Thursday, February 11, 2021

GOP Congress Hopeful Preps Lawsuit To Force Primary Elections For Haaland Vacancy; Closed Door Method Called "Insanely Un Democratic", Plus: Some Reader Mailbag 

Eddy Aragon
There's not much public support for the closed door method that will be used to pick the major party nominees when the ABQ congressional seat becomes vacant upon the Senate confirmation of Dem Rep. Deb Haaland as Sec. of Interior. And now there's a lawsuit to force open those doors. 

GOP congressional hopeful Eddy Aragon is going to court to force the major parties--Dem, R and Libertarian--to have primary elections to choose their congressional candidates, instead of the small group of party central committee members that are responsible under current law with doing the task.

Aragon, an ABQ radio station owner, and a proud Trump Republican, says:

It is insanely un-democratic for a group of 134 people to determine a nominee for a federal election – or any election. Given our state’s long history of corruption, you’d hope that back-room deals between elite power brokers would be in our past. But it’s happening again, right now.

The fiery Aragon, who recently made an unsuccessful challenge to unseat NM GOP Chairman Steve Pearce, added:

The Republican Party is becoming more and more irrelevant. They act as elites, but grassroots Republicans are now strongly anti-elitist. . . My campaign ushers in a new political and social era. We common people, we working people, are not going to take any more abuse from the political ruling class.

Aragon is suing the the Secretary of State in federal court to make the change to a primary system. Details have not yet been released for what will be a long shot lawsuit. 

The court action comes with the special election looming. Haaland is expected to be confirmed in March. The election will be called by the SOS for no later than 91 days after the vacancy. Aragon would like a primary during the first month and two months for the general election.

In addition to Aragon, Michaela Chavez, Ron Lucero, Peggy Muller Aragon and Jared Vander Dussen are seeking the GOP nomination. 

The bad news for that group is that the ABQ seat is decidedly blue and the GOP nomination is worth about the same as a current season ticket for Lobo basketball. Not much. 


Meanwhile at the Roundhouse, a bill from Rep. Daymon Ely that would implement a primary system for congressional vacancies is getting the slow roll treatment from ABQ senator and election law powerhouse Daniel Ivey-Soto. He was the major author of a reform bill that did away with primaries for congressional vacancies. 

Ivey-Soto's quip that he would "give the bill a hearing" in Senate Rules Committee, which he chairs, was seen by wall-leaners as the kiss of death for the measure this year.


Aragon's lawsuit comes on the heels of Roswell area State Rep. Phelps Anderson switching his party registration from Republican to independent after getting intense heat for a pro-choice vote he cast in a House committee. The state GOP is now calling on Anderson to resign:

He has betrayed the people of his district. He ran as a Republican, and he’s chosen to leave those who had trusted him to represent them in Santa Fe. . .The principled action would have been to re-register before the election. Instead, voters got a bait and switch from someone they trusted with their vote.

While the GOP squabbling intensifies, their plight has not hit bottom. Later this year it's expected that legislative Democrats will redistrict the southern congressional seat to make it more difficult for GOP Rep. Yvette Herrell to win re-election.


Santa Fe reader Chris Brown, a political junkie as well as an astronomy/photography buff, writes of our Wednesday blog on broadband:

Congratulations on highlighting space-based internet as the realistic rural broadband solution. Wondered how many in the legislature knew about it?

What would it cost the state to make up the difference for rural folk between $100 per month for a satellite service vs. the average cost of $65 (PC Mag) the rest of us pay? If multiple companies begin providing service, the state could request competing bids to get the best price. Elon Musk has orbited thousands of Starlinks. 

Here are some Starlinks in the Big Dipper last year before SpaceX dimmed them at the request of astronomers. 

Thanks, Chris. A very cool snapshot. 

Reader Thom Cole takes issue with our description of Columbus, Ohio as "unheralded":

I don't know what you mean by unheralded. It is the capital of Ohio and home to Battelle Memorial Institute, Fortune 500 companies and The Ohio State University, one of the nation's great land-grant schools.

All hail Columbus!


The Guv announced Wednesday more counties will be able to operate under fewer restrictions as the COVID pandemic eases. For those of us who haven't been inside a restaurant in a long while, that gets us wondering about where to make our first stops. No challenge here. We've been unable to collect on a friendly wager from the November election. But that all changes now. There's a table at the Santa Fe Compound with our name on it so get busy Chef Kiffin. 

Thanks for stopping by. 

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Wednesday, February 10, 2021

Billionaires Could Hold Solution To NM Woeful Broadband Coverage, Plus: Webber Raises Questions About Second Term And ABQ Is Remote Ready 

Will innovative billionaire Elon Musk or Amazon's Jeff Bezos or both finally provide New Mexico with desperately needed broadband for underserved rural New Mexico? They could, even though the wait could be five years or longer for their worldwide internet satellite delivery systems to be available here. 

Well-meaning but largely toothless legislation to deliver broadband to the many without is making the rounds at the legislative session. For example HB10 establishes an office to "coordinate (government) resources. . .to connect every community in new Mexico" and "create a comprehensive plan."
SB 93 is similar. 

What the bills don't do is put up enough cold hard cash to build out broadband. MLG daydreams about lawmakers giving up half their capital outlay to build broadband. But even if they did it would only generate $200 million when twenty times that amount or more is needed. A state estimate last year put the cost at $2 to $5 billion. It is wildly expensive

The Federal Communications Commission approved $165 million (in 2020) to 18 companies to build out broadband infrastructure in underserved areas of New Mexico. Over the next 10 years, the funding is expected to support buildout of broadband services to 64 thousand houses, businesses, and other locations.

That's where the satellite plan from Musk as well as one called Kuiper from Jeff Bezos comes in. 

While it could be years before Musk's worldwide internet makes it here, at the snail's pace we're expanding internet it may be the ultimate solution, even if the wait is painfully long:     

SpaceX has widened the scope of the public beta test of its Starlink satellite internet service, saying it is accepting preorders from potential customers. Prospective Starlink users can enter a service address on the company’s website, with preorders available for $99. Some regions show preorder messages that say SpaceX is “targeting coverage in your area in mid to late 2021,” while other preorders say 2022. The service will be offered first in the U.S., Canada, and the U.K. The company’s website emphasizes that the preorders are “fully refundable,” but notes in fine print that “placing a deposit does not guarantee service.” SpaceX also says that “orders may take 6 months or more to fulfill” depending on where users are located.

If they haven't already state policy makers ought to be tapping into what Musk and Bezos have going. At least it's something other than the piecemeal, hurry up and wait plan that Santa Fe offers. 


Monahan and Webber
Santa Fe Mayor Alan Webber had them doing a double take when he said this week he has not decided whether he will seek another term this November. He told the newspaper and radio talker Richard Eeds that he was focused on the work at hand and not his political future. 

However, a source close to Webber believes that like any politician he is trying to stay a noncandidate as long as possible. That source was firm in saying Webber is indeed running. 

The Mayor told us as much before the pandemic struck but given the drastic changes since, a decision not to run would not be a shocker. 

Webber's chief rival is expected to be Santa Fe City Councilor Joanne Vigil Coppler. There could be more foes as Santa Fe's traditional factionalism has intensified during the COVID crisis. 

Criticism of Webber has often been brutal but with a large progressive base he will be tough to beat. A second term won't be much smoother, says Eeds. "The place is so factionalized, it's basically ungovernable," he opined. 


This view seems  a bit pollyannish but ABQ could use some good news during these trying times, so here it is. Livability.com places ABQ in its list list of top ten remote ready cities (#8), saying: 

Working remotely can be isolating, but in Albuquerque, you’ll find a true sense of community and place. . . Whether you love watching (or learning!) flamenco, learning about Hispanic and Native American heritage, eating farm-to-table meals, wandering through art galleries or hitting the hiking trails after work, you’ll be able to find your niche right away in this eclectic southwestern city. If you decide to change career paths or you just want to bolster your resume, Albuquerque has an incredible mix of high-wage jobs and offers great access to continuing education, professional certificate programs, workshops, lectures and seminars. Nearby schools include the University of New Mexico (the state’s flagship university), Carrington College, Southwestern Indian Polytechnic Institute, Southwest University of Visual Arts, Brookline College Albuquerque and Central New Mexico Community College. 

The #1 remote ready city on the list is unheralded Columbus Ohio.  

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Tuesday, February 09, 2021

Early Childhood Amendment is Sailing Through House; Senate Challenge Awaits; "A Poison Pill?" Plus: More Candidates For Haaland House Seat  

We blogged Monday of the most watched proposal of this legislative session--the legalization of marijuana. Today we look at perhaps the second most watched--the long-sought constitutional amendment (HJR1) that would divert money from the state's $22 billion Land Grant Permanent Fund and devote it to very early childhood education, ages zero to five. 

As expected the amendment is zooming--both literally and figuratively--through the state House. It won approval Monday from the House Education Committee on a 9 to 6 vote and full House approval is expected soon. 

The Senate has traditionally been the Waterloo for the amendment which would be sent to voters for a decision once it passed the legislature. But this year longtime amendment backer Allen Sanchez, president of nonprofit CHI St. Joseph's Children, says chances are better than ever:

We expect the Senate Finance Committee to finally approve the amendment because of the new composition of that panel.

Senate Finance is no longer chaired by conservative John Arthur Smith who was defeated for re-election so Sanchez's prediction seems to have merit. 
The amendment-friendly Senate Rules Committee is the one other committee expected to consider the proposal before a full Senate vote.

With so many conservative-leaning senators defeated last year and replaced by mostly amendment supporters, the floor vote should be solidly in favor and an election could be scheduled for as soon as November. 

Under the proposal about $170 million a year would be generated for early childhood education and administered by the new Early Childhood Department
There is no sunset clause so the funds would flow each year until a future legislature decided to end the program. 

Rep. Thomson
What about what some amendment backers are calling the "poison pill" that is circulating? That plan would take half the money generated by the amendment and give it to the public schools. Early childhood advocates say that could be a deal-breaker for voters and could endanger the amendment's passage. 

Senate Majority Leader Wirth has introduced a separate amendment to tap one percent of the Fund annually for the public schools but that is expected to fade.

However, there is discussion of increasing the withdrawal from the Permanent Fund to 1.25 percent and have the additional quarter percent earmarked for the public schools, but the full one percent would remain with early childhood ed.

Sanchez, who has worked on behalf of the amendment for nearly a decade, says if the amendment is approved he expects about 4,000 child education specialists to be hired to tackle the state's long struggle with poverty, child welfare and lagging education results. 

Upon passage of HJR1 out of the education committee, ABQ Dem Rep. Liz Thomson said:

If we truly want to address crime, poverty, and poor graduation rates in New Mexico, and build a strong, educated workforce, we have to invest in our youngest children and early childhood education. HJR1 will uplift our youth, our families, and our communities, empowering them to help build a bright future. . . "

That's a pretty broad brush for one piece of legislation and that's why it's among the most watched at Session '21. 


Two more candidates have joined the race for the ABQ congressional seat as Rep. Deb Haaland awaits confirmation by the US Senate to become the next Sec. of Interior. Selinda Guerrero describes herself as an "imperfect revolutionary." Francisco Fernandez says he has had a career in the film industry and would be "the first openly gay congressional member from NM and first HIV positive member of Congress." 

There are now eight candidates.

Hopefuls last week took part in a live Facebook debate sponsored by the progressive group Indivisible Nob Hill. There will be another debate this Wednesday aponsored by Progressive Democrats of America Central NM Chapter. Register here.

Members of the Dem state central committee from the ABQ district will select a candidate for the special election to replace Haaland as will the R's and the Libertarians. Those choices are expected in March. 

In a first draft Monday, we said congressional hopeful Melanie Stansbury is an attorney. She is not. She is a scientist. 


Reader Andrew Larroque writes from Cedar Crest: 

Joe, You recently published a comment from a reader who decries the lack of adequate internet services to cover the state. His last sentence is “Doesn’t anybody know how to do it?” Those last two words struck me as ironic since DOIT is the acronym associated with the NM Dept. of Information and Technology.

This little-known agency is involved in statewide broadband planning and mapping for the state. Perhaps the Legislature and the Executive can provide the leadership and resources to do it better. 

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Monday, February 08, 2021

Possible Pitfalls For Legal Pot Weighed As Most Watched Piece Of Legislation Begins Roundhouse Journey, Plus: Senate Opposition To Haaland Goes Public, And: Fund-raising By Haaland Replacement Hopefuls 

It's the most watched piece of legislation in Session '21 and while marijuana legalization has fewer hurdles to overcome this year, it is not a given that it will win approval. 
The high rate of drug addiction and poverty makes some lawmakers ambivalent, even though public polling has drifted solidly to the legalization side. 
The liberal House is a go but there is still hesitancy in the Senate that could derail the legislation in the second half of this sixty day session. 

We asked veteran Santa Fe watcher and legalization supporter Adrian Carver, a former president of the NM Young Dems and onetime leader of the nonprofit Equality New Mexico, to use his expertise to guide us through potential pitfalls:  

Joe, The Sen. Daniel Ivey-Soto bill (SB 13) is the go to vehicle for legalization in the Senate, having only received two committee assignments. What is notably lacking is a referral to the powerful Senate Finance Committee. It remains to be seen if members of that committee will throw fits and demand a referral to them by holding up unrelated legislating favored by the majority. 

Senate Finance is one of the more conservative panels and pot backers fear their hopes could die there if they get they hands on the bill. Carver continued:  

Then there's the prospect of a conference committee between the House and Senate, assuming both chambers approve a bill. A key question is how much the remaining centrists in the Senate would be willing to give up to House progressives? Voters did elect a much more progressive Senate last year, but will that mandate be listened too? There are lots of places left to stumble over yet and the clock is ticking.

Carver is expressing only cautious optimism over the fate of legal weed, having seen the Senate in years past  turn into an instant graveyard for popular legislation. We'll keep you posted.

Sen. Daines
Senate GOP opposition to Rep. Deb Haaland to become the next Secretary of Interior has gone public. Montana Senator Steve Daines sat down for a talk with the nominee but it did not sway him. After the chat  he lowered the boom on Haaland who would become the first Native American in a presidential cabinet:

I'm deeply concerned with the Congresswoman's support on several radical issues that will hurt Montana, our way of life, our jobs and rural America, including her support for the Green New Deal and President Biden's oil and gas moratorium, as well as her opposition to the Keystone XL pipeline. I’m not convinced the Congresswoman can divorce her radical views and represent what's best for Montana and all stakeholders in the West. Unless my concerns are addressed, I will block her confirmation.

The Hill reports:

Daines could stall the nomination by placing a hold preventing her from advancing through a procedural vote and instead forcing a cloture vote, which could take a significant amount of time. Haaland is likely to ultimately prevail though, as only a simple majority would be needed to eventually get her nomination to the floor.

In the House, R's have come with this: 

About a dozen House Republicans have already voiced their opposition to Haaland and have asked Biden to recall her nomination. Their January 26 letter says Haaland is a “direct threat to working men and women and a rejection of responsible development of America’s natural resources.”

Sources last week said Haaland's nomination will probably be heard in committee at the end of this month or early March.


Sedillo Lopez
Meanwhile, the race is on to replace Haaland in the ABQ congressional seat. Casual observers may scratch their heads, wondering why Dem hopefuls Randi McGinn, Antoinette Sedillo Lopez and Melanie Stansbury are already making the fund-raising rounds. After all, only a couple of hundred Dem Party Central Committee delegates will choose the party's candidate for the special election expected in June. 

The fund-raising is a way of impressing those insiders. Also, the eventual nominee will only have a short time to raise cash so best to start now.

The Alligators and insiders are establishing two tiers in the six way contest. The first tier is the aforementioned McGinn, Sedillo Lopez and Stansbury who happen to be the three who have raised significant money. 

McGinn leads the pack with $215,000 at the end of December. Most comes from fellow attorneys here and out of state. She did get a $1,000 donation from real estate heavy John Lewinger and another 1K from the committee of State Senate President Pro Tem Mimi Stewart.

Stewart also donated to the coffers of Sedillo Lopez who reports raising $67,000. Fellow senators were not shy about giving. In addition to Stewart, Senators Pope, Soules, Tallman and Pinto all donated. 

Stansbury reported raising $53,000. The scientist and former DC aide tapped connections back east for a good chunk of it. 

On the GOP side there are no fund-raising reports on the FEC site.

Republican Michelle Garcia Holmes, who has run for a variety of offices in recent years, now says she will not seek the GOP Central Committee nomination for the House seat. Instead, she says she is likely to again run for ABQ mayor. Tim Keller is is seeking a second term this November. 

Garcia Holmes plans can't be welcomed by Dem Bernalillo County Sheriff Manny Gonzales. He is also weighing a mayoral run and will need Republicans solidly in his corner if he is to oust Keller. But Gonzales doesn't have to fret much. In the first round in the '17 mayoral race Garcia Holmes managed only 4 percent of the vote.

Another R in the news is GOP State Rep. Phelps Anderson whose pro-choice vote in a House committee, first reported here, now has him fleeing the GOP. Anderson of Roswell has registered as an independent after finding that voting in favor of repealing an outdated abortion law could not stand the scrutiny of his conservative constituents. A prominent Roswell R told us they are "livid"over his vote. 

Whether the 69 year old scion of legendary oilman Robert O. Anderson will seek another term in Santa Fe next year is up in the air, but getting re-elected after committing a mortal sin in the GOP, is highly questionable. 

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