Thursday, July 05, 2018

The Lujan File: Ben Ray's National Star Will Shine Or Dim Depending On November; What It Means For New Mexico  

Rep. Lujan 
2018 could very well be the most important election in the life of Congressman Ben Ray Lujan. Not that he has much of a challenge to overcome in his heavily Democratic northern congressional district--he doesn't--but as chairman of the Democratic Congressional campaign Committee (DCCC) he does have a challenge in meeting the expectation that the Democrats retake the majority in the US House.

If the stars align in November and the Dems are back in power Ben Ray's star will shine brighter than ever, so bright that some DC pundits say it could catapult him into a new role--chairman of the House Democratic Caucus, the number 4 slot in the US House leadership. That would keep the 46 year old deeply involved in the national scene and perhaps positioned to climb even higher in the House leadership in the years ahead. That in turn could enhance New Mexico's fortunes which are inextricably tied to federal government spending.

The political calculus is pretty simple: Win the House and your jet takes off. Lose the House while Trump occupies the White House and you stall out.

Even if Dems retake the majority Lujan would have a battle to take the caucus chair post which is opening up because of the stunning primary upset of New York Rep. Joe Crowley.

Chief among them is Rep. Linda Sánchez, vice chairwoman of the caucus and No. 5 behind Crowley. The California Democrat had been seen as the most vulnerable member of the leadership team after publicly calling last fall for Pelosi, Hoyer and Assistant Minority Leader Jim Clyburn (D-S.C.) to move on to make way for a new generation. . . But the opening could also prompt other younger, ambitious members to vie for the post. Lawmakers including Reps. Hakeem Jeffries of New York, Cheri Bustos of Illinois and Ben Ray Luján of New Mexico were being floated by Democratic members and aides.

House Minority Leader Nancy Pelosi has been instrumental in Lujan's rise but she is battling a burgeoning uprising among newer generation Dems. But nothing is as rejuvenating as victory and if the DCCC brings one home Election Night the Lujan association with Pelosi will have hit pay dirt. If they lose, well. . .


So just what does the chairman of the House Democratic Caucus do?

The House Democratic Caucus serves as the organizational forum to elect party leaders at the outset of each new Congress. The caucus meets on a weekly basis to discuss party policy, pending legislative issues, and other matters of mutual concern. 

The chairman is limited to two terms for a total of four years and is elected by the entire Dem membership in the House.


Congressman Lujan faces two unknown candidates this November as he seeks his sixth term. They are Libertarian Christopher Manning of Kirtland and Republican Jerald Steve McFall of Angel Fire.

He won his 2016 re-election in a landslide, 62% to 38. The central part of the district--Hispanic counties like Rio Arriba, Santa Fe and Mora--go heavily for him. His weak spot is GOP dominated San Juan. It has a large population but one that has stagnated in recent years because of the natural gas crash. He also has soft spots in small rural, conservative eastside counties like Curry and Roosevelt.

Lujan appears to have become a creature of the House and has exhibited no open ambition to become a US Senator or some day make a run for Governor.

A potential trouble spot for him is Los Alamos National Labs whose future has become a bit more uncertain under President Trump. It is by far the most important economic presence in the district.

Meanwhile, he visits the district often, gets good press and votes in tune with the center-left politics of the majority of the region. That adds up to landslide re-elections.


New Mexico is a state that historically has had a power position on Capitol Hill through Senators such as Chavez, Anderson and Domenici. If it is to resume that power position it now appears for the first time the state's best chance currently come from the US House and NM native Ben Ray Lujan. That makes the 2018 election not only crucial for the politically savvy Lujan but for New Mexico as well.

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Tuesday, July 03, 2018

Tidbits For The Fourth: Dems Fight Back Against R Corruption Charges, Indy Candidates Make Ballot, The Race For The Racino, Defending Raul And Hairy Steve Pearce 

Here are some political tidbits as we prepare to break for the holiday. . .

The R's have tried mightily to tie the yoke of corruption around the neck of Dem Guv candidate Michelle Lujan Grisham, citing her involvement in Delta Consulting which had state contracts, and it appears they will keep hammering Delta until November. But the Dems are working to break that yoke and counter with this:

A former cabinet member (Taxation and Revenue Secretary Demesia Padilla) getting charged with multiple crimes is one heck of a big deal, but with so many GOP officials and candidates getting into serious legal and ethics scandals, (State Auditor) Wayne Johnson’s campaign finance violation fines and sanctions, (former secretary of state candidate) JoHanna Cox’s legal malpractice lawsuits and sloppy campaign finance reports, (Land Commissioner nominee) Pat Lyons’ suspicious land deals, (ABQ GOP State Rep.)Monica Youngblood’s aggravated DWI charges, and (GOP attorney general nominee) Michael Hendricks’ concealment of campaign donors), it feels like just another week in Susana Martinez’s New Mexico. Martinez has been out for a burger for the last 8 years and let her cronies run wild. . . 

Lujan Grisham's ethics and character could be central to the GOP's playbook to take her down in November but they obviously have plenty of their own ethical baggage.


Former State Rep. Bob Perls has this news:

Unite New Mexico, a citizens movement to bridge the growing partisan divide by electing thoughtful, independent candidates to office, today announced that all of their endorsed candidates turned in enough signatures to make the ballot for the November general election. The Secretary of State must still certify the signatures. Tweeti Blancett for House District 40 and Jarratt Applewhite for HD 50 turned in over twice the number of signatures needed to qualify. In addition, Kathy Colley turned in her signatures for County Commission District 3 in Sandoval County.

House District 40 is in the north and is being vacated by longtime Dem Rep. Nick Salazar. The seat is considered safe Dem. House District 50 is in Santa Fe County and represented by Dem Rep. Matthew McQueen. The seat is also considered safe D.


Here's an update on a story we broke this week:

The Fulton family, which already has one license for its Sunland Park Racetrack & Casino, announced its intention to submit a bid for the New Mexico Racing Commission's sixth and final racing license. Applications are due July 30. The four other current racetrack and casinos, also known as "racinos," operating in New Mexico are in Ruidoso, Albuquerque,Hobbs and Farmington. At least two other companies are also planning bids, with plans to open a racino in Clovis. Stan Fulton and his family took control of Sunland Park Racetrack Casino in 2000. He died earlier this year at the age of 86. Fulton's sons and daughters now operate the racino, and his children Liz Fulton Jones and Mike Fulton are the trustees helping with the family's bid for the license.


An Alligator with a Legal Beagle pedigree writes of our coverage of BernCo District Attorney Raul Torrez and the murder case of 10 year old Victoria Martens:

The DA isn’t reticent. I’m actually shocked that a DA would have the courage to do what Torrez did. It’s tough sometimes for the brain to accept facts that totally contradict what one is convinced of. Particularly prosecutors’ brains. A case “falls apart” when you can’t prove what happened. It appears the investigation showed the case against the mom was based on false allegations which were then proven untrue. This isn’t “falling through the cracks” either. Falling through the cracks is when a case doesn’t get the attention it deserves due to bureaucratic indifference, overburden system, etc. This case had multiple DA staff working only on this case. 

What would you have him do? Reject the scientific evidence and spend 3 weeks trying the mom for murder only to have her beat the rap? Oh, and murder suspect Jessica Kelly is going to get the book thrown at her. (Unless she IDs the other killer which would be worth it.) How do you figure she wins her case? The new revelations may have made the case against her even stronger. Now APD's investigation, that’s a whole other story.

We quoted defense attorney John Day as saying the murder case of Victoria could end with no convictions if the unidentified man whose DNA was found on Victoria could not be found.


ABQ attorney Chales Knoblauch takes note of the news that BernCo County Clerk Linda Stover has bought a mobile voting unit and will station it outside various senior facilities to make it easier to cast a ballot:

Joe-a segment of the population even more restricted from reaching the polling booths than the seniors are the inmates in MDC. Why not have it sent over there on voting day? Most of the prisoners have not lost their right to vote and the political conversations in the pods would certainly be interesting.

Okay, Charles, just make sure that if they place the mobile unit at the jail, it isn't too mobile, if you get our drift.


Republican Guv nominee Steve Pearce sometimes takes a ribbing over his bald pate, but we don't think he'd prefer having this fulsome head of hair that's been placed on him by the political pranksters. But where's the trademark orange coiffure of the Prez? This looks more like a gray mop top, definitely not presidential.

As for Steve, he might want to sport a guitar with his new do and take his show on the road. Think of the campaign money he could raise.

Thanks for stopping by. We appreciate it.

Happy Fourth of July, New Mexico!

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Monday, July 02, 2018

Not A "Serious" City"? Emotions Boil As Victoria's Murder May Go Unpunished; APD And DA Atop Cracked Justice System, Plus: Rally For Border Families; A "Stunning" Contradiction As NM Children Languish? 

Whenever they roll out major news on a Friday afternoon you know they're skittish and turbulence is straight ahead.

And so it was when BernCo District Attorney Raul Torrez informed that one of the most shocking and horrid cases of child abuse and murder in state history may fall through the massive cracks in the local criminal justice system. It could mean no one is held accountable for the murder, rape and dismemberment of 10 year old Victoria Martens, furthering the meme that New Mexico is unable and/or unwilling to deal with the wave of child abuse that has accompanied the downsized economy and the ensuing drug epidemic.

Torrez could have had that news conference on a Sunday at 4 a.m. but nothing could disguise the shock and outrage over the new developments. It poured forth on social media, centered on the plea bargain deal Torrez made with Victoria's mother, Michelle Martens.

Even though Torrez reported the evidence now shows she did not kill her daughter and could not be charged with murder, citizens still engaged were not pacified. Never mind the legaleze. They viewed the mother's neglect--going in search of drugs and leaving Victoria alone in the apartment with drugged out Jessica Kelly--as making her an accessory to the ghastly murder. The prospect that she may serve only a few years in prison and that the entire case could be lost only heightened their fury.

Even veterans of La Politica were stunned by the incompetence of the ABQ police department and the reticence of the District Attorney to come forth sooner with the news that DNA testing done a year ago showed the case against two prime suspects--Michelle Martens and Fabian Gonzales--was crashing.

Only on Friday--nearly two years after the August 2016 slaying--did the authorities call on the public to help them locate who they described as a "John Doe," a fourth, unidentified suspect whose DNA had been found on Victoria's body. Two wasted years of going down rabbit holes. Now they want the public's assistance?

And if they don't get John Doe criminal defense attorney John Day says good luck getting a conviction of Jessica Kelley, the lone remaining defendant charged in the dastardly slaying.

Law enforcement expert Dennis Maez unpacked the APD baggage on Facebook:

This isn't rocket science. It's basic police work, check the alibis and verify the story that's given to you. The problem, it seems to me, is a lack of supervision, plain and simple. Absolutely arrest the people at the scene, interview them, file charges adequate to hold them, then investigate. Don't make the evidence fit the crime, find the real facts and go from there. Jessica Kelly's attorney is going to have a field day attacking the investigation.

Kelley is still charged with the murder while Martens and her boyfriend Fabian Gonzales had their charges reduced when Torrez said evidence reveals they were not at the murder scene, even though Michelle Martens told police they were.


There is not only frustration over the epic failure of the city and state to protect its most vulnerable, there is exhaustion. That led to comments like this from one of our Senior Alligators who has seen more than he cares to:

Law enforcement in ABQ isn't serious about fighting crime. All they want to do is manage it. They let criminal activity go unchecked. And Raul Torrez is no Eliot Ness. He' more like the Mayor of Gotham in Batman. ABQ is not a serious city. All you have to do is look at how we handled ART.

We are led and governed by a pack of political peacocks and poseurs--none of whom are serious abut anything other than their own political vanity and ambition. Which is why no one outside of our state--or its major city--take anything about us seriously.

Strong stuff that you won't see in any of the Chamber of Commerce brochures, but it's sure to be reinforced when the headlines blare across the globe over how a 10 year old girl in Albuquerque, New Mexico can be murdered, raped and butchered in a bathtub but can have no justice.


Saturday protest (Journal)
That "thousands" gathered at ABQ's Civic Plaza Saturday as part of a national day of protest over Trump's policies toward immigrants at the US border set off an emotional disconnect for many New Mexicans. Not only had they just heard that Victoria's murder could end with no justice for her but only two days earlier they learned the state has sunk from 49th to 50th--last in the nation--in the child well-being rankings.

Writing on Facebook Melissa Ariel called the contrast between those news stories and the Saturday rally a "stunning and disappointing contradiction."

Yes, Civic Plaza was packed. . . Meanwhile, we still have tens of thousands of kids in the same situation they were in before. And the concerned classes have moved on to the next issue du jour. . . I suspect that it is not going unnoticed in many corners of New Mexico that these 2,300 children on the border are getting far more concern from certain sectors than (murdered children) Jeremiah Vasquez, Omaree Varela, Victoria Martens, and the thousands of NM kids in foster care or abusive homes who get no help even after 10, 25, or more calls to CYFD.

Naturally there will be the argument that it is a false equivalency to compare the border children to our own stricken population. Regardless, the question again arises of whether New Mexico can summon the same passion in evidence at the Civic Plaza rally to reverse the dismal conditions of so many of its own.

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