Thursday, February 02, 2006

Half A Lifetime At The Venerable Frontier; More Than A Restaurant; Reflections On A NM Treasure. Plus: More Money Chasing, And: R Lt. Guv Update 

There's not many businesses that have been around longer than Pete Domenici has served in the U.S. Senate. But this month the famous Frontier Restaurant across from UNM celebrates 35 years as a greasy spoon of world-renown. The ABQ Trib's Ollie Reed does an admirable job of summing up this pit stop that has become a state treasure. But the one piece of history that stands out for me that Ollie did not mention is just how shaky it was at the start.

When I came wheeling in to town in the very early 70's fresh off the Greyhound from my native Pennsylvania, it was a shocking sight. Albuquerque had just endured its most violent streak in history. Days of rioting sparked by some police arrests had left their mark. Windows up and and down Central Avenue were shattered, debris was strewn everywhere and, most chilling, National Guard troops patrolled the area in high riding jeeps that made it look as if my new home was under martial law. And it kinda was.

One of the victims of that riot was the Frontier, then open only four months. Every window in the then much smaller Frontier was smashed and the place appeared shut down. But that was the low point. Dorothy and Larry Rainosek never looked back, and they never held a grudge over the violence against their now fabled restaurant.

Dorothy Rainosek (Trib)
The Frontier is great inspiration for a novelist. It hosts the players of La Politica, the homeless, the celebrators, the heartbroken and its share of shady characters, not to mention a couple of generations of students and professors. Even if you are from outside of ABQ, you probably have been there. If you haven't, you likely will.

The Rainoseks tolerance for and celebration of human diversity in this most diverse state of them all is the hallmark of their success. Want to sit sipping a cup of coffee for three hours contemplating your lot? No problem. Want a quick sweet roll to go? You can have that too. Wear what you want (just wear something) and hang with who you like. Hispanic, Black, Anglo, Indian, Asian, Republican, Democrat and Green. They are all here and as comfortable as in their own living rooms.

The Frontier could never be franchised. Its special allure, conceived intentionally and accidentally over four decades, is much more complicated and mysterious than any business formula. Its special ties to UNM reinforce the uniqueness.


Much has changed in New Mexico politics and in the public environment these 35 years. There's a more caustic atmosphere out there, but the Frontier remains a citadel of harmony for all who enter its doors. And a lot of the money coined there heads out those doors into a myriad of charitable and civic causes. And how many jobs have the Rainoseks provided our state's students? Talk about putting your kids though college!

I have no idea of their politics. And that's how they probably like it. But if politics is at all about building a sense of community, the Frontier family has equaled and then surpassed the contributions of most politicians. Here's to their next 35 years.


GOP Farmington urologist, Dr. Allen McCulloch, is the early winner in the money chase among the candidates seeking the R's nomination for the right to take on Dem U.S. Senator Jeff Bingaman in November. Washington insiders e-mailed the latest numbers since they have not yet been posted on the FEC site. They show McCulloch raised about $63,000 in the 05' fourth quarter giving him a total of $188,000 in cash on hand. David Pfeffer has just $11,000 in his kitty and ABQ GOP State Senator Joe Carraro just announced his bid.

Veteran R's give McCulloch the edge for the nomination with Carraro expected to be his main challenger. But whomever wins faces long odds against Jeff who reported he is sitting on $1.6 million with more to come.

Yesterday we filled you in on the fundraising reports for the banner NM congressional race of 06' featuring ABQ GOP Rep. Wilson and Dem Patsy Madrid. Inquiring minds wanted to know where all that money comes from. Here's Heather's and Patsy's too. Now that I have saved you all that work, won't you take a moment and click on my sponsors ads at the top of the page?


That search for a GOP Lieutenant Guv candidate we blogged about earlier this week is going down to the wire, but word was circulating in Santa Fe late Wednesday that the party has finally recruited a contender. If so, it's none too soon. That candidate will need to get nearly 1900 valid GOP signatures to make the June primary ballot and do it by Feb. 14. When the candidate surfaces, expect an all-out signature push. We'll keep you posted.

Thanks for the company today. Come back soon for more fair and balanced coverage of New Mexico politics.

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Wednesday, February 01, 2006

PNM: Generating Energy And Political Power Too, Plus: Heather & Patsy: They're Armed And Dangerous; Cash Piles Up; Grab That Mouse & Let's Blog! 

Sometimes its the coincidences that make blogging fun. Take this one. Tuesday, the same day that Big Bill's Renewable Energy Transmission Authority bill passed the Senate Judiciary Committee on a 7-3 vote, electric and natural gas giant, PNM Resources, announced it scored a 10 percent earnings gain for 2005. That's historically high, but not during this energy bull market.

The energy authority would involve the state in building transmission lines to export wind and other power to California. It comes on the heels of 2004 legislation that mandates the state's utilities to generate 10 percent of their electricity from "renewable resources." (But only if the expense is "reasonable.")

ABQ GOP State Senator Bill Payne questioned why cash-flush utilities like PNM shouldn't build those transmission lines and leave the taxpayers alone. On the other hand, argues the Guv, a former U.S. Energy Secretary, developing wind and solar energy and such is a major endeavor that requires government and business collaboration.

Jeff Sterba
Since taking over in 2000, PNM chief exec Jeff Sterba has taken the company a long way from the bad ol' days when the utility was scorned for high rates, bad investments and arrogant manners. The company has also played the political money game with effect too. Take a look here and here. PNM resources gave over $80,000 to NM politicians in the 04' cycle. Sixty percent of it went to the Dems, (including a couple of grand for Big Bill) reflecting the majority party's power.

But recent utility critic Senator Payne picked up $750 from PNM and even ABQ GOP Senator Carraro, who has since called for an investigation of big PNM exec bonuses, managed to snag a $750 04' contribution.

Sterba isn't the only one burning both ends of the candle. Our "centrist" Governor is also happy to do so--satisfy the enviros with renewable energy plans and then have the state help out the utilities by building transmission lines. Do you think Jeff and Bill talked about that on their recent trip to North Korea?


PNM Resources continues to be the subject of the Wall Street rumor mill where some analysts see it as a prime takeover target. But the company's stock is trading near its 52 week low, perhaps reflecting dimmer prospects for an imminent takeover as well as lowered earnings expectations for this year.


Dem congressional hopeful Patsy Madrid easily crossed the first hurdle to keep her race against ABQ GOP Congresswoman Heather Wilson on the frontburner and at the top of the must watch list for 2006. She raked in over half a million bucks in the final three months of 04' giving her a healthy cash balance of about $432,000. And Heather is showing no signs of slouching in the cash department, although Patsy did outraise her by a couple of hundred grand in the fourth quarter, according to federal reports released late Tuesday. Heather is comfortable with about a million bucks in her cash account and did some big January fundraising, including a $1000 a pop party hosted by PNM exec Sterba, not reflected in this report.

In 04' Wilson raised $3.4 million and challenger D Richard Romero made it past $2 million. Madrid can expect to do better than Romero, but as the incumbent Rep. Wilson is still expected to be first, at least when it comes to money spent. Who comes out first in the vote-count is a matter of considerably more suspense.

We all talk about how much money the candidates raise, but not much about how and where they spend it. So here's an example for you from Heather's latest expense sheet.

Of course, it's the TV stations that will again be the big winners. Millions will pour into their coffers as major candidates of all stripes flood the 06' airwaves. That's the real driver behind our big money politics, but efforts to change it have met with stiff resistance, especially from the National Association of Broadcasters. How shocking.


We welcome back the Conservation Voters of New Mexico to the blog. (Click on their ad to visit) And if you are interested in placing an ad here, please contact me and we'll get you started.

And don't forget to e-mail me your news so we can keep the politics coming and, as always, thanks for making us part of your day.

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Tuesday, January 31, 2006

Race Against The Clock: Still No GOP Light Guv Candidate; Damron To Fly Solo? Plus: The Case Of Colin & The Chicharrones, And: W Sets NM Intel Visit 

GOP Chair Weh
Has it ever happened before? I don't think so. But if the NM GOP doesn't hurry and soon field a candidate for Lieutenant Governor, they could become the first major party in modern NM history to run a candidate for Governor without a running mate. The situation is serious because any contender, and none have announced so far, needs to get some 1800 GOP petition signatures to make the June primary ballot and secure the nomination. Will there be a candidate?

"(NM GOP Chairman) Colonel Weh is having negotiations with several people. To my knowledge, none of them are legislators and there is not an announced candidate," GOP probable Guv nominee J. R. Damron told me from his Santa Fe medical offices Monday.

"Someone is missing a great opportunity," chirped the upbeat M.D., despite the long odds of victory over Big Bill and now the growing concern that the party could be embarrassed by failing to recruit a number two for Damron.

ABQ GOP State Senator Kent Cravens, mentioned here months ago as a possible, is a no go. "I am too busy with my business and the Legislature," Cravens told me over the weekend while I pondered the quandary during a brisk walk in a howling wind.

The deadline for getting the petitions is February 14. Yes, it can be done, even at this late date, but it will take a major effort as Damron told me after weeks of work he has yet to get all his signatures. And he is not alone. Getting people to sign anything these days is not easy and candidates from both sides of the aisle are fretting as the day of reckoning nears. Some of them are going to come up short and will be forced out.

WHAT IF....?

And what, in the not completely unlikely event that the R's fail to come up with a Light Guv hopeful in time to get the petitions? "They could file someone as a write-in and that person would have to receive as many votes as the petition requirement in order to become part of the ticket," offered one political pro.

But fielding a write-in candidate for the number two slot would send a message that the R's are practically giving the Guv a free ride, an argument they are already getting an earful of.

Why is it so hard to get someone to run? The obvious answer is that Big Bill is the odds-on favorite and this one is a loser from the start. Still, both parties have faced those prospects in the past, but managed to come up with an early credible ticket.

When Colonel Weh went looking for an ABQ GOP mayoral candidate last year, he nearly came up empty until Brad Winter got in the race, only to be landslided by Mayor Marty, in part, because of the late start.

The R's are doing OK on the other statewide races, all of which have announced contenders. But Lieutenant Governor of New Mexico is not an honorific position and the party risks harsh judgement if a serious problem becomes an embarrassment.

Who, if anyone, will step forward? Stay tuned.


Meanwhile, radiologist Damron continues to tour the state and argue that NM is "still at the bottom of all the right lists and at the top of all the bad ones." I asked if he was disappointed that his call for rebating to taxpayers half of the over half-billion dollar General Fund surplus has not gained much traction. "I still favor that. We need to fully fund current programs before starting new ones," he declared.

ABQ GOP Senators Ryan and Cravens have introduced a plan to rebate a third of the surplus, but the Santa Fe pork party is in full swing and chances of it passing are slim to none. Big Bill is proposing a $30 million tax cut.


Staying with the GOP theme, we are determined, I guess, to make Colin Hunter, legislative director for Rep. Heather Wilson, a persona of sorts. At our Barelas Coffee House chicharrones party, we ribbed him over his "preppy" style and "WASP" appearance. That after lousing up his last name. But Colin, don't worry. You've got friends.

"That boy is a New Mexico native. He has a law degree from UNM, and close ties to some of the state's ranching families down Roswell way," penned one Colin aficionado and blog Gatorette.

And another: "I've known Colin since before he entered kindergarten. He was born in Albuquerque, lived in Durango (CO) and the state of Washington and then returned to Albuquerque where he graduated high school," wrote Colin fan Amy Horowitz.

If Heather's support is as ardent as Colin's, she's going to have a heck of a year. And we should go easy on the "preppy" comments. You can dress me, a native of Pennsylvania, out of a Ralph Lauren catalogue.


President Bush will visit ABQ Friday as part of his post State of the Union speech tour. Word was circulating late Monday that Intel in Rio Rancho would be one of his stops. He will overnight Thursday in ABQ...If you don't think bloggers are held to high standards, read our e-mail some time. "It's Army 'Corps,' not 'corp' frowned Socorro reader David Findley in pointing out the error of our ways...Dem Public Regulation Commission candidate Andrew Leo Lopez reminded us that the deadline for getting petition signatures for the PRC races is March 21 not Feb. 14. Statewide candidates have until Feb. 14. We reported that State Senator Nava is collecting them for a PRC run down south.

Ah, the quest for infallibility. I'll keep trying, if Archbishop Sheehan gives me a pass. Meanwhile, thanks for the company today. Let's do it again tomorrow.

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Monday, January 30, 2006

The Education Of Cynthia; Sen. Nava Eyes PRC Bid, And: Pete Motors Ahead On Bridge, Plus: Big Bill's Ship Loads Up Cargo; It's Another Bloggin' Monday 

Senator Nava
The contest for the Public Regulation Commission seat held by Shirley Baca is one of the banner races of Primary 06' and it may be about to get another headliner. Alligators on the ground in the Las Cruces area and in ABQ are checking in with reports that well-respected Dem State Senator Cynthia Nava is preparing a run against Shirley, who is the current holder of the title of "New Mexico's Most Controversial Politician."

Reports have it that Nava, Chair of the Senate Education Committee who represents southern Dona Ana county, is circulating petitions to win a place on the ballot. If she gets in she will join incumbent Baca and NM State Fair Chair Sandy Jones in the Dem primary in vying for a seat on the five remember PRC, arguably the most powerful regulatory body in the state.

Nava is no stranger to power, or power struggles. She was first elected to the senate in 1992 and has quietly ascended the ranks. Friday she was having a news conference with Big Bill pushing a measure to improve math and and science education. When we rang her office phone she was not available to confirm or deny the PRC bid, but it comes from solid sources who usually are on the money. So onward we go...


Nava is also an associate superintendent in the Gadsden Independent School District, which was recently rocked by a recall election. We blogged in August that some insiders thought Nava could be ousted because of the controversy. But the old Gadsden board is out and new members, appointed by Education Secretary Veronica Garcia, are friendly to Nava. (One of the new board members, Andrew Moralez, runs Big Bill's southern NM office) so she can expect to stay in her nearly $90,000 a year job, a sum comparable to what PRC commissioners are paid.

No state senators are up for election this year, (all 70 House members are) so even if Nava ran and lost she would retain her senate seat. And that seat is safe. She ran unopposed in the 04' primary and general elections.

But Shirley's ABQ December 04' ABQ Sunport arrest for pot possession, even though it was eventually dismissed, makes her vulnerable.

"If Cynthia gets in she could be the frontrunner. She is respected and well-known in Dona Ana county. Jones would need to run a very aggressive campaign because Nava could consolidate the Hispanic vote if Shirley's numbers don't hold up," commented a Dem strategist follwing the action.

Top D's are breathing easier now that indicted and resigned Treasurer Vigil is off the campaign trail. They would like Baca gone too as ethics morphs into a hot-button issue nationally and locally. Some think Nava may be their best chance of doing that.

By the way, Dona Ana county is a powerhouse when it comes to that education committee. It's Vice-chair is Senator Mary Kay Papen of Las Cruces.


We said Cynthia was at a news conference with the Guv Friday to push a bill to improve math and science education. And look what was revealed at that camera session: About 25 percent of Hispanic ninth-graders and about 20 percent of Native American students are proficient in math, compared to 55 per cent for Anglos.

There is not just a rich-poor gap in NM. There is a startling ethnic gap when it comes to our state's young people, and not just in education. Ex-Guv Carruthers pointed that out earlier this year. Can't we have a task force to openly and directly confront this and report to the state? It would be a nice exercise in leadership.

Sen. Domenici
Speaking of leadership, even in this modern era where language parsing is a well-paid skill, sometimes you get some. So it has been with U.S. Senator Domenici and the Montano Bridge battle featuring the Army Corps of Engineers over which a Domenici chaired subcommittee has funding authority. Since Pete (and Dem ABQ Mayor Marty) came down on the Corps for holding up the crossing desperately needed by the working people of the city, things are starting to move and we should have the bridge fully opened in a month or two.

New Mexicans have invested heavily in the senator, giving him landslide margins and the longest senate tenure in state history. In the case of Montano, the investment is paying off handsomely.

As for the Mayor, who got kudos for his bi-partisan work with Domenici, his announcement that he could not come up with $800,000 to four lane the long fought over ABQ West Side Paseo Del Norte road extension has insiders baffled. They say this is his chance to finally put the festering road issues to bed. If he doesn't four lane now, will that mean another decades long battle, like Montano, further gridlocking political debate here? They're just asking.


Another state political elder is back in the game. Ex-GOP Guv Dave Cargo (1966-70) was named by Big Bill to the Cumbres and Toltec Scenic Railroad Commission. Is this the same Cargo who has been highly critical of Big Bill's "imperial" ways? Well, Cargo has been long associated with the up and down fortunes of the Chama Valley rail in far northern NM. But he has been more recently associated with Big Bill's lobbyist-of-choice Butch Maki, signing on as a consultant for the firm. Will that and his new appointment make Dave less critical of the Dem Guv in this election year? How could we think such a thing?

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