Thursday, January 26, 2023

Politicos Play Act Over Pretrial Detention Bill While It Hangs From The Gallows; Time For Another Script, Plus: Some Santa Fe Movin' And Shakin'  

MLG (Moore, Journal)
Can someone please explain this? 

The Governor holds a news conference to trot out a crime-fighting package with its centerpiece the pretrial detention bill and at the same news conference she cozies up to Senate Judiciary Committee Chairman Joe Cervantes who is going to kill that very bill. And remember, the same thing happened last year when MLG touted the proposal. It was DOA in the senate and she knew it. Nothing like staring your executioner in the eye.

You get it and I get it that the crime wave in ABQ is so epic that elected officals have got to propose something to at least act like they can get a handle on it. But the ongoing political theatre over pretrial detention is brazenly cynical and more than exasperating as the body count continues to climb on the streets of ABQ.

Yes, Cervantes and other pretrial bill foes are a pain in the posterior of MLG, ABQ Mayor Tim Keller and APD Chief Harold Medina but you can't act like they don't exist. Either cut a deal or move on. Just stop the play-acting, Governor. Time for another script. 

Folks, that is not serious stuff but this is:

Fifty Rio Arriba County residents died from drug overdoses in 2022, among the highest totals ever recorded in the county, according to provisional data provided by the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. The 50 overdose deaths were recorded for the one-year period spanning July 1, 2021, to June 30, 2022, and represent the federal government’s latest drug fatality total for Rio Arriba County as of Jan. 1, 2023.

Bernalillo and Santa Fe Counties recorded higher overdose death totals during the same period, logging 448 and 75 drug fatalities respectively, federal data shows. . .

And here's something from the reality-based world that the electeds at the news conference (including Cervantes) might want to soak up before they have their next one:

According to drug treatment experts, county and state health officials can help drive down overdose numbers in Rio Arriba County by expanding access to intensive outpatient treatment programs, mobile outreach programs and suboxone and methadone treatment, which are proven to help patients overcome addiction and prevent fatal overdoses.

Cut down the drugs. Cut down the crime. 


Victor Reyes
Insiders say MLG loyalist Victor Reyes had his heart set on becoming her chief of staff in her second term but that didn't happen and now he's headed to the exits. 

Reyes has resigned as deputy superintendent of the Regulation and Licensing Division where he oversaw the start of the state's cannabis program. He was also the Guv's first legislative director and worked on her '22 re-election. She put out a nice statement about him when he resigned, even though he is not a cabinet secretary. He says he is pursuing other opportunities. Keep an eye out for him.

The Guv recently named a new chief of staff but added that her chief operating officer will be a "co-equal of sorts" with the chief. And you thought your job was complicated. . .

John Garcia, a rare Republican in the MLG cabinet, is leaving his secretary post at the General Services Department. He took over there in late 2021. The Guv said he has been a "wonderful addition" to the cabinet. He says he "enjoyed my time" and is resigning for personal reasons. Garcia is a former tourism secretary under Republican Governor Johnson and has held so many other government and private sector jobs it would take an entire blog to mention them. . . 

We're also getting word that there may have been a shake-up at the Department of Homeland Security with one of the top deputies there departing suddenly. The agency, which handles major amounts of federal funds, has been topsy turvy.  

MLG in 2019 named Jackie White, a captain at ABQ Fire and Rescue, as cabinet secretary for the agency. In May 2020 Bianca Ortiz Wertheim was named secretary. She left in January '22 to take another state post and Diego Arencon, the Guv's deputy chief of staff, was chosen as acting secretary. In May of '22 David Dye from the Santa Fe County Emergency Management Office was appointed secretary. 

Homeland Security has been heavy involved with the Covid 19 response and the northern NM wildfires. The Legislative Finance Committee needs to keep a close eye on the agency and the money flow, report our Roundhouse Alligators. 


Reader Michelle Meaders agrees with the blog skepticism of naming Election Day in NM a state holiday--a proposal that could be part of the Dems voting rights bill this year. Meaders writes:

The people who could benefit the most have to work on holidays anyway. We expect our news, our coffee, police and fire service, restaurants, transportation and lots of other services, even on holidays. People who work regular hours and get holidays off have plenty of opportunities to vote early. And the schools are closed anyway, to use as voting places. So school workers have the day off. We have another holiday, Veterans Day, soon after Election Day. A holiday would mean more disruption and public work not done. 

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Wednesday, January 25, 2023

Voting Rights Bill Is Back; Election Day A Holiday? Plus: Abbey Adjusts; Longtime LFC Director Navigates Major Change With New Leadership 

A state holiday on Election Day? That's about the only deal-breaker in this year's voting rights bill that is surfacing at the Roundhouse. 

Gone is the bizarre proposal to allow 16 year olds to vote in certain elections, but declaring a holiday that would apparently have the state government shut down and put pressure on the private sector to do the same should also be a nonstarter.

It's not necessary.

Voters no longer only have the actual election day to vote but several weeks of early voting as well plus easily accessible absentee voting. 

In addition, the law already eases the way for voters to cast Election Day ballots. 

If your workday begins within two hours of the polls opening and ends less than three hours before the polls close, then you’re entitled to up to two hours of paid leave to vote in an election. However, your employer can set the time for your leave

Other major provisions of the proposal include creating. . .

A permanent but optional absentee voter list, reinstate voting rights for felons immediately when they get out of prison. . .and the use of official tribal buildings as mailing addresses for people who don't have traditional mailing addresses.

ABQ Dem Sen. Katy Duhigg is the new chair of the Senate Rules Committee where the bill died last year after controversy with then Chairman Daniel Ivey-Soto. Approval should be easier this time as should a simple amendment to nix the holiday plan.


Abbey and Lundstrom
Patty's out and you get this:

The House Appropriations and Finance Committee (HAFC) will begin taking public input during agency budget hearings to give New Mexico’s diverse communities a voice in the budget process. “We must meet this moment by putting our record revenues to work for New Mexicans while charting a course for generational change. A vital piece of this process is hearing directly from our communities to make sure our budget works for them,” said HAFC Chair Nathan Small.

Conservative Dem Rep. Patricia Lundstrom was ousted from the powerful chairmanship by new House Speaker Martinez. 

That jarring move also raised the question of the fate of longtime Legislative Finance Committee (LFC) director David Abbey, another powerhouse in the legislative process. We put the question to a Senior Alligator at the Roundhouse:

It's true that David has been deeply aligned with the conservative leadership of former Chair Lundstrom but in the end he is a staffer who will serve the Legislature and expedite their agenda regardless of ideology. That's his job and it's also how you stay a top staffer for so many years. 

Here's Abbey's quote as the earth shakes under his feet: 

The Legislative Finance Committee works year-round to assess New Mexico’s revenue, track our state’s reserves, and determine how we can maintain robust reserves while best utilizing available funds to make research-based investments in areas of greatest need. Right now, we have the opportunity to not only address a number of systemic challenges, but also turn our current financial boom into long-term returns.

Yeah, gone is the rhetoric that the sky is going to fall and all the oil will dry up. Adapting is the number one rule for staying around and Abbey's statement is proof of that. 

If Abbey, about 70, did choose to retire, he would leave behind an enviable legacy. The LFC staff continues to get high marks from our sources and their analysis of state government agencies remains vital reading for political junkies far and wide. (For newbies, here's a backgrounder on Abbey.)


A reader reacts to our Tuesday blog about Sen. Pope proposing to limit boozing at the Roundhouse:

Wow! I had no idea legislators were drinking during the day. I’ve heard there is plenty of it after hours, but really, during the day?! Yes, it should be banned. Taxpayer dollars are being spent for these people to do serious stuff in a short amount of time.


Say hi to Howie:

New Mexico’s lieutenant governor announced he will be holding in-person and virtual office hours. Lt. Gov. Howie Morales’ office hours will take place throughout the state Legislature’s regular, 60-day session. It’s available for any New Mexicans who want to meet with the man second in command to comment on proposed legislation or just get help with a problem. To schedule a meeting with the lieutenant governor, call 505-476-2250 or email James.Farrell@lgo.nm.gov 

And Howie isn't even running for anything anymore. Or is he? 

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Tuesday, January 24, 2023

Ban The Bottle? Senator Tries To Limit Roundhouse Boozing; Wants Lawmakers "To Be Professional," Plus: Rep. Vasquez Irked Over Not Meeting Biden At El Paso Immigration Visit But He Had An Earlier Chance  

Sen. Pope 
Here's a topic near and dear to the hearts of some of our New Mexico lawmakers. ABQ Dem Senator Harold Pope wants to ban the boozing at the venerable Roundhouse, or at least strictly limit when senators can imbibe.

Never mind that his plan might send his personal popularity plummeting with some of his colleagues, Pope is on to something. With our state atop the list for alcohol-related deaths, it would seem an ideal time for legislators to set an example, instead of seeing a number of them arrested for drinking and driving. Pope's booze ban would include the time before or during any floor session or committee meeting. Says the ABQ Dem westside lawmaker:

We want people to be professional and be on the job and be focused. We’re dealing with some serious issues every day, you know, what we vote on, and it’s stressful enough it can be contentious on the floor, and the last thing we need is to have folks having drinks or inebriated which is going to cause people to make bad choices. . . There’s just some things that I’ve seen that I’ve felt are unprofessional. As members of the Senate and the issues that we have in our state when it comes to alcohol and professionalism, I just feel that this is something a rule that we needed to add.

Pope did not rat out any of his fellow lawmakers as examples of bad behavior brought on by booze but that alcohol is often the lubricant for legislative debate is an open secret. 

Last year a lobbyist who made a sexual harassment charge against ABQ Dem Senator Daniel Ivey-Soto talked of getting high on too much wine the senator served to her in his office and which she said she drank because she felt pressure to go along.

Pope's proposal--SR01--would amend Senate rules to include the limits on alcohol but would not apply to the House.

It would be interesting to hear the thoughts of the progressive lobbyists on banning booze as well as those of the advocates for a full-time paid legislature. Should that "modernized" legislature include a booze ban? 

Alcohol is completely banned at some capitols including Oklahoma and Idaho. Pope is not calling for that so the flasks and bottles in the filing cabinets will still be safe but the senator's proposed anti-liquor crusade may be only the first round. The measure has street cred with the public. After all, how many of them are allowed to drink on the job?


Rep. Vasquez
Freshman Dem Rep. Gabe Vasquez is disappointed that he was not invited to join President Biden at his recent El Paso visit to discuss the immigration crisis at the US Mexico border. He says:

That is so close to our district. New Mexico has to have a place at the table when we have conversations around border security, around immigration, around the refugee crisis.

But hold on. Didn't Vasquez recently have an opportunity to discuss the border with the president but failed to seize it? Indeed he did. 

It happened when Biden made a campaign appearance in ABQ's South Valley November 2 on behalf of MLG, Vasquez and other Dem candidates. Apparently sensing political peril from the visit in the conservative region of his southern congressional district, Vasquez notably took a pass on meeting the president that day. Ditto for US Sen. Martin Heinrich who didn't even show up at the airport to greet Biden when he arrived. If the delegation is going to pose as being serious on the border might they make more serious efforts to meet the man in charge?    

Meanwhile, Rep. Vasquez is probably fortunate that Republican Yvette Herrell may again be his opponent when he seeks his second term in '24. As we previously reported, former Rep. Herrell has already filed paperwork with the FEC for a '24 run. Now there is this departing message from her: 

During my time in Congress, I've had the privilege of meeting and working with countless great patriots in New Mexico, people who are willing to fight for freedom and prosperity. These courageous men and women remain strong in hard times and don't care about what the media or the Washington Establishment says--as long as they're on the side of truth and justice. . .All will play a part in saving our great nation. That is why, as I depart Washington and head home to the plains and mountains we know so well, I know the future is in good hands, no matter what challenges lie ahead. Serving the hardworking families of New Mexico has been my greatest honor, and I'm not done yet. 

Based on her 1,300 vote loss to Vasquez in an off year election, Herrell could have a lot more time viewing those "plains and mountains." A comeback in '24--a presidential year with higher voter turnout--is a high climb.

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Monday, January 23, 2023

The Crime Beat: Another Defeat Anticipated For Pretrial Detention Bill But Controversial Court Tool May Be Cut, Plus: More Pena: GOP Embarrassed After Electing Him To Post But Their Reaction To Alleged Crimes Seems Mild, Plus: Drug Money Used In His House Campaign? 

Sen. Cervantes
The stunning shootings of homes of four elected officials allegedly engineered by failed GOP House candidate Solomon Pena doesn't seem to be moving the needle on that controversial pretrial detention bill that's back at the Roundhouse. It again appears headed for an early grave. 

Senate Judiciary Committee Chairman Joseph Cervantes, who opposed the bill last year, has basically said as much. He's repeated his opposition, declaring that judges have the power they need to keep dangerous offenders in jail and that there is more to solving the ABQ crime problem than locking up people.

MLG has again made it a banner crime measure, highlighting it in her State of the State speech. This year's version--SB123--is again sponsored by ABQ Senator Linda Lopez--one of the four Dem elected officials whose homes were targeted with gunfire. But the bill has received a dreaded triple committee referral. That's as close as it gets  to guaranteeing a loss.

At last year's session "Rebuttal presumption against release," was knocked out early at the Senate health committee where it was tabled February 7. That may be close to the date of its demise this session as the health committee has again received the bill along with Senate Judiciary and Senate Finance.

The bill is simple enough and has the necessary populist appeal to win headlines. It basically states that criminal defendants charged with certain violent crimes like murder are presumed to be dangerous enough to be kept in jail after arrest and have to prove to a court otherwise. Current law requires prosecutors to make the case to the judge that the defendants are indeed dangerous and should stay behind bars.

Opponents, including the ACLU, say the pretrial system was created by voters in 2016, is largely working and detaining innocent people is expensive and would have a devastating impact on their lives. 

In theory rebuttal presumption is supposed to reduce the rate of violent crime but the Legislative Finance Committee reported last year that the bill would only nick the crime problem. To put a real dent in it they said ABQ and other crime-ridden areas need mores arrests, more prosecutions and more convictions. Then BernCo DA Raul Torrez--now AG--faulted the study but was not joined by any prominent legislators in his assessment, 

And good luck with more arrests and prosecutions as the BernCo DA's office and APD still complain of being short staffed. Some legislators believe looking more closely at the inner workings of law enforcement to assess their efficiency in light of continued budget increases is long overdue. 

Questioning police procedure and administration is tricky because opponents are quick to label anyone doing so anti-cop but they argue it's a tool in the box that has not been used. 


Speaking of tools, the state's judiciary has experienced another round of ridicule over the Arnold Tool that assesses a defendant's danger to the community and tells a judge whether they should be jailed or released before trial. Guffaws broke out when the Tool recommended that the notorious Solomon Pena be released. Metro Court Judge Jill Martinez did use her power to keep him in jail and the case will now be heard in district court. Still. . . 

The Arnold Tool took account of Pena having no previous violent crime record. However, he did serve nearly seven years in prison for burglary. The Tool apparently did not analyze that Pena is charged with one of the most notorious and anti-democratic crimes involving violence the state has ever experienced.  

That led Sen. Cervantes to diss the Arnold Tool as nearly ludicrous and entertained the notion of eliminating it all together, saying:

The Arnold Tool is just like any other computer program and we all know the ‘garbage in, garbage out’ phrase. It would seem very clear the Tool is being used to make recommendations for a lot of individuals being released that shouldn’t be. Seventy-five percent (of those charged) with murder in Albuquerque in 2021 were recommended to be released. The Arnold Tool can also be used as an excuse for why certain individuals have been released and why they’re committing horrible murders while they’re on release. There is an argument being made that the Arnold Tool really serves very little purpose because all it does really is aggregate information that the judge would already have.

Senate Judiciary plans to discuss the Arnold Tool Wednesday morning with public input expected to be robust. 


Solomon Pena
The Pena case continues to unfold like the peeling of an onion. Now it's discovered that at a January 14 meeting Pena was elected as a ward chairman and a member of the NMGOP Central Committee for the Bernalillo County Republican Party. Party officials hid from the press when confronted but former state Rep. Janice Arnold-Jones says the party is trying to undo the election but it's complicated. 

In addition, APD and the AG are now investigating whether Pena's campaign for the state House received drug money when he failed to unseat District 14 Rep. Miguel Garcia. 

Meantime, oilman and former NMGOP Chairman Harvey Yates, whose Jalapeno Corporation we noted last week gave $5,000 to Pena, says he met Pena two years ago at a GOP meeting. He described him as a:

 . . . Respectful, polite young man. I, at that time, had become aware that he had a criminal history but that he was trying to reform himself. I believe in redemption and helping a guy if he’s really trying to do that. So I donated to him, or the company donated to him. It also donated the same amount to probably 20 other candidates.

Yates added he was "extremely saddened" to hear of Pena's arrest. 

Redemption? Trying to reform himself?  That's treading very lightly, say the Yates critics, who wonder where the usual GOP tough on crime rhetoric is from him and other R's.

The state GOP said:

These recent accusations against Solomon Pena are serious, and he should be held accountable if the charges are validated in court. RPNM condemns all forms of violence. We are thankful that nobody was injured by his actions. If Pena is found guilty, he must be prosecuted to the full extent of the law.

That also sounds vanilla compared to the usual frothing the party reserves for violent criminals. 

A more fulsome response seems to be lacking because Trump still holds sway over much of the GOP grassroots that have been radicalized but whose numbers are still enough to intimidate establishment figures like Yates and GOP Chair Steve Pearce. 

Numerically the GOP is a mere appendage at the Roundhouse and Pena reminds everyone how a segment of the state's minority party has become dangerously radicalized. Being shy about boldly condemning the allegations doesn't help them dig out of their hole.

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