Thursday, September 02, 2021

ABQ Mayoral Campaign Stumbles Into September; Process Issues Still Dominate; Will There Be A Run-Off? Plus: What Happens If PNM Merger Is Denied?

The ABQ mayoral campaign has stumbled into September with the same summer baggage that has weighed down the contest--the ongoing arguments over public financing.

But there is palpable anger out there, even if the candidates are wrapped up in process issues, the latest being the residency battle over Republican Eddy Aragon. 

Take a look at how Mayor Keller gets gang trolled when he took to Facebook to take credit for a dip in the auto theft rate. Dissenters digitally roasted him. Then there was the personal attacks on social media of City Clerk Ethan Watson involving his family and that came from a Sheriff Manny Gonzales backer. And then there's Aragon, a whirling dervish of boisterous anger. 

Yes, the summer mayoral months were truly desultory but if the candidates can put behind their internecine warfare and begin speaking to the broader public, the fall campaign could be a tad more uplifting. 


Clerk Watson says he will release his second and final decision on whether to deny Sheriff Gonzales over $600,000 in public financing this morning, rather than Friday as he first announced. We'll update when that comes down. Meanwhile, Gonzales' lawyers are going to drag the matter out some more and have filed an appeal of Watson's denial with the NM Supreme Court.

(As expected, on Thursday the City Clerk for a second time denied Gonzales public financing.) 

Aragon is also in a court fight. His is over a complaint that claims Aragon, who is living at his radio station near the airport, does not have a legal residence should be removed from the ballot. He responds that the zoning for the location allows him to live there. Aragon says he has been looking to buy a house but "it's a tough market."


The election is November 2 but one veteran politics watchers says he's ready to make a prediction. Radio talk pioneer Mike Santullo, who sought the mayor's office way back in the day and worked as communications director for Dem Mayor Ken Schultz in the 80s', says expect a run-off election:

I don't believe any of the three candidates will get 50 percent of the vote and there will be a run off election in December. The crime wave has damaged Keller and when Gonzales and Aragon finally get going and start attacking him for it, I think he will pay a price. I see Keller and Gonzales advancing to the run-off.

There's no public polling on the race so everyone is flying dark but Santullo has good radar. We'll see. 


Here's an idea that might arise in New Mexico as the state continues to register sky-high drug overdoses:

California’s leaders. . .want the state to be the first to pay people to stay sober. The federal government has been doing it for years with military veterans and research shows it is one of the most effective ways to get people to stop using drugs like cocaine and methamphetamine, stimulants for which there are no pharmaceutical treatments available. It works like this: People earn small incentives or payments for every negative drug test over a period of time. Most people who complete the treatment without any positive tests can earn a few hundred dollars. They usually get the money on a gift card. It’s called “contingency management” and Gov. Gavin Newsom has asked the federal government for permission to use tax dollars to pay for it through Medicaid, the joint state and federal health insurance program for the poor and disabled that covers nearly 14 million people in California. 


Most informed observers appear to believe that the proposed merger of PNM and Avangrid will be approved by the Public Regulation Commission (PRC), albeit with some additional changes. But what if the unlikely occurred and the PRC nixed the multi-billion dollar utility marriage? Other suitors could be sought but that could prove difficult. Meanwhile, PNM would continue to operate and supply electric power. We asked Mariel Nanasi of New Energy Economy in Santa Fe, a prominent opponent of the merger, what alternative there could be:

New Energy Economy prefers publicly owned power. The American Public Power Association ( reports that there are more than 2,000 public power utilities throughout the U.S. – in every state but Hawaii, and in five territories. These take a variety of forms, but the difference between public power and Investor Owned Utilities (IOU's) like PNM boils down to essentially one thing - they are motivated by values other than shareholder profit. Public power customers (1 in 7 US residents) pay on average 11% less than IOU customers, receive more reliable service and are more likely to benefit from renewable power sources. In 2019 more than 40% of public power was from renewable energy. Importantly for New Mexico, it also keeps our money in our communities.

 Publicly owned utilities can re-invest profits from energy sales in local jobs, lower energy costs for low-income customers, and investment in local community projects and causes. IOU's primary responsibility is to benefit shareholders. Public power exists to benefit the community. And these benefits also include public ownership of the vast opportunities that exist now to build energy infrastructure and export it to load centers in California, Arizona and elsewhere. 

The economic opportunity for New Mexico is significant (hence Avangrid's interest in capturing that opportunity for themselves!). This may sound like a pie-in-the-sky idea, but the only thing lacking here is political will. If Los Angeles, with 1.4 million customers, can be served by a publicly owned utility, there is no reason that New Mexico's 530,000 PNM customers cannot. . . 

Reporting from Albuquerque, I'm Joe Monahan. 

Enjoy the holiday. 

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