Thursday, March 23, 2023

Key Advocate For Holtec Nuke Site Says Legislature Dealt Project A Setback But Not A Death Blow; NRC Delays License Decision, Plus: GOP Senator Happy With Session That Delivered Goodies For His District  

Mayor Janway
Carlsbad Mayor Dale Janway, an important advocate for the high level nuclear waste site being proposed by Holtec for an area between Hobbs and Carlsbad, says he is disappointed that a bill banning such waste storage without approval of the state was passed by Legislature and supported by the Governor. But Janeway says the project is not done yet:

We strongly believe that there are avenues allowing the HOLTEC project to move forward, but the passage of this bill will certainly delay the process. Perhaps just as frustrating as the passage of SB 53 is the broader issue that there seem to be individuals in other parts of the state who still seem to be automatically opposed to anything with the word “nuclear” in it, without considering the specifics. It is very clear that there is still a lot of work left to do in terms of nuclear education. There are many nuclear projects that offer safe and responsible opportunities for our state, and HOLTEC is one of them.

Republican Janway and other SE NM officials see the waste site as a major economic catch for SE NM. 

The AP reported Tuesday that the Nuclear Regulatory Commission has delayed its decision on licensing the project from the end of March to May citing staff constraints. 

The waste would include spent nuclear fuel rods from commercial nuclear reactors, waste that has yet to find a permanent home. Holtec is asking for a 40 year license.

MLG will sign SB53 and has also written a fresh letter to the NRC in opposition to the storage proposal.

The Mayor's office says that when we reported on a December poll showing a great majority of New Mexico voters did not want a nuke waste disposal site we did not point out that the poll was commissioned by an anti-nuclear waste group. And we didn't. . .so

We asked veteran NM pollster Brian Sanderoff if he had any recent independent polling data on voter opinion on placing a high level nuclear waste site in the state. He said to his knowledge there is no such polling. 

Meanwhile, Janeway has just marked his 13th anniversary as Carlsbad mayor. He doesn't need a poll to determine his popularity.


Sen. Burt 
Republicans are deep in the minority in the state Senate (26-15) but Alamogordo area GOP Senator Bill Burt says he still managed to bring some goodies home:

--Securing a permanent tax break on military retiree income.

--Paving the way, along with Senator Ron Griggs (R-Alamogordo), for the expansion of the Alamogordo airport.

--Leading the defeat of a bill that would have killed 200 district jobs and a major Otero County investment in the migrant detention facility.

--Joining with the Otero County delegation to deliver nearly $15 million dollars on essential infrastructure. 

Not bad for an old radio guy

That retiree income bill permanently exempts up to $30,000 in military retirement from state taxes, updating the exemption that passed last year. 

Holloman Air Force Base is a major presence in Alamogordo and has been since 1942. The base says it now "supports about 21,000 Active Duty, Guard, Reserve, retirees, DoD civilians and their family members."


After our Wednesday piece on the ABQ Journal layoffs readers wondered about the status of The Paper, the weekly that ABQ City Council Pat Davis began in June of 2020. They noted that the website had not been updated for several weeks and that the paper was not available on newsstands. But not to worry. Davis says a confluence of events had folks thinking The Paper has ceased publication but that isn't the case:

Joe, I’m glad you checked in on The Paper (and the Sandoval Signpost, Corrales Comment and The Independent, all at our publishing group now). Like you, we didn’t know the Journal was preparing those unannounced layoffs the same week we took our paper websites down for a quick refresh, but we are definitely still here. We’ve been slowly and quietly growing but I’m proud to report that our daily digital issues now have more than 45,000 daily (M-F) subscribers giving us the 2nd largest news reach in the state. We’ve quietly been reinvesting in new staff and resources. . . Starting next week readers of all 4 papers will find new layouts and new websites for each community. . .

Most notably, the Sandoval Signpost will relaunch as a new weekly print paper and daily digital version covering the entire county, including Bernalillo which hasn’t had a hometown paper for at least 30 years. In the East Mountains and Torrance County, we completed the agreement to purchase The Independent which ceased publishing in November. It will come back next week as a weekly print with a new daily digital version as well. We are looking for a full-time editor to rebuild that paper (resumes to pat@newmexico.news) 

And, of course, The Paper remains the city’s go-to arts and culture guide with a little news thrown in. We still print 10,000 print copies weekly. . .This mission to save local news is so important. . . 

Speaking of specialty local news, the Downtown ABQ News has been publishing for several years and has expanded during that time. If that's your thing, the publication offers reliable coverage of all things Downtown.

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Wednesday, March 22, 2023

Vasquez DC Crime Vote Has GOP Pouncing; Herrell Too, Plus: More ABQ Journal Watch As Layoffs Hit  

We spotted trouble for Dem US Rep. Gabe Vasquez when he voted against a GOP resolution overturning the liberal Washington DC City Council's rewrite of the District's criminal code. We couldn't smoke him out for a comment on that vote but the national Republicans have as they set their sights on Vasquez by naming him a top target in next year's election:

Gabe Vasquez is a radical Democrat who supports defunding the police and reducing penalties for violent crime. After just a few months in Congress, Vasquez has aligned himself with the extreme Left, which will come back to haunt him in 2024,” Delanie Bomer, a spokeswoman for the NRCC, said. 

That forced Vasquez onto the record with this:

My vote on H.J. Res. 24 was a vote to give the residents of Washington, D.C. autonomy over their own city and their own local decisions, particularly because they lack federal representation, as our states do. As a former (las Cruces) City Councilor, I believe local governments should have a say in important local decisions without federal government overreach.”

The vote overturning the DC crime code was supported by Dem Sen. Martin Heinrich who also faces re-election next year. All three NM members of the House voted against. President Biden did not discourage the measure and signed it into law.

And former GOP Rep. Yvette Herrell, who Vasquez narrowly ousted after one term last year and is expected to seek a rematch next year, surfaced to pile on Vasquez:

National Republicans are listing Gabe Vasquez as one of the most vulnerable members of Congress. Why? Because in his short time in office, he has prioritized his radical agenda over hardworking Americans. Voting to empower dangerous criminals and against common sense policies that would move New Mexico forward. We deserve better… 

The vote is a flash point in ABQ where the crime wave rages and where Vasquez now represents a large swath of the city's westside. Vasquez and his rookie press staff can wave off any comment to us but they can't wave a crime wave away. 


We were not aware of impending layoffs at the ABQ Journal when we reported last Monday on their change in editors and the increasingly difficult financial times the state's largest paper faces. The announcement of layoffs came days later, with 10 personnel let go, although no "frontline reporters,” according to the Journal. 

However, the paper did let go veteran photojournalist Roberto Rosales, a member of the unit that has traditionally been one of the paper’s strongest.

The paper has seen a dramatic reduction in advertising by Dreamstyle Modeling (which appeared to be their largest advertiser for years) and other enterprises that would often pay for large display ads. Journal Publisher William Lang referenced "current economic conditions" in announcing the staff reduction. 

Unless there is a rapid advertising recovery for print (unlikely) the layoffs may not be over. But the next time the newsroom could be vulnerable as most other divisions of the paper have already been hit with cuts and streamlining. As for the Internet, readership is large but monetizing those eyeballs remains an issue for the newspaper industry. 

Reader D. Reed Eckhardt, former executive editor of the Wyoming Tribune Eagle and now an industry consultant reading us from Santa Fe, writes of speculation that the family-owned Journal could be the target of a buyer: 

Despite all the shrinkage that has occurred at the ABQ Journal, it’s far better than what will come with the purchase by a chain or some investor group. Their goal will be one thing — to make money — and that will entail further cuts of staff, which, of course, is the greatest source of overhead left now that the Journal is published in Santa Fe. It’s an unfortunate reality. I’ve seen what the guys do to family- owned papers personally, including their ending my 43-year career in the business. But the truth is, the trend will strike here sooner or later. I’m praying for later. 

The title of this piece "Journal Watch" is borrowed from a column of the same name that was written for a number of years by retired newsman Arthur Alpert who died in February. He also founded the ABQ senior magazine PrimeTime (which we wrote for) and served as news director at KRQE-TV after a career in media around the nation. 

Obit here. Arthur Alpert was 90. RIP.

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Tuesday, March 21, 2023

Rumbles From Roswell: Locals Eye Replacement For Scandal Stricken Sen. Cliff Pirtle; Will He Resign? Will Ethics Complaint Be Filed? Senate Leadership Remains Mum 

His colleagues  uttered nary a public word about the scandal that engulfed Roswell GOP state Senator Cliff Pirtle during the final days of the legislative session, but word spread like wildfire among his constituents in his SE NM district. Already there are rumblings about possible candidates to take on Pirtle should he seek a fourth term in '24 or resign his seat and a replacement be appointed. 

Pirtle showed no outward signs of distress after a sheriff's department deputy was called to his Santa Fe apartment Sunday morning March 12 where he had been confronted by his wife Aysia, her mother and the couple's three children. Aysia said upon arriving she caught Pirtle in bed with another woman. A loud argument ensued at the apartment and that got the law involved. A deputy lapel camera video shows Pirtle calmly answering questions about the incident. In the final half hour of the session Saturday he promoted a memorial for senate consideration as if he didn't have a worry in the world. Of course, he does. 

The rumor mill has the other woman Pirtle is involved with being a young woman working in another GOP senator's legislative office. He has not responded to inquires asking him if that is the case. If true, it would be a major ethical violation and another sign of impending doom for the Republican lawmaker--not that the isn't already a dead man walking.

Republican operatives/Alligators report that local R's are waiting on word from veteran GOP state Rep. Candy Ezzell to signal whether she is interested in replacing Pirtle. Says one:

Candy is seen as having first dibs on the seat because of her nearly 20 years in Santa Fe and her consistent conservatism. That she is a woman doesn't hurt as the district may be looking for that in the wake of the Pirtle scandal. 

Ezzell, 69, who owns a ranch with her husband, has been in the state House since 2004 and is also seen as someone MLG could appoint if she were called on to fill the vacancy that would occur in the event Pirtle got out: 

They have opposite political views but there is no real bad blood there and I believe the Governor would honor the wishes of the conservative district if the county commissions in the three counties sent her name up to fill the vacancy.  

Another local observer says the gubernatorial reception for GOP Chaves County Sheriff Michael Herrington, who is another possible name floating as a Pirtle replacement, could be more chilly:

Mike took on the Governor directly during Covid, saying his department would not enforce the mask mandate the Governor ordered.  He would be a strong candidate in a Republican primary, but an appointment could be difficult.

Senate District 32 is solidly Republican. Pirtle took the seat when he narrowly defeated conservative Democrat Tim Jennings in 2012 after winning the GOP primary by a scant 9 votes. Jennings is now mayor of Roswell. 

Pirtle has proven popular--until now. He ran unopposed for re-election in 2016 and 2020 but if he does not resign his seat before the '24 primary the scandal that his senate colleagues were so willing to only whisper about will not find his Bible Belt electorate so accommodating. 


Pirtle's scandal is not only an embarrassment for him and his immediate family but also for one of the top family-owned businesses in Roswell--Pirtle Farms located since 1926 in the SE NM city. 

The operation includes cows, goat and sheep whose meat and dairy products they market to the public, along with selling feed to area farmers. 

Cliff Pirtle was born into the family and has been an owner/manager of the farm since 1999:

Pirtle Farms has been in Roswell New Mexico since 1926. George Elbert Pirtle along with his father Thomas Jefferson Pirtle started Pirtle Farms along with his wife Sarah Helen Whitehead Pirtle and their children Darrell, George Thomas, Charlotte, and Joann Pirtle.

The Pirtle family does not shy away from their faith, saying on their website:

We believe in honoring God by tending his garden and livestock that he has entrusted to us; through producing quality crops and nutritious milk that feed the world.

In his 2012 ABQ Journal questionnaire candidate Pirtle said his "major personal accomplishment" was:

Staying true to myself, being the best husband and father I can be, and finding the right balance between work and family.

That statement is yet another reason the scandal is a back-breaker for the senator who is known legislatively for advocating legalized marijuana while his GOP colleagues were opposed and for annually introducing a bill that would end daylight saving time.

One of Pirtle's major contributors last year was marijuana company Ultra Health which donated $5,000. In October Pirtle reported  $24,000 in campaign cash on hand with $9,100 in debt. 

With the reputations of a well-respected family and business on the line and already subjected to humiliation, the prospect of an early senate retirement for Pirtle would seem likely. If that's not enough there is the real possibility of an ethics complaint being filed with the State Ethics Commission against him over his conduct and demanding an investigation o determine if he was improperly consorting with a legislative employee.

If Pirtle were to resign the three county commissions from Chaves, Eddy and Otero would each choose a replacement candidate to send to the Governor who would make the final selection. 

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Monday, March 20, 2023

News, Analysis And Perspective On The '23 Legislative Session 

(Eddie Moore, ABQ Journal)
Both the strengths and limitations of New Mexico's new progressivism came into focus in the 2023 legislative session

When it came to voting rights, abortion rights and passing a more than ample state budget, progressives succeeded. But when it comes to the intransigent problems caused by errant human behavior and that have plummeted the state ever downward in the national rankings, the progressives were not up to the task.

The major losses in behavioral health were telling.

--The Senate leadership's decision to abandon the Child Advocate bill in the final hours--despite huge margins of support in both chambers--left the dysfunctional CYFD alone on its island without desperately needed oversight and as the body count from child abuse continues to rise. MLG insisted that the independent oversight was not necessary and offered an in-house program. Senate leadership could not bear a veto fight. But if more horrific abuse follows, this wrong turn will land squarely on MLG's lap. 

--There will be less than a penny increase per drink in the state alcohol tax that had not been raised for decades. But the consequences of such a tiny bite are more malignant now that the state is by far the worst in the nation for alcohol deaths and suffers inordinately from associated issues. The wee boost does open the door for consideration of more but the decision shows the Legislature is still not serious about digging in on the social conditions crisis. The liquor lobby is serious. They shower lawmakers with campaign cash, including House tax chairman Derrick Lente, who whittled away at the alcohol tax. He received $8,700 in campaign funds from alcohol interests between 2016-2022. 

--The lack of focus on the drug-crime epidemic within the state's progressive leadership (and their interest groups) exhibits a disturbing apathy that is not unfamiliar in state politics. That fentanyl is the centerpiece of the crime wave in the ABQ metro and elsewhere is not arguable and that rehab clinics are overrun with potential clients is also not in dispute. The shrugging of shoulders in Santa Fe was acceptance of the status quo.


(Moore, Journal)
Not that progressives wins were inconsequential. 

--The abortion rights measure in particular could be an example followed by other states in a post-Roe America. 

--The inching toward a more progressive tax code with another slight cut in the gross receipts tax and an increase in the child tax credit will have the most impact among lower income New Mexicans and will reach into the future. The increase in the capital gains tax directly addresses the income inequality that has skyrocketed the past decade. 

But when it comes to those national rankings on child well-being, booze deaths, drug addiction and high crime, we're disappointed to report that despite the largest cash surpluses in state history, we may be letting opportunity slip from our grasp. 

Not once did we hear a lawmaker of any ideological stripe (or the Governor) rise to address the state's woeful standing and plead for--or propose--a comprehensive plan to take those rankings down in a very specific manner in the way Mississippi did when it came to public education. 

Without a plan state government is taking shots in the dark with scattershot legislation that won't hurt but won't get at the crux of the matter. The head-in-the-sand approach avoids political unpleasantness but leaves the state pedaling on a stationary bicycle. 

That new early childhood education funding made possible by a constitutional amendment approved by voters and that takes effect in July has a lot more riding on it in the aftermath of this legislative session. 

The bottom line? The new progressivism comes with much of the same baggage as the center-right governments that held legislative power in Santa Fe before them. 


MLG appeared mostly mostly pleased with the outcome of the session and her habit of calling special sessions is thankfully paused for now. But she continues her relentless pursuit of a pre-trial detention bill even though it has gone nowhere and is going nowhere:

I know that you want me to say I’m disappointed, but I’m motivated. I’m very motivated to find additional ways to make sure that we really do everything in our power to make our communities and state safer. I think that each of us are dedicated to that, but we come at it a little differently. Everyone here knows I’m introducing that again — and again — and again.

The pre-trial detention bill is starting to sound a lot like GOP Guv Martinez and her obsession with repealing driver's licenses for undocumented immigrants. Both are nice political wedge issues but they can't pass and are doubtful tools in the crime-fighting box. 

Remarked House Speaker Martinez in reaction to the Guv's persistence:

He said changes to the state’s pretrial detention laws would not solve the state’s high violent crime rate, saying, “I’m telling you, that is not the silver bullet.”

And the chairman of the Senate Judiciary Committee agrees so. . .

The Fourth Floor may want to come up with a new act--if they're really serious and not posturing. But with Dems nationally and locally up against the ropes on crime, don't expect an about face from New Mexico's executive. 

On that proposed Rural Health Care Delivery Fund from the Guv that we've been going around on, the final result is the Fund passing but the $200 million appropriation she wanted was stripped out in the Senate and the appropriation ended up at $20 million.

It turns out that our first take that the bill was being "decimated" turned out to be the correct call, not that more attention to rural health needs is unwarranted. 


(Moore, Journal)
Enviros complained that their climate change agenda was mostly a bust at Session '23 but the bill that would in effect ban the burial of high level radioactive waste in SE NM came out a winner. There was an interesting twist in the 35 to 28 vote in the House for the bill as five Dems voted against. They included BernCo Rep. Meredith Dixon from a county where opposition is widespread. 

Some Dems opposed said that the measure was pointless because nuclear waste is a federal issue and the state is powerless, the same argument Holtec, the company proposing the site, employed. 

Dixon is one of the most effective political fund-raisers in the House. Her haul for her '22 campaign included $1,000 from Holtec; $5,200 from Chevron and $2,500 from Devon Energy. 

Tina Cordova of the Tularsoa Basin Downwinders writes in to counter the argument that the waste bill was a waste of time: 

Thanks to Senator Steinborn and Representative McQueen for working so diligently to get SB 53 passed. The Feds are not looking out for us. They never have and the Downwinders and uranium workers are good examples of that. No one has ever come back to clean the more than 1000 abandoned uranium mine and mill sites across Laguna and Acoma Pueblo and the Navajo Nation. No one has ever come back to take care of the Downwinders who lived as close as 12 miles to a nuclear test site. All the while people die without help or adequate health care. . .Holtec is nothing more than an extension of the horrid nuclear sacrifice zone that New Mexico was long ago declared . . . There is an argument to be made that New Mexico has done more than its fair share in serving the nation when it comes to its nuclear needs. 

MLG has already signed the ban on transporting the radioactive waste into the state. The Nuclear Regulatory Commission is expected to announce a decision soon on whether to award a license to the company for the NM project.

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