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Tuesday, April 23, 2024

On The Econ Beat: Virgin Galactic Coming In For A Crash Landing As Stock Sinks Below Key Level And Cash Burn Continues; NM Spaceport Future In The Balance, Plus More '26 Guv Race, And Absentee Ballots Hit Mailboxes  


New Mexico's 20 year waiting game with Virgin Galactic and Spaceport America may be about to end in a crash landing.

The stock of billionaire Richard Branson's company dived below a dollar a share Monday, an all-time low. If the stock stays under a buck for 30 days it risks being delisted from the NASDAQ which would dramatically impact its ability to raise desperately needed funding.  

Facing this stark scenario, what does VG do? It tries emergency life support to keep the stock above a buck:

Virgin Galactic will ask shareholders to approve a reverse stock split intended to boost the falling share price of the suborbital spaceflight company. . .One proposal will ask shareholders to perform a reverse stock split of between 1-for-2 and 1-for-20. That would convert anywhere from 2 to 20 existing shares of Virgin Galactic stock into one new share. The reverse split would have the effect of increasing the share price. 

A reverse stock split is the opposite of an ordinary stock split. Instead of giving you more shares, it leaves you with fewer. Investors are upset at this prospect -- even though it won't affect the actual value of an investment in Virgin Galactic. Whether you own 1,000 shares of stock worth $1 each or 50 shares of stock worth $20 each, you own $1,000 worth of stock.

Another sign that the death rattle may be near for VG and its space tourism flights from Spaceport America near T or C is Branson's declaration that he is through dumping cash into the struggling venture:

Branson said that his business empire will not be putting more money into Virgin Galactic, which recently fleshed out its near-term growth strategy. “We don’t have the deepest pockets after COVID, and Virgin Galactic has got $1bn, or nearly. It should, I believe, have sufficient funds to do its job on its own,” he said. 

NM Spaceport
But does VG really have "sufficient funds?" At the end of last year it listed $982 million in cash and marketable securities after losing $502 million in the same year and $500 million in '22. Most of the cash is from well-off potential space tourists who have ponied up as much as $400,000 a pop to secure their dream of being launched into suborbital space.

Investors continue to run for the hills, crashing the stock Monday nearly 13 percent leaving it at a meager seventy-five cents a share. 

That price values the company at about $300 million, a whole lot less than VG says it has in cash. 

Investors are clearly saying (and warning) that they believe VG is going to burn through the cash they have before they can restart regular space launches that are in abeyance while the company builds a new spacecraft. 

Before halting flights the company had launched 19 customers.

VG's slogan is turning the "impossible into the inevitable." Sadly the inevitable appears to be a going out of business sign.

Sure, the company's demise has been prematurely forecast before but never has Branson acted like a pallbearer as he is now.

The honchos at Spaceport America seem to see what's coming. They've been leaning on the Legislature for a couple of million a year in subsides to keep the taxpayer-built Spaceport going. In their new ten year plan they say they will seek many more tenants as they try to diversify away from the dependence on VG.

Meantime, the political powers that be here continue to play ostrich, seeing and speaking little on the subject. Soon there will be something to open their eyes as VG comes in for a landing on a wing and a prayer--and maybe only a prayer.  

MORE VG COVERAGE

Reader Dan Warren in Sierrra county has on the VG watch:

Hi Joe, Factors affecting their continued existence include recently being sued by Boeing for $25 million for money Virgin Galactic failed to pay them. Virgin Galactic responded by counter-suing Boeing, claiming Boeing's work for them was shoddy. 

To make things more difficult in coming months as Virgin Galactic plans for their last flight in New Mexico during the second quarter is a grounding order by the FAA. This happened after their January flight when an alignment pin broke off and fell to the ground somewhere. Most stories about the broken alignment pin never mentioned that the result was being grounded. Virgin Galactic will need to redesign (?) and repair the broken part and get FAA approval before they can fly the last flight of the Unity Spaceship, which is supposed to fly in the next 75 days and they said they would. 

 KUDOS TO HAALAND

Chavez and Haaland
An interesting email from former ABQ Mayor Martin Chavez in reaction to the Monday blog wherein Sec. of Interior Deb Haaland was mentioned as a possible '26 Dem Guv candidate as well as Sen. Martin Heinrich. Is the former three term Mayor taking sides in the early going? You be the judge:

Joe, Kudos to Secretary Haaland and Senator Heinrich for their good work regarding Placitas and gravel mining. Lost somewhere in the news, however, is the truly historic Final Public Lands Rule announced last week by the Department of Interior which elevates clean energy and conservation to at least equal status with fossil fuel extraction on public lands. Assuming it overcomes the legal challenges which are sure to ensue, New Mexico's Deb Haaland will go down as one of the most impactful Secretaries of Interior of all time. We all knew that hers was an historic appointment but this new rule will forever change how public lands are managed. And all by our own Deb Haaland! 

Haaland's base in the state Dem party is progressive but former Mayor Marty is a keeper of the flame for moderate Dems and Hispanics. As we said, interesting.

CLOSING IN


The June 4 primary is closing in. The SOS comes with this:

Registered voters in New Mexico can now request an absentee ballot for the 2024 Primary Election at NMVOTE.ORG. This year, voters can also voluntarily opt-in to be part of the permanent absentee list when requesting their absentee ballot. When a voter chooses this option they will receive an absentee ballot in the mail for every subsequent election. Voters can remove themselves from the permanent absentee list at any time.  The deadline to request an absentee ballot for the Primary Election is Tuesday, May 21, 2024. If mailing back an absentee ballot, voters should allow 7-10 days for their ballot to be delivered back to their County Clerk’s office.

This is the Home of New Mexico Politics.  
 
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(c)NM POLITICS WITH JOE MONAHAN 2024

Monday, April 22, 2024

Haaland For Guv Boomlet Continues To Fly Under Radar But Not Here, Plus: More Legislative Campaign Money Moves, Bregman-Martinez DA Race Delves Into DWI Scandal, Plus: Reader React To Chief Medina Defense 

Sec. Haaland (Bush, Journal)

It's true. Your blog is at the head of the parade when it comes to monitoring a possible 2026 Guv run by Secretary of Interior Deb Haaland. We're not shying away from that beat either as top state Democrats have been quietly chattering for months over Haaland's intentions. 

That includes a longtime Dem consultant with ties to Haaland who sends along this photo of a smiling Haaland in ABQ signing a public land order putting 4,200 acres of federal land near Placitas off limits to mining. They captioned the pic: "Looking Like A Governor."

Public speculation thus far has centered on Sen. Martin Heinrich who has made it clear that a Guv run could be in the cards, if he is re-elected to a third Senate term this November.

But Heinrich now has his hands full--unexpectedly so--with a name and monied opponent in Nella Domenici who is already attacking him for entertaining thoughts of becoming Governor which would mean not finishing any next term

A solid run by Domenici could spoil Heinrich's daydream. More than that, Haaland, if she does run, could be a lock for the Democratic nomination because of her appeal to Dem progressives and her identity as the first Native woman who would be elected to the governorship.

Senior Alligators (trusted sources) and top Dems don't foresee a Heinrich-Haaland primary, believing that only one of them will be standing at the end of the day.

Soon after the fall election the fog surrounding the '26 Dem Guv chase will begin to break. That's when to expect Haaland to figure prominently. 

As the late great Ernie Mills would opine: "Don't say we didn't tell you."

JAVIER AND MIMI

Sen. Stewart
House Speaker Javier Martinez is supporting all House Dems in their re-election bids as he puts aside any disagreements the progressive leader has with his conservative colleagues. But that doesn't apply to the state Senate. Martinez's personal campaign account gave $5,500 to Dem Senate candidate and progressive Heather Berghmans who is challenging moderate Dem Sen. Daniel Ivey-Soto in the June primary. 

Senate President Pro Tem Mimi Stewart appears to be staying out of that testy contest--at least financially. We spot no donations to Berghmans from Stewart's personal campaign or her leadership PAC in the latest campaign reports

In 2022 Ivey-Soto, under pressure from Stewart, resigned his rules committee chairmanship amid sex harassment charges dating from 2015 leveled against him by progressive lobbyist Marianna Anaya.

However, another prominent Dem Senator, ABQ's Katy Duhigg who has also tangled with Ivey-Soto, isn't shy about the race. Her campaign donated $5,500 to Berghmans.

In another Dem senate primary featuring a progressive versus a moderate, the name of famed retired newsman Sam Donaldson pops up. He gave $5,500 to Heather Balas, the centrist Democrat facing progressive Cindy Nava in the Rio Rancho/Corrales District 9 race. 

(Senate Prez Stewart gave $2,500 to Nava.) 

Donaldson is a longtime middle of the roader, hanging with moderate Dems like Jeff Apodaca since returning to the state. The broadcaster who aced the White House beat for ABC news lives in ABQ and is now 90. 

ANOTHER SAM

Another well-known Sam--Bernalillo County District Attorney Sam Bregman--continues to fight off a primary challenge from fellow Dem and former US Attorney Damon Martinez. The gloves are coming off fast as Martinez tries to put into play the APD-DWI scandal. He gets some help from J.R. Davis, a retired Supervisory Agent with the Department of Homeland Security:

A recent comment by former US Attorney David Iglesias indicates that DA Bregman should have recused himself from the dismissed DWI cases because, when he was a defense attorney, he himself had DWI cases dismissed involving one of the main APD officers currently under investigation. Iglesias did not list these cases. I can. 

On March 22nd, APD Officer Joshua Montano resigned from APD. He is one of the main APD police officers being investigated by the FBI regarding the DWI case dismissals. The US Attorney informed DA Bregman about Officer Montano’s ethical issues on January 2nd. There exist three DWI cases where: 1) Bregman was the defense attorney at the time; 2) all three cases were dismissed; and 3) they all involved APD Officer Joshua Montano. In other words, 100% of the DWI cases that then defense attorney Bregman had with APD Officer Montano were dismissed. 

The DA’s Office has jurisdiction over investigating APD public corruption. Consequently, the DA’s Office should investigate the DWI scandal in partnership with the FBI and US Attorney’s Office when it is determined that there are issues better left to state investigation. However, the dismissed DWI cases and the entire matter now has a cloud over it because of DA Bregman’s direct involvement and that he failed to immediately mention his involvement with APD Officer Montano . 

The DA’s Office should have a grand jury investigation looking into all DWI cases involving Officer Montano that were dismissed. In this situation, however, DA Bregman’s three prior DWI cases will come up. Therefore, Assistant DAs can’t investigate their own boss who is the DA. This is the actual conflict situation that DA Bregman has now shamefully placed our community in by not recusing himself.

Bregman has yet to comment on the alleged conflict. If and when he does, you'll see it here. 

MEDINA REACT 

APD Chief Medina

Some reader reaction to APD Chief Medina's defense of his record on the Thursday blog as well as the announcement that he will leave the job at the end of 2025. Ron Nelson writes:

APD and Medina say “Crime continues to go down, following national trends.” Hint: when you don’t answer calls or apprehend criminals, of course crime goes down. Seriously, anyone in this town who owns a ring camera or video surveillance will dispute this claim. 

Reader Doug Petersen writes:

Reader Kelley writes:

It might be a lot of people’s “perception”but Medina sucks. I was happy he’s announced his departure, but the end of 2025, really?! Wow, I don’t get the huge defense by all for him, makes no sense to me. This city sure doesn’t feel safe or better with him or the mayor. Great reporting (always).

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(c)NM POLITICS WITH JOE MONAHAN 2024

Thursday, April 18, 2024

Other Voices: BernCo Commissioner Quezada Defends Meeting Walk-Out, Plus: APD And Mayor's Office Push Back On Blog Take On Chief Medina Record, Also: Special Session Coming  

Quezada
Bernalillo County Commissioner Steven Michael Quezada, also an actor and comic, upstaged his fellow commissioners recently when he walked out of a commission meeting. We blogged about it and he responded:

 It's important to recognize that the U.S. Constitution protects the minority party's voice through the Bill of Rights, ensuring everyone can freely express their opinions. Although I am a Democrat and in the majority party on the Commission, my values of integrity and transparency seem to be in the minority. Additionally, the system of checks and balances in which our nation was founded on ensures that minority interests are considered in decision-making processes. 

Unfortunately, the interests of both (Republican) Commissioner Walter Benson, myself, and, most importantly, our constituents have been disregarded and silenced by Commissioners Barbara Baca, Eric Olivas, and Adriann Barboa. 

I walked out of the last Commission Meeting after proposing a compromise to allow each Commissioner to appoint someone to the County Manager selection committee. Regrettably, this compromise was defeated in a 3-2 vote. As an elected official, compromising hasn't always been politically easy for me, but it has always been the right thing to do. 

The New Mexico Foundation for Open Government reported Commissioners Baca, Olivas, and Barboa to the New Mexico Department of Justice (Attorney general's office) for potentially violating the Open Meetings Act by conducting business outside of official public meetings in relation to the hiring of our new County Manager. 

And lastly, you’re correct I am not laughing. There's nothing humorous about the silencing of over 270,000 Bernalillo County residents' voices by three County Commissioners. It's particularly concerning and not funny when three out of the five Commissioners are under investigation by the NMDOJ.

MAYOR AND MEDINA PUSHBACK

Medina and Keller
The Tuesday blog regarding APD Chief Harold Medina's scheduled departure for the end of 2025 and an analysis of his record touched nerves at APD and the Mayor's office. First, the mayoral response

Interesting thesis on the Tuesday blog. Unfortunately half is factually way off. Medina saved reform at APD, taking the department from 38% DOJ compliance when he came in to 94% today. Homicides, auto thefts, burglaries and robberies are all down, and officer recruitment and retention are on the uptick. Of course, you wouldn’t know that based on media coverage, so no one can argue with your point about perception. 

Also, the Mayor has searched outside the state for a Chief multiple times, but City Council said Medina was the best candidate for the job and confirmed him 8-0. They basically reiterated this by not even considering the proposed no confidence vote a few weeks ago. 

Medina is the only chief who has taken on the decades old DWI scheme and working with the FBI to make sure anyone involved will never work for the City again. Through good times and challenges, Chief Medina is first and foremost a cop who cares most about serving the community. He speaks candidly and from the heart, and people appreciate that he is a local, authentic leader who responds the needs of residents and works hard day in and day out despite the vitriol and politics. 

The Chief's office came with this critique: 

--Crime continues to go down, following national trends. The one area that bucks the national trend – and the trend we have more control over – is solving homicide cases and arresting offenders.  So far this year, detectives have solved 21 of 26 cases, or 81%. Of those solved cases, 32 suspects have been arrested or are deceased. Our Investigative Support Unit and SWAT officers have also arrested all suspects; no suspect who has been charged is outstanding.  In addition, detectives this year have solved 8 cases from previous years and arrested 17 suspects. That’s a total of 40 solved cases and 49 murder suspects in 3 ½ months. We arrested 119 murder suspects in 2023 and 119 murder suspects in 2022. . .

--Police shootings – The DOJ commissioned an independent review of the spike in shootings in 2022. That review determined there was no pattern of unconstitutional, deadly use of force. Also, that vast majority of individuals shot and killed by police have been under the influence of meth, Fentanyl and very high blood-alcohol levels – likely altering their state of mind prior to the shootings. All six fatal shootings last year involved those drugs and/or alcohol. Also, nearly every shooting has in the past two years have involved individuals with guns, and suspects have shot police at least three times.

--The chief’s auto accident resulted from someone firing a handgun in the direction of his vehicle. We don’t know what that has to do with his temperament. 

--One city councilor continues to attack Chief Medina politically and not for cause. Interestingly, there have been no calls from the police union for a vote of no confidence. Just one councilor. 

--APD overtime? What abuse has happened during Chief Medina’s tenure as chief? 

--Ask again about the DWI scandal in a few weeks. We have said since the beginning this is more about a broken criminal justice system. Chief Medina took responsibility for getting to the bottom of APD’s problems and worked with the FBI to make that happen. 

As for the shootings at Coronado Mall, Ask the management there why they chose to post another law enforcement agency there under the former Sheriff. 

The office also attached  "a list of accomplishments" and a rebuttal to Councilor Louie Sanchez's criticism of Chief Medina. Here is that list.

LIKE BOSTON? 

Reader Bruce Shah writes: 

More and more this city is looking like the Boston I left 30 years ago. One party rule sucks no matter which party it is. Nice summary on Medina/Keller and the AWOL Federal Monitor. Thank you!  

 SPECIAL SESSION

MLG initially gave a special legislative session an 80 percent chance of happening then upped it to 85 percent. Now it's 100 percent. A special session dealing with crime has been called for Thursday, July 18. It is anticipated that it will last several days. 

The Governor's announcement:

(The Governor) will call the New Mexico Legislature into a special session on Thursday, July 18 to take up additional public safety protections that New Mexicans demand. Gov. Lujan Grisham said she decided to convene a special session to allow lawmakers to finish what they started during the 30-day session. Based on discussions with legislative leadership, the governor anticipates that the special session will be completed within several days. “While we made some progress toward a safer New Mexico during the 30-day day session, we agree that we must do more,” Gov. Lujan Grisham said. “The special session in July will enable us to deliver additional statutory changes that reduce the danger and risk New Mexico communities face every day. The best proposals for making our state safer will be under consideration, and I welcome input from my colleagues in the legislature.” The July 2024 special session will be the fifth special session of the legislature during Gov. Lujan Grisham’s tenure as governor.

The state GOP reaction: 

When New Mexicans hear that Gov. Lujan Grisham is calling a special session to address public safety, a chill runs down their spines because her past actions prove that she is not interested in taking measures against criminals, but rather against law-abiding citizens. The Democrats are totally to blame for New Mexico's out-of-control crime. They need to explain why public safety wasn't their priority during the previous legislative session despite holding a majority in both chambers of the state legislature. During the last session, Republicans proposed several bills aimed at increasing penalties for multiple crimes, ending catch and release, and securing the border. Democrats killed every single one. Recently, the Governor expressed her intention not to take additional measures to secure New Mexico’s Southern border, even if she were to call a special session. She cannot claim to care about public safety while ignoring the numerous problems stemming from our open border, including the rampant influx of fentanyl, alarming prevalence of human trafficking, and criminal cartel activity. Despite this, the Governor is planning to spend hundreds of thousands of New Mexicans' tax dollars to convene an additional session that could result in another waste of time or in law-abiding citizens' rights being infringed upon. For the sake of New Mexicans, I hope that the Governor will engage in meaningful conversations with Republicans and heed their advice on addressing the criminal issues plaguing our state to ensure that this special session will be productive.

The Democratic legislative leadership reaction:

House Speaker Javier Martínez (D-Albuquerque), Majority Floor Leader Gail Chasey (D-Albuquerque), Majority Whip Reena Szczepanski (D-Santa Fe), and Majority Caucus Chair Ray Lara (D-Chamberino) issued the following statement: 

We anticipated this announcement and we share the Governor’s commitment to ensuring all New Mexicans can feel safe in their homes and communities. We also want all of our neighbors to be able to get the help they need when they or a loved one are struggling with mental or behavioral health issues. In the coming weeks and months, it will be critical for us as elected leaders to work together with stakeholders and experts to develop meaningful solutions to these challenges. In order to be responsible public servants and stewards of taxpayer dollars, we must enter the special session with a set of achievable goals that will genuinely make our communities safer, improve access to healthcare and services, and protect the rights of New Mexicans. In recent sessions, we have made significant progress toward making our streets safer and addressing the root causes of crime. We look forward to building on that progress in this special session, as well as in the upcoming 60-day legislative session, which is just around the corner.

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(c)NM POLITICS WITH JOE MONAHAN 2024

Wednesday, April 17, 2024

State's Top Two Dems Tangle In Northern Primary; Governor And House Speaker Split Over Castellano-Gonzales House Contest; Race Has It All; Progressive And Conservative Dems, Big Oil And A Third Rematch  

Call it the battle of the Democratic titans. Because it is. But it's not necessarily the candidates on the ballot. MLG and House Speaker Javier Martinez have a pleasant enough relationship but behind the scenes this primary season they are in a toe-to-toe battle in a key northern Democratic House Primary that could impact future state policy. 

The latest finance reports show that MLG has pumped $8,000 from her campaign accounts into the coffers of progressive Dem Anita Gonzales as Gonzales tries for the third time to oust conservative Dem Rep. Ambrose Castellano in District 70 which covers most of San Miguel county and a part of Torrance.

As seen at the top of this post, the Guv is hosting a fund-raiser for Gonzales tonight in Santa Fe that tops out at $2,500 a pop. 

Speaker Martinez is right behind her plowing $5,500 from his personal account and $500 in in-kind donations from his Speaker Fund into Castellano's effort.  

Castellano report here. Gonzales report here.

The heated money race has drawn an ethics complaint from former state Rep. Daymon Ely alleging that Castellano "violated state law by paying for personal expenses from his campaign account--for everyday expenses like gas reimbursements, regularly eating out, hotel stays in Albuquerque. . . 

Castellano's said of the complaint filed with the State Ethics Commission: "I welcome a fair and legal process but believe my campaign is in compliance with laws and regulations."

 You might wonder why Martinez, a progressive, is supporting Castellano. Well, a check of our exclusive April 10 blog making known that Martinez is backing all Democratic House incumbents--no matter their ideological bent--answers that question. 

And Castellano was all eyes when that blog hit, saying on social media:

In a recent insightful article by Joe Monahan, the dedication of our Speaker in steadfastly supporting his members has been highlighted. It is heartening to see such unity and strength within our leadership, particularly in times that call for solidarity and resolve. I extend my sincere gratitude to the Speaker for his unwavering commitment and support. His leadership exemplifies the values we hold dear and underscores the importance of standing together.

Thanks for the acknowledgment, Ambrose, but flattery will get you nowhere around here. However, a down to the wire, scrappy primary contest in the heart of the North does do the trick.

WHAT A RACE

Castellano shrugs off MLG's endorsement of Gonzales, claiming it would have no effect. But any impact at all could be enough in a race that could be as tight as the lug nuts on one of those '56 Chevy's gracing the front yards of Vegas.  

MLG is not a down the line progressive but Castellano's pro-life and pro-guns stances combined with his unabashed backing by the oil and gas industry is enough to move her to the front of the line for Gonzales. 

Speaker Martinez endorsement
The Guv's donations to Gonzales amount to nearly 26 percent of what she received in the October thru April period when she raised a total of $31,000 and reported $25,000 in cash on hand for the final two months of her duel with Castellano, a general contractor and rancher who was first elected in 2020.

That year he beat Gonzales in the Dem primary by the razor thin margin of 62 votes or 41.1 percent to 39.9. The remainder went to a third candidate

They had a rematch in the '22 primary and it was another nail-biter with Castellano prevailing 51% to 49 or just 78 votes. 

Money has been a problem for Gonzales, 44, who has been heavily outspent by Castellano. Apart from the Governor's big give, her major donations are on the small side and from individuals not corporations. But compared to her previous primaries with Castellano her financial condition is improved and that gubernatorial fund-raiser tonight will help.

Meanwhile, Castellano reports raising $85,000 in the recent six month period, not an overwhelming advantage over his foe. But the oil boys made the difference. Marathon Oil and Occidental each donated $5,000 and Exxon came with $3,000. As of April 1, Castellano had $65,000 in cash on hand.

Big oil's involvement gives added significance to this race for impact on state policy in addition to the battle between House progressives and Dem conservatives for more of the Roundhouse power pie (not that MLG or the Speaker have turned down oil donations).

Gonzales is not waving her progressive flag too high in the district where moderate Hispanics dominate and where a Hispanic woman trying to take down a Hispanic man still has electoral implications. Both factors probably played a role in her earlier defeats. 

THE PERSONALITIES

On the campaign websites its jobs and inflation for her, not guns or choice. Castellano has been talking rural New Mexico values, small business and economic growth. The communities are well aware of their split on the social issues from previous encounters.

Rep. Castellano
This is also a battle of personalities. Castellano's is big enough to fill two ten gallon cowboy hats. His voters are loyalists even as critics charge he plays too much footsie with lobbyists.

Gonzales, an MBA who is the Deputy Director for New Mexico Mathematics, Engineering, Science Achievement (NM MESA), is rooted deep in the community, a native of Las Vegas with a list of community involvements that would take a separate blog to list. She takes hits for being too liberal for the region.

MLG has taken Gonzales under her wing but she is not running for re-election and is free to roam about the campaign trail in any direction she chooses. 

Speaker Martinez has made the shrewd move of backing all his House Democrats whose votes he will need to retain his post, but it leaves the progressives in the cold and perhaps eyeing a future power move against the House's #1. 

This race has it all. The Governor, Speaker, Big Oil, progressives versus conservatives, a third emotional rematch and the treachery and delight of Northern New Mexico La Politica. Heck, we might have to move the blog to the Las Vegas Plaza Hotel for a week. 

This is the Home of New Mexico Politics.  

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(c)NM POLITICS WITH JOE MONAHAN 2024

Tuesday, April 16, 2024

APD Chief Medina Says He's Leaving Job But There's A Catch, Also: Decision Comes As Keller Preps For Third Mayoral Run And As APD Reform Lags And Crime Wave Goes On, Plus: More Legislative Primary Debate  

Medina and Keller
APD Chief Harold Medina is leaving his job--but there's a catch. The Chief says he won't give up the reins to his controversial reign until December 2025. That just happens to coincide with the end of Mayor Tim Keller's second term in office. 

Keller says he plans to seek a third term next year and with Medina signaling that he will not be around for a third, the plan is obviously to remove the controversial Medina as a campaign issue. 

Well, good luck with that. 

--Medina has become somewhat of an albatross around Keller's neck as the ABQ crime scene settles into permanently higher rates, even though they have dropped from the spiked levels reached during Covid. 

--Then there is the rate of fatal police shootings, higher than ever in modern city history and the highest in the United States. This despite a decade long presence by the Department of Justice to bring that rate down. 

--Add to it the millions spent on a Federal Monitor for APD who has continually ghosted the city without repercussions, collecting his outsized checks but remaining a phantom.

--Then there is Medina's recent bizarre auto accident that critically injured an innocent civilian and brought into questions the Chief's temperament. 

--There are also problems at the City Council with a handful of the lawmakers expressing no faith in Medina but unable to garner a Council majority to approve a no-confidence resolution in the chief.

--There's more. The look the other way mentality when it comes to the huge amount of overtime pay going out the door at APD continues, despite Keller calling out the abuse when he was State Auditor as have other Auditors.

--Keller and company and public officials elsewhere continue to argue that the crime rate is down and that this is a perception problem. But that's only half true. ABQ homicides, for example, are down from the Covid spike but well above the pre-Covid rate.

--The APD DWI scandal that apparently goes back years continued under Medina's watch, a commentary on the checks and balances in the department.

--Also, the nature of crime--not only its frequency--is what raises public alarm.  

--Guns going off at Coronado Mall--the state's largest. 

--Brazen fatal shootings and others in the heart of Downtown. 

--Open air and ubiquitous drug use in the War Zone in the SE Heights. 

--Property crimes that reveal little fear among the city's drug-fueled criminal class. 

MAYOR 2025

Medina has been chief three years and under state retirement rules his high salary as chief--north of $200,000--will be applied to his retirement benefits. He could be eligible for as much as 90 percent of his current pay for the rest of his life. So Medina's decision to retire is not a shocker but as it is often the case with Medina it comes with a political angle, similar to his bobbing and weaving over the fatal police shootings and the ongoing crime wave

Keller may or not get re-elected. We won't know the lay of the land  until those hoping to replace him step forward. But if he fails to win again his decision to keep Medina will not be a fatal error. That would have happened soon after he took office in 2017 and promised a national search for a chief but ended up picking one from within the culturally dysfunctional APD. That pick didn't last but the culture did.

Medina has lasted but so has the lack of progress in reforming APD exemplified by the DWI scandal and the crime rate which can be partially explained by the pandemic but not fully. Medina or no Medina that will be key to determining the outcome of next year's mayoral election. 

DEBATING THE CANDIDATES

Greg Seeley
We appreciate the give and take our readers are coming with on the June primary legislative races. It's not too soon. Early voting begins May 7 for the June 4 election. 
 
One of the surprises has been the announcement by the progressive Better Future for NM PAC that it would target moderate Dem state Rep. Marian Matthews who took what was once a heavy ABQ NE Heights GOP seat in 2020 and is now seeking election to a third term. 
 
Former Lt. Gov. Diane Denish defended Matthews against progressive attacks on the April 9 blog. Now Scotti Romberg of House District 27, a supporter of Matthews' challenger, Greg Seeley, comes with a different view:

Marian Mattthews not only campaigned against paid family medical leave--SB3 and HB6--she has shown that she does not support working women. In her letter to her constituents dated February 29 she wrote that she sponsored four pieces of legislation. Unfortunately all the bills she co-sponsored, HB 282, HB 284 and HB287 were postponed indefinitely. In addition, according to the Legislative website, she missed nine votes this session and was excused from voting twice. She has not shown up when she was needed. She says she supports women, but voted against increasing the minimum wage, which disproportionately affects women. She said she supports paid family medical leave, but her bill puts all the burden on the employee and only lasts six weeks and with multiple restrictions. Now she is taking money and direction from oil and gas and the Chamber of Commerce. She has forgotten who put her in office. As a woman, I am proud of Greg’s military service. The military teaches many things and those lived experiences do translate into the civilian world. Of course he does not have direct legislative experience as he has never run for office before, but he does have experience working with legislators who mentored him, like Sec.of Interior Deb Haaland and Sen. Ben Ray Lujan. 
 
CRUCES DA
 
From Las Cruces reader and SWOP Community Organizer Arturo Uribe writes:
 
Hello Joe, I’ve been reading your blog since 2003-2004. I look forward to reading it. I’m  reaching out to you again to see if you could plug our candidate forum for Dona Ana District Attorney taking place at the Historic Palacios Barin Mesilla, Tuesday April 16th (today) 6-8pm a non partisan civic engagement event open to the public and to all voters who want to come out and meet the candidates and ask a question. Our guest panelist are former state Representative Shirley Baca (D) and radio host Kelly O’Connell (R). Thank you for your blog and the work you do. 
 
There are five Democrats and one Republicans seeking  the DA's office in Dona Ana. Unlike Bernalillo County where the DA's race is also a hot ticket, Dona Ana Republicans did field a candidate. 

And thanks much, Arturo, for all those years of checking in here. That's a whole lot of La Politica under the bridge. It's our privilege to be. . .
 
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Monday, April 15, 2024

Domenici Tries To Separate From Trump: "Not Looking For An Endorsement" And "Won't Be Giving One"; Also Announces Opposition To A Federal Abortion Ban; Evades Time Limit Issue, Plus: Funny Man Quezada Not Laughing At BernCo Commission  

Domenici
Nella Domenici is trying to shed the heavy baggage that would keep her from mounting a serious challenge to Dem US Senator Martin Heinrich but the Democrats are determined to make her carry the burdensome cargo right up until Election Day. 

The 63 year old first-time candidate is now trying to bump from the campaign trail both Trump and abortion, the two super-charged issues that have painted New Mexico Republicans into a corner--and a very small corner at that. 

In a podcast interview, Domenici, daughter of the late GOP US Sen. Pete Domenici, sought to separate herself from Trump who lost New Mexico by ten points to Biden four years ago (54-44) and is poised to lose it again in '24. She also offered more substance on her abortion stance after her first interview last month that was skimpy on details.

On Trump, the leader of her Republican Party and soon-to-be '24 presidential nominee, she declared:

I have been a very independent thinker my entire life. . . Sometimes I'll agree with our president--whoever that may be--and sometimes I will disagree. Sometimes I might agree with Donald Trump. Other times I might well disagree. I am not looking for an endorsement from Donald Trump. I won't be giving an endorsement to Donald Trump. I am really just looking for endorsements  from all the voters of New Mexico.

The use of the word "independent" is telling as she faces the long-odds task of keeping her losing margin in big Blue Bernalillo County to manageable levels and without alienating hard-core Trumpers elsewhere who are essential to pulling off an upset.

Because of her father's pedigree as a moderate Republican, she may have some luck convincing voters that she does not worship at the altar of Trump but the Dems will spend big money to block the pivot. 

ON ABORTION

Heinrich
Her fuller stance on abortion, explained in the podcast, is more problematic. It came after Trump announced that he was against a national abortion ban but before the court ruling in Arizona that bans just about all abortions under an 1864 law. She said:

I think abortion should be safe, legal and rare and most importantly it should be rare. I really want to reduce abortion. I am opposed to a federal ban on abortion and New Mexico has decided on its abortion policy and I will abide by that. . . 

I am going to focus on reducing unintended pregnancies. That's the best way to reduce abortions. . . I want us to be able to educate our women on birth control choices, make those birth control choices available to them, trust and respect their decision-making as it relates to increased used of birth control to reduce unintended pregnancies.

I don't want to participate in a big debate about which week. I want to have efforts that reduce unintended pregnancies so we don't have to talk about any weeks. 
 
ANALYSIS AND CONTEXT
 
Domenici would love nothing more than to not talk about how many weeks into a pregnancy abortion should be permitted and not "participate" in one of the greatest issue debates of our time. But the issue is nationalized and there is no escaping. 
 
The Dems and Heinrich will hammer her in the months ahead as she's forced to grapple with her position on restrictive abortion position in other states, including Arizona's. 
 
Also, her call for reducing "unintended pregnancies" raises the question of her stand on the pill mifepristone which is now a preferred abortion method and supported by most Democrats but opposed by many Republicans.
 
Domenici's dance on the GOP twin terrors of Trump and abortion is like watching a spider tangled up in its own web. The problem is that many voters--especially women--simply no longer trust the Republicans on abortion and the fear of Trump remains palpable in a wide swath of the state. 
 
The easy vote is for the Democrat. The GOP hopeful will have to show much more of that "independent" streak to get the voters she needs out on the dance floor while not alienating those who waltz to a more conservative tune. 
 
MONEY RACE
 
Meanwhile, Heinrich reports raising $1.5 million in the first quarter and having $4.3 million in cash on hand. Domenici earlier reported she raised $1.25 million in the quarter including $500,000 she contributed. She did not reveal her cash on hand. Those numbers will be posted by the FEC April 15.  

But how much is former hedge-fund manager Domenici worth? That's the question tantalizing La Politica. We've heard estimates from the tens of millions to over $100 million. Either of those amounts and a willingness by Domenici to tap such a fortune makes Heinrich's numbers look anemic--and they wouldn't under normal circumstances.

NO JOKE

You would think that moderate Dem Bernalillo County Commissioner Michael Quezada would be a happy man now that his new comedy nightclub at Santa Ana Casino is a hit. But the 3 to 2 lock the progressives now have on the Commission is making him frown, so much so that he walked out out of a meeting last week:

With me not having a say-so means that all the people who voted for me do not have a voice right now when we’re passing this resolution. My time is better served in my commission at my desk in my office. This is the first time that I’ve ever felt like I wasn’t included. Like, I’m not a part of a five-party commission. And I think staff knows that that’s the case here, and so with that being said, why am I here?

Before the progressives took over in 2023 a moderate faction controlled the Commission, so Quezada's critics says he getting a does of his own medicine when he protests the method the Commission majority is using to select a new county manager.  

Quezada leaves the Commission at the end of the year. He served two terms representing the South Valley and Southwest Mesa. Frank Baca and William "Billy" Walker are running for the Dem nomination to succeed him. Whoever wins that is headed to the Commission. The GOP hasn't won that section of town since FDR. This year Republican Mary Kay Ingham has the unenvious task of trying to break that cycle.

Quezada has been a diligent commissioner but rather than storm out of meetings, he might want to perform his comedy stand-up act for his colleagues. After eight years, he has plenty of material.

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Thursday, April 11, 2024

On The Econ Beat: Huge Arizona Chip Coup A Reminder Of What Could Have Been, Plus: Cornerstones Of State Economy Remain Solid While Diversifying Remains Elusive; Stocks Of Maxeon And Virgin Galactic Hit All-Time Lows  

Oh my. What could have been. Imagine this here and now it's happening right across our border:

TSMC ’s Arizona subsidiary is set to receive up to $6.6 billion in U.S. government funding under a preliminary agreement announced by the Biden administration. The funding, under the U.S. CHIPS and Science Act, will support Taiwan Semiconductor Manufacturing Co.’s more than $65 billion investment in three cutting-edge fabrication plants in Phoenix, according to the nonbinding agreement. 

While chip maker Intel in Rio Rancho is also expanding it's not the game changer state economic planners are still looking for as they seek the elusive "diversification" of the economy. But the longtime cornerstones of the economy are solid. 

--New Mexico is now the second largest producer of oil in the USA, trailing only neighboring Texas. And the bull market still has legs, with peak production still several years away.

--Los Alamos National Labs is seeing unprecedented job and budget growth as the "pit" production program for nuclear weapons gets underway and will last for years.

--It's not on the scale of Los Alamos but ABQ's Sandia National Labs is also seeing steady job and budget growth

--The large footprint of ABQ's Kirtland Air Force Base remains and is not threatened by federal closure but NM base watchers are keeping an eye on Cannon AFB in Clovis since restructuring there transferred over 300 personnel to Arizona.

Back on the diversification front, economic gurus are nervous about a $1 billion investment in a solar manufacturing plant announced last year by Singapore-based Maxeon Solar Technologies at ABQ's Mesa Del Sol. Maxeon's stock has since plumbed new lows. In fact it hit a new all-time low of $2.33 on Wednesday. The company is sensitive to higher interest rates and is now valued at only $150 million. 

Federal subsides, however, are key to that Maxeon ABQ invesment and a favorable announcement is expected soon.

And the stock of billionaire Richard Branson's Virgin Galactic, the chief tenant of the NM Spaceport, has also been trading at new lows as doubts continue about the viability of the company's plans to put thousands of thrill seekers paying hundreds of thousands dollars apiece to be launched into space. As with Maxeon, this company important to the state traded Wednesday at a new all-time low of only $1.04 a share. At that price the company is valued under $450 million, crashing from multi-billions in valuation. 

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Wednesday, April 10, 2024

House Speaker Parts Way With Progressives Working To Oust Conservative Dems; Martinez Supporting All Incumbent Dems In '24 Primary, Plus: More Of Our Reporting On Campaign Money Reports  

Speaker Martinez
Progressives targeting high-profile conservative Democrats like Rep. Patty Lundstrom won't be getting any help from House Speaker Javier Martinez. In fact, his political arm says, Martinez and his Speaker Fund will be supporting all incumbent Democrats this primary cycle even as progressives try to enlarge their numbers by going after Lundstrom and others.

That's not shocking since the current roster of House Democrats made Martinez the Speaker. And even though he stripped Lundstrom of her powerful House Appropriations Committee chairmanship in a show of strength after she ran against him for Speaker, his punishment does not extend to vindictiveness as is often the case in La Politica.

Lundstorm from District 9 in Gallup has has two June primary opponents with Christopher Hudson endorsed by the Better Future for NM PAC run by a trio of progressive consultants. But they may want to offer an early concession. Besides having two candidates splitting the anti-Lundstrom vote, she has nearly $280,000 in cash on hand, says her latest report, while Hudson has just $2,900. The other challenger has raised no money at all. 

In fact, Lundstrom's cash beats out the progressive PAC which reports $262,000 in cash on hand but has to cover a bunch of targeted races with that money and anymore they can raise in the short time before early voting begins. 

If Lundstrom does indeed retain her seat it is critically important to state politics because Lundstrom has the force of personality and a long record of Democratic conservatism. As long as she sticks around that viewpoint will create strength and cohesion for her fellow conservative Dems even as the chamber is dominated by progressives. 

The Speaker's decision to support all incumbents--including Lundstrom--could also be critical down the road if restless progressives challenge his leadership.

Another reveal in the finance reports is the strong financial position of Speaker Martinez whose Speaker Fund reports $377,000 in cash on hand plus his personal campaign account with $76,000 in cash.

HOUSE ACTION (CONT.)

Dr. Anjali Taneja

Let's pick up where we left off yesterday and take a look at more of the state House campaign reports where there are contested primaries. 

In the race to replace longtime Dem Rep. Gail Chasey in ABQ SE Heights District 18, the four way contest quickly became a three way race with lobbyist Marianna Anaya raising $70,000 in the six month period and family medical doctor Anjali Taneja close behind with $66,000. Nurse Gloria Doherty came with $32,000. 

Anaya is the chief sex harassment accuser of Dem Sen. Daniel Ivey-Soto. Her list of contributions is a who's who of progressives including Senate President Mimi Stewart who has no love lost for Ivey-Soto. She had her committee give Anaya $5,500. Stewart has over $90,000 in her campaign account. 

Anaya reports $55,000 in cash on hand for the final weeks and Taneja $60,000. The doctor received strong support from the Indian community as well as fellow medical doctors and is positioned as the chief rival to Anaya in what has become a race to watch. Doherty reported $31,000 in cash and appeared to lean more on out of state and out of ABQ contributions than the other two. Candidate Juan Larrañaga has just $1,500 in cash on hand. No Republican is running for the seat so the primary winner takes the prize.

In District 31 in the far ABQ NE Heights, the only Bernalillo County House seat to be represented by a Republican--the retiring Rep. Bill Rehm--there is a three way primary for the GOP nomination. Nicole Chavez has the money lead with $50,000 in cash on hand but Sarah Jane Allen comes with $26,000. Chavez is the favorite but she did lose a House race to Dem Pam Herndon in District 28 two years ago. Democrats will make a serious play to win the seat in November with Vickey Estrada-Bustillo reporting $30K in cash. She is unopposed in the primary. 

In District 41 centered in Rio Arriba County, there was talk that Dem Rep. Susan Herrera, a progressive, could be in for a strong challenge from conservative Margaret Campos. But it appears that challenge is fizzling. Campos reported just $48 in her campaign coffers while Herrera came with $18,000.

There's no primary in House District 38 in Socorro and environs but the general election money battle is fully underway. Former GOP Rep. Rebecca Dow, who represented much of the district before leaving to run for Governor, reports $87,000 in cash on hand. Tara Jaramillo, who won the district in '22 in a cliff hanger, reports $67,000 in cash. This will be near the top of the races to watch come this fall.

DEM INFIGHTING (CONT.)

As New Mexico in large part has become a one party state the infighting between the moderates and progressive Dems intensifies as we are seeing in this cycle. Here's another example from moderate Dem and former Lt,. Gov. Diane Denish commenting on the progressive PACattack against ABQ NE Heights Rep. Marian Matthews:

There is absolutely no proof that progressive candidate Greg Seeley has a strong history of supporting reproductive choices (and comes no where close to Matthews’ strong support on the issue), paid family medical leave (PFML) or environmental protection. His website is focused primarily on his veterans experience, which is valuable, and his many jobs over seven years with elected reps and government agencies but that simply doesn’t translate to a “long history of support for…) any of these issues. Rep. Matthews problem is she is smart, pays attention to detail, tries to protect caregivers (which Dems wanted to eliminate in PFML) and asks tough questions that apparently can’t be answered by bill sponsors. 

Candidate Seeley, of course, is welcome to respond. 

After progressive Dem Senator Jerry Ortiz y Pino came to the defense of embattled Sen. Daniel Ivey-Soto on the blog recently the email rolled in and we're still trying to catch up. Here is reader Charity Townsend: 

In response to Senator Ortiz Y Pino’s comments last Thursday, when it comes to who stands with women and who are the reproductive health care champions we should support in the upcoming election I trust Planned Parenthood. If an incumbent has been good on their issues they will support the incumbent. But in the case of SD15 and Daniel Ivey-Soto, Planned Parenthood has proudly endorsed his opponent Heather Berghmans. 

THE BOTTOM LINES 

In the Tuesday monster blog on the campaign money reports, we omitted the name of Republican Frida Susana Vasquez from the Senate District 9 race. She had $212 in cash on hand. And when we reported on the new GOP House leadership we had the incorrect party breakdown in the House. It is currently 45 Dems, 24 Republicans and one vacancy.

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Tuesday, April 09, 2024

BernCo DA's Race Tops Money Charts In Primary '24; Bregman Vs. Martinez Digging Deep For Win In Heated Battle, Plus: Reports On Senate And House Primaries  

The tense race in the winner-take-all chase for the Democratic nomination for Bernalillo County District Attorney could be tight as a drum and despite being confined to only one county this potential nail-biter now leads the state for money raised in reports filed Monday with the SOS.

(All state and county candidate reports here. The period covered is October 3, 2023 – April 1, 2024.)

Sam Bregman, appointed to the DA's post by MLG to fill a vacancy, is trying to shake a decades-long losing streak since winning an ABQ City Council seat in the 90's. To do it the noted trial attorney and former state Dem Party chairman has raised a total of $410,000. He reports $319,000 cash on hand for the final weeks of Primary 2024.

Former US Attorney Damon Martinez went into his own pocket and loaned himself $170,000 to keep pace with Bregman. Martinez, who got in the race later than his opponent, raised a total of $302,000 and had $204,000 in cash on hand.

In individual contributions, Bregman reported that a property concern of Democratic oldtimer and businessman Paul Blanchard came with $5,000. Trial attorney Lisa Curtis donated $2,000. And another Lisa--but this one a Republican--gave the sometimes black-hatted Bregman $1,000. Long ago, Lisa Torraco ran for DA--that was when the GOP didn't take a walk in the contest. 

Bueno Foods, maker of popular Mexican foods, gave Martinez $2,500. Attorney Antonia Roybal Mack came with $1,000. And Martinez had his own GOP supporter. Former NM GOP Chairman Edward Lujan donated $200.

The R's have no candidate on the ballot so they might as well pick sides among the Dems. 

And how about this. Bregman and Martinez have both spent $98,000 so far. To be exact Bregman reports $98,364 in spending and Martinez $98,061. Is that a prelude to how tight this race will be Election Night? Could be and with no Republican running in November this all or nothing primary battle is going to go over the top and under the belt. We promise. . .

SENATE ACTION

Heather Balas
We enlisted the help of our Senior Alligators (longtime trusted sources) to help bring you a cascade of money report news. 

--Retiring GOP Senate leader Greg Baca reports $150,000 in cash on hand, much of which he will likely hand out to fellow GOP senators through the course of the election year. 

--In ABQ's Senate District 13, incumbent Bill O'Neill was outraised by Dem primary challenger Debbie O'Malley. She raised $60,000 and had $51,000 in cash on hand. O'Neill raised about $32,000 for the cycle and reports $27,000 cash on hand for June 4 primary. 

In what may be the hottest GOP legislative primary, Steve McCutcheon, the rancher appointed to fill a SE NM Senate vacancy by MLG, reports raising $104,000, with cash on hand of $43,000. The oil boys came through for fellow oil boy Larry Scott. The state rep going up against McCutcheon raised $203,000 and had $184,000 in cash. This one is all R all the time. The primary winner takes the prize.

In ABQ's District 15 in what is the hottest Dem Senate primary, progressive Heather Berghmans reports raising $87,000 with cash on hand of $65,000. Moderate Sen. Daniel Ivey-Soto reported $128,000 cash on hand but $111,000 of it was raised before October 2023.. This seat is a top target of the progressives and their PAC(s) are targeting Ivey-Soto but a surprise endorsement of Ivey-Soto from progressive Sen. Jerry Ortiz y Pino has been a booster shot for the incumbent.

In District 30 state senate action, former state Senator Clemente Sanchez is trying to get back to the Senate to represent the Grants area and environs. He had money left over from his last campaign outing when he lost the seat and reports $137,000 in cash on hand. His opponent, Angel Charly, a progressive fave challenging the conservative Sanchez, reports raising $50,000 with $35,000 in cash on hand. The state's leading progressive PAC is expected to supplement Charly with outside spending.

In Senate District 9 on ABQ's westside and Corrales and Placitas, public policy expert Heather Balas and Cindy Nava are battling for the Dem nomination for a seat being vacated by Dem Brenda McKenna. Balas reports cash on hand of $51,253; Nava cash is at $28,610. Balas is the moderate and Nava the progresssive so the Balas money muscle is perking up the moderates' hopes. The winner of the primary will face either Republican Audrey Trujillo, who reports $21,600 in cash, or Frida Susana Vasquez who had $212 in cash on hand. 

In the GOP state senate primary in District 21 in the NE Heights, the last ABQ Senate district represented by a Republican, Nicole Tobiassen reported raising $38,000 in the latest reporting period and $52,000 in cash on hand. Former GOP state Senator Michael Wiener reported $46,000 in cash on hand. Most of his donations came from the Wiener Family Trust which came with $50,000 in loans and he loaned himself $10,000. Candidate Craig Morton reported just $2,000 in cash on hand.

HOUSE ACTION 

Rep. Matthews
In ABQ House District 27 Rep. Marian Matthews has been targeted by progressives who have fielded Greg Seeley against her in the Dem primary. But Matthews, an attorney, is off to a solid fund-raising start, reporting cash in hand of $118,000 versus just $10,600 for Seeley. 

Up north in House District 70 in the Las Vegas area, it's another rematch between Rep. Ambrose Castellano and Anita Gonzales. He won the first two by minuscule margins. Gonzales reports $26,000 in cash on hand and Castellano reports a cash kitty of $63,000. Looks like this one will again keep Las Vegas up late on Election Night. 

The progressive PAC Better Future for NM that is heavy into the legislative contests reported cash on hand of $263,000 and spent $76,000 in the reporting period.

More on the money races as the week continues. For now thanks for joining us and remember. . .

This is the Home of New Mexico Politics.  

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