Tuesday, November 19, 2019

MLG's Quandary: Who To Appoint To Cisneros Senate Seat, Plus: Lawsuit Settlements Involving Ex-Gov. Martinez Further Her Long Fall  

One of the more important state Senate appointments by a Governor in recent years is about to unfold, so there's  plenty of drama over who Gov. Lujan Grisham will choose.

In question is the unexpired term of northern Dem Senator Carlos Cisneros who died in September. The Santa Fe County Commission and the Los Alamos County Council have nominated Taos Land Trust Director Kristina Ortez for the post while the Taos County Commission selected 25 year state Rep. Bobby Gonzales to replace Cisneros.

Ortez is the progressive. Gonzales is the centrist. The Governor's appointment could have major impact on whether the conservative coalition made up of GOP senators and several Democrats continues to hold sway in the Senate. Our  analysis comes from a Senior Alligator:

MLG is in a quandary over who to select to replace Sen. Cisneros. If she appoints Bobby she sends a legislative dinosaur and a bit of a wild card to the Senate. Remember, he challenged Rep. Egolf for the speakership and is friendly with long-serving conservative Dems in the Senate and aging Dems in the House. 

Cisneros was cozy with conservative Senate Finance Committee Chairman John Arthur Smith, a leader of the coalition. Gonzales may be less cozy, but not much. He has a lifetime voting average of 76% from Conservation Voters Alliance--which is on the lower end for Dems. A Gonzales appointment won’t make progressives happy. 

If MLG appoints Ortez, she gets a progressive in the Senate, increases the number of women Senators and pleases progressive interest groups. But under that scenario MLG would make an enemy of Gonzales, a House committee chairman who is known to carry a curmudgeonly grudge for those who cross him. Gonzales might then run against Ortez in a bloody primary next June. 

All 42 Senate seats are up for election next year. If a couple of the conservative Dems lost to progressive primary challengers, it could spell the end of the coalition and if the coalition survives the challenges, it could gain strength.


Happier Times
While MLG works to craft a legacy as she comes up on her first full year in office, her predecessor remains mired in scandal and disgrace. . .

The long unwinding of what certainly is in competition for being the worst gubernatorial administration  in New Mexico history continues. State Auditor Brian Colón is the latest to come with an assessment.

He reports on those lawsuit settlements that cost NM taxpayers $2.7 million in what appears to be a shake-down to prevent disclosure of damaging personal information about now former Governor Susana Martinez. It's pretty outrageous stuff, most of it centered on an alleged sexual affair she had with her state police bodyguard. Colón has forwarded his audit of the lawsuit settlements which he says are "an abuse of power" to Attorney General Balderas and the Santa Fe County DA's office, but the AG has been quiet, showing little interest in a possible further investigation.

The dubious achievements of Martinez are long and sorrowful. They include the down and dirty Downs deal, the cruel disruption of the behavioral heath care system, the blatant racializing of state politics over driver's licenses and her incessant intimidation, bullying and vindictiveness towards even mild political foes, And that's only a part of her ignominious legacy.

Even as she falls, the state GOP, now led by her longtime rival Steve Pearce, could not help piling on:

The Party believes all public officials should be held accountable for their actions, held to the highest standard and that all governmental activity should be honest and transparent. No one is above the law. In addition, it is imperative that any such settlements never be a burden on New Mexico taxpayers.

Now the insiders report that Martinez has moved to ABQ and is living in the house of former ABQ GOP state Rep. Monica Youngblood who has moved to Wisconsin after her political career also ended in disgrace and humiliation when she was busted for DWI. How fitting.

We can't say we're surprised in the least by the destruction of Martinez politically and personally. We long ago predicted her demise. It just didn't come soon enough to spare the state. And we didn't imagine that her inevitable downfall would be so profitable because of a secret tape recording of her own husband, Chuck Franco, in which he delves further into Martinez's personal life.

The fact that the state says it can't find that recording that cost it so much and that the AG is not trying to find out why, shouts out for further inquiry.

As for Susana Martinez she's been thrown to the Alligators and now lives with the fishes. RIP or something, Guv. . .

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Monday, November 18, 2019

More Oil Boom Billions Predicted But State Still Reluctant To Deploy Newfound Wealth, Plus: Election Time--Again 

The bright economic spots may not be lighting up enough of the state but where they do shine, sunglasses are in order. For example, even those who have been bullish on the SE NM oil boom continue to be taken aback by the historic numbers:

. . .Production could increase by another 300% over the next decade, generating about $8 billion in annual revenue for the state by 2030. . . That’s nearly four times more than the $2.2 billion the government collected from industry activities in fiscal year 2018. “High production really is the new normal for the foreseeable future in New Mexico,” NM Oil and Gas Association executive director Ryan Flynn said. “The industry has consolidated around the Permian Basin and we believe production will remain at record levels.”

So how could this be a problem for the state? Well, the state still is unwilling to come up with a robust multi-year investment plan to deploy these new riches:

Drilling operations have slowed in other places in recent months, with active rigs declining by about 50 in Texas compared with last year, said Sen. John Arthur Smith, a Deming Democrat and chair of the Legislative Finance Committee. The rig count in New Mexico has remained steady, but production could slow down here in the coming months, he said.

The problem is that as the billions come in no one seems confident that state government can effectively deploy the wealth. Rather than emboldening policymakers, it scares them. It's not a concern that can be dismissed out of hand. Take a look:

The Fed have sent some $300 million into the state, all to spread broadband access, especially in rural access. And here's what you get:

. . . New Mexico lags when it comes to high-speed Internet and efforts to address access are disjointed and scattered across multiple agencies. Federal officials point to census figures that show almost 30% of New Mexico residents have no internet subscription of any type while 55% of residents have a subscription such as fiber, cable or DSL at home. Legislative analysts looked at how New Mexico compares to other states and territories and found it trails all but Mississippi and Puerto Rico in household broadband penetration. Two of New Mexico's neighbors--Utah and Colorado — rank in the top five most connected states while Arizona ranked 14th.

If you can't get it right with that $300 million, the conservatives argue, how can you get it right with the new oil billions pouring in? Best to save the cash or rebate it to the public, they contend.

Poor states like New Mexico and Mississippi come at things from a deprivation point of view. They don't think of what progress can be made with newfound wealth, but what can go wrong. It's a view that is bolstered each time there is a case of government bungling.

New Mexico is at a crossroads, blessed with billions but lacking the self-confidence to look at a changed future. That's why the "new normal" makes Santa Fe so uncomfortable.


We just finished the Nov. 5 ABQ election but it's already time to prep for the December 10 run-off elections in ABQ city council Districts 2 and 4. BernCo Clerk Linda Stover says:

Early voting for the Dec. 10 Election begins Tuesday, Nov. 19. Five early voting locations will be open Monday through Saturday 8 a.m. to 8 p.m. from Tuesday, Nov. 19 to Saturday, Dec. 7. Early voting locations will be closed Nov. 28-30 for Thanksgiving. The locations are as follows:

Clerk’s Annex – 1500 Lomas Blvd NW, Suite A
Daskalos Center - 5339 Menaul Blvd NE
Holly Plaza – 6600 Holly Ave NE, Suite B-6
Los Ranchos Villa – 6601 4th St NW, Suite E, F
The Shoppes at 6001 San Mateo – 6001 San Mateo Blvd NE, Suite B-3

In District 2 in the ABQ Valley Councilor Ike Benton faces Zack Quintero in a run-off. Both are Democrats. In District 4 in the NE Heights Republican Brook Bassan faces Democrat Ane Romero.


In a first blog draft Thursday we reported that Senator Heinrich's new chief of staff is one of three Hispanic staff chiefs on "the Hill." There are three in the Senate, in addition to those in the House.

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Thursday, November 14, 2019

Meth Takes Over As State's Most Deadly Drug, Plus: Worry Over Legal Pot  

The new year is right around the corner and with it renewed hope that the dangerous and costly drug epidemic will stall. But drug caused, skyrocketing crime and untold suffering among a wide swath of citizens shows signs of accelerating, not slowing. The latest:

New Mexico has seen a shift. For years, black tar heroin was the biggest problem, then prescription painkillers, said Dr. Michael Landen of the state’s health department. State meth deaths went from 150 in 2017 to 194 last year, vaulting meth to the top. “It’s really been the first time we’ve seen that,” said Landen. He attributed the surge in meth to its wide availability and low cost, and said he worried it could get worse. While there are programs to deal with fentanyl and heroin overdoses, there’s not much in place to prevent meth deaths, he said. “I think we’re potentially going to be caught off guard with methamphetamine deaths, and we have to get our act together,” he said.

That's not only bad news for drug addicts but for property, business and auto owners whose assets they prey upon.

So,will 2020 be the year the NM Legislature legalizes marijuana? Probably not. The huge medical marijuana program--nearly 80,000 patients--could be a major stumbling block as worries mount that legalization could put pressure on medical pot supplies.

2021 could be different, if the conservative coalition that governs the senate takes a hit at the ballot boxes next November.

There's also a medical issue with legalized pot that has been getting more attention. The US Surgeon General recently recommended that people under 25 not use marijuana because of possible adverse impact of high potency pot on brain development. (Yes, some studies have found no link.)


Scott Beckman, Community Development Manager for the North Central New Mexico Economic Development District, writes: :

Hi Joe, Here’s an update hot off the Legislative Finance Committee presses:

“Violent crime rates in New Mexico increased 10 percent between 2017 and 2018, to 856.6 per 100 thousand residents, FBI figures show. Property crime rates dropped 12.6 percent, to about 3,420 per 100 thousand people. The rise in violent crime was driven by increased rates of homicide, rape, and aggravated assault, which rose between 8.7 percent and 21.5 percent, while robbery rates dropped 24.2 percent.”

For perspective, a quote on violent crime direct from The New Mexico Gang Task Force:

“The gang problem in New Mexico has escalated in the last two decades from relatively traditional neighborhood gangs, found primarily in the state’s urban areas, to criminal gangs statewide. New Mexico’s gangs have evolved and continue to be more mobile, more violent, and more involved in high-level criminal activities.”


It's a step up for Rebecca Avitia who incoming Governor MLG asked to resign as executive director of the National Hispanic Cultural Center. Avitia chose not to reapply, although her tenure steadied the ship there. Since then the 37 year old native New Mexican has worked as state director for US Senator Martin Heinrich. Now she's been promoted to his Chief of Staff in his DC office, one of three Hispanic staff chiefs in the senate. Heinrich's office says:

Avitia grew up in Albuquerque’s North Valley. She is a graduate of Eldorado High School, Trinity University, and Columbia University School of Law. She was a practicing attorney in both New York and New Mexico.

Avitia will have time to settle in. Heinrich is not up for re-election until 2024. The senator’s ties to New Mexico came into question during his reelection campaign last year with his Republican opponent pointing out that he now lives in the DC area and not New Mexico. The Avitia appointment could help to dampen such criticism.

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Wednesday, November 13, 2019

AG Barr Gets Tough On NM Crime Wave As Trump Looks To Play Here in 2020, Plus: MLG's Polling Seesaw 

AG Barr In The 505 (Pierre Louis, Journal)
The political void in the midst of an ongoing crime wave is the lack of a law and order candidate or officeholder--a tough on crime guy or gal taking a populist approach to the crisis. Well, it turns out there is someone (besides Bernalillo County Sheriff Manny Gonzales who has tinkered with the role). It's none other than the guy in the White House.

Yep. Donald Trump, toying with the idea of corralling New Mexico's five electoral votes in 2020 in what would be a mega upset, saw his Attorney General William Barr Tuesday bring to ABQ the tough on crime credentials that many voters may hunger for as the murder and mayhem show no real signs of loosening their grip. 

Standing with local law enforcement and touting the results of a federal fugitive round-up operation here, Barr declared:

Unlike many cities in the United States that have seen violent crime rates fall, the violent crime rates in Albuquerque remain stubbornly high. In the months ahead, the federal government is going to be stepping up our efforts to work closely with our state and local partners to ratchet up the attacks on violent crime.

And in case New Mexicans didn't get the message, Barr piled on the judiciary here criticizing the controversial bail reform constitutional amendment as being too soft on the bad guys. Said the nation's top lawman:

That has the effect of not only allowing the offender back on the street where they can commit more crimes, but it also intimidates the neighborhood and prevents people from coming forward because they feel these people will be right back out on the streets. I think part of the problem there is the judiciary in New Mexico, not using the laws that they have to keep dangerous offenders in pretrial detention.

Whoa. Hear that Governor MLG, Mayor Keller and APD Chief Geier? Well, maybe not since none were at the Barr event. A US Marshal spokesperson said the Democratic mayor was not invited. Sheriff Gonzales, who has not ruled out a 2021 mayoral run, was there and posed for photos with Barr.

Seeing the growing public frustration with the unsuccessful fight on crime, the Governor recently announced a fugitive round-up operation of her own.

Mayor Keller and Chief Geier continue to pull as many rabbits out of the hat as they can, but the search goes on for solutions to a maddening crime spree that is now years-old.

Trump is nothing if not an opportunist. He knows that he only has a longshot chance in New Mexico next year because of heavy Dem BernCo. If he could trim his losing margin to a tolerable level here, he could put together a mathematical case for a slim win. And since BernCo is ground zero for the crime wave, here we are with Trump's AG sampling some of our fine green chile. (And don't forget Trump's own visit to the ABQ metro in September).

Winning here remains highly unlikely but Team Trump can be expected to continue to flirt with NM and pull up stakes only when polling shows that turning blue to red is as difficult as finding a rabbit trick that works on crime.


Who among the top three Dem presidential hopefuls would be toughest for Trump in NM?

Former VP Joe Biden would probably have the broadest appeal given his strength with minorities of which there are many in New Mexico. Also, he could dampen Trump's win in the conservative south by picking up conservative D's of his own.

Bernie Sanders has a strong base in big BernCo, Santa Fe and Las Cruces but probably wouldn't run as well as Biden in the north. Trump would work to radicalize the Vermont senator but it would be no easy task.

Elizabeth Warren would probably be the weakest of the top three hopefuls here. The Massachusetts senator has had difficulty making her case to minority voters. That would have to change if she were to keep Trump fully in check. Still, Trump beating Warren would be an uphill climb. She could coalesce the vote in the cities and take her thumping in rural areas while still taking the win.


MLG's camp was disturbed by an early round of Morning Consult polling that showed her near the bottom in popularity among the nation's governors. Now they get a little relief as the MC poll taken in the third quarter has the first year Governor garnering an approval rating of 47 percent, with disapproval at 37 percent and "don't know" at 16. In the first quarter MLG polled a skimpy 41 percent approval with 33 percent disapproval.

Those numbers leave room for improvement, considering she won election with 57 percent but the difference in the two surveys is night and day in terms of stirring her opposition. Now, if she could only figure out how to get around the Senate Finance Committee. 


Democratic state Senator Joe Cervantes represents District 31 in the Las Cruces area and ABQ GOP state Senator Sander Rue represents District 23. The numbers were in error in a first blog draft Tuesday.

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Tuesday, November 12, 2019

Off The Easy Chairs; Veteran Senators Draw Challengers 

Harold Pope, Jr.
Opponents continue to line up to take on veteran state Senators long comfortable in their seats but who are now being forced off their easy chairs and onto the campaign trail. The latest. . .

On ABQ's westside Democrats have been anticipating a stiff challenge for GOP Senator Sander Rue who narrowly escaped losing the seat in 2016 when educator Joy Garratt lost to him 52 to 48. That signaled the district was becoming more blue. Harold Pope, Jr. a retired air force officer, says he's ready to pick up where Garratt left off and is seeking the Dem nomination and right to take on Rue next November.

Pope, 45, is the only Dem running so far and it's expected to stay that way.

A major twist in this race is that Pope would apparently be the first African-American elected to the  state senate. Pope calls that historic but not why he is running. Instead, he faults Rue for not keeping  up with traffic and other infrastructure needs in the district. Pope also touts his strong support of teachers and his desire to concentrate on health care.

Rue, a member of the influential Senate Finance Committee, is liked on both sides of the aisle but the seat is too tempting and his defeat could have far reaching implications.

Pope tells me he would not support the conservative Senate coalition that controls the chamber. It's composed of all 16 Republicans and a half a dozen or so Dems. A knock out of Rue would be a big blow to the R's and that ruling coalition.

Rue, 65, has not been a GOP firebrand in the increasingly blue district. At first he embraced then GOP Governor Martinez but later had a nasty falling out with her when he urged more transparency for the Governor's contingent fund. That gave him some street cred with the D's and many independents.

Rue will need his A game next year. If the Trump vibe is bad he could be swept away as happened to many BernCo state House R's in 2018. Still, friends of Rue say he outpaces newcomer Pope in the knowledge and experience departments and his fund-raising should be solid.


Then there's Dem state Senator Joe Cervantes who suffered a third place finish in the 2018 Dem Guv primary and now seeks re-election to his legislative seat. Like Rue, Cervantes is being pushed into heavy door-knocking to keep Dona Ana County District 31 that he has held since 2012.

The 58 year old is being challenged by 45 year old Melissa Ontiveros, a decidedly more progressive Dem than the variety represented by attorney Cervantes.

She is is a Special Operations Coordinator for the nonprofit Community Action Agency of Southern New Mexico whose mission is to "partner with New Mexicans to overcome adversity by connecting our communities, encouraging family wellness, empowering families and bridging resources."

Cervantes served in the state House from 2001-12. He has not had a serious challenge since joining the senate but that will change in 2020. His family has deep and profitable ties to the agricultural industry in the Las Curce area so financing a campaign is no problem.

But Ontiveros could be a problem in Las Cruces where progressives have been showing muscle while Cervantes, chairman of the Senate Conservation Committee, has prided himself on being a middle of the road Democrat while many D's veer left.

Also, women voters and candidates were dominant in those '18 BernCo House battles. That's a trend that will keep the cerebral Cervantes on guard.

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Monday, November 11, 2019

Veterans Day 2019 

A lot of retired state employees are celebrating this:

State Senator George Munoz, chairman of the pension oversight committee, said that it will be hard to approve a pension reform bill during next year's rapid-fire, 30-day legislative session.

In the Dec. 10 run-off for the District 4 ABQ City Council seat in the NE Heights And Romero is working to consolidate the Democratic vote:

Athena Christodoulou endorsed Ane Romero in the run-off. Christodoulou placed third in the race, but garnered enough votes in the November 5 election to prevent either Romero or Brook Bassan from achieving 50% of the total vote, thereby triggering the run-off.

Republican Bassan came out on top in the initial three way race.

During the recent city election one of the Alligators--in a somewhat epic rant--blasted the entire public finance system while critiquing the Democracy Dollars proposition that failed. He asserted that since its beginning in 2005 public financing has given us one of the lousiest city councils in history. Then City Councilor Eric Griego, the current director of the progressive NM Working Families Party, sponsored the public finance legislation. He responded:

First, the voters passed public financing on the 2005 ballot by 69%. Is the anonymous critic saying the overwhelming majority of Albuquerque voters were wrong to try to reduce the influence of special interest donors? That might be great for corporate lobbyists who raise thousands for privately-financed candidates but not so much for average Burqueños. The anonymous critic also conveniently left out the privately-funded Mayor RJ Berry, who presided over the inept ART implementation and the recent crime wave. Berry was privately funded to the tune of $1 million from mostly big developers and corporate interests. How did that work out?

Also, that's a pretty long list of City Councilors the writer suggests are worthless. Does your anonymous alligator really think nothing good has happened in the city in 14 years? If so, maybe it's time for him/her to either run for Council or consider moving somewhere else. Maybe public financing could help with that.


Eric Lucero is a NM National Guard veteran who served in Iraq and a film reviewer in his spare time. On this day he comes with this:

Midway (2019), WWII War Epic (PG-13) *** Stars out of 5.

Director Emmerich (Independence Day, 1997) and company offers us this Veterans Day a true and compelling story of triumph and tragedy and a life and death clash of national wills as personified by both the US and Japanese navies during WWII.

Midway is a compilation of key naval events that ultimately turned the tide of WWII in our favor in mid-1942. Until then the Allies, which the United States was a full fledged member, were losing in both the European and Pacific Theaters.

This film details the horrid December 1941 Pearl Harbor attack with restraint. This “Day of Infamy” necessitated our entry into WWII, which would lead to the Doolittle Bombing Raid of Tokyo and later to the pivotal Midway Naval Battle.

Midway is a blunt and complex story with many character arcs. This single battle defined our willingness as a nation to meet and rebuff the Axis Powers extinction level threat to our representative democracy. Emmerich’s narrative will pull in both young and older viewers. This amazingly accurate, gripping and moving film is well worth the 2 plus hours of your time. You will clap at its conclusion.

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Thursday, November 07, 2019

"You Heard It Here First." Keller Preps Re-Elect Bid, Plus: Council Run-Off Election; "Fights Of the Past" Or Accountability? 

Keller Voting
"You can say you heard it hear first." So declared ABQ Mayor Tim Keller on our KANW-FM Election Night broadcast as he announced he will seek a second four year term in 2021. Already? Well, that's how it works these days. Keller is now only two years into the first term that he was elected to in 2017 but wants to send an early signal to potential foes that he is all in for another.

The youthful mayor, who turns 42 this month, is coming off an election win in which voters approved his proposed $14 million homeless shelter.

Unlike past mayors he waded deeply into the city council elections this year, endorsing Councilor Pat Davis who won big, Councilor Ike Benton who will go to a run-off with Zack Quintero and Ane Romero who has a December 10 run-off with Republican Brook Bassan.

Early in his term Keller won council approval of a tax hike to improve public safety, although he had told voters he would ask for their approval but didn't. His problem is the continuing high crime rate. BernCo Sheriff Manny Gonzales shook up the city political scene when he would not rule out a 2021 run for mayor. There could be others who seize on the issue, if crime remains troublesome. But it won't be easy ousting Keller who won with 62 percent of the vote in '17. No first term ABQ mayor has lost a re-election bid since Jim Baca in 2001.


Councilor Davis says his victory for a second four years on the council shows that the electorate "isn't focused on divisive fights of the past."

He is referring to the controversial ART project on Central Ave. that was one of the biggest public works disasters in the history of the city and which he supported. While Davis dodged the ART bullet, it is still out there.

As we mentioned, Davis' fellow progressive, Councilor Benton, faces a run-off election with opponent Zack Quintero who is sure to continue to hammer at Benton's support of ART as well as the high crime rate that has ABQ ranked at or near the top.

While Davis argues voters want to put the "fights" over these pressing concerns behind them, others argue that it is not about fighting but about accountability. The current council pushed through ART and has presided over historic rates of murder and property crime.

Benton will now be called on to defend his record. Judging by the results of the first round he has a pretty good chance of prevailing. Still, the campaign won't be about putting the "fights of the past" in the rearview mirror but about the duty of the voters to judge the performance and capability of their elected officials. If they don't do that, there's not much sense in having an election.


Benton can't let Quintero consolidate the Hispanic vote in a two way run-off and he's off to a good start in preventing that. The day after the election unsuccessful District 2 hopeful Joesph Griego endorsed Benton:

Councilor Benton has built the relationships that we need to grow, he has committed to me to work on the issues I care about. . . I am proud to join Mayor Keller, Congresswoman Haaland, and Senator Heinrich in supporting Isaac Benton for City Council.

That's the good news for Benton. The bad news? Griego finished last in the six person race Tuesday, garnering just 5.76 percent of the vote.


Our ABQ election coverage took up several weeks of blog space and some readers in other parts of our enchanted land feel left out. Reader Clara Lopez writes from Las Cruces:

Joe, I've almost stopped reading your blog because of how heavy the coverage of Abq City Council has been. The Las Cruces local elections were really exciting, ranked choice voting debuted, turn out was big, and there were more candidates for mayor than in the last 30 years. Yet not a word about it except a passing mention a month ago. Meanwhile, I know any time someone sneezes in the ABQ city council race. If the 2nd biggest city in the state gets no coverage, no wonder rural new Mexicans get sick of the power concentration up north. Hope that's some food for thought. .

Well, Clara we also covered the Las Cruces election on our Election Day blog. The reason we did not  do more is because the Mayor's race there never was that competitive. Popular Mayor Ken Miyagishima easily won a fourth four year term.

However, we understand your angst and will now get back to covering a broader swath of La Politica. But we have to get up to speed. Is MLG still Governor? And where the heck is Howie Morales, anyway?

Thanks for stopping by this week.

Reporting from Albuquerque I'm Joe Monahan.

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Wednesday, November 06, 2019

Election '19: Turnout Is The Surprise Of The Night, Two Council Run-Offs In Store, All Bonds Pass But Voters Send Message On Some And APS Gets A Reprieve 

2019 BernCo Voters Line Up

There's always a surprise or two on any Election Night and last night was no different in Election '19, except the surprise came with a twist.

The surprise wasn't what happened on the ballot, it was who cast the ballots. Turnout soared in the off-year election to just over 97,000, 24 percent of the 419,000 registered BernCo voters.

BernCo Clerk Linda Stover said the legislature's decision to consolidate city elections with smaller elections--like the APS bonds that once were previously held separately--proved a winner. Then there was the clerk's heavy election advertising and the four contested ABQ city council races that encouraged voting. It was a solid and welcome start to the new system.

As for the election results. . . away we go!

In District 2 Dem ABQ City Councilor Ike Benton easily held off five challengers but because he fell short of 50 percent--coming in at 42--there will be a December 10 run-off for the Valley seat between him and second place finisher Zack Quintero.

That's the good news for Quintero. The bad news is that he lagged Benton by 21 points, finishing with just 21 percent of the vote. While the run-off offers Quintero a second chance it's not a bet you would take running to Santa Ana Casino. Still, if Quintero can lasso the support of the other lagging candidates, including onetime Republican turned independent Connie Vigil who scored 11 percent, he has a shot. If outside groups think there's some Benton blood in the water they could join the fray.

Benton was endorsed by Mayor Keller, Senator Heinrich and Congresswoman Haaland. They will now be called on to help Benton pull out the run-off win.

There was some last hours second-guessing of Benton. In the early voting Benton scored 46 percent but faded to 42 percent when the Election Day vote was tallied. Quintero's messaging over a controversial mailer from a progressive PAC backing Benton may have made a a difference as well as his last minute barrage of mail attacks over Benton's support of ART and his record on crime fighting.


In District 4 in the NE Heights Democrat Ane Romero survived to fight another day, but only barely. Republican Brook Bassan scored 48.97 percent, just shy of the needed 50 percent to avoid a Dec. 10 run-off with Romero who received 42 percent. A third Dem candidate scored 9 percent and Romero will work to get those voters in her column for the run-off.

Some Dems said Romero's campaign missed an opportunity by not hammering Bassan harder over the six party switches Romero said Bassan had made over the years. Romero now has a second shot.

Bassan will be narrowly favored in the rematch because of the Republican lean of the district. GOP voters are seen as more motivated as they work to keep the seat in GOP hands. It has long been held by retiring GOP Councilor Brad Winter.

All in all, it will be a run-off race to watch along with those hot holiday shopping sales.


In District 6 in the SE Heights Dem Councilor Pat Davis had an easy win over challenger Gina Naomi Dennis. Davis won a second four year term 57 to 43. The win was not unexpected as Davis has championed progressive causes favored in the district and Mayor Keller, popular in the district, endorsed Davis. Also, Davis' support of the controversial ART project and his crime fighting record in a city suffering a crime epidemic did not undergo harsh scrutiny by his foe.


In District 8 in the far NE Heights it was a mild surprise when Republican City Councilor Trudy Jones, who had been hammered by the progressive Working Families Party, trounced Dem Maurreen Skowran. It was Jones 57 to 43. Jones will now begin a fourth four year term.

The Bassan and Jones showings were good news for the beleaguered GOP. By finally cutting their losses after their devastating 2018 defeats in big BernCo the party saw a glimmer of hope of holding on to what's left of their fort in 2020.

Dem Councilor Ken Sanchez, who analyzed the races on our KANW 89.1 FM Election night coverage and who supported Jones, attributed her win in part to her ability to work across party lines. Others opined that the progressive groups backing Skowran erred when they introduced Trump into the race. They said that hardened GOP support for Jones rather than helping Skowran. Where were Skowran's attacks on Jones over ART and runaway crime? They asked.


Democracy dollars was a dud with the ABQ electorate, falling to defeat 51 to 49 percent. Sure, it was close but not really. Carla Sonntag, president of the NM Business Coalition, told our KANW audience her group tallied at least a stunning $500,0000 in outside progressive support for the initiative in in kind and cash donations. In that context, it wasn't close.

The proposal would have given each eligible citizen a $25 voucher to contribute to the publicly financed candidate mayoral or council candidates of their choice. It was a gambit to level the playing field with privately financed candidates. But political consultant Sisto Abeyta said on our air that the message was hard to communicate and understand.

Progressives, mainly financed with out of state money, also managed to get a voter initiative for a sick leave ordinance on the city ballot in 2017. It too was narrowly defeated.

On the other hand the proposition to update the city's public financing system by awarding more money to publicly financed council and mayor candidates did pass muster with the voters, winning 58 to 42.


All the city bond issues totaling some $128 million handily passed, but there was a bit of reticence over the $21 million bond package that included $14 million for a homeless shelter. It drew 69.63 percent support, stopping short of the over 70 percent margins many other bonds scored.

Citizens were heard complaining that they feared the 300 person capacity shelter would be in their backyards. But Mayor Keller told the KANW-FM audience last night that realistically there are only five possible locations and that all of them need to be near downtown where many homeless services are already located. Keller and the council will now get to work finalizing a location.


We overlooked this one in our hour long special election report, but there was some payback for the hyper-controversial ART project. The public transportation transit bond won, but only received 58 percent support, far short of what the other bonds received. Voters have been up in arms over the rapid transit plan down Central Ave. and many showed it at the voting booths.

The proposal to renew a quarter cent tax for transportation did not encounter rough waters, The tax, first approved in 1999 won renewal with 65 percent of the vote. However, it won't be up for renewal again. There was no sunset provision on this year's renewal.


And that's not all. Voters sent a message to Mayor Keller and other supporters of renovating the historic ABQ Rail Yards. The Metropolitan Redevelopment Bonds, which included $5 million to clean up the Rail Yards, received just 58.09 percent support, the lowest of all the bond issues.

The city bought the Rail Yards in 2007 but planned development has mostly stalled. The ongoing expense of maintaining and renovating the Yards in hopes of private sector interest, appears to be wearing on voters.


ABQ Public Schools was celebrating Election Night, after suffering a blistering defeat earlier in the year. The second trip to the table with a much leaner bond package--$100 million--than the one that was defeated in February was a winner. Voters also approved the mill levy for APS. The bonds passed with 68 percent support and the mill levy won with 63 percent.

CNM won a vote of community support. The bond for the community college garnered 70 percent support.

Thanks for joining us here today and on the radio last night. The voters say we're not done with Election '19. We have two council run-off elections on tap for December 10. We'll keep you posted.

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Tuesday, November 05, 2019

Election Day '19 Is Here; Campaigns Across State Close Out Today; Early BernCo Turnout Tops 50,000; Join Us for Live Coverage Tonight at 7 P.M. On KANW-FM 

You're invited to join us for ABQ Election Night coverage beginning at 7 p.m. on KANW 89.1 FM ABQ/Santa Fe and at KANW.COM

It's not just ABQ having an election today. Ballots are being cast across the state.

In Las Cruces the excitement has been building over their most crowded mayoral race since 1991--ten candidates are vying for the city's top job, including Mayor Ken Miyagishima who is seeking a fourth, four year term.

He was first elected back in 2007. Have voters tired of him? Former Las Cruces Mayor Bill Mattiace thinks so. He appears to be the top challenger to the mayor but Miyagishima has proven popular. In 2015 he took 51 percent of the vote in a three way race with his closet challenger getting just 33 percent.

There's new twist in the Cruces election. It's the first year that they have ranked choice voting. Voters have the option of choosing multiple candidates and ranking them first, second, third etc. Santa Fe used that method in its most recent mayoral election. It dramatically reduced negative campaigning as everyone wanted to be one of the top choices. Maybe too much. But ranked choice does produce winners and losers. No run-off elections later.

Here in ABQ there is still the run-off system. Tonight there's a chance that two city council contests could be decided in a December 10 run-off election between the two top votegetters in each district.

In District 2, mainly in the ABQ Valley, it's a six way race so a candidate getting to 50 percent and avoiding a run-off is a steep climb. In District 4 in the NE Heights it's a three candidate race. That one could also go to a run-off. Council Districts 6 and 8 each feature only two candidates and will be decided today.

After tonight the political junkies will be clamoring for 2020 election action and they are going to want more nourishing news than this:

Dem NM Senators Udall and Heinrich announced Monday that they have endorsed Dem US Rep. Bern Ray Lujan for the US Senate. A real shocker, that one. You can just see Republican Mick Rich weeping in the corner.

Heinrich's endorsement record hasn't been so hot. He went for Hillary in '16 and in '18 he went for land commission candidate Garrett VeneKlasen who lost in the Dem primary. Today he has three chances to reverse that trend. He has endorsed Councilors Benton and Davis and Dem council candidate Maurreen Skowran. If all three lose, Heinrich's endorsements might replace the newspaper's for being known as the "Kiss of Death." (Too late to take it back, Ben Ray.)


It appears the new state law consolidating a lot of elections previously held separately will boost voter turnout. Bernalillo County Clerk Linda Stover reports 51,752 votes had been cast early as of late Monday with some more absentees expected today.

There's been a noticeable spike in turnout for the four contested city council races over 2015. We mean noticeable.

In District 2 in the ABQ Valley where Councilor Ike Benton is seeking re-election 5,872 early votes have been cast. In 2015 Benton was unopposed so the total vote then was just 2,631. This is a six way race that could be headed to a run-off.

In District 4 there have been 6,367 early votes cast. In '15 in that NE Heights district all votes cast totaled 4,982. That is a whopping increase in the district being vacated by GOP Councilor Winter. This is a three way race, with Dem And Romero trying to turn the district blue against R Brook Bassan. A third candidate Dem Athena Ann Christodoulou is in as well.

In District 6 in the SE Heights Clerk Stover reports 3,790 early votes. In '15 the total early and Election Day vote was 4,295. Councilor Pat Davis is seeking re-election in the district. He is opposed by attorney Gina Naomi Dennis.

In District 8 in the far NE Heights 8,188 early votes have been cast. In 2015, Republican Councilor Trudy Jones was unopposed and the total vote was only 3,112. She is opposed this year by Dem Maurreen Skowran and that mammoth increase in turnout could bode well for her. The Working Families Party and other progressive groups have targeted the increasingly blue district. We'll see tonight if the R's can keep pace.

There are 418, 867 registered voters in BernCo. If we get about 32,000 votes today that would make for 84,000 and a turnout of 20 percent. That's at the upper end of expectations.

Turnout here has been trending higher in the Trump years. We'll know soon if that holds true for this election.


The campaign closes out today with Election Day voting and the vote count commencing at 7 p.m. We'll do our part as we broadcast ABQ results beginning at 7 p.m. on KANW 89.1 FM ABQ/Santa Fe and KANW.COM. We anticipate having the early BernCo vote--which is expected to make up a majority of the votes cast--sometime in that 7 o'clock hour. The outcome of most if not all the races and ballot issues should be known from those early results so we're preparing for a short evening.

We look forward to having you with us as we welcome to the public radio microphones for insightful analysis City Councilor Ken Sanchez, Carla Sonntag, president of the NM Business Coalition and Valencia County's own veteran Dem political consultant Sisto Abeyta.


We dropped the ball when we said there were only two Hispanic ABQ city councilors on the nine member council in our first blog draft Monday. There are three---Ken Sanchez, Klarissa Pena and the one we forgot--westside Councilor Cynthia Borrego. Come on, Joe, you gotta do better than that tonight. (We will).

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Monday, November 04, 2019

Mailer Mishap: Quintero Labels It Racist As Benton Denounces; Race Changer Or Minor Dust Up? Plus: How You Know When It's Election Time 

Ike Benton's campaign is racing on a a muddy track in the final hours of Election '19 as the ugly charge of racism rings across his ABQ city council district.

The veteran councilor, long favored to take the top spot in the six person field, is still favored but there could be a new element of uncertainty, if he does not garner 50 percent of the vote and is forced into a December 10 run-off with the second place finisher.

The sudden change in track conditions is caused by a PAC's mailer mishap. Suddenly Zack Quintero, Benton's chief rival for the District 2 seat that Benton has held since 2005, is off his oxygen tank and breathing fresh air.

The mailer misfire came from The Progressive PAC, not the Benton campaign. The Progressive PAC is headed by Stephanie Maez who is also the former executive director of ProgressNow NM. She defended the mailer in a KOB-TV interview linked to below.

Quintero immediately pounced and labeled the mailer clearly racist. Others said it was ambiguous and perhaps juvenile but not racist. Nevertheless, the racism charge rang out in the Downtown/Barelas/North Valley District and also across the city. Two of the TV news stations covered the controversy. KOB-TV's report is here. (Well, that link was live Sunday night, but is now gone.) The KOAT report is here.

It could not have come at a worse time for Benton. The news broke Friday, hours before the last day of early voting, traditionally one of the heaviest. And, of course, Election Day is Tuesday when about 40 to 45 percent of the total vote is expected to be cast. Benton quickly distanced himself from the PAC mailer on Facebook but the progressive over reach could not be quieted. (Benton's campaign also came with a "fact check" page on the various campaign ads circulating.)

Until Friday Benton, 68. was coasting as he watched Quintero struggle. The 29 year old's first run for political office has been so lackluster it left observers wondering if Benton might get to 50 percent and avoid a run-off.

That run-off may or may not be more likely now. The question is whether Quintero made up enough ground with this late serendipitous break to influence Election Day voting to tilt more his way and stall Benton.

Insiders, City Hall hangers-on and seasoned Alligators see no problem if Benton comes with at least 42 percent of the vote and must go to a run-off, but a drop further sets off speculation that outside money might take an interest in taking Benton out.

Then there's the Quintero percentage. Even if Ike slides to 40% Zack will have to be within shouting distance. That distance, if you go by the Alligators, is less than double-digits.

So, a minor dust up that is too little and way too late? Or an unforced error that causes Benton major grief?  Stay tuned. . .


The charge of racism in the historic District 2 council seat is especially radioactive for Anglo progressive Benton. It has long been the intent of the council that three or more of the nine districts be represented by Hispanics. For decades Benton's district had Hispanic representation. Currently there are three Hispanics on the nine member council while the city population, according to the July '18 Census estimate, is pushing 50 percent and the city's total majority-minority population is over 60 percent.

Benton has made the district his own--with strong Hispanic support--and there has been little grumbling over Hispanic representation on the council. The mailer on Quintero, which photoshopped tattoos on his arms, threatens to reopen an old wound that could make a run-off downright nasty. Notably, Ralph Arellanes, chairman of the Hispano Roundtable of NM, chimed in on the Quintero mailer:

This kind of mailer has no place in New Mexico politics, it’s a complete misrepresentation of a man.


How do you know it's election time?

First, you get the somewhat unusual news that APD conducted a well-publicized downtown drug sting Oct. 29, arresting six people. Downtown happens to be in Councilor Benton's district. He's been endorsed by Mayor Keller. Benton's opponents paint him as soft on crime.

Then there's the news of the Rail Yards celebrating the opening of a new plaza Saturday. Pretty innocent, right? Well, there's an $8 million bond proposal on the ballot, $5 million of which would go to clean up the historic but dilapidated Rail Yards that critics call a money pit. Mayor Keller is a strong supporter of the Rail Yards renovation.

Finally, you get the speculation that the proposed $14 million homeless shelter might be built in the UNM South Campus area around University Boulevard and Avenida Cesar Chavez. That comes as some citizens complain that they don't want a 300 person capacity shelter in their backyard and want to know where it will be built. Dropping a rumor about where the shelter may be placed could ease the concern of voters as they decide this major Mayor Keller bond initiative.

If the powers-that-be at City Hall come up short on anything tomorrow night, it won't be because they had a shortage of spin doctors.


We'll have Election Night results at 7 p.m on KANW 89.1 FM and KANW.COM. The four city council races will be front and center but we'll also closely watch the $128 million dollars in bonds. Will all pass?

And that Democracy Dollars proposition has become a hot button that will get our attention.

Joining us to keep tabs on the action will be Carla Sonntag, head of the NM Business Coalition, westside City Councilor Ken Sanchez and political consultant Sisto Abeyta.

There's always a surprise or two so join us as we find out together how the voters settle matters.

This is the home of New Mexico politics.

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

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