Friday, May 08, 2009

Here Come The Cuts: Obama Budget Has Pain For NM, Plus: Dancin' The Big Bill Blues Away; Guv's "Stanky Leg" Rocks Acoma and YouTube 

We're going to be hearing a lot of complicated spin about the proposed federal budget for New Mexico, but the most important fact is this--long-term funding for the Department of Energy is going down in this state. That's the trend and there seems little chance it will be reversed.

According to NM senior Senator Jeff Bingaman:

The president’s budget request would result in about $4 billion of spending from all DOE programs in NM in FY 2010, down from the $4.3 billion voted by Congress for the comparable DOE programs in NM in FY 2009. This includes a decline in spending at Los Alamos National Laboratory from $1.885 billion in this fiscal year to $1.741 billion in the new budget request from the president. The total for Sandia National Laboratories would grow slightly, from $1.322 billion to $1.343 billion.

Los Alamos was slammed with a seven percent proposed reduction. Get ready for more "For Sale" signs on the streets there.

Jeff's take on Sandia sounds like it is a slight budget increase, but it is actually one step forward and two steps back. In FY '08, Sandia received $1.40 billion, but in FY '09 that dropped to $1.332 billion. Now the proposed FY '10 budget is $1.343 billion, well below '08 and confirming the long-term downward trend. Senator Bingaman and the rest of the delegation should have some luck boosting Obama's numbers for the labs, but history says not much.

The $300 million overall DOE NM cut represents a seven percent reduction in funding. Throw in a point or two to account for inflation, and you're close to a double-digit slash in DOE funding here.

Yes, there will be one time stimulus and other possible spending bumping the numbers here and there, but the fact is that in the years ahead the plan is for Los Alamos Labs to continue to shrink and Sandia Labs, at best, to stay flat at the currently reduced levels.


If you hang around here, you're not surprised at this news. When Energy Secretary Chu visited ABQ recently and did not issue any budget assurances, it was clear the state would take a hit.

As for the labs significantly diversifying their mission into "alternative energy" and "Green" programs, there appears to be little support in Congress for such a notion. The budget proposes that Sandia get about $60 million for renewable energy, a 25 percent increase but still not a big deal in the overall scheme of things.

The world has changed and nukes aren't what they used to be. Obama and Bush before him weren't singling us out, just dealing with reality. Senator Domenici's historic seniority and interest in national security kept the budget propped up. He's now gone.

New Mexico's political and economic leadership is going to have its hands full trying to bringing jobs in here to replace what is inevitably going to be slowly lost. Don't say we didn't tell you.


The politicos continue to fight the battle of the budget statewide, and they are doing their best to do it without cutting jobs. ABQ City Councilor and budget honcho Ken Sanchez tells us that despite the projected budget deficit for the city now being estimated at $68 million for the year starting July 1, he believes layoffs are not on the table. He says the savings from not filling vacant positions--about 180--and other cost cuts should do the job. If the deficit climbs north of $68 million, Sanchez says we would then likely have to see hours cut or furloughs. The good news--if there is any--is that the deficit may come in at $50 million, but budget minions want to assume the worst--just in case.

By the way, so far, Sanchez is unopposed for a second four year term on the council in the October election. He has been one of the area's more reliable vote-getters, serving a couple of terms on the Bernalillo County Commission before becoming a councilor.


ABQ Mayor Marty doesn't want to miss a presidential visit slated for Thursday in ABQ, so insiders report he is juggling his travel schedule. He has an official trip scheduled for France, but wants to be here for President Obama's Thursday ABQ Town Hall on credit card debt. Hey, if you were seeking re-election in October, you would, too.


Their hanging on in Gallup, NM budget wise, but there is increasing pressure, say city officials...

GALLUP, NM--Citing concerns over a projected $500,000 shortfall for the city in the 2010 fiscal year, City Manager Gerald Herrera requested cuts in non-essential service positions and professional service agreements. The cuts will reduce the shortfall by half. The hope is that, along with cuts to overtime and travel, the city will eliminate the shortfall.


Federal grand jury breathing down your neck? Polls that have dropped below 50 percent? A state treasury that is starting to look as barren as Mother Hubbard's cupboard? What's a Governor to do? Why, take to the dance floor and shake those blues away--or at least try to put on a hip step. Here he is being encouraged by singer Jana Mashonee as he attempts the Stanky Leg at a recent event at Acoma, NM. Okay, Guv, take us into the weekend. We're all ready to party!

Besides dancing, Bill is keeping a busy public schedule. From May 6 to 8, he is in Farmington, Taos, Raton, Clayton, Santa Rosa, Tucumcari and Las Vegas. He may have a weak Stanky Leg, but he does know what it takes to get polling numbers up.

Julia Goldberg & Andy Dudzik
For those who missed it, here is the Monday post that set them back on their heels--our Alligators reporting that two key figures in the federal CDR corruption investigation--Amanda Cooper and Chris Romer--have been granted immunity for their testimony before the federal grand jury. The word had been on the street for quite a while, but the Gators did not give us the exact reasons why the immunity was granted and that had them getting second guessed by other bloggers who said we should not have put the report out (getting immunity doesn't necessarily mean you broke the law) but many readers said the in-depth report and analysis was some of our best work.

Our CDR report apparently prompted a bizarre and kind of creepy twist. A couple of our advertisers, including Dan Serrano, report they were called by a reporter from the Santa Fe Reporter--an alternative weekly newspaper--and asked if they were an Alligator, why they advertise here and inferring, reports construction company owner Serrano--that they shouldn't. Well, they advertise here, as Sally Field once said, "because you like me! You really like me!" And any cub reporter knows an Alligator never admits to being an Alligator or he wouldn't be an Alligator! But those who buy ads here are not responsible for the ideas expressed here. Are they in the Reporter? But there we go with one of those sticky freedom of the press and freedom of association questions. Hmm. Is there a "news" story here?

The editor of the Reporter is Julia Goldberg. The paper is also the old stomping grounds of NM Independent managing editor David Alire Garcia whose bloggers were pretty upset with our exclusive this week and went on quite the tear against us. And we returned some of the heat. Alire Garcia also toils for taxpayer-funded KNME-TV where he co-hosts the In-Focus program on which Dave Maass, the Santa Fe reporter calling our advertisers, sometimes appears as a guest. Maass also left us a phone message, but did not say what he was calling about. Now we know.

We don't know what Julia or Santa Fe Reporter publisher Andy Dudzik have in mind for us, but we probably should appreciate any attention. But don't worry about us. We've cut back so much in this recession that if the Santa Fe Reporter intimidates all our advertisers away, we'll barely notice. Heck, they'll be simplifying our life. And if we have time this weekend we'll return the favor and gather up some friends and shake down some of the Reporter's advertisers. Julia, you'll love the gang. Hey, maybe we'll go up on the RailRunner and relax at La Fonda afterwards. We hear the Plaza could use the business...

Long Live The Alligators!

From Albuquerque, New Mexico, I'm Joe Monahan.

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Thursday, May 07, 2009

Harry Teague's Delicate Balancing Act Shows Up In Votes, Plus: First Polling Numbers Float In Guv Race, Also: Guv's Through The Ages And Their Ages 

Rep. Teague
Southern NM Congressman Harry Teague continues his delicate balancing act, remaining a loyal Democrat while doing his best not to alienate a large conservative voting base that could cause him real problems. Recent votes reveal his continuing efforts to deprive any Republican challenger of powerful ammunition. In two major votes he broke with his two NM Democratic House colleagues.

On the recent federal budget vote, Teague voted no while Congressmen Martin Heinrich and Ben Ray Lujan cast "yes" votes. The budget measure passed 233 to 144. The budget projects $3.4 trillion in spending and a $1.2 trillion deficit. A conservative running against Teague could have had a field day with those numbers, but no so much now.

On the hate crimes legislation, Teague also showed conservative stripes. The Hobbs oilman did not vote against expanding federal laws against hate crimes that would give gay victims of violence increased federal protection. Instead, he did not vote. The hate crimes measure passed in the Democratic-controlled House by 249 to 175. Teague's office said he had a speaking engagement in Michigan with the NM Amigos and was unable to make the vote. While Dems on the left are not going to be pleased, a no-show is still an improvement for them over the no vote that would have been cast if the R's controlled the seat.

Teague is the first Democrat to represent the sprawling second district since Harold Runnels was elected there in 1970. Harold was also an oilman from Lea County who often voted conservative. With Teague, history is repeating itself.

Republican Steve Pearce, who gave up the southern seat to make an unsuccessful bid for the US Senate, is the most prominent possible foe being mentioned for Teague next year, but Pearce is also said to be weighing a run for governor. Pearce or no Pearce, Teague is carving out a voting record that will minimize conservative angst.


Somebody call Gary Johnson. Governor Arnold is talking about legalizing pot in


State Auditor Balderas--he of the "progressive" wing of the Democratic Party, and Attorney General King--he of the middle of the road wing, continue an odd clash over investigating each other. Rumors abound about a possible "progressive" 2010 Dem primary challenge of King, but no takers yet and Balderas is widely expected to seek another four year term as auditor. However, friends of the Auditor say someday the lawyer would like to be AG. Can't we all get along?

We are getting in here some polling tidbits from a survey conducted in NM by a national group out of D.C. regarding the Governor's race. Among Republicans, former ABQ GOP Congresswoman Heather Wilson is said to have an approval rating of 80 percent. Wilson has said she is entertaining a run for the 2010 GOP Guv nod. If that survey has it right, she would be a potent primary contender. However, we're told the same poll shows Wilson is damaged among independents and what are called "soft Democrats" who might be persuaded to vote for a Republican. So the debate will go on not just on who would be the strongest GOP primary candidate, but who would be strongest in the general election. We'll try to get more info on this survey in the days ahead, but the inital numbers come from a reliable insider.


One of our Senior Alligators had some good analysis of NM history when it comes to corruption scandals and what it has meant at the ballot box. He thought we were too generous in recently saying the state now appears to be deep blue:

This is a state where lots of blues (Dems) vote red. If New Mexico were so blue how did Gary Johnson win two four year terms as Governor? Ever hear of Garrey Carruthers? R's do well immediately after D's are mired in scandal.

In 1986, Carruthers became the first Republican governor in 20 years in the aftermath of the Guv term of Dem Toney Anaya whose administration was sidetracked by policy and ethics controversies. Johnson beat Gov. Bruce King in 1994 making the legislative leadership of Raymond Sanchez and Manny Aragon a key point.

With the administration of Governor Richardson now mired in ethical morasses, even a weak Republican Party could be boosted by disaffected Democrats and independents. So, yes, we're pretty blue these days, but as our Gator ably points out, shades of red have a way of making their way on to the state's political palette, especially when corruption flourishes.


We mused Wednesday that if Allen Weh, 66, managed to win the 2010 GOP Guv nod he would be 67 and the oldest R in memory to win the nod. We are on firm ground with that (We await any correction from the historians). But we also mused that if Diane Denish, who would be 61 if she won the Dem Guv nod next year, would also set an age record for her party. But syndicated columnist and publisher Harold Morgan hasn't let age catch up with him. He sets the record straight with this:

(Democrat) Bruce King (born April 6, 1924, according to Bruce's Wikipedia entry, which made him 66 when he began what proved to be his final term in 1991. I still feel a factor in Bruce losing to Gary Johnson in 1994 was Bruce making a big deal of his 70th birthday, providing a contrast to the youth and vigor of Gary Johnson.

Well remembered and well said, Harold. Gary Johnson was born on Jan. 1, 1953 and sworn in as Guv Jan. 1, 1994 as he turned 41. There was a real contrast in that campaign.

We'll throw another one out there. We think Republican Dave Cargo, at 37, may have been the youngest man ever elected Governor, in 1966. Dave celebrated his 80th birthday in January and is alive and well and living in ABQ.


Former NM workers compensation judge Chris Berkheimer has to know he has a long way to go to get back in the game. He was forced to resign his post in 2007 after charges that he solicited sex from an injured woman who was appearing before him and while a video camera was running. He not only lost his job, but also his right to practice law. But Democrat Berkheimer, who ran for an ABQ state senate seat in 2004, says he is giving serious thought to seeking the ABQ City Council seat held by Republican Sally Mayer. Voters are open to stories of redemption, but this is heavy suitcase of baggage. Mayer has indicated she is running for a third term. Republican Michael Cook says he is also in this race for this district which is in the middle of the city.


Joe, For many years, my morning begins with you, followed by RealClearPolitics. Although I am now a local government attorney, I did my time in a PBS newsroom and I know that sources cannot always be identified. The point is that a journalist lives and dies by his/her accuracy and credibility and you have never steered me wrong. Your “Gators” are worth more than all the identified sources in most of the rags that are left in the print media. Keep up the good work!

David Mathews

Thanks, David. We enjoy doing it for you.

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Wednesday, May 06, 2009

Weh Says Improbable Is Possible; Forms 2010 Guv Committee; The News & Analysis, Plus: Anonymous Sources: We Stand Behind Ours & Answer The Critics 

Allen Weh wants New Mexico Republicans to "Think Different" when it comes to his possible candidacy for the 2010 GOP Guv nomination announced at a Wednesday news conference. That's not a bad idea because if R's don't think differently about Weh's tenure as chairman of their party they could get recurring nightmares. The R's suffered one of their worst defeats in modern history in 2008 with Weh at the helm. Not that Weh deserves all the blame. The party was bitterly divided when he took over the chairmanship from ousted Ramsay Gorham in 2004, but under him it did remain a house divided. His challenge--and it's a big one--is to convince R's to look at his impressive military and business resume, and leave thoughts of the '08 disaster behind. Weh's "Think Different" slogan sold a lot of computers for Apple. We'll see if it works on the campaign trail. (That's kind of a hip slogan for a straight-laced Republican. Did Weh's Apple loving grandkids give him the idea?)

Wednesday Weh, 66, joined ABQ financial advisor Greg Zanetti in forming an exploratory committee for governor (Audio from radio's St. Cyr here). Zanetti has also been emphasizing his military background as a Brigadier General who served at Guantanamo Bay, but Weh, a Colonel in the Marine Corp Reserve, is a combat veteran with two tours in Vietnam, was awarded three purple Hearts, the Silver Star, served in the Persian Gulf War and came back and did a stint in Iraq. And those are only the highlights. If R's were to vote on military records alone, Weh might sprint away.

Zanetti has the support of longtime R power player Mickey Barnett and others familiar with the game. He does not carry the political baggage Weh does, not having been directly entangled in the internecine warfare that has wracked the party in recent years. But does he have wallet power? Weh could overpower Zanetti in that regard. He has earned significant money from his CSI Aviation which was awarded large federal contracts with the help of former ABQ GOP Congresswoman Heather Wilson. If Weh is willing to put his own dollars to work it could help overcome the high negatives he's developed in a significant segment of the party. But relationships in a small turnout primary remain paramount and Weh has much fence-mending to do.

And will it just be Zanetti and Weh for the prize? What about Heather, or even former Southern Congressman Steve Pearce? Weh is an effective fund-raiser and is closely tied to Heather. His entry is being spun two ways by the Alligators. Theory one says Wilson has abandoned any intention to run for governor, knowing the state is deep blue and chances of victory are slim, even with corruption scandals brewing. Theory number two is that Weh could be a place holder for Wilson. He stays in the race and keeps support from falling to Zanetti. In the fall, he gets out and Heather gets in. If we get a three way race with Heather, Zanetti and Weh, pollster Brian Sanderoff says Wilson could have an easy time of it as the two men carve up the right wing vote and Heather takes the middle. She lost a one-on-one US Senate primary last year to conservative Pearce. If you're really Machiavellian, you speculate that Allen is prepared to stay in the fight, beat up on Zanetti, but ultimately take a fall for Heather. Yes, that is genetically conspiratorial.

Among those on hand for the Weh announcement was former ABQ GOP Congressman ('69 to '89) and US Interior Secretary Manuel Lujan (our old boss). Lujan still has ties to the centrists in the state GOP--especially in ABQ--and Weh is hoping to make a play for that vote, despite his conservative bearing.


Despite getting shellacked in the US Senate race last year by Dem Tom Udall, Pearce has the kind of profile that could be dangerous for the Dems. He has appeal among Hispanic men and has a nice base in the south. But Pearce may miss D.C. and be more prone to take on Dem Rep. Harry Teague in 2010, rather than mount a difficult Guv challenge.

Remaining in the shadows is Republican and UNM Regent Jack Fortner of Farmington who made some early noise, but who has been quiet of late. And there is always the long-shot chance of a wealthy independent businessman getting in the deal. ABQ GOP State Rep. Janice Arnold-Jones is also mentioned in political circles as a possible player, but the smart money says she won't risk her legislative seat to make a run.


Weh cited the corruption scandals as a key issue for the 2010 race. He maintained he could appeal to Democrats and indys, although he had limited success at that when he was GOP chair. He decried the "incompetence" in government as well and at his announcement surrounded himself with some prominent businessmen and women.

“I'm taking a long hard look at this race because I believe we need to clean up the corruption in Santa Fe,” said Weh. “We need to save jobs and make jobs, and move New Mexico in a better direction.”

But the AP got off a question at the news conference about that pesky US Attorney scandal that bedeviled NM R's last cycle. Weh held his ground and declared he was justified in working to oust US Attorney Iglesias, but it was a reminder that the corruption issue cuts both ways.


No matter who gets in the GOP race or who wins, NM Democratic Party chairman Brian Colon knows his team has a big lead going in, and the chairman was anything but bashful in going after his former counterpart when he learned he would attempt a run. He said:

Weh's tenure as head of the Republican Party consisted of intense infighting, contested and nasty primaries, and catastrophic loses. Why should New Mexican's think he'll do any better in the Roundhouse? Once again it appears we will see the circular firing squad that is the Republican Party of New Mexico at work during the 2010 primary.

That's some clever political rhetoric. With the state's congressional delegation under their complete control, their legislative dominance unquestioned, President Obama highly popular and with Dem Lt. Governor Denish--the only Dem currently in the Guv race--sitting pretty with about $2 million in the bank, Colon and Company aren't just ready for the next battle, they appear to be relishing the prospect. Federal grand juries? FBI probes? Don't you worry your pretty heads about that, New Mexico Dems, says your confident chairman.

Allen Weh has a rocky primary road ahead of him and even more potholes to sidestep if he were to be the GOP nominee, but the first part of winning is showing up on the battlefield. Weh is marching in that direction.

Weh is 66 and would be 67 if he won the Guv nod. That's the oldest Guv nominee our state's major parties would have in decades--maybe ever. Light Guv Denish is 60 and would be 61 if she won the Dem nomination. Increased life-spans and improved medical care have made age less of an issue.

But get this. While writing the above a campaign consultant for Greg Zanetti e-mailed info we had requested. He tells us that today (Wednesday) is Greg's 51st birthday. We can just hear Allen Weh saying: "I've got ties older than that guy..."

Happy Birthday, Greg. You might want to take some of those candles off your cake and start learning how to burn them at both ends. It's a long campaign.

David Alire Garcia
Oh no! An anonymous source is quoted in the Wall Street Journal, America's #2 daily circulation newspaper. Someone call the NM blogosphere police!

More than three months into a medical leave from Apple Inc., Chief Executive Steve Jobs remains closely involved in key aspects of running the company, say people familiar with the matter.

Not another one! This time in the New York Times, one of America's most respected journalistic organs. Someone call the paddy wagon. Looks like we have a bunch of "journalism" criminals on the loose!

For Mr. Stenfors, 38, 2008 looked like a very good year. He recorded a trading profit of about $120 million, and his reward was a handsome bonus, according to people familiar with the matter.

The point being that we have a bunch of wanna be "journalists" running around New Mexico's "progressive" blogosphere who are clueless about how the real world operates and who love tearing down others. But they don't have to worry about ever getting jobs at the New York Times or Wall Street Journal; they are marooned here, funded with sinecures from quasi-secret, out-of-state nonprofit ventures like the NM Independent, led by managing editor and former NM Democratic Party Executive Director David Alire Garcia. They condemn the anonymous sources on this blog and in the nation's leading newspapers, but use anonymity to hide their funding sources and mislead the New Mexican public about their "progressive" and apparently sub rosa mission.

As the kids say, they are sooo busted.

We are here to inform and entertain--without any hidden agenda. We exercise the use of anonymous sources with responsibility and care. We do not take anonymous donations or take orders from anyone on what is published. That's why we are the most respected, most quoted and most read political web site in New Mexico. We work hard each day we publish to earn your trust. I thank you for giving us the opportunity.

Long Live The Alligators! Long live the truth!

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Tuesday, May 05, 2009

Together Again: Obama To ABQ; Mr. President, Big Bill Needs A Hug, Plus: Jet Loss Update; Cracked "Tacos?" And: Memories Of Kemp & Reader Feedback 

Together again--soon
What does a guy need who is under the gun from a federal grand jury pay-to-play investigation and who is trying to figure out where the next barrel of money is going to come from to solve the state's fiscal woes? Well, a bear hug (or even a strong handshake) from the President of the USA couldn't hurt. It appears Big Bill will get something along those lines when on May 14th President Obama makes his first visit to New Mexico since taking office. We assume beleaguered Big Bill will greet the Prez when he arrives for a town hall meeting on credit card debt. Word of the visit was first announced by the Guv's office, not the congressional delegation or White House, and came in glowing terms.

...Our working families are struggling under the weight of credit card debt fueled in part by out of control interest rates...I applaud President Obama’s aggressive approach, tackling a number of the most serious issues simultaneously, because there is no time to waste....President Obama displayed bold leadership in proposing an economic stimulus that not only gets much-needed funds flowing into the economy, but takes a giant step toward a renewable energy economy that protects the environment and reduces our reliance on foreign sources of energy. Even more importantly, the stimulus package is helping states like New Mexico balance depleted budgets (and) create jobs...

After that, you can barely remember that the President had to nix Bill's nomination as Commerce Secretary because of that insistent pay-to-play probe and which we covered like a wet blanket on our Monday blog. We don't know what will ultimately happen with the probe, but whatever it is, we don't need Mr. President thinking of it every time he thinks of our little corner of the world.

Does Obama's visit have any meaning for the future of that investigation? It his Justice Department in charge of the show now. We're sure there will be plenty of second guessing and tea leaf reading when Bill and Barack make an appearance together.

How hard will that hug be, anyway?

New Mexico, like the rest of the nation, has taken to their new President. His popularity here is over 60% in the latest SurveyUSA numbers. Obama will get a warm greeting here in the state he carried easily in 2008. But there are worries about federal funding for long-standing programs here. The administration's proposed budget will have been released by the time Obama holds his town hall, but there's plenty of time for the art of persuasion as it makes its way through Capitol Hill If Big Bill, or one of our congressional members gets up the gumption, the President may learn more of the state's concerns.

No word yet on whether any members of the congressional delegation will travel to New Mexico with the President aboard Air Force One. We're hearing it won't be a direct flight from D.C, but details are not confirmed. US Rep. Martin Heinrich represents ABQ where Obama is headed. It would be a career-day and a big boost for the Democratic freshman lawmaker if he could snare a presidential ride.

(The Journal's Michael Coleman in D.C. reports Obama's NM visit will be part of a southwestern swing.)

But let's get back to those concerns over New Mexico's share of Uncle Sam's pie...


We didn't get the impression that chances are all that good for finding another mission for the New Mexico Air National Guard's 150th Fighter Wing --known as the Tacos--when we listened in on Senator Jeff Bingaman's Monday news conference with radio reporters. The Senator said he had no specific alternative mission in mind for the Tacos who are based at ABQ's Kirtland Air Force Base, but his staff is working on it:

It is important the Tacos not disband and are able to retain a mission of flying aircraft. We hope that is the way it winds up...We are doing what we can to insure they have some continued involvement as a flying unit. Folks in my office are working with the Tacos and with the Pentagon to see what can be done...

Not exactly a Pollyannish outlook there.

News reports have not said how many jobs are at stake if the Tacos-- organized as a fighter wing in the 1940's--disband. Randall Horn, ex-Adjutant General, NM National Guard now says 1,000 jobs would be lost at Kirtland. The plan is to disband the unit over the next 14 months because the 23 aging F-16's the Tacos fly are obsolete. But the Tacos are not in line to get new fighter jets.

We don't know about you, but Horn's 1,000 jobs (we assume they are both full and part-time) declaration gave us a jolt equivalent to an Americano at Starbucks. Does that estimate include local jobs associated with contracts awarded to companies to maintain the aging fleet?

The Taco problem has been on the plate (sorry about that one) for quite a while, so speculation that it would not have come to this if GOP Senator Pete Domenici were still around has to be taken with a grain of salt. But it can't be entirely discounted. Later this week the Obama administration's proposed budget for Sandia and Los Alamos Labs will be released. None of the state's congressional delegation is pre-announcing any good news, so get ready for a hit. Domenici nurtured those labs--maybe too much--and it's a good bet that his absence will be noticed when that budget hits the streets. (See our analysis of Energy Sec. Chu's recent NM visit.)

Big Bill says NM is getting $1.8 billion in federal stimulus money. With Tacos cracking and Labs' funding looking wobbly, it appears we are going to need every penny

New Mexico native Yolanda Acosta, a self-described "conservative Republican," had her brush with history when she helped craft the 1984 national Republican Party platform. She worked on it with Jack Kemp. This photo of her and the New York congressman--later the 1996 GOP VP nominee--ran in the New York Times. Kemp died over the weekend. Yolanda, president of the Roosevelt County Republican Women in the 80's, recalled:

Congressman Kemp handed me this picture while in Dallas. It ran in the New York Times. He signed it and wrote: "Yolanda, you and I helped shape history." And, yes, we did. The button I'm wearing says, "Pro-life, Pro-family Pro-Reagan." Jack Kemp talked the talk and walked the walk.

Thanks for the pic, Yolanda. Kemp was no stranger to New Mexico. As a radio reporter in the 70's, we interviewed him a number of times as he stopped here for various candidates and causes. He was an early advocate for Republicans to pursue Hispanic voters, a message that remains relevant today. Jack Kemp was 73.


Our in-depth look Monday at the state of the corruption probes in New Mexico prompted quite a bit of reader e-mail:

Betty Hileman: Wow--you really laid it on the line like an old-time newsman!

Well, Betty, we're 54 now, but still able to give the kids a run for their money.

David--You went right after it today. Good work!

News reporter: You wrote "Anthony Correra" when I believe you meant "Marc Correra." Anthony is the father.

(We did do that in our first draft.)

Charles Wollman, State Investment Council spokesman: The SIC is working to finalize additional policy and procedures to ensure full disclosure of any payments made in relation to SIC investments (including administrators, lobbyists, PR specialists, what have you). Those are expected to be rolled out at the next SIC meeting. The LFC has also called a hearing on May 12th, where this placement agent issue will be front and center. Not to minimize, but one core fact that gets forgotten sometimes, is that these agents aren’t hired by the state, they aren’t paid by the state.

Las Cruces Reporter Heath Haussamen: Leaving out the context and failing to assure his readers that he’s not being used as a tool in a political game means Joe Monahan’s reporting on criminal probes and other matters can’t be taken seriously...

Geez, that sounds awfully self-righteous, doesn't it? Well, Heath, when you stop taking anonymous donations on your Web site to support your "journalism" and also reveal what individuals contribute to the nonprofits that finance the online newspaper you draw a paycheck from, we'll be able to take you seriously. Meanwhile, you might want to stop rewriting press releases and get details on the news we delivered. Now snap to it down there in Cruces!

GREG: Joe a great blog today. It is hard for a layman to keep track of all this stuff. Thanks for doing the research and explaining it.


Cap'N Crunch
Alex: Joe, This was an outstanding piece of journalistic work! I've been following these scandals since they popped up, and you provided an excellent update and summary. I hope all these investigations come to some official closure soon. Thanks. Alex.

"Journalistic work?" Why, Alex, the self-appointed kiddie corp that police "journalism" in the so-called NM "progressive" blogosphere--FBIHOP (a pancake house blog?), Marjorie Someone, John "I want to be a blogger" Fleck of the ABQ Journal, the aforementioned Heath Haussamen, Den Mother Barbara Wold at Democracy for NM and the gang at the New Mexico "We're not really a progressive front group for Eli Lee" Independent--is going to spit out their Cap 'N Crunch when they read that one.

Thanks for the compliment, Alex. And to our critics we say in the spirit of friendly competition: Read it and weep--and enjoy your cereal!

Veteran NM news reporter--A US Senate race (by GOP US Attorney Greg Fouratt) seems pretty ambitious. U.S. attorney has not been a real platform for people with political ambitions--think John Kelly. Former NM attorneys general (Udall and Bingaman) and Bernalillo County District Attorney Schiff have had better luck... I asked Fouratt what his future intentions were in this area, he said he'll return to being a line prosecutor when new US Attorney is confirmed. He said he isn't interested in politics. He considers himself a career prosecutor.

Okay, but we're going to Stay Tuned on that one...

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Monday, May 04, 2009

The Corruption Cases: Insider News And Perspective, Plus: The Political Back Story On What's Really Going On; Plus: Guv Weighs Commission Appointment 

Big Bill & US Att. Fouratt
There's no bigger story on the back-burner in New Mexico politics than the federal grand jury investigation into the CDR saga going on in downtown Albuquerque. And it continues to go on. We think top players telling us that the probe has been extended for at least another three months--through July--- may be on safe ground. In our last episode of the CDR pay-to-play saga that cost Big Bill a spot in the Obama cabinet, we learned of the all-important statute of limitations.

Federal white-collar crimes normally have a statute of limitations of five years, but it is not unusual for potential defendants in securities or tax cases to waive the statute of limitations to gain time to develop arguments that the activities in question were legitimate. Barring waivers, charges stemming from the GRIP bond investigation would have to be brought by the end of April.

Well, there were no April indictments which is why those saying that the parties involved have agreed to an extension may be on safe ground.

Also, people familiar with the matter are saying they've learned that Richardson's longtime fund-raiser, Amanda Cooper, has been given immunity by prosecutors as they continue their wide-ranging investigation of the Governor's fund-raising from firms and financial agents that did business with the state. In addition to raising money for his governor campaign and serving as deputy manager for his presidential bid, Cooper headed two PAC's for Richardson--Si Se Puede and Moving America Forward. She is the step-daughter of NM US Senator Tom Udall, adding to the political drama.

Sources also say Chris Romer, a Colorado banker, state senator and son of a former Colorado governor, has also been given immunity by federal prosecutors as the probe, which began last August, continues. Romer worked for JP Chase Morgan, the lead banker in the NM CDR bond deal.

CDR gave $100,000 to various Big Bill political committees. At issue is whether CDR was given state work in exchange for the contributions and if so, who were the players or player who engineered the deal. CDR earned about $1.5 million for advising the state's finance authority on the $1.6 billion GRIP program.

Dave Contarino
Legal beagles say they wonder most about who will be indicted, if anyone, and if the ultimate political sensation--an indictment of a sitting governor is a possibility. The Guv and his supporters have called the federal probe a fishing expedition, but that doesn't mean someone won't end up on the hook.

Those mentioned most frequently as potential targets, besides the Governor, are David Harris, former head of the NM Finance Authority which CDR did business with and now a vice-president at the University of New Mexico, David Contarino, former chief of staff to Big Bill and Mike Stratton of Colorado, a longtime Richardson friend, political adviser and businessman who lobbied the state on behalf of CDR.

As for Richardson, it seemed remote to observers we spoke with when the story first broke that he would be subjected to an indictment. The burgeoning scandal cost him his Commerce Secretary nomination, but the recent explosion in other possible corruption-related news--not just CDR--has the conventional wisdom perhaps not so skeptical that the Governor could face serious legal peril. The insider perspective is that to get to Richardson, the feds would have to get Contarino. He is who the governor did business with, not underlings.

US Attorney Greg Fouratt would have to have a lot of confidence to go after Big Bill because if he failed, it would likely be the end of him. But the incredible amounts of money Richardson raised--$13 million alone for his 2006 Guv re-election effort--has left multiple routes for investigators to travel. There remains much to worry about on the Fourth Floor of the Roundhouse.

(For the uninitiated, a background report on the CDR story here. National blog coverage on recent developments on the State Investment Council are here.)

AG Eric Holder
Other informed speculation we are getting from senior sources says that US Attorney General Eric Holder may be called on to personally examine any potential indictments in the politically potent CDR case. Our legal experts say that would not be unusual. With Republican Greg Fouratt holding the US attorney position, having the Democratic attorney general appointed by Obama pass judgment on any indictments before they are handed down would also be aimed at negating charges of a political prosecution that are sure to arise if indictments hit. But it would seem to be a difficult position for Holder. If he lets indictments go forward, Democrats here could charge he caved to Republican Fouratt. If he doesn't, charges that politics played a role in ending the case will be shouted. Not an enviable position to be in with NM still a possible swing state for Obama in 2012.

Other observations heard include how aggressive the Federal Bureau of Investigation in NM has become in recent years and even more so in the aftermath of the bursting of the economic bubble.

Seasoned political players also ponder the future of Fouratt, who has been anything but shy when he appears before the press touting his successful prosecution of the Bernalillo County Metro Courthouse scandal. They say there could be an irony developing. Democratic US Senator Jeff Bingaman, who could have moved to return Fouratt to his former position as a prosecutor in the US Attorney's office and have Obama appoint a new Democratic US Attorney soon after taking office, did not do that. Insiders wonder if it could be Fouratt who will be a serious challenger to Bingaman in the 2012 election. That's a long way off, but nevertheless worth mentioning. What also could be a long way off is a new US Attorney for NM. Removing Fouratt now would drag Bingaman into the corruption case mix.

The timing of any indictments remains of more than passing interest to Light Guv Diane Denish, at this stage the likely 2010 Dem Guv nominee. If indictments came over the summer would they hasten the entry of former ABQ GOP Congresswoman Heather Wilson into the Guv contest? And would the trials, if any, fall in the middle of the general election campaign? And how would Denish fare in that environment? So far, her often frosty relationship with Richardson has served her well in that regard. The public does not see Denish tied to Bill's hip bone. However, her campaign contributions have not undergone the same scrutiny. R's will start looking as she inches closer to power, especially if the CDR case is alive and well.


We mentioned the new aggressiveness of the FBI in New Mexico and we saw it in action again recently when ABQ City Councilor Michael Cadigan--arch-foe of Democratic Mayor Marty Chavez, jumped at the chance to reveal he has been interviewed by an FBI agent on a pay-to-play accusation. The charge by Bode Aero is that the mayor demanded a discount for airplane rentals for his brief US Senate campaign last year. Bode says it refused and claims in a lawsuit the Chavez administration denied it a contract to continue operating out of Double Eagle II airport.

This sounds like a molehill, not a mountain, but in the aftermath of a financial collapse that cost taxpayers and the American economy trillions of dollars, molehills exist in a nourishing environment.


While the CDR case simmers, a possible new scandal has burst into the headlines where even bigger money is involved. The integrity of the investments of the state's crown jewels--nearly $12 billion in permanent funds--is at stake. Big Bill has tried to get ahead of the curve by suspending one company under scrutiny for its dealings with our State Investment Council (SIC), but this snowball has just begun rolling. How big it gets by the time it stops is anyone's guess.

This is another case where the FBI has started to interview key players. Insiders are watching most closely the deals lined up by Marc Correra. He was a middleman who helped clients win approval from the State Investment Council to invest in their companies or hedge funds. He shared in over $11 million in commissions on 24 deals. His father, Anthony Correra, has won the license to open a racino in Raton, but it is threatened as the Gaming Control Board demands more proof that the elder Correra can finance the $50 million deal.


While the epic bull market endured, it was easy to look the other way. The state enjoyed annual surpluses in the hundreds of millions and everyone was getting a piece of the pie, but those days are gone and perhaps not to return for generations.

Questions arising in thoughtful political circles include:

Will State Investment Officer Gary Bland be replaced? On the job since 2003, it was under his watch that the SIC mess occurred. Is it time for fresh perspective for this vital position?

Why does former Richardson deputy chief of staff David Harris continue to serve on the SIC, even as the federal grand jury probes Harris' role in the CDR affair? Again, should fresh perspectives be sought?

Richardson has slapped a six month ban on the placement agents who deal with the SIC. Why not make that ban permanent and propose it in the probable Special Session later this year? Let SIC staff and its members do what they are supposed to do--prudently decide to invest our tax dollars without Wall-Street high-rollers in the background shaking down anyone and everyone to get money into their hedge funds. Richardson says he will consider it.

Should the state revise rules that were loosened to allow more investment of our permanent fund money in private companies and hedge funds? The state lost $19 million when Eclipse Aviation went bankrupt. The permanent funds did fine before the spate of private investment which was touted as a way to help build the state's economy. Is such investment really necessary? Look at the problems it is causing. Job one is to protect the permanent funds for future generations, not necessarily enhance the rate of return of those investments beyond historical averages, or speculate in start-up companies or other risky ventures.

Where is the Legislative oversight? With millions of capital outlay available in recent years for each legislator--Republican and Democrat--oversight of the SIC and other sectors of state government have been negligible. Legislators have been busy spending not watching. And while the cat's away the mice will play. The Legislative Finance Committee has promised hearings on the SIC events. They can't come soon enough.


We pounded the table during the recent legislative session for a Senate Rules Committee hearing on the reappointment of Jamie Koch to the University of New Mexico Board of Regents. Not to vilify Koch, but to scrutinize his controversial stewardship and send a message to the state education and other bureaucracies that they are being watched. (Richardson did force Koch to step down as president of the UNM Regents. He remains on the board.) Corruption flourishes in an environment of lax oversight. It isn't always easy for a part-time citizen Legislature to lower the boom on errant bureaucrats and political appointees, not to mention a powerful chief executive, but we've now seen what lopsided domination of state government by the executive can bring.

In addition to a long, hot shower in the form of multiple investigations to clean up its corruption mess, New Mexico needs checks and balances restored to its government. Like the economic collapse, the recovery process will take years.


We're getting this from a source close to the Governor regarding his appointment to the Bernalillo County Commission to replace Deanna Archuleta of ABQ's SE Heights who has taken a job in the Interior Department in D.C.

Governor Richardson did interview seven candidates on Friday. These are all individuals who sent him a letter of interest and resume. However, the Governor is disappointed with the lack of the female candidates, particularly Hispanic females, who have expressed interest. Whoever he appoints will be replacing the only woman on the commission...He is inclined to hold off on a decision in order to wait and see if he gets more female applicants.

Hear that ladies? Get your resumes in. The most prominent female applicant is Judy Espinosa, who recently left as head of NM Expo, a post she was appointed to by Big Bill and who one politico pegged here as the front-runner for the appointment. Looks like the Guv is going to keep everyone guessing.

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