Thursday, June 22, 2017

It's A Heat Wave But The Shivering Is Underway Over Los Alamos; Billions In Federal Funding On The Line Against A Very Iffy State Political Backdrop, Plus: Straightening Out The Simms' 

New Mexico may be baking under a heat wave but that's not stopping chills from running up the spines of anyone with a hand in Los Alamos National Labs. This multi-billion dollar bombshell dropped on the nuclear facility is behind the fear and trembling:

Even as Los Alamos National Laboratory is under orders to ramp up production of plutonium nuclear weapons triggers – a key part of a huge plan to modernize the nation’s weapons stockpile – testimony before a national oversight board here last week indicates there’s a possibility that the work and its billions in federal dollars could be moved elsewhere. Members of the Defense Nuclear Facilities Safety Board were told that an analysis is underway to consider all options for meeting the national weapons complex’s mission to manage plutonium work and produce products like the “pits” that set off nuclear bombs.

Pulling the pits and the billions that will be appropriated to make them in the decades ahead could deliver a severe body blow to the northern NM economy and perhaps lead to a permanent downsizing of the iconic facility where the first atomic bomb was developed.

We'll get to the political analysis of this in a moment, but first where would the pits be produced if not Los Alamos? No place else is equipped to do it but a top federal nuclear safety official:

. . . disclosed that NNSA is now quietly studying whether to keep plutonium pit operations at Los Alamos. Options being considered include upgrading the facilities there or “adding capabilities or leveraging existing capabilities elsewhere in the country, at other sites where plutonium is already present or has been used.” 

No question that the Labs lousy safety record is catching up with it and at the worst possible political timing.

The Department of Energy oversees the labs and former Texas Governor Rick Perry was named cabinet secretary for the agency. Dem US Senator Martin Heinrich voted against his nomination, blistering Perry as "utterly unqualified."

Dem Congressman Ben Ray Lujan is the chairman of the Democratic Congressional Campaign Committee (DCCC) whose job includes traveling the country condemning Trump and trying to swing the US House back to the Democrats.

Senator Udall has been one of the most outspoken Trump critics on Capitol Hill,

You can see where this leads. When it comes to billions of federal dollars at stake the long, sharp knives come out. Heinrich is seeking re-election next year and is heavily favored. Still, a "who lost the pits" argument is not what he needs dogging him on the campaign trail. Ditto for Rep. Lujan.

Following the hearings in Los Alamos another bomb was dropped--a lengthy piece from the investigative journalism group Center for Public Integrity. It called into question the continued safety of Los Alamos and its handling of plutonium. (Full report here.)

Even those of you who are not congenitally conspiratorial have to wonder what's going on here.

And one other thing. That Defense Nuclear Facilities Safety Board so key to the future of Los Alamos answers directly to the President of the United States. That's the fella who made two ABQ campaign visits hoping to make inroads but didn't and who was snubbed by the city's Republican mayor. And that's also the guy the sitting Republican Governor refused to endorse.

If the weight of the evidence tilts against Los Alamos, a reprieve may be hard to come by. And that's how you get shivering during a heat wave.


Henirch put out a statement Thursday after he questioned Energy Secretary Perry, saying he had secured "a commitment to maintain LANL's plutonium mission."

However, in the brief 90 second exchange Perry simply answered "yes" when Heinrich asked him if it was his intent to extend the mission into the future.

Well, intending and committing are two different things. We'll keep an eye open for you on this one.


Gov. Simms
We, along with reader Isaac Romero, were on the wrong side of history in the first draft of the Wednesday blog. Romero, responding to our contest for Vintage ABQ tickets, said that Gov. John Simms Jr. had also served on the state Supreme Court as did Gov. Thomas Mabry. We confirmed that by reviewing a list of all Supreme Court justices but the John Simms who served on the high court was the father of Governor Sims. Armchair historian and ABQ attorney Foster Hannett straightens out the record:

Joe, You (and evidently readers Isaac Romero and Gene Henley as well) are mistaken in stating that John Simms had served on the NM Supreme Court.

The John Simms who served as Governor in the 1950's was John F. Simms, Jr. John F. Simms, Jr. was never a judge of any kind as far as I am aware.  His father, John Field Simms Sr., served a short time as a New Mexico state Supreme Court Justice (1929-1930). Incidentally, a number of years ago I was the attorney for John F. Simms, Jr.'s sister, and both she and his brother, Dr. Albert G. Simms II are both still living. As John Simms Jr. was born in December 1916, had he served on the NM Supreme Court in March 1929, he would have been only 12 years old when he took office.

Thanks for setting the record straight, Foster. And because not long ago you gave me a walking tour of ABQ's Fairview cemetery where Gov. Simms and many other NM political notables are buried and I should have known better, I am taking punishment of not just ten lashes with a wet noodle, but twenty lashes. Ouch!

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Wednesday, June 21, 2017

The Torrez File; City Crime Wave Puts New DA On Defensive, Plus: Another Oil Price Plunge Puts State Budget On Notice, And: Ex-Guv Mabry Figures In For Our Contest Winner 

DA Torrez
Raul Torrez has taken over but is he taking responsibility? That's the question as the new Bernalillo County District Attorney runs for cover from the headlines that are shouting about how the crime wave ravaging the city has now landed us the title of "Stolen Car Capital of America."

Torrez asserts the major cause of that and other rising crime is a case management order from the NM Supreme Court that puts too tight a deadline on the DA for making his cases against the crooks in court. Thus, he argues, many cases are being dismissed by the judges and you get a crime wave conducted mainly by repeat offenders. Pretty simple, right? Well, not to the Torrez critics who are starting to pile on now that the new DA has had six months in office to show his stuff. JJ Naranjo of Santa Fe is one of them and he writes to Torrez on social media:

So how hard is it for your prosecutors or their assistants to immediately send a request for evidence as soon as a case is accepted in your office? You don't have to wait for anything since you already know that defense attorneys are winning on discovery issues. First you said you would ignore other criminal cases and just target repeat offenders and now you just can't meet deadlines? Sounds like your deflecting and just full of excuses. Take some responsibility or maybe you can place it on a panel of other DA's across the state like you did for a decision on re-trying (APD officers) Sandy and Perez in the Boyd murder case... Put your big boy pants on and do your job already!

Torrez, touted as a rising Dem Party star (the Udall Senate seat someday?), has a tar baby on his hands with this unrelenting crime wave.

In a controversial decision he earlier announced and that was referenced by Naranjo, Torrez said the resource challenged DA's office would no longer prosecute low-level crimes in favor of concentrating on violent and repeat offenders. But that got a thumbs down from many victims of property crime that is rampant throughout the city--all of which is not being conducted by "repeat offenders."

Torrez took easy street to the DA's office, failing to draw a Republican foe and winning unopposed. But now he's swimming against the rapids as he puts himself on the defensive, blaming the judges and targeting only a part of the crime wave. He may end up being right but right now he's in a very sticky place indeed.


Here we go again. The price of oil this week is plunging below the state's target of about $48 a barrel, threatening yet another shortfall when the budget year beings July 1st. For each dollar drop in the price it's estimated state coffers lose as much as $10 million. The price for West Texas oil on the futures market was around $43 Wednesday.

With oil down, a Republican Governor opposed to increasing revenues and her Dem opposition refusing more budget cuts, the band-aid approach to budgeting that has become the new normal seems destined to continue at least until a new Governor takes over in 2019. Or until oil goes back to a hundred bucks a barrel.


That bid for the ABQ congressional seat by former State Rep. Janice Arnold Jones that we told you about a week or so ago is now official. She is the first Republican to announce a candidacy for a seat that is ranked "likely Dem."


Reader Billy Jimenez writes:

I am a local attorney and long-time reader. I want to invite you to an Albuquerque mayoral campfire this Saturday called "Warm Cookies for the Soul: A Community Campfire to Discuss Mental Health and Addiction with Albuquerque’s Mayoral Candidates." The Campfire will be held on June 24 at Rude Boy Cookies (115 Harvard Dr SE #7) from 2pm to 5pm.

In a city with an abundance of behavioral and substance abuse problems, Michael Silva (owner of Rude Boy) and I offer the community a chance to talk about solutions to these problems with the mayoral candidates. And we aim to do this in the most inviting way possible: sitting down over milk and cookies. The goal is to make the candidates accessible at a family friendly event and promote community. A portion of the proceeds from cookie sales will be donated to the Albuquerque Center for Hope and Recovery, of which I am a board member.

Good for you, Billy. One of the positive early developments in the mayoral race is the number of forums we're having. The community is rising to the occasion.


Gov. Mabry
The answer was a former Governor so it was no shock that our readers were pretty much all over the question as to who was the first New Mexico politico to serve as the state's chief executive, a member of the legislature and as a NM Supreme Court Justice. That was an easy bar to hop for many readers, including Sam Thompson, John Schroeder, Mark Valdez, Valerie Kimble, Jeffrey Baker, Orlando Lucero and Manuel Tijerina. They correctly identified Gov. Thomas Mabry as the holder of the three titles as did Isaac Romero who wins the two tickets valued at $170 to this Friday's Vintage ABQ Grand Tasting.

My response to your Vintage ABQ contest question is Thomas Mabry. However, he wasn’t a native new Mexican. He was born in Kentucky and served as the supreme court Chief Justice, in the senate, and as governor. 

Another popular submission was Gov. Ed Mechem. That was the response from Joe Campos and Frank Armijo among others, but while Republican Ed served in the state House and was several times elected Governor, he later served as a federal judge and never served on the NM Supreme Court.

(Mechem) also served in the US Senate when in 1962 he stepped down as Governor and was appointed to fill the vacancy left by the death of Dem US Senator Dennis Chavez. He was defeated by Joe Montoya when he sought election to the seat in 1964.)

Finally, several readers said the answer was Gov. Jack Campbell. He was an attorney but never served on the Supreme Court, although he did serve a stint as Speaker of the NM House. Jack was elected Governor twice--in '64 and '66.

And we need to give him credit for this contest. We were thumbing through his autobiography and there on page 194 was his mention of Gov. Mabry and how he had become the first to serve in all three branches of government. Thanks for the fun, Jack. (The book is available through the UNM Press.)

Thanks to all who submitted answers and to Vintage ABQ for making two sets of free tickets available as the drumbeat of La Politica continues to beat away.

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

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Tuesday, June 20, 2017

A Mayoral Forum Draws A Big Crowd And Makes A Little News, Plus: Higher Ed And 1925; Looks A Lot Like 2017, And: Another Chance To Win Vintage ABQ Tickets; Can You Answer Our Question?  

With the ABQ mayoral election set to round the curve into the summer months, a candidate forum sponsored by the Bernalillo County Democratic Party last week drew the largest crowd to date for such an event--over 250 interested citizens turned out to hear from six of the eight candidates in a session moderated by NM Politics with Joe Monahan and that party officials said had over 1,400 others viewing the action via a live stream.

That high level of interest for one event doesn't necessarily foretell a big increase in voter turnout, but we can safely assume turnout this year will easily surpass the dismal 2013 number which was the lowest for a mayoral election since the 1970's.

Unlike four years ago there is no incumbent this year and there are a lot more candidates. And the issues have never been more compelling--an unchecked crime epidemic, a mostly stagnant economy, stagnant population growth and the fleeing of the professional millennials.


Besides the big turnout they attracted to the Pipefitters Hall and on Facebook, the candidates made some other news. That happened when we asked if they would support an increase of a quarter cent in the city's gross receipts tax to fund an expansion of the severely understaffed ABQ police department. Candidates Tim Keller and Brian Colon, both Dems, unhesitatingly answered that they would, with both adding that they would send it to the voters. Colon predicted it would easily pass.

The other member of what we have dubbed the "Big Three" in this mayoral contest, GOP City Councilor Dan Lewis, said he would oppose a public safety tax but would find funding for putting more cops on the street by saving money from other city agencies. Independent hopeful Michelle Garcia Holmes agreed with Lewis, saying that the citizens are already "overtaxed."

Also at the forum were candidates Gus Pedrotty, 23, showing fiery political passion and support for a public safety tax if approved by voters and independent Susana Wheeler Deischel, who was the only candidate to support the controversial Central Avenue ART project. Republican candidates Wayne Johnson and Ricardo Chaves did not attend.


The back story on BernCo Commissioner and mayoral candidate Wayne Johnson recently blasting fellow R Dan Lewis is that Johnson might be getting guidance from Gov. Martinez's well-known and controversial political adviser Jay McCleskey. At least that was the scuttlebutt at last week's Dem forum. Lewis has been at odds with the Guv's political machine for years so it would not be a surprise. But Johnson ripping Lewis could divide the GOP vote. The division within GOP ranks over Martinez and McCleskey has prompted fears that Johnson--who is running well behind Lewis--could sabotage the R's from keeping the mayor's office. But Johnson's supporters argue he is the true Republican in the race and has the ability to replace Lewis as a "Big Three" candidate. It's about the money now. Will Johnson raise enough to compete? Will he get some kind of outside PAC support with the aide of McCleskey? We'll keep you posted.


From the time-honored category of "the more things change, the more they stay the same," we turn to this report on the 1925 budget message of Democratic Governor Arthur T. Hannett:

In his message to the legislature on the budget, he says there are too many of these (higher education) schools and he will oppose building appropriations for any of them until the people have had a chance to pass a constitutional amendment to consolidate them as to stop duplications of effort and expense. . . The Governor tells the legislature that these schools were scattered with the "pork barrel" idea by the makers of the Constitution. ..instead of with the idea of efficiency, economy and convenience.

Sounds awfully familiar, doesn't it? And with UNM reducing staffing by literally hundreds of employees on its main campus in the past year (why was that news so late in getting out?) the time for the consolidation of higher ed is still with us all these decades after. Gov. Hannett's plea fell on deaf ears.

New Mexico is changing irrevocably in many ways. But rather than a consolidation and downsizing, we are getting a drip, drip, drip as witnessed by the UNM layoffs and another tuition increase at NMSU. It seems it's as politically difficult in 2017 to right the errors of the portion of our state Constitution dealing with higher education as it was in 1925.


Michael Wiener
Before we get to today's contest for free tickers to this Friday's Vintage ABQ Grand Tasting, let's recap last week's contest. First, the winner was ABQ businessman Mark Fidel. He correctly guessed that it was ABQ's Michael Wiener who was the only modern day politician to serve on the ABQ City Council, the Bernalillo County Commission and in the state Senate. ABQ attorney David Buchholz and Gerald Levine also got it right, but Fidel, son of the late Grants area state Senator Joe Fidel, was first and he gets the tickets (a $170 value).

One interesting twist: Reader Miguel Navrot guessed that it was Steve Gallegos. Well, Gallegos was indeed elected to the ABQ City Council and the BernCo Commission and he "served" in the state Senate as an appointed sergeant-at-arms. Clever try, Miguel, but serving in the Senate means you are elected to that body. By the way, Wiener, 62, continues to work as a business consultant in ABQ.

Now for today's contest and your chance to win two tickets to the Vintage ABQ Grand tasting. We may have used this one a few years ago, but that's a long time and it's a tough one:

Who was the first New Mexican to serve in all three branches of government--as Governor,  a Supreme Court Justice and state Senator?

Good luck!

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

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