Sunday, February 28, 2010

State Dems: Playing With Dynamite? Special Session Tests Mettle, Plus: If We Ruled The World--A Budget Plan, And: Domenici Cash Total; What's It Mean?

Rep. Maestas
Democrats may be playing with political dynamite as they go into special session in Santa Fe today to try to resolve a budget shortfall for the year that starts July 1 and that could be as much as $800 million.

The dynamite sticks are a quarter cent increase in the gross receipts tax and a reinstatement of the taxon food while leaving untouched the tax bills of the state's most wealthy residents.

This will be the second bite out of the budget apple. Lawmakers failed to reach an agreement in the regular 30 day session. And if they've again underestimated the revenue picture, as has happened time and again, yet another special session awaits us later in the year. And maybe more trainwrecks, too.

All 70 members of the state House are up for re-election this year and there is nervousness among some of them over the direction of the NM Democratic Party. The state Senate--ruled by a coalition of Republicans and conservative Dems-- is locked down on not raising taxes on the well-off. In the recent regular session, the House passed a temporary surtax on high wage earners, but it appears to be off the table as the special starts today--or is it?

Some House Dems want it back on the table, fearing a backlash in the June primaries or the November election if Democratic voters see no difference in the economic policy between the two parties.

ABQ Dem State Rep. Antonio "Moe" Maestas points out it would take only 10 of the House Dems to join with the R's to block anything from coming out of the House. You have to think that means any kind of food tax is going to have a difficult time.

The newspaper reports on the latest plan on the controversial food tax : "Municipalities would impose their local gross receipts tax rate on the purchase of food items. The state portion of the gross receipts tax on food wouldn't be imposed, and the state would stop compensating cities for their lost food tax revenue. This change would generate about $71 million for the state.

Meanwhile, Maestas has sponsored a measure to slightly raise the tax brackets on the highest earning taxpayers that would bring in $70 million a year (For example, taxpayers with income of $250,000 to $500,000 would pay a rate of 5.9%). Maestas notes that the highest bracket is 4.9%--a rate that applies whether you are making $500,000 a year or $50,000. The ABQ West Side lawmaker wisecracked:

I've always wanted to break into a higher tax bracket. Under current law I'm unable to.


Anxious Dems fear the R's will have a field day with any reinstatement of the food tax, even on junk food. They say that would be portrayed as a slap against working mothers who buy their kids a candy bar. Maestas agrees it's too hot to handle and besides, he rejects the notion of the state trying to get people to eat or not eat particular food items. "That's a nanny state mentality," he argues.

The food tax was killed in the recent session, but it's a favorite of Senate Finance Chairman John Arthur Smith who is also a refusenik when it comes to the surtax on high wage earners. The chairman's insistence on this perplexes some. His daddy was an itinerant road repair worker during the Great Depression. What would he think?

Any increase in the gross receipts tax will impact lower income households most. Soon to be Dem Guv nominee Diane Denish has come out in opposition to raising the tax, knowing she would be lambasted for it during the fall campaign.

But Denish and House Democrats who are on precarious political footing have no fall back position. If the Legislature approved that surtax on the wealthy as well as a small gross receipts increase, they could tell their base voters--thousands of low-paid working class New Mexicans and progressives--that they are indeed spreading the budget pain around. But what do they tell them when they don't?


Democrats are facing their first true test on the tax issue in decades. They have been able to ride in the low-tax parade all these years because there was such an abundance of cash. Big Bill's 2003 rollback of the state's tax brackets was nearly universally embraced during the Great Bull Market. Now during this Great Recession, the Dems are being asked to pivot, but Richardson, aligned with conservative state Senators, is unwilling to make the move. And so far, Denish is also stuck.

Not that the Republicans aren't also suffering from myopia when it comes to taxes. No matter the economic environment they have a simple mantra of tax cuts all the time. But Democrats in the Legislature may be setting themselves up for a fall by keeping the GOP base vote out of their sights and punishing their own. Don't say we didn't tell you.


Rep. Miera
Of course, we need more than tax increases. We need a lot more spending cuts. But how do you do that when over half the state budget funds public education and the education lobby has a stranglehold on the state House?

Educators have opposed an even 1% cut in funding. And the Legislature has been woefully ineffective in eliminating the administrative overhead in the schools that is one of the longest running jokes in the state.

Which leads to the question: Why is ABQ State Rep. Rick Miera, chairman of the House Education Committee, included as a top representative in the budget negotiations between the House and Senate? That role is traditionally reserved for the legislative leadership and chairs of the finance committees. But there Friday was Rick front and center coming out of the Guv's office with House leaders.

If the reason he is there is because so much of the budget is education, then why isn't Senate Education Committee Chair Cynthia Nava part of the budget talks? Or is Miera's presence a sign of just how out sized the muscle of the public education lobby has grown?

We're just asking...


With the start of the special session today we find it timely for another of our periodic installments of "If We Ruled the World." However, it’s not that much different from previous editions, so forgive any repetition.

For brevity’s sake, we’ve deleted the parts about winning the lottery, getting the girl and mandating that all restaurants carry flavored San Pellegrino (in the can).

First, pass a surtax on high income taxpayers that generates $80 million a year, then approve a quarter cent increase in the statewide gross receipts tax that effects everyone and will take in about $125 million; Fix that corporate tax loophole for Wal-Mart and other big box stores, raising around $50 million a year. We're now up to around $255 million.

If we must, do a quarter, not a dollar tax, on a pack of cigarettes. And beef up tax collections on out of state taxpayers that Speaker Lujan has talked about. And continue to redirect unspent capital outlay money to the general fund. We did about $150 million during the regular session. Let's go for another $100 million during the special. We still have well over a billion dollars of capital outlay, much of it unspent, sitting in state coffers.

We're now at about $400 million, and it's time for the spending cuts--if we ruled the world. We'd start with the sacred cow--public education. Cut 3% across the board and finally force the downsizing of the bloated administration at APS. If we also have to cancel some less popular school sports, so be it. The educators are probably right that the rest of it is messy and painful, but it's not exactly picnic time for thousands of New Mexicans on the firing line out here. Share the pain.

If we ruled the world we'd have the Legislature once and for all get rid of the political appointees that have become like leeches on the body politic. Cut several hundred and make it effective July 1st. While they're at it, make the state hiring freeze real--with truly no exceptions other than for real public safety concerns.

State employees are going to have take more furlough days--we have five this fiscal year--up that to eight or nine for the next year--and raise the amount they kick in for their retirement plan by another percent or so, but exempt workers making under $40,000 a year.

We'll stop there because we just realized we will not be ruling the world (geez, that stuff wears off fast) but you get the idea. Good luck, Santa Fe...


The bottom line when Pete Domenici Jr. reports his first round of fundraising tonight is that he is on track for having enough money to make a major TV buy for the June 1st primary.

Domenici's campaign says the GOP Guv contender raised about $200,000 since he entered the race January 17th. That's a respectable, but far from a scare the hell out of em' total for the son of retired US Senator Pete Domenici. But with his name ID already off the charts, Domenici will need less media money than a Susana Martinez or Allen Weh.

Still, the Alligators wonder, is this fella with the famous namesake capable of hitting a double or triple? So far, it's been all singles at best.

Martinez reported at the end of the year that she's raised about $300,000, but it took her five and half months compared to Domenci's $200k in six weeks. Wealthy businessman Allen Weh hasn't reported lately, but back in October he announced a loan to himself of over $250,000. He had over $370,000 cash on hand back then. Doug Turner also wrote himself a check for over $200,000. Janice Arnold-Jones last reported raising about $50,000.

Domenici's famous father has helped him raise money. And the young Domenici has grown more blatant in recent days in using his famous name as a campaign prop.

Several analysts we spoke with said there will come a time when voters begin judging Domenici separately from his father. However, they said that is more likely to happen in a general election turnout. Republican primary voters may not be as discerning, giving Domenici Jr. the benefit of the doubt as they hunger for a winner and a name that they know and like.

With about $200,000 raised, it is clear that Domenici will not go away, even if he fails to garner 20 percent of the delegates at the GOP preprimary convention March 13. He would file additional petition signatures, making him eligible for a ballot spot--and then start spending that money.

Domenici's money report comes on the heels of an independent poll showing him as the strongest contender against Dem Diane Denish (45-40). The poll and the money he has raised should aid him as he searches for elusive uncommitted preprimary delegates.


Weh has the money and can saturate the airwaves and mailboxes. But does he have the message and personality? Political pros like Turner's profile for the general election, but he has to make the 20 percent mark at the preprimary or he may be gone. Martinez is showing persistence, but needs more money to get herself known and then go after Domenici. Same for Arnold-Jones.

Domenici's foes tried to raise expectations for him and claimed they expected him to pick up $500,000 in six weeks. That, of course, was an unrealistic number especially given this economic backdrop. One question they have that will be answered later today: Did Domenici loan himself much money to reach the $200k mark? If he did, his detractors are sure to point it out.

As we've blogged, Domenici has stumbled out of the gate, but he ambles along with that neon name flashing wherever he roams. Expect the opposition campaigns to hit hard to disrupt that stride shortly after the preprimary.


We already have a spirited contest for the Dem nomination for Bernalillo County sheriff and now we're going to get one for county assessor. Former three term assessor Mark Carillo, who we mentioned has been eyeing the race, is now all in. Carillo, 56, says he will challenge incumbent Dem Karen Montoya who is seeking the nomination for a second term. The office traditionally goes Democratic in November, although not always.

The office has received a lot more attention than normal because of the controversy over "tax lightning," in which the property tax of new homeowners skyrockets.


Santa Fe Mayor David Coss is at 52% in the final New Mexican poll before tomorrow's city election. Challenger Asenath Kepler garners 28%. City Councilor Miguel Chavez scores 8% and undecided comes in at 9%. Coss has led throughout the campaign, but he kept the heat on in the final days, sending out a piece of lit that twice mentioned that Kepler, a former city manager, was a Republican. Santa Fe is one of the most Democratic cities in the state. The poll was taken last Tuesday and Wednesday

In Rio Rancho, Mayor Tom Swisstack is being challenged by former Mayor Jim Owen. We haven't seen anything that would lead you to believe Swisstack won't win re-election.


That's a cool retro picture of Betty Fiorina, the three term NM Secretary of State who died last week. If you're of a certain age it may remind you of the style of your mother or grandmother.

Democrat Fiorina served eight years. She won two terms at two years apiece and, in 1970, was the first SOS to win a four year term. One of her sons, Tom Fiorina, became a well-known Santa Fe municipal judge. He recalls his mother as a pacesetter for women in politics back in her day, as well as a lover of dogs.

She probably would have preferred that we mention the dogs first.

Betty Fiorina was 90.

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Friday, February 26, 2010

Fashion Hairstyle

Lacey Brown Hairstyle

Credit: Michael Becker/FOX

Lacey Brown, I love the look, soulfoul voice, she's cute and I love her hair too.
Her rendition of "What a Wonderful World" from Hollywood round was great and very endearing and what a great attitude about not getting through last year. I really liked Megan Joy (who got thru instead of her) but Megan didn't quite deliver although she was good. I'm glad Lacey was given another chance this week. Some people say her hairstyle is called "The Suspicious Duchess".

Thursday, February 25, 2010

NM Congress Trio In 2010 Polling Spotlight; Two Ahead & One Behind; Analysis From Across The Spectrum, Plus: Dr. No And Your Taxes

Lujan, Heinrich & Teague
The stream of polling we get this year won't always send political hearts aflutter as it did this week, but the first round of anything is always the most exciting and so it was this week as we received the first batch of numbers in all the major races for the 2010 cycle.

The final round of Public Policy Polling covering the three NM US House seats didn't deliver any major surprises but did provide plenty of food for thought. (Complete poll--horse race plus crosstabs here.)

ABQ Dem US Rep. Martin Heinrich beats GOP rival Jon Barela 45% to 36%. That is below the key 50% mark, but still a pretty comfortable position for an incumbent in a year such as this. The Barela campaign is hanging its hopes on the independent numbers. He leads in that disgruntled group 44-31. Heinrich is pulling 73% support among Dems, a good number in the early going in the majority Dem district.

Heinrich is the solid favorite, but Barela has reason to argue to national party types not to write this race off. Now if he could only raise some money from the numbers.


In that hot contest down south, the PPP poll confirmed the numbers released earlier in the week from an internal campaign poll done by GOP hopeful Steve Pearce. PPP scores 43% for Steve, while incumbent freshman Dem Harry Teague gets 41%. Pearce's poll had him leading 48% to 44%.

Pearce leads Teague 51% to 41% among independents, a key number for the challenger and one that Harry needs to improve on. It has been balky independents giving Dems headaches nationwide.


The northern congressional seat is notoriously difficult to poll and the PPP numbers need to be looked at with that in mind. Dem freshman Congressman Ben Ray Lujan is given a 42% to 36% lead over Farmington's Tom Mullins. Adam Kokesh is competing with Mullins for the GOP nomination. Lujan scores a 40-32 lead over him.

The Lujan numbers are low in this heavily Dem district, but some voters are difficult to reach via telephone or resist taking part on such surveys.

The PPP pollsters think Lujan is positioned well, but they report his unfavorable rating in the Feb. 18-20 poll is a high 40%. Just 31% giving him a good rating.

Insiders speculated over that. Was it a poor polling sample? Is Ben Ray taking a hit over his father, House Speaker Lujan, who was front and center during this poll presiding over a failed legislative session? Are liberals jumping ship, concerned that Obama and Lujan are not getting the job done on health care?

It's enough to make any freshman nervous, including Lujan, who does not need a Green Party candidate entering this race and peeling off precious Dem votes in the very heavy Dem district. So far there is none in sight.


Veteran NM pollster Brian Sanderoff expressed concern to me this week over the favorable/unfavorable ratings in this poll because they are all over the map. He also believes Big Bill's approval rating is higher than 28%, but it has declined. Sanderoff and I agreed that the big picture the poll shows has more significance. So beware the spinners who are trying to completely destroy the credibility of this survey.

The poll comes at a tricky time. The state's three congressmen are all seeking re-election for the first time. They will never be more vulnerable. And then there is the almost unprecedented political backdrop of a sour economy and angry voters.

While it is evident Teague has his hands full, there are going to be many sleepless nights for Heinrich and Lujan this year as these relative political neophytes try to navigate waters that would challenge even the most wily veteran.


The polls this week indicate that New Mexicans penchant for ticket splitting is still alive and well, despite the Dem sweep of 2008. The Governor's race showing Pete Domenici Jr. trailing Dem Diane Denish by only five--45-40--and the Pearce lead down south confirm that.


Domenici's camp described themselves as "ecstatic" over that poll showing him on the tail of Denish, but the euphoria didn't last long. Domenici came in dead last in a straw poll taken in Clovis Thursday night among those attending a debate between the five Guv candidates. Susana Martinez apparently rocked the house, packed with tea party types. She won 42% of the 139 votes cast; Allen Weh got 18%; Doug Turner 16%; Janice Arnold-Jones 12% and Domenici 11%. The group sponsoring the debate call themselves the High Plains Patriots. The Clovis News-Journal wrapped up the event.


The Politico's Josh Kraushaar covers our region for the DC based Web site and came with this. The money graphs:

The polls show Rep. Harry Teague (D-N.M.) trailing former GOP congressman Steve Pearce, freshman Rep. Ben Ray Lujan (D-N.M.) sporting an upside-down approval rating, and Rep. Martin Heinrich (D-N.M.) with unspectacular approval numbers.

New Mexico Democrats also can’t rely on President Obama to boost their support, as the president’s job disapproval rating is higher than his approval rating in both Teague’s and Lujan’s districts. In Heinrich’s district, as many voters (47 percent) disapprove of his work as approve (47 percent).


Not surprisingly, Big Bill's office is taking issue with the PPP poll finding him with a dismal approval rating of only 28 percent. They fault the methodology of the poll and come with this statement:

It's difficult to take this poll seriously when we’ve never heard of the pollster and he relies on unscientific polling methods with untrustworthy results.

A recent scientific poll, not commissioned by the Governor, showed his personal favorability at 44 percent, which is more consistent with other polls in recent months.

Obviously, Governor Richardson has had to be a leader during the budget crisis, cutting spending and ordering employee furloughs in order to balance the budget. The Governor was elected to do what’s in the best interest of all New Mexicans, and that's what he's doing.


We need to clarify how the PPP poll was taken. We blogged Thursday that it did not use a list of registered voters. But PPP's Tim Jensen emails in from headquarters in Raleigh, NC:

We do poll registered voters and do not use random digit dialing. For the poll we conducted over the weekend those called were people who had voted in at least one of the last three even year general elections.

If you'll review the polling from the 2008 election in New Mexico you'll see we came within two points of getting the final outcome right, while no other pollster came within five.

And a New Mexico GOP campaign operative of long experience describes the issue with automatic calling by PPP:

If you look at their poll scripts, there aren't any screener questions (are you registered to vote, likely to vote, etc)...they just accept whomever answers the phone and starts pushing buttons. These type of public polls are really just cheap ways for these companies to promote themselves.

Whatever the case, most everyone agrees that the polls--automated or otherwise--show the general direction of the races and the mood of the electorate. But they are, as the pollsters are fond of saying, only a snapshot in time.


Was that a hint of flexibility we detected on the part of state Senate Finance Committee Chair John Arthur "Dr. No" Smith when it comes to nudging up the tax on the wealthy to help solve the state's epic revenue shortfall?

The good doctor was asked what tax hikes are still in play as the legislative leadership seeks a budget deal before the start of the special session Monday.

"The ones that were in play before are still in play," he said, referring to proposals to increase the state's gross receipts tax rate, impose a sales tax on certain "non-nutritional" food items and enact a surtax on higher earning New Mexicans, among others.

That surtax won approval in the more liberal House during the recent 30 day session, but died in the senate.

Smith is now saying that the shortfall for the budget year starting July 1st could be more on the order of $800 million than the $500 to $600 million previously estimated.

Is that now gargantuan number what Smith needs for cover to finally begin the process of "sharing the pain" of this budget wreck among all taxpayers, including the well-off?

The AP reported that the House measure imposes a 1.5 percent surtax on upper-income New Mexicans for three years. Married couples would pay the surtax on taxable income of more than $200,000 if they file joint returns. Single taxpayers would pay the surtax on income of more than $133,000. The surtax would provide $67 million next year. The bill passed 36-32.

Democrats in support of the surtax argue that the party is dangerously out of touch with the populist mood of the electorate. Increases in the gross receipts tax--which will likely also be part of any budget solution--impact lower income taxpayers most. If the Dems don't also touch the well-off, they risk losing support among their base voters.

While Governor Richardson has been implacable when it comes to rolling back the tax cuts for the wealthy he won in 2003, he could conceivably support the surcharge as it does not tamper with those rates. House Speaker Lujan, Bill's major legislative ally, is in full support. That indicates the Guv could agree to the surtax.

Thanks for checking in here this week.

Email your news and comments.

Reporting to you from Albuquerque, New Mexico, I'm Joe Monahan.

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Wednesday, February 24, 2010

Denish Vs. Domenici? More Likely In Wake Of New Poll; She Leads Him By Just 5, Plus: More NM Politics On Your Thursday Blog

Denish vs. Domenici?
The 2010 race for the GOP Guv nomination was reshaped Wednesday with the release of an independent poll showing Pete Domenici Jr. the only one of the five R candidates within striking distance of Democrat Diane Denish. Di, soon to be the Dem Guv nominee, had 45% to Pete Jr's 40% in the Public Policy Polling. The poll is going to be very hard to ignore in the elite circles of the state GOP and in the money circles that will feed this contest in the months ahead. Complete poll here.

No other GOP candidate comes even close to the Light Guv in the survey taken from a sample of 990 New Mexicans from Feb. 18th to 20th. She trounces the rest of the Republican field. It's 48-30 over Allen Weh, 47-33 over Janice Arnold-Jones, and 46-32 against Susana Martinez and Doug Turner.

Domenici's foes, especially Martinez, were quick to denounce the favorable Pete Jr. poll as merely reflecting the name ID of his famous father, retired US Senator Pete Domenici. But the same could have been said of Gary King, son of former Governor Bruce King and now NM attorney general. Or of Ben Ray Lujan, son of House Speaker Ben Lujan, and who now sports the title of congressman on his business cards.

It will take millions more in campaign money for Domenici’s foes to get anywhere near his name ID and that can't but help influence uncommitted delegates to next months GOP preprimary convention. This poll is going to have them taking another hard look at the race before they cast their votes.

Domenici is currently in danger of coming up short of 20% of the delegates needed to get an official spot on the June 1 primary ballot. This poll could move some of the uncommitted to Domenici and that 20 percent.

Without reaching the 20 percent, Domenici's foes would have some credibility in questioning his legitimacy. With the 20 percent, he would be the clear front runner for the nomination.


Domenici has been accused of being lifeless and lacking charisma, but his campaign sprang to life upon the release of the poll. They described themselves as “ecstatic” and said: "(Denish) should have a double digit lead over all other opponents at this time. The opposite is true.”

For her part, Di is anticipating that she will face off with Domenici in November. That’s clear by the increased flow of negative news releases emanating from NM Dem Party headquarters about the 50 year old environmental attorney.

Her camp is pragmatic, mindful of the plunge of Big Bill’s popularity to the 28 percent level in the PPP poll. That insures that the cries of “Richardson-Denish” from the R's will soon grow louder than a worked up Pit crowd at a Lobo-BYU game.

This poll and the one conducted by a NMSU class also showing Domenici out distancing the field will create an air of inevitably about his nomination among casual Republican observers. The onus will be on the opposition campaigns to dispel that notion and get in the way of any stampede developing among the party rank and file.


The Alligators looking at that PPP poll tell us the firm polls mainly for Democrats and employs automatic phone calls. If they did live interviews with confirmed registered voters from a voter list, Governor Bill’s miserable 28% approval rating might be higher. The same goes for the tepid 48% approval ratings given Dem US Senators Tom Udall and Jeff Bingaman. They normally both poll near 60 percent approval.

However, Tim Jensen of PPP emails in that the firm uses a list of registered voters "who had voted in at least one of the last three even year general elections."

And there’s no questioning the current anti-incumbent trend. Both senators are thankful it is not their turn to face angry voters this year and Big Bill wishes he were somewhere else--even on a houseboat carreening out of control on Elephant Butte Lake.


We interviewed with KRQE-TV”s Kaitlin McCarthy about Big Bill's bad numbers. That report and the video is here.


Our post Wednesday on that heated email exchange between Bernalillo County GOP chairman Rick Abraham and Whitney Cheshire, campaign manger for GOP Guv candidate Allen Weh, made its way to the National Journal's Hotline in D.C. Here's how they played it:

The chairman of the Bernalillo Co. GOP is alleging a leading GOP GOV candidate physically assaulted a staffer, according to a string of emails made public by a NM political blog.

In an angry back-and-forth, Bernalillo Co. GOP chair Rick Abraham told Whitney Cheshire that her candidate, ex-NM GOP chair Allen Weh (R), acted inappropriately during an altercation at the state conventions this weekend. Cheshire is Weh's campaign manager.

"Your candidate physically attacked one of my staff members in front of many witnesses and others, including myself, received verbal attacks from your staff," Abraham wrote to Cheshire, according to emails posted by well-respected NM blogger Joe Monahan today...


The bear market rolls on in New Mexico with word that Doug Vaughan, a fixture for decades on the ABQ are areal estate scene, is declaring both business and personal bankruptcy. Folks who invested with him are in for big losses. The Vaughan Company was one of those iconic signs that sprouted everywhere during the great real estate bubble. No more.


In a bit of a departure with tradition, GOP Bernalillo County Commissioner Michael Wiener has endorsed William Kurth for the R nomination for county sheriff. Kurth, a retired APD command level officer, faces retired sheriff's captain Dan Houston.

Wiener backed Kurth when the county commission appointed Dem Manny Gonzales to fill the vacancy left when Darren White went to work for the city of ABQ.

The Houston camp says it has its share of prominent endorsements as well, citing backing from former Bernalillo County Sheriff and APD chief Bob Stover.

The R nomination is worth having. It is the one county office where the GOP has had historical success, despite the Dem registration advantage in the county.

Gonzales is seeking election to the post he was appointed to and faces several rivals for the Dem nomination.

An ABQ reader writes of government employment and the state budget shortfall:

Public payrolls have become so large they are an interest group that trumps all others and makes them immune to the same unemployment suffered by the taxpayers who are facing tax increases to spare their employees any pain from the decline in state revenues. The purpose of government is now to sustain itself.

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

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Tuesday, February 23, 2010

Operatives Gone Wild: Party Chair & Weh Manager Threaten To Call Cops On Each Other, Plus: The Polls: Big Bill's Big Collapse & Teague Down By 4

  • First independent polling out today on 2010 NM Governor's race: Dem Diane Denish Denish leads Republican Pete Domenici Jr., the son of the state’s long time Senator 45-40. She holds wider margins against the other R's.--48-30 over Allen Weh, 47-33 over Janice Arnold-Jones, and 46-32 against Susana Martinez and Doug Turner. More here.
Cheshire & Abraham
Big Bill’s polling numbers collapse and the Special Session of the NM Legislature to deal with the budget crisis is moved from today until Monday. Details and analysis on those big stories coming, but first this news:

The high-stakes, go for broke race for the 2010 GOP Guv nomination is bursting into flames again. Rick Abraham, chairman of the Bernalillo County Republican Party, has been threatened with police action by Whitney Cheshire, campaign manager for gubernatorial candidate Allen Weh, and Abraham in turn threatens to call the cops on her.

The dispute broke out when Cheshire asked Abraham about getting refunds for persons who paid up to $25 to go to Saturday's Bernalillo County GOP convention, but who did not attend. The convention selected delegates to the critical March state preprimary convention where the Guv candidates, including Weh, will ask delegates to give them official spots on the ballot.

In one email provided to us by the Alligators, Cheshire unloads on Abraham, saying county party incompetence caused Weh delegates to be turned away and refunds are due. She then rages:

Rick, I am sorry that your point of view prevents you from behaving rationally at this point. There are too many inaccuracies listed in your email for me to mess with right now but...if you ever threaten a member of my staff again, either verbally or physically, we won't just threaten to call the police, we will in fact file a criminal complaint against you. I would suggest, however, that for the next few days, you and ALL PARTIES WHO HAVE BEEN INVOLVED IN VERBAL ALTERCATIONS take a deep breath and back off. We are tired of being abused by you and the staff on other campaigns and remind you that all of those attacks occurred in public as well.

The equally hot-tempered Abraham is captured in this retort to Cheshire:

My volunteers, staff and officers are tired of your "bully-style" tactics. We will no longer tolerate any more verbal or physical abuse by your campaign or candidate and we will notify the authorities if this abuse continues occur.

You will get any information I am REQUIRED TO give you when I am REQUIRED TO give it. I have been fair, tolerant and accommodating...and have been treated poorly and abusively. Since you are not big enough to apologize and want confrontation with me, I am going to do ONLY what I am required to do for you, nothing more!

The sensational emails come on the heels of a recent warning letter sent to all the GOP Guv candidates by GOP Chair Harvey Yates Jr. asking them to cool the negativity. Fat chance of that.

Weh already has a reputation for volatility. The email exchange by his campaign manger will serve only to reinforce it. The entire string of emails between Cheshire and Abraham can be seen here.

Meanwhile, Democrats who claim the R's will again destroy themselves in an orgy of cannibalism even as their chances of taking power grow, are looking more prescient with each burst of flame.


If Republicans descend into fratricide, they may be blowing a good opportunity. The bottom has fallen out of the approval rating for Democratic Governor Bill Richardson with Public Policy Polling saying a mere 28% approve of the job he is doing and a stunning 63% of the voters disapprove. The firm offered a preview of the poll with additional details to come today.

This disastrous plunge makes Big Bill "one of the least popular Governors in the country," according to PPP. The crash comes after months of scandal headlines and after the Governor narrowly dodged a federal indictment. Also feeding the anti-Richardson frenzy is a terrible economy that has cost thousands of jobs here and an historic budget shortfall that the Governor and Legislature have been unable to resolve .

The last public polling of Richardson by the ABQ Journal was last September when 51% of those surveyed approved of his performance.

The lame-duck governor now indeed may become a noose around the neck of Light Guv Diane Denish, soon to be the 2010 Dem Guv nominee. Analysts have been curious whether the R's have been overplaying their hand in light of Bill's relatively decent approval ratings, but this latest poll puts to bed with certainty any doubts about the strategy. Denish isn't going to have to walk away from Richardson; she's going to break into the fastest sprint ever run by a 60 year old around here.

This is a bitter end for Big Bill who has always prided himself on his political acumen and ability to hold public approval in a variety of circumstances. But it has been all downhill since he was forced to withdraw his name from consideration as Obama's Commerce Secretary because of the scandals here.

Everyone knew Richardson was overreaching when he raised $13 million for his Guv re-election bid and another $20 million for his presidential campaign. The inevitable conflicts of interest continue to surface like corpses bobbing up from the bottom of a fetid river.


The lousy economy has also shackled this Democratic Governor. But he has helped imprison himself, by continuing to ignore the severity of the crisis and refusing to shed expensive political appointees or offering a comprehensive plan for solving the fiscal crisis. His refusal to raise taxes on the wealthy after rolling them back in 2003 and thus ignoring the Obama strategy, further isolates Richardson from the working classes who have over the years provided him with a bedrock of support.

Not that Richardson's fate is unusual for a New Mexican Governor. Gary Johnson, Bruce King and Toney Anaya all finished their terms with approval ratings in the cellar. But none of them was a politician of national stature like Richardson.

Eight years is a long time in the spotlight, even in good times. The PPP survey shows even Dems disapprove of his performance 47% to 42%. The firm will release more polling info today, including some on the Governor's race.


Richardson's bad polling news is only going to further marginalize him in his final months in office and in the upcoming special session of the Legislature, now moved to Monday instead of today to give the leadership more time to cut a deal.

That deal, as we previously blogged, will likely be done on a set of numbers that overestimate state revenues for the budget year that starts July 1st, necessitating another special session, probably as soon as August. The state faces at least a $600 million shortfall, but it may grow even more when new revenue projections are released in April--well after the conclusion of the special.

All 70 members of the state House are up for re-election this year. With each new day, compromise with the Senate becomes even more difficult as November is that much closer.

Pearce & Teague
Ask any Democrat who tracks such things and they will tell you southern Dem US Rep. Harry Teague is doing everything right to win a second term to the southern congressional seat. But then they will ask: "Is it enough?"

A poll commissioned by Teague's challenger, former three term southern US Rep. Steve Pearce, shows how the political climate has changed since Teague was swept into office on a Dem wave in 2008, getting 56 percent of the vote. He was the first Democrat elected to the US House seat there since 1980.

In the new poll, conducted among 401 registered voters Feb. 16 thru 18, Pearce leads Teague 48% to 44% with 8% undecided. (MOE 4.9%) It is the first poll of this race. We await independent polling, but there's not much reason to doubt these findings. The Tarrance Group said:

Despite a 12-point advantage in Democratic registration, the political environment greatly benefits Republicans. On the generic ballot, the Republican holds a 10-point generic advantage over the Democrat currently, 47% to 37%...

It's not that voters have an intense dislike towards Teague. For the moment, he is being overwhelmed by a "throw the bums out" attitude.

To illustrate the point, look at this. Teague has only been in office 13 months, but Tarrance reports:

On a soft re-elect question, a strong plurality of voters already agree that it is time to turn Teague out of office. Forty-seven percent (47%) of voters say that it is time to give a new person a chance as Congressman, while only 38% of voters say that Teague has done a good enough job to deserve re-election.

The poll indicates Harry's headaches are being caused by a general dissatisfaction with Obama, Congress and a lousy economy impacting a traditionally conservative district.

Teague has worked the region relentlessly, brought in cabinet secretaries to bolster his profile and delivered pork to key constituencies. He has voted against Obama when he needed to, especially on health care. His avuncular personality matches up nearly perfectly with the district. But the anti-Democratic mood in a district that normally votes Republican on federal races has been too swift for Teague to get ahead of.

Pearce's recent statements pick up on the anti-incumbent fever. He is now saying he is not happy with many of the things Republicans have done, even though he served six years in the House and voted in lock-step with the Bush White House. You can call Steve the "anti-incumbent incumbent."

Pearce also may be benefiting from simple name ID. Believe it or not, we get reports of southern residents not knowing that Teague is now their congressman and not Pearce. It often takes more than one election for folks in a sprawling, rural district to get to know who their representative is. Advantage Pearce.


Both Pearce and Teague are below the magic 50% number, so the race is still very much in play. Will the mood improve or worsen between now and November? Will Teague start spending earlier and heavier than planned to stop further erosion? What do the numbers in key Democratic Dona Ana County look like? The poll doesn't say, but insiders speculate it may be only four or five points, instead of a double digit lead that Dem Teague needs there.

Tarrance concludes that if the election were held today Teague would lose. To turn it his way, Teague has to continue to do everything right, including going on TV early to let people know who he is and bolstering his conservative credentials. Pearce has to guard against shrillness that could cause voters to back off of him when the camera comes in for the close-up.

From a politically busy Albuquerque, I'm Joe Monahan reporting.

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Monday, February 22, 2010

Wall-Leaners Say More Budget Delusion Expected In Special, Plus: Mayor Berry & Guv Race, Also: Obama Job For Big Bill Ally

  • Update: Guv delays start of Special Session from Wednesday until Monday, March 1. Legislative leaders had asked for more time to come up with budget deal.
Nothing much has changed. As it has in two previous sessions, the NM Legislature appears poised to go three for three and kick the budget mess down the road yet again. Conversations with wall-leaners all contain the same thread--politicians will inflict as little pain as they can get away with. That means they will probably do their duty of producing a balanced budget for the year that begins July 1st, but it will very likely be based on faulty assumptions, setting us up for yet another special session.

Senate President Pro Tem Tim Jennings, like the other 111 members of the Legislature, will ultimately participate in this budget illusion, but in a letter to the papers, he acknowledges the flim-flam: projected to be $5.1 billion, or 6 percent more than the state is receiving this year. But no one I know who runs a business is planning on revenue growth of 6 percent, and no workers I know are counting on getting a 6 percent pay raise next year, so it is hard to imagine that state revenue will grow that much next year. If growth is only 2 percent, the state will be short $200 million...

So that could take the budget shortfall easily over $800 million.
But the rules of reality do not apply at the capitol and come somewhere around Sunday--voila!--the special session will have a balanced budget.

There's nothing like Santa Fe Kool-Aid to take the pain away. (Not for sale at retail outlets, available exclusively at the Roundhouse).

Mayor Berry
A little subplot to the GOP Guv race is playing out at ABQ's City Hall. Will new Republican Mayor RJ Berry endorse Susana Martinez for the nomination or continue his neutral stance?

Darren White, former GOP Bernalillo County Sheriff, endorsed Martinez shortly before going on the city payroll as public safety director. Jay McCleskey was Berry's key consultant in his successful mayoral run last year and McCleskey now consults Martinez, the Dona Ana County district attorney.

And there's another twist. City Councilors Michael Cook and Dan Lewis are aboard the Pete Domenici Jr. train. Both of those new GOP Councilors opposed Mayor Berry's selection of David Campbell as chief administrative officer? Also, Doug Antoon, the campaign manager for the Lewis council campaign, is now campaign manager for Domenici. He egged on the opposition to Campbell.

Berry could deliver a blow to those councilors by going with Martinez, but so far has resisted pressure to endorse. He leads a city with a Democratic majority and there doesn't seem much in it for him--except grief--if he starts to become too partisan.

Also, to have the most impact, Berry's endorsement would probably need to come before the mid-March GOP preprimary convention. But if Martinez falters, Berry would be associated with a loser and shut out by the eventual GOP Guv winner.

Pay back to his consultant and twisting the knife in rebellious city councilors seem to be the only satisfaction Berry could get from making a Martinez endorsement. The safe course is to resist the pressure, wait and endorse the June primary winner. We'll see.


Pete Domenici Jr. fessed up to having snorted cocaine in his more youthful days, and now fellow GOP Guv contender Janice Arnold-Jones takes her turn in the confessional. But she says there's not much to disclose. She told KKOB-AM radio's Jim Villanucci that her drug experience is limited to having smoked one "marijuana cigarette." She also revealed that she once bought a pack of regular cigarettes and smoked nine of the 20.

No problem, Janice. As your penance, say two "Our Fathers" and three "Hail Marys." Afterwards, meet us at Starbucks and pony up those 11 cigarettes you didn't smoke and that you're still hiding in your purse.


We blogged Monday of how national political handicapper Stu Rothenberg has not listed the battle for the ABQ congressional seat featuring Dem incumbent Martin Heinrich and Republican Jon Barela on his races in play list. So what about that hot congressional race down south? That does grab the handicapper's attention. He has moved that race from "toss-up" to "toss-up/ tilt GOP." (Talk about nuance).

Dem freshman US House Rep. Harry Teague has to continue to worry that any conservative tide will wash across his district. GOP contender Steve Pearce, who held the seat before Harry, is well-known and well-financed. But Teague has avoided letting the race slip into the "lean Republican" column because he still has heavily Democratic Dona Ana County as a hole card and, if necessary, the personal funds to take the race to the finish line.

This one caught our eye because there was an intense behind-the-scenes battle last year over Terry Brunner becoming state director of the USDA's Rural Development Program. Brunner, former state director to Dem US Senator Jeff Bingaman, drew competition from Robert Apodaca, Local Government Director for the Department of Finance and Administration. Brunner won out, but now Apodaca, a native of Taos, and an ally of Big Bill, gets his own presidential appointment to the same department as Brunner:

Governor Richardson congratulated Robert Apodaca, on his appointment by President Obama to serve in the U.S. Agriculture Department. The President has appointed Apodaca to oversee the Natural Resources Conservation Service for the Western United States. The Service provides products and services that enable people to be good stewards of the Nation’s soil, water, and related natural resources on non-Federal lands...

Well, Terry and Robert finally have something they can agree on--getting Obama re-elected so they can keep their plum jobs.

So what about Obama and Bingaman filling the US attorney and US Marshal's positions here? The scuttlebutt has Assistant US Attorney Ken Gonzales, a former Bingaman aide, as the US attorney pick, but nothing has been announced and the administration is now 13 months old. The less controversial slot of US Marshall is also still held by a Republican. What's the hold-up there, Jeff?


Out with some of the posse last night and here's some of what was on the table besides the prime rib:

--ABQ Dem State Rep. Karen Giannini was nominated as the most vulnerable state House member for 2010. The motion was seconded by our waitress and passed unanimously.

--Who will be first to launch negative radio or TV ads against fellow GOP Guv candidate Pete Domenici Jr.--Allen Weh or Susana Martinez? The answer is....Allen Weh

--The month for the next special legislative session to do the budget work that won't get done in the special session that will start Wednesday? It will be August, said the feasting Alligators

--Was that really Susana Martinez seen scarfing up the free fajitas at Pete Domenici Jr's hospitality room at the weekend Bernalillo County GOP convention? Yes, and it confirms her standing as a true fiscal conservative...

And the beat goes on...

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Sunday, February 21, 2010

Focus On Domenici: Weak Convention Showing, But Strong Poll, Plus: Harvey's Heartburn: GOP Chair Calls For Cease-Fire As Guv Race Turns Fierce

Domenici Jr.
Bernalillo County Republicans have thrown up a roadblock in front of the gubernatorial candidacy of Pete Domenici Jr., signaling an even more intense and competitive race for the 2010 Guv nomination. But Domenici's camp downplays their candidate's poor showing at Saturday's county convention where delegates were selected for next month's preprimary convention.

Insiders say it appears former GOP Chairman Allen Weh received the most convention support, followed by ABQ State Rep. Janice Arnold-Jones and Dona Ana County District Attorney Susana Martinez. Domenici and Doug Turner were seen trailing. Domenici's camp points out he did not get into the race until mid-January and that the other candidates have been out on the hustings for months, organizing for the county conventions. But Domenici carries the baggage of high expectations.

There was his lackluster announcement speech, his unexpected admission of cocaine use in the early 80's and now the poor convention showing in the county where his father built a fabled political career. Taken together, these events have stalled an initial aura of inevitability that may have been forming over the Domenici candidacy.

Because of his last name, Domenici, son of retired Senator Pete Domenici, remains formidable and the early leader. A poll conducted Feb. 9-13 by the class of NMSU poly sci professor Jose Garcia shows Domenici leading the five way GOP race with 29.3 percent. Martinez comes in second with 11.5; Weh is at 7.4; Turner gets 6.8; and Arnold-Jones comes with 2.5 percent. But the big winner was undecided with 43%, showing the still wide-open nature of the race.

The poll was taken before Domenici made news by admitting he used marijuana and cocaine in the late 70's and early 80's. Several of our analysts said that charge is probably going to have to be hammered harder to make a difference, and even then may fall flat among an electorate not easily surprised by such revelations among Baby Boomer candidates.

Weh says the NMSU poll is biased in favor of Martinez, Professors Garcia's hometown favorite. But neither Weh or anyone else in the political community seriously doubts that Domenici is the name ID leader and that's the only thing any poll at this early stage is really going to measure. A Martinez sympathizer comes with perspective on that:

Domenici's numbers are entirely based on superior name recognition (in this case, name ID that has little to do with his own identity) and therefore his numbers are a mile-wide and an inch-deep.

Expect the hits on Domenici to get harder as his foes work to define him before he can get the job done himself. But with absentee voting set to start in just 10 weeks, those hits may soon have to come via the paid airwaves if they are to have the desired effect. Weh's personal money makes him best positioned, but the retired Marine officer may have to pull the trigger sooner than planned and fire more expensive ammo. Turner also has cash but will stay positive and hope the fighting will open a path for him. Martinez is not exactly cash challenged, but neither is she flush. Arnold-Jones has to broaden her appeal statewide. Domenici's financial standing is not yet known. The campaign says it will make monthly disclosures.


Domenici's weekend convention showing reveals he has a lot of hat and no cattle. In other words, not much organization. How far will that famous name carry him? If he unexpectedly failed to score 20 percent of the delegates at the March preprimary and was denied an official spot on the ballot, would his ability to raise money become an issue? (If you don't get the 20 percent, you file additional petition signatures to get on the ballot).

Domenici operatives are playing down the convention process and trying to seize the "outsider" label to attract R voters who don't participate in party activities or campaigns. Can he get enough of them to the polls?

As we've blogged before, not winning that 20 percent would set up a historical challenger for the political newcomer: No candidate has ever won a primary election without getting that magic number. But no one with a name as big as Domenici has ever attempted to overturn history's verdict.

Also, many of the delegates going to the state preprimary are still uncommitted, keeping that 20 percent target well within Pete Jr's sights. And then there's Senator Domenici and former Congresswoman Heather Wilson lurking in the background. That muscle raises expectations that Domenici the Younger will be spared the embarrassment of falling short of getting an official ballot spot. (Yes, we're assuming Heather endorses Pete Jr.).


The Domenici name is now being played up even more. The campaign began with the slogan: Domenici: Governor for a New New Mexico. A new logo they are circulating sports the slogan: Domenici--A Trusted Name in Public Service.

Hey, you go with what you got.

Domenici's bumpy early start has shown that while he has the DNA of a political legend, he didn't inherit the experience. His test on the brightly lit statewide stage of La Politica will ultimately be taken by him not his father. So far, there are more differences than similarities between the two.

GOP Chair Yates
Political junkies like us may be enjoying the internecine GOP warfare, but it is already worrying GOP Chairman Harvey Yates, Jr. who is calling on the candidates to cool it. Harvey is getting heartburn over the outbreak of negative campaigning among the five rivals, as revealed in this memo he sent to the Guv hopefuls and obtained by our Alligators:

Our polling suggests that a Republican has an excellent chance of being elected governor. However, this will not happen if the Republican diminished by negative statements aimed by one Republican against another. Further, negative statements are particularly disgusting when they are based on half-truth or sloppy reasoning.

There are many folks who desire that we Republicans win the upcoming election...The possibility of satisfying their desire will be thwarted if overblown candidate egos get in the way of good judgment..If a candidate cannot run his or her race by clearly stating a positive message aimed at enhancing Republican chances in November, rather than diminishing them, that candidate needs to drop out of the gubernatorial race.

Harvey is throwing a Hail Mary if he hopes to get any of these folks to back off now. As he notes, the smell of blood is in the water--Democratic blood--and the feeding frenzy over this coveted nomination is only in the early innings. Still, Harvey's heckling may inhibit the candidates from personal assaults like who wet the bed when they were a kid and who has body piercings on undisclosed locations. Otherwise, this thing is headed into the tar pits.


Democrats are anxiously watching from the sideline this riveting GOP primary battle. Does Domenici's bumpy start give a lift to Allen Weh, the front runner for the nomination before Domenici got in? The D's are wishing for it, believing Weh is the easiest of the GOP entrants to take out in November.

The early scrapping--soon to likely go full-fledged nuclear--is also very welcome to the Dems as Lt. Governor Diane Denish, to be crowned the 2010 Dem Guv nominee, faces enough problems trying to finesse a disastrous legislative session and the special session to come this week. Harvey's greatest fear is Di's greatest hope--a Republican circular firing squad.

Rep. Heinrich
With the change in the political climate, the New Mexico governor's office appears to be more in play for the Republicans than six months ago, but what about the ABQ congressional race? Given that climate change should one also expect a closer contest between Dem incumbent Martin Heinrich and GOP challenger Jon Barela? Perhaps. But national political handicapper Stu Rothenberg doesn't even list the ABQ contest among the 74 House races he sees as being in play in 2010.

When Republican Heather Wilson held the seat, the race was always listed as a race to watch. But the district's registration is majority Democrat. Now that the Dems have one of their own in the seat after a 40 year drought, it may be more difficult for Barela and the R's to assemble the old coalition of D's and R's that kept the seat in their column. Heinrich not making any major screw-ups isn't helping them either.


From GOP land commission candidate Spiro Vassilopoulos:

Spiro didn’t shorten his last name to make life easier and he won’t short-change the State of New Mexico...

From former NM GOP Governor Dave Cargo on the race between the five current GOP Guv candidates:

They are fighting it out for last place!

From KKOB-AM radio political reporter Peter St. Cyr:

Geez, the GOP candidates are going to go negative to pull even with Domenici. That will use up financial resources in the primary. Will the R's have time to reload to battle Denish's millions in the general?


That bill we blogged about that would have moved state funds out of the big national banks and into local ones and that drew national media attention to Dem Santa Fe State Rep. Brian Egolf never did make it out of the Legislature. It had passed the House, but died in the Senate.

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