Thursday, February 15, 2024

Legislative Session Ends 

The 30 day session of the NM Legislature ended Thursday. Here is the AP wrap. Here is the Governor's post-session news conference. Here is a list of the bills sent to the Governor.

Conservative Coalition Arises In House And Scores; Progressives Reel As Family Leave Act Fails; Speaker Martinez And His Whip Take A Whipping; A Different House In Wake Of Upset Win?  

Speaker Martinez
Coalition politics, a mainstay of New Mexican politics, has been in hibernation but no longer. 

The cave emptied out at the Roundhouse Wednesday as 11 conservative/moderate Democrats joined with all the House Republicans to deliver a stunning blow to the progressive Democrats and House Speaker Javier Martinez by defeating their paid family medical leave act. 

The 36 to 34 vote was fraught with emotion with some progressive lawmakers breaking out in tears and having to be calmed down as they reeled from the unexpected loss.

Progressive activists like Andrea Serrato revealed their anguish on social media:

To listen to so many people put their suffering on display to convince lawmakers to pass paid family medical leave only to have a handful of Democrats work with Republicans to kill it is a new level of disappointment and heartbreak. 

But conservative activists like Sarah Smith rejoiced:

The paid family medical leave act has failed in the NM legislature! Thanks to all of you who took action to stop this new tax that would have affected all New Mexico workers, businesses, and families! Thanks to the Legislators who stood up for us! 

Two of the ringleaders of the conservative D's are Rep. Patty Lundstrom, the onetime chair of the powerful House Appropriations Committee who was ousted by Speaker Martinez last year but Wednesday got her revenge, and business-friendly northern Dem Rep. Joseph Sanchez who had this analysis of the upset victory:

We all know small business owners — they’re our friends or our neighbors — a lot of them don’t pay attention to what we do here in the Legislature. And I’d hate to be near those people when they find out this is implemented.

Business lobbyists watched as the state Senate approved the act on a party line 25 to 15 vote but formed stronger battle lines when it was sent over to the House. 

Sponsors fruitlessly pointed out that the measure did not cast that wide of a net with employers of five or fewer workers exempt but  to no avail.  

It may have been the status quo that did the progressives in, a status quo that is not all that bad:

New Mexico already requires employers to provide paid sick leave to workers under a 2021 law. Employees accrue an hour of paid sick leave for every 30 hours worked, ensuring up to about 8 days of leave annually. The failed proposal for paid leave would have eventually provided workers with up to 12 weeks of medical and family leave — which would be extended to parents of adopted, foster and stepchildren. 


It was just a few years ago when progressives made successful primary election challenges against conservative Senate Dems and busted the decade-long coalition led by Dem Sen. John Arthur Smith, known as "Dr. No"  for his penchant for killing progressive plans. Now they have seen the coalition arise in the other chamber and with a force that is not going to be forgotten going forward.

The blame game started immediately with some Roundhouse Wall-Leaners telling us they blame the lobbyist who helped persuade Speaker Martinez to bring the act to a floor vote. He reportedly was uncertain but was assured the votes were there. They weren't and his speakership suffered its first major blow as a result. 

Also taking a hit was new House Majority Whip Renee Szczepanski. Her abacus abandoned her. Her reputation for political astuteness fostered under her mentor and former Speaker Brian Egolf and nourished by an obsequious hometown press is for the moment under water. 

But it is the current speaker who must absorb most of the blow, recover and move on. That is not the tallest of orders but a strengthened conservative caucus is now emboldened and could test him again--and again. That makes the House a much more Machiavellian environment.  

That the Governor was mainly quiet on the leave act was also cited as a reason for the gut punch to the progressives. She is at heart a self-described conservative on many matters and this appeared to be one of them. 

There is also the overreach of the progressives. They came with a California-like leave act and tried to clone it here, but they crossed an unseen line and paid the price. A similar occurrence came last month when conservative Dems joined with Republicans on the ABQ City Council to rebuke Mayor Keller over actions of an environmental board. 

Unlike California, the progressives here are getting schooled on the limits to their reach and shown that coalition politics in intriguing New Mexico is always lurking in the hallways of the Roundhouse--and elsewhere


The '24 legislative session adjourns at noon today. Join me for late breaking news and analysis of the past month's action today at 5 p.m. with TJ Trout on KKOB and at 96.3 FM

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Wednesday, February 14, 2024

Then There Was One; Manny Gonzales Disqualified From GOP US Senate Bid; Domenici Now Sole Candidate Left To Oppose Heinrich, Plus: Alligator Strike On Senate Finance Boss And More APD Scandal 

Manny Gonzales' US senate campaign, already tarnished by a federal investigation into his gun dealings, collapsed Tuesday when the Secretary of State reported Gonzales failed to submit enough valid petition signatures and will not appear on the June primary ballot. 

Gonzales submitted 875 signatures but needed 2,351. His candidacy was disqualified by the SOS.

Of course, the first wisecrack from La Politica was: "What? He couldn't find anyone to forge them?" 

That being a reference to his failed 2021 mayoral campaign which forged petition signatures to get Manny on the ballot and to qualify for over $600,000 in public financing. The caper cratered when he was busted by his foe Mayor Keller and was denied the money. 

Gonzlaes' campaign for the GOP senate nomination was already being written off following the entry of Nella Domenci, daughter of the late US Senator Pete Domenici, into the contest for the nomination and the right to take on Dem Senator Martin Heinrich who is seeking a third term and is unopposed for his party's nomination. 

Domenici would have had to spend money to finish off Gonzales who was elected to two terms as Sheriff of Bernalillo County as a Democrat but later switched to the GOP and became a full-fledged MAGA man. 

Domenici has pledged $500,000 in personal funds to kick-start her first bid for elective office. With Gonzales gone she can save most of that money for the general election against Heinrich. 

Heinrich reports over $3.5 million in cash on hand but that is not an overwhelming amount if early polling shows any opening for Domenici. 

The race is seen as safe Democratic by national Dems but they anxiously await that polling to see if it shows Domenici has a shot and if it does it could quickly reshape the narrative. 

With Gonzales out of the way Domenici can devote herself to fund-raising and building an organization for the fall.


First, no woman has been elected to the US Senate from New Mexico in state history. Will her gender help Domenici in the first polling?

Second, how is Heinrich going to handle this question: "If elected to a third term, will you categorically rule out a run for Governor in 2026 and pledge to finish your six year term?" 

Third, where does Domenici stand on abortion, the issue that has been driving Dems to the polls of late? Can she get past that landmine or will it doom her in the early going?


Sen. Munoz (ABQ Journal)
The chairman of the powerful state Senate Finance Committee, Democrat George Munoz, knows the score but it's an election year and he's been hard at work trying to get New Mexicans to rethink their state's standing. He came with this pitch following passage by the Senate of a $10.2 billion state budget.

Hold your head up high. You may not like everything that's happening here, but New Mexico, you are not a poor state. 

The statement immediately sent the Alligators into hunting mode, pointing out the obvious contradiction in the state's dynamic. While it is indeed one of the richest states when it comes to money socked away, it remains one of the poorest in the USA: 

NM is 47th per capita income.

NM is 47th in median household income. 

NM is 47th in the poverty rankings at 17.6 percent of the population.


The 2023 Kids County Data Book shows New Mexico ranks last in the nation for child well-being. The report shows New Mexico ranks 49th in economic well-being, with 24% of children living in poverty. The report ranks NM 50th in education with 79 percent of fourth graders not proficient in reading and 87 percent of fifth graders not profiocent in math. . .

Okay, Gators, enough. You've drawn enough blood from the chairman to constitute a full-on Alligator strike. It could be worse, George. If you had a Democratic primary opponent in the June primary it would be that candidate who would be holding your feet to the fire. 


Just when the APD scandal was showing signs of slowing, it doesn't. The latest

APD has placed the commander of Internal Affairs on leave in connection with a corruption investigation.   Cmdr. Mark Landavazo is on paid administrative leave as part of an internal probe into a group of former and current DWI-unit officers. The department had already placed Lt. Justin Hunt and officers Honorio Alba Jr., Joshua Montaño, Harvey Johnson Jr. and Nelson Ortiz on leave. Hunt has since resigned from APD. Landavazo is the highest-ranking member of APD to be put on leave because of corruption allegations involving the prosecution of DWI cases and focusing on several APD officers and their interaction with staff of a local law firm.

Stay tuned. 

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Tuesday, February 13, 2024

Afraid Of The Future: Back To The Mattresses; Most Of Multi-Billion State Surplus Socked Away As Present Needs Remain A Sore Spot, Plus: Lobbyists Out Number Lawmakers 4 To 1  

It's back to the future in Santa Fe. That's where the lion's share of the state's oversized surplus of $3.47 billion will be going under the new budget approved by the Senate Monday, despite the state's continuing struggles with behavioral health, drugs and alcohol, education achievement, child abuse and an assortment of other social ills all too familiar to readers of this space. 

The problem is a shared one. Neither the Fourth Floor or the legislative leadership are able to get their arms around the present day reality of New Mexico and continually opt to punt the ball into future decades. 

We get it. The enormity of the problems can cause paralysis, stifle imagination and lead  to acceptance that the way things are is the way they will always be. 

But in the face of years-long multi-billion dollar surpluses that head-in-the-sand approach will be condemned by those future New Mexicans that today's political class argues it is so determined to protect. 

Las Cruces area Dem state Senator Bill Soules, not exactly a wild-eyed radical, came with a succinct summation of the problem during the budget debate:

(He) asked if lawmakers are so afraid for the future that they’re putting aside dollars for then and not today. He questioned how many children in New Mexico are in unsafe and unhealthy positions, and how many state agencies — such as the Supreme Court and the New Mexico Public Regulation Commission — are underfunded. 

Retiring ABQ Dem Senator Bill Tallman, the only Dem to vote against the $10.1 billion budget which passed 31 to 10 and now heads to the House for final agreement, took note of the most dysfunctional of the state's departments as he gave his thumbs down: 

He said CYFD is only getting a fraction of the money it needs while in crisis, less than a 1% increase. 

So just where is all the "new"money going? Into the mattresses for when doomsday comes as explained by the Senate Dems:

This budget transfers over a billion dollars from the general fund to a series of endowments and expendable trusts to support future spending on things like housing, conservation, water, and workforce development. If you include the higher education trust fund currently working its way through the process, then the legislature is ensuring that over $2 billion of the $3.47 billion in new money is secured to address future liabilities of the state. With additional legislation being worked on, we’re also looking at never having to bond capital ever again. We are truly securing our fiscal future for generations to come.” 

Yeah and what about the generations of today? And all that endowment cash will amount to a small hill of beans since only the interest generated from the funds will be spent which at around 5 percent is far from a king's ransom. 

Besides, is "higher education" really one of the state's stiffer challenges needing a massive trust fund? Hardly. 

The $2 billion being socked away represents 58 percent of the surplus funds. 


It's a lack of imagination and the insistence on risk-free efforts when risk-on is essential if we're to have any hope of getting out of the basement we are trapped in. 

The lack of goal-setting is the "tell" of this administration and legislature as they wallow in the greenbacks. No-one mentions our 50th in the nation status and no-one dares lay down a marker advocating for changes and naming a date when those changes might be accomplished. 

Until the state gets serious about the very serious societal debacle that afflicts so much of its population we're pretty much guaranteed that population growth will remain stagnant, our standing in all the critical rankings will more or less stay the same, economic growth will be confined to industries we essentially bribe with expensive public incentives (think film and solar) and the key 18 to 34 demographic will continue to flee for greener pastures. 

But hey, the mountains are pretty and you can't beat those sunsets. Have a nice day!


A tax on booze and a bevy of anti-gun laws were some of the major hurdles facing top lobbyists in Santa Fe this session and they navigated them well for their clients with the tax going nowhere and most of the stricter gun laws stalled out. While the "super lobbyists" pulling down $250,000 a year or more can be counted on your fingers, they have a lot of company

This year, there are more than four lobbyists to every lawmaker in the state. Registration data from the New Mexico Secretary of State show more than 500 lobbyists with active registrations. Those lobbyists come from both in state and out of state. The vast majority of registered lobbyists list a New Mexico address as their permanent address. But more than 50 come from out of state or represent out-of-state interests, and more than a handful come from California and Texas.


In these last days of the session the capital outlay bill containing hundreds of construction and other improvement projects will be top of mind for lawmakers. They consider their "pork" projects essential to their election bids. There are advocates from institutions across the state giving a final push for pet projects. The on-the-go ABQ Museum is just one. Their Roundhouse rep reports: 

The Museum is now focused on the design and construction of a state-of-the art Education Center at the Museum. The fact sheet on youth education tells a powerful story about the number of NM children who are the happy beneficiaries of the Museum’s educational programs which bring school children to the Museum for free. Those children can then bring their families back to visit free of change. We are very grateful for the continued interest and support of all the legislators.  

The Museum's capital outlay ask is $7.5 million for the education center and to make other improvements to the facility which has been on a run lately with new leadership and new exhibits. 


MLG has a new spin doctor: 

 (The Governor) announced the appointment of new Director of Communications, Michael Coleman. “I have known Michael professionally for more than 20 years, and I look forward to working with him to advance communications around the historic work of this administration. I want to thank outgoing Director Maddy Hayden for her years of service – I know she will be exceptional in her next endeavor.” Coleman has more than two decades of reporting experience, including 18 years as the Washington, D.C., correspondent for the Albuquerque Journal. He most recently served as the lead editorial writer for the Austin American-Statesman. 

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Monday, February 12, 2024

'24 legislative Session largely Uneventful As Lawmakers Eye Election Year; Scribes Look To Basketball Game For Action, Plus: Booze And Juice; Alcohol Tax Dead And Former House Speaker And Wife Squeezed By Investors  

ABQ Journal
As usual the pace in the final days will get frenetic but this legislative session will ultimately be recorded as largely uneventful with lawmakers avoiding any major flare-ups that could influence their chances at the polls in November when all 112 of them are up for election. 

The lack of drama is epitomized by the ink-stained wretches--apparently desperate for any kind of action--cranking out nearly 1,300 words on the annual House-Senate charity basketball game that the House won.

Meanwhile, small ball is the name of the game on the floors of the Senate and House--excepting that $10 billion plus budget that will soon be passed. 

A bill tweaking high school graduation requirements and signed by the Governor is splashed across the front pages and portrayed as a game-changer while the dreaded but visionary proposal to require at least a 180 day school year languishes. No-one wants to face angry parents in November--even if your last in the nation in public ed.  

The 21 gun salute that MLG offered in the name of gun control has mostly fizzled with the solons sparing her too much embarrassment by passing a bill banning guns at polling places and perhaps another requiring a seven day waiting period before taking possession of a newly purchased firearm.  

Approval of a tax bill in the House made for another splashy headline but it too was a tweak, making minor adjustments in tax rates that make them a bit more progressive but anything bolder was shunned. That includes an interesting gambit from the Republicans asking that the state income tax be lowered to a symbolic one percent. 

That doesn't make sense across the board but what about attacking poverty by making the one percent rate apply to those making less than $25,000 a year and living hand to mouth? There's an idea in there somewhere in this rare fiscal era.

The game will get bigger later this week with the expected approval of that General Fund budget. It seems like yesterday that it was $6 billion but that's what becoming the second largest oil producing state in the USA does for you. 

That budget is making lawmakers fat and happy. They will dine on pork this final week when they also approve hundreds of millions in oil boom capital outlay funds and proudly show off to the folks back home.  

For incumbent lawmakers relishing a quiet campaign, what's not to like? 

But it's a different story for a state that badly needs to begin feeling more discomfort and even embarrassment over its often overwhelming social ills during a time of unprecedented plenty. 

Meanwhile, one of the victorious members of that House basketball team opines of the team's success:

I really feel like this victory is one that we can continue throughout the years.

Someone may still come along and put some pins in the velvet cushions that protect those legislative posteriors, but until then betting that the same legislative game continues is the safe bet. 


Let's start with the booze first. This year's effort to raise the tax on alcohol in our state that has far more deaths caused by it than any other started with less momentum than last year and now has met its demise at the Roundhouse. Two different bills got the Dems fighting among themselves and the lobbyists moved in for the kill. 

Too bad, but at least we are spared hearing more whining from the state's local brewers and wineries  about why they should be held exempt from any tax increase even though their poison is the same as the other guys. Talk about crying in your beer. Now the juice. . . 


Kelly & Brian Egolf
When Brian Egolf served as Speaker of the NM House from 2017 to 2023 he was a master at twisting arms and applying the sweet talk but those skills aren't much help in the hard-nosed private sector. The news

New Mexico Fresh Foods LLC collapsed amid the financial crunch of the COVID-19 pandemic. And a group of investors who say they unfairly lost nearly $4 million in the venture are crying foul, according to a state court lawsuit filed against former state legislator and lawyer Brian Egolf and his wife, Kelly Egolf, who headed the firm that had specialized in juice.

The lawsuit filed last week in Santa Fe contends the Egolfs misled investors and formed a new business, Invictus Unlimited, to own with assets of the juice company without disclosing the arrangement to the investors in time for them to stop it. It accuses the Egolfs of breaches of fiduciary duty, constructive fraud and fraudulent concealment, among other acts. But an attorney for the Egolfs denies any wrongdoing, describing the legal action as a “grudge match driven by the same people who kept their boot on New Mexico Fresh Food’s neck.”

Egolf is only 47 but any aspirations he may have had to reenter the political arena are probably gone. You might say he just ran out of juice. 


20 year state Senator Steven Neville, 73, has announced he will not seek re-election. The Aztec Republican was praised by his fellow Senate Republicans: 

Regarding transparency, Senator Neville championed changes to the State Investment Council that ended “pay to play.” He also passed major legislation to restructure the Public Regulation Commission and create the Outdoor Recreation Division. This past year, Senator Neville sponsored legislation to create the Land of Enchantment Legacy Fund with a $300 million endowment.

Neville's district is 58 percent Republican.

Former GOP state Senator Tom Wray, who served one term in the Senate from 1993-1997 representing District 21 in the ABQ NE Heights, has died in Scottsdale, AZ. The 74 year old was known as an energy expert who was a key player in the SunZia wind power development in eastern NM. 

In a first draft of last Thursday's blog we had MLG appointing Allen Sanchez of Chi St. Joseph's Children  to the State Investment Council. His appointment was made by House Speaker Javier Martinez. Senate President Mimi Stewart appointed economist Kelly O'Donnell to the Council who, along with Sanchez, was confirmed by the Senate.

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