Thursday, July 22, 2021

Time For Another Edition Of Reader Vox Populi; Readers Write Of City Election, Keeping Campaign Staff Honest, Cops And Crime And AG Woes 

It's been a while but the always popular Reader Vox Populi is back. Let's kick it off with this interesting take on campaign staff stemming from those forged signatures found on the forms for the Manny Gonzales mayoral campaign to qualify for $661,000 in public financing. From a Santa Fe reader:

Time and again campaign staff cut corners but have no professional organization or ethics rules to contend with. We really need the legislature to consider putting campaign staff under the ethics commission with the ability to fine or suspend them from being paid as consultants. And we need to tighten the Hatch Act that keeps federal employees out of campaigns. 

One congressional staffer here skirted rules on district directors by consulting local campaigns until they finally clamped down this year. And a state employee ran an independent committee against House Speaker Brian Egolf while being paid as a land commission staffer. Campaign staff could do with an ethics overhaul.

We pointed out that this will be the first time since ABQ adopted the mayor form of government in 1974 that there will be no Republican mayoral candidate on the ballot. To which we get this sharp retort from John Rey:
Hello Joe, What do you call Manny Gonzales? Anyone who hires Republican consultant Jay McCleskey, as Manny did, is a Republican. They are all wolves in sheep’s clothing. Elections have become nothing more than a money grab and Movida handouts! 


Reader Alicia Hicks writes: 

Hey Joe, I was reading that the murder rate increase is nationwide, according to the FBI, not just an Albuquerque thing. However, APD is getting the reputation for not being as vigilant as they were before. I’m seeing a number of people posting on inaction when calls are made to APD or an air of nonchalance about the issue involved. It’s almost like they are sulking about something.

Reader Don Miller takes on the ABQ crime crisis:

There appears to be consensus that at least a part of the solution is to increase the number of sworn police officers. I took a look at annual budgets for APD to ascertain the rate of increase of sworn police officers. 

In FY 2007 the city budget states that "the sworn police force continues to be funded at 1,100 officers.” The FY 2022 budget states: “The proposed FY/22 General Fund civilian count is 592 and sworn count is 1,100” Over the same period, the Department budget increased from $130.5 million to $223.4 million, a little over 71%, and full time employees increased from 1,529 to 1,706, a little over 11%. Last I heard, the number of sworn police officers is still below 1,100. My simple question is, why has the number of sworn police officers not increased for at least 17 years while their budget has increased by 71%? 

For one thing, Don, city police have been given large pay hikes over the years, the most recent as the result of an increase in the city's gross receipts tax. 


A retired ABQ attorney writes of our Wednesday blog on Attorney General Hector Balderas: 

Joe, That was quite a post on your blog about our AG. You declared him dead and went ahead and buried him while the body was still warm. I am not quite ready to declare him deceased, although he clearly has sustained a wound. Remains to be seen how serious the wound is, but you aren't even waiting to finish him off. Quite interesting reading. 

Thanks for that but this isn’t our first rodeo. We know when a rider has been tossed from the bull.

Dan Klein comes with this on the same topic:

Great blog. You put it all back together with former APD Chief Ray Schultz and Taser. Had AG  Balderas acted on Schultz back then, APD would not be in the mess it is today. We never needed the DOJ, what we needed was for Balderas and Mayor RJ Berry to do their jobs, which they both failed to do. Balderas because he was too connected to Schultz and Berry because he was a bumbler. Which brings me to 2021 and why we str still waiting for the State Auditor and Attorney General to announce something regarding their investigations into APD overtime and payroll issues? Colon passed the investigation to Balderas for criminal issues that his office discovered. Colon’s office has been auditing APD for months and yet both the Auditor and Attorney General are silent on what they have found. 

Klein says he has had recent contact with Auditor Colon and his office tells him their report on APD overtime abuses will be released "soon.”


An ABQ reader writes: 

 Hi Joe, I'm a fan and avid reader of the blog. I understand (Bernalillo County District Attorney) Torrez branded himself as a progressive and apparently has that image. I would encourage you to speak with sources within the judiciary and public defender's office to ascertain whether he has done one progressive thing since being elected 5 years ago. And, the corollary question, has he done things that indicate he is not progressive. I'm not weighing in on the AG run, there are very good reasons why neither of the two Democratic gentlemen is upstanding and worthy of our trust. I'm simply saying Raul Torrez and progressive is a complete misnomer. Perhaps you can put out a call for a seasoned AG candidate with high integrity. 

Thanks for the insights. We welcome your comments, criticisms and plaintive cries of existential angst at the usual email address. 

Reporting from ABQ, I am Joe Monahan and. . . 

This is the home of New Mexico politics. 

E-mail your news and comments. (newsguy@yahoo.com)

Interested in reaching New Mexico's most informed audience? Advertise here.  


Wednesday, July 21, 2021

A Sad And Unseemly End For Once Rising Political Star Hector Balderas; Exposé Of Money Connections In PNM-Avangrid Merger Sends AG To A Final Fall 

Attorney General Balderas
It's a sad and unseemly ending for Attorney General Hector Balderas, a once rising political star who has been taken down by progressives after being exposed for appearing to sell out his office to a law school buddy and his politically connected powerhouse law firm. 

Balderas, 47, is term limited when he finishes his second four year term next year and did not have any known plans of seeking another office, but there will be no resurrection at a later date, not after the sharp nails placed in his political coffin.

The end came when the aforementioned progressives were enraged over Balderas backing off from setting tougher conditions for Avangrid's proposed merger with PNM. 

PNM is the state's largest utility and the merger is under consideration at the Public Regulation Commission. Avangrid is owned by the Spanish corporation Iberdrola.

That's where Marcus Rael, Jr. of the politically connected law firm Robles, Rael & Anaya comes in to what is an ugly picture. Besides graduating together from UNM Law in 2001, Rael and Balderas briefly practiced law together. 

The facts:

--Iberdrola hired Rael in February, prior to a hearing with the Public Regulation Commission. Rael held 18 meetings at the Attorney General’s office between his hiring and April 5. For his services, Iberdrola paid him $400 an hour, almost double his regular rate with the attorney general’s office.

--Invoices and contracts from the attorney general’s office obtained by New Energy Economy and shared with Searchlight show more than $3 million in direct payments of fees and expenses to Robles, Rael & Anaya (since 2015). 

--On April 2, Balderas told the Journal that he had concerns about the merger’s lack of benefits for utility customers and worried about utility profits leaving the state. Experts for the state recommended massive changes, including doubling customers’ credits. . .Days after those recommendations were filed with the PRC, Rael paid one last visit to Balderas’ office. . . A few weeks later, Balderas signed onto a tentative merger deal that fell dramatically short of what expert witnesses had suggested — a pivot from his earlier critiques. 

--Robles, Rael & Anaya have donated more than $36,000 to Balderas since his first run for public office in 2005 — more contributions than from almost any other entity.

Robles, Rael & Anaya have a myriad of contracts with local governments in the state and this unmasking of its political connections is not the first.

In August of 2017, questions were raised on the blog about why Balderas had not pursued the scandal involving ABQ Police Chief Ray Schultz and his dealings with the Taser company. It appeared Schultz had rigged a city contract with APD and Taser. It was investigated by then State Auditor Tim Keller who in 2015 forwarded his report to Balderas for action. The AG never took any. From that blog:

Why, if he is so intent on fighting for the taxpayers, has he yet to do anything with the corruption investigation involving former APD Chief Ray Schultz and his dealings with Taser? It has been a couple of years since Auditor Keller dumped his damning investigation into Hector's lap which said it appeared ABQ's purchase of Taser's products was rigged by Schultz and perhaps others.

Current State Auditor Brian Colón, a best friend of Balderas, was employed at Robles, Rael and Anaya which was defending Schultz at the time of the scandal, furthering the criticism of Balderas that he was being swayed to not pursue the charges by Marcus Rael and also Colón. When he ran for mayor in 2017 Colón said he did no work on city of ABQ contracts while at the firm.


The Schultz case was an epic moment in city and state political history. Why? Because if AG Balderas had busted open the corruption at APD it could have made way for a new culture to take hold and with it a new approach to the crime crisis. Today we have the same change resistant culture and a historic crime wave to boot. 

After that Balderas boasted of taking down corrupt actors state Senator Phil Griego and Sec. of State Dianna Duran but Duran was a gambling addict, a Republican and easy pickings. Ditto for the bumbling Griego who misused his Senate office by rigging a real estate deal. 

The walk the AG took on Avangrid is also of historic proportions, involving future millions in profits and utility bills. Unlike Taser, Balderas has been called to account. 

With an affable and humble public persona, Balderas, who grew up dirt poor in Wagon Mound, turned into one of the state's most popular political figures. He was elected State Auditor in 2006 after Auditor Jeff Armijo fell victim to a scandal and resigned. The Dem Party named Balderas the nominee. Balderas won election that year, was re-elected in 2010 and in 2014 it was off to the attorney general's office for two terms 

In between he challenged Dem US Senator Martin Heinrich in the 2012 primary but never attacked Heinrich. He lost but maintained his viability. He then toyed with running for Governor in 2018 but backed off in the face of a strong candidacy from MLG.

Now the last entry on his political resume has been made. It's sad and somewhat tragic. Young, smart, native New Mexican men who connect widely don't often seek political careers and they are the potential agents of change the state needs to reverse its poor standings. 

Hector Balderas rode high and mighty and then crashed and burned. He isn't the first to make that trip but that doesn't make it easier for the hundreds of thousands who placed their faith in him to witness the wreckage.


 Colón And Balderas
The downfall of Balderas is a blow to his BFF Colón, 50, who is now seeking the Democratic nomination for attorney general in 2022. His main rival is Bernalillo County District Attorney Raul Torrez, a favorite of mostly progressives, while Colón is more at home with the moderate Dems who are now outnumbered in the primary. Colón's association with Rael is bound to be a sore point after the progressive takedown of the AG, making it that much more difficult to defeat Torrez. 

Not that the DA doesn't have financial connections that Colón could turn against him, namely that $107,000 in support a committee backing him received from progressive billionaire George Soros when he first ran for DA in 2016. A number of progressives are not happy with Torrez carrying the progressive label, saying he has turned his back on them.


With Balderas, the chief consumer advocate for utility ratepayers sidelined, the PNM merger deserves even more scrutiny by the Public Regulation Commission. New Energy Economy, which promotes renewables, has been holding Avangrid's feet to the fire while the company conducts an expensive advertising onslaught to convince the public of the merger's merits. After what happened to the AG following the money of all those involved in the deal will be a must. 


When we finished the first draft of the blog Tuesday the question of Sheriff Manny Gonzales would appeal the city ruling denying him public financing was still unanswered. Later it was announced Gonzales will appeal the denial to district court. More on the updated Tuesday blog. . . 

Notable public official Herb Hughes died at the age of 90 this month. He was a Republican who served on the ABQ city council as well as top positions in state government. 

This is the home of New Mexico politics. 

E-mail your news and comments. (newsguy@yahoo.com)

Interested in reaching New Mexico's most informed audience? Advertise here.  


Tuesday, July 20, 2021

Gonzales To Appeal Decision As City Reaffirms Rejection of Taxpayer Campaign Funds; Insiders Gauge His Chances Of Getting Private Cash, Plus: Senators Cervantes And Candelaria Make Headlines; Political Consequences?  

Word arrived after we published that Gonzales will indeed appeal the city's denial of public financing of his campaign to district court:

We are not surprised that the hearing officer handpicked by Keller’s city clerk rubber-stamped the decision made by the city clerk. We will be appealing to district court, which is where we always believed this will ultimately be decided,” the Gonzales campaign said.

Manny Gonzales held his fire in the immediate aftermath of a city hearing officer's ruling that upheld the denial of $661,000 in public financing for his mayoral campaign. The BernCo sheriff did not say whether he would take the avenue of last resort--an appeal to district court--to gain the funding that could be critical to his hopes to upset Mayor Tim Keller at the Nov. 2 election. 

An appeal would present opportunity but also legal treachery. Top campaign aides would have to explain under oath how no crime was committed even though the campaign admits some voter donation signatures were forged to get Gonzales enough of the $5 contributions to qualify for public financing.

Supporters of Gonzales were maintaining that even if he ends up not getting the public money, he could still raise enough private cash to be competitive with Keller. Former GOP BernCo County Commissioner Michael Wiener asserted:

There is plenty of money to be raised. The anger level over crime and the direction of the city is also there. I think Manny could tap into that. Raising $500,000 is not out of the question, even though there is the issue of time hanging over his head.

An outside committee supporting Gonzales this month reported $85,000 in cash on hand while one supporting Keller had about $18,000. 

Still, the city's decision to deny him public financing and the Gonzales campaign admission of forgeries have taken their toll. A Senior Alligator contemplating events said;

Gonzales commits forgery and then says he's the guy to fight crime? The optics don't match. I think it's enough to finish him off. 

There's no public polling yet to back up the various opinions on the state of the race. Meanwhile, the city awaits Gonzales' next move.


We checked in with state elections expert and ABQ Dem State Senator Daniel Ivey-Soto to get a clear picture on that proposal outlined here to have the ABQ Inspector General take over the verification of public finance donations for mayor and city council candidates in light of the mess that has occurred this election 

Ivey Soto says the city has purview over the finance system and "can do  anything it wants." However the county clerk has purview over the nominating petitions for city candidates and the city can't change that. 

The problem is not with the nominating petitions but with the $5 individual donations and accompanying signatures to qualify for public financing--over $660,000 for a mayoral canadiate and in the neighborhood of $40,000 for city council contenders. 

Beefing up the check of the donations is seen by political pros as a step to preserve the integrity and confidence of public financing. Following the Nov. 2 election would be the time to begin a debate at the city council. 


State Senator Joe Cervantes is a moderate Democrat who has upset the newly empowered progressives at the legislature. But his denial of communion by the Archbishop of Las Cruces may have a political benefit for the chairman of the Senate Judiciary Committee. We asked a Santa Fe Wall-Leaner to explain:

Joe is resented by progressives for dragging his feet on legalized marijuana and other bills that went before his Judiciary Committee. There's been much talk of a progressive Dem primary challenger running against him when he comes up for re-election again in 2024. The national publicity that he generated for revealing he had been denied communion for supporting the repeal of an anti-abortion law at the last legislative session is drawing progressive eyes and he is getting favorable reviews for protesting his denial of communion. We'll have to wait and see if that helps him avoid a potential progressive primary challenge. But right now he may be making some hay.

And what about the latest outburst from ABQ Dem Senator Jacob Candelaria against Gov. Lujan Grisham, Senate Majority Leader Peter Wirth and Senate President Pro Tem Mimi Stewart? He attacks what he calls the "white progressive elite ambivalence" over queer people and people of color. The ABQ Westside lawmaker says other stuff as well that had reporter Daniel Chacon strapping on his muck boots and diving in. Let's call in another Senior Gator for their take:

Joe, Jacob has been attacking the Senate leadership and Governor repeatedly. There will have to be a price to pay or else the order in the chamber is going to be upended. Look for Pro Tem Stewart to take Jacob off of the powerful Senate Finance Committee if the antics continue.

Candelaria has resigned from the state senate Dem caucus. No comment from Wirth or Mimi over his latest tongue lashing. 


It's true. This will be the only mayoral election since the founding of ABQ's modern form of government in 1974 when there will be no Republican on the mayoral ballot. It's another sign of the near extinction of the party in Bernalillo County, even though is was only seven years ago--in 2014--that the city elected a GOP mayor. 

This is the home of New Mexico politics. 

E-mail your news and comments. (newsguy@yahoo.com)

Interested in reaching New Mexico's most informed audience? Advertise here.  


Monday, July 19, 2021

Keller-Gonzales Money Duel Prompts More Calls For Reform Of Finance System; Charges Of Forged Signatures And Fronting Donations Dominate Early Mayoral Sparring 

Gonzales and Keller
Can something good come out of the dog days of summer duel over public financing between Mayor Tim Keller and his challenger Sheriff Manny Gonzales? Well, perhaps it can be prevented from happening again, opine a number of City Hall watchers.

In addition to lowering the number of individual $5 donations required for a mayoral candidate to qualify for the financing, reformers are urging the city to adopt a more robust system to have those donations checked for accuracy and integrity. 

Both the Keller and Gonzales campaigns accuse one another of gaming the system, the Gonzales camp by forging signatures of donors and Keller's campaign by a union head giving $5 donations on behalf of some members. 

The solution? Activate an office every four years in the office of the city Inspector General to check the great majority of the $5 donations and accompanying signatures for authenticity. That takes the task away from the campaigns and the city clerk--a political appointee--whose required checks of signatures and donations are cursory at best. 

Reformers earlier proposed here lowering the number of donations required by the mayoral hopefuls to qualify for over $600,000 in public financing. They pointed out only six candidates (including Keller this year) have done so since 2009. That means candidates with well-oiled machines are the ones able to access public funds, the opposite of what was hoped for when taxpayer campaign funding began.

Currently 3,779 individual donations of $5 each are required but who knows how much cheating has been going on? Checks for authenticity largely depend on the campaigns. To end future imbroglios an office under the Inspector General could check donations and signatures as they come in and raise red flags when appropriate. They could make voter contacts to ensure donations are on the up and up.

The added expense to ensure that the public money is spent as intended would be minimal. The office could also inspect city council public donations every two years. Just establishing a separate check system would inhibit forgery and other issues with the donations as campaigns would know they were being closely monitored. 

The worry that easing the required donations for mayor could lead to a flood of candidates is also unfounded. A requirement of over 2,000 is still a high hurdle. 


As for the present day dispute, Gonzales' campaign owns up to forging some donor signatures but argues they were "mistakes" and he still has 3,779 valid donations even with the bad ones discounted.

A City Hearing Officer Tuesday will make the first determination on whether the decision by City Clerk Ethan Watson to disqualify Gonzales from public financing should stand. If he agrees, Gonzales is expected to appeal to a district court judge who could reinstate the sheriff's public funds, or not. 

The Keller campaign has asked the Inspector General to investigate the donor forgeries and he will make a report by Aug. 16.

We can't be sure that all 3,779 Gonzales donations are valid because no one--not the Keller camp or anyone else--has thoroughly checked each donation. Absent that check a judge could apply a broad standard to avoid infringing on the rights of those who did legitimately donate. 

As for the forgeries being unintentional mistakes, affidavits from the Keller campaign and an investigative news report show otherwise. The Gonzales counter complaint against Keller that a union head fronted donations doesn't stand up as much. The newspaper checked with several firefighters at the meeting where the alleged offense occurred and who the Gonzales camp says had donations made in their names. They all said they had given the $5 themselves. 

Public financing has been partially destroyed by the US Supreme Court allowing outside committees to collect unlimited amounts of money to support their favored mayoral candidates. It's worth preserving but public confidence can fade. An ABQ system riddled with opportunity for cheating is not one that can or should stand the test of time. 


It isn't only Sheriff Gonzales taking a public pasting over his campaign's mismanagement. His twenty something campaign manager, Megan McMillan, granddaughter of the late NM GOP icon Colin McMillan, and Michelle Martinez, an executive assistant to the Sheriff, could be in precarious positions if the District Attorney decides to pursue charges over the forgeries. Keller's campaign accuses them of being responsible for the bulk of the 149 forgeries they uncovered and that the forgeries are fourth degree felonies. McMillan's first campaign management outing was with the successful City Council campaign of Republican Brook Bassan. 

Gonzales' chief consultant, Republican Jay McCleskey, a controversial political figure who was Gov. Martinez's guru, has already been blasted by R's for signing on to the Dem sheriff's campaign. Now, while watching the campaign come apart over the donor controversy, he is in for more hits. "Jay is the only guy who could take a sheriff and make him a criminal," jabbed one of McCleskey's Republican rivals. If that's all the hurt McCleskey suffers from this messy mishap, he'll be most fortunate.


Judge Zamora
From the Guv's office: 

Gov. Lujan Grisham has appointed Briana H. Zamora of the New Mexico Court of Appeals to the state Supreme Court, closing the vacancy left by the Honorable Justice Barbara J. Vigil, who retired. “Judge Zamora is an experienced jurist of the highest caliber with the kind of incredible work ethic mandatory for those who would serve on our state’s highest court,” said MLG. 

Zamora, 47, is the daughter of former ABQ Dem State Sen. Bernadette Sanchez. 

Talk about getting away from it all. President Biden has named former NM Dem US Senator Tom Udall ambassador to New Zealand. That nation's tourism site says it's the place to make "new friends in small towns with big doses of laid-back charm." 

Udall will stay busy there warming up the nation's leaders to Washington. It's not the Sec. of Interior post he lobbied Biden for but certainly a nice, soft landing for the 73 year old. Just make sure someone sends some green chile to Wellington

This is the home of New Mexico politics. 

E-mail your news and comments. (newsguy@yahoo.com)

Interested in reaching New Mexico's most informed audience? Advertise here.  

website design by limwebdesign