Friday, August 05, 2016

A Friday Edition of Vox Populi 

The ABQ East Downtown newsletter opines on ABQ's wild west driving culture:

Across our neighborhood and throughout the City there is a significant increase in sociopathic driver behavior in the form of speeding and racing at twice or even three times our 30 mph speed limits. Neighborhood representatives met with APD requesting routine but random selective enforcement of speed limits. We were informed that personnel were unavailable for such operations. We have now requested to APD that all traffic signals in the area be operated as a four-way flashing red light from 10:00 PM to 6:00 AM, as a way of discouraging this behavior. To date, we have not received a reply from our city government. 

Former ABQ Mayor Jim Baca, also a former state land commissioner, says the proposal from current state Land Commissioner Aubrey Dunn to have the federal government turn over to the land office unleased federal subsurface mineral acreage beneath private land and to hold it in trust to raise revenue for early childhood education is off the wall:

(Dunn) wants our Congressional delegation to introduce a bill that would try and get the federal government's publicly owned mineral rights under private land given to the state land office. It would never happen, but it is one of those right wing fantasy dreams that is bandied about by the dying fossil fuel industry. But aside from that. Think for a moment what that would mean in New Mexico and specifically Albuquerque. There are a lot of those mineral rights scattered around our metropolitan area, as in other developed urban areas. Now think of the joy that you will have as a massive drilling rig shows up near your home, like around San Mateo and Central for instance. Does that sound like a reasonable thing to you?. . . 

Baca is a Dem and Dunn is an R.


This reader doesn't much like the Innovate ABQ plan which recently broke ground on a $35 million publicly financed building near downtown where entrepreneurs will gather to share ideas:

It's purpose is to "commercialize university technology." They want "entrepreneurs" to do "start ups" with it. This should alarm people. First, why are we spending taxpayer money to "commercialize" taxpayer funded university research? Why don't businesses pay for their own research, if they're getting the profit from it? This is just more of conservatism's socialism for the rich. We pay, they profit. Second, this undermines higher education because instead of that research going into the big pool of Western Civilization's accumulated knowledge, as in past centuries, it's being privatized, often even patented, so other academics can't read it, learn from it, build on it, or teach it in their classrooms. That knowledge could and should be contributing to the public good both academically and in how it's "commercialized."


Reader Michel Folsom is really upset over the rapid bus project known as ART that Mayor Berry wants to build down a nine mile stretch of Central Avenue. Really upset: 

As somebody who lives in Nob Hill I can't begin to express my furor at ABQ City Councilor Pat Davis for voting for this disaster. When this project starts up he will most certainly be dead meat. He voted for it - now he owns it! Just wait till all the people living along Central come to see the full insanity of this project. There will be 6 lanes of traffic rolling through Nob Hill. Most of the ability to turn onto smaller streets, if you have to cross the other lane of traffic, will be lost. The median and all their trees will be destroyed and there will be a strip of concrete perhaps a foot or so wide dividing the east and west bound lanes so it will be dangerous to cross the street except at "approved" crossings which will only occur at larger streets. The Nob Hill they are creating will be a divided by Central and folks won't be wanting to wander from one place to another to shop. You will need to walk 3 to 5 blocks just to find a safe place to cross the street. They might as well erect a wall down the end of Central and end any illusion that it is one place and one community.


Reader James McClure--a conservative Dem, not an R as we previously described him, get sin on the ART debate:

ART is having problems because its proponents have failed to convince us that the fancy buses are something we actually need and want.  That’s because the urban planning professionals who design such systems are different from ordinary folk. They may come from a different planet, or someplace like Belgium. Some apparently were frightened by motor vehicles as small children. In their world everyone ought to live in a high-density urban environment and get around by public transportation, bicycling and walking — and if they can impose this on us we’ll learn to like it.

This theology is a tough sell in Albuquerque because many of us moved here to get away from precisely the kind of city the urban planners seek to create. If I wanted to live in a walkable neighborhood and take the bus, I would have stayed in Chicago.

Backers of ART, which is on hold pending an appeal to be decided by the Circuit Court of Appealr in Denver, have come with a site in support go the project called "Mythbusters," saying too much misinformation has been spread about the controversial plan.


A reader, reacting to Gov. Martinez's condemnation of remarks made by Trump about the Muslim Gold Star parents who lost their son in the Iraq war, wondered as we did about the views of southern NM GOP congressman Steve Pearce. Well, Pearce, who says he will vote for Trump, says the remarks were not out of bounds and he is hanging tough with Trump.


Reader John Bussanich says this is the "happiest New Mexico News we've seen in a long time."

A New Mexico bear hitched a ride (near Los Alamos) on top of a garbage truck, traveling at least 5 miles on the vehicle before making its escape up a tree. . The driver was picking up a dumpster last week when he heard a squeal then realized the bear was on top of the truck. It rode atop the vehicle to a site where the Forest Service keeps a firefighting helicopter. 

Helicopter mechanic Evan Welsch said about 30 Forest Service and National Park workers had gathered to see the spectacle when it was suggested that the driver back up near a tree to give the animal an escape route. The bear stayed in the tree for an hour or two before scurrying down and running off.

Hey, maybe next time the bear will take the RailRunner. They could use the business.

Thanks for stopping by this week.

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Thursday, August 04, 2016

Blogger Turns Psychic And Delivers The Headlines Of The Future Today  

This column is also appearing in the current edition of the ABQ Free Press.

We're not endowed with psychic powers but based on what's been going on around here this sizzling summer of '16 we think we have a pretty good idea of the stories you will be seeing in the ABQ Free Press in the next couple of years. In no particular order, here's a sneak peek.

May 2017. A ninth Central Avenue business has closed its doors and declared bankruptcy, blaming the city's rapid transit plan known as ART. Six of the beleaguered businesses were restaurants hit especially hard by the year and half construction project that Mayor Berry insists will spark economic development. Restaurant owners banded together to fight Mayor Berry's bus plan, warning of the economic fallout but their pleas fell on deaf ears. Berry reacted to the business closings by arguing that, "ART will mean bigger and better restaurants once its completed and the bankrupt restaurant owners should "hang in there."

March 2017. The New Mexico Legislature completed its 60 day session but the budget it crafted for the year starting July 1st is seen as kicking the can down the road. Gov. Martinez refused to support broad based tax reform that would raise lagging state revenues, saying "anything that even looks like a tax increase is going to see the ink of my veto pen." More layoffs at the state's universities and a downsizing of state government is expected as the budget crisis continues,

September 2017. The national recession that began to take hold in June has hit New Mexico harder than most states. Federal spending is flat and no longer shields the state from such downturns and the state's unemployment rate has again soared to among the highest in the nation. Property crime in Albuquerque is hitting multi-year highs as the recession rages. In response Mayor Richard Berry said, "it was a lot worse in the 1990's."

October 2017. ABQ Mayor Berry has won one of two run-off slots in the city's mayoral election as turnout flirted with historic lows. Berry, who had toyed with the idea of seeking the 2018 gubernatorial nomination, backtracked when members of his own party rebelled against him. The run-off election will be held in November, with Berry a heavy favorite to win a third term. Democratic analysts said Berry's continued electoral success is due to no one in their party seriously questioning his leadership.

September 2018. With just three months left in her final term in office, Gov. Martinez has revealed some of her plans for the future. She says she will partner with former Bernalillo County Sheriff Darren White to expand the medical marijuana business he is involved in and will also be a spokeswoman to legalize the recreational use of marijuana in the state.

June 2018. Conservative NM GOP Congressman Steve Pearce has won the Republican nomination for Governor. He decided to give up his congressional seat when polling showed that Lt. Gov. Sanchez and Mayor Berry, his two potential foes, were unpopular with likely Republican voters. Pearce credited his win to his support for failed 2016 presidential candidate Donald Trump and his fierce opposition to the polices of President Hillary Clinton.

April 2018. Payments to settle lawsuits against APD since 2010 totaled $40 million in mid-2016 but with a rash of recent settlements that number has climbed to $58 million. Also, a federal judge this month found the city in contempt of court for not abiding by the Justice Department's consent decree to reform APD. "Years of stonewalling simply must end in order to professionalize APD and give the city the department it deserves," the judge wrote. APD Chief Gorden Eden, who Berry retained upon his successful 2017 re-election bid, termed the contempt finding a "technicality" and that reforms are going "full speed ahead."

July 2018. Controversy broke out at this month's meeting of the Albuquerque city council as councilors moved to divert tax revenue approved explicitly by voters for the BioPark at the 2015 election. The lawmakers want to put $5 million into APD and other city departments struggling to make ends meet. The BioPark tax is a 15 year levy that is generating more than $20 million a year. Mayor Berry said since APD provides "much security" for the BioPark diverting the tax is not a illegal money grab, but "really what the taxpayers had in mind.

The future or fantasy? Stay tuned.

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Wednesday, August 03, 2016

GOP Land Commissioner Dunn Continues To Move The Political Football Toward The Center, Plus: Pacheco Vs. Ely Fireworks In State House Race 

Land Commissioner Dunn
Republican State Land Commissioner Aubrey Dunn has made another move toward the center of the political spectrum, raising the question whether other R's will follow his lead.

First, Dunn broke with Governor Martinez by announcing he has an open mind about the legislative proposal to raise the state's gasoline tax as part of the solution to the current budget crisis. That grabbed his fellow R's by the collar since Martinez continues to reiterate that she will not support any tax increases, despite an enormous budget shortfall in the face of the oil and gas crash and an overall anemic state economy.

Now Dunn comes with another eyebrow raiser that again takes him more toward the political center, this one dealing with another hot button topic--early childhood education. He calls it the Early Childhood Education Land Grant Act and explains:

The federal government holds a vast amount of unleased federal subsurface mineral acreage beneath private land within New Mexico – at least 5.3 million acres and potentially upwards of 6.5 million acres. . . This unleased acreage could be transferred to the state by Congress and managed by the State Land Office, to be held in trust for the purpose of raising revenue to specifically fund and support early childhood education. 

New Mexico’s congressional delegation would spearhead the effort to transfer (the) acreage beneath private land from the federal government to the state. Land access would not change since private landowners already manage the surface above these minerals. 

Dunn is proposing this bill to the Legislature that would create the Early Childhood Education Land Grant Permanent Fund and the Early Childhood Education Land Grant Income Fund. It says all unleased subsurface mineral acreage that is transferred from the feds to the state would then be leased out by the State Land Office, with the funds earned going to the Early Childhood Education Land Grant Permanent Fund.

Dunn says his plan would not be a quick fix and would take a number of years to see results. However, at the same time, Dunn, unlike the Governor and House Republicans, is not ruling out supporting the proposed constitutional amendment that would tap a small portion of the state's $14 billion Land Grant Permanent Fund for very early childhood education for ten years. That amendment would need the Legislature's approval to go before voters who would have the ultimate say. Dunn's office says:

Commissioner Dunn recognizes the urgent need for early childhood education funding in New Mexico and he is studying the potential benefits and fund balance impacts of the constitutional amendment to be proposed during the 2017 session.

Conservative Democrats and R's have joined forces to kill that constitutional amendment several times so Dunn staying on the fence is significant.

Dunn is expected to seek a second term as land commissioner in 2018, but his name has also been bandied about as a possible '18 GOP Guv candidate. Whatever his plans, Dunn is adding new wrinkles to New Mexico Republican politics that will keep the spotlight on him. Because of that observers will be watching to see if a more pragmatic form of Republicanism emerges here.


Rep. Pacheco
A bit of fireworks in the Sandoval County state House race featuring incumbent GOP Rep. Paul Pacheco and Dem Damon Ely. The news:

. . . A complaint to the Attorney General alleges Pacheco failed to disclose a conflict of interest in. . . the funding behind the building of Ask Academy, a charter school in Rio Rancho. . .The complaint claims Pacheco requested more than $1.2 million in capital outlay funds and ultimately secured roughly $230,000 for the project managed by his brother, David Pacheco, who happened to be the architect.  ProgressNow New Mexico alleges Pacheco broke state law by failing to disclose that his brother was behind the school’s construction. 

“All this is is a smear campaign against me and they’re trying to make something out of nothing,” Pacheco said. He claims he didn’t even know his brother was the architect for the school until later when someone mentioned a David Pacheco working for the developer.

Perhaps not the most earthshaking hit on Pacheco but the Democratic performance in the district is 49.2 percent so Pacheco will have to be on guard as he seeks his third term against a well-funded opponent in attorney and former Sandoval County Commissioner Ely.


A new group has formed to weigh in on how the state budget crisis can be resolved. Peter DeBenedittis in Santa Fe is its director:

Joe, Given the push by legislators to have a special session to address the budget deficit, and with talk from legislators from both parties about raising taxes to meet this shortfall, Alcohol Taxes Save Lives And Money has been formed. It is a 100% volunteer coalition working to raise alcohol taxes 25¢ per drink.  Please see the attached press releasefor details on why raising alcohol taxes will save most New Mexico taxpayers money and promote numerous health benefits.

The state budget shortfall for the current budget year could soar to $500 million or more.
DeBenedittis assets that a $.25 cent tax per drink would raise about $154 million a year.

Of course, if the liquor industry got a margarita exemption that would probably go down by half. . .

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Tuesday, August 02, 2016

ART Hits Slow Lane As Fed Appeals Court Puts On The Brakes; Readers Debate Berry's Buses, Plus: More Flynn File; Enviro Sec's New Job Draws Reaction 

Now that the federal appeals court in Denver has temporarily halted construction of ABQ Mayor Berry's controversial ART project, what are the chances the court will approve an order that would stop the project for much longer and likely kill it? One of our Legal Beagles says it's no better than 50-50.

While that's not great odds for the anti-ART forces, it's better than what they got from Federal Judge Kenneth Gonzales who ruled Friday against a lawsuit seeking to halt the rapid transit project. Now we await the appeals court ruling, probably within a week or so.

Our Monday blog on the Friday ART ruling and on the "celebratory picnic" thrown by the federal judge overseeing APD reforms drew reader response. Here's former ABQ District Court Judge Anne Kass:

The "fierce public opposition" to ART that you cite represents a disconnect between that opposition and a government anxious to put $119 million of public money into their contractor buddies' private hands. The public has made it known it most certainly does not feel well represented. There was ample testimony from that under-represented and under-served public. However, Judge Gonzales seemingly accepted the economic development claim raised by the City suggesting he has accepted the current controlling ideology that all economic activity or development is good and thus serves the public. That's what passes for critical analysis these days--money always trumps conscience.

As for Judge Brack's celebratory picnic, as a former judge, that just knocks my socks off. The saddest part of these two judicial decisions is as you so eloquently stated:

"The majority gets momentarily outraged but without leadership to galvanize it there is no oxygen to sustain it and it tires and retreats. It is this political emphysema that results in million dollar buses to nowhere and courtroom barbecues instead of bold police reform."

Reader David Nava comes with this in support of the nine mile rapid bus route down Central Avenue known as ART:

--As a Democrat, it is an article of faith with me that there is no such thing as a bad mass transit project. Period.

--Central Avenue, as a road, is not in great shape. It will need to be completely torn up and replaced in the very near future. Economies of scale will not permit this to be done block by block. It will be done in huge sections, not quite on the scale of the Lead & Coal project, but close. There will be large disruptions for that and we will be left with the same thing we started with - a simple street. Why not get some added value for the disruption - a transit system - if you’re going to have a massive disruption anyway?

--The project is not so much for today but for the future, for economic development, for making Albuquerque a more attractive destination. Once the stations are built and the route is set, in 10 years it will be a simple matter of laying in the rails for a light rail system, much like Denver and other cities have.


Former ABQ City Councilor Pete Dinelli, an ART opponent, says current city councilors Ken Sanchez and Diane Gibson, Democrats, are finally feeling the heat on ART. His take:

City Councilor Ken "I'm running for Mayor" Sanchez and City Councilor Diane "I'm running for re-election in a swing district" Gibson finally realize just how mad city voters are, that the ART bus construction destroying Route 66 will be going on in the middle of next year's municipal election when they will be held accountable for supporting ART and not putting it to a public vote.

Gibson says she will introduce legislation to put the ART bus project on the November ballot when she said before that was not possible. Sanchez says he will now introduce legislation stopping the project until things are cleared up with affected business owners but his earlier inaction forced them to sue. The truth is, the City Council and the Mayor do not have to wait for a court order and could vote now to stop this poorly designed project immediately now that the 10th Circuit Court of Appeals in Denver has issued a stay on the project.

It's unlikely a council majority will approve a public vote on ART.


Gov. Martinez isn't endorsing Trump for president and was quick to jump on the bandwagon criticizing him for his controversial attack on the parents of a Muslim soldier who died heroically in Iraq. Susana said grieving parents "have every right to voice their opinions in the political process," and that disparaging them is "absolutely wrong."

But, several readers ask, what about southern NM GOP Congressman Steve Pearce, a Vietnam Veteran? Why hasn't he made a statement about Trump's statements?

Unlike Susana, Pearce is voting for Trump and this will probably be one of a long series of headaches the GOP prez nominee gives the R's who have backed him.


Sec. Ryan (ABQ Journal)
When state Environment Secretary Ryan Flynn leaves this month to become the new executive director of the NM Oil and Gas Association he will not have a problem with the law that prohibits a former public official from lobbying for one year. That's the take of former NMOGA executive director Bob Gallagher. He says:

I commend NMOGA for the hiring of Ryan Flynn. My 10 years in the job allowed me to gain valuable insight into both the public and private sector. Ryan's background and work history is a perfect fit for NMOGA. Not to worry about the 1 year ban on lobbying, he has a vice-president of govt. affairs who serves as the association lobbyist, and no less than 15 different member companies who have a registered lobbyist. 

Meanwhile, the environmental group Conservation Voters NM is awaiting official confirmation of Flynn's new job. It says:

We have plenty to say if this is indeed confirmed, but here's a big one: why didn't the Gov announce Flynn's new job when they announced his departure? Because they know what it looks like because that's what it is. It's Flynn doing the job he's been doing since his confirmation, just more honestly. As Environment Secretary, he has prioritized making things easy for industry with no regard for the health and well being of New Mexicans that are negatively impacted by the environmental, health and socio-economic woes that oil and gas dependency brings with it. Now, he'll just have a title to fit.

Reader Kathryn Carroll has a take on the departure of Flynn from the Martinez administration as well as the departure of NM Spaceport executive director Christine Anderson:

This is just the first of what will be a continual stream of resignations from her cabinet, who know their time is limited and need to find more long term employment. I keep wondering how long Public Ed Secretary Skandera will hang around. Chances are the Governor will muddle through the next two years of her term without appointing anyone to fill either of these vacancies or any in the future in order to avoid confirmation hearings. We all know how well the Skandera confirmation hearing(s) went.

The Governor says Environment Deputy Secretary Butch Tongate will serve as "acting secretary." He could do that for the final two years of the administration and, as Carroll speculates, not be subjected to state Senate confirmation hearings.

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Monday, August 01, 2016

Why Trump Gets Traction: Two Federal Court Actions Here Highlight Disconnect Between Public And Government, Plus: Martinez Environment Secretary HeadsTo Oil Industry, And: Opening Up The Special Session  

Judge Gonzales
Look no further than the state's federal courts if you're mystified as to why the cult of Donald Trump has taken hold. Two actions by federal judges amplify the disconnect between the populace at large and the increasingly elite political class.

First, Democratic Judge Kenneth Gonzales, even as he expressed personal doubt about the project, refused to grant an order to halt ABQ Mayor Berry's hyper-controversial ART project--the $119 million, nine mile rapid bus line down Central Avenue that has drawn fierce public opposition.

Then there was the bizarre "celebratory picnic" thrown (and paid for) by Judge Robert Brack, a Republican, to mark the alleged progress being made in implementing federally-ordered reforms of the deeply troubled ABQ police department.

Participants on both sides of the equation feasted on barbecue in Brack's courtroom, even as the headlines continued to reveal APD's stonewall culture is alive and well and as crime continues to soar. While Brack's barbecue went down fine within the insular and myopic world that is overseeing APD reforms, it was enough for Mr. and Mrs. New Mexico to throw up their lunch.

The gulf between the powers-that-be and the public has never been wider. Nationally, the anger and frustration created by the comfortable political and legal class has spawned Donald Trump and it may push him into the White House.

But what about here? Would any poll show majority support for ART?  Does anyone other than Judge Gonzales (and the city) accept the contention that public opinion was adequately aired on ART? That the federal paperwork wasn't a rushed mess?

And what of the absurd contention of Judge Brack that his barbecue represented a "topping off" ceremony, stipulating--incredulously--that the police reform process is effective and halfway through, even though he is nearly the lone player holding that view.

So the question du jour is: Will the continued disconnect between the governed and those doing the governing give birth to a New Mexico populism?

Judge Brack
Its been fascinating, if not depressing, to watch the public reaction to the strong-arm tactics of Berry and Gov. Martinez, both Republicans elected just before the worst of the Great Recession took hold. They've been treated like one of those teacher's pets in high school who is given a hall pass that lets them roam around at will.

The state's economic crisis--unprecedented since the Depression--turned the population inward. Political involvement took a back seat to personal uncertainty. Thousands fled the state for jobs elsewhere and tens of thousands more found refuge in food stamps and Medicaid. The opposition Democrats clammed up, not wanting to own what they decided could not be solved. Much of the state's media--already predisposed toward a conservative or apolitical view--became more dependent--dangerously so--on city and state government advertising.

Given that backdrop the governor's political machine cut through the state like a hot knife through butter. Now, predictably, it is self-destructing. But its minority ideology lives on as we saw in the embrace of it by the two federal judges appointed for life.

The majority gets momentarily outraged but without leadership to galvanize it there is no oxygen to sustain it and it tires and retreats. It is this political emphysema that results in million dollar buses to nowhere and courtroom barbecues instead of bold police reform.


One of our Senior Alligators informs us that Ryan Flynn, who has resigned as state Environment Secretary effective August 12, will be named the new executive director of the NM Oil and Gas Association.

Flynn, 38, who has clashed with enviro groups during a somewhat turbulent tenure, may have some fancy footwork facing him when he takes on his new post. State law prohibits former public officials from lobbying the Legislature for one year after they leave their government posts. The oil and gas position is heavy on government relations.

Former GOP state Senator Kent Cravens left the senate to become the head of the association in 2011, but the law exempts legislators from the one year lobbying prohibition.


Longtime NM lobbyist, KOB-TV executive and former eight year Las Cruces state House member Ray Davenport died July 20. Serving from 1961-68 he chaired the Labor, and Ways and Means Committees.  He was a respected lobbyist in Santa Fe for 25 years for a wide array of concerns. The family obituary says "he was a philosopher, historian, writer, sociologist, futurist, economist, fervent Democrat, and a sagacious observer of the human condition."

And we might add a devoted and appreciated blog reader for many years. Ray Davenport was 87.


About that likely special session to resolve the state's budget crisis and that Gov. Martinez wants conducted in a mere four hours, the NM Foundation for Open Government makes a point:

The Foundation urges legislators to open all meetings in connection with the budgetary shortfall to the public, whether such discussions occur prior to or during any upcoming special legislative session. Should the Legislature and Governor Martinez determine that a special session is necessary, that session must be as transparent and open as possible. It has been suggested that party leaders may pre-negotiate solutions to the budgetary issues, and then rubber-stamp them in a very short session. These types of back-room negotiations would effectively shut the public out of the process.

They often call open government "watching the sausage getting made." Given the state's budget outlook, in this case it's very lean sausage.

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