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Thursday, April 20, 2023

Guv's Staff Pulls Down Post-Election Pay Raise; Plus: Readers Write Of Pirtle Scandal And Woeful Roundhouse Website 

Investigative reporter Bruce Wetherbee did some foot work to find out the latest on top staffer pay in the Governor's office and reports they've been awarded inflation-beating pay raises. The increases come after MLG was re-elected to a second term in November.

The first column is their annualized pay as of October 2022, the second is their pay as of March of this year, the third is the total pay raise amount and the fourth is the percentage increase received.

Holly Agajanian General Counsel--$135,908 to $150,000 $14,091 10% 

Daniel Schlegel Dir. Of Strategic Plan & Initiative – Promoted to Chief of Staff--$112,476 to $185,000-- $72,524 64% 

Diego Arencon Deputy Chief of Staff--$146,781 to $175,000 --$28,218 19% 

Caroline Buerkle Director of Cabinet Affairs--$146,781 to $175,000--$28,218 19% 

Teresa Casados Chief Operating Officer--$158,758 to $185,000--$26,241 16% 

Courtney Kerster Senior Advisor $133,900 $175,000 $41,100 30% 

Mariana Padilla Cabinet Director $133,900 $171,750 $37,850 28% 

The next Governor will be catching up with their staffers pay in a big way. A large pay increase was awarded during the legislative session, the first for the chief executive since 2002 and taking their salary from $110,000 a year to $170,000.  The increase is effective in 2027.

READER MAIL

An ABQ attorney writes of our coverage of the scandal involving GOP state Sen. Cliff Pirtle:

Joe, Isn’t the difference between the Sen. Daniel Ivey-Soto and Sen. Cliff Pirtle stories the women? In the Ivey-Soto case a lobbyist who said she was harassed by Ivey-Soto filed a formal complaint and went public. Seems to me that right now Pirtle is only an elective politics story and a family tragedy and should stay that way unless the other person complains, or at least goes public. 

That is a significant distinction and probably why most of the media is shying away from the story but we aren't.

That's because there is the problem of any woman who works for the Legislature being involved who could possibly be intimidated into not complaining about pressure for sex for fear of losing her job. That's something the leadership needs to confront Pirtle over, find out the truth and report back to the Senate and public. If there was no affair with a staffer or an affair but they are assured there was no pressure applied on the woman, then so be it. 

A reader writes of the quality of the Legislature's webcasts: 

Joe, Why is it, when I watch webcasts of legislatures from other states the video quality is good, the audio is professional, and the speakers are identified, yet when I try to watch the New Mexico legislative floor sessions it looks like the video is being shot through a dusty, smoky lens, the audio is awful and speakers are not identified? New Mexico legislative committee hearing webcasts are even worse. Nobody is recognizable from the camera which is stationed in a far corner at ceiling level delivering quality that is worse than the “Ring” camera on my front door, nobody is identified, and the audio is worse than speaker quality of a cellphone? No-one cares or don’t the legislators want anyone to see what they’re doing? 

You pretty much covered it and it's a job for the legislative leadership and the Legislative Council Service to do better--much better. Viewers can barely make out who is speaking and can't even see their facial expressions. Maybe the quality is lousy to keep it from being used in campaign attack ads. 

Whatever the case, this is not what you expect from a modern-day Legislature. What say you, LCS Director Raúl Burciaga

THE BOTTOM LINES

The centuries old Spanish spoken in northern New Mexico contimues to evolve. What influences it today? The NYT takes a look. . . A long and we mean long--USA today piece--focuses on former Governor Big Bill and his continued below the radar role of freeing Americans held against their will in the far reaches of the globe. But 6,500 words? We felt we needed to call the Guv to rescue us from reading the thing. 

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(c)NM POLITICS WITH JOE MONAHAN 2023

Wednesday, April 19, 2023

ABQ Build-Out: Scores of Construction Projects On Tap As City Finally Looks Forward, Plus: ABQ's Capital Outlay Take; Too Little For The Big City? 

Call it the big city buildout. Despite projections for a flat city budget next year there will be plenty of the green stuff to keep the city's contractors busy and perhaps help deflect the effects of any recession that develops. 

This week the ABQ City Council approved $200 million in bonds for voters to decide at the November election. Believed to be the largest such issue ever, the amount is not that jaw-dropping, given the high rate of inflation and the pressing needs of a city well into middle age and some sections deep into old age. 

The bond package is routinely approved by voters and this one is expected to be no different.

There wasn't too much infighting over the bonds. Tempers did flare when the Council initially stripped money for a long-planned education center at the ABQ Museum which under current leadership is having a revival and generating excitement. The money was mostly restored. 

There was also a $4 million bond approved to move the Unser Museum into the city from Los Ranchos, even as questions linger over that facility becoming an anachronism. It receives few visitors. 

There were also some warnings from the peanut gallery over another $2 million going into the very expensive renovation of the historic Barelas/Downtown Rail Yards. Fears of a black hole are developing, even as some promising green shoots pop up there like the plans for a new NM Film Academy

Roads always grab a large chunk of a city bond issue in car-happy ABQ. For this cycle it's $44 million or nearly 25 percent of the total package. 

The Gateway Center for the homeless including a new sobering facility will get $5 million. The total cost of taking over the old Lovelace Medical Center in the SE Heights is now a stunning $75 million which renews pleas from yer little ol' blog that city leaders start building new stuff--not renovating the old stuff.

Still, the Gate (our nickname) is essential for the quality of life here and the oil boom has made it easier for the state to help out. 

Here is an in-depth summary of the 2023 ABQ bonds from Mayor Keller's office--written before amendments that were made by Council Monday night. 

BEST IDEA

Keller
It's been frustrating for Keller in his second term. Try as he might the ABQ crime problem has proven resistant to a myriad of attacks. On the other hand his far-reaching plans for dealing with the homeless and affordable housing for low income families is promising, is winning council approval and about to deliver real results. 

One of the best ideas being employed here and in other cities like Los Angeles is the conversion into apartments of older hotel and motel rooms dotting historic Route 66 and other parts of the city:

. . .Keller said the city is turning the closed SureStay Hotel at Eubank and Lomas into an affordable housing complex with 100 one-bedroom units. The property cost the city close to $6 million, with another $3-4 million earmarked for renovations. 

City officials said converting the property is much cheaper than building from scratch. “If we wanted to build a new 100-unit apartment community, it would cost between $20 and $25 million,” said Dan Jiron, with the Family and Community Services Department. . .Keller says: "This is going to be sustainable housing. It’s going to be much better than transient hotel situations we’ve had in this area.” 

That $10 million price tag works out to about $100,000 a unit. That's not pocket change but in a city needing to play catch up from income inequality that put the housing market out of reach for so many, it is more than necessary. The city hopes to eventually convert 5,000 hotel and motel rooms into apartments. 

The conversions are not without their critics so the support of the Governor has been welcomed by city leaders. MLG supported the project with $3 million through the Casa Connection Grant Program.

EVEN MORE BUILDING

Some might say the city of ABQ--population 562,000 and representing nearly 27 percent of the state's population of 2.113 million--came up short when the Legislature doled out $100 million in capital outlay to the state's largest city at the '23 session. That's less than 10 percent of the hefty $1.2 billion in the bill. 

But city leaders made no complaints as they released the specifics of the goodies the city will enjoy. They said that the $100 million is 43 percent higher than the 2022 number. That year's capital outlay bill was $828 million and the city's share came in at about 7 percent. 

This was the first year in two decades that the Speaker of the House--Rep. Javier Martinez--came from ABQ. He was elected at the start of the session. Here are the ABQ capital projects:

Public Safety · Southeast Area APD facilities - $1,500,000 · Southwest Public Safety Center - $2,985,000 · Coronado Park Fire Rescue Training and Response Center - $5,225,000 · Westside & Eastside Animal Shelters - $1,480,000 

Housing and Homelessness · Gateway Center, medical respite facility, sobering center and first responder drop-off - $9,926,490 · Construction of affordable housing - $6,460,810* · Albuquerque Youth Shelter - $1,558,490 · Preschool facility construction for families experiencing homelessness - $1,356,490 

Placemaking · Facilities for youth programs - $1,091,490 · Albuquerque Museum Education Center - $1,440,000 · Redevelopment for the Walmart on San Mateo and Zuni - $1,965,000 · Explora Science Center and Children’s Museum - $2,223,114 · Performing Arts and Education Center - $2,900,000 · Alameda Pedestrian Trail - $3,000,000 · Balloon Fiesta Park landing sites and improvements – $7,315,000 · North Domingo Baca Aquatics Center - $6,165,000 

In addition to that nearly $10 million for the Gateway Center for the homeless, the city's 2023 budget includes $12.6 million to operate it. And as we mentioned earlier, officials are now putting the total construction cost of the Gate--including dreaded asbestos clean-up at $75 million. Getting people off the streets and chipping away at a drug epidemic does not come cheap.

FORWARD ABQ

It has been rough sledding for over 10 years for ABQ. Readers of this blog know that better than most, but with the $200 million bond issue, the hotel conversions, the Gateway Center, the Film Academy and the state capital outlay projects, there's reason to believe ABQ is regaining its footing and able to look to the future and shake off the stagnant past. 

THE BOTTOM LINES 

We had fun speculating over whether Sen. Heinrich might not run for re-election and instead focus on the '26 Governor's race. No one expected that to happen and now Heinrich appears closer to making official his run for a third six year term. A longtime reader reports:

I received this message: “Hello, this is ___ inviting you to a fund raising event for Senator Heinrich’s re-election. 

Meantime, a Dem operative comes with a higher total for Heinrich's first quarter fundraising than we had. We quoted $888,000 from the FEC report but his "total contributions" including PAC's came in at $1.163 million. . . 

And we appreciate reader Sarah providing us with a plausible excuse when it comes to our incorrect statement that Dem Rep. Gabe Vasquez was elected two years ago when he was elected just this past November. Sarah wrote:

The political cycle never seems to end, just like the news never ends now on cable TV, but it wasn’t all that long ago. Vasquez only just got sworn in this past January. 

A never ending news cycle combines with the never ending tales of La Politica. Whew. 

No ten lashes with the wet noodle for our minor infractions, instead we'll take ten deep breaths. 

This is the home of New Mexico politics.

E-mail your news and comments. (newsguy@yahoo.com)

Interested in reaching New Mexico's most informed audience? Advertise here.  

(c)NM POLITICS WITH JOE MONAHAN 2023

Tuesday, April 18, 2023

No Surprises In New Congress Campaign Reports But Dem Trend Continues To Discourage GOP Challengers, Plus: Wait' No Time In Roswell 

No major surprises in the first campaign money reports of the new year for the state's five congressional seat--all held by Democrats--but they do indicate that the discouraging trend for Republicans is still in place as the '24 election cycle gets underway. 

Sen. Martin Heinrich reports raising $1.163 million during the January thru March quarter and had cash on hand of $1.911 million. That's enough to scare off challengers and it may have as Heinrich still has no major Republican opposition. He's expected to seek a third term next year, although we recently reported he has yet to make an official Senate announcement and also continues to eye the '26 Guv race.

A tight contest has become routine in the southern congressional district but with new district lines including more of the urban areas freshman Dem Rep. Gabe Vasquez has a bit of an edge. On the money front, he reports raising $360,000 and cash on hand of $303,000. That shows he is up and running but it will be millions in national money that will be the main cash factor in his contest.

Republican Yvette Herrell, who Vasquez narrowly beat last year, is expected to be the GOP nominee again but has yet to launch her fundraising, according to her FEC report. She had $99,000 in cash at the end of March and had only rasied $2,600 in the quarter. But that will soon change now that she is officially in the race and the national GOP--like the national Dems--gets ready for all out battle in the 2nd District, one of the few swing districts left in the US House. 

ABQ Dem Rep. Melanie Stansbury doesn't appear worried about getting a stiff Republican challenge. She reports just $43,600 in cash on hand after raising $103,000 and spending $76,000. Stansbury had an easy go of it in her '22 contest and no name Republican has surfaced to challenge her in '24. 

Northern Dem Rep. Teresa Leger Fernandez is also seeking re-election but like Stansbury no heavyweight R (if there any left in the north) has come forward to make the challenge. TLF reports $166,000 in cash and raising $258,000 in the quarter. 

Sen. Ben Ray Lujan is not up for re-election until 2026. He reports $653,000 cash on hand as of March 31. Of note, he donated $53,000 to the state Democratic Party last year and $10,400 to MLG's re-election effort.  

WASTIN' NO TIME

They're wasting no time in Roswell as they wait for the political dominoes to fall. If longtime GOP state Rep. Candy Ezzell lines up to replace Sen. Cliff Pirtle, who is not seeking re-election in 2024, Republican Timothy Fuller, 22, says he is prepped to run for her House seat: 

We have a Governor that could care less about crime, the economy, education, CYFD, or senior living, wrongfully only caring about abortion. . .Our state Republican Party is on life support, seemingly incapable of winning anything outside of Eddy, Chaves, Lea, and Otero counties.  I am considering a run for House District 58 if Representative Ezzell does not seek reelection. Roswell is known for aliens and cow pastures. Maybe, just maybe, the new era of New Mexican politics can be ushered in by an individual proud to call these open pastures home. I'm looking for money and advice. If you can provide one or both, connect with me through email at Timfuller.617@gmail.com. God bless New Mexico. 

Fuller, who says Rep. Ezzell has set an "excellent" example, states on Facebook that he plans to go to law school next year. That means for now he'll be needing more money than advice. 

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E-mail your news and comments. (newsguy@yahoo.com)

Interested in reaching New Mexico's most informed audience? Advertise here.  

(c)NM POLITICS WITH JOE MONAHAN 2023

Monday, April 17, 2023

A Newsy Monday Blog As Sen. Pirtle Says No To Re-election But Does Not Resign, Plus: The CYFD Turnstile: Vigil Out And Casados In Amid Bitterness From Session, Also: Readers Who Reject A "Gov. Heinrich" 

Sen. Pirtle (Journal)
Scandal-engulfed GOP state Senator Cliff Pirtle of Roswell has seen the proverbial writing on the wall and announced he will not seek re-election to a fourth term in 2024. That's not settling well with critics who want him to resign and have an appointed senator fill out the remainder of his term. 

Pirtle's announcement came following his wife filing for divorce and seeking half of their marital assets and joint custody of their three children. Those assets presumably include Pirtle's interest in the successful Pirtle Farms in Roswell. 

Aysia Pirtle cites infidelity as the reason for the divorce and she has plenty of evidence. She caught her 37 year old husband in bed with another woman at a Santa Fe apartment. The law was called and one of those now familiar and embarrassing lapel camera videos featuring a state legislator went public. The other woman was not named but the rumor mill is strong that she was an employee in another senator's office.

That's a major story line that continues to be ignored by the legislative leadership and most of the media. 

Will the Senate dig into whether Pirtle was having an affair with a senate employee? Will an ethics complaint be filed or will the Ethics Commission somehow otherwise be awakened from its slumber to and get the truth?

Senate leadership---Pro Tem Mimi Stewart and Majority Leader Peter Wirth--were all in on taking down Sen. Daniel Ivey-Soto from his committee chairmanship when charges of sexual harassment were leveled against him by a progressive lobbyist. In contrast there is a code of silence over whether Pirtle may have breached Senate ethics and harassment guidelines by conducting an affair or affairs with a Senate employee who may or may not have been influenced to engage in the conduct because of Pirtle's position. 

In other words, this is not a "private" matter. 

It's all pretty simple in this "MeToo" era but the progressive Democrats are fine with their hypocrisy over Pirtle because he supported legalized pot and unlike Ivey-Soto has no power to stall their bills. 

It's another reason why voters do not want a full-time legislature or full time salaries for the inhabitants of the Roundhouse. They continue to demonstrate that theirs is a club--where the rules are applied through a corrupted political lens.

As for Pirtle, who repeatedly touts his Christian values, he won't resign because there is no shame in public life anymore, having been substituted by the aforementioned hypocrisy. He will eventually be replaced in the solid GOP district, most likely by state Rep. Candy Ezell, if she runs. (Dem Tim Jennings who lost the senate seat to Pirtle and is now mayor of Roswell is making rumblings about running and keeping both jobs.) Pirtle's continued presence in Santa Fe will be a reminder of everything the public can't stand about the entitled political class and the chummy media that plays along with them.

By the way, the Roswell Daily Record, Pirtle's hometown newspaper, failed to report on the scandal with his wife when the story broke last month. They did file a report Saturday on his plans not to seek re-election. 

CYFD TURNSTILE

MLG and Vigil  (Moore, Journal)
When MLG gave her the job in August of 2021 we noted that former NM Supreme Court Justice Barbara Vigil had zilch by way of administrative experience and doubted the efficacy of her appointment as secretary of the troubled Children Youth and Families Department. Flash forward 20 months and Vigil is resigning

One of MLG's co-chiefs of staff--Teresa Casados--will fill the post while a search is launched for a permanent replacement. That person will be the Governor's third cabinet secretary for the agency so permanence is an open definition in this case. 

An early issue for interim Secretary Casados, according to a Senior Alligator, is the employment of her son-in-law Philip Rodriguez as Deputy Administrative Services Director at CYFD. That apparent conflict will be one of her first orders of business before trying to get a handle on the CYFD's dysfunctional bureaucracy.

Casados will also find there is a bitter aftertaste among legislators over the Governor jettisoning the ombudsman concept so prevalent in other states. GOP Sen. Crystal Diamond, one of the sponsors of the bill that won overwhelming support from both the House and Senate, had this reaction to Vigil's departure:

I am heartbroken to see the vulnerable children of our state failed by this administration yet again. We had a chance to force structural change in the department that would have created stability and accountability. Instead, certain legislators were bullied by the governor into rejecting viable, bipartisan solutions with the empty promise that Secretary Vigil would be a steady hand of change.

We really didn't have to blog much of the CFYD story, not with that picture of Vigil and MLG accompanying this report taken by Journal photog Eddie Moore. Talk about a pic telling the story. 

NOT A RISK TAKER

Our Thursday post focusing on the political options of Dem Sen. Martin Heinrich, who is said to be weighing a run for Governor in 2026, generated this from a NM political veteran and Deb Haaland supporter: 

Regarding Senator Heinrich, most in the political class know he is not a risk taker on any front and wouldn’t take the risk of leaving the senate and being out of office for 2 years and in the meantime running for Governor. There is increasing anger among women, especially women of color, about his brazen but disingenuous criticism of Interior Secretary Haaland whose job he wanted. She could do that again and beat him in a 2026 Democratic primary for Governor. Heinrich's criticism of Governor MLG doesn’t help him either and most folks know there is no love lost there. No one is holding their breath to see what Heinrich does. Heinrich has a solid record as a follower not a leader. Haaland has a record of being fierce. 

That comment about Haaland being "fierce" is straight from her campaign brochure when she won the ABQ congressional seat in 2018. 

Heres another Heinrich hit from reader Jaime A. Fernandez: 

If Sen. Heinrich plans to run for governor in 2026, he has no business running for reelection to the US Senate in 2024. If Heinrich becomes governor, he gets to appoint his own successor and that's not right. In the last few election cycles Heinrich has been sticking his nose into the Democratic Party's primary elections in order to build and promote the Martin Heinrich political machine. He is the self-appointed leader of New Mexico's Democratic Party, and we do not need him to be the future emperor of the state of New Mexico. His ego needs to be adjusted. 

By the way, in reviewing Heinrich's latest campaign report we see he spent $33,000 for "security upgrades" to his SE ABQ home, another sign of these tense national political times. 

THE BOTTOM LINES 

MLG appeared on CBS’ Face the Nation on Sunday to discuss the latest national developments on abortion. Video and transcript here

Giving it to you straight for 20 years in this space.  

The home of New Mexico politics.

E-mail your news and comments. (newsguy@yahoo.com)

Interested in reaching New Mexico's most informed audience? Advertise here.  

(c)NM POLITICS WITH JOE MONAHAN 2023
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