Thursday, January 24, 2019

Raise Taxes? Already? Will R's Score Points As Dems Start Tax Talk Amid Historic Surpluses? Also: The Sad And Tawdry End Of Susana; Lawsuit Alleges Affair With Trooper Bodyguard That May Have Cost Taxpayers 

Will the Governor and her majority Dems play into the hands of the R's and pass significant tax increases this legislative session? That's the question du jour as the 60 day session picks up pace. Here are the takeaways:

--Raising the gas tax by ten cents a gallon to finance road repairs as proposed by the D' is seen as a political loser. Taxpayers are already scratching their heads. You have a $1 billion surplus for the current budget year that ends June 30 and a projected $1.1. billion surplus for the one that starts July 1 and you want to raise taxes? Already?

--Speaker Egolf and the legislative leadership have already agreed to tap a bunch of that surplus for one time road repair projects, particularly for the hard hit roads in booming oil country.

--The problem with the tax package, which includes raising the income tax for the highest earners who now pay the same rate as low and middle income taxpayers, is timing, timing, timing.

--R's are already scoring points shouting out that when it comes to Dem tax hikes: "We told you so!" Rio Rancho GOP State Rep. Jason Harper effectively twisted the knife, saying, “It’s gonna hit our middle class, all these teachers they just gave a raise to, it’s going to hurt them.”

--It's always painful to raise a regressive tax that aims squarely at the lower and middle classes like that on gasoline. Many recall how Dem Bruce King lost the governorship in '94 due in part to attacks on his support for such a hike. And that one was only for two cents a gallon.

--MLG and the Dem's best political and policy bet is to raise the income tax on the higher earners and begin the process of restoring a progressive tax system. And freeze the failed corporate income tax cut--that never delivered the promised jobs--and use that savings for the roads. That would be just fine with the vast majority of New Mexicans, if not the R's and their biz backers.

--Not that this isn't a good time to raise the gas tax. Prices per gallon are sinking below two bucks a gallon so a tax hike will not be as noticed. But a ten cent a gallon boost is over the top given the surplus. They could pull it back to maybe a nickel, but new Dem state legislators from ABQ's NE Heights will still have a tough time defending it when seeking re-election in 2020.


New Mexico Legacy, the group trying to spruce up the image of former Governor Martinez, has their work cut out for them. The whole sorry, tawdry tale of her administration is only now leaking out. The latest being allegations in a lawsuit that she was having sex with one of her state trooper bodyguards and how the gambling-plagued bodyguard received a $200,000 state settlement when he left her security detail. And here are the sordid details:

A bodyguard for former Gov. Susana Martinez says in a new lawsuit that state police officials retaliated against him for raising concerns about misconduct by another member of her security detail, including concerns about the misspending of campaign funds. New Mexico State Police Officer Tony Fetty claims officials around the governor instead sought to protect her ex-bodyguard, Ruben Maynes, and alleges the two had a personal relationship. The lawsuit adds to questions other state law enforcement officials have already raised in recent months about why Maynes received a $200,000 out-of-court settlement from the New Mexico government after leaving the governor’s security detail and what relationship, if any, he had with the state’s top elected official and her family.

Martinez's apparent sham marriage, her excessive boozing and the manipulation of the government she purportedly led by her Shadow Governor Jay McCleskey is her real legacy. And all the slick mailers and media enablers in the world will not be able to change that history.

Enjoy your retirement, Susana, or something. . .


Now that NM is in the money this reader--we lost their name--answers the question: "How do we invest in ourselves?"

With the newly discovered oil reserves in the Permian Basin, and discussions about whether and how to spend the increase in revenue, what does “invest in ourselves” mean? I would like to propose a two year experiment. Three or four school districts should volunteer for year round school and longer school days (8 am to 5 pm), coupled with higher teacher pay. The cost for this experiment can be paid from the oil reserves. The current 8-9 month school year is based on a 19th century agrarian model. For working families, keeping kids in school until their parents get home is safer for the kids, and safer for the community. 

Let each school decide how to keep the kids engaged during a longer school day – sports, music, academic clubs, etc. Teachers will have to be paid more because they will be asked to do more, but that strikes me as a win-win for the teachers and for the kids. If New Mexico wants to escape being at the bottom, it needs to stop doing things the way they always have been done. If New Mexico is serious about climbing the social-economic ladder, its motto needs to evolve from Land of Enchantment to Land of Education.

That's it for today. Join us tomorrow for Friday Photo Fun.

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Wednesday, January 23, 2019

It Won't Be Udall Vs. Sanchez For Senate, But Former Lt. Gov Is Not Ready To Exit Arena; Says His Time Could Still Come, Plus: Susana's Hidden Legacy  

John Sanchez
Senator Tom Udall told the NM Legislature Tuesday that "in all my years of public service, I have never been so worried about our democracy." He was referencing the mess in DC, but he will soon get a personal sampling of direct democracy when, as expected, he launches his bid for a third Senate term in 2020.

In the turbulent Trump era there is little certainty about politics but one thing is sure--former Lt. Governor John Sanchez will not seek the GOP nomination to take on Democrat Udall next year.

But Sanchez told me over a coffee break recently at the Starbucks near the ABQ Indian Pueblo Cultural Center that doesn't mean his political career is over. Sanchez chastised those (including this blogger) for promoting his early obituary from state politics, declaring:

I am not running for the Senate in 2020 but I am going to remain active in politics and policy.

Sanchez, 56, would not be well-positioned for a statewide race so soon after the completion of the Martinez years which ended with her approval ratings in the cellar. Despite having a mind of his own and a strained relationship with Martinez, he would surely be saddled with her sour legacy, if he were to get back into the political fray so soon.

However, Sanchez, who built and now presides over a highly successful ABQ roofing business and who previously made a brief run for a GOP Senate nomination, says in politics time acts likes a salve over old wounds. In the future, he argues, Governor Martinez will probably be credited with running a sound fiscal policy from which the state ultimately benefited. Of course, if that panned out it would benefit Sanchez, if he were to seek higher office--say the governorship in four or eight years.

That would seem about the only office that would really appeal to the state's former #2. During his eight years he won kudos for his proficiency in presiding over the state senate and for his ability to build bipartisan bridges and avoid the worst instincts of Martinez.

Also, it is little known but Sanchez ceased his formal education upon graduating from high school, but he has been an avid student of government. His experience at the center of it shined through as we sipped coffees and ran through a litany of issues facing the state.

To the disappointment of many of his supporters he never did make a pronounced break with Martinez and her unsavory brand, but he has a reason:

It's true that I disagreed with her style but we were in agreement on major policy. What was I to do? Go public with a disagreement about style?

Sanchez stayed off the record when exploring the Martinez years in more detail. As for the current Governor, he says he fears MLG and the Dems will overreach:

They usually do, but I wish her nothing but the best. Her success will be our state's success. I stand ready to do anything I can to help--pick up the phone to advance business here--whatever.

Sanchez makes the point that if and when the Dems do overreach the state will look to the minority R's to right the ship. They did that in '86 following Dem Guv Toney Anaya's unpopular term and elected Republican Governor Carruthers. In '94 it happened again with the baton being passed from Dem Governor Bruce King who lost to Republican Gary Johnson and yet again in 2010 when Dem Guv Bill Richardson plunged in popularity and Martinez and Sanchez won the first of their two terms.

A native New Mexican, Sanchez remains deeply rooted in the state. His elderly mother continues to host the large family at Sunday gatherings in the North Valley and he is preparing to give away a daughter in marriage to the son of former ABQ Republican state Senator Joe Carraro. 

At the exact moment our meeting hit the 60 minute mark the disciplined Sanchez arose and cracked, “I’ve got to go. I’ve got a wedding to pay for!”

Like his daughter, it seems John Sanchez is ready for a new beginning. 


While Sanchez is keeping his political options alive, Susana Martinez continues to try to salvage her reputation after a roundly criticized governorship. But the self-proclaimed "most transparent governor in state history" continues to have a hard time living up to that hype. Take a look.

A secret donor gave $150,000 to New Mexico Legacy, the group that has been buying ads. . . promoting former Gov. Martinez. . . But who paid for this advertising is apparently a secret. New Mexico Legacy is not a political action committee. Instead, it is a social welfare organization with 501(c)4 status under the federal tax code. That means New Mexico Legacy is not required to disclose its donors, only the amounts of major contributions. It is, however, required to share its tax filings with the public . . It reported raising about $601,000 in 2017 and spent nearly $59,000 on advertising and about $57,000 on management. Former Martinez campaign fundraiser Jessica Perez was the only paid board member. She is listed as receiving about $55,000 in 2017. . . New Mexico Legacy listed 23 donations over $5,000 for the same year, accounting for nearly all of its reported revenue. That included a single donation of $150,000. But the group redacted the identity of all donors.

A "social welfare agency" not a group blatantly involved in the political arena promoting Martinez's action as Governor? Now that's a stretch. And why not disclose that $150k donor, or does a major embarrassment lurk? And there you have the latest tale from the “most transparent administration in state history.”


Back to Senator Udall for a moment. His latest approval rating among 450 registered voters conducted by Morning Consult in the fourth quarter of 2018 is an anemic 42 percent, with 30 percent disapproving and 28 percent with no opinion. In July of 2017 the same poll gave him an approval rating of 53%. The firm's fourth quarter poll had Sen Martin Heinrich also scoring a lowly 42 percent approval, but he was just re-elected in November with 54 percent of the vote in a three way race. Go figure. . .

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Tuesday, January 22, 2019

Reader Vox Populi: They Comment On The Plastics Ban, The ABQ Crime Wave, Retiring Here And The Electoral College 

There has been plenty of criticism of the ABQ City Council for supporting a ban on single use plastic bags as well as straws and styrofoam as the city continues to grapple with a multi-year crime wave. What about concentrating more on that, the council critics cry. But a number of readers, including Eric Olivas, defend the council proposal:

I own a landscaping company and I can tell you that the accumulation of plastic in our local environment is a real problem that our team sees everyday. Look nationwide and worldwide, and this is a full blown crisis. The council is showing some real leadership here by trying to tackle this issue. Moreover, the idea that the council hasn’t done anything about the crime crisis is absurd. 

As Councilor Ike Benton wrote on your blog recently, the council and administration have done more in one year than happened in the last 8. Should the council not consider any matters that are not crime related? It took 10 years to get in this mess, it is going to take more than a year to fix. I don't agree with everything this council has done but by and large this council seems to have woken up from an 8 year slumber and gotten to work.

It’s time to start being proactive and that is what this ordinance does. Limiting single use plastics is a worldwide trend. I’m sure the restaurants and retailers will complain about the “costs,” but what is the cost of continuing to spew plastic into the oceans and natural environment? I know it’s hard to worry about oceans here in the high desert, but maybe for once we can be on the right side of history here. . . 

More about the proposal from the city's website.


But the crime watchers are never far behind. And one of them came with this hit:

24 hours after the Mayor's "State of the City" address, which included slick, self-promotional videos from all nine City Councilors, this happens:

"Two men, best friends, were shot and killed while family members say they were visiting an assistant manager at a Northeast Albuquerque gas station early Monday morning, Jan. 14."

All is well. Remain calm. We've turned the corner on crime and are going to get those nasty plastic cups and straws!

As the crime wave continues attorney and former ABQ City Councilor Greg Payne has been a vocal critic of the City Council and Mayor. He gets some support from reader Keith Miller:

Greg Payne is saying the truth. Neither D nor R has, as their first area of interest, the commitment for doing the nut-crunching that is required. What seems to be missing however is the justifiable use of punishment when lawlessness is defined.  There is no wonder that those determined to use violence and break the law will continue to do so while they laugh at New Mexico’s rhetoric. Have a nice day…

Reader Art Tannenbaum, on the same subject, writes:

Joe, your writing on Albuquerque matters lately has been really good. Think about the extraordinarily increased levels of resources put into APD for years and years. You've got to ask: What has been bought here? Ever increasing chaos and mayhem? Recently you quoted a longtime City Councilor patting himself on the back regarding the tax increase the Council imposed on this poor city last year, the lion's share of which was allegedly dedicated to public safety. All this time many figured 2019 was supposed to be the year when the city political establishment finally fulfills its promises with respect to an acceptable level of fundamental pubic safety no matter what--not only is it a essential quality of life concern but it's also a matter of the taxpayer getting what's been paid for.


On the subject of attracting more retirees to the state and a proposal to spend $1 million to advertise to them, reader Jim McClure writes:

I’m in favor of attracting more retirees to New Mexico but agree that we don’t need to earmark a million bucks to do so. Retirees are a good deal for the state because we spend money, use few services and won’t demand good schools. The downside is that retirees tend to be well-informed voters, and that could be a problem for some of our politicians. One group that merits more attention is military retirees. New Mexico is one of the few states that levy state income tax on military pensions. Eliminating this tax would make us a prime retirement destination. Many military retirees have experience as instructors, and fast-track certification could help reduce the teacher shortage.

Reader Wanda writes to say there's a dark side to retiring in NM:

I knew NM was considered to be a state suffering from deep dark poverty but I still chose Albuquerque as the place to move to after retiring. I now question the wisdom of that choice. I find so many things such as fees for plumbers, etc. to be much higher than I'm accustomed to. While in the parking lot at Smiths, an over the road truck driver walked by and said "can you believe the prices here? I drive all over the country and this state is the worst. Shopping here is like shopping at a convenience store the prices are so high!"  I love NM and that's the reason I returned here but when I look at my bank account I question that choice. . . 


NM Voices for Children writes in a news release of the 2018 Kids Count Data Book:

The rate and number of children living in poverty markedly decreased from 2016 to 2017, which is good news for our state. However, with 27 percent of our children living at or below the federal poverty level, New Mexico still ranks poorly at 48th in the nation in child poverty. Rates are particularly high among young children (29 percent), Hispanic children (30 percent), and Native American children (42 percent). New Mexico’s child poverty rate has improved this year, but over the long-term nearly 12,000 more kids live in poverty now than did in 2008 – a 10 percent increase. While most other states have recovered from the recession, New Mexico’s economy (lags).


We blogged recently that eliminating the Electoral College and electing the president solely by the popular vote could freeze New Mexico out of the national political scene. That brought they response from Mitchell Freedman in Rio Rancho:

Joe, I think you make the wrong assumptions about keeping the Electoral College as is. First, do presidential candidates really spend time in NM? I have not seen evidence of that. Second, how does having Bush II and Trump, who gained office because of the way the Electoral College currently works, help NM? Presidents Gore and Hillary Clinton would have been far more sympathetic to the people and land of New Mexico. Third, we too often overemphasize the rural/urban divide and coastal/midwest divide. There are plenty of “red” state voters in California who do not get heard in a presidential race. There are plenty of “blue” state voters in Kansas and elsewhere who do not get heard in a presidential race. Third, presidential strategists and their candidates center on "battleground states.” They don’t go to Wyoming  and they won’t come to NM anymore. NM is part of the majority which voted for Hillary Clinton and will support the Democratic Party candidate in 2020.

From 2000 through 2008 New Mexico attracted a large number of visits by the presidential candidates, exposing them to the state's needs and causing them to spend considerably on advertising here. That is no longer the case since we lost our swing state status, but could that change in the decades ahead? It could. A good reason, we believe, to keep the Electoral College.

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Monday, January 21, 2019

Time To Pay Legislators? Perennial Issue Surfaces Again, Plus: Debating Marijuana Safety and Legalization 

Is it time to pay our 112 legislators and keep them up in Santa Fe longer each year? In a mild surprise, it seems the number of New Mexicans believe so and their number is growing.

In a  Research and Polling survey conducted among 450 registered voters for Common Cause NM in December, it was found that. . .

Approximately two-thirds of voters (68%) say they either strongly support (41%) or somewhat support (27%) extending the length of the state legislative sessions to address the increase in the number of policy and budgetary issues. . . 

Two-thirds of voters also say they either strongly support (37%) or somewhat support (29%) paying state representatives and senators an annual salary equivalent to the average New Mexico household, so that they may focus more on issues in New Mexico rather than also trying to hold down a full-time job. In comparison, 24% of voters say they are opposed to the idea of paying state legislators an annual salary.

NM remains the only state that doesn't pay it lawmakers but they do receive a daily payment (per diem) of $161 for every legislative day they attend (in March it goes up to $184) as well as for each committee meeting they attend when the Legislature is not in session.

Paying the politicos and extending the legislative sessions would require voters to make the changes by voting for a constitutional amendment, which would have to be sent to them by the legislators. That's probably not going to happen in the 2020 cycle. And while the poll shows support for the measures, how would that support stand up against an intense negative campaign? Perhaps not as strong. GOP opposition against regular paychecks for the politicos has surfaced early in this session.


Voters (and legislators) have more pressing issues on their mind than longer sessions or regular paychecks. The CC poll also reported that only 36% of the respondents felt the state was going in the "right direction." And that was in the afterglow of the November election when Dems swept to victory. However, it does beat the meager 24% who felt we were headed in the right direction in last year's polling.
Another improbable item for this session is the legalization of recreational marijuana. We blogged of a perception that demand for that may be waning in light of skeptical articles like this one from the liberal New Yorker. But reader Peter Katel says not so:

Joe, I wouldn’t get too excited about that piece you cited from The New Yorker. The New York Times ran what amounted to a corrective to that article, and the book that was its source material, noting the shoddy statistical analysis and over-reliance on anecdotal evidence that characterize both. Note that the author, unlike Malcolm Gladwell and Alex Berenson of the New Yorker, is a physician. You may be correct that the Legislature won’t legalize cannabis. But your suggestion that this would reflect a change in national mood on the subject assumes way too much on the basis of far too little evidence - and questionable evidence at that.

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Friday, January 18, 2019

Friday Photo Fun: A Disappearing Staff Chief 

Keith Gardner
How do you just disappear after eight years as the chief of staff to the Governor of New Mexico? Well, ask Keith Gardner because that's what he did. He conducted no exit interviews and made no announcement about what is next for him after concluding what had to be an often grueling stint on the Fourth Floor.

One of the longest serving chiefs of staff in the modern era, the former Roswell state representative, quietly left his office and his service to Gov. Martinez with nary a peep and headed to parts unknown. His wife, Stephanie, works as an an assistant principal for ABQ Public Schools so maybe he's hanging out here in the big liberal city.

Keith, 51, sure won't be going back to Roswell. You might recall the audio tape scandal involving him in which he was caught saying that he "hates" the place.

The pic is from veteran photographer Mark Bralley and was taken back when Gardner was a legislator.


This pic of Gov. Michelle Lujan Grisham about to deliver her State of the State address gave us a chuckle. It's from photographer Anthony Jackson of NM In Depth.

There she is--a product of the "Year of the Woman" surrounded totally by male politicos. It looks as if she's crashing a meeting of the Good 'Ol Boys Club. Not another woman in sight.

But this pic will be a rarity. For the first time in NM history, women now represent a third of the state Legislature--38 out of the 112 lawmakers. That's up from just  two 50 years ago.

And that's this edition of Friday Photo Fun.

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Thursday, January 17, 2019

Yet Another Spate Of Deadly Violence Pokes Hole in ABQ's Soul, Plus: Howie Takes A Hit; Progressives Feel Betrayed By Light Guv, And: Is ABQ Shortchanged On A Powerful House Panel? 

The soul of the city took another battering Wednesday when in the course of a single morning a man was murdered in broad daylight near Old Town, a woman on the Westside was killed as a result of domestic violence and an investigation began into the death of an 11 day old infant at a detox center. The talking points:

--It was only January 7 when we chronicled another spate of violence and mayhem that included the murders of two teenaged boys, their bodies buried in shallow graves, as well as other atrocities.

--Some ABQ residents don't want to hear it anymore. They seem to have accepted it as a new normal. Former ABQ City Councilor and attorney Greg Payne is not among them:

When is the last time you heard of a major drug bust in this city? The powers that be seem to have little interest in getting at the real problem here. There is not one tough politician in the bunch. The city continues to be a tolerant free zone for all sorts of crime--just about all of which is caused by the ongoing drug epidemic which city law enforcement and the Mayor are simply not addressing effectively, if at all. 

--Reader Suzanne Cully weighs in:

We are at the confluence of two major highway systems, I-40 and I-25. Drugs flow through here. Add to that entrenched poverty and you have a recipe for disaster. This is a mean place. And it’s becoming too violent. Joe, glad you tell it like you do. You gave the big picture. In two weeks how many murders here? And an 11 year old infant may be among them? It's really gettng unlivable here.

--Reader Jeanie has another take: 

Joe, I always find it interesting that Mayor Berry and Governor Martinez spent eight years destroying this city and our state, yet people expect Mayor Keller, and I'm sure Governor Lujan-Grisham to be able to undo the damage in a year. The damage Berry and Martinez did is going to take time and effort by everyone to fix. So perhaps you could point out the incredible challenge facing these two by remembering this problem won't be fixed in a year, probably not in several years. I believe Mayor Keller is trying and cares very much about turning this city around as I believe the Governor will.

--Mayor Keller, fresh from his upbeat state of the city party, has counseled patience and says that the gradual addition of more police officers will resolve the violence. But dead kids and a public murder near the city's most well-known tourist location ignites much rawer emotions than patience. Our January 7 blog has more on the crime wave.


Lt. Gov. Morales
It was the Governor they defied, but it's Howie taking the hit over the appointment of his replacement to the State Senate. Here's the inside scoop:

--Conservative Dem Gabe Ramos from Grant County was recommended to the Governor as Morales' replacement by all three county commissioners in the SW Senate district that Morales held for a decade.

--MLG was unhappy with the selection and asked for the commissions to send her other names. They refused and under the law Ramos took the seat. Now progressives are warning that Ramos, who is in the insurance business, could be the newest member of the Senate's conservative coalition that features all the Republicans and a handful of Dems who regularly join with them to thwart the progressives, who are now blaming Howie for strengthening the coalition.

Sen. Ramos
--Why, they ask, didn't the Lt. Governor use his stroke to make sure he was replaced by someone more liberal minded? It's a failure of his leadership, they charge. A longtime friend of Morales's counters that if the "ABQ progressives wanted someone else they should have gone to work in the area that is 300 miles from where they live. Howie can't control the commissions and he didn't try. Ramos did a strong job of lining up support. That's the story."

--The progressives rail that the bigger story could be close votes in the Senate on enviro issues, noting Ramos' support of the oil, gas and mining industries. They are also disgruntled over his socially conservative stands on abortion and gay rights which they say are out of step with core Dem values.

--But it's over now. MLG has had her first dust-up with conservative rural Democrats. They don't have big numbers anymore, but they are still adept at keeping a seat at the table--and seats in the New Mexico State Senate.


There's more progressive frustration rising through the ranks. ABQ activist Javier Benavidez is anything but hopeful that the progressive agenda will have an easier time of it because of big Democratic legislative election wins. He made this prediction on Twitter:

The Senate has again approved conservative Democrat Mary Kay Papen as President Pro Tem. She will again appoint conservative Democrat John Arthur Smith as Senate Finance Chair and conservative Dem Senator Clemente Sanchez as chairman of the Senate Corporations Committee. Those two committees are where everything good will go to die. Congratulations NM, Senate.


Sen. Candelaria
Meantime BernCo Dems are congratulating ABQ State Senator Jacob Candelaria for securing a slot on that powerful Senate Finance Committee. Voting wise he will not be much different from Morales, whose spot he is filling, but he adds an urban voice to the mix. Candelaria has long said he wants more Hispano power in the Legislature. Now he's got it. (ABQ also gets Republican Senator Jim White on the panel).

However, on the House side one of our Alligators reports the BernCo Dem delegation is taking note of their slipping power on the important House Appropriations Committee:

Joe, I find it interesting that the county that delivered the most for the Dems in the election seems to be getting punished in House Appropriations. From Bernalillo County’s hey day of nine members with Chairman Kiki Saavedra of Bernalillo County to seven with Chairman Larranaga, also of BernCo, to just five last year under Chairman Patty Lundstrom and now all the way down to three this year. NM’s largest tax base and largest delegation in the Roundhouse have been sidelined when it comes to spending the historic surplus.

That's a good story, Gator, and you can bet the chair of the committee, Rep. Lundstrom of the small town of Grants, is quite happy with the rural composition of her panel. Again, the cowboys always find a way to ride in New Mexico politics, just as the austerity hawks find a way to fly--no matter how much the climate is against them.


Things really aren't so bad in this old world of ours after all. Look what's yours:

Dion’s Pizza is pleased to announce the launch of our new mobile app making it easier and quicker for customers to place their orders. Please find attached a press release with more details as well as some photos. Please let me know if you might need anything else.

Okay, thanks for asking. How about one of those half turkey salads and a simple slice of cheese pizza? Forget the famous dressing. We're pretty much over that. 

Don't forget to join us tomorrow for Friday Photo Fun. 

Thanks for your company this week. Reporting from Albuquerque, New Mexico, I am Joe Monahan. 

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Wednesday, January 16, 2019

Put On A Happy Face; New Governor Contrasts Sharply With Predecessor As State Greets A New Santa Fe Style, Plus: No Post-Election Centrism; State of State Speech Leans Left; Our Complete Coverage And Analysis Up Next  

Governor Michelle Lujan Grisham happily plowed through a 50 minute State of the State speech at the Capitol Tuesday, giving New Mexicans their first good look at the public personality that will govern the next four years.

(Full speech here. Major newspaper coverage here and here. AP coverage here. Video here.)

For many, the change was somewhat startling. Here are the takeaways of your blogger and others.

--The most apparent difference she displayed with her predecessor was what the French call joie de vivre, a joy at being there and with herself. This was a happy camper, cracking off the cuff jokes and smiling often and naturally. And there was a professional poise, an ease in delivery that defined the address that was shaped by long years of politicking. Like we said, the contrast with the previous eight years was startling.

--The speech surprised some by going center-left, including former ABQ Dem State Senator Eric Griego: "It was a bold and a pretty progressive speech." He analyzed. Correspondents for the ABQ Journal rightly dubbed it "left-leaning." Griego now heads the progressive NM Working Families Party. The party is considering recruiting 2020 primary challengers for conservative Dem Senators who blockade progressive legislation.

--Rather than move to a post-election centrism she stayed planted near the left of the spectrum. The strain of political centrism--a centerpiece of the last Democratic Governor Bill Richardson and the last one before him, Bruce King, has been largely pushed aside in favor of an urban Democratic progressivism. It is more tempered here than say California but it is a citified coalition (ABQ, Santa Fe, Las Cruces) that gave the state overwhelming Dem dominance in the last election. MLG is not a charter member of that club, but neither does it make her bristle.

At the Session
--The new Governor has long been an advocate for tough gun control, but when was the last time a chief executive mentioned getting meaningful, tough on guns legislation in a State of the State? We wager never but she went there Tuesday, again reinforcing the sweeping political change the state is seeing this century. Now let's see if gun bills get out of the rural dominated Senate.

--She worked to calm alarmists who say she is going to "raid" the $18 billion Land Grant Permanent School Fund to use for early childhood education: "I call on this Legislature to explore every possible viable approach for educational empowerment, including a proposed constitutional amendment that will allow us to take a responsible pinch of additional money from our Permanent School Fund, ensuring we can deliver an education system that works for every child and every family in this state." She said.

Some liberals complained that was less bold than other education passages in her speech, but she faces a potentially epic battle in the Senate and a "pinch" of compromise was offered.

--She briefly left the "left wing" of her party when she failed to call for the legalization of recreational marijuana. A health expert herself, she instead proposed that opioid addiction be included in the state's medical cannabis program. Pretty clever move. And probably the death knell for the time being for legal pot here.

--The money lines came right up front in the speech: "In this moment, on this new day, we stand together on the precipice of immeasurable opportunity. I’m ready to begin the climb — and I know you are too."

--That "immeasurable opportunity" is the historic state surpluses that have been accumulating. There was no handwringing over the surpluses possibly disappearing with a crash in the oil price. It was a mild surprise that she barely tipped her hat to the sky is falling crowd. Again, she has the crowd behind her for "transformative" change in a state that has been beaten to a pulp for so long. An example from Twitter: "Lower podiums, higher hopes. Go @GovMLG. NM is ready for your vision and leadership."

--If her determination to change the course of the state educationally and get credit for it was in doubt, she suspended those doubts when she declared: "A judge in Santa Fe has ordered us, all of us, to adequately provide for our at-risk students. But I didn’t need to read a judge’s order to know we can do more, we can do better, and that, in fact, we must."
Taking the Oath

That reference to the landmark ruling by District Judge Sarah Singleton that found the state in violation of the Constitution for not providing ample education for at-risk students is the spark plug for the reforms now being pursued. So sweeping are they that on our Tuesday blog we called this legislative session the "Singleton Session." But MLG made clear she wants her name on this session and in her legacy. Hey everyone, welcome to the re-election Campaign of 2022.

--As for that podium for the diminutive Governor, her handlers got it right and the TV/streaming picture was an optical score. Cosmetically, she sported a camera-friendly light blue dress similar to--or the same one--she opted for in some of her campaign ads. It was complemented with striking Indian jewelry.

--Negatives? Not many, but one lawmaker felt her talk of collaboration sometimes clashed with her style, which he found more "commanding" than collaborative. And others questioned whether the formal State of the State speech lost some of its gravitas because of too many jokes and wisecracks. (One of her jokes was about the length of the speech but at about 50 minutes it was not unusually lengthy.)

--The number most watched in Santa Fe Tuesday was not how long MLG was talking but what was the price of oil trading at. Fortunately for her and the lawmakers, it was in the $52 a barrel area, right where the bean counters say it needs to average over the next budget year to generate those gaudy surpluses.


GOP Rep. Fajardo
What a box the R's are in. They need a new message but their Trump base is content with asserting that MLG will fail because she is overspending, that oil will crash and the state will be left holding the bag.

It was new House GOP Leader James Townsend from oil country in Artesia who pronounced himself "scared to death" of the Dem Guv's proposals. But where are the alternate GOP proposals? Well, few and far between. If you are calling for accountability you need to put out standards of accountability you want the administration to adhere to.

You wonder what vulnerable ABQ GOP Senators Gould, Moores and Rue are thinking as they look ahead to re-election bids in 2020. Well, they need some new thinking to stop the Dem momentum in the ABQ metro. GOP Chairman Steve Pearce, you need to put on your thinking cap or you're going to have even fewer caps to worry about.


Our apologies to Senate Majority Leader Peter Wirth, who in our first draft Tuesday we called "Tim Wirth,” his well-known political uncle. We seem to make that slip-up every couple of years. It is definitely deserving of ten lashes with the wet noodle as punishment. Best of luck for the session, Peter. . . And we inadvertently ran a photo Tuesday--uncredited from the Santa Fe New Mexican--of Senator John Arthur Smith. The pic was taken by Luis Sánchez Saturno. Nice job, Luis. 

KOAT-TV and the other major network affiliated stations do a pretty good job of providing local news coverage, but you can't fault Channel 7 for dumping their hour long newscast at 10 p.m. and getting Jimmy Kimmel before the still awake audience at 10:35 p.m. Who doesn't like Kimmel? New station general manager Lori Waldon made the call. . .

And for all of you wanting to go to Santa Fe and pocket a piece of that big surplus for your personal causes, we present to you the freshly named members of the powerful state House Appropriations Committee as determined by Speaker Brian Egolf. Happy hunting, Gators:

The first committee announced was the House Appropriations and Finance Committee, Chaired by the honorable Rep. Patricia Lundstrom (D-Gallup) and Vice Chaired by the honorable Rep. Roberto “Bobby” Gonzales (D-Ranchos de Taos). The committee members are: Rep. Anthony Allison (D-Fruitland), Rep. Harry Garcia (D-Grants), Rep. Javier Martínez (D-Albuquerque), Rep. Rodolpho “Rudy” Martinez (D-Bayard), Rep. Tomás Salazar (D-Las Vegas), Rep. Joseph Sanchez (D-Alcalde), Rep. Nathan Small (D-Las Cruces), Rep. Melanie Stansbury (D-Albuquerque), Rep. Candie Sweetser (D-Deming), Rep. Christine Trujillo (D-Albuquerque), Rep. Phelps Anderson (R-Roswell), Rep. Gail Armstrong (R-Magdalena), Rep. Paul Bandy (R-Aztec), Rep. Cathrynn Brown (R-Carlsbad), Rep. Jackey Chatfield (R-Mosquero), and Rep. Randal Crowder (R-Clovis).

Almost forgot. Here's a short video of the House Speaker's outlook for the session. It's prompting a new game at the Rio Chama and Bull Ring. Every time Egolf and the Governor say "education moonshot" you take a shot of your favorite spirit. Is that what those Dems mean by "Happy Days Are Here Again?"

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Tuesday, January 15, 2019

Call It The "Singleton Session"; Judge's Ruling Looms Large As 2019 Legislative Session Kicks Off; Education To Dominate; Dems On Mostly Same Page; R's Head To Sidelines 

Day Number One of the 60 day legislative session is right now. Here are the takeaways from NM Politics with Joe Monahan, the state's longest-running political website.

--Just call it the "Singleton Session" because years from now that's the label it will sport. The question is how long a shadow will District Court Judge Sarah Singleton's landmark education ruling made last year cast on future generations. Will it be a quirk, it's consequences evaded, or will it be an historic turning point?

--Singleton's ruling that NM is violating its Constitution by not providing a proper education for its at-risk students--mostly Hispanic, Native American and low income--has already had a dramatic impact on the state and the legislative session, with the  budgets presented by both Gov. Lujan Grisham and the Legislative Finance Committee committed to addressing the judge's findings.

--Under both budgets spending on at-risk students would rise by $113 million. The LFC recommends $90 million go toward extending the school year by five weeks at many elementary schools,

--That's a start but Singleton made clear in her ruling that universal full-day Pre K is one ultimate goal which the court ruled--after exhaustive testimony--is proven to have a positive impact on how kids perform by the third grade.

--Contrary to some mainstream media chatter, the ruling is very specific about what needs to be done for the state's thousands of at-risk children. We could not find any ambiguity (e.g. universal Pre-K and upgrade Pre K teaching standards; Pre K-3 Plus for more instruction time; expanded Summer School; smaller class sizes) Again, the question the judge left to the Legislature is the cost of compliance--not what constitutes compliance. Basically, she gave them a blueprint and said "find the money" to obey the law.

Judge Singleton
--Singleton, 69, is now retired. She was first appointed to the bench by Governor Richardson in 2009. She could not have asked for a better career capper than to be the judge in the case that challenged the state's educational underpinnings. She proved herself more than up for the challenge. The ruling reads like a tutorial on a hundred years of state education policy, with testimony from a myriad of experts. Whatever she's doing in retirement, she earned it.

--MLG and the LFC are on board, but most Republicans are hold-outs and want the  ruling appealed, something MLG is not going to do. Sandoval County GOP Rep. Jason Harper claims the $1.1 billion surplus projection is an illusion and that the Legislature will end up cutting back the increase in education funding it is expected to approve at the session

--But if Harper and the R's have it wrong they are flat out of the game. They could have a seat at the table now to determine the direction of some of that new education spending. But their bet is on failure. Perhaps not a bad bet given past results, but it sidelines them in the debate over spending.

--Again, the long-term cost of the ruling is ambiguous, but what NM needs is not. Every legislator owes it to themselves (and their constituents) to spend time scrolling through the 600 page ruling. It's an eye opener.


--On the early childhood front, our spotters at a recent public meeting featuring Senate Majority Leader Peter Wirth report he still has no stomach for taking on powerful Senate Finance Committee chairman and fellow Democrat John Arthur Smith.

Finance has repeatedly stopped the constitutional amendment to tap a portion of the state's $18 billion Land Grant Permanent School Fund and devote it to very early childhood education (ages 0-5). But Wirth told the audience he will not bypass the committee and try to bring the amendment to the floor without Smith's blessing.

--MLG is publicly all in on the amendment which if passed by the Legislature would be presented to voters in November 2020. She is the one who is going to have to exert political muscle, if she is to score the win. Wirth remains flaccid when it comes to the Deming Senator.

--Pressure will also be put on House Speaker Egolf who will rush the amendment through the House and claim victory. But a true movida would be stalling consideration of Senate bills in the House until Senate Finance agreed to give the early childhood amendment a hearing and a vote. That's probably what former House Speaker Ben Lujan would do, as he did on a number of occasions.


Some say they see signs that a marijuana legalization bill could make it through the Legislature. We don't. We actually see a dampening of enthusiasm for legal weed, evidenced by this skeptical article from of all places--the liberal New Yorker magazine. The article titled, "Is Marijuana as Safe as We Think?" is a wake-up call for the legal marijuana crowd.


Senator Sedillo-Lopez
The name of the newest member of the Legislature will ring a bell for many New Mexicans. She is attorney Antoinette Sedillo Lopez who ran a high profile campaign for the Dem nomination for the ABQ congressional seat last year but was defeated by Deb Haaland.

Sedillo Lopez, 61, a onetime UNM law professor and longtime activist, was the 5-0 pick of the BernCo Commission Monday to fill the ABQ SE Heights Senate seat of liberal icon Cisco McSorley. The longtime 68 year old lawmaker resigned the seat to take a job as the state's parole director.

Insiders said the senate seat was County Commissioner Maggie Hart Stebbins’ for the asking. But Maggie didn’t ask so...

Conspiracy theorists will play it this way: Sedillo Lopez was the fave of MLG for the ABQ congressional seat and she was chosen over more than a dozen other applicants with the help of the Guv.

Whatever the case, Sedillo Lopez will be well-positioned to win her own four year term when she stands for election in 2020 in the heavy D district. And she could have some professional help from her family. Her son, Victor Lopez, is a campaign consultant. Her husband, Victor Lopez, should also be a campaign asset. He's an ABQ district court judge who has run for elective office.


A reminder: The Governor's State of the State speech is exepcted to go off today sometime between 12:30 and 1:30 p.m. Check any of the ABQ TV news websites for the live stream as well as the Legislature's site and the Governor's site.

UNM outlined its legislative priorities for the campus this week. Among them is getting student lottery scholarships on sound financial footing. More here.

The lobbyist for the heavy Dem city of ABQ at the 60 day session is none other than longtime wall-leaner and Republican Joe Thompson. He was the only one who answered a bid for the job, says City Hall.

That seems to sit fine with the Dems. Thompson, a former state House minority leader, is liked on both sides of the aisle and did not get engulfed in the animosity of the Martinez administration.

That picture posted here is a first--the first public snapshot of the Governor with her two top aides--Teresa Casados, the chief operations officer  and John Bingaman, chief of staff. They were at the Govenor's first cabinet meeting held at the Roundhouse Monday. None of them seem to have much, if any, gray hair. Give it some time.

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Monday, January 14, 2019

Austerity Politics Comes To An Abrupt End In Santa Fe This Week As Legislative Session Opens; The Impact of A Newfound Prosperity For The State And New Governor, Plus: Keller Soups Up State Of City Speech  

A decade of austerity economics and politics comes to an abrupt end this week in Santa Fe as the state's 112 lawmakers gather for a sixty day legislative session that kicks off tomorrow with Governor Michelle Lujan Grisham delivering her first State of the State speech.

Let's cut to the chase and dive into the newfound prosperity and what it means for our enchanted land. . .

--The Governor sent down a proposed budget of $7.1 billion for the budget year that starts July 1. That's $800 million higher than the current $6.3 billion General Fund budget and a result of the oil boom in the SE. Pushing out that kind of money should stimulate the overall economy.

--Remember in 2009-'10 when the Obama stimulus came with over $3 billion for NM to help alleviate the economic crash? That money, ably administered by former Gov. Toney Anaya, staved off the worst impacts of the then raging Great Recession. This new money could be a spark plug for pockets of the economy outside of the already booming SE.

--Add in the ABQ Netflix deal which calls for the company to pump $100 million a year into its production business here. Now you're talking stimulus.

---However, look for "Netflix resistance." The Governor is proposing that the entire backlog from the state's film incentives--some $250 million--be paid to Netflix and other film companies in one fell swoop. Opponents say that is too much and want it trimmed, arguing that public schools and other agencies have had to wait years for increased funding and that some of that $250 million should go to other priorities and that the lucrative film industry can and should wait in line a little longer.

--The Governor is proposing a jump in the state's advertising/marketing budget from $11 million to over $17 million. That is a big league budget--an increase aimed at attracting even more visitors here which will stimulate local economies.

--The Martinez led war on public education and school teachers is over. The Governor is proposing a significant $500 million increase in the public schools budget which would include a teacher pay raise of six percent. The depressed psychology of the education community is about to change. The hope is that will contribute to better student outcomes. There's also $113 million to provide for low-income students, minorities and others at-risk. And $60 million to increase the number of Pre-K slots, and the number of Pre-K educators.

--Santa Fe Mayor Alan Webber has to be cheering the budget. New workers at agencies such as CYFD should boost his city's economy--and perhaps give young college grads a reason to stay around and maybe land a government job as a multitude of vacancies throughout the government are filled.


--SE NM representatives appear poised to get their wish for substantial road money to repair and maintain the jammed roads in the oil boom counties of Eddy and Lea.

--Enviros will also be winners. State regulatory agencies will get full funding to keep an eye on the oil boys and make sure they keep things clean while they frack away.

--Austerity hawks are in retreat after a decade of ruling the roost but Lujan Grisham nodded to them by agreeing that the state's budget reserve should be an unusually high 25 percent to protect against a possible collapse in oil prices. Okay, Governor, give them that, but with this in mind. . .

--A potentially huge story for the state is that the consensus opinion among the hawks and their allies in the conservative media are wrong. That opinion argues that this surplus will inevitably be a one time event, that oil will collapse and that NM will be back in the poor house.

---What if they are wrong? And they probably are. Many energy experts (and House Speaker Egolf) expect the oil boom to continue for a number of years and continue to deliver extraordinary surpluses. If so, that will require diligence and planning from state government and our part-time citizen legislators. Shouldn't our leaders start talking about the progress that could be made if that is indeed the case and make plans for a brighter future, instead of saying we still can't move the needle much because our good fortune is destined to dissolve?

--This time could be different. The recent news that NM is now sitting on one of the largest oil reserves in the history of the world and with fracking making possible its easy recovery, a slide in oil prices may not be as damaging because it would be against a backdrop of increased production, even if not at current record levels.

--Lujan Grisham has learned something. She self-describes as a "fiscal conservative" and while her budget is certainly no drunken sailor document, it does lean liberal. Why? Is it in part because she saw what really makes things tick during her six year stint as a congresswoman in DC? If she has escaped the NM poverty mentality bubble--and this budget indicates that--the austerity forces will try to suck her back in. That will be her fight.

--Advice to the new Governor: Tip your hat but do not genuflect to the doom and gloom crowd in your State of the State. Acknowledge the need for a bit of caution but emphasize much more the very real reasons for renewed hope that we can finally chip away at New Mexico's dismal standings. That is what has been missing for so long as the economy tanked and the youngsters fled. Turning the psychology helps turn the economy. The state's people are finally ready to hope again. In your "Go Big" State of the State don't rein them in; tell them you are hoping with them.


Speaking of changing the psychology, ABQ Mayor Tim Keller came up with a novel way to deliver his State of the City address. He threw a party at the National Hispanic Cultural Center that attracted a crowd of several hundred.

The event had all the trimmings of a political rally, including the appearance of Gov. Lujan Grisham and Congresswoman Deb Haaland. The Mayor's speech was preceded by slick videos featuring the nine city councilors touting their accomplishments.

Republicans charge that Keller's optics may be first class but his results aren't living up to them. He begged to disagree and after thirteen months on the job said in his speech:

After a decade of rising crime, a stagnant economy and a lack of opportunities for kids, Albuquerque was a city at a crossroads. Burqueños chose to take responsibility for our problems and take back control of our future. Last year we brought focus and urgency to our most pressing problems. We’re making progress but it is going to be a long road ahead; and we can’t do this alone It’s going to take all of us coming together as individuals and as governments, from all across the state to help the Duke City.

Keller was elected with over 60 percent of the vote in November 2017. Insiders say his approval rating continues to hover in that vicinity.

The full event, including the Mayor's speech, can be seen here. Meanwhile, Gov. Lujan Grisham will deliver her first State of the State address tomorrow sometime after 12:30 p.m. It will be streamed live on most of the local TV station websites and on the Legislature’s website.

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Friday, January 11, 2019

Friday Photo Fun 

This week we told you how we forgot Harry Teague, the southern Dem congressman who was elected in 2008, making the state's five member congressional delegation all from the same party for the first time since the early 80's when the Rs had it to themselves for two years.

Here's a picture from our photo file of that historic delegation, which has just been replicated with another all Dem delegation in 2019.

The three members on the couch--Rep Ben Ray Lujan, then-Rep. Martin Heinrich and Senator Tom Udall--were all freshmen, elected in 2008 when this pic was snapped.

Udall had just joined the Senate from the US House where he had represented the northern district before taking the Senate seat vacated by Republican Pete Domenici. Teague is seated in the chair next to the dean of that delegation--Senator Jeff Bingaman.

It was Democrat Bingaman's election in 1982 that ended the two year run of an all Republican delegation that occurred from 1981-83. He had to wait a quarter century to preside over an all Dem delegation in what would be his final Senate term. Bingaman was succeeded by Rep. Heinrich in 2012.

This all Dem delegation was as brief as the R's had been in the 80's. Dem Teague was defeated in 2010 by Republican Steve Pearce, after which he retired from politics.

Now in 2019 we again have an all Dem DC delegation. We will find out in 2020 if they can set a modern day first by making it two terms in a row.

That's Friday Photo Fun. Join us for another edition next week.

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