Thursday, January 06, 2022

Senate Power Play? Lopez Said To Eye Stewart's Pro Tem Chair; Ethnic Politics At Play, Plus: MLG Foot Dragging On Yazzie Suit Rankles Indian Community; Ditto On Payday Loan Legislation  

Sen. Lopez
The misfire by House Speaker Brian Egolf in dismantling a standing committee near and dear to the hearts of many northern New Mexicans could have unintended consequences--in the state Senate.

Our reliable Senior Alligators report that veteran ABQ Dem Senator Linda Lopez, the current majority whip, is eyeing the powerful president pro tem position held by fellow ABQ Dem Sen. Mimi Stewart

She is doing so in part, say our sources, because of Egolf dissolving the House Local Government, Land Grants and Cultural Affairs Committee. That controversial decision was a glaring reminder that in majority-minority New Mexico the legislative leadership is dominated by two wealthy Anglo males, namely Senate Majority Leader Peter Wirth and Speaker Egolf, and Senator Stewart.

US Senator Ben Ray Lujan and former state Rep. Joseph Sanchez are among those who have publicly expressed misgivings over abolishing the committee that was chaired by ABQ Dem Rep. Miguel Garcia, long a thorn in Egolf's side. 

The Speaker has apparently endured enough chastisement and says he's working on salvaging an agreement that would turn down the temperature.

Lopez has reportedly also been put off by the efforts of Sen. Stewart to ram through a Senate redistricting plan at December's special redistricting session that would have diluted Native American voting strength and spared Republican Senators Greg Baca and Joshua Sanchez from having to run against each other. Lopez prevailed and the map she sponsored kept the two R's in the same district and preserved Indian voting power. 

Sen. Stewart
The pro tem is powerful. She is in charge of handing out important committee assignments. That sets the tone for the Senate. The position is elected by the full body but with Senate Dems having a solid majority the post is safely in their hands. That is especially so since the conservative coalition of GOP senators and a handful of conservative Democrats that long dominated the Senate has been busted. 

Stewart is pro tem until leadership is chosen again after the November election. She was elected following the 2020 election. 

Lopez was first elected in 1996 and since has run for the Dem nomination for lieutenant governor and governor, both unsuccessfully. Becoming pro tem could be within her grasp if the memories of Egolf's power play and Stewart's redistricting maneuver linger. It took a number of ballots and intense negotiation before Stewart emerged as the pro tem choice from the Senate Dem Caucus in 2020.


While Sen. Lopez has been cementing her ties to the Native American community you can't say the same for MLG.

The administration continues to drag its feet in enforcing the landmark Yazzie court ruling that found the state in violation of its Constitution for not providing many Native American children and others "at risk" with a proper public school education.

MLG's difficulty in coming to terms with that ruling and fully engaging the Native community with a Yazzie plan hit the headlines again this week. 

It seems it's not the ultimate goals of the court order holding things up as much as it is the state's reluctance to cede its power to a judicial ruling. But that's water under bridge and if the foot dragging continues the administration could find itself slapped with another court order to carry out the long delayed first one. 


Yazzie isn't the only thing causing bad blood between the Native American community and the Guv. She is being asked to put on the call of the 30 day legislative session later this month a bill to roll back the obscenely high 175 percent interest rate that payday loan stores are allowed to charge. The measure would make the maximum rate a still high 36 percent, but more tolerable, 

Some 60 percent of the payday loan outlets are within 10 miles of tribal lands, hotbeds of poverty where the store owners are fighting to hang on to all of their lucrative income. They have spent heavily on lobbyists.

MLG carried McKinley County in the heart of Indian Country with 71 percent of the vote in 2018. She was expected to take a firmer stand against the powerful payday loan interest group on behalf of Native Americans but also other low income people of color (mainly Hispanic) who are the dominant users of the loans.

No matter the political implications, a 176% interest rate is pretty outrageous--unless a Governor says it isn't.


The Wednesday posted later than usual. If you missed it, just scroll down. 

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Wednesday, January 05, 2022

GOP Guv Chase: Ronchetti's Early Cash Haul Puts Pressure On Dow In Nomination Battle; $1.2 Mil In Two Months, Plus: Fired NM Spaceport Exec Turns Whistleblower And Goes After MLG 

Mark Ronchetti established early momentum and put the pressure on his rivals for the 2022 GOP gubernatorial nomination Tuesday as he announced he raised $1.2 million in the first two months of his candidacy.

The former TV weatherman with high name ID and coming off a 2020 US Senate loss leads the seven person pack seeking the nomination and could walk away with it if his chief rivals can't keep pace. His campaign wasted no time in trying to shape the narrative:

Ronchetti's fundraising haul, comprising over 3,500 donations, dwarfs the fundraising of his primary opponents and reflects the kind of broad grassroots support necessary to compete against Gov. Michelle lujan Grisham and defeat her in the general election.

State Rep. Rebecca Dow, who most analysts are pegging as Ronchetti's strongest opponent, reported raising $440,000 in her campaign report filed last October. She announced her run in early July 2021. However, $100,000 of her funds were a transfer from her legislative account. Ronchetti says he did not transfer any funds or give himself any loans in raising the $1.2 million. He says 96 percent of the donations came from within the state. 

One of our GOP readers reports that Dow told him in the wake of Ronchetti's report:

We just keep going! I'm not far behind on fundraising.

Dow did not disclose any numbers.

ABQ financial consultant Greg Zanetti reported raising $150,000 in last October's report but he also listed $185,000 in loans. With the Ronchetti report he now has to weigh how much more of his personal wealth--if any--he is willing to risk as the GOP race rapidly becomes a Ronchetti vs. Dow contest.

The next candidate money reports are not due until April but Ronchetti obviously wanted to use his early fund-raising prowess to try to give an air of inevitability to his campaign. 

He did not release any donor names or amounts from individual donations.


The first major test for the Republican field will come at the February 26 preprimary convention in Ruidoso. Delegates will vote to place the candidates on the June primary ballot. If a hopeful fails to win 20 percent support, they would have to seek additional petition signatures to appear on the ballot. The convention is Dow's best bet to demonstrate strength and viability. 

Ronchetti, who reports $1.146 million in cash on hand from the $1.2 million raised, is backed by establishment Republicans but is not beloved by the grassroots. That was amply demonstrated when at the 2020 preprimary convention, he came in third place in the balloting for US Senate but did go on to easily win the June primary. 

In addition to the early report on his fund-raising, Ronchetti tried to shake up the Democrats by reporting internal polling that has him tied with MLG. However, he did not release any poll.

MLG's approval rating has been hovering around the 50 percent mark. In last October's finance reports she reported raising $2.5 million. 


Zach DeGregorio
Meanwhile, R's are spinning a complicated and twisting tale of alleged wrongdoing at the NM Spaceport as another reason MLG is vulnerable:

Racketeering, securities fraud and whistleblower persecutions are just the top notes in a sweeping civil complaint filed against the state with explicit references to state officials, Spaceport America staff and others by the facility's former chief financial officer. In a 250-page complaint filed in district court in Santa Fe, Zach DeGregorio alleges he was effectively terminated after he filed a whistleblower complaint that triggered a 2020 investigation into allegations of financial mismanagement, ethical violations and abuse of power by the spaceport's former director, Dan Hicks. Hicks, who did not comment publicly on the claims, was terminated in 2021.

Apparently DeGregorio, a CPA, who does business videos on YouTube and from which we got his photo, is serving as his own lawyer. 

He cut an emotional video in announcing the lengthy lawsuit. It ends with DeGregoria exclaiming: 

You, Governor Michelle Lujan Grisham, you are a crook!

In December 2020 there was this:

A highly critical investigation of Spaceport America has determined the New Mexico state government should consider formal criminal and/or administrative charges against former Executive Director Dan Hicks and former Chief Financial Officer (CFO) Zach DeGregorio for their mishandling of the spaceport’s finances.

The Governor's office declined to comment on the suit.

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Tuesday, January 04, 2022

Leger Fernandez Hope For Rematch With 2020 Foe Gets Boost But Danger Still Lurks, Plus: MLG Soothes Oil Country But Upsets Progressives  

TLF and Martinez Johnson
The prayers of Dem Rep. Teresa Leger Fernandez have been half answered--she's drawn the same Republican opponent she easily dispatched in winning election to her first term to the northern congressional district in 2020. 

But the second half of that prayer has yet to be answered. Now she has to wait to see if a well-known and well-financed R is lured into the race by the district's new map that perhaps gives such a foe a better chance at an upset.

Not that Alexis Martinez Johnson, who announced her candidacy Monday, is not an earnest candidate. She is but she has shown no ability to be competitive. She lost to TLF 58.7% to 41.3% in 2020. Then she gave another poor performance when she ran for Santa Fe mayor in 2021 and won just 10 percent of the vote in a three way race. Those are not numbers that will attract the necessary national GOP money to give TLF an early retirement.

On the other hand, a candidate from oil country--parts of which are now included in the 3rd District--could be a legitimate threat. One such possible contender we've mentioned is Claire Chase from the Chase oil clan who ran unsuccessfully for the GOP nomination for the southern congressional seat against Yvette Herrell in 2020.

But Chase had to be wondering over the holidays if this congressional run is the right one. On an exceptionally good night she could take the seat, but two years later--in the 2024 presidential cycle--she'd  be back in a Republican boat facing a higher turnout and a map that still has a decisive partisan lean toward the Dems. 

The filing deadline is February 1. 


Speaking of oil country, MLG has been careful not to awaken that conservative sleeping giant (in terms of fund-raising ability). However, in the process she is drawing the ire of environmentalists who claim her embrace of hydrogen energy is actually a love tap for the oil and gas boys. They don't buy her argument that hydrogen is a "clean fuel" and a climate change remedy. 

This Governor is looking at a base election. The only way she can lose is if she infuriates the state's conservative base and the turnout for the election goes low. That may infuriate the Dem progressives but the prospect of  electing a GOP Governor will keep them in the stable--at least she hopes so. 


And how about an old fashioned Alligator strike on the oil boys? Here you go, the first of 2022:

Joe, I think it's noteworthy that an industry who constantly claims to do so much for New Mexico is using an Oklahoma firm to find a new CEO. 

That Gator speaks of the NM Oil and Gas Association's search for a new $250,000 a year president and CEO and their use of this Oklahoma-based recruiting firm to fill the job.

Hey, they had to go to the Okie firm. No New Mexico recruiters handle salaries that high.

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Monday, January 03, 2022

2022 Debuts With Search For Big Ideas For State's Burgeoning Coffers, MLG's Re-election Bid, Southern CD Questions And Keller Getting Testy With New Council  

Welcome back. 

The first political question for the new year is left over from last year: What to do with the billions in oil surplus and federal funds flooding into the state. 

The answers offered thus far have been mostly unimaginative but with the 30 day legislative session approaching that could change. 

For example, our insiders report former ABQ Mayor Marty Chavez, now one of MLG's point men to allocate the state's federal infrastructure funds ($3.7 billion), has been talking up a concept with ABQ officials that would transform the state fairgrounds in central ABQ. 

The property is located adjacent to crime-ridden and disadvantaged neighborhoods. We're told discussions have centered on finally moving the Fairgrounds to the Westside and repositioning the land for development. (And don't forget about building a new Tingley Coliseum that could be a showcase for the entire state.)

A big idea that surfaced briefly at the December legislative redistricting session is to invest $100 million in the state's behavioral health system as that crisis has been compounded by Covid. 

And Las Cruces Dem State Senator Bill Soules is thinking big--too big for the skeptics, for sure. He says now is the time to revive the idea of building a bullet train from Cruces to Colorado to enhance economic development. Well, former Guv and bullet train advocate Toney Anaya would be proud but we don't know about Marty and Michelle.

2022 AND MLG

MLG has been low key about the immense surplus dollars. Campaigning in the North at year's end she was touting the itsy-bitsy quarter cent gross receipts tax cut she's proposing. But that's not going to shake loose votes come November, raising the question of whether she will break her incrementalist mold in her 2022 state of the state address at the opening of the legislative session.

The Hill lists the Governor as one of the seven most vulnerable up for re-election while acknowledging that the Cook Report, as nonpartisan as it gets, rates the contest "likely Democratic."

MLG's nearly singular identification with Covid has given her an aura of vulnerability. That's why effective and eye catching deployment of the state's newfound wealth gives her an opportunity to redefine the administration in a nonpartisan light. 


The Cook report, founded in 1984, has been renamed the The Cook Political Report with Amy Walter as founder Charlie Cook's protege and sharp-eyed analyst Amy Walter takes the helm. 

We chatted up Cook redistricting expert Dave Wasserman over the holidays as he joined the debate over the new maps for our state's three congressional districts. He sent this take on the nationally important southern congressional district:

The map divides. . ."Little Texas" among all three districts to dilute GOP votes in the southeastern portion of the state in a brazen bid to oust GOP Rep. Yvette Herrell (NM-02). . . The map removes GOP-heavy Roswell from the southern 2nd CD and adds most of the west side of Albuquerque, transforming Herrell's seat to a true Hispanic majority district and flipping it from Trump +12 to Biden +6. 

"The gerrymandered map New Mexico Democrats have proposed shows how desperate they are to try to save Nancy Pelosi’s majority," griped Herrell, who ousted Democratic Rep. Xochitl Torres Small by seven points in 2020. 

Now, Democrats face the potentially harder task of actually defeating Herrell. Las Cruces Councilor Gabe Vasquez, a 37-year-old former aide to Sen. Martin Heinrich, is running with Heinrich's endorsement. But recruitment may not be over yet. Some Democrats believe Vasquez is too much of a standard-issue progressive to appeal in more rural areas of the 2nd CD and still hold out hope that the moderate Torres Small, who took an appointment in the Biden Agriculture Department earlier this year, will change her mind before the February 1 filing deadline for the June 7 primary. If Torres Small were to come back, she might be a narrow favorite over Herrell. For now, the race is a Toss Up. 

There's no indication Torres Small will make the run but the DC rumor mill has the DCCC decidedly displeased with Heinrich's early endorsement of Vasquez, believing a woman--especially an Hispanic woman--would be a stronger challenger to Rep. Herrell.

With the district now including a chunk of ABQ, our Alligators offered up the name of Dem City Councilor Klarissa Pena as a possible candidate. That's a no-go. Now they're floating Dem ABQ Valley state Rep. Andres Romero. With no obvious primary challengers Vasquez and Heinrich are hoping to run out the clock. 



After 11 years as a Santa Fe insider GOP state Rep. Alonzo Baldonado will now be watching the action from the sidelines. He has resigned his Valencia County House seat. A replacement will be named by the Valencia County Commission. No doubt that new face will be an R as the commission is controlled 5 to zip by the GOP. 

Legislative watchers report redistricting did not significantly change the GOP lean of the Baldonado district. 

In an exit interview on New Year's Eve day Baldonado, a Belen native who now lives in Los Lunas, told me he was ready to return to the real estate sector. While pleased with his tenure, he complained that there is no center in politics anymore and with an overwhelming Dem state House, that's not going to change. He said:

Back when we had had over 30 members in the House we had a chance to team with some Dems to pass legislation. That is not happening now and I don't like not getting anything done. 

There could be some rare bipartisanship in the House in the upcoming session regarding the ongoing crime wave. 

Baldonado, 47, was majority whip when the R's held the House briefly (2015-'16) but when they lost it back to the Dems the whip spot went to Farmington area Rep. Rod Montoya. 

Baldonado, a business oriented R, clashed with more conservative elements of the House GOP caucus.

The ex-rep says he is pleased with the economic growth in Valencia the last decade. Facebook is there and Amazon is rumored to follow but he says the state must concentrate on bringing even more businesses, saying: 

That's how we stop our young people from leaving which remains a major obstacle going forward.


Keller takes oath
With a more assertive ABQ city council as a result of the 2021 election, ABQ Mayor Tim Keller got a bit testy as he and four newly elected councilors took their oaths of office at the Convention Center New Year's Day: 

For the new Councilors, you are ABQ’s newest politicians whether you like that label or not. Now you’re in the crosshairs of accountability for results. It’s time to move forward, to put the election, the negativity, the talking points and the partisanship behind us, it’s time to govern. Here’s the thing about a governing, it takes commitment to real results, real progress; and all of that, takes real work.

Full inauguration video here

The new Council is 5 to 4 Dem. The R's picked up a seat at the November election. But Dem Councilors Benton and Davis have peeled away from Keller on some issues and Keller, elected to a second term, has to be concerned that his veto power could be weakened.

Then again, the Mayor also signaled that most, if not all, the major legislation and programs he wanted are already in place and now it's time "to build on that foundation" to fight, drugs, crime and homelessness. 

In his first term Keller won approval of a major homeless shelter, a public safety tax increase and more funding for high tech for APD.

Okay, we're kind of caught up after the break, but not for long in the never-ending merry-go-round of La Politica. 

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