Thursday, July 21, 2022

MLG Caps A Good Campaign Week Sharing Smiles With Mayor Keller, But The Week Wasn't Letter Perfect  

Keller & MLG
With Republican Mark Ronchetti's campaign suffering an implosion over his stance on abortion, this was a good week for MLG whose standing looked less assured prior to the unintentional blessing of Reverend Smothermon. 

She worked to keep the good times rolling with Dem teammate and ABQ Mayor Tim Keller by announcing $10 million from the state for the ABQ Rail Trail, an urban redevelopment project that plans to link  downtown and riverside destinations. 

Nothing like a cost-free and feel-good photo op. But in an election year the boo birds of social media were not about to stay quiet over the Mayoral-Guv lovefest that included Keller and other mayors endorsing MLG for a second term. Opined Brett Kokinadis: 

Yes, He's done such a fine job in Albuquerque. How's the crime, homeless problems, drugs, murders, and feces issues coming along, Mayor? Are businesses paying for your special police protection? Why would anyone listen to the officials that let others destroy businesses and property in protest? I guess the politicians and destructive protesters are one and the same.

Conservative Dem City Councilor Louie Sanchez is also on the Mayor's back this week with that op-ed claiming that he convinced the Mayor to make important changes like getting a new CAO (Lawrence Rael) and a new city attorney. That led to this retort from the Mayors' office:

Louie has met once with the Mayor, in December, at the Mayor’s request. Louie’s asks at that meeting were for the Mayor to fire the City Clerk and to fire the Police Chief, neither of which has happened. Louie and his assertions are laughable. 


Back on MLG, her job now is to show up and not mess up, but her operatives had to put the brakes on the party as yet another campaign misstep bit her backside, this one dealing with the beleaguered CYFD. Ronchetti can't hit the target when it comes to abortion but this one was easy: 

KOAT fact-checked Michelle Lujan Grisham’s claims that she supported strengthening an independent CYFD watchdog group and found that her statement was false. Instead of strengthening CYFD oversight, Lujan Grisham vetoed legislation in 2021 that would have given the Substitute Care Advisory Council (SCAC) stronger oversight over the troubled child welfare agency. 

Not earth-shaking but why? And this on the heels of a nurse being highlighted in a MLG TV spot who was made to appear to work at a hospital when she actually works for a county jail. 

Well, nothing can take Pastor Steve out of the spotlight but that doesn't mean 90 percent is good enough.


By the way, Kokinadas is an officer with the Santa Fe County GOP and is director of the Stop MLG PAC. 

That PAC filed an ethics complaint with the State Ethics Commission this week against Libertarian Party candidate Karen Bedonie. The complaint alleges that a group of private citizens paying for a billboard for Bedonie in Torrance County has not reported their activity--as required--to the Sec. of State and have coordinated their advertising with Bedonie's campaign which third party groups are prohibited from doing. 

Why the GOP interest in the Lib candidate? Well, it's a good bet that the limited government platform of Bedonie will attract the attention of some Republican voters who could peel away from GOP nominee Ronchetti. 

Bedonie's campaign slogan is "Bedonie Tough" so don't expect her to crack under the campaign pressure.


This was a possible election year bullet Democrats are glad to be dodging:

The Attorney General's Office continues to build a criminal case against Sheryl Williams Stapleton in preparation for a racketeering and money-laundering trial that could come early next year--at least 18 months after agents began investigating the former state lawmaker. The delay, court records show, is due in part to a request from defense attorneys and prosecutors for more time to examine a trove of documents in the case. . .An evidence hearing is scheduled in late January 2023 for the longtime powerful House Democrat, who is accused of diverting hundreds of thousands of dollars from Albuquerque Public Schools, where she worked for years as an administrator, and using her legislative position for personal benefit.

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Wednesday, July 20, 2022

Ronchetti's New Mantra: Change The Subject; Abortion Mishap Takes A Toll On GOP Nominee, Plus: ABQ Councilor Says He's Bossing The Mayor And: There's A New Radio #1 In Town  

Talk about the weather, the price of tea in China or how the United are doing. Just don't talk to GOP Guv hopeful Mark Ronchetti about abortion. He's not interested, not after the major mishap that struck his campaign featuring a sermon by Pastor Steve Smotherman that indicted Ronchetti's character and sent the candidate and his team reeling. 

As every political junkie from Durango to Deming knows by now, Smothermon informed his congregation that not only had Ronchetti told him at a private meeting that he is for a ban on abortion after 15 weeks of pregnancy but also said he would eventually like to do away with all abortion, but he can't say that or he won't be elected. (Ronchetti's campaign denied he told Smothermon he wanted to end abortion.)

That is the most weighty event of the six week old general election campaign but if Ronchetti is to have any chance of doing damage control and scoring an upset over MLG, it is an event that must be put in the rearview mirror--and now. 

The 48 year old former TV weatherman is trying. 

On his Twitter account, as the news headlines screamed of the abortion debacle, he told his 16,000 followers that MLG's education department "has no plan to help our kids succeed." 

In a fund-raising pitch he dissed his opponent, writing, "She’s just another elitist politician trying to dismiss you and I as not enough. We’re not enough to win her respect, and we’re certainly not enough to garner her attention." Ronchetti make a rookie mistake by meeting for what Smothermon says was "hours." A GOP consultant looked forward this way: 

The mistake was a grand one and now he will need help from external events. The best shot is that the recent decline in gas prices reverses, giving the Republicans what they need on the economy and inflation.  

That's fine but it demonstrates how Ronchetti has lost control of events. While the GOP nominee urgently moves to put abortion in the shadows, he is hearing footsteps. Those would be from Democrats trekking to the TV studio to cut an ad starring the Reverend Smothermon. 

So if you see Mark around give him a break and chat him up about those record temps in the state. And try to stay away from words that begin with "A."


This makes you wonder if first year ABQ Dem City Councilor Louie Sanchez is going to join Republican Councilor Dan Lewis on the "I wanna be Mayor" list:

I’m holding the administration accountable and pushing for many changes that have already been enacted, like the mayor changing his leadership for chief administrative officer and city attorney. I also met with the mayor’s former choice of superintendent of police. Not long after my frank conversation with the candidate about the reality of the police department’s mismanagement, Mayor Keller removed her. I’ve led the charge fighting against lawless homeless encampments to keep crime, drugs and unsanitary conditions away from our children, families and businesses. And now, the City Council will reconsider the city-sanctioned encampments.

Sounds like Louie already thinks he's running the mayor's office but the election isn't until 2025.  


Monahan on KANW 2022
We told you about public radio station KANW 89.1 FM capturing second place in the ABQ radio market in the April Nielsen ratings. Now the station, popular for its New Mexico music and national public radio programming, has vaulted to the #1 spot in the ABQ market in the May ratings. 

That's apparently a first for a noncommercial station. 

Nielsen reports KANW earned a 5.6 share of the radio audience aged 12 and over; KABQ-FM (oldies) came in second at 5.2 and there was a three way tie for third with country station KBQI, classic rock station KIOT and KZRR 94 Rock all getting a 4.2 share. 

We've been associated with KANW for decades calling our first election for the outlet owned by the ABQ Public Schools in 1988 and every state primary and general election since then. Now we're looking forward to an even larger audience when we gather the gang again for coverage of the '22 general election in November. Congrats to the KANW team. 


In a first draft Tuesday we blogged that the BernCo Commission would send names to the Governor for her to select a new BernCo District attorney from, if current DA Raul Torrez is elected attorney general in November. The commission plays no role in the selection. The Governor would name a new district attorney from a list of those who apply for the position. 

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Tuesday, July 19, 2022

Armstrong State House Vacancy Raises Question, Plus: Was Brian Colón Not Mean Enough?, And Blowback On The Ronchetti/Smothermon Abortion Blog  

Now that ABQ Dem state Rep. Debbie Armstrong has retired, who will replace her? The answer isn't yet clear. 

Armstrong's District 17 in the NE Heights moved to the westside under redistricting but the old district apparently remains in effect until the end of the year. 

That means former City Councilor Cynthia Borrego, the Dem nominee for the new district, will apparently not be appointed by the Bernalillo County Commission to fill the remainder of Armstrong's term that runs until year's end. 

That could make a difference in the November election. 

The new district appears to be a swing seat, with the state's redistricting analysis putting Dem performance at 50.7 percent just a tad better than the 49.3 GOP performance. 

Appointing Borrego could give her an advantage as an incumbent.

The five member Dem-controlled commission could contemplate appointing Borrego but our Legal Beagles report that it would be a legal leap that the GOP would likely challenge, especially if it were Borrego and not a placeholder. 

The GOP nominee for the seat is retired air traffic controller Ellis McMath

At the start of July Borrego reported $17,000 in cash on hand while McMath had less than $3,000.

Armstrong, an eight year House veteran, says she is retiring for family reasons. She is a BFF of MLG who House Speaker Egolf says carved out a solid record on health care legislation, including the right to die bill that won approval. 

Armstrong was in the limelight in the 2018 Guv campaign when the health insurance business she ran with MLG came under scrutiny from Republicans. 

The 70 member state House currently has 44 Dems, 24 Republicans and one independent. The November election is not expected to alter those numbers significantly but there are swing seats to watch and District 17 is among them. 


At the Victoria Martens murder trial defense attorney Stephen Aaarons made a convincing case in his opening statement that BernCo District Attorney Raul Torrez botched the case and that 10 year old Victoria's brutal slaying was committed by the state's star witness, Jessica Kelly. She copped a plea to lesser charges in exchange for her testimony against Fabian Gonzales who is standing trial for child abuse charges in the race. 

That raises the question of why State Auditor Brian Colón, who dueled with DA Torrez for the Dem attorney general nomination last month, did not use the case in his campaign which featured numerous attack ads from both sides. The answer, says a Colón political ally, is. . . 

Brian wasn't mean enough because he's not that mean. His campaign thought Brian was being tough and by comparison to his past campaigns he was. But Torrez did not let up and he won by six points. Would Brian have won if he raised the Martens case against the DA? We'll never know. 

Colón finishes his term as Auditor at the end of the year. 

Torrez is expected to defeat Republican Jeremy Gay and become the next AG. The Governor would  appoint a new DA to fill out Torrez's unexpired term.


The Ronchetti/Smothermon blog from Monday brought this email from a reader:

 Joe- I knew as soon as Ronchetti's TV ad came out where he "clarifies" his stand on abortion, he would be in trouble with his GOP base. The radical right believe the same as Rev. Smothermon: No abortion is right. I think his ad sealed the deal for MLG, if she did not have it sealed before. The radical GOPers will not vote at all, which will be devastating for Ronchetti. The question--why didn't Ronchetti's political analyst Jay McCleskey recognize the danger in the ad?

Responding to our blog on Twitter a reader wrote:

Abortion is fool's gold. It isn't the win that Dems think it is. 

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Monday, July 18, 2022

Getting Smothered: High Profile ABQ Pastor Rocks Ronchetti From Bully Pulpit; Says Candidate Told Him He Wants All Abortions Banned; Dems Make Hay; Complete Coverage And Analysis Of Key Campaign Moment  

Rev. Smotherman
ABQ's pugnacious and politically potent evangelical pastor has injected himself into the '22 gubernatorial contest, possibly changing the course of the campaign that will determine the state's next chief executive. 

Legacy Church Reverend Steve Smotherman knocked the wind out of GOP nominee Mark Ronchetti last week, taking to his bully pulpit and declaring that Ronchetti wasn't telling the whole story about his stand on the hot button issue of abortion--that the candidate not only favors restricting abortion to the first 15 weeks of pregnancy but personally told him that if elected he will support banning the procedure entirely.

(Full video here with comments on Ronchetti starting at 27:10.)

The charismatic Smotherman dug the hole deeper as he explained his private meeting with the candidate:

I know Mark Ronchetti came out--and some people are very upset--because he said I think (abortion) is  reasonable up to 15 weeks. . . I know a lot of us got mad. I did too. I had a long talk with him for hours. I said, dude right out of the gate you blew it and he said here's what I was trying to do. I know what you were trying to do but you didn't do it and here's what he said. He said, 'listen, I just want to start with getting rid of partial birth abortion in the whole state'--which we should be happy with--and he said 'but I can't just go in and do it 100 percent because we won't ever get elected.'  He said I just want to start but his goal would be to end abortion in New Mexico. Just so you know. 

How do I know that? Because I talked to him for hours and I said I won't support anybody that believes in killing a baby ever. I don't care how much you are right on other issues. That one issue is enough for me because if you don't believe in life, something's wrong. 

That jaw dropper brought guffaws throughout La Politica and left Ronchetti speechless. His spokesman surfaced to try some damage control:

(Ronchetti) wants to end late-term abortion in New Mexico by limiting abortion to the first 15 weeks. His position has been clear and consistent. The pastor is free to express his position on these issues. 

Smotherman, 61, indicated he was doing Ronchetti a favor by reassuring his conservative flock that Ronchetti's 15 week proposed abortion ban that disappointed them was not the end game. But it was a backfire of major proportions as it burst into the media and, according to our analyst Greg Payne, a former legislator and ABQ city councilor, it further poisoned the well for Ronchetti in Blue Bernalillo County:

It isn't only the ultra-conservative abortion position Smotherman claimed Ronchetti adopted in a private meeting, it's the redefining of Ronchetti's character that is also devastating. He has run as an outsider, an anti-politician and fighter of the "political elites" but here he is, according to Smotherman, making a backroom deal and doing what the politicians do that he often attacks--saying one thing and doing another. That makes the ice underneath him in Bernalillo County even thinner and has the race firmly leaning toward the incumbent.

Smotherman's revelation was even more painful for the GOP, coming as it did while Ronchetti airs a rebuttal to a TV ad from a Dem PAC that says he wants to "criminalize abortion." 

Observers of various stripes say the best Ronchetti can do now is to pivot to the economy and inflation. But the state Dems will try to keep him pinned down. They are now calling his position on abortion "a lie" and the Smotherman video provides easy pickings for a forceful TV ad to back their assertion. 


The Ronchetti campaign rushed to get Smotherman to clarify what he had said but to little effect. In a newspaper interview the pastor elaborated on his private meeting with Ronchetti:

Mark was clear with me that he is personally pro-life and what he intends to do as governor, which is identical to what he says in his campaign commercial. My comments were not intended to convey his strategy as governor. I believe Mark is committed to ending the terrible practice of late-term abortion in our state, a practice that the current governor sadly embraces.

Not intended to convey his strategy? In other words the duplicitous Ronchetti strategy Smotherman conveyed to his congregation was indeed the candidate's strategy. 

To that the Ronchetti camp can say, "Thanks for nothing," Steve. 


Then-Mayor Berry praying
This isn't the first time Smotherman has been in a high-profile abortion dispute with a Republican candidate desperate to pedal to the middle but not alienate the powerful conservative block represented by Smotherman. 

In fact, prior to delving into his conversation with Ronchetti, Smotherman recalled to his audience his battle with former ABQ GOP Mayor RJ Berry over placing an anti-abortion initiative on the 2013 city election ballot when Berry was up for for re-election. Here's what he said (starting at 25:00 on church video):

This church helped get petitions. We worked with groups to stop partial birth abortion in Albuquerque and we lost the vote. . .We lost for two reasons. Number one--RJ Berry. You don't ever hear his name anymore. Because I told him long after people forgot who you are, we will still be here loving our city. Becuse he was arrogant and he'll be known for two things--the (ART transit) debacle on Central because no one rides it. They ruined businesses. And then he'll be known for this. We had all the signatures, we were going to get on the ballot when he was running for mayor and he made sure it did not get on the ballot. It gave the opposition eight more weeks to spend millions of dollars and we lose. 

Berry and his consultant, Jay McCleskey, who today is Ronchetti's consultant as he was for Gov. Susana Martinez, were fearful that an anti-abortion vote at the same time as the mayoral election would hurt Berry in the Dem city. The anti-abortion election was held a month after the October balloting and failed on a 55 to 45 vote. 


And this is not the first time that abortion has sidetracked the controversial McCleskey. He was seen as the "shadow Governor" to Martinez, pulling the strings on major issues and appointments. Anti-abortion activists targeted him because of his reticence over abortion restrictions and picketed his ABQ NE Heights home in 2014. He came out and called them "pieces of shit."


It's against this lengthy background that Smotherman's action with Ronchetti needs to be weighed. After being patronized by previous Republicans, was Smotherman sending a message that he and his followers are tired of it so he went public to hold Ronchetti's feet to the fire--not just to placate those who felt Ronchetti's abortion position was not strong enough?

It's legitimate speculation as evangelical and other conservative religious groups have taken hold of the Republican Party here and nationally in a way never seen before. They have shown the ability to call the shots and seeing yet another Republican candidate attempting to adhere to the "meek middle" on one of their most cherished causes may have been the final straw. 

Whatever the motivation, Smotherman's intervention served as a reminder to Ronchetti, McCleskey and the GOP at large of the powerful hand he holds. And if it costs the GOP the gubernatorial election, so be it. 

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