Thursday, February 22, 2024

Other Voices: Opinions From Around The State On Family Leave, Progressive Power, Running Education And A Silent Domenici  

In this edition of Other Voices a variety of opinions on issues of the day. 

We start with this reader's reaction to the stunning defeat of the paid family and medical leave act when 11 Democrats joined with all House Republicans to kill the bill: 

Joe: I thought you had a good take on what happened at the Roundhouse with the bill. From my perspective, the Democratic caucus is in chaos. Rep. Patty Lundstrom--an ardent foe of Speaker Martinez--is building power while some lobbyists have pulled him too far to the left and essentially left him looking like a weak leader. The demise of the PFML is rooted in the intransient nature of the sponsors who refused to work for compromise and insist on this being a state run program. To have an honest debate the speaker should have allowed HB 11 and SB 3 and let the chips fall where they may. Without any caucus meetings, no wonder they couldn’t count their votes.

Both bills mentioned would have reduced the amount of paid leave allowed to nine weeks from 12 weeks. 


Conservative columnist Tom Wright, writing in the Rio Grande Sun, ponders the power of progressive Democrats:

New Mexico has a Democrat majority, but most Democrats here are not progressives. One must ask, why was there so much progressive legislation being considered in this session? Progressive politicians get elected here because big money, from outside the state, funds their campaigns. Super-PACs funded by the likes of George Soros, Mark Zuckerberg, Michael Bloomberg and other elites with power agendas, make sure their handpicked and groomed candidates get elected and support their outside agenda. . . A truly local politician, funded only by locals stands little chance of being elected in a super-PAC funded race.


Politics columnist Walt Rubel says after a 20 year absence it's time to bring back a state board of education to run the show:

Test scores show that our students are still underperforming in comparison to their peers around the country. The latest report on childhood well-being showed that 76 percent of New Mexico fourth-graders are still not proficient in reading, and 79 percent of eighth-graders are not proficient in math.

Clearly, changing from an elected school board to a secretary of education did not fix the problem. Senate Joint Resolution 9, which would have called for the repeal of the Public Education Commission and replacing it with a  state board, passed the Senate on a 36-1 vote Jan. 30, but then got stuck in the House.

There is no simple solution. Switching back to an elected school board risks making the process more political. But, it would also ensure more representation from all areas of the state, and more public debate in the decision-making process. The new board would have 15 members, 10 elected from districts throughout the state and five appointed by the governor. . .As one of the voters who supported the change in 2003, I’d like the opportunity for a do-over.


Nella Domenici
The state Democratic Party is anxious to hear what Republican US Senate candidate Nella Domenici has on her mind. The party writes:

Over a month into her campaign Nella Domenici has yet to answer a single interview question from the press. . .Voters still have not heard a word directly from the GOP East Coast Elitist. 

. . .Clearly, she lacks not just a vision for her candidacy but also a familiarity with our state.New Mexicans deserve a candidate with a proven track record who won’t dodge questions or try to buy legitimacy for their campaign. Voters have a right to know if Nella agrees with Trump's plan to ban abortion nationwide or other pillars of the MAGA agenda, like eliminating healthcare for millions. 

. . .Nella still hasn’t given voters a single reason to overlook just how out of touch with everyday New Mexicans she really is.

Domenici's silence is encouraged by her lack of a GOP primary opponent now that Manny Gonzales has withdrawn. Given that backdrop and the ability to finance her own campaign, don't expect to hear much from her anytime soon (our request for her position on abortion got crickets) but do expect to hear more criticism from the Dems working on behalf of US Sen. Martin Heinrich. 

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Wednesday, February 21, 2024

Fighting Irishman O’Neill Faces Stiff Senate Primary Challenge From Former Councilor And Commissioner; District Changes Could Decide Contest, Plus: Pirtle Place: The End 

O'Neill and Bregman (Journal)
This time the Fighting Irishman has a real fight on his hands. 

State Senator Bill O'Neill has been a Roundhouse fixture since his first election to the House and then to the Senate in 2012. So entrenched is O'Neill that in 2020 he drew no GOP opponent. Now that's all changed. 

Speculation that former two term ABQ city councilor and former two term Bernalillo County Commissioner Debbie O'Malley would run against O'Neill has been confirmed, making official her run for the Dem nomination in the June primary. 

Her chances of pulling off the relatively rare feat of ousting an incumbent senator in a primary are not too shabby. Not at all. 

First, O'Neill, who has been a diligent walker during his campaigns, is not as spry as his old self--as seen in today's photo taken at his re-election announcement this week where he is pictured with BernCo District Attorney Sam Bregman. Still, he has announced he and his team will be out walking door to door this weekend.

Second, O'Neill's admirable efforts to make the Legislature more bipartisan is out of sync with the polarized times leaving him especially vulnerable to a progressive challenger like O'Malley. 

Third, District 13 remains heavily Democratic but the boundaries have changed significantly and now include more areas that O'Malley represented in her elective career but are brand new for O'Neill.

Fourth, O'Neill does not seem very well positioned financially for a competitive primary, reporting just $32,000 on hand at the last reporting period in October. 

O'Malley's campaign points out:

As a result of redistricting in 2020. . . over half the district is “new.” It still includes parts of the North Valley, but now incorporates Wells Park, Downtown, Barelas, as well as the South Broadway and San Jose neighborhoods. These are communities I know well. What we need most in Santa Fe are progressive fighters — leaders who are unafraid to stand up for the needs of our families and our environment, and leaders who are unafraid to stand up to the corporate lobbyists and their outsized influence on policy.

O'Neill took note of the district's changes as he informed his constituents he wants a fourth term: 

Having colleagues and supporters join me at my home for a post session get together was wonderful. We were able to discuss our triumphs and future plans. Now, with a moment of relaxation behind us, I'm excited to venture into the district, connect with new voters, and share my vision and track record.

Lately O'Malley has been serving as a policy aide to ABQ Mayor Keller. The progressive machine that has twice elected him is embracing her and ready to do battle with the more moderate wing of the party represented by O'Neill and DA Bregman.

Professionally, O'Neill served as Executive Director of the New Mexico Juvenile Parole Board, and as Development Director for the PEP Program, "a mentoring program for high-risk juvenile offenders through the New Mexico Conference Of Churches."

O'Neill is also an author and playwrite. This year he is in need of a new script if he is to hold on to his seat. 

(No R's need apply. District 13 is all D all the time--57% to 18%).


Pirtle and newborn
One of the state senators O'Neill struck up a friendship with in his search for more bipartisanship is Republican Cliff Pirtle of Roswell. But if O'Neill is re-elected he won't be seeing Pirtle in the senate chambers. The disgraced Pirtle finally pulled the plug on a run for reelection after saying he was reconsidering his initial decision not to run. 

Now that he's out it is very likely that state Rep. Candy Ezzell, who has announced she is running for the June GOP nomination for District 32, will win that election and the general election in November in the GOP dominated district. 

As for Pirtle, 38, the politicos and the media soft-shoed his extra martial affair with a Senate staffer that apparently began when she was a teenager and who he ultimately impregnated while married with three other children.  

The proud papa then took the newborn to the Senate floor as seen in today's photo. Really. 

Pirtle is now going through a nasty divorce with his wife which was precipitated by his cheating

Senate leadership, to their lasting shame, looked the other way when asked to employ the Ethics Commission to investigate the propriety of Pirtle's relationship with senate staffer McKenzie Luna.

That was all put aside in the final hours of the '24 session as many of Pirtle's fellow senators rose to commend him for a job well done. It was quite the spectacle and a reminder that while reams of news copy are devoted to the goings-on in Santa Fe, the goings-on that make lawmakers and the establishment media uncomfortable are often swept under the rug.

One of our Senior Alligators comes with a fitting satire of the bizarre display in the Senate as Pirtle was regaled:

Pirtle slowly walks off the Senate floor, holding his love child and with his paramour by his side. Fellow senators reach out desperately to shake his hand and hold him, all while wiping away a deluge of tears. 

As Pirtle leaves the chamber, a pack of white doves suddenly fill the chamber, their wings pushing the marijuana smoke like the wisps of clouds. Pirtle exits and the chamber doors shut. 

The Senate is empty now, with the exception of Lt. Gov. Howie Morales who stands behind the dais. He sadly looks  around, wipes away a lonely tear as he stares at the door that closed behind Pirtle and whispers to himself, “Now he belongs to the ages.” End Scene. 

Yes, Cliff, you and your enablers are the target of an Alligator Strike. Congrats. . . or something--and so long. 


In a first draft Tuesday we had $16 billion going to improvements at ABQs Balloon Fiesta Park from the legislature's capital outlay ball. They wish it were so. The correct total, of course, is $16 million.

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Tuesday, February 20, 2024

Massive Capital Outlay Bill Will Change The Face Of Many Neighborhoods Across The State; That Bill Is Our Pic Of Most Memorable From Session '24, Plus: A Peek At Many Of The Projects To Come  

Legislative sessions can be beehives of activity but most don't result in landmark legislation and don't leave much of a mark. So what will be remembered about the 2024 session? 

Results were meager with just 72 of the 658 bills introduced winning passage. But one of them--or at least the results from it-- has the best chance of New Mexicans recalling it a dozen years from now. 

That would be the colossal $1.4 billion capital outlay bill (fondly referred to as "pork) authorizing a myriad of construction and other projects that will in many cases change the landscape of numerous neighborhoods. Now that's memorable.

Here's a glimpse at some of them, mostly financed with royalty and tax money from the ongoing and historic oil boom in SE NM.

--Nearly $16 million was approved for improvements to ABQ Balloon Fiesta Park, home to the state's most iconic tourist attraction and soon to be the stadium home for the popular NM United soccer team. Balloon aficionados and soccer fans alike will be enjoying the improvements for decades to come.

--The renovation of of the historic downtown ABQ Rail Yards has been greeted with skepticism but with the addition of the NM Media Academy to train future film workers it appears a massive renovation to turn the Yards into a major attraction has gained favor. A $10 million appropriation will speed up the process and is on top of $40 million approved by lawmakers in 2023. 

--The Legislature approved an immense package of $748 million of bonds and cash for roads this year, the most in decades. $107 million of it will go for long-awaited improvements to heavily traveled Rio Bravo Boulevard in ABQ's South Valley. The orange barrels will be fearsome but worth it. On ABQ's Westside Paseo del Norte and Unser Blvd will get $2.8 million for construction.

--APD will be buying a new $3 million helicopter; the state fair will receive $8 million to improve infrastructure and electrical systems at the aging fairgrounds and UNM's Popejoy Hall will see $1.07 million for improvements to the fine arts center. 

--Elsewhere around the state:

-- $1.15 million will go for construction of a soup and community kitchen in Las Cruces.

--The tiny population of Harding County--just 628 souls-- landed $575,000 for construction at the county's senior center.

-- In Lea County, where roadways are taking a beating from the oil boom, $75 million has been approved for improvements to Highway 128.

--In Deming there's $110,000 in improvements slated for the local dog park.

--In McKinley County the Navajo Code Talkers Museum will receive $1.5 million.

--In Alamogordo in Otero County the Museum of Space History gets $1 million for improvements.

Cumbres & Toltec
--In Rio Arriba County $2 million is on the way to rehab railroad tracks and passenger cars of the popular Cumbres and Toltec Scenic Railroad, a National Historic Landmark. 

In Colfax County $25 million will be spent to improve the well-known I-25 intersection at Raton and US 64.

In San Juan County the Bloomfield City Hall will undergo $275,000 in renovations.

In San Miguel County water is a major concern and capital outlay is headed there to help resolve the problems including $1.5 million for improvements to the Pecos water system.

In Sandoval County $15 million was approved by lawmakers for construction of a magistrate court building and $275,000 to make improvements to the Coronado Historic Site.

--In Santa Fe County $4 million of capital outlay will go for renovations to the State Supreme Court building and $5.45 million has been green lighted to expand the water system for the village of Agua Fria.

That's only a sliver of the $1.4 billion headed out the door and across the state. But there is a catch. Too many projects continue to be stalled and the state currently has a backlog of nearly $5 billion in capital outlay as lawmakers continue their years-long effort to improve the system. Local communities hope that won't be the case with this latest big batch of dollars and will make for fond memories of Session '24. 

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Monday, February 19, 2024

Picking Up The Pieces: Progressives Plan Another Play For Family Leave Act; Talk Of Compromise Also Surfaces As Speaker Defends Calling Doomed Bill To Floor  

Speaker Martinez (Moore, Journal)
The House defeat of the paid family and medical leave act on the next to last day of the legislative session startled the Roundhouse and handed House Speaker Javier Martinez his first big defeat. Now progressives are trying to pick up the pieces. 

The bill went down when conservative Democrats formed a coalition with Republicans and carried the day 36 to 34, but in a post session interview with us the Speaker dismissed this speculation heard here last Thursday that he was outmaneuvered:

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. 

Martinez shot back :

I put the paid family leave bill on the floor because it deserved a floor hearing and debate, and while there were other tough bills that I could have brought to the floor on the final day, I prioritized family medical leave because it's been a long time in coming. I knew there was an even chance of it going either way.

Martinez also pushed back against the theory that he wanted a floor vote to "get on the record" those Democrats who were in opposition:

I didn't put that bill on the floor simply to "get people on the record." That's not how I operate.

Martinez said the 2025 session could be the one where the bill, which provides up to 12 weeks of paid family and sick leave for employees, could meet with success. The measure easily passed the Senate this session but then fell victim to coalition politics. Says Martinez: 

I liken this to the long battle over the constitutional amendment to allow us to increase the funding we take from the Land Grant Permanent Fund and deploy it for early childhood education. This is taking a while but I firmly believe it will happen. 

Meanwhile, those not quite as confident as the Speaker are talking of a possible compromise in the  aftermath of the defeat. For example, having the paid leave first apply only to mothers-to-be. 

They would get the 12 weeks of paid leave without a tax on employers or employees--as the defeated bill called for--but would instead have the leave financed with child care assistance funds already available to households with incomes at 400 percent of the poverty level or $120,000 a year for a family of four. 

The argument is that the state is awash in child care funds and fast tracking paid medical leave for pregnant women would be readily accepted by the House. They also say this would set up a future scenario where coverage could gradually be extended to others.

Like any compromise this one is going to leave proponents sour but it is out there.

As for the Speaker, the defeat of paid leave was his first major setback since taking over at the 2023 session. He will live to fight another day.


Karen Wentworth of the League of Women Voters comes with this tidbit that might have influenced the opposition to the paid leave act: 

Joe, this act was also frightening to cities and counties. Bernalillo County put a family leave act in place a couple of years ago to attract new employees and then they tracked what happened. In FY22, employees of the Metropolitan Detention Center took 134,000 hours of family leave. Because MDC is a 24/7 operation, other employees had to be paid overtime to take up the slack. It cost Bernalillo County $1.8 million dollars. The county didn’t oppose the act, but they did ask to be exempted from it. They want to be able to make adjustments in the future. 

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