Monday, April 06, 2020

Coronavirus Cases Climb But New Mexico Is Stingy With Data, Plus: Unemployed Jam State Lines; What To Do? And: GOP Congress Race Jolted By Heavy TV Hit On Herrell 

As of Sunday night the number of coronavirus cases confirmed by the state is 624 out of 18,512 people tested. That's a deep pool of demographics in a state of 2.095 million but just what they reveal we don't know because New Mexico, unlike a number of other states, is stingy with the information.

For example, we don't know the ages or gender of those who tested positive or how many of those currently "hospitalized" (45) are in intensive care. Isn't that critical information when all the talk is about the number of ventilators needed for the critically ill and whether each state is properly equipped?

And what of the ethnicity of those stricken in majority-minority New Mexico? It is not reported. And what about the hometowns, with privacy exceptions for very low population locales?

The Navajo Nation has been reporting on coronavirus cases that occur among its NM members.

Diving deep into the missing data could help the public and policy makers better understand the extent of the virus and it can show where there may be holes in our public health system. And bountiful information in a time of emergency keeps the public less prone to be victimized by disinformation.

When this pandemic finally relents it's going to be debated ad nauseam. All information will become public, but right now the state appears to be playing nanny state and doesn't trust the public with information it is entitled to. Arizona and California, to name just two, have more robust reporting, with both including age and gender and California also listing that important number of ICU patients.

The state says it has a maximum capacity of 344 ICU beds--589 if they stretch it. But officials predict 2,175 will be needed when the virus peaks. Many of the ICU beds are already occupied by noncoronavirus patients. In mid-March the state reported 54 vacant ICU beds. 

Plans are being made to use the old Lovelace hospital and the downtown ABQ convention center as coronavirus hospitals. 


There's another area where the Governor may want to reassess what's being done and that's with the masses of unemployed New Mexicans trying to file applications for unemployment as a result of her stay at home order.

 It's a pretty much impossible task for many of the freshly jobless amid a deluge of hits that stall out the Workforce Solutions Department website and jams its call center with new customers. 

Secretary Bill McCamley has tried to provide order by asking that the tens of thousands of newly unemployed use the last digits of their Social Security numbers to determine what day of the week to call. But it isn't enough. He needs more staff and says he is hiring them.

The phone lines are now open at the department at 8 a.m. but close early at 4:30. p.m. And there are no  Saturday hours. Weekday hours could be extended into the early evening as states like New York have done and where the jobless can also file their applications over the phone all day Saturday.

It matters because the vast majority of those losing their jobs are low-income workers from the services sector, restaurant and hotel staffs among them. Waiting for weeks to file for their jobless benefits represents a hardship for many who live paycheck to paycheck.

The $2 trillion coronavirus relief bill passed by Congress provides much largess to the states to help with their unemployed.

MLG and her team have done a bang-up job in testing for coronavirus, clearly communicating and coming early with a shut down order that could very well be saving lives. That's the highest fruit to pick off the tree, but they can also grab some of the lower lying stuff and make their grades even better--and the state better for it.


A scathing attack ad against southern congressional candidate Yvette Herrell broke what proved to be a temporary taboo on negative campaigning for the June primary that settled over the state in the wake of the coronavirus crisis.

The harsh hit piece, financed by an oil money backed super PAC called Citizens United for NM, was jarring, coming as it did amid news of increased infections and deaths here.

The ad, featuring numerous unflattering photos of Herrell and shot in stark in black and white, aims to contradict her professed loyalty to President Trump by citing her past actions.

The hit piece is not formally associated with the campaign of Herrell's chief rival, Claire Chase, a member of a prominent wealthy SE oil family, but that didn't stop Herrell from calling her out:

The decision by Claire Chase’s Super PAC to run a false attack ad filled with lies against me is disgusting. Claire should be ashamed, especially at a time when President Trump and New Mexicans have called for unity while we focus on the massive health and economic crisis. These false attacks from Claire's desperate Super PAC should be immediately pulled from the airwaves.

The PAC'S decision to try to undermine Herrell's support of Trump is not unexpected. It's that very issue that has undermined Chase's campaign whose attacks on Trump on her Facebook page before he became president have proved to be a drag on her candidacy. At the March GOP preprimary convention Chase was crushed in a landslide, losing to Herrell by 66 to 33 percent.

The high intensity PAC ad in the middle of a somber national emergency revealed just how much ground the Chase supporters believe she must make up and their willingness to gamble to do it. How that goes down with the Republican faithful remains to be seen but for New Mexicans not involved in the race the ad was jolting. Said one Dem consultant:

Given its timing, that ad comes across like someone screaming obscenities at a funeral service. 

One place the ad was getting rave reviews was at the headquarters of Dem US Rep. Xochitl Torres Small as they hoped the internal GOP skirmish will play into their hands as a similar stand-off did two years ago. 

Our media insiders report the buy for the ad is $46,000 for one week on ABQ broadcast stations. 

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Thursday, April 02, 2020

La Politica Potpourri: A Remote Legislature, Keeping Your Distance, A Dicey Decision, Another Doc Runs And The Dineobellator 

Can the New Mexico Legislature meet over the Internet and avoid gathering in Santa Fe for a special or regular session? Most of the legal beagles being quoted say no, that the state Constitution mandates that they must meet in person at the capitol. Then there's this "read it any way you like" memo from the Legislative Council Service (LCS):

The coronavirus outbreak presents significant challenges to legislative action that may be necessary at a time when state and national public health directives call for limitations on mass gatherings and observance of social distancing. On one hand, the Constitution of New Mexico does not provide the framework that allows other states to conduct sessions without members physically present or outside the seat of government. On the other hand, the current public health emergency presents a situation not experienced in more than 100 years.

Okay, LSC, thanks for something, but it appears we need a definitive answer from the Supreme Court. If Internet sessions are not allowed, the Legislature could consider placing a constitutional amendment before the voters this November allowing for such meetings in the event of future emergencies. By the way, state Sen. John Arthur Smith said Tuesday "late June" is the date he discussed with the Governor for the special session that is needed because of the coronavirus/oil price crisis.


Our Wednesday question was answered. Automated Election Services in Rio Rancho, which used to be Ink Impressions has the state contract to print ballots and would be the vendor for any all mail election that was decided for the June 2 primary. The company has done all mail election for APS and CNM. Ernie Marques is the elections director for the firm. There are no lobbyists listed for the company on the SOS site. The matter of an all mail election is before the NM Suprme Court,


Reader Alton Donnell comes with reaction to that social distancing map that was used at MLG's news conference and showed many rural areas of New Mexico getting a failing grade:

Joe, A very casual look at the scoreboard appears to be biased against low population density areas. Initially, they put how far you traveled into the score. Hmm. Now they’ve added a grade for how much the distance you travel has changed. Also, hmm. If they really used just cell phone data, they should be able to exclude immediate family (in your house) and come up with a real measure. A count of how many strangers you came within 6’ of.

That map was done by a company called Unacast, headquartered in New York.


New York Governor Andrew Cuomo, at the epicenter of the coronavirus outbreak, said at his daily briefing Wednesday:

Cuomo warned that the current numbers show “it’s a New York problem today” but “tomorrow it’s a Kansas problem, a Texas problem, a New Mexico problem.”

New Mexico reports six deaths from the virus and a total of 363 positive cases, as of Wednesday afternoon.


It seems dicey that the construction industry is exempted from the Guv's stay at home order and is deemed "essential" but the city of ABQ will take advantage of it:

Mayor Keller focused Wednesday. . . on nearly $70 million in construction projects that the administration is initiating in the next six months. “Under the necessary public health guidelines, it’s important to keep the city running and build some sort of bulwark for recovery. That’s why the City and the local construction industry are teaming up to accelerate what construction projects we can to help prevent layoffs, take advantage of empty streets and buildings, and provide critical momentum toward long-term economic recovery from this serious crisis."


We blogged of the entry of Dr. Willie Orr into the Dem primary for the state House seat held by Marian Matthews in the ABQ NE Heights. And that brought this:

I wanted to flag for you that the candidate I'm working with, Dr. Martin Hickey, is also an MD running for the NM Legislature. He's running in NE Heights Senate District 20 for the seat being vacated by Republican Sen. Bill Payne.

Also on the medical beat, from DC:

Senators Udall and Martin Heinrich announced that the recently-enacted Families First Coronavirus Response Act will result it an estimated $250 million increase in federal Medicaid funding for New Mexico over a 12-month period to provide added relief to the state, which will face growing costs due to the spread of the novel coronavirus (COVID-19).

NM can use it. MLG said this week she will be expanding Medicaid eligibility because of the virus crisis.


The NM GOP reports:

In the GOP U.S. Senate race, Gavin Clarkson will now be on the ballot after he collected an additional 1,503 signatures. He’ll join Elisa Martinez and Mark Ronchetti, who both received more than the required 20% at the pre-primary convention.

In the northern Dem congressional race, John Blair is getting an early start with this ad running on broadcast and cable. At this point the opponents of Teresa Leger Fernandez have to be hoping she makes a mistake, after she landlslided all of them at the March pre-primary convention. 

R's are running but this district is all D all the time. But you already knew that. . .


From Smithsonian magazine:

A new carnivorous feathered dinosaur, coyote-sized with razor-sharp teeth and claws, has been discovered in New Mexico’s San Juan Basin. The small but formidable predator called Dineobellator would have stalked these open floodplains 70 million years ago.

And the modern day descendants of the Dineobellator are known today as political consultants.

That's it for now, kids. Thanks for the company.

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

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Wednesday, April 01, 2020

Even In A Health Crisis The Cities And Rural NM Part Ways, Plus: Slow The All Mail Primary Train? And: Oil And Gas Upset Over Rep. Ruiloba Court Defeat  

At first glance at this map tracking how New Mexicans are doing complying with the state's stay at home order you might think it's a political map with red representing Republican areas and green for the Dems. Well, it's close.

It seems the counties least likely to stay put are rural, mostly Republican counties while blue BernCo and much of the Dem north get an "A" grade" for staying hunkered down. Lincoln is the only county south of ABQ that gets a green A.

It's yet another example of the sharp divide between the cities and rural counties that has come into sharper focus since the elections of Trump and MLG.

The info is based on cellphone tracking and was released at the Governor's news conference Monday by Dr. David Scrase, Secretary of the Human Services Department. He said NM overall earns only a "C" grade for limiting the interpersonal mingling. MLG chastised the public that have been seen gathering in large numbers in big box store parking lots and other locales, saying:

This is not safe for your family. It’s unfair to your neighbors. It’s unfair to every single New Mexican.

Compliance in Dona Ana County falls short while big BernCo and Santa Fe make the grade. Some of it has to do with Las Cruces not being in the ABQ media market where the stay at home message is pounded home.

The noncompliance in rural New Mexico can be seen as somewhat political. They did not vote for MLG and she gets her worst poll ratings there and Trump gets his best. But the coronavirus is nonpartisan and as Dr. Scrase warned, rural areas are far from exempt from its effects.


Secretary of State Maggie Toulouse Oliver was going to do her dardnest to avoid an all mail in election but now she's joined with county clerks in seeking an emergency order from the NM Supreme Court to go to an all mail election for the June 2 primary because of the coronavirus threat. Too fast? It does raise questions:

Mailing hundreds of thousands of ballots to Dem and R primary voters and not getting a ton of returns?

Can't the state cut down on the number of days early in-person voting is conducted as well as the number of Election Day precincts?

 Can't counties quickly hire some of the many young people thrown out of work because of the shutdown and let them replace older poll workers worried about going out?

And how are we going to get mailed ballots to the many members of the Navajo Nation in short order?

Many more questions will arise in this debate. Back to the return issue with the state GOP:

The lawsuit exemplifies these mail-in ballot dangers as manifested in the 2019 Albuquerque Public Schools bond and mill levy election. In that local election, more than 53,000 mail-in ballots out of 121,454 were returned as undeliverable.

The R's have filed a lawsuit in the Supreme Court to stop any all mail election.

Let NM think about this, Supremes and MTO, before you change precedent forever. Creative solutions are out there. Sometimes democracy is expensive and inconvenient. But it's worth it.


Joe, what company would get the contract for all those mail ballots the state would order if we went to all mail elections this year? Do they have a lobbyist?

Answers go to: newsguy@yahoo.com


Rep. Ruiloba
Reaction now to that court ruling we told you about Tuesday that removed ABQ Dem state Rep. Patricio Ruiloba from the June 2 primary ballot after Republicans challenged his petition signatures for not listing the humber of his district (12). An oil and gas Alligator snapped at the R's:

Ruiloba should have followed the proper procedure. But (NM GOP Chairman) Pearce and  (House Minority Leader) Townsend getting involved have guaranteed them the loss of a pro-life, pro-second amendment, pro-oil and gas vote, further jeopardizing their ability to get anything done at all with their phone booth caucus.

You gotta love that Alligator angle. That's why we keep them well fed.

Ruiloba confirms that he is appealing his removal from the ballot.There is no R running. Independents and write-ins have until June 25 to file petitions to get on the November ballot.


KOB-TV hunkered down when asked to reveal which member of its staff had contracted the coronavirus, with the general manager telling employees in a memo:

. . . As this virus moves through our community, I believe this will be a nonissue.

But the critics demanded transparency and they got it this week when news reporter Chris Ramirez revealed that he had contracted the virus, probably while traveling to New York. Fortunately, he says he has recovered. See, that wasn't so hard, was it?


We interviewed with Santa Fe radio talk show host  Richard Eeds Tuesday. Hmm. . . Wonder what there was to chat about? You can hear it here. Eeds also interviewed Senator John Arthur Smith, chairman of the Senate Finance Committee, about his outlook for the state's finances.

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Tuesday, March 31, 2020

ABQ State Rep Ruled Off Ballot, GOP Rep. Powdrell-Culbert Also In Peril, Sen Ortiz y Pino Survives Challenge, Plus: In Person Primary Voting? Case Goes To NM Supremes 

Several under the radar legal hearings made loud political news Monday. When they were over, a Democratic state representative lost his bid to stay on the June primary ballot, a GOP state representative's future was up in the air and a Dem state Senator was breathing a sigh of relief after withstanding a court challenge. Now the details.

At the conclusion of this year's legislative session Republican State Rep. Jane Powdrell-Culbert said of the 2020 election: "We're declaring war!"  But Powdrell-Culbert could become one of the first casualties of that rhetorical war.

When all was said and done at a district court hearing Powdrell-Culbert, a fixture at the Roundhouse since 2003 representing a Sandoval County district, appeared to come up short in the number of valid petition signatures needed to be placed on the June 2 primary ballot.

The judge did not rule immediately after the hearing, but the attorney for Democrat Gary Tripp, who is seeking the Powdrell Culbert seat, argued she did not have enough signatures because some of her petition forms did not list the number of her legislative district (44). After those signatures were disqualified she failed to have enough to make the ballot.

The judge will make the decision, but petition gathering is now conducted under what's known as  the "strict liability" standard that was set into law by the 2017 legislature and clearly enunciated by Secretary of State Maggie Toulouse Oliver. Also, the requirement of listing the district number is listed on the petition forms.

If Powdrell fails to qualify for the ballot it won't be a free ride for Tripp, a former director of the NM  Activities Association. Libertarian Jeremy Meyers is running and Republicans could rally around that candidacy to keep what has been a safe R district in their column. If not, the Dems could score a major coup, getting a seat they never expected to have.

It was a similar story for Democratic Rep. Patricio Ruiloba of ABQ's South Valley. He failed to list his House district number (12) on his petition forms and the district court ruled he failed to qualify for the ballot. Political consultant Sisto Abeyta says Ruiloba told him he will appeal the ruling.

Ruiloba's heavy Dem seat features no Republican candidate. However, write-in and independent candidates have until June 25 to file petitions to get on the ballot and someone most surely will.

A further wrinkle is that a person filing an independent candidacy has to be registered as a "decline to state" voter since January 25. That makes it more difficult for the Dems to slip in a candidate to replace Ruiloba, but they'll work on it,

Then there's veteran ABQ Dem Senator Jerry Ortiz y Pino. His petition signatures were challenged by Republicans who claimed some signatures were not from valid voters but after the hearing the court found that Ortiz y Pino, who represents a downtown/ABQ Valley seat, had a sufficient number. He has held the heavy Dem seat since 2005. Republican Lisa Meyer-Hagen is running unopposed for the GOP nomination.


It's a moving target on whether NM will have in-person voting for the June 2 primary. SOS Maggie Toulouse Oliver's office told us late last week that plans were still moving forward for such voting, but Monday a large group of county clerks (including BernCo's Linda Stover) asked the NM Supreme Court for an emergency order that would make the election an all-mail election with no in-person early voting or Election Day voting.

More than two dozen county clerks asked the state Supreme Court for an emergency order that would allow them to move to a mail-in election for the June 2 primary. The clerks said they otherwise face an impossible choice — putting voters’ and election workers’ lives at risk or violating their oath of office. “The state of New Mexico faces a public health emergency unprecedented in modern times,” the clerks said in an their emergency petition, An attorney for Secretary of State Maggie Toulouse Oliver, New Mexico’s chief election officer, also signed onto the petition. The 27 clerks — mostly Democrats but also including five Republicans — argued that poll workers are scared to work and that election sites, such as schools, are already closed with no plans to re-open.

Canceling in-person voting would be a huge challenge and immediately raised questions about the impact it would have on Native Americans and others.

ABQ Dem State Senator Daniel Ivey-Soto, the attorney who filed the petition, says the movement for an all-mail election came together over the weekend. Under the plan absentee ballot "service centers" would be established where voters could pick up and drop off their absentee ballots but where only disabled voters could cast ballots.

The plan would be to mail absentee ballots to all registered voters. However, when that was done in the 2019 ABQ school bond election tens of thousands were returned because the addresses were wrong. The voters had moved.

No one knows what health conditions will be mid-May when early in-person voting is scheduled, but the high court has a doozy of a case on its hands. We'll blog more about it in the days ahead.

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Monday, March 30, 2020

Turnout For Primary Could Take Deep Dive Because Of Virus Crisis, SOS Urges Absentee Voting But Election Day Vote Still On, Also: Candidate Fund-Raising Pitches Looks Out Of Position During Crisis  

UPDATE: This news broke Monday afternoon:

More than two dozen of New Mexico’s county clerks asked the state Supreme Court on Monday for an emergency order that would allow them to move to a mail-in election for the June 2 primary.The clerks said they otherwise face an impossible choice — putting voters’ and election workers’ lives at risk or violating their oath of office. “The state of New Mexico faces a public health emergency unprecedented in modern times,” the clerks said in an their emergency petition, filed Monday. An attorney for Secretary of State Maggie Toulouse Oliver, New Mexico’s chief election officer, also signed onto the petition.

The price of oil might not be the only thing crashing in New Mexico. The turnout for the June 2 primary election could also do a deep dive, according to a number of election watchers.

The coronavirus crisis is pushing poltical news (and interest) to the back burner. Also, there is no spirited Dem presidential contest this year as there was in 2016 when Bernie Sanders and Hillary Clinton fought a close battle for the state that Clinton narrowly won and that bumped turnout. Throw in the fear that some voters have of going to the polls in the wake of the virus attack and the inability of candidates to have much personal contact with voters and you have a recipe for a low turnout. How low? in 2016, 214,000 voters were cast in the D prez contest. A 25 percent drop would take that to about 160,000.

There is a competitive race for the Dem nomination for the northern congressional district so that could be the spot where turnout holds its own.

Republican turnout is also expected to dip. In 2016, 104,000 voted in the R' spresidential primary, even though Donald Trump had locked up the nomination by the time the action got here. Still, former GOP Bernalillo County Commissioner and City Councilor Michael Wiener predicts the 2020 primary could see a record low percentage of R's going to the polls:

There is not much to get them out. No presidential contest and most Republicans believe the US Senate race is a foregone conclusion, that Rep. Ben Ray Lujan (the Dem nominee) will easily win in November no matter who the R nominee is. I'm afraid the GOP Senate primary is being likened to the  fattening up of a sacrificial lamb.

However, Wiener says there could be a decent  GOP turnout in the southern congressional race due to the competition for the GOP nomination between Yvette Herrell and Claire Chase. However, the crisis has made it difficult to garner any widespread attention and it is going to stay that way into May as the virus escalates and people remain preoccupied with the health threat.

If turnout does indeed tumble, who benefits? Political consultant Steve Cabiedes says:

A low turnout in the legislative primary contests would seem to favor the incumbents. They have the name ID. With little coverage of the campaigns and the difficulty of in-person campaigning because of the coronavirus, it could be difficult for challengers to generate the interest and votes needed to defeat an incumbent.

That scenario would be music to the ears of several state senators who are members of the Senate's conservative coalition and who have been targeted by progressive challengers. That includes well-known names such as Senate Finance Committee Chairman John Arthur Smith and Senators Clemente Sanchez and Mary Kay Papen.


Secretary of State Maggie Toulouse Oliver, BernCo County Clerk Linda Stover an all other county clerks are going to make a major push for absentee balloting in the primary so voters don't have to mix it up at the polls. There is already a website up where voters can request absentee ballots and begin sending them back May 5.

As for the early in-person voting and Election Day voting, there are no current plans to cancel then and go to an all-mail election. The SOS's office says this is where they stand today:

. . . An all-mail election is not likely for the primary, given the logistical and time constraints. . . As of now, there are no plans to change the date or the procedures of the June 2 primary. . . We’re encouraging the use of absentee ballots as a secure way for people to practice social distancing while also exercising their civic duty. Secretary Toulouse Oliver’s goal is to give eligible voters as many ways to participate in their democracy as possible. 

Our four-week early vote period, plus the use of no-fault absentee ballots, give voters a variety
of ways to participate while also limiting social contact. . .We’re still waiting on the specifics of what help the federal government might give to states and how it can be used, but whatever funds New Mexico receives will be used to ensure all eligible voters can participate in the 2020 elections without jeopardizing anyone’s health and safety.

One serious problem with all-mail elections is the high rate of returned ballots from registered voters who no longer live at the address at which they are registered. However, political consultants we asked do see an eventual move toward all-mail elections here and elsewhere because of the coronavirus crisis.

You can request an absentee ballot from now until May 28th, but the ballot must be received by 7 p.m. June 2nd. More on absentee voting here.


Unless you are among the most hardcore partisans, you're probably put off by the fundraising pitches from political candidates during this national emergency. It's not only untimely but unnecessary and often undignified for the candidates to be on the attack against their opponents and asking for money when so many of their constituents are in financial peril. That's why this note from southern Dem Congresswoman Xochitl Torres Small seems to strike the right tone in these troubled times:

We understand this is a challenging time for all of us. If you would like to opt-out of our fundraising emails while this COVID-19 public health crisis continues, that’s completely okay -- please let us know. If you have comments, questions, or ideas regarding COVID-19, please let us know. We appreciate you being part of this campaign, however and whenever you can be!

How about candidates use their fund-rising lists for a month to raise money, not for their campaigns, but for worthwhile groups that assist the tens of thousands of New Mexicans who have lost their jobs or may lose their businesses?

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Thursday, March 26, 2020

"Dangerous Don”? ABQ Councilor Stirs Pot With Controversial Coronavirus Comments; Guv's Office Pushes Back, TV Station Goes Dark On Reporting Employee Coronavirus Case And Our Continuing Oil Crash Coverage 

Councilor Harris
ABQ GOP City Councilor Don Harris is getting pushback after controversial comments on the coronavirus in New Mexico--comments the Governor's office calls "dangerous."

Harris has become one of the first elected officials to publicly question the Governor's stay at home order to combat the coronavirus. Several hours after the first reported NM death from the virus was reported Wednesday, Harris told us:

I am sensing that  the Governor is going lockstep with places that have much different problems than we do, particularly New York. Testing there shows a very high infection rate, while in New Mexico it is two percent. You can't treat the country as a unified entity when New Mexico is a sparsely populated state and has a a different climate than New York.

The longtime councilor, first elected in 2005 from District 9 in the far NE Heights, also brought up the hot button issue of possible increased suicides among the millions of workers laid off because of the shuttering of much of the economy. President Trump brought up the same issue but the AP came with a fact check that disputes that notion.

Harris, an attorney in private practice, urged an "open discussion" about the stay at home order, saying his chief concern is that it could be extended beyond the scheduled April 10 expiration, causing extensive economic harm.

Hopefully we will have some good data by April 10 and be very cautious about extending it and with regard to whom and how long. We should talk about the young people resuming normal life and keep those people away from the elderly. I think we need to have an open discussion about the harm that the economic lockdown is doing to people.

Harris wrote on Facebook that his speaking out was prompted by the state's use of the emergency alert system Wednesday to urge all New Mexicans to stay home:

I received an emergency text from the Governor or her agency ordering me to stay home. At the time I was walking in the foothills. . . Albuquerque ranks number one in the nation in per capita for land devoted to open space and we are the fifth least-densely populated state in the country with 17 people per square mile on average. We have a high-desert climate with lots of sun and virus killing UV radiation. We are not New York City.

Harris also questions ABQ Mayor Keller's order closing city golf courses:

People can stay six feet away from each other. Why not let people go out and golf?

Harris is up for re-election in 2021 but he tells us he is "uncertain" about seeking another term.

Gov. MLG

Governor's office spokeswoman Nora Myers Sackett came with this response to the Harris comments:

Councilor Harris' misinformed comments are not only misdirected, they are downright dangerous.

The only way to prevent a spike in the infection rate is with measures exactly like what Governor Lujan Grisham is doing; a statewide stay-at-home instruction, closing of non-essential businesses. That is the only way to flatten the curve and not overwhelm the state's health care facilities, at which point the public health emergency will be disastrous.

If is critically dangerous for the Councilor to imply that only the elderly are affected by COVID-19. That is categorically false. The majority of New Mexico's cases are under the age of 50. Like most viral infections, high-risk individuals are more at risk, but every New Mexican is at risk of contracting COVID-19. That is why it is essential that all New Mexicans stay home. Period. It is the only way to slow the spread of COVID-19.

New Mexico's sunshine will not eradicate COVID-19. I am dismayed that an elected official would suggest something so dangerous. The governor understands the terrible situation that this public health emergency puts our economy in – but the alternative, should the spread of COVID-19 not be stopped, is even greater economic and public health devastation.

The only way to slow the spread of COVID-19 is for New Mexicans to stay home and not interact with each other. Not just older New Mexicans, all ​New Mexicans. Any New Mexican is susceptible to this virus. Want proof? A baby under one was recently announced as having tested positive for COVID-19, with no known exposure to anyone else who had tested positive. This is not a virus of the elderly, and if New Mexicans, including Councilor Harris, do not take this seriously, we will feel the repercussions for months to come.


Our ongoing coverage of the oil crash and its impact on New Mexico continues with comment and analysis from Bob Gallagher, a former executive director of the NM Oil and Gas Association:

Joe, It is clear that Saudi Arabia has just won control of the oil market. The price war with Russia which resulted in them adopting a policy to maximize production levels brought oil prices sharply lower. The new policy is long-term. Obviously American shale producers do not like this because it will drastically decrease their revenues and probably result in bankruptcy for several companies. 

The Saudi's continue to export close to 10 million barrels per day and still have spare capacity of approximately 2 million barrels per day. Next month Saudi Arabia will surpass Russia to become the world's second largest producer and I would guess within the next two years they will pass the United States and become, once again, the largest producer in the world. They can produce a barrel of oil for $9 per barrel!

The CEO of Aramco, the Saudi oil and gas company, said, “(We) can sustain the very low price and can sustain it for a long time.” This will allow them to increase their market share. Aramco’s CFO said “we are very comfortable we can meet our shareholders expectations at $30 a barrel or lower."

This is an all out attack on the hydraulic fracturing for shale oil companies in NM and elsewhere and a lethal attack on the finances of New Mexico. Oil at $30 per barrel or lower should frighten the Governor, lawmakers and every New Mexican. It is real and it is here as we speak. 

Oil closed Wednesday at around $24 a barrel.


We reported this week that a male employee of KOB-TV has been stricken with the coronavirus. That has been confirmed but the station says it is not going to report the news even though it did report about a PNM employee bring stricken as well as a hospital employee contracting the virus. KOB General Manager Michelle Donaldson wrote this memo to the station's staff:

Since being asked. .  .if we should be reporting this, I have changed my position. . . I asked the question about whether we were reporting the employers of other patients. Someone pointed out to me that we had reported a case at PNM and one health institution. Upon further consideration I realize that PNM employs a HUGE number of people. So does the health institution (the VA). Out of privacy concerns, I am electing that we do NOT report this on our news. . . We may reconsider this later. But once its reported, you can't take it back. And honestly as this virus moves through our community, I believe this will be a nonissue. This is my decision for now.

Our media Alligators who aided with this update wondered what privacy concerns Donaldson is thinking of. The individual's name is not going to be released.

And is it only news if only employees at "HUGE" companies contract the coronavirus, not at one of the most well-known institutions in the state which KOB is? And the presumption that the KOB case will be a "nonissue" because the coronavirus is going to increase dramatically, is not yet operative. There have only been 113 cases thus far in a state of two million.

KOB may want to consider applying the same transparency standards to itself as it demands from the institutions it covers. That way they could really stand for New Mexico.

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Wednesday, March 25, 2020

On The Media Beat, Tracking The Oil Crash, Defending MLG, Big Bill On Crisis And The Campaign Watch 

New Mexico continues to be grateful that even as the coronavirus case count goes up--it hit one hundred Tuesday--the state still reports zero deaths. Of course, that could change but with social distancing measures in effect, we have reason for continued hope.

(Unfortunately, the state reported its first coronavirus death Wednesday, an Eddy County man in his late 70's with underlying health issues.)

Now to the blog news of the day and we kick it off on the media beat. . .

The state's newspapers are getting hit hard, very hard, by the coronavirus crisis. Advertisers are pulling ads as they shutter their businesses. That leaves the papers in the lurch. Already the Santa Fe New Mexican, Taos News and Santa Fe Reporter have laid off employees. Ads in the ABQ Journal are so few they seem like an oddity.

Also, our Alligators report the coronavirus has struck the media, with a male employee of KOB-TV being stricken. The individual had recently traveled out of state. Like all the TV stations, KOB is deluged with news and is now running a one hour news broadcast at 10 p.m to keep up.

The local stations will take a revenue hit but they are owned by out-of state-corporations that can weather the storm. The newspapers we mentioned are all locally owned.

The irony here is that the number of news consumers is skyrocketing because of the coronavirus but with everything shuttered there is no spending and thus no way to monetize the surge in readers and viewers.

New Mexico, like everywhere else, was waiting Tuesday night for the massive $2 trillion dollar federal stimulus bill to win congressional approval. What exactly our state will get is not yet known.

At ABQ City Hall a staffer involved in the economy watch said the the bill is key to the recovery here. It will pay the salary of furloughed workers for several months of which there are now tens of thousands in the state and metro. The measure would also send $1,200 checks to citizens and give funds to boost the ABQ Sunport and transit, among other things. The bill awaited US Senate action as the blog went to press. . .

The State Investment Council has approved $100 million in loans that will go to mid-sized businesses. The funds come from the Severance Tax Permanent Fund.

That could be just a smidgen of what is needed to keep the economy afloat but it's a start. The problem? The SIC wants interest on the loans--as much as 12 percent. Critics immediately pounced, saying that's punitive and prohibitive and the loans need to be interest free.


Coronavirus is crashing demand for oil. Combined with the Saudi-Russian price war the SE NM Permian Basin is flat on its back. And it's apparently going to start that way for quite some time. The news:

Chevron now expects to pump about 125,000 fewer barrels of oil and gas per day in the Permian Basin by the end of this year, down 20% from its 600,000 barrel per day target. Chevron cut its capital spending budget by $4 billion on Tuesday, leading a wave of cost-cutting announcements across the reeling oil-and-gas industry as the coronavirus pandemic has slashed demand and triggered a dramatic slide in oil prices. The field is its “most flexible” for spending reductions. Chevron has 16 drilling rigs at work in the field now, down from 20 last year, and will drop to fewer than 8, This is the first indication from an oil major of how sharply it would pull back in the Permian, which has made the United States the world’s largest oil producer.

That means widespread layoffs in the SE NM oilfields are right around the corner.


We had readers defending MLG from the critics who did not care for her Monday news conference where she announced more measures to deal with the coronavirus. Janet Steele came with this:

Yes, the criticisms of the Governor’s presentation are nitpicking. I felt reassured by her calm firmness. And she told the truth—unlike the words coming from the White House. Truth over slick presentations anytime.

And reader Rodger Beimer writes:

Compare the MLG news conference/announcement to the rambling non-sensical daily political base rallying posturing of “The Orange One”. I’ll take MLG any day.


Former NM Governor Bill Richardson was on the job when the 2009 financial crisis hit the nation. In an interview with Politico he gave his take on today's crisis:

. . .Former NM Gov. Bill Richardson said “some of the issues that are being proposed and voted on now are going to become the norm in our political system, both with Republicans and Democrats.” He predicted a new normal including paid sick leave, and even guaranteed income of some kind. “In other words,” Richardson said, “the era of big government is back, and both parties are going to embrace it to resolve problems. And [the change] is caused by the virus.”

Veteran politics watcher Steve Cabiedes says Libertarians, who advocate for smaller government, "are on the run. You don't find many of them on social media during this crisis," he reports.


There's little campaign action to report as the health threat is pushing politics aside but here's a few items.  Unsuccessful GOP US Senate candidate Louie Sanchez has endorsed Elisa Martinez for the nomination in the June primary. . .

And there's a doctor running for the state House in what could obviously be a timely candidacy. He's Dr. Willie Orr and is challenging fellow Democrat and State Rep. Marian Matthews who was appointed to District 27 in the ABQ NE Heights seat to replace another medical doctor, Rep. Bill Pratt who passed away.

Dr. Orr says he "specialized in geriatric in private practice, treating the elderly and eventually being the Long-Term Care Medical Director for United Healthcare in Albuquerque."

The R's have several candidates running in their primary so this one will be a spirited contest.

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Tuesday, March 24, 2020

How Long Will It Last? New Mexico Society And Economy Get A Further Crackdown As Governor Battles Coronavirus, Plus: Critics Say Guv's Announcement Missed The Mark In Presentation 

Gov. Lujan Grisham (Moore, Journal)
How long? That simple two word, but exceedingly complicated question is now on the lips of every New Mexican as they absorb the shock of further shutdowns of society announced by Governor Michelle Lujan Grisham Monday in a bid to halt the spread of the coronavirus that has claimed over 500 lives nationally but none so far in this state.

Video here. Public Health Order here.

The "stay at home" order takes effect today and expires April 10. That's 17 days on top of the five days the state has already been restricting public movement to keep the number of deaths at zero. But if the health crisis is still seen as threat the order could be extended beyond April 10.

The Governor confirmed a recent report here that the public schools are unlikely to reopen by the state's April 6 deadline.

In announcing the order MLG said citizens are still gathering in a fashion that violates her original order restricting public movement and that's why the closure of all businesses deemed "nonessential" is necessary.

She and her administration can now only hope it works. If an extension of the order is needed, political and economic tensions are likely to overwhelm the government.

There are numerous exceptions to the order, including allowing hotels and RV camps to operate at 50 percent capacity. The grocery stores and take out restaurants stay open but just about all retail outlets are now closed.

The Governor pleaded with New Mexicans to obey the order, knowing that voluntary compliance is a must because widespread state enforcement is nearly impossible:

I need you to heed this order, I need every New Mexican to do their part. Everyone in this state has a social contract for responsibility for one another. If you don’t take this serious, then we can’t reduce the spread of COVID-19.

As of Monday the state reported a total of 85 coronavirus cases with 9 hospitalizations. Five of those  remained hospitalized.

With increased testing the virus is now found in many rural counties but most cases are still in the population centers of the ABQ metro, Santa Fe and Las Cruces.

The fact that there have been no deaths is a double-edged word. It is great news, but could be discouraging citizens from isolating and taking the outbreak as seriously as MLG and health authorities desire.

13 other states now have orders similar to the one MLG put in place. However, none of the states bordering ours has, although each of them has had virus deaths. 

The public health is of paramount importance but the wreckage of the state economy is a close second. If the clampdown is not extended, the damage will be extensive but manageable. A longer lockdown and the state will enter a depression that would exacerbate the state's already serious addiction and crime problems; prompt further depopulation by our younger residents; permanently close an untold number of businesses already teetering before the order; reduce the overall size of the economy and collapse the tax base.


The Governor has not hesitated during this crisis, making the tough calls and doing so with able cabinet officials assisting her. She has earned widespread praise for her demeanor and knowledge.  But political observers say Monday's news conference broadcast live on the major network affiliates and streamed online was a miss in a number of ways. We rounded them up.

--The announcement/news conference was widely promoted as starting at 3 p.m. but didn't go off until 3:17 p.m. Citizens fixated on their TV sets were left to wonder what was going on. That wait contrasted with the Governor's precise timing for today's "stay at home" order of 8 a.m.

--She did not appear in a close-up view, but from a distance at various angles depending on where each station positioned their camera. Instead of using a desk, she was at a large podium. That's her default choice but not the one for an announcement of this magnitude. (Think of how a major speech is made from the Oval Office).

--The news conference held at the state House chambers was cluttered with signs posted behind the Governor that were unreadable on television.

--The chamber emits a light echo that her microphone didn't eliminate and that hampered the delivery. Reporters questions were often difficult to understand. It didn't help that the stations did not picture the questioners, just the disembodied voice.

--The Governor went free form with this major announcement, not reading a prepared and concise script to keep her message direct and simple. She wandered into the weeds about the details of the virus, information that is important but not necessary. She never did read the actual public health order she issued which is quite readable and easy for the viewer to grasp.

The presentation, criticized as "amateurish" and "not reassuring" in some social media quarters, begs for examination by her staff and PR experts.

The take of the critics may be dismissed by some as nitpicking but this was one of the most consequential moments in state history--the blocking of the vast majority of New Mexico's social and economic movement. It doesn't get bigger than that and demands the best in crisis communications. How it's presented has an enormous influence on how the public responds. There could be more such moments to come for this Governor. To be effective as possible they will have to be accompanied by more gravitas and professionalism than was in evidence Monday.

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Monday, March 23, 2020

State's Leadership Preps For Special Mid-June Legislative Session; House Speaker Egolf Weighs In On What To Expect, Says NM Is "Not In A Fiscal Crisis." Is "Cautiously Optimistic" On Coronavirus Resolution 

New Mexico's political leadership is prepping for a mid-June special legislation session as they grapple with the coronavirus pandemic and plunging oil prices.

House Speaker Brian Egolf tells us the session, which he would like to last "a day or two," would be a virtual meeting, unless the current health threat is greatly diminished.

Think of the 70 House members and 42 senators in webinars, with plenty of avenues for the public to participate electronically.

The Roundhouse is already known as a Petri dish during in-person sessions, sending colds and viruses quickly around the building. Many lawmakers are over 60 years old, the group most vulnerable to the virus.

Given current technology, Egolf says ensuring full public participation should not be a problem in a virtual session.

Egolf flatly states that New Mexico is not in a "fiscal crisis" thanks to the Governor and lawmakers setting aside reserves of $1.9 billion (an updated figure from the LFC that includes road money recently vetoed by MLG).

House Dems, he declared, will not support budget cuts to recurring spending such as recent teacher pay hikes but could look for savings in "one-time" expenditures such as road projects that have been stalled or don't have enough money to get the go ahead.

The worst thing we could do right now with all the chaos is to reduce or change the paychecks of educators, police officers, firefighters and state employees. No good comes from  putting less money into New Mexico's people. As the largest employer in the state by far, we need to support our employees, just as the private sector makes a payroll.

Egolf pointed to the ongoing Great Recession of the 2010's and presided over by GOP Governor Martinez who implemented austerity policies that dramatically cut state government.

The last administration tried to to use budget cuts to get out of an economic crisis. The results are plain. They utterly failed. I am very, very confident that Gov. Lujan Grisham will learn from the mistake of  her predecessor and we will not pursue austerity. The last time we did, Colorado and Arizona spent wisely and left us in the dust while it was a lost decade for New Mexico. 

Speaker Egolf
Egolf is in close consultations with the Governor as the health crisis unfolds. He praised her actions and says a resolution here may not be far off:

The Governor's decisions have been really difficult but she is getting nearly unanimous support among elected officials on both sides. It's been pretty remarkable. Look at Colorado or Washington and what happens when you delay the hard decisions  She hasn't. I'm cautiously optimistic that in two weeks we will see the virus curve flattening.

The Guv’s public health emergency order expires April 10. If she has to extend it, the consequences to the economy could be a calamity. No wonder Egolf is emphasizing the positive case. 

Egolf said Dem state reps are busy fielding calls from concerned constituents and troubleshooting issues such as unemployment and medical needs. He said a number of members of the caucus with specific expertise are offering suggestions to the administration on the coronavirus crisis.


We asked Egolf what other issues might be on the Governor's call for a brief special session, besides budget matters:

The bill to strengthen absentee voting provisions that died in the last session is needed more than ever as we head toward something close to an all-mail election in November; a bill to ease professional licensing requirements so we can tap out of state medical talent to deal with emergencies like coronavirus and a bill to keep unemployment taxes on business from soaring because of the mass layoffs we're experiencing. 

House Republicans raised eyebrows when last week they called on the Governor to immediately call a special session. Besides the obvious health concerns that need to be addressed before lawmakers convene, Egolf and MLG pointed out that a massive relief package is under consideration in DC that could send significant money to the state. A June session, they said, would account for that as well as more reliable estimated revenues from oil and gas.

Now in his fourth year as the House Speaker and with most of his foes within his own caucus gone, Egolf speaks with authority. He'll need it if he is to shoot down the budget hawks already circling the capitol and demanding a rollback of the MLG/Egolf agenda.

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Thursday, March 19, 2020


Gov. MLG (Journal)

LATEST: Here's where we're at as of Friday night. According to the state, there are 43 confirmed cases of coronavirus and no deaths in NM. Also, only 3 of those stricken have needed hospitalization. The rest are self-isolating at home. That's from state Human Services spokeswoman Jodi McGinnis Porter. She also tells me that we still have only one case of "community spread." The other cases are related to travel.

Also, we get this from Socorro County Manager Michael Hawkes about the two cases of the virus reported recently in his county:

"The two cases in Socorro County have been released from quarantine and state they are feeling fine and their symptoms were very mild."

It is still early in this outbreak but the hospitalization rate is low. Zero deaths is especially good news. The feared community spread remains at that one case.

It is important to report that the state is urging everyone to continue to stay home and only venture out when necessary. That is the most effective way of stopping the spread and protecting you and your family.

The state of New Mexico plunged further into crisis Wednesday as more unprecedented actions were taken to halt the spread of the coronavirus, actions that will dramatically disrupt the daily lives of over 2 million people and that could inflict the most severe economic damage here since the Great Depression.

(MLG news conference here. AP coverage here. Journal coverage here. Sun-News coverage here. New Mexican coverage here.)

Tens of thousands of New Mexicans were immediately thrown out of work and the survival of an untold number of businesses placed in jeopardy as the state ordered the closure of all indoor shopping malls, restaurants, theaters, including movie theaters and bars and breweries. Also shuttered effective today are racetracks, gyms, spas and flea markets. Offices are ordered to have as many employees work from home as possible. Hotels and motels are ordered to operate at 50 percent of occupancy. Gatherings of more than 10 people are banned.

Hundreds, if not thousands, of other businesses have voluntarily shuttered as state residents hunker down in their homes, obeying the state's request that no one leave except for basic necessities.

In New York, the stock of PNM, the state’s largest electric utility and its only company listed on the NYSE, buckled. In another day of stunning and stomach-churning trading, PNM plummeted as low as $27 before finishing at $31 a share, down 15% in a single day and far below the yearly high of $56. The crash signaled the pain to come for the economy here. 
Adding insult to injury PNM announced one of its employees had contracted the coronavirus.

The sweeping, breathtaking state mandates, so foreign to a democratically ruled people, were announced by New Mexican Governor Michelle Lujan Grisham at a news conference at the state capital of Santa Fe where she repeatedly expressed chagrin over the economic calamity they would cause but sternly defended them as necessary to protect the public from the feared killer virus that has traveled rapidly across the globe.

She asserted, without offering examples, that "there are still far too many New Mexicans coming into contact with one another. We take that very seriously."

Panic has gripped much of the public. New Mexico, like other states, has been beset with the hoarding of groceries, a gun and ammunition buying spree and desperate motorists forming long lines outside of coronavirus test sites. 

As of today, 28 cases of the virus have been confirmed in NM but no deaths. However, one case is now thought to be unrelated to travel and the result of the feared "community spread" which could generate more cases.

The low mortality rate from the virus and the severe measures taken by the government to halt it has led some citizens on social media and talk radio to say it is an overreaction and unnecessarily panicking the public and wrecking the economy. 

"This is an overreaction. The mortality rate of this virus is one percent. We're jumping the shark," declared radio talker Eddy Aragon as he and his ABQ radio audience reacted to the announced restrictions.

Overall, criticism of the latest emergency order was muted. Carla Sonntag, head of the New Mexico Business Coalition, was restrained in assessing the events:

We don't need to live in fear. China hit its peak virus cases pretty quickly. The number of cases is not astronomical. I, like many others, question whether these restrictions are absolutely necessary, but we are not doctors or scientists. I will abide by the Governor's orders and urge others to do the same.

Sonntag predicted widespread business bankruptcies if the state restrictions are extended much beyond the initial end date of April 10 set by the state.

Previously the Governor ordered the closure of all public schools until April 6 but there is doubt surrounding their planned resumption this school year.

While the Governor and Dept. of Health have wielded unprecedented power in this crisis, it is so vast that the question arises of who would enforce violations. Also, punishing citizens could be seen as trying to enforce a form of martial law. Perilous territory. For now, most citizens appeared willing to follow this new world order, their concern over contracting the virus trumping any concerns over their government's powers


Mayor Keller wasted no time in exercising the freshly-minted emergency powers given to him this week by the ABQ city council. He quickly declared a "public health emergency." (video here)

In making the announcement he addressed fears that the new legislation would allow him to confiscate guns or halt alcohol sales. It does neither, he explained, saying the primary purpose for the declaration was to give him more flexibility in freeing up financial resources to address the coronavirus threat.

The mayor made the announcement via a video from city hall. That drew fire from journalists who felt Keller should have stood for questions over his unusual action. And the ACLU said the mayor and council misfired in adopting the legislation, saying it looked like an "overreach."


Top finance officials in the New Mexico government are saying a special session of the Legislature this year appears "inevitable." State revenues are set to dramatically crumble because of the crash in oil prices and the coronavirus threat that is wreaking economic chaos. In a somber discussion conducted on background we were told:

--The state budget reserve is a robust $1.9 billon but only about $300 million of that can be tapped without legislative approval. The state expects to burn through that $300 million in short order.

--Only a very quick rebound in the price of oil will avert a special session. The state is counting on an oil price of $51 a barrel for the fiscal year that starts July 1. The current price is in the low 20's. Each dollar drop represents a loss of about $22 million to the $7.6 billion general fund budget.

--There is no timetable for the special session. Sometime in late summer or early fall is possible. The Governor will make the call on the timing.

--Any special session can also be expected to include discussion of possible tax relief, economic stimulus and possible budget cuts as New Mexico wrestles with yet another energy bust. Much would depend on the state of the economy when the session convenes.

Santa Fe has essentially given up on a "V"shaped recovery in the oil price, where it rebounds to previous high levels in a matter of weeks. They are expecting a classic bear market in which prices stay down for many months. That is the scenario threatening the budget.

In the last two years the state budget has gone from
$6 billion to $7.6 billion, riding on the back of the oil boom. That increase came after 10 years of austerity brought about by the 2008 Great Recession. Now we are headed back down--unless the dynamic starts to turn. For example, Saudi Arabia and Russia could reach a deal to halt their oil price war, letting prices recover.

But even if the price increases the volume of production that has skyrocketed to make NM the third largest oil producing state in America is going to be cut. Low price and low volumes--another double whammy.

The oil boom is centered in the SE NM Permian Basin where drilling is already slowing as a result of the world economic calamity. Thousands are employed there. The job losses could be staggering.

MLG and the Legislature have been happily surfing the wave for two years. Now they are going to crash. The swim to shore will be long and hard.


When the times get tough, we get going--to our posse of "No Bull Shit Economists." Chris Erickson of NMSU is a charter member (what an honor!) and he comes with the no BS take:

With oil at $20 a barrel, the NM Fracking Boom is over. Fracking has resulted in a revolution in the oil patch. Frack wells both produce more oil and over a longer period of time. And the productivity of individual frack wells drilled in New Mexico has increased every year from 2005 to 2017. Geological factors significantly affect cost, but for new wells, $40 a barrel is a commonly cited rule-of-thumb for profitability. With oil in the 20's, we will see a dramatic drop in drilling, meaning rapid decline in oil patch employment. Of course, existing wells will continue to produce and will generate revenue for the state, probably at levels above the pre-fracking average, but well below the current record revenue generated during the last few years.

We'll play it by ear to see whether the news dictates we come out of our isolation bunker for a Friday blog. Meanwhile, REM takes us out of here because, at least for now, it really is "the end of the world as you know it."

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