Thursday, September 22, 2022

Old Rule Predicting State House Races Looking Worn And Torn, Plus: More House Candidate Quotes From Across The State; You've Landed At The Home Of New Mexico Politics 

They say rules were made to be broken and after scoping out the state House races this week it seems an old rule with staying power could end its run. At the start of this campaign pollster Brian Sanderoff explained:

The phenomenon that the “nonwhitehouse party” benefits electorally can be best seen when viewing NM statehouse races. During the 2 Obama mid-term elections the Republicans picked up a total of 13 house seats and took over the majority in the state house. During the Trump mid-term election the Democrats picked up 8 statehouse seats. This shows how the mood of the nation affects local races.

The problem in '22 is that there are not that many competitive House contests for the national mood to influence, and for several reasons. Republicans have not fielded strong candidates in many of them and abortion has changed the mood on the ground in favor of the White House party. 

Ditto for the gubernatorial race where it appeared in June that the incumbent was in serious peril but now has emerged as the clear frontrunner, thanks to both abortion and the structural make up of this Blue state. 

As things stand (and there's a small chance they could change) the make-up of the state House following Election Night could be almost the same as we started--with 45 Dems in the 70 member chamber. The GOP may get downright moody if that happens. 

But what about southern Congresswoman Yvette Herrell? Shouldn't the Democrats who are now getting better vibes from the electorate be hurting her against challenger Gabe Vasquez? Strikingly, there has not been a single independent public poll released on that race. That's fine. We can use all the suspense they throw at us.


Time now for part two of excerpts from the ABQ Journal questionnaires of candidates for state House seats in districts with competition. We begin today in the Southwest. . . 

Democrat Rudy Martinez of Silver City  in Distrcit 39 has a simple and perhaps unique view on reforming the gross receipts tax: 

What changes, if any, should New Mexico make to its gross receipts tax code? 

There aren’t any changes that I would make. The GRT is necessary to help pay for the services our government owes to the public. 

Santa Fe will be flooded with GRT reform plans next year but for Rudy no plan is a good plan.


Dem Rep. Eliseo Alcon of Milan in District 6 is from a rural area but that doesn't mean he isn't for some restrictions on guns:

Would you support or oppose legislation that banned or restricted the sale of AR-15-style semi-automatic weapons, such as raising the age limit for purchasing such weapons? And what about legislation making it a crime to fail to safely secure firearms around children? 

Yes I would restrict AR-15s to military and police only. I would vote for a law that makes it a crime not to lock up one’s guns. 

 Independent candidate Laura Gutierrez in House district 15 in ABQ disagrees: 

I do not support the restriction of the sale of firearms to law abiding adult citizens, more laws don’t fix the problem, better education for children regarding the dangers of firearms and better enforcement to keep guns from people who should not possess them is the best solution. 


Improving the performance of the troubled CYFD has been a matter that has befuddled Santa Fe for years. ABQ Dem Rep. Natalie Figueroa in District 30 says change needs to come from outside the agency.

What changes would you support to improve the operations of the Children, Youth and Families Department? 

The safety of children is paramount. I support an independent ombudsman to help implement necessary improvements, accountability, and increase full time equivalent employees to ensure case follow-through. CYFD is large and unwieldy, making it difficult to effect change. I would explore dividing the department so oversight and change can be implemented swiftly. 

GOP candidate Nicole Chavez in District 28 agrees: 

What changes would you support to improve the operations of the Children, Youth and Families Department? 

I testified in support of an independent and autonomous ombudsman during the 2022 New Mexico legislative session. CYFD cannot continue to police themselves. There must be an external oversight agency. Child safety and department transparency must be top priorities for our state as children are dying under the current CYFD administration. 


The Yazzie-Martinez lawsuit settlement governing education for at risk youth is another complex issue that has been slow to be resolved. Dem Rep. Joy Garratt in District 29 came with this:

What more, if anything, should the Legislature do to address a court ruling that found New Mexico is failing to provide a sufficient education to all students, especially Native Americans and those who don’t speak English as a first language? 

 The Legislature needs to ensure the Public Education Department finalizes its comprehensive response plan and support a robust pipeline to prepare bilingual educators. It also needs to allocate adequate resources for Hispanic, Black and Indian education advisory boards and liaisons as well as equitable resources for students with disabilities. 


Dem Eleanor Chavez in District 26 admits to being arrested twice--and proudly so:

Have you ever been arrested for, charged with, or convicted of drunken driving, any misdemeanor or any felony in New Mexico or any other state? If so, explain. 

I have been arrested twice, both in planned acts of civil disobedience. One was fighting for labor rights against a corporate hospital and the second was being arrested with a Catholic nun and one other woman protesting former Gov. Susanna Martinez. 


That constitutional amendment that would allow the Land Grant Permeant School Fund to be tapped for early childhood education funds finally made the ballot and will be decided by voters Nov. 8. Dem Rep. Liz Thomson came with her view:

Do you support or oppose the proposed constitutional amendment on the November ballot that would withdraw more money from the state’s permanent school fund to increase funding for early childhood services and K-12 education? 

Strongly support as a primary co-sponsor. The best way to affect a myriad of costly problems (including crime, child abuse, poor educational outcomes, poverty, substance use) is to prevent them. Investing in our youngest and their families is a proven strategy with a great return on investment 

GOP candidate Alan Martinez in District 23 sees it differently:

I oppose the proposed constitutional amendment to withdraw additional monies from the permanent fund. We have to protect the body of that fund. I support early childhood services, pre-K, and K-12 education. However, I support a transparent process including more accountability on how the current funding is spent


Are the Governor's emergency powers too broad and need to be rolled back? GOP District 22 Rep. Stefani Lord says they are.

Do you believe changes should be made to the emergency powers held by a governor during a pandemic or other time of crisis. If so, do you believe such powers should be expanded or reduced, and in what specific ways? 

 No Democrat or Republican should have unlimited, unchecked powers in a representative government. In multiple sessions, I co-signed onto a bipartisan bill to terminate the Emergency Response Act after 90 days and force the governor to call us into a special session to address the need for an extension. 

Lord's Dem opponent, Augustine Montoya, had an interesting response to the same question: 

I believe that emergency action should be balanced with passage by a full time, paid Legislature. This is why we have checks and balances between the executive and legislative branches. 

District 7 Dem candidate Danny Bernal weighed in with this: 

No. It’s the legislature’s responsibility to check the other branches of government, but not to impede. The people elect a governor to lead in times of crisis. It’s her elected responsibility to make the toughest decisions. Let the people decide if there should be a change of leadership in November. 


Independent candidate Enrique Cardiel in ABQ District 19 has some very specific thoughts about the gross receipts tax: 

What changes, if any, should New Mexico make to its gross receipts tax code? 

We need to tax sugary drinks and alcohol at a greater rate and put that funding into public health programs that help deal with issues caused by those substances. These examples are public health issues and as a public health worker it is clear we can do better on these. 

The questionnaire for the Guv candidates is also out. (MLG's is here and Ronchetti's is here.) We'll analyze those answers in a future blog.

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Wednesday, September 21, 2022

Two Chances For Ronchetti To Move The Needle; Guv TV Debate Schedule Set; Neither Is Close To Election Day. Plus: Traditional Candidate Questionnaires Provide Mucho Blog Fodder  

MLG and Mark Ronchetti throw plenty of arrows at each other but from afar. 

There have been no joint appearances between the two the entire campaign and it looks as if there may be only two meetings where New Mexicans see the duo spar in person. 

The Governor's campaign announced Tuesday she will engage in two, hour long TV debates with Ronchetti but there is no word of any other event that brings the pair together before the November 8 election. 

As we reported last week the first TV face-off will be at 7 p.m. Friday, September 30 on KOB. That comes well before early voting begins and is a good starting point but Friday night is a low viewing night so the audience will be minimized. That's an advantage for the incumbent who is leading and whose job is to avoid any errors and, God forbid, actually make some news. 

The second debate will air on KOAT at 6:30 p.m. Wednesday, October 12. This is also good timing as early voting at county clerk's offices begins October 11. Widespread early voting at locations around the state begins Saturday, October 22. 

Per tradition this debate will be co-sponsored by the ABQ Journal. KOB radio will also participate and air the debate live. 

It's a third TV debate late in October that is missing and that Ronchetti is being denied. Any mistakes then would have the most impact on voters.

The GOP nominee is the former chief meteorologist for KRQE, the missing link on the schedule. We asked veteran anchorman Dean Staley if the station had offered the Guv candidates debate time. He said they had and that he and co-anchor Jessica Garate would excuse themselves from moderating because they are former Ronchetti colleagues. He said if the debate had been conducted a journalist from outside the station would have been named moderator. But a KRQE debate did not make MLG's schedule. 

So strategically having the two debates at these times plays in favor of MLG but Ronchetti will still have his chances to upset the applecart and utilize his lengthy broadcast experience to make a mark. His camp came with this statement:

Mark is looking forward to debating the governor and holding her accountable for her disastrous record on crime, education and the economy. He is also ready to show New Mexicans his plans for the state and that there is a better path forward.

MLG's camp made it clear that they hope to make abortion a major debate topic, saying she looks forward to taking part:

. . .  New Mexicans will have the opportunity to hear about (her) exemplary leadership. . . and compare it to the lack of experience and dangerous plans that weatherman Mark Ronchetti brings to the table.  

Those "dangerous plans" they reference are from a WaPo opinion piece discussing how GOP candidates have "retreated" from their original abortion positions and in which Ronchetti is featured.    


Announcement of the timing of the TV debates is a traditional indicator that the campaign is about to be fully joined and so is the ABQ Journal questionnaire. 

The questions are straight forward and not devious but those dealing with personal topics like business failings and drunk driving have been the ruination of a number of hopefuls over the years (decades?) who for some reason decide to fudge the truth only to be found out and see their political careers prematurely ended. 

If the newspaper was playing a game of "gotcha" and laid devious plans to upend the politicians there might be some sympathy, but these are personal questions a second grader could answer honestly and in the blink of an eye. But staring down the truth can apparently be too much of a jarring experience for some seeking the voters' blessing. 

We just completed reviewing the many questionnaires from the competitive state House races on the ballot (hey, someone has to). We didn't spot any glaring missteps but we reserve judgment as the competitors begin fact checking the questions about bankruptcies, DWI arrests and the like.

Meantime, we bring you excerpts of answers to major issues posed to the House hopefuls that we found of interest and sometimes entertaining.


In ABQ District 14 Dem incumbent Dem Miguel Garcia, first elected in 1996, came with this answer on whether lawmakers should be full-time and paid:

Yes, I support a salaried Legislature. They should be paid the average salary of a New Mexico elementary school teacher, or the average salary of a municipal refuse collector — whichever is greater.  

"Refuse collector?" Now that's putting the outsized Roundhouse egos in their place. 


Garcia Richard
State Land Commissioner Stephanie Garcia Richard told readers to look to Texas for an answer to this question:

Would you support or oppose a ban — or temporary moratorium — on fracking permits for the oil industry on state trust land? 

We’re losing hundreds of millions of dollars in revenue because the Legislature doesn’t require oil and gas to pay their fair share. I’d support a moratorium as a way to force the Legislature to act and raise royalty rates to match Texas. 

Uh, don't say that too loud in Carlsbad, Steph.


This question required a one word answer--yes or no--and it got it from independent District 56 candidate Elaine Allen of Lincoln County:

Do you believe former President Donald Trump’s claim that he was the legitimate winner of the 2020 presidential election? (Yes or No answer only, please) 


Like we said, Elaine is from Lincoln County. 


House District 57 Dem candidate Michelle Sandoval of Rio Rancho is for a full-time Legislature and she knows just what to pay the 112 solons: 

New Mexicans can hold legislators more accountable as their time is paid for. If so, $40,000 is a baseline yearly salary. 

Okay, but Michelle probably needs to check with Rep. Garcia on what refuse collectors are making.


Rep. Harper
Michelle is running against Republican incumbent Jason Harper who couldn't figure out how to answer the Trump question. 

Do you believe former President Donald Trump’s claim that he was the legitimate winner of the 2020 presidential election? (Yes or No answer only, please) 

Respondent did not limit answer to yes or no as requested. 

It's not really a "gotcha" question, just yes or no. But for Harper we have to yell "Gotcha!"


Democrat Kathleen Cates, a Rio Rancho Realtor, is running for House District 44 and has a plan for diapers.

What changes, if any, should New Mexico make to its gross receipts tax code? 

No longer tax baby diapers. We already stopped taxing adult diapers. Removing the tax will help address this very difficult challenge. There are too many corporate exemptions. 

Hey what's good for an 80 year old can be good for an eight week old.  

Cates is running for a redesigned district that is heavy Dem and is expected to beat Republican Rep. Jane Powdrell-Culbert.


Las Cruces Dem state Rep. Nathan Small told constituents in District 36 about his very brief time in jail in answering this query:

Have you ever been arrested for, charged with, or convicted of drunken driving, any misdemeanor or any felony in New Mexico or any other state? If so, explain. 

In 2011 during a traffic stop, I was taken into custody because of a bench warrant for forgetting to pay a traffic ticket. Embarrassed, I paid the traffic ticket at the station and the issue was resolved

Now there's a guy who has dealt with this questionnaire before. 

Fun stuff and we'll have Part 2 of our questionnaire review tomorrow. 

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Tuesday, September 20, 2022

Slipping Away: Three ABQ House Seats GOP Had Hopes For Look Good For Dems; Fund-Raising Key Factor As Well As Abortion, Plus: Howie On the Hustings  

Rep. Dixon
There's a reason political pros expect Democrats in the 70 member state House to hold their own in the '22 election. Republicans are making little effort in two of three crucial ABQ NE Heights seats and in the third they are positioned to be outspent two to one.

The disappointing outlook in areas where the GOP once romped and was their hope for some sort of a comeback is deeply disappointing for the party that has not struggled like this since the 1970's when the joke was their elected officials could meet in a phone booth. 

Well, there are no phone booths anymore but the R's still don't need the La Fonda ballroom to hold a confab. They have no elected statewide officials and they are down to 24 of the 70 House members. (There is one independent).

The 45 Dems in the House even have reason to believe that against the odds they could add a seat or two to their overwhelming majority this year, and that takes us back to the NE Heights. 

In District 20 which includes affluent Four Hills freshman Dem Rep. Meredith Dixon donned a full suit of armor for the coming combat. State reports say she has raised the immense sum of $247,000 for a House re-election bid and started the month with $115,000 in cash. 

Her GOP opponent, retired Sandia Labs engineer Robert Salazar, is barely on the radar, raising $10K and having only $9K in the bank. Maybe Dixon can wear her armor for Halloween. 

There's a reason behind Dixon's big take. She's a professional fund-raiser, having done the job for Senator Tom Udall and the '08 presidential bid of Gov. Richardson. And she has a business--Blue Sky Advantages--that is involved in political fund-raising. 

It's not like the R's could not compete against Dixon. Redistricting has the partisan performance at just 50.5 percent Democratic. (She won 53.5 to 46.5 in '20).

But the number that really matters is the 11 to 1 lead Dixon has in cash. The GOP was not about to compete with that, not with an incumbent who has no major missteps on her record. 


Rep. Herndon
We told you weeks ago about how the GOP's other great NE Heights hope--District 27 held by first term Democrat Rep. Marian Mathews--was all but shut down. And it stays that way today. Matthews has raised six figures and Bob Godshall, her R opponent, has been buried under it. 

And to think that this district for years was a stronghold of conservative GOP Rep. Larry Larranga. That really drives home how the Blue has spread in the state's largest city. 

The GOP is still hanging on in District 28 but Rep. Pameyla Herndon, appointed to the seat and seeking her first elected term, might turn the lights out early on her GOP opponent, Nicole Chavez. Dems have united behind her and she sported a 2 to 1 cash lead at the start of the month--$150,000 to $75,000. 

While Chavez is praised as a solid anti-crime candidate abortion and women's rights could be the reason she is falling behind as the national mood, according to pollsters, has a heavy influence on these down ballot races. 

Republican Kurstin Johnson has raised a boatload of money in her effort to take out Dem Rep. Natalie Figueroa but so has the District 30 NE Heights incumbent. But if the R's are going to make a play up there it appears it may have to be Johnson pulling a major upset. 

House Minority Leader Jim Townsend has been around long enough to not be a Gloomy Gus over the outlook, but he has to be wondering whether the political pendulum that is supposed to swing back and forth got stuck somewhere. 


A reader lament:

Joe- I am wondering if we just have to get comfortable being at the bottom of the good lists and at the top of the bad lists. I am even trying to think about “settling” if we were in the middle, but we are not there. 
This is what I have found from your reporting and my research. 

--Highest unemployment in the nation.
--Last in education--performance, safety, community, investment, class size and attendance; 51st (District of Columbia beats us). 
--Rural homes without broadband access; highest in the nation at 42 percent.
--NM alcohol death rate is 53 per 100,000- highest in the country and over twice the national average. -----Ranked 50th for child wellbeing.

We hear you gentle reader. Much of what you wrote is what has kept us at this blog for nearly 20 years. 


Lt. Gov. Morales
The state's lieutenant governor, campaigning out on the rural hustings, is being brought into the big city today to add his voice to the abortion debate. NM Dems say Howie Morales will be at a news conference with a group of women and will "speak to the punishment and criminalization that women in New Mexico would face under Mark Ronchetti’s proposed abortion ban."

MLG's problem attracting Hispanic males is well-known (although she did a pretty good job with her husband) and having Howie hanging around in the final weeks can't hurt. In fact, maybe the Guv can bring him a cup of Starbucks for helping out--if Manny doesn't mind. 

Meanwhile, the kids of Mark Ronchetti seemed to have disappeared from the media portion of the campaign, but the candidate has his wife Krysty working overtime. She appears in two of his key campaign ads--one about a home invasion she says the couple suffered (but happened many years ago) and another backing him on his proposal to have voters decide state abortion law. She does own a PR firm so if the workload gets too heavy, she can always bill him. 


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Monday, September 19, 2022

Dysfunctional Senate Dems: Will Chaos Spill Onto Campaign Trail? Dispute Over Timing Of Caucus Meeting To Pick Leaders As Ivey-Soto Sex Harassment Controversy Rages; He Calls For FBI Probe of Sen. Stewart As She Faces Pro Tem Challenge; R's Eye Any Opportunity With MLG Harassment Case Resurfacing  

Sens. Wirth and Stewart
The ultimate dysfunctional family these days is the NM Senate where a sex harassment case against a senator has spun out of control, where a leadership battle threatens to further tear apart the 26 member majority Democratic caucus and where Republicans are starting to lick their chops over the internal squabbles of their opposition colleagues.

And all of this could be exacerbated and exaggerated by an out-of-the-ordinary Senate Democratic Caucus meeting to pick leaders that is scheduled for Saturday but is usually held after the November election. 

The immediate problem is if the Dems are unable to keep their dysfunction in the family and it starts to leak onto the fiery gubernatorial and state House campaign trail. The long-term problem is a caucus ripped to shreds with hate and resentment spilling over into policy and causing the state to suffer. 

It's like Lord of the Flies. There are no adults in the room," opined political analyst and attorney Greg Payne.

We turn to one of our Senior GOP Alligators to analyze this convoluted state of affairs afflicting the legislature's upper chamber:

Joe, by holding their caucus Saturday the Dems could open the floodgates on the corruption issue for Republicans. A divisive discussion will no doubt arise over the sexual harassment charges against ABQ Senator Daniel Ivey-Soto who is being called on to resign his committee chairmanships but who is fighting the charges vociferously. 

In addition, ABQ Senator Michael Padilla has announced he will try to win back his position as Senate Majority Whip, a position he was stripped of in 2017 because of sex harassment allegations and which then governor candidate Michelle Lujan Grisham used to force him to end his 2018 candidacy for lieutenant governor. 

The Governor is now prepping for her own sex harassment problems as the Ronchetti campaign can be expected to unload TV ads over her settlement of the infamous Crotchgate case in which she paid out $150,000 from campaign funds to a former campaign staffer who says she assaulted him. That and the events surrounding Ivey Soto and Padilla could easily be used to paint a picture of Democratic corruption. And there's more. There are the pending felony kickback charges charges against former ABQ Democratic Rep. Sheryl Williams Stapleton and the high profile drunk driving convictions of  Rep. Georgene Louis and former Sen. Richard Martinez

That's a mouthful but it ably outlines the political peril that the Dem dysfunction could pose to the still not closed out Governor's race. No wonder ABQ Sen. Jerry Oritz y Pino (and other senators behind the scenes) are calling on Majority Leader Peter Wirth and Senate Pro Tem Mimi Stewart to hold off conducting the Saturday meeting.  

That meeting could be even more politically explosive because Sen. Stewart's longtime rival and current Majority Whip Sen. Linda Lopez is planning to again challenge Stewart for the Pro Tem title. That's in addition to Padilla's controversial caucus comeback play. 

Not to mention that someone could call for a vote to kick Ivey-Soto out of his chairmanships, even though the ultimate decision is made by a full state Senate committee. The Senator is so reviled by certain interest groups that they will leave no stone unturned in pursuit of him, even as his lawyerly mind seems to be crafting a trap for his pursuers. 


Sens. Lopez and Ivey-Soto
One of the more bizarre aspects of this Senate Dem turmoil is Ivey-Soto contacting the FBI to investigate his charge that he was approached by an intermediary of Senator Stewart's who urged him to resign his committee chairmanships--or else a confidential report on his harassment case from a senate subcommittee would be leaked. He said he refused and the report was indeed leaked. 

Stewart calls her actions innocuous and the natural political gesture to make--not a criminal act. 

Ivey-Soto disclosed that the senate investigation of the charges is over and found that there is no probable cause to pursue the matter. Sen. Lopez was among the four senators making that finding. 

Not a few lawmakers are mentioning Ortiz y Pino, who will not seek re-election in two years, as a possible "peacemaker Pro Tem" to end the blood feud between Stewart and Sens. Lopez and Ivey-Soto. 

The most sensational allegation in the leaked report is that Ivey-Soto, who dated ABQ Senator Katy Duhigg before she was elected, once pinned her to the floor against her will. Duhigg refused comment. 

An ally of Ivey-Soto's says Duhigg did not support the allegation when interviewed by the senator's attorney during the senate probe. 

But calling the FBI into the state Senate? That's like yelling "Fire!" in a crowded theater. Who knows where the flames would be fanned? Senators, watch your coattails.


Team Ronchetti appears to need a mountain of Democratic mistakes in order to get the Guv race in play before widespread early voting starts October 22. That's because he has made his share of errors when it comes to abortion rights--and he may have made another late last week. 

Under the gun as women voters give MLG big majorities in the polls, Ronchetti came with yet another TV ad on abortion to try to break the steel ring women have formed around the Governor. This time he proposes that abortion rights be placed in a constitutional amendment and sent to the voters to decide. He says the politicians should not make the decision but, of course, constitutional amendments are written by the politicians--the members of the Legislature. 

Most concerning for the GOP nominee is his loss of trust on this issue and in turn perhaps a loss of trust in his overall candidacy. 

In 2020 when he ran for the US Senate he said he was a strong opponent of abortion "at all stages." This year that morphed into support for abortion during the first 15 weeks of pregnancy with exceptions for rape, incest and life of the mother. Now he proposes to send the matter to the voters but doesn't say exactly what language he would like voters to decide, although it is presumed it would be the ban on abortion after 15 weeks.

Then there is the video of ABQ Pastor Steve Smotherman who told his congregation this summer that he met privately with Ronchetti "for hours" and who told him he is against all abortion but has to start slowly in banning them or else he would not be elected. The video of Smotherman has not yet been shown in TV ads but it's certain it will as Election Day nears. 

Even Republicans admit Ronchetti has lost the narrative over abortion and has to find another way to ease women's concerns over his candidacy. Now more than ever he needs MLG to stumble in her colorful cowboy boots. 


A reader erred Thursday in identifying the construction group that Michael Puelle once worked for. Puelle is the chief of staff to Mayor Keller who last week was named the new top lobbyist for UNM. He previously worked for the Associated General Contractors (AGC) New Mexico. He was not, as the reader inferred, involved in anti-union activity. 

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