more money than God. Just eliminate the SS tax and leave the puffers alone. They're already paying their fair share and then some.

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Monday, January 10, 2022

Newfound State Wealth Produces Only Modest Budget Plans From Guv And LFC; Confounded By The Cash? Plus: 2022 Budget Politics 

"New Mexico has the opportunity for generational change with the amount of money we have." 

So declared state Senate Finance Committee Chair George Munoz upon presentation of the Legislative Finance Committee's (LFC) $8.46 billion budget recommendation for fiscal year '23 that starts July 1. 

The premise is correct but the standout recommendation in both the LFC budget and the Guv's is a 7 percent pay hike for teachers and state employees. That will be greeted warmly by a public that wants to support educators and that will grudgingly admit that the state's bureaucrats deserve a pay bump after suffering stagnant wages for years. But where's the "generational" change to put New Mexico on a path to getting out of the nation's ratings cellar? That's proving to be an elusive target--if it's being targeted at all. 

Both budgets bolster currently funded programs and the LFC does mention the landmark Yazzie court ruling that demands the state correct the educational inequities for at risk public school students (mainly Native American and Hispanics) and recommends $180 million to specifically address the court order. 

But there's not much budget time devoted to the ongoing (and growing) behavioral health crisis in the state, a state with one of the highest rates of drug addiction in the nation, record crime rates in ABQ, stunted student learning growth due to Covid school lockouts and a myriad of other social ills all to familiar and that often seem so stubborn and insurmountable. 

As intractable as the challenges seem, without resolution you are left with a state with gold overflowing from its vaults while daily living decays for far too many. 

Beyond our long-held acceptance of the status quo, perhaps the problem is the pandemic that has everyone looking more inward. Getting by day to day and month to month is a much more urgent matter than pondering a macro vision for a statewide socio-economic revival.

When faced with a daily death count, logistical challenges for once simple chores and ongoing economic uncertainty, a state's child well-being rating or poverty percentage can seem even more abstract to the average voter. The political leadership responds in kind.

New Mexico, as Senator Munoz might say, is now in possession of potentially life changing money. Neither the Governor, the LFC or the public has figured out precisely what that means. Like the problems we confront, the vastness of the newfound wealth is proving to be confounding. Unwinding and fully understanding the complexity of choices will take much longer than any 30 day legislative session. 

The LFC budget is here. The Governor's budget is here

BUDGET POLITICS '22 

That there were no sweeping programs proposed in MLG's election year budget is no surprise but if her popularity were higher among independents she may have had more room to maneuver. 

A PPP poll conducted last August had only 33 percent of independents approving of her job performance and 54 percent disapproving. R's say more recent polling continues to show her under water with the indys who often lean moderate to conservative. Combined with overwhelming GOP opposition, that puts her in a possibly fragile area right around 50 percent.

That is not the kind of political picture that allows a Governor to swing for the fences. Not that MLG is necessarily upset about that. Remember, she described herself as a "fiscal conservative" when campaigning n 2018 and in many ways has lived up to that self-reported analysis.

The Guv's handling of Covid would appear largely responsible for her dive with independents. Perhaps an autocratic style laced with a whiff of hypocrisy (Lilly Barrack jewelry) and perceived Draconian measures turned them off. 

And Covid cooped her up in Santa Fe for months on end not mending fences or making new friends on the hustings for well over a year. 

As for the LFC, they are institutionally skeptical of any new programs. In fact, their lean most recently has been to favor what they say are programs that have proven themselves through "evidence based" testing.
That doesn't leave much room for innovation.

NORTHERN BEAT

Rep. Teresa Leger Fernández as well as Sen. Ben Ray Lujan issued a statement expressing misgivings about House Speaker Egolf's decision to abolish the committee that deals in land grants. Like Lujan, she also says talks with Egolf over the matter have been fruitful. 

On the political front the freshman Democrat is reporting that in the last quarter of 2021 she raised $402,658.77 and had $524,000 in cash on hand. That's up from $250K in cash in the previous report. 

The changed boundaries of the northern district is drawing increased attention to TLF's re-election bid.

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Thursday, January 06, 2022

Senate Power Play? Lopez Said To Eye Stewart's Pro Tem Chair; Ethnic Politics At Play, Plus: MLG Foot Dragging On Yazzie Suit Rankles Indian Community; Ditto On Payday Loan Legislation  

Sen. Lopez
The misfire by House Speaker Brian Egolf in dismantling a standing committee near and dear to the hearts of many northern New Mexicans could have unintended consequences--in the state Senate.

Our reliable Senior Alligators report that veteran ABQ Dem Senator Linda Lopez, the current majority whip, is eyeing the powerful president pro tem position held by fellow ABQ Dem Sen. Mimi Stewart

She is doing so in part, say our sources, because of Egolf dissolving the House Local Government, Land Grants and Cultural Affairs Committee. That controversial decision was a glaring reminder that in majority-minority New Mexico the legislative leadership is dominated by two wealthy Anglo males, namely Senate Majority Leader Peter Wirth and Speaker Egolf, and Senator Stewart.

US Senator Ben Ray Lujan and former state Rep. Joseph Sanchez are among those who have publicly expressed misgivings over abolishing the committee that was chaired by ABQ Dem Rep. Miguel Garcia, long a thorn in Egolf's side. 

The Speaker has apparently endured enough chastisement and says he's working on salvaging an agreement that would turn down the temperature.

Lopez has reportedly also been put off by the efforts of Sen. Stewart to ram through a Senate redistricting plan at December's special redistricting session that would have diluted Native American voting strength and spared Republican Senators Greg Baca and Joshua Sanchez from having to run against each other. Lopez prevailed and the map she sponsored kept the two R's in the same district and preserved Indian voting power. 

Sen. Stewart
The pro tem is powerful. She is in charge of handing out important committee assignments. That sets the tone for the Senate. The position is elected by the full body but with Senate Dems having a solid majority the post is safely in their hands. That is especially so since the conservative coalition of GOP senators and a handful of conservative Democrats that long dominated the Senate has been busted. 

Stewart is pro tem until leadership is chosen again after the November election. She was elected following the 2020 election. 

Lopez was first elected in 1996 and since has run for the Dem nomination for lieutenant governor and governor, both unsuccessfully. Becoming pro tem could be within her grasp if the memories of Egolf's power play and Stewart's redistricting maneuver linger. It took a number of ballots and intense negotiation before Stewart emerged as the pro tem choice from the Senate Dem Caucus in 2020.

YAZZIE FOOT DRAGGING

While Sen. Lopez has been cementing her ties to the Native American community you can't say the same for MLG.

The administration continues to drag its feet in enforcing the landmark Yazzie court ruling that found the state in violation of its Constitution for not providing many Native American children and others "at risk" with a proper public school education.

MLG's difficulty in coming to terms with that ruling and fully engaging the Native community with a Yazzie plan hit the headlines again this week. 

It seems it's not the ultimate goals of the court order holding things up as much as it is the state's reluctance to cede its power to a judicial ruling. But that's water under bridge and if the foot dragging continues the administration could find itself slapped with another court order to carry out the long delayed first one. 

NOT ONLY THAT. . . 

Yazzie isn't the only thing causing bad blood between the Native American community and the Guv. She is being asked to put on the call of the 30 day legislative session later this month a bill to roll back the obscenely high 175 percent interest rate that payday loan stores are allowed to charge. The measure would make the maximum rate a still high 36 percent, but more tolerable, 

Some 60 percent of the payday loan outlets are within 10 miles of tribal lands, hotbeds of poverty where the store owners are fighting to hang on to all of their lucrative income. They have spent heavily on lobbyists.

MLG carried McKinley County in the heart of Indian Country with 71 percent of the vote in 2018. She was expected to take a firmer stand against the powerful payday loan interest group on behalf of Native Americans but also other low income people of color (mainly Hispanic) who are the dominant users of the loans.

No matter the political implications, a 176% interest rate is pretty outrageous--unless a Governor says it isn't.

THE BOTTOM LINES

The Wednesday posted later than usual. If you missed it, just scroll down. 

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Wednesday, January 05, 2022

GOP Guv Chase: Ronchetti's Early Cash Haul Puts Pressure On Dow In Nomination Battle; $1.2 Mil In Two Months, Plus: Fired NM Spaceport Exec Turns Whistleblower And Goes After MLG 

Mark Ronchetti established early momentum and put the pressure on his rivals for the 2022 GOP gubernatorial nomination Tuesday as he announced he raised $1.2 million in the first two months of his candidacy.

The former TV weatherman with high name ID and coming off a 2020 US Senate loss leads the seven person pack seeking the nomination and could walk away with it if his chief rivals can't keep pace. His campaign wasted no time in trying to shape the narrative:

Ronchetti's fundraising haul, comprising over 3,500 donations, dwarfs the fundraising of his primary opponents and reflects the kind of broad grassroots support necessary to compete against Gov. Michelle lujan Grisham and defeat her in the general election.

State Rep. Rebecca Dow, who most analysts are pegging as Ronchetti's strongest opponent, reported raising $440,000 in her campaign report filed last October. She announced her run in early July 2021. However, $100,000 of her funds were a transfer from her legislative account. Ronchetti says he did not transfer any funds or give himself any loans in raising the $1.2 million. He says 96 percent of the donations came from within the state. 

One of our GOP readers reports that Dow told him in the wake of Ronchetti's report:

We just keep going! I'm not far behind on fundraising.

Dow did not disclose any numbers.

ABQ financial consultant Greg Zanetti reported raising $150,000 in last October's report but he also listed $185,000 in loans. With the Ronchetti report he now has to weigh how much more of his personal wealth--if any--he is willing to risk as the GOP race rapidly becomes a Ronchetti vs. Dow contest.

The next candidate money reports are not due until April but Ronchetti obviously wanted to use his early fund-raising prowess to try to give an air of inevitability to his campaign. 

He did not release any donor names or amounts from individual donations.

FIRST TEST

The first major test for the Republican field will come at the February 26 preprimary convention in Ruidoso. Delegates will vote to place the candidates on the June primary ballot. If a hopeful fails to win 20 percent support, they would have to seek additional petition signatures to appear on the ballot. The convention is Dow's best bet to demonstrate strength and viability. 

Ronchetti, who reports $1.146 million in cash on hand from the $1.2 million raised, is backed by establishment Republicans but is not beloved by the grassroots. That was amply demonstrated when at the 2020 preprimary convention, he came in third place in the balloting for US Senate but did go on to easily win the June primary. 

In addition to the early report on his fund-raising, Ronchetti tried to shake up the Democrats by reporting internal polling that has him tied with MLG. However, he did not release any poll.

MLG's approval rating has been hovering around the 50 percent mark. In last October's finance reports she reported raising $2.5 million. 

"MLG, YOU ARE A CROOK!"

Zach DeGregorio
Meanwhile, R's are spinning a complicated and twisting tale of alleged wrongdoing at the NM Spaceport as another reason MLG is vulnerable:

Racketeering, securities fraud and whistleblower persecutions are just the top notes in a sweeping civil complaint filed against the state with explicit references to state officials, Spaceport America staff and others by the facility's former chief financial officer. In a 250-page complaint filed in district court in Santa Fe, Zach DeGregorio alleges he was effectively terminated after he filed a whistleblower complaint that triggered a 2020 investigation into allegations of financial mismanagement, ethical violations and abuse of power by the spaceport's former director, Dan Hicks. Hicks, who did not comment publicly on the claims, was terminated in 2021.

Apparently DeGregorio, a CPA, who does business videos on YouTube and from which we got his photo, is serving as his own lawyer. 

He cut an emotional video in announcing the lengthy lawsuit. It ends with DeGregoria exclaiming: 

You, Governor Michelle Lujan Grisham, you are a crook!

In December 2020 there was this:

A highly critical investigation of Spaceport America has determined the New Mexico state government should consider formal criminal and/or administrative charges against former Executive Director Dan Hicks and former Chief Financial Officer (CFO) Zach DeGregorio for their mishandling of the spaceport’s finances.

The Governor's office declined to comment on the suit.

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