Sunday, January 31, 2010

Sniping Grows Louder In Dem Light Guv Race, Plus: Koch & UNM In Senate Spotlight, Also: US House Race Action And Indian Country News & Analysis

Ortiz y Pino
More intensity in that Dem race for lieutenant governor as we begin a new month and move ever closer to a critical mid-March test for the five contenders. Perceived front runner Brian Colon was taking hits over the weekend from both left and right, even as he hosted the opening of his ABQ headquarters.

The camp of ABQ Dem State Senator Jerry Ortiz y Pino, the most liberal of the five hopefuls, was boasting of their candidate's win in a straw poll in Taos County Friday, conducted after a forum for all the light guv candidates, except Colon, who did not appear. Ortiz y Pino polled 16 votes, Joe Campos and Lawrence Rael each received 11 and Linda Lopez only one.

Taos is a breadbasket of Dem liberalism, so Ortiz y Pino's win can't be blown out of proportion, but neither can it be ignored. If he can coalesce the left-wing of the party statewide, he could garner the needed 20 percent of the delegates at the March pre-primary convention to get an official spot on the June 1 primary ballot. If he does that, he might then be able to raise the money to compete, instead of struggling to keep the lights on.

Ortiz y Pino operatives said the Taos straw vote proves that Colon, who has raised the most money among the hopefuls, has a long way to go before he takes the light guv prize. It follows an earlier straw poll in Sandoval County that had Colon winning, but with Campos placing an unanticipated strong second place showing.

As Jerry squeezed Brian on the left, Campos was coming at him from the center and right. His camp smacked Colon for failing to show up at Taos, saying it reveals his weakness in the Spanish North. They were spinning that if Pete Domenici Jr. is the GOP nominee, Hispanics there could waver and that native son Campos, a state representative and mayor of Santa Rosa, could help presumed Dem Guv nominee Diane Denish hold down the fort far better than Colon.


Colon & Me
While Colon was being treated like a punching bag, he was throwing some punches of his own. Reports came in from the recent Valencia County Dem ward meetings where delegates were selected for the state pre-primary convention. They had Colon getting a strong showing in his home county. And Colon's campaign organization is repeatedly putting together smoothly run events, while the candidate is not prone to taking naps.

As for Rael, he started with a head of steam months ago, but has not had much to say lately. The first time candidate, say insiders, is trying to find his sea legs in this stormy campaign. But his straw vote showings are respectable and his head remains above water.

ABQ State Senator Lopez is all but out of the game, now getting trounced in two straw polls and getting nuked in the press for getting a part-time job with Bernalillo County that her foes say was politically motivated.

If you call it a four way battle--as we do--there may be room for three of those four to pick up 20 percent or more of the delegates at the pre-primary. Insiders say this Thursday's ward meetings in big Bernalillo County where 40 percent of the delegates will be chosen for the March pre-primary will tell us more about where this race stands. For right now, the action is hot and heavy.


They've been waiting on this one for a a while. The confirmation hearing of University of New Mexico Regent and longtime Dem Party powerhouse Jamie Koch goes before the state Senate Rules Committee this morning. It's been a year since Big Bill reappointed Jamie to a second four year term, a year during which storm clouds got even darker over Koch's head. Both the faculty and graduate students gave him votes of no confidence. The university itself has also been bedeviled by scandal in its high-profile athletics department, vociferous criticism over its administrative spending and whether the place has become a political stomping ground instead of an isle of academia.

Bill decided to reappoint Koch for a second four year term to the regents, but he had him step aside as president of the panel. Those opposed to Koch are hoping that the Rules Committee rejects his nomination, but insiders counting noses say Koch is quite likely to win there and again when the full Senate takes up the nomination. But we'll wait and see.

It will be interesting to determine if Senators have taken their legislative oversight chores seriously and ask the tough questions of Koch. The lay down attitude towards UNM among key Roundhouse leaders is getting increased attention because of the huge budget deficit. The school's employment of a wide array of staffers with political ties to the Governor has raised question of whether UNM President David Schmidly presides over a politicized institution that has lost sight of its fundamental mission and created sinecures for dozens of politicals.


One of the biggest issues for critics is what they see as the administrative bloat at UNM. State Senator Eric Griego has come with a resolution questioning the six figure salaries of some 20 UNM vice-presidents. Why do we have so many Veeps and what of the $4.5 million paid to them each year? Can we start cutting? Those decisions can't be made directly by the Legislature, but they do have the power of the purse and can strongly signal what change they desire. Griego's memorial has no force of law. The UNM administration maintains it is cutting back on its administrative costs.


Many eyes in New Mexico will be on Washington today as President Obama releases his proposed budget. Reports say he will ask for a 10 percent boost for nuclear weapons funding which could translate into increased budgets for Sandia and Los Alamos Labs and perhaps more employment:

The administration will seek an initial $600 million increase for nuclear weapons programs in the proposed 2011 budget it submits to Congress on Monday. That would increase annual spending on those programs to almost $7 billion.

There is a long way to go. Congress will take months to decide the budget for the year that starts Oct. 1. This year's budgets for Los Alamos and Sandia have been flat.


Jon Barela
ABQ GOP congressional candidate Jon Barela did not meet the fund-raising expectations for the fourth quarter that were set for him--at least around here by the Alligators. Attorney Barela, trying to unseat freshman US Dem Congressman Martin Heinrich, raised $113,000 in the fourth quarter. ( He reports spending about $40,000 in the period. Here is where it went.) Insiders were saying a move toward the $200,000 level would have better positioned Barela for inroads against Heinrich.

Barela reports having $215,000 cash on hand, but Heinrich, who raised $267,000 in last year's final quarter, now has $834,000 in cash.

One thing Barela does have going for him is the unsettled political climate. The ABQ district was Republican for forty years before Heinrich won it in 2008, but Barela is going to have to really rev up his engines to get the buzz going.


Meantime, the buzz is so loud in the southern congressional seat, you need ear plugs. Republican Steve Pearce adds to it by reporting he outraised Dem US Rep Harry Teague in the fourth quarter of '09--about $156,000 for Teague and $252,000 for Pearce. but Teague still has more cash in the bank--$885,000 to Pearce's $569,000.

Teague getting out raised Peace in the fourth quarter may be a small warning flag, but Congress was in session much of the time. Let's see what happens in the first quarter of this year to see if there's a clear trend. Pearce also outraised Teague in the summer quarter when he kicked off his candidacy. It goes without saying that this race is hotter than a stolen tamale.


Reader Matthew Tso informs:

Former Navajo Nation Vice Chairman Marshall Plummer will likely give incumbent Democratic Public Regulation Commissioner Carol Sloan a primary challenge for District 4. Plummer was a popular Vice Chairman who served with former Chairman Peterson Zah. Plummer is currently in charge of government affairs and community relations at the Four Corners Power Plant...

Thanks, Matthew. That's a big name challenger who joins a lengthy list of other Dem hopefuls. This particular PRC race is attracting a lot of candidates because Commissioner Sloan, a former McKinley County clerk, faces charges for assault and battery after she accused her husband of cheating on her with another woman in Gallup. Sloan allegedly assaulted the other woman at her home.


Meanwhile, KRQE-TV is coming with the reason why State Insurance Superintendent Mo Chavez, whose division is under the PRC, was placed on paid administrative leave. The station says it has learned that a female employee has filed a harassment complaint against Chavez.


Why does it take so long to get the state capital outlay funds that go for projects In Indian Country to get spent? It's a hot topic again as lawmakers look for $150 million in stalled capital outlay projects to cancel and use the money to resolve the deficit of upwards of $600 million. State Senator Linda Lovejoy says getting the money spent that has been authorized for Indian Country projects is often delayed because of a nightmare bureaucracy:

The Navajo Nation's governmental process is enormously complex and time-consuming because it not only must deal with the federal government where projects involving land is involved, but must also deal with 3 states and 11 counties in those states where capital projects are involved...

Lynda says many of the projects being considered for cancellation are for basic human needs like running water and electricity. If so, legislators will be sympathetic, but can Indian Country Senators Lovejoy, Munoz and Pinto give us some guidance on how the "enormously complex" task of getting these projects moving can be simplified and expedited?


The latest figures show there is still some $1.4 billion in capital outlay stashed in state bank accounts waiting to be spent. The legislators are looking at cutting $150 million of that to help plug the budget hole. But there is mucho resistance. The reason? Many of them are convinced these projects are vital to their re-election prospects and they don't want to cancel them for fear of losing votes.

We brought this up with a posse of Alligators at one of the local bistros the other night and the consensus was that capital outlay--or pork as it is sometimes lovingly labeled--has more of a political impact in small, rural areas of the state where a new project is very noticeable. But in the large urban area of ABQ, maybe not as much as ongoing construction and neighborhood change is more rapid and spread out.

Senate leader Sanchez has proposed taking money from the state's $13 billion in permanent funds to fix the budget, but why do that when you have all this capital outlay--much of which has been stalled for years--and more of which could be used to cover the gap?

It's about having the political will to do it, and perhaps it's asking too much of politicians. But unless they agree to kill at least the $150 million in capital outlay they are talking about, it will be another reason any tax increases are even more strenuously opposed in the the final days of this session. Taxpayers whose purses and wallets are shrinking want to see the excess cash sopped up before Santa Fe comes knocking on their adobes for more.


Here's the details on the memorial service tomorrow for former ABQ GOP State Rep. Eric Youngberg who died last week at 43.

The service will be held on Tuesday, February 2, at 2:00 pm, at First Presbyterian Church, 215 Locust Street, N.E, in Albuquerque. Immediately following, friends and family are invited to the Albuquerque Country Club. In lieu of flowers, the family request that memorial contributions be made in Eric’s name to the Albuquerque Academy or the Explora Children's Museum.

Governor Richardson will lower state flags from sunrise, Tuesday, February 2, through sundown, Wednesday, February 3, in honor of former State Rep. Eric Youngberg.

Meanwhile, the House seat that Youngberg held in the Legislature (Dist. 23) is getting attention. Two Republicans are trying to put it back in their party's column after Youngberg was defeated by Democrat Ben Rodefer in 2008.

Paul Pacheco, who will soon retire from the ABQ Police Department, says he is seeking the GOP nod for the slot as is Republican Tom Molitor. It should be a spirited GOP battle primary for this district on ABQ's West Side and in Sandoval County. Pacheco is already calling Molitor a "California transplant."

Rep. Rodefer will seek re-election for the Dems. No word yet on whether he will get primary opposition. The seat is considered in play for either a Dem or an R.


He had one of those only in New Mexico political names. "I.L. "Smokey" Sanchez Davis. And, as we recall, when he ran for the state House back in the day he managed to get the entire name on his yard signs. He also got himself elected to the House. Smokey Sanchez, 80, died last week. He also worked with the Bernalillo County Assessor's Office and retired from the federal housing department. By the way the "I" stood for Ishmael. We don't know what the "L" stood for, one of the reasons it makes him a memorable character of La Politica...

This is the home of New Mexico politics. Email your news and comments.

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Friday, January 29, 2010

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Thursday, January 28, 2010

Hammered Again: Jobless Spike Shakes Political Landscape, Plus: Digging Out Of This; Brace for A Long Climb, And: Reader Mailbag Bulges

The Great Recession is not done with New Mexico. Not by a long shot. The floundering economy here took another hit as official stats put the jobless rate for December above the psychologically important 8 percent mark. In the ABQ metro, observers were stunned that the unemployment for December soared to 8.7 percent, another modern day record. No wonder city government is grappling with a projected $54 million deficit for the budget year that starts in July.

Even the government town of Santa Fe is plumbing new jobless depths. The rate there has skyrocketed to an unheard of 7.2 percent.

Retail, manufacturing and construction--in other words the NM private sector--is especially getting hammered--while the feds add jobs here for the census.

The political impact of all of this is obvious. If you are in power, you are in dangerous waters. Lt. Governor Denish, the soon-to-be Dem Guv nominee, will be the top target of the R's who will try to stimulate populist anger to move independents and some Dems to their column. With each uptick in the jobless stats, their chances improve.

Denish will have to plead the same case as Big Bill--that the unemployment debacle is a national problem and present a forward looking job creation platform. But anger and negativity could be difficult to assuage.

New Mexico Catholics pray to Saint Anthony when seeking a job. Di is hoping those prayers start getting answered--and soon.


For the Republicans, the value of their Guv nomination goes up with the number of unemployment checks mailed out. How will they react? By trying to clear the field for one strong challenger? Or with an orgy of cannibalism that could weaken their chances ala the Wilson-Pearce US Senate '08 primary?


The state reports "it will be a number of years" before unemployment here returns to pre-recession levels of 3.5 percent. A number of years? How about a number of decades?

That point was driven home when Governor Bill announced this week that a $1 billion solar plant would be built by a a Spanish company in Guadalupe County. And how many permanent jobs will result from that plant when it is up and running in a couple of years? Try 75.

We are trying to get the total number of jobs lost since we reached the pre-recession low, but the state says comparing December '09 to December '08 we lost over 25,000. The point is that while 75 jobs are more than welcome, solving this unemployment dilemma is going to be like using a step ladder to climb out of a hole that's a mile deep.

Not to pooh-pooh the plant. For a change, the state says it is not giving away the store with cash incentives to get it to locate here, but in this economic environment we would be remiss not to express concerns about the company being able to secure all the necessary financing for the project.


Let's not throw in the towel on the private sector's ability to regenerate itself and get the jobs meter pointing up again faster than expected, but the systemic collapse is of such severity we aren't counting on it. That's why the comments of NM Dem US Senator Tom Udall following Obama's State of the Union struck a chord.

Remarking on the president's proposal for a three year freeze on all discretionary federal spending, Udall said:

Federal spending can have a big impact on New Mexico. I want to see the details. We're going to scour this budget when it comes out and make sure New Mexico's protected.

We touched on this briefly in a past blog, but it bears repeating. While working for and waiting on a revival in the private economy, our state may want to reexamine its strategy for attracting federal dollars. The national labs and military establishment are the foundation of the modern state economy. We are a natural for more of that, but we are also right for renewable energy investment and as a location for more federal offices and installations that our lobbyists and congressional delegation might be able to identify.

As Udall indicated, protecting the labs and military from steep cuts will be job one for our federal congressional delegation, but playing offense and going after additional federal dollars is becoming more urgent as thousands of New Mexicans descend into the misery of unemployment, or just give up and get out of here.


The Rail Runner evokes a lot of emotion--both pro and con--as we've been finding out all week as readers debate the news that only a small amount of the cost of running the commuter train between Belen and Santa Fe comes from fares.

Reader Walter Lamberson, who grew up in NM and now lives in San Francisco, is up first today, responding to lobbyist Domonic Silva of Las Cruces. Silva took issue with bicyclist and Rail Runner supporter Diane Albert and pointed out how much he was paying in gas taxes for his lengthy commutes to Santa Fe. Here's Lamberson, one of many disagreeing with Dom and defending Di:

Domonic says he spends $100 per trip from Cruces to Santa Fe on gas and of that, $40 are gas taxes. This can’t be right. The current average price of “regular” gas is $2.70, and only 37.2 cents of that is tax (24.4 cents being federal, and the rest state tax, one of the lowest state fuel taxes). All told, to drive nearly 600 miles and burn 37 gallons of gas into our air, Domonic pays only $13.78 in taxes, not $40.

Thirty-seven cents a gallon does not pay for the network of roads or the highway patrol much less the cost of time lost in traffic and contribution to pollution...Moreover, each year Domonic spends thousands of dollars on gas, and what is not taxed flows to Saudi Arabia and other oil-producers. Diane, on the other hand, saves thousands of dollars, cash she can spend in New Mexico on something that doesn’t pollute...Her commerce can create jobs outside the gas station. I think Domonic should be grateful!

And reader Marc South is back with a second bite out of this apple:

Joe, not to rain on the parade twice in one week, but anyone who thinks that their gas tax covers the costs of road construction and maintenance is not to be trusted with either motor vehicles or sharp objects. That the gentleman in question is a lobbyist only makes it scarier. There is a ton of research out there (USDOT, Texas Transportation Institute, even NMDOT) that has talked about how the funding generated out of the gas tax isn't remotely adequate to do what needs to be done.

And we have this from a reader identifying themselves as "Gator Al Schue." Clever. He says the bicyclists have it right:

This is Gator Al Schue. Cars and trucks in this country don't even come close to paying for themselves when one considers the real costs of the US power projection into oil rich parts of the world that keep our gas 'cheap.' We only think $5 a gallon is expensive because half the state is two paychecks away from welfare. That, and we insist on tooling around the state 15-20,000 miles a year in behemoths that get crappy mileage.

By contrast, we don't need a trillion dollar military operation--or the blood of our brave young men and women in uniform--to keep the price of bicycles down.

Paul Gessing of the conservative Rio Grande Foundation sent us this link that asserts 90 percent of highway costs have been paid by highway user fees. He said this of Albert's blog:

While I too would like to see broader use of toll roads, what she fails to mention is that user fees (gas taxes, licensing, registration, etc.) pay more than 90% of the cost for roads....


Let's give the last words on this latest Rail Runner debate to the man in charge of the train. Dewey Cave, interim director of the Mid-Region Council of Governments (MRCOG), blogs in with a defense of the criticisms of the Rail Runner heard here this week:

All forms of transportation are heavily subsidized. The Rail Runner...was put to the ultimate test when it was placed on the ballot for voters in the four-county area to decide whether they wanted to increase their taxes to pay for the operations of the train...The voters overwhelmingly it...When was the last time New Mexico voters got to weigh in on whether to spend money on a road project?

(Our Rail Runner) investment pales in comparison to other southwestern cities that are working to provide the very same thing. In Utah, like Central New Mexico, they too will end up with about 100 miles of train service, but at a cost of $1.6 billion dollars and it will take 17 years to complete...

The MRCOG was the lead agency on the Rail Runner and delivered the fastest start-up of a commuter rail project in the country in the last 20-years. From the get-go, we made a decision that the service was going to be privatized and that is exactly what is happening, Herzog Transit Services provides maintenance of equipment and track as well as operations, including fare collection...

Speaking of fare collection, the recent blog accounts citing 13-percent of revenue from fare box collection only gives part of the story...BNSF and Amtrak are paying for the use of the track, which means that actual revenue generated to offset operational costs is closer to 20%. Again, when you look at other young commuter rail systems, we are headed in the right direction.

We cannot however, predict and always account for a downturn in the economy. The tax is not generating what it traditionally had provided in the past, but hopefully will rebound with the economy...

With regards to fare collections, we have been very aggressive in making adjustments; we've added ticket agents; our conductors now assist agents where needed; discounted tickets can be purchased on the web site, and MRCOG conducts random audits to verify that every rider has a valid ticket..Our audits have demonstrated that abuse is not widespread, and moreover that our agents are efficiently performing their duties. With the help of State Police, this week we are pursuing prosecution of a few people who were producing fraudulent tickets.

...The Rail Runner benefits New Mexico families, giving them an alternative form of transportation during these hard economic times. And don’t underestimate the benefits of having fewer vehicles on the road; a better quality of life, a cleaner environment, and a safe way to travel...Perhaps this is why we have more and more communities wanting to know when we’ll extend Rail Runner service north and south, so that they too can enjoy the economic value the train brings as well as the positive impact on their lives...


A reader who is an economics professor writes to us of the forced closure by federal regulators of of NM-based Charter Bank:

It is unfortunate and unfair that the small banks are now being held to (rigorous) standards while the big ones get off easy because they are 'too big to fail' and with executives laughing all the way to the bank.

Well, with the confidence in banks these days, maybe the bankers are laughing all the way to their mattresses where they hide their bonuses. But seriously, it is unfortunate about Charter failing, but stopping the bleeding early is better than having a gusher later.


Upset friends and colleagues of former ABQ State Rep. Eric Youngberg sent our blog cell phone ringing Thursday night as they reported the death of the lawmaker who served three terms in the state House. Details of his passing were sketchy at blog press time, but several callers said he was found dead at his ABQ home. (Here's a report from the Saturday newspaper.)Youngberg celebrated his 43rd birthday this past Tuesday. He represented Dist. 23 on ABQ's West side and parts of Sandoval County.

The affable Youngberg was well-liked on both sides of the aisle at the Roundhouse. Fellow ABQ GOP State Rep. Janice Arnold-Jones was elected the same year as Eric--in 2002--and had this reaction to his passing:

Eric will be remembered as a legislator for his great intellectual capacity. He was both an attorney and a CPA. Very impressive. I am shocked by the news.

Democrat Ben Rodefer, who defeated Youngberg in 2008, emailed this remembrance late Thursday:

I learned of Eric Youngberg's death with great sadness. What a tragic loss. Eric was a man of tremendous intelligence, warmth and ability. A man who cared deeply about his community and his state. A man who will be sorely missed by the so many who knew and loved him.

Even after his defeat by Rodefer, Youngberg was still attracted to the political life. We last saw him at the Rio Chama restaurant across from the Roundhouse during the '09 session. We hung out with him and veteran lobbyists Leland Gould and Bob McBride for several hours talking La Politica. Despite having lost his House seat, the gleam in his eye remained as he discussed the game. We imagine that's how many will remember him.

This is the home of New Mexico politics. From Albuquerque, I'm Joe Monahan reporting.

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Wednesday, January 27, 2010

Sanchez And The Unthinkable: Raiding The Piggy Bank; Analysis And Context, Plus: Our Budget Balance Plan--Again, And: Readers Blog On Bikes & Pete Jr

Sanchez and the Noose
Quick! Someone call Santa Fe County Sheriff Greg Solano. It looks like a hanging party is forming over at Ft. Marcy Park for State Senators Michael Sanchez and Mary Jane Garcia. But before the mob rushes them to the hangman's noose--or worse--lights them up like Zozobra, let's have the good sheriff calm the crowd so we can take a reasonable look at the senatorial duo's proposal to raid the state's rainy day funds to balance a state budget that is crashing and burning faster than the aforementioned Old Man Gloom.

We broke the news to to you November 2 of Majority Leader Sanchez's plan to propose that money be lifted from the Permanent Funds when he dropped the news to us over a plate of chicharrones at Barelas Coffee House. Now that he and Majority Whip Garcia have actually proposed to take $500 million from the $13 billion we have stockpiled and use it to to fill the budget gap, the squeals are louder than those made by the pigs when the chicharrones chefs went to work on them.

Look, Sanchez's plan will be getting as much support as a state ethics commission with real teeth (very little), but if the 112 lawmakers get to gridlock and can't pull the curtain down on this 30 day Santa Fe shindig, the table is going to get crowded with stuff you never dreamed of.

We have about $13 billion in our Permanent Funds, making them among the largest of any state in the USA and a sublime legacy to the gray beards of a hundred years ago who set them up. But there may come a time--not now--when the political consensus shifts and the crowd agrees it really is raining and that these funds will be subjected to more liberal use.

But right now Santa Fe's budget cutting blades are so dull, Emeril Lagasse would ban them from his kitchen. The public wants to see budget blood flow before it looks at the weather report to see if it is raining and time for a raid.

Sanchez and Garcia would not take the money and run. They would float bonds against the borrowed money, hopefully to be paid back to the permanent funds with tax revenues from an improved economy. That's a gamble--a big one--but with a radicalized "no taxes no matter what" business lobby and an equally radical "tax everything that moves" far left lobby, ideas that were once unthinkable are now looking as normal as an egg on top of an enchilada.


We and others have been talking ourselves blue in the face about this budget crisis and what we see as very reasonable proposals for its resolution that don't resort to breaking into the state's piggy bank or immediately throwing a couple of thousand state employees out into the streets. Let's go to the videotape:

Approve that one percent surtax on the wealthiest taxpayers who benefited the most from the Late Great Bull Market; hike the gross receipts tax by a quarter cent for three years raising $100 million a year; cut $150 million in capital outlay funds that are likely to never be used anyway; continue the hiring freeze in state government; forcefully address the bloated administrative structures at the state's universities (Hello, UNM) and public schools; eliminate hundreds of political appointee positions (live by the sword die by the sword); and encourage early retirement from eligible state workers.


If necessary, furlough state employees who make above $35,000 a year, but make the furloughs longer for the highest paid; examine the millions of dollars in legal contracts doled out annually and start cutting; eliminate some of the dozens of tax credits that benefit few but cost all of us; emphasize tax credits and breaks for small, job creating businesses; raise the capital gains tax rate a modest amount. (Sorry, Speaker Lujan. You are mistaken to say there are no capital gains to tax because of the recent stock and real estate crashes. There are millions in assets that have been held for decades, have appreciated greatly and are now being sold and taxed at historically low rates). Finally, save some $7 million a year by eliminating the double dippers, including the ones hired by Big Bill, not just future dippers.

Well, you get the idea. It's like making a list of your favorite movies or books and you just can't stop. On second thought, when talking to Santa Fe it's more like repeatedly banging your head against the wall.


The danger of the Sanchez/Garcia permanent fund raid is obvious--once you start smoking crack even Betty Ford can't make you quit. But the state has been investing some of these funds in what appear to be politically connected schemes so voluminous and so harebrained that the federal grand jury looking into them doesn't have time for a bathroom break.

This reckless abandon in how our permanent savings was at times invested is a much more serious threat than the comparatively innocuous Sanchez proposal that would actually spend the money for state services, not for betting at the permanent floating crap game devised by the Wall Street casino croupiers.

Unless we soon get real leadership in this 2010 session from this Governor and Legislature--leadership that forces the lobbyists on all sides of the equation to get their feet out of the cement and compromise on spending cuts and modest tax hikes--it won't be the necks of Sanchez and Garcia in that hangman's noose at Ft. Marcy Park--it will be those of Mr. and Mrs. New Mexico.

There are plenty of folks running for Bernalillo County Sheriff this year, but ABQ Police Department Commander Conrad Candelaria won't be one of them. After telling us he was getting in, he called to say he is now getting out. It's been a roller-coaster ride for Candelaria who was considered a top prospect to replace Darren White when he left the Sheriff's office to become ABQ's public safety director. But the county commission appointed sheriff's department veteran Manny Gonzales, bypassing Candelaria who ran into a buzz saw when his foes questioned the conditions of his discharge from the National Guard. It was a technical matter, but it hurt Candelaria who was also high on the list of possibles to become the next US Marshal for New Mexico. That post is filled by the Prez, but Conrad withdrew his name. We're still awaiting a Democrat to be named to replace Gordon Eden. Meanwhile, Candelaria says he will soon retire from APD.

There are three Republicans running for Sheriff and there are a number of Dems besides Sheriff Gonzales also seeking the primary nomination. We'll gather that list for you soon.


If you are hanging in Santa Fe Friday night, and want political action away from the Roundhouse, here it is:

Members of the Senate and House will “hit the hardwood” Friday night, in the much-anticipated 2010 Annual Legislative Basketball Game...Players on the House team will be wearing NM State University “Aggies” white home-team jerseys and the senators will be suited up in the University of New Mexico “Lobos” cherry red away-team jerseys. All proceeds from the event will go to the UNM Cancer Center. The game will be at the St. Michael's High School...Tip-off is 7:00 pm. Tickets cost $5


The comments from ABQ attorney and ardent bicyclist Diane Albert on this blog Wednesday drew a bunch of email. She called for making I-25 from ABQ to Santa Fe a toll road, saying, "As a bicycle commuter, I am tired of subsidizing those motor vehicles on the highways who do not pay their way!

Reader and Santa Fe lobbyist Domonic Silva of Las Cruces was one of the many who had sharp retorts:

Who is subsidizing who!

I'd like to tell Diane that I am tired of subsidizing bicycle commuters! I travel to Santa Fe from Las Cruces about 40 times a year. It costs me $100 in gas for a round trip. Of that, I pay about $40 in state and federal gas taxes. If you do the math, I pay about $1600 (in gas tax) a year to make just that drive. In addition I paid an excise tax on my vehicle so add an additional $1200. I doubt the tax paid on Diane's expensive bicycle has subsidized the roads I choose to drive. So remember the next time you want to get mad at a motor vehicle while you are commuting on your bike, remember who really pays for that road.


Reader Rob Rosales writes in about the coverage of the GOP Guv candidacy of Pete Domenici, Jr.:

The local media's embrace of Pete Domenici Jr. is only rivaled by their breathless coverage of a similar candidate--actor Val Kilmer. Perhaps that will be the final two-- Domenici Jr. vs. Kilmer, both inexperienced and unimpressive candidates whose only claim to fame is their name.

...These two would bore the electorate into not showing up. God forbid someone experienced (Denish, Arnold-Jones or Martinez) or successful (Turner or Weh) actually are selected to lead our state out of this mess. But in a state where taxpayers are robbed by buddy deals (and no one does anything about it), perhaps we deserve to have either of these two mediocre gentlemen assume control.

Actor Kilmer toyed with a run for the Dem Guv nod, but said he decided against it. He was spotted at the Roundhouse Wednesday.


Reader Kim Armano finishes things up this Thursday with a note we may not merit, but one that made our day:

...How you keep yourself intellectually stimulated and creative as you blog away--essentially in a vacuum with no colleagues or editor there to discipline or motivate you to be so productive--is truly remarkable.

I was going to say "keep it coming" but I know you will, regardless of my encouragement. It's very reassuring to have you as an information source and as a continuum in my Monday through Friday days.

Not that we couldn't use an editor the way we sometimes batter around the language.

We're glad to have your company, Kim, and that of all our readers across New Mexico and the USA.

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Tuesday, January 26, 2010

Pete's Maiden Media Trip; How Did He Do? Also: My Experts Analysis Of His Guv Chances, And: R's Start Filling Other Races, Plus: We're Riding The Rail

Pete Domenici
Pete Domenici Jr. had a frog in his throat and let out a loud cough seconds after being introduced Tuesday at his major media debut of Campaign 2010, but after a bout of initial nervousness he seemed to find his footing and obeyed the #1 rule of a political front runner--do yourself no harm.

The 50 year old attorney, scion of famous US Senator Pete Domenici, bantered for two hours with 770 KKOB-AM radio host Jim Villanucci and a variety of callers to the conservative 50,000 watt talker.

Domenici was a lawyer through and through. He was cautious, conservative and given to pauses that were rapidly filled by Villanucci who did his best to help along the political novice with the inherited celebrity status.

Domenici Jr. breezed through the contemporary conservative issue check list, but he put out some moderate twists that had him looking past the June 1 primary and to an eventual face-off for the Governor's chair with presumed Dem nominee Diane Denish.

The most interesting was when he demurred on condemning the issuance of drivers licenses' to undocumented immigrants. New Mexico is one of a handful of states with such a law. He said he wanted to study a "two-tier" system that would deny such licenses' to some, but not all immigrants. Like his death penalty position--he is for it when a law enforcement officer is killed, but not necessarily for other murders--this license position would tilt the New Mexican Republican Party in a more moderate direction just like Pete's dear old dad did in his heyday.

Domenici made no obvious faux pas, but he did admit to not having voted in the recent ABQ city election. He said if he had voted he would have cast his ballot for Republican RJ Berry because he knows him personally.


The first test for Domenici and his four Republican rivals for the nomination comes in March at the pre-primary convention where you must secure 20 percent of the delegates to get an official spot on the June 1st primary ballot. Domenici is expected to be among those to pass that test, but we wanted to make sure our dubbing him the new GOP front runner was indeed justified, so we checked with some of our veteran analysts for their thoughts on his first major media appearance. We intentionally went to Democrats to avoid a GOP partisan bias and hopefully get a clear eyed view of what is now an exciting GOP Guv contest.

Longtime Democrat and pollster Harry Pavlides, whose first campaign work was for 1966 Democratic Guv nominee Gene Lusk, described Domenici as "lawyerly" and said "he answered the questions effectively."

He showed he is not a fly-by-night candidate, that he can sit in the hot seat. He is the favorite, but not yet the prohibitive favorite. He has more hills to climb. ButI am becoming more concerned about the political climate for Denish. I think Domenici is the likely nominee and John Sanchez is positioned to win the lieutenant governor nomination. That's a pretty solid combination. The Hispanic vote in the north with that ticket looks more problematic for Diane.

We also asked talk radio pioneer and veteran politico Mike Santullo for analysis. The first New Mexico political campaign he covered was the 1972 US Senate race in which Pete Domenici beat Democrat Jack Daniels, the father of current Lt. Governor Diane Denish. Mike came with this:

Domenici is the definite favorite for the GOP nomination. His name insures that, but he has not closed the deal. He needs more salt on his tail and needs to pump it up. His appearance was lackluster, to the point of boring. But these are issues that are more relevant for the general election. I still see Allen Weh as a threat and am watching to see if Doug Turner's outsider campaign starts to come on.


GOP analysts tell us that ABQ State Rep. Janice Arnold Jones has been hurt most by Domenici's entrance into the race this month. Democrat Pavlides said he still sees the candidacy of Dona Ana County District Attorney Susana Martinez as having life because she is the only outside of ABQ candidate, but he is perplexed over how she ultimately manages to beat Domenici.

Domenici the Younger reminded the audience of his father's popularity in rural New Mexico, saying when he visits towns where his dad's reputation precedes him "they treat me like a celebrity."

A Martinez operative came with an amusing analysis of Domenici’s maiden radio interview that echoed Santullo. It was one line: “Zzzzzzzzz.”

Oh yeah, now they got us wanting more.


Domenici is an environmental lawyer and when he announced his candidacy the Dems immediately accused him of being a friend of "big polluters." He tried to soften that up by pointing out that he has sued insurance companies to make sure pollution sites were cleaned up. But the Dems environmental attack dominated a good section of the broadcast and if Pete Jr. is the nominee, we would expect to hear more of that as well as any help he achieved in receiving federal contracts from his once powerful father.

The more callous Alligators called Domenici's radio debut an "idiot test," meaning a lot of people who knew nothing about him--except that he had a famous father--wanted to know if he had the brains to make the run. Domenici easily jumped that low bar, but his foes will make sure the bar is set much higher as we inch ever closer to that crucial mid-March pre-primary.

Doug Turner
There had to be some chuckles when a radio spot for GOP Guv candidate Doug Turner popped up in one of the commercial breaks during Domenici's first radio appearance. The candidate also posted the ad on his Web site.

Expectations for Turner have been low--very low--because insider R's think he is too moderate to appeal to the conservative dominated pre-primary delegation, but Turner's persistence, his many billboards that dot the ABQ area and his continued travels are giving insiders pause. They also note the environment is similar to 1994 when Turner worked for Gary Johnson who won the Guv trophy on a throw the bums out message.

Johnson made the official ballot at the '94 pre-primary by one delegate vote, but he went on to win. Turner is truly a man who hopes that kind of history repeats itself.


The R's are finally starting to fill out the down-ballot races with the February 9 filing date now rapidly approaching. They announced Tuesday that Errol Chavez, 60, will give up his bid for state land commissioner and instead seek to become the GOP nominee for state auditor. The Dona Ana County resident, a retired DEA agent, is expected to be the only GOP auditor contender which means he would face off with Dem incumbent Hector Balderas in November.

And Santa Fe attorney Marco Gonzales, a former Senator Domenci aide, will be the R's pick for secretary of state. No R has won the position in 80 years, but getting a Northern New Mexican on the ballot could help the R's keep down their losing margins in that heavy Dem area. Gonzales, 42, a litigator with the Modrall Law Firm, lost his bid to become the R's nominee for the northern congressional seat which was won by Dem Ben Ray Lujan in 2008.

New Mexico politics has these fascinating intersections, and Gonzales gave us another when we chatted him up via cell phone. He said his father, Jose Gonzales, is the brother of George Gonzales who is the father of NM Democratic Party Chairman Javier Gonzales. That makes for some interesting family reunions.

Incumbent Dem Secretary of State Mary Herrera will face off in November against Gonzales. She has promised to have a Web site that improves campaign finance reporting up and running by the June primary. The Gonzales candidacy may put a little pressure on her to step on the gas, even though no R has won the SOS position since 1928. Still, with the Massachusetts Senate upset still fresh in the air, no incumbent is taking anything for granted these days.


Looks like we started a blog billboard war in that already spirited contest for the southern NM US House seat featuring Dem incumbent Rep. Harry Teague and former GOP Rep. Steve Pearce. Not that we ever intend to stir controversy :).

Anyway, it started innocently enough when we ran into Teague in Santa Fe last week and joked with him about putting up a billboard in conservative Hobbs promoting himself with his liberal leaders--House Speaker Pelosi and President You-Know-Who. So what happens? The National Republican Congressional Committee makes up a mock billboard of the trio and sends it it to us to further rib Harry.

Now, the Democratic Congressional Campaign Committee, also reading the blog from D.C., turns the tables and blogs in with its own altered billboard image--posted here today--that features Pearce with his old allies--George Bush, Dick Cheney and Tom Delay. It blames them for the economic downturn that the R's are trying to pin on Harry. Here's their spin:

With Pearce’s reckless fiscal record, including growth of the federal deficit by $2.3 trillion and support for the economic policies that got us into this mess in the first place, it’s no surprise Pearce and his Republican friends are trying to change the subject.

We're digging this sparring, but what keeps us up at night is that someone comes with a poll showing one of these candidates blowing the other out of the water and killing the campaign buzz. Please politicos, no public polling on the Teague-Pearce until at least July--unless its really, really tight. We've got a blog war to run around here.


Let's take another ride on the Rail Runner today after yesterday's blog that analyzed the political risks for the Dems that the financially troubled commuter train from Belen to Santa Fe poses. Reader Marc South in Alamogordo picks up the story:

Joe, you said:
"The shocking news that the commuter train from Belen to Santa Fe is only generating about 13 percent of its revenue from passenger fares only deepened the anxiety."

Why is this shocking? If you look at public transportation across the country (especially if you exclude NY/Boston/DC/Philadelphia) 10%-15% of revenue through the fare box isn't unusual. It's not unheard of for transit systems to occasionally
address the question: "Is it worth collecting fares? Do we collect more than it costs to collect them?" Generally, the answer is yes, it is worth collecting the fares, mostly because charging something prevents abuse of the service.

But I wasn't here when the RR was first proposed and approved. Was it bandied about that the amount of funds generated by the fare box would pay significantly more than 15%? Someone should have done their research...

And what about our former legislator's suggestion that the Rail Runner be privatized? Well, reader Bob White informs:

The former legislator's comments about the need for private management are a little off target...The conductors and collectors are in fact employees of Herzog Transit Services. I agree with his observations with the staff on the trains, but it was not always that way. When the service first started the staff were generally older, and much more professional in performance. As they have hired younger staff, the performance has deteriorated. I have no issue with privatization, but it cannot be assumed it will solve every problem. The history of private corrections in NM is living proof of that...

And a longtime blog friend, Diane Albert, an intellectual property lawyer and Bicycle Coalition of New Mexico President, comes with this take on the public subsidies needed to keep the Rail Runner chugging:

Let's make I-25 between Santa Fe and ABQ a toll road. Because as a bicycle commuter, I am tired of subsidizing those motor vehicles on the highways who do not pay their way!

Sounds as if you better be in shape if you're traveling anywhere with Diane.


Glad to have you with us today. Join me here Thursday for news on the Bernalillo County Sheriff's race and more.

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This is the home of New Mexico politics and chronicling it from Albuquerque, I'm Joe Monahan.

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Monday, January 25, 2010

Runaway Rail Runner; What's The Political Cost? Plus: Some Santa Fe Gloating, And: The Lament Of Brian Colon

Denish on Rail Runner
More Democrats are getting worried that the NM Rail Runner is going to emerge as a symbol of government incompetence in the fast approaching race for Governor. The shocking news that the commuter train from Belen to Santa Fe is only generating about 13 percent of its revenue from passenger fares only deepened the anxiety. That's only about $3 million of the train's $22 annual million operating budget, leaving taxpayers on the hook for the rest. Public transit is always subsidized, but this gap is especially wide, making for a potential hot potato campaign issue. Independent voters may be particularly upset.

Big Bill moved Monday to avert a shutdown of the Rail Runner on weekends, finding federal funds to keep the train moving. But one of our Senior Alligators, a former state legislator and a regular train rider, comes with what he says is disturbing news on management of the Rail Runner by the Mid-Region Council of Governments:

Joe, There is a definite correlation between financial problems of the Rail Runner and bad management by the Mid-Region Council of Governments (MRCOG). The Council has seen an explosive growth of spending that is not related to the Rail Runner. As a frequent rider of the Rail Runner, I have observed the following; passengers are seldom asked to pay; ticket collectors take for granted that passengers have a monthly pass, and many times collectors have no change for the cost of the ticket or amounts exceeding $5.00. Granted, no rail system is profitable, but we should run the Rail Runner like a business. I have always suggested that the private sector should run this system.

We'll run any response from MRCOG, but it sounds like something the state Department of Transportation may want to look into. The Rail Runner cost the state $400 million to build. It made its inaugural run into Santa Fe in December 2008.


The political impact of the troubled Rail Runner on the Dem Light Guv campaign of Lawrence Rael has already been mentioned. Lawrence was head of MRCOG and is taking credit for the Rail Runner. Then there is presumed Dem Guv nominee Diane Denish. She may have some tough questions to answer about how she sees the future of this train. However, maybe not too many if the R's nominate Allen Weh as their Guv nominee. When he was GOP chairman Weh was supportive of the Rail Runner.

The long-term future of the Rail Runner remains troubling because it was not modeled after the expensive European model of speed--lots of speed--like well over 100 mph. That is hurting the train as cars race past it from ABQ to Santa Fe. And then there's the recession. Fewer state employees mean fewer Rail Runner riders and lower gross receipts tax revenue means less money to fund the train,

Is the Rail Runner headed for the rust dump? Probably not. But how long can Big Bill find money in various nooks to keep service cutbacks from occurring? He hopes long enough to make it through this election year and preserve what he sees as a crown jewel of his legacy and not a White Elephant.

Terri Cole
There's nothing wrong with a wee bit of gloating in politics and Fred Nathan of Think New Mexico does just that as he points out that the ABQ Chamber of Commerce and its head honcho, Terri Cole, have finally thrown in the towel on reinstating the tax on food as a means of solving the state's budget crisis. Opines Nathan whose group spearheaded the fight against the tax:

(The Chamber's) advertisement Monday on page A-5 of the ABQ Journal, stated the group opposes all tax increases. Presumably this includes the food tax.

"We will strongly oppose any approach to balancing the state's budget that relies on creating new taxes rather than making significant cuts to the growth in state government," said executive director Terri Cole in the advertisement.

Fair enough, Fred. But now if we could only get Think NM to stop its campaign to reinstate the gross receipts tax on what it considers "junk food" like sugary drinks. That tax would also hurt low income New Mexicans.

Hey, if Fred loses on that one, do you think Terri will loan him the towel she threw in when she couldn't get the food tax back?


One of the Democratic US Senate seats imperiled in this topsy-turvy election year belongs to Senator Michael Bennet in our northern neighbor of Colorado. He was appointed to the seat when Ken Salazar was named Secretary of Interior, but now is hanging on for dear life as he must face voter this fall. He already shows a 12 point deficit to his likely Republican foe. Trying to ride to the rescue are NM Dem US Senators Bingaman and Udall who will host a $1,000 a pop party for Bennett at the ABQ home of Kevin Washburn on Feb. 20. Udall and Bingaman can afford the generosity--neither of them is up for re-election this year.

Meantime, Senator Udall made some national news Monday when he talked of changing the Senate's filibuster rule. Currently it takes 60 Senators to get anything of consequence through the Senate.

And Senator Bingaman's office informs that Ken Gonzales, an assistant US NM attorney and the man who insiders have tapped as most likely to be appointed by the President as the state's next US attorney, worked for Bingaman "from Sept. 1996 until March 1999, advising the Senator on matters involving the criminal justice system, transportation and rural development. He left for a job in the US attorney's office."

We had an item up briefly last week that said Gonzales also had a relative who worked in communications in Jeff's office, but Bingaman's spokesman says, "I know of no relation of Mr. Gonzales' who was employed by Senator Bingaman."


The Guv and Light Guv are exempt from the restriction on us of the expensive state jet. Wonder if that will be part of a 30 second campaign spot when Light Guv Diane Denish faces off with her GOP opponent later this year? Duh.


What will it take for the dead-tree press to deal with economic reality and cease the hometown cheerleading when it comes to the economic mess facing this state? Now we are told NM-based Charter Bank, closed by the feds because of its shaky finances, should have been allowed to keep its doors open. Why? Because New Mexico is not in as bad as shape as Florida or Nevada. And we little folk just don't get it! Of course, this is the same press that supported the bail out of the banks which led to more outrageous Wall Street bonuses and heavily promoted the ill-advised public support of Eclipse Aviation which also ended in disaster.

Thanks to the feds finally doing their job, we may be spared some of the worst fallout from the real estate recession/depression that is slowly and viciously laying waste to balance sheets across our state. It's not happening 2,000 miles away as the newspaper insists. It is happening right around Journal Center. Once again, Rest in Peace, Charter Bank.

Robert Corn
Look out Pat Lyons. It is game on for that southern and east side Public Regulation Commission seat you are going after. Former Roswell State Rep. Bob Corn has announced he will also seek the GOP nod for the seat being vacated by Republican David King.

We're going to get some blogging material out of this one. Lyons, current state land commissioner, has been making headlines over a controversial land swap involving the White Peak area in the north. And Lyons is the subject of angst among R's for other controversies during his eight years in the land office.

Roswell is the largest city in the district. That's good news for Corn. Lyons is from a ranch in the northern part of the district, but has major name ID.

Lyons and Corn are a rarity in today's GOP--two established power players going at it for a nomination. Let the entertainment begin.

Brian Colon
Dem Light Guv contender Brian Colon is lamenting the passage of the years as he marks his 40th birthday today. But that won't stop him from raising money from the occasion. Colon will party with supporters ($40 a pop) at his house on birthday nite.

You've got to give it to the former Dem Party chairman. He's lost almost as much weight as his age--about 35 pounds--and he's kept if off. Still, Colon's lament over aging can't be taken too seriously.

Brian, we've got ties older than you...

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Sunday, January 24, 2010

Political Jobs Cut Or Shifted? Plus: NM Bank Woes, BillBoarding Harry Teague, And: Kiki & The Gators And Much More On Your Monday Blog

We're hearing from lawmakers and capitol observers concerned that efforts to really trim the fat from state government in this budget crisis is, in some cases, amounting to musical chairs. The Governor announced with fanfare that he would let go 59 of his political appointees, but he would not release the names, raising suspicions that they could be placed in other positions without anyone noticing. Now our sources say that appears to be happening. From deep on the inside comes this:

I understand that the previous Deputy Secretary at the Workforce Solutions Department--Theresa Gomez and the Administrative Services Director (ASD) Lloyd Garley--have both been moved to “Temp” Division Directors with end dates of June 2011 and are being funded from federal stimulus dollars. In addition, the department has brought on another Deputy Secretary--Teresa Casados---and are in process of advertising for a new ASD. No cut backs here.

The Workforce Solutions Dept. formerly known as the labor department, has been a notorious political dumping ground for time immemorial. Our political system is set up to hand out a certain amount of patronage, but with a $600 million state budget shortfall, cries are being heard from far and wide for reality to be recognized.

New Mexico's soft private economy doesn't help. State government jobs are among the most valued. They offer the benefits and salaries that the private sector here too often doesn't. That makes political opposition to real reductions stiff indeed. But hard choices beckon in this ravaging recession. Are the Governor and Legislature, for example, going to permit service cuts to the disabled and genuinely impoverished while continuing to favor a political class that treats a government job as a lifetime sinecure?

New Mexico needs a knock down, drag out fight over its future employment and salary priorities. But budget watchdogs fear it may instead get a game of musical chairs or a version of kick the can down the road.

Rep. Egolf
At first blush the proposal from Santa Fe Dem State Rep. Brian Egolf to
move the state's money out of Bank of America and into banks and credit unions based in NM makes a lot of sense. It could amount to $1.4 billion that could be used by our community banks to stimulate local lending.

But Egolf had some cold water splashed his way only hours after the proposal made the rounds. New Mexico's Charter Bank, based in Santa Fe with ABQ and Rio Rancho branches, had been shut down by federal regulators for being "unsafe and unsound."
(Depositors did not lose money, The Feds turned the bank over to Beal Financial Corp. of Texas and all branches will be open today).

The shuttering of Charter again points out the pitfalls of managing the state's accounts with any kind of agenda other than absolute safety. Look at the trouble we got into when the State Investment Council started doling out money from the billions in our Permanent Funds for investments in risky private sector hedge funds and the like.

Our local banks deserve a shot at managing the state's cash accounts, but Egolf's proposal--while appealing on a populist level--is not a no-brainer. The Charter Bank fiasco, brought about by questionable commercial real estate loans, drives home the point that bank safety at all levels can't be taken for granted. Fortunately, Egolf's measure calls for studying the feasibility of dividing up the state's cash in local banks and not mandating it. The Charter Bank closure and the collapse of First Community Bancorporation shares (it has 40 NM branches) make safety, as bankers used to say in the good old days, "the prudent course" to follow.


We're well aware of the argument of some local bankers that the feds are being too tough in analyzing their commercial real estate loans. But unlike some in the mainstream media, we aren't getting out the violins.

What we see is "for sale and "for lease" signs across this state more numerous than a swarm of locusts and a slow but undeniable decrease in the value of commercial and residential real estate. If the feds are now being too tough, they and the Congress that bailed out the banks were way too lenient. Let the pendulum swing back and let the clean up of the casinos--aka the banks--continue.
Rest in Peace, Charter Bank.


Harry Teague. There's a posse on your trail.

We ribbed the southern NM congressman when we chatted him up last week on this blog:

We joked with (Dem US Rep. Harry) Teague, asking whether he will put up a billboard in Hobbs of Obama, House Speaker Nancy Pelosi and himself. He laughed aloud and replied: "No, I won't, but they (the R's) probably will."

But now we get an actual billboard (well, at least an altered image) from the National Republican Congressional Committee which we post here today. It features Harry, Nancy and the Prez and how it might look on a highway down in conservative Hobbs. We've got to believe that the real deal is not far behind.

Teague is being challenged by Republican Steve Pearce who held the seat before he vacated it for a run at the US Senate. This is Teague's first re-election test.

Maggie Hart Stebbins
Bernalillo County Commissioner Maggie Hart Stebbins has been around public service a while so when we ran into her recently we asked why we had never crossed paths: "I've always liked to keep a low profile," she informed.

But her days of a low-profile are long gone. Hart, 47, was appointed by Big Bill in May 2009 to fill a vacancy left on the Bernalillo County Commission when Deanna Archuleta took a job in D.C. Now Maggie must win the June 1 Dem primary nomination as she seeks her own four year term to the seat which represents a large swath of the ABQ SE Heights, including the university and Nob Hill areas.

She appears to have two primary opponents. One is Arturo Archuleta who was among those Big Bill considered appointing to fill the commission vacancy last year when the prize went to Hart. We haven't seen an official announcement from Archuleta, but Hart says she believes he is in and she is off and running. Archuleta is the Executive Director of the Mexicano Land Education Conservation Trust, a non-profit organization aimed at providing technical assistance to Spanish and Mexican community land grants.

Also, Danny Hernandez, a longtime UNM Dem area activist and a member of the metro flood control authority board confirms he is challenging the new commissioner and says he will run a grassroots campaign. We don't know of any R's yet seeking the seat.

Hart Stebbins, who has four children with husband Eric, had her kick-off event over the weekend which was co-hosted by a who's who of ABQ area Dem liberals. They included Jim Baca, State Reps Al Park, Danice Picraux and Gail Chasey, plus Senators, Griego, Keller and McSorley. That kind of support is going to bring campaign cash for the ubiquitous mailings that are part of these commission contests.

Hart has spent her first year learning the ropes on the five member commission, but she did sponsor a major piece of ethics legislation. It won plaudits with the libs but was dissed by the ABQ Journal which said it was passed in haste. Her progressive background has worried some business types, but we note that so far both her potential challengers are coming at her from the left.

The 1985 Harvard/Radcliffe grad worked until recently as a projects manager at the Mid-Region Council of Governments where she was marketing manager for the Rail Runner. Previously she toiled for Raymond Sanchez when he was Speaker of the House. She has also worked on Capitol Hill in D.C.

The county commission has three Dems and two R's. The winner of the June primary for the Hart seat can be expected to hold it for the D's come November.


Did you see the latest from the University of New Mexico? No big deal. Just falsified time sheets, an unauthorized bonus plan and failing to pay employee overtime. All that from a recent audit of the Biology Department and you can add it to the stack of afflictions our Harvard on the Rio Grande suffers from. It seems all segments of the university are in need of a thorough scrubbing.

Imagine this. The Legislature makes a special appropriation of $2 million a year for two years for the office of the State Auditor to hire ten forensic auditors who do nothing but look at the books of UNM and other state agencies and start finding the "fraud, waste and abuse" that we hear the politicos mouth about so often.

Okay, all you cynics, please stop rolling in the aisles with laughter. A fella can dream, can't he?


That was a fun pic we posted Friday of House Appropriations Committee Chairman Kiki Saavedra shining shoes at the capitol. We suggested he would use any money he made to help balance the state budget. We also urged him to take a look at the 19 UNM vice-presidents making $4.5 million a year as a means of saving some cash. But that comment, not surprisingly, brought this Alligator strike via email:

Joe, I agreed with you a while back when you called for sweeping changes at UNM...Your blog exemplified everything that is wrong with UNM. Kiki Saavedra is not worried about controlling exorbitant VP salaries as much as he is making sure they keep paying his son, Marc, nearly $150,000 to lobby the Legislature.? He gets a 45K raise in salary!! UNM is in dire straits because of these guys.

UNM lobbyist Marc Saavedra, son of Kiki, had his salary boosted in the past couple of years from $94,000 to about $135,000 as of Feb. '08, according to the ABQ Journal.


And then there's University of New Mexico Regent Jamie Koch who recently told us he expects he will finally have a confirmation hearing before the Senate Rules Committee this legislative session on his reappointment to the board by Big Bill.

That committee is chaired by ABQ State Sen. Linda Lopez who is running for the Dem nod for lieutenant governor. Insiders are tracking this one, sending us state records that show Jamie gave Linda a $1,000 contribution last August. So how are we going to get an unbiased examination of Koch's tenure from Senate Rules? Koch responds:

...I have raised some money for her. There is nothing hidden about these efforts. You will find my name on her list of contributors going back a number of years. I supported Ms. Lopez when I was state Democratic party chair. I supported her when she ran for state senator. I have encouraged her to run for Lt. Governor. I have supported many Democratic legislators and will continue to do so...I support people for public office because I believe these people are capable of doing a good job, not because I expect anything in return.

When I look at your blog, I see ads from various politicians, none of whom will get a free pass from you just because they advertise..Likewise, I do not expect to get a free pass from you or any of the legislators. I welcome the opportunity to state my positions clearly so people will know where I stand.

Thanks for the note, Jamie. However, I don't think we are in comparable positions. You preside as a regent over the state's largest university which is funded by millions of taxpayer dollars. We preside over a privately financed Alligator pond. But we appreciate the bump up in status.

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