Thursday, June 17, 2021

Lujan Finds Sea Legs In First Six Months As US Senator; Can He Match His Predecessors? Plus: Readers Opine On The Latest Political Doings  

Lujan at Los Alamos Labs (Facebook)
Six months into his six year term as a US Senator Ben Ray Lujan seems to be finding his sea legs. After serving six terms in the US House there was no need for training wheels. 

Lujan has been touted as the answer to the state's need for a senator who concentrates on bringing the bacon home in federally dependent New Mexico in the tradition of Senators Pete Domenici, Dennis Chavez, Clint Anderson and others. Recent activity by the freshman lawmaker as outlined by the specialty energy publication E&E gives a peek on the progress he's making on that front: 

Luján. . . has already shown his legislative chops by rallying support for attaching a bipartisan provision to recently passed innovation legislation that would direct $17 billion in new spending for DOE labs (including Sandia and Los Alamos) over five years. . . Lawmakers, policymakers and advocates say Luján has the intelligence, drive and, perhaps most importantly, pragmatic style that could allow him to find openings. . .They say the combination of his significant experience and relative youth — he turned 49 last week — could allow him to have an impact on energy issues for years to come, a career trajectory similar to former New Mexico stalwarts Sens. Pete Domenici (R) and Jeff Bingaman (D). "I think people recognize that he has that combination of policy smarts and an understanding of the politics of the situation. In order to get the policy right, you have to get the politics right," said Sen. Chris Van Hollen (D-Md.), a former House colleague of Luján.

Some argue the state's previous senate delegation was somewhat unbalanced with both Senators Tom Udall and Martin Heinrich experts in and passionate about environmental issues. Lujan is involved with those matters too, but being a more political animal his success as a senator will be by taking the well-worn path of the predecessors we mentioned. 

Heinrich's strength is the environment and renewable energy, topics on which he is building a national reputation. With New Mexico's vast public lands and potential to lead in renewables, there is plenty to keep him busy. 

Heinrich is also chairman of the Senate Appropriations Subcommittee on Military Construction so he too has a hand on the pan that fries the bacon.

All in all, the Lujan-Heinrich senatorial pairing appears to give New Mexico a broader brush in DC.


New Mexico R's received a lot of attention this week with the entry of Greg Zanetti into the 2022 race for the party's gubernatorial nomination. Now comes the Republican Governors Association PAC to try to soften up Dem Gov. MLG in the very early going. They come with this digital ad "exposing Governor Michelle Lujan Grisham's refusal to be held accountable for the multiple scandals engulfing her administration."


Former Corrales Mayor Philip Gasteyer writes of the swearing in this week of new ABQ Congresswoman Melanie Stansbury: 

Joe: No more bibles? I found it interesting that Rep. Stansbury took her oath of office with her hand on the Treaty of Guadalupe Hidalgo and the U.S. Constitution. I’m suggesting to the incumbent Corrales Mayor that she use the Alameda Land Grant and the N.M. Constitution when/if reelected next March. Keep up the great reporting. 


A Santa Fe insider comes with a heads-up:

FYI- The governor is pushing a rule change at the State Personnel Office to allow for payment of leave accrued by executive staff during the pandemic. The plan will cost $2.6 million and provide raises to around 1,000 employees (an average payout of $2,600). The employees receiving raises include some of the highest paid officials in government, from cabinet secretaries to governor’s office staff. Given the recent findings of the State Auditor on paying bonuses, it will be interesting to see if this stands. The issue will be heard by the Personnel Board on Friday.

A Guv spokeswoman comes with a response: 

. . . The measure is for all rank-and-file state employees who worked tirelessly on behalf of New Mexicans throughout the pandemic and were unable to take time off. The governor is deeply appreciative of their hard work and wants to make sure that they aren't punished for it, which is why this measure will enable those who carried over excess leave from last year due to being unable to take time off to recoup the value of the leave that they earned. To be clear, because clearly others will try to set an inflammatory and incorrect narrative about pay increases, these are not "raises.". . . 

This is intended to make whole all state employees who could not avail themselves of the benefits they were and are entitled to as employees. Additionally, DFA has run the numbers and confirmed that every agency is fully able to absorb the cost, requiring no additional funds. . . I emphasize this is not an increase in cost to anyone. This is about making sure that hardworking rank-and-file state employees don't lose out on the value of time off simply because they were working nonstop on behalf of the state 


It's North Dakota not South Dakota, as we blogged in a first draft, that New Mexico could soon pass to become the second largest oil producing state in the nation. . .

And more on lieutenant governor. In a first take we said that a Lt. Gov. in early statehood ascended to the governorship via appointment when the sitting governor died. We inferred that this was a one time occasion, but one of our history mavens comes with this: 

Actually, at least three New Mexico lieutenant governors became governor, including that one in the 1910s you mentioned, one after the death of Governor Seligman in the early 1930s, and Tom Bolack in late 1962 after Gov. Ed Mechem resigned to become US Senator, replacing Dennis Chavez.

However, no lieutenant governor has ever been elected Governor. But have a good weekend anyway, Howie. 

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Wednesday, June 16, 2021

Stealth Bull Market In Oil Confounds Santa Fe Bean Counters; Surplus Set To Explode Again, Plus: Photo Prompts Musing On What Might Have Been In Lt. Guv Contest 

A stealth bull market in oil prices has stunned the state's bean counters who never saw it coming. A barrel of oil is now fetching over $72 a barrel, a three year high that is stuffing Santa Fe's cash coffers. 

The latest forecast predicts a $350 million increase in state revenue, mostly attributable to the once again buzzing Permian Basin in SE NM. The state had already been carrying a surplus well north of $1 billion as a safety net for a possible drop in prices. The new money gusher is confounding the predictions of the Legislative Finance Committee (LFC).

New Mexico is now positioned to pass North Dakota to become the second biggest oil producer in the USA. Why?

Experts say that it’s cheaper to drill and complete oil wells in the Permian Basin, as compared to most other major fields. Moreover, there are certain parts of the shale play whose well-returns are the best in the U.S. This means that producers can make money and sustain growth there at the current price. According to estimates, the average breakeven prices in most of the Permian well locations is below $50 per barrel — the lowest in the United States.

New Mexico's dependence on oil revenue is not going anywhere. There's no way to replace the third of the state budget it funds. The challenge is how much money to put away for that next bear market and how much to risk in new and existing programs that could prove transformational for a state that ranks last or near last in key social conditions standings. The debate in Santa Fe remains one sided. It's always easier to put the cash under the mattress rather than tackle the stubborn and generational issues that have held us back. 

Just to mention two. Is there any reason with the kind of surplus money being generated that the state is not putting more than $133 million into expanding broadband in the next budget year when the need is several billion?

And is there any reason for the Governor and Legislature to bellyache over the repeated findings by the courts that the state is violating its own Constitution when it comes to providing fair and equitable public education? A poverty mentality has policymakers nibbling around the edges of these big issues, not an absence of resources.  


The committees new Dem US Rep. Melanie Stansbury has been named to are traditional for the ABQ  district but her comments on them offer a new wrinkle that emphasizes her progressive base: 

Stansbury received approval from the Democratic Caucus to serve on House Committee on Natural Resources and House Committee on Science, Space, and Technology. . . "I look forward to serving on the House Natural Resources and Science, Space, and Technology Committees to ensure New Mexico has a seat at the table as we work to create a more just, sustainable, and resilient future.”

Okay, but don't forget to bring the pork home, or at least help Ben Ray out.


Padilla & MLG (Journal; Moore)
Here's one of those "what might have been" pics, or maybe one of those "somebody done somebody wrong" songs.

That's ABQ Dem State Senator Michael Padilla backing up Gov. MLG as she announces that Padilla will examine the call center for the troubled Workforce Solutions Department. 

The snapshot took us back to December of 2017 when Padilla, a leading candidate for the Dem nomination for lieutenant governor, was forced out of the race by MLG. She was worried about sex harassment charges leveled against Padilla a decade previous while he was serving as a director of a city of ABQ call center. 

The city paid out $250,000. In one lawsuit a jury found against the city for subjecting one woman to a  “sexually hostile work environment.”

MLG called for Padilla to withdraw two weeks before he bowed out. It was the height of the Me Too movement and his candidacy in a Dem primary had become untenable, even if the charges were a decade old and not all that earth shaking. But the bad news wasn't over for Padilla. He was later unceremoniously dumped from his post as Senate Majority Whip, again because of the Me Too backlash.

Padilla was never rehabilitated to the point where he could seek statewide office but he has continued to busy himself from his South Valley Senate seat. In politics timing is everything. No one knows that better than Michael Padilla. 


State Sen. Howie Morales went on to win the 2018 Dem Lt. Governor nomination. He is expected to do so again next year. His tenure as Light Guv has been pedestrian. He has been given some responsibilities by MLG but no Governor really wants their #2 to shine and that has been the case with Morales. He is in the Guv's orbit but not her inner circle.

History says Morales' own climb up the ladder will get harder from here. If he is re-elected, the Guv's chair would be open in 2026 but competition for an open nomination would be keen. Then there's the fact that no lieutenant governor in state history has ever been elected governor.

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Tuesday, June 15, 2021

Herrell Doubles Down On Her Support Of Donald, Stansbury Takes Oath, Keller PAC Reports Fundraising And Zanetti Makes It A Trio For '22 GOP Guv Nod 

Like the weather, the political news got overheated Monday and your go to source has you covered. The temps hit over a hundred and we nearly hit 1,000 words. Off we go. . . 

Politically endangered southern NM Congresswoman Yvette Herrell is doubling down on her support of Donald Trump. 

The freshman lawmaker posted selfies on social media enjoying the ex-president's company, apparently at his Mar-a-Largo Florida outpost. 

Herrell said of her Thursday visit with Trump, who carried her district by ten points in the 2020 election:

A truly special day spending time with President Trump! He loves the people of New Mexico and isn’t done fighting for our country and the principles we believe in! 

The pics are sure to make northern and ABQ Dems more determined than ever to redraw the boundaries of Republican Herrell's district at the legislative redistricting session later this year. But Herrell isn't without cause to embrace Trump, who while winning the southern district, was getting aced by Biden elsewhere and lost NM 54 to 44. 

First, Herrell doesn't need a primary challenge from the Trumpistas next year. Her meeting with him puts that potential problem to rest. 

Second, Trump means campaign donations and Herrell will need plenty of those in the often competitive district. 

Third, Herrell can't control what the legislature does to her district. She has to play what is her strongest hand and right now that means plenty of handshaking with the Donald.


Meanwhile, the newest member of the state's five member congressional delegation, Dem Rep. Melanie Stansbury, gave her maiden speech to the US House Monday after taking the oath of office from House Speaker Nancy Pelosi. 

Her 90 second speech and the text is here

Video of the ceremonial swearing-in is here

Stansbury, 42, was elected in a landslide at a June 1 special election to fill out the term of Rep. Deb Haaland who was appointed Sec. of Interior. Stansbury now represents the ABQ area First Congressional District. 

In taking the ceremonial oath, Stansbury placed her hand on the US Constitution and also a copy of the Treaty of Guadalupe Hidalgo, the 1848 peace treaty between the US and Mexico that put half of New Mexico under US control. Her father, James Stansbury, held them in place. 

US Senators Martin Heinrich and Ben Ray Lujan, both of whom served the House, were on hand for the ceremony.

Stansbury's assigned office space is room 1421 in the Longworth House Office building (202) 225-6316. Her district office is in downtown ABQ at 100 Gold Ave. (505-346-6781). 


Manny Gonzales isn't the only mayoral candidate getting some wind in his sails from the big players in the ABQ real estate biz. The PAC supporting Mayor Tim Keller also tapped into the sector in their initial round of fund-raising for the November election. 

Build Back 'Burque reports raising $22,500, the lion's share of which came from the Garcia automative famous but who also are major stakeholders in downtown ABQ real estate. All told the family gave the PAC $15,000 or about two thirds of the total raised from May 4 thru June 7. Full report here

By law the these PAC's for the candidates must operate separately from the mayoral campaigns of Sheriff Gonzales and Keller. 

The city recently inked a deal with the Garcia family to lease a downtown building they own for a police substation. 

We reported Monday on how the Gonzales PAC--Save Our City--raised $69,000 in their initial fundraising. We wouldn't read too much into that big beat of Keller's committee but it does show that Gonzales, while the underdog in the race, is not going to get completely rolled over in the money race. 

Each candidate is expected to quality for $661,000 in public financing for their campaigns. (Keller already has).


Greg Zanetti
There is no shortage of candidates seeking the 2022 GOP gubernatorial nomination but there is a shortage of big names that would jolt the political community into sitting up straight and paying closer attention. 

That won't change with this week's entry into the race of financial consultant and retired NM National Guard Brigadier General Greg Zanetti who says:

Our economic development plan consists of casinos, weed, and personal injury attorneys. New Mexicans don’t feel safe. Crime is out of control and the potential for social unrest rises every day. Our education system is focused on politicians, bureaucrats, and administrators instead of students, parents, and teachers. We can do better and under real leadership, we will. . . We are not growing and thriving like neighboring states and that’s because. .. Michelle Lujan Grisham, has failed all of New Mexico. 

As would be expected, the state Dems did not have a very warm welcome for Zanetti's campaign launch:

Zanetti would enable armed extremists and conspiracy theorists: Zanetti publicly sympathized with armed, far-right militia groups in New Mexico, like those that led the January 6 Capitol Insurrection, calling them “really nice guys.” Zanetti would endanger religious freedom: During his unsuccessful run for Lieutenant Governor, Zanetti supported a Christian Theocracy, publicly endorsing the idea of turning New Mexico into “a theocracy with Christ at the head.”

Zanetti is smart, photogenic and more than lucid, but his name ID is limited to party insiders and his fundraising ability is an open question as it is for the two other announced GOP hopefuls--Sandoval County Commissioner Jay Block and Karen Bedonie. 

Nominating Zanetti could consolidate the GOP base. He has the ability to speak to both the Trump and non-Trump wings of the party but his very conservative profile (he says neither he or his wife will be vaccinated for Covid) would not pose a threat to MLG in the Rio Grande corridor where the votes of ABQ, Santa Fe and Las Cruces are such that even a well-known and well-financed Republican nominee would have their hands full. 

Still, there are now three contenders for the nomination with more likely to follow. That's something for the beleaguered GOP to be hopeful about. 

Now that's monster blogging, kids. Don't try it without adult supervision. 

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Monday, June 14, 2021

Chief Actor In "Crotchgate" Now Heads PAC To Elect Gonzales ABQ Mayor; First Money Report Shows Real Estate Heavyweights Backing Sheriff 

Hallinan & MLG
Major real estate interests are first in line to dole out cash to support BernCo Sheriff Manny Gonzales in his bid to defeat Mayor Tim Keller this November. 

According to the first money report from the pro-Gonzales Save Our City PAC, the committee has $59,000 in cash on hand and raised a total of $69,000 after the first weeks of fund-raising with the promise of more to come. 

Don't look for John and Jane Doe on that list. The significant donors are major ABQ real estate players. Like Jimmy Daskalos ($10,000), Titan Development ($10,000), Peterson Properties ($5,000) and business group Fresquez Concessions ($5,000). Full report here.

Reports for the PAC's, which operate separately from the candidates' campaigns, are due with the City Clerk today, including the Build Back 'Burque PAC which is supporting Keller.

And who is supervising the raising of all this moolah to back Manny? Well, none other than veteran Dem operative James Hallinan, fresh from months of making headlines over "Crotchgate" in which he accused then Guv candidate MLG of throwing water on his crotch and then grabbing him there. Hallinan, our reliable Alligators inform, is now the director of the Save Our City PAC hoping to unseat Keller.

The gig marks the return to the state political circuit of Hallinan, 38, who has been cashing checks totaling $62,500 from a lawsuit settlement with the MLG campaign over his sex harassment charges. There could be more coming his way but the Guv is mum:

“I was focused on the pandemic, and I'll stand by that decision every minute of every day," said Lujan Grisham, describing the decision to settle. . . The governor's office and campaign have declined to say whether further payment is still due to Hallinan. 

Gonzales is a conservative Dem who progressives shun. Hallinan has been most often associated with moderate Dems such as State Auditor Brian Colón and Attorney General Hector Balderas. In fact, Hallinan has been supportive of Trump. Sheriff Gonzales fielded criticism when he worked with the Trump administration to curb the city's crime rate. 

The Save our City PAC is headed by Sam Vigil, whose wife was a murder victim, and ABQ state Rep. Bill Rehm, a conservative Republican. Under city rules Gonzales can have no involvement in the PAC--known in city lingo as a "measure finance committee." 

The Dem sheriff, however, made a controversial hiring of his own when he signed longtime GOP operative Jay McCleskey as his lead campaign consultant. 

Both Keller and Gonzales will receive $661,000 in taxpayer money to run their campaigns. The PAC's can be expected to raise enough to make each contender a $1 million player. 

Our Alligators last week broke the news that Gonzales was on his way to qualifying for that public financing. That has been confirmed. According to the city clerk, the sheriff now needs only a couple hundred more $5 individual donations to make the cut. The deadline is this Friday. 


It bears repeating. A Democratic governor in Dem nominated NM is very difficult to topple. Dems don't like to vote for R Guv candidates. But when they do it is often prompted by corruption or allegations of corruption, so we get this

(MLG) on Friday announced overhauls aimed at helping the Department of Workforce Solutions better handle a barrage of pandemic-related unemployment benefit claims. The changes include a partnership with Attorney General Hector Balderas' office to crack down on rampant fraudulent jobless claims estimated to be as high as $133 million over the last year, as well as hiring an additional 110 employees to staff an unemployment operations center.

Workforce Solutions (aka the labor department) has been a dumping ground for political appointees for at least 50 years. The pandemic exposed its institutional failures and reforming it may be a beneficial side effect of the health crisis. For a Governor facing re-election, reform is now an imperative.  


Former ABQ Dem state Rep. Idalia Lechuga-Tena is the latest prominent Dem to pursue appointment to the vacant seat of State Rep. Melanie Stansbury who today will be sworn in as the state's newest member of Congress. 

The Bernalillo County Commission will make the appointment and is now taking applications: 

The commission will appoint a replacement. . . during a special meeting on Tuesday, June 22 at 4 p.m. The meeting will be held via Zoom. Nominations from interested individuals will be accepted until Friday, June 18 at 1 p.m. Applicants should submit a cover letter and résumé to the Bernalillo County Manager’s Office, Attention: Julie Morgas Baca, County Manager, Suite 10111, One Civic Plaza, NW, Albuquerque, NM, 87102 or via email to: manager@bernco.gov. District 28 is located here.

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