Thursday, November 18, 2021

Supremes Clip MLG's Wings; Legislature Is Dealt In On Uncle Sam's Pandemic Plan; Over A Billion In Play; Guv Takes Hit To Prestige And Political Standing, Plus: MLG Taps Ex-Mayor Chavez For Fed Infrastructure Rebuild 

Justice Thomson
MLG had her wings clipped by the NM Supreme Court Wednesday, losing a legal battle that was unnecessary and that will now cost her politically.

The blow to gubernatorial prestige was swift and unanimous as the five member court--all Democrats--ruled that Lujan Grisham did not have the sole power to appropriate over $1 billion in federal pandemic aid, that the job must be done by both the executive and the legislature. 

The Fourth Floor's legal challenge was so constitutionally lame that Justice David Thomson nearly ridiculed the Governor's intentions, saying:

I learned that in second grade — they (the legislature) control the purse-strings.

And Thomson is an MLG appointee. 

The Senate has a way of getting under the skin of every Governor. That's their role. But to take it to court and lose when compromise is sitting there like a cute dog waiting to be petted? 

The court suit was not only a major political miscalculation by the Governor but also delayed the roll out of those federal dollars while other states long ago divided up their share--for the good of their public. 

MLG still has not come with a plan for that $1 billion but neither have the group of state Senators that successfully brought the suit against her. 

Worry is growing that despite the historic influx of federal pandemic dollars and equally historic oil boom surpluses totaling in the billions that the state is going to end up right where it started when the newfound wealth is all spent. Senior Alligator analysis:

Joe, at this point the state needs to do something really big with this money. Something like taking $500 million and completely rebuilding the shattered behavioral health system. That would impact the long term crime and homeless issues. The fear is that dribbling out this money into current channels with no transformative planning is not going to move the needle. 

MLG has proven herself head strong and determined. Transformative? Not so much. 


 Ivey-Soto, Candelaria & Cervantes (Journal)
Meanwhile, back at the Senate the court ruling was also embarrassing for the Guv because the winning argument was presented by attorney and Dem Senator Jacob Candelaria who has become an outspoken foe of MLG. Now he can argue he has put her in her place. He will and so will the GOP as they eye the election calendar. The R's long-running argument that the Guv has gone too far in exerting control during the pandemic has now essentially been ratified by the Supreme Court. 

Oh, look. This just in from the GOP:

We are reassured. . .The High Court properly ruled that it’s the legislature’s role to allocate funds as decreed in our state constitution. Gov. Lujan Grisham again exceeded her authority and didn’t play by the rules. She tried to take the constitution for herself in a power grab, but the Supreme Court reminded Lujan Grisham that we have three equal branches of government, each with a specific role. 

Will Dominic Gabello, Diego Arnecon or Dave Contarino or whoever is supposed to have the political smarts up there have the moxy to give this Guv some tough love before she sends us back into the dark ages with Susana Martinez and company? Come on, fellas. 

And look at the nonliberal senators who supported the suit--Cervantes, Ivey-Soto, Munoz and Republican Leader Greg Baca. That sounds like the old days when a conservative coalition ruled the chamber. Those senators now have added political muscle and everyone waits to see if that translates into public policy. Keep your eyes open, progressives.  


The high court ruling came down while MLG was telling reporters about her new appointments to help direct the $3.7 billion in federal infrastructure money about to start flooding into the state. 

Chief among them is former ABQ Mayor Martin Chavez. But he won't sport the title of "Infrastructure Czar" that we tried to hang on him. He is a mere "adviser." (Hey, there's only room for one Czar or Czarina at the Roundhouse.)

Chavez, 69, who will make $143,000 a year, has the smarts and as a former state senator can deal with the friction. Including the legislature in the massive new spending is critical in light of the court ruling. Heck, like the black robes ruled, it should have always been critical. 

There's also a new broadband boss. Matt Schmit, 42, a former Minnesota state senator who has been director of the Illinois broadband office, moved $400 million to help wire that state. He faces major challenges here. He has money to play with--hundreds of millions in state and federal funding--but executing is excruciating. Rights of way, equipment and staffing needs are hurdles and will require a grade A performance. The last out of state beacon of light MLG brought to town was the head of CYFD. Let's not have a repeat

Mike Hamman, a long established expert in his field, will leave his post as CEO of the Mid Rio Grande Conservancy District and will be water adviser. He'll work on a long range water plan including climate change.

These type of additions have long been pushed by the peanut gallery that sees little gravitas in the policy making arm of the administration in addition to the obvious political weakness that was there for all the state to see as the Supremes lowed the boom.

After the legal brouhaha New Mexicans now await an answer to this question: How are these incredible sums of money going to impact my quality of life and the life of our communities? We'd wager they'd like to hear more about that instead of arguments before the Supreme Court.


In a first draft we had incorrect percentages for the Nov. 2 vote in ABQ City Council District 9. Byron Powdrell received 28 percent and Rob Grilley received 29 percent. 

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Wednesday, November 17, 2021

MLG And The Treacherous Politics Of Covid, Plus: Key Endorsements In ABQ Council Runoffs And More Tax Talk Over State Surplus  

Our Alligators are reporting that former three term ABQ Mayor Martin Chavez, 69, will be named a "czar" for some of the federal money coming into the state. More details expected later today.

She aced Covid for well over a year but now the virus is back in a big way and washing away political gains MLG made. She no longer appears at the state media briefings or comments regularly on the explosion of Covid that has vaulted New Mexico to the top of afflicted states. Instead, she is on defense, arguing with the Colorado governor who repudiated her continued use of indoor mask mandates as a means of quelling the contagion.

Covid is out of her control and that of the health experts but if history is a guide the latest outbreak will soon peak. Whether there will be another is unknowable.

What we do know is that MLG's handing of the virus is no longer routinely hailed because of those freshly crowded ICU units and that red state governors who have done little to combat Covid are no longer dismissed. 

A reader reports: 

Florida (FL) has a population of 21.48 million. NM has a population of 2.097 million. So NM’s population is 1/10 the population of FL. As of Monday, November 15 the NYT reports NM had a 7 day average of 1,383 COVID cases per day. Similarly, FL had 1,471 cases per day. That’s roughly the same as NM but with roughly 10 times the population. Said another way, NM should have about 147 cases per day. Something is really not making sense here. What does (Florida Governor) DeSantis know that MLG does not? Inquiring minds would like to know? 

DeSantis probably doesn't know anymore than MLG. In fact, the death rate from the virus is 247 per 100,000 population in New Mexico, less than the 283 recorded by Florida. 

Covid is so wily and treacherous that the politics of the pandemic have turned into the luck of the draw.


Checking in on the December 7 runoff elections for ABQ City Council Districts 7 and 9 in the NE Heights we find some key endorsements.

In District 9 where Dem Rob Grilley is battling R Renee Grout, the candidate who nearly upset Grilley and came in second and almost took his place in the runoff has given Grilley his backing. 

Byron Powdrell, the longtime community activist from the famous ABQ barbecue family, tells me:

After much thought and homework I will endorse Rob. I did tell him I would stay on his ass.

Powdrell received 28 percent to Grilley's 29 in the first round of voting. Grout came in first with 43 percent. 

Powdrell benefited from his well-known name but also from his more progressive politics. He also garnered votes from an unusual endorsement by the ABQ Journal who gave him the nod after candidate Grout failed to show up for an endorsement interview. 

The district has always had conservative representation--either a conservative Dem or a Republican. Dem operatives remain cautious about flipping the district which includes affluent Four Hills. Grilley has been staffed up with more consultants and is busy raising money for the final weeks. 

In District 7 centered in the Mid-Heights, the Dem trackers are more sanguine over the prospects of Tammy Fieblekorn who faces R Lori Robertson. Registration is overwhelmingly Democratic and the politics there are more progressive than District 9. 

Fiebelkorn is also bringing home her opponents, securing endorsements from fellow Dems Mauro Walden-Montoya and Travis Kellerman who she bested in the Nov. 2 balloting. 

(First Endorser Martin Heinrich endorsed Grilley and Fiebelkorn on Monday.)

The R's would have to win both council seats to take back the majority from the Dems on the nine member council. 


BernCo Clerk Linda Stover has rolled out early voting for the council runoffs:

Eight Early Voting Convenience Centers (EVCCs) will be open for the Albuquerque Runoff Election – November 16 to December 4. All locations are open Monday to Saturday from 10 a.m. to 7 p.m. Voters may vote in person or hand-deliver a completed absentee ballot at any of the early voting locations.  November 25, 26, 27, all locations will be closed for Thanksgiving. 


Talk of tax rebates surfaced on the blog this week because of the huge surpluses being accumulated in Snata Fe due to the energy bull market. Other tax relief suggestions landing in our mailbox include:

--Suspend for one year the state tax on Social Security, a tax not paid by most recipients but one that takes a bite out of those that do.

--Given the immense amount of money coming to the state from the feds infrastructure bill over the next five years ($3.7 billion with over $2 billion for roads and bridges) reduce the $0.17 a gallon gasoline tax for two years. Shaving it in half would give drivers relief and the money lost to local road funds could be made up by the federal largesse. 

--Do electric vehicles pay motor fuel taxes? Of course not, but they wear out roads and bridges. Adopt a vehicle registration fee based on the vehicle value, so the more expensive the car the higher the tax. Also it is time to make the property tax proportional and not a flat tax. 

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Tuesday, November 16, 2021

About Those Record Surpluses: Tax Relief Anyone? Ideas Float As Oil Money Grows, Plus: Big Bill's Birthday Present And Talking Infrastructure  

NM Permian Basin
Forget about that $1.4 billion projected state budget surplus. Prepare for $2 billion or more as oil prices soar over $80 a barrel and oil production ramps up in SE NM.

With that kind of money there is something for everyone but the lack of public discussion of a comprehensive spending package from either side of the aisle has been glaring. Eventually MLG and the Dems can be expected to push harder on the spending side but where are the R's? 

The state made a mighty error under Dem Gov. Richardson when it permanently slashed state income tax rates, costing at least $300 million a year and contributing to a decade of austerity. That's a road best left untraveled. But with inflation rising, the pandemic continuing to thwart economic recovery and the aforementioned surplus set to soar higher, talk of responsible tax relief is beginning to surface. 

One suggestion is for MLG to steal the GOP's thunder by mimicking a popular rebate program Gov. Richardson deployed in 2008 when surpluses were at record levels. The criticism then was that the rebates were measly--only $50 for tax returns with income up to $30,000; $40 for returns between $30,000 and $50,000 and $35 for returns between $50,000 and $70,000. There were no rebates for incomes over $70,000. The total cost of the Richardson rebates was just $56 million. 

With the vast sums New Mexico is dealing with today, those rebates could be much, much more and not make a dent in the state's financial standing and provide needed stimulus for a sluggish economy and an increasingly beleaguered consumer--especially those with low incomes and/or senior citizens on fixed incomes. Also, the rebates could apply to New Mexicans not eligible to file tax returns. 

Rebates that matter would begin with a big shot in the arm--at least $500--for incomes below $50,000 where the money would be rapidly spent and where inflation hurts most. But the income roof for the rebates could also be raised to include household with incomes up to $150,000. Why not? The energy boom belongs to all New Mexicans. 

Given that Santa Fe continues to shy away from big picture programs that carry political risk and controversy, rebates would seem an alternative. The Santa Claus suit is dry cleaned. Who will don it?


Richardson and freed journalist
Of course it was more of a present for freed American journalist Danny Fenster than for former Gov Bill Richardson, but Big Bill was instrumental in the Fenster release, deploying his old bag of diplomatic tricks with a rogue regime and leaving with a prize. 

The cherry on the sundae was the release coming on Big Bill's 74th birthday Monday. It's surely one he and Fenster will long remember:

“I’m feeling all right physically,” a bearded Fenster, in baggy drawstring pants and a hat, said. . .Fenster, the managing editor of online magazine Frontier Myanmar, was convicted Friday of spreading false or inflammatory information, contacting illegal organizations and violating visa regulations. He is one of more than 100 journalists, media officials or publishers who have been detained since the military ousted the elected government. . . “This is the day that you hope will come when you do this work,” Richardson said. “We are so grateful that Danny will finally be able to reconnect with his loved ones, who have been advocating for him all this time. . . 

Richardson, a former UN Ambassador, has laid relatively low since being dragged into the Epstein scandal last year. His TV appearances have been rare and the media now calls him a "former diplomat." But his freeing of Fenster shows he still has some gas in the tank and the Biden administration had to be pleased with his success, although his mission was not officially sanctioned.

Richardson explained his successful (and sometimes not so successful) methods in dealing with dictators and other questionable characters in his 2014 book “How to Sweet-Talk a Shark." It's an entertaining romp around the globe. 

The ex-Guv is a graduate of the Fletcher School at Tufts which specializes in international relations. He now splits his time between Santa Fe and his home state of Massachusetts.

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Monday, November 15, 2021

All ABQ Council Runoff Candidates Reject Public Financing; Updating The Races And What They Could Mean To ABQ's Future 

The state continues to enjoy the fall colors before making way for winter. Here's a recent snap of the foliage at ABQ's Tingley beach from photographer Richard Lind shooting for the Downtown ABQ News. Nice stuff. 

Now let's get to the action. 

Public financing of ABQ elections is full of shortcomings and we're again seeing that as candidates in two city council runoffs reject the meager amount offered in taxpayer dollars (about $14,000 each) and opt to run privately financed efforts for the December 7 election. 

In District 9 in the far NE Heights Dem Rob Grilley's campaign says Renee Grout, his GOP opponent, announced before he did that she would go to private financing:

We saw in the 2019 council runoff election the NM GOP come to Brooke Bassan’s aide and funded her campaign. Rob Grilley's campaign couldn't unilaterally disarm. It’s important for voters to see the contrast and it would be difficult if the GOP money machine is planning to raise 5 times more money than what was afforded by public financing. We need to fight fire with fire. Rob Grilley is open to reforming the public financing system in the future to give equal footing to runoff candidates. 

For her part, Grout says:

In order to financially compete in the runoff against my opponent and the leftwing PACS. . . I have opted to pursue public financing. That means I must raise contributions up to $1,499 per person/per business.

In District 7 in the NE Heights Dem Tammy Fiebelkorn is going private as is Republican Lori Lee Robertson. 

How much will the candidates raise combined with any outside PACS that chime in? Well, Bassan's council campaign two years ago broke $80,000. PACS for local R's spent heavy in the Nov. 2 council election. They can expected to be back as can Dem groups.

As for the politics, Fiebelkorn, who owns an environmental and business consulting firm, is a heavy favorite in the District 7 race. Progressive Dem Councilor Diane Gibson is giving up the seat. Robertson is a commercial real estate broker. The district breaks down 50 percent Dems and 26 percent R's, giving Fiebelkorn a clear playing field. Still, she will have to hustle as the R's are mounting a serious challenge. 


Grilley and Grout
In District 9 it's more complicated. The area has traditionally been conservative but has been changing rapidly. Longtime GOP Councilor Don Harris is giving up the seat. Dem Grilley, 37, is a relative newcomer to the area arriving in 2014 and is president of the gay rights group Common Bond. So his candidacy is a leap for the district which is 41 percent Dem and 32 percent R. 

Grout has been in the district as a small business owner for decades and is a traditional Republican. But outgoing Councilor Harris has told friends he is glad he is not running because the dramatic economic change in the area has made it less GOP friendly 

Grout scored a solid 43 percent in the November 2 balloting. Dem progressive Byron Powdrell, an African American, almost upset Grilley for second place, getting 28 percent to Grilley's 29. With the independents up for grabs, there is a path to victory for Grout. 

Grilley's middle of the road approach didn't sell well enough in round 1 against Powdrell. Now he has to thread the needle and get the Powdrell progressives as well as keep conservative leaning independents satisfied. If the R brand has declined enough in popularity that shouldn't be too difficult. If not, the race could be interesting. 


District 7 is likely Dem. District 9 leans Dem.  

Turnout will go down from the Nov. 2 balloting but it won't crash as both sides spend heavy. This pic of Mayor Kelker already campaigning in District 7 sets the stage for the next three weeks.

Only if both districts go Republican would the current Dem majority on the nine member council be flipped to the R's by 5 to 4. 

That would not be good news for Dem Mayor Keller, but what's more worrisome for him is that incoming Dem Councilor Louie Sanchez has a decided Republican lean and could at times vote with the R's. That would give them a 6 to 3 margin and enough to override any Keller vetoes.

On the other hand, if Grilley and Fiebelkorn win the council stays 6 to 3 Democratic, giving Keller a status quo council.

It's notable that much of Keller's program for the city--a tax hike for public safety, funding for the Gateway Homeless Shelter and establishment of a Community Safety Department--are already in place. That won't change no matter which party dominates the council. 

The major change if Republican strength grew on the council? That could be disputes over the administration and direction of the ABQ police department.

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