Thursday, November 06, 2003

Power At The Roundhouse: Now He's "Big Ben," Romero Wavers, Plus: Paying for Playing, And Soltari: Who Are Those Guys? Scroll Away... 

The political alligators are surfacing after the off-the-tracks special session of the Legislature and, as usual, they have a list of winners and losers in New Mexico's latest political partying. Deep inside the Roundhouse much of the spin is focusing on House Speaker Ben Lujan. "Gentle Ben" is now earning the moniker "Big Ben" from politicos who said his use of force to keep the House in session, despite a balking senate, was his first real public use of power since he assumed the speakership in 2001.

Here's how one veteran Republican put it: "It's not well-know but Lujan is a pretty tough guy. He comes across as very meek to the public, but behind the scenes he has been a major player for years. His forcefulness in keeping his fellow Democrats in line on behalf of the governor is par for the course, but because it happened under intense public scrutiny a new side of Ben was revealed. I think his stock goes up in the Legislature, and certainly he has a major favor to call in with Richardson, who was left hanging when the Senate temporarily adjourned."

Lujan of Nambe had a revolution on his hands when House Dems were defecting because of the tax increases contained in the road bill that finally passed. House Majority whip James Taylor publicly strayed from the reservation and was quoted in the papers calling for the Legislature to go home. But Lujan brought him and others back into the fold. If the Speaker failed, the entire session would have been a political disaster for Big Bill, who hung on by a thread thanks to Lujan and company.

Another insider said while Lujan deserves credit and will benefit politically from the raw exercise of power, the Democrats have won a battle but lost the war. "Let's face it. Raising taxes and fees is never popular and that's what the road bill does. There will be a price to pay for some of those Dems who supported it. The Republicans have real ammo now to label this a tax and spend Legislature."

Speaking of paying a price, one wag at the Capitol chimed in: "Richard Romero ought to call California because that's where his campaign for Congress is headed." He explained: "Governor Davis raised car registration fees and look what happened to him. I think Richard made a big mistake on this one and Heather's gang is going to make him pay."

Romero, of course, is seeking the Democratic Congressional nomination for the fight to take on Republican Wilson for a second time. He lost the Albuquerque seat big in 2002, but wants another bite out of the apple. He led the move for early adjournment in the Senate, but was lobbied by Big Bill, agreed to come back and then ended up supporting the tax and fee increases in the road bill. Hardly a recipe for electoral success in a Congressional district where conservative independents are key.

Bottom Line: Speaker Lujan is now truly speaker in the eyes of New Mexicans. Richard Romero now needs major repair work on his fiscal record, and Governor Bill loses political capital for botching the special session, but gets rescued from major political damage by the gentle, but firm Ben Lujan.

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Hard Times for Mayoral Wannabe--Brother, Can You Spare 16K? 

In politics these days it seems "anything goes" but sometimes there is a price to pay. Just ask former City Councilor and 01' ABQ mayoral candidate Mike McEntee. He campaigned as "the conservative Republican" candidate for mayor. Problem was city elections are officially "non-partisan." But McEntee ignored the pleas to stop and as a result has found himself out of a bit of money. As a federally employed air traffic controller, McEntee was found in violation of the rules that prohibit such employees from engaging in partisan election campaigns. McEntee, who represented the northeast heights, began a four month unpaid suspension November 1. During the campaign he said he was making about 120k a year. So the suspension will cost him at least 16k. But some fellow Republicans are trying to take the sting out for the Albuquerque native. They've organized a couple of fund raising events for him to replace some of the money he's losing. The cash will go directly to McEntee who is married with two teenagers.

Four years ago the state GOP under John Dendahl blew the cover off of nonpartisan elections by openly funding campaigns. Nothing happened to him for doing it either. Meanwhile, we're glad McEntee's GOP friends are having fundraisers for him. After all the executive committee of the Bernalillo County GOP endorsed him two years ago, helping to get him into the trouble. Of course, I can hear the Democrats now joking that most of their members get by for a year on what McEntee makes in those four months he is suspended. Fans of McEntee can call 281-2913 to pony up money.

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Wednesday, November 05, 2003

LANDSLIDE! Unification of ABQ and Bernalillo County Meets Voter Roadblock; Massive Opposition; What's Next? 

Bernalillo County and Albuquerque voters made it clear last night that they want nothing to do with governing each other. The proposed unification of the two government entities "went down in flames" as predicted by pollster Brian Sanderoff and myself earlier in the week on "New Mexico Politics With Joe Monahan." 66,794 votes were cast AGAINST the measure with 41,863 FOR. That's 62% against and 38% for, a margin of 24%! Total votes cast were 107,982, representing a turnout among registered voters of 37.95%, above expectations, but not markedly so.

There was not much crying in the beer by proponents of unification very late Tuesday when the results were announced. No one really mounted a campaign in favor of the measure, even the commission that wrote the proposal. This unification defeat goes into the history books along with several others over the last 50 years. It seems each generation takes a stab at it and each says no thanks. It goes without saying that valley opposition was off the charts and the measure appeared to have failed in every section of the city as well. However, that is an educated guess and specific results will not be available by county commission or city council district. That info from a post-midnight interview with County Elections Bureau Director Jaime Diaz. Clerk Mary Herrera was not instructed to provide for such a breakdown. Actually, we were lucky to get any vote count as a stunning 57,000 votes were returned to the clerk marked undeliverable. It was the first mail-in election in Bernalillo County history. (The city did one in 1999) It may be the last.

Opponents like Sheriff White told me they saw this one coming, but still were not jumping for joy this morning because they face the prospect of fighting the measure yet again. The constitutional amendment that made possible Tuesday's vote states that voters must face it again within one year upon rejection. The only way we know how to change a constitutional amendment is with another one. And how can that be done in time to avoid the one year deadline for having the second election?

Resentment will be high toward another election because of the historic landslide vote against unification last night. A mail-in ballot with an increased voter turnout was the proponents best chance. Seems like an opportunity for a young, hot shot lawyer to come up with a way to stop that second vote through the courts. If he or she did, they just might find themselves with a political future--either in the city or the county.

Tuesday, November 04, 2003

Dateline Las Cruces: Mayor Mattiace Wins Big; One Incumbent Councilor Ousted 

Las Cruces Mayor Bill Mattiace won the office for the second time this year, easily defeating Councilor Ken Miyagishima and three other challengers. Mattiace took nearly 40% of the vote to Miyagishima's 25%. Mattiace won a special election, also featuring Miyagishima, earlier this year to fill out the term of Ruben Smith who went to work in Governor Richardson's cabinet as Cultural Affairs Secretary. Smith lost the job soon after. Tuesday night Mattiace won a four year term.

The race was the most expensive in Las Cruces city history with the contenders spending about $150,000, much of it in the form of personal loans. Three of the six Las Cruces city council seats were also on the ballot Tuesday. Only one incumbent was defeated. Dolores Connor ousted Scott Leon Moore who was appointed to the council this spring when Mattiace left the council to take the Mayor's job. Connor won going away, garnering about 57%. Unofficial results from Cruces had 10,712 voters casting ballots in the mayor's race which represents a turnout among registered voters of about 30%, slightly above expectations. The city of Las Cruces has 75,000 residents. Dona Ana County population is 163,000. One of the major issues of the campaign was job creation. Mattiace said the city was doing well in bringing jobs to the area, but his opponents said too many low paying jobs were coming in. During the campaign the city lost 300 jobs at a call-in center when layoffs were announced.

The Sun Shines On Soltari: Consulting Firm Shakes Up NM Politics, More To Come?  

"Who are those guys?" That's the question being asked by political junkies across New Mexico about Soltari, the political consulting group that shook up the scene with major victories in the recent ABQ election. Their city council candidates (Heinrich, O'Malley) enjoyed blow-out victories and their stop-the-street-bond campaign was another big winner. The results moved city government more to the left than anytime in its modern history. Who are those guys? Let's find out:

--Soltari (sol for sun, tari is "bridge in Korean) opened shop in ABQ in 2000 with Eli Lee at its helm. Eli, a graduate of Columbia University in New York, came West back in 95' with a non-profit group he worked for. Here he got involved with the Sage Council, a Native American group opposed to the petroglyph surrounded Paseo Del Norte road extension.

---The five employee firm caters to "progressive" and liberal campaigns, specializing in grass roots organization. They do creative on TV and radio and farm out the production, but they are more into field operations---get-out-the-vote, literature design and drops, phone calls etc. Lee, a native of Kansas City considers himself primarily a strategist and this year has been watching his winning Kansas City Chief's for tips. Soltari cites Gandhi and Caesar Chavez as inspiring figures for their political activities. Also, Lee is proud of his Korean heritage and served as President of the Asian American Association of NM and is an admirer of Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr.

---Soltari is not limited to Bernalillo County. They consulted Governor Richardson on the recent special permanent fund election, and Big Bill named Eli to the state commission looking at improving election results reporting in NM. Soltari's client list also includes Lt. Gov. Diane Denish, City Councilors Michael Cadigan and Eric Griego, State Sen. Linda Lopez, labor unions and liberal school board candidates. So while Lee is lined up with Big Bill, he is definitely not on the Mayor Chavez team.

---The 36 year old Lee rebuffs critics who called his anti-street bond campaign divisive and pitting east against west, but other political strategists say it was just that and praise its tactics and success. Protectors of the status quo in Bernalillo County government may want to pay attention to Soltari. Lee says they are looking to get involved in the county commission races next year. If they do what they did in the city, expect the political boat to rock even more.

Soltari's roots are in the environmental movement. Their targeting of their supporters this past election was even praised by PR vet Gerges Scott, who was defeated by the Soltari street bond campaign. Lee did make a misstep when he said that campaign was getting $20,000 from the charitable McCune Foundation, when in fact the foundation had not pledged money. He said it was 'miscommunication" and put up the $20,000 from his company's coffers. The incident showed that Soltari is now dancing on a very lighted stage. Opponents of Soltari call it "radical" and filled with "extreme anti-business sentiment." But right now football fan Lee and Soltari are running with the ball. The defense might be advised to get off the bench.

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Hopefuls Lining Up For 04' 


A mass of politicos are considering their options for the myriad of elective offices up for grabs in 2004, and some of them are actually making a decision. We have the early news.

Albuquerque attorney David Duhigg, a veteran of Democratic Party politics, is preparing to run for the nomination for the State Supreme Court seat held by Edward Chavez. You may not recognize Chavez as a Supreme because he was only appointed this year by Governor Bill to replace retiring Chief Justice Gene Franchini. A judge appointee like Chavez must stand once for election, not a simple retention where voters say yes or no to an incumbent judge. Duhigg is the first to announce he will go against Chavez, who was a big supporter of the Guv and a succesful ABQ trial attorney before getting the court job which pays about $96,000 a year. Chavez had no judge experience before his appointment. But neither, I believe, does Duhigg. New Mexico Supreme's get an eight year term. All five are Democrats. Republicans on the court are as rare as the silvery minnow.

ABQ City Councilor Hess Yntema says he's not ready to leave the public arena. The populist Republican from the southeast heights leaves the council December 1, but is already eyeing the Public Regulation Commission seat being vacated by fellow GOP'er Herb Hughes. Besides the nod for that nomination, Hess tells me he is toying wih the idea of running for the state senate if Sen. Cisco McSorley decides to step down to run for the Bernalillo County Commission seat being vacated by Tom Rutherford. But the PRC seat would be his best bet. Another outgoing councilor, Greg Payne, has that PRC seat on his radar as well as the legislative seat probably being vacated by Republican Joe Thompson who is ready to go against Yntema for the PRC. If Thompson stays put, Greg may go for PRC.

Speaking of Rutherford, if Cisco leaves the senate he is a likely Democratic candidate to replace him. Rutherford was a heavy-hitter in the senate back in the 80's. And who would replace Rutherford? Well, the contenders are not even waiting for the unification vote to be final because they all assume it will fail. Danny Hernandez, a liberal activist and member of the area flood control board, is getting an early start. His friends tell me Hernandez will announce his commission candidacy Tuesday, right when the polls close on the unification election.

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Monday, November 03, 2003

Unification Opponents Now Worry About a SECOND Vote, Plus: Key Players In Special Session Bloodletting 

Killing unification will be like "trying to kill Dracula' one opponent says. Top NM pollster Brian Sanderoff is flat-out predicting to me that this measure will lose by at least 15% in the Tuesday election, but the constitutional amendment authorizing the vote says if it is defeated it has to be voted on again within one year! That means a brand new charter writing commission.

Unification opponent and Bernalillo County Commissioner Michael Brasher is not optimistic that a second vote can be stopped. "The constitutional amendment clearly calls for a second election and we would have to pass another amendment stopping the first one, if we were to have a chance. That does not appear possible." He said.

Problem is there's no time. At the earliest, a constitutional amendment could not be put before state voters until next November, (unless it was a highly unlikely special election) past the deadline for the second election contained in the amendment now on the books. So Bernalillo County residents face the prospect of deciding the measure again at next November's General Election, even though they may have resoundingly said "no" just a year earlier. Also, if unification is beat Tuesday, several of the County Commissioners whose terms would be extended if the measure passed Tuesday, will not get that benefit from the second vote. Will their support for unification then be as firm? Probably not. The whole mess shows how determined the proponents of unification have been. They deserve credit for political strategy, but it's no way to run the government railroad.

Bottom Line: We could vote on unification again and again, but until proponents make a better case on financial savings it's a loser. And if they try to do another expensive mail-in election, they will be run out of town on a rail.


Sen. Romero
Deep inside the Roundhouse, the political operatives are weighing in with the losers and winners from the bizarre special session that is still unfolding at the capitol. The Guv has had his turn in the barrel already, being scored statewide for not having his act together. Now Senate Majority Leader Manny Aragon is taking a hit from his longtime nemesis Senate President Pro Tem Richard Romero. Said one insider: "Manny yelled and screamed to keep the senate in session, but Richard rounded up enough votes to get out of Dodge. He's a winner in this one. But long term, Manny will be back and Richard is off to run for Congress and won't return. So it's hard to say there is long-term implications here."

Democratic Sen. Linda Lopez made a motion to adjourn and drew the wrath of Manny who was ousted from the Pro Tem position a couple of years ago in part because Linda was having a baby and not around to vote for him at the time, but when they took a second vote she voted no on Aragon. Valley political operatives say Manny may be looking for an opponent to run against Linda in the Democratic primary next year and that Linda wanted out of the special and its tax raising possibilities to protect her own re-election chances. Linda, Bernalillo County Democratic Party Chairwoman, also is a prospect for mayor of ABQ in the 2005 elections, contrary to the spin at City Hall where sources report Linda's business has a contract to provide services in the criminal justice system. If she can get by Manny and get re-elected, she is seen as a possible contender for the city's top job.

Governor Bill and Manny worked together well in the regular session at the beginning of the year. But they just did not have their ducks in a row this time and lost the senate. Insiders are telling me the road bill passed by the House Friday and waiting for the Senate to act on when it reconvenes this week may be a "toss-up" with many senators fearful for re-election not wanting to vote for ANY tax or fee increases, which are in the road bill. The Guv is doing overtime on the arm-twisting and needs to pull something other than the sex offender law out of this session, or face the possibility of a political hit that leads to a loss of power. For both sides the stakes don't get much higher. Stay tuned.

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On The Eve Of The Las Cruces Mayoral Election Former Mayor Ruben Smith Is Odd Man Out 

Former Richardson cabinet secretary and Las Cruces Mayor Ruben Smith must be looking wistfully at his hometown as it prepares to elect a mayor to a four year term Tuesday. In March Smith resigned the Mayor's job, which he held for many years, to become head of Cultural Affairs for Big Bill. But Smith was forced to resign by the Guv when opponents within the state museum system criticized his policies. Bill Mattiace was elevated from the city council to serve out Smith's term and now faces four opponents in Tuesday's election.

One of the first things Mattiace did upon coming mayor was to take the doors off of the mayor's office. Some who wanted private talks with his honor objected, but Mattiace says no door signified his "open door" policy. Ruben Smith unsuccessfully sought the Democratic congressional nomination against State Senator John Arthur Smith (no relation) in the 2002 primary for the seat eventually won by Republican Steve Pearce. No word on Ruben's future political plans, if any, but he is known to be miffed at the way he was ousted by the Guv. Meanwhile, Mayor Mattiace is favored in the race in which the candidates have raised over $142,000. The city has a population of about 75,000; Dona Ana County about 163,000. The trend toward heavy campaign spending is erupting everywhere. We'll keep you posted on the latest Las Cruces results, where three of the six city council seats are also up for grabs in Tuesday's balloting.

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Governor Bill: We've got a Trend; Who Will Stop the Bleeding? 

The Governor's office has gone to war with the Associated Press. And that may have as far reaching implications as the current chaos at the Roundhouse where the Senate pulled out of the special session leaving the House still working to come up with a tax bill. The Trib's Shea Anderson handles the analytical chores on the guv's latest problems there: abqtrib.com
But I want to focus on the war with the AP whose stories are carried by newspapers, radio and television nationwide. In other words, this news agency is an agenda setter. It is conservative in its approach and few politicians choose to tangle with it. Mostly because it get its right, and when it gets it wrong, it is quick to correct. Here's the meat of the dispute as written by Julie Ann Grimm of the Santa Fe New Mexican:

Governor's Office Blasts Contingency-Fund Story
A spokesman for the governor is blasting an Associated Press report that gave details of how Gov. Bill Richardson has spent money from a $90,000 contingency fund. The head of the state's AP bureau, however, said people deserve to know how the fund is used."Our story implied no wrongdoing," said Julie Aicher, AP's Albuquerque bureau chief. "We felt it was a public service to see how taxpayer money is being spent from this fund, which was tripled this year."

The story, which was written by veteran AP Capitol reporter Barry Massey and appeared on the front page of Thursday's New Mexican, said the governor used a contingency fund to buy cigars, Starbucks coffee and overseas meals, among other things. Billy Sparks, Richardson's spokesman, issued a statement Friday afternoon that called the report false and misleading and said it was intended to embarrass the governor. "Simply put, it's classic yellow journalism," Sparks said.

Massey's story quoted Sparks as saying Richardson had reimbursed or would reimburse the fund for some purchases, such as newspapers and coffee. However, Sparks refused to show AP proof of the reimbursements, Aicher said. (Full story: www.santafenewmexican.com)

"Yellow journalism?" Wonder how the AP boys in New York and D.C. feel about that? This is the latest in a series of pieces from the AP's Massey that has jarred the Guv's staff. The most recent was how he paid for a trip to a meeting in Reno. At first Big Bill refused to say, but the pressure was too great and out came the details. The bottom line in the report above is that the Guv refuses to show proof of the reimbursements, but insists the story is over the line. Fellas, you can't have it both ways. EVERYTHING you do in connection with his public office is going to be under scrutiny. Could not the Guv simply have said the Legislature needs to detail just what he can spend the money on, and meanwhile he's spending it on items he believes fits in with what the law intended? Or is somebody looking for a fight?

Bottom Line: There's a new trend in New Mexico politics: skepticism of Big Bill from the Legislature and the press. Will the public follow? Forget about the "honeymoon" being over, if this keeps up we're headed for divorce court. Someone needs to stop the bleeding on the Fourth Floor of the not so merry Roundhouse.

Merger Mirage: Unity Vote Going Down Big Time--Pollster Tells Us 15% Plus Defeat in the Cards 

Brian Sanderoff of Research and Polling reports in the Abq Journal that the proposed unification of ABQ with Bernalillo County is headed for the ash heap. Only 32% approved of the idea with 48% disapproving, 16% undecided and 4% not saying. Sample: 600 likely voters with a margin of error of 4%. Brian did not make a specific prediction in the paper, but for readers of this web site he
e mailed with the forecast that unification will go down by at least 15%.

Political observers are not surprised. Support for the measure has even been tepid among supporters. No one ever did tell taxpayers how it would save them money and that was really the death knell.

The mail-in vote ends Tuesday. Expect a lot of a political announcements for the County Commission now that this appears over. And look for State Rep. James Taylor of the South Valley to try to kill the provision in state law that says the unification must be voted on again in one year if Tuesday's vote does indeed fail.

Saturday, November 01, 2003

Exclusive to You: Journal Poll on Unification Hits Streets Sunday  

Brian Sanderoff, President of highly-regarded Research and Polling, Inc., tells "New Mexico Politics with Joe Monahan" that he has been in the field this week and will report his exclusive poll results on the controversial unification election in Sunday's editions of the ABQ Journal. http://abqjournal.com/ Brian said this poll has presented special challenges because it is a mail-in ballot. "We have to ask the person we poll if they received a ballot, whether they filled it out and mailed it, or whether they are likely or not likely to vote and mail it in. The election concludes November 4 and I asked Brian if his poll could be likened to an exit poll since many of those he will interview will already have voted. "To some extent, yes. However, I would not compare it to the accuracy of exit polls. A good portion of the sample will be of those who have already voted, but not all." Brian and I kicked around the numbers, looked at a 1999 city mail-in election and the return of ballots so far and concluded turnout for the election has a decent chance of attracting over 30% of registered voters, but not a whole lot more.

Brian's record is hard to match in the polling business and he is rightfully proud of getting it right. Republican Roswell State Senator Rod Adair e mailed me recently charging that Brian had botched the polling over state constitutional amendment two which narrowly passed last month. The poll had the amendment passing with 55% of the vote, but it barely won. Adair called that a miss. But Brian points out: "It did pass. The poll was taken several weeks before the election, and I said then if the campaign heated up in the last few days it could be close. That's what happened." Sanderoff was candid saying he would like to have been closer and also would have liked a larger polling sample in that special election. Rod is a polling expert, but also a hard-hitting partisan. Brian better keep up the good work. If he gets one wrong, Rod will never let him live it down.

The sampling for the unification poll is large and Sanderoff is again working overtime to get it right. I asked him in his role as a veteran political analyst if he thought the measure would have a tough time passing. He said he did. I agree because the election has been marked by unprecedented confusion.

Research and Polling is not a political polling firm. It does most of its business with major corporations throughout the southwest. But Sanderoff's first love is politics. He even had a political career long ago. When we were classmates at the University of New Mexico in the 1970's he was elected Attorney General of the student government. But since he won't tell me what that Sunday poll will show, I won't tell how I voted in that race!


I say hiding because last night in one of the rare times the veteran anchorwoman was shown off the anchor chair, she knocked the ball out of the park with a high-powered interview with Esther Beckley, one of the perpetrators of the notorious Albuquerque Hollywood Video murders of 1996. Five died in the terrible crime that rocked the political and criminal justice system. It was absorbing television, not glorifying the interviewee, but getting real insight into this heinous crime. In the jailhouse interview, Beckley cracked under Anderson's soft, but probing manner.

Asked by Anderson why she pleaded guilty when she claims it was her accomplice who actually pulled the trigger, Beckley paused, choked up and sighed: "Because I am." Hearing that hit hard for all who mourned for Albuquerque that terrible day.

If KOAT is looking for an edge over its noteworthy rivals they may want to get Dianne away from the teleprompter more often and keep her interview chair warm. By the way, Anderson comes from a media family. Her father was in the radio business in Missouri.

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