Thursday, January 12, 2023

Death Of Former ABQ Mayor Finally Confirmed After Over Three Years Of Silence; Why the News Was Squashed, Plus: The Life And Times Of Ken Schultz  

Mayor Ken Schultz
How could a former mayor of New Mexico's largest city be dead for three and a half years and no one have a clue that he is gone? That's the odd story of Ken Schultz, mayor of ABQ from1985-'89 who we have learned passed away in Henderson, Nevada in 2019 but only now has confirmation of his death become public. 

Former ABQ City Councilor Michael Wiener, who served his one council term when Schultz led the city, reports that staff at the American Legion Post 40 Post in Henderson where Schultz, a former Marine, served as a commander, confirmed the passing of the 81 year old.

They tell me Ken died when he went outside his home to collect the newspaper and fell to the ground. That was in 2019. They did not have a specific cause but confirmed his death. 

Schultz was an often successful mayor but controversial as well. It was after his mayoral term that he reached his lowest point. In 2009 he was convicted of being a bagman in the ABQ Metro Court construction scandal and was sentenced to five months probation and ordered to pay $50,000 in restitution after cooperating with federal authorities. The scandal saw former state senate powerhouse Manny Aragon serve four and half years in federal prison for his part in the kickback scheme.

It was that event that apparently inhibited the family of Schultz from publicizing his death, not wanting to draw attention to that black mark. No obituary or other notice was released of his passing and if any  friends or associates of Schultz knew of it, they did not make it public. 

Schultz, a moderate Democrat who moved to ABQ from Chicago to start a Buick car dealership, rose quickly up the political ladder, serving one term on the city council from NE Heights District 9 and then winning election as mayor over Jim Baca in 1985 in a close 51 to 49 election. He lost his bid for reelection in 1989.

We last blogged of Schultz in 2009 when we learned he had moved to Henderson and had found employment as an executive for a labor union. 

While Schultz's corruption conviction was indeed a black mark there was much more to him and his legacy as Wiener notes: 

Councilor Michael Wiener
Mayor Schultz had an agreeable council and ABQ was on the move during that time. He led the expansion of the Sunport, one of the most successful public works projects in city history. He also led the expansion of the Convention Center, made possible the building of the Embassy Suites Hotel near downtown, was key in getting the two landmark high rise downtown office buildings completed and drew intentional attention to the city by attracting the Miss USA Pageant here and that was televised nationally. 

Soon after Schultz was elected the metro area the population broke 500,000, a key metric for the location of national corporations. With his business background Schultz took advantage and pushed the city forward. 

Schultz's ethical lapse was a defining part of his character and is duly noted, but his family and friends can still take pride in the public service that he successfully executed. There is no need to bury the past when it comes to the tenure of Ken Schultz. There is a need to publicly acknowledge the life of a man who impacted the lives of so many so significantly. 

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Wednesday, January 11, 2023

MLG Budget Plan Sets Records And Touts Building On "Immense Progress" But Deep-Seated Problems May Not Be Impacted; Teachers Again Big Winners, Plus: Early Crash And Burn At The New PRC 

This budget builds upon the immense progress and success of the last four years. 

So said Gov. Lujan Grisham in releasing her proposed record-setting state budget of $9.4 billion Tuesday--up 12 percent from the current one or a full $1 billion. (Full budget plan here.)

But there is cause for a reality check on the Guv's increasingly Pollyannish views on what is happening on the ground. There has indeed been progress but not of the "immense" variety. Her latest budget fully funds and expands many programs already in place but does not come with any sweeping innovations to repair the structural rot that she nor any other Governor or legislature has been able to arrest in recent decades. And today that's despite more surplus funds than any time in history. 

Most of that rot is centered on behavioral health including violent crime, widespread drug and alcohol abuse, child murders and beatings and stubbornly underperforming public schools. 

There is no magic wand but the Governor of the state of Washington proposes a $4 billion bond plan to build housing for the homeless. The Governor of New York is asking for $1 billion for mental health. Those economically advanced states feel the pressure for reform. Here we do not so we continue to take baby steps not adequate to the challenge which continues to grow yearly.

However, we do have that early childhood constitutional amendment kicking in this July--to the credit of MLG and other elected officials--and we are now in the forefront of providing free child care and free college tuition, also major gubernatorial accomplishments.


The Governor has not been a cheerleader of taxypayer rebates but she approved some last year and they are back this time and similar. Each taxpayer would get $750 because of the revenue boom from the oil field. Unlike last year they would include higher income taxpayers. There is simply no way to effectively spend the state's gargantuan surpluses and sending some back to citizens (like Alaska) has widespread support.

One of her bigger proposals is $200 million for a Rural Health Care Delivery Fund "that will ease the start-up and operational burden for rural health care services." Much of this would go to modernize the hospital system in rural areas and would have a behavioral health component.

But the Guv's budget devotes a mere $5 million for additional support for alcohol abuse prevention and treatment, even as the state was informed in a series of reports that the booze problem here is the worst in the nation and contributes to all kinds of social decay. With a $3.6 billion surplus can't lawmakers do better? (They propose their budget plan next week.)

And the state is still waiting for the Guv to fixate on CYFD. Nowhere in the lengthy budget memo is the problem of child murder and abuse cases mentioned. Neither is the fentanyl menace that is wreaking havoc. No "immense progress" there. And these are items that have changed the very fabric of this state.


Teachers are again big winners in the Guv's budget. Last year they received eye popping pay raises that finally made their salaries competitive with surrounding states. This time MLG wants $100 million so teachers' health insurance is completely paid for by the state. Lawmakers may want to rein that back as the good fortune of our educators is leaving other state employees in the dust. 

All teachers and state workers would get a 4 percent pay hike in the executive budget. One sticky problem is the towering post-pandemic vacancy rates. Some agencies are at over 30 percent. 

The MLG budget also proposes over $200 million for "extended in-class learning time" but the state has been unable to spend all the money already appropriated for that purpose so work remains on implementation. 


While the proposed budget is an all-time high so is the level of state reserves recommended--over 34 percent to protect against a downturn in the oil fields that the budget hawks continue to assert is coming sooner rather than later. 

New Mexico in large part is a welfare state and the Governor's budget fully funds the safety net of Medicaid and the variety of other programs that much of the population relies on in one of the nation's most poverty-stricken states. The problem remains the political will to make a more determined and sweeping effort to eliminate the need for some of that safety net. 


James Ellison
A Guv appointment to the new three member Public Regulation Commission (PRC) has crashed and burned. Former GOP state Rep. Brian Moore reveals he does not have a college degree, a requirement to be on the panel that is the chief regulator of PNM and other services. From the Fourth Floor:

Gov. Lujan Grisham on Tuesday announced the appointment of James F. Ellison to the Public Regulation Commission. Brian Moore, who was previously appointed to the commission, submitted a letter of resignation stating that he did not meet the educational qualifications for the appointment. Individuals submitted to the governor for consideration applied through and were vetted by the PRC Nominating Committee, a process independent of the governor’s office and established by the 2022 constitutional amendment reforming the commission. Ellison has nearly three decades of experience in electric utility operations and power markets, currently serving as the principal grid analyst at Sandia National Laboratories. . .He holds a bachelor’s degree from Clemson University, two master’s degrees from the Massachusetts Institute of Technology, and a master’s degree from Stanford University. 

How Brian Moore got as far as he did in the appointment process is not encouraging for how the new PRC, already controversial, will perform its complex duties in regulating PNM.

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Tuesday, January 10, 2023

Does APD Have Their Man In Political Shootings? Just Maybe And Nerves Remain Frayed; Speculation On Motive, Plus: From Chihuahua To The Capitol; Newest Legislator Appointed By BernCo Commission  

Keller and Medina
The 112 legislators prepping for the legislative session that kicks off January 17 may be breathing only a bit easier today after APD reported they have a suspect in custody on unrelated charges who was possibly involved in shooting incidents at the homes or offices of six ABQ elected officials. 

No suspect has been charged and while it could very well be that the cops have their man, the announcement from Mayor Keller and Chief Medina came up short in the reassurance department. More details are needed to lower the anxiety level and to prevent calls for higher security at the Roundhouse.

Medina is saying only that the suspect is being held on unrelated charges, that he is a man under 50, that a firearm involved in the shooting has been recovered and that search warrants continue to be executed but kept under wraps as the investigation continues. As we said, not completely reassuring and raising the question of whether political pressure is being felt and whether any information should have been released until Medina was on firmer ground. 

The urgency of closing the case was brought home anew Monday when it was revealed that the downtown home of ABQ state Rep. Javier Martinez, soon to become the Speaker of the House, was shot up in early December when some of the other shootings took place. 

The homes or offices targeted by the shootings are all those of Hispanic Democrats--BernCo Commissioner Adriann Barboa, now former Commissioner Debbie O'Malley, state Sen. Linda Lopez, Rep. Martinez, state Sen. Moe Maestas and Attorney General Raul Torrez. 

Speculation is rampant over a motive, with a racial attack or hate crime near the top of list and perhaps an association with the kind of politics that prompted the infamous Jan. 6 riot at the nation's capitol. 

But there is reason to be cautious in presuming anything. Last year when four ABQ Muslim men were killed by an apparent serial killer speculators thought the attacks might be racially and/or politically motivated. But  a Muslim man who knew the victims and had an interpersonal conflict with two of them was arrested.


Yanira Gurrola
The full name of the newest state representative is Flor Yanira Gurrola Valenzuela but if you run into her at the Roundhouse just call her Yanira, say her friends. And, they add, she favors Gurrola as her last name.

The Democrat was appointed Monday by the Bernalillo County Commission to fill the vacancy left when Rep. Moe Maestas was appointed by the commission to the state senate seat of Jacob Candelaria who had resigned. 

Gurrola turns ABQ westside House District 16 in a more progressive direction and she increases the number of women in the 70 member state House to 38. 

Gurrola, 48, spent much of her career as a bilingual and math teacher at Washington Middle School and is currently a professional development coordinator for Dual Language Education New Mexico. A Mexican immigrant, Gurrola said she sees her appointment as an opportunity to give voice to the low-income and immigrant populations she has worked with in Albuquerque. “(There are) kids who no matter how good they are at school or the dreams they have, sometimes they don’t have opportunities when they finish school,” she said in an interview after Monday’s virtual meeting. “That’s in my mind right now. I’m shaped by them.” 

Blog readers are not surprised by her appointment that came after much political tussling. We broke the news December 19 that the commission was lining up behind Gurrola. 

We spoke with the new lawmaker after her appointment. She relayed that she is a devout Catholic who came to ABQ from Chihuahua in 2000 as part of her missionary work in disadvantaged locales such as BernCo's Pajarito Mesa. That work enhanced her passion for educating youth, a passion that led her into teaching and which she hopes to follow up on in Santa Fe. 

She earned a Masters in Education from the College of Santa Fe and has owned a home in her district for 14 years. 

Soon to be speaker Rep. Javier Martinez should be helpful to the freshman rep. He is the son of Mexican immigrants.


Chairwoman Baca
That commission is now decidedly progressive for the first time in memory. Republican Walt Benson and moderate Dem Commissioner Michael Quezada voted against Gurrola. They favored moderate Dem Melissa Duarte who had a temporary two week appointment to the seat. New Dem progressive commissioners Barbara Baca and Eric Olivas joined with Dem progressive Adriann Barboa to give Gurrola the win. 

Six applicants applied for the vacancy. Gurrola will be up for election in 2024 and told us she plans on seeking election. 

The appointment is one of the first important decisions by the newly progressive commission. ABQ attorney and political analyst David Buchholtz has predicted there will be many more in the months ahead. 

The commission Monday also selected leadership for the coming year:

District 1 Commissioner Barbara Baca is the new chair of the Bernalillo County Commission. District 3 Commissioner Adriann Barboa is the new vice chair. Baca and Barboa will serve in their respective leadership capacities for the 2023 calendar year. Commission Chair Baca was elected on a 5 to 0 vote. Commission Vice Chair Barboa was elected on a 5 to 0 vote.

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Monday, January 09, 2023

New DOH Cabinet Secretary Allen Comes With Red Flag Attached; Troubled Oregon Tenure Follows Him Here, Plus: New MLG Chief Of Staff Named--Kinda 

Patrick Allen
MLG's newest cabinet secretary comes with a red flag attached to his name. 59 year old Patrick Allen takes over the NM Department of Health after a long career in health services, but he was bounced from his most recent gig. All three Oregon gubernatorial candidates agreed he should be ousted as head of the Oregon Health Authority. Tina Kotek is now Governor-elect and Allen is out of the Beaver State but ensconced nicely in our enchanted land thanks to MLG's appointment. He starts today.

The problem?: 

The director of the Oregon Health Authority, Patrick Allen, has submitted his resignation, effective Jan. 9. He did not give a reason for stepping down. On the campaign trail, Governor-elect Kotek said she’d fire him over the health authority’s failure to provide Oregonians adequate access to health care for mental illness and treatment for addiction. Allen, who is 59, suffered a serious medical emergency in January, when he fell and required hospitalization. He has been working while officially retired and drawing his pension, according to The Lund Report. Allen has led the Oregon Health Authority for the past five years. Gov. Kate Brown tapped him for the agency’s top job in 2017 after a series of high-profile scandals rocked the agency.

As happened in New Mexico Orgeon Gov. Kate Brown (term limited) and health leader Allen both suffered in popularity because of strict Covid lockdowns. Oregon also ranks low in student learning in the post-pandemic era as does our state.  

Allen defended himself in his resignation letter pointing to Oregon's high vaccination rate and a lower Covid death rate than most other states. MLG's office said of the appointment:

Allen significantly improved access to affordable and equitable health care for Oregonians, achieving health insurance coverage for over 95% of residents. He also led the state’s health department throughout the COVID-19 pandemic, with Oregon ultimately seeing the second lowest rate of infection in the country.  

But the three Guv candidates didn't think much of his record. NM's Dem Governor apparently saw something that trio of experienced politicos did not. It will be up to Allen to show that Oregon had it wrong or else we could have another Brian Blalock our hands. He was picked out of California to head the troubled CYFD but forced to quit after a wide range of transgressions were exposed. 

Unlike Oregon, Allen will not be in charge of a sprawling health care complex that includes the state Medicaid program. The NM DOH duties:

The department provides wide-ranging duties that formulate a statewide public health system. It achieves its mission and vision by promoting health and preventing disease, collecting, analyzing and disseminating data, licensing and certifying health facilities, and providing clinical testing services. The department also operates health care facilities that serve veterans, persons with developmental disabilities, those with behavioral health issues, and those with rehabilitation needs. The state Medical Cannabis Program is also housed within the Department of Health as is the federally funded Women, Infants and Children's (WIC) program.

The NM Human Services Department, a multi-billion agency that receives major federal funding, handles Medicaid here. It is headed by Dr. Martin Scrase who had been acting director of NMDOH. Before leaving, Scrase requested an 11 percent bump in the DOH budget from the legislature, citing widespread vacancies (up to 30 percent of positions) and a need for better IT. The total DOH state budget is $350 million with additional federal funding.

Allen is in the job this week but the state senate still has to confirm him. Expect to hear more about his Oregon political pain when those hearings are held and also the state of his personal health from that medical emergency he endured.


Meanwhile, there is a new Chief of Staff at the Guv's office. Well, sorta, kinda:

Gov. Lujan Grisham has hired a new chief of staff, Daniel Schlegel, 34, to lead her office and oversee policy development and legislative initiatives. Schlegel has served in the Lujan Grisham administration since she took office in 2019. He also worked for Lujan Grisham for about a year when she served in Congress. 

But then there's this:

The governor’s chief operations officer, Teresa Casados, will remain in her position, serving as a co-equal of sorts to the chief of staff. Her duties have included working with Cabinet secretaries and overseeing constituent services. 

Okay. On Tuesdays and Thursdays Casados is the top "co-equal chief of staff" and on Monday, Wednesday and Friday Schlegel is the top "co-equal." So everybody get to work. . . and watch your backs.  

Which is to say, there's really only one chief of staff on the Fourth Floor. 

(Hint: she wears colorful cowboy boots.)

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