Thursday, November 30, 2023

Other Voices: Preparing For Session '24; Chair of Senate Finance Contemplates State Of The State, Plus: Remembering Biz Journalist Harold Morgan 

On this edition of Other Voices we have commentary from Senator George Muñoz, chairman of the powerful Senate Finance Committee, on the billions of surplus that continue to accumulate in Santa Fe and a journalist remembering a journalist--Sherry Robinson on the passing of Harold Morgan. We start with the Senator:

New Mexico’s current, extraordinary revenues can make it easy to forget that, not that long ago, state legislators had to repeatedly make deep cuts to keep the state afloat. First, we were hit by the 2008 Great Recession, then by plummeting oil and gas prices around 2014, and finally by the pandemic and saturated oil market of 2020. What a different world we live in today: two years of historic revenues—driven by flourishing oil and gas production that even low prices can’t discourage—means we literally have money to spare. But not to waste. 

The financial tide has turned, but much like it does during years of low revenue, New Mexico will need strong leadership during these years of plenty. Self-control and vision must be the ideals we hold as we plan for the future. As a reminder, last year one such opportunity was squandered when we sought to utilize the state’s revenues on a billion dollar tax package that was selectively vetoed. This next year we will take deliberate action. 

We must first seek to fill up our trust funds so that they are self-sustaining and can serve as a guaranteed revenue source for critical state priorities into the future. For example, we can use today’s bounty to capitalize the land of enchantment legacy fund to support our natural resource agencies, while simultaneously appropriating more funding into the opioid settlement fund to support our substance abuse interventions and treatment efforts. These are just two of a multitude of examples. . .

Take a second to imagine the quality of life our children and grandchildren can have when we invest in our people, our resources, and our own financial security in a targeted and deliberate way. I know the temptation is to spend it all now, but if we want New Mexicans to benefit in the long term, we must make very judicious spending decisions guided by a strong vision of where we want to be in five, 10, or 20 years. 

For example, any tax changes we seek must be targeted to avoid jeopardizing our fragile revenue sources that are enabling us to invest in programs that change lives. Simultaneously, we must leverage the power of compound interest every opportunity we get through the creation of expendable trusts that will allow us to pilot new ideas and ensure we don’t find ourselves in a situation where we once again have to make cuts to the services our people need to prosper. 

We have a once-in-a-lifetime opportunity to shift New Mexico toward a better future. And we will, if we are informed by the hard choices of the past and driven by a clear vision of the future. 


Syndicated columnist Sherry Robinson writes: 

My friend and long-time colleague Harold Morgan, 77, passed away last month. Harold started writing for this small syndicate in 2004. He spent a career in numbers as founding editor of New Mexico Business Journal and Sunwest Bank’s chronicler of New Mexico’s economy. . .As a tribute, I’d like to share some excerpts from his 17-plus years of columns.

In 2011 he skewered Gov. Martinez and her economic development secretary whose only proposals were recruiting companies to the state. “Recruiting is good and necessary, but for that to be the only topic massively misses the point,” he wrote. Recruiting had no impact on the smallest communities. 

That year Harold surprised everyone: “Legalize marijuana. There! I said it! In public! Conservative me!” His reason was that “the social costs of legal marijuana, however high, would be less than the social costs of illegal marijuana.” He meant that illegal weed brought otherwise law-abiding citizens into contact with criminals. “In my brief, long ago marijuana flirtation, my supplier was a Washington-based federal prosecutor. This nicely defines the potential for societal rot.” 

 In 2012 Harold wrote that Martinez’s thin agenda lacked values. “Republicans must bring a framework of values to the conversation.” Run articulate Republicans for office, starting with grassroots positions. “But remember, ground everything in values. Dump the extremism.” 

Civility was a regular subject. Deb Haaland, then Democratic Party chairwoman, said in 2016 that Martinez’s policy priorities were “exactly in line with the reckless and racist priorities of Trump and other Republican candidates.” Harold responded, “While it’s tough to argue Donald Trump is anything other than reckless and racist, pasting that label on Martinez is hardly civil.” He added, “Republicans say the same stupid stuff.” 

Harold’s last column was June 28, 2021. He stepped down for medical treatment and then decided to devote himself to a book on New Mexico’s uranium industry.

Other Voices is an occasional column of thoughtful commentary from voices other than the blog. Submissions for future editions are welcome via email.             

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Wednesday, November 29, 2023

What If R's Controlled The Roundhouse? GOP Player Ponders A Game Of Hardball Over CYFD Reform, Plus: More On Redistricting Ruling, And: New Zealand Meets New Mexico  

What if Republicans controlled the Roundhouse and played hardball with MLG over reforming the long-troubled Children,Youth and Families Department (CYFD)?
That's not about to happen but growing frustration over the Governor's resistance to legislative reform of the agency--insisting that she can do it internally--has longtime GOP political consultant Bob Cornelius pushing out a stern agenda for the '24 session that he would like to see Republican lawmakers pursue--if only they had the votes. The wish list may not be realistic in a Dem-controlled Legislature but it is provocative:
1. At the '24 session the Senate Finance Committee will begin cutting all executive branch budgets 1.5% per day until the Governor adds CYFD reform to her call. 

 2. Call CYFD Secretary-designate Teresa Casados to testify daily (alternating committees with any oversight over CYFD). 

 3. Refuse to confirm the CYFD Secretary until Governor signs a CYFD reform bill.

 4. Don't wait for the Governor to include reform on her Call. Introduce and pass the Child Advocate bill that provides for independent oversight of CYFD and fund the position as part of the CYFD budget. 

 6. Call on the State Auditor/Attorney General to investigate CYFD and where the 77% reduction in spending to prevent repeat child abuse went and if funds were misused for other expenses. 
Who knows? If CYFD continues to go downhill we might see a Democrat or two take an idea from this wish list and run with it. 
As for MLG and the '24 session, there is no indication yet that she will add any CYFD reform measures to her call. Stay tuned. 


Chief Justice Bacon
From the SOS:

New Mexico’s State Canvass Board met Tuesday and unanimously certified the official results of the 2023 Regular Local Election. The Board is composed of Governor Lujan Grisham (absent Tuesday), Secretary of State Maggie Toulouse Oliver and Chief Justice of the New Mexico Supreme Court C. Shannon Bacon.

“Every New Mexican should have the highest level of confidence in these official election results and in the conduct of the statewide Regular Local Election," said Secretary of State Maggie Toulouse Oliver.

The official, certified results for the 2023 Regular Local Election can be viewed here

250,582 voters out of 1,219,760 eligible voters turned out for the election (20.54%). The Board signed the certificate of canvass that makes the results official. 


Reader and businessman John Rice comes with his take of the congressional redistricting that was upheld this week by the NM Supreme Court: 

The Democrats repeatedly say that the state had a thorough, fair and extensive redistricting process led by a respected judge. That is true. It is also true that the Legislature dumped our work and appears to have followed Sen. Joe Cervantes lead in designing its own map. The process and proposed alternative the Redistricting Committee went through before being ignored by the Legislature was more neutral and fair than what the Legislature installed. 

 The above stated, as an Independent I regard the new map as far better than I expected of the Legislature since it left the southern district competitive enough that the Herrell-Vasquez race looks like a fair fight. Also, by diluting District 2, it actually appears to have created a more slightly competitive District 1. They did put a Democratic Party thumb on the scale, but not the whole fist. 

The problem we New Mexicans share with other states is that redistricting has been appropriated as a right and privilege of political parties, thus making it about political party turf and self-interest rather than the balanced the interests of all voters.  Thanks Joe,  for the public service and wit of your blog.


Ambassador Udall & Wiener
Here's world traveler, license plate collector, former state senator and current ABQ state senate candidate Michael Wiener smiling it up this week with Tom Udall, former NM US senator and now US Ambassador to New Zealand and Samoa.

The occasion was Wiener's visit to the South Pacific where he presented the ambassador with his own personalized NM license plate. 

The New Zealanders may have trouble figuring out what that chile symbol is but Wiener says Udall likes the plate enough that it will win a spot on his office wall in Wellington.

Wiener met with Udall, 75, at the US Embassy and reports he "loves the region and the job" and when not attending to his duties is pursuing the outdoor activities (hiking etc.) that he and his famous political family are known for.

Udall told Wiener he first met President Biden, 81, who nominated him ambassador, when he was in his 20's and campaigned for him during Biden's first run for the US Senate from Delaware. Udall served in the US House before serving in the Senate from 2009-2021.

One aside: The license plate can't go on the embassy wall until it gets a going over from security to make sure it isn't bugged. Wiener assured Udall it wasn't.

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Tuesday, November 28, 2023

State GOP Goes Down Swinging As NM Supremes Let Stand New Map For Southern Congress District; R's Say Dems Are "Entrenched," Plus: Former AG Balderas Surfaces To Defend Himself Over Lucrative Opioid Lawsuit Contract  

The state GOP went down swinging Monday, criticizing the NM Supreme Court for allowing to let stand the new map of the 2nd Congressional District that will soon be the scene of another political brawl between the two major parties. 

After the high court Monday upheld the ruling of a Republican district court judge approving of the new district, the state GOP said

The court leaned heavily on the closeness of the last election. Without the specific factor of the previous election that included a popular Republican incumbent and an unknown Democratic challenger, the effects of the (Democratic) entrenchment would be prominent. 

In 2022 Republican US Rep. Yvette Herrell was defeated by a tiny 0.7 percent margin by Dem Gabe Vasquez. The two are now preparing to square off in a 2024 rematch. All major nonpartisan Congress watchers rate that rematch a toss-up, favoring neither party.

The problem with the GOP argument that legislative Democrats gerrymandered their way to power in the southern district is that the Dems only accomplished a partial gerrymander. The legal standard to throw out a map is an "egregious" gerrymander. In other words, essentially the door would have to have been slammed shut on any Republican victory in order for the boundaries to be unconstitutional. 

Those doors were far from shut for Republican Herrell in '22. Now in '24 she is leading Vasquez by a point--46 to 45--in the first public poll of the race. 

The court can't involve itself in the personalities of the day and entertain speculation that a weaker Republican would have no chance. That's political analysis not legal doctrine. The evidence shows Republicans have a very realistic chance of victory. The court has to look for signs of an obviously unfair playing field and make a long-term decision that will stand ten years until the next redistricting.

This new map has now delivered two of the most competitive congressional elections in state history. That's not to say that swapping out parts of the oil counties from the old district and replacing them with sections of ABQ's South Valley doesn't improve Democratic chances. It does. But the law is realistic and allows for political parties to partake in the spoils of victory--just not to gorge themselves at the table.


Full GOP reaction statement to Supreme Court ruling is here. Democratic Party reaction here

Good government group Common Cause said:

The redistricting process was more accessible and transparent this time, due to the involvement of the Citizen Redistricting Committee, but we can make it better. Common Cause continues to support a truly independent--not advisory--redistricting commission with binding authority.

The group added that several "constitutional amendments to establish an independent redistricting commission are expected to be introduced in the 2024 legislative session."


Former Attorney General Hector Balderas has surfaced to strike back against criticism he's received over the awarding of a lucrative state legal contract to the Robles, Rael, Anaya law firm (RAR). 

The ABQ firm and two out of state firms received 33 percent of a $453 million state settlement with Walgreens over opioid abuses. Other states paid their lawyers just 12 percent in their major pharmacy lawsuits. 

Critics charge Balderas with making a sweetheart deal because of his long personal friendship with Marcus Rael, Jr., the firm's managing partner. But in an op-ed the former two term Dem attorney general, now president of Northern New Mexico College, makes his case against those critics:

The 12% attorney fee figure paid to outside attorneys in the national settlement that is being held up as a supposed reference for criticism does not account for a state that decided it had to take Walgreens to trial in order to get a fair recovery for its people. Because New Mexico took Walgreens to trial, and even after New Mexico paid its lawyers, New Mexico still received almost eight times the treatment money the state would have otherwise received had it merely accepted the national deal. That is eight times more treatment dollars, eight times more narcan, eight times more beds in treatment centers, eight times the funding for county and local governments. Taking a multi-billion dollar company to trial for seven weeks required a team of more than 50 lawyers, litigating New Mexico’s case for more than seven years before it got to trial. All of that cost was borne not by the taxpayers of New Mexico, but by these outside firms.

The State Ethics Commission recently said contingency fee agreements such as the one in the Walgreens suit should fall under the state Procurement Code.

"Considering both the significant representations that attorneys take under contingent-fee agreements (e.g., pursuing New Mexico's recovery from the opioid-abuse epidemic in this state) and the large sums that contract attorneys may recover in these representations (e.g., a $148 million fee in one opioids-related case alone), the Procurement Code should apply to constrain how state agencies select law firms," the commission wrote.

Balderas said in a statement he agreed with the commission's conclusion, "which is why my office used a competitive bid process under the Procurement Code to hire all outside legal counsel, including those that the State paid no fee to."


In a first draft Monday we blogged that ABQ City Council run-off election candidate Jeff Hoehn had received public financing for his campaign. He is receiving private financing. The District 6 run-off election is December 12 with early voting now underway.  

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Monday, November 27, 2023

Veteran Dem Consultant Predicts Rogers Victory In ABQ City Council Run-off, Plus: GOP Consultant McCleskey Recovering From Injuries In "Serious" Accident. And: State Senator Steps Aside In Favor of "New Blood" But It Appears Old Blood Will Take His Seat 

Nichole Rogers
If longtime progressive Dem political consultant Neri Holguin has it right Nichole Rogers should have a smooth path to victory in her December 12 run-off election with Jeff Hoehn for the District 6 ABQ City Council seat in the liberal SE Heights.

I think Jeff is in trouble because of the considerable financial support his campaign has received from the PAC associated with commercial real estate interests. It is primarily made up of Republicans and as that word circulates the majority Democrats in the district will recoil from supporting him. 

In one of their ads that created backlash in the district, the PAC labels the Sierra Club and other progressive groups backing Rogers as "extremist" groups.

That PAC, Help ABQ, operates independently of Hoehn's campaign. While complaining that their attack ads on the progressive groups were off base, he has not rejected the PAC's support. 

The PAC tells me that they will also be supporting Hoehn with paid media in the run-off. In the regular election the PAC raised about $180,000 and spent money in three city council races. 

Rogers campaign will receive $20,000 in public financing for the run-off and she received $40,000 for the initial election. Hoehn did not take public financing and is privately financing.

Early voting for the run-off is already underway. Only residents of District 6 can cast ballots. Early voting runs until Saturday, December 9. Voting locations are here.


Jeff Hoehn

Rogers got by Hoehn 40-32 in the first round. We go to a run-off because in the multi-candidate race no-one achieved 50 percent of the vote. 

Hoehn, who runs the nonprofit Cuidando Los Niños, is a Democrat with a long history of running nonprofits. He is also head of the Nob Hill Neighborhood Association. 

Rogers, who is in sales with Primerica Financial Services, worked for Mayor Keller as the African-American community's Business Liaison with the Office of Equity Inclusion. She would be the first African-American elected to the Council since the modern form of government was adopted in 1974. 

Rogers is the more progressive of the two. Hoehn is no conservative but in an opinion piece for the newspaper he indicated he was irritated with Mayor Keller and the Dem machine for backing his opponent. (Rogers op-ed here.)

Rogers has come under fire for failing to comply with state registration regulations for a nonprofit she founded but Holguin says the mistake lacks sting and she does not expect Rogers to be upended by any more ethics charges.

By her count Holguin has now consulted some 100 state political campaigns. She briefly consulted the Rogers campaign at the start of the regular election. She is not involved in the run-off.


McCleskey cycling (2021)
Meanwhile, another veteran NM political consultant, the often controversial Republican Jay McCleskey, found himself in the hospital on City Election Night November 7, reports a longtime acquaintance:

Jay had a serious motorcycle accident in late October and suffered multiple injuries. He was in the hospital for a number of days including the day of the city election. He has since been released and continues his recovery. 

Well-wishers offered McCleskey support in response to a private post on his Facebook page with several of them saying they were glad "it wasn't worse." McCleskey has not publicly released details of the accident.

In the Nov. 7 election McCleskey consulted council candidates Brook Bassan in District 4 and Dan Champine in District 8. 

Both Republicans managed victories but Bassan won over Abby Foster in a squeaker and Champine under performed (52 to 48) against Dem Idalia Lechuga Tena, 

McCleskey made his bones and the big bucks when he was the lead consultant for Gov. Susana Martinez. She served from 2011-19. More recently he consulted the two unsuccessful statewide races of former TV weatherman Mark Ronchetti.


Sen. Griggs
He's 71 and says he wants "new blood" top represent his state senate district so 12 year Senator Ron Griggs of Alamogordo says he will not seek re-election to a fourth term next year: 

I am proud of the work I have done as your Senator and will continue to serve the people of New Mexico. But the time has come for new blood, new eyes, new ideas, and new directions.

The problem? The likely replacement for Griggs in the solid GOP district made up of parts of Chaves, Eddy and Otero counties is from state Rep. James Townsend, the former House Minority Leader. He's pushing 70.

Townsend's decision to run a primary campaign against Griggs is being credited with forcing Griggs out of the District 34 seat but Griggs says he could have beaten Townsend. 

A challenge to the well-financed Townsend with his connections to the booming oil industry is unlikely. Also,  the district is all R all the time. No Dems need apply. So, that's how you get old "new blood."

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