Thursday, March 18, 2021

Special Congress Election Gets On Fast Track; SOS Sets June 1 Election Date; Major Parties Pick Dates To Select Nominees; Election Officials Prep; News And Analysis Up Next  

Toulouse Oliver
The special election to fill the ABQ congressional seat vacated by Dem Deb Haaland, the new Secretary of Interior, is now on the fast track. Secretary of State Maggie Toulouse Oliver has called the election for Tuesday, June 1 and will issue an official proclamation today. 

Members of the NMGOP Central Committee from the ABQ congressional district on March 27 will select the R nominee. Dems will do the same March 30. Then the battle will be fully joined. 

But the Dems won't actually "meet," says a party spokeswoman: 

 DPNM absentee balloting rules means that the SCC won’t actually meet to choose the nominee, they’ll just vote over a period of 12 hours. Those ballots are nonsecret and available to the public (upon request) and any SCC meeting that takes place in the future is open to the public.

We're told the R's will meet over zoom.

(Navy vet and financial consultant John McDivitt is set to become the Libertarian Party candidate and former GOP Land Commissioner Aubrey Dunn, Jr. will wage an independent campaign).

Now the analysis. . . 

The SOS set the election well short of the maximum 91 days allowed from the date of the Haaland vacancy. The election comes 77 days after the resignation, the minimum time required by law. 

Some R's grumbled that the short timetable favors the Dems who are heavily favored to take the seat. However, the June 1 date is the day after Memorial Day and some Dems expressed concern about getting their vote out so close to a holiday. The date is actually in line with regular primary elections which are held in early June. It's a fair call. 

Once Toulouse Oliver issues the proclamation, the election will fall largely into the court of Bernalillo County Clerk Linda Stover. The district also includes rural Torrance County and a few precincts in Sandoval, Santa Fe and Valencia counties. 

Stover has had good fortune at the BernCo election helm the last five years. Ditto for veteran Toulouse Oliver who has been in the election game for 14 years. 

Stover told me she is ready to go:

The election will be run like a regular election. There will be absentee voting as well as in person early voting and, of course, Election Day voting. We are already lining up personnel and expect to have enough. The vaccine roll out for the coronavirus will make that task a bit easier. 

Both Stover and the SOS urged potential 1st CD voters not yet registered to do so here. The last day to register for the election is 28 days prior to June 1.


While less than 200 Dems and 135 R's select the nominees, campaigning is fever pitched. There are now just days left to twist arms and land a nomination that could put the contender in the United States Congress for years. 

The high stakes, once in a generation event is drawing a crowd. Look at this long list of hopefuls: 

For the Dems: Antoinette Sedillo Lopez, Randi McGinn, Melanie Stansbury, Georgene Louis, Patricia Roybal Caballero, Selinda Guerrero, Victor Reyes and Francisco Fernández. 

For the R's: Eddie Aragon, Jared Vander Dussen, Jonathan Gonzalez, Elisa Martinez, Mark Moores, Michaela Chavez, Ronnie Lucero and Tracy Trujillo.

Front-runners? This is a mad scramble. 


Michaela Chavez
On the R side the two newest entrants are State Sen. Mark Moores and anti-abortion activist Elisa Martinez. Outspoken radio talk show host Eddy Aragon and his supporters are framing the race as the establishment led by GOP Chairman Steve Pearce versus the Trump wing of the party led by Aragon. They claim Moores and Martinez getting in the race so late is a movida to shake votes loose from Aragon. 

Aragon ran a respectable race against Pearce in December for the party chairmanship, losing 76 to 47 in the GOP central committee. Here's video from a campaign event Aragon attended Tuesday night. 

Michaela Chavez, perhaps a rising star for the party, is trying to end the factionalism and is campaigning on a unity platform. Here's video.


On the Dem side the pros opinions are blowing around like those grains of sand down at White Sands. With such a small universe of voters, they and their candidates are as nervous as the proverbial cat on a hot tin roof. 

Most have State Sen. Antoinette Sedillo Lopez and State Rep. Melanie Stansbury contending, but Victor Reyes is campaigning like his 28 year old life depended on it. 


How much will the campaign cost? Several consultants put the price tag at about $1 million each for the Dem and R hopefuls, with about half of the budgets going for TV time. 

Dems will be able to raise that amount, they say. Will the R's, for a seat that is really not in play? It could be difficult. 


We're keeping tabs on the final hours of the legislative session and will post any major developments on our Twitter and a Friday blog if needed. 

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Wednesday, March 17, 2021

Patience Tested In Last Days Of Session '21; Key Committee Chairs Eyeballed As They Exercise Prodigious Power, Plus: Ryan Flynn's Fall From Grace; Oil Leader Is Out, And: Haaland's House Farewell Gets Tearful 

Sen. Cervantes
Tuesday, June 1 is the date for the special election to fill the US House seat left vacant by the resignation of Deb Haaland. From the SOS: 

Secretary of State Maggie Toulouse Oliver will issue the special election proclamation for Congressional District 1 tomorrow, which will set Tuesday, June 1, 2021 as Election Day.

This is when patience grows thin as the key power players in Santa Fe exert the full extent of their power over important legislation as the precious days tick away. Just three of them are left now before Saturday's noon adjournment of Session '21. 

Among those players is Senate Judiciary Committee Chairman Joe Cervantes who is now in the center of the storm over legalizing pot and much more. Naturally, it's time to put the heat on the veteran Las Cruces Lawmaker: 

Sen. Cervantes  is currently holding 150 pieces of legislation without a hearing date. With just days left in the session, unless the bills are heard in committee they will effectively die. Among these bills are critical public health and environmental programs. Statewide environmental group Food & Water Watch will host a press conference with Senator Antoinette Sedillo Lopez to discuss the gross environmental injustice implied by Sen. Cervantes’ inaction. . . 

Cervantes, 60, has been at the Roundhouse for 20 years with service in both the House and Senate and now qualifies as an old bull. Bulls don't cotton to being prodded but that's the last resort in the last days of a legislative session.


Former Senator and Finance Committee Chairman John Arthur Smith, a legendary old bull, is alive and well and enjoying life in metropolitan Deming. But if "Dr. No" had shed this mortal coil surely he would be rolling around in his grave about now. Why?

A grand compromise has been struck over the proposal to tap the state's $22 billion Land Grant Permanent School Fund for early childhood education funds. The proposal, on the table for a decade, was repeatedly thwarted by Smith. However, at one point he did support a constitutional amendment for an annual withdrawal of a half-percent from the fund. But he never followed through. So what's happened? 

The plan now, approved in an historic 7-4 vote by Senate Finance under new Chairman George Munoz, is to appropriate 1.25 percent of the fund annually not only for early childhood but also for K- thru 12, with an emphasis on funding for at risk students, mostly of color. That amounts to over $210 million annually, potentially game-changing dollars for our state's future. 

The constitutional amendment gets to the Senate floor for the first time today after handily passing the House. Advocates will be glued to their zoom screens to watch the debate. We understand if John Arthur decides today is a good day for a long nap.


Was Ryan Flynn, president and CEO of the New Mexico Oil and Gas Association, tossed overboard because he tried to help out the re-election bid of then southern Dem Congresswoman Xochitl Torres Small? It appears so. 

Flynn tendered his resignation from NMOGA, arguably the most powerful trade group in the state, effective at week's end. As he headed for the exits he said it was "an honor to represent the organization over the past five historic, record-shattering years for our industry." But he did not announce another job and said that he was leaving for "personal reasons."

But the personal appears to be political.

Flynn ignited a firestorm in oil country and in the NMGOP last August when he publicly defended Rep. Torres Small as she faced Republican Yvette Herell in the 2020 election. That defense jolted oil executives who called for his resignation as did GOP Chairman Steve Pearce and top legislative Republicans who demanded Flynn's ouster in an op-ed. This was the statement from Flynn that sent them over the top:

Throughout her first term in Congress, (Torres Small) has been a strong advocate for our state’s energy interests and responsible production and has stood up to those in her party who want to completely ban fracking,

Flynn ducked for cover but the damage was done. The former environment secretary for Gov. Martinez was on his last legs. 

Flynn turned in a solid performance promoting oil and gas and its importance to the state's financial health during incredible bull and bear market cycles. But when he went deep into Dem territory he crossed his bosses. For the oil boys that was as painful as watching an oil price crash. La Politica claimed another victim and Ryan Flynn is now polishing his résumé. (He says he will not be running for political office.)


Deb Haaland is going to miss serving in the US House. Five minutes into her six minute farewell speech the ABQ Dem congresswoman choked up as as she told the chamber:

I will miss all of you dearly.

She also said: 

Growing up, Native women rarely held federal leadership positions and now little girls everywhere will know that they can run for Congress and win and that this country holds promise for everyone. . .

Those little girls now also know that they can become Secretary of Interior, the position that Haaland will assume today after taking the oath of office.

As for the special election, the SOS announced Monday afternoon that it will be held Tuesday, June 1.

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Tuesday, March 16, 2021

Just about There: Deb Haaland Set To Resign Congressional Seat And Become Historic Cabinet Secretary; Race To Replace Her About To Get Real, Plus: A Power Play Over Power  

Deb Haaland
She's just about there. 

Rep. Deb Haaland, who made history Monday as she became the first Native American confirmed by the US Senate to be Secretary of Interior, is set to resign her congressional seat this afternoon and be sworn in Wednesday.

That's the word from her congressional office which despite Haaland's resignation will continue to operate under the supervision of the Office of the House Clerk until her replacement is selected by voters at a special election expected in June. Her office says: 

Current employees stay. The office will continue to answer calls and help constituents.

In New Mexico, Native Americans were not even permitted to vote until 1948, after a court battle gave them that right. Seventy-three years later Deb Haaland is the first Native American cabinet secretary in US history. 

That's sweeping change in the span of one lifetime and reaffirms the greatness of the nation and the hope it continues to represent to the entire world. 

As the Senate voted 50-41 in the affirmative for Haaland's nomination, migrants continued to gather along the southern border in large numbers hoping for a shot at a new life. Perhaps some heard the news and thought: "If someone like Deb Haaland can have her dream come true, why can't I?"


Aubrey Dunn, Jr.
While Haaland's confirmation is being celebrated the race to succeed her is about to get very real.

Secretary of State Maggie Toulouse Oliver must call a special election within 10 days of the Haaland resignation becoming official. 

However, our sources report the SOS is expected to set the election date this week, following Haaland's resignation. Also, NM Dems are also expected announce  the date for the party's central committee members from the ABQ congressional district to meet and select a party nominee. State Republican Vice Chair Ali Ennenga said in a recent memo that the party will name a candidate within 48 hours of the congressional vacancy. 

Haaland's office says the resignation can't be official until the House is back in session this afternoon and her letter of resignation is read into the record. 

Whoever wins the special election will serve the remainder of Haaland's two year term that ends in 2022.

And it appears it won't only be nominees for the R, Dem and Libertarian parties who will be on that election ballot. 

Former GOP State Land Commissioner Aubrey Dunn, Jr. is intent on running as an independent. Speculation on the blog about Dunn getting out now that GOP State Senator Mark Moores is getting in the race was quickly shot down by Dunn's son, attorney Blair Dunn:

Just to make sure the record is clear, we have collected just under 6,000 petition signatures for my father. He will be up advertising again today with web and radio ads. He has no plans to exit the race regardless of who any new additions to the Republican list might be. 

Dunn needs 3,177 valid signatures to make the ballot and with nearly 6,000 already signed his odds look good. 

This presents a major headache for the GOP which is already a long shot to take back the heavy blue ABQ seat. Conservative Dunn is sure to take votes way from the R nominee as is the Libertarian contender. That leaves one liberal Dem and three vote splitting conservatives. 

But like Moores, Dunn may be looking at the bigger picture--garnering widespread publicity and keeping his name ID strong in case he makes a play for Governor in 2022. 

(Oldtimers will recall that his legendary father, Dem state Sen. Aubrey Dunn Sr. made a play for Guv in '82.)   


Republicans are upset that SB74 has bitten the dust. The bill would. . . 

Establish a limit of 45 days on any emergency public health order issued (by the Governor) when the Legislature is not in session. The Legislative Council Committee, which meets each month throughout the year, would have to give its approval for the order to be continued. The limit would be 14 days when the Legislature is in session. 

The legislation is level-headed, but one Roundhouse watcher said it had become too emotional and a referendum on MLG's actions during the pandemic. Better, they said, to take it up when the atmosphere is devoid of the heat of the moment.


We told you about four-year KOB-TV anchorman Steve Soliz heading for the exits. Now he reports on Twitter that he's signed up for a new gig in Seattle at KING-TV. That's a promotion. Recent Nielsen ratings rank Seattle as the 12th largest TV market in the nation and ABQ as #47. . .

And longtime KKOB radio news anchor Larry Moehlenbrink says it's time for retirement. The golden voiced newsman, 65, says he and his wife will soon move to Scottsdale, AZ where he may do some media work, but after decades of journalistic service will be leaving the daily grind. Another KKOB radio alumni, Larry Ahrens, also recently announced his move to Scottsdale. Two more and they'll have a foursome. 

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Monday, March 15, 2021

Final Week Of Session Is Here; Before The Congratulations, Ideas To Make This Session One Of The Most Meaningful, Plus: Sen, Mark Moores enters ABQ Congress Race; Will Fight "Progressives Radical Agenda"  

Senate Majority Leader Wirth
The final week of the 60 day legislative session is here which, like all others, will be followed by backslapping and self-congratulations among the 112 lawmakers and Governor. However, this year the tooting of each other's horns will have to be done virtually. 

What if the legislature jammed the final week with legislation that not only justified the mutual admiration society that we'll see when the session adjourns at noon Saturday, but actually put New Mexico on a transformative path to get out of the bottom of the barrel social condition rankings? What would that look like? Well, glad you asked. . . 

--The first order of business for the transformation is (surprise!) passage of the constitutional amendment to tap a small portion of the state's $22 billion land grant Permanent School Fund for very early childhood education--ages zero to five. That would generate at least $170 million a year and put some 4,000 social workers and educators into New Mexico households with young children. The home visiting component alone would reveal and correct abuse and learning problems that have led to the dysfunctional society we see play out daily in poor educational achievement, off the charts crime, domestic violence and the rest of the  bad stuff. (The amendment has passed the House and is pending in the Senate.) 

--Next order of business for the Big T (transformation, lest you forget) is to put an early end to that $320 million early childhood fund the legislature approved last year as a feeble effort to replace the substantial constitutional amendment. Take that $320 million and dedicate it to a new "Yazzie Fund" to tackle the specific problems cited in the landmark Yazzie lawsuit that led to a court finding that New Mexico is violating the state constitution by not meeting the education needs of public school students, especially "at risk students" who happen to be mainly youngsters of color. Put another $100 million into that fund from the state's overflowing reserves of $2.7 billion An early childhood education fund isn't needed if the constitutional amendment is approved.

---Speaking of the outsized reserves, appropriate $600 million from them immediately (grab your heart, David Abbey ) for a broadband expansion fund. Set aside $50 million or more of that fund to subsidize initial broadband service for lucky but low income households. (That's for you Sen. Ortiz y Pino). Also, bring back and amend the bill already passed that establishes a broadband office to coordinate current broadband efforts. Since so much groundwork has been laid but not been put into action, give the new office just 6 months to come with a comprehensive plan and then begin spending the appropriation which can be leveraged with federal resources for even more impact and get close to the $3 to $5 billion it will take to wire the state. (Kudos to Sen. Padilla and Senate Finance Chair Munoz for work on this. They just need to think bigger.)

Those three items would make the 2021 session one of the most productive and meaningful ever and make Senate Majority Leader Peter Wirth, who would have to shepherd the plans through, one of the most important legislative leaders in state history. (Hey, just in case anyone is interested.) 


Sen. Mark Moores
A GOP heavyweight is a late entrant in the race for the soon-to-be vacant ABQ congressional seat, and we've got the breaking news. 

ABQ GOP State Senator Mark Moores, who we reported last week was eyeing the race, late Sunday made it official in a message to Republican Central Committee members from the ABQ district who will name a nominee for the upcoming special election to replace ABQ Dem US Rep. Deb Haaland.

Moores, 50, sent his message to 135 committee members and it was forwarded to us by our Senior Alligators. The new contender says he will make his candidacy official today:

As a fellow SCC member, I believe it is critical you hear the news from me first. I plan to officially enter the contest. . .In the coming days I look forward to talking with each of you on why I believe I'm the best candidate for this important race. Together, we've fought against the progressives and their radical agenda for decades. Now I'm asking you to stand and fight with me one more time. . .As I write today I’m in Santa Fe fighting Michelle Lujan Grisham and the progressives during the last week of session. Please know I will be calling each of you.

The full message is here

Moores is a former UNM football standout who stands 6'7 and has been in the Senate since 2013. He will enter the race as the automatic frontrunner, jumping over less politically established candidates who include radio talk show host Eddy Aragon and onetime congressional hopeful Jared Vander Dussen.

While Moores is the odds-on favorite to get the GOP nod, he will still be the underdog against the Dem nominee. The ABQ district is deep blue. No R has been elected to the seat since 2006 and Moores is the only GOP Senator left representing ABQ. But as a congressional nominee Moores would receive invaluable publicity that could position him for a run for Guv in 2022, an office where the R's have a better chance of being competitive. 

In the factionalized NMGOP, Moores in the past has been more associated with the wing of current GOP Chairman Steve Pearce wing than the Gov. Martinez wing. Moores won his NE Heights Senate seat in '12 by defeating attorney Rob Doughty, a favorite of Martinez, who challenged Moores in the GOP primary that year while she was Governor. Martinez named Doughty to the racing commission as well as the UNM Regents. 

Haaland's resignation from the seat she was first elected to in 2018 could come quickly. She is expected to be confirmed as Sec. of Interior by the US Senate today and a vote could come around 3:30 p.m. ABQ time. 

When Haaland's resignation is official the SOS has ten days to set a date for a special election to fill out her term. The special is now expected in June. 

The central committee of the major parties---D, R and Libertarian--could have their nominees in place by early April.

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