Thursday, November 17, 2022

Thursday Photo Blog: New Mexico's DC House Trio 

Stansbury, Vasquez and Leger Fernandez
Here they are--the three members of the New Mexico US House for 2023-24, including newcomer Gabe Vasquez whose addition flips the delegation from all female to include a Hispanic man from the southern congressional district. That's a first in the history of the 2nd CD that dates back to 1969.

Vasquez, 38, is also the first Millennial man in the NM DC delegation that also includes Dem Senators Ben Ray Lujan and Martin Heinrich. 

Like a true Millenial and in contrast to the baby boomers, Vasquez did a lot of job hopping before landing his dream job this month when he defeated GOP US Rep. Yvette Herrell:

From 2008 to 2011, he was the business editor of the Las Cruces Bulletin. In 2011, he was the executive director of the Las Cruces Hispanic Chamber of Commerce. From 2013 to 2015, he served as a field representative for then-Congressman Martin Heinrich. In 2015 and 2016, Vasquez was the vice president of communications for First Focus, a Washington, D.C.-based advocacy organization. From 2016 to 2018, he was the director of community relations for the New Mexico Wildlife Federation. In 2018 and 2019, he was the deputy director of New Mexico's chapter of the Wilderness Society. From 2019 to 2021, he worked as deputy director of the Western Conservation Foundation in the federal lands department. From 2017 to 2021, he served as a member of the Las Cruces City Council.

That's a whole lot of moving going on but now Vasquez has a good shot at longer term employment. 

While the Dems don't have a lock on the 2nd CD it does lean their way and Vasquez has already shown the flexibility needed to appeal to a diverse constituency that includes oil fields and environmental treasures. 

He will take the oath in January and is preparing for his two year term:

I’m pleased to announce that Rebecca Avitia, Senator Heinrich’s Chief of Staff, and Nayomi Valdez, former District Director for US Rep. Xochitl Torres Small, will be leading my transition.

ABQ Rep. Melanie Stansbury, 42, and northern Rep. Teresa Leger Fernandez, 63, are also celebrating their election to brand new districts. But they now have the challenge of being in the minority as the GOP took control of the House this cycle. 

Fernandez was aided in her re-elect by veteran NM and DC political operative Dan Sena and his team. They came up with widely praised TV spots for the congresswoman who was justifiably nervous in seeking her second two year term in a new district. Sena also has close ties to Sen. Ben Ray Lujan.

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Wednesday, November 16, 2022

Moe's Movida: Outmaneuvers Progressives To Win State Senate Appointment But Now There's A Target On His Back, Plus: In Search of The "Saboteur"; NMGOP Spooked By Election Results; Party Getting Unraveled  

Sen. Moe Maestas
After weeks of turmoil the Bernalillo County Commission last night appointed ABQ state Rep. Antonio "Moe" Maestas to the westside state senate seat that Jacob Candelaria resigned last month. But the appointment--on a 3 to 2 vote--came with a target on Maestas' back. Progressives are already vowing to run a candidate against him in 2024.

But Maestas is a political pro and observers think it will take a strong Hispanic opponent to stop him from getting elected to the seat. 

The  district is solid D so the only action will be in the Dem primary.

Maestas angled for the appointment since Candelaria let it be known last year that he was going to resign the District 26 seat. When Candelaria resigned in October progressive opponents of Maestas immediately accused him of engineering a movida with Candelaria to steamroll the appointment before two new progressive commissioners elected this month could be seated January 1.

Movida or not, Maestas had his ducks in a row. Dem Commissioners Quezada, Pyskoty and Republican Walt Benson sided with Maestas and progressive commissioners Barboa and O'Malley opposed. 

It was a somewhat nasty meeting with the commissioners bickering and questioning each other's motives. The animosity over the appointment went public earlier following another commission meeting where Commissioner O’Malley called Pyskoty a bitch. 

Eight people applied for the post. 

The main attack on Maestas, who has been in the House since 2007, was over his wife, Vanessa Alarid, and her role as a major business lobbyist with clients that include the Santolina land development company that has proposed a giant controversial development on the county's westside. 

O'Malley tried to disqualify Pyskoty from voting because she had received a $5,000 contribution from Alarid but Pyskoty dismissed the ethics accusation, pointing out that the money was not given to her by Maestas. She also noted that Commission Chair Barboa is a lobbyist. (She lobbies for a nonprofit). A hearing on O'Malley's ethics complaint will be heard in December. 

A progressive Maestas foe reacted: 

Pyskoty refused to recuse herself from the appointment vote, further imperiling her ethics situation. The County Code is clear--Commissioners must recuse themselves when any person within the third degree of relations has any substantial interest in her vote. As Charlene's largest donor, Vanessa Alarid is a first degree relation to Charlene and Vanessa has a substantial interest in seeing her husband appointed to the State Senate.

Maestas took note of the rancor over his appointment following the affirmative vote:

It’s a great victory for the West Side, a great victory for a Hispanic-majority district. It’s unfortunate that personal hatred and animosity came into play. The community deserves better.

The 54 year old has a long track record in political and public service and was instrumental in winning voter approval of a constitutional amendment last week that creates a revenue stream for early childhood education from the state’s Land Grant Permanent Fund. 

Lobbyists married to state lawmakers has been a touchy issue. Last Saturday Las Cruces state Rep. Doreen Gallegos, wife of prominent lobbyist Scott Scanland, tried for the position of majority floor leader at the House Dem caucus. She was rebuked, in part, observers say, because of her spouse's lobbyist status.

Maestas has time to establish himself in the seat and is already well-known because his House district overlaps the senate district, even though he moved into the senate district only this past year. 

The Maestas Movida was masterfully done Tuesday evening but it will be another Tuesday evening in June 2024 when he will have to cement the deal with the people of the district. 

The bickering commission is not through with all of this. They now have to fill Maestas' vacant House seat. 


Chair Pearce
The crazy-making continues at the NMGOP as it continues to reel from the election results and argue over who will chair the party following their poor performance. Republicans will grimace when they read this missive form the state party and Dems will roar with glee: 


. . . A member of the Republican Party circulated a bogus email in an effort to boot Chairman Steve Pearce and Executive Director Kim Skaggs from their offices. It’s dismaying that two major New Mexico newspapers reported on this phony email without any verification. The media has the responsibility to check and confirm facts and at least try to contact the author of such a message before publishing. 

RPNM has combed through records, voter rolls and has checked numerous sources, but there is no record anywhere of a James Navarette. So bogus was this message that the author even misspelled the phony name at the bottom of the email—Navarrette. 

Robert Aragon 
The email, sent to hundreds of people affiliated with the Republican Party of New Mexico, launched unjustified attacks on Pearce and Skaggs. This was simply a cowardly smear campaign, a weak, juvenile effort to undermine Pearce, Skaggs and the RPNM. It is possible that this bogus email came from a disgruntled party officer with personal political aspirations in mind. RPNM’s State Central Committee members will elect their next Chairman and officers in Las Cruces next month. 

“Hiding behind such a fake email and criticizing the RPNM Executive Director, who has donated an entire year of her time to the party, is a despicable act,” said Pearce. “It’s dishonest, seedy and shows a nadir of character. I can accept fair criticism, but this sneaky tactic of an email under a pseudonym is about as cowardly and low as you can get. 

RPNM has built a good management team of elected officers, is building solid county infrastructure in many counties and is set to appear in front of the New Mexico Supreme Court in January to argue the case against the egregious gerrymandering that (House) Speaker Brian Egolf and the progressive Democrats passed through the last legislative session. It is my intent to run again for Chairman of RPNM to continue to build the party.”

ABQ attorney Robert Aragon of the anti-Pearce faction of the GOP led by former Gov. Susana Martinez and consultant Jay McCleskey has announced he will challenge Pearce for the party chairmanship at the Dec. 3 meeting where the GOP will choose new officers. There could be more challengers.

Meanwhile the "Saboteur" remains at large. If you have any idea where they are, please call 505-242-COPS.


Reader Kelley Vigil weighs in with this:

As long as the GOP is a threat to women’s rights, climate, LGBQ rights and puts social security, medicare and democracy in peril, I will vote for the MLG’s who are running. Even if I have to hold my nose. 

As usual, great coverage this election this year. What would we do without you?! 

And this from an Alligator on the future of defeated TV weather forecaster Mark Ronchetti

First, a clarion call with trumpets & rolling drums. . . Cue announcer:

And, now, with the news, it's Kari Lake, featuring tomorrow’s weather with Mark Ronchetti and special political analysis from veteran anchorman Dick Knipfing. 

Reader Mike Connealy says:

Ronchetti's claim in his concession speech that "This campaign was a grassroots movement..." is laughable considering the big outside money that was poured into the campaign. Unfortunately, the Dems cannot claim the "grassroots" label either. It seems like an issue that both sides should get together on. 

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Tuesday, November 15, 2022

Questions Raised Over Future Of NMGOP And '22 Key Players; Where Do They And The Party Go From Here After Another Dismal Election Night  

Inquiring minds want to know. 

We've received a number of variations of several questions regarding the state Republican Party since the election results rolled in. Today we'll take a stab at answering them. Here they are: 

1) Where will Mark Ronchetti move to? 2) Where will Jay McCleskey go now? 3) Is Trump finished? 4) Steve Pearce--to resign or be removed?

In his concession statement Ronchetti gave no indication what his next move will be and whether it is outside the state. The Vermont native had a lucrative career as a TV weatherman and may try to re-enter that field. but given his two very heated runs for office--the 2020 Senate race and the 2022 Governor's race--we don't see him returning to the airwaves here. 

KRQE-TV made that mistake when Ronchetti left the station to run for senate but was rehired after the loss. Controversy erupted. The owners of the CBS affiliate (publicly traded Nexstar) aren't about to go there again. 

Whether stations outside of New Mexico would consider employment for Ronchetti is unknown, but with his meteorology background he could pursue a job other than broadcasting. As for another run for office in New Mexico, the chances of that appear slim to none. After two sound defeats, the third time is not the charm. 


Where will political consultant Jay McCleksey go after heading up Ronchetti's two unsuccessful campaigns as well as another losing effort in '21 when he did the media for the ABQ mayoral effort of Sheriff Manny Gonzales?

Well, he won't be going anywhere if he can continue to convince big dollar donors to finance his candidates even as he sports that sour 0-3 record. Ronchetti raised over $9 million for his Guv campaign and a good chunk of it went to McCleskey's media firm which handled much of the TV and other advertising, 

In effect McCleksey has become the head of the state GOP, deciding who will run for the major offices. The problem is that his methods no longer resonate with the public and he is now losing. His plans do not include helping to rebuild the downtrodden GOP, only ensuring that he has a candidate to consult and a paycheck to pocket. 

His presence has divided the party but that division has existed for years now and still McCleskey is given carte blanche. His path forward in NM, however, may be limited by the unavailability of any major offices to seek. There is the '24 Senate race when Sen. Martin Heinrich is expected to seek re-election but getting financing to take him on could be a challenge as the state has again proven itself solid blue. 

Ronchetti did entertain several of the possible GOP presidential candidates here this cycle. Perhaps McCleskey looks there for a future or with his allies at the Republican Governors Association who, despite bad polling, pumped $6 million into the race to save Ronchetti. Why they did that when Republican Kari Lake could have used that cash for her Guv run in neighboring Arizona is a debate-worthy question for the RGA. Lake was declared the loser Monday night. 


Is Trump finished? Well, he is finished in New Mexico in terms of carrying the state but he remains a major factor. In a cruel irony for Republicans, he stimulates turnout--but for Democrats. So Trump, if he's the '24 GOP prez nominee, will continue to be the gift that keeps on giving here but not for the party whose banner he sports. 

As for Steve Pearce, he has already announced he will seek another two year term as NMGOP chairman, despite his party giving up even more ground under his watch. In fact, there's little left to lose. The prospect of keeping Pearce on board speaks to the exhaustion of the GOP.  

There is simply little interest by up and comers to get involved in a group that is divided so bitterly between the ex-Gov. Martinez/McCleskey faction and the Pearce faction, and in a state where voters have turned their backs on Republicans. 

Until new faces arise on the scene the stagnation and the losing that is now habitual for the Republicans could continue for the foreseeable future.

Have your own view on the future of the GOP?  Emails are welcome. 


Here is the concession issued by GOP Guv hopeful Ronchetti following his defeat:

Unfortunately, things did not turn out the way we hoped on Tuesday night. After a long year on the campaign trail, the voters of New Mexico chose a different path than the vision our campaign laid out. I got into this race last year for the same reason I ran for US Senate two years ago - I love this state & would do anything to try to make this a better place to live for New Mexican families. 

Safe streets, better schools, and more support for working families to make it to the end of the month should be the expectation, and for far too long our leaders have failed to set us on the path to attain that. I truly hope that Governor Lujan Grisham finds success on those fronts, because that means the people of this beautiful state will be better off. 

I also hope the Governor takes note of the results & prioritizes listening to those in our rural communities, and realizes that for far too long rural New Mexico has felt forgotten. Most importantly, my family and I want to thank the thousands of you who supported my campaign with your time, resources and prayers. 

This campaign was a grassroots movement of people desperate for change, and it was an honor to represent you on the campaign trail and on the ballot. I could never have made it to Election Day without the support from all of you. Every last one of you who I came into contact with shaped my perspective and vision. This state has given so much to my family and I, and for that I will always be grateful. God Bless.

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Monday, November 14, 2022

House Speakership Set To Go To ABQ For First Time In Over 20 Years; New Majority Leader Also From City; We Take You Inside The Caucus Where Power Was Passed, Plus: Trying To Push Pearce Out And Pundit Owns Up On Errant Congress Call  

ABQ emerged the big winner at the caucus of state House Democrats Saturday as the speakership, one of the most powerful positions in state government, is now set to go to 41 year old ABQ Rep. Javier Martinez and the position of Majority Leader to ABQ Rep. Gail Chasey. 

Each dispatched two rivals to snag the leadership posts that will preside over the future House agenda beginning with the 60 day session that kicks off in January. 

It's the first time the speaker's gavel will be in the hands of a Duke City rep since Raymond Sanchez wielded the gavel in 2000. 

And to the relief of the Democratic Party the speaker is Hispanic, putting a person of color in charge in the House in contrast with the top Anglo leadership in the Senate. 

And why not ABQ? In recent years the city has been delivering huge winning margins to national and local candidates, transforming NM from a swing state to a solid blue one. Only last Tuesday Gov. MLG wracked up a 41,000 margin over her GOP rival in Bernalillo County, effectively ending the race when early voting numbers were released shortly before 8 p.m. 

Also, as long noted by former ABQ Mayor Martin Chavez the city is "the economic engine" of the state. But it needs work--better education, infrastructure investment for its aging neighborhoods, assistance with a thorny crime problem and state help with serious homelessness.

Homelessness especially requires mega-funding for new construction. It is mainly a city problem that is most severe in the metro and an obstacle to keeping that economic engine humming. 

Martinez, a pragmatic progressive and attorney for a nonprofit, has served in the House since 2014. He is fully aware of ABQ's special niche but will not meet its needs by sacrificing those of the rest of the state. After all, with the oil boom there are plenty of dollars to go around.


At the caucus of the 45 Dems Gallup Rep. Patricia Lundstrom challenged Martinez even though the election results did not break for conservative/moderate Dems of which she is one. ABQ Rep. Miguel Garcia also ran. 

Our reliable caucus sources report that Martinez won a majority of the votes needed on the first ballot and that was that. His nomination by the Dems must be approved by the full House but that is pro forma given the party's huge majority of 45 to 25. 

In the Majority Floor Leader contest Rep. Doreen Gallegos of Las Cruces and Derrick Lente of Sandia Pueblo also made plays but it was Rep. Chasey, the longest-serving member of the House who represents ABQ's liberal SE Heights, who claimed the win. It took two ballots for her to get the majority, according to our sources. 

Chasey, 78, is the longest-serving House member, first winning in 1996. Retirement could soon beckon so those hoping to rise in the leadership may get another shot in the not too distant future. 

For Rep. Gallegos, who gave up the majority whip position to take a shot at Floor Leader, her quest may be over permanently. Caucus members were said to be queasy ever since she made her interest known for the post because of her marriage to powerful and longtime lobbyist Scott Scanland. The Dems did not want uncomfortable questions going forward and refused to mix business with their mostly progressive politics and Gallegos was defeated.  

For a new Majority Whip the caucus turned to just elected Santa Fe Rep. Reena Szczepanski, a protege of outgoing Speaker Brian Egolf who she served as Chief of Staff. But she also has prior policy savvy as  a former executive director of Emerge NM, the group that for years has been successful in fielding female candidates. Progressive Szczepanski was challenged for Majority Whip by moderate ABQ Dem Rep. Day Hochman-Vigil who was first elected in 2018. Like the new whip, she is seen as a rising star for the Dems. 


The Governor took note of her legislative goals in congratulating the caucus winners: 

I look forward to advancing our shared priorities of tackling crime, increasing affordable housing options, and ensuring equitable healthcare access for all New Mexicans. Let’s get to work.

With their relatively small presence Republicans will continue to play the role of boo birds from the sidelines but will have little say in the main game--unless they can somehow pivot to more centrist positions and rebuild their party.

Speaking of which, 75 year old Steve Pearce, target of a shower of criticism for the failure of Republicans at the polls last week, says he's ready for more punishment and will seek will seek another two year term as party chair next month. ABQ attorney Robert Aragon has announced he will also run. Santa Fe county GOP Vice-Chair Brett Kokinadis sums up the case against Pearce:

 I was criticized when I called for Steve Pearce to resign in 2019. Maybe I was ahead of the curve, but it's time for a change. Republicans need leadership willing to listen and adapt to new ideas. 

For his part Pearce pins the GOP debacle on "gerrymandering." 


Let's go to one of our Senior Alligators for an overview of the state of political play in these parts.  

As we should come to expect in our blue state, the Democrats performed well. It’s just too hard for Republicans to make gains at the moment, especially with the weak organization that they have. The fact that they couldn’t save senior Rep. Jane Powdrell-Culbert or stop Dem Tara Jaramillo in a Socorro area district, says a lot, In the face of the Dems excellent House campaign effort, it’s just not a fair fight at the legislative level anymore. Dem candidates are well-funded and well-organized. 

On the Governor's side, the Dems dodged a bullet. MLG’s meager 52% was the lowest re-election percentage of any NM Gov since 1994 and that’s in a state arguably bluer than any of those years and against a weak, inexperienced candidate. 

She also performed worse than other Dem governors nationally from blue states like Illinois where Gov. Pritzker won 55% and Colorado’s Polis 62%. Dem leaders should really think about that as they decide their path forward. 

With the election of Gabe Vasquez to the southern congressional seat we now have a rare all-D congressional delegation. Dems can learn from 2008 and 2018 that it’s tough to hold on to that. Sen. Martin Heinrich remembers those years and if he plans to run for Governor has a chance to get this delegation organized to assist him. 

Vasquez should change his image from progressive rabble-rouser to champion of the working class to stay in that seat. Clearly the Dems need shoring up with working people and non-college educated voters. The Governor would be smart to set a new direction that does that especially if there’s any kind of effective reckoning by the NMGOP.


On that narrow win by Vasquez over Republican Rep. Yvette Herrell, leading pundits could not get it right. Attorney Greg Payne who analyzed the races for us this cycle predicted the Governor's race would finish with MLG winning 53 to 45 over Ronchetti. She received 51.9 and he got  45.6 with the Libertarian getting the rest. But then he called for Vasquez to lose 53-47. We ask him what happened:

Simply put, I did not study the new district closely enough. I was wedded to an analysis that put too much stock in the historically conservative nature of the district. The new district broke the mold and I missed it. 

Okay, does that humility prevent Payne from being punished for his errant call with ten lashes from a wet noodle? We may have to have Rep.-elect Vasquez decide. . . Look out, Payne. 


Reader Frank Aranda writes: 

Joe, thank you for the superb coverage this election year and for the great KANW election night coverage- my wife and I depend on you to make sense of our state’s politica Thanks again.

Thanks for tuning in here and on the radio, Frank. And thanks to our many sources--public and private for making our task easier. 


Ed Tinsley has died. The well-known GOP politico, rancher and businessman (he founded the K-Bob's steakhouses) passed away November 1. He was the GOP nominee for the southern congressional district in 2008 and lost to Dem Harry Teague. 

That campaign provided many memorable blogging moments. One of them was when we wrote of the withering criticism Tinsley came under from the Dems when it was learned he had a second home in the wealthy Las Campanas community near Santa Fe. Even though he was a committed southern New Mexican with a ranch he loved and the aforementioned successful restaurant business, the damage was done. 

Also memorable was when after winning the GOP nomination Tinsley replaced the word "Republican" on his campaign signs with "Conservative." Judging by last Tuesday's election results he may have been ahead of his time.

Tinsley died of cancer. He was 72. 

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