Thursday, September 08, 2022

Big Win For Keller; Council Fails To Override Veto; Homeless Encampments Get Go Ahead, Plus: Feeling The Frustration: Ronchetti Campaign Rips Media; "They're Keeping The Truth From You, Also: Campaign Trail Action  

We had a blog all ready to go on ABQ Mayor Tim Keller's big win at the ABQ city council last night but the gremlins got into the computer and we lost the entire report. In a nutshell, the council failed to override a mayoral veto and that paved the way for homeless encampments in the city or as they are more politely called "safe outdoor spaces." That win comes on the heels of Keller's announcement that the Gateway center for the homeless, long stalled, will open this winter. 

The swing vote on the veto override was Republican Councilor Trudy Jones. She joined with three Dems to sustain the veto giving it a 5 to 4 vote in favor, one shy of the number needed to override. We'll have more next week but for now a turning point may have been reached on one of the city's most contentious issues. 


Trying to jumpstart his lagging campaign and attract financial support, GOP Guv nominee Mark Ronchetti is now using the state's media as a foil and accusing them of failing to hold MLG to account and ignoring his campaign. In a fund-raising pitch this week titled, They're Keeping the Truth From You, he outlined a litany of complaints against the Fourth Estate starting with this:

It’s up to us to reach voters directly with the truth, because the media will do everything in their power to help MLG avoid accountability. . .Just the other day, the state quietly released the dismal test results that 75% of students are not proficient in math and two-thirds are not proficient in reading. If you think MLG. . . had to dodge TV cameras camped out in her office demanding answers, think again. The Albuquerque Journal wrote a story that did not even mention the governor. Again, it’s an accountability-free zone for MLG. 

The Journal story did not quote the Governor but it did quote the NM Secretary of Education reacting to the "dismal" results.

Then there is this Ronchetti campaign complaint over the coverage he's getting:

Mark released his detailed plan to reform CYFD and protect kids in New Mexico. It’s a huge issue where abused kids are repeatedly left in dangerous situations, oftentimes with tragic results. But not one media outlet even bothered to cover Mark’s plan – the same media who constantly claim they want candidates to lay out substantive policy. . .When was the last time the governor had to answer any questions from the media about these tragic CYFD cases? The media don’t even ask her. Voters have a right to know the truth. And it’s up to us to inform them. 

The Los Alamos Daily Post did reprint the Ronchetti release on CYFD reform and this blog covered his plan in detail, although Ronchetti's camp has its own definition of what is media as demonstrated when it drew criticism for denying press credentials to online publication Source NM for its Carlsbad rally with Florida Governor DeSantis. 

And his multipoint education plan announced at a Tuesday news conference received wide media coverage, including reaction from the MLG camp. 

There is a bit of irony in Ronchetti and company attacking the media when he made a very healthy living as a member of that same media as the longtime chief meteorologist for KRQE-TV. The federal financial form he filed when running for US Senate in 2020, showed he was paid over $200,000 a year for that gig.

But since that ABQ Journal poll hit the streets showing Ronchetti getting beat 47 to 40 percent by MLG his fund-raising has probably tanked so why not take a whip to a group that is not the most popular on the block?

Should we mention that all the money or most of it that Ronchetti will raise from his thumping of the media will be going back to that very media to buy TV spots? Nah. No need to mention that. 

As they say, desperate times call for desperate measures.


Meantime, Ronchetti has released a 60 second TV ad featuring his wife who describes a home invasion she endured at their ABQ home. It's another effort by Ronchetti to attract women voters and follows his release this week of his education reform plan. . . MLG is holding on to an important Democratic constituency--labor. She's received the backing of ten NM labor unions which her campaign says "signifies her strong commitment to advancing opportunities for hardworking New Mexicans."

Outside interest groups are now playing in the southern congressional battle featuring GOP Rep. Yvette Herrell and Democrat Gabe Vasquez. Our media watchers report the GOP Congressional Leadership Fund has put $528,000 to work on ABQ and El Paso TV attacking Vasquez' crime credentials. The League of Conservation Voters is going up with $280,000 for Vasquez in the ABQ market. The race is rated toss-up or slightly favoring Herrell and has national implications for what party controls the US House. . . 


Rep. Benavidez
There's a new ABQ Dem state rep but her tenure swill be short-lived. The BernCo Commission has filled the vacant seat of former Dem Rep. Deborah Armstrong but the new rep will serve only to the end of year. The district she represents has been moved from the North Valley to the westside effective Jan. 1. From the Commission:

Linda Garcia Benavides (will) fill the vacant District 17 seat. Rep. Benavides was the only person to submit an application. She spent 24-years with Sandia National Laboratories in accounting areas. She currently serves on the executive board of the New Mexico Hispanic Heritage Committee. The commission approved the appointment of Benavides on a 3 to 0 vote. . .

Dem Cynthia Borrego and R Ellis McMath are squaring off for the new District 17 seat now on the westside.


In a first draft published Wednesday on the legislature's action on a pretrial detention bill at the '22 session we mistakenly said the bill passed the House. It passed a House committee but did not get a full House vote. A similar bill was tabled by a senate committee. And we misidentified the committee that is chaired by Sen. Ivey Soto. He is chair of Senate Rules. He has worked remotely much of this year from California where his mother Clara suffered from brain cancer and who passed away this week at 86.

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Wednesday, September 07, 2022

DOA Already? Poll Shows Tough On Crime Detention Bill With Blow-Out Support But Key Senators Hold Their Ground, Plus: Ronchetti Tries To Woo Women Voters And Runs Into Mimi Stewart 

DOA already? It appears that way despite the latest survey showing widespread public support for a law that would toughen conditions for criminal defendants to avoid jail before going to trial. 

The proposal is deeply satisfying to a public exhausted by crime and seemingly lenient judges, especially in the ABQ metro. Politicians from both sides of the aisle have rushed to support the measure, including Dems MLG, Mayor Tim Keller and BernCo District Attorney Raul Torrez. MLG even made it part of her highly publicized '22 crime package and ABQ GOP state House candidate Nicole Chavez is building her candidacy around the bill. 

But not all Dem state senators have joined in that support. At the last session a House Committee passedpassed a pretrial detention bill but it did not go to the floor and Senate Health and Public Affairs Committee also tabled a pretrial detention bill.

Sen. Joe Cervantes is chairman of the  Judiciary Committee another committee that could get the bill in the future. 

Without key senators support the bill is very unlikely to see the light of day. Judging by Cervantes' blast on social media in the poll's aftermath the bill is going to stay in the dark:

What's needed to jail dangerous criminals are not presumptions - which are only advisory. Judges can still override "presumptions". What's really needed? Scrutiny, accountability and consequences for those failing to do their jobs. 

The measure would create “rebuttable presumptions,” where defendants charged with high level felonies are presumed dangerous to the community and are forced to prove otherwise in order to obtain a stay out of jail card. 

As the Journal poll revealed the bill's intent provokes an emotional response with an overwhelming 85 percent of respondents supporting it, but most of the respondents probably never saw the expert reports showing it would have a negligible impact on crime. 

Researchers found that under the current system, about 4 in 5 defendants who were released remained arrest-free pending trial. . .Currently, people charged with a felony can be held without bond only if prosecutors can persuade a judge that no conditions of release would protect the public, or that a defendant is unlikely to appear in court. . .A study by the Santa Fe Institute and the University of New Mexico Institute for Social Research found that under House Bill 5 – which was proposed during the 2022 legislative session – an additional 2,403 people would have been held in jail. In reality, those people were released and – while awaiting trial – 96% were not charged with any new violent crimes and 85% were not charged with any new crimes, the study found.

While Cervantes, a trial lawyer, and others are blasted as a pawn of the criminal defense bar, the evidence is on their side. What decidedly is not is public opinion. That makes for one big logjam.


Pierre-Louis, Journal
Mark Ronchetti had an idea for wooing women voters who have been fleeing his candidacy and that of other Republican hopefuls who are mistrusted because of their stand on abortion rights. But then the GOP nominee ran into Senate President Pro Tem Mimi Stewart. 

Ronchetti unveiled his multipoint public education plan Tuesday that included an eye-catching proposal to give low income parents $1500 a year for three years to employ tutors to help their 1st to 3rd graders catch up on school work that suffered during the long Covid shutdown. (Full plan here.) 

But it was this Ronchetti proposition that Stewart found even more eye-catching:

A zip code shouldn’t determine whether a child has access to a great education from a great public school. Parents should have more public school options to choose from and be empowered to select the public school that best fits the interests, needs, and abilities of their child – whether that’s a traditional, magnet, or charter school.

Vouchers for parents to use to send their kids to private schools is a Republican dream but Ronchetti was careful to say at his news conference that his voucher plan applied to the public schools and he left private schools unmentioned. 

But state Dems and Stewart did not let him off the hook and pointed to a March radio interview where Ronchetti indicated his support for vouchers for private schools:

In response to an interviewer asking, “Now when you said, you mentioned the money follows the student. How far would that money be able to follow the student? Does the student have to be in public school or would that money be able to follow if the parent wanted to put them in a private school?” Ronchetti responded “No, no, I think ideally, you want to give people the maximum amount of flexibility you can.” [KSVP, 10:52-11:12, 3/31/22]. https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=HPGkcjx3Z7I

Ronchetti went on to explain that vouchers giving flexibility to parents for their public school education would come first but that he would build on that success to then cover private schools. He admitted that any plan would be a tough sell in the Democratic dominated legislature. That brought Stewart before the microphones:

Ronchetti seems determined to undermine public education in his effort to push school vouchers. And even though he said this morning those vouchers would be for public schools, he’s said in interviews that it would extend to private schools, draining funding for public schools and New Mexico’s most vulnerable students. That means he would send taxpayer dollars to private schools with no accountability to the public. We must keep public dollars in public schools.

Vouchers for private schools are a favorite of the conservative think tank crowd but the public remains skeptical. That's a problem for Ronchetti who desperately needs to overcome opposition from women to resuscitate his trailing candidacy--and education is one of their top issues. 

There's a pattern here. This summer Ronchetti proposed a compromise on abortion in which the procedure would be allowed for the first 15 weeks of pregnancy with exemptions for incest and life of the mother. But then ABQ Rev. Steve Smothermon surfaced and said Ronchetti told him privately that he wants to do away with all abortions but first he must start with limitations in order to get elected. 

Ronchetti deneid that, but the description is strikingly similar to how he handled the voucher question in that radio interview--start with public school vouchers but then extend them to private schools. 

Ronchetti is stuck between two worlds--the conservatives he must have and the independents and moderate Dems he must have. Trying to please both is a Herculean task and has the candidate taking spills from his tightrope.  


Our Alligators have suggestions for him. 

How about he throws his support behind the constitutional amendment that would use a portion of the over $20 billion Land Grant Permanent School Fund for early childhood education and that voters will decide November 8? The proposal is garnering 69 percent support in the latest poll and even a majority of Republicans are in support as was Ronchetti's GOP primary opponent state Rep. Rebecca Dow.

And there's another path he could go down. What about the landmark 2018 Yazzie-Martinez lawsuit in which a district court judge found the state in violation of its Constitution for failing to provide proper education for "at risk" children, most of whom are Hispanic or Native American and come from low income families?

The court-ordered implementation of Yazzie has been going slowly and MLG has been taking heat over that. What would Ronchetti do to bring these children up to snuff, many of whom hail from Democratic families that might be thankful for any new approach he offered.

Rebuilding his candidacy in the wake of the abortion earthquake is not easy but it only gets harder if Ronchetti doesn't start thinking outside the box. 

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Tuesday, September 06, 2022

Final Stretch of '22 Horse Race Starts Now; Latest Data Gives Dems Control Of Guv And Key Congress Contest As R's Plot Upset; Abortion Starts To Surface In State House Battles, And: City Survey Says ABQ Residents Down In The Dumps But Signs Of Hope Emerge 

Labor Day is in the rearview mirror and that means the political horses are lined up at the starting gate to begin the final stretch of Campaign '22.

Since we last met the two featured races have moved closer to the Democrats. Barring a major shake-up, election upsets will have to come from contested state House races further down the card.

At the top of the line-up, is the race for Governor between incumbent MLG and Republican Mark Ronchetti. The race has now been ranked "favored" for MLG to win by the handicappers at 538 with the current prediction calling for a 52.1% to 45.3% finish. 

Using their election model 538 simulated the race 40,000 times and found that she wins 83 out of 100 times with Ronchetti getting across the finish line first 17 times in 100 tries. 

That tracks with last month's ABQ Journal poll that gave the incumbent a 47 to 40 lead with the Libertarian getting 5 percent and a mere 8 percent undecided. 

Both of these racers are known and far wide so the final two months will center on whether one candidate can throw the other off their horse and persuade their voters to ride with them or at least not vote. Is there that kind of fluidity in the electorate when it comes to this contest? It doesn't appear so but there is plenty of time to test the contention.


With Dems surging nationally, southern congressional candidate Gabe Vasquez is looking for a post Labor Day reset in his head-to head race against GOP US Rep. Yvette Herrell. He needs it fast as 538 now says Herrell is "slightly favored" in the newly drawn district that is more Dem friendly with the addition of a slice of ABQ's Hispanic westside. 

In the 538 simulation Herrell gets the first place ribbon 58 out of 100 times while Vasquez, a former Las Cruces city councilor, wins 42 out of 100. The model currently calls for a 50.8% to 49.2% finish Election Night. 

DC Dems got a late start in this contest that other handicappers still rate a "toss-up." The national environment currently favoring them will have to be what puts Vasquez over the top. 

Herrell has vulnerable votes--like against certifying the election results in favor of President Biden and rejecting the popular Inflation Reduction Act. But she's got steel in her spine and voters like nothing if not authenticity. 

Vasquez has to unmask Herrell's hard Trumpian edge and stop her from hiding behind Reba, her Great Dane who appears with Herrell in her first TV spot and has assumed a starring role in the thus far lackluster race. 


In the aforementioned state House races where all 70 seats are on the ballot November 8 we're seeing movement in one race Republicans are betting heavily on. That's District 27 that includes affluent precincts near Tanoan County Club and vicinity in the far ABQ NE Heights. 

Dem Rep. Marian Matthews has started to nudge abortion forward as a headline issue in her face-off with Republican Bob Godshall, who lost a close one to Matthews in 2020. 

Matthews is pushing out an endorsement from Planned Parenthood. That's backing that would be ordinary in any other year but this year comes loaded with the the pro-choice message. There's no shortage of Republicans, particularly GOP women, who are upset with the Supreme Court's ruling turning abortion law over to the states.

The national mood, Matthews' status as an incumbent, her superior fund-raising and her move on abortion tells us she leads by a couple of lengths.

There are other House races where the GOP hopes to cash a winning ticket but if they can't keep the Country Club class in their cheering section, their chances may also be darkening elsewhere. 


FBI's Bujanda
A majority of ABQ residents are down in the dumps over their beloved ABQ, according to the city's annual Perception Survey. The poll says just 48 percent of ABQ rates the quality of life here excellent or good. 

Many don't feel safe at night in their neighborhoods--down to 57 percent from 68 percent. 

And 70 percent think the city is failing in dealing with homelessness. (Full poll here.)

But there are signs of hope that post-pandemic ABQ could get back on its feet. 

One of those is the FBI led takedown last week of the drug culture that even had those permanently cynical giving an approving nod. Among them is retired APD cop and watchdog Dan Klein who has written extensively about the cartel-led drug epidemic. He opines that if the Feds aren't "one and done" on their drug intervention, we could finally see crime bottom out. 

The intervention was highly significant. When was the last time area law enforcement here conducted same day raids that netted 142 pounds of meth, loads of arms and ammunition, $4 million in cash and one million fentanyl pills. One million! (And when does this blog use exclamation points?)

That finally put the picture fully in the window: ABQ is riddled with an unrelenting drug epidemic that has to be lassoed or else. The raids confirm that the notorious Surenos Gang is distributing drugs across the metro and is a pipeline for the Mexican drug cartels. The results have been devastating for behavioral health, business development and quality of life. 

The J. Edgar at the local FBI office, Raul Bujanda, seems to have the moxy to get the attention of the drug cabal. He's cobbled together area agencies, including the Sheriff and APD, to go along for the ride. Here's wishing them a first place finish in their race. The practice run was just what the doctor ordered for the Pollyannas among us. 

And even ABQ Mayor Tim Keller, whose popularity now seems lower than a snake's belly, has come through with glad tidings for the glass is half-full crowd. After two years of mishaps and misfortune he says the long delayed Gateway Center for the homeless and mentally afflicted--who dot so many of our street corners--will be open this winter. It will start small but finally it will start. 

For Tired Tim, 45 is the new 65. But if character is formed by adversity (and it is) Keller could find newfound strength in his second act. Lord knows, Mr. and Mrs. Albuquerque are hoping. 


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