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Monday, January 22, 2018

NM DC Dems Play With Fire In Gov't Shutdown, Martinez Mulls Her Future, New Legislative Hispanic Caucus Has Work Ahead And Insider Polling Has Webber Leading Santa Fe Mayor's Race  

Sen. Heinrich and Monahan 
A deal was struck Monday to reopen the federal government.

NM Democratic Senators Tom Udall and Martin Heinrich made their point and it gladdened the hearts of the Democratic base, but if the government shutdown drags on for very long because of their party's insistence that a resolution to the immigrants known as Dreamers be included in any budget deal, they could find support sinking fast.

The government shutdown took hold over the weekend and for New Mexico, a state heavily dependent on federal funding and employment, it hits close to home. Udall and Heinrich are going to have balance that reality with the insistence of their base voters that they hang tough until R's cave on the Dreamers.

Heinrich is up for re-election this year but faces no primary challenge and an unknown GOP opponent in Mick Rich. Still, the federal government is largely what drives this state and a long shutdown that causes economic damage isn't in his interest or New Mexico's. Ditto for Udall who isn't up for re-election but who remains under pressure from thousands of NM families to keep the government running and the paychecks deposited.

Heinrich and Udall may have laudable credentials when it comes to protecting immigrant rights but the chaos of shutting down the federal government for an extended period of time will trump their party's determination to force a Dreamer deal.

New Mexico's two US Senators need to keep in mind their primary responsibility while balancing the demands of their most zealous patrons.

SUSANA'S FUTURE

Gov. Martinez squashed speculation that she would try to become a federal judge or the head of NMSU as she prepares to exit the Guv's office at year's end. And she says she won't have an announcement about her future plans until she is all done with being Guv.

There are no political paths open to the two-term Governor, given her polling unpopularity but she might be able to make some coin serving on the boards of directors of companies that would welcome the ethnic diversity that Martinez represents. She also has a lot of government time in and will be eligible for a state pension.

As for her governing legacy, Martinez, 58, gave what she saw as a long litany of accomplishments in her final State of the State speech, many of which were criticized here as fantasy.

In that speech she failed to mention what many observers believe is her major accomplishment and that will give her at least one lasting and positive legacy: Her decision to expand Medicaid under Obamacare and most recently not attempting to force Medicaid receipents to work in order to receive the benefit.

It can be argued that Martinez had no choice but to sign the Medicaid expansion for low income citizens in a Blue state like New Mexico while Red state governors had an easy time turning thumbs down. But she did sign it. And in the future she will get credit for vastly improving the number of citizens who are experiencing easier access to health care and leading healthier lives.

The Legislative Finance Committee January newsletter reported that "more than 850,000 New Mexicans received Medicaid in October, down 3.4 percent from a year ago and up 0.1 percent from September."

That's a huge portion of the state's citizens receiving Medicaid. Many of them, Martinez pointed out, are working but don't make enough money to be disqualified from the program.

There's an important caveat to note here. Martinez's administration made a wreck of the state's behavioral health system, causing pain to thousands of New Mexicans, a circumstance that can't be ignored even while giving her credit on Medicaid. Hers is indeed a mixed overall heathcare record.

Complaints are common that Medicaid recipients often have better health care than some private sector plans. But it can be argued that the problem is not with Medicaid, but with those private plans that are too skimpy.

SOUTHERN CD ACTION

Trying too keep up with who and how many Democrats are running for the nomination for the southern NM US House seat being vacated by Rep. Steve Pearce? So are we and we have the Deming Headlight to help us out:

The Democratic field of candidates in the race to replace Rep. Pearce in New Mexico’s 2nd Congressional district has narrowed to three ahead of the June 5 primary.

There are five candidates seeking the GOP nomination but the main players are former Hobbs Mayor Monty Newman and Alamogordo area state Rep. Yvette Herrell.

By the way, we are getting word that GOP Texas Governor Greg Abbott will soon be in the state to campaign for Pearce who is the lone candidate for the '18 GOP gubernatorial nomination.

WITH A CAPITAL H

JoHanna Cox, an attorney, is the lone GOP contender for the secretary of state nomination. We told you about that last week but in doing so for some reason we also called her JoHanna King and also had a faulty link to her bio. For the record it's JoHanna Cox (with a capital "h") and here's her bio. This is a relatively minor infraction, but still two lashes with the wet noodle will be administered to the blogger's backside.

A NEW CAUCUS

What took so long?

Citing lingering education and poverty issues in one of the nation's most diverse states, a bipartisan coalition of senators announced they will form a Legislative Hispanic Caucus. The announcement came just days after a leadership vote left white lawmakers holding the three top posts for Senate Democrats. 

Sen. Jacob Candelaria, D-Albuquerque said the caucus was not created specifically in response to the recent leadership vote. But at least one other senator suggested it sends a "message." New Mexico has the largest percentage of Hispanic residents in the nation - about 47 percent as of the last census - but until now has not had a formal Hispanic caucus. 

Long overdue, for sure, but what about Hispanic Dem Senators playing coalition politics with the Republicans? That's how one of their own was deprived of the president pro tem position. Maybe the first rule of the Hispanic Caucus should be "Learn to Stick Together."

WEBBER LEADS

Alan Webber is the front-runner in the Santa Fe mayor's race, according to two insider polls we've seen. The election is in March. Webber, a Democratic entrepreneur, has been endorsed by new ABQ Dem Mayor Tim Keller. But the election is not a done deal. City Councilor Ron Trujillo and Kate Noble--both Dems--are also polling well in the Santa Fe contest that will decide who will replace outgoing Mayor Javier Gonzales who is now seeking the Dem nomination for lieutenant governor.

One interesting sidebar: In one of the surveys only 39 percent of likely voters thought the City Different was headed in the right direction.

Public turnout for the mayoral forums has been more than healthy. 800 showed up for the most recent one. Does that foreshadow a large turnout like the one we saw last year in the ABQ mayoral race? Could be.

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Thursday, January 18, 2018

ABQ Repeat Offender Mystery Resolved; Study Says There Are Plenty, Plus: PNM And You; Big Bond Plan Draws Scrutiny, Also: What We Missed in '17 

Along with you we've wondered about the constant refrain that repeat offenders are largely responsible for the ABQ area crime wave. Former ABQ police sergeant and APD watchdog Dan Klein even called on UNM to conduct a study so we would not be flying dark. Well, UNM didn't, but the Legislative Finance Committee did and comes with this take on the thorny problem:

-- 62 percent of arrests involve suspects who have been arrested three or more times; 20.4 percent involve suspects who've been incarcerated 10 or more times before.

-- Repeat offenders statistically are more likely to commit violent crimes the more times they're arrested. First time arrestees commit violent crimes only 23 percent of the time while people who have been arrested eight or more times commit violent crimes 72 percent of the time.

-- Albuquerque has the worst crime rates among the 30 largest U.S. cities.

So what to do? The LFC report points out:

According to National Institute of Justice, police deter crime by increasing the perception that criminals will be caught and punished. Sending an individual convicted of a crime to prison isn’t a very effective way to deter future crime. The swiftness and certainty of being caught is a vastly more powerful deterrent than the punishment.

And that leads back to the major officer shortage at APD. Fewer cops means the "swiftness and certainty of being caught" is an idle threat to the city's criminal class.

PNM AND YOU

A glimmer of good news on electric rates for New Mexicans. PNM's planned rate hike  over the next two years is in the 2 percent range instead of the double-digit range. And you can thank, in part, President Trump's tax corporate tax cut. (Hey, how come PNM didn't give us a break when Susana--with the help of the Dems--passed a 2013 corporate income tax cut?)

PNM still has problems, chief among them paying the big bill for dismantling the coal-fired plants in the Four Corners that are now dinosaurs in the era of climate change. ABQ Dem westside Senator Jacob Candelaria was scored on the opening day of the Legislature for his sponsorship of a bill that progressive Dems call a $350 million "coal bailout" for PNM. Candelaria responds:

 The bill does what 13 other states have done when faced with the challenge of shutting down coal and nuclear power plants. It gives the Public Regulation Commission (PRC) the ability to approve the issuance of bonds that get a much lower interest rate to pay for the shuttering of coal burning plants and transition to renewable forms of energy.  Without this bill, PNM would have to pay a much higher interest rate.

Some say punish PNM. Make them pay a higher interest rate for shutting down the coal plants. They should have known 30 years ago that coal would become too expensive. But then, so should have state regulators who approved the leasing of those plants. That kind of vindictive politics feels good, sure. But who suffers? Ratepayers. 

With this bill ratepayers save over $100 million in interest costs alone.  This bill requires that any savings on reduced bond interest rates be passed along to ratepayers. The claim by New Energy Economy that this bill would be a windfall for shareholders is false. As is their claim that these bonds would be backed by taxpayers. That is also completely false. I’m more interested in getting NM out of coal, and saving my constituents money than I am about extracting a pound of flesh from PNM. 

A petition circulating by foes of the PNM bond bill and to be delivered to the legislative leadership points put that a surcharge would be put on your electric bill to pay off the bonds for shuttering the coal-fired plants and demands that PNM shoulder the burden:

PNM's "Energy Redevelopment Bonding Act” will force ratepayers to pay the $350 million to Wall St. bondholders (who have paid PNM up front) from a monthly increase on everyone's electric bill. It’s time to hold PNM accountable, to protect ratepayers from PNM’s greed, and deny PNM a bailout resulting from their utility management malpractice!

A THOUSAND KIDS

The first big demonstration of the 30 day session is today. From Allen Sanchez at CHI St. Joseph's Children who we do work with:

The annual One Thousand Kid March in support of using the Land Grant Permanent Fund for early childhood education and care will take place at the Roundhouse. The need for expanded early childhood education and care in New Mexico is more crucial now than ever. Early Childhood Programs are fundamentally important in protecting children. Of children ages 0-5, the poverty rate is 36%, the worst in the nation. Yet we have A $17 billion Permanent Fund dedicated to the education of our children. The discrepancy between these two facts must be made right. Parents, educators, advocates, and children will gather for a march around the Roundhouse to raise awareness for the kinds of early childhood services and programs, like home visiting and early care and education, our youngest children need.

The march will start on the west concourse at 11:30 am. At noon there will be speeches and presentations in the Rotunda.

WHAT WE MISSED

Election Night '17
While we were ahead of the curve predicting that the state's vast permanent fund wealth would be more and more present in the political narrative, we also had a big miss in 2017. While it's a bit painful to look back it has a lesson for the months ahead.

As we broadcast the results of the first round of balloting in the 2017 ABQ mayoral race for KANW 89.1 FM in October, I mulled over, along with my panel of pundits, what was driving the turnout to nearly 100,000 voters, numbers not seen since the 2001 election following 9/11 which sparked voter patriotism and turnout.

We mused whether it was due in part to Tim Keller's ground game, the then very recent Las Vegas shooting massacre that may have motivated some to take part in the public process or folks being fed up with the state of the city and its omnipresent crime.

Probably all those factors played a role, especially the Keller ground game, but what we missed was the impact of the Trump presidency. In hindsight it appears clear that discontent with Trump in a Democratic city got many voters out of their lounge chairs and into the voting booths. But we and our panel did not mention that Election Night. Mea culpa.

That's important because all 70 state House seats are up for election this year as well as the Governor and statewide executive offices. How Trump is doing and being perceived and how candidates interpret it will have much to do with the make up of the Legislature next year. And the Governor's office, too. We knew that back in October but did not make the connection with the mayoral contest. Today, looking in the rearview mirror, it was right in front of us.

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Wednesday, January 17, 2018

At The Roundhouse: Guv Gives Alternate Reality, Senior Alligator Analysis Of Opening Day Direct From House Floor, Plus Your Blogger's Notebook As Session '18 Gets Rolling  

Well, she couldn't stand there and say that under her watch the state of New Mexico has descended to new lows in quality of life measures, smart kids act like they're breaking out of prison as they move out of here in droves and the business climate is as sluggish as a snail. This, after all, was her swan song, her legacy building speech--her final State of the State speech. So what we got from Governor Susana Martinez was a lengthy description (54 minutes) of an alternate reality that her speechwriters must have dreamed up while partaking in some medical cannabis. (Full text here.)

In Susana's world everything is now coming up roses even as the skunks continue to foul the Roundhouse air with dreary stats on childhood poverty, drug addiction, low paying jobs and crime waves.

But all of that will be left to the next administration. This is an election year and in the end this will be a minimalist session as lawmakers begin thinking of and preparing for the post-Martinez landscape. To that end Democratic senators put forth Senator Howie Morales, a candidate for the Dem nomination for lieutenant governor, to give the response to Martinez. It was a welcome pop for him in a crowded contest.

UNVARNISHED ANALYSIS

Now direct from the House chamber where Gov. Martinez spoke Tuesday we provide you with unvarnished Senior Alligator analysis (our senior anonymous sources) that you will get only here:

There was the sense of an ending in the House chamber Tuesday. Democrats remarking it was finally “the last time they had to listen to her” and Republicans resigned to the end of an era--holding on to the last remnants of power.

Attendance was down with lots of seats normally reserved for politicos sitting empty along the chamber walls. House Minority Leader Nate Gentry was busy imagining he still held sway and House Speaker Brian Egolf looked more and more confident and comfortable in his Speaker’s chair. 

Veteran Republican lobbyists like Art Hull and the usually-jovial Joe Thompson seemed a bit deflated, readying for the last laps around the Roundhouse. Democratic lobbyists were chomping at the bit to set the stage for 2019.

The speech was a bit of an afterthought by the decreasingly relevant Governor who used an approach that seemed to be behind the times. She took credit for a slight increase in revenues due to oil and gas production and suggested that the surplus go back to the taxpayers--this in a state with yawning socio-economic problems. She must not have read the news today that child welfare is improving across the nation while it is declining in New Mexico.

The Dreamer’s protest was in a way a symbol of all the issues banging on the door of the Roundhouse wanting to be heard but knowing that they had to wait 12 long months to get there.

Sexual harassment in the legislature gained much attention and some gallows humor. Hand-shaking was definitely on the rise and hugs were noticibly on the decline.

Good job, Senior Gator. Now back to Monahan's take:

It appears Martinez will finish her two terms as Governor about where her predecessor, Bill Richardson, did--with an approval rating in the mid to low 30's. The latest number has her at 37 percent. The fear factor is long gone and the less confrontational approach in her speech reflected her lame-duck status.

There was a sign of the divisiveness with which Martinez has governed the state. Protesters in support of the federal Dream Act unfurled banners and chanted, preventing Martinez from starting her speech. While that legislation is not relevant to Santa Fe, for years Martinez played divide and conquer politics over the issuance of driver's licenses for undocumented immigrants. The protest was a reminder of those past sessions that were among the most contentious ever seen.

One of the odder pre-session newspaper headlines was: "Gov. Martinez’s Uncertain Legacy." Really? What's so uncertain?

Despite losing nearly every major bill on her crime agenda for seven sessions, former prosecutor Martinez will again go down swinging on those measures.

One item the Legislature will make quick work of is her push for a $6 million boost in the budget for the office of BernCo District Attorney Raul Torrez. That is already being trimmed to less than $1 million as rural lawmakers balk at bailing out BernCo.

Some early headwinds have formed for ABQ westside Dem Senator Jacob Candelaria who is sponsoring a bill favored by PNM but which is being called a $350 million "coal bailout" by critics in his own party. Social media has already started the take down.

Meanwhile, progressive Dem ABQ Senator Cisco McSorley used the opening day of the session to endorse Rep. Michelle Lujan Grisham for the Dem Governor nomination. But Cisco shouldn't count on Michelle going all in for his favorite cause--legalizing marijuana.. She says she wants more study before going there.

Gov. Martinez was able to provide a bit of reality based good news in her speech. That is if the bean counters have it right--and they don't always. She said new revenue projections give lawmakers about $330 million in "new money" to appropriate for the budget year starting July 1. That's up from about $200 million as the oil and gas recovery in SE NM continues to push taxes and royalties up to Santa Fe.

The first order of business at the session was the quick approval of new sexual harassment policies for the Legislature. There continues to be nervousness over whether there will be any more public allegations made against lawmakers. Lobbyist Vanessa Alarid rocked the Roundhouse when she went public accusing Rep. Tomas Garcia of sexual harassment, charges he denied. He has since left the Legislature.

Secretary of State Maggie Toulouse Oliver was on hand for opening day. She actually served 10 years as Bernalillo County Clerk, not 8 as we blogged this week. She filled out two years of the unexpired term of Clerk Mary Herrera when Herrera was elected SOS and then Oliver was elected and re-elected.

She is currently filling out the unexpired term of GOP SOS Dianna Duran who resigned after being convicted of corruption charges. It's possible Oliver could serve a total of 10 years as SOS, if she is elected to a four year term this November and runs again in 2022 and is re-elected. Then in 2026 she can retire along with 91 year old Sen. John Pinto who will turn 102 that year. Is it time for the Potato Song yet?

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Tuesday, January 16, 2018

Session '18: Crime Tears A Town Apart But It Brings Some Lawmakers Together, Plus: An Ice Age Looming For NM R's? And: State's $20 Billion Savings Funds Drawing More Attention 

Gentry & Ivey Soto
While you wait for the Governor's State of the State speech kicking off the 2018 30 day legislative session, previews of the action can be found here, here and here.

The session convenes at noon today. The Governor's speech is expected to start anywhere from 12:30 to 1:30 and can be seen live on the websites of the major TV affiliates. 

In the run-up to the session there were some glimpses of attempted bipartisanship among lawmakers. Most significant perhaps was the tag team of House Minority Leader Nate Gentry of ABQ and ABQ Democratic state Senator Daniel Ivey Soto. The pair held a news conference to tout their agreement on several crime bills:

Gentry has struck a more bipartisan tone (than Gov. Martinez) with proposals designed to enroll inmates suffering from addiction and mental illness in Medicaid as they are released into society and to provide state matching funds so local police forces can pay more to retain veteran officers. Sen. Ivey Soto has co-sponsored those measures.

For Ivey Soto it is par for the course. He represents a somewhat swing district in the city. For Gentry bipartisanship is more urgent. His far NE Heights district is growing increasingly Blue. He won re-election by only 4 points (52-48) over teacher Natalie Figueroa in 2016 and she is back for a second try this year.

KOB-TV's Chris Ramirez points out that public clamor over the city's crime epidemic is paving the way for more bipartisanship among lawmakers, noting that ABQ NE Heights GOP Rep. Bill Rehm and Westside Dem Rep. Moe Maestas are also collaborating on crime bills. Neither is especially endangered for re-election but the voices for action in their districts is loud.

In a non presidential year with a lower turnout Gentry should have a bit less to worry about but his long term future could be shaky. 2020 is a presidential election year that will see a higher turnout and following that election there is the 2021 legislative redistricting. If he survives until then and there is a Democratic governor and Dem-controlled Legislature Gentry's district will be even more ripe for the taking.

The minority leader is being force-fed a more centrist profile because of the political peril he faces, not that it entirely disagrees with him. He started off working with noted political pragmatist Pete Domenici, the former GOP US Senator.

THE COMING ICE AGE

As Gentry fights for survival he may be showing his entire party the path to avoid a political ice age that seems headed their way, especially if Rep. Steve Pearce loses the governorship to the Democratic nominee this year.

New Mexico is becoming increasingly Blue and citified. The rural areas--the home of Trump's support and conservatism--is losing power and their legislative influence will likely dwindle more following the 2021 reapportionment.

Also, Hispanics, Native Americans, Asian-Americans and African-Americans now comprise well over 60 percent of our state's population. They are firmly in the Dem camp and need coaxing from the other side.

Gentry sees the writing on the wall because it's spray painted all over his district.

SPECIFICALLY SPEAKING

Some examples of why trouble is brewing when it comes to the current NM conservative agenda: The death penalty is again DOA this year; right-to-work is dead--forever; three strikes and you're out is a corpse big tax cuts are no more and two terms of GOP rule in Santa Fe and ABQ are ending with unpopular incumbents.

If the R's are sent to their room by voters this year they are not going to get out by banging on the same old drum. They will need a new and improved agenda. . .

MIMI'S MOMENT 

Sen. Stewart
ABQ State Senator Mimi Stewart--a respected, liberal voice in the Legislature for nearly 25 years--was named the new Senate Majority Whip by Senate Dems on the eve of the opening of the legislature. Her election followed the ouster last month of ABQ Senator Michael Padilla whose downfall was due to decade-old sexual harassment charges against him that ended with the city of ABQ paying out a settlement.

While Stewart is a retired educator who has been a leader on educational issues, she comes to the position in a hyper-polarized environment.

Behind the scenes some lawmakers grumbled that replacing Padilla with Stewart smacked of hypocrisy because she has a 1999 drunk driving conviction, a long-standing and serious problem in the state. They argued that Padilla's long ago sexual harassment case was held to a higher standard because of the tenor of the times while Stewart's mistake was passed over. Padilla's detractors argued any comparison between the two incidents was a false equivalency.

Others pointed out that Stewart's assumption of the whip position means there are no Hispanics in the positions of Senate Majority Leader, Majority Whip or President Pro Tem. That's a sore point in a majority-minority state. Stewart defeated Senators Jacob Candelaria and Linda Lopez.

Still, Stewart's legislative experience and acumen was not at issue and in what one wall-leaner described as "the year of the woman" a majority of the Dem caucus welcomed the changing of the guard and the chance to move on from the Padilla controversy.

TRENDING

One legislative trend we predicted here is taking hold. With well over $20 billion in the state's permanent funds, the temptation is simply too great not to attempt to put some of that money to work to solve the seemingly intractable problems that have NM ranked at the bottom in so many rankings, including crime. That backdrop has surfaced this proposed constitutional amendment from Sandoval County area Dem State Rep. Daymon Ely:

. . . Using only 0.5 percent of those funds annually and without reducing the money in those funds, $100 million each year would be available to establish a criminal justice and public safety fund to reduce crime. . . If public safety is truly a priority for our communities. . .then our budget needs to reflect that reality. Crime affects everything: the safety of our citizens, the reputation of our state and economic development. The permanent funds are for our future generations. However, in failing to address this crisis now, we are already affecting future generations by allowing crime to gain a devastating foothold and by permitting the continued downward spiral of our economy.

That amendment is unlikely to see the light of the day anytime soon but it becomes part of the growing debate over how a state with such immense saved wealth can continue to allow the quality of life measures to sink and cause a significant portion of the population to flee its borders.

The biggie in what the critics like to call "raiding the Land Grant Permanent Fund" is the perennial proposal to tap the Fund for about $150 million a year for ten years and devote it exclusively to early childhood programs for ages zero to five. Brain development at those ages is critical to future success. The state ranked 49th in the nation in child well-being in 2017, according to the Kids Count Data Book released on the eve of the opening of the legislative session.

That constitutional amendment, which would be sent to the voters for approval, has passed the House before and is again expected to be sent over to the Senate where conservative Dems are again ready to open the graveyard gates.

Still, the trend is clear. A Democratic Governor would be much more open to taking some risk and investing some of that over $20 billion in programs that directly attack the dire social conditions crisis. And that new Governor could now be less than 12 months away.

For those so staunchly opposed, supporters put it this way: Over the years the state has given hundreds of millions in tax breaks and incentives to corporations such as Intel, Eclipse and Hewlett Packard. There was risk there. Sometimes it worked out and other times it didn't. But the key point is that risk was taken in an effort to build the economy.

There is no risk-free investment. That includes very early childhood. To not take risk and sit on the sidelines and watch the state further deteriorate and its people suffer while billions accumulate, well, that may be what they call the moral question of our time.

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Monday, January 15, 2018

A Boondoggle That Beats ART, The Outs Are In, Action In SOS Race And State R's Gear Up For Tough Year 

And you thought the $135 million ART project down ABQ's Central Avenue was one of the biggest boondoggles you had ever seen. Take a look at this just north of us:

The U.S. Department of Veterans Affairs is expected to announce that it has all but completed construction of a new hospital in Aurora, CO. — a major milestone for a project that drew national outrage in 2015 when the agency admitted it was $1 billion over budget. But according to a congressional document the Jan. 23 target will be little more than an illusion as the team building the $1.7 billion facility expects to spend several more months finishing hundreds of items on its to-do list. Even then, the project is unlikely to reach its full potential when it opens later this year.

The same question applies to both the VA and ART boondoggles: Who, if anyone, will be held accountable?

THE OUTS ARE IN

Former ABQ Mayor Marty Chavez was lambasted by then-mayoral candidate RJ Berry for advocating a streetcar system down Central (Berry called it a "trolley") and it helped Berry beat Chavez and become mayor in 2009. Now that Berry's legacy project has proven to be a disaster, Chavez resurfaces to extract a bit of revenge:

Joe; Architecture is a major definer of who we are as a community. I've wondered from the first time I saw them what the architectural theme was behind the ART bus structures. At first blush they are certainly reminiscent of the Denver International Airport. But it's pretty clear now that each of the stops actually represents a White Elephant dancing down Central Ave.

Chavez has moved back to ABQ from DC and is practicing law. He recently was shown on Twitter having lunch with new Democratic Mayor Tim Keller. Well, as they say, the outs are in and the ins are out.

COMING SOON

Stay tuned to this blog this week as we come with some definitive solutions for the Mayor and City Council to resolve the ART wreckage. As Governor Martinez was fond of saying: It will be "Bold Change."

SOS ACTION

JoHanna Cox
When we blogged recently that the NM GOP had fielded candidates for all the executive offices up for election in '18 their candidate for Secretary of State was waiting in the wings. Now she's out on the stage.

36 year old attorney JoHanna Cox is their SOS hopeful and expected to be the only one:

Cox is prepared to take her prosecutorial experience to the Secretary of State’s office and take politics out of the decision-making process. Running a clean, transparent, and fair election is not the job of a political organizer, but rather an attorney who understands the law and the role of the position in which she will be elected. Cox has decades of experience in being an advocate for fairness and transparency. In her work as a prosecutor in two of New Mexico’s busiest judicial districts (1st Judicial in the North and Valencia County), prosecuting public corruption, and defending hardworking law enforcement officers, Cox has been ethical and dedicated to serving New Mexicans.

That reference to a "political organizer" is a dig at current Dem Secretary of State Maggie Toulouse Oliver who did indeed work in organizing before she embarked on her own political career. However, she won kudos for her 10 year service as BernCo County Clerk before being elected SOS in 2016 to fill out the term of Dianna Duran who resigned. Oliver will be heavily favored for re-election.

Meanwhile, former Indian Country Dem State Rep. Sandra Jeff, who wears controversy as easy as a pair of comfy pajamas, is at it again. She has switched parties and is running for SOS as a Libertarian Party candidate.

Thanks, Sandra, we can always use the blogging material.

THIS TOUGH YEAR

The political pros say it could be a tough year--very tough--for the NM GOP. Party Chairman Ryan Cangiolosi has put his team in place in preparation for the rough waters: They are:

Ryan Gleason is Executive Director. Gleason got his start in politics as a Legislative Analyst for the NM House in 2001 shortly after graduating from the Texas Tech School of Law. He then spent three years as a Legislative Assistant to Senator Pete Domenici (R-NM) and Chief of Staff to NM House Speaker Don Tripp. 

Michael Horanburg will serve as the Deputy Executive Director. Horanburg has worked in New Mexico politics for ­­­­­­­­10 years. Prior to his service at the state party,  Horanburg served as the southwest Field Coordinator for the National Rifle Association’s Institute for Legislative Action. 

Others named are: James Clarke, Director of Political Strategy. Dominic Pacheco is Finance Director. Greg Blair will handle communications. Becky Wilson is the Administrative Director. Pam Kingston is the Accounting Assistant. Michelle Chavez is the Events Coordinator. 

One Dem operative who looked over the news from the GOP quipped:  "Why were all the women listed last?"

Yeah, it's going to be a wild year.

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Thursday, January 11, 2018

ART Boondoggle Gets Readers Fuming; They Rage, Vent And Joke Over Epic Mismanagement, Plus: NM Water Wars And Latest Heinrich Senate Ranking  

It is one of the most outrageous publicly financed boondoggles in city history--perhaps state history--so it's no wonder readers are fuming over the revelations about the incompetence that surrounds ART, the now stalled ABQ Central Avenue rapid bus project that the city has spent $135 million on. No need for further ado, Vox Populi is rarin' to go and Jim McClure starts us off:

Joe, there may be an upside to the ART fiasco. ABQ Mayors seem to get this inexplicable compulsion to build transit systems. Marty Chavez wanted a streetcar and Berry almost got his electric bus. Perhaps there’s something in the water at City Hall.  Confronting the ART fiasco may enable Mayor Keller to get the public-transportation bug out of his system, kind of like a vaccination. He certainly will find things to build during his term, as mayors do, but probably will stay away from fanciful transit projects. 

Longtime reader Mick writes:

How about a list of the contractors on the (F)ART project? And maybe a list of Mayor RJ's campaign contributors. Might be interesting. And where have RJ's directors landed after fleeing from City Hall? I'm just askin'.

Reader John writes:

Hello Joe, here is my two cents on ART.  The contractors should be sued into bankruptcy, the design engineers sued, the project engineer for the city fired, the project mgr. for the city fired and the project inspectors for the city fired. All those who patted themselves on the back for how well the project was proceeding should be fired. But as we all know none of this will happen and all of us who said "told you so" will pick up the tab for this gross incompetence. Last word, Joe: MOVIDA!

Melanie Majors writes:

Joe, Why is the city advertising ART on billboards? Saw it on one of those electronic billboards when coming into town. “Central is Open” and the big ART logo.

They may have to take that down soon, Melanie, because at least two of the ART intersections need to be reconfigured, according to the city, and that is going to cause more traffic headaches on Central.

Abinash Achrekar MD writes:

My wife and I are professionals with a young son living downtown. I'm a professor of Cardiology at the University. We are so frustrated with the year of construction that has resulted in a loss of businesses and continuity in our community due to ART. My wife had a fantastic idea and I was curious of your thoughts.

At least the Stations from Old Town to East Nob Hill could be turned into small parquitos--little parks that have been experimented with in cities like Salt Lake City and Denver. One of the ART bus lanes could be used for bike traffic and maybe the other for pedestrians. In fact the city may be able to rent the space to little coffee pagodas or tiny restaurants that one sees in cities like Austin.

No kidding? Interesting. . . .

Reader Bruce Shah scores the city council:

Joe - Gotta love our City Council as they run from the ART mess like a cat from the litter box. Particularly the oh-so-statesman-like Ken Sanchez. Perhaps we can "claw back" their salaries for failing to remotely exercise any oversight? And, while we are at it, see about eliminating the Berry/Perry pensions. 

For the record, City Councilor Klarissa Pena opposed the project as did Dan Lewis who is no longer on the council.

Reader John Gniady writes of his contact with electric car manufacturer Tesla:

While I’m sure you need another project like a new hole in your head, this strikes me as a nice new market for Tesla. As I’m sure you’re aware, the city of Albuquerque embarked on the first all-electric rapid transit corridor in the US about a year ago. With construction almost complete, there’s only one little problem, the electric buses don’t work. That’s where Tesla comes in like a white knight to save the day.

While it’s a tad early to give up on the original bus contractor, a Chinese company with a dubious name “Build Your Dreams,” that time is not that far away. As I see it, the electric drive train for Tesla’s newly announced semi-truck would be ideal. If there is anything I can do to facilitate this, don’t hesitate to ask. And I work for free :–)

WATER WARS

An environmental reporter took a bite out of the representation the state has hired in a New Mexico-Texas landmark water rights case that was heard before the US Supreme Court this week:

Of the four parties, New Mexico was the only one to have a private attorney stand before the mahogany bench. Marcus Rael Jr. of Robles, Rael & Anaya in Albuquerque represented New Mexico; his former law partner, the New Mexico Attorney General Hector Balderas, watched from the gallery. Rael may be politically connected, but he’s not a water attorney. And until Monday, he also lacked experience before the high court.

The Robles, Rael and Anaya firm is indeed politically connected, handling many cases for state and local governments. Dem State Auditor candidate and recent ABQ mayoral contender Brian Colón is associated with the firm. The state has so far spent $15 million on staff and legal fees in this critical water battle with Texas.

SENATE RANKING

At the top of the '18 NM ticket, DC's Inside Elections ranks the US Senate race here "solid Democrat." Sen. Martin Heinrich is seeking a second, six year term. Republican Contractor Mick Rich is the sole GOP contender.

The ranking is not surprising, considering no NM US Senator has lost a re-election bid since 1982 when Jack Schmitt was ousted by Democrat Jeff Bingaman.

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Wednesday, January 10, 2018

ART Facade Collapses Under Fresh Scrutiny; Berry's Folly Is Now Keller's "Lemon" Plus: How To Fix It And Who To Hold Accountable  

Maybe Mayor Keller ought to give a contract to Merry Maids for a year considering the amount of mopping up there is to do of the epic messes left by Mayor Berry's administration.

Nowhere is the mess more in plain view than the ART project on Central Avenue, the subject of a Keller news conference Tuesday where the ugly truth about the widely criticized bus plan finally surfaced. In short, the project is a "lemon" Keller reported and there is no way to say when it will be operational. (Full video here.)

Sounds like the NM Spaceport, doesn't it?

The myriad flaws in ART include the electric buses from a California-based Chinese owned company that were red flagged back in 2013. The company is called BYD for Build Your Dreams but for ABQ it's more like Bring Your Dollars--and don't expect them back.

More on BYD's history of problems herehere and here.

WHAT NOW?

What to do? The Alligators, always eager to get in on a crisis, come with this:

--Forget the electric buses and use and/or refurbish the current Rapid Ride buses and cut your losses.

--Consider suing the Chinese company for its incompetence which has helped cause the delay and use any compensation to help pay for ART. (Can American courts even get at the firm?) (The city doesn't have to pay for the buses until the company fulfills the contract of over $20 million).

--Audit the bus purchase deal. Was it "greased" as was the city contract for Taser for police lapel cameras that was investigated by then-Auditor Keller, an investigation that still sits on the desk of Attorney General Balderas.

--Request that State Auditor Wayne Johnson probe the bus contract and hold the Berry administration accountable. (Or Hector probes?)

--Hold accountable the local contractors whose work is going to have to be redone because of their errors and don't use tax dollars to pay for the needed repairs.

--We may need some kind of financial breaks for businesses along Central that have been hoping and praying that the project would be up and running but now could face a year of more lost business.

--Hire more transit police to encourage more ridership on the system, the number one reason people cite for not taking the bus.

MORE ARTIFACTS

It isn't only Mayor Berry and his Chief Administrative Officer Rob Perry who are responsible for what may be the most bungled capital improvement project in city history. It is also the asleep-at-the-switch City Council that apparently signed off on the Chinese buses and the entire ART concept, all the while ignoring outraged citizens who predicted the disaster.

Keller made sure he said he "inherited" the boondoggle lest the public start turning on him, a public that polling shows is overwhelmingly opposed to ART.

Now Keller will soon be off to Dallas to meet with federal transit officials about $75 million in federal money that Mayor Berry said was a lock for ART. Only it isn't and Keller held open the possibility it may never come.

Build your dream, Albuquerque, only find one other than ART. That's now a dream that used to be.

MAYORAL ADVICE

Before the Mayor's new conference veteran ABQ PR man John Cordova gave him this advice:

Keller must be clear about the failure to include the public in the planning for ART. The consequences of that failure is what we are seeing now. The business owners and engaged public knew that the ART plans were not realistic or practical but were ignored.  They sensed that ART was not primarily a transit project but a real estate development project. Keller must be completely honest about this failure or the Berry people will hang this failure around his administration's neck.

ART PAYNE

Former ABQ Transit Director, city councilor and ABQ attorney Greg Payne, who is on Mayor Keller's transition team for the transit department, came with this:

There really are only two possible explanations for the A.R.T. fiasco. Either this was gross negligence and incompetence on the part of city officials like R.J. Berry, Rob Perry, and Transit Director Bruce Rizzieri - or we’ve got some very serious Taser-like corruption on our hands that demands a full accounting and a thorough investigation. 

This disaster didn’t just happen for innocent or inexplicable reasons. And we shouldn’t just shrug our collective shoulders as a city - like we usually do -and try to put lipstick on this latest City Hall pig. There needs to be an accounting, and people need to be held responsible.

ALMOST FULL TICKET

With the addition of a candidate for State Treasurer the R's now have contenders positioned for all the statewide executive offices on the '18 ballot--except Sec. of State:

New Mexico native Arthur Castillo announced his candidacy for State Treasurer. As the former CFO for the Treasurer and Director of Budget and Finance, Castillo has the passion for New Mexico and experience to manage the State Treasurer’s Office. “As a proven financial planner, budgeting professional, grant writer, and administrator, I plan to restore honesty, responsibility, and accountability to the Office of State Treasurer,” Castillo said. 

That sounds like a slap against current Dem State Treasurer Tim Eichenberg who is seeking re-election and unopposed for the Dem nomination. He is heavily favored for another term but it appears Castillo will try to put him through his paces.

THE BOTTOM LINES

We were saddened to learn of the death of Stan Fulton, the 86 year old owner of the Sunland Park Racetrack and Casino in Dona Ana County. We worked closely with Stan years ago when our PR firm advised him in a lengthy battle over the proposed opening of a rival casino. He was a salt of the earth guy who made a fortune in the slot machine business in Vegas and bought Sunland Park in 2000. Sunland's longtime lobbyist Scott Scanland said:

Stan leaves a tremendous legacy. Over the years he made contributions of $17 million to NM State University and he didn't even live here but resided in Las Vegas. That legacy will continue for the university since he has left a share of the ownership of Sunland Park to the school.

NMSU Chancellor and former Governor Garrey Carruthers will travel to Fulton's funeral Friday in Maryland, bringing with him the spirit of a deeply thankful university community. RIP, Stan. . . .

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Tuesday, January 09, 2018

A "Softer Susana?" Fuhgeddaboudit! She Comes Out Swinging Against Lawmakers On Crime Epidemic, Plus: The Libertarian Party Plays In The Political Big League 

Gov. Martinez (Sorber; Journal)
What's that about a "Softer Susana?" Fuhgeddaboudit!

No sooner had our digits hit cyberspace Monday speculating about a softer gubernatorial approach when Gov. Martinez reverted to form--blasting lawmakers from Mora to Mesilla and pretty much blaming them for the entirety of the ABQ and NM crime problem, even though she is now in her 8th year of governing.

Back in play was the stern look and the lecturing manner of a judgmental parent. And also back were the same wheelbarrow full of crime-fighting proposals that have been wheeled out year after year.

“Enough is enough,” Gov. Martinez said. That was the common threat throughout the governor’s speech Monday as she discussed her anti-crime agenda.“Every year since taking office I have called on lawmakers to get tough on crime,” she said. “Over and over again our legislature has failed to act.” 

Gov. Martinez is putting a lot of blame on lawmakers. She says she’s sick of being number one for car thefts and seeing the constant stories of criminals getting arrested over and over again. “That’s the revolving door I’m talking about. They’re making a mockery of the criminal justice system.”

Well, she certainly made a mockery of our hope that the softer Susana that unveiled her budget plan would stick around. But she is back to doing what she is most comfortable with and what she does best--attacking, blaming and campaigning.

Nowhere in her legislative agenda is there a mention that the crime epidemic here needs to be fought not only on the criminal justice front but also on the poverty, drug abuse and cultural (educational) fronts.

For most of her two terms she had a fellow Republican in the ABQ Mayor's office to help her kick-start major reforms but nothing happened. And her party controlled the state House for two years and could have perhaps compromised to get some of the agenda through. But her and Mayor Berry rarely collaborated and there was never any serious negotiating with the Legislature--just political posturing for whatever campaign loomed.

Lawmakers will relish rejecting just about all of Martinez's proposals, many of which are political window dressing, like the reinstatement of the death penalty for certain crimes. And she will probably relish believing that history will say she tried and tried, but those awful legislators would not cooperate and it is they and they alone who let the state sink into the cellar.

The Governor's crime plan is a script to absolve her and her administration from the damning verdict already being delivered to them in the public opinion polls. Softer Susana? Fuggheddabout it!

REBUTTAL

Rep. Ely 
Sandoval County Dem State Rep. and attorney Daymon Ely came with this op-ed that lays out a crime agenda different from the Governor's:

. . . But the biggest and most challenging problem is our mental health care system and lack of substance abuse treatment facilities. Our behavioral health care system has been decimated. 

People with, or at risk for, mental illness and substance abuse often have nowhere to go. As a result, MDC (the jail on the west side of Albuquerque) is now the largest provider of mental health therapy in the state. Once the inmate is released both the individual and the community are now at risk.

The citizens of New Mexico need more and better paid police officers, prosecutors, public defenders, judges, court staff, corrections officers, pre-trial service providers, and early childhood intervention, particularly at schools, and at behavioral health and substance abuse treatment centers.


THE LIBERTARIAN FACTOR

Never mind the four Democrats chasing the governorship, presumed GOP nominee Steve Pearce first has to worry about trouble that could pop up in his own backyard. No, there's no talk of another R entering the race but there are rumblings about a Libertarian getting into the chase. That would be highly problematic for Pearce.

The southern NM congressman will need a unified conservative GOP base if he is to have a realistic chance to prevail over the Dem nominee in November. Even if a Libertarian took only two or three points in a three way race, it could spell Pearce's doom. That's because even the most optimistic of Pearce's supporters see only a very narrow win for him in a two way contest with his Dem rival.

The rumblings about a Libertarian entering were first heard when GOP Land Commissioner Aubrey Dunn, Jr. said he was thinking about it. Meanwhile, Dunn's son, ABQ Attorney A. Blair Dunn, has launched a Libertarian candidacy for attorney general.

Libertarian Princeton
And Lloyd Princeton who describes himself as a small business owner and entrepreneur is a Libertarian running for the ABQ congressional seat being vacated by Rep. Michelle Lujan Grisham who is running for Governor.

In the past the Libertarians have often found it difficult to get on the ballot because of the large number of petition signatures required of third party candidates.

Libertarian presidential candidate and former NM Governor Gary Johnson made it much easier for the 2018 cycle when he scored over 5 percent of the state vote in the NM '16 presidential election--the threshold for a party to secure major party status and thus lowering the signature requirement.

While we wait to see if Dunn or another possible Libertarian Guv contender emerges and causes Pearce to lose what hair he has left, we can say that the entry of Blair Dunn into the AG's race is an unwelcome development for ABQ attorney Michael Hendricks, the sole R seeking the nomination. Democrat Hector Balderas is unopposed for the nomination and favored for re-election in November. Sharing his GOP vote with Dunn was not in Henrdicks' game plan.

Former GOP state Rep. Janice Arnold-Jones is the lone candidate for her party's nomination for the ABQ congressional seat. Having Princeton on the ballot isn't going to help her any, but then the national R's don't seem interested in targeting the seat anyway.

Back on the Guv deal, the irony here is that it was a former GOP Governor--Johnson--who by performing well in '16 made possible an easier entry for a Libertarian Governor candidate that could be poisonous to Pearce. Maybe Steve should pick up the phone and ask Gary to keep the coast clear of any Libertarian Guv hopefuls. It could make the difference in who wins, or at least stop Steve from losing the last of his hair.

THE BOTTOM LINES

About that photo of Dem State Auditor candidate Brian Colón on the Monday blog. It was taken by reader Gabe Gallegos. Thanks for the fine shot, Gabe.

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Monday, January 08, 2018

Brian Colón To NM: Let Me try Again; After Mayoral Setback He Announces Bid For State Auditor, Plus: A Softer Susana Emerges To Announce Her Budget; Will It Last? 

Brian Colón (Gabe Gallegos '17)
Can Brian Colón pick up the pieces of a political career shattered by a triple whammy? He had a bumpy tenure as state Democratic Party chairman, a disappointing run as the 2010 Democratic lieutenant governor nominee and most recently suffered a big defeat as a contender for ABQ mayor, a campaign in which he spent over $800,000 and still came up empty-handed.

Despite those setbacks the intrepid Colón will give it one more shot. He announced Sunday that he will seek the 2018 Democratic nomination for State Auditor. And his friends think he may have finally hit upon a winning formula. One of them put it this way:

Brian has been trying to go from zero to 60, seeking high level offices before he accumulated any political experience. Serving as Auditor could give him the chance he needs to prove himself to the voters. 

Colon pushes back against criticism that he is running just to run. He told us the once sleepy office of Auditor "has become exciting since Hector Balderas and Tim Keller held the position."

"Many of the issues that have come to the fore in the Auditor's office--crime fighting, the education system and waste and fraud--are issues that I ran on for Mayor." He said.

Needless to say, both Balderas and Keller climbed higher on the political ladder from their Auditor perches.

Colón, an ABQ attorney, has become the Happy Warrior of La Politica. His presence on social media and at social events is ubiquitous. Always armed with a smile and looking as if he is about to break into a cheer over something--anything--Colón has built a considerable following, just not enough for electoral success. But now that could change.

The only other announced Dem hopeful for Auditor is State Rep. Bill McCamley of Las Cruces but Colon's well-known ability to raise money, his name ID in the ABQ metro and his Hispanic heritage that could position him for a big win in the North, appear to put him in the driver's seat.

McCamley has said he is giving up his House seat to run for Auditor. He is able to spend $50,000 he had in his House campaign account as of October on the Auditor run. One question may be how negative he goes, if at all, against the better known Colón. McCamley does have roots with labor and progressives, both important Dem constituencies and that gives him a shot.

When Colón, 47, took a tumble in the mayoral race he also dragged down his BFF--Attorney General Hector Balderas who went all in for him with TV ads that fell flat. But the two amigos are nothing if not political wind-sniffers and this time they think it's finally the smell of victory wafting Colón's way.

FACING JOHNSON

Whoever gets the Dem nod in the June primary their chances of a November victory are high. Appointed State Auditor Wayne Johnson will seek to become the first R to be elected to the position since the 60's. Harold Thompson was the last R Auditor. He won election in 1966 and re-election in 1968. That's not a promising history when combined with what is shaping up as a Democratic year. But Johnson is an able campaigner who was twice elected to the BernCo Commission and is busy collecting his petition signatures. Johnson told me Sunday he is definitely running for Auditor and added that he will be resigning the commission seat.

SOFTER SUSANA

(Journal; Moore)
The gubernatorial attitude prior to this upcoming legislative session is markedly different than years past. Rather than attack and prod lawmakers--her traditional approach--Martinez unveiled her proposed budget and legislative ideas in a more concilatory fashion. House Dems took note of the lame duck Governor's softer side, but remained wary that the rough and tumble Susana could come out when the 30 day session kicks off January 16 and she punishes lawmakers with an all crime all the time agenda.

But it seems unlikely. Martinez appears to want to put a few points on the board with tax reform, crime and make the peace over a budget that finally has some surplus money. Then she could take her walk into the history books diplomatically.

Others will say she is gunning for a presidential appointment to one of two soon-to-be vacant NM Federal judgeships--a lifetime appontment--so she's on her best behavior. (Would Trump give it to her after she refused to endorse him?).

Whatever the motivation, there is surely a case to be made for a subdued Susana. Two disastrous vetoes in recent years helped plunge her approval rating to 37 percent. One year she vetoed the entire capital outlay budget, prompting an uproar in the business community and forcing her to call a special session to undo her handiwork. The other came last year when in a fit of pique she vetoed the entire higher education budget, causing alarm statewide. That also had to be undone.

The Martinez years will be mainly remembered for the campaign-style attacks she led against her foes, whether it was an election year or not. She succeeded politically for a time, but the constant warfare produced no memorable legislation that dramatically altered the course of the state.

With DC in chaos and the public here weary of her administration, Martinez's initial approach to her final legislative session fits the bill. In fact, it could help her get a couple of major bills passed for a change.

THE BUDGET

The beleaguered state budget will finally be budged upwards. Both the Governor and the bean counters at the Legislative Finance Committee agree the state should have at least $200 million more available for the budget year that starts July 1 compared to last year's budget.

Senate Finance Committee Chairman John Arthur Smith delivered a dose of reality when he informed New Mexicans that the increase is almost entirely due to a boost in oil prices. The state's overall economy remains anemic, albeit with a few bright spots.

Taking the general fund budget from $6.1 billion to around $6.23 billion, as envisioned by both budget plans, is not earth shaking, but there is also money to restore the state's reserve account which was drawn down to nothing and endangered our bond rating. It also is enough to award a symbolic pay raise of about one percent to state workers who have not had a pay hike in three long years.

The budget battle has been like a roller coaster since $100 a barrel oil disappeared in 2014. Lawmakers were strapped in and screaming as they dealt with the coaster's steep and scary declines. Now the coaster is on a flat section with a slight uprise and they can breathe a bit easier.

What will come next in their thrill ride? More flat track? A return to terrifying drops? Or a heart thumping ride upwards? Only the oil Gods know for sure and they don't care about our roller coaster.

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