Thursday, September 02, 2021

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

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

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

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

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


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

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

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


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

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

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


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

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


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

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

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

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

Reporting from Albuquerque, I'm Joe Monahan. 

Enjoy the holiday. 

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Wednesday, September 01, 2021

TV Weatherman Ronchetti; Go For A Rerun? After A Losing Senate Bid Sources Say He Weighs Guv's Race; Would Be Joining Crowded GOP Field For Right To Take On MLG 

Mark Ronchetti for Governor? Yes, according to senior sources. 

They inform that the TV weatherman, who ran unsuccessfully for a US Senate seat in 2020, is thinking about seeking the 2022 GOP gubernatorial nomination and if he is a go could announce "in several weeks."

A Ronchetti entry would grow the Republican field to eight contenders and would come as Dem Guv Michelle Lujan Grisham's approval rating slips below the key 50 percent mark--at 46 percent in the most recent PPP poll--a Dem oriented firm.

ABQ crime, the economic shutdown and the ongoing Covid crisis are among the causes of the Guv's mixed polling.

Ronchetti was defeated by Ben Ray Lujan for the Senate by a margin of 6.1 points in a three way race. Lujan--51.7; Ronchetti--45.6; Libertarian Walsh--2.6 percent.

His supporters will spin that he came close and that in an off year election with lower turnout, he would have a better shot at victory even though no New Mexico governor has lost re-election since 1994. They think an off year election where the party in power--the Dems--will be weak--but then every governor election is held in an off-year. 

Detractors will argue that he had his chance and that the election would simply be a rerun of his loss to Lujan. That senate loss, they say, took some luster off of the veteran forecaster and he has lost the advantage of positioning himself as a new outsider representing a breath of fresh air, instead of a run of the mill Republican in a party that is highly unpopular in blue New Mexico.

Still, Ronchetti beat expectations when it came to raising money for that senate campaign and proved to be an able debater and that has to worry his competitors. 

If Ronchetti, 47, gets in it's a sure bet that Jay McCleskey, the controversial GOP political and media consultant who handled Susan Martinez's Guv campaigns including her 2010 win, will be front and center as he was in Ronchetti's senate run. The consultant stands to rake in a financial windfall--win or lose. Already Dems are saying Ronchetti is woefully unqualified and is being "seduced" by McCleskey to get in the race. 


Ronchetti's tenure as the chief meteorologist for KRQE-TV, the ABQ CBS affiliate where he has been since 2006, will be eyed.

The station hired Ronchetti back after his failed senate run which brought this criticism from a journalism group:

The rehiring, the SPJ said, “should raise red flags for anyone worried about political influence in newsrooms.” It further noted that “throughout his campaign, Ronchetti proudly stated, ‘I stand with President (Donald) Trump.’ ” Ronchetti responded: “Have we gotten to a point in this country where you can’t step aside and say, ” ‘Hey, I want to try and help in the world of politics,’ and if it doesn’t work out then you’re done, and you don’t have a right to come back and earn a living?"

The question now for KRQE manager Bill Anderson is whether he has cut another deal with Ronchetti that would allow him to make a risk free run and return to his day job if he loses again. It's an ethical question for him and Nexstar, the media giant that owns KRQE. Critics argue the station is licensed by the FCC to serve the public interest, not as a Republican bullpen for potential GOP candidates and will want Anderson and Nextstar to disclose their intentions. 

While that insider issue plays out, Ronchetti's name ID remains a big boost for the June primary and would put him in a good starting position. 

T or C State Rep. Rebecca Dow, financial consultant Greg Zanetti and Sandoval County Commissioner Jay Block are the other top tier names for the GOP nomination. 

Dow has seasoned Sen. Ted Cruz consultants on her team so she will fight hard. Zanetti has experience and Block is a solid Trumper while Ronchetti is not. (The other GOP candidates are Louie Sanchez, Tim Walsh, Karen Bedonie and Ethel Maharg.)

"With a Ronchetti entry, it looks like a free for all," opined a Senior GOP Alligator. 

While the R's get ready to sort themselves out, MLG will work to steady her ship. She's already running pro-choice Facebook ads to keep her base intact. And she has an oil and gas boom that will help her with the economy. But these are unsteady times and no free rides come with that. 

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Tuesday, August 31, 2021

No Backdown; Clerk Sets Redo Hearing On Denying Gonzales Over $600K In Public Financing, Plus: Alligator Strike On APD Chief And More About Susana's Job 

Ethan Watson
No backdown. Manny Gonzales is going back before the City Clerk Wednesday with over $600,000 in public financing for his mayoral campaign hanging by a thread. 

Supporters of the Sheriff were hoping that a district court ruling last week that said he had been denied due process when the city clerk denied him the taxpayer money would cause the clerk to back off and release the funds. Instead Clerk Ethan Watson, an attorney appointed to his post by Mayor Keller and confirmed by the City Council, took Judge Bryan Biedscheid up on his offer to have another hearing that was not legally faulty to determine whether Gonzales' campaign committed signature fraud. 

Watson released this statement shortly after the 5 p.m. court deadline signaling his intentions: 

Following the District Court ruling last week, I have elected to afford Sheriff Gonzales a hearing during which he can address the matters related to whether he met the requirements to be certified for public financing. That hearing will be held Wednesday morning, and I provided Mr. Gonzales the attached notice to ensure he understands the issues that will bear on my decision. The meeting can be viewed on GovTV. I will make my decision on whether to certify Mr. Gonzales by the end of the day on Friday.  

Watson said the hearing will being at 9 a.m. Wednesday at the city council chambers. The Clerk's full statement on the hearing and his case against Gonzales is here

The Sheriff’s boosters are going to have to prepare for the worst. 

One way to soften the blow of losing public financing would be to have big private donors who are currently giving to the outside committee supporting Gonzales--Save Our City PAC--also donate to Gonzales' campaign. At last report that committee had raised nearly $200,000.

Under city regulations individual donations to the Gonzales campaign would be limited to $6,250. The outside committees supporting Gonzales and Mayor Tim Keller can accept unlimited amounts. 

Gonzales is fighting a two front war--with Keller and also radio talk host Eddy Aragon, the only Republican on the ballot and who is eating into Gonzales' conservative and Hispanic support. 

The Sheriff's forces are now contemplating legal challenges of Aragon, including one concerning his legal residency and another about the use of his radio station as a financial platform for his candidacy. 

If they could succeed in removing Aragon from the ballot, they see the Sheriff's chances of prevailing in a first round victory increasing. If no candidate gets 50 percent of the vote November 2 a run-off election would be held in December. A three way race obviously makes a run-off more likely. 


Chief Medina
They've appeared to bury the hatchet in public recently but there still appears to be unresolved tension between APD Chief Harold Medina and BernCo District Attorney Raul Torrez. In a leaked audio clip Medina is heard joking with a group of apparent law enforcement buddies, remarking:

Raul doesn't charge nobody. He doesn't charge criminals, much less anyone else. 

The chief's comment is greeted with raucous laughter by those in the room. It's unknown when the comments were made. 

Torrez is seeking the Dem nomination for attorney general next year and is running against State Auditor Brian Colón. 

As for the Chief, you've just been the victim of an Alligator Strike. Congrats. . .or something.  


The naming of former Gov. Susana Martinez to a slot on the board of directors of the nonprofit Daniels Fund with an annual stipend of $50,000 brought out her detractors, many of whom suffered at her hands when she held power. Among them is Brent Eastwood:

The new so-called “job” that Susana Martinez has is a joke. She got it from a crony. Martinez was never qualified to be governor in the first place. Martinez has been unemployed so long because she lacks private-sector experience, integrity, intelligence, and know-how. She never understood the 21st century economy. She has a terrible moral compass and is corrupt. Martinez has numerous character and personality flaws. She is an adulteress and substance abuser and this played out in public for the world to see. She never governed as a conservative. She is a RINO and former Democrat who was an early and enthusiastic supporter of Obamacare. She believed in big government “solutions” and she was weak on the border. She is also a never-Trumper who then hypocritically begged Trump for a job. Martinez destroyed the New Mexico Republican Party. We can only hope and pray she stays out of government and politics. 

Martinez has mostly withdrawn from public life since leaving the Guv's office at the end of 2018. 

We wrote in that Martinez blog: "Never mind that Skandera and Martinez, 62, were notorious for fighting with the public schools and teachers unions and favoring charter and private schools over their public counterparts.”

Former State Rep. Bob Perls writes that we mischaracterized charter schools:  

Hi Joe, I had a strong reaction to your characterization of “favoring charter and private schools over their public school counterparts”.  Charter schools are public schools.  Full stop.  No ifs and or buts.  Especially in NM with our limited charter school laws, there are no corporate charter schools, teachers have to be certified as do administrators and all schools must take all applicants up to a ceiling.  Other states have come loosey goosey charter school laws that might make a few appear to be more like private schools, but in NM all students are admitted on a lottery system to a public school open to all.  In fact, the only difference between a NM charter public school and a mainstream public school is that the teachers actually have input into how the school is run and managed with our public charter schools.  

Bob Perls, 
Author of the original NM Charter School Co-Founder, Public Academy For Performing Arts

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Monday, August 30, 2021

Boom! The Bull Is Back; Get Your Wish List Out; Huge State Revenue Surge Forecast; Records Fall As Billions Pour In; Fed Aid Adds To Treasure Trove, Plus: Manny's Money In Limbo And Deb Haaland Gets Hitched 

Get your wish list out. The bull market is back with fierce force. 

An off the charts increase in state revenue growth is now forecast, thanks to a consumer revival and the back to business boom in the oil fields of SE New Mexico. 

Astounding sums are accumulating and if the state's leadership can lay down some markers, we could finally see progress in the social conditions categories where we have languished for generations. Or we could put the money under the mattresses and miss the opportunity of the century even with surpluses already at historic levels.

General fund receipts are forecast to hit a record-setting $8.8 billion, making for a surplus of $1.4 billion over the current budget of $7.4 billion. Then there's that $1.75 billion in federal pandemic money that MLG and the legislature are arguing about but will eventually be spent. Add in a $335 million windfall for the new early childhood trust fund.

The largesse is so overwhelming that you wonder how the Governor can hold back a progressive agenda that now has the money and only lacks leadership to see it through. The Governor's agenda for the next legislative session could easily include:

--Finally financing a complete investment in detox facilities for opioids, alcohol and meth. Beds everywhere needed and in the number they're needed. That's a direct hit on the state's soaring rate of drug deaths and addiction (2020 saw another all-time high in overdoses) as well as on the drug induced crime epidemic haunting the state. A call to arms on detox, rehab and early intervention would extinguish once and for all the plaintive cries that we "lack resources" to fight this plague.

---Broadband now. The last legislative session saw $133 million go to broadband expansion. Now that amount can easily be doubled--or more. The problem? Leadership. The state still lacks agency and private sector coordination as well as a timeline for progress. Only a Governor can supply that leadership and the silence remains deafening. If she can't get it going then legislators should move to have the state start building broadband on its own as has been done elsewhere. 

--The Department of Yazzie. Well, it might not be called that but MLG and lawmakers could develop an entirely separate budget to comply with the landmark Yazzie lawsuit. That suit found New Mexico violating the constitutional requirement that it provide a solid education to everyone, including low income people of color who are continually left behind. The Governor and legislature have been slow-walking the enactment of Yazzie standards clearly laid out by the court. They no longer have money as their excuse. 

Items that suddenly look less daunting include reducing the regressive state gross receipts tax; eliminating tax pyramiding; hiring an additional 1,000 state police officers; salary increases for critical positions such as CYFD caseworkers and drug rehab specialists. 


The Governor and Democratic majorities in the House and Senate earned a B grade their first three years. But now "A" is the standard by virtue of this financial fortune. New and old programs that require money annually now have it.

At least $1.5 billion is forecast to flow into an already robust "Rainy Day Fund." That can be tapped in the event of a decline in future state revenues. Another excuse knocked down. 

Effective management is, however, essential. The administration needs to bring on board heavy hitters with experience and stop the cabinet's musical chairs. And beef up the Fourth Floor staff with some names that signal gravitas. And the LFC needs to dilute its stingy DNA and emphasize responsible plans for spending, not hoarding.

Finally, about that second gubernatorial term. What exactly is the plan?


Sheriff Manny got a reprieve but his Waterloo still lurks. That's the takeaway from the decision of District Court Judge Bryan Biedscheid Friday as he kicked the ball out of his court and back to the ABQ city clerk over whether Gonzales will qualify for a crucial $600,000 of public financing for his mayoral campaign coffers. 

Biedscheid ruled that Manny did not get "due process" from the city clerk when he was denied public financing after his campaign was found to have submitted fraudulent donations to qualify for that financing.

The judge ordered Clerk Ethan Watson to redo the process or release the financing. Watson has until Friday to complete that redo, if he opts to do it. City Hall insiders think the clerk has the weight of the evidence on his side and that in a redo Gonzales still stands a good chance of being denied. Gonzales fired this salvo at Keller as the clerk weighed his next move: 

The Keller campaign is taking shamelessness to a whole new level by asking the Clerk to once again deny us funding, even after losing in court! There’s a big reason why. Tim Keller knows he can’t run on his record. Crime and homelessness are out of control. Keller and his clerk know that the only way he can win this election is to deny us funding in the hopes that voters will never hear the truth and learn about my vision for the future. To put it bluntly, these two elitist politicians are arrogantly trying to disenfranchise voters. . .

Keller's campaign stuck to their guns:

The mounting evidence against Manny Gonzales should keep $660,000 of taxpayer money from him.

If the case does go against him even an undernourished and underdog Gonzales can be expected to stay standing, not by the exemplary campaign he is running, but because of the city crime crisis Mayor Keller continues to grapple with. 

There is one thing the sheriff can't buy and that's the time lost to the quarreling over campaign money. The topic makes most voter eyes glaze over just as he needs those eyes laser-focused on the sky high homicide numbers.

Meanwhile, radio talker Eddy Aragon says he has raised $34,000 from his listeners for his mayoral effort. 

Aragon also announced that he has nine fundraisers scheduled at which the minimum take is expected to be $5,000 per event. 

Mayor Keller has qualified for the $600,000 plus in public financing.


Deb Haaland and Skip Sayre didn't have to wait long for a good omen to appear on their wedding day Saturday. A rainbow graced the skies at Hyatt Tamaya, the luxury resort at Santa Ana Pueblo near Bernalillo where the couple tied the knot. The newlyweds sported big smiles as they happily posed in front of the natural wonder. 

Not surprisingly the couple were feted by numerous politicos including US Senator Elizabeth Warren and Native American Congresswoman Sharice Davids of Kansas. 

Locals at the celebration included US Senator Ben Ray Lujan, US Rep. Teresa Leger Fernandez, Mayor Tim Keller, Dem Party Chair Jessica Velasquez, state House Speaker Brian Egolf and State Auditor Brian Colón.

Haaland, 60, is a former ABQ congresswoman who was appointed the first Native American Secretary of Interior this year by President Biden. Sayre, in his 60's, heads up marketing and sales for New Mexico's Laguna Development Corporation which includes the Route 66 Casino. Haaland is an enrolled member of Laguna Pueblo. 

Haaland and Sayre were united in marriage by their friend Rob Kurz, a businessman and pastor who received his doctorate in ministry from Denver Seminary.

Haaland's wedding dress was designed and sewn by her sister.

The couple travel often as part of Secretary Haaland's duties. When they're not on the road they can be found at their homes in DC and Los Ranchos. 

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