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Thursday, May 05, 2022

No More Mr. Nice Guy; Affable Colón Now Knee Deep In A Negative AG Campaign With Torrez, Plus: Stormy Weather For Ronchetti; Dems Bust Him Over New Climate Change Interview, And: Jay Block Says His Chief Rivals Have Made Themselves "Unelectable" 

The affable politico and State Auditor Brian Colón has been told for a year that if he's not prepared to go negative his chances of securing the Democratic nomination for attorney general are headed south. Now Colón is heeding that advice and unloading both barrels on BernCo District Attorney Raul Torrez as the two engage in a suddenly fierce battle.

Torrez was first to fire with an ad that accused Colón of advocating for the defunding of the police. Colón reacted with fury, lashing out at Torrez' record as DA. 

His TV spot opens with a shot of Torrez asking in one of his ads: "Are you sick of crime?" Then the narrator for the Colón spot answers:

Is Raul Torrez joking? His record of botching cases and letting criminals off easy has made crime worse. A man accused of sexually assaulting two young girls went free because of Torrez's negligence. Torres went easy on one of Susan Martinez's top officials dismissing his DWI. And because of Torrez' incompetence a UNM baseball player was killed by a man Torrez failed to convict. Are you sick of crime?" Yes. And that's why Raul Torrez should never be our attorney general.

The Martinez official the ad cites is Ryan Flynn, who was a cabinet secretary for Republican Gov. Martinez and whose charge of aggravated DWI was dismissed by Torrez's office. 

In the case of the slain UNM baseball player, the suspect had a previous arrest but the case was dismissed because Torrez's office said "mistakes were made."

NEW POSITIONING

Sen. Heinrich 
Until this week Torrez had been positioning himself as the progressive in the race against moderate Dem Colón. But his attack on Colón on defunding the police pushes him into a more conservative stance.

The new positioning could be problematic for US Sen. Martin Heinrich who has made one of his highest profile campaign endorsements by appearing with Torrez in a widely broadcast TV ad. Not that Heinrich is for defunding the police but it is a position that his progressive wing does not automatically reject. 

Also, a Torrez defeat will not go unnoticed and could mean a loss of political capital for the state's senior senator, unlike lesser endorsements he's made and where his choice was rejected.

The Heinrich endorsement reflects the division in the Dem party between progressives and the faction represented by Colón and fellow moderate and current Attorney General Hector Balderas. If they beat Torrez that faction will no doubt seek revenge on Heinrich and move to wreck his embryonic move to become Governor.

Torrez was forced to go negative first because of Colón's superior fundraising and name ID. That made it easier for Colón to drop the nice guy act and hit back because, well, you know where nice guys finish.

STORMY WEATHER

A meteorologist who won't comment on climate change being human-caused. 

That's the uncomfortable position GOP gubernatorial hopeful Mark Ronchetti put himself in this week during a TV interview. (Full 5 minute interview here.) 

The former TV weatherman was asked not once but twice about whether humans caused climate change and he dodged it both times. That had Dem party operatives pouncing:

When asked, “Is climate change human caused?” Ronchetti dodged a straightforward question because he’s flip-flopped so many times. KOB’s reporter even pointed out that “the people who were watching closely are going to know there wasn’t an answer” in Ronchetti’s response.

Ronchetti rival Rebecca Dow has been calling Ronchetti a "climate activist," a dreaded label in today's GOP. 

Even though human-caused climate change is settled science Ronchetti dare not go there but if he's the GOP nominee the chances of him getting busted over a repeat of that answer are a certainty. 

Meanwhile, Ronchetti is doing better with his paid media, outspending Dow on TV and in the mail and pounding away at her in a variety of ads, including this one featuring his two daughters and that uses a dose of humor to deflect from Dow's charge that he is a "Never Trumper."

Back to Dow who also had a rough media appearance recently when she attended the Gathering of Nations in ABQ celebrating indigenous communities. When she took the stage the host welcomed her and then promptly criticized her TV commercial that goes after critical race theory, saying:

You have a commercial running right now. You talk about race theory. I want you to understand you hurt these people. You hurt us all.

What's a candidate to do? For Dow, it was to stand there and take her medicine with a smile as seen on Twitter

UNELECTABLE PAIR? 

Jay Block 
GOP Guv contender and Sandoval County Commissioner Jay Block tells us he is preparing to join Ronchetti and Dow on the airwaves in time for the start of early in-person voting beginning May 21.

Block's critics say he is spoiling the chances of fellow conservative Rebecca Dow but Block responds that Dow and Ronchetti are already spoiled:

Ronchetti and Dow have shown themselves in this campaign to be unelectable. They have basically ruined each other. I will conduct a positive TV campaign and provide the alternative to this broken pair that Republicans are now desperately seeking. My campaign is the one that can break the state away from this horrible Democratic governorship.

Block won't have the big budgets of his competitors but he says his plan is to have a presence on the major network affiliated stations. The primary is June 7.

The national Dems and GOP continue to play in the NM Guv race with the Hill reporting that the Dem. Gov Association announced a $2.5 million ad buy for MLG this fall. Meantime, the Republican Gov. Association says it has made a "six figure buy" for this 60 second ad faulting MLG's border policies and that will air this month.

This is the home of New Mexico politics. 

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

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(c)NM POLITICS WITH JOE MONAHAN 2022

Wednesday, May 04, 2022

Observers See Mostly Mild Impact On NM Election From Supreme Court Abortion Action, Plus: State Pot Sales Only So So In First Month, And: Dem AG Race Goes Negative Today 

Ask a variety of political insiders how that leaked draft of a US Supreme Court ruling restricting abortion rights will impact the midterm elections here and you get a variety of responses. 

Positions are so locked in that most observers say the votes are already accounted for. Ardent pro-choice voters are going to be with MLG and those in the pro-life camp will support the GOP nominee. 

It's in the state House races where the politicos think the issue might be more meaningful, with one telling us:

In the ABQ NE Heights where Democratic state Reps. Marian Matthews and Pam Herndon are defending against strong Republican challengers abortion might be a motivator for independent women and that could make a difference.

In the Dem primary races, progressive Tara Jaramillo, facing moderate Ravi Bhasker for a central NM House seat (HD 38), saw an opening with the court leak and came with this:

Here in Central and Southern NM. . . we respect a woman as she makes her own personal decisions about health care without the government or politicians weighing in. We have to do everything in our power to make sure abortion stays safe, accessible, and legal in our state. . .I am proudly part of the pro-choice majority in this country, and I'm honored to be supported by Planned Parenthood New Mexico. 

Bhasker is a medical doctor and mayor of Socorro who is also pro-choice, saying:

Abortion is between a woman and her God. Government should not limit a woman’s right to choose.

The abortion debate here has been subdued since the Legislature in 2021 repealed a dormant law that criminalized the procedure in anticipation of a Supreme Court ruling striking down Roe. There was fear that law could take effect in the absence of Roe. 

New Mexico is one of a handful of states with zero restrictions on abortion and there is little chance it will be restricted. The House passed the repeal of that dormant law on a 40 to 30 vote. In addition, if MLG remains Governor she would veto any restrictions in the unlikely event they made it through the House and Senate.

Abortion rights advocates are still concerned about constitutional challenges and are pushing lawmakers to make abortion a specific right in NM law. 

SO SO POT SALES

Legalizing marijuana, like abortion, was once a hot button issue but it became legal here April 1 and the debate was over. And so would it appear is the initial buying mania that greeted legal weed: 

After one month of recreational cannabis sales, retailers sold $22.1 million in April, according to the Cannabis Control Division (CCD.) Albuquerque had the most sales, totaling just over $8 million in recreational cannabis sales. To reach the state’s annual $300 million goal, retailers need to sell an average of $25 million of recreational cannabis each month. The state didn’t quite reach that in April. But more retailers are still likely to join the industry as their applications are processed. 

Those sales numbers aren't tepid but neither do they signal a huge boom, especially since April is expected to be the banner sales month for this first year. 

Why? Reasons include the robust medical marijuana market which now serves well over 130,000 New Mexicans. Then there's the sobering fact that the black market is not going away and can undercut legal prices. And estimates about marijuana sales to Texans could be overblown. 

The state projects it will realize about $50 million in taxes from first-year pot sales. That will barely make a blip in a state budget that is now approaching $9 billion. But for those that do imbibe and obey the rules  at least they no longer have to worry about getting busted. 

AG WATCH 

The Dem candidates for attorney general have been poking at each other on the campaign trail and today the negative goes on the TV airwaves, with BernCo DA Raul Torrez launching two ads (here and here) that accuses rival and State Auditor Brian Colon of advocating for defunding the police. Colon says he is for no such thing and is putting up a negative spot of his own. He says Torrez is taking police funding remarks he made on a podcast out of context.

Colon has turned out to be the front-runner in the race, raising twice the amount of money as Torrez and having widespread name ID in the party. But there is a long way to go and the Torrez attack ads are better than his initial TV foray. 

VANCE WINS

The GOP Ohio US Senate candidate who had the blessing of Donald Trump won the primary there last night, showing that the ex-president still packs a punch in the party. 

There is no sign that Trump will make an endorsement in the NM GOP primary Guv race, although there has been talk of it in the Rebecca Dow camp. An endorsement from Sen. Ted Cruz would seem more likely. He's next door in Texas and Dow's campaign consultants also have Cruz as a client.

A Cruz endorsement wouldn't move the needle like a Trump nod, but it could mean more campaign funds for Dow who needs them as she is being outspent by chief rival Mark Ronchetti. Still, after Vance's win Dow has to be thinking about ringing that phone in Mar-a-Lago.

FOLLOWING THE MONEY

The most unsurprising finance news of the campaign comes from NM Ethics Watch. They report:

The oil industry is continuing its tradition of contributing large amounts of cash to candidates. . . The industry--companies, political action committees and individuals--has contributed more than $1.1 million to politicians in the six month period from October 5, 2021 through April 4, 2022. Candidates for governor are getting the lion’s share of oil and gas contributions, receiving nearly $500,000 of that $1.1 million. The rest of the contributions mostly went to those running for legislative seats and statewide offices. 

With a barrel of oil going for over $100 there is--as the saying goes--more where that came from. 

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.  

(c)NM POLITICS WITH JOE MONAHAN 2022

Tuesday, May 03, 2022

Checking In On The Dem AG Contest; Torrez And Colón Spar Over Campaign Money And Conflicts of Interest; Colón Uses Race Card To Defend AG Balderas; Torrez Says "For Sale" Sign At AG's Office Needs To Come Down  

Brian Colón
The candidates for the Democratic nomination for attorney general are tussling over campaign contributions and possible conflicts of interest and both are airing high profile TV ads in a closely watched race to see who will succeed current Dem AG Hector Balderas. 

At a recent forum sponsored by Taos County Democrats (video here) BernCo District Attorney Raul Torrez went on the attack against fellow Dem AG hopeful and current State Auditor Brian Colon, saying Colón has received over $165,000 in contributions from out of state law firms that are looking to handle litigation for the AG's office: 

We need to rebuild the Litigation Division of the AG's office. We have outsourced some of the biggest civil litigation to out of state law firms...who are contributing to my opponent's campaign. . . over $165,000 in contributions from out of state law firms. We need to take down the for sale sign that is currently hanging inside the AG's office where people make big contributions and they get a big contract. We need to rebuild that division and concentrate on consumer protection and environmental protection. . .

He also challenged his rival's environmental credentials, declaring:

I am puzzled that Brian has taken over $10,000 from Chevron. . .It's really troubling. It has an impact on how you are going to enforce litigation and proceed aggressively against corporate interests. 

Colón, a prodigious fund-raiser who in his recent campaign report had $1.2 million in cash on hand April 4 compared to $563,000 for Torrez, shot back and pointed out that Torrez has taken a campaign contribution of $10,000 from the CEO of PNM. And he also made an issue of a PAC supported by billionaire George Soros that gave Torrez substantial support when he first ran for DA in 2016:

The person who purchased his current office provided and bought that office for over $120,000. (That's) from one donor who helped fund that campaign for him to be the district attorney. So he has a long track record of taking money that assisted his campaigns in the form of a PAC.

Raul Torrez
Colón was asked about the Robles, Rael & Anaya law firm where he once worked and which has been awarded at least 19 contracts by AG Balderas who is a close friend of law firm member Marcus Rael, Jr. and who also once worked for the firm. The forum moderator wondered about that association that led to an ethics complaint against Balderas that was subsequently dismissed. In defending his longtime political ally, Colón played the race card:

I have a long track record of accountability and transparency. . . I'll let the attorney general defend himself in that regard. It is interesting to me that there are six or seven firms that are working on that case (the proposed merger between PNM and Avangrid that resulted in the ethics charge) and only one firm was singled out. It's the firm owned by people of color and I am not going to make any specific connections on that. 

But I'll also say it's not a conflict of interest to have either worked with an attorney in the past or to have associated with an attorney in the past. What we have to do is make sure that we have a transparent process to bid for that work and present your credentials for that work. Then there's a selection committee at the attorney general's office.

And a bit out of character for New Mexico's "Happy Warrior," Colón then spanked the media: 

Everything from the Supreme Court to the Ethics Commission have all found no wrongdoing on the part of the current attorney general so the newspapers and the media doesn't necessarily cover that side of the story very well because it doesn't sell as many papers to say that the Supreme Court actually found no conflict of interest here. And any settlements that have been approved have all been approved by a judge.

STATE OF THE RACE 

It has been longstanding practice for New Mexico attorneys general to outsource millions in litigation contracts to high-powered out of state law firms that in turn make major contributions to the AG candidates. But the practice is now attracting more scrutiny.

Torrez says he is not taking donations from the out of state firms and he is using Colón's donations from them as a cudgel. 

In his TV ads Torrez takes a dig at Colón saying the sate needs a "prosecutor not a politician." Colón is emphasizing his record as Auditor and says as AG he will go after "corporate greed" and "defend democracy."

Colón, a former NM Dem Party chairman beat Torrez at the Dems March pre-primary convention, 62 to 38. Torrez is getting prominent backing from US Senator Martin Heinrich.

Campaign watchers report that Colón has led in the polling and that his big money advantage could be key in the home stretch. As for billionaire Soros he does not appear to be coming to the aid of Torrez this time--at least not yet. 

Gallup attorney and Marine veteran Jeremy Gay is unopposed for the GOP AG nod but no R has been elected to the post since the 1980's. For Torrez and Colón it's all on the line June 7. 

This is the home of New Mexico politics. 

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

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(c)NM POLITICS WITH JOE MONAHAN 2022

Monday, May 02, 2022

MLG Approval Rating Hovers Below Critical 50 Percent Mark; Early Odds Still Appear To Favor Re-elect; Trouble Spots Explored  

MLG's approval rating in the latest Morning Consult poll is tantalizing for Republicans who are hoping to unseat her at the November election but the early odds still appear to favor her re-election, although the 57 to 43 win she had in '18 may look oversized today.  

The poll, conducted among registered voters from January-March, has the Governor's approval rating at 48 percent and her disapproval at 45 percent. That approval is two points away from the critical 50 percent mark that observers look for in weighing an incumbent's re-election prospects.

In the Morning Consult survey conducted from July to October 2021 MLG scored a 51 percent approval rating. The surveys each have a four percent margin of error, giving both sides ammo to make a case either for or against her.

The nation's top political handicapper--the Cook Political Report in DC--ranked the New Mexico gubernatorial derby "likely Democratic" in early March. 

Still, all but eight governors received support from 50 percent of their state's voters, signaling that Lujan Grisham has dug herself a bit of a hole.

With hindsight as foresight, it's clear that many voters now believe she overreached in her handling of the Covid crisis, keeping the state's restrictions on too long, causing more businesses to crash, schools remaining shuttered and inflicting stress on the population at large. 

Combine that with what her critics call a bossy attitude in handling Covid, her up and down relationship with the Legislature controlled by her own party and the hurt felt from a former campaign staffer settling the "Crotchgate" lawsuit for $150,000 and you have a Governor kept shy of that 50 percent. 

Dissatisfaction with her is naturally strong among Republicans but it has been independents and some Hispanic Dems who have also been straying from her and that gives pause that her re-elect is a slam dunk. 

And the centrist Governor still has to energize her often disappointed progressive base. 

However, having observed or covered every governor election here since 1974, we do not see (or feel) the palpable disgust that was a prelude to the defeat of Dem Governor Bruce King in 1994 by Republican Gary Johnson or that of Democratic Gov. Bill Richardson whose unpopularity in large measure caused the defeat of Lieutenant Governor Diane Denish in 2010 by Republican Susana Martinez. 

HELTER SKELTER

The bad taste left by the Covid hangover may be MLG's major problem but there is also annoyance with the Governor prompted by her shoot from the hip veto of an appropriations bill supported by all members of the Legislature; her ad hoc way of introducing issues such as hydrogen energy; her ongoing personnel difficulties and her penchant for micromanagement. 

There is a helter-skelter to the administration in which the door of unpredictability never closes. That leaves some voters uneasy.

Much of this is what the consultants would call a "likability "problem that can be corrected by putting the candidate on the campaign trail backslapping and backed up by aggressive advertising and showing what she has done for the local folks.  

In the larger picture the state is enjoying record surpluses, Covid is largely in the rearview mirror (despite lingering resentment), there is a record of accomplishment to take to voters, the Republican party's branding issues have never been worse and the state's blue streak is largely intact.

MLG seems to be steadying herself on the trail. Her rollout of a child care program that will cover most New Mexican families for a year has garnered national attention and answered the knock on her that despite the billions in surplus she has been unimaginative in tackling the state's long-standing social conditions crisis. 

And even though she has never been a fan of rebates for taxpayers, those approved at the recent legislative session are going to be rolled out over several months this summer, providing voters tangible proof they are sharing in the state's historic oil largesse at a time of high inflation. 

With no primary opposition and the GOP divided, there is more than enough opportunity for MLG to claw back the two points to reach 50 percent approval and then some. Avoiding unforced errors has to be her campaign's chief concern. 

THE MICHELLE MAP

MLG is gearing up her campaign as the calendar turns to May, six months before the election. She has debuted a new website with a section called The Michelle Map. Click on a county and a graph shows how much capital outlay funds the county has received during her administration. In politics there's "follow the money" and "show me the money."

In GOP Guv primary action Rebecca Dow has answered that new campaign ad from rival Mark Ronchetti that says the T or C state representative voted for a bill that gave money to illegal immigrants:

The vote Mark is misrepresenting was the entire COVID relief budget during the height of the pandemic. My focus was getting money to businesses, the unemployed, municipalities, etc. The bill was over $325 million. After the fact we learned as much as $5 million might have gone to illegals. Not a single House or Senate member voted against the bill. When I’m governor I will line item veto funds to illegals. 

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.  

(c)NM POLITICS WITH JOE MONAHAN 2022
 
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