Wednesday, April 27, 2011

Heinrich Vs. Hector: Heinrich's Early Edge, Any More Players? Plus: The Money Race, The Ethnic Angle And Much, Much More 

The psychological edge goes to Rep. Martin Heinrich in the now two way race for the 2012 Democratic US Senate nomination. For Heinrich it is all or nothing. If he loses, his political career is likely over. In those circumstances he will do whatever it takes. His only consideration will be winning---right now. State Auditor Hector Balderas, who made his entry official Tuesday, has something to protect--his future political prospects--and that could make a difference in this campaign.

On the surface this looks like a safe play for Balderas who does not have to give up his auditor post to run. And if he loses, it might help him for a race for attorney general in 2014. But that means he will have a two track Senate campaign. If it comes time to attack Heinrich, will he be able to pull the trigger?

The attorney general's race is already crowded with credible contenders. If Balderas and Heinrich shed too much blood on the battlefield and Balderas loses, they will blame Balderas. Heinrich, on the other hand, will most likely not be around to suffer any negative fall out. If he loses, it's more than likely that it is game over.

It's hard to win a contested US Senate primary against a well-funded, incumbent congressman. The rosy scenario for Hector is that Heinrich just doesn't take hold statewide and that he can take this thing without a bloody fight, or that he forces Heinrich to fire the first shot and then Balderas could argue he had to protect himself. That's the rosy scenario, but that's usually not the one that gets you a ticket to the United States Senate.

We're not talking about negative radio or mailers or pokes on some Facebook site. We're talking statewide, 30 second attack ads that leave no mistake about their intent. Heinrich, who has been brutally battered by two tough Republican opponents and done his own battering in return, doesn't want to go there, but you do what you must when fighting for your life. Balderas has never been in a major negative campaign and has had no negative press. Will he be able to turn that key and launch the missiles if and when that time comes?


Several astute readers questioned our description of Congressman Ben Ray Lujan's decision to not seek the Dem US Senate nomination. We described it "as a gift" to Heinrich. It's true, as readers pointed out, that a three way race with Lujan, Balderas and Heinrich would have split up the Hispanic vote and that would be the real gift to Heinrich. But we were writing Monday from the perspective that Lujan had made up his mind very early not to run and only made it official this week. The gift to Heinrich we meant was the initial, but unofficial decision not to get in the contest. As we have said, Congressman Lujan, with the ability to raise major money and with high name ID, would pose a more immediate threat than Balderas.


What about another Hispanic candidate or two getting in? Don't rule it out yet. New Mexico politics is peppered with examples of Hispanic candidates splitting the vote to the benefit of a lone Anglo contender. Hector's announcement could get the juices flowing with other possible Hispanic hopefuls.

For example, Las Cruces area State Rep. Joe Cervantes has eyed higher office for years. He tried to become Speaker of the State House this last session, but that coup failed. There is no southern candidate in the Dem US Senate primary. Cervantes could be a force if he consolidated that southern vote.

It may be now or never for the 50 year old well-liked attorney. There are simply not any visible opportunities for him outside of this Senate race. The southern US House seat is solid R and going to stay that way. A Cervantes-Heinrich-Balderas race would indeed threaten to split the Hispanic vote, but it's not written in a stone that Anglo Heinrich would come out on top. With his career at an ebb in Santa Fe, the thought of reaching higher for 2012 gives Joe Cervantes something to think about.

Let's also put the name of longtime government manager Lawrence Rael on the table. He ran for Light Guv in 2010 and got a taste of the action. And once you get a taste....well...suffice it to say the thought of the Senate race will give Rael some entertainment.


The Balderas announcement done via email positioned the 37 year old as the anti-establishment candidate, inferring that Heinrich, 39, is too tied to the DC crowd. In a two minute campaign video, Balderas said:

In this campaign I won’t have the most connections in Washington. I won’t be the candidate of the lobbyists or the insiders. But I’m not running to be their senator. I’m running to be yours...

Balderas can afford to attack the "lobbyists and insiders." They won't be giving him much campaign money.

On that subject, Alligators insiders and wall-leaners here and in DC are setting the bar for Balderas at around $300,000 for his first campaign report that will be filed in July and will cover April, May and June. Balderas decided to announce with nearly a month of the reporting period already gone, limiting his time to raise the money, but if he comes with an anemic report of $150,000 that excuse won't go over too well. Remember, Heinrich will also be coming with a new report. What if he raises over $300,000--quite likely--and reports $600,000 in cash at the end of June? He already has $350,000 in the bank. How far can Hector fall behind? Maybe a 2 to 1 advantage isn't overwhelming for a Hispanic candidate who will benefit from ethnic voting. But a 4 to 1 or even 5 to 1 advantage? That's a different story

If Balderas comes in with a healthy number, it should give him some momentum into the summer months. Former NM Dem Party Chairman Brian Colon, a close friend of Balderas who managed his first campaign for Auditor, is working the state for the funds. Colon also was a big fund-raiser for Big Bill Richardson. But federal rules prevent him from getting corporate money for his friend and trial attorneys--Balderas is a lawyer--are already flocking to Heinrich.

Political consultant Stephen Clermont says Balderas can't count on a "cheap win," meaning ethnic voting. He will need the money for the TV time to make his case.


How did Balderas perform in his first major video? Well, he hugged his mom. That never hurts.

The video was well done, stressing his rural family roots and "Wagon Mound" values. It will be among older Hispanic voters in rural New Mexico where Balderas hopes to overwhelm Heinrich and overcome the congressman's big advantage in vote rich ABQ.

Balderas spoke on camera sparingly, his voice light and not yet showing the ease of a politician comfortable with himself. But one sensed sincerity and authenticity. Good stuff.

Balderas has an appealing personal bio and the candidacy has emotional appeal which contrasts with the more mechanical Heinrich. (The congressman also used a family video in announcing his candidacy).


Hector was raised by a single mother. He says his father was a "foreign born immigrant" from Mexico. His mother's maiden name is Betty Vigil and his grandfather--Juan Vigil--was a sheepherder and native of Wagon Mound where Hector was also born. Anthony Martinez, author of the website, HispanoNewMexico.com, tells us:

The name Balderas...is not among the Spanish surnames of the founding Hispano/Spanish families of NM. Because of this, it is not a common family name in NM and is not very familiar to the Hispano community in our state....As far as Balderas as a candidate for Senate, my opinion is that his name will not be much of a factor against him. NM Hispanos are not so picky about surnames as much as the candidates themselves. And since Hector's mother is a Hispana from a NM family, he does have the roots here to help him....

Thanks for that, Anthony. Certainly it will be recalled in the forthcoming campaign that New Mexico has not had a Hispanic US Senator since Joe Montoya was defeated for re-election in 1976.

Not that Martin is about to cede any territory to Hector. Is it a coincidence that the first stop on his first state tour as a senate candidate is right in Hector's backyard--in Las Vegas:

Friday, May 6, Las Vegas Meet & Greet Breakfast; Charlie's Spic & Span Bakery & Cafe 715 Douglas Ave, Las Vegas; 9:00 a.m. to 10:00 a.m.


As far as major issue differences between the two contenders, both will appeal to the liberals who make up the nominating wing of the Democratic Party. Balderas is trying to make Heinrich sound like the consummate political insider, tapped into the corrupt world of DC. But Heinrich is only in his third year on the Hill and does not have an image of being tied to the fat cats of K Street.

We would look to the wars in Afghanistan, Libya and Iraq to see if Balderas will try to run to Heinrich's left. Heinrich has been supportive of administration policies. Will Balderas break with war policy? It might be one way of distinguishing himself from the front runner.


We convened a meeting of the Alligators last night, knowing they would surely come up with some interesting angles. And they certainly did as they tore into the Senate race with the same relish they had for their rib-eyes.

Their most salient point: Where does Balderas stand on key social issues like abortion and gay marriage? Does he have a conservative streak--he is a Catholic from the North--that could put him at odds with urban Dems in ABQ, Santa Fe and Las Cruces?

The Alligators don't usually raise such questions without already knowing the answers.

Another Gator asked if Hector is in this for the duration--until June 2012. He pointed out that federal law would allow any money Balderas collected for a Senate race to be transferred to a state race like attorney general.

Abortion, gay rights, and your commitment to the race. Well, welcome to the big Alligator pond, Hector. And they are just getting started.


We asked Stephen Clermont, a blog reader and head of the Washington consulting group Third Eye Strategies, to give our readers his analysis of the Heinrich-Balderas contest:

It might sound trite, but it will come down to who does the most things right tactically in their campaign....A Democratic primary electorate is usually older, and thus slightly more conservative, than general election Democratic voters. The successful candidate will be the one who best identifies and turns out supporters, particularly first-time primary voters. If one can motivate younger voters to turn out, they will have a real advantage.

Unless a third candidate gets in the race, it won't be in
either's interest to attack and drive up their unfavorable ratings. How Heinrich organizes in CD#2 (the south) and CD#3 (the north) will be key. While the easiest way to look at the difference between them is ethnicity, Hispanics have voted for Anglos and Anglos have voted for Hispanics. For example, Heinrich won heavily Hispanic Valencia County in the 2008 primary narrowly over Rebecca Vigil-Giron and Michelle Lujan-Grisham. CD#1 (ABQ) is less Hispanic overall than the other two, but both candidates have a long road ahead in introducing themselves statewide in a top of the ticket race...


We also quizzed veteran NM Dem politico and pollster Harry Pavlides for his initial thoughts on the Senate race. On Balderas he said:

If he can raise a little money and there is a low turnout in the primary he stands a chance. He needs to make inroads into ABQ where Heinrich has such a strong base.

On Heinrich, Pavlides analyzed:

This is Heinrich's race to lose. The problem for Heinrich is that he has never run in the heavy Hispanic Democratic north. He's run in metropolitan Hispanic neighborhoods in ABQ. He has been sheltered he is going to face some challenges outside of the city. He has grown up a lot in his last three years. I see him rising to the challenge.


From DC, the National Journal's Josh Kraushaar weighs in on the Heinrich-Balderas face-off. An excerpt:

Democratic officials are comfortable with Heinrich, especially given his 2010 reelection in an otherwise dismal year for the party. He was endorsed by the American Federation of State, County, and Municipal Employees as a show of support just as Balderas was jumping into the primary. Balderas is a largely unproven political figure and hasn’t demonstrated he can raise funds at the levels necessary to run a big-league campaign. And Heinrich has a record of winning over Hispanics in a plurality-Hispanic seat, including defeating Republican Jon Barela (who is Latino) last year.

But the nature of the New Mexico Democratic electorate presents obstacles for Heinrich. More than half of Democratic primary voters in New Mexico are Hispanic, giving any credible Hispanic candidate an important advantage in a head-to-head campaign.


And what about the bald factor that some half-jokingly comment about? Well, Balderas is the first major candidate we've had for statewide office that we can recall who is completely bald. Heck, he even has the word in his last name. We'll check with the image pros and get some comments on the pros and cons of the cue ball look. As always, your email is also invited.

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Wednesday, July 06, 2011

Standing With Susana; Guv At 52% Approval Six Months In, Plus: Balderas Lives To Fight; Has Solid Cash Count; Heinrich Maintains Money Lead 

They aren't blow-the-doors-off numbers, but a Republican governor scoring a 52 percent approval rating in a majority Democratic state isn't cause to cry in the corner either. And that's where Susana Martinez stands--at 52%--after six months in office, according to the Dem polling firm PPP. Her disapproval is at 37%. In a February PPP poll taken after she had been in office only one month Martinez's approval rating was at 52%.

Perhaps most importantly voters are showing no signs of having buyers remorse:

(Martinez) would win a hypothetical rematch with opponent Diane Denish by a 53-44 margin, actually a little bit better than the 7 point spread she won by last fall.

The Dem firm, perhaps throwing a grenade into the GOP theater, gushes euphoric over Martinez as a possible 2012 GOP Veep pick because of her solid polling performance in our little 'ol blue state. Before they get too carried away it should be noted that Martinez's popularity can't be called enduring. Also, it has yet to be challenged with the kind of withering criticism that can take a politicos numbers down faster than a roadrunner crossing the interstate. Then there is the easy going press coverage. Big Bill also got that during his first couple of years

The two displays of gubernatorial authority that have burrowed into the public imagination--and not just those of the political classes--has been the February natural gas emergency and the Los Alamos fire which was burning when this poll was taken. By most accounts, she performed ably.

Her first legislative session--the sixty day confab that was quickly dubbed a do-nothing session-- also did her no real harm.

Dems are frustrated that the state's fragile economic situation is not inflicting more damage on Susana who has really not talked about it much. But the public seems of a mind to blame national political leaders more than local ones. Still, 52 percent is only a couple of points above the magic 50 percent level. And her popularity is not growing. Maybe economic woes are capping her in the low 50's. (The MOE for the poll is plus or minus 3.6%).

One other thing. Martinez's approval from Hispanics is 49%. That's some ten points better than she did with them at the polls last November. There's ethnic pride in the first female Hispanic Governor in state history and that is serving to extend her honeymoon.

By the way, ex-Governor Big Bill's approval rating is a rock-bottom 27 percent. Not that Susana will necessarily be gloating. Now that she has the job she can see the basement below her as well as the ceiling above.


PPP also polled the popularity of the state's congressional delegation June 23-26, finding outgoing Dem US Senator Jeff Bingaman winning 58% approval. Dem Senator Tom Udall came in at 48%. That's a little lower than he'd like, but Jeff is not in the 60 percentile region where he routinely lounged. Voter discontent with the national scene is across-the-board.


Balderas & Heinrich
Both Martin Heinrich and Hector Balderas turned in solid fundraising reports for the April quarter, with Hector needing it more than Martin and delivering. There will be no early knockout of the young State Auditor--even though Heinrich has a nearly two to one cash in the bank advantage--$700,000 to Hector's $370,000.

Heinrich, 39, reported raising $485,000 in the quarter. That's nothing to sneeze at, but Balderas, 37, beat expectations and came with $400,000. He did not announce his candidacy until April 26, missing three weeks of fund-raising.

Balderas' campaign says he did not loan himself any money to reach the 400k level. However, Alligators analyzing the reports say that Heinrich, who has been raising money since Senator Bingaman announced his decision to retire in mid-February, had about 2,200 donors in the recent quarter to Balderas' 1,000. That could mean Hector pushed many of his donors to give the maximum donation allowed for the Senate cycle so he could make a splash now. We won't know for sure until the official reports are made public at mid-month.

(GOP US Senate contenders Heather Wilson and John Sanchez have not released summaries of their latest quarterly reports. Greg Sowards earlier announced he has loaned his campaign $150,000).

So now what? Well, Balderas needs an encore. He passed the initial test but the exam is far from over. The pressure will now be on to show that he did not just pick the low-lying fruit to make his first reporting number. Those results will come in October. Still, he gets credit for getting it done. It takes organization and discipline to raise the kind of money he did and those are two traits that are also needed to become an effective US Senator. The Wagon Mound native may find in the coming months that money begets more money.

Also, don't think that Susana Martinez and company aren't carefully watching Hector's performance. Remember, if for some reason he should falter in the Senate contest, he could use his federal money to run for a state office. And he's already won the two terms he's allowed as state auditor. We're just saying....

As for Martin, the two term ABQ congressman has shown he can get into the wallets of New Mexicans, but can he get into their hearts?

That Heinrich could not take out Balderas early shows there is a yearning among some Dems for new faces--especially Hispanic ones. The rural and ethnic appeal of Balderas remains a challenge for Heinrich who is the front-runner, having more money in the bank and a 47-24 advantage in the first public polling in the race from PPP.

But Balderas has put some heat on here and Heinrich, a Nevada native who grew up in Missouri, needs to continue to run a mistake-free campaign and make sure he doesn't get dubbed the carpetbagger in the race. Obviously, some of the natives around here are restless and history says it is dangerous for a lone Anglo Democrat to be challenged by a lone Hispanic Dem.

We could see this Dem Senate race get a little edgier now that bigger money is on the table. For example, will Heinrich try to make Balderas be more specific on the issues of the day? Maybe on something like abortion, where Balderas may have a more conservative view than Heinrich?

And Heinrich will be tested as well. The ability of the relatively untested Balderas to keep his candidacy going and give Heinrich a run for the money signals that one thing hasn't changed when it comes to winning a seat in the United States Senate--no one is going to hand it to you--you have to earn it.

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Monday, January 30, 2012

Heinrich Says He Has Commanding 52%-22% Lead Over Balderas, Plus: Wilson Vs. Sanchez News; More On City Lawsuits And: Susana Shows Her Frustration 

Seeking to create an air of inevitably, the campaign of Dem US Senate candidate Martin Heinrich has released a poll that shows him pounding rival Hector Balderas 52%-22% among likely voters in the June primary. Among Anglos he leads 57%-15% and among Hispanics his lead is 46%-30%. (Complete poll here.)

This campaign poll and Heinrich's earlier disclosure that at the end of last year he had $1.4 million in the bank (Hector had $475,000 at the end of September) are like a vise tightening on Balderas. He will report his fourth quarter fund-raising this week and if it is not an impressive number, he could start to feel pressure from the Dem establishment to get out of the contest.

Lest his poll be dismissed as simply a case of him having better name ID than Hector, Heinrich's pollsters also said he held a hefty 51% to 28% lead among voters who could identify both Heinrich and Balderas.

If Heinrich's poll has it right and he is indeed over the crucial 50% mark, only harsh negative campaigning by Balderas is likely to get the race in play. Balderas, a former one term state representative elected state auditor in 2010, could also rip open the contest with an unexpectedly strong showing at the March Democratic Party pre-primary convention where delegates vote to place candidates on the June ballot. But these polling numbers and Heinrich's strength in his hometown base of ABQ would seem to make a big convention move by Hector unlikely.

More from the poll which Heinrich's campaign says surveyed 600 likely primary voters, has a margin of error of 4 percent and was conducted with live interviewers, not by robocalls:

58 percent of voters give Heinrich a favorable rating, while just 12 percent view him unfavorably. Moreover, 66 percent of voters approve of the job Heinrich is doing as Congressman. Heinrich’s standing is equally good among Hispanics and Anglos. Balderas has good standing (37 -12 percent favorable-unfavorable, 46 percent job approval), but nowhere near as good as Heinrich’s.


If you're a Hector fan, the problem with Heinrich is the mistake-free campaign he has run in the early stages. He has aggressively raised money, captured endorsements, toured the state without putting his foot in his mouth and all the while continuing to serve in the US House without incident.

But longtime observers of state politics offer encouragement to Balderas, saying a one-on-one contest between an Anglo and an Hispanic in a statewide Democratic primary can deliver a positive surprise for the Hispanic. As many as 60% of those voting in the June primary will be Hispanic and Heinrich is below the 50% mark with them, although not by much.

As it is, Balderas must soon take the game to Heinrich and force him to drop the ball, but if Hector does that and loses, he makes a major enemy of Heinrich who could be a sitting US Senator. That could thwart any 2014 ambitions Balderas could have for attorney general or Governor.

The Heinrich-Balderas decision has been a painful one for many Dems who like both candidates, but with Rep. Heinrich's commanding lead in money and apparently the polls, the decision is becoming easier. Balderas must do something to keep it difficult.


GOP Senate candidate Heather Wilson and Heinrich have something in common. Both appear to be headed toward wining their respective June primary nominations. She now reports having $1.1 million in the bank after raising about $375,000 in the last quarter of the year. Her rival, Lt. Governor John Sanchez, will report numbers this week. He has loaned himself several hundred thousand and at the end of September had $249,000 in the bank.

The Sanchez campaign is enigmatic to longtime observers who see him as an attractive candidate but question whether he has put heart and soul into the effort in the early months. Heather has and it shows. Sanchez still has a shot, despite reports that his campaign team has been disrupted. If he attacks Heather and she proves to have a glass jaw, she could shatter. But she is making herself more and more shatter-proof in the same manner as Heinrich--conducting herself professionally with solid fund-raising, touring the state mistake free, getting major endorsements and leaving no room for doubters that that she isn't fully engaged in the battle.


Here's the latest take from the National Journal in DC on the NM US Senate contest to fill the seat of retiring Dem Senator Jeff Bingaman:

Both Democrat Martin Heinrich and Republican Heather Wilson appear to be solidifying their leads over challengers in their respective primaries. A Heinrich-Wilson matchup would focus on the Albuquerque-based district they both represented in Congress. While Democrats are confident in Heinrich's chances, Republicans are starting to view the race as a potential sleeper that could break their way, especially if President Obama's campaign falters.

We have the US Senate race for November ranked "lean Democrat" in the early going. Wilson, the likely GOP nominee, has high negatives, Obama is poised to carry the state and a recent horse-race poll from Dem polling group PPP shows Heinrich would beat Heather by seven points


The Guv is getting frustrated, and who can blame her? Her move to repeal the law permitting driver's license for undocumented immigrants has taken its first step towards the legislative graveyard. In addition, her tax cut proposals are on life support because lawmakers fear the rosy economic projection giving the state a $250 million surplus for the next budget year could disappear in the wake of crashing natural gas prices. Says Susana:

“Politicians who are not economists are starting to second-guess (the forecast) without any real understanding..."

That's kind of funny because state economists have been anything but accurate in their projections the past several years, consistently overstating what the state would take in.

And natural gas prices were crashing again last week. They will hit bottom at some point, but the state takes a significant royalty hit when they dive. That's the problem with being so dependent on oil and gas revenues.

Meanwhile, there's a lot of sympathy for Martinez's proposal to do away with the gross receipts tax for businesses taking in less than $50,000 a year. The problem is it is not revenue neutral. She does not make up for the lost revenue among the top tier of taxpayers or find some other place to replace the cash that would be lost from the tax break.

The administration says there are about 56,000 businesses on the books with annual receipts of less than $50,000, but an unknown number of those are dormant and have no sales. The previous number was about 40,000 for businesses with less than $50,000 in yearly sales. The cost of the tax exemption is now estimated at $24 million annually for the state and $16 million a year for local governments.


Martinez and Department of Finance Secretary Clifford might be able to get their tax cut if, for example, they were willing to craft a compromise that did away with some of the unneeded tax credits for the oil and gas industry. But compromise is a word the Fourth Floor uses in year end newspaper interviews but not too much when it comes to the legislative process.

It is the all or nothing attitude that is keeping the Martinez legislative ship from sailing. How about taking a partial win on the driver's license issue and warn lawmakers you are coming back for the full repeal? How about you get the gross receipts tax cut but nick the well-off to finance it? And so much more...

Martinez is now saying she has the votes in the House and Senate to pass the driver's license bill. That's true enough in the House, but the Senate? Huh? Maybe Susana is relying on those economists she trusts so much to also count her votes.

All or nothing appeals to the Guv's GOP base, but they are not going to abandon her if she starts to move a tad to the center. This remains a gubernatorial administration with great potential, but until the Governor learns to outflank the legislature by taking a few of their ideas and melding them into her own, this Guv's ship is going to stay grounded.

CAO Perry
The Alligator who wondered here last week whether ABQ Chief Administrative Officer Rob Perry had a conflict of interest because of his relationship with prominent GOP attorney Paul Kennedy was not saying that Perry has acted unethically or pushed settlements in police misconduct cases that benefited Kennedy's law firms to the tune of over $2.5 million. The Gator was questioning appearances and urging that the issue be looked at.

Before he worked for the city Perry shared office space with Kennedy, a longtime Perry friend and political associate. Both at one time sought the GOP nomination for attorney general. With the city paying out over $8 million in recent months in settlement money the appearance question would seem more than germane, but former Dem ABQ City Councilor and attorney Michael Cadigan doesn't see it that way. He emails:

Joe, Your post left the impression of illegal, unethical collusion. It left the impression that Rob was associated with Kennedy as a partner/associate lawyer, which he was not. He just rented space. I read it very carefully (both posts) and I don’t think it is fair. I’m not the world’s biggest fan of Mayor Berry, but this attack is unfounded and unfair. The process by which the City decides to settle lawsuits is complicated and involves many people. Rob cannot decide to settle a case on his own.

Thanks for the thoughts, Michael, but Perry is associated with Kennedy! As we said, they shared office space together. They are both longtime Republican lawyers and personal and political friends. And as CAO, Perry (and the mayor) have ultimate sign-off authority on suits.

There is a personal relationship here and it needs to be covered as the city has paid out over $8 million in taxpayer money in two years. It may seem like nitpicking but after the down and dirty Downs deal it seems very timely.

Let's hear Mr. Perry's description of this relationship and how and why it has not influenced the city's decision to settle misconduct cases rather than go to trial. This is not an "attack" but a line of questioning. Not that Mr. Perry has a propensity to answer any of our questions. But if segments of the local media care to shake the impression that it is in the bag for the city administration, it might want to pose these queries. Or better yet let's have the United States Department of Justice ask the many questions that are going unanswered.


One of our Legal Beagles comes with this explanation on why attorney Kennedy figures so prominently in the settlement of police misconduct cases:

If you look at Kennedy and the record of ( his late partner Mary Han) in civil rights litigation all over New Mexico, you'll see a great degree of success, and a lot of justified payouts. There ain't a soul who can take away from the effort that their practice put out for their clients. It's why they get to cherry-pick the good cases and have the reputation they do (did). Paul just doesn't take on cases that aren't winners anymore because he doesn't have to.


In our ongoing culling of the top five NM sports stories since statehood a century ago Gil Armijo comes with a political take that we appreciate:

The #1 sports story was the 1974 gubernatorial election between Democrat Jerry Apodaca--a running back--versus Joe Skeen--a tight end. The running back won. Nuff' said...

A couple of corrections. Statewide candidates or federal office or for the office of U.S. Representative must turn in petition signatures on Feb. 14. All other legislative and judicial candidates must turn in petitions on March 20. More info here....We speculated that House Speaker Ben Lujan could give his son, northern Dem US Rep. Ben Ray Lujan, some of his nearly $100,000 in campaign funds that he will no longer need now that he is retiring. But readers pointed out that federal law prohibits a federal candidate from receiving money from a state campaign account.

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Thursday, April 28, 2011

Final Campaign Days For Javier & Sam; We'll Miss You Guys (Okay, Maybe Not) Plus: The Blog Mailbag; Readers Take Over 

Taos (Graves)
Welcome back. Only two days before state Dems pick their party chair for the 2012 election cycle, so let's take a look at the conventional wisdom in this hard-fought battle between current Chairman Javier Gonzales and challengers Sam Bregman and Letitia Montoya. From the email and a Dem Alligator monitoring the action:

I think Javier is on track to be re-elected. Bregman didn’t get the Hail Mary he needed a couple of weeks ago in the last county conventions and now he seems to be spinning his wheels...Gonzales has kept his nose to the grindstone, run a strong phone campaign and focused his communications directly on State Central Committee members. He also is outlining a vision for what the party must do in the next 12-15 months to be successful in November of 2012. Raise money, recruit candidates and defend Democratic values.

That Gator is predisposed to Javier but his analysis mimics that of others we have asked. There are 407 central committee members eligible to vote at Saturday's meeting at the ABQ Convention Center. Gonzales became chairman when Brian Colon left the post to run for lieutenant governor.

Next we hear from a Bregman backer. ABQ attorney Robert Lara rebuts the endorsement of Gonzales by 2010 Dem Guv nominee Diane Denish which was posted on Tuesday's blog:

I served as the Deputy Finance Director on the Denish campaign....I respectfully disagree with the assessment that Chairman Gonzalez was a constant fighter for Democrats in 2010. Chairman Gonzales and his staff left many Democrats out in the wind during the 2010 cycle. We lost 21 Democratic races in 2010. In only six of those races did the state party make any financial contribution to our candidates.

A simple Goggle search failed to find any press releases from Chairman Gonzales or his staff defending these candidates during the 2010 election....The real issue is where was Chairman Gonzalez and the party when Democrats were under attack? We know they weren’t giving money to Democrats, we know they weren’t out defending Democrats. Instead Chairman Gonzalez and the staff where here in Bernalillo County, where we lost the race for Governor but thankfully kept Congressman Heinrich. If that’s how Chairman Gonzalez has been working for Democratic candidates, perhaps its time for a new job.

And a response from Gonzales before we put this race to bed and prepare for Saturday's vote:

Over $400,000 was pumped into direct mail on behalf of the very candidates that Sam Bregman is saying we did nothing to help. Anyone who thinks the only way to help a candidate is by cutting a check directly to the campaign does not understand how the party works--with everyone putting money into the party to support a group of candidates. We also raised an additional $1.3 million that put boots on the ground in every one of those districts. I’d urge my opponents to do their research before they send out a false attack....

Maybe at Saturday's election they can nominate a candidate named "Javier Bregman." He would combine Sam's aggressiveness with Javier's restraint and you might get just the right mix.


These endorsements become more important going forward. They often come with checks:

The League of Conservation Voters (LCV) Action Fund, which works to elect candidates who will implement sound environmental policies, and Conservation Voters New Mexico jointly announced their endorsement of Martin Heinrich for U.S. Senate.

“Martin Heinrich has been an invaluable leader in championing clean energy jobs and protecting our natural treasures while demonstrating that he’ll stand up to corporate polluters and fight for the interests of New Mexicans,” said LCV Action Fund President Gene Karpinski.

Not to say that Hector throws litter out the window when he visits the Valle Grande....


We turn the blog over now to our always adroit readers.

A reader from ABQ's South Valley writes of the prospect of another Hispanic candidate joining Hector Balderas in the chase for the Dem nod for the US Senate seat:

I do not believe that another Hispanic candidate will get into the race for US Senate. Anyone, including their extended family, foolish enough to get into the race would be held responsible and in contempt by the Hispanic community of New Mexico for the rest of their natural life and beyond.

Reader Kelley DuPont writes:

I've officially signed up to help with the Heinrich for Senate campaign, a first for me. Thanks for your daily reporting on our local/state politics. Thanks to you I'm hooked and inspired to get involved. Take care and have a great day.


A reader writes:

With Balderas' comment about lobbyists in his Senate announcement video, does that mean he won't take lobbyist money?


Reader Javier Martinez writes:

Hi Joe, I enjoyed your analysis on NationalJournal.com regarding the senate race, especially as it relates to New Mexico's demographic make up and how it will impact our senate race. You're political analysis was right on.

Aside from the demographic factor, I think that the Heinrich campaign will have its work cut out for them. They shouldn't underestimate Balderas simply because he has not been in Washington like Heinrich has. If anything, that is a huge plus for Balderas, especially at a time when everything DC is viewed with mistrust.

While the main question is whether Balderas "can raise the money," I can tell you that there is a ground swell that is brewing from all walks of political life who are looking at the Balderas candidacy with great hope. Hector is a pragmatic leader and people identify with that....


Ellen Wedum of Cloudcroft writes:

You blogged Wednesday about the Heinrich-Balderas Democratic Senate primary:

"We're talking statewide, 30 second attack ads that leave no mistake about their intent. Heinrich, who has been brutally battered by two tough Republican opponents and done his own battering in return, doesn't want to go there, but you do what you must when fighting for your life. ..."

Oh, please, Joe, I know that blood and guts on the floor is favorite Alligator food, but I suspect that many voters find all that negativity indigestible. Democrats can celebrate the emergence of two excellent young senate candidates in Balderas and Heinrich, and either of them can blow the Republican opposition out of the water. Our real concern is hanging on to that ABQ congressional seat that Heinrich is giving up....


Reader J. Richard Brown writes from Carlsbad about our blogging of the search for a new University of New Mexico president:

Hey Joe, I know that I am probably stuck in the 60's but how about including the students in the mix of those who have a say so about who will take President Schmidley's place?


An anonymous reader writes:

Heinrich does indeed need to worry about a statewide race with any Hispanic should there be a lone Hispanic in the race. Heinrich does not have an established statewide political network. He barely wins in his home district. How did he win a contested primary in his home district the last time? Well, he recruited the help of former Secretary of State Rebecca Vigil- Giron. The challenge from Michelle Lujan Grisham in a one-on-one race could have taken Heinrich out. The split of the Hispanic vote helped position him to be the Democratic nominee. Team Heinrich have almost a year to "recruit" another Hispanic to run to be the thorn in Balderas' side.


Democratic State Senator Steve Fischmann of Las Cruces emailed us a while back with a column filled with tax ideas. With gas prices inching toward $4 a gallon in the state, this part seemed timely:

Most oil and gas companies operating in New Mexico are from out of state. Tax breaks for Oil and Gas Companies have grown from 8% of state oil and gas revenue generated in 2004 to 17% in 2010. Interestingly, history shows no correlation between tax breaks and oil and gas production in the state. There is a strong correlation between market prices and production. Existing tax breaks remain in the proposed budgets.

That gets you thinking. We'd like to hear a counterpoint from the oil and gas folks


From Tucumcari, reader Jimmy Collins writes:

I’m a professional songwriter from Tucumcari. I own a home in Nashville plus a home in Tucumcari. I have watched in shock tht New Mexico would even consider placing the proposed racino in Raton. Not because Raton isn't beautiful and a nice place,but because Tucumcari is right next door to real money. For example, Amarillo, Lubbock, and even Midland-Odessa.

Tucumcari has two of the three big lakes in New Mexico--Ute Lake & Conchas. It does not take a rocket scientist to figure this out. When chasing after money put the money drawing card next to the money. Texas has money and we need it! Let’s go get it. The eastern side of the state always gets left out of the big deals in our wonderful state. Maybe it would be wise to even things up a little....

Okay, Jimmy. Anyone who wants to take money out of Texas and put it in New Mexico has a friend around here.

Thanks for the comments. Send them and your news tips via the email. Interested in advertising here? Drop us a line.

This is the home of New Mexico politics.


Tuesday, May 01, 2012

It's May Day And Some Campaigns Are Sending Distress Signals, Plus: Chaos In Clovis; Guv's Political Team Runs Into Cowboy Courage As R's Go Cannibal In State Senate Battle 

It's May Day and the new month arrives with a sense of urgency for a number of the political campaigns. They now have only weeks to get their houses in order or else face extinction June 5. Maybe they don't even have weeks. With early voting so popular and getting underway in earnest May 18, if you're not firing on all cylinders by then, you may be a goner.

Right now no one is gone, but some are teetering. Dem US Senate candidate Hector Balderas is one. The underdog since the beginning of his campaign for the Dem US Senate nod against Rep. Martin Heinrich, Balderas is now running out of time. Heinrich is up with his TV, continues to roll out endorsements and has plenty of cash in the bank. Most campaigns running behind would have gone on the attack by now, but Hector has played it cool. His odds of victory are slim and he has a future political career to protect. That's been his problem since the start and remains so today on May Day.

Hector could use a prime-time TV debate or two to try to shake this one up, but there is no word yet on any being scheduled. If Heinrich stumbles badly, Hector is positioned to take advantage. The problem? Heinrich is taking no chances. Saccharine has more flavor than Martin's campaign.


Balderas comes with his first TV ad today and it goes right to his core strength--his personal narrative of growing up in tiny Wagon Mound, his family using food stamps to get by and his becoming a law school graduate. He names education as his top issue and also hits upon his service as state auditor.

All in all, this ad can be slugged "local boy makes good." Remember, Martin Heinrich is not a local boy.

Balderas closes out the ad with a full camera shot and the director coaxes out a confident Balderas, although the spot seems to end a bit abruptly. Copy from the ad:

Most Senators don’t come from places like this. Don’t grow up on food stamps. Or become the first person from their village to earn a law degree. But because Hector Balderas did…

He understands the power of education in a way most Senators never will. As Auditor, Balderas stopped corrupt officials who stole from schools. As Senator, he’ll invest in our future again.

I’m Hector Balderas, and I’m sponsoring this ad because I know education is the road to the middle class.

This ad is going to pull votes from rural New Mexico, but probably not so much from the cities where Heinrich has a large lead. But the ad does lay the groundwork for a spot that contrasts Balderas with Heinrich--if Balderas wants to go there.


Marty Chavez is nothing if not a fighter, and he will have to don his boxing gloves again if he is to pull out a victory against Eric Griego and Michelle Lujan Grisham for the Dem nomination for the ABQ congressional seat. His moderate and conservative stripes continue to pen in him with a liberal leaning primary electorate.

He finished third in the fund-raising sweepstakes for the first quarter and the Alligators were all over him for it. His supporters countered that Chavez has superior name ID and that his substandard fund-raising performance will not hurt because he doesn't need as much money as his lesser known rivals. But there's a problem. If you have superior name ID, you should have superior fund-raising.

Chavez probably remains ahead in the race based on that name ID but this is the kind of race that is set up to break toward the liberal late in the game. Marty will need to ride herd on Griego in the coming days. Griego has raised the money, put together the organization, wrangled the endorsements and is the love child of the left.

Michelle Lujan Grisham gets kudos for her aggressive fund-raising and her first TV ad which is superior to that of Griego's, but Griego still has the organizational edge. She needs to find a quick way to get campaign trail dust under her fingernails.

A major question that looms: Can Chavez make Griego lose his famous temper? Marty needs some kind of emotional drama to start turning this one around. Like Hector, some TV debates could give him the opporunity that has so far eluded him. And we have news on that front...


My insiders report at least one TV debate has now been scheduled for the ABQ Dem congressional candidates. It will take place on KOAT-TV on Saturday, May 19th from 6 to 7 p.m. That is borderline primetime, but still better than late Sunday afternoon where in the past the station has pigeonholed its debates. A  TV face-off between Dem US Senate hopefuls Heinrich and Balderas is also slated. Our insiders say the KOAT debate will take place June 3 at 6 p.m.. too late to influence the outcome of the June 5 election--the way front-runner Heinrich wants it.


While she has no primary opposition, ABQ GOP congressional hopeful Janice Arnold-Jones still has work to do this May Day. How about raising oodles of cash and putting up some media that grabs your attention? Her race is already begin written off as a Dem pick-up in November. Arnold-Jones could use May to begin changing that perception. The problem? She needs money to do it.
 Back to the phones, Janice.


Can Heather Wilson, who served 10 years in the US House from ABQ, be made to appear fresh and new? Her campaign gives it a shot in their first TV ad for the June 5 primary. In it she talks about her Air Force record but nary a peep about being a professional politico and ex-member of Congress. It's a softie spot and maybe it will help make her more likable.

And where is Greg Sowards, Wilson's opponent for the GOP Senate nomination? Not much of anywhere yet. The hard-right candidate has a war chest of $600,000, mostly coming from his personal bank account, but so far he isn't spending it.

Pat Woods
We've said that the Governor's political team may have bit off more than they can chew when they directly interfered in a GOP state senate primary on the east side. The news from there keeps confirming our impression:

A heated state senate primary became a heated two-person race. Mark  Myers dropped out of the state senate District 7 race and endorsed  fellow Republican candidate Pat Woods. Both said the move was made  out of concerns Gov. Martinez has lined up resources behind  Angie Spears, the other candidate in the GOP race--a move Woods said  he’s never seen before in a primary race. Woods and Angie  Spears are now the only candidates in the June 5 Republican primary. The  winner faces no Democratic opposition in the general election.

This is the seat held by Clint Harden who was forced from the fray when it became clear the Governor's political team was gunning for him. SusnaPAC has donated heavily to Spears.

We say the Governor's political team because our best intelligence out of Santa Fe doesn't tell us whether Martinez is personally sitting in a war room declaring who she will work to oust or whether the decision is left entirely to political advisor Jay McCleskey. Our sense is that Jay decides and the Guv signs on to the war strategy with relish--in this case too much relish.


Now back to Mr. Pat Woods. Unlike some of his squishy brethren in the big city, Woods, a wheat farmer with long family ties in Clovis, isn't taking any guff from the Governor. Our Clovis Alligators send us this full-page ad that Woods took out in the Clovis newspaper listing dozens of supporters in the small city.

Jay and company are pounding the snot out of Woods in robo phone calls for giving campaign donations to Democrats, including ABQ Dem State Senator Tim Keller. Woods says it isn't that big of a deal, but Spears says it shows Woods is for the "liberal" agenda.

But what it really shows is that Woods is the first prominent Republican to openly split with the Martinez machine and go to war. It is going to cost the Guv with Woods' many GOP friends.

And remember when the Guv's political posse toyed with fielding a Republican more to their liking against State Senate Minority Leader Stuart Ingle, also from the Clovis area? They didn't, but memories are long out on the open range.

And what does Martinez get for all this grief? Any Republican elected from Clovis would have carried her water in the Senate, but she apparently wants R's who will never question her. Susana and Jay have been able to lead the big city R's around with a ring through their noses, but Woods is showing them the backbone they thought their machine had turned to mush.

Angie Spears may get elected to the Senate, but it could be Woods who has the lasting impact by giving other Republicans the courage to question--not kowtow--when the Fourth Floor tells them how to herd their cattle.

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Wednesday, May 23, 2012

OUR EXCLUSIVE POLL: It's A Two Way Race; Lujan Grisham And Griego In Virtual Tie; Chavez Lags; First Public & Scientific Survey Also Shows Heinrich With Commanding Lead On Balderas In Dem US Senate Derby 

The three way race for the Democratic nomination for the ABQ congressional seat has now become a two way contest that is a virtual tie between Michelle Lujan Grisham and Eric Griego. Marty Chavez lags far behind. And in the Dem race for the US Senate nomination Rep. Martin Heinrich continues to hold a formidable lead--57.3% to 29.1%--over challenger Hector Balderas.

Those are the key findings of an exclusive poll conducted Tuesday night--May 22--by New Mexico Politics with Joe Monahan in conjunction with Manzano Strategies. It is the first public and scientific poll conducted in the hotly contested  battle for the U.S. House seat that Heinrich is vacating to make a run for the Senate. Janice Arnold-Jones is unopposed for the Republican nomination and will face the Democratic winner of the June 5 primary.

Lujan Grisham polls 34.7%, Griego garners 33.9%, Chavez comes with 22.3% and 9% of the 728 likely Democratic voters in the 1st Congressional district who responded to the automatic phone poll said they were undecided.

The margin of error in the survey is 3.62%.

Griego, a state senator and former ABQ city councilor, has been backed by local and national progressives. Not surprisingly, he leads the race with self-described liberals and Lujan Grisham carries the day with moderate Democrats.

Lujan Grisham, who has made direct appeals to women voters, actually trails Griego in that category, if only by a tad. Griego wins 37% of women to Lujan Grisham's 33%. Chavez gets 22%. But Griego gets 43% of liberals to Lujan Grisham's 34% and Chavez's 18%.

Democratic women are more liberal than Democratic men who tend to be more moderate.

Among men, Lujan Grisham edges out Griego. She gets 37% to Griego's 31%. Chavez gets 23% and the remainder are undecided,

Griego holds a slight lead among Hispanics, but they are bunched up among the three hopefuls all of whom are of Hispanic heritage. Griego scores 35%, Lujan Grisham 29% and Chavez 28%. Anglos give Lujan Grisham 39%, Griego, 34% and Chavez 18%.

Republican Bruce Donisthorpe, a senior vice-president at Manzano Strategies with over 30 years of experience in state politics, supervised the poll. He says the odds are now overwhelming that the Democratic nominee will be either Lujan Grisham or Griego:

If Lujan Grisham can peel moderates away from Chavez and maintain her position with liberals she can win this race. Griego has to maintain his liberal base and work for a heavy turnout among them. Chavez is on a difficult road. He has fallen back by a considerable margin and he needs some kind of Hail Mary in the final days. Lujan Grisham has picked up momentum since the March Democratic  preprimary convention when Griego finished first and Michelle finished a distant third. But Griego is favored in the area of heaviest turnout--the SE Heights.

As for specific neighborhoods, our exclusive poll shows that in the SE Heights of ABQ where Bruce says Dem turnout is expected to be heaviest, Griego scores 40% to Lujan Grisham's 31% and Chavez's 19%.

On ABQ's West Side, Lujan Grisham prevails with 41% to Griego's 28% and Chavez's 23%. In the ABQ North and South Valleys, Griego wins, getting 38% to Lujan Grisham's 34% and Chavez's 20%. In the NE Heights, Lujan Grisham gets 35%, Griego 30% and Chavez 26%.


Lujan Grisham's campaign Tuesday issued an internal poll that showed her and Griego at 35% each and Chavez lagging. Griego released a survey that put him five points ahead and Chavez came with a poll that showed him leading by a point.

The poll conducted for New Mexico Politics with Joe Monahan is the first independent and public polling on the race.

(Complete cross-tabs for the US House portion of the survey are available here. More on the poll's methodology is here. We will post the US Senate cross-tabs later in the week).


There has been no negative campaigning among the trio on broadcast TV. The candidates have taken jabs at one another through other media, but it has been low-key.

 Lujan Grisham is credited with running well-produced TV spots and for a strong performance in the one and only televised debate. She is a Bernalillo County Commissioner and an attorney. She has received major support from Emily's List and has courted female voters in her TV ads. She ran for the nomination  in 2008, but did not put up nearly the fight she has this time around. She was the last candidate to get in the race and her campaign is not seen as having the field organization that Griego has and that could be a factor come June 5.

Griego is seen as having the most compelling message for ideologically motivated Democrats--many of whom turn out for a primary election. He has also racked up major endorsements from important Dem groups like the Sierra Club and labor unions. He has also raised the most money in the race, counting among his contributors many out of state progressives. All of that in addition to his advantage in the field has given him the title of front-runner, but that is a title he must now share with Lujan Grisham.

Griego has run a professional campaign and has been successful in stifling any public outbreaks of temper which in the past have been a trademark for the ABQ native. He has consolidated liberal votes  which our poll says will make up nearly half the primary votes cast. However, his TV spots have been criticized for their production values and Griego had a so-so performance at the TV debate.


Chavez, the former three term mayor of ABQ, is confronted with an old political demon--his lack of support among the large liberal base in the Democratic Party. He had the same problem when he sought the 2010 Dem nomination for Governor as well as the US Senate nomination in 2008.

As mayor he appealed to Republicans and conservative independents because of his pro-business and pro growth positions, but it left the left out in the cold. Our poll shows Chavez, 60, again paying the price. He is also coming off a 2009 loss for a fourth term as ABQ mayor.

He has put together a capable campaign team and has deep personal knowledge of the political landscape. Those who support him are enthusiastic. But being so far behind his rivals, the question is how he plays his final hand and whether it ultimately benefits Lujan Grisham or his old political nemesis Eric Griego.

Chavez's next move is especially important to Lujan Grisham. Our survey says she is splitting the moderates with him.

The 1st congressional district is ranked as "lean Dem" here, a ranking shared by a number of other pundits. Bernalillo County, which comprises more than 90% of the district and contains the state's largest city of ABQ went deep blue for Obama in 2008 and that trend seems intact.

Donisthorpe also supervised our primary election polling in 2010. That polling correctly identified all the winning candidates in the major races that year.


Martin Heinrich is on his way to a healthy victory--maybe a very healthy one, His 57.3% to 29.1% lead over Hector Balderas (with 13.6% undecided) is built on a blow-the-doors-off performance in his home town. Heinrich, the congressman for the ABQ district, overwhelms Balderas 69% to 23% in the 1st congressional district. Said Donisthorpe:

That's really the only number you need to know. That type of lead in the big city is simply insurmountable. 

In the north Heinrich leads Balderas 52% to 34% with 14% undecided. In the southern congressional district he is ahead 52 to 28% and 20% undecided.

Heinrich is even competitive with Hispanics, the backbone of the campaign of the native born Balderas, Heinrich gets 45% of them while Hector gets 46%. Anglos support Heinrich 3 to 1 over Balderas. Both men and women go heavily for Heinrich.

In the Senate race we surveyed 1,392 voters by automatic phone calls with Dialing Services LLC of Roswell, making for a low margin of error of 2.62%. The results were scaled to reflect the demographic and geographic make-up of the state.

This race has never been competitive with Heinrich raising more money and soundly defeating Balderas at the preprimary convention. Balderas said his performance there was somewhat of an upset but he never built on it.

Heinrich is on his way to facing presumed Republican nominee Heather Wilson for the Senate seat being vacated by Dem Jeff Bingaman. We rank the state "lean Dem" when it comes to the Senate contest, as do a number of other pundits.


Back to Clovis now and that red hot GOP state Senate primary where the stakes skyrocketed when Governor Martinez and her chief political operative Jay McCleskey openly took sides with Angie Spears over rancher Pat Woods. One of our Alligators says Susana has hit the campaign trail, trying to pull out the win:

Governor Martinez traveled to Clayton and Tucumcari with Angie Spears Tuesday.  Spears is still down in the polling...

The intervention of the Guv is resented by some locals and would be among the main reasons for any Spears loss, but with the Guv putting her personal prestige on the line and McCleskey with his back against the wall and scorching Woods, the outcome of the race is far from settled. Our Gator says Martinez was traveling on a plane belonging to Clovis developer Sid Strebeck.


Reader Stanley Allen writes of our coverage of ABQ Public Regulation Commission candidates Al Park and Karen Montoya:

I enjoy reading your daily blog.  You had an inadvertent error in Tuesday's blog where you state: 

"As the lone Hispanic candidate in a Dem primary and one with a previous base of support, Montoya--even under-financed--is a threat to Park."

I believe that both Ms. Montoya and Mr. Park have Hispanic/Latino backgrounds.  Below are two quotes you have written in the past regarding Mr. Park's background.


"His father, a University of Virginia Law School grad, is wrapping up a successful career at Sandia Labs, and previously worked in the Panama Canal Zone, where Al was born to his mother of Venezuelan descent."


"As for ethnicity, Park's background is not all Anglo. He was born in the Panama Canal Zone to a mother of Venezuelan descent. His father is a corporate attorney. Park is not the only high profile figure in his family. He is married to Bernalillo native and attorney Jessica Perez, the 2011 president of the NM Bar Association. She in turn is the daughter of former District Court Judge George Perez who was among the Dems who sought the northern US House seat in 1982 when it was first created." 

Thanks for reminding us of that.

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Tuesday, January 03, 2012

2012 Starts With 2011 Leftovers: Susana & Licenses, ABQ GOP Congress? More Jobless Recovery? That & More As We Blog In A New Year Of La Politica 

Welcome back. We pick up with this first blog of 2012 where we left off in 2011. Will Governor Martinez finally sway the Legislature and win a repeal of the controversial law that allows undocumented immigrants to have driver's licenses? Will Jon Barela, 2010 GOP nominee for the ABQ US House seat, dive into the 2012 contest? Will New Mexico rid itself of this jobless economic recovery?

On the first matter there's been a crack in the Democratic dam. Las Cruces area State Sen. Steve Fischmann says he's going with Susana on the licenses. And not coincidentally, he also announces he is a candidate for re-election. That prompted veteran Las Cruces newsman Walt Rubel to make the first bold political prediction of the new year--that the third repeal effort will indeed be the charm for Susana:

This has been the primary issue for Gov. Susana Martinez for the past year. Democrats in the Legislature were narrowly able to beat back the bill last year, but that wasn't an election year. This year is....The bottom line on this one is New Mexico is out of step with the rest of the nation, and the vast majority of residents want to see the law changed.

All 112 members of the Legislature (70 state representatives and 42 senators) are up for election this year. If Martinez is ever going to win on this one, you have to believe the time is now. But we're much less certain than Walt that her political team is scaring the pants off the lawmakers and not making the Dem leadership hunker down even more. The answer will come soon enough as the Legislature begins its 30 day session January 17.


On the ABQ congressional race, the hottest topic remains whether Jon Barela, economic development secretary-designate, will give a run another try. Dem congressional hopeful Marty Chavez told a Friday night fund-raiser he believes Barela is a go based on phone calls he has heard that Barela is making. Also, the Alligators report yet another anemic quarter of fund-raising for GOP contenders Dan Lewis and Janice Arnold-Jones. They say political newcomer and retired Army Sergeant Gary Smith will out raise them both by giving himself over $100,000. These fourth quarter reports will become public at mid-month but my insiders say it is clear that big GOP money remains on the sidelines as it awaits Barela's decision.

If Barela gets in he will be a major player for the nomination. The Martinez machine controls much of the party apparatus. However, his loss to Dem Martin Heinrich in 2010 hurt. Dems also think he is weakened by news of his personal financial problems and by the overall tarnishing of the GOP brand the past year. We have to agree with them that the seat appears "Lean Dem," in a year when the presidential campaign will draw more moderate voters to the polls, but a strong GOP candidacy remains a potential threat.


In the race for the US Senate we begin 2012 wondering if Democrat Hector Balderas will go the distance in his duel with Rep. Martin Heinrich.

Insiders are watching every hair on Hector's head (Hold on. He's bald). Well, then let's say they're watching every step he takes as they assess whether he will take his campaign up to the March pre-primary convention and then get out and endorse Heinrich. The two term congressman--playing it like a steady Eddie--is the establishment favorite with the big money lead, but with soft support from Hispanics who are so important to taking the Dem nomination. Remember, Hector could use any money he has left from his Senate race for a 2014 contest for attorney general or even Governor.

Not much has changed in Hector's world since our initial analysis of the Hector-Heinrich battle way back when. He is behind and is faced with the unpleasant prospect of having to attack Heinrich to win. That is a major gamble for him in this race and for his future political career. Heinrich wants it so bad it brings to mind the line that he would run over his grandmother to get it. (Well, at least he wouldn't smile doing it). Hector wants it too, but unlike Heinrich he has future options. It's quite the balancing act for the youthful State Auditor who has bitten off a big branch from the tree of La Politica. His moment of truth is fast approaching.


Let's go to a Senior Alligator for a somewhat contrary view on the Hector-Heinrich match-up. He says it is balderdash to be talking about Balderas getting out of this race:

Balderas is now too strong for Heinrich to put away and his climb in the polls will accelerate after the legislative session. He is sweeping legislative endorsements and boots on the ground will turn the tide his way. And the polling--A stagnant 47.0 for Heinrich to a rising 30.0% for Balderas with 23.0% undecided is showing Heinrich as having support that is a mile wide and a foot deep.


Governor Martinez held her nose and buried the news, but in the end she had no choice but to appoint ABQ Dem attorney Linda Curtis to fill a very Republican state senate seat. This was the one left vacant in the ABQ NE Heights by Kent Cravens who resigned to take a job with the energy industry. For many it symbolized much of what is wrong with today's politics.

The Guv made the forced appointment late Friday heading into the long holiday weekend. That deprived Curtis of much publicity. Not that it would help her and not that Curtis isn't capable and qualified. But she will have to run for election to the seat this year and if she does, her chances of winning in this Demless area are about as good as finding enchiladas at a Chinese restaurant.

When she was sworn in Monday, R's turned up the temperature. The state party said:

Several dozen residents showing up to the swearing-in Monday to demand Curtis represent the needs of the district on the issue of repealing the law that gives driver's licenses to illegal immigrants.

Since the seat contains portions of both Bernalillo and Sandoval counties, the county commissions there were charged with sending replacement names to the Guv. The long standing tradition has been for the commissions to recommend a replacement who comes from the dominant party in the district. But not in today's toxic political atmosphere.

Martinez doesn't get off the hook, either. Her political team has played the hardest of hardball when it comes to the Dem-controlled Legislature and that made it easier for the Dem-controlled commissions to give Curtis the nod and ignore precedent. Still, someone in politics has to take the high road or else it will soon be like old Route 66--a relic of the past.


Our unstinting coverage these past several years of the long term economic recession/depression afflicting New Mexico has won reader praise. We don't take any pleasure in imparting the usually dreary news, but we do believe in facing reality. And here's where we begin this first week of 2012:

New Mexico's employment base decreased 3.89 percent--32,600 nonfarm jobs--during the five year period (between November 2006 and November 2011. The drop ranks the Land of Enchantment No. 23 out of the 50 states and D.C....

The construction depression is a major culprit. And then there's the slowdown in government employment--the vertebrae of the New Mexican economy. The feds aren't hiring and neither are the state or ABQ governments.

And although you may have a good-paying job, this slowdown is hitting you in the pocketbook if you own your home. The latest median price for an ABQ home is a historically meager $160,000. Why? Because jobs drive housing and until we get the jobs, the housing market is going to languish and the value of your humble abode is likely to stagnate or drop further.

The good news is that we appear to have stabilized in terms of the revenue that is coming into the state and ABQ governments, but our economic recovery is snail-like and we don't see it becoming hare-like in 2012.


In 2011, our readers offered a wheelbarrow full of suggestions for the Legislature and Governor to get the economic wheels here spinning faster. And we continue to hear from them as we turn the calender in the new year. Jim McClure comes with this take on our calls for increasing state spending on promoting the state:

I'd like to see the state invest more in tourism because it's one of the few opportunities to build an economy on something other than government spending. Tourism is a natural for New Mexico because it does not require an educated workforce or business-friendly regulatory policies...What's needed is a comprehensive focus on tourism by multiple state agencies and private business groups.

One easy step would be to promote the RailRunner to tourists and and adjust its schedule during peak tourism periods. Last week my out-of-town guests decided not to take the train to Santa Fe because they would have had to leave early in the morning and return in the evening. (Where's Fred Harvey when we need him?). More advertising would certainly help, but we also need better coordination among government agencies and business groups to connect the dots on tourism.

Thanks, Jim. We're sure this is the first of what will be many ideas from our readers on how to make New Mexico an even better place in which to live and work.

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