Thursday, March 16, 2023

No Salaries And No Full-Time For Legislators This Time And That's Fine With Voters, Plus: The Pirtle Affair; More Details And What Needs To Happen Next, Also: Booze Tax Update And A Pandemic Book Catches Flak 

  Rep. Nathan Small (Moore, Journal)
Mr. and Mrs. New Mexico just aren't ready for a paid legislature and if asked at next year's election they would likely give the idea a resounding no. 

Senate Finance Committee Chairman Munoz read the room correctly and has basically pronounced the constitutional amendment to do just that dead for this session. 

The drive for a full-time legislature also fell flat. Why, voters ask, in a state that has experienced essentially no population growth in a decade do we need to increase legislators hours? 

The Legislature did do their most important duty of the session--sending a state budget to the Governor as they headed for a Saturday adjournment. That could only be interrupted if MLG gets ornery and calls a special session. (Please don't. The state has had enough for a while.)

That budget is the largest ever with a nearly 14 percent increase, coming in at $9.6 billion but still tucking away a reserve of 30 percent in case of an oil crash. 

In the latest bull move oil peaked at $121 a barrel in June and this week fell below $70 a barrel. There is cause for concern but the price is still healthy for the drillers in the SE NM Permian Basin and with other reserve funds packed to the gills, the budget should be able to pass any oil price tests that arise. 

There was much ado about much of everything in Santa Fe the past two months, but in the end it is that budget that will have the most impact of any legislation approved and for which the session will likely be most remembered. Well, and Cliff Pirtle. . .  


Sen. Pirtle
The eye-catching news that GOP state Sen. Cliff Pirtle was caught by his wife in bed with another woman at a Santa Fe home this past weekend caught the eye of reader Paul Roybal:

Joe, What I find most amusing about this Pirtle "scandal" is that he is always spouting off in committee about family values and how, being married to an Hispanic woman, he understands Hispanics. 

As we blogged Tuesday, the public's point of interest is if the "other woman" is affiliated with the state legislature--meaning an employee--which would make an affair more than a simple moral infraction. (Lapel camera video of Pirtle and sheriff's deputy here.)


The rumor mill now is centered on the narrative that Pirtle, 37, was bedding a young staffer from rural New Mexico who works in another Senator's office. That would be a serious ethics violation and demands an investigation by the Ethics Commission, the commission that progressives for years clamored to establish.

Reader Arcy Baca aptly asks: 

Where are the progressive women who went after Sen. Ivey Soto last year when he was accused of sex harassment charges? This is sounding much worse than that--possibly having sex with a young subordinate who works in a fellowship senator's office. Pretty outrageous. Women can't pick and choose when it comes to sexual misconduct at the legislature, unless they aren't serious and want to be labeled hypocrites. And how long has this alleged affair been going on? 

Senate President Pro Tem Mimi Stewart and her colleagues need to get a Pirtle probe up and running. 

Pirtle could do his constituents and the state a favor by coming clean on the details of the scandal and then resigning his seat. Where is the Senate GOP leadership on that proposition? Watching Jimmy Swaggart reruns? Maybe if they hadn't needlessly kicked Sen. Stuart Ingle out as their Minority Leader there would be someone with enough huevos (and stature) to tell Pirtle that it's time to go. 


Rep. Ezzell
If Pirtle does call it quits, the name of GOP Roswell Rep. Candy Ezzell pops to the surface as a possible replacement. Said one of the Roundhouse Gators:

She's been in the Legislature since 2005, is s a rock-ribbed conservative and smart. She would be a natural replacement.

The county commissions from Chaves, Eddy and Otero--the three counties that contain Pirtle's district--would each recommend a replacement if Pirtle resigns, with the Governor making the final choice. 

Finally, how about this. The Roswell Daily Record, the hometown paper of Pirtle, doesn't even carry the story. Not a peep about Pirtle's behavior from them or his interaction with law enforcement. 

Yeah, tell the blogger all about journalism, boys. What a joke. 


ABQ Dem state Senator Antoinette Sedillo Lopez is kicking herself over the legislature's failure to enact a quarter a drink tax on alcoholic beverages in the state with the worst rate of booze abuse in the nation. But she shouldn't be. 

The Senate tax committee Wednesday approved a bill that would raise the tax by five cent a drinks which still had the lobbyists choking back tears. Whether that survives to final passage in the hectic last days of the session is another question. The increase would cut the rate of drinking, according to experts, by 1.8 percent and would be the first hike in the alcohol tax in decades. 

Would it be best for Sedillo Lopez and Rep. Joanne Ferrary to throw in the towel on any increase now and come back next year with guns blazing? Maybe. If the liquor lobby swallows that tiny increase they will argue next year that they are being targeted. Or would the small-sized increase pave the way for more? A tough call. 


Reader Stan Wonn has this take on our piece this week about changes at the ABQ Journal 

Hi Mr. Monahan, Just read your piece on the blog discussing the future of the Journal and whether or not it remains in private ownership. I've been a digital Journal subscriber since moving back to the state in late 2017. I recall the days when the Journal had many more sections, pages and ads as well. It is not surprising to see the paper shrink, and the economics of the newspaper industry are reflected in that. 

I honestly don't care much who owns the Journal as long as they continue to cover local and state news because there is no other paper (other than the New Mexican) which is doing that here. However, if the Journal starts replacing local/state coverage with wire stories, or if they sell to a terrible chain like Gannett, I'll drop it like a bad habit! Until then, I'll remain a Journal subscriber because I believe it is important to support local journalism where it still exists. 

And one other note from the ink-stained world, the 538 site has updated their national pollster rankings to include the 2022 election. Research and Polling, the Journal's longtime pollster, went from a grade of A to A+, just one of four pollsters in the nation to achieve that grade out of several hundred. 


A former ABQ Journal columnist who penned a book on the Covid-19 era in the city of ABQ with a focus on the actions of city government and social protests of the time will discuss those events:

The Albuquerque Museum Third Thursday  on March 16 includes a conversation with Joline Gutierrez Krueger, author of City at the Crossroads: The Pandemic, Protests, and Public Service in Albuquerque. The conversation, hosted by Dr. Shelle Sanchez, director of the Department of Arts & Culture, will begin at 6 p.m. in the museum's auditorium. The talk coincides with the third anniversary of New Mexico's shutdown related to the global pandemic. Krueger's nonfiction account covers the city’s response to emergency management in an unprecedented time. In addition to COVID-19, social unrest is front-and-center in the book.

There's been some controversy about the book, with ABQ City Councilor Louis Sanchez asking the attorney general to investigate:

(The book) includes nearly 50 pictures of Mayor Keller and his family. . .I do not think spending nearly a hundred thousand dollars of taxpayer money to pay a journalist and publish a book, which appears to be a marketing device regarding the Mayor’s response to COVID, is appropriate or legal. If one searches for the “book” online, it is being sold at multiple retailers for profit. It is my understanding sales of the book are being handled by The One Albuquerque Fund which some accuse of functioning as a Political Action Committee (PAC) for Mayor Keller. . .

The book does show much love for Keller and company but we found it informative and insightful and think future city residents will also. 


A clarification to the first draft of Wednesday's blog on the capital outlay bill comes from Bob Cleavall, Chair of the Bernalillo County Youth Sports Commission:

Regarding the $5.1 million capital outlay for the Regional Sports Complex at Mesa Del Sol. David Campbell works for Steve Chavez and the Mesa del Sol company. They have nothing to do with the Regional Sports Complex on Bernalillo County Land stretching from the Isleta Pavillon to Bobby Foster road. 

The Bernalillo County Youth Sports Commission in conjunction with (other county offices) has orchestrated a 31 multi-use field project to serve our community's local youth sports teams. . .When completed the project will improve outdoor sports. . .for individuals to use in our community. 

Geez, kids. We went into overtime today. Hope you enjoyed it. 

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Wednesday, March 15, 2023

Please Pass The Pork, Giant $1.2 Billion Capital Outlay Bill Heads For Final Approval; Projects Aplenty For Everyone: Highlights From Across Our State  

The rhetoric gets high and mighty on the Senate and House floors on the major issues of the day but there's nothing more important to the 112 lawmakers--and many of their constituents--than the piles of pork they send home each year to make their cities, towns and villages more prosperous. 

This year the pork is again more plentiful than a Valencia County matanza, thanks to the still gushing oil wells in SE NM. The capital outlay bill (HB 505) expected to win final approval this week totals over $1.2 billion and has over 32 pages of projects. 

Because you need time to work on your Netflix watch list, we've combed through the entire 32 pages to give you the flavor of New Mexico's wants and needs. So let's take a pork barrel road trip. . .

We start in the big city where Coronado Park near ABQ's downtown, a former haven for the homeless until being shut own, will undergo a $5.2 million transformation and become a Fire Rescue and Training facility. But what about the next homeless park?. . . 

The ABQ Gateway Center, a new homeless shelter and drug treatment center scheduled to open soon, continues to receive big dollars. The SE Heights facility won $10 million in the capital outlay bill for the project's second phase (even though the city wanted $20 million). ABQ taxpayers have put up the lion's share of the $20 million spent so far on Gateway.  

The Bernalillo County Sheriff's Department is in line for a new helicopter and it will get $2.1 million from the state to buy one. Tragically, last July four sheriff's deputies died in a department helicopter that crashed near Las Vegas, NM 

The Mesa Del Sol development in the SE corner of ABQ stalled out for decades but activity has picked up in recent years. The community will be getting $5.1 million for an outdoor sports complex courtesy of capital outlay.

The UNM Tow Diehm Athletic Facility will look more spiffy soon, thanks to $4 million in pork. That's where the Lobo athletes hang to stay in shape for the next big game. 


Chaves Courthouse
$800,000 sounds like a lot for new windows in a courthouse.  But the Chavez County Courthouse in Roswell isn't just any courthouse. It was built in 1911 and is on the list of National Register of Historic Places. That 800 Grand should also cover their Windex needs. 

There is not a whole lot going on in Milan in Cibola County but the next time you're there maybe go for a swim. Capital outlay of $2.256 million was being awarded to improve the Milan pool. That's going to be some swimming hole out there. In Curry County, if you see a bunch of judges with beaming smiles, thank the capital outlay bill that puts up $14 million to build a new magistrate courthouse. That should go nicely with the new $10 million Clovis behavioral health center the city will get from Santa Fe. 


Down in Dona Ana they're getting a dose of controversial pork. The $10 million for a reproductive health center being pushed by MLG still has Republicans trying to stop it, but it appears to be a go and will be used by many out of state women running up against stricter abortion laws.

(The House R's were so upset over the center they voted against the entire capital outlay bill! That won't stop them from taking credit for projects, but cutting off your nose to spite your face is never a sound strategy.)

We haven't flown in or out of Las Cruces in years but maybe we'll give it a whirl now that they're getting $1.050 million in funds to make improvements. Throw in another $1 million for an elections bureau warehouse. Hey, it's only money. . .


How about a trip to the state Fair in Grant County? That would be something new and with the fairgrounds receiving $75,000 in improvements they should be ready for you when they host their September fair. 

Nothing against Grant County, but we would probably opt for the Harding County Fair this August. Our smallest county by population with less than 1,000 residents is getting $375,000 to improve their fairgrounds. The drive over there through the high desert vastness is not to be missed. Just watch out for those blackbirds slamming into your windshield. 


Hey, old timers. Do you remember Republican state Senator Billy McKibben? Sure you do. And so does Lea County which will receive $120,000 to make improvements to the senior center named after the former lawmaker.

Los Alamos County routinely makes the list of richest counties in the nation but they still have needs. One of them is for fire protection in the Jemez Mountains. They'll get $7 million to make the area safer from fires. 


You can tell that Sen. George Munoz is chairman of the powerful Senate Finance Committe when you look at the capital outlay projects. 

The list for his McKinley County goes on and on, including $7.5 million for a new Gallup senior center and $6.4 million for a Navajo Nation Code Talker Museum and Veterans Center. 

There's no talking in code when it comes to George and capital outlay. His motto is: "Show me the money."


How about a round of golf in Alamogordo in Otero County? With a new $900,000 irrigation system the greens at the city golf course there should look much more green in that desert city. 

And while in Portales in Roosevelt County please don't miss out on taking a selfie with their new chip spreader. They're paying $250,000 for it--or, we should say, you are. 

Maybe your tastes run to shiny fire trucks. Farmington in San Juan County will have them, thanks to $2 million in capital outlay. 


The money is going to rain down in Las Vegas in San Miguel County like the summer monsoon. That's because of the widespread damage done by last year's historic forest fires. The need is great and the capital outlay bill will help with $9 million to rehabilitate the Peterson Dam. Millions more in aid will be coming  from the Feds.

Remember when the city of Rio Rancho in Sandoval County was nearly a crime free zone? It wasn't that long ago but no more. The suburb of ABQ will get $200,000 to install a gunshot detection system, a somewhat sad sign of the times.

Not a golf or soccer fan? How about a game of pickleball? We'll meet you in Santa Fe and try to learn as we play at the new state-funded $650,000 pickle ball complex at Fort Marcy Park. Heck, we'll bill Mayor Webber for our iced tea. He can afford it.

The next time you find yourself in little Williamsburg in Sierra County check out Doris Avenue for us and the new $350,000 in improvements. Then report back on whether the avenue is named after Doris Day.

If that takes you too far south circle back up north to Taos County and enjoy a tour of the acequias, including Acequia del Llano de San Miguel. That one will get $10,000 to stay in shape as will many others across the north in the always illuminating state capital outlay bill. 

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Tuesday, March 14, 2023

Haaland Honeymoon With Progressives Crashes Following Her Approval Of Alaska Oil Drilling; New Rival Sen. Heinrich Piles On, Plus: Scandal Watch: State Sen. Pirtle's Wife Says She Caught Him In Bed With Another Woman; Questions Raised On Roundhouse Connection 

Sec. Haaland
Deb Haaland
 has been on an extended honeymoon since becoming Secretary of Interior two years ago but that came to an abrupt end Monday as environmentalists and/or progressives lambasted her from coast-to-coast for her and Biden's approval of the Alaska Willow oil-drilling project.

The criticism was rare for Haaland. who is routinely hailed for being the first Native American to occupy her cabinet post, but as a progressive working for a centrist president it was a matter of time before she took a tumble. Here's how it came down:

The order, one of the most significant of Interior Secretary Haaland’s tenure, was not signed by her but rather by her deputy, Tommy Beaudreau, who grew up in Alaska and has a close relationship with state lawmakers. She was notably silent on the project, which she had opposed as a New Mexico congresswoman before becoming Interior secretary two years ago. Climate activists were outraged that Biden greenlighted the project, which they say put his climate legacy at risk. Allowing the drilling plan to go forward also would break Biden’s campaign promise to stop new oil drilling on public lands, they say.

The most politically charged knife in Haaland's back came from none other than NM Sen. Martin Heinrich who tweeted out:

It’s disappointing to see Secretary Haaland and President Biden approve the “Willow Project” for ConocoPhillips.

Was that Heinrich's opening attack on Haaland in their behind-the-scenes-battle to succeed MLG in 2026? If so, Haaland supporters were ready to fire back, with one of them telling us: 

Heinrich's vicious side is sneaking out because he realizes that for the first time he is not the favorite in a political contest. For him to call out Deb by name is a low blow from the state's senior senator who should be doing all he can to create unity within the delegation and with New Mexicans serving their country.

Heinrich is a noted enviro who was mentioned along with Haaland and others as a possible Secretary of Interior when Biden took office. 

Haaland is now enduring the wrath of the enviros but it's a risky limb Heinrich is out on to personally go after her. ABQ Dem Rep. Stansbury also expressed disappointment with the Willow decision but did not mention Haaland.

The next meeting of the state's DC delegation out to be interesting. Ya think? 


Sen. Pirtle
It seems every legislative session has a scandal. Last year it was the DWI arrest in Santa Fe on Super Bowl Sunday of ABQ state Rep. Georgene Louis. And this session there is now this:

So who is the woman the wife of GOP state Sen. Cliff Pirtle, 37, said she caught him in bed with at the senator's Santa Fe rental Sunday morning? 

Was she connected to the legislature? A staffer? A fellow legislator?

Because if she is, here is a possible scandal brewing that goes beyond the story line of a guy caught in bed with another woman. For example, a senator having a dalliance with a paid employee of the legislature is fraught with legal implications.  

And were there other individuals with or without legislative connections at that apartment where Aysia Pirtle, her mother and kids in tow, confronted her husband and sparked a loud argument that prompted neighbors to call the sheriff's office?

Lapel camera video shows Pirtle, a dairy farmer first elected from the Roswell area in 2012, playing it cool with a sheriff's deputy, telling him he and his wife had an argument about "personal problems." He said no domestic violence occurred. His wife told the law that she had "shoved Cliff on the shoulder."

Will answers to the above questions soon unfold in a new Roundhouse atmosphere where sexual harassment guidelines have been stiffened and where there is now an Ethics Commission to handle delicate matters?  

The state House this session passed an updated Governmental Conduct Act (HB 5) making the exchange of sexual favors an ethics violation punishable by a fine of $5,000 to $10,000. Not that the Pirtle incident has any relationship to that, but it does show the "MeToo" movement is still alive in the Roundhouse halls and even a story line as old as "man caught in bed with another woman" is not to be taken at face value. 

As for Pirtle politically, he's finished. The Bible thumpers he was fooling in cow country will be looking for a new Trumper in '24. 

And a paid, full-time legislature? New Mexico probably wants to first sort out what's really going on with the current one. 


Is Senate Pro Tem Mimi Stewart livid enough over a House committee killing her favored Family Medical Leave Act Monday that she will hold up House legislation in the Senate in the session's final days? Dem moderate Reps Patricia Lundstorm and Marian Mathews were key in denying Mimi's dream now she could give them (and the House) nightmares. We shall see.  

George Goes Rogue. That would be Senate Finance Committee Chairman George Munoz cutting backroom budget deals with the Governor's team causing harsh criticism from fellow senators who said he's representing the wrong team. Munoz is sounding contrite but there's little question his dealings with new DFA Secretary Propst and the Guv's co-chief of staff Schlegel--both Munoz buddies--has left a sour taste in the upper chamber. Call home, George. The Senate is waiting. . . 

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Monday, March 13, 2023

At Odds: Heinrich Splits With MLG On Child Advocate Bill For CYFD; Says "We Must Do Better" As She Resists Change, Plus: DC Crime Bill And NM, And: ABQ Journal Watch; Editor Moves On; Future Of Paper Discussed  

Sen. Heinrich 
The state's senior senator and the sitting Governor are parting ways on how to reform the troubled Children, Youth and Families Department (CYFD). 

Sen. Heinrich is urging the Legislature to continue to advance SB 373 and HB 11 establishing an independent Child Advocate for the agency and get one to the Guv's desk, even as she threatens a veto.

The measures have been supported in initial votes by overwhelming margins. 

Heinrich made his case on the socials

Our children deserve every opportunity--and that starts with accountability, transparency, and functioning systems of support. That starts with honest assessments of what’s working and what’s not, and taking concrete action to do better for New Mexico’s children. That's why I support the Legislature's effort to establish an Office of the Child Advocate. Our children deserve the very best. And we should all be willing to do everything we can to deliver exactly that. But too often, the systems set up to protect and care for our children aren’t up to the task, with life-changing impacts. We have to do better. . .

Heinrich is seeking re-election to a third term next year and also continues to juggle the possibility of running for Governor in '26. 

MLG maintains an advocate would be ineffective and cause conflict within CYFD. 

Numerous heinous child murder and abuse cases have pushed the backs of legislators against the Roundhouse walls as constituents clamor for action. Many of the victims were already known to CYFD yet they were still attacked and maimed or killed. 

Meanwhile, the Guv and her allies are scrambling to block the advocate legislation with HB 461, a weak substitute for the independent Child Advocate bill that has won sweeping approval from lawmakers.

From HB 461:

The Office of Children’s and Families’ Rights would be administratively attached to CYFD and would be responsible for providing CYFD with independent and objective recommendations to improve the outcomes for and the well-being of children who are in foster care, including administering “the children’s and families’ grievance process, providing mediation services, providing civil rights consultation on cases, and recommending improvements to CYFD. 

But how could the planned office provide "independent and objective recomendations" when it is "attached to CYFD" whose rotted culture is in need of urgent reform? 

The independent Advocate would utilize office space at attorney general's office and would be appointed by a variety of legislators and the Governor. The Advocate could only be removed for serious wrongdoing. That's what the abused children of the state need and deserve--as did those that are now dead from abuse that could have been prevented. 

HB 461 is a crutch for CYFD. SB 373 and HB 11 empowering a Child Advocate are a solution.

(The Senate approved SB 373 on a 30-8 vote,  not unanimously, as we briefly reported in a first draft Thursday). 


Rep. Vasquez
Heinrich is is also moving on the crime issue as the '24 race comes into sight--although he has yet to draw a major Republican foe. 

He joined with senate Republicans in an unlikely alliance to block passage of a new criminal code approved by the DC City Council that was faulted for being weak. 

President Biden supported nixing the code. It was blocked by an 84-14 vote. The vote was a shift in the Dem position that DC should be allowed to govern itself. (Sen. Lujan also voted to block passage).

Last month freshman Dem Rep. Gabe Vasquez joined with fellow NM Dem House members--progressives Stansbury and Leger Fernandez--in voting not to block the DC crime code. 

The House vote was 260-162, with 42 House Democrats voting in favor of the GOP-backed proposal.

Vasquez's southern district now includes a wide swath of ABQ's Westside where crime is a top agenda item. Most recently shootings involving teens at West Mesa High School have made headlines

We asked Vasquez's office for his thinking behind the vote. They said a statement was forthcoming but then backed off and and said no comment. 

National media reported some House Dems voted against blocking the criminal code with the awareness that Biden would carry the day in the Senate. 

Vasquez is expected to face former GOP Rep.Yvette Herrell in a rematch next year and it will be votes such as the DC crime bill that will keep her on the attack. 

The Westside is already represented by conservative Dem City Councilor Louis Sanchez and GOP Councilor Dan Lewis. Herrell would like to tap into that vein of support. Vasquez handily carried the area in '22 and she needs to cut his ABQ margin to win the sprawling district. 


Meantime at the Roundhouse the one gun bill that the Alligators have been predicting would pass has done so. MLG will sign "Bennie's Bill"  (HB 9) that was given final approval last week by the House 34 to 28. The act is aimed at protecting children by ensuring adults store their firearms safely. It is named after Hargrove, a middle school student who was murdered in 2021 by a classmate using his father's gun that was not stored properly. 

The relative closeness of the vote--with some Dems joining the R's in voting against--signals that the major gun measures--such as raising the age to 21 for buying certain guns--will probably not make it this year. MLG has talked of calling a special session if the gun bills she supports are not approved.


Karen Moses (Journal)
Karen Moses is moving on. The editor of the ABQ Journal says she will retire from the paper in June, concluding 42 years at the state's largest newspaper. She assumed the helm in 2017, taking over from longtime editor Kent Walz. 

Moses, 67, a UNM grad, who was Managing Editor for 22 years before assuming the top job, said:

It’s been an honor to work with so many talented individuals through the years, and be a part of an organization committed to making a difference in New Mexico.

Meanwhile, things are very different at the Journal that traces its origin back to 1880. 

Several months ago those numerous (and lucrative) full-page ads from Dreamstyle Remodeling, owned by ABQ's Larry Chavez, disappeared after years of being the paper's primary advertiser. 

And the paper is now publishing only two sections for its weekday editions, numbering just 20 to 25 pages--down from at least 35 pages or more.

To cut costs the paper in recent years paper has resorted to layoffs (2015), retirements of senior reporters who command high wages, shutting down their DC bureau, eliminating vending machines and inking a printing agreement with the Santa Fe New Mexican. 

The relentless march of the Internet--while not appearing to put the Journal in immediate existential danger--does raise the issue of how committed the Lang family, who have owned and operated the privately held paper for decades, remains to operating with a hand tied behind their backs.

The paper has also been under ongoing pressure from local ad agencies over what they argue are too high rates as circulation for the print edition declines. No circulation numbers have been publicly released in years. 

Retired radio talk show host and veteran NM politico Mike Santullo says: 

Like many papers, the Internet has eaten the Journal's lunch. A sale at this point would not be a shocker. The main reason for the Langs to keep the paper is influence, not the profits which peaked long ago. But with the old New Mexico fading and the new multi-media landscape firmly planted, even that reasoning is suspect.

Santullo added that the ABQ Publishing Company has widespread real estate interests, presumably profitable, that can subsidize the paper. 

The Journal report on Moses leaving did not include a statement from the publisher praising her service, unlike when Walz retired. The paper says it has launched a national search for an editor. They said starting pay would be as low as $125,000. 

Like we said, things are very different at the ABQ Journal. 

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