Friday, May 25, 2012

Susana Airways: You Might Want To Buy Accident Insurance, Plus: Susana Vs. Who In '14?; We Polled The State, Also: Testing Eric Griego & Michelle's New TV; Is It Enough? 

About that state jet, Governor....Well, Susana isn't about to buy back the iconic jet that she used as a symbol of excess under the Big Bill regime and since sold for $2.5 million, but her crash landing at the Santa Fe airport late Wednesday night, does raise some questions.

First among them is why the Governor of this state is allowed to be chauffeured about in a single engine propeller plane? How about a two engine requirement for the state's chief exec?

And surely this is a good time to examine just who gets to pilot the Guv's plane. The Clovis businessman who piloted Wednesday, Sid Strebeck, is said to have 3,000 hours of flying experience but he is not a professional pilot. They say he flew Governor Johnson around, but that was then and this is now.

Of course, this whole incident could have been avoided if the Guv wasn't bound and determined to interfere in a hotly contested GOP State Senate primary on the eastside. She was in that small plane because it took her to Tucumcari so she could campaign for Angie Spears who is being challenged by Rancher Pat Woods. Is it a case of bad karma for the Guv? And we won't even get into the bad timing of Clovis area District Attorney Matt Chandler for being on that plane...

Martinez made her first public comments about her controversial intervention in the primary Thursday. She said she is intent on reforming Santa Fe and "has no apologies" for getting involved in the Spears-Woods race.

She also tried to spin her involvement in the battle by saying of her 2010 GOP Guv primary "even in my race people got involved in contested primaries..."

Well, the sitting Governor is not  just "people." And previous governors have generally kept their fingerprints off of contested primaries because it does little but make them enemies and is resented by the legislature which is an independent branch of government. And voters don't like to be told who to vote for.

But Martinez evidently enjoys a good fight as much as her political consultant Jay McCleskey--no matter the political price. They seem to egg each other on. A Senior Alligator had the line of the week on that:

Susana and Jay could start a war with Switzerland!

And if you don't get that, there's always Wikpedia.


Susana doesn't have to worry about re-election for a while. She's not up until 2014, but we thought we would have some fun this week and see what Democratic voters are thinking when it comes to a potential nominee to face off with Susana.

We polled 1,400 New Mexico households Tuesday night in conjunction with Manzano Strategies, asking voters to make their Dem Guv pick from a list of candidates they were given. Here are the results:

State Auditor Hector Balderas--25.6%, Attorney General Gary King--22.5, Bernalillo County District Attorney Kaari Brandenburg 12.1, attorney Brian Colon--6.8, Santa Fe State Representative Brian Egolf--5.6 and trial attorney and former ABQ City Councilor Sam Bregman--2.89%.

We didn't ask any of those folks if they were going to run in '14, but several of them are known to be toying with it.

At this early stage, a poll like this is mainly about which potential candidate has name ID, not support. And as long as Susana's polling numbers stay strong, there isn't going to be a whole lot of elbowing to get in on a Dem primary.


One of our Alligators is following the money. He comes with the latest count in the congressional contests for the period April 1 through May 16th:

In the race for the Dem nod for the ABQ congressional seat Marty Chavez reports raising $106,000 and had $167,000 in cash. Michelle Lujan Grisham reports raising $103,000 and had $122,000 in cash. Eric Griego says he raised $139,000 for the period and had cash on hand of $87,000.

Marty is going to come with a pretty big TV buy to try to catch his two rivals who are far in front of him in our Tuesday poll.

Republican Janice Arnold-Jones will face the winner of the Dem nomination. She reported raising only $42,000 for the period and had just $39,000 in cash on hand. There will be no head start for Janice in the crucial money race.


He's so close he can taste it, but Eric Griego doesn't have it yet and Michelle Lujan Grisham could take it away from him on June 5.

The "Stop Griego" crowd has swung into action and it led to this pretty extraordinary memo from the candidate:

Rumors have been swirling, and I want to put them to rest for good. As reported this week by the Albuquerque Journal and the right-wing blog The Daily Caller, I incurred a series of traffic tickets over the past 10 years. In some cases, I was late paying the fines. As a result, traffic warrants were issued and I paid late fees and additional fines to settle the matter. I should have taken care of these on time. I regret not having been more responsible. And 15 years ago, I was put on probation for driving under the influence of alcohol. It was the biggest mistake of my life. It was a difficult lesson, and I deeply regret it. It’s made me a more humble person, and I’ve worked hard to become more responsible...None of these decade-old events have anything to do with the issues at stake in this year's congressional election. That's why I'm here to say: together we can fight back and together we will win.

Now who would start rumors about Eric? Certainly not anyone whose first name begins with the letter "M." Right?

It can't be good that Griego's traffic warrant problem and long ago DWI is surfacing in the critical final stretch. One of the Alligators at lunch at Barelas Coffee House this week called Griego's penchant for ignoring the warrants "odd" and wondered what it told us about him.

Griego has always been a rebel and bucked authority. Maybe that's what his behavior tells us.

Of the three candidates, Griego is the least tested at this level of play. Marty Chavez is...well...Marty Chavez, a major league political power player. Lujan Grisham is a trained attorney and a former state cabinet secretary and an elected Bernalillo County Commissioner. Griego has been a city councilor and state senator and, boy, is he getting lucky. Let's explain...

Griego has had to face his polished opponents only once--on the sole TV debate. His subpar performance is credited, in part, with letting Michelle in the door. But there are no more TV debates, radio debates, joint appearances before community groups or any other format that could put pressure on Griego.

If Griego wins, he will have taken some heat, but not the usual amount. That will give the R's an opportunity to see if they can crack him under the pressure.

In the old days, a traffic record like Griego's would have been subjected to much more intensive coverage in the electronic and printed media. We also had another daily paper that would have put the heat on.

That Griego is apparently able to extinguish this little prairie fire with an email missive and a comment to the newspaper is a break. But saying it will do no damage to him Election Night is premature and unknowable.

As for the "rumors" that Griego says have been swirling, the big one is that he would drop out of the race because of his warrant problems. Well, don't believe it. Cardiac arrest is the only thing that could make the ambitious Griego quit.


This latest TV ad from Michelle Lujan Grisham is well-produced (like her others) but it is a little thin on content. The producers rely on Lujan Grisham's endorsements from the Alibi and ABQ Journal to fill most of the 30 seconds. The copy about her is glowing, but you have to wonder if this ad is going to motivate casual voters to get off their couches and vote for her. She needs those kind of voters to turn out if she is to overcome Eric Griego whose progressive base is headed to the polls.

Lujan Grisham doesn't have to jump up and down on Oprah's couch in the final days, but she needs to turn up the temperature and make sure folks are excited about voting for her. This ad does not take her in that direction. Maybe her next one will (can they use some of that TV debate footage to fire up the crowd?)

Our poll Tuesday night showed the race to be a virtual dead heat between Lujan Grisham and Griego, so the get-out-the-vote-effort is critical. Griego, endorsed by a number of prominent national groups, is seen as having the edge there. That's why Michelle's late media may need to be a bit more fiery.

For the record, our Tuesday polling results again: Lujan Grisham--34.7%, Griego garners 33.9%, Chavez comes with 22.3% and 9% were undecided.


We called Dem Public Regulation Commission candidate Valerie Espinosa the "former Santa Fe County Clerk" on our Thursday blog. In fact, she is still the clerk there for the rest of the year....Espinosa was leading the race, but Brad Gallegos was getting more than 1% of the vote, as we erroneously posted. We left out a number. Gallegos is at 13% in that four way race.

This is the home of New Mexico politics.

Thanks for stopping in this week.

Reporting from Albuquerque, I'm Joe Monahan.

E-mail your news and comments. (jmonahan@ix.netcom.com)

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Thursday, May 24, 2012

More From Our Exclusive Poll: Leaders In PRC Races, Plus: The Guv's Consultant Becomes Public Issue In Clovis Senate Race; He's Hit In Flyer, Also: Heinrich's Defense Flip 

Valerie Espinosa
A couple of well-known names in political circles are the front-runners in the two races for the Democratic nomination for a slot on the state's powerful Public Regulation Commission. ABQ's Al Park is out polling his two rivals and in the four way Dem race for the northern PRC seat, Valerie Espinosa, the Santa Fe County Clerk, has established a healthy lead.

Those are the key findings from a poll conducted Tuesday night for New Mexico Politics with Joe Monahan.

Park already had spent $113,000 from his fat campaign coffers before our survey was conducted Tuesday night.And his spending continues on TV ads and direct mail. That has put the ABQ SE Heights state representative in the driver's seat. Still, Bernalillo County Assessor Karen Montoya, relying on only $30,000 in the public financing that Park rejected, came with a good showing.

Park polled at 33%, Montoya at 25% and attorney Cynthia Hall at 21%. Undecided was 21%.

The winner of the primary will face GOP attorney Chris Ocksrider in November.

Our automated phone poll Tuesday was conducted in conjunction with Manzano Strategies, under the supervision of veteran New Mexico Republican consultant Bruce Donisthorpe, a senior vice-president at the firm and who has been in the polling trade since 2006. He said of the results:

Park is heading toward what could be a comfortable win. He is trending toward breaking 40% on election night, He has a strong lead among men and also leads among women. Montoya, as might be expected, has a good lead among Hispanics. Hall is running competitively for second, but has an uphill battle to get to first. Twenty-seven percent of Hispanics are undecided, perhaps giving Montoya an opportunity to come close or for the upset.

Hall also took public financing and is running her campaign on $30,000. Park's state House district is in the PRC district and that helps him. He has served in the Legislature since 2001.

We polled 676 likely Democratic voters in this PRC district, giving the survey a margin of error of 3.76%.


In the northern PRC district Espinosa polls 26%, Santa Fe County Commissioner Virginia Vigil gets 20%, Brad Gallegos 13% and Danny Maki polls 12%. There were still 29% undecided.

Said Donisthorpe:

Espinosa has a considerable lead among men and a strong lead in Rio Arriba County. She is winning Santa Fe County. She is well-positioned to win. As you would expect, Vigil is running strong in Santa Fe County where she serves as a county commissioner. Gallegos and Maki are new candidates and they are not as well-known. The others have been elected officials and it shows. 

David Montoya, a Dem and president of Manzano strategies, noted this race is to decide who will replace scandal-ridden Jerome Block, Jr. who was forced to resign:

Voters appear to be rejecting untried, unvetted and inexperienced candidates in the wake of the Block scandal.

The PRC regulates the state's utilities and other industries. It has five elected commissioners. There is no Republican candidate seeking the northern seat.

We polled 511 likely Dem voters in the northern PRC district. The margin of error is 4.33%.


Insiders say look for the ABQ Journal to come with its primary election in this Sunday's editions....We did not have a chance to post our Senate poll cross tabs when we came out with our exclusive poll Tuesday. They can be found here...

Our exclusive poll showing Eric Griego and Michelle Lujan Grisham in a virtual dead heat for the Dem congressional nomination was big news in the state, as it was the first independent poll in the high-profile contest. Veteran political reporter Stuart Dyson of KOB-TV spread the word on his station's multiple newscasts....And KRQE TV's Katie Kim entered the maze of the candidates' own internal polling...Not to worry. We broke the tie with the first independent polling--thanks to the support of our many readers and advertisers....

Eric Griego's lousy driving record which includes multiple arrest warrants for failing to show up for court hearings regarding traffic violations tickets and a DWI to boot comes under scrutiny for the first time in this campaign. Conservatives are loving it....


Now our continuing coverage of the big political story--the showdown in Clovis:

After searing dozens of campaign foes for better than a decade, Jay McCleskey, Governor Martinez's hot-button political consultant, is getting a taste of his own medicine.

McCleskey has come under public fire in a piece that hit the mailboxes in the fiercely fought eastside GOP state Senate primary between Governor-backed Angie Spears and rancher Pat Woods.

McCleskey has been leading the negative charge against Woods and now Woods is fighting back. But he is not hitting Angie Spears who is publicly backed by popular GOP Governor Martinez, but instead focusing on Jay who is used to giving fire but not taking it.

The flyer (click to enlarge) shows a menacing picture of McCleskey, acknowledged in the political community as  Martinez's most powerful advisor, and urges Clovis area voters to "reject mud-slinging and negative attacks."

Woods says Spears paid McCleskey "nearly $10,000 last month," a figure meant to drive home the control he has over Spears.

This flyer is another sign of the can of worms that the Guv has opened up by fighting so openly and vociferously for Spears. Martinez stands to gain very little and risks much.

Here's some more fire and brimstone from Woods as he fights for his political life against what he is now calling the "Albuquerque machine":

 I intend to meet the Spears Political Machine’s lies with the truth--both about me and about Ms. Spears. Please know that I am deeply disappointed in the current tone and direction of this race.  But I simply cannot let these malicious and false attacks stand.  I’m a proud rancher, farmer, community leader, husband, father and grandfather.  As a life-long Christian, I must defend my reputation and the meaning of my word and my handshake. They are more valuable to me than Ms. Spears and her political consultants may ever know. 

Yeah, now we're playing the game.

As for McCleskey and his hope of remaining a behind-the-scenes power, that hope has now been definitively dashed. First he earned the nickname "The Fifth Floor" for the purported power he has over Martinez and now this. Jay is now radioactive. His days as an unquestioned enforcer of Republican political uniformity ended in Clovis thanks to Pat Woods. Unlike many who came before him, Woods is staring down McCleskey. It is a major embarrassment for Martinez, but she unleashed the attack dogs and now must let them feed.

As we blogged this week, Martinez was flying around the district this week going all in for Spears as this race has morphed into the most important GOP senate battle of the primary season and arguably the most important race of all.

This attack on the Guv's consultant is a major political event because of McCleskey's influence in the New Mexican government. If he has become too much of a lightning rod, it could lead to Martinez enlarging her small circle of advisors and giving Jay some competition.

Don't bet Pat Woods' ranch on it but it could happen.


The Guv's plane had a "hard landing" at the Santa Fe airport when it returned from a trip she took to Tucumcari to support Angie Spears. No one was hurt, but the pilot--businessman Sid Strebeck--forgot to put down the landing gear after taking it up before landing because of high winds. The Guv's husband and Clovis area District Attorney were also on board. No one was hurt. Now, will there be another "hard landing" for the Guv Election Night when the Spears-Wood vote is tallied?


A reader writes of the below-the-radar negative campaigning going on in the Dem race for the ABQ US House seat:

We received a phone call from someone who said she was "Shirley" and lives on the westside.  She wanted us to know that Eric Griego has been an enemy of the westside; that he favored building no new houses there; that he had opposed the Montano Bridge and the extension through the Petroglyphs; that he was just generally anti-development and anti-jobs.  She ended by hoping we'd look at Eric's record and vote for Marty Chavez instead. That was the first indication of negative campaigning I've run into in this race...

And there will probably be more like it in the final, frenzied days.


Heather Wilson is starting to tear her hair out over Martin Heinrich. You can't blame her. The ABQ congressman and presumed Dem US Senate nominee flipped this week and voted for a defense bill that he previously voted against.

Heinrich did it because of the funding it contained for the state's massive national security establishment,. It was the smart vote politically as it positions Heinrich in the tradition of former GOP Senator Pete Domenici as the guy who brings home the bacon. But stop the presses (do they still have those?). Presumptive GOP senate nominee Wilson wants to inherit the Domenici legacy.  She says:

“Only my mother can have it both ways,” Wilson said of Congressman Heinrich’s vote in support of the $642 billion House defense authorization bill.  “A year ago, the Congressman voted against the House defense authorization bill that fixed funding for our labs and in August he voted to slash defense spending as part of legislation to increase the debt ceiling. The Congressman’s sudden conversion to being a defense hawk won’t fly.”

Unfortunately for Heather, she is right about Heinrich's conversion to defense hawk, but she is wrong that it won't fly. Some Dems in the primary are going to be upset with him, but not enough to make a difference. He has a huge lead over Hector Balderas who said he would not have voted for the defense bill as Heinrich did (Our Tuesday night poll shows Heinrich at 57% and Balderas at 29%).

In the Fall election when he likely will face Wilson, voters are more likely to reward Heinrich for his conversion and for seeing the light, rather than punishing him for hypocrisy. When it comes to putting cash in the wallets of New Mexicans. Hypocrisy is allowed and encouraged.

This is one example the problem R's are having in finding an Achilles Heel on Heinrich. He leads the early polling and the Senate race is ranked "lean Dem." Wilson may end up doing a jello act--keep throwing the stuff against the wall and see what sticks.

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Wednesday, May 23, 2012

OUR EXCLUSIVE POLL: It's A Two Way Race; Lujan Grisham And Griego In Virtual Tie; Chavez Lags; First Public & Scientific Survey Also Shows Heinrich With Commanding Lead On Balderas In Dem US Senate Derby 

The three way race for the Democratic nomination for the ABQ congressional seat has now become a two way contest that is a virtual tie between Michelle Lujan Grisham and Eric Griego. Marty Chavez lags far behind. And in the Dem race for the US Senate nomination Rep. Martin Heinrich continues to hold a formidable lead--57.3% to 29.1%--over challenger Hector Balderas.

Those are the key findings of an exclusive poll conducted Tuesday night--May 22--by New Mexico Politics with Joe Monahan in conjunction with Manzano Strategies. It is the first public and scientific poll conducted in the hotly contested  battle for the U.S. House seat that Heinrich is vacating to make a run for the Senate. Janice Arnold-Jones is unopposed for the Republican nomination and will face the Democratic winner of the June 5 primary.

Lujan Grisham polls 34.7%, Griego garners 33.9%, Chavez comes with 22.3% and 9% of the 728 likely Democratic voters in the 1st Congressional district who responded to the automatic phone poll said they were undecided.

The margin of error in the survey is 3.62%.

Griego, a state senator and former ABQ city councilor, has been backed by local and national progressives. Not surprisingly, he leads the race with self-described liberals and Lujan Grisham carries the day with moderate Democrats.

Lujan Grisham, who has made direct appeals to women voters, actually trails Griego in that category, if only by a tad. Griego wins 37% of women to Lujan Grisham's 33%. Chavez gets 22%. But Griego gets 43% of liberals to Lujan Grisham's 34% and Chavez's 18%.

Democratic women are more liberal than Democratic men who tend to be more moderate.

Among men, Lujan Grisham edges out Griego. She gets 37% to Griego's 31%. Chavez gets 23% and the remainder are undecided,

Griego holds a slight lead among Hispanics, but they are bunched up among the three hopefuls all of whom are of Hispanic heritage. Griego scores 35%, Lujan Grisham 29% and Chavez 28%. Anglos give Lujan Grisham 39%, Griego, 34% and Chavez 18%.

Republican Bruce Donisthorpe, a senior vice-president at Manzano Strategies with over 30 years of experience in state politics, supervised the poll. He says the odds are now overwhelming that the Democratic nominee will be either Lujan Grisham or Griego:

If Lujan Grisham can peel moderates away from Chavez and maintain her position with liberals she can win this race. Griego has to maintain his liberal base and work for a heavy turnout among them. Chavez is on a difficult road. He has fallen back by a considerable margin and he needs some kind of Hail Mary in the final days. Lujan Grisham has picked up momentum since the March Democratic  preprimary convention when Griego finished first and Michelle finished a distant third. But Griego is favored in the area of heaviest turnout--the SE Heights.

As for specific neighborhoods, our exclusive poll shows that in the SE Heights of ABQ where Bruce says Dem turnout is expected to be heaviest, Griego scores 40% to Lujan Grisham's 31% and Chavez's 19%.

On ABQ's West Side, Lujan Grisham prevails with 41% to Griego's 28% and Chavez's 23%. In the ABQ North and South Valleys, Griego wins, getting 38% to Lujan Grisham's 34% and Chavez's 20%. In the NE Heights, Lujan Grisham gets 35%, Griego 30% and Chavez 26%.


Lujan Grisham's campaign Tuesday issued an internal poll that showed her and Griego at 35% each and Chavez lagging. Griego released a survey that put him five points ahead and Chavez came with a poll that showed him leading by a point.

The poll conducted for New Mexico Politics with Joe Monahan is the first independent and public polling on the race.

(Complete cross-tabs for the US House portion of the survey are available here. More on the poll's methodology is here. We will post the US Senate cross-tabs later in the week).


There has been no negative campaigning among the trio on broadcast TV. The candidates have taken jabs at one another through other media, but it has been low-key.

 Lujan Grisham is credited with running well-produced TV spots and for a strong performance in the one and only televised debate. She is a Bernalillo County Commissioner and an attorney. She has received major support from Emily's List and has courted female voters in her TV ads. She ran for the nomination  in 2008, but did not put up nearly the fight she has this time around. She was the last candidate to get in the race and her campaign is not seen as having the field organization that Griego has and that could be a factor come June 5.

Griego is seen as having the most compelling message for ideologically motivated Democrats--many of whom turn out for a primary election. He has also racked up major endorsements from important Dem groups like the Sierra Club and labor unions. He has also raised the most money in the race, counting among his contributors many out of state progressives. All of that in addition to his advantage in the field has given him the title of front-runner, but that is a title he must now share with Lujan Grisham.

Griego has run a professional campaign and has been successful in stifling any public outbreaks of temper which in the past have been a trademark for the ABQ native. He has consolidated liberal votes  which our poll says will make up nearly half the primary votes cast. However, his TV spots have been criticized for their production values and Griego had a so-so performance at the TV debate.


Chavez, the former three term mayor of ABQ, is confronted with an old political demon--his lack of support among the large liberal base in the Democratic Party. He had the same problem when he sought the 2010 Dem nomination for Governor as well as the US Senate nomination in 2008.

As mayor he appealed to Republicans and conservative independents because of his pro-business and pro growth positions, but it left the left out in the cold. Our poll shows Chavez, 60, again paying the price. He is also coming off a 2009 loss for a fourth term as ABQ mayor.

He has put together a capable campaign team and has deep personal knowledge of the political landscape. Those who support him are enthusiastic. But being so far behind his rivals, the question is how he plays his final hand and whether it ultimately benefits Lujan Grisham or his old political nemesis Eric Griego.

Chavez's next move is especially important to Lujan Grisham. Our survey says she is splitting the moderates with him.

The 1st congressional district is ranked as "lean Dem" here, a ranking shared by a number of other pundits. Bernalillo County, which comprises more than 90% of the district and contains the state's largest city of ABQ went deep blue for Obama in 2008 and that trend seems intact.

Donisthorpe also supervised our primary election polling in 2010. That polling correctly identified all the winning candidates in the major races that year.


Martin Heinrich is on his way to a healthy victory--maybe a very healthy one, His 57.3% to 29.1% lead over Hector Balderas (with 13.6% undecided) is built on a blow-the-doors-off performance in his home town. Heinrich, the congressman for the ABQ district, overwhelms Balderas 69% to 23% in the 1st congressional district. Said Donisthorpe:

That's really the only number you need to know. That type of lead in the big city is simply insurmountable. 

In the north Heinrich leads Balderas 52% to 34% with 14% undecided. In the southern congressional district he is ahead 52 to 28% and 20% undecided.

Heinrich is even competitive with Hispanics, the backbone of the campaign of the native born Balderas, Heinrich gets 45% of them while Hector gets 46%. Anglos support Heinrich 3 to 1 over Balderas. Both men and women go heavily for Heinrich.

In the Senate race we surveyed 1,392 voters by automatic phone calls with Dialing Services LLC of Roswell, making for a low margin of error of 2.62%. The results were scaled to reflect the demographic and geographic make-up of the state.

This race has never been competitive with Heinrich raising more money and soundly defeating Balderas at the preprimary convention. Balderas said his performance there was somewhat of an upset but he never built on it.

Heinrich is on his way to facing presumed Republican nominee Heather Wilson for the Senate seat being vacated by Dem Jeff Bingaman. We rank the state "lean Dem" when it comes to the Senate contest, as do a number of other pundits.


Back to Clovis now and that red hot GOP state Senate primary where the stakes skyrocketed when Governor Martinez and her chief political operative Jay McCleskey openly took sides with Angie Spears over rancher Pat Woods. One of our Alligators says Susana has hit the campaign trail, trying to pull out the win:

Governor Martinez traveled to Clayton and Tucumcari with Angie Spears Tuesday.  Spears is still down in the polling...

The intervention of the Guv is resented by some locals and would be among the main reasons for any Spears loss, but with the Guv putting her personal prestige on the line and McCleskey with his back against the wall and scorching Woods, the outcome of the race is far from settled. Our Gator says Martinez was traveling on a plane belonging to Clovis developer Sid Strebeck.


Reader Stanley Allen writes of our coverage of ABQ Public Regulation Commission candidates Al Park and Karen Montoya:

I enjoy reading your daily blog.  You had an inadvertent error in Tuesday's blog where you state: 

"As the lone Hispanic candidate in a Dem primary and one with a previous base of support, Montoya--even under-financed--is a threat to Park."

I believe that both Ms. Montoya and Mr. Park have Hispanic/Latino backgrounds.  Below are two quotes you have written in the past regarding Mr. Park's background.


"His father, a University of Virginia Law School grad, is wrapping up a successful career at Sandia Labs, and previously worked in the Panama Canal Zone, where Al was born to his mother of Venezuelan descent."


"As for ethnicity, Park's background is not all Anglo. He was born in the Panama Canal Zone to a mother of Venezuelan descent. His father is a corporate attorney. Park is not the only high profile figure in his family. He is married to Bernalillo native and attorney Jessica Perez, the 2011 president of the NM Bar Association. She in turn is the daughter of former District Court Judge George Perez who was among the Dems who sought the northern US House seat in 1982 when it was first created." 

Thanks for reminding us of that.

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Tuesday, May 22, 2012

Park's Place: Big State Paydays For His Law Firm Surfaces As Issue In PRC Race, Plus: Susana's Immigration Switch; Another Theory, And: Sowards Goes Sour, But On The Cheap 

Al Park
How much? Try $602,000. That's how much the law firm of Dem Public Regulation Commission candidate and ABQ State Representative Al Park has taken in during the last ten months under a contract it was awarded by the Republican administration of Susana Martinez. That's going to raise some eyebrows as Park faces off for the nomination for the ABQ area PRC seat with Bernalillo County Assessor Karen Montoya and Cynthia Hall, an attorney who once worked for the PRC.

Park's three person law firm--Park &Anderson--was awarded the contract by the state Risk Management Division of the General Services Department to defend the state in such matters as wrongful terminations.

Candidate Montoya sent the payment info without comment. Park did not respond to an email request for comment. The records of the monthly payments the firm received are posted here.

The law firm's web site says it "offers litigation services to businesses, individuals, and governmental entities. Park & Anderson, LLC specializes in governmental liability, civil rights, employment litigation, personal injury, wrongful death..."

Park could argue that he is simply making a living and that having a big contract with the state does not present a conflict. But a question still lurks--would Park be pressured to vote the Martinez administration line if he won a spot on the PRC because of the financial importance the administration has become to his firm? Commissioners already make $90,000 a year so there also could be calls for Park to drop his contractual relationship with the state.

Park was elected to the House from ABQ's SE Heights in 2000 and is now the outgoing chairman of the House Judiciary Committee. For many years, he carved out a reputation as a liberal lawmaker, but that has changed in recent sessions with Park taking more conservative stances. The most glaring example of that was his vote in favor of repealing driver's licenses for undocumented immigrants--one of the Guv's premier issues. Park's unexpected support was a major coup for her.

The $602,000 Park's firm has collected is for the ten month period beginning in July 2011. Most state contracts run for a year, making the end date for this one June 30, 2012, with two more months of billing remaining.

Montoya did not send the law firm's contract, only the amounts paid which she received from risk management. The Division Director of Risk Management is attorney Jay Hone, the husband of GOP US Senate candidate Heather Wilson.

Park has formed a number of close relationships with Republicans while serving in the House, including with Martinez Chief of Staff Keith Gardner, a former state representative from Roswell.

Park is also close friend and ally of Dem State Rep. Kenny Martinez of Grants who is widely expected to become the next Speaker of the House in 2013.

Park began his PRC campaign with over $250,000 in his kitty, believed to be the largest such fund among the 112 representatives and senators. Much of it was amassed several years ago when Park was mulling a run for the Dem nomination for attorney general. He decided against that bid, but the money remained. Park's foes say some of that cash came from industries that are regulated by the PRC and therefore violate campaign law. But Park says the contributions are allowed because they came from years past. He adds that his record shows he would not be influenced by campaign contributions.

Park's recent report shows he has already spent some $113,000 on the PRC race. That has become a point of contention in the campaign. Montoya and Hall are both taking public financing which limits their spending to $30,000 each. But Park, who has long supported public financing, opted out of it for the PRC run. That has some liberals upset. It's conceivable that Montoya and Hall will get some matching funds because of Park's heavy spending, but not likely, say the campaigns.

Even though he has spent very heavily, Park is still working to put the race away. He recently attacked Montoya for not filing her campaign finance report on time and also charged that she is avoiding public forums. Montoya's campaign released a statement from the Secretary of State that said she had filed her report on time, but it was technical problems at the SOS office that prevented it from being viewed.

That Park is landing some blows speaks to the dynamics of the race. As the lone Hispanic candidate in a Dem primary and one with a previous base of support, Montoya--even under-financed--is a threat to Park. He could lose Hispanics and also split Anglo votes with Cynthia Hall. But with even more Park spending expected in the final days, he remains the favorite to take the nomination.

The winner of the June 5 primary will face Republican attorney Chris Ocksrider  in November.

Montoya has had to deal with charges that she is not up to snuff on the issues facing the PRC. The paper also did a report on how much influence Dem State Senator Tim Eichenberg has over Montoya. Both said he has no undue influence in office policy,

The PRC has been an ethical black hole since its inception in the late 90's. Scandal after scandal has bedeviled the five member panel that regulates the state's utility and trucking industry, among many others. It has gotten so bad that this year voters will be asked to approve several constitutional amendments. One would have the Legislature approve qualification standards for commissioners. The others would dilute the authority of the commission. All of this is why the large contract Park's law firm has with the state is newsworthy.


Alligator analysis continues on just why Governor Susana split with GOP prez hopeful Romney on immigration. We blogged that she was reading the tea leaves for her own political future. But another theory we get is that Susana has been tapped to help Romney.

"Susana has always been in lockstep with the Republican National Committee. Her chastisement of Romney seems planned to pave the way for him to switch his position on immigration which is killing him among Hispanics. Susana loosening up may, as you say, help her own political fortunes but her primary consideration in making the statement was not to separate herself from Romney, but to give him cover."

Okay, time will tell, although it is true that Martinez has rarely--if ever--parted ways with her Republican brethren in DC.

While Martinez may be softening her national profile on immigration, what about in her own backyard? Her campaign team is using the repeal of driver's licenses for undocumented immigrants as a centerpiece issue. And she isn't saying she won't pursue the matter in the 2013 legislative session, even though she is 0 for 3 on the matter.


Come on, Greg Sowards. Show us the money. The Las Cruces long shot for the GOP US Senate nod has just dumped a nasty mailer (click to enlarge) about rival Heather Wilson, but has barely put a dent in the $1.1 million he has personally donated to his campaign.

We called Greg's bluff earlier this year when he dismissed his campaign staff. We asked then if this was a prelude to a no-show campaign. It appears it is as he has yet to go up on TV and is doing some sniping in the mail. What? Are his grandchildren telling him not to spend their inheritance?

Sowards could have been a contender in a year when the GOP is as conservative as it's ever going to be, but both he and John Sanchez, who dropped his candidacy earlier, appeared half-hearted in their bids.


In a first draft Monday we incorrectly stated that SusanaPAC made a campaign contribution to Republican Rob Doughty, who is seeking the GOP state senate nomination for an ABQ NE Heights seat. He faces opponents Mark Moores and Nancy Cooper.

But our central point about this race remains--The Governor and her chief political advisor Jay McCleskey are behind Doughty. He is a trial attorney who was appointed to the racing commission by the Governor and is the panel's chairman, His campaign is being managed by Red Tag Strategies. That group is led by Adam Feldman, a former executive director of the NM GOP who served as  director of boards and commissions. His ties to the Guv's political machine are broad and deep. Doughty has posted a photo of himself and the Governor on his web site. We're told by our GOP sources that it was taken several days before Doughty announced his candidacy.

Again, this is a race to watch election night because Martinez has made it a test of her political muscle. Moores is the chief threat to Doughty to take the nomination for the seat which was vacated by Kent Cravens. There's little doubt that Moores would be more independent of the Guv than Doughty.

The seat is currently held by appointed Dem Senator Lisa Curtis who the GOP winner will face in the Fall. The district is heavy R.

Mark Fleisher & Ida Lechuga-Tena
Veteran Dem consultant Mark Fleisher dons his special eye wear to view the solar eclipse Sunday night at the political viewing party he hosted at ABQ's Four Hills Country Club. Idalia Lechuga-Tena, the editor of the Spanish language newspaper, Más New Mexico, prepares to join Mark in the viewing of the four minute spectacle.

Fleisher, a former chairman of the Arizona Democratic Party, grew up in Four Hills, as did former Mayor and Dem congressional candidate Marty Chavez, who was also on hand for the event. He joined Bernalillo County District Attorney Kari Brandenburg, former Attorney General Patricia Madrid and husband Mike Messina, attorney Sam Bregman, State Rep. Patty Lundstrom and many others.

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Monday, May 21, 2012

More Michelle Mo: Analysts Say She Won TV Debate, But Race Is Still Open, Plus: Much More On GOP Chaos In Clovis, And: DA Kari & Astorga; The Political Angle 

We found a clear consensus in the hours following the one and only TV debate between the Dem contenders for the ABQ congressional seat--Michelle Lujan Grisham came out on top--but analysts were much more ambiguous about how that will actually impact the three way battle at the ballot box.

Going in to the Saturday night face-off, State Senator Eric Griego, with his large liberal base and power performance at the March Dem preprimary convention, was seen as the front-runner. Lujan Grisham was seen as closing in on Griego and having momentum because of good TV ads and newspaper endorsements. Former ABQ Mayor Marty Chavez was seen lagging, in part, because he was being heavily outspent.

Regardless of where they stand, Lujan Grisham, a Bernalillo County Commissioner, attorney and former state government cabinet secretary has found her voice in this battle. Of the email and phone calls we fielded in the aftermath, this one best summed up the one hour debate:

Michelle and Marty both did well, but Michelle took the win because she got Marty and Eric to quibble. The podium positioning of Michelle between the two helped. It also helped that Marty used his question for Michelle to ask what she thought about Eric. That made Marty and Eric both look bad.

Eric doesn't debate well, lost his way a few times and stumbled. He clearly didn't look like he had the momentum or developed any more. Pitting yourself as the idealist against two problem solvers doesn't work for an electorate that needs solutions. He just doesn't come across well on TV. I think they all did fine on their positions but it seemed like Michelle and Marty just had a more mature, experienced perspective..

And a comment from a Senior Alligator:

Marty and Michelle were the clear winners.  Eric lacks the necessary TV presence that Marty and Michelle have and he muddled his message with references to Blue Dog Democrats....Michelle was well prepared but her undercover effort to highlight nursing home fraud failed to impress and seemed a bit quirky.  So, how do you pose as a stroke victim?

From our perspective, Lujan Grisham carried the night but this was her last night to dance with Chavez and Griego. She could use some more forums to advance the ball further. Still, her focus on getting women to the polls was boosted by her debate performance.

 Griego had a flat debate, but he has vocal supporters motivated by ideology and he has the know-how to get the vote out.

Chavez had a solid debate performance but he needs the race to get shaken-up. The lack of joint appearances going forward is also a drawback for him. He has a big wave of TV set for the final days. They're going to have to work.

The debate was aired on KOAT-TV. You can view it here


Hector Balderas is expected to do well in northern New Mexico in his race against Martin Heinrich for the Dem US Senate nomination. The Santa Fe New Mexican came with a Sunday endorsement of Balderas that made the case:

His life story is testament to the American dream and the power of hard work. His political life shows a man unafraid to battle the powerful...


We have more of our continuing coverage for you today of the hottest of the hot state Senate primaries. That would be the showdown in Clovis that is tearing at the fabric of the state Republican Party and shredding some of the Governor's support on the conservative East Side. A Senior Alligator weighs in on the negative mailer posted here Friday that rails against Republican rancher Pat Woods. He's facing off against Angie Spears, who is endorsed by Governor Martinez and being managed by her political advisor Jay McCleskey.

The mailer was put together and sent out by Targeted Creative Communications which is owned by Dan Hazelwood, husband of Blaize Hazelwood, former Republican National Committee Chief of Staff and currently head of Grassroots Targeting. She is a friend and business associate of Nicole McCleskey, the pollster who is married to Jay McCleskey and works for the Republican polling firm Public Opinion Strategies.  These folks control most Republican candidate races throughout the country and take in multi-millions. They have left their connections intact at the RNC and now also have operatives in Romney’s camp. They apparently have always had the blessing of the heads of the national Republican Party to play in primaries. No one in the New Mexico Republican Party is complaining because they are all scared to death.

Yes, the trail from Clovis leads to the most interesting of places. As for Republicans being "scared to death," we don't doubt it, but if Woods wins or come close, the scare will spread--all the way to the Fourth Floor of the Roundhouse.

Matt Chandler
There's more on this banner race. Clovis area District Attorney Matt Chandler--ally of Martinez and Jay--is sticking his nose under the tent for Spears. He comes with this mailer that slams Woods and identifies himself as a "concerned Republican" not as DA:

Woods has spent thousands of dollars over the past ten years helping liberal Democrats advance their campaigns. It is a fact that Woods recently donated to liberal Democrat State Senator Tim Keller of Bernalillo who is using this contribution to take on a Republican candidate in this very election cycle...It is also a fact that in 2004, Mr. Woods donated to the Democrat that ran for the very same Senate seat that Mr Woods is trying to win...

Woods showed the press some records showing that over the years he has donated $9,700 to Republicans and $2,100 to Democrats. He explained that some of his donations to Democrats were based on lifelong friendships.

Never mind that it didn't used to be a mortal sin for someone to donate across party lines,  but in today's hyper-polarized environment the political enforcers on both sides of the aisle go apoplectic if they see it happening.

As for Chandler, he was the GOP nominee for attorney general in 2010 and may make another AG run in 2014. He was going to make political hay over the alleged judicial bribery case of Las Cruces Judge Michael Murphy. A number of outlandish charges were (or are) being investigated in connection with that case in which Chandler was named special prosecutor but Murphy has since resigned.

Locals in Clovis take issue with Chandler for not revealing his ties to Angie Spears. The Woods campaign comes with this:

Chandler should have mentioned, in the interest of full disclosure, that he is the District Attorney for Curry and Roosevelt Counties, his wife is Angie Spears' cousin, Angie’s husband is the Office Manager in the District Attorney’s office and Angie’s Treasurer is an assistant district attorney working for Mr. Chandler....

Is getting Matt up to his neck in the Clovis mess the best way to unite R's when he runs for attorney general? After that attack on his mailer, we're just asking.

Colin Hunter
The clash in Clovis has already claimed its first victim. Colin Hunter, vice chairman of the Bernalillo County Republican Party, has resigned that position. The news comes on the heels of a report that Hunter is director of the Friends of Freedom PAC which has given money to Angie Spears and  failed to file its financial reports on time. Party rules say its officers can't get involved in contested GOP primaries.

Hunter is a lawyer in the law firm of GOP national committeeman Mickey Barnett, a close ally of McCleskey's who runs SusanaPAC, which has also given money to Spears as well as Rob Doughty, the ABQ NE Heights Republican Senate candidate favored by Martinez and McCleskey over Mark Moores. Nancy Cooper is the other GOP candidate in that race. Hunter denied there is any collusion between Freedom PAC and Susana PAC and denied any plan to keep secret for as long as possible donations to Freedom PAC. He did admit that his involvement with the PAC was questionable and resulted in his resignation.

Barnett was at the center of the last major internecine Republican war in 2004 when his wing of the GOP successfully ousted Ramsay Gorham as state GOP chair. During that time period he also openly discussed how he was spearheading efforts to primary Republicans who were not to his liking.

Barnett and McCleskey were at the center of that earlier Republican strife and history appears to be repeating itself here. The difference this time is that the titular head of the party--Governor Martinez-- is front and center and freely admitting that she is taking sides in Republican contests.

The mention of that Doughty-Moores GOP primary raises the question of who is ahead there? They both are well-financed, but Moores has more political experience than trial attorney Doughty. He is the former chief of staff to Lieutenant Governor Walter Bradley and worked for Ken Zangara, the car dealer who for years was prominent in state GOP politics. Doughty is chair of the racing commission, appointed to that panel by the Guv. All eyes are going to be on this one election night. Will Moores and Woods in Clovis win and get a "Two Fer" over the Guv and Jay? Or will they go down in flames and strengthen the Guv's hand in branding the GOP her way?

(In our first draft we incorrectly said SusanaPAC gave money to Doughty's campaign).


Here's Heather Wilson with GOP New Jersey Governor Chris Christie at a a high-dollar fund-raiser last week at the swanky 21 Club in New York City. Tics were going for $2500 a pop to support Republican Wilson's US Senate bid.

She won't be spending much of it in the primary as challenger Greg Sowards has barely put up a fight, but she will need plenty of the green stuff when she faces the winner of the Democratic primary June 5.

By the way, Steve Kush, now the executive director of the Bernalillo County GOP, was an operative for Christie when he won the Jersey Governor's race in 2008.

Meantime, Greg Sowards, the far right GOP foe of Wilson has put up this ad on the Web. But he gave himself $1.1 million. What happened to that?

Sowards still has time to go up on TV, but unless he has something shocking on Heather, nothing is going to change the outcome of the contest.

Kari Brandenburg
Some might argue that the failure of Bernalilllo County District Attorney Kari Brandenburg to get the death penalty for Michael Astogra, who in 2006 killed a county sheriff's deputy, opens her up to attack by her Dem primary opponent Jennifer Romero. That is, if Romero had any money to launch an attack and assuming she disagreed with the Santa Fe jury's decision that gave Astorga, 36, thirty years behind bars without the chance of parole. He will get even more time when he is sentenced for another murder conviction.

Brandenburg, who is seeking a fourth four year term, assures the public that Astorga will never walk the streets again. That is probably enough for most New Mexicans. The state has repealed the death penalty (Astorga's crime was committed before the repeal) and there has been only one person executed in New Mexico since 1960.

Brandenburg is poised to win the primary and faces no Republican opposition in November. But that doesn't  mean it's going to be easy. This campaign has revealed her loss of media support and increasing restlessness over the number of fatal police shootings that have afflicted the city since 2010. Brandenburg stands charged with not being aggressive enough in investigating the shootings. The US Justice Department raised the possibility of coming in to investigate, yet the local DA stands by. It is a stark contrast.

It's not easy being DA. The tough on crime crowd wants the death penalty for Astorga for shooting a law enforcement officer and a large swath of the community wants you to step up and ask the tough questions on police policy and behavior. With the Astorga case behind her, Brandenburg has an opportunity to revisit her quiescent posture towards APD. Whether she does may well determine her legacy in the office as well as any future political prospects she may be nurturing.


Attention, all New Mexico TV station managers. We urge you not to read the following item but if you do, please have your nitroglycerin on hand for any heart problems that may be induced:

Crossroads GPS plans to (spend) $8 million on a TV ad that castigates Obama on the economy by using his own words against him," per the AP's Phil Elliott. "'We need solutions, not just promises,' says a 60-second commercial that's to run in Colorado, Florida, Iowa, Michigan, North Carolina, New Hampshire, Nevada, Ohio, Pennsylvania and Virginia...

Yes, there is no New Mexico listed as we drop off the "swing state" roster and with it the TV markets that get showered with cash.

(Alright, TV station managers can resume reading the blog).


Photobucket What happened to the staff of northern GOP Congressional candidate Rick Newton. Our sources reported most of them are gone. Newton comes with this response:

As much as I love spending time in Taos, I have concluded that we should open a new headquarters in Rio Rancho that can better serve the counties of Sandoval, Santa Fe and Los Alamos as well as enable us to attend the many political events that are held in Albuquerque....We will be announcing more details on our new location and staff in Rio Rancho very soon...The move to Rio Rancho resulted in two full-time staff members resigning since they reside permanently in Taos....

Newton is opposed by Tucumcari rancher Jeff Byrd. The winner gets the right to face Dem Congressman Ben Ray Lujan in the heavy Dem district in November.

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