News & Views Blog
Part two of two: Enticing business growth is itself a tricky business
July 24, 2015
By Carroll Cagle
Do tax cuts or other incentives -- if well thought out and targeted – bring in more tax dollars to the government (by stimulating business growth) than the government would get by keeping the higher rate in place?
In our first part of this two-parter we published a quote from the Legislative Finance Committee (LFC) which reveals a tilt toward the necessity, and benefits, of keeping government programs “adequately” financed with tax dollars.
Some business and free-market leaders have long advocated for something called “dynamic scoring.” The LFC’s approach assumes a tax cut reduces tax dollars coming in would mean less money for good programs, and always will – thus a bad thing.
Dynamic scoring means attempting to measure the “dynamic” doings of the economy and that tax cuts would ultimately bring in more than they “cost.”
Promoters of dynamic scoring say that easing up on taxes on an economic sector, or individual business, might reduce tax revenues momentarily but ultimately the resulting economic growth would cause tax revenues to actually increase – a lower rate but spread over a bigger, and growing, sector. Dynamic scoring purports to measure the results of these broader economic activities.
Yet, the proponents and opponents of dynamic scoring can scarcely agree on anything.
The conservative, pro-business editorial writers for the Wall Street Journalsay this, for example:
“The Joint Tax Committee… scores tax bills with little regard for their impact on economic behavior in the real world. Thus it scores a tax rate increase as if taxpayers will keep doing roughly what they're doing even if their marginal rate rises to, say, 44 percent from 35 percent. Tax cuts are scored as if they will hardly change the incentives to work or invest. Recall Joint Tax’s chronic underestimates of federal revenue following the Bush tax cuts on capital of 2003.”
Yet, a totally different take on the Bush tax cuts of 2003 come in The New York Times (not surprisingly) from (surprisingly) none other than a key player on tax cuts during the eras of Ronald Reagan and Jack Kemp and the infamous “Laffer Curve” which purports to show that tax cuts end up increasing tax revenues. Here is what economist Bruce Bartlettwrote in a Times blog about a study by the conservative Heritage Foundation on the 2003 cuts:
“According to Heritage’s ‘dynamic’ forecast, federal revenue should have reached $3.5 trillion in 2012 with the (2003) Bush tax cuts in place. In fact, they were only $2.5 trillion.”
A few years ago, the New Mexico legislature looked into the idea of using dynamic scoring but the notion never really took hold. Republican Sue Wilson Beffort, a state senator from Albuquerque, liked the idea but tells New Mexico Prosperity Project that actually doing it seems too complex and is unlikely to get enough traction.
And the LFC puts it this way: “Dynamic fiscal analysis is both costly and time intensive. Further, dynamic analysis involves a high degree of uncertainty because the assumptions on which the analysis is based are subject to a wide range of interpretation.”
Part one of two: Enticing business growth is itself a tricky business
July 22, 2015
By Carroll Cagle
The political and economic arguments are quite familiar -- both in New Mexico and on the national and even international stages.
Liberals (“progressives”) and most Democrats tend to view tax cuts and other “growth incentives” as being giveaways to business, and in particular big business -- something to oppose.
Conservative, pro-business and free-market types tend to say that passing laws to cut taxes or otherwise help create new businesses or expand existing ones more than pays for itself, in that even though tax revenue to the government may be reduced momentarily, as economic growth then occurs, even more revenues will flow in to the government.
The arm-wrestling over which is the better way to go then descends into a type of analysis that few have heard of -- but which is, or at least should be, the foundation for logical decision-making. The type of analysis is variously called “dynamic analysis” or “dynamic scoring.”
Despite the cryptic description, the issue is fairly simple: Do tax cuts and other benefits to business, in fact, grow the economy – and if so, by how much? Do these changes, even though reducing tax inflow to the government in the short term, more than make up for it via “growing the pie” even though a slice was taken out of the original smaller pie?
Trying to estimate what might happen with tax changes (either up or down) is generally referred to as dynamic analysis (if talking about the broad economy) or dynamic scoring (if talking about the results from a narrowly focused, one-industry or even one-company tax incentive law).
What the experts think (and say and write) can be fairly easily predicted by “where they are coming from” in terms of their political philosophy. Liberals tend to think expanding government programs, which cost tax dollars, is a good thing. Conservatives say that if you tax more, businesses tend to hunker down and do less expansion and hiring, thus the economy contracts and even though the taxes were raised the actual tax influx is less because the underlying economy shrinks as a result of the added tax cost.
Liberal Democrats in the New Mexico legislature tended to disfavor proposals in the 2015 and 2013 sessions put forth by the Republican governor, Susana Martinez -- even though they did pass and were signed into law by Martinez. A headline on the Albuquerque Journal’sanalysis of this approach makes clear that whether these are causing the desired results is as yet unknown: “Are tax incentives working? Jury’s still out”
The legislature, over many decades, was controlled by Democratic majorities; thus the “permanent staff” of the legislature tends to be aligned with Democratic political philosophy, as is indicated by this languagefrom the Legislative Finance Committee about one of the tax-cut bills introduced this year by the new chairman of the appropriations committee in the newly-Republican house of representatives:
“This bill may be counter to the LFC tax policy principle of adequacy, efficiency and equity. Due to the increasing cost of tax expenditures revenues may be insufficient to cover growing recurring appropriations.”
The language, which is standard LFC wording for tax-cut bills, seems based on the premise that assuring the government gets “adequate” money from the taxpayers – even enough to cover “growing recurring” spending -- is a prime objective. As opposed to making sure the taxpayers have “adequate” money to cover their own spending, rather than having it siphoned off to pay for government.
This is part one of a two-part series. Next: A look at the struggles over whether tax cuts or incentives more than pay for themselves, or are misguided gifts to business.
The sanctuary cities issue and New Mexico
July 15, 2015
By Carroll Cagle
Suddenly, the issue of “sanctuary cities” has become the hottest spot within the already-hot issue of immigrants – particularly of the illegal or undocumented type. (Even the descriptor, “illegal or undocumented” is illustrative of the widely divergent views on the issue in the U.S.)
New Mexico is not a distant observer, either. A question now is whether, how, and how much sanctuary jurisdictions in New Mexico get to be a controversy here, including in upcoming political campaigns.
As almost everyone knows, the sanctuary city issue rose to near the top of the news recently as a 32-year-old woman walking with her father along the Embarcadero of San Francisco Bay was shot and killed by an immigrant from Mexico who met the “illegal” classification not only in that he had been deported five different times, only to return, but had seven felony convictions in the U.S. on his record.
In San Francisco, the shooter had been released from the county jail even though ICE wanted to be notified beforehand. It was not, and that a woman has now been shot dead has thrust the once-relatively-obscure sanctuary city issue into the spotlight. Even the liberal U.S. senators from California, Dianne Feinstein and Barbara Boxer, issued public statements criticizing the release of the shooter rather than handing him over to ICE.
What are the sanctuary cities in New Mexico? Figuring out which local government bestows sanctuary is an inexact process.
The websites of two organizations, this one and this one, both give the same New Mexico jurisdictions (the cities of Albuquerque, Santa Fe and Aztec, and Rio Arriba County), but the lists are not up to date or accurate, New Mexico Prosperity Project has determined.
Check this headline from a report on the KOAT-TV website from five years ago, in May 2010: “Albuquerque No Longer A Sanctuary City--New Policy To Keep Criminals Off The Streets.” The report goes on to say:
“The city has implemented a new policy that will screen every person who is arrested to see if the person is in the country legally.
“At the new prisoner transport center in downtown Albuquerque, Immigration and Customs Enforcement agents will fingerprint and scan suspects. Police Chief Ray Schultz said the processing facility is believed to be the first of its kind in the country.
"’If you're arrested in Albuquerque -- regardless of who you are and where you're born -- if you're a citizen or not, you will be face to face with ICE [Immigration and Customs Enforcement] at this facility,’" said Berry.
Santa Fe has long been noted as one of the most liberal cities in the country, along with San Francisco, Berkeley, Eugene and Portland, Seattle and Boulder. A KOAT-TV report also indicates that Santa Fe became a sanctuary cityback in 1999. And it remains so.
Even though it is the smallest in population, the placement of Aztec on the lists piqued our interest because San Juan County is normally exceptionally conservative. Minutes of a city commission meetingin Aztec five years ago, in August 2010 say that five years before that, in 2005, “ the City of Aztec was placed on a list as a Sanctuary City. As of 2009, the City of Aztec was no longer listed as a Sanctuary City (although it is still on the lists we found). The City of Aztec Commission has never voted that the City of Aztec be a Sanctuary City. “
At this writing, we have been unable to determine when Rio Arriba County became a sanctuary county (if it did) and if it remains so, but we will do an update in due course.
Part 3 of 3: Jobs, business and politics: a look at the 2015 legislature
June 25, 2015
By Carroll Cagle
Now for the good news. In our previous two reports, we delved into aspects of the 2015 legislative session that were less-than-favorable for the owners, managers and employees within New Mexico’s private businesses.
However, there certainly were some positives.
In fact, two related measures that originally were rightly put in the “bad news” category ended up, in the end, being moved over to the “good news” column.
Those were the capital outlay bill and the tax package. (But there were also several notable pluses in addition to those, which we will describe further below.)
“Capital outlay” is a way of describing money that the state spends on construction (both buildings and highways – new and renovations), and on equipment and technology. The spending is paid for via state government issuing bonds – in other words, the state borrows money to spend now and pays it back, over time and with interest.
The tax package was a series of bills that Governor Susana Martinez and legislative Republicans, as well as business organizations and economic developers, thought would make the state more attractive to companies considering whether to relocate or expand here.
Both bills got tied up via political maneuvering between the two political parties in the regular, 60-day session that ended in March. Then, after months of negotiations, the D’s and R’s compromised (a prospect once deemed unlikely), and in only a few hours in a “special session” on June 8, both big bills were passed.
Even though the governor and professional economic developers think the tax incentives are necessary, the results are not likely to be as quick – nor as big – as from the capital outlay law. Not only that, the $265 million legislation which could not be agreed upon in the regular session actually went up by $31 million more in the agreement – to$295 million. (The governor vetoed only $1 million out of this, for a signed total of $294 million.)
Often, businesses fight strenuously against “government spending” but in this case a strong and persistent cry went up for the capital outlay bill to be enacted, in a special session. The support came from business organizations, individual companies (esp. construction companies), local governments, and unions (who would get more jobs in the building projects). There were two main arguments: (a) That cutting loose so much money for projects all around the state would help stimulate the long-languishing New Mexico economy and generate jobs, and (b) That the state’s infrastructure (highways and public buildings and equipment) also has been the subject of prolonged underinvestment, and this works to the detriment of all residents, as well as in particular the schools and universities.
So those issues, by rights, are now moved from the bad-news to the good-news column. What else was good about the 2015 session?
Well, one highly noteworthy accomplishment was not a bill that became law, but a legislative chamber that became more efficient and easier for the public to interact with. We refer to the state house of representatives. Although the changes for the better were not partisan, the plain fact is that they came about due to a “change of ownership” (i.e., partisan control) in the house.
Previously, for 60 years (and really more like 80), a single party, the Democrats, had strong majorities in the house. Possibly such a lengthy period of control led to lack of attention as to whether there were some bad habits that needed to be changed. Less charitably, those in control could very well have engineered the system to be an insider game, making it hard, if not downright impossible, for outsiders who might want to change things to even figure out what was going on, much less achieve anything.
For decades, house committees would be known to abruptly change the day and time of their hearings. To learn what was on a committee’s schedule, one would have to find what room it was to be in, and then physically go to the hallway where the “schedule” (such as it was) would be posted. Even then that was a more-or-less estimation, subject to abrupt change. People who would travel 200 miles or more to go to a hearing could show up at the appointed place and time only to find that the committee would not hear it for two more days. Or, worse, that they had suddenly taken it up late last night, and killed it.
Sessions on the house floor, where all 70 members meet to hear bills reported out of committee, also could be unpredictable.
Much changed for the better under the new House speaker, a mild-mannered veteran from Socorro, Don Tripp. All the changes may be labeled “process” (how things work) rather than “content” (what is in the bills), but perhaps these process improvements are more beneficial overall than the content of most bills, because the pluses are many and ongoing.
The so-called “tax package” includes several measures that professional economic developers, business organizations, and the state economic development department say will help make New Mexico more competitive among the 50 states in attracting companies here in the first place, or to expand if already here. Governor Martinez promoted the measures and has now signed them. Among the new laws are ones to:
1. Remove the state gross receipts tax requirement for New Mexico contractors who are seeking to do work via contracts with federal agencies on advanced defense projects, particularly in the laser and directed-energy fields.
(Kirtland Air Force Base in Albuquerque is a center for such work.)
2. Make it more attractive for companies to locate their corporate headquarters in New Mexico.
3. Expand the credits for so-called “angel investors” – early-stage investments in start-ups, many of them in tech fields.
4. Extend the previous expiration date for tax deductions for companies that locate in the growing trans-border area between New Mexico and Mexico.
Although our first two articles in this series called out the negative, or at least less than favorable (for business and free enterprise) doings of the “regular” 60-day legislative session, credit is due the lawmakers for several positive outcomes. Some of these made it into law, with the governor’s signature, with little or no controversy and scant media coverage.
One such was an “economic development rate” that electric utilities may offer companies that would like to locate or expand in New Mexico, but are deterred by electric rates that take a big chunk of their operating budgets. Particularly targeted were data centers and manufacturing plants, both of which tend to use more electricity than most firms. Senate Republican leader Stuart Ingle was the mover on this measure.
Also, Governor Martinez, Secretary of Economic Development Jon Barela, professional economic developers, local government officials and legislators joined together to support significant funding increases for a program that to help companies thinking about building a new facility, or expanding an existing one. This is the LEDA program – for Local Economic Development Assistance, geared to needed infrastructure improvements needed for the new or expanding company. Both the regular and special sessions beefed up this fund. Last year it stood at only $15 million. The regular 2015 session increased this to $37.5 million and then the special added $12.5 million, for a new total fund of $50 million. This program is commonly called the “closing fund” -- in that it helps local areas and interested companies with the final dollars that, if not obtained, might make a proposed project stall out.
A Republican senator from Albuquerque, Sander Rue, and a Democratic house member from Los Alamos, Stephanie Garcia-Richard, teamed up in a successful bipartisan push to require that winning state contracts be placed on the fairly new state government “sunshine portal” – a “one-stop-shop” location on the web to make it easier for businesses to interact with state government. The new law is designed both to aid unsuccessful bidders or other interested companies, to see what was successful, and also to provide some insurance against any less-than-ethical contract awards (by placing a lot of eyes on them).
And, another bipartisan measure also supported by the state chamber, the Association of Commerce and Industry (ACI) pried the administrative tax appeals function from the very department that says taxes are owed (the taxation and revenue department), and creates an independent function attached to the department of finance and administration. Sponsors were Democratic senator Jacob Candelaria of northwest Albuquerque, and Republican representative Jason Harper of the adjoining district in Rio Rancho.
Part 2 of 3: Jobs, business and politics: a look at the 2015 legislature
By Carroll Cagle
In this second of three articles, we continue to focus on the less-than-favorable aspects of the 2015 legislature, from the point of view of the state’s private sector. The third article will delve into the more positive side of things.
In addition to the inability during the regular legislative session to reach agreement on the big economy-stimulating capital outlay measure, and the tax package the governor wanted, the 2015 session also resulted in some familiar disappointments for the governor, legislative Republicans, and business organizations.
One, “right-to-work,” was a new topic and was designed to end the requirement that unionized places of employment could deduct union dues from the paychecks of all employees, even those who do not favor, or want, union representation. It passed the house 37-30 but died in the senate.
Two other measures that did not make it to passage may not be business or free-enterprise-oriented, narrowly construed, but do have strong importance to business, were supported by business organizations, and are/were two of the governor’s keenest priorities: ending “social promotion” for third-graders who do not read sufficiently well to pass a reading test, and repealing the Bill Richardson-era law that allows illegal, or undocumented, immigrants to get New Mexico drivers licenses.
The governor and her reform-minded education secretary, Hanna Skandera, as well as business groups long disappointed with the quality of New Mexico public education, have maintained that allowing “social” reasons to pass an otherwise-unprepared child on up to the fourth grade in the end does the child no good, and is a factor in causing unprepared students to (try to) enter the workforce later on. Businesses interested in hiring qualified students lament this practice, and economic developers say the schools need to improve to make their job of recruiting new businesses less hard. Yet, the status quo prevailed for the fifth session in a row. The social-promotion practice remains in place.
Also for the fifth year in a row the legislature left in place the law allowing the issuance of drivers licenses to residents who are here illegally. This is of keen interest to all businesses, and in fact to every New Mexican who ever uses airline transportation, because soon the federal hammer is to come down on New Mexico and other states that are not compliant with the federal REAL ID Act, a post-9/11 federal law designed to make sure that only citizens, with relevant identification papers, can be allowed to board airliners (as well as access federal buildings, etc).
The supporters of repeal said that if they were not successful, soon enough those who wanted to fly would have to produce passports or birth certificates because their drivers’ licenses no longer would be sufficient. That would be a big blow to businesses, regular citizens, and the state’s image.
In this case, even though the governor strongly desired to repeal the 2003 law, the issue did not turn out to be strictly a partisan struggle on the senate side. Revealing tension between the senate (both Republicans and Democrats) and the governor’s administration, a measure that would have created a two-tiered licensure system passed the senate. Tier one drivers would have been fully documented citizens, thus able to board flights; and tier two would have been undocumented immigrants who still could drive, get to jobs, and get car insurance even though ineligible to board flights.,
Interestingly, the two-tier plan was drafted by the conservative Democrat who once was aided by the governor’s campaign, John Arthur Smith, and none other than the Republican leader of the senate, Stuart Ingle of Portales, a wily 30-year legislative veteran. In fact, only five senators, all Republicans, opposed the Smith-Ingle measure. It thus passed but went nowhere in the house. This was an exception to otherwise-party line disputes.
Given the obvious examples that the (Democratic) senate and the (Republican) house and administration were often unable to reach agreement on bills that were said to benefit business, job-creation, and economic development, it seems clear that strategic attention in both parties already is intently focused on whether the senate next year will, or will not, change hands from the Democrats to Republicans.
Not too many fingerprints
A number of measures the governor and the business community wanted handsomely passed the new G.O.P.-controlled house, but then seemed to vanish into the recesses of the senate. If a bill makes it all the way to the floor of either chamber, it often gets acted on via a roll-call vote; thus there is a record for the voters to see.
However, some of the bills that sailed through the business-friendly house never made it to the senate floor, either languishing in committee without hearings, or getting multiple committee referrals thus chewing up time, or died without a committee roll-call vote, thus preserving a “who me?” possibility when the senators face inquiring, skeptical voters.
In our first report, we wrote of the fact that conservative and powerful Democrat John Arthur Smith this year distanced himself somewhat from once-closer harmony with the Republican governor, (and the feeling seemed to be mutual) compared with sessions before. Here, we examine some of the other Democrats who did not play well with the Republicans in the house and on the fourth floor:
In addition to the cooperation between John Arthur Smith and Governor Martinez fraying a bit, things also seem to have cooled a bit during the session in the relationship between two Las Cruces leaders, Governor Martinez and Mary Kay Papen, the Democrat who is state senate president.
The most well-known feud in the Roundhouse continued to feature the governor and the Democratic senate leader, Michael Sanchez of Belen. From his leadership perch, Sanchez often orchestrates maneuvers – both subtle and not -- to thwart the interests of not only the governor but New Mexico businesses, a circumstance insiders attribute not only to partisanship but Sanchez’ role as a trial lawyer who is more likely to be an adversary to business, professionally, as well. Although this normally plays out as a cold war, the two sides are ardent adversaries and the governor’s political organization tried mightily to defeat Sanchez four years ago. Will they try as hard, or harder, next time?
Other Democrats generally seen as the least friendly toward business and free enterprise, or even congenitally hostile to them, are Senators Peter Wirth, Jerry Ortiz y Pino, Cisco McSorley, and Mimi Stewart, and, on the house side, Brian Egolf. Senator Wirth and Representative Egolf are from the most liberal city in the state, Santa Fe. Ortiz y Pino and McSorley represent liberal (“progressive”) enclaves of Albuquerque, and Stewart, a longtime representative recently arrived in the senate, is a former teacher who eagerly represents the views of the teachers unions as they strenuously oppose many of the changes the administration and business groups call “reform” and that they say are ill-informed and ruinous.
However, although there were many less-than-favorable outcomes for business, as reported above, that was not always the case in the 2015 session, as will be seen our next report.
Part 1 of 3: Jobs, business and politics: a look at the 2015 legislature
June 10, 2015
By Carroll Cagle
“Politics” is the one-word description most often applied by state capitol veterans when asked to explain what happened (or didn’t) and why during the 2015 legislative session -- and now why feuding parties ended up meeting in the middle, after all, and agreeing to take care of big unfinished tasks in a short special session.
When many outside of the world of politics hear the “politics” explanation, it seems self-evident: Of course, all those “politicians” engage in “politics,” by which is often understood as involving self-interested, selfish, even childish motives that work against the greater public interest. That was the descriptor that came up most often when the regular session ended in a train wreck with two major bills that many people wanted greatly (including the business community).
Yet, “politics” also seems to be the main way to describe why, after weeks of argumentation and huffiness about whether there would be a special session or not -- often seeming to be an impossible outcome – lo and behold suddenly an agreement was reached and a session was called to deal with those two matters.
In this, our first analysis of the legislature, we will examine not just what happened, but what did not, and why or why not as best we can tell. Deciphering key players, power plays and maneuvers is often as important as looking at the laws that did or did not get enacted.
Since we are an organization focused on issues affecting business, free enterprise, job-creation and economic development (the private sector, in other words), we have examined the 2015 legislative session through that lens: What did the 70 house members and 42 state senators do, or not do, that affects the world outside of government and politics --- the world of private-sector companies, managers, and employees.
In the familiar, “I’ve got some good news and some bad news” refrain, we turn in this first report to the bad, or at least less-than-optimal, news. The “bad” references not only the power struggle that halted those two big important bills during the regular session, but other bills of importance to business that faltered, as well.
First, the two big, related, log jams: Just about everyone who casts even a passing glance toward the state capitol and the 60-day session has heard about the fact that the lawmakers and governor could not agree on a “capital outlay” bill. Often this is said to be for construction projects but the list of things to be funded also includes buying or upgrading technology and equipment, as well.
Since the New Mexico economy is the weakest in the entire region, and one of the weakest in the nation, here was broad support in both parties – and from many business leaders and organizations – for the $264 million list of projects, to be paid for by bond financing. Supporters envisioned all the construction projects that would start up, creating jobs and pumping money into the economy for contracted goods and services.
But the capital-outlay package stalled out, and as a result did not pass during the regular session. Going down with it, for a time, was a $5 million package of tax cuts and incentives that Republicans (both the legislative variety and Governor Susana Martinez’ administration) also wanted. In fact, one of the main sticking points between the Republicans and Democrats (who control the state senate but no longer the house) was that tax package. Another was the proposal by the most powerful legislator on finance issues, John Arthur Smith, a Democrat from Deming, to pay for some of the proposed highway projects with a new gasoline tax and/or from cash reserves rather than putting it on the “plastic” of debt (bond) financing.
Together, these two issues sunk both of the very bills that most everyone agreed would help stimulate the wan economy. That was true during the session itself, and failure to reach agreement on them for weeks afterward prevented a special session from being called. As recently as June 2, Senator Smith said: “The window is still open, but it’s not open very wide,” Senate Finance Committee Chairman John Arthur Smith, D-Deming, told The New Mexican. And the opening gets smaller every day, he added.”
However, very shortly after that was printed, lo and behold the Democrats led by Senator Smith, and the governor’s office did reach an agreement and a special session was agreed to, to enact the very bills that had held things up so long. Even some icing was put on the cake, in that the amount for construction and equipment-purchasing capital outlay measure went up by several millions in the agreement, from $264 million to $295 million. In a concession from the governor’s side, she agreed to spend some of the highway construction out of reserves. In a concession from the Democrat side, they largely agreed to the tax incentive package that the governor had wanted.
Deciphering the mysterious “politics” to find out why there was an impasse in the first place is a dicey proposition. But one good place to look is below the surface at the tectonic plates grinding ominously against each other -- the Republicans who control the executive and, this year for the first time in 60 years, the state house of representatives; and the Democrats who still control the senate as they have for decades. With all 42 state senators (and all 70 house members) facing the voters next years, both parties are gritting their teeth and looking toward that election when the Republicans take control of the senate (as the G.O.P and many business leaders hope), or, as the Democrats would have it, keep control of the senate and maybe even wrest back control of the house.
Thus, understanding the 2015 session requires focusing on 2016 electoral desires, and does not require looking any farther than John Arthur Smith himself, the most hard-nosed fiscal conservative among legislative Democrats, and the changing nature of his relationship with Governor Martinez and Republicans.
Here is another insight from Steve Terrell of The New Mexican newspaper: “The state G.O.P issued a news release blasting Smith as a ‘former fiscal conservative’ who is ‘no longer in touch with the folks back home.’ Before this year, Smith enjoyed good relations with the administration. In 2012, he received campaign help from one of Martinez’s political action committees.” No word yet as to whether the state G.O.P will say Smith is not so bad, after all, doggone it, once he helped engineer the deal for the special session.
Digging deeper into what might have caused the relatively smallish $5 million tax package, and Senator Smith’s modest highway tax proposal to capsize a $264 million construction list that everybody seemed to like, and want, leads back to that singular word, “politics.” But what, specifically? Here’s a couple of guesses: First, Senator Smith, possibly considering whether he might face opposition in the Democratic primary next year, may have decided he needed to distance himself a bit from his previous relative closeness with the Republican governor. The emphasis on Smith always seems to be “conservative,” but the “Democrat” part often seems to get forgotten—and he is one.
As for the governor, could it be that she did not want to fall into a Democratically laid trap of being for one tax (the Smith highway tax) or of giving up on tax reductions (her own tax package), fearing that the Democrats would begin with these slight rips in the anti-tax fabric and go on a much larger pro-tax tear -- while she would be seen as a Republican who talked a big game opposing taxes but gave in when it was convenient. The “politics” in both cases reflects the reality of hard-ball campaigning, and the difficulty in reaching reasonable compromise. In the end, Smith’s idea of paying for part of the highway construction with a modest fuel tax increase was dropped, but so, too, did the governor agree with Smith’s notion of paying for part of the highway work by dipping into cash reserves, which she had previously opposed. (Although she never did yield on her anti-tax increase stance.)
Politics brought them apart, and politics brought them back together, given the wide and deep support for the two bills that had languished.
Coming in Part 2: Other matters the business community said would help the economy, and job-creation, did not make it. Why?
Surprising insights about politics, money and human nature show up in “ride share” alternatives
June 2, 2015
By Carroll Cagle
Mention taxicabs and most New Mexicans might say they have little need for them – or even access to them at all, if they live outside the larger cities. Yet, even New Mexico is part of a power struggle between traditional cab companies and upstart “ride-sharing” companies that has caught up diverse elements of the state into the mix as it plays out.
In the process, the tug of war between the traditionalists and the upstarts says a lot about the power of innovative technology to disrupt long-settled institutions.
Involved in the whirlpool of political, social, technological and economic forces are the traditional companies and challengers, Uber and Lyft; the state legislature; veteran lobbyists (on both sides); the public regulation commission; the New Mexico supreme court; and those tech-savvy types who make sure they have the latest mobile devices, loaded with a multitude of cool apps, but have never become enamored with cars, as previous generations did.
The new companies, Uber and Lyft, do not have fleets of familiar taxi cabs, regulated rather thoroughly by state regulators. Indeed, the companies own no cars. Instead, they use applications (“apps”) on mobile devices so that freelancers who want to make a few dollars hauling people about, upon occasion, are linked up technologically with other people who need a ride somewhere.
The process works quite well in big cities, by most accounts –although the traditional cab companies are fighting back almost everywhere, including here in New Mexico. They raise various concerns or fears about poorly qualified drivers, insurance issues, risks to customers, and unfair competition.
Uber has been the brashest, biggest and fastest growing of the two upstarts. It hired a couple of top-notch lobbyists to represent it in the recent legislative session in Santa Fe, and the cab companies hired a former top legislative leader as their lobbyist. The cab companies complain that Uber is breaking all the well-established rules – made for public safety reasons — and should not be allowed to act as if those rules do not, and should not, apply to its operations.
The Economist magazinerecently examined a plethora of disruptive technologies that shook up existing industries, including Uber and Lyft, YouTube, Airbnb home rental operation, and Tesla electric-car company (which wanted to avoid dealership requirements and sell directly to customers). The article put a historical perspective on the brash strategy of the disrupters, saying: “Pioneering entrepreneurs have often had an uneasy relationship with the law. America’s ruthless 19th-century ‘robber barons’ believed it was easier to go ahead and do something, and seek forgiveness later, than to ask permission first. But the strategy can be risky. Napster, an early music-sharing site, was crushed by lawsuits, even though its efforts paved the way for Apple’s legal downloading service, iTunes.”
For those who might dismiss the importance of an oddly-named company like Uber, with an unfamiliar service they think will prove to be a short-lived phenomenon, consider this report from the daily “Good Morning, Silicon Valley” of the San Jose Mercury News:
“In an overwhelming indication of the rapid-fire pace of venture investments — and the ever-ballooning size of funding rounds — Uber reportedly has plans to raise between $1.5 billion and $2 billion in new funding.
“The latest funding round… would mark the fourth billion-dollar-plus financing for the on-demand ride-hailing app, which has spawned a new and exploding market for smartphone apps that connect passengers looking for a ride with contract drivers, and one that has eroded the taxi industry.
“A round of that size would value the company at $50 billion or higher…. That market cap would propel Uber to the highest-valued, (venture-capital)-backed company in the world.”
This upstart is muscle-bound, already, and is likely to keep disrupting – even here in New Mexico — such institutions as the taxi cab companies, the regulatory apparatus, and the legislative branch of state government.
The latest twist is that the New Mexico supreme court now has the battle to deal with, at least in part. It is ironical, and revealing, that Uber is arguing to the court that the public regulatory commission’s rules are too tough on it, whereas the traditional cab companies are trying to persuade the court that the PRC rules were not restrictive enough on Uber and the ride-sharing concept.
The latest New Mexico geography mishaps
May 18, 2015
By Carroll Cagle
More than a century after New Mexico moved from territorial status to become the 47th state in the union, people elsewhere in the United States still often cannot get a handle on the fact that New Mexico is indeed a state – nestled right between Arizona and Texas and just south of Colorado – all widely recognized as bona fide states.
Reports of this national geographic malaise resulted in New Mexico Magazine’s well-stocked series, “One of Our Fifty is Missing,” whereby residents here documented various mishaps such as order-fulfilment clerks saying, “We don’t ship to foreign countries,” or, “You’ll need a passport to travel there,” etc.
While less off-putting, over the weekend there were two media episodes that showed a bit of a misunderstanding about New Mexico and its geography:
Billy the Kid
On Sunday evening, one of New Mexico’s most famous residents, Billy the Kid, was the topic of the popular “Legends & Lies” series on Fox News Channel. The hour-long program seemed reasonably accurate – including showing that, far from being a cold, greedy outlaw and murderer, William Bonney was a young man trying to make a go of it in a lawless place, riven by battles between warring cattle barons, and where “the law” often was a cynical exercise in corruption.
Furthermore, Billy was double-crossed more than once, including by the then territorial governor, Lew Wallace, who promised Billy a pardon and then reneged. (Oddly, Wallace, who must have had too much time on his hands, wrote the novel “Ben Hur,” later to become a classic movie, while in the governor’s office.)
So far so good – until some of the scenes showing Billy and others on horseback, supposedly in Lincoln County, N.M., with saguaro cacti all about. This is a mistake often made by easterners –or anyone not from the Southwest. Saguaro are denizens of the Sonoran desert, in Arizona and northern Mexico – NOT the high desert of New Mexico. Seeing these saguaro appear around Lincoln was a jarring and unnecessary flaw by the Fox channels’ national-level experts and producers.
The “pristine North”
The day before the Billy the Kid program, Debra Haaland, the new chair of the Democratic Party of New Mexico, was interviewed on the “Women’s Focus” Saturday noon program on the NPR station, KUNM-FM.
Haaland, an enrolled member of Laguna Pueblo, is the first Native American woman to hold the state Democratic Party leadership post. Professionally, she is a tribal administrator at San Felipe Pueblo and is chair of her own pueblo’s Laguna Development Corporation. Also, Haaland last year was the lieutenant governor candidate alongside Democratic governor candidate Gary King.
In the interview – with moderator Susan Loubet -- Haaland ably articulated her goals as leading the party and speaking on behalf of such issues as increasing the minimum wage and overcoming income inequality.
However, when moderator Loubet queried Haaland about how difficult it must be to try to get consensus from such a diverse state – the new DPNM chair must have caused a little head-scratching on the part of some listeners. Loubet specifically noted the differences between northern New Mexico, and, say, Las Cruces.
But at that point, Haaland oddly seemed to delineate New Mexico as having just two halves – the “pristine North” and the oil-producing region of “the South.”
Las Cruces – which Loubet had cited – has no oil and gas production. That economic activity occurs not specifically in “the South,” but, rather, far east of Las Cruces in the Southeast – mainly in Lea, Eddy and Chaves counties. Further, the San Juan Basin, in the far Northwest quadrant, is and has been a leading natural gas producer for decades. Gas also is produced on Jicarilla Apache land east of the San Juan Basin.
As far as “pristine,” it also could be said that the vast Gila Wilderness and the Lincoln National Forest – in southern New Mexico, not the North – fit that description. In fact, anyone driving through the vast, wide open spaces around almost all of New Mexico -- from the plains between Vaughan and Roswell, to the high lonesome road leading to Roy in the Northeast -- might well agree that those regions, and many others, are “pristine” (naturalistic, absent human development) as well.
Those interviewed for broadcast often realize later (too late) how they could have said something more clearly. That surely was the case with Ms. Haaland, who in her candidate’s role last year cruised along every remote highway in the state, and surely knows that the North is not always pristine itself, nor is it the only pristine part of the state, and that “the South” in its entirety is not replete with oil rigs and pump jacks.
New Mexico is intertwined in national and global issues
May 13, 2015
By Carroll Cagle
Sometimes it is natural to forget that New Mexico is part of the great swirl of events and issues in the nation and world -- likely due to the wide open spaces, solitude of the land outside the cities, and distance from big media and commercial markets.
Here is some evidence that we are indeed part of that bigger scene:
The Bill of Rights (and challenges to it):
A recent national opinion piece, in the Wall Street Journal, questions Hillary Clinton’s support of a measure introduced by our own U.S. senator, Tom Udall. Udall last year led the charge in the Senate on behalf of a proposed constitutional amendment supposedly designed to limit the influence of money in political campaigns. But as the guest column notes, money is a critical element of politics: “It is necessary to print campaign mailers, organize phone banks, air television and radio ads, build websites and pay for a thousand other things.”
Nor is the money spent in such ways only on behalf of “big business,” as liberal advocates of the Udall measure (now including Clinton) like to say, or imply. Labor unions and environmental organizations are right up there at or near the top in such expenditures, too.
The WSJ column also notes how Udall, usually revered by civil libertarians, got criticized for his amendment by none other than the American Civil Liberties Union. In a letter to Congress last year, the ACLU said the Udall amendment would “lead directly to government censorship of political speech.” The ACLU also warned that it would “fundamentally ‘break’ the constitution and endanger civil rights and civil liberties for generations.”
Is climate change really caused by capitalism?
Recently we summarized the many sub-parts of opinions about climate change. About that time, newspaper in its Pasatiempo section, under the headline, “Naomi Klein's anti-capitalist view of global warming,” included results from a phone interview with the author prior to her appearance at a public event in Santa Fe.
The reviewer writes:“What Klein nails in This Changes Everything is the scope of what it will take to stop carbon-induced climate change. Such a momentous act would require a complete sweep of the current carbon-based system and all the attendant evils of its capitalist business practices.”
In the interview, Ms. Klein recounts how impoverished, unindustrialized nations and people are particularly vulnerable to the effects of climate change, adding that “… big industrial countries of Europe and North America don’t feel it’s necessary to change their economies”
What seems missing from the reasoning that capitalism, Europe and North America are to blame for climate change is that many non-capitalistic countries are big emitters of carbon dioxide, identified by many as the main cause of climate change, often known as global warming.
China, the communist behemoth of the East, is the largest carbon emitter in the world, what with its gigantic network of coal-burning power plants. Russia, the other communist heavyweight, is a global leader in exportation of petroleum. Consider also the government-owned “state industries” (basically a part of the national government) evidenced as giant oil “companies” in Saudi Arabia (Aramco), Iraq, Iran, China, Venezuela and others.
It seems a strange omission to ignore all these non-capitalistic players, while focusing solely on capitalism, Europe and North America as the cause of global warming.
What lies ahead for the once-strong Albuquerque economy?
May 4, 2015
By Carroll Cagle
Two sobering bits of news show that the economy of the Albuquerque metro area — New Mexico’s largest by far — has lost its once-robust strength. Nor does any big new contribution to the area’s economy seem to be on the horizon, although some creative efforts are being launched.
The two downer reports are these:
1. Reporter Dan Mayfield of the Albuquerque Business Firstnewspaper writes: “A new Brookings Mountain Monitor report found that the city … remains further from its prerecession peak employment than any other city in the region.”
2. Another reporter, Rosalie Rayburn, who covers west Albuquerque and Rio Rancho for the Albuquerque Journal,writes this about the once-awesome Intel Corporation computer chip manufacturer, whose plant sits just inside Rio Rancho north of the Albuquerque city limits: “The Rio Rancho site, which opened in 1980, has been shedding jobs as the corporation has chosen to make investments in some of its other plants around the world. As recently as 2005, Rio Rancho Intel had 5,300 employees. Now, it has about 2,300.” (Although not cited, the number of on-site contractors also has sharply declined.)
The Albuquerque metro economy never has gotten back on its feet after the Great Recession that began in 2008 – although other metro areas in the region and the U.S. have done so, some handsomely.
That Intel, once the cornerstone of a powerful, job-producing economy, is looking anemic is only one of the troubling diagnostic signs for the state’s largest metro area. When Intel was thriving, and sending thousands home with very nice-sized paychecks, Albuquerque also housed other big national or international high tech companies that are now gone — Philips Semiconductors and Motorola. Eclipse Aviation, which still lives on, is far from the strength once hoped for. Albuquerque leaders eagerly courted Tesla, the electric car company, for a huge batter factory, but lost out to Nevada. The once seemingly unstoppable home construction industry that previously sent waves of new homes marching in every direction from central Albuquerque is nowhere near its peak of 2008-2009.
Nor can the metro economy sleep easy, thinking, “Well, at least the federal dollar influx is safe” (referring to the massive complex at Kirtland Air Force Base that includes Sandia National Laboratories). While national security interests are likely to keep these institutions going strongly for the immediate future, surely the laws of gravity (and economics) are eventually going to slow (hopefully not topple) the teetering pile of IOU’s that make up the federal debt.
Congress continues to exhibit signs of denial regarding the debt that would forcibly send an individual into rehab, while only hastening the day when emergency, draconian measures will be necessary. The national group, Fix the Debt, ruefully notes that “Washington is in the hole, but keeps digging,” having added $180 billion to the debt pile already this year and poised to add an additional $310 billion. With such an absence of discipline, the day of reckoning will surely come that will impact Kirtland, Sandia, and much else in the state and nation.
With an economy as big as the Albuquerque metro, even significant declines are not so easy to notice in a drive about the area. Indeed, there are signs of new construction that might make one wonder if there really is a problem, or if one is on the horizon.
The mayor, the president of the University of New Mexico and some city leaders are promoting an “Innovate Albuquerque” notion whereby collaboration and support of entrepreneurs are supposed to start some new green shoots springing up, creating jobs with them. Perhaps, but even if so the endeavor by nature is going to take a long time, and even if it achieves the goals its founders envision, seems unlikely to replace, much less surmount, the jobs and dollars from the once-thriving Intel, Philips, Motorola, homebuilders, etc.
Often ignored by policy-makers and economic development professionals is the potential growth that could come from a serious effort to identify problems that keep the thousands of small and mid-sized local businesses and franchises from being able to be more successful. This embedded economy is huge, yet easy to overlook because, by its nature, it is made of many small, familiar businesses that may be seen all around.
The stories these business owners and managers could tell about how they could add new employees – if only — probably would be illuminating to the thinkers and policy makers, if they were to get with it on a serious listening tour.
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Climate change — the issue — comes to New Mexico
April 23, 2015
By Carroll Cagle
Yes, “climate change – the issue” has come to New Mexico.
It is here, at least on the small screen of the University of New Mexico board of regents, as opposed to the relative big screen of the New Mexico Legislature.
Although climate change has been an intense, hugely controversial issue at the federal and international levels for years, the UNM regents seem to be the first forum for it in this state. Below, we will try to decipher some of the complexities of the issue, which tends to make many people extremely agitated, but first, take a look at the immediate matter at UNM.
At the most recent UNM regents meeting on April 15, at least three dozen people held up placards urging the regents to sell all its investment stocks in the fossil-fuel sector, mainly oil and gas and coal. A leader of the group, Tom Solomon, is retired from Intel Corporation after 30 years there as electrical engineer. A state senator from Albuquerque, Jerry Ortiz y Pino, also was present as an advocate for the action. Jamie Koch, a veteran regent, agreed he would look into the matter at least to see how much the university has invested in oil, gas and coal.
Now to unravel some of the threads in the ball of twine called “climate change:”
What is it?
In the initial years of this controversy, the topic was labeled “global warming” – and that is still how most, on all sides, still think of it no matter the label. Yet, over a fairly short period of time, the label has morphed into “climate change.”
On the one hand, this gives advocates for stopping or seriously slowing warming ways to counter those who are not convinced the problem is real at all, or at least not as serious – those who point to extra-cold winters and massive blizzards as reason to doubt. The reformers, we shall call them for ease of illustration, say in effect that buildup of carbon dioxide (CO2) in the atmosphere is leading the earth to heat up in a dangerous, even apocalyptic way, and that blizzards and such are not reasons to doubt warming is occurring but, rather, that the CO2 levels also produce crazy “extreme weather” events of all types, including even bitterly cold winters and blizzards.
On the other hand, though, moving to the climate change label somewhat plays into the hands of the skeptics, as we shall call them, because they can say, “Yeah, sure, climate changes – what of it?”
Skeptics, “deniers” — the cast of characters
While the ardent believers that global warming, or climate change, is real and extremely worrisome, are reasonably united in their belief systems, the same is not true of those who are not part of that camp. They are a diverse group:
1. The “deniers.” Some people, including some with scientific credentials, bring out charts and statistics maintaining that there really is no warming trend line. Further, they bring up some instances where they say the “reform” camp -- which they sometimes call an issues “industry” that benefits the reformers economically -- sometimes manipulates data and issues unreasonable, un-factual alarmist reports and news releases.
The term “deniers” is one of the most potent that the “reform” side uses against those on the other side, or at least the segment that just flat believes there is no warming. This is a powerful indictment, comparing this sub-set of their opposition to the creepy, delusional neo-Nazis of recent years who deny that the horrific Holocaust of World War II even happened.
2. Another segment may be summarized as “Yes, global warming is happening --- but it has throughout millennia of history, and there is nothing humankind can do about it. It is not human-caused.” This segment points to geologic evidence of eons of cycles of warming interspersed with ice ages, saying complex global dynamics and/or solar activity changes bring about the cycles.
3. A third sub-set acknowledges: Warming is real, and it is human caused, but there are at least two serious reasons why Americans cannot solve the problem: (a) Even if the United States were to severely cut CO2 emissions, carbon in the atmosphere would continue to rise, due to the massive contribution to the problem by coal-burning power plants in China, and industrial activity there and in India, Indonesia and elsewhere. (b) Further, America would be “unilaterally disarming,” bringing the U.S. economy back to the pre-industrial, agrarian days and its citizenry with few of the features of modern life that have, on the whole, made lives more comfortable and healthier, while China, et al., blithely move on past us as global economic giants.
4. Finally, there arises the dithering difficulty of “what to do?” if one believes that warming is real, is human-caused, and “something must be done.”
Those who showed up at the UNM regents surely must know that, even if UNM were to divest itself of all its holdings in the fossil fuel sector, the desired outcome could not occur, because other investors would purchase the stocks thus divested. The reformers likely sincerely believe, “Yes, but it is a start, and everyone must do something, rather than passively awaiting disaster.”
Another wrinkle in the “divestment” plan was articulated by an official of the UNM Foundation, which manages about $400 million in investments: “For instance, are only companies involved in extracting and processing fossil fuels considered or are companies that use fossil fuels included, such as plastic, cosmetic, clothing, automotive and various other companies?”
Even those who have been attempting to tackle the climate change matter on the national and international level -- which is where, realistically, action must be taken if warming is deemed to be real, human-caused, and dangerously serious – wrestle with what to do, and how.
For a time, the preferred solution was a course of action awkwardly labeled “cap and trade.” At first, this seemed like an ingenious way to cause private companies to act in their own interests, and the interests of their stockholders (including pension funds, mutual funds, 401Ks, etc.), by reducing emissions. This would happen via a new market, whereby companies and sectors would have a “cap” (upper limit of emissions) placed on them; those that did things to go well under the cap would accrue credits that would be sold to companies still over the cap. That would make it economically wise to get and stay under the cap, and costly to buy the credits if not.
This idea of harnessing the logic of the private sector actually has mostly gone haywire. The European Union was all-in on cap and trade, until it turned out to be an artificial, complex mechanism rife with manipulation and corruption. U.S. regional cap and trade markets have not fared well, either.
Some advocate something simpler: a carbon tax, which will make it too costly for industries to emit CO2 at too-high levels, and help guide the private economy toward renewable “green” energy sources.
This, too, has been oft-discussed in Washington, with the emphasis on “discussion” as opposed to action. And even if such a tax were to be imposed in America, it still leaves unresolved the matter that more than half the CO2 emissions in the world come from a single country, China.
Meanwhile, back to New Mexico, a larger issue than the UNM portfolio surely must be that the oil and gas industry is one of the state’s largest, most productive sectors – and one which supplies about one-third of the tax revenues to state government, which in turn largely finances UNM. One bit of cold logic that the climate change reformers surely ought to consider is that the entire oil and gas industry should be shut down – thus causing the income to UNM, and the public agencies and schools, to go down by one-third.
These phrases must be habit-forming
April 15, 2015
By Carroll Cagle
Words are the currency of politics, business – and most any field. Effective use of the language can increase the likelihood of success toward the desired goal, and reduce the prospect for confusion and misunderstanding.
Well and good. But some words and phrases have come to be used so often that one might consider giving them a rest for a while, if not retiring them altogether. For example:
“It is what it is” Of COURSE “it” is what “it” is – what else would it be? It is what it ain’t?
“Icon and iconic” Before a few years ago, one would seldom come across these useful words. Now, you cannot turn on a newscast, read a news story, or listen to talk-show guests for more than a few minutes without one or both of these words cropping up. Nothing inherently wrong with them; just over-used. Perhaps “historic” or “notable” or other options might be considered.
“At the end of the day” Once, this phrase was meant, and taken, literally – as in evening, nightfall and such. Somewhere along the line, it came to mean “at the conclusion of (whatever),” “by the time we were through,” or – another that has been in use for so long it never will be uprooted, “when all is said and done.” Also consider that the uninitiated, upon hearing the phrase, might still take it literally.
“Transparent and transparency” Like icon and iconic, these two also have gone from seldom-used to seldom NOT used. Try to read an entire newspaper, attend a legislative or congressional hearing, sit through a business meeting, or listen to a newscast without being subjected to hearing them – a doubtful prospect. The premise -- of “open government” or “not hiding anything from the public” – is good, but “transparent” and “transparency” are over-used.
“Absolutely” Another perfectly useful word, mostly used in response to a question -- but there are three things wrong with its use now: (a) Used far too often, (b) Used when less-adamant assertions would seem more appropriate – as in “Yes, I really believe so,” or, “Most definitely,” or “For sure!”, and (c) Engineers and scientists likely would shrink from using “absolutely,” when ”absolutes” occur so seldom. Why reach for such a maximized, extreme assertion when there likely are more accurate responses?
“Amazing” Similar problems as with “absolutely,” in that nothing anymore can be merely “very interesting,” or “highly unusual,” “surprising,” or even “phenomenal” or “astounding.” Oh, no – “amazing” is pressed into service for every mild deviation from the norm, to the point that the word is being cheapened and worn out. Best give it a break for a while till it can regenerate.
“Passion and passionate” We should long for the days when these words meant the real stuff – as in affairs of the heart, or perhaps less romantic but ardent physical attraction. Now, they crop up in disconcerting venues all over the place, which cheapen and disappoint the perhaps-few remaining romanticists, as in, “I’m really passionate about the Cavaliers now that LeBron is back!” or, “I’m a passionate Candy Crush player,” or, “do the defense hawks have any passion for Rand Paul?”
The rip tides and currents below the legislative surface
March 26, 2015
By Carroll Cagle
On the surface, the annual legislative session which just ground to a halt in Santa Fe could be described as “gridlock.” The Democratic state senate could not bring itself to go along with many of the ideas put forth eagerly by the Republicans in the governor’s office and the state house of representatives. Yet, look beneath the surface and other forces may be detected.
Only a handful of bills made it through both houses, including the must-do state budget, but a lot of other things fell victim to the conflict between the D’s (particularly the D’s in the senate where they still control) and the R’s.
As the session ended – as required by the state constitution -- at high noon on last Saturday, angry words from both sides were directed at the other.
Republican Governor Susana Martinez said senate Democrats chose “to obstruct…(and) not to compromise.” The Republican leader in the house, Nate Gentry of Albuquerque, specifically called out his counterpart in the senate, Democratic floor leader Michael Sanchez of Belen, as the main culprit.
(State business groups also chimed in with their disappointment, while not being quite so specific as fingering Michael Sanchez or even the entire senate. Terri Cole, CEO of the Albuquerque Chamber, said the session was “bad for creating jobs.”)
Senate Democrats pointed their own fingers. Senator Sanchez claimed (as he has before) that the governor has a “my way or the highway” style which does not work in a legislative venue. One of the senate’s most liberal Democrats, Jerry Ortiz y Pino of Albuquerque, was even more blunt and personal in his assessment, describing the governor as “like a dictator who had been thwarted.”
With that intro, take a look beneath the legislative surface and consider these dynamics:
1. Compromise and negotiation – or passive-aggressive game-playing and political bullying? Politics can be hardball. Yet, those who play political hardball usually prefer to appear to those in the stands (the media and the citizenry) as being benign public servants with a pleasant smile who would not think of playing mean.
One side’s idea of “compromise” could mean, in reality, do it my way – or there’s no deal. The sides may be so far apart that they cannot see to find a way to meet in the middle. So when time is up and no deals can be worked out, it is hard for an outsider to tell who is failing to genuinely compromise, or whether passive-aggressive games are being played out of the spotlight.
Ideology and alliances come into play here, too. If you’re a liberal who likes the teachers unions, you just see the world differently than those who want things such as grading of school and teacher outcomes, greater competition among school options and the like. “Compromise” can seem like giving in to some very bad ideas – whichever side one is on.
2. Who needs something? In any negotiation, the side that needs something has an inherent disadvantage compared with the side that does not. In Santa Fe, this mainly means the governor, the Republicans, and pro-business forces are the ones wanting to change the way things have been done for decades under (mostly) Democratic rule.
That is why the Democrats who still control one entity only, the state senate, can still win against two entities controlled by the Republicans (executive and house), because they can simply stop a bill from going through. (This same thing is playing out in Washington as Democratic President Obama can thwart – re. veto, executive orders and other means -- what the two Republican-controlled houses of congress want to do.)
3. What are the facts? There is an over-used phrase in political debate: “You are entitled to your own opinion but not to your own set of facts.” Oh, really? Well, even the “facts” are often open to interpretation, as was seen in the legislative session on some key issues.
One such instance appeared as the governor was blocked, for the fifth session in a row, from getting a bill through repealing the policy that allows illegal immigrants to get New Mexico drivers licenses. The Martinez Administration says one big reason is this must be done so as to comply with a federal law, the so-called “REAL ID act,” which soon will mean that people in states that issue licenses to illegals will not be able to board airline flights because their licenses won’t meet the new standards.
In this case, a supposed compromise was worked out by a leading senate Democrat, John Arthur Smith of Deming, and, interestingly enough, the Republican leader in the senate, Stuart Ingle of Portales.
The compromise would have set up a two-tier system that would have allowed the illegals who already have licenses, or new applicants, to get one that says “Not Valid for Federal ID purposes” or some such – but still would allow for beneficial results such as getting insurance for their cars so they can keep working, etc.
However, the governor and house Republicans blocked the alleged compromise, saying it still would not be compliant with the REAL ID act. With such high stakes, and the federal hammer soon to come down, could not it be determined, with certainty, whether the compromise would be okay, or not? Yet, there was no agreement on the interpretation and the repeal died.
The same lack of agreement on “simple facts” cropped up also in such matters as social promotion of third graders who cannot read (does it harm or help kids?), and right-to-work (help or hurt job creation and the economy?).
4. The gridlock was not all D versus R, or even conservative versus liberal. Almost to a person, the newly Republican controlled house was unified on Republican priorities. But in the senate, Republican leader Ingle sometimes charted his own path -- as on the drivers license compromise and batting down the governor’s appointee to the UNM board of regents.
Could it be that the governor and her allies think that Ingle, who has been in office for decades, is more of a “senate man” than a Republican? They did, after all, try to take out Ingle in a primary three years ago – to no avail as it turned out.
Nor did conservative Democrats like John Arthur Smith and Mary Kay Papen, of Las Cruces, go along with Martinez on some big issues, as they sometimes have in the past.
As we have written recently, the way this session played out seems to queue up an epic battle for control of the state senate in the 2016 elections. (In a future report we will provide some little-known historical context about how, exactly, it came to be that all senators are up for re-election then, as opposed to one-half their membership in staggered terms, akin to the U.S. senate approach.)
Parties still matter: Democrats in state senate remain steadfast
By Carroll Cagle
Call it political gridlock or what you will, the New Mexico legislature is nearing its 60-day run with Republicans and Democrats locked in to their positions and showing little sign of compromise on high-profile issues.
That the Republicans finally wrested control of the Democrats in the 70-member state house of representatives in last November’s elections seemed for a while to offer the prospect that the two major parties might ease into a new state of mild cooperation. Simply having a new element in the makeup of the three main power components (governor, house and senate) suggested that things might be a bit different this year than in the past four, when Republican Governor Susana Martinez often was locked in combat (although not always publicly) with the legislature, when both its houses were Democratically controlled.
How could changing just the house make things different, if the 42-member state senate remained Democratic? It turns out it couldn’t – and has not.
The reason some thought a new, if tentative, form of cooperation and collaboration was because the state senate, though run by the D’s, was not as hard-core partisan nor liberal as the house had been up until this year. Thus, the thinking went, if the newly Republican house were to send over bills they and the governor favored, maybe the occasionally centrist senate would go along, or at least work out some compromises.
Plus, there was an unspoken notion that, since the tenacious Republican effort to finally become the majority in the house might turn on the senate in next year’s 2016 elections, maybe some grudging form of cooperation might spare the same fate for senators in next year’s election. Nope. Hasn’t happened.
Earlier in this 60-day session, there was one tantalizing clue that maybe, just maybe, partisan battles would be less common. That was when the senate finally confirmed Hanna Skandera, the governor’s reform-minded public education pick, to be secretary of the department.
This was after the four previous legislative sessions, when senate Democrats toyed with the Skandera nomination like a cat with a mouse. During those four sessions, the relevant committee never even had a vote and brought the nomination to the floor. It was a not-so-subtle game of power politics…letting the governor and her allies know that even if the G.O.P. controlled the fourth floor (executive branch headquarters) of the Roundhouse, the Democrats still held sway downstairs (along with their allies, the teachers unions).
Could this session’s belated okay of Skandera be a harbinger, some dared to ask? It was no such thing, as it turned out.
Before long, an even bigger slap was delivered by senate Democrats when they batted down Martinez’ appointment of Matt Chandler to be a member of the University of New Mexico board of regents. By custom, these are normally unremarkable, uncontested appointments -- but not this time. The disrespect was seen to be so great, when Chandler’s nomination was defeated, that Jamie Koch, a veteran Democrat and longtime regent who himself had just been cleared by the senate after being renominated, abruptly resigned, saying the Chandler defeat was shockingly out of line.
In a quieter way, the long-familiar favorite bills of the governor that had been bottled up four previous sessions, began to sink in the senate bog yet once again. These included the repeal of a law to let illegal immigrants get N.M. drivers licenses, the “social promotion” bill which would end the practice of letting third graders who cannot pass a reading test go on to the fourth grade anyhow, and a new hot-button item, right-to-work (ending mandatory union dues in union shops).
So, as the session heads toward its constitutionally mandated end time of noon Saturday, this session is looking more and more like the previous four, when Governor Martinez also was unable to get her bills through.
This means two things:
1. That “(Democratic) blood runs thicker than (bipartisan) water.” In other words, that the state senate, even though generally more pro-business and sometimes mildly conservative compared with the left-leaning house, is still firmly Democratic and feels no need to play nice with a Republican agenda sent down by the fourth floor.
2. That senate Democrats are confident, or at least are taking a big gamble, that their resistance to the measures offered by the Republican governor and house will not harm them next year, when all 42 members will face the voters.
Even two leading senate Democrats who sometimes have been friendly with Martinez efforts joined in the highly personal takedown of Matt Chandler to the UNM regents board. These were senate President Mary Kay Papen of Las Cruces and John Arthur Smith of Deming, who wields great power as chair of the senate finance committee.
So now, the gloves will be off, as Republicans and their allies build on their successful efforts last year in taking control of the house – this time taking on the senate Democrats with a vengeance.
Those senate Democrats must be mindful of issues polls taken by respected polling company Research & Polling, for the Albuquerque Journal, showing that large majorities of N.M. voters support the governor’s big proposals.
Since, doubtless by design, the senate Democrats killed some of those bills in committee votes, thus preventing floor roll-call votes, it is likely that ALL Democrats in the senate will be gone after, hammer and tongs, next year.
The exceptionally costly and sometimes-personal mud-bog-style fight for control of the house last year might turn out to be a mere barroom brawl compared with the mixed-martial arts (MMA) type of intense, coldly professional political combat for senate control in 2016.
New Mexico state senate can be used for psychological evaluations
March 12, 2015
By Carroll Cagle
The New Mexico state senate is (choose one):
(1) One of the last vestiges of old-style politics in New Mexico, stubbornly resisting policies that could help develop a stronger, market-based economy to replace the current one overly reliant on taking and spending tax dollars to support an unresponsive, inefficient governmental apparatus, while protecting state employees and members of the teachers unions who cannot be fired or suffer any consequences from performing poorly.
(2) A resolute protector of working New Mexicans, teachers, and the environment against ever-more-powerful, well-off business interests who value profit over broader community and social benefits, and who don’t particularly care about working folks and “the little guy.”
What one thinks of the state senate is somewhat of a Rorshach test, whereby psychologists ask people to take a look at a randomly shaped ink blot and say what they see, or what comes to mind.
It is likely that many reasonably well-informed New Mexicans would see the state senate – presently meeting in Santa Fe -- as one, or the other, of the two options above. But journalists, lobbyists and others experienced in the arcane arts of New Mexico politics, if presented with the senate as an ink blot, more likely would see elements of both pictures, or, more accurately, acknowledge that whether one sees “Ink blot No. One” or “Ink blot No. Two” depends on one’s point of view.
The issue of what role the 42-member state senate plays in our state is more important than ever this year because, as of last November’s general elections, it is the last of the three major entities that make and carry out laws and approve taxes and spending to remain in Democratic hands. None of the senators faced election last year, because all 42 serve for four-year terms and for some odd reason the terms were not staggered.
In that 2014 election, Republican Susana Martinez won re-election to a second four-year term, thus controlling the executive branch, and Republicans also scored a historically important achievement by taking control of the other chamber of the legislature, the state house of representatives for the first time in 60 years. (And except for that one G.O.P. dominance briefly in the 1950s, really going back 80 years to the New Deal era.)
That 2014 battle for the state house was so intensely fought, costing millions of dollars on both sides, that when the G.O.P. ended up getting the upper hand, it caused euphoria – for a while. Even as recently as January 20, when the 60-day legislative session began, much attention was naturally paid to the oddity of a Republican speaker of the house sitting at the podium, and committees all controlled by the Republicans. Meanwhile, Democratic house members who had ruled the roost for so long became dazed onlookers, rooting around and trying to find their new, smaller, more out-of-the-way offices.
Now, as the 2015 session moves toward its mandated closing time of noon, March 21, it is becoming more evident that despite the epochal changeover in the house, the senate remains stonily immutable.
Right off the bat, the house passed some measures long favored ardently by the governor, business and free-market advocates, and education reformers. Bills like the one repealing the right of illegal immigrants to get New Mexico drivers licenses. Like a bill repealing the “social promotion” practice, whereby third-graders who cannot pass a reading test get moved along to the fourth grade, anyhow. Like a new bill – commonly known as “right-to-work” – that would repeal the current requirement that all employees in a place of employment that has voted to unionize, pay union dues even if they do not want to.
As those bills moved over to the state senate, to say they lost momentum is an understatement. In legislative bodies, whichever of the two major parties has one more than half of the total membership controls all committee chairs and activities within the committees and on the floor. In the senate, those bills that cleared the house with such good feelings and enthusiasm began to languish, or end up being tabled or given “do not pass” recommendations within committees.
In fact, at this stage, about the only high-profile thing the senate has done that the governor, the house, and conservatives and the business community look upon with favor has been finally to approve the nomination of Hanna Skandera as the cabinet secretary of the state public education department. Skandera, the governor’s point person on school reform, had spent the previous four years in the job with the title “secretary-designate” because the teachers unions and the senate rules committee chairwoman, a union ally, teamed up to keep the nomination bottled up for all those years.
Whether there will be many more breakthroughs for the administration and like-minded types before March 21 seems doubtful, although always possible as horse-trading goes on between power blocs (“you pass my bill and I’ll pass yours”). However, since the senate Democrats, unions, etc, may be more in the mood of stopping bills from the other side rather than needing to pass new bills of their own, then greater power lies with the side that doesn’t need much of anything.
Why is the senate being so resistant to the big initiatives, so far? After all, the 42 senators are hardly monolithic. In fact, two of the three big Democrats -- senate president Mary Kay Papen and finance chair John Arthur Smith – are at least moderately conservative and sometimes in tune with Governor Martinez, and there are two or three other conservative or business-oriented senate Democrats, too.
One reason the senate is proving to be a mud bog for once fast-moving legislative vehicles coming out of the house is that, even with a few moderately conservative Democrats there, the senate as a whole remains Democratic. The fact that the governor was re-elected and the house did a historic flip-flop into the “R” column does not mean that senate Democrats suddenly underwent their own transformation.
Another reason is that Senator Michael Sanchez of Belen, the senate’s Democratic leader, remains steadfastly in the camp that favors --- naturally enough – the Democratic philosophy, and looks with skepticism, if not outright disfavor, on proposals by Republicans and business groups. Sanchez does not have unilateral power but even with shared power he seems able to hold the troops together on some key issues. The governor’s political team tried mightily to get Sanchez defeated in 2012. They were not able to, and he came back, probably more determined than ever to be a thorn in their side, although he does not vocalize much (nor does he have to).
As a result, the senate is proving to be a stumbling block to those who have so many things they would like to change, and think should be changed.
By not giving the governor, the Republicans, conservatives, business and free-market interests many positive outcomes this session, senate Democrats seem to have doubled down, betting and hoping they can hold on to majority power in next year’s elections – rather than diluting reasons to vote them out by letting more measures they don’t love, but could live with, go through.
That means that the same forces that wrung the house over into Republican territory in 2014 are going to be furiously trying to oust the recalcitrant Democrats from the senate next year, in 2016. One protective tactic the senate Democrats are using this session is that rather than having roll-call votes on the senate floor, the committees are turning out to be the main way to hold up the controversial bills sent over by the house. That means that fewer Democrats will be on record with a roll-call vote than can be waved around against them.
Yet, one can be sure that blistering ad campaigns already are being readied which will be aimed at the most troublesome Democrats next year.
Even now, many months away from November 2016, the rumbling sounds of all-out political war for control of the New Mexico state senate may be heard.
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That New Mexico’s economy lags behind neighboring states results in one unexpected plus
March 5, 2015
By Carroll Cagle
Although President Obama won a skirmish with the Republican congress in a titanic battle over the president’s executive orders shielding millions of illegal immigrants from deportation, the larger battle will continue (including in federal court).
With so much attention focused at the federal level, so far, not enough attention has been paid to what the outcome on the immigration policy battles will mean to state governments – especially border states like New Mexico.
State government budget-makers in all states, including this one, need to start getting concerned, if they are not already, about additional costs on down the road due to the executive orders affecting about 5 million illegal immigrants now in the U.S.
There really was only one positive that we heard recently from the director of research at the Center for Immigration Studies, Steve Camarota. Dr. Camarota pointed out in an interview with New Mexico Prosperity Project that New Mexico is doing better than other border states (Texas, Arizona and California) in one regard -- fewer illegal immigrants, proportionately, come here compared with those other three states.
The reason, says Camarota, is basic economics: There are fewer job openings here, on a proportional basis, than in the other border states. Well, that’s perhaps a sole benefit of a New Mexico economy that never has developed as thoroughly on the private sector, taxpaying, side, as our neighbors.
Immigrants, both legal and illegal, tend to mainly “go to areas of high job growth,” Camrarota said. New Mexico over time has generally lagged behind those other states as well as other neighbors like Colorado and Utah, but the differences in performance have been particularly noticeable in our slowness of recovery from the deep and broad recession that began to take hold in 2008. Even so, with our smaller budget and less resources, New Mexico will feel the economic pain.
Despite that sole, rueful, distinction for New Mexico, Obama’s executive orders, should they survive future congressional and court actions, ought to cause New Mexico state government to get out the checkbook.
Immigrants, including illegal ones, definitely contribute to state economies when they work, and many do. However, their education and job skills tend to be significantly lower than those of natives, and therefore they tend to cost more, in services, than they pay in taxes – by big margins, according to studies by the Center for Immigration Studies and the Heritage Foundationwhich we have referenced in previous reports.
Even though New Mexico’s relatively lower-performing economy does not attract as many undocumented job-seekers, state government’s budgeteers (in both the executive and legislative branches) would be advised to keep in mind the prospects for a coming ramp-up in the use of state services (and resulting increases in tax expenditures) due to Obama’s executive orders concerning roughly 5 million illegal immigrants (out of a total said to be about 11 million).
Dr. Camarota, of the Center for Immigration Studies, cautioned strongly in our interview with him that the Obama executive orders do NOT amount solely to “shielding them from deportation,” as has been widely reported by the national media. Although the orders do that, they also offer a path for the millions to obtain a Social Security number and, eventually if not immediately gain access to Medicaid, the WIC (women, infants and children) program, TANF (taxpayer assistance for needy families), food stamps, and cash benefits via the earned-income tax credit (EITC) program.
The chickens already are coming home to roost concerning the earned-income tax credit. According to the Wall Street Journal:
“The Internal Revenue Service confirmed it would allow illegal immigrants benefiting from Mr. Obama’s actions to file for tax refunds for prior years, fueling an outcry from Republicans. The action allows many to obtain work permits and Social Security numbers, which in turn would allow those who qualify to apply for a tax break known as the Earned Income Tax Credit, the IRS said. The credit provides cash payments to lower-income households, even those that didn’t earn enough to pay income tax, and can be worth several thousand dollars.”
All the programs referred to by Dr. Camarota, plus general services such as education, transportation and the like, as the Heritage Foundation study points out, are going to mean higher tax expenditures.
How the President’s orders will affect these and other programs paid for by America’s, and New Mexico’s, taxpayers is far from clear at this early stage. “It’s a grey area right now,” says Camarota. For one thing, there is a generalized policy, administered somewhat raggedly apparently, that illegal immigrants, to access some of the programs, must produce records proving they have been in the U.S., and gainfully working, for at least five years.
Medical care costs already affect property taxpayers in places like New Mexico’s most populous county, Bernalillo, due to the “indigent care” program which means that those without means, whether immigrants or natives, even if not enrolled in Medicaid, must receive care at the University of New Mexico Hospital without cost to themselves.
Finally, our interview with Dr. Camarota surfaced one more unexpected outcome: It appears that, as time unfolds under the executive orders, the federal government might require that illegal immigrants who have achieved certain milestones and compiled certain documentation to be issued state drivers’ licenses. If that turns out to be the case, it would be in direct conflict with another federal law, the REAL ID act, that does not recognize, for federal identification purposes including all-important airplane flights, IDs from states that DO issue licenses to illegal immigrants!
In fact, New Mexico Governor Susana Martinez, with a newly-Republican-controlled state house of representatives, is trying again in the current legislative session, for the fifth session in a row, to repeal the law that her Democratic predecessor Bill Richardson and his Democratic allies passed in 2003 that required the New Mexico MVD to license illegal immigrants. Advocates of repeal have a number of reasons but one big one is that the federal government, in the form of the Transportation Security Agency (TSA) that controls access to air flights, is finally going to put the hammer down in 2015.
If so, and if the legislature were to not do the repeal, it seemingly would mean you would have to have a passport just to board airplane flights or go into federal buildings.
Yet, if the 2003 measure is repealed, then ultimately New Mexico (and other states that by then would not allow drivers’ licenses for illegal immigrants) might ironically come to be in conflict with future decisions made under the umbrella of the overall Obama executive orders.
Like or not like the Obama orders, it seems clear that when it comes down to actually implementing all the details as a result of those orders, there will be greater costs to America’s and New Mexico’s taxpayers – and protracted court battles to sort out conflicting requirements such as on the drivers’ licenses matter.
Figuring out how the legislature works — and why this matters to you
February 20, 2015
By Carroll Cagle
It would be easy to think of the New Mexico legislature (or any lawmaking body) as akin to a sports team, where an elected member is either wearing a blue jersey, for the Democrats, or a red jersey, for the Republicans.
(In recent years, those colors have become widely used — by politicos and news reporters – as shorthand for the two parties. For example, a state where Democrats control most things and vote for Democratic presidential candidates is considered a “blue state.”)
However, recent happenings in the Roundhouse in Santa Fe make it clear that the team-sport analogy is limited, accurate only in part. We’ll look at those happenings a bit more below, but first, take a longer look at the sports team analogy itself.
What makes some think of the sports analogy is that the red-jersey Republicans took majority control of the 70-member state house of representatives in the November election, and thus in this session control the house for the first time in 60 years. The sports analogy starts unraveling a bit when one considers, first of all, that in this case the team with the most members –- now the G.O.P. in the house — controls the ball most of the time, calls the plays, and even sets at least some of the rules for the game.
In the senate, those blue-jersey Democrats, still being in the majority there, control the ball most of the time, call the plays, and set some of the rules.
The sports team analogy further unravels when one understands that a member of one team can abruptly line up with the other team on any one play. This happens – and just has, with both “teams” and in both chambers.
Creating even more complexity is that to carry the ball across the finish line (if football is the exact analogy), one must get it not only across the 50-yard line within one house, with its own rules, etc, but across the next 50 yards controlled by an entirely different team and set of rules. The “touchdown” would be getting the football (or piece of legislation), all the way into the end zone to the governor’s office for her signature. There, Governor Susana Martinez might even exercise, in her sole judgment, a “penalty” of sorts and veto the thing!
As you can see, the sports team analogy is sorely limited and inadequate, although it can sometimes be okay on easy, routine plays. More accurate would be to compare legislative dynamics to a Rubik’s Cube, where one seemingly simple change of one cube can totally upend and mix up the cube as a whole. And instead of a plain organization chart, two-dimensional on a sheet of paper or on a computer screen, one would need a 3-D, holographic chart that was in a dynamic, ever-changing state.
That overview of legislative complexity is helpful when taking a look at recent developments on high-profile measures, one in the ostensibly “blue” senate and one in the generally “red” house:
After four years when a strong ally of the teachers unions, senate rules committee chair Linda Lopez of Albuquerque, helped keep the governor’s pick to head the state education department, reform-minded Hanna Skandera, from even being voted on for “confirmation” by the full senate, the senate now has voted to make Ms. Skandera the bona-fide secretary — without having to use the temporary title of “secretary-designate” she had to endure during the governor’s entire first term.
The vote was 22-19 in the 42-member Democratic senate. There were two instances where the blue-shirted D’s either switched sides, or, in one case, headed for the sidelines.
To even get to the senate floor, the nomination secured a 5-4 favorable vote in the rules committee. Even though the Democrats had the majority in the committee (as in all committees in that chamber), Senator Clemente Sanchez, a Democrat from Grants, voted “yes” and another Democrat, Daniel Ivey-Soto of Albuquerque, recused himself, saying that as an attorney representing the Albuquerque Institute for Mathematics and Science, he had to not get crossways with that organization, which supports the Martinez-Skandera reform efforts.
On to the floor, five Democrats sided with all the Republicans to approve the long-languishing Skandera nomination. They are Pete Campos of Las Vegas, Mary Kay Papen of Las Cruces, John Arthur Smith of Deming, Phil Griego of Santa Fe County, and Benny Shendo of Jemez Pueblo.
The committee and floor votes were far more important than the approval of a single nominee for one cabinet department. From the get-go, four years ago when Governor Martinez occupied the chair held for eight years previously by the aggressive, highly political, pro-union Democrat, Bill Richardson, “education reform” has been one of the mighty conflicts in the capitol.
Yet, despite the upheaval of the previous status quo represented by Skandera’s approval, it would be far from safe to assume that the senate will side with the governor and her allies from the business community on other upcoming big deals such as right-to-work , holding back third graders who can’t pass reading tests, and repealing the Richardson-era law allowing illegal immigrants from getting New Mexico drivers licenses.
Here, the Rubik’s Cube is playing out vis-à-vis right-to-work legislation. This is a bill which would prevent unions from forcing all employees at union-organized places of employment to pay union dues. It seemed to have good prospects to pass in the newly Republican house. That is, until the Republican leader there, Nate Gentry, attached an amendment to it that also would raise modestly the state minimum wage.
The idea was that having that minimum wage sweetener would bring some Democrats to support right-to-work, or, at least, to put them on the spot by opposing a higher minimum wage if they voted no on the bill as a whole. However, before very long, erosion started on the side of the “red” team as some conservative Republicans began to indicate they could not tolerate any increase in the minimum wage – feeling that it gives some employees raises while causing overall job losses or reduces new hiring — so they might vote against the entire package. Thus, right-to-work has been held up, at least for the moment.
All of this complex jockeying is not –or at least should not – be of interest solely to insiders and political junkies. What happens in the state’s schools and work places surely affects virtually every New Mexican, and that is what the Rubik’s Cube and the Skandera and right-to-work episodes mean.
Education and politics of necessity are intertwined – but things get complicated really fast
February 16, 2015
By Carroll Cagle
Schools are not just islands, set apart from residential and commercial buildings, where students and teachers while away the hours improving the knowledge base and thinking skills of the young ones.
Today, schools — and what happens within them – are right in the center of politics in New Mexico. And elsewhere, too, but we are focusing in this article on our state.
In the current legislative session, where 112 lawmakers from all over New Mexico are gathered as they do each year to pass and amend laws and approve budgets, education is at or near the top of important topics. Controversial, too. Advocates of what they call education reform are pushing a plethora of bills they say will improve long-building inadequacies. But pushback comes from the frontline teachers themselves, via their teachers unions, and legislative allies, mostly liberals.
Leading the charge on the side labeled as reformers are Governor Susana Martinez, newly re-elected; her education chief with national experience, Hanna Skandera; and (mainly) Republican legislators, newly energized by having achieved a majority in the state house of representatives for the first time in 60 years.
Martinez and Skandera have been at this for four years now, doing what they could with a resistant legislature where both houses, until now, were controlled by the opposing party. An example of the conflict is that during those four years Ms. Skandera had to work with the title “secretary-designate,” because the senate rules committee never would allow her appointment as education secretary to go to the full senate for confirmation. The anti-Skandera elements, including the teachers unions, say that despite her policy-level work on education in big states like Florida and California, she should not be in charge of the education department because she has never been a teacher.
The highest-profile education policy conflict has been the push by Martinez, Skandera, et al, to do away with the practice known as “social promotion,” whereby third graders who do not pass the reading exam can, and do, get promoted on to the fourth grade anyhow. The legislature has thwarted this bill during Martinez’ first four legislative sessions, but now Martinez and the new G.O.P house plan to see if the senate, still run by the Democrats, can be persuaded, or politically forced, to get on board.
Martinez-Skandera also have tried mightily to get schools and teachers measured to reflect their performance, or lack thereof, and to be held more accountable. This, too, has resulted in a just-as-mighty pushback from the teachers and their legislative allies, so Skandera has been largely left to fashion together some administrative efforts.
Those on the side labeled “reform” include major business organizations who say that companies are unable to get enough capable employees due to poorly educated, poorly performing products of the public schools. Besides hurting individual companies, the business groups say, the state’s lagging performance in education hurts overall economic development.
Reformers have a number of other ideas for improving things which are reflected in this session’s bills, which we will describe briefly down below. But first, consider a further complexity when it comes to deciding what to do about the schools.
The additional complexity comes about when forces far beyond the classroom are brought into the mix. For example, despite funding levels that have steadily increased over the years, and some of the reform efforts already put in place, the graduation rate in high schools, although inching up by 5.5 per cent during the four Martinez Administration years, are lower than they should be, uneven, and hard to maintain. They dropped back by one and one-half percent statewide in 2014, and decreased by 6.2 per cent (from 68.7 to 62.5) in the biggest district, Albuquerque Public Schools.
What kind of manufacturing company could continue to exist when less than three-fourths of its products even made it off the end of the assembly line (never mind whether they operated successfully thereafter)?
The troublingly high dropout rate, at one and the same time shows both the problems schools are having in performing well and that it is not solely the teachers who should share all the blame. Dropouts seem to be a result of, among other things, home life that is stressed out or downright dysfunctional, lack of participation in the process by parents, single-family households, drug and alcohol use, and, for whatever reasons no matter how lame, a disinterest by the truants in being in school compared with the joys of hanging with their pals.
Just the one factor, of single-family households, could be one of the most telling and the most intractable. Fifty years ago, a trailblazer in social studies at the national level, Daniel Patrick Moynihan, authored a study that cited federal financial support programs as causing the unintended consequence of breaking up traditional black families. Jason Riley, himself a black, highlights the alarming trend since Moynihan’s work of 50 years ago: “When the report was released, about 25 per cent of black children and 5 per cent of white children lived in a household headed by a single mother. During the next 20 years the black percentage would double. Today more than 70 per cent of all black births are to unmarried women (and the white percentage increased from 5 to 35 per cent.)”
Thus it seems that the same disintegration of the traditional family structure that began to erode black societies in the inner cities has spread widely, no doubt to Hispanics, Native Americans, and Anglos, both urban and rural, here in New Mexico. This societal problem extends far beyond the classroom, yet solving it seems devilishly hard and will take many years to turn around even with concerted effort and major resources, which seem lacking.
It is thus up to the teachers to try to manage the products of the disintegrating family.
Governor Martinez and some legislators want to begin chewing into the problem by revoking drivers licenses of habitually truant students. This tough love could be one beginning try. Another is a bill, now advancing in the legislature, to allow the state’s best teachers to advance faster and earn a higher salary sooner than normal procedures would allow.
As for judging the performance of teachers and schools, the logic of “total quality management” – whereby improvement of necessity begins with measuring things — would seem viable; thus score one for the reformers. But the fragile, difficult-to-manage incoming raw materials (students from dysfunctional environments) surely also must be taken into account.
After four years of conflict between the two factions, things do not seem to be getting better and maybe are getting worse. Aside from the arm-wrestling within the legislature, a new lawsuit has been filedby the state teachers union, along with several Democratic legislators who have been the most ardent foes of those pushing for change. The suit seeks to stop teacher evaluations altogether. In addition to the American Federation of Teachers-New Mexico, the plaintiffs include the number two Democrat in the house, Representative Sheryl Williams Stapleton, Senator Linda Lopez, who has held up Skandera’s nomination for years, and Senator Mimi Stewart, newly appointed to the senate after years in the house, a former teacher herself, and the main ally of the teachers unions in the house. All are from Albuquerque.
As the conflicts become more acrimonious, the problems remain hard and the needs remain great. So, concerted efforts and cooperation would be welcome by many, and likely would produce more positive outcomes than yet more conflict.
Part 2: The federal debt is big, growing — and affects New Mexico as well as the entire country
February 6, 2015
By Carroll Cagle
Islamic jihadists, with their grotesque displays of medieval barbarity, are a threat to Americans — but there also is a quieter, harder-to-grasp threat to Americans and New Mexicans.
The quieter threat is one that most citizens kinda/sorta know about, but one which few people put at the top of Washington’s to-do list. One reason is that President Obama and a large number of members of congress from both parties seem to want to ignore the matter – which means it only grows worse with every passing month that it is not addressed.
New Mexico stands to be impacted in two ways if the executive and congress do not come up with a solution soon – not at some distant time. Later in this article, we will describe those two ways N.M. could feel the hurt from such inaction
The issue that is the quiet but ominous threat? It is the federal debt. It is sobering to know – or should be, at least – that the cumulative debt has grown to $18 TRILLION. We emphasize the “trillion” because the denomination is so frighteningly huge. Regular citizens are used to dealing in thousands – not millions, much less 1,000 million which becomes just a single “billion,” and less so yet a thousand billion (!) which becomes a single trillion. Then take that times 18 and the backbreaking size of this unwisely-ignored problem becomes clearer.
The total debt comes about due to the accumulation of each year’s “deficit” – which is the shortfall between federal revenues (from taxes) and the amount of federal spending that year. To get an idea of the rapid growth rate of the accumulated debt, check this “debt clock.”
In his State of the Union address, President Obama calmly assured Americans that the deficit is going down. That sounds reassuring, until you consider how misleading the statement is.
Picture a family whose household income is $50,000 a year. Then, consider that each year, for many years now, they have spent $55,000 or $60,000. So, each year, their cumulative debt grows by $5,000 or $10,000 – the shortfall between income and outgo. Since they keep spending more than they are making, they cannot even begin to pay down their accumulating debt – only the interest, which keeps growing because the cumulative debt keeps adding up. Only in Washington would all be well if the family spent “only” $2,000 more than it made this year – compared with the $5,000 or $10,000 overspending of a normal year. The deficit each year is important – but far more ominous is the towering national debt.
We have been aided in researching the content below by the Committee for a Responsible Federal Budget.
At issue are both the relentless growth of the $18 trillion accumulated debt – and the need to pay, every year, the ever-climbing interest on that debt.
The interest on the cumulative debt already is crowding out spending that otherwise would go to programs that affect many. For instance, the deficit for 2015 is expected to be $483 billion. Washington will pay only interest payments on the accumulated debt – about $230 billion this year. But the government wouldn’t be paying down the national debt itself unless the annual deficits are turned into surpluses.
In 2005, the government paid $184 billion in interest on about $4.5 trillion of debt;
in 2010, $196 billion in interest on about $9 trillion of debt. Interest is expected to be the fastest growing portion of the budget, tripling over the next decade. The Congressional Budget Officeprojects that the U.S. government will pay $276 billion in interest in 2016, $548 billion in 2020, and $827 billion by 2025. To repeat – these amounts are just for the interest; not the principal.
Our state is affected by all this both via the federal agencies and programs here—- and payments or benefits to thousands and thousands of individuals.
In fact, New Mexico is susceptible to the health of the federal budget more than most states, because federal expenditures are much greater than the average — due to huge swaths of federal land that must be managed (Bureau of Land Management, Forest Service, national parks and monuments); national weapons labs like Los Alamos and Sandia; three air force bases, and much more.
Add to that the dependence many New Mexicans have on Social Security, Medicare and Medicaid and thus it becomes clear – or should – that hard decisions now will help save us all; rather than continuing to ignore the quiet problem called the debt. Some politicians hyperventilate that even “touching” such programs as Social Security and Medicare is reckless and will “hurt people.” Even more reckless — and that will hurt people more ultimately — would be to continue failing to act. In fact, the sooner some modifications are made, to insure the long-range health of these venerable institutions, the effect will be more manageable and not so drastic as would be the case by continued procrastination.
Part 1: Our national debt: Leaders ignore that we are on borrowed time
New Mexico Prosperity Project partners with the Committee for a Responsible Federal Budget to help communicate the importance of the huge, and growing, national debt — and what can be done about it. Today we offer a guest viewpoint and in Part 2 we will provide additional context and how the national debt affects New Mexico.
By Maya MacGuineas
President, Committee for a Responsible Federal Budget
In his State of Union address, President Obama offered 6,800 words - but nothing about the most important issue to the next generation.
The president isn’t alone in ignoring our growing debt. With short-term deficits declining, the myopic nature of Washington has practically removed the debt issue from the national agenda. Those who don’t want to face up to the huge gap between spending and revenue often point out, as the President did, that deficits have declined by almost two-thirds since 2009 - never mind that they had just grown by 800 percent.
Yet this year’s annual deficit is not the problem. It’s our mounting deficits and debt in the coming years. Deficits are already back on the rise and are likely to exceed $1 trillion within the decade. Meanwhile, our debt is already the highest it has ever been - other than around World War II - and is on course to continue growing as a share of the economy. Still, almost no one in Washington is talking about how to reverse course.
To his credit, the President did at least talk about how he would pay for his new initiatives without adding to the debt. But simply holding the line isn’t enough, especially if we don’t do something about the programs that are driving the debt. The White House was not the only place where the topic was off limits. The silence on this issue also echoed around the Capitol. Our debt is unsustainable, and there is no easy way around that.
That’s why as citizens we must demand that our elected officials start looking out for the next generation instead of the next election, and come together to put in place sensible tax and entitlement reforms that would slow our debt, strengthen our economy, and secure our future.
The drop in oil prices is affecting New Mexico consumers, schools and services, a major business sector – and a worldwide cast of characters
January 30, 2015
By Carroll Cagle
The precipitous decline in oil prices during the last several months has had a dramatic impact here in New Mexico – but also worldwide.
Here, consumers at the pump are benefitting big time, while at the same time businesses in the thriving oil-production southeast corner of New Mexico are feeling the squeeze. New drilling is being delayed or plans shelved altogether, and some workers already are losing their jobs. And, even those citizens rejoicing at lower pump prices are going to be negatively impacted in another way as public services and the schools feel the pinch of less tax money to support them – since New Mexico’s state government relies so heavily on oil and gas taxes.
The effects of the oil price decline reach far wider than New Mexico. One positive result is that a rogue’s gallery of leaders who are America’s adversaries, or even bloodthirsty enemies, are being hurt by the falloff in petrodollars.
These include Vladimir Putin of Russia, where the economy relies heavily on natural gas exports and whose expansionist appetites ebb and flow with the price of gas; supreme leader Ali Khamenei and nominal president Hassan Rouhani the, leaders of Iran, known for financing terrorist organizations and hell-bent on acquiring nuclear weapons capabilities; Nicolas Maduro, president of oil-rich Venezula (heir to Hugo Chavez), who has been financing Latin American countries including Cuba to incentivize their ant-Americanism; and, most notorious of all, Abu Bakr al-Baghdadi, the head of the virulent terrorist organization, ISIS, whose trademark consists of videotaped beheadings.
All of these have had a crimp put in their style, and their ability to finance nefarious activities, because their once-flush treasuries have become less so due to lower prices for their main source of income, petroleum.
While all the dictators are feeling the hurt, American consumers are, in effect, getting a raise. This year, they might save $100 billion in savings on gasoline expenditures — $500 to $600 per household, or even $800 according to The Economist magazine.
What may be expected next — for New Mexico, the U.S., and the world?
Eventually, a new, if temporary, equilibrium will be reached — in other words, the bottom will be reached. Just when that will be — and what the pace of recovery will be — is the subject of deep thinking and intense levels of decision-making within government agencies and companies everywhere.
Another report in The Economist quotes research that “…estimates that the ‘break-even price’ of American projects is clustered around $65-70 (a barrel), suggesting many are vulnerable. If the oil price stays at $70, it estimates investment will be cut by 20 percent and production growth for America could slow to 10 percent a year. At $60, investment could drop by as much as half and production growth grind to a halt.”
At this writing, the price already has fallen to $45 a barrel.
How long it will stay there, and how quick the pace of recovery, are big unknowns. Oil industry veterans in New Mexico and elsewhere surely recall the happenings of the 1980s with so-far eerily similar parallels to now. Here is how the Wall Street Journal lays it out:
“Welcome to the world of oil in 2015—a repeat in surprising ways of the story 30 years ago. Between November 1985 and March 1986, the price of crude plunged by 67 percent.. Between June 2014 and today, crude priceshave fallen by 57 percent and could well head lower. After the mid-1980s bust, it took nearly two decades for oil prices to rebound to pre-bust levels and remain there.”
The newspaper’s account goes on to the next logical step: “Energy executives are now haunted by the question: Will it take as long this time?”
The answer “… may lie in one enormous difference between today and 30 years ago: the speed of shale. Before U.S. energy companies figured out how to pull oil from shale formations, petroleum projects often took years to execute.
“Drilling and hydraulically fracturing a well takes weeks, not years. An expensive well costs $10 million, compared with the billions needed to drill offshore wells and build associated infrastructure.
“The oil field investment cycle has shortened. Wildcatters in Texas discovered the Eagle Ford Shale in 2008. Within five years, it was pumping a million barrels a day—thanks to an influx of capital that paid for drilling thousands of new wells. Faster-reacting shale production could help cut supply more quickly than in the past, restoring market balance without a decades-long wait. “
Meanwhile, where the bottom is and how fast the eventual uptick occurs will mean much not only for those happy people filling their tanks, but to one of New Mexico’s most productive and successful industries — and the state government services and schools that depend on tax dollars from that industry.
All this is playing out as the New Mexico Legislature is under way in Santa Fe, making the job of the tax and appropriation gurus devilishly hard this year.
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Under new management: N.M. House of Representatives makes changes (and a look at other proposed improvements)
January 23, 2015
By Carroll Cagle
Few would present as an example of a well-managed, customer-friendly organization the New Mexico legislature – or most of the other 49 state legislatures, for that matter. And don’t even think of the way congress functions (or fails to).
However, there are some changes already being made in the New Mexico House of Representatives. This is because it is under new management – the Republicans now have majority control after 80 years of Democratic dominance (with one brief G.O.P. exception in the 1950s).
This column will report on changes already being put into place within the tradition-encrusted house chamber, at the direction of new House Speaker Don Tripp, R-Socorro. And we will detail some other ideas for improvements.
Tripp, Majority Leader Nate Gentry, Albuquerque, and other new G.O.P. leaders are saying that there will be a shakeup in the long-familiar committees of the house – where much of the political power resides.
One notable change is that the venerable house labor committee will be no more. Democrats, in general, tend to have a close alliance with the labor unions. Even more so do the Democratic legislators. Closer yet to the unions are the Democrats on the (now former) labor committee. Thus the unions and house Democrats are objecting strenuously to the committee being eliminated, but to no avail since the Democrats now are the minority party there.
Labor-oriented bills now will go to a new committee called the business and employment committee. The name makes it clear that the committee will no longer be a haven where the union allies run things – one revealing consequence of the 2014 general elections and more relevant than ever since this year there is going to be a sudden push for a long-languishing plan to make New Mexico a right-to-work state.
The G.O.P. leadership also plans other committee changes; nor will they let some of Democrats go back onto their old committees where they might use their long familiarity with things to cause problems for Republican bills, or advance their own as they did for so long.
Finally, Speaker Tripp also has said that all house committees will meet according to a standardized schedule, twice a day, five days a week, so as to get more things done – and to make it easier for citizens who want to testify to plan their trips to Santa Fe. Heretofore, the schedule of many committees would be hard to discern for the average citizen – and subject to rapid and unexplained change at that.
Which brings up the other legislative chamber, the state senate, and a consideration of why – for the citizen interested in participating in the process — things seem so mysterious, impenetrable, and user-unfriendly.
It seems the state senate will keep things the way they have been for many years. The 42 senators were not up for re-election last year – they serving four-year terms instead of the two for house members—and so the same Democrats will be in control.
Aside from the squawking about the demise of the house labor committee and other political matters, some legislators and long-time staffers and lobbyists would defend, at least somewhat, the way things are, and have been.
They would explain that, by its nature, representative government cannot – and even should not – be run according to business management principles. They say that legislatures have a far different set of demands, and needs, than a private business, and that trying to run a legislature like a good business is wrongheaded.
Beyond that, some of these same veteran politicos would put forth the notion, despite some unfortunate obstacles for the public, that the place runs amazingly well – given that there are 70 representatives, each with different constituents back home, and trying to give fair consideration to hundreds of bills within a mere 60 days. All with competing lobbyists, interest groups and individual citizens tugging and pulling them every which way.
Those defensive and explanatory postures are not unreasonable. Yet, there might be other improvements legislators could consider to make the legislative machinery work more smoothly, and to enhance the “customer experience” of the citizens/voters. For example:
Has there ever been serious consideration to having a spring housecleaning once in a while? When one considers all the many bills that have become law every year (or previously every two years) for more than a century, an image that comes to mind are those cable television shows about hoarders. Things (in this case, laws) come in (or are passed) but never go out (or are repealed). Sessions to de-clutter, and refresh and modernize, laws passed long ago might make some sense.
Some thoughtful ideas from a long-time and astute legislative observer, Santa Fe New Mexican political reporter Steve Terrell, might merit consideration:
Limit on bills:I would put a cap on how many bills a legislator could introduce. In the last 60-day session in 2013, there were about 640 bills introduced in the House and nearly that many in the Senate. Most of these never got anywhere, and truth is, a good many really were never intended to go anywhere.
Resolve to eliminate resolutions (and memorials):I’d eliminate all unnecessary resolutions and memorials. Seriously, there’s no reason legislators should be spending precious chunks of time debating unbinding memorials on Pi Day (as both the House the Senate did last year) while serious issues are waiting to be heard. If legislators want to honor some New Mexico athlete or spelling-bee winner or send condolences to the family of a prominent state resident who has died, they can send a card.
Don’t share the love:One of the biggest wastes of time in a floor session is when some former legislator or other former state official is up for confirmation to some board or commission. All too often, the confirmation turns into an hour-long love fest with each lawmaker showering some former colleague with flowery praise. That’s nice. But at the end of the session, when lawmakers throw up their hands and say, “Sorry, we just ran out of time” to consider serious bills, it’s hard not to think back to the day when they spent hours heaping sweet soliloquies onto some former colleague.
A recent guest column in the Albuquerque Journal, by Dave Coulie,adds these among other recommendations:
“I fully support recommendations for more transparency of committee meetings by video-recording and archiving these meetings online and for accepting remote testimony at committee meetings.
“As a concerned citizen trying to participate in the legislative process for the past few years in Santa Fe, I have first-hand experience with the frustrations of the ordinary citizen trying to determine when and where a legislative committee will be hearing a bill.
“For myself and others who are trying to testify for or against a bill, it is like navigating a giant maze. On many occasions I and others have been totally frustrated to see a committee agenda (on the legislative website) that states “See committee room door for agenda” How in the heck do we deal with that? (Are they going to) send a photo of the agenda on the committee room door?
“Often an agenda will not be posted until the day of the meeting. That makes it hard for citizens traveling long distances in our state to make that meeting.
“The legislative leaders should limit the number of bills that can be introduced to a manageable number, say 200 – or less in a 30-day session and double that number in the 60-day session. That would give those bills a fair chance of being heard.
“I do believe that this situation could be remedied or at least greatly improved with the appropriate focus and commitment. Get Quality New Mexico involved and apply some best practices!”
Let us know if you have additional ideas – or of course you can communicate with your own legislators.
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Part 3: Legislative Preview — the state senate, the administration, and a wrap-up view as to whether this year it will be partisan conflict or bipartisan cooperation
January 16, 2015
By Carroll Cagle
(This is the third of three articles previewing the 2015 legislative session.)
Our first two articles delved into (a) the suddenly-tight money crunch in Santa Fe due to the falloff in taxes from the oil industry, and (b) whether Democrats and Republicans will play well together in the state house of representatives now that the G.O.P. finally has the upper hand there.
Today, we look at the other legislative chamber, the state senate, and the administration of Governor Susana Martinez, then, finally, a brief summary prior to the start of the 60-day session next Tuesday.
Since the 42 state senators serve for four years, they did not face the voters in 2014, and thus the senate remains controlled by the Democrats. How the ongoing Democratic senate, the new G.O.P. house, and the Republican-led administration might handle conflicting views will be a major test of whether bipartisanship will, or will not, occur.
The senate, although with a longstanding Democratic majority, is not a predictable stronghold of familiar liberal, or at least liberal-leaning, Democratic beliefs. For some years, the senate instead has tended to shake out toward the center-right, or in lay terms, moderate-to-conservative, while the house, overall, has tended to a relatively undiluted liberalism, or at least, moderately liberal.
On the senate side of the Roundhouse, there are some early signs highlighting that chamber’s less-partisan approach. A clue is that Democratic senators, including the senate president, Senator Mary Kay Papen of Las Cruces, are more than tired of the four-year hold-up on a floor vote on confirming Hanna Skandera as the cabinet secretary of the public education department.
Skandera, a national-level educational reformer who has put forth a raft of programs and proposals to make schools, and teachers, more accountable and to improve results, is the devil incarnate as far as liberals and the teachers’ unions are concerned. They have criticized her efforts at every opportunity, held demonstrations in the streets. Meanwhile, senate rules committee chair Linda Lopez, an Albuquerque Democrat and allied with the teachers unions, has made sure that Skandera’s cabinet appointment would languish in committee and never make it to a confirmation vote on the senate floor.
The standoff over Skandera has been a centerpiece of a complex power struggle between the Democratic legislature and Republican governor during Martinez’ first four-year term.
Now, though, Senator Papen told The Associated Press that the senate “had wasted time in stopping Skandera’s nomination from reaching the Senate floor,” adding: ““We just need to get on with it.” The same article in The New Mexican newspaper revealed that even the liberal Michael Padilla, a senator from Albuquerque’s south valley, wants the Skandera nomination to move out of Lopez’ committee: “I want the opportunity to vote and hear the testimony on this particular nominee.”
Governor Martinez, in her inaugural address, made a strong case for a bipartisan approach, saying: “New Mexicans deserve leaders who put service above party — leaders who choose to work across party lines not worrying about who gets credit when a reform works, but rather who will benefit from those reforms.”
The floor leader for the Democrats in the senate, Michael Sanchez of Belen, is far less publicly partisan than Egolf, in the house, but Sanchez has been a tough, generally behind-the-scenes adversary to Martinez and legislative Republicans. The dynamics in the senate will be complex, because there is shared power, including the more moderate Papen as senate president and the man who watches every dollar like a hawk from his perch as chairman of the powerful senate finance committee, conservative Democrat John Arthur Smith of Deming.
In many ways besides holding up Skandera’s vote the legislature thwarted Martinez during her first term. But not always (such as a tax cut designed to make N.M. more business friendly that still has legislative leaders steaming with frustration). A couple of other high-profile roadblocks of Martinez efforts were on her desire to repeal the law authorizing driver’s licenses for illegal immigrants, or undocumented immigrants as some prefer; and the strong push by Martinez, Skandera, et al, to stop the practice of so-called “social promotion” (passing third graders who cannot pass reading tests on to the fourth grade anyhow).
The unknown, at this stage, is whether the new dynamic of a Republican house and a strong Martinez victory last fall will change the way things have played out (or not) during the past four sessions.
Cooperation and compromise, in a bipartisan spirit, or partisan battles? Soon, we shall see which it shall be.
Part 2: Legislative Preview — the state house of representatives — partisan conflict or bipartisan cooperation?
January 15, 2015
By Carroll Cagle
(This is the second of three articles previewing the 2015 legislative session.)
How will the Democrats, accustomed to majority control in the state house of representatives for decades, and the newly dominant Republicans get along during the 60-day legislative session that will begin next Tuesday, January 20? A big question but we will look at some indicators below.
(In our Part 1, we reported on how, during 2014, the 112 legislators went from visions of sugar plums – i.e., ample “new money” from increased tax revenues — to wondering if they can barely eke by, or even have to make cuts, due to the sharp falloff in taxes from the oil-production SE corner of New Mexico.)
As for the state house of representatives, already we know that there is one big change, in that Republicans as a result of the 2014 general elections, took over control for the first time in 62 years. (And except for that one brief exception, Democrats really held power in the state house for 80 years, going back to FDR and the New Deal.)
As we have noted before, whoever has one seat more than half of the 70-member total, or at least 36, achieves majority status – and with it, greater power. The Republicans did more than enough in the November elections, picking up a net gain of four. Thus the house flipped from the previous 37-33 Democratic majority to a Republican margin of 37-33.
As a result, all committees now will be headed by Republicans, whereas the Democrats once had all the chairmanships. The new Republican speaker, Don Tripp of Socorro, also will control floor debate and make assignments of bills to committee.
The Democrats in the house, in addition to having to familiarize themselves with the unaccustomed status of minority party (including more cramped offices, some far, far away from the house floor – even in another building), made some changes in their own leadership.
Right after the D’s lost power last November, the former Democratic speaker, Kenny Martinez of Grants (himself the son of another former speaker, the late Walter Martinez) told his fellows he would not seek to be minority leader. Martinez already had been the subject of grumbling by liberals both in and without the house that he had been too moderate, and too darned amiable in cooperating with Republican Governor Susana Martinez and Republicans, in general.
So, the Democratic caucus, in setting up its new team in the minority status, went more toward ardent, liberal partisans this time. They chose as their number two, Sheryl Williams Stapleton of Albuquerque. Stapleton had held the assistant floor leader position during Governor Martinez’ first couple of years, but was eased out by her fellow Democrats after she made intemperate, even volatile and racist, comments about the governor. But she is back.
At the top post, minority leader, the house Democratic caucus chose Brian Egolf of Santa Fe, and right off the bat he made it clear he is no Kenny Martinez.
Milan Simonich, state capitol reporter for the Santa Fe New Mexicannewspaper, wrote this: “Egolf’s style is more confrontational than Martinez’s. Egolf has been quick to challenge — and chide — Republican House members on high-profile issues.”
A report in the Albuquerque Journalalso indicated that Egolf sees the current G.O.P. majority status as an accident of history that voters will soon wake up and remedy: “Egolf said a big part of the job would be aiming to reclaim control of the House in 2016, when all 70 seats will once again be up for election. He said he would aim to end the ‘Republican experiment’ by raising campaign cash and highlighting policy differences.”
Aside from the fact that the Democrats are now in the minority after decades of power, that Kenny Martinez is no longer speaker, and that more liberal representatives will lead the house D’s, there is another matter that doubtless will affect not only the Democrats, but the legislature more broadly. This additional, key fact relates to who will NOT be in their seats of power that they held for many years.
Not returning, because they chose not to seek re-election in 2014, were some of the main decision-makers on tax, spending and other weighty subjects. Albuquerque valley Democrats all, the missing are Henry “Kiki” Saavedra, then chairman of the house appropriations and finance committee, who spent 38 years in the legislature; Ed Sandoval, then chairman of the house taxation and revenue committee, with 32 years; Rick Miera, then the majority leader, with 24 years’ tenure. Losing that much institutional memory in a single year will make some miss their savvy, while others will feel freer to do things differently. Veteran Republicans like Tom Taylor of Farmington also won’t be back as well, but it was those grizzled Democrats whose eyes for so long were on the gauges, and their hands on the wheel.
(Next: Part 3 takes a look at the state senate and the administration of Governor Susana Martinez.)
Part 1: A preview of the 2015 legislature
January 14, 2015
By Carroll Cagle
“When the grass gets short, the horses bite each other.”
Will that old ranch country saying apply next Tuesday when the New Mexico Legislature convenes in Santa Fe for a 60-day run?
For the regular citizen, a legislative session amounts to a gathering of 112 of their fellow New Mexicans given authority to make or repeal laws, raise or lower taxes, and spend tax money. This has been happening since statehood slightly more than a century ago (in 1912).
Much of what happens is the unremarkable cranking of legislative gears, grinding out uncontroversial laws with strong consensus. But there are several deviations from the norm that might cause conflict this year – or, at the least, uncertainty. One is the sudden problem of sharply less tax money for the budget. Others are that many veteran legislative budget leaders with a combined seniority of about 100 years will not be back. And for the first time in 62 years, one chamber of the legislature, the state house, will be Republican controlled – leading to a division in the lawmaking branch, since the Democrats still have control of the senate.
In this report let’s take a look at the abrupt decline in what is called “new money” for the lawmakers to spend. This fact calls to mind the old ranch saying about the biting horses above. When the money is just rolling in, as it has been from southeastern New Mexico’s oil patch in recent years, the need to make hard decisions about which program has to be cut is avoided. Even better is that new programs can be launched or favored ones expanded.
Any notions the legislators had a year or so ago, or even less, that they might be able to play Santa Claus this session have evaporated with the sharp decline in oil prices, and the corresponding decline in tax revenues to state government. As the oil price continues to sink, this means that the legislature is now on the cusp between keeping the budget roughly level, versus even having to make cuts if the decline continues. A startling and dismaying turnaround in financial fortunes, most legislators believe.
How much has the oil price decline affected Santa Fe’s budgeteers? In the late December consensus estimate from the finance experts in Santa Fe, the “recurring revenue estimate (for next fiscal year) was revised downward by $120 million” compared with the previous estimate made as recently as August 2014. The consensus estimate comes from the legislative finance committee, the department of finance and administration, the taxation and revenue department, and the department of transportation (for gasoline taxes).
Here is how Kevin Robinson-Avila, energy reporter for the Albuquerque Journal, put it in a wrap-up on how the steep falloff in oil pricing is helping U.S. and New Mexico consumers at the pump, while putting a big crimp in the spending plans of legislators in Santa Fe:
“In November, state officials cut their revenue estimates of “new money” available for fiscal year 2016 to $141 million, or less than half the $285 million officials had projected in August before oil prices began to drop. Now, officials will likely need to revise projections down again, given that the November estimate was based on oil at $71 per barrel and it’s since fallen below $50.”
It will likely take a while in the session to begin seeing if the legislative horses will start biting each other, or whether a get ‘er done, sober mood will set in and the newly composed legislative branch and the executive will work together with surprising agreeableness to more or less tend to the status quo.
The other things to watch for will be treated in our next issue, Part 2 of our legislative preview.
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Two not-so-obvious issues concerning right-to-work and other union legislation in the upcoming session
January 9, 2015
By Carroll Cagle
You can’t turn on the TV news, open a newspaper or talk to any elected official or lobbyist in New Mexico these days without hearing the words: “right-to-work.”
And while true that so-called right-to-work legislation will be a big deal in the legislative session which begins in Santa Fe on January 20, there are two aspects of the matter that are so obvious but deserve consideration:
First: Even though the state’s business organizations have placed right-to-work at or near the top of their legislative wish list, a possibly even more important bill is one to end state government’s practice of deducting dues from state paychecks for unionized government employees, a far more numerous group than private-sector unions.
Second: And on right-to-work, itself, already there are signs that the unions will play the “movie card” – and that the administration and legislators will have to decide if passing right-to-work could seriously harm the glamorous business of filming Hollywood films in New Mexico.
(“Right-to-work” is the label attached to policies prohibiting “union shops” – i.e., the requirement that all employees who work at a company that has voted to unionize have dues for the union deduced from their pay, whether they like union membership or not. Union advocates say the dues must be required to prevent “free riders” from benefitting from the union without paying their share.)
As for the right-to-work issue and the upcoming legislative session, Beverlee McClure, CEO of the statewide chamber, the Association of Commerce and Industry (ACI), informed the Albuquerque Journal:
“’Right to work’ legislation, which would make labor union membership and dues payment voluntary, is a top priority of much of the business community, according to feedback from 25 business and trade organizations that attended a recent conference arranged by (ACI).”
In addition to support from business organizations, some economic development professionals say, as reported by Dan Mayfield of the weekly Albuquerque Business First, that “New Mexico's lack of right-to-work status scares away companies – specifically manufacturers – that the state is courting.”
Reporting by Mayfield and others shows how much political maneuvering is pivoting on a relatively small, but key, segment of the New Mexico workforce. Mayfield, citing the New Mexico Department of Labor, reports that “only about six percent of the state's employed labor pool is organized…and…only about four percent of the state's private workers are union members….”
Mayfield attributed the four percent statistic to Jon Hendry, head of the AFL-CIO in New Mexico, who also said “the state has fewer than 10,000 private-sector unionized workers and fewer than 4,000 of those are outside the movie business.” (More on this movie aspect down below.)
Sander Rue, a Republican state senator from northwest Albuquerque, is in the news a lot as the sponsor of the right-to-work legislation. But Rue also has pre-filed another measure, which could surpass his right-to-work legislation — both in terms of the number of unionized employees affected, and the political and economic impact, if it becomes law.
Senator Rue’s second measure, as the Albuquerque Journal’s James Monteleone reports:
“… would end the state’s practice of deducting public union dues or fees from state employees’ paychecks on behalf of the union. The change would force the public employees unions to collect their own dues and fees directly from state workers. ‘For the state to be a party to (providing) that service to the unions is absolutely wrong,’ Rue said.”
The same news article notes that “other states such as Wisconsin that have prohibited union fee withdrawal from state paychecks have seen union membership and voluntary dues payments decline.”
That’s putting it mildly. A Wisconsin-based think tank says that the 2010 law passed there as a top priority of Governor Scott Walker“has saved taxpayers nearly $3 billion, and the savings continue to add up. Since the annual votes have been required, Wisconsin public employee unions have lost tens of thousands of members (AFSCME from 9,000 down to 3,500 in just two years.) Two other unions, one for teachers, report they have lost about half their members.”
Aside from dollar savings, when the automatic dues deductions for the state employees and teachers’ unions stopped in Wisconsin, many local unions ceased to be, and individual union members decided that they did not want to be union members after all, according to the same think tank, the MacIver Institute:
“Government workers voted to decertify 25 school district unions that sought recertification. Plus, 100 fewer unions than last year chose to seek recertification. Last year, 408 units sought recertification. (In 2014), the number was down to 305. (The 2014) elections occurred from November 5 to 25 (2014), and 305 unions filed for recertification. Of the 305, 25 unions lost their recertification votes.”
Sander Rue is not alone in his desire to end the practice of state government automatically deducting dues for unionized state employees and teachers. Less than a year ago, Governor Susana Martinez publicly declared her belief that the deductions should end.
Even the revered godfather of liberal government, Franklin Roosevelt, said this in 1937 in a letter to the then-head of the federal government employees’ union:
“All government employees should realize that the process of collective bargaining, as usually understood, cannot be transplanted into the public service. It has its distinct and insurmountable limitations when applied to (government workers). The employer is the whole people, who speak by means of laws enacted by their representatives in Congress.”
If Martinez, Rue, et al, carry the day in the 60-day legislative session, the results for New Mexico could be far greater than if right-to-work is enacted, although that, too, could be beneficial as New Mexico struggles to end its decades old dependence on federal spending and belatedly build a stronger private sector economy.
As Senator Rue said in a newspaper interview: ““When you talk to the folks who go out and try to pitch New Mexico to out-of-state companies, they come back and tell us there are several obstacles to getting those folks to operate here. … When they come back and tell us that we don’t stay in the hunt for these out-of-state businesses to come to New Mexico in a large part because of our (lack of) right-to-work laws, then we need to do something to change it.’”
However, the contours of a political strategy to halt a right-to-work bill already are emerging and it involves Tinseltown glam.
It is revealing that Jon Hendry is president not only of the overall state AFL-CIO but also is business agent for Local 480 of the film union, known by all as IATSE (for International Alliance of Theatrical Stage Employees). Further, as Hendry points out in news interviews, IATSE members make up a majority of the smallish number of private-sector unionized workers in the state – about 6,000 of the 10,000 total. Thus it is a reasonable prediction that, in this state if not in others, enacting right-to-work will be argued to be a decision to end the movie and television production business here. (It’s not just movies — ongoing TV series like the acclaimed “Breaking Bad” and “Longmire” have become a significant part of the N.M. film industry due to the longer-duration economic benefits of ongoing productions.)
The right-to-work legislative battle might be a proxy as to whether New Mexico wants to continue being a notable film colony of Hollywood, with both job-creating and P.R. benefits, and continuing to enable the thrill that some regular folks get from seeing film crews at work or catching a glimpse of a beautiful starlet or handsome actor out around town.
In the hubbub about right-to-work, the serious public policy battles might really play out on the bill to end the union dues deduction of the much-more-numerous public employee union members and teachers’ union members. Some here would love to follow in the footsteps of Wisconsin, while others fear that doing so would strike a dreadful and misguided blow at the heart of unionized labor.
Anti-terrorism and immigration policies may collide in New Mexico as a result of the driver’s license controversy
January 5, 2015
By Carroll Cagle
The federal government is going to have to make up its mind about whether illegal immigrants should, or should not, get driver’s licenses.
The current federal law is one factor that might cause the New Mexico legislature to finally repeal the state law that allows illegal immigrants to get driver’s licenses. Governor Susana Martinez has been trying for repeal for four years now, and her prospect seems brighter now that she will have a Republican majority in the state house of representatives.
But the already-controversial issue now might be Exhibit A in a developing conflict in Washington, between anti-terrorism law and pro-immigration sentiment.
The potential for this conflict turned up as a result of an interview that New Mexico Prosperity Project had in December with Steve Camarota, research director for the Center for Immigration Studiesin Washington, D.C. Dr. Camarota is one of the nation’s leading experts on immigration issues and is frequently sought out by the top newspapers and television networks for his expertise. (See details at the end of this report.)
Dr. Camarota gave us the insight that the federal government is, or at least soon may be, of two minds on whether illegal immigrants should get state driver’s licenses.
It appears that, as time unfolds under President Obama’s controversial executive orders easing up on five million of the 11 million illegal immigrants, the federal government might come to REQUIRE that illegal immigrants be granted state driver’s licenses. If that turns out to be the case, it would be in direct conflict with an existing federal law, the REAL ID act. That law means that licenses from states that DO issue licenses to illegal immigrants will soon not be recognized for federal identification purposes including all-important airplane flights.
Up until the November 2014 election when Martinez was convincingly re-elected, both houses of the New Mexico legislature were controlled by Democrats, and they persistently thwarted the governor’s attempts to repeal the law that her Democratic predecessor Bill Richardson and his legislative allies passed in 2003 that required the New Mexico MVD to issue licenses to illegal immigrants.
By contrast, the current governor, Martinez, has concerns that the 2003 law led to numerous criminal enterprises being hatched in New Mexico — “license mills” replete with phony supporting documentation supposedly proving residency that proved a magnet to unsavory sorts from all over the country.
Not only has the 2003 law proved to be a breeder of criminal enterprises, she and other advocates for repeal say, but getting one’s hands on a valid driver’s license is a prize tool for terrorists that come into the U.S. As Dr. Camarota pointed out in his interview with us, “A driver’s license is not just a driver’s license.” He explained that in today’s world such licenses are a de facto national ID card, allowing one to board airliners and enter federal buildings — among other actions that could endanger national security.
In fact, the potential terrorism threat as a result of illegal immigrants being able to get state-issued driver’s licenses was one reason Congress enacted the REAL ID act in 2005. The U.S. Department of Homeland Security that controls access to air flights seem poised to finally to put the hammer down on non-compliant states in 2015.
If that indeed occurs, and if the legislature were once again fail to repeal the current authorization for N.M. driver’s licenses to illegals, it seemingly would mean that the customary procedure of showing a New Mexico driver’s license in order to board airline flights would no longer work – that instead you would have to have a passport just to fly from Albuquerque to Phoenix (or anywhere for that matter).
To make all this crazier, our interview with Dr. Camarota also surfaced the potential outcome that if the Richardson-era law IS repealed in the 2015 legislative session, then ultimately New Mexico (and other states that already do not allow driver’s licenses for illegal immigrants) might end up being in conflict with another emerging policy direction from the executive branch. The contrary approach could end up meaning that, in fact, illegals MUST be issued licenses — as an outcome of President Obama’s executive orders on behalf of about five million of the 11 million illegal immigrants said to be in the USA at present. If that federal objective really does emerge from the executive orders, there would be a direct conflict with the REAL ID act’s anti-terrorism objectives of not issuing such licenses.
If those conflicts do emerge, courts would probably have to referee the matter and sort it all out, Dr. Camarota predicted.
So, New Mexico might find itself in the middle of mixed signals from Washington whereby existing law forces the states toward ending access of illegal immigrants to licenses, while President Obama’s executive orders might require the opposite.
Here is a look-see at the license issue in the legislative session that will begin on January 20, by James Monteleone of the Albuquerque Journal:
“Republicans in the New Mexico House are renewing their efforts to repeal a state law that allows issuance of driver’s licenses to immigrants who are in the country illegally – and this time the GOP has a majority.
“New Mexico is one of just two states that issue unrestricted driver’s licenses to immigrants who are in the country illegally. Eight other states have since enacted laws allowing restricted driving privileges for unauthorized immigrants.
“The draft legislation filed Tuesday by Reps. Paul Pacheco of Albuquerque and Andy Nuñez of Hatch closely matches proposals that failed in 2013 and 2014 and is similar in principle to efforts in the two previous years.
“’The reality is if we don’t get this taken care of, we will start having to have passports to get on airplanes,’ Pacheco told the Journal.”
For an insight into Dr. Camarota’s acknowledged expertise on the subject of immigrantion, see this excerpt from his bio on the website of the Center for Immigration Studies:
“His research has been featured on the front pages of The New York Times, The Washington Post, and USA Today as well as numerous other media outlets. His academic articles have been published for journals, including the Public Interest and Social Science Quarterly. He has also written general interest pieces for such publications as the Chicago Tribune and National Review. His analysis and commentary are frequently heard on radio and television news programs including CNN, MSNBC, Fox News Channel, NBC Nightly News, and ABC World News Tonight, CBS Evening News, National Public Radio, and NewsHour on PBS.” (Surely he will now add the New Mexico Prosperity Project to this list....)
Part II: Amnesty for immigrants: $$$ costs to states often ignored as pro and con sides argue over constitutionality
December 18, 2014
By Carroll Cagle
In our first report, we noted a study by the Heritage Foundation that amnesty for illegal immigrants could cost U.S. taxpayers (including those at the state level) trillions of additional dollars.
Drilling down a bit deeper into this matter, and bringing in the other biggest controversial issue of the Obama administration, “Obamacare,” should result in New Mexico legislators and taxpayers getting even more uneasy.
Another well-researched study, this by the Center for Immigration Studies,begins by noting that: “A key part of the Affordable Care Act is Medicaid expansion for those with low incomes.”
The study, headed by Steven Camarota, says: “The data show that immigrants and their children accounted for 42 percent of the growth in Medicaid enrollment from 2011 to 2013. Immigrants benefited more from Medicaid expansion than natives because a much larger share of immigrants are poor and uninsured. It seems almost certain that immigrants and their children will continue to benefit disproportionately from Obamacare, as they remain much more likely than natives to be uninsured or poor.” The Center for Immigration Studies study goes on to say: “The increase in Medicaid enrollment among immigrants and their children can be roughly estimated as costing $4.6 billion annually.”
The New Mexico Legislature convenes again in January, and already the lawmakers are contemplating that revenue increases for the next fiscal year will be far lower than had been predicted only a short time ago, due to the plunge in oil prices (good for consumers; bad for taxes from the huge oil-production sector in southeastern New Mexico).
What to do about the additional funding that might well be needed for services to immigrants, generally, and for Medicaid specifically, is going to be a thorny problem for both the executive and the legislative branches here — not just in January but in future legislative sessions.
A simplistic division into anti- and pro-immigration camps is not too viable here. Television news images from around the country tend to show warm images of lovable immigrant children worried about their parents being yanked away, and, on the other side, border-state ranchers and sheriffs wrestling with hordes of scofflaws prone to cutting fences and injuring the environment, or even trigger-happy drug-runners willing to take shots at ICE agents.
New Mexico cannot be divided simply into such camps. The “Hispanic” culture here is long and storied. The first Hispanics traveled up the Rio Grande Valley, and settled along it, long before the supposedly first “Anglo” pilgrims from Europe landed at Plymouth Rock and Jamestown. Here along the Rio Grande, Hispanic, Anglo and Indian cultures, commerce, and politics are and have been intertwined for centuries. Far from Hispanics being consigned solely to jobs of transient labor in the fields and on construction sites, here they have been and are part of the establishment.
The governor and lieutenant governor are both Hispanics – and Republicans to boot. The incoming attorney general, a Democrat, is a Hispanic as are numerous members of the state legislature including leaders there. Nor are leadership and achievements by New Mexico Hispanics limited to the political realm, as one can easily determine by observing lists of top performers in law, medicine, engineering and architecture, sports, music, the arts, and business. The Albuquerque Hispano Chamber of Commerce is a large-membership, potent force, and is replete with mature, accomplished Hispanic-owned companies across the economic spectrum, employing many (including Anglos).
Then there is the fact that the governor, Susana Martinez — a conservative in many notable ways – last year chose to opt in to an expansion of Medicaid in the state, triggering a massive influx of federal dollars, while some of her fellow Republican governors around the country loudly pronounced their opposition to such a thing and opted out.
Initially at least, expanding the range of Medicaid eligibility here is a helluva deal: The federal share for the new enrollees is 100 percent. As the Albuquerque Journalreports, since the governor’s decision, 70,000 newly eligible people have enrolled, along with an additional 20,000 people who already had been eligible but for whatever reason had not signed up: a total increase of 90,000.
The Journal report adds: “The federal government currently covers 100 percent of the costs for individuals who became eligible under the Medicaid expansion, and 70 percent of the costs for those who were previously eligible. By 2020, the federal share for those made eligible by the Medicaid expansion will drop back to 90 percent.”
The state administration’s Medicaid budget for next fiscal year is $5.4 billion, up $409 million from this year, mostly federal dollars.
Let us pick up the thread of President Obama’s executive orders shielding 5 million from deportation, and the fact that immigrants (legal or illegal) tend to use services, including Medicaid, at a far higher rate than the national average. It seems certain that coming up with answers to the combined problems of immigration and state government costs is not likely to be easy, nor to fall out along familiar media and cultural templates.
Here, the state is not made up of two camps as often portrayed in simplistic imagery: Hispanics who are all recent immigrants working (if at all) in off-the-books low-paying temp jobs, and the powerful Anglo establishment hell bent on deporting them forthwith while moving forcefully toward “controlling the borders.”
Jerry Kammer, a Pulitzer-prize-winning investigative reporter who once lived in New Mexico and is now with the Center for Immigration Studies in Washington, insightfully quotes from an NPR interview with Leslie Sanchez, a Republican strategist who worked for President George W. Bush.
Kammer says that Ms. Sanchez “…made a critically important statement (in the interview):”
“There's this misconception (that the immigration issue) is all about the Latino vote. Yes, this is very important to Hispanics (but) Hispanic voters are splitting – they really do split. For the last ten years they've split on this issue of immigration reform, …some wanting more border enforcement, especially the Hispanics that live in the [areas] directly affected by the U.S.-Mexico border. (Yet), ultimately there's no tolerance for dehumanizing any immigrant or any individual. That, no one can stand for.”
Part I: Amnesty for immigrants: $$$ costs to states often ignored as pro and con sides argue over constitutionality
December 16, 2014
By Carroll Cagle
Since President Obama stirred up intense controversy in the congress and the country with his plan to ease deportation at least for now of about 5 million immigrants here illegally, most of the argumentation has been about whether his moves would violate the U.S. Constitution.
Not given so much attention or debate is how much the presidential actions might cost the states and their taxpayers.
New Mexico, being a border state with Mexico, could be impacted more than other states, although how much is a big question mark at this early stage.
The Heritage Foundationdid a study with projected new costs based on a then-existing U.S. senate bill that would have given Obama-style protections to all 11 million immigrants here illegally, rather than the 5 million said to be covered by the president’s executive orders.
The study’s summary said that “providing amnesty to unlawful immigrants under a scheme similar to (the senate bill) will result in as much as $6.3 trillion in net future government costs (both state and federal).” The underlying premise to the costs, the think tank said, is that “Illegal immigrants who reside in the United States pay some taxes but consume more in government benefits.” A rough calculation therefore would show that under Obama’s program affecting 5 million rather than 11 million immigrants, the future costs still would be between $2 trillion and $3 trillion.
Any calculations at this early stage are rough, indeed, for several reasons: (a) The number of illegal immigrants, by nature, cannot be determined via exact science, (b) Administering the Obama executive-order endeavors also is likely to be an exercise in barely-controlled chaos and confusion, and (c) Determining hard costs to the taxpayers for the many diverse services to be consumed, over time, is even more complex and doubtful.
The Heritage Foundation study lays out these examples of the many types of taxpayer-supported services that are out there, and likely will be utilized with increasing frequency by the immigrants:
- Direct benefits: Social Security, Medicare, and workers’ compensation;
- Means-tested welfare benefits: Over 80 programs, such as Medicaid, food stamps, the Earned Income Tax Credit, and Temporary Assistance for Needy Families;
- Public education; and
- Population-based services: police force, firefighters, parks, and highways.
How these familiar programs could end up costing trillions more to U.S. taxpayers due to serving the immigrants is based on this Heritage Foundation assertion:
“…In 2010, the average household headed by college-educated individuals received (about $25,000) in government benefits while paying (about $54,000) in taxes. Conversely, some households are net tax consumers, such as the average household headed by an individual without a high school degree that received (about $47,000) in benefits while paying only (about $11,000) in taxes.
“The clear divide between well and poorly educated households is particularly relevant to the discussion of amnesty because unlawful immigrants are on average less educated than citizens. Specifically, half of unlawful immigrant households are headed by an individual with less than a high school degree, while another 25 percent of household heads have only a high school diploma. This means that, if given amnesty, these households will on average be significant net tax consumers.”
Next issue: More on the issue of $$$ costs to the states re. amnesty for illegal immigrants.
Dollars and sense — fat cats, skinny cats, retirees, etc.
December 11, 2014
By Carroll Cagle
Numbers and statistics can be mind-numbing – or illuminating and useful (or both). Out of some big haystacks, we have isolated a few of these numerical needles that are both useful and important for New Mexico taxpayers and voters:
1. Who are the real fat cats?
A recurring theme in political races, and in news and commentary, is that when the U.S. Supreme Court ruled in January 2010 that organizations operating independently of candidates and political parties may spend unlimited amounts during election campaigns, it would enable the “fat cats” to “buy” elections.
The “fat cats” were most often said to be big corporations and Republicans, or Republican-leaning, organizations. One of New Mexico’s two U.S. senators, Tom Udall, a liberal, has been strenuously trying to overturn the Supreme Court ruling, entitled Citizens United, ever since.
Yet, here in New Mexico, during the 2014 elections, it turns out that the Republican-leaning and business-oriented groups were the gatos flacos (“skinny cats” in Spanish) compared with the liberal/environmental/union/Democratic-leaning groups, who were, relatively speaking, the gatos gordos (fat cats).
Here’s that report:
- Advance New Mexico Now, a pro-Republican group spent slightly more than $1 million.
- Patriot Majority New Mexico, a pro-Democrat group, reported spending more than $3.4 million.
2. You don’t see all the $$$ benefits that state, local and school employees get
Mindful that taxpayers can get aggravated about public employees getting salaries that seem too high (and thus that they would vote against legislators who approved them), state legislators for a long time have utilized a nifty way of compensating these employees without drawing so much negative attention. Instead of funding outright salary increases, employees were given increasingly beneficial pension arrangements — with the result being that the costs would be less visible, and put off into years into the future.
That future is already here, and still coming. This one example provided by the executive director of the New Mexico Public Employees Retirement Associationcould prove disturbing to many private-sector employees, who are likely to get pension arrangements that are far less attractive, if they get them at all:
“After working 20 years and retiring at age 49, the member will receive an annual pension of $40,224 (the average salary of a state employee is slightly higher than $40,000) plus a two percent, compounding COLA yearly for life. The member’s lifetime benefit will be approximately $2 million and he or she will have paid as little as $31,711 in employee contributions over the course of a 20-year career.”
3. Local government jobs, including the schools, are a growth industry
Harold Morgan, a syndicated columnist who specializes in analyzing New Mexico’s economy, responded to the most recent New Mexico Prosperity Project two-part series on federal spending here, by providing us with some numbers about the growing number of jobs in local government, specifically the schools. Morgan’s columns appear in such newspapers as the Farmington Timesand the Carlsbad Current Argus:
“From September 1999 to September 2006, local government employment went from 88,500 to 105,000. That’s a 16,500 job, or 19%, increase…The growth was 2,357 jobs per year. Of that, 6,600 jobs, not quite 1,000 annually, were in ‘local government education,’ (i.e.) the public schools.
“Mining, meaning mostly oil and gas, more than doubled employment to 28,100 from 13,200 in 1999. Manufacturing went the other way, losing more than a third of its 44,200 jobs in 1999 to register 27,800 jobs in September 2014.'
Part II: New Mexico’s economy and federal spending – the relationship, once hot, begins to cool; will the Republican takeover of Congress figure in?
December 8, 2014
By Carroll Cagle
New Mexico’s economy — often trailing behind other states in the nation and region — could be headed toward even more troubling times.
This article is the second of two focusing on the decline in federal dollars flowing into the state. Our reports are focusing on the multi-billion-dollar-a-year budgets for large-scale, high-profile entities in the military and national security realm located here in New Mexico — specifically three air force bases, two nuclear weapons laboratories, and White Sands Missile Range, the largest military base in the nation in terms of land area, and other programs for the nuclear mission, lasers and pulsed power, and special operations.
We are looking not just at the cash flow for the many, big-budget institutions but the elected political officials whose hands are on the appropriations controls — both the New Mexico delegation to congress, and the overall congress, soon to experience significant changes.
Oh and as if the warning signs of diminished federal funding were not enough for New Mexico’s business and political leaders to deal with, another pillar of the state’s economy (and state government’s general fund), the oil and gas industry, is seeing a sudden, precipitous downturn after recent years of eye-popping production, and revenue, increases.
(Although many state residents in the most populous cities of central New Mexico, far from the oil patch, either don’t know or prefer not to acknowledge the vital role of oil and gas to funding the state’s educational and other services, one startling revelation is that due to the fall-off in oil prices, state legislators might have “only” (!) $100 million in “new” money to play around with when they meet in January.)
A recent detailed report by Michael Coleman and Win Quigley in the Albuquerque Journal paints a picture of the spending from Washington on New Mexico’s national security apparatus. Here are key quotes from the Journal’s wrap-up:
1. Federal contracts in New Mexico declined by 17 percent over the past five years.
2. Overall federal government payroll is down about three percent in New Mexico since 2013.
3. New Mexico’s heavy reliance on federal dollars is illustrated by the fact that the state still regularly receives more federal contract spending on a per capita basis – much more – than the national average. In 2013, New Mexico collected more than double the federal contracts of the U.S. average, $3,211 per person for the state, compared with the national average of $1,461.
4. Of the 50 states, New Mexico ranked third in 2013 for per capita federal contract spending and was in the top five for each year from 2007 through 2012, according to National Priorities Project data.
5. The State Smart website … pegged the total federal contract number in New Mexico in 2013 (the last year analyzed) at $6.8 billion. The figure was $8.2 billion in 2009. The five-year difference in the National Priorities numbers represents the 17 percent decline.
6. USASpending.gov shows that New Mexico contracts and financial assistance, which includes direct grants, totaled $18.7 billion in 2013, down from $22.2 billion in 2012. In 2009 – the year the massive American Recovery Act stimulus project went into effect – the number was $22.7 billion, up from just $15.4 billion in 2008.
The first item listed above, for contracts with private companies, means that the squeeze already is on – and has been for the past few years – for companies around Sandia, in Albuquerque, and around LANL, in northern New Mexico, and to an extent around the three air force bases at Albuquerque, Clovis and Alamogordo. The point of this is that national security functioning is not done solely by federal employees, on payroll, but also via contractors the agencies retain.
The decline in national security-related federal spending here, already underway, affects professionals in information technology, skilled machinists providing specialized services, and many more — causing a negative ripple effect through New Mexico’s private economy, as the Journal noted. The hit first to the government sector (at the federal institutions) and then on into the private sector via the contracted services, finally boomerangs via a third wave, back into the local and state government sectors whose tax revenues show reduction because the contractors are slimming down (involuntarily).
What is, or can, state government do if the federal trend-line continues to head downward? Governor Susana Martinez and her New Mexico Economic Department have been emphasizing that the concerns are making real what some thinkers have been warning against (usually to little avail) for some time – that the state is too reliant on federal dollars. They say the state needs to bear down on growing the long-relatively-anemic private sector, both by helping clear out nonsensical, costly over-regulation, thus helping existing firms already here, and in recruiting companies elsewhere to move here or open plants or offices here.
Anyone warning that New Mexico should begin weaning itself from Washington’s cash did not get heard so well before now — even as the federal cash flow began to look shakier than during the expansionist decades In recent years, a big reason for the relative inattention to the need to develop a broader public sector, and ease the unhealthy dependence on the federal spending, was that the oil and gas bonanza of the past few years produced such a flood of tax dollars into state government’s treasury.
Now that oil and gas, at least for the moment, is giving the feeling experienced on the steep downslope of a roller-coaster, the importance and urgency of starting and growing homegrown businesses, and bringing in others from elsewhere, should become abundantly clear.
In our first article, we observed that New Mexico’s two Democratic U.S. senators lack much seniority and, moreover, as of January will lose clout as they become part of the minority party, now that the Republicans will be in the majority in the senate. The sole Republican in the state’s five-person congressional delegation, Congressman Steve Pearce of the southern district, is supportive of defense endeavors springing from his years as a combat pilot during the Vietnam war. As a self-made millionaire in the oilfield services industry, he also is an advocate for small businesses. His website says Pearce “is well aware of the regulations and taxes that plague small-business owners.”
Yet Pearce is one of only 435 members of the U.S. House and that does not even count the 100 U.S. senators – nor the fact that some tea party and libertarian-leaning Republicans are not necessarily keen on paying for the vast array of American military bases scattered around the globe. They might also wonder if Federal spending on the nuclear weapons complex, as exemplified by Los Alamos and Sandia labs, is needed at the levels necessary during the Cold War.
Given that the annual budgets at LANL and Sandia are about $2.2 billion each, and given their deeply rooted missions in support of national security, there is little likelihood that these massive complexes are going to disappear. Indeed, some lab projects may see increases. However, the decades of easy reliance on these economic bulwarks are ending, and, since oil and gas also is having troubles at the moment, “economic development” – and specifically private-sector growth of all sorts — has become a serious, timely mission for New Mexico’s leaders.
For some business leaders, it would be just dandy if the state did not try to “help” except by restraining its nanny-state impulses, along with the concomitant regulations and taxes that are higher than need be (to pay for an inefficient bureaucratic apparatus).
Others advocate for strategic economic development policies. One helpful step occurred in the 2014 legislative session when Governor Susana Martinez, a Republican, and Democratic Senate president Mary Kay Papen, the group “Think New Mexico,” and other legislators like Senator Sander Rue, worked in a bipartisan manner to pass legislation to create a one-stop-shop type of Internet portal for a number of business reporting requirements and information needs.
Some hardy souls even venture to advocate for a total re-do of New Mexico’s unusual, maddening, complicated gross receipts tax apparatus, which has been amended over the years by special interests, legislators and governors to look like a chunk of unsavory Swiss cheese.
Getting rid of the myriad gross receipts exemptions in favor of a simpler sales tax at a lower overall rate could show New Mexico’s state government uses a “best-practices” approach, while reducing the cost of compliance ($$$ spent for accountants and other professionals, on top of the taxes, just to comply with a complicated code).
Simplification combined with a lower rate could help the private sector more than carving out yet more favors for the latest recruitment target du jour. But doing so would, while making a lot of sense to rational thinkers, tends to make many politicians and lobbyists nervous, and resistant.
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Part I: New Mexico’s economy and federal spending – the relationship, once hot, begins to cool; will the Republican takeover of Congress figure in?
December 3, 2014
By Carroll Cagle
A nationally distributed cartoon once was published, showing a man pausing in front of a television screen with the news anchor saying:
“Foreign aid to New Mexico was cut off today when Congress discovered it is a state.”
While the cartoon may have been a riff on the fact that not all people elsewhere have gotten a handle on the fact that yes indeed we are one of the 50 U.S. states, it is true that New Mexico has a major dependence on dollars flowing into the state from Washington, D.C.
A growing number of New Mexico’s leaders in government, business and academia seem to be concluding that the state is too needy in this relationship, and thus vulnerable. Indeed, the days when a good portion of the state’s economy relied on a stable, or even growing, influx of Federal dollars could be slowly ending.
What still must play out is what the Republican takeover of Congress will mean for the federal dollars that first began with a modest trickle, then eventually to a flow and then a continuing gusher. It all began with the development of the atomic bomb at Los Alamos in the 1940s, and continued for decades.
Since physicist Robert Oppenheimer and colleagues gathered on the mesa that later became Los Alamos National Laboratory (LANL), and then detonated the world’s first nuclear weapon at Trinity Site at White Sands in July 1945, the state has evolved into what some have called a “defense colony” of the U.S. — providing vital contributions to national security via the massive, big-budget complexes of Los Alamos National Laboratory, Sandia National Laboratories, three U.S. Air Force bases, White Sands Missile Range of the U.S. Army, and numerous other operations. Both the Department of Energy and Department of Defense are the overseers of this vast, far-flung and costly complex.
The combination of awesome military might and brainpower at these installations is in addition to the many other instances of federal presence in New Mexico so commonplace that many residents almost forget they are here, despite the fact they, too, bring in a steady flow of dollars: Bureau of Land Management, U.S. Forest Service, Bureau of Reclamation, Bureau of Indian Affairs, Department of Education, and the tens of thousands of rivulets of dollars flowing to individuals or providers that combine to form a mighty river of their own – via Medicaid, Social Security, Medicare, etc.
Here are some gauges to watch, and things to try to puzzle out, in the coming months:
1. What will happen now that four out of five of the members of the state’s congressional delegation will be in the minority party in both chambers of congress?
2. Aside from the delegation’s abilities to keep the dollars flowing for Federal programs in New Mexico, there is the larger matter of what a newly-Republican congress as a whole might do to cut back on the size and cost of the federal government.
For decades, New Mexico’s two U.S. senators took the lead on looking after the Federal appropriations for LANL, Sandia, and the military installations here. Beginning in the 1940s and 1950s these were Democrats Dennis Chavez and Clinton P. Anderson, followed by Anderson and Joseph M. Montoya (with an interlude by Republican former astronaut Harrison Schmitt), and then the long tenure of Republican Pete Domenici (36 years) and Democrat Jeff Bingaman (30 years).
However, with the retirement of both Domenici and Bingaman, New Mexico now has one Democrat who was just elected to his second term (Tom Udall), and one who is still in his first term (Martin Heinrich). So the seniority is now seriously diminished from the swashbuckling days – and both are Democrats in a chamber that will be controlled by Republicans beginning in January.
It is hard enough to get things done for one’s state even when one is in the majority, given all the competing demands and maneuvers among the 100 senators, but once relegated to minority status, the difficulty is magnified.
If Allen Weh, the Republican challenger to Udall’s campaign for a second term, had been part of the successful, national Republican “wave” on election day, November 4, would New Mexico’s prospects be better in terms of protecting the Federal cash flow into these parts? And why was Weh not more successful? After all, Udall’s cousin Mark, also a Democratic U.S. senator from next-door-neighbor Colorado, had lost his own attempt at a second six-year term.
Second things first: Of course the reasons that each voter casts his or her vote are not knowable. But there some reasons that could be applicable as to why the prosperous, successful entrepreneur, Weh, could not capitalize on the national wave that tended toward just such candidates as him, while jettisoning Democratic liberals, of which Udall is one.
One reason could be that Weh, an iron-willed retired Marine colonel, did not radiate the kind of sunny, cheerful optimism that the successful Colorado Republican, Cory Gardner, did. Voters vote a particular way partly for actual policy reasons, but also because they warm to a candidate’s personality, or not. The other side of this coin – one that has confounded Republicans here well before 2014 – is that Tom Udall’s genial, pleasant personality distracts voters from “getting” that Udall’s legislative record is farther to the left, and much greener, than the center mass of the electorate.
A second reason, also vis-à-vis the Colorado experience: (a) Whereas Cory Gardner proved flexible and innovative at disarming Mark Udall’s single-issue messaging (a supposed Republican “war on women”), Weh did not as flexibly reach out to moderates and independents, and (b) Tom Udall wisely did not emulate his cousin in playing the monotonous anti-women song in Colorado; Tom even sought to keep Colonel Weh from capturing the military messaging theme with two often-played commercials playing up Udall’s previous efforts on behalf of Kirtland AFB (Albuquerque) and Cannon AFB (Clovis) – the latter when his U.S. house district stretched down to Curry County, where Cannon resides.
A third reason is financing. Although Weh’s campaign was adequately funded, including more than $1 million from the candidate himself, it did not match the deluge of dollars fueling Udall’s ubiquitous televised onslaught.
A fourth reason could be political operations. On the plus side for Udall, he already had run several statewide races (one for U.S. senate in 2008; and two for attorney general years in the 1990s), and five successful races for the U.S. house in north-central New Mexico, right before he took over the senate perch occupied by Republican Domenici till 2008. It would be hard not to build up a pretty strong network of allies and supporters after so many races. It seemed harder for Weh to capitalize on his own political experience. For one thing, he had been Republican state chair and there were those within the party who had differed with Weh, and never really made up. Also, four years prior to this election he had run in the Republican primary for governor against Susana Martinez. While the two seemed relatively okay with each other this go-round, it would not be too odd to consider that the governor’s allies all around the state might not have energized themselves as much as they would have if the Martinez-Weh 2010 campaign had not occurred.
Now to the matter of whether protecting New Mexico’s Federal cash flow might have been advanced if Weh had been victorious, more so than with Democratic Udall being re-elected:
One big plus for Weh, of course, would have been that he would have ended up as part of the new G.O.P. majority in the senate, albeit as a freshman but still…
However, it does not seem a given that a Republican majority in the senate, in and of itself, will result in protecting New Mexico’s bases and national laboratories. That is because “Republicans” are hardly monolithic. The G.O.P.’s defense hawks might want to actually increase defense spending, including more funding for the Air Force, thus helping the bases here. Some of those hawks (internationalists) might also want to do the same for the national labs.
However, at least a few senate Republicans (not nearly a large a percentage as in the U.S. house) are either tea party types or Libertarian-leaning or both. The Tea Party is gravely concerned about the teetering, towering cumulative Federal debt – headed toward $20 trillion by the end of the Obama presidency. They see this in immediate terms as crowding out funding for worthy programs of all types, due to the relentless growth of interest payments on the debt. They also see the debt as an ominous, existential threat to the United States of America, and thus they might put on the brakes on appropriations, overall, and even refrain from the time-honored tradition of “bringing home the pork” (Federal dollars) for their own states.
Libertarians are likely to want to trim government spending in all its manifestations, including defense and nuclear weapons labs, because they do not think it is in the best interests of the country to support a vastly expensive network of bases, equipment and military forces all around the globe – feeling it creates trouble, and enemies, is far too costly for American taxpayers, and is way outside the proper, limited, function of the U.S. national government.
When it comes to the issue of Federal dollars coming into New Mexico, Washington already has been modestly tapping on the brake pedal; New Mexicans seeing that staccato flicker of brake lights ahead of them through their economic windshield will want to be alert to the need to turn toward another route if the taillights in the Federal engine ahead become solid red. Next issue: More on the Federal spending/political interface in New Mexico.
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Ex-con from the private sector used same approach as Jonathan Gruber did in selling Obamacare
December 1, 2014
By Carroll Cagle
An ex-convict (who also was once chief financial officer of a $100 billion company) visited Albuquerque recently with a message that has surprising relevance to the original “sales job” done in support of the passage of the “Obamacare” law.
Andrew Fastow was CFO of Enron — once, and still, synonymous with corporate greed and fraud. Fastow came to the University of New Mexico recently, having spent six years in prison for fraud after Enron, then making $1 billion in net profit a year, collapsed, leaving its executives, employees and investors under the rubble.
Fastow was at UNM to talk about ethics. But in doing so he also made revealing observations about how the then-giant energy trading company used mind-numbing legal complexity and murky, misleading language to siphon money out of investors for Enron’s own enrichment.
The smooth sales job continued on a massive scale until Enron disintegrated spectacularly, becoming daily fodder for print headlines and television news reports, all the way through the “perp walks” and the prison sentences (and sad stories about the ruined investors).
By the time of Fastow’s conviction in 2002, “Enron” had become equated with “corporate greed,” “manipulation” and “fraud.” As such the company became both an exemplar of greed and deception and a cause of cynicism directed not just at Enron but, more broadly, toward big business or even capitalism itself.
Liberals, in particular, took up this story line with enthusiasm, and even delight. But Fastow’s observations to the UNM students offer some highly relevant insights, and uncanny similarities, with a revered liberal achievement, the enactment of the massive health care overhaul known as Obamacare. More precisely, Fastow’s descriptions of what went dreadfully wrong at Enron has to do with the way its products were sold to investors — a description with great similarities to the way Obamacare was described and thus sold to voters, the media and members of congress – and enacted.
Here are some things Fastow said at UNM, as reported by Dan Mayfield of the weekly newspaper, Albuquerque Business First:
'The rules are complex, ambiguous, and it's not clear cut. We said, 'Wait. There's complexity, ambiguity.’ That's not ambiguity, it's room for opportunities. I viewed it as an opportunity and that took us down the wrong path.
'I wasn't thinking this is fraud. I thought I was doing something to help the company. To help the company, you say it's immaterial.'
In the quotation above, if you change the words “the company” to “the White House” or “enacting the Affordable Care Act” you might get a feeling of familiarity with the recently well-known words of — not a well-heeled corporate executive, but a well-heeled economist now known by all as the “architect of Obamacare,” Jonathan Gruber.
Consider the similarities between the way Fastow and Enron saw opportunity to attract more trusting investors and how Gruber saw opportunity to sell Obamacare, from the way Gruber explained things at an October 17, 2013, event:
“Lack of transparency is a huge political advantage. And basically, call it the stupidity of the American voter or whatever, but basically that was really, really critical for the thing to pass.”
“This bill was written in a tortured way to make sure (the Congressional Budget Office) …did not score the mandate as taxes,” Gruber tells the audience with a smile. “If CBO scores the mandate as taxes, the bill dies.”
The fact that Enron’s leaders used complexity and lack of transparency to rope in herds of investors (some of whom lost their life savings) rightly contributed to a national revulsion, and cynicism, soon seeping out beyond Enron alone to also become directed at big corporations, capitalism and even the profit motive. Even though obviously not all large corporations engaged in such activities, some liberals were downright rapturous in attributing Enron’s sins to the free enterprise universe.
Now, given the familiarity of so many with Gruber’s candidly cynical insights about how Obamacare was marketed, there seems to be a growing tide of cynicism and skepticism directed at the advocates of big government and all-knowing, top-down solutions offered to America’s problems. The sentiment seems similar to the feelings the Enron fiasco provoked about big business during the years-long market upcycle of the 1990s and early 2000s.
It cannot be good for advocates of big-government solutions to societal problems that “Gruberism” is becoming a familiar new “ism,” as is described by James Creaser in the National Review:
“‘Gruberism’ is the … doctrine first enunciated by MIT economics Professor Jonathan Gruber … that holds that the mass of people in advanced democratic societies are functionally incapable of ascertaining their own interest, and that the public good is accordingly best achieved by a process in which a credentialed elite devises the best policies and then seeks to achieve public support for them by deception and lies.”
Gruber’s brashly candid descriptions would not be having such an impact, and general acknowledgement of their validity, if it were not for the infamous assertion, “If you like your plan and doctor you can keep them,” Nancy Pelosi’s cringe-inducing, “We have to pass the bill so that you can find out what is in it,” the disastrous website rollout, and too many people losing coverage, losing their doctors, and seeing healthcare insurance rates rise precipitously.
Andrew Fastow and Jonathan Gruber may both be truth-tellers — Fastow humbly and helpfully, Gruber arrogantly and unwittingly.
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Changing of the guard(s) — Some of the people and personalities affected by New Mexico’s election outcomes
November 19, 2014
By Carroll Cagle
Many people – including some important and/or powerful ones some New Mexicans have never, or scarcely, heard of — are feeling the ripple effect of the November 4 general elections.
1. Consider the scope of the long-existing King family political dynasty, which may have come to an end when Democrat Gary King, coming off two four-year terms as attorney general, was resoundingly defeated by Republican Susana Martinez, in the contest for the governor’s office.
In previous reports we have focused on the fact that Gary King is the son of the late Bruce King, who set the record at having been elected governor three separate times – in three separate decades (1970s, 80s and 90s). However, the King dynasty, if it may be called that, was much wider and deeper than those two.
Brucebegan the whole saga in 1954 when he won a seat on the Santa Fe county commission. He went on from there to election as a state representative and then speaker of the house, before moving on up to the fourth-floor governor’s suite for those three terms. Almost as familiar to New Mexicans was Bruce’s wife Alice, noted for her concern for children and youth, and a keenly observant, sage political counselor to her husband. Bruce’s brother Don served both in the state house and state senate. Gary himself served six two-year terms in the state house before becoming AG. Gary’s cousin David was elected state treasurer and then, after switching to the Republican party, won a seat on the Public Regulation Commission. Another cousin, Rhonda, served in the state house of representatives for seven two-year terms.
Not only did Gary lose but his campaign sputtered from the very beginning. Underfunded, lacking endorsement or help from the national Democratic Governor’s Association, and portrayed as an unscrupulous politician via the opposition’s heavy-artillery TV commercials, King’s decisive loss may mean not only the end of his own lengthy political career but the final chapter of the King political saga. A fuller account of all this has been masterfully put together by the state’s premier political reporter, Steve Terrell of the Santa Fe New Mexican.
2. When members of the state house of representatives, assembling in January, intone the familiar “Mr. Speaker,” when they seek authorization to speak on the house floor, this time it won’t be referencing a Democrat — for the first time in six decades, and specifically it won’t be Kenny Martinez. Martinez, of Grants, is the son of another speaker, the late Walter Martinez, who held the post in the 1970s. Not only will Kenny Martinez not be speaker (that will be Republican Robert Tripp of Socorro), but Martinez has announced, says the Albuquerque Journal,that he will not run for the top job among Democrats in the house, the unaccustomed title of “minority leader.” Brian Egolf of Santa Fe, Eliseo Alcón of Milan (near Grants), and Christine Trujillo of Albuquerque allsay they want to lead the house D’s, and there likely will be others who get in on the contest as well. It will be decided internally within the house Democratic caucus.
3. Demonstrating that elections have consequences beyond the candidates, a key person in handling the nuts and bolts of operating the complex machinery of the 70-member state house for decades, Democrat Steve Arias, is stepping down from the $119,000-a-year post he has held for 31 years. Again, Terrell of the New Mexican wraps it all up here.
4. Sam Bregman says he will not seek another term as chairof the state’s Democratic Party. Shortly before Bregman beat Javier Gonzales in the internal Democratic Party contest (Gonzales went on to be elected mayor of Santa Fe), reporter Sean Olson of the Albuquerque Journal came up with this memorable descriptor: “In this rodeo, one candidate is a sponsor and the other is the bull. Meet the bull: Sam Bregman is an Albuquerque lawyer as famous for his brash personality and grandstanding as he is for his courtroom success. He is as much at home in front of a gaggle of television cameras as he is in his living room. Bregman specializes in blunt assessments delivered in incendiary — and grandiose — prose.”
Despite that intro, Bregman was uncharacteristically quiet during the 2014 campaign, and in the end the Democrats lost the governorship, secretary of state’s office, land commissioner (apparently—with a recount still required), and control of the state house of representatives for the first time in 62 years.
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We all know who won the governor’s race – here’s a look at what happened
November 14, 2014
By Carroll Cagle
It could be said that there were what amounted to six relevant elections in the race for governor this year – not just a single “Election Day” on November 4. True, that is the day when Republican Governor Susana Martinez convincingly won re-election to a second four-year term, sending her Democratic opponent, Gary King, to the sidelines so definitively that it likely will turn out to be King’s last race.
However, another way of looking at the 2014 election is this:
- Governor Martinez won two elections – and lost one.
- Whereas Gary King lost two elections – winning only one.
With that somewhat odd assertion, we will explain:
Victory No. 1 – the main event: In defeating King, the Martinez win was with the largest margin of any Republican governor candidate in state history (statehood came in 1912). Her electoral percentage was 57.34 percent compared with King’s 42.66. This margin was even greater than the pre-election polls had predicted and doubtless strengthened the governor’s hand in terms of upcoming policy and political battles in the legislature and in other venues.
Her margins are even more notable when taking into account that the default mode in New Mexico is Democratic. Democrats account for 47 percent of registered voters in New Mexico, compared with only 31 percent for Republicans. (Independents are at 19 percent and other parties round out the 100 percent.) This comes out to be 590,000 registered Democrats, 397,000 registered Republicans and 236,000 independents.
The dominance of Team Susana is also clear when the macro numbers are broken down.
For example, the governor defeated King in the state’s most populous county, Bernalillo, home of Albuquerque, 90,000 to 75,000 even though the big county in recent elections has demonstrated a habit of being somewhat more friendly to Democratic candidates than in the years before. Add in other counties in the Albuquerque metro area and we see that Martinez’ victory in the vote-rich area was convincing: She carried Sandoval County (Rio Rancho, Bernalillo, etc.), 23,700 to 14,500; and she won Valencia County, to the south, 11,800 to 6,700.
Martinez even upset the long-stable Democratic applecart in McKinley County (Gallup and Navajo country), by a hair’s breadth but a historic change nonetheless.
The nation’s first Hispanic female governor also held King from racking up big margins in the “Democratic North” (north-central New Mexico, where few Republicans ever even venture). In San Miguel County, where the Las Vegas mayor, a Democrat, had appeared on Martinez television commercials, Martinez held King to 4,700 to 3,200. In Taos County, where the former Taos Mayor also was on the TV screen for the governor, King was able to win by only 6,800 to 3,600. A very good result, it might seem — but not the smothering landslides the D’s have come to expect to rack up there. In all, Martinez was able to keep King from piling up big margins in his single most hospitable region, where he really, really needed them.
It was in the conservative southeast and northwest regions, where oil and gas and ranching reign supreme, that Martinez blew the doors off the King campaign. Consider these three-to-one (or more) blowouts: Chaves County (Roswell), 10,000 to 2,900; Eddy County (Carlsbad and Artesia), 9,000 to 2,500; Lea County (Hobbs and Lovington), 7,000 to 2,000; and, up in the northwest, San Juan County (Farmington), 22,400 to 7,500.
Given that Gary King is the son of a notable “rancher governor,” the late three-term Governor Bruce King, the vote totals in the state’s conservative regions make dramatically clear either that Gary’s hapless campaign fumbled badly an opportunity to regenerate the King mystique, or that a Democratic candidate must visibly shed trappings that are too liberal, to be successful there– or both.
Victory No. 2 — state house of representatives: We have described the importance of this election in a previous report. Since the state house has been under Democratic control almost without exception for 80 years, the outcome was historic and dramatic. More important, the house during Martinez’ first four years thwarted various administration initiatives. In the house, it was not unheard of for passive-aggressive games to be played to keep her proposals from moving forward.
Now, with the 2015 session set to convene in January, the speaker will no longer be Democrat Kenny Martinez of Grants (whose father also held the post before him), but, instead, a senior representative of the governor’s own party, Republican Robert Tripp of Socorro. And part of the way things work is that the floor leader and all committee chairs will be Republicans, too.
The other part of the legislature, the state senate, had no election this year for its 42 members and Democratic Leader Michael Sanchez of Belen scarcely fails to hide his disdain for many items on the governor’s to-do list. But conservative Democrat John Arthur Smith of Deming occupies another seat of power in the senate as chair of the Senate Finance Committee; he and other less-than-liberal Democrats plus the senate Republicans could give Martinez’ program greater prospects, especially given the governor’s own landslide and the house changing hands.
One loss, for attorney general: The governor personally recruited her former chief deputy in the Dona Ana County (Las Cruces) district attorney’s office to run for state attorney general. The colleague, Susan Riedel, came out swinging against the Democratic AG candidate, Hector Balderas; her TV commercials had clear messaging and she obviously had a budget to keep them on the air a fair amount. But Balderas, coming off two four-year terms as state auditor, soon picked up momentum and ended up winning convincingly.
Balderas had a few things going for them that Riedel and the Martinez wave could not overcome: (a) Networks of supporters from three previous statewide races - - two for auditor and one for U.S. senate; (b) Public visibility in fighting fraud in corruption from the previously obscure perch of auditor, and (c) He was the only Hispanic on the statewide Democratic ticket — in a state that has a ton of Democratic and Hispanic voters.
However he won, the fact that he did means that Balderas will occupy an office where the governor had a different preference, and an office which is another center of power in the firmament of dispersed power in Santa Fe.
Loss No. 1 — pre-primary convention: The first hurdle to get elected to statewide office in New Mexico is to secure at least 20 per cent of the delegate votes at a pre-primary nominating convention that each party holds in the Spring. Given that King was the well-known, two-term attorney general, son of a former three-term Democratic governor, and also a former state representative, it seemed the party insiders were trying to tell him something back in March when he came in dead last among five Democrats wanting to be the Democratic governor candidate this year.
In fact, King did not get even the required 20 percent of delegate votes to get on the June 3 primary election ballot.
King, when interviewed by New Mexico Prosperity Project shorty after this stinging rebuke by the party regulars, was unperturbed. He said he already had enough signatures on petitions by registered Democrats to get on the ballot, anyhow, and also predicted to us that he would win the primary itself. He was right on both counts.
But the lack of enthusiasm for Gary King at that convention from party stalwarts probably was the first clue that he was going to have trouble ginning up a winning campaign later on.
The one victory – the primary: Given there were a number of other candidates vying to be the Democratic governor candidate in the June 3 primary, King seemed to be able to cruise on to victory partly because the anti-King vote was divided all over the place and partly because of a learned, positive response by Democratic primary voters to the King family name.
But obviously, as the general election campaign unfolded, King was not able or willing to kiss and make up with the other candidates and their loyalists, and go on from there to fire up the Democratic “base” voters. If he continued to harbor ill will toward his former intra-party competitors and their friends and allies, they responded in kind — if not going so far as to flirt with supporting the Republican governor, maybe at least failing to get energized for King.
The big loss – the general: In a different era, ending 20 years ago with his own father’s loss to Republican/libertarian Gary Johnson in Bruce King’s failed attempt at a fourth term; and then extending back decades before that, the Democratic “machine” remained powerful. And Bruce King’s legendary energy and folksiness caused many voters to feel they knew him personally, and thus cast votes for him when the time came.
That type of retail politicking may be gone for good, in the era of mobile devices, Super PACs, an ever-growing number of independent voters, and fraying party loyalties even from those who are nominally registered as D’s or R’s.
Nor did the Democratic Governors Association at the national level give Gary King the time of day – much less access to the massive sums of money it would take to play against the Susana Martinez campaign accounts, which had balances that were healthy to the extreme. To make things worse, King went through two or three campaign managers.
Finally, the Martinez campaign, right out of the gate, showed that this was not going to be a genteel game of cricket. Gary King, over many years, was seen by most as a thoughtful and intelligent (Ph.D. in organic chemistry and law degree), amiable and cordial, experienced politician from a family political dynasty.
Team Susana seized on the “politician” part of that description and got very, very specific — soon landing the first of many devastating blows against King and his record and totally reconfiguring his image from blandly capable centrist to a darkly manipulative, self-serving power player working from the shadows, casually failing to investigate his Democratic friends whose deeds cried out for such, letting a “Casanova Con Man” out of the pen way too early – and even pocketing state taxpayer cash from an insider lease deal on a King-owned building in Moriarty.
Fueled by the massive cash advantage of the Martinez campaign, the blows were relentless. But King, for his part, generally failed to even try to counter the commercials from the other side.
He ended up having to self-finance his campaign to the tune of almost three quarters of a million dollars, but even that was nowhere near enough. Nor were his responses to the Martinez messaging onslaught — whether via paid commercials or journalistic coverage of his protests — direct and forceful enough, if he replied at all. In the end, King failed to change voters’ apparently growing collective opinion that this politician was not the sort one would want in control of the levers of power as governor.
Martinez: Two big victories and one loss by an ally: King, one victory mid-way through and two losses, including the Big Deal on November 4. Of course, there was only one election on that day, but it amounted to a “big loss” for King and a “big win” for Martinez. Some may wonder if a Martinez Era is forming — but the King Era going back decades almost certainly ended this year when Gary King was buried in an electoral landslide.
Decades of Democratic rule in Santa Fe has come to an end in 2014 with the Republican takeover – how it happened, what it could mean
November 7, 2014
By Carroll Cagle
If 20 years are in a single generation (oddly, there does not appear to be a generally accepted definition), then four generations have come and gone since the last time Republicans had a sustained majority in the New Mexico house of representatives. That would be far back into the previous century, 80 years ago, when Franklin Roosevelt was first elected and the New Deal began to take shape.
(There was one brief term “only” 62 years ago when Republicans controlled the house but in the next election, two years later in 1954, the Democrats were back in control.)
So the Republicans again becoming the majority party in the house in the 2014 elections just completed makes for a notable historical development. Consider these features of the big change:
An often-heard mantra — a complaint, actually – from people who might describe themselves as liberals, progressives and/or environmentalists is that “big money” distorts the workings of the electoral process and allows wealthy donors to overwhelm the average citizen and “buy elections.”
There may be other numbers that we are not aware of, but what we have come up with regarding the battle for control of the New Mexico house of representatives indicates that in 2014 it was the progressives/environmentalists that spent more than conservative or business interests – actually by two-to-one — in the last month before the elections.
- Patriot Majority New Mexico – spent about $890,000 from Oct. 7 through Election Day
- SOS for Democracy, spent about $350,000
- Verde (“Green”) Voters PAC, spent about $192,00
- TOTAL ABOUT: $1.43 million
- Advance New Mexico Now, spent about $520,000
- GOAL WestPAC, reported spending almost $179,000
- TOTAL ABOUT: $700,000
What the 2014 changes might mean:
While true that the Democrats have had control in the state house for all those generations, those who wanted a change have been chipping away at the balance of power equation for a while, coming to within striking distance of changing house management.
It has been not only the organized Republican party apparatus, but conservatives and business organizations as well who have chafed at what they have seen as house sentiment that not only did not value the role of free enterprise, but viewed it with at least distrust if not outright scorn. Not true for all the Democrats, most assuredly — including a handful of experienced veterans who tempered the leftist reflexes of some of the ideologues in their ranks.
But, overall, astute observers often got the impression that from the house emanated a sense of entitlement. By this was meant that it was the unthinking role of the private sector to keep feeding the beast of the public sector and public schools (their entitlement), and, further, that the Democratic legislators themselves were entitled both to deference and continued control of the apparatus that says who shall pay taxes, and how much, and then where and how those tax dollars should be spent (appropriated). The recipients of these tax dollars largely of course were the government institutions themselves, and their employees, most likely registered Democrats – and most often members of public-sector unions who received not only paychecks but legislative-approved retirement deals far sweeter than many workers get in private sector jobs – if they get retirement at all.
(Here and in many states and cities around the country, the chickens are starting to come to roost as awareness grows that the coming waves of government-worker retirement could overtake the amount that has been saved up, or projected, and that they are expecting and say they were promised. Look for pressure, in the coming years, either to raise spend more tax money to shore up the accounts to pay for these long-ago commitments, or a battle royal if conservative legislators try to scale them back.)
Although the other legislative chamber, the state senate, had no elections this year and remains Democratic, the fact that the house has flipped might mean the beginnings of an erosion of the long-existing entitlement philosophy, and a cooling of the romance with the public employee and teachers’ unions. As well, it would not be surprising to see a harder look taken at the costs, efficiencies, and even logical existence of various government bureaucracies and regulations
Who won – and lost
There are 70 members of the New Mexico state house of representatives, but many of the incumbents run unopposed every two years—including this year. Plus, many more districts are “safe” for Republicans or Democrats, based on the makeup and views of the majority of people who live and vote in a particular district. Opponents in these are nominal candidates, earnest and hopeful, perhaps, but with little realistic prospects.
However, given that, this year, changing only three districts from “D” to “R” would change house control, political armies from both sides rather quickly identified the 2014 “swing” districts — where, for one or more reasons, a Republican possibly could take out an incumbent. The Democrats and their allies tried mightily to protect the status quo and Republicans and their allies were just as mightily energized at the prospect of long-deferred victory.
Getting the magic number of three “net” Republican victories was important because legislatures – just like the U.S. congress – are not controlled proportionately, but, rather, by a single number, i.e., which party has at least one more member than the other party. In this case, 35-35 would only be a tie so the Republicans had get to at least 36-34.
They ended up getting five victories — one more than they absolutely needed — but just a net gain of four, flipping from the previous 37-33 D majority to 37-33 Republican for the session which will begin in January. (The R’s did lose, as many had expected, a Santa Fe district where the Democratic incumbent had died last year and the Republican governor had appointed a Republican to fill out his term. What this means is that the five victories turned out to be a net of four R seats gained.)
In simple terms, the Republicans won two Democratic districts in Albuquerque, two in Dona Ana County (southern New Mexico in or near Las Cruces), and one in a district that stretches from Las Cruces, westward from there over to the mountains and mines of Bayard and Silver City.
Specifically here are the five new Republicans:
- Albuquerque: (Sarah Maestas Barnes, R, beat Representative Emily Kane, D, and Conrad James won back his seat from incumbent Elizabeth Thompson)
- Dona Ana County: (The indomitable Andy Nunez, “the Transformer” who once was a Democrat and then independent and now a Republican will be back, defeating Representative Philip Archuleta; Ricky Little, R, will be headed back to Santa Fe again after defeating Mariaelena Johnson)
- Grant County & Dona Ana: An unexpected bonus for Republicans came in southwest N.M. when John Zimmerman of Las Cruces beat four-term Rep. Rudy Martinez of the mining town of Bayard
New leadership — and a changing of the guard
In January, when the next legislative session begins, a new speaker will sit in the chair once occupied by Democratic Speaker Kenny Martinez of Grants – and his late father,
Walter Martinez, before him.
Some think this person will be Nate Gentry of Albuquerque, who has been “minority” (Republican) leader; some think a senior representative from Socorro, Don Tripp. Another potential (perhaps one among many others) is Larry Larranaga of Albuquerque. One can imagine that many, many phone calls are being launched by interested contenders – and received with moods ranging from enthusiastic endorsement to generalized platitudes (if not dodged altogether) by the Republican house members around the state who are NOT running for speaker, but will be voting in the internal Republican caucus for one of the candidates.
One of the many benefits of being speaker is the ability to appoint all committee chairs, and control the assignment of bills to committees.
One can be quite content in assuming that, as is the tradition everywhere, each and every one of the existing Democratic committee chairs will be replaced with a Republican.
Whichever party has a majority of one more than half in any legislative chamber has all the marbles in the game of control and management. House speakers who look with favor on a newly introduced bill likely will see that it gets, ideally, one or at most two committee referrals – and to friendly committees at that. A bill looked upon with disfavor might find itself with the dreaded “three committee referrals” (and likely will disappear into some chair person’s stack never to be seen again).
Regardless of the behind-the-scenes scramble among the 37 Republicans who now find themselves envisioning the wonders of majority control in January, the chamber is going to lose a massive amount of institutional memory then. That is because, even before the primaries back in the Spring, several powerful, shrewd and experienced Democratic veterans — and specifically the key “money committees” of appropriations and taxation — announced they were not seeking re-election this year.
For better or worse, the experience of these valley Democrats from Albuquerque will be missing, come January:
- Representative Henry “Kiki” Saavedra, chairman of the House Appropriations and Finance Committee, who is finishing up his 38th year in the Legislature.
- Representative Ed Sandoval, chairman of the House Taxation and Revenue Committee, who is finishing up his 32nd year.
- House Democratic Leader Rick Miera of Albuquerque’ s North Valley (having served 24 years).
When the sun illuminates the east face of the Roundhouse on Old Santa Fe Trail on the morning of January 20, Democrats and Republicans of all types – legislators, staffers, lobbyists, political activists and citizens from many walks of life will begin streaming into the capitol building for the noon opening of the 2015 legislative session. Depending on whom they are, and what they believe in, they will doubtless be filled with feelings of either enthusiasm or dread. Such is the result when big change is in the air.
The showdown has arrived: Some things to consider ‘til the election results flow in
November 3, 2014
By Carroll Cagle
1. ELECTION DAY
Tomorrow, Tuesday, is Election Day. (Few could not know that fact, given the bombardment of TV commercials for months now.) But if you have not already “early voted,” tomorrow is THE day. Don’t know where to vote? You can use this link www.newmexicoprosperity.org.
Be forewarned that the ballots are two-sided, long, with real small print and the lighting might not be the best. The small print comes because there are so darned many things you are asked to vote for or against — not just candidates for the familiar offices, but bond issues, proposed constitutional amendments, etc. Especially in populous Bernalillo County (Albuquerque metro area), there are more judge races than you can shake a stick at, and most people have no idea who they are. Just know that’s what awaits you. It might be advisable to bone up on a sample ballot before you go into the booth.
3. EVERY VOTE COUNTS
If ever it were true that “every vote counts,” this could well be such a year. In New Mexico, some important races are said by the pollsters to be on the razor’s edge. This is particularly true with the secretary of state and state land commissioner positions, but also could well be true with some vital state house of representative races (and others).
4. STATE LEGISLATURE
If you are unhappy with the fact that one party has controlled the state legislature virtually without a break for 80 years or so, now there is a chance to swing three house districts toward the Republicans. Or, if you are dreadfully afraid of that happening, you’d better make sure you vote to keep the Democrats in office. It’s that close, and people will feel the results one way or the other.
5. THE SENATE SEAT
The entire apparatus of the Federal government also is in play, depending on whether the Republicans gain six seats and take control there. Again, polls show many of the swing districts are on the razor’s edge as well. Most polls and experts do not think that the Senate Republican candidate here, Allen Weh, can be part of a G.O.P. swing if there is one – but Allen Weh thinks so and he could surprise all the experts if there is a huge “wave election” nationally.
6. WAVE ELECTION?
Here (and possibly in all states), the outcomes might depend on (a) Whether this turns out to be a genuine “wave election,” sweeping out many incumbents and bringing in new faces, (b) Whether the Democrats’ awesome, tech-driven, get-out-the-vote effort of 2012 can be repeated this year (or whether the G.O.P. has learned how to be as good or better), and (c) Whether repetitive negativity in political commercials will depress folks so much that they just cannot bring themselves to go and vote for anyone, since they’ve been told so often (by the other side) that so-and-so is a terrible person and would only get worse if elected or re-elected.
Last poll results: All hope seems lost for Gary King; while Allen Weh has a tiny window of opportunity to take out Tom Udall
October 28, 2014
By Carroll Cagle
A week from today is the final showdown. That is when voters will decide whom will be New Mexico’s governor for the next four years, U.S. senator for the next six, whether the control of the state house of representatives will the wrested from the Democrats after decades.
Not to be ignored, either, is whether voters will break with tradition and put Republicans in as attorney general and state land commissioner (among other offices) – and keep in the only Republican in 80 years as secretary of state.
Next Tuesday, November 4, is what is known as Election Day and it is when most votes are cast. But increasing numbers of New Mexicans (and Americans elsewhere) cast their ballots in “early voting.”
As the candidates (especially those lagging behind in the polls) like to say, “the only poll that counts is the one on Election Day.” True, but it is instructive to take a look at the last polls that will be available to the public before next Tuesday:
The Albuquerque Journal’s poll, by veteran pollster Brian Sanderoff’s Research & Polling, should make Gary King go ahead and start writing his concession speech. The poll shows Governor Susana Martinez, the Republican seeking her second four-year term, with 53 percent and King at only 38 percent. Her lead has been constant for months.
As the Journal notes, for King to win he would have to pick up every voter in the “undecided” category (nine percent), plus cause a bit more than three percent of Martinez votes to shift over to him. Both prospects are unlikely in the extreme.
The race has been dominated from the get-go by the governor and her well-funded political apparatus, and her television commercials have pounded King and his record remorselessly and incessantly.
Here, the tough-as-nails retired Marine Colonel Allen Weh, a Republican, has tightened the race against Tom Udall, the Democrat who is seeking his second six-year term. Since Marines are known for charging up the hill, now is the time for Weh to do so – but the poll results say he is unlikely to make it to the crest.
The Sanderoff & Co.poll shows Udall at 50 percent and Weh at 43 percent. This snapshot indicates that, in the month since the previous poll, Udall’s support ebbed by only one percent but Weh did pick up five percent.
At stake is not only whom shall join Democrat Martin Heinrich in representing our state in the U.S. Senate, but also — of great importance concerning national politics and policy — is whether Republicans will seize control and force President Obama to change some of his ways.
The most respected national number-cruncher, Nate Silver, is a statistical analyst of the first magnitude, and he has changed his observation earlier this year that U.S. Senate control was a tossup and now predicts a Republican takeover. Barely — he predicts 51 senators will be Republicans in the 100-member chamber next year. More to the point, Silver lays out a predictive chart of all 36 races, and it should calm Udall’s nerves a bit to see that Silver’s enterprise, fivethirtyeight, predicts a 97 percent likelihood that New Mexico will retain Udall.
State House of Representatives
Although there are 70 members of the state house of representatives, there are only a relative handful of hard-fought districts where outcomes could determine control of the chamber. Republicans need a net gain of three — or, failing that, to cut a deal with a couple of house Democrats who do not relate to the generally liberal approach the chamber has exemplified pretty much for decades.
Seeing as how the “swing” districts are localized and scattered throughout the big geography of New Mexico, there are no publicly available polls to go on (although there likely are some very interesting polls closely-held by candidate and political organizations).
We’ll just say that in some regards, this is the most important arena of all this year, in terms of outcomes that affect the state’s people and economy. The margins either way are razor thin, and tons of money is being spent on both sides.
Other state races
Here, the Journal poll shows a couple of real nail-biters.
You can’t get any tighter than the race for secretary of state. Sanderoff’s poll shows Republican Secretary of State Dianna Duran tied dead even with Democrat Maggie Toulouse Oliver — both at 42 percent.
Four years ago, Duran made New Mexico history by being the first Republican in 80 years to be elected secretary of state. Political blogger Joe Monahan commissioned another ace pollster and analyst, Bruce Donisthorpe and his BWD Global, to take a look at a couple of other hard-fought “down-ballot” races. Donisthorpe, in the October 22 Monahan blog report, has Duran at 47.6 percent compared with to 45.0 percent for Toulouse Oliver.
Another extremely tight race, according to Sanderoff, is for an office that is of heavy importance to the state as a whole, as well as environmentalists, game hunters, and the major industries of mining, oil and gas and grazing.
It is the race for state land commissioner, where Sanderoff shows Republican challenger Aubrey Dunn ahead by one point over the current Democratic commissioner, Ray Powell — 40 to 39 percent.
Normally a Democrat wins this race, as in most other offices below that of governor on the ballot — but not as much so in this case as in some others. Here, Powell is looking to make his 10 years in office (as of this December 31) extend to 14 if he is re-elected. He served two years when he took over due to a resignation, and then was elected to two four-year terms after that – in 1996 and 2010.
However, Republican Dunn — son of a prominent and powerful Democratic state senator from Otero County of the same name — with a series of TV spots has been raining down heavy blows on Powell and his record on land management of the 13 million acres under state land office control.
Donisthorpe also shows Democrat Tim Keller, currently a state senator from Albuquerque, with a 51 percent to 42 percent lead over Republican Robert Aragon in the race for state auditor. Until recently, when Hector Balderas transformed the office during his two four-year terms from obscurity into a more visible corruption-fighting agency, the state auditor’s office was not seen as a stepping stone.
Keller, a rarity among legislative Democrats by having significant business credentials, could well want to use the auditor’s post so as to move on up the ladder later on, as Balderas hopes to do in his current run for attorney general. The Keller efforts are marked by TV spots with a strong critique of Aragon’s past actions. Keller also got national attention as a result of that same commercial riffing on the “Breaking Bad” TV series by depicting Keller in front of the critically acclaimed television show’s landmark Octopus Car Wash in northeast Albuquerque.
Meanwhile, in the attorney general’s race, Balderas and Republican former prosecutor Susan Riedel have been going at each other hammer and tongs in dueling television commercials attempting to sow grave doubts about their opponent’s character and credentials. But here, Sanderoff shows that despite Riedel’s making her presence known, the better name ID of Balderas, plus his political network after three statewide races (two for auditor and one for U.S. Senate), Balderas has a 51-35 percent margin over Riedel.
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Ballot issues : Part two
Halloween is nearing: and there are some non-humans on the ballot
October 27, 2014
By Carroll Cagle
Yes, it’s true: in case you’re tired of the real life candidates bickering and are irritated at the thought of having to choose amongst them, consider that there are some “non-human” options on the ballot.
These are the bond issues and proposed constitutional amendments. How New Mexicans decide on them — pro or con — can impact the state and its residents a lot.
In our posting today, we focus on the proposed amendments to the New Mexico Constitution.
Proposed constitutional amendments:
You can read a helpful description of the proposed constitutional amendments, in a highly readable “pros and cons” document that the Legislative Council Servicehas produced for every election going back decades.
As we noted in our first report, on the bond issue questions, one group, the New Mexico Business Coalition, has come out about just about everything in both categories — bonds and amendments, under a notion of, “Just say no.” To take a look at all the amendments (as well as the bond issues), and the group’s contrarian views, go to the New Mexico Business Coalitionissues page.
There are five proposed amendments to the New Mexico Constitution on this year’s ballot. As you will see when examining the “for and against” reasoning provided by the Legislative Council Service, some seem to be of major importance to some people, but not so much for someone not directly involved in the issue. Nonetheless they made it on the ballot and you will be asked to vote on them.
One proposal that already is causing some head-scratching on the part of voters, either when they get to the voting booth or prior in trying to do some homework, is the one affecting local school board elections, CA No. 1. The current situation is that local school board elections cannot be held on the same day of the general election. Oddly, the proposed amendment seems to just reiterate that point, keeping the status quo! Due to legislative machinations, and concerns from the school boards association, the proposal’s wording (which ended up on the ballot) is confusing and mangled. But if you like the idea that school board elections should be held at the same time as local municipal elections, you can vote “yes” and let the Legislature sort it out later. A full report on this weird situation may be found in the Albuquerque Journal.
What is probably the most important, heavy-duty matter with the broadest potential impact is the proposed Constitutional Amendment 5. If approved, it would make changes to the actions that are allowed in managing investments of the massive Land Grant Permanent Fund.
This fund, created some 50 years ago, has money flowing into it constantly, largely due to the state’s oil and gas industry (located mainly in southeast and northwest New Mexico). It is called a “sovereign wealth fund,” a type of investment fund owned and controlled by nations or, in this case, state governments.
Demonstrating the importance of the petroleum sector in New Mexico, the fund is now the third-largest sovereign fund in the United States, and now stands at $14 billion. This year, the fund will distribute some $600 million to beneficiary public universities, schools and other institutions as a result of income based on investing the corpus, i.e., the main body of the fund.
One component of the CA 5 is to change the State Investment Council’s guiding principal from a standard called “ordinary prudence” to a higher, broadly accepted, standard outlined in the Federal Uniform Prudent Investment Act. It also allows more investing in global stocks (doing away from the present 15 per cent of fund cap). And it raises the fund’s required reserves amount from $5.8 billion to $10 billion.
That this proposed amendment made it onto the ballot also caused an unusual alliance in support of it. Governor Susana Martinez, a Republican, and State Land Commissioner, a Democrat, co-signed an op-edin the Albuquerque Journal recently urging voters to support CA 5. Both are members of the State Investment Council. That they would join in such a public, joint endorsement – even though rare especially in an election year when they themselves are running for re-election – shows the importance both place on the proposed changes.
This proposed amendment should not be confused with another high-profile idea concerning the permanent fund. Martinez and Powell also have publicly opposed the other idea, which did not make it through the legislature and onto the ballot this time. But it doubtless will be re-offered in the next legislative session beginning in January. This second idea has broad support from teachers’ unions and liberals who want to tap into the fund for an as-yet-undefined plan to spend far more on “early childhood education.” If the permanent fund is indeed to be saved for a “rainy day” as conservative minds have it, then now is the time to devote dollars to youthful education, is how this point of view is articulated. A supporter of getting ahold of those dollars for early childhood education, Democratic U.S. Senator Martin Heinrich, told the Albuquerque Chamber of Commerce in a luncheon speech — “”It’s raining” (meaning the state urgently needs more dollars for education.) The Chamber opposes doing so.
Also on the other side from Heinrich, et al, are such key figures as the governor and Democratic Senator John Arthur Smith, the top finance leader in the legislature. They have pointed out that early childhood education already has received quantum increases in $$$ in recent years via the general appropriations act — and that “raiding” the permanent fund, as they put it, could start a feeding frenzy, while depleting the corpus of the fund and thus hurting all the recipient institutions in the future.)
Ballot issues : Part One
Tired of candidates? Well, there are some inanimate topics on the election ballot, too
October 24, 2014
By Carroll Cagle
Voters have to be on the ball to do the job right. By that, we mean that there is a lot of information to master — preferably BEFORE you go into the voting booth. And, this year as always, there are some “non-candidate” matters you will be asked on which to express your approval, or lack thereof.
While it is the real-life candidates who naturally get more attention, because they volley back and forth about why they are the better choice, and the other candidate is woefully lacking or even dastardly, one must not write off the non-candidate ballot items. How New Mexicans decide on them — pro or con — can impact the state and its residents a lot.
These matters fall into two main categories: (a) amendments to the state constitution, and (b) bond issues — which means approving or disapproving funding for numerous construction or equipment purchases for state institutions.
In our posting today, we focus on the bond issues; the next posting will address the constitutional amendments.
The New Mexico Prosperity Project does not plan a tedious recitation of the content and merits of the proposed amendments and bond questions. But we do strongly recommend reading up on them before you head to the polls, so you won’t be so mystified and take so darned much time when you’re in there.
What we will do is highlight what we think are some key matters. But you can, and we think should, read up thoroughly on your own.
There are only three statewide bond questions, but they involve deciding to invest a lot of money (but out of existing property tax levels —- no tax increases). One seeks $17 million for building new or improving existing senior citizen centers. One asks approval for $11 million for library needs. And the third, much larger, is for $141 million for building construction or renovation at public universities and special and tribal schools.
We also should note that individual counties can, and do, add to the ballot their own local-area bond questions, for local proposed projects. These may be for such issues as street construction or improvements, sewer, water and flood control projects and the like.
This year, Bernalillo County (Albuquerque metro) and Santa Fe County have tacked on a strange type of thing for voters to “decide” — although approve or disapprove, the results are only “advisory.” In both counties the county commissioners want to ask for voter opinion on relaxing penalties for marijuana possession.
In effect, these are glorified opinion polls and some people object for that reason alone, even if they support the underlying premise. But, they’re there. Bernalillo also has another “opinion poll” on whether the county should do more in the way of mental health programs and facilities — although there are no details so it might be hard to give a blanket yes even if, once again, the voter likes the general idea.
One organization, the New Mexico Business Coalition, has decided to dispense with the familiar niceties of, “Well, why not? It’s for the kids (or whomever), and it won’t raise taxes” and instead gone with this: “Just say no.” The business coalition makes the point that is seldom made — that if the bond issues do NOT pass, then that would be a pathway to lowering taxes. If you are interested in the group’s views, go to the New Mexico Business Coalition issues page.
The statewide “general obligation bonds” may be perused at this part of the Secretary of State’s website.
In our next posting, we will provide information and analysis of the proposed constitutional amendments.
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Susana Martinez and Gary King go mano a mano: just this once
October 21, 2014
By Carroll Cagle
So far, the race for governor has been an artillery war – with Governor Susana Martinez unloading a massive barrage against Democratic challenger Gary King, who has been able only to lob a few low-power salvos back her way, all from out of sight of each other.
The artillery war means the two have kept geographically separate, appearing together before Sunday night only a couple of times in tightly controlled formats that could not be called debates. Instead, they have contented themselves with unleashing the “artillery fire” in the form of strongly worded TV commercials down onto the other side.
The only time the governor and King actually went mano a mano against each other was Sunday night in a live televised debate hosted by KOAT-TV and the Albuquerque Journal. Here, we do not plan to re-hash what happened, but to analyze how it went and what it means.
As for the tone and mood of the thing, probably only the most ardent political junkie might have been excited by the affair – but it did serve the purpose of giving interested voters, at long last, a chance to see how the two did in a direct, televised, confrontation. A confrontation of sorts, we should say, since the format meant they had only one question each to ask each other, with the other questions coming from panelists.
There was a lot of verbiage to be heard, but there are two main takeaways from the debate:
1. King did not land a knockout blow against Martinez. He needed to. Being so far behind in the polls (and maybe even losing ground due to the Martinez negative TV ad onslaught), King had to have as his mission a dramatic upending of the dynamic that has him lagging, and get him back in the running. He did not achieve that.
2. Governor Martinez made her most blunt declaration yet that, if re-elected, she will not leave the governor’s office before the end of her four-year term for greener pastures (i.e. to run for vice president in 2016 or to take a cabinet position if a Republican gets elected president then).
Below, we will provide a bit more on those two points – but first: for those who missed the televised debate and still want to see (and hear) it, it is on the KOAT-TV website.And here is a print story by The Associated Press.
No powerful punch by King
Gary King has been building up to run for governor for a long time. His direct legacy is being the son of Bruce King, who was elected governor more than anyone else in state history (three times), and in three different decades. Plus Gary built his own political career, serving 12 years (six two-year terms) as a state representative from southern Santa Fe County, and now is wrapping up two four-year terms as state attorney general. He also has superior academic credentials: along the way he secured a Ph.D. in organic chemistry (at the University of Colorado) and a J.D. from the University of New Mexico law school.
Despite that long buildup, during the debate King needed to do something dramatic. He continues to lag behind in the polls (and maybe even is losing ground), and is miserably lacking in campaign funds to try to combat the minute-by-minute pounding he has been taking for months via the Martinez television commercials. If not now, when?
Here is how Steve Terrell, political reporter for The New Mexican newspaper in Santa Fe, put it:
“There were no obvious gaffes by either candidate in the hour-long debate, and there was no breakout moment either. That’s good news for Martinez and bad news for King, who, trailing badly in polls and fundraising, desperately needed something to reverse the course of his campaign. Martinez was the most hard-hitting. She quoted an Albuquerque Journal editorial calling King a ‘soft’ attorney general … (and) mentioned the fact that King never prosecuted former Gov. Bill Richardson, who was investigated — but never indicted — for an alleged pay-to-play scheme.”
And, this take from the state’s top political blogger, Joe Monahan:
“(The debate) presented an opportunity for King to score if not a knockout at least a punch that made her lose her balance and give voters a reason to take a second look at the contest. But when it came time for King to pose a question directly to Martinez he wondered why she had been appointing cabinet secretaries from out of state. You could practically hear the jaws drop over that softball question that Martinez swiftly dispatched and with it any possibility of a game changing night.”
Seeing as how the KOAT-Journal event was the only debate of the entire campaign, there will be no second chances for King to pull off an upset – in a debate format, at least.
The governor says she will stay in New Mexico
When she was first elected New Mexico governor four years ago, Susana Martinez started getting national attention right away because she became the nation’s first female Hispanic governor. Also she is a Republican – offering a prospect that the longstanding support of Hispanics for Democratic candidates might not have to continue.
Some national Republicans began rhapsodizing as soon as she was elected, and even before she moved into the governor’s mansion, that here was a rising star that could help the G.O.P. in its listless effort, so far, of being attractive to — and thus attracting — Hispanic voters nationwide, an already powerful demographic that is rapidly growing and cannot be ignored.
Add to that the fact that Democrats love to paint Republicans as being, with regard to women voters, at the least clueless and at worst harshly controlling, and the fact that here in the Southwest was arising a female Hispanic, and it should not have been surprising that Susana Martinez quickly became the subject of speculation about playing on the national stage.
This despite the fact that Martinez publicly brushed off the prospects every time she was asked by journalists. Nevertheless, the chatter continued.
But, as Steve Terrell reported in his news story about the debate:
“Martinez, asked point-blank whether she would serve out her entire second four-year term if re-elected, said she’s committed to serving her full term — which would mean she couldn’t run on the national Republican ticket in 2016. Her answer to the question … perhaps was the strongest she’s ever offered on the subject.”
The economy and jobs
Although education was hashed around quite a bit during the debate, two related issues of keen concern to voters are the economy and jobs.
By many indicators, New Mexico continues to lag both the region and the nation. Martinez, for her part, has been trying to make the schools more effective and the teachers more accountable, saying this is an important part of economic development but will take time to get into place and help in business growth and job creation.
And despite much adversarial interaction with the Democratically controlled legislature on many topics, she did get bipartisan support a couple of years ago for tax cuts that her administration says, over time, will make New Mexico more attractive to companies elsewhere that would like to relocate or expand.
In the debate, King looked askance at the tax measure, saying: “Giving big tax breaks to big corporations is not working.” He added that New Mexico policymakers, instead, should focus on helping in-state businesses thrive. Martinez says, just as in education improvements and weaning the state’s economy from over-reliance on Federal spending, bills like the tax cut measure take time to produce results. She added that, nonetheless, jobs have been created during her first term.
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Another part of the rainy year in New Mexico: Now it’s raining campaign dollars here
October 17, 2014
By Carroll Cagle
Mercifully, for much of New Mexico this year, the severe, four-year-long drought ended with rain. A good part of the precipitation came in the form of useful form of long, slow, soaking rains – but some downpours such as in Eddy County were drastically powerful, damaging, and deadly.
Now, dollars are flooding into the state as well, in the form of campaign contributions that make “politics,” for a time at least, a robust growth industry here.
The dollars are mainly pouring down in these two areas:
1. The high-level, most visible races — specifically for governor, U.S. Senate and attorney general (but also even further down the ballot, for such as land commissioner and auditor).
2. A relative few state house of representative races — those in so-called “swing” districts where the Republicans see an opportunity to make the needed net gain of three seats to control that 70-member chamber (and the Democrats just as mightily are struggling to hold on to the control they have enjoyed since way back into the 1930s). Floods of dollars are gushing into these few races, mainly through so-called “Super PACs” or political action committees. Since what the Legislature does, and does not, do probably affects more residents than some of the well-known top offices, let’s take that issue first:
1. Money for the state house district races
Aside from individual contributions to legislative candidates, in recent years there has been the rise of the Super PACs. These are entities which, enabled by a U.S. Supreme Court ruling, can raise and spend unlimited amounts of dollars for political purposes, however they please – as long as there is no coordination with the campaigns themselves.
Somewhat ironically, since it has been mainly liberal and Democrats who have vociferously complained about the Supreme Court ruling, called Citizens United, in this case the group that had raised, and spent, the most cash as of the last reporting period a few days ago, is a Democratic-favoring group called Patriot Majority New Mexico.
An Albuquerque Journal account headlined “Super PACs dump money into NM legislative races” says Patriot Majority New Mexico had raised $1.1 million and spent almost all of it, $1 million, on advertising of various types – mainly radio and mailers since the races are localized rather than statewide. Reflecting the titanic struggle between the teachers’ unions against efforts by the governor’s administration and business groups to change the educational status quo in New Mexico, one big contributor to Patriot Majority was the National Education Association’s political organization. Unions, in general, were the biggest contributors to this and other Democratic campaigns.
Environmental organizations also raised and spent about $130,000 via the Verde Voters PAC (which means “green voters” in Spanish). Environmentalists also have strenuously objected to some of the actions of the Martinez administration and see a Democratic legislature as a bulwark against further incursions.
On the Republican side, a Super PAC named Advance New Mexico now reported having raised $400,000 in a four-week period.
Not just Republicans, but some business leaders and organizations, have been chafing about Democratic rule in the legislature for some time. While acknowledging some major Democrats in both house and senate have been able to work with business, there has been a feeling that, over all, the Democratic-union-environmentalist cohort has tilted the governmental apparatus toward ever-increasing regulation (too much of it overly restrictive or mindless), higher taxes, and, in general, a lack of understanding that the private sector pays the bills for all the well-meaning government programs for which the pro-government coalition advocates.
The state senate is Democratic, but generally somewhat more mindful of business and free enterprise interests than the house, so getting those three or more Republicans (or else forming an alliance with a handful of pro-business Democrats in the house) is of exceptionally keen interest to the Republican/free enterprise leaders. And naturally, Governor Susana Martinez, having engaged in plenty of intensive struggles over policy with the legislature, would surely rejoice at having a change in the political makeup in the house this year.
One almost-sure bet: The amount of money coming in to, and being spent by, Super PACs, is probably going to turn from a flood into a tsunami between now and November 4.
2. The statewide candidates’ money races
The latest reports on contributions and spending, filed with the secretary of state’s office, confirm the same picture as in recent months: Republican Susana Martinez has a gigantic lead in the money race for governor over Democrat Gary King; while in the attorney general’s race, it is the Democrat, Hector Balderas, who is outdoing Republican Susan Riedel in their money contest. And in another important race, that for the state’s biggest landlord, state land commissioner, the Republican challenger, Aubrey Dunn, outdid the incumbent commissioner, Democrat Ray Powell, on the money front.
The U.S. Senate campaign finance reports were just due at the Federal Elections Commission (F.E.C.) and we will report on the Tom Udall-Allen Weh money outcomes in a separate newsletter.
Governor Martinez, seeking re-election to a second four-year term, continued the overwhelming mismatch in spending between her campaign and that of King. Her organization spent nine times more than King’s. Between September 2 and October 6 she spent $1.9 million, mostly on TV and radio, while King spent only $205,000 — and none on broadcast ads. (He now is up with one new ad.)
Martinez also continues to dominate in the cash-on-hand category: $2.7 million, contrasted with King’s $123,000.
Below are some of the basics on the other state races. Additional information on these and all statewide races are available herein reporting by Barry Massey of The Associated Press Santa Fe bureau.
Balderas has an eight-to-one cash advantage over Riedel, $602,000 to $70,000. Balderas spent $335,000, mostly on TV, and Riedel spent $70,000.
In the powerful-but-obscure state land commissioner race, Republican challenger Dunn had a balance of $75,000, and Powell had $67,000. Dunn spent $132,000 and Powell $96,000.
While campaign cash has a strong positive correlation with political strength, it is not the only determinant of ultimate outcomes of course. Other factors are: effective use of those dollars, non-cash-related political and message strengths, and, upon occasion, “waves” of voter sentiment (including national ones) that can sweep in candidates that otherwise might seem out of the running. Nationally, Democrats already fear a wave effect against them due to drastically negative voter sentiment about President Obama, and frustration or fear over a mix of issues including fiascos with the IRS, Secret Service, and combatting ISIS and Ebola. In the case of Riedel and some other Republicans, there also is a possibility that the “coat-tail effect” of a strong Susana Martinez showing might help pull them along to victory, too.
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Early voting begins tomorrow
Yes, it’s true – you do not have to wait until “election day” on November 4 to vote (assuming you are registered, of course).
New Mexico’s voter can begin “early in-person voting” tomorrow, October 18.
If you already know whom you favor, and/or do not want to bother with possibly long lines on election day, you can proceed now -- or do so up through Saturday, November 1.
Bullet Points: Top things to know as the election nears
October 13, 2014
By Carroll Cagle
1. “Election Day” is actually many days now.
It still is true that the general election – when most New Mexicans (and Americans) vote – will be on Tuesday, November 4. But what is called “early absentee voting” already is underway – if you want to cast your vote in that fashion. What is called just plain “early voting” or “early in-person voting” will start on Saturday, October 18. To find out more contact the county clerk where you live. How to do that is available here.
2. The most important N.M. races may not be the big ones you see on TV
Surely the most-uttered words in all of New Mexico now are these: Susana Martinez, Gary King, Tom Udall, and Allen Weh. Toss in Hector Balderas and Susan Riedel for good measure. While the manic repetitiveness of the TV spots for these candidates may have resulted in itchy trigger fingers on TV remote mute buttons, few could be unaware that the named candidates are fighting it out to be governor, U.S. senator, and attorney general.
While those top offices are of keen importance, it may be that some less-known contests for state representative will mean more in terms of public policy affecting most New Mexicans in their daily lives. That is because the New Mexico House of Representatives has been in Democratic hands, with one minor exception, since way back to FDR and the New Deal of the 1930s. Governor Martinez, Republicans, and many business people are ardently trying to get the N.M. House from under the 80-year Democratic grip, and they think that now is the time, given that changing only three seats, net, would do the job. There are 70 House seats but only a few are seen as likely to tip the balance. See Joe Monahan’s political blog and the Albuquerque Journal for a look at a couple of swing-district races.
3. Is there still potential for an upset in the U.S. Senate race here?
On the big national (and even global) stage, control of the U.S. Senate is in play this year, and hugely important. Republicans seem poised to take away Democratic control, and thus force President Obama to deal, since the U.S. House already is in the “R” column and likely to remain so. However, as we have written before, whether New Mexico’s Republican candidate, Allen Weh, can become part of any new G.O.P. Senate majority by upsetting Democrat Tom Udall seems doubtful, by most accounts.
The summary of all polls by RealClearPolitics.com averages Udall ahead of Weh by a healthy 14.7 points (52.0 to 37.3). CNN’s own national survey is headlined in this way: “Senate math seems impossible to some Democrats” – yet, despite all the upbeat news the network reports about Republican strengths, the Udall-Weh contest is not even mentioned by CNN as being in play.
Even so, Udall does not seem to be relaxing – likely the product of wariness he gained from his previous successes in two New Mexico attorney general races, six U.S. House races (a 12-year stint), and his original Senate victory six years ago against Steve Pearce. A recent e-mail from Udall to his supporters says this:“When your opponent gains 6 points in the polls the month before Election Day, it’s time for a gut check.That’s where we are right now — one month out from Election Day and Allen Weh has climbed 6 points in the latest Rasmussen poll.” (Udall then goes on to use the prospect that Weh is gaining to ask for campaign contributions.)
Carrying the weights of Barack Obama, ISIS, and a recession in its sixth year (as far as average citizens are concerned) doubtless tempers those polls with a bit of anxiety in the Udall camp. Plus, Weh has that Marine style of dogged determination and a belief that voters, once duly educated, will realize that Udall is far too liberal, far too supportive of Obama, and, in general, needs to be sent home if Washington is to be revived.
4. Martinez vs. King not over yet – but many think it is
It is not smart to think, or write, that any candidate is coasting to victory. But surely, there are reasonable indicators that Governor Susana Martinez is likely — with the November 4 Election Day drawing near – to defeat Democrat Gary King, the current attorney general. Her massive campaign budget advantage is enabling Team Susana to relentlessly carpet bomb King and his past deeds as AG and state representative, while the almost-barren King treasury renders him virtually hapless and mute. Plus, the RealClearPolitics.com average of polls shows Martinez ahead by 12.0 points (50.7 to 38.7).
In presidential campaigns, watchers at the national level are seldom actually surprised to see what is called an “October surprise” — news that could sharply shift voter sentiment in the weeks, or even days, running up to the November election date. The prospects for such a surprise here in New Mexico seem remote, based on a read of the terrain today – but such is probably the only thread left by which Gary King now dangles.
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Tuesday is the voter registration deadline
October 5, 2014
To vote in the November election you must register by Tuesday, October 7.
We have tools to help you, and your employees, to register and educate themselves before voting, including:
- appropriate employer-to-employee messages
- a suggested calendar of when you should send messages
- information on legislators
- voter registration information
- voter registration form
Please encourage your employees, colleagues, and family members to register and vote.
Voter registration information
From the Secretary of State’s office:
“If this form is submitted by mail and it is the first time you have registered in this county or the state of New Mexico, you MUST submit a COPY of a current valid photo ID or a COPY of a current utility bill, bank statement, paycheck or other government document that shows your name and address in this county.
Submitting this identification information now will allow you to avoid being required to show personal identification at the polling place on Election Day. If you do not provide proof of identification, you may cast a provisional ballot.
Bureau of Elections
325 Don Gaspar, Suite 300
Santa Fe, NM 87503
Find your local registration office at www.NewMexicoProsperity.org.
For Balderas, a long climb up from poverty – and facing a tough prosecutor as he seeks to be attorney general
October 3, 2014
By Carroll Cagle
At age 21, Hector Balderas found himself working the graveyard shift, deep inside the cavernous Motorola plant in northeast Albuquerque, assembling electronicscomponents. Now, 20 years later, he is hoping that on November 4, New Mexico voters will elect him to one of the state’s highest posts as attorney general. This article is based on a New Mexico Prosperity Project interview with Balderas, and other research.
Balderas, a Democrat, faces a former prosecutor from Las Cruces, Republican Susan Riedel, who is running a stronger race than many had been expecting, and whose tough-against-criminals television commercials are aired frequently and thus hard to miss.
Balderas, having already won two statewide races for state auditor (where he is term-limited), has going for him: (a) experience on the campaign trail, (b) the state’s tradition of voting in Democrats down below the top offices of governor, U.S. representative and U.S. senator, and (c) a hefty margin over Riedel in his campaign treasury.
Riedel -- whom we also have interviewed previously -- has the strong TV messaging going for her, a campaign budget that seems reasonably adequate, and the possibility that she might benefit from voter fatigue resulting from the long Democratic dominance in the AG’s office. Such views are more likely to rise to the fore in a voter’s mind because of the incessant hammering of the current Democratic inhabitant of the AG’s office, Gary King, in Governor Susana Martinez’ TV commercials as she seeks re-election, against King. Perhaps, too, if the governor wins by a wide margin her electoral coattails will help tug Riedel and others into office.
The Balderas personal story
When Balderas was working that graveyard shift at Motorola back then, he already was a college dropout. “Many of my co-workers were single mothers on the graveyard shift who told me to go back to college,” Balderas says with appreciation for their encouragement. He had himself been raised in poverty, he says, by a single mother in the small northern New Mexico town of Wagon Mound. He listened to his co-workers on the assembly line and returned to college, and then went on to law school, getting his degree in 2001. Even then, though, he failed the bar exam twice and finally succeeded on the third try.
He had brief tenures as an assistant district attorney in the Albuquerque metro district and as a special prosecutor, focusing on domestic violence cases, before he finally began to get political traction.
In 2004, Balderas decided to challenge a fellow Democrat, Bengie Regensberg, who was running for re-election to the State House of Representatives. Since the district was up north, the decision entailed leaving metro Albuquerque and heading back to Wagon Mound -- initially requiring a fair amount of consideration by his wife, Denise, he says. No Starbucks, after all. But she had come from another small northern New Mexico village, Mora, so the culture shock was minimized, and off they went. Success in a primary against an incumbent is rare in either major party, but the voters chose Balderas.
After one term in the State House of Representatives, Balderas quickly made his next move: running statewide for the state auditor’s post, in 2006. In winning at age 33, he became the youngest statewide Hispanic elected official in the nation. He was re-elected four years later, in 2010, with a term beginning in January 2011. Then, only four months later, in April 2011, he launched a campaign to go to the U.S. Senate, due to the announcement by the 30-year-incumbent, Democrat Jeff Bingaman, that he would not seek a sixth, six-year term in 2012. However, Balderas was beat out in that primary by Martin Heinrich, then a two-term U.S. House member from the Albuquerque metro district, and so Balderas remained in the auditor’s post and proceeded to make it more activist and publicly visible for an agency that had long been obscure.
What he says, and would do:
One of the first questions New Mexico Prosperity Project asked Balderas in our interview was what he would do differently as AG from Gary King, whose eight-year AG record is facing a hailstorm of televised critiques from the Susana Martinez governor campaign. Despite a couple of efforts on our part to elicit direct comparisons with what he might do, versus the King years, Balderas declined to address that issue directly, saying “I don’t criticize.” (This despite some testy public conflicts between the two Democratic officials in recent years.)
Balderas instead said if elected he would “focus on protecting families,” make the AG’s office “the best law enforcement agency in the state,” and “support law enforcement agencies and prosecutors throughout New Mexico.” Regarding the latter two points, we noted the mission of the Department of Public Safety and its State Police operations as presumably being the main law enforcement entities in the state, whereupon he said the AG’s office under his tenure would “fill in gaps in public safety communications among (the many state and local) agencies.” He said the state lacks a “strong-enough first-responder (operational) plan,” and also said a Balderas AG office would come down heavily on white-collar and public agency corruption, as well as the “protecting families” message his own TV commercials emphasize.
The Riedel critiques:
Balderas, in the interview, was soft-spoken in regard to critiques by his opponent, Susan Riedel, that the AG’s office long has been held by Democratic politicians with little real-world experience as prosecutors, that they have merely use it as a placeholder and stepping stone to run for higher office -- and inferring strongly that both critiques apply to Hector Balderas as well.
On the experience jab, Balderas brings up his early, albeit brief, stints as a prosecutor and special prosecutor, notes that he is a certified fraud examiner, and cites some of the high-profile corruption cases he brought during his state auditor tenure.
Despite our AG-as-stepping-stone question hanging in the air, Balderas did not go so far as to rule out any future run for higher office, thinking perhaps as former President George H.W. Bush often said, “it wouldn’t be prudent” to rule out such an eventuality.
However, Balderas did take up the “Democratic politician” matter that Ms. Riedel puts out there. Time and again, throughout our interview, Balderas emphasized the many virtues of bipartisanship, and, beyond that, reaching out to independents not registered in either major party. He also cites “leadership” as being one of his strong suits, as exemplified by his ability to bring together “business leaders, environmentalists, grassroots activists and law enforcement.” He said he has a “real record of independence” and added: “When you fight corruption, you win support on all sides of the spectrum.”
Nor did he let Riedel go without jabbing back a bit on the matter of partisanship. Unlike Riedel, he says, he has never been appointed to an office nor has he been an officer in a political party (which he said she had been vis-à-vis the Dona Ana County G.O.P.). “Her career outside of being a prosecutor,” Balderas said, “has required political appointments.” Going back to his first race for the State House of Representatives against a fellow Democrat, Balderas says that showed he was willing to “take on the party.” He added in closing: “The attorney general’s office requires independent leadership” working to meet the needs of “taxpayers on both sides of the aisle.”
Despite long odds, Weh still actively trying to dislodge Udall from the U.S. Senate
September 30, 2014
By Carroll Cagle
Control of the United States Senate is the biggest prize in the November elections — but the prospect that New Mexico will help the Republicans gain a Senate majority is looking increasingly slim.
As you will see in our analysis below, the reasons are the two most logical ones: polling, and money.
Polls of voters show Democrat incumbent Tom Udall ahead of Republican challenger Allen Weh, and Udall also has a big fundraising advantage. (Just the opposite from the New Mexico governor’s race where Republican Susana Martinez leads Democrat Gary King both in the polls and in money. See our previous article on that topic here.)
Control of the U.S. Senate is of great importance in terms of the nation’s political balance of power — and the policies affecting everyone that can change based on whether the Democrats continue in the majority, or the Republicans gain a majority. With the U.S. House already in Republican hands and likely to remain so, the G.O.P. is chomping at the bits to also take over the Senate, thus forcing the Democratic president, Barack Obama, into equal status in the mighty arm-wrestling contest already going on in Washington.
“Hostile takeover” by Republicans?
Many analysts, and indicators, suggest that this year is favorable to Republicans ending up with at least 51 seats in the 100-seat chamber – and all it takes is a one-seat margin to achieve control. U.S. senators serve for six-year terms, so every two years, one third of them are up for re-election. This year, there are enough states where polls show Republicans ahead for them to become the majority. This trend is aided by the fact that a number of incumbent Democrats have chosen not to seek re-election this year (resulting in so-called “open” seats). But there is a broad consensus among obsessive political types nationally that New Mexico is not likely to be part of any Republican trends.
Weh lags – is an upset still remotely possible?
Six years ago, when then-U.S. Representative Tom Udall first won the Senate seat in New Mexico, he had some advantages. The year, 2008, was when Udall beat Republican Steve Pearce, the conservative congressman from the state’s southern district. One Udall advantage was that 2008 was the year that Obama first swept into the presidency at the head of the “D” slate in New Mexico. Second was that even though Udall had compiled a pronounced record of liberal and environmental votes, actions and pronouncements, the voters seemed to feel that Pearce was too far to the right. And third, there was a split within the Republican party ranks — Republicans upset that Pearce had challenged, then beat, more moderate Congresswoman Heather Wilson of the Albuquerque metro district in the G.O.P. primary failed to rally around Pearce in the general election showdown with Udall.
Allen Weh is most decidedly his own man, as anyone will attest, but there are some similarities with Pearce in that both are staunchly conservative, ex-military, free-enterprise success stories who are not exactly huggy-bear, touchy-feely types. Will New Mexicans who generally like moderates rather than candidates who are markedly liberal or conservative feel this year that Weh, like Pearce six years earlier, is too far to the right? Or will they relate to Weh’s premise that it is Udall who is the outlier, hewing to the far left edge of the political spectrum and thus a part of the “Washington problem?”
Udall, for his part, has hardly shed his green coloration and progressive tendencies, although his votes have moved back from the left edge since he has held the statewide seat, compared with when he represented the liberal Santa Fe/northern New Mexico district.
One Udall characteristic that perpetually confounds Republicans and conservatives is that he is usually seen as amiable, affable – likeable — and that as a result his leftish record does not get the attention that would cause voters to give up on him.
Weh is determined to educate the populace accordingly. His latest TV commercials are hard-hitting. They take aim at the massive health care re-do called Obamacare, whose woes have become standard fodder for late-night TV comedians, and subject to bitter denunciations by many Americans who have been negatively impacted. In the spots, the myriad problems with Obamacare are cited, interspersed with chipper assertions from Udall that it was a great notion and actually didn’t go far enough. It also shows both Obama and Udall articulating surely one of the most rueful assurances of recent political times, “If you like your plan, you can keep it.” For a detailed refutation of this assertion, see this USA today “Fact Check” article.
In view of Weh’s hard punches on Obamacare, Team Udall realized they could not risk having their guy be dragged down by it – as it and other Democratic baggage has been tugging his cousin, Senator Mark Udall from neighboring Colorado, down into the danger zone as pollsters see it. So Tom Udall’s response ads take a page from the Democratic operative playbook by not trying to overtly defend his vote for Obamacare, but, rather, to chide Weh for wanting to repeal it thus also repealing its popular feature of preventing insurance companies from refusing coverage for pre-existing conditions. And while they’re at it they accuse Weh endangering Social Security and Medicare — two of the must-not-touch “third rail” programs beloved by older voters who are far more reliable at getting to the polls than younger types.
The Weh Way
Udall’s counterpunching also includes a reference that going for Weh would be the “wrong way.” Yes, Allen Weh’s last name is pronounced “way.” Notable in the campaign is that Weh’s own advertising might cause the uninitiated voter to think a fellow named “Allen” is running for the Senate. His signage is dominated by the first name, Allen, in very large type. Presumably the hope is that once voters scrutinize their ballots they will realize that this fellow “Allen” is actually the first name of Allen Weh, and that is the “way” they will go.
Udall plays the defense card
Udall’s campaign, proactively trying to counter Weh’s undeniable military credentials, also has been bowing to the reality that a major share of the New Mexico economy is based on defense and national security federal spending: Air Force bases at Clovis, Albuquerque and Alamogordo; the Army’s White Sands Missile Range in south-central New Mexico; and Department of Energy nuclear weapons labs at Los Alamos and Albuquerque.
One of Udall’s first television commercials shows jet fighters taking off from Cannon Air Force Base near Clovis, highlighting Udall’s efforts (along with other political leaders) to save the base from closure a few years ago. A later ad shows a lumbering Air Force cargo plane taking off from Kirtland Air Force Base in Albuquerque. But in this ad, in an apparent desire to not agitate his liberal, anti-defense, base overly much, Udall cheerfully trots out the example of a homegrown coffee bistro thriving as a result of its proximity to Kirtland as a benefit of his having protected defense spending.
Steve Terrell of the Santa Fe New Mexican analyzes the Udall record vis-à-vis Los Alamos and Sandia National Laboratories, two centers of massive Federal expenditures in New Mexico going back to the Manhattan Project of World War II.
In northern New Mexico, Los Alamos National Laboratory is the largest contributor to an otherwise low-performing regional economy, and Terrell notes that “when (Udall) talks about protecting national laboratories from budget cuts —(he) might raise some eyebrows in Los Alamos.” Terrell adds: “In March 2012, Los Alamos National Laboratory announced that 557 people would leave their jobs under a voluntary separation program. The lab earlier had announced that they needed 400 to 800 fewer employees to reduce the likelihood of involuntary layoffs due to a budget crunch. This was just over four years after 450 LANL workers voluntarily left their jobs in the face of possible involuntary layoffs.”
But then Terrell goes to the budget numbers for both Los Alamos and Sandia. He notes that the LANL budget was $1.8 billion in the 2011 budget year, and after a dip in 2012 was back up to $1.8 billion in 2013 and currently is $1.9 billion. Sandia went from $1.2 billion in the 2011 budget year to the current budget of almost $1.7 billion.
What the polls say
The Albuquerque Journal’s poll of September 15 shows Udall ahead of Weh, 51 to 38 percent. Although unfavorable to Weh, the colonel must have been encouraged by the fact that he gained (from 35 percent then) and Udall lost (from 53 percent) from only a month earlier.
Despite this, the national take on New Mexico’s U.S. Senate race continues to give the Udall camp reasons for assurance. The respected RealClearPolitics.com “poll of polls” puts the average of polls at 53 percent for Udall and 35.7 percent for Weh, for a Udall margin of 17.3 percent.
Udall’s campaign voice is surely much louder than Weh’s if money does talk in politics, and it most assuredly does in the sense that it costs big bucks to saturate the air with television commercials A new deadline for reports on campaign contributions and expenditures comes this week at the Federal Elections Commission. But in the last reporting period, ended June 30, Udall had a big advantage over Weh. Udall had $3.4 million cash on hand and Weh had $627,000.
Movidas in the final stretch
As we have noted before, Weh is a tough retired Marine who already has brushed off having been shot more than once in Vietnam, and to him bad odds against him amount only to a more interesting challenge. Based on possible movement toward him as indicated by the two Albuquerque Journal polls, Weh also is aggressively challenging Udall to the modern-day equivalent of the duels of yesteryear: a series of debates.
The Weh assertiveness is revealed in this excerpt of a letter he wrote to Udall: “As you know, we have received three major debate requests from the New Mexico media and you haven’t accepted any of them. With all due respect, I have no other choice but to conclude you’re avoiding these debates. Perhaps it’s because your campaign team thinks you can get away with this? You can’t! You’ve been an elected federal official for almost sixteen years, but that doesn’t entitle you to do as you please … the Senate seat belongs to the people of New Mexico, not you or your campaign manager!”
Weh is unabashedly trying to counter the national sentiment that the New Mexico seat is not really in play, a view articulated in this summary from RealClearPolitics: “Udall didn’t draw a top-flight opponent. If things get really bad for Democrats, Republicans could find themselves victorious, but otherwise Udall is likely in for a second term.”
Susana Martinez looks toward a second term as Gary King’s campaign seems to flounder
September 16, 2014
By Carroll Cagle
In politics, it is rarely a good idea to declare an outcome before Election Day. Especially this far out — still a month and a half before the November 4 general election. Yet, even the most cautious political observer must surely be marking down Gary King as the longest of long shots at this point as he tries to prevent Susana Martinez from securing a second four-year term.
This in spite of the fact that Democrats, of whom King is one, outnumber Republicans in a big way in the state. Democrats account for 47 percent of registered voters compared with 31 percent who are Republicans. Independents are at 19 percent and other parties round out the 100 percent. This comes out to be 590,000 registered Democrats, 397,000 registered Republicans and 236,000 Independents.
How can a Gary King election be seen as such a tall order with a partisan advantage like that and when not a single ballot has yet been cast? (Absentee voting does not start until October 7 and “early voting” not until October 18.) It is for two interrelated reasons that seem to feed on each other, leading to the beginnings of a death spiral for the King campaign. This despite that Gary King has long envisioned himself as following in the footsteps of his father, Bruce King, he of the colorful quotes, memorable malaprops and distinctive cowboy gait who managed to win three races for governor beginning in the 1970s.
The first reason one can see foreboding clouds hanging over the King campaign is the impactful Albuquerque Journal polls. These are conducted by the professional firm of Research & Polling, Inc., run for decades by Brian Sanderoff, whose brain cells must surely be largely devoted to housing and analyzing a vast repository of political and demographic information on New Mexico voters, elections and polling methodology.
So far the Journal has published two such polls, the latest on Sunday. For King, there’s no “some good news and some bad news;” it’s more like “there’s some bad news and some worse news.” The most recent poll shows not only that King is trailing Martinez by 54 to 36 percent —but that he lost ground from a mid-August poll where Martinez bested King by “only” 50 to 41 percent. If you are a challenger to an incumbent, as King is, you need to be gaining momentum at this point, not losing it.
Looking at the Research & Polling results more closely, we see that Republican Martinez was picking up 22 percent of Democratic voters in the poll. Though Democrats have that strong edge in voter registration, at the top of the ticket, at least, many Democrats are prone to cast “crossover” votes to Republicans they take a liking to. Examples include Martinez’ victory four years ago but also, in 1994 and 1998, two victories in the governor’s race by Republican Gary Johnson, a triathlete who in 2012 ran for president on the Libertarian Party ticket — and, of course the six-term Republican U.S. senator, Pete Domenici who practically wrote the book on attracting crossover Democrats.
Further, the trends between the August and September polls showed Martinez gaining Hispanic votes, typically hospitable to Democratic nominees. In August, King had a good margin there, 56 to 36 percent, but by the current mid-September poll, Martinez had moved up to virtually dead even with King, 44 percent to his 45. Independent voters also were trending toward Martinez — from a 55-35 spread in August to 61-28 now.
Sanderoff & Co. has a strong prophetic record. But could King still pull off an upset? Given the fact he is losing ground, he would have to struggle to reverse the polling trends. But that leads to the second part of the seeming death spiral for King’s gubernatorial hopes: money.
Here’s how the experienced and savvy political journalist Steve Terrell of the Santa Fe New Mexican describes this part of the King campaign’s woes:
“Campaign finance reports…show the Republican incumbent raised $961,901 between late June and Sept. 1. That’s more than two and a half times the $379,050 King raised during the same period. More daunting for King, however, is the fact that Martinez had more than $3.8 million cash on hand to spend before the November election. King had only $157,730.”
The massive cash advantage Martinez enjoys matters because it has enabled her to move closer to a submission hold on King in the mixed martial arts hexagon known as politics, by getting her messages out there — both promoting the good things about her administration and also banging away on Gary King like a piñata. Documenting the “messaging gap,” Steve Terrell of The New Mexican notes that during the last finance reporting period, the governor’s campaign spent $686,000 on broadcast commercials whereas King was able to offer up only $94,000 for media.
Finally, either contributing to, or because of, this seeming death spiral, the King campaign seems to be struggling just in terms of management and operations. The premier political blogger Joe Monahan, whose daily analyses and commentary have often been scathing about Susana Martinez and her administration, reports this:
“The chaos that is the Gary King campaign is plumbing new lows and the worst may not be over. News comes to us that his second campaign manager since the June primary has just headed for the exits…in what has been a virtually uncontested gubernatorial contest. Keith Breitbach was brought in from California in July to run the King effort after the first campaign manager resigned after only weeks on the job…Breitbach — like many Democrats — is frustrated by the state of the race and their inability to get through to King, a two term attorney general who is running the most underfunded Dem campaign in memory and doing it his way.”
When New Mexico Prosperity Project interviewed Gary King before the primary election in June, right after he had come in dead last in delegate votes at his party’s pre-primary convention, King was unnaturally calm and self-assured about his prospects in the primary election – and it turned out he was right; he won with a solid margin against some prominent and/or well-financed opponents.
We hope to interview King again before the general, but for now we turn again to Joe Monahan’s blog for some insights into what King may be thinking in light of all the news that most everyone else sees as so bad for the Democratic hopeful:
“King realizes he is far, far behind in the important money chase which finances the media message that sways the undecided voters, but in his mind the King name is so well known that he will only need a month of media or so to catapult him in the polls and start bringing Martinez down. His father Bruce was a three term Governor — the longest in state history — and Gary tells himself the goodwill from those years will be a major factor in enabling him to pull off the upset.
“That's how King likely sees it, but it should be noted that Bruce was defeated in his effort to secure a fourth term. As for the King legacy, there is one, but it is not universally known. King was defeated by Gary Johnson way back in 1994 — 20 years ago.”
Ray Powell says working with all factions is the best way to run the State Land Office
September 9, 2014
By Carroll Cagle
Ray Powell, Jr., thinks his inclusive, middle-of-the road and innovative approach to running the State Land Office has been proven to be effective, and beneficial to New Mexicans in many ways. He believes his approach, and the results, warrant voters giving him another four years in office.
Most residents probably know little about the State Land Office – and some likely have never heard of it at all. Yet, the state land commissioner, who is elected by the voters and who runs the independent agency, has virtually autonomous power as the landlord of nine million acres of surface and 13 million acres of subsurface land in the state. In addition to taking care of the land itself, the Land Office brings in hundreds of millions of dollars each year to help finance state schools, universities and other institutions. This happens on the surface via grazing leases to ranchers and in the “subsurface” category via leases to oil and gas and mining companies.
Powell firmly takes exception with what he thinks is an overly combative, us-vs.-them, non-inclusive approach that he says his opponent in the November 4 general election, Aubrey Dunn, is advocating. Powell made his points on this and other matters in an interview with the New Mexico Prosperity Project – as Dunn had previously.
Powell, a Democrat, is a veterinarian by education who is seeking to make his 10 years in office (as of this December 31) extend to 14 if he is re-elected. (He served two years after then-Commissioner Jim Baca was appointed to run the U.S. Bureau of Land Management, or BLM, and then was elected to two four-year terms after that – in 1996 and 2010.)
In our interview, Powell calmly rejected Dunn’s assertion (in an Albuquerque Journal op-ed and in the interview with NMP2) that he, Powell, is a “radical environmentalist.”
Powell puts forth the example of a conservation agreement in March of this year that protects Lesser Prairie Chickens and Dunes Sagebrush Lizards on state trust lands while assisting with the continuation of oil and gas activity in the Permian Basin of southeast New Mexico. Environmentalists and the U.S. Department of the Interior had been moving toward listing the two species as endangered, but Dunn calls concern for such species (as well as the Mexican grey wolf) an example of radical environmentalism.
Powell’s rejoinder is that getting many of the adversarial parties together to develop a plan suitable to all (the conservation agreement) is much preferable to all-out political and courtroom warfare.
He told us: “The approach I took was to pull together the BLM, the U.S. Fish & Wildlife Service, the New Mexico Fish & Game Department, the New Mexico Oil and Gas Association (NMOGA), and environmentalists, and say, “Can’t we protect these critical species while not jeopardizing energy production and jobs?’” NMOGA confirms it did support the approach and says many producers, covering a large area of the Permian Basin in New Mexico, have signed up.
Powell told NMP2 that the inclusion of 400,000 state trust land acres in the agreement shows a “win-win” style can work, and that he was told by federal officials that if other states “had been as proactive then the species likely wouldn’t be listed (as endangered).”
Powell in his interview also pointed to a part of his administration’s progress that is little known – renewable energy and business parks. He said renewable projects have gone from zero to 16 under his watch, and that they will produce $500 million to the beneficiary institutions during their 40-year lifetime.
The business parks are the Hobbs Business Park, in the aforementioned Permian Basin area, and, in Albuquerque, the Innovation Park at Mesa del Sol and the Sandia Science and Technology Park on the north edge of Sandia National Laboratories. These already have generated 5,000 jobs, he said.
Powell also cites “innovation” as one of his watchwords, and is most pleased with the example of Emcore, an Albuquerque-based manufacturer of proprietary, specialized photovoltaic cells which convert sunlight into electricity with no moving parts. The Emcore PV cells are industry leaders in efficiency in such conversion, he says, and now New Mexico is the site of a terrestrial utilization of the cells which previously were used in satellite applications. This will be at a 52 megawatt solar array near Deming, whose capital came in part from the state permanent fund, which in turn exists due to income from state oil and gas leases on state land.
Powell noted that state law authorizes such venture capital use by the administrators of the permanent fund and says the Deming/Emcore endeavor is a good example of keeping state investment capital in the state, rather than financing yet another Silicon Valley startup where the benefits to the state would not be multiplied as they would be in his example. That the solar array will be on state land increases the benefits to the state even more, Powell said, adding: “The ‘prudent man rule’ (of safe investing) is even exceeded.”
He also pointed to a coming 1,000 megawatt wind farm in Torrance County (central New Mexico), also on state land, as being able to generate enough power to serve 400,000 homes, saying that renewable energy, with the engagement of his agency, is moving from the concept and idea stage to reality.
At the end of our interview, Powell again returned to the critique Aubrey Dunn had leveled at him, as being a radical environmentalist unmindful, or even scornful, of the needs of the ranching, petroleum and mining sectors. “I have great respect for ranchers, the oil and gas industry, the mining industry — and the environmentalists,” Powell said. “Pitting one group against another — people have had enough of it.”
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Susan Riedel says N.M. needs an experienced attorney who knows how to prosecute as attorney general
By Carroll Cagle
September 2, 2014
Will Susan Riedel, like Susana Martinez before her, come out of nowhere (politically) and Las Cruces (geographically) to win a big statewide race – in this case for attorney general?
Riedel says yes she can, adding that Governor Martinez asked her to challenge a Democrat who already has won two statewide races and who started with a big edge in funding with dollars left over from his last race – and that she would change what she sees as a chronic, unhealthy status quo at the AG’s office. These and other observations came in an interview with New Mexico Prosperity Project (NMP2).
Riedel says it is time — and even way past time — to have someone as attorney general of New Mexico (a) who has solid, real-world experience as a practicing attorney, (b) who specifically has prosecutorial experience, and (c) who is definitely not a career politician planning to use the post as mainly a stepping stone for higher office.
Riedel served for 14 years as the chief deputy district attorney in Las Cruces, and later, two years as a district court judge.
Riedel says there has been a lot that is less than desirable about the two four-year terms of the current attorney general, Gary King, and that little better could be expected from her opponent, Hector Balderas, presently the state auditor. Over time, Riedel says, the AG’s office has lamentably served as a home for politicos with little legal experience, and even less prosecutorial experience. Plus, AG’s in recent times have primarily used the office to climb on up the ladder, she adds.
Specifically, this is her take on Gary King, who is now running for governor, but she thinks Balderas already has mapped out in his mind his next chess moves after AG. For most of the state’s history up until 1982, no attorney general had gone on to higher office. In that year, then-Attorney General Toney Anaya upended that tradition when he was elected governor. Riedel also mentioned Tom Udall, who became a U.S. House member and U.S. senator after being AG, and Patricia Madrid, who ran for the U.S. House unsuccessfully. And of course there was Jeff Bingaman, who went on from having been AG to serve 30 years (five six-year terms) as a U.S. Senator. Riedel wryly agrees with some comments she has heard that “AG” stands for “Aspiring Governor.” (But should she be elected, that label will never be accurately applied to her, she avers.)
Riedel is a Republican and all the attorney generals for decades, including the ones just mentioned, are Democrats. A rare exception came in 1986 when Republican Hal Stratton won by a hair’s-breadth margin over Democrat Bob McNeill .
Riedel thinks electing her would result in an AG’s office that is better-run, with better outcomes for its clients (state government and New Mexicans) than if Balderas were to succeed King. Her election also, she says, would interrupt a tradition whereby the AG’s inhabitants come from the political gene pool, rather than from a practicing attorney and prosecutorial background.
She said in her interview with NMP2 that Susana Martinez, now governor but previously district attorney in Las Cruces, asked her to run for AG. In case anyone might think she acceded to her former boss’s request simply to make sure there was a capable Republican holding down the AG slot on the ballot, Riedel says she is by nature a highly competitive person and is out to win.
She acknowledges that Balderas got a head start in campaign funding by carrying forward $$$ from his previous state auditor races (legally acceptable), and that it has taken her a while to get traction with fundraising herself. In the last reporting period, Balderas, the Democrat, reported raising $131,300 compared with $59,266 for Riedel. More relevant is that Balderas, just ending two four-year terms as state auditor, has amassed a balance of $787,000 compared with $94,300 for Riedel. Riedel does not profess that she will outraise and outspend Balderas but she says she will have enough and it will be spent in targeted, effective ways.
Aside from putting forth her own credentials as chief deputy district attorney in an office with more than 80 employees and more than 20 attorneys, Riedel in her interview had some pointed critiques of the current officeholder, King, and her opponent, Balderas.
King, she said, almost certainly had in mind to use his AG’s position as a placeholder, and a stepping stone, to go on and become governor. His father, the late, legendary Bruce King was elected three terms as governor although, like most holders of higher office before Toney Anaya in ’82, King came from the legislature (as a long-serving speaker of the house). That Gary King had an eye on the governorship, Riedel says, accounts for what she said was King’s approach of half-heartedly and ineffectively taking up such important issues as a scandal in a housing authority but then “letting it languish for seven years.” She also was nonplussed, when the Pueblo of Pojoaque recently proposed to make big changes in its gambling compact (which Governor Martinez strenuously objected to), that when King was asked about the matter, he replied that “he hadn’t seen it.” Regarding King’s almost-eight-year tenure, Riedel said: “The biggest thing I’ve seen is a lack of action. His goal was to be governor. There has been an abdication of leadership.”
Turning to Balderas, Riedel says there are two problems, at least: One is that, like King and many others before, he primarily “is a politician” and would opportunistically use the post as a bridge to climb higher in the political food chain. Another is that he doesn’t have enough relevant experience. Being state auditor is well and good but the post does not translate into being able to manage an office with 180 employees, most of them attorneys working complex, important cases, she said. Noting Balderas did work for a while in the district attorney’s office in Albuquerque, Riedel discounted that as being more entry-level work handling mostly misdemeanors. “That doesn’t really make you a prosecutor,” she said.
As for her what she has to offer, Riedel says the AG’s office needs “someone who’s been in a courtroom” with “real-life experience.” She adds: “My experience is as a practicing attorney. I know what it’s like to be in a courtroom. I know what an effective brief looks like and how long it takes to do research. I have been a supervisor and I’ve been supervised (in a large legal setting). You have to have a vision for the office (and you) have to talk with (the staff attorneys) – weekly, and ask them what is going on (with their cases or issues).”
Riedel is a law graduate from Georgetown. In the Las Cruces DA’s office she prosecuted a couple of high-profile criminal cases, the “Baby Brianna” case and the conviction of Jesse Avalos for the murder of New Mexico State University freshman Carly Martinez, which was the subject of multiple full-length stories on national network television crime shows. After her 14 years as chief deputy district attorney she was a district court judge for almost two years. She says her compassion for crime victims was heightened when her own husband was killed by a drunk driver during a family trip to a soccer tournament in 2004. She then raised their three sons as a single parent.
Oh, as for the AG’s office being a political stepping stone? “I don’t want to be governor. Governor Martinez is doing a good job as governor. When she asked me to run I concluded I was too young to be retired. Before I said yes I wanted to make sure I could win. I am a very competitive person.” Her campaign website is here.
Aubrey Dunn says it’s time for a change of management at the State Land Office – and that he’s the man for the job
August 26, 2014
By Carroll Cagle
Aubrey Dunn is quite clear that there should be changes made at the State Land Office, the second largest landowner in the state (after the Federal government), with control over nine million acres of surface and 13 million acres of subsurface land. While not expressing over-confidence, he said in an interview with the New Mexico Prosperity Project (NMP2) that he thinks he has a good chance at beating incumbent Ray Powell, Jr., who is seeking his fourth (non-consecutive) four-year term as State Land Commissioner — the elected position serving as landlord over those millions of acres.
Dunn, a Republican who lives on a ranch 45 miles northwest of Roswell, expresses concern about the policies and style of Powell’s regime, and thinks it is time for a change. Given that another recent commissioner, Pat Lyons, showed, twice, that a Republican could be elected as Land Commissioner – unlike many other state elected offices which have gone Democratic for many decades — Dunn’s confidence that he has a shot at it might well be reasonable.
Dunn in his interview with NMP2 took aim at some things wrong with the Powell administration, and says he would change things for the better if he takes over the office. Dunn says:
1. That Powell is too rigidly ideological, leaning far to the left and in favor of ill-founded environmental notions that work against the State Land Office’s mandate to maximize revenues from energy, mineral and grazing leases, to the detriment of the schools and other state beneficiaries that get the funds. Dunn says Powell plays up to not only environmentalists but to “labor unions, lawyers and the Santa Fe crowd.” He says that he, himself, is a conservationist who has a reverence for the land, both for its own intrinsic value and also for its ability to produce greater public benefit than have been forthcoming from Powell’s approach. “I would optimize revenue while protecting the land for future generations,” Dunn said.
2. That Powell has been apparently trying to counter the notion that he is too ideological and anti-business by promoting that the Land Office has generated a record amount of revenues ($2.3 billion during Powell’s three and a half years of his current term). Dunn says any “record” was not of Powell’s doing, but largely due to the private sector’s technological advances, such as hydraulic fracturing and horizontal drilling, which have enabled a boom in oil and gas production from the storied Permian Basin of southeastern New Mexico. If Powell & Co. were not so hard to deal with, the production companies could have produced more petroleum and perhaps as many as $200 million more dollars for the state, Dunn says.
3. A specific manifestation of Powell’s ideological resistance to commercial operations on state land, Dunn said in his interview, is that permitting and leasing processes that used to take two weeks under Pat Lyons now are more likely to take six months under Ray Powell.
Both candidates are the sons of prominent political leaders also of the same name. The late Ray Powell Sr. was executive vice president of Sandia National Laboratories and later Democratic Party chair and Democratic candidate for Governor (although losing to Republican Garry Carruthers during the Reagan era). The late Aubrey Dunn Sr. was a memorably powerful and effective State Senator whose feats of legerdemain as chairman of the Senate Finance Committee are marveled at years later.
The elder Dunn was an exemplar of a breed that is now scarcer, in New Mexico and elsewhere, known as a “conservative Democrat.” But a Republican founder of modern conservationist politics, Theodore Roosevelt, influenced both father and son. In an Albuquerque Journal column, the younger Dunn wrote this: “As a lifelong conservationist, I belief just as President Teddy Roosevelt did in 1910 that ‘conservation means development as much as it does protection.’” Whereas hanging on the wall of Dunn’s father’s State Senate office was the memorable “Man in the Arena” Teddy Roosevelt speech at the Sorbonne in Paris, also in 1910: “It is not the critic who counts; not the man who points out how the strong man stumbles, or where the doer of deeds could have done them better. The credit belongs to the man who is actually in the arena, whose face is marred by dust and sweat and blood,” etc.
As for the politics of the campaign, Dunn is challenging an incumbent who previously won in 1992, 1996 and 2010. Dunn thinks that that length of time may have built up some opposition to Powell rather than being only a sign of strength. “I think I have a very good chance, from what I’m seeing,” Dunn told us. While not revealing his campaign’s polling results, he says he is encouraged. Dunn thinks success in November will largely spring from “how many Republicans and independents vote.” But he also says “we’re going to get some crossover votes from Democrats who aren’t too happy with Ray Powell.”
Dunn has been crisscrossing the state, speaking to groups and meeting with people. His campaign contributions have been at a healthy level and he plans to start TV commercials in September. He has a pair of Percheron draft horses, which he plans to have hitched to a buggy at the State Fair next month, promoting his campaign. Not content with traditional means of outreach, his campaign also is utilizing social media, including Google+ and Facebook. He says his campaign’s Facebook page is averaging 100,000 reaches, and his campaign’s website went from 1,200 visits during June to 10,000 during August, with a week still to go when he made the assertion.
Dunn has been the CEO of First Federal Bank of New Mexico, vice chairman of the Coalition of Conservation Districts, and Chairman of the Chaves County Soil and Water Conservation District. He has an animal science degree from Colorado State University.
[This is the first in a series of candidate profiles we will be publishing before the November election. Is there a candidate you think we should interview? Email us.]
A Democrat AND a Republican lead in two top N.M. races
August 19, 2014
By Carroll Cagle
New Mexico voters are notorious for “ticket-splitting.” By that, we mean they are known for electing both Democrats and Republicans for different offices in any given year. Now, we see that this could be possible in this year’s November general election, in the top offices for U.S. Senate and Governor.
Until now, trying to discern who might be ahead in the races for these offices was akin to squinting into a dimly lit room, trying to make out shadows and movement. That’s because although there have been some poll results released, none has had the impact as the ones just published, in two successive days, by the Albuquerque Journal.
The polls, by polling expert Brian Sanderoff’s Research and Polling, Inc., now at least momentarily shine a bright light into the darkened room, showing these two diverse outcomes:
- Republican Governor Susana Martinez ahead of Democrat Gary King, 50 to 41 percent.
- Democratic U.S. Senator Tom Udall ahead of Republican Allen Weh, 53 to 35 percent.
Given that Martinez is a Republican who generally articulates conservative points of view and Udall is a Democrat known for his liberal and environmental (“green”) stances, the diverse outcomes show that forces other than partisanship, or even political philosophy, are at play. (And, surely Gary King and Colonel Weh will be the first to tell you that this single snapshot in time is not going to be the way things play out in the actual election on November 4.)
Here are some things to consider regarding the polling outcomes:
1. According to an account by political blogger Joe Monahan, the Sanderoff poll, if anything, understated Governor Martinez’ lead: “Pollster Bruce Donisthorpe had the Guv race at 53-to-40 in favor of Martinez in a June 10 automatic phone poll he conducted for the NM Republican Party.” These two polling outcomes have to give Gary King some concern, since both Sanderoff and Donisthorpe surely must sleep each night on “spreadsheets” and lay their heads down on pillows patterned with pie charts, bar charts and graphs depicting demographic patterns, voting trends and precinct-by-precinct statistical details.
2. Reaching the “magic 50 per cent” number is considered important in political polling analysis; that is, a candidate not topping out at 50 percent or greater, especially if an incumbent, could spell trouble on election day. That Martinez narrowly made it to 50 percent, according to Sanderoff, might give a glimmer of hope to Gary King and help with his so-far-hapless fundraising. (Martinez had $4.3 million in her campaign account at the last reporting period, and King had only $116,000; plus he has been self-funding most of his effort so far.) But if Donisthorpe’s 53-to-40 numbers more closely depict reality, Martinez might be on the way to replicating her margins four years ago against Democrat Diane Denish, 53.29 to 46.55.
3. Although not everyone votes according to ethnicity, it surely is a factor, and, especially here in New Mexico, appeal to the massive Hispanic populace is vital. That factor alone helps Martinez big time, according to Sanderoff: Although King secured 56 percent Hispanic support, Martinez picked up a hefty 36 percent — upending the conventional wisdom that Hispanics and Democrats are virtually the same thing on election day. However, the other Republican measured by Sanderoff’s pollster, Senate candidate Allen Weh (pronounced “way”) picked up only 17 percent of the Hispanics polled.
4. Another vital factor (and increasingly so with each election) is the independent segment – voters who are not registered as either Democrats or Republicans. The latest report shows this: 47 percent of voters are registered as Democrats, 31 percent as Republicans, and 19 percent as independents — technically labeled as “decline to state” for some bureaucratic reason. (The remaining three percent were registered with so-called minor parties, such as Libertarian or Green.) Once, the electorate was either/or — Republican or Democrat, plain and simple. Now, with one in five of registered voters representing the independent wild card segment, they can and do sway election outcomes. Here, too, we can see why Republican Martinez polled so well compared with King, in that she picked up 55 percent of the independents, compared with King’s 36 percent. We also see, just as he lagged amongst Hispanics, why Weh lagged overall: He only got 29 percent of the independents, compared with Udall’s 62 percent.
5. There are 590,000 registered Democrats, 397,000 registered Republicans and 236,000 independents in New Mexico. Many of the Democrats are Hispanics. So, a Republican, to win statewide, has to do well with Hispanics or independents or both (of course many of the independents can be, and are, Hispanic as well). In sum, the fact that Susana Martinez drew support from the important Hispanic and independent segments is a strong key to her present polling strength – and the lack thereof is why Allen Weh, at this point at least, is going to have a struggle to win.
Conservative Martinez and liberal Udall, both with good margins in the polls, must be feeling reasonably good, although far from complacent. Martinez will remain wary, due to her 50 percent perch in the poll, but surely comforted by her multi-million-dollar campaign bank account tally, which will enable her to tell her story — often. That same 50 percent number for the governor must give Gary King a thought that he can come through, just as he upset the conventional wisdom by winning the Democratic primary though he had come in dead last in his party’s pre-primary convention.
Tom Udall, likewise, has won many a race (for U.S. House and Attorney General) in New Mexico, and must like his polling numbers. Still, he must worry that he doesn’t end up in a nail-biter such as his cousin Mark, also a U.S. Senator, is experiencing in Colorado. And Allen Weh, in best Marine-like tradition, relishes an uphill battle. He also has the point of view that Democrat Udall is “momentarily” holding the Senate seat held for 36 years by Republican Pete Domenici. The colonel wants to restore the R label to the seat and help undo Obamacare and remedy the many other mishaps he sees the Administration has visited on America since 2009.
A Marine colonel, Allen Weh, faces a tough political battle in his effort to oust Tom Udall from the U.S. Senate
July 31, 2014
By Carroll Cagle
The elections this year for control of the United States Senate feature massive stakes in the affairs of the nation and the globe – but is New Mexico a player? It depends on how you read the early signs, which we will take a look at here.
Control of the U.S. Senate is a huge deal because if the Republicans end up with at least 51 seats in the 100-member body (two senators for each state), that will mean two legs of a three-legged stool will be under Republican control and only one leg, that of the Administration, will remain in Democratic control via the Barack Obama White House. Obama still will have two more years to go after the November elections. Already, Obama struggles to get what he wants because, since 2010, the U.S. House has been under firm Republican control. If Obama ends up having both houses of Congress aligned against him as a result of this year’s epochal political battle, the dynamics in Washington will shift decidedly from the current status quo – and even more so than the first two years of Obama’s regime, 2009 and 2010, when the D’s controlled all three legs of the stool and pushed through some measures that remain highly controversial still, including the “Obamacare” health care overhaul, and the Dodd-Frank financial institutions overhaul.
These even-numbered year, as always, one-third of the 100 Senate seats are up for re-election, since senators serve for six-year terms. That includes, this time, the New Mexico battle against Democrat Tom Udall, by a determined Republican, Allen Weh. But whether the steely resolve of Weh will get the job done is a matter of interpretation.
Two new indicators demonstrate that Weh faces a steep incline:
A new state-by-state survey of all Senate races nationwide indicates that the Republicans have brightening prospects for achieving their dearest objective — transforming the present 55-person Democratic majority in the 100-seat chamber to a Republican majority. Although the detailed Wall Street Journal analysis shows that Tom Udall’s cousin Mark, also a sitting Democratic senator in neighboring Colorado, could be in danger of defeat, the paper does not mention the Tom Udall-Allen Weh contest as being in play.
Also this week, the national political polling organization, Rasmussen, put it this way: “Unlike his cousin in Colorado, Democratic incumbent Tom Udall is comfortably ahead of his Republican challenger in New Mexico’s U.S. Senate race. A new Rasmussen Reports statewide telephone survey of likely New Mexico voters finds Udall with 54 percent support versus Republican Allen Weh’s 33 percent.”
“Just a few hours after I posted the latest Rasmussen poll showing…Udall with a 21-percentage point lead over…Weh, along comes a CBS/New York Times poll showing Udall's lead to be only eight points over Weh. This poll has Udall at 52 percent to Weh's 44 percent.”
Polls aside, there is another indicator of undeniable importance: campaign cash. The latest campaign finance reports show that although Weh edged out Udall in the last quarter in raising money, $500,000 of that came from the successful aviation executive’s personal funds. The bottom line, though, is that Udall’s campaign account had $3.4 million in his campaign account while Weh had just short of $628,000. While money alone does not insure positive outcomes on Election Day, it surely does not hurt, since everyone knows how much it costs to get the word out via pricey television production and buying of airtime, print ads, brochures and signs, and hiring staff.
While Weh and the Republicans must have been cheered by the CBS/New York Times poll, and it is clear that Weh is not only willing but also able to dip into his significant personal financial reserves, the case remains that three out of three polls show Udall ahead. Of course the indefatigable colonel and his allies are likely to note that the 100 days or so remaining before the general election give the Weh operation enough time to make up the current electoral deficit.
Weh ran a strenuous race four years ago, in the Republican primary for governor. Having just finished a term as chair of the New Mexico Republican Party, it might have been okay to assume that the colonel would end up being his party’s nominee. But he ended up being defeated by the newcomer Susana Martinez, who made a strong electoral surge in the closing days. Whether Republicans will swing in behind Weh now, much less Democrats and independents, will be determined partly by the political and messaging skills, and money, Weh & Co. will be able to bring to bear. As G.O.P. party chair, Weh was known for his blunt, get-‘er-done style and even blunter language. Some find that refreshing but perhaps those with ruffled feathers decided to opt for Susana Martinez as a result.
Given that Col. Weh has a record of surviving three tours of duty in Vietnam, being shot three times while there, and building a $160-million-a-year aviation business with a $25,000 original loan, well, a “mere” political race against an incumbent whose views and votes, Weh thinks, are out of synch with most New Mexicans probably does not seem particularly daunting.
In addition to his demonstrated tenacity, Weh must be hoping that the seemingly relentless erosion of President Obama’s approval ratings might cause Tom Udall to join the list of endangered Democratic Senate species. For his part, Udall seems mightily determined to make sure his own popularity does not begin to erode, like that of cousin Mark or President Obama.
Udall is tapping into his healthy campaign accounts to begin advertising, and is using the long congressional summer break to show up at as many places as possible around the state where voters might be found. Udall is an affable, experienced politician with many electoral victories to show. He won the Senate race six years ago against another crusty military veteran, Steve Pearce, and before that he had won five races for the U.S. House, from 1998 through 2008. Going back to 1990, he was elected Attorney General of New Mexico and he was re-elected AG in 1994.
It’s summer — but no vacation from politics in this election year
By Carroll Cagle
July 18, 2014
Many New Mexicans might not have “politics” high on their to-do list this summer. It’s likely that the category falls somewhere down below working for a living, taking care of the kids during school vacation, maybe attending a few backyard cookouts and drinking a little beer. True – but there is a hardy band of diehard political activists who don’t miss a single falling leaf from the political tree, and they have had plenty to keep them busy. Like it or not, politics – and the outcomes of elections – affects, big time, even the people who would like to not care, in such ways as taxes, regulations, highways and roads, police enforcement, how well the schools do their job, etc.
Given that reality check, we thought it would be helpful to help you scan some choice nuggets of political news recently:
A Republican governor courts Democratic mayors in the North
Steve Terrell, ace political reporter of the Santa Fe New Mexican newspaper, writes: “It’s no secret that part of Republican Gov. Susana Martinez’s re-election strategy is to peel off the normally high vote for Democratic candidates among predominantly Hispanic communities in Northern New Mexico. (Her approach) could be well received among independent voters and more conservative Democrats. And winning over swing voters is crucial in statewide races in New Mexico, especially for Republicans running in a state where registered Democrats outnumber Republicans.” Terrell writes about the Democratic Hispanic mayors and former mayors in the North who seem to be in the Martinez camp. The New Mexican later cropped up with a former Santa Fe County Commissioner, also a Democrat, who endorsed the governor.
N.M. House Democrats hell-bent on keeping their majority — and Republicans just as eager to knock them out
Thom Cole of the Albuquerque Journal keeps an eagle eye on the all-important confluence of money and politics:
“With much of the money flowing from one political action committee to another before reaching candidates, a web of liberal PACs gave more than $191,000 to eight Democrats in key state House races in the weeks before the June 3 primary election – effectively getting around the state’s campaign contribution limits. Political action committees of House Speaker Ken Martinez, D-Grants, and the New Mexico Trial Lawyers Association played major roles in the web of PACs, giving money both to individual candidates in key House races and to smaller PACs that in turn passed on nearly all the money to the same candidates.”
Cole also takes note of a new kid on the Republican block: “A provider of workers’ compensation insurance for the construction industry has emerged as a deep-pocket player in New Mexico politics, and its money is going largely to Republicans. Builders Trust of New Mexico, an affiliate of the Albuquerque-based New Mexico Home Builders Association, has contributed $4,800 each to GOP candidates in eight key state House races. Builders Trust has made more than $128,000 in political donations in this election cycle, with the overwhelming majority going to Republican candidates and PACs, according to candidate and PAC finance reports filed with the Secretary of State’s Office. Republicans are trying to take control of the House for the first time in more than 60 years. All 70 seats in the House are up for election this year, but control of the House will be decided by the outcomes of eight or so races. Democrats have a 37-33 edge heading into the November general election.”
But are “Democrats” and “Republicans” gradually becoming passe’?
Veteran political pollster Brian Sanderoff looks over the political horizon in this Albuquerque Journal report:
“In New Mexico, 38 percent of voters ages 18 to 24 either have registered as decline-to-state voters – otherwise known as independents – or as members of a minor party, according to the most recent voter data compiled by Research & Polling Inc. Among that youngest age group, 36 percent registered as Democrats and 25 percent registered as Republicans, according to the data. ‘Being an independent was hardly a consideration for the older generation,’ Sanderoff said. ‘But now, young people find it very viable, and in fact the plurality choose it as the registration of choice.’”
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Who’s ahead in the money races?
July 7, 2014
By Carroll Cagle
Candidates with the most money do not always win the most votes. But if candidates have a massive, lopsided margin of dollars, it’s a decided benefit for them. Now that the latest fundraising reports are out from the New Mexico Secretary of State’s office, those lopsided margins favor both one top Republican and one top Democratic candidate:
- Republican Governor Susana Martinez raised nearly $875,000 just during the past month. Her Democratic opponent, Gary King, the current attorney general, raised only $320,665 – and $200,000 of that was money he loaned personally to his campaign. More on this and other fundraising details below.
- However, the money flowed freely to the Democratic side in the race for attorney general, as Hector Balderas, the Democrat, reported raising $131,300 compared with $59,266 for Republican Susan Riedel. More relevant is that Balderas, just ending two four-year terms as state auditor, has amassed a balance of $787,000 compared with $94,300 for Riedel.
The latest reports cover the period from May 28 to June 28.
Sometimes, candidates with significant funding advantages do not win. One recent example in New Mexico was the ample fundraising margins that Alan Webber, an opponent of King in the Democratic governor primary, had before the June 3 primary. Webber raised $811,000 during one five-month reporting period — more than the other four Democratic candidates, combined. (The total included a $300,000 gift from himself to his campaign and a loan of $150,000 from him and his wife.) Yet Gary King coasted to the nomination and Webber was sidelined.
Still, when it comes to a two-person race in a general election (unlike primaries which sometimes have multiple candidates scratching for small percentage gains), the one with the most bucks have to be seen as favored to win — especially if their stacks of dollars tower over their opponents’.
In this most recent governor’s race money report, Martinez’ campaign spent almost as much in the period as it raised — $860,000, most of it going to the ubiquitous television and radio commercials that no one could avoid even if they wanted to. Martinez ended the report period with $4.3 million in the bank.
King spent $280,000 and had only $116,000 in the bank. Demonstrating his struggle to get heard compared with the Martinez juggernaut, King loaned his campaign another $200,000 — on top of $300,000 he already had loaned his endeavor. Oh and if King weren’t having enough fundraising struggles, the Martinez campaign also got $571,000 help from the national Republican Governors Association, which it spent on yet more TV, banging away on King and his record. See more details at this political blog.
Here are the reports on other state races:
- Secretary of State – Incumbent Dianna Duran, a Republican, raised $15,150 and Democrat Maggie Toulouse-Oliver raised $31,500. Duran had a balance of $111,000 and Toulouse-Oliver had $123,800. Duran, as we reported recently, is the first Republican Secretary of State since 1928.
- State Land Commissioner — Incumbent Democrat Ray Powell raised $35,000 and had an account total of $86,000. Republican Aubrey Dunn raised $18,400 and had a balance of $133,000.
- State Treasurer — Democrat Tim Eichenberg raised $20,500, and had a balance of $12,100. Republican Rick Lopez raised $1,400 and had a balance of $2,500.
- State Auditor — Democrat Tim Keller raised $31,300 and had a balance of $232,650. Republican Robert Aragon raised $5,000 and had a balance of $5,200.
Who gets elected to the offices you scarcely have heard of can affect every business and individual in New Mexico
Updated: July 2
By Carroll Cagle
It is likely that too-few New Mexicans know much about the officials who head state government offices whose actions can, and do, affect their lives — for good or ill. In fact, it also is a good assumption that the names of these elected officials are little known among the public. Nor, going on with this line of thought, do most people probably know who is running for these offices in the current general election — either to seek re-election, or to take over the position anew.
While all the television commercials and most of the news coverage, and coffee house chatter, concentrates mainly on the high-profile races for governor and U.S. Senate, there are also important races for the posts we mention here. In this and coming posts, the New Mexico Prosperity Project will report on and analyze the races for:
- Attorney general
- State land office
- Secretary of state
- State treasurer
- State auditor
The Votes are In!
June 4, 2014
See our Election Results sheet for comprehensive returns from the governor's race to the state House of Representatives.
Deciphering the meaning of the primary election
June 4, 2014
By Carroll Cagle
At its most basic, an election is about numbers —whoever gets the most votes, wins. But what meaning underlies those numbers? And, specifically what is the meaning to the taxpayers and citizens around New Mexico whose lives might be impacted (for good or ill) by what those who ultimately get into office (after the general election in November)? That is what we will address below, regarding yesterday’s primary election, where the major parties, Democrat and Republican, chose their nominees to square off against each other in the general election:
The main attractions — governor and U.S. Senate
1. Anyone watching or listening to the news now knows who won the intra-party battles for the two highest-level offices: Gary King bested four other Democrats in his party’s governor’s race, and Allen Weh easily dispatched a young new challenger to become the Republican nominee for U.S. Senate in the fall elections. But, when November 4 rolls around, will the power of incumbency prevail in both those big races? As for the governor’s race, the view of national big shots in both parties, at this early stage, is that King has little chance of unseating the current governor, Republican Susana Martinez, who has $4.3 million in her campaign bank account and national star power in the Republican firmament as the nation’s first female Hispanic governor.
Even more relevant is that the national Democratic Governors Association already has written off New Mexico with the assumption that no Democrat can oust Martinez this year. Of course Gary King will take issue with the surmise that his cause is hopeless. Already, with his primary win yesterday over four “D” challengers, he upended the conventional wisdom — because in the party’s internal convention only a few weeks ago he came in dead last in delegate votes, yet showed ‘em all yesterday with his convincing win amongst real voters. But at this point, given Martinez’ seeming popularity and big bank account and the fact that the national Dems think she is invulnerable, King has a lot to prove.
As for the U.S. senate race, Allen Weh, who achieved prosperity in the aviation industry after a career in the Marines, does not seem to appear on any national Republican lists as a likely winner against the Democrat Tom Udall, who like Republican Martinez is seeking his second term. Weh, a plain-spoken, rock-ribbed retired Marine colonel, having survived being shot a couple of times in Vietnam, is unfazed by what the chattering class thinks and is dead-set on taking out Udall, whom he sees as bad for the state and bad for the country as a reckless big spender who has scarcely seen a smothering government regulatory agency he does not want to embrace, and even expand.
That Udall is the greenest of greens and an unrepentant liberal, and Martinez is a tough-minded former prosecutor and pro-business conservative, but both look good for re-election at this stage, shows that, in their cases at least, incumbency is a powerful asset. Both Martinez and Udall have, in purely political terms, managed those assets well at this point. What these two races, for governor and U.S. Senate, mean to the average New Mexican is no small matter. The governor’s administration controls a vast array of departments and regulatory appointments whose actions, or inactions, affect every business and individual in the state, ranging from the state police to the public schools and much in between.
Nor is the Weh-Udall impending battle for the state’s U.S. Senate seat “just” a New Mexico matter, because nationally, there is an intense, few-holds-barred battle between the two major parties to make the Senate a Republican-majority redoubt, as the U.S. House already is, to either continue support of President Obama (if the Democrats keep control) or to make the Congress as a whole an overdue check on Obama’s policies (if Republicans, including Weh, end up with a Senate majority). Control of the Senate and/or the entire Congress affects every citizen in New Mexico, and the land, in terms of everything from where and when the military fights wars to the IRS and Obamacare. If Weh were to take Udall’s chair out from under him, that could be one of a handful of Senate changes that might change the whole Washington balance of power.
Them that make the laws
2. Who controls the state House of Representatives may be just as important to New Mexicans as the high-profile governor and U.S. Senate races. Even though everyone knows who the governor is, few know much about the legislature, as powerful as it is, or even whom their own legislators are. This, even though the legislature can decide how much you are taxed, how the public schools do their job, how much teachers are paid, how businesses are regulated, what the minimum wage shall be, whether recreational marijuana shall be legalized, and on and on. The list of ways the state legislature can, and does, affect you is a long and seemingly inexhaustible one.
Every governor, well known and recognizable, and perched at the top of the executive branch, still often tears his or her hair out having to deal with the intractable, constitutional power of the legislative branch. This is true even if the governor and the two chambers of the legislature are both of the same party, as has often been the case going back to the 1930s and the New Deal. But a Republican governor and the long-standing Democratic majorities in the legislature can really butt heads, as has been the case when, variously, Republicans Garrey Carruthers, Gary Johnson and, in the last four years, Susana Martinez, have tried to change things and the legislature would not approve.
Although Martinez did achieve a bipartisan outcome with major changes to state taxes, said to be much more business-friendly, she has strenuously fought legislators (aided by the teachers unions) who resisted her education reforms.
Getting a read on the legislature is not easy for the average citizen, partly due to the fact there are 112 members — 42 state senators and 70 house members. This year, no senators were running for election; they serve four-year terms and won’t be up before the voters again until 2016.
However all 70 seats are up this year. The Republicans are industriously trying to give Team Susana a better chance of getting her agenda more fully adopted, for the first time since the “R’s” briefly had House control back in 1954. So, yesterday’s primary election battles in the state House races did not, quite yet, have a whole lot to do with the Democratic plan to keep control and the Republican desire to take control. That will all play out in December.
However, there were a couple of interesting revelations in the primary outcomes, and they cut both ways, just as the situations described above regarding the governor’s and U.S. Senate prognostications.
A Republican House member from Albuquerque’s west side (Dist. 20), Thomas Anderson, was in a tight race and seemingly losing against another Republican, David Adkins, with Anderson being a G.O.P. legislator who was not a reliable supporter of the governor’s agenda. On the other hand, the Democrats down south in Las Cruces seemed poised to oust a nine-term (18-year) incumbent, Mary Helen Garcia, possibly because she, although a Democrat, supported the governor’s attempts to change the so-called “social promotion” practice in the public schools. “Social promotion” means third-graders can be elevated to the fourth grade for “social” reasons even if they cannot pass the required reading exam.
King the Centrist
3. Another political matter of interest in yesterday’s outcomes has to do with the power of liberals (now known as “progressives”) relative to more moderate and conservative-oriented voters within the Democratic Party. Some may think “progressive” and “Democrat” are one and the same but that was not necessarily revealed in yesterday’s results in New Mexico.
For one, Gary King easily coasted to the Democratic governor nomination, with a wide margin — but he probably was the least liberal of the bunch. Most of the others were banging away at their favorite piñatas, Susana Martinez and the mysterious (to the voter), but obviously nefarious (as stated by the candidates) Koch brothers, plus extolling the manifold benefits of converting the state’s energy economy from oil and gas (which currently finances one-third of all state government expenditures) to “renewables,” i.e. solar and wind, primarily, with biomass thrown in for good measure. Allen Webber, the largely self-financing publishing entrepreneur, in particular, strummed the liberal/progressive chords, forcefully and often, and he seemed to be banking on getting all, or almost all, of the admittedly significant progressive bloc to show up for him on election day, and propel him past the others who would split up the various other voter blocs.
In the end, though, Gary King quietly pressed ahead, evidencing his naturally more conventional persona and, all the while Webber was stoking up the progressives and all four of the non-Kings were hyperventilating about Martinez and the Kochs, King busily was shaking hands in nursing homes, knowing that older voters actually vote at a far higher rate than younger, generally more progressive/liberal voters. He was proven right. Although it is fair to observe that if he had faced only one, rather than four, competitors, his mission might have fallen short.
Wertheim goes nuclear
Another keen example (at least in part) of the progressive/liberal vs. more moderate/conservative approach came about in the Democratic party for a race that few voters ever pay much attention to, no matter that the office does work that is exceptionally important. The office is that of state treasurer, the state government banker if you will.
This race would have been somewhat of interest, even beyond the office’s important mission and how the campaign turned really nasty, because two exceptionally strong, well-known Democrats vied for the nomination. These are John Wertheim and Tim Eichenberg. Wertheim is a former state Democratic Party chair and congressional candidate, and his wife, Bianca Ortiz-Wertheim until recently was the state director for Senator Tom Udall (and before that a top staffer for then-Albuquerque Mayor Martin Chavez). The two might be said to be a premier power couple in New Mexico politics, especially in the progressive realm.
The other candidate, Eichenberg, has blue-ribbon credentials including stints as a state senator from the northeast heights of Albuquerque, as state property tax director, and, beginning as a young man, two terms as Bernalillo (Albuquerque metro) County treasurer.
But the fact that two heavyweights were going to duke it out for a post that previously did not attract a whole lot of public or political attention soon turned out to be the least-notable characteristic of this race. All of a sudden, Wertheim went nuclear, using frequent television commercials to blast Eichenberg for supposed past official actions against women and Hispanics, all the while moving through his commercials with arrow-type signs following him about, labeling him the “real Democrat.”
Wertheim also tugged on the shirtsleeves of every well-known progressive about, parading them out to aver that, yes, John is the only “real Democrat” in the race and some lamenting the alleged Eichenberg infractions against women and Hispanics. Eichenberg kept a relatively low profile for quite some time, apparently banking on the prospects that Wertheim’s explosive charges would backfire.
Apparently they did. As Election Day grew close, Eichenberg did put forth endorsements from some well-regarded women and Hispanic Democrats, and went up on TV himself, plus arranging for robo-calls to Democratic households making the same point. So, in this case as well as in Gary King’s governor primary victory, the progressive card was played but not effectively. But if King had faced only one progressive, and if Wertheim’s tone was not so strident, maybe it would have been the centrists (King and Eichenberg) who would have been sidelined instead of the other way around.
Now, with hardly a moment to absorb all the doings in the primary campaigns, and in yesterday’s primary election, the eyes of the politicos turn immediately to such issues as to whether King can pull an upset against Martinez, whether Weh can do the same against the green-and-affable Tom Udall, and whether the Republicans can finally scratch out control of the state House of Representatives after decades of suffocating under Democratic dominance. The eyes of the state’s average voters probably won’t turn much toward politics again until way later, as the November 4 general election nears, and as the TV cacophony builds to almost unbearable levels.
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May 30, 2014
By Carroll Cagle
Read our previous interviews with two of the other Democratic contendors in the governor's race.
Voting early and next Tuesday; who's ahead in Democratic governor polls; the intense efforts to control the State House of Representatives
May 28, 2014
By Carroll Cagle
Here are four main things to pay attention to if you are interested in the people who control parts of your life (how many taxes you pay, how you and N.M. businesses are regulated, how the schools are funded and run, etc):
NM House of Representatives
New Mexico Prosperity Project's 2014 Voting Records are Here
Each year the New Mexico Prosperity Project (NMP2) tracks business-related votes in the Roundhouse. The purpose is to provide voters with a clear picture of how their representatives voted on the policies that directly affect jobs and the overall economy. Though there were but a few relevant votes this year, the vote grid should be telling in terms of those legislators who have voted for jobs, and those who have not. Download now.
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Why Allen Weh thinks he can — and should — become New Mexico’s next U.S. Senator
By Carroll Cagle
May 21, 2014
Allen Weh is proceeding as if he does not have an opponent in the Republican party primary race, and already is focusing on unseating New Mexico’s current Democratic U.S. senator, Tom Udall. Weh, a successful businessman in the aviation sector and a retired Marine colonel, thinks his views on the issues and his approach to priority tasks will be good for both the nation and the state, and that Udall is beatable.
Weh (pronounced “way”) made his views known on key government, economic and political issues in an interview with the New Mexico Prosperity Project. Here are some of the results of that interview:
Federal (national) issues
A high priority need for the Senate to take on, and handle, Weh says, is to reduce the annual, recurring deficit spending amounts that the Federal government incurs. Currently the federal government spends about $3.5 trillion a year but takes in only about $2.8 trillion. See here for more details. The cumulative Federal debt, coming from years of such deficit spending, is about $17.5 trillion. For a sobering, real-time, look at the size of the debt, and the growing interest charges, click here.
His top Federal priority, Weh says, is to “get the debt under control. If we don’t, we as a country will run into a brick wall. The interest alone is $220 billion a year. (See Treasury Department details here). That’s one-third as much as the total defense and national security budget.”
Weh thinks that in addition to reducing the gap between Washington’s income and outgo, the economy could become much more productive if the federal government were to reduce what he refers to as over-regulation and bad regulation. Weh made it clear that some regulation is logical and reasonable – what he calls “good regulation.” What bothers him, and what he thinks is a big drag on economic activity, are the two other types of regulation – “bad regulation and over-regulation.” He thinks the current Obama Administration is a major culprit in those two types. “I don’t know if there’s ever been an administration that’s been worse” in the bad and over-regulation categories, Weh says.
Every one of the 100 U.S. senators (two from each of the 50 states) always has to engage in a balancing act about what’s best for their own state, versus what’s best for the nation as a whole. The needs of a state and the country are not necessarily in conflict, but in one notable way they have been seen to be, for a long time – and that is exemplified by the home-state popularity of a member of congress who “brings home the bacon” (Federal $$$ for projects or programs), thus adding the equivalent of more credit card debt to the towering stack of unpaid bills in Washington. As has been observed by many, one person’s “pork barrel spending” is another person’s legitimate and beneficial federally funded project. Nevertheless, with a $17 trillion-plus cumulative debt and the ever-growing interest payments on it, this dynamic has become something that is not as easy to ignore as it once was.
Weh, in his Marine-like fashion, does acknowledge that in representing a state like New Mexico that is far more heavily dependent on federal dollars than most, “a senator does have a dilemma.” One thing he is promising to do if elected is to be “aggressively and appropriately involved in (private sector) economic development activities in our state. I am committed to helping the governor and mayors with this (even though) it is not normally part of a senator’s portfolio.” He says he also would represent a needed infusion of private-sector executive know-how into a senate where almost half the 100 members have backgrounds as attorneys.
In terms of the specific dilemma of reducing federal spending while protecting New Mexico’s interest, Weh submits that the substantial federal institutions in New Mexico, while bringing dollars here, also fulfill an essential national role, in terms of defense and national security. He mentioned Cannon, Holloman and Kirtland air force bases (respectively in Clovis, Alamogordo and Albuquerque) and the national law enforcement training academy in Artesia. At this point in the interview, Weh was asked to express his views on a major non-national security expansion of federal programs in New Mexico, the decision by his fellow Republican, Governor Susana Martinez, to buy in to a massive increase in the (largely) federally funded Medicaid program as a part of “Obamacare.” Some Republican governors in other states refused to participate in this deal. Weh declined to be brought into this debate or to be critical of the governor. (They ran against each other in the G.O.P. primary race for governor four years ago but Martinez appears in Weh’s television commercials now.) When asked a bit further, Weh said: “I was not the governor (when the Medicaid expansion decision was made). I was not seated in that particular seat and not privy to all the factors involved.”
Weh faces two electoral hurdles if he is to become a United States senator. The first, coming up soon (June 3) is his intra-Republican primary against 34-year-old, libertarian-leaning Las Cruces prosecutor, David Clements. Only if the aviation exec beats the lawyer would Weh then go on to take on the progressive, green-tinted lawyer, Democrat Tom Udall in the general election. But when asked about the politics of the Republican contest, Weh’s response to our query was a long, awkward (to the interviewer) silence. The interviewer pressed on and asked specifically about David Clements — who, after all got 46.8 per cent of the votes, compared with Weh’s 53.2 percent, at the Republican pre-primary convention in early March. Again a long pause, at the mention of Clements’ name, and then, finally, “Who?” It turned out that the colonel was engaged in a bit of friendly hazing of his journalistic interviewer (non-physical, mercifully).
But regardless, Weh resolutely declined to address any issues in the primary nor to utter the name of Mr. Clements. However, when asked about the strong Clements showing at the pre-primary convention, Weh, interestingly for one who had stints both as chairman of the New Mexico Republican party and as Republican national committeeman from New Mexico, did label the whole affair as “insider baseball” of scant interest to the average Republican voter. In fact, he said that as he and his aides left the convention that day, he commented to them that it would not have been a rational expenditure of time and money to chase all around the state, obsessing over 800 people who end up as delegates in the “Byzantine process” of the convention, while “normal Republicans” that same day were “out in the soccer fields, in the malls, at the movies,” etc.
Speaking in the same fashion as a military leader deciding what tactics to deploy in achieving strategic objectives, the colonel observed, “time is a precious commodity” and that he preferred using the time he could have spent chatting up the 800 delegates instead reaching out to “normal Republicans” as well as Democrats and “crossover” (independent) voters.
At that segue point, the interview turned to Tom Udall, a scion of the Udall Democratic political dynasty of the American West. Tom’s father Stewart was the godfather of the modern environmental/conservationist movement, serving as secretary of the interior for presidents Kennedy and Johnson and helping enact the Wilderness Act, among other deeds. Tom’s uncle was a senior U.S. house member from Arizona, Morris (“Mo”) Udall, known among other things for his exceptional wittiness. And Tom’s cousin, Mark Udall, is a current U.S. senator from Colorado. Udall, although finishing up only his first, six-year term in the senate, has racked up a substantial record of electoral accomplishments in New Mexico.
In addition to winning the statewide race for senate six years ago, Udall previously won two other statewide races, for attorney general, in 1990 and 1994. Then, he won big margins in the U.S. house district, representing north-central New Mexico for six two year-terms, 1998 through 2008.
Although Col. Weh did not even bother to acknowledge he has a Republican opponent in the form of David Clements, he does grant the existence of Tom Udall, while being unfazed by Udall’s electoral resume. In our interview, when asked how he, a conservative, defense-supporting, prosperous entrepreneur and advocate for private sector benefits to the economy and society, could succeed in a general election in a state that has not one, but two mostly liberal Democratic U.S. senators already (Udall and Martin Heinrich), Weh weighed in with this analysis:
Udall, oddly enough the state’s senior senator even though in his freshman term, was swept in six years ago when Obama carried the state. Then, four years later, in 2012, when Heinrich beat Heather Wilson, he also was helped by the second Obama victory in New Mexico. Obama’s first race, helping Udall, Weh says, was a product of the “hope and change” mantra which energized younger voters who normally sit out the process, According to Weh, both the Udall and Heinrich elections were outliers. In fact, he added that Udall’s election is a further anomaly because Democrat Udall occupies the seat previously held for 36 years (six terms) by Republican Pete Domenici. Weh sees that his own election would simply restore the Domenici seat to the normal Republican side of the equilibrium and that the state has shown it likes and wants.
As far as issues distinctions between him and Udall, Weh cryptically but pointedly said his message to New Mexicans is: “If you like what is going on in Washington, you ought to send Tom Udall back. If you don’t like what is going on in Washington, you ought to send different people back there.”
The money race
Cash for political campaigns may be seen as the necessary fuel for the campaign engine, or, as politicos often put it, as “the mother’s milk of politics.” Regardless of the analogy, it does seem that Clements is not even in the running and that Tom Udall, nor surprisingly for an incumbent senator, starts any Udall-Weh general election campaign in good shape. According to the latest Federal Election Commission reports, Udall’s campaign had cash-on-hand of $3.1 million at the end of March. Allen Weh had a cash balance of about $205,000, and David Clements reported a campaign balance of $7,500.
In terms of raising campaign cash from January through March, and spending it: Udall raised about $1 million and spent $262,000. Weh raised $414,000, including personal loans, and contributions of $160,300. His campaign spent $208,000. Clements raised about $40,000 and spent $45,000.
Allen Weh is CEO of CSI Aviation, Inc., an international air support and aviation logistics company that he founded in 1979. He also serves as chairman of Seeker Aircraft America, Inc., which is bringing the Australian SB7L-360 Seeker aircraft to market in the western hemisphere.
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Some choice nuggets about the campaigns; and your opportunity to affect the outcomes
By Carroll Cagle
May 14, 2014
Here are some related pieces of information about the candidates, and how you can cast your vote BEFORE the June 3 primary election.
'Early voting” begins this Saturday — May 17, 2014. Assuming of course that you are already a registered voter. (If you are not, unfortunately it is too late for the primary election – but you can register to vote for the November 2 general election.) So, if you don’t want to deal with possibly long lines on election day, or just want to get ‘er done early, beginning Saturday, and continuing through May 31, you can cast your 'early vote.' Depending on which party you are registered in, you will help affect the outcomes of all intra-party primary battles. (If you are registered as an independent, known technically as “decline to state” for some reason, then you cannot vote in a primary — only the general.) Don’t know where to 'early vote?' Go to our website, enter your zip code into the 'Register to Vote' button.
In the 'money race,' Susana Martinez again has come out way ahead of all the Democrats (five of them) who would like to be their party’s nominee against her in the general election. In fact, Martinez raised more than twice as much as all five of them, combined. She reported raising more than $560,000 since the last report period, in early April. She also spent about that same amount (presumably mostly on her ubiquitous television commercials), leaving her with $4.2 million in the bank — almost 10 times more than the 'D' candidate with the most money on hand, retired tech magazine founder Alan Webber of Santa Fe. Webber, a newcomer to elective politics in New Mexico, raised $115,000 during the month and spent about $100,000, again presumably for his own TV spots. Lawrence Rael was next on the 'D' side, raising $58,000 and having about $209,000 in the bank. The other Democrats lagged far behind. See full details in this wrap-up in the Santa Fe New Mexican newspaper.
Meanwhile, profiles of the candidates for governor have begun appearing in print. The New Mexican has done all of them. The Albuquerque Journal has begun with ones on Gary King and Linda Lopez.
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Domestic terrorism, the “billionaire Koch brothers,” and the Mother Jones “bootleg tapes” have startled awake the once-somnolent governor’s race
May 9, 2014
By Carroll Cagle
A battle of strong words and harsh accusations has now come to the New Mexico governor’s race. This after months of unnatural quiet.
Who would've thought that one of the New Mexico Democratic primary candidates would be hosted at a fundraiser by a 1970s-era student radical who helped form the notorious “Weather Underground” group, which set of bombs (killing a San Francisco policeman, and, in another episode, accidentally killing three of their own members)? Mark Rudd was the 70’s-era radical and the fundraiser was for Alan Webber, the candidate who personifies two characteristics rarely coexisting — a millionaire businessman who is expressing some markedly leftist, or “progressive,” views. And the son of a New York state judge whose house was blasted by four of the Weather Underground bombs in 1970 wrote an op-ed for the Albuquerque Journal calling out Rudd for almost killing him and his family, and recalling that Rudd had also wanted to bomb a dance at the Officer’s Club in Fort Dix, N.J., hoping to “kill hundreds.” Who could’ve predicted not long ago that the campaign for governor would be marked by stories of the “bootleg tapes” of then-candidate Susana Martinez, in a private campaign strategy session, highlighting Martinez labeling her Democratic opponent with the “b” word and using other words she acknowledges were “salty” and which some of the Democratic candidates are using to say the governor belies her public persona of playing nicey-nice. A long article based on a transcription of the “bootleg tapes” appeared in the national left-wing magazine, Mother Jones, soon disseminated by candidate Alan Webber and then by Lawrence Rael.
One other political escalation that might have been predicted in the N.M. race has now come to be: the same “D” candidate who was hosted by the former Weather Underground leader, Alan Webber, is on TV with commercials — replete with a dramatic, whirring-bladed helicopter landing — saying the billionaire industrialist Koch Brothers are “looking to spread their radical agenda here.” This one is unsurprising. As a Washington Post columnist puts it: “Rush Limbaugh can relax. The popular ‘demon of the right’ has been replaced at least through the midterms by the Koch brothers, Charles and David.” Another national journalist puts it like this: “The liberal media and Democrats in Congress denounce the Koch brothers almost daily.” Of course, the contest now is not between any of the five Democrats running for governor, and the Republican governor herself, Susana Martinez — but, rather, among the five Democrats themselves. Only one of the five will win on June 3. The primary election in less than a month will decide who will take on Martinez in the general election battle. Martinez does not have an opponent in the Republican primary.
Given the non-aggression pact the Democrats have amongst themselves, their obvious target is the governor. At recent public forums, the candidates have followed that line, studiously avoiding any critique of their current intra-party adversaries and aiming their criticisms at the administration. But most people don’t go to those forums, so the main way of reaching rank-and-file voters is via paid TV commercials. All of which leads to the question: Is it possible that the candidate who would have been considered a dark horse only months ago, Alan Webber, could capture the Democratic nomination with ads calculated at firing up the party’s “base” — activists who generally are ardently left-leaning/liberal/progressive? While the Koch brothers are most normally used as foils, nationwide, by candidates for the U.S. House and Senate, Webber is showing that a candidate for governor can do the same, with the hope his energized masses will thus propel him to win his party’s governor nomination on June 3. Webber, who made something of a fortune by launching the magazine about high-growth tech firms, Fast Company, certainly did not bother opening his TV messaging with a “soft,” autobiographical spot, but immediately ignited the Koch brothers pyrotechnics. (He also had been first off the starting line by disseminating the link to the Mother Jones bootleg tapes.) Not that the candidate with the most TV time wins, necessarily – but a strong (expensive) presence on the air certainly seems to be a precondition to most victories. While Gary King, the current attorney general from the storied King political family, “on paper” might seem like the most likely winner due to his name ID and deep and wide political network (see our previous story and interview), he is not up on TV yet. Lawrence Rael also has emerged as a contender amongst the chattering class, and he was the first Democrat to make it on the air with his commercials — but he has taken the soft/autobiographical tack with those first TV buys.
Webber seems to be making a calculated decision that (a) enough TV time – bought by his relatively well-funded campaign — and (b) dramatic content within those TV spots, rather than softer content, will get him where he wants on June 3. As we also have previously written, aside from the politics itself, another type of race always goes on in terms of who raises the most campaign cash, thus to buy that pricey TV time (and hire staff, print mailers, etc). Using the $$$ measure, the Susana Martinez cash stash ought to seem foreboding to any of the Democrats. She has well over $4 million in hand, has not one but three separate TV spots on the air, and is busily raising even more money all around the country from those who like her and her status as America’s first female Hispanic governor. But Webber, whom most New Mexico Democrats had never heard of a year ago, is largely self-financing and had about $440,000 on hand in the last reporting period. Next was Lawrence Rael at about $230,000 and Gary King at about $90,000. (The other “D’s,” Howie Morales and Linda Lopez, scarcely moved the dial.) The race may have been once viewed as in dull earth tones, but now the “primary is in primary colors” — shockingly bright and bold, replete with images of domestic terrorists, bootleg tapes and billionaires swooping in on helicopters. What could be next?
More of the same in N.M. capitol in 2015?
By Carroll Cagle
May 6, 2014
The names Peter Shumlin and Sandra Jeff are probably unfamiliar to many New Mexicans. They almost certainly have never met each other, either. Yet the two are harbingers that the balance of power in Santa Fe come January 2015 may be about the same as it is now, and has been for the past three and a half years.
That status quo would be that a generally conservative, pro-business Republican, Governor Susana Martinez, will be back for her second four-year term, and that a Democratic majority not so keen on all of Martinez’ proposals will continue to rule the state House of Representatives as it has for about 80 years. (None of the 42 state senators, who serve four-year terms, are up for re-election this year.)
Who are Peter Shumlin and Sandra Jeff and what do they have to do with the above projected outcomes?
Peter Shumlin is the governor of Vermont, but more to the point here, he is the chairman of the Democratic Governors Association (DGA). Sandra Jeff is a state representative from Navajo Country in northwest New Mexico, a Democrat but a maverick one who has aggravated some of her “D” colleagues and their allies to no end as she has boldly bolted from the party line by siding on close floor votes with the Republican on the fourth floor, Susana Martinez.
Here is what Shumlin and Jeff have done, and why it matters:
Shumlin, as head of the nation’s Democratic governors, has publicly stated that he does not expect any of the five New Mexico Democrats who are vying to be their party’s nominee to be able to beat Martinez. (The primary election is June 3. The deadline for registering to vote in that primary is today – May 6.)
In a breakfast briefing in Washington, D.C., Shumlin, while predicting Democratic pickups in some now-Republican states around the country, rather candidly acknowledged that Martinez is almost a sure thing for re-election. This matters because the Democratic Governors Association will not be putting its considerable resources into helping what Shumlin and his colleagues have determined to be a lost cause, i.e., helping whoever wins the June 3 Democratic primary to take out Martinez. (Shumlin also was doubtful about the Texas governorship, where long-time Republican executive Rick Perry is departing, going “D” as well.)
Gary King, Lawrence Rael, Alan Webber, Howie Morales and Linda Lopez may strenuously object, but Shumlin was fairly blunt in saying: “I wish that we could spend money for Democrats in all 50 states. My job is not to promote governors’ races in states where we can’t win.” And he said New Mexico is one of those. This was as reported by RealClearPolitics regarding the Shumlin briefing hosted by Third Way, a centrist think tank.
The broader national context was reported by Politico: “There are currently 21 Democratic governors, and 36 states will hold gubernatorial elections in 2014. Nearly all of these contests involve races in which governors were last elected in 2010. That cycle saw a Republican landslide, with the GOP gaining six statehouse seats.”
There are other reasons, besides the almost shocking candor of Governor Shumlin, that Team Susana must be feeling pretty good right now. One is that she seems to continue to have positive polling numbers. Another is that the campaign has $4 million in the bank – far more than any Democratic contender.
And a third is that, in Martinez’ second TV commercial, now airing, she gets on-air endorsements from two key Hispanic, Democratic leaders in the heavily Democratic, Hispanic north-central New Mexico. These are the former mayor of Taos and the current mayor of Las Vegas. You can hardly find any communities in the country that are more “political” than these two towns. Both the citizenry and the leaders tend to have politics as part of their daily lives, unlike some places where the populace has a short attention span cluttered with everything from big-time sports to social media to the numerous required domestic routines. Not that these are absent in the North, but politics is part of the fabric of daily life and culture. That these two Democratic leaders would go so far as to put their images and voices on Martinez TV spots is highly unusual, and must have caused heartburn and anxiety amongst the ranks of the Democratic contenders (and Sam Bregman, the chairman of the Democratic Party of New Mexico). It is not exactly uncommon for partisan leaders, in either major party, to imply they are supportive of their party’s candidate, while quietly, on the side, “putting the word out” through the apparatus that the big guy, locally, actually would prefer for his folks to gravitate to the other faction’s, or other party’s, candidate — or, at the least, to sit on their hands and not get around to casting votes for the supposed designee. For the former and current mayors in these towns, which might as well get their energy from Democratic electric currents, to go public, big time, for a Republican sitting governor is bad news of a dire type for the Democratic hopefuls in this most Democratic of regions.
Now as to the Sandra Jeff matter. The New Mexico Supreme Court last week dealt a serious blow to Representative Jeff’s prospects for returning to the narrowly divided state House of Representatives next year — and simultaneously a blow to Governor Martinez and business and conservative interests that could really have used her back again to help thwart the Democrats and their erstwhile and loyal allies in the liberal, environmental and union organizations. The Supreme Court upheld a state district court ruling last week that Jeff did not have enough valid petition signatures to make it onto the Democratic primary ballot (although two competitors did).
Because no governor is able to do much that she or he wants without legislative approval, losing a “swing” legislative vote — and especially a Democrat cutting against the partisan grain — does not help the administration’s desire to gain strength in the state house of representatives, either via an outright Republican majority (first since before FDR’s New Deal began in the 1930s), or, at least, a working coalition of a strong minority of Republicans and Democrats like Jeff who have demonstrated willingness to go outside the party orthodoxy.
As is often the case in politics, the saying goes: “It ain’t over till it’s over.” In this case, Sandra Jeff is quite adamant that it ain’t over: As The New Mexican newspaper in Santa Fe reported after the state supreme court ruling, Jeff was distinctly undeterred, averring: “I will be back. Like the Terminator, I will be back. I will make history, and I’m coming back with a vengeance.” The New Mexican also provided this bit of context: No write-in candidate has ever been elected to the New Mexico Legislature. Jeff, who received more than 60% of the vote in the 2012 primary against one of her current opponents, said she is confident she will be the first.
If Ms. Jeff’s dogged determination, coupled with her demonstrated vote-getting, gets her back into the house, look for her to be even less likely to be part of the Democratic agenda than she has been. You add to that the equally dogged determination of Andy Nunez, who also is hell-bent to come back to the house to be a thorn in the side of the Democrats of which he used to be a part, and the prospects of the house moving toward a more friendly stance toward the governor and her agenda may not be as remote as initially appears due to the state supreme court ruling tossing Sandra Jeff from the ballot.
While Jeff relates to the Terminator, Nunez (who has chile running through his veins as a chile farmer and mayor of the chile capital of Hatch) seems to resemble one of those super-hero characters who, after being seemingly obliterated and blasted to bits by high explosives, rather briskly reassembles himself, a la the liquid mercury, into his former shape, strong as ever and nonplussed to boot. Nunez just won’t quit. Like Sandra Jeff, the Democrats once bounced him in favor of a more reliable “D,” only to see Nunez regenerate himself next term as an independent and to win. But the Democrats, more annoyed than they had previously been, bounced him out again. Yet, this year, the cowboy-hat wearing agronomist (formerly of NMSU faculty), has morphed into a Republican and has a reasonable chance of showing up in the house — again.
Not that the Jeff and Nunez races offer the only seats where the conservatives and business interests might gain, or conversely, for the Democrat/liberal/enviro/union coalition hold on tenaciously to its narrow majority in the 70-seat house. But by all accounts, there are only a handful of “swing” districts, and the Jeff and Nunez districts are two of them.
That the national Democratic governors’ group thinks Martinez will be back as governor sounds an ominous note to the Democrats who are running for governor. On the legislative side of things, with Jeff tossed from the ballot, the odds become greater that the legislature will also look roughly the same in 2015 as this and recent years. However, with personalities like Jeff’s and Nunez’ in play, the legislative side of the power equation is still harder to predict.
The first race for governor is the money race — what does the $$$ tell us about the race for votes?
April 16, 2014
By Carroll Cagle
The intense competition to see who will serve as New Mexico’s governor for the next four years beginning next January has many skirmishes — not just the general election itself coming up in November.
One of those tussles involves money, and now we know who has raised how much, based on reports filed in the first reporting period with the New Mexico secretary of state’s office.
There are several notable findings:
1. A previous political unknown — but one with deep pockets — showed up as the top dog in the five-person field of Democrats competing against each other in the upcoming June 3 primary. The winner in this “money race” is Alan Webber, a Santa Fe resident retired from a successful career in the tech arena in California (as founder of Fast Company, a magazine about tech startups). In fact, Webber’s receipts of $811,000 during the five-month reporting period amounted to more than the other four Democratic candidates, combined.
2. Even so, the Republican governor, Susana Martinez, while certainly not unmindful of ever-lurking political dangers, must be somewhat satisfied with her receipts during the same period of $1.5 million — which added to previous receipts gives her a cash total of about $4.2 million. Plus of course, she does not have a primary opponent and can cast lateral glances at the dust flying up from the Democratic side of the field between now and June 3.
More on the financial reports down below, but first — what does this snapshot of the “money race” illustrate?
First, it should be noted that there is far from a direct correlation between campaign money and votes on Election Day. Many are known to fret that money is a corrupting influence on political campaigns, and this is usually meant to say that conservatives, business leaders and Republicans have the upper hand. Yet, Webber is both a Democrat and a businessman, and one with views that many would construe as liberal. For example, he sees climate change as an urgent priority, wants New Mexico to greatly increase its percentage of electricity it gets from solar sources, does not like the governor’s plan to grade school outcomes and would totally eliminate merit pay for teachers, and, depending on whether a conservative or liberal articulates the issue, is either “pro-abortion” or an advocate for “women’s reproductive rights.”
Furthermore, there is more to winning a party primary than spending money on television ads, mailers and professional operatives and pollsters. Within the party, vast unseen networks of personal and political relationships, some developed over many years, can mean a lot more when it comes to votes on Election Day than expenditure of dollars.
Second, note that Webber’s $811,000 includes a $300,000 gift from himself to his campaign and a loan of $150,000 from him and his wife. However, Lawrence Rael loaned his campaign $177,000 and Gary King loaned his $100,000. Yet Susana Martinez did not have to loan her so-far flush coffers a dime. This probably indicates the noted “powers of incumbency,” in that many of the people willing and able to contribute politically either hope for, or at least believe there is a strong likelihood of, the re-election of the governor. Even though the most dollars do not equate into the most votes, the ability to raise a good amount of money, from a broad field of contributors, can indicate political support, which ends up resulting in votes. Self-financing amounts to an attempt to short-circuit any contribution-voter support correlation, with the hope of vaulting out into the lead in voter awareness, and, ultimately, voter support.
Third, what do the non-cash signs tell us within the Democratic group? Gary King, the current attorney general, former veteran state House of Representatives member, and son of the late and legendary three-term governor, Bruce King, by all accounts has a long-developed statewide network. Yet King came in third in the money race reports, having raised $230,000. Lawrence Rael, bested King in the money race by $90,000 or so (raising $322,000). Then there is Howie Morales, a youngish state senator from Silver City, who ended up third in the D race for dollars with $196,000, but who surprised many by coming out on top in the party’s recent pre-primary nominating convention. That outcome is said to be significantly with the strong support of the teachers’ unions, who are a mighty force within the Democratic Party’s apparatus and amongst its grassroots via the number of teachers statewide. Linda Lopez, a state senator from Albuquerque’s South Valley, is looking more and more like an also-ran, with only $28,000 raised.
Teasing out the threads within the Democratic party’s tapestry, to see whether and how the fundraising equate strongly with active support, and votes in the primary, amounts to a sophisticated endeavor.
Finally, don’t forget that no longer is there merely an “Election Day,” i.e., the June 3 primary. Absentee voting for the primary begins soon, on May 6, and early voting begins in about a month, on May 17 – running till May 31. Registration is the first necessary thing — in case you are not already registered. You can do so for the primary now, but the cutoff date is May 6.
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Q&A with Lawrence Rael: Democratic governor candidate Lawrence Rael focuses on job creation and the N.M. economy
By Carroll Cagle
April 10, 2014
It is not easy to pull ahead of the pack in a five-person race to be the choice of registered Democrats in the June 3 primary and to go up against Republican Governor Susana Martinez in the general election. Lawrence Rael, one of those five, has a combination of strategies and tactics he is employing, but a primary focus of his is the need to improve the New Mexico economy.
Of course it is rare to find a candidate, for almost any office in the land, who does not say “jobs” are important and that he or she will definitely help remedy that once elected. In fact, over recent years, a rather odd mantra has become commonplace — candidates repeating the sacrosanct word three times, as in “Jobs, jobs, jobs!” (Mercifully, Rael did not do that during our interview!)
But Rael is hoping that his approach will stand out in a way that Democratic voters (and then, ultimately, all voters if he wins the primary) will warm up to.
Since New Mexico Prosperity Project’s mission is to provide nonpartisan information to New Mexicans in the private-sector economy (not only executives, but the far-more-numerous employees), we interviewed Rael on his plans to help the state’s economy, which does not stack up well compared with other states in the nation or even amongst its neighbors in the region. Here are his main ideas:
- Reallocate some of the state government “permanent fund” assets presently invested in “Wall Street” and move them toward New Mexico’s “Main Streets,” as he puts it. A major state fund, overseen by the State Investment Council chaired by the governor, presently amounts to more than $18 billion. Rael would not only increase the percentage now invested in the state, but also leverage these investments via partnership arrangements with private investment companies.
- Acknowledging that much business activity is slowed down and made more aggravating and costly by the “permitting process,” he would push for greatly streamlining the process not only at the state but also local levels. (The 2014 Legislature with backing from both the Republican governor and Democratic leaders took one important step on this by enacting legislation to create a “one-stop-shop” type of Internet portal for all manner of business regulatory and permit procedures.)
- Rael discreetly distances himself from class warfare and resentments about income disparity by advocating for “growing the pie” rather than trying to divvy up the slices of the existing, smaller, pie more fairly — in other words, stimulating the economy. Among other things, he would create a “kitchen cabinet” of New Mexico CEO’s to help visit with and recruit companies elsewhere to locate or expand here. He also acknowledges the fearsome outcomes that might occur from continually increasing federal expenditure cutbacks, seeing as how New Mexico is one of the most federally dependent states. He says he would work intently with the N.M. congressional delegation in an effort to keep existing programs here, but also to develop ways to diversify the missions of the state’s two massive national nuclear weapons labs, Los Alamos and Sandia National Laboratories.
- Finally, his administration’s strategic plan would “build on strengths” that New Mexico has including serving as a gateway for international trade into Latin American, specifically on medical/heath care, agriculture, and technology.
Aside from his specific proposals, Rael says he is “the only candidate in the race who has experience managing large complex organizations” and creating jobs in those roles. He refers to his jobs as top administrator, for two different mayors, in the state’s largest city of Albuquerque, experience in the federal government in Washington, and his tenure as executive director of the Mid Rio Council of Governments, a multi-jurisdictional planning entity encompassing the most populous area of the state.
[New Mexico Prosperity Project does not endorse candidates.]
See our previous interview with Attorney General Gary King.
Voters in Afghanistan risk their lives to vote – are New Mexicans preparing to exercise their right to vote by first registering?
April 7, 2014
By Carroll Cagle
War-torn and war-weary Afghanistan’s high desert climate and terrain have much in common with those of New Mexico. And the millions of Afghans who have now put their very lives on the line by exercising their right to vote should serve as an example to the people here who share a similar climate. There, vote administrators had to load ballots onto the backs of mules and trek for days to get to the more remote villages, and the voters had to wait in line for hours — casting an eye about for ruthless gunmen from the Taliban who would like to disrupt the process all the while.
Even with a simple process here in our state, regrettably, far too-few New Mexicans bother to vote — or even to take the first step toward being able to vote, by getting registered.
The Afghans want to build a representative government basically from scratch, on the scorched foundation that has come from endless war. Here, although we do not need to start out in such perilous conditions, it must be observed that few indeed are the New Mexicans who are completely okay with how the government (at all levels) does things. It is safe to say that close to zero percent can think of NOTHING they would like to see done differently, or better.
The old saying, “Everyone complains about the weather but no one does anything about it” fortunately does not apply to government, for people can, indeed, do something about it — IF they take the first vital step of registering to vote. (For those who think a single vote does not matter, it is instructive to observe how many election margins are razor thin. In fact, a surprising number, even after a recount, end up being a dead-even tie, thus decided by a judicially overseen card game or coin toss!)
We bring this up now because even though “the election” seem like a far-off event coming along in November, the reality is that a multi-stage process already is well underway, with a couple of important hurdles fast approaching. Anyone who “only” votes in the November 4 general election will have missed many of the true opportunities to make a difference.
To decide who will be on the ballot in November, first comes the primary election, where voters registered in a political party select their contenders to go up against the other party’s candidates in the general. (The primary is almost exclusively for registered Democrats and Republicans. Independents cannot vote in the primaries; and most of the smaller parties such as the Greens and Libertarians normally do not have multiple candidates facing each other in a primary.)
What is at stake, both in the primary and in the general, is not exactly small potatoes. New Mexico’s U.S. Senate race could be one of the determiners on which party controls the Senate next year — and thus affect the policy directions of the entire federal government, including the president’s policies. Here in the state, the ideological balance of power in the legislature could be determined by the elections, both primary and general. Also to be determined will be who serves as governor, attorney general, members of the U.S. House of Representatives, and all statewide executive offices.
The two looming dates of importance are these:
- May 6, 2014, registration closes for primary election.
- June 3, 2014, the primary election itself.
So if you are not registered, now is the time to remedy that. You have about a month. Don’t know where to register? Find out here where your county clerk is located by simply entering your zip code into the register to vote button on our home page.
N.M. government unions fearful — and for good reason
April 2, 2014
By Carroll Cagle
We wrote last week that the state government employees’ unions are extremely agitated that Governor Susana Martinez wants to end the practice of deducting union dues from employee paychecks and giving the $$$ to the unions. Based on what happened in Wisconsin, a longtime liberal bastion where new Republican Governor Scott Walker took office in 2010 and did the same thing Martinez wants to do here, the N.M. unions have reason to be uptight — and fearful.
Check out what the Milwaukee Journal Sentinel reports as having happened in that state since the automatic deduction of union dues from paychecks ended: “In 2010 — the year that Walker was elected governor — (District Council 48 of) the American Federation of State, County and Municipal Employees (had) more than 9,000 workers….By the end of 2012, District Council 48 was down to just under 3,500 dues-paying members — a loss of nearly two-thirds of its represented workers. Other public employee unions are faring only marginally better. Most have lost between 30% and 60% of their members in the past two years.”
Closer to home, the Albuquerque Journal (March 31, 2014) published an op-ed on the topic by Paul Gessing of the Rio Grande Foundation, which notes: “President Franklin Delano Roosevelt, the hero of so many liberals, opposed the very existence of government employee unions and expressed these views in a 1937 letter, writing, ‘The process of collective bargaining, as usually understood, cannot be transplanted into the public service.’ FDR was right. Whereas private sector unions are limited by the ability of their employers to survive in a competitive marketplace, government unions can use their tremendous political power to put politicians in power that will tap the tremendous taxing and spending powers of government to provide ever higher wages and benefits.”
Meanwhile, the small N.M. banks are staggering under rules originally designed for “too-big-to-fail” national giants
April 2, 2014
By Carroll Cagle
We also have written previously on the illogic of having the Dodd-Frank financial sector regulations apply equally to all banks, even though the federal law originally was written to try to prevent the troublesome actions of the massive national banks — whose subsequent federal bailouts with taxpayer $$$ caused them to be labeled the “too-big-to-fail” banks (because if they went under they would take the U.S., and possibly global, economies with them). If only Congress had targeted more logically. But the business publication, Albuquerque Business First, declares in a headline that a “tsunami of regulations could swamp some small banks.”
The special section in the newspaper also has this:
“Nineteen thousand pages and counting. And when regulators are finished writing all the new regulations for the Dodd-Frank Act, it could be more than 40,000 pages long because they’re only 40 percent complete. How do small banks read the 19,000 pages of regulatory text that is now the Dodd-Frank Act? They don’t.
Century Bank in Santa Fe…has used the Small Entity Compliance Guides that the Consumer Financial Protection Bureau has issued. The compliance guides are 50-60 pages each, and in the past year, the CFPB has issued seven or eight of them, said Claire Dobyns, chief risk officer and senior vice president at Century Bank.
After reading the compliance guides, Dobyns prepares papers for bank employees that further condense the rules, and then she holds meetings to explain the new rules to bank employees. She estimates that in the past year she has spent at least 800 hours on compliance matters. That doesn’t count the time that seven other bank employees who have some compliance responsibilities have spent on figuring out the news rules, Dobyns added.
Jerry Walker, president and CEO of the Independent Community Bankers Association of New Mexico, said small banks will have to merge in order to survive the regulatory onslaught. ‘The fear is that we are going to see more mergers and consolidations in the industry simply in order to survive,’ Walker said.” – Albuquerque Business First, March 28, 2014
“There’s no question she’s coming to cut the unions off at the knees, but we didn’t know she was going for the head” was the colorful way union spokesman Miles Conway referred to Governor Susana Martinez’ effort to have the state stop collecting membership dues from state employees — even ones who are not union members — on behalf of the unions.
Use of such forceful language directs attention to the big stakes in a battle between competing political ideologies that, until recently, was largely being played out behind the scenes.
The union official, Miles Conway of AFSCME, also referred to the governor’s effort to cut off dues-collection as a “declaration of war.” And the governor, for her part, said “I don’t want to take the checks out of the payroll and do their job so they can attack us (and) use that money against reform.”
Thus the battle lines are being drawn, with seismic events in Wisconsin that shook the nation in a similar governor- union matchup doubtless being keenly on the minds of both sides here in New Mexico. (See more below on the Wisconsin events whose after-shocks continue still, three years after the first tremors.) But some clarity and context are in order, before doing some pre-match analysis in the New Mexico political cage fight:
One bit of context is that the immediate issue in hand is the impasse in negotiations between the Martinez Administration and the unions (American Federation of State, County and Municipal Employees, or AFSCME, and the Communications Workers of America, or CWA), who together represent about 11,000 state government employees. The two teachers’ unions (NEA and AFT) that have already been in a state of de facto political war with Martinez & Co. are not part of the negotiating battle because they have their contracts with individual school boards scattered all around the state, rather than with the state government in Santa Fe.
But still, the opening bell has rung in a battle between two camps: On one side are the unions representing many state employees, aligned with a big swath of active Democrats; and, on the other, Susana Martinez, the Republican Party, and those whose views about unions range from unease to adamant, volatile negativity.
That the union battle is also a political battle was highlighted when one contestant in the Democratic Party’s primary battle seeking to run against Martinez jumped on the issue like a night hawk on a Junebug. Lawrence Rael got media attention on the subject, and also got out ahead of Howie Morales, the candidate who won the most votes at the party’s pre-primary nominating convention, on this topic. Rael fired away in a news release that
“AFSCME has it right — this is a ‘declaration of war’ on the right to organize. It is about eliminating the voices of anyone that can effectively speak out against her.” The riposte got Rael’s photo onto the front page of the state’s largest-circulation newspaper, the Albuquerque Journal, and possibly got him a second look from union member Democratic voters and their allies. Whether the stance will help him on June 3 (primary day) but hurt him in November with centrist and conservative voters remains to be seen. Even some voters who have favorable views of skilled union craftsmen in the building trades unions can get worried that employees in government jobs end up causing taxes to be too high, to support these employees both now and in many years of retirement, and that organized unions within government can distort the workings of representative government.
Oh and the language AFSCME and Rael put out there seems downright mild in comparison with this from Sam Bregman, chairman of the Democratic Party of New Mexico. Bregman, hardly known for subtly and restrain in his use of language, demonstrated his familiar style with this missive: “Now, the worst Governor in New Mexico history has made working men and women and the unions that represent them, her next target in her ruthless efforts to pursue a national political career in the Republican Party. There is not one person or group she won’t push under a speeding bus to make this happen.”
That this battle has begun, or at least emerged into the public spotlight, in the opening weeks of an election year in which the governor is running for re-election is revealing. Martinez has traveled quite widely, and maintains some visibility amongst national Republican activists and office-holders (as the first female Hispanic governor in the country — and a Republican to boot).
So far, during her first three and a half years in the governor’s office, she has managed for the most part to work relatively harmoniously with the Democrats that control the Legislature, although both sides might have been grinding their teeth in doing so. One example was that Martinez differed with some of her fellow Republican governors by buying into a massive increase in Medicaid expenditures, with most of the $$$ coming (for now) from the Federal government. This is something N.M. Democrats would think is a good thing, as a matter of course, but many Republicans especially conservative ones are aghast at this growth in a seemingly uncontrollable entitlement program, but the Medicaid deal is an indicator that Martinez has not been predictably hard-right. In terms of ideological warfare, the most contentious skirmishes that Martinez in her first term has not shrunk from are the ones against — yes, that’s right — the unions, and specifically the two teachers’ unions.
NEA and AFT have boisterously opposed the Administration’s efforts at school reform, and have viewed Martinez’ education chief, Hanna Skandera, as virtually the devil incarnate for wanting to grade schools and teacher performance, and hold even the kids’ and parents’ feet to the fire by eliminating the longstanding practice called “social promotion,” whereby third graders can get kicked upstairs to the fourth grade even if they cannot pass reading exams. During the recent 2014 legislative session, Linda Lopez, a state senator from the South Valley in Albuquerque who chairs the rules committee, again tried to thwart the notion of Skandera actually being formally confirmed for her post, after three previous years of never quite getting around to a committee vote. (That the committee had a tie vote means Skandera will continue on, in “acting” status.) Also during the session, the biggest ruckus came when a few thousand teachers marched on the capitol in opposition to the Martinez-Skandera reform efforts (although teachers strenuously resist the notion that what is being offered is actually “reform”). Linda Lopez also is among the field of Democrats who would like to replace Martinez in the governor’s office.
Yet, despite the numerous scuffles with the teachers’ unions, the opening salvo on the deduction of union dues has produced the first, echoing boom in a battle with the state employee unions. How this particular battle will play out is far from certain, despite the rhetoric on both sides.
Two key points:
- As it is, the stalemate is occurring within a renegotiation venue. Martinez has no apparent reason to yield, nor do the unions since the old Bill Richardson-era deal stays in place until a new contract is agreed upon.
- The colorful, and powerfully negative image, inherent in the language of the AFSCME spokesman, may be a little premature, because the Martinez stance is not so far as strong as that evidenced in the state where the stakes were even higher. The biggest battle between a governor and public employee unions in recent years has played out in Wisconsin over the past three years or so. In that state, both sides seemed to know that it was virtually a battle to the death that would affect state governments and unions, nationwide, for years to come — and that has indeed been the case. In 2011, then-new Wisconsin Governor Scott Walker, a Republican, introduced legislation not only to end the state withholding of union dues — but also to require state employees to vote, each year, on whether they wanted to keep being represented by the unions. The resulting furor created images that ended up for days on end on all the national TV networks as state employees descended on the capitol in Madison for a rowdy “sit-in.” Along the way, a number of legislators who did not want to vote on the measure went into hiding in adjoining states. Even when the Walker plan was voted into law, the unions and their allies promptly did two things: (a) filed a lawsuit against the law, and (b) caused a recall election against Walker, still in his first few months in office.
- In the end, though, after many episodes, Walker won on both fronts — winning the recall election, and, upon appeal, winning the court battle too. The outcomes have been dramatic and painful from the point of view of the unions. It seems likely that advisors in the New Mexico governor’s office were aware of language in the Wisconsin court ruling that “… use of the state's payroll systems to collect union dues is a state subsidy of speech.”
- Since the annual votes have been required there, Wisconsin public employee unions have lost tens of thousands of members (AFSCME from 9,000 down to 3,500 in just two years.) Two other unions, one for teachers, report they have lost about half their members. And, according to the Wall Street Journal, Walker’s efforts have saved Wisconsin taxpayers almost $2 billion.
If Susana Martinez decides to really pull the trigger on taking on the unions, requiring annual votes to continue representation, coupled with ending the automatic dues deductions, would likely trigger an intense battle here as it did in Wisconsin. One veteran Wisconsin policy activist, when reached by New Mexico Prosperity Project seeking comparisons of Martinez’ efforts with those of Governor Walker, suggested that the first course of action would be for the New Mexico Legislature to “pass a law” ending automatic payroll deductions and calling for annual re-representation votes. Such a law was the opening shot in the massive political confrontation in Wisconsin. That the New Mexico Legislature, as presently constituted, would certainly not look with favor on such a measure would be an understatement of some magnitude.
So, once again, as we have observed repeatedly, the outcomes of this year’s elections for the New Mexico House of Representatives are the first strategic markers. That 70-member body has moved ever-more-closely toward a collective philosophy that would likely be unfavorable toward the public employee unions — but the opposing point of view likely would require the pickup of at least three additional seats (conservative or centrist Democrats, or Republicans) before the unions would really feel the tide going out.
The negotiations over automatic dues deductions seem to be only the first shoe to drop.
Battle lines are now drawn – and the slightest advantage could tip the balance of power in the NM Legislature
By Carroll Cagle
March 19, 2014
Green chile is not the only hot thing along the Rio Grande Valley at Hatch. So is politics, especially this year. The legislative district around the Hatch area, north of Las Cruces, is one of a handful of epicenters where battles will be fought between, on the one side, candidates who tend toward either moderate or conservative ideologies favored by business and free-enterprise advocates and, on the other, candidates who tend toward the “progressive” (aka liberal) positions favored by those who are not as keen on free enterprise as they are on government solutions to societal problems.
In the years-long arm-wrestling match between the two sides for control of the State Legislature, one key district to watch this year is in that Hatch district (# 36), where a former veteran representative, Andy Nunez, is doggedly trying for a comeback. Hatch is in the third phase of a partisan metamorphosis in that Nunez, whom the progressives think aptly wears a big black cowboy hat, once represented the district as a Democrat. But when he strayed from the party line and helped Republican Governor Susana Martinez on a couple of priority votes, the Democrats wanted him gone – only to see him come back again as an Independent (the only one). Although he continued to caucus with the D’s, he was ousted again, in 2012, by current Representative Phillip Archuleta. Undaunted, Nunez, a stubborn sort, is back again, now as a Republican.
Nunez and Archuleta are among the second herd of candidates this year that are off and running — this time for the State House of Representatives — and what is at evidence is the intense battle to tip the current razor-thin Democratic majority there toward either the Republicans, outright, or toward a more conservative, business-friendly majority (i.e. an alliance of Republicans and more conservative Democrats).
We say the “second herd” because the most recent filing of petitions and declarations of candidacy in the June 3 party primary elections came after a previous deadline for candidates for statewide and federal elected offices (governor, U.S. senator, etc).
Although many New Mexicans probably scarcely know whom their own district’s state representative is, not only their names but their political philosophy matters greatly in terms of laws and policy outcomes. Certainly, those deeply engaged in policy battles are obsessively aware of the importance of these races, and even more narrowly, certain “swing” districts that could tip the entire balance of power depending on the outcome there. None more so than the aforementioned district 36.
The context is that for many decades, Democrats have been firmly embedded into majority positions in both houses of the Legislature. Republicans, running statewide, have been able to be elected governor over those decades (Ed Mechem, Garry Carruthers, Gary Johnson and now Susana Martinez),but in terms of having their hands on two of the three big levers of power (state house and senate), it is the Democrats, and has seemed forever thus. One variant was in the 1970s when a more conservative, pro-free enterprise alliance of conservative Democrats joined Republicans to take over for a fairly brief period, installing a Republican as house speaker. This period has entered political lore as the “cowboy coalition.”
More recently, some new and different pro-business Democrats – like Nunez and Sandra Jeff of Navajo country — have helped form one-vote-at-a-time coalitions with Republicans to help upend the generally progressive style of the nominally majority Democrats.
The potential for upsets became even more pronounced this session in the state house of representatives for two reasons:
- Two Democrats were absent the entire session because of health reasons – including Phillip Archuleta, whom Nunez is now trying to send home via electoral rather than health reasons. That the two Democrats were out all session made the 37-33 D-to-R margin come out to be 35 to 33.
- Then, with the untimely death before the session of Democratic Representative Stephen Easley, from the East Mountains of Albuquerque metro area, Governor Martinez appointed Republican, Vickie Perea (despite the strenuous objections of the D’s), thus making the balance, for this session at least, 34-34.
The state senate, although controlled by Democrats, is not easy to paint into either progressive or pro-free enterprise camps. Michael Sanchez, a veteran Democratic senator from Belen, is progressive, and adamantly tries to thwart many of the initiatives put forth by the Martinez administration. Yet, another Democrat, John Arthur Smith of Deming, is a rock-ribbed conservative Democrat who exercises great power over all-important appropriations and finance matters. Plus there are no senate races this year, since they serve for four-year terms unlike the house where terms are two years.
As for the house, and whether the teetering balance between progressive forces and free enterprise advocates will be changed further, look especially at the Nunez-Archuleta race – but in the general, not in the primary now that Nunez has moved over to the R’s as a candidate. Many political observers wonder if Vickie Perea can hang on to the district that the governor appointed her to, since its demographics are largely Democratic. But perhaps incumbency might make the outcome a bit more in doubt, as she faces Democrat Matthew McQueen of Lamy.
Brian Sanderoff, a noted New Mexico political pollster, tells the Albuquerque Journal he sees other Democratic house seats “vulnerable to Republican takeover,” including:
- Emily Kane, D, of Albuquerque North Valley district 15, against Sarah Maestas Barnes, R.
- Elizabeth Thompson, D, of the near Northeast Heights Albuquerque district 24, against Conrad James, R, who previously held the seat.
- Stephanie Garcia Richard, D, of Los Alamos district 43, against either Geoff Rodgers or Vince Chiravalle, two Republicans who are competing in the June 3 primary.
To a non-political person, the information and context above may seem arcane and irrelevant, but the truth is that how the “battle of the (ideological) bands” plays out can affect real people in real ways. Attention must be paid.
Q&A with Gary King: Gary King’s strategy never made the convention a do-or-die moment
By Carroll Cagle
March 17, 2014
Attorney General Gary King tells us his strategy all along – as in the past – was to look beyond the pre-primary nominating convention and head toward the June 3 Democratic primary election in his race for governor.
King spoke with New Mexico Prosperity Project about the startled reaction his last-place finish in the intra-party delegate voting Saturday, March 8 has caused among Democrats around the state.
The last-place finish among five candidates made some wonder if King would drop out of the herd of Democratic candidates – especially since he was far below the 20 percent of delegate votes required to get on the ballot for the June 3 primary. (But there is an “unless” appended to that requirement… see next points….)
King’s calm reaction to the pre-primary convention outcome, he said in our interview, was based on several things:
- There is an option for candidates who do not get 20 percent of the delegate votes, to still be on the June 3 ballot, and that is to round up a slew of additional petition signatures of registered Democrats. That no one has ever been successful at doing so made some think that King was through. But King was unperturbed all along, he says – because he already had in hand well over the number of signatures he would need for this “Plan B.” He never wanted to bank everything on clearing the first hurdle – getting 20 percent of the delegate votes – and he didn’t, with the additional signed petitions already in hand.
- Nor did finishing last among the five governor hopefuls perturb him, either. He observed that when he first ran for attorney general in 2006, that he also finished last among three Democrats at the pre-primary convention – but went on to win the primary race over the two who got more convention votes than he did, and then proceeded to win the general election as well. He is now finishing up his second four-year term as attorney general. King noted that the two candidates who got more convention votes than he did in 2006 were serious contenders. One, Geno Zamora, was coming off a stint as legal counsel for the then-powerful Democratic governor, Bill Richardson, and had the support of the Richardson “machine.” One, Lemuel Martinez, was district attorney in the outlying metro-area counties around Albuquerque (Valencia, Cibola and Sandoval counties) and both were well-financed.
- Finally, King said he always has, and still does, put more of his attention on actual Democratic voters than in the internal machinery of the Democratic apparatus. Without calling out names, he did say he has never really sought to court “party bosses” who have more stroke in a convention setting than on primary election day.
“I want people to know that I am undaunted,” King said. “I still anticipate I am going to win (the election).”
A shakeup in the conventional wisdom as N.M. Democrats begin the election year
March 11, 2014
By Carroll Cagle
Last week, we wrote that a last-place finish by Gary King in an intra-party balloting that happened on Saturday would be “astounding.” King was (and maybe still is) one of five candidates vying to be the Democrats’ nominee this December against Republican Governor Susana Martinez, who is seeking a second four-year term. Well, in the aftermath of the convention balloting, many active Democrats, political observers and journalists are, in fact, astounded — because last place for King is what happened Saturday in the New Mexico Democratic Party’s pre-primary convention at the Route 66 Casino and Hotel west of Albuquerque.
Last place for Gary King — currently attorney general, son of the legendary multi-term Governor Bruce King, and scion to the King political dynasty that began in the 1950s — that was one of the head-scratching results as several hundred Democratic delegates gathered to figure out how to develop their 2014 team for statewide and Federal offices.
Another reason to be astounded at the Democratic doings is that a newcomer to politics, particularly statewide politics (and the youngest to boot), Howie Morales of Silver City, got the most votes among the Democratic delegates (29 percent). Morales is a relatively new (since 2008) state senator from that southwestern N.M. city, but all of a sudden he as the head of the Democratic governor pack — because whoever gets the most delegate votes ends up atop the party’s ballot form in the June 3 primary. That perch is said to be worth a few percentage points on Election Day, in itself, plus bragging rights.
Two other highly unusual outcomes from the Saturday Democratic affair:
- King, having failed to get the requisite 20 percent of the votes (he got 11 percent) to even get on the ballot, may already be through — along with that multi-decade King dynasty. However, King says not so fast — that he won’t have to scramble to avail himself of the remaining option of coming up with a ton of additional petition signatures (from registered Democrats), that he already has them in hand.
- Allen Webber, even newer to the New Mexico Democratic Party than the young state senator from Silver, turned out to be another big surprise as the active Democrats tried to puzzle out whom they wanted to head their slate. Webber, a national-level tech entrepreneur of some means (having founded the magazine for high-growth tech companies called Fast Company), came in second (with 22 percent) in the governor balloting, not too far behind Morales.
How could these surprises all happen at once (King stumbling; newcomers Morales and Webber rising to the top)? And what might be next?
- Morales appears to have entered into an alliance with the group that might be the single most numerous and vocal bloc within the Democratic Party’s apparatus, the teachers’ unions. These two unions know how to get their delegates to the state convention in numbers (although they are not identified as such – just as delegates from various counties like everyone else). When you have the biggest bloc, to start with, and you add powers of articulation and youthful vigor, it can have an effect.
- After four years of chafing under the regime of Susana Martinez, Democrats may have also been just in the mood to roll the dice with an attractive new guy, rather than playing it safe with the known entity of Gary King.
- Allen Webber, although new to the arcane doings of the Democratic delegate process (which began weeks ago at the ward level, then the county level), may have had the business acumen to manage this complex affair -- and the wherewithal to retain project managers to ride herd on it at the granular level. Besides, a Democratic businessman of proven success might be an antidote for the generally pro-business agenda of Governor Martinez.
Nor were the Morales-Webber-King outcomes the only notable results. If King does not truly have in hand enough valid signatures to get on the ballot, there still will be a third person besides Morales and Webber in the D governor’s slot on the June 3 ballot, that of Lawrence Rael, a longtime, highly regarded administrator (top operations executive for the City of Albuquerque, and the Mid-Region Council of Governments for years), also will be there too. Rael cobbled together enough delegates to barely get the needed 20 percent. Linda Lopez, also a close ally of the teachers union who has been tormenting the governor’s education reformer, Hanna Skandera, for four years, like King failed to get near the needed 20 percent and she is likely to be done (although she will continue as a state senator from Albuquerque’s South Valley).
Although active Democrats might be exhilarated at how their fresh 2014 team might look, the fact is that the pre-primary convention, although important, is a type of “insider baseball” and that what really will matter is who can top the field on election day, June 3, to see who will face Martinez in November. The mechanics of identifying, nurturing and supporting delegates to a convention, all the way from the grassroots of the ward meetings and onto the “floor whip” (vote-counting) process on the convention floor seem about as arcane and mysterious as the strange Winter Olympic sport called “curling.” In any event, the process calls for different skill sets than what it will take to win the primary election itself, where some combination of media-capability presentation skills, a robust campaign budget, grassroots fervor and the ability to locate the active center of public sentiment can propel one to victory.
(The reverse side of this coin is that the skills necessary to win delegate votes in the pre-primary convention are a specific skill set of their own. One observer put it this way to New Mexico Prosperity Project: “You don’t go to the delegates and ask them to vote for you – by then it’s too late. You identify or get people you know are for you, even before the ward meetings, and then manage this process all the way through so that your delegates end up at the state convention.” Will Lawrence Rael, who has been around longer than Morales and who knows how to methodically run complex endeavors, eat into Morales’ transitory margins? Or will Webber continue to surprise by a Silicon Valley-type endeavor that the hapless pols are powerless to counter? Will Gary King miraculously re-emerge, shaking off the pre-primary doings as relatively meaningless?
Even then, after the next hurdle of the primary election in June, will come the showdown with Governor Martinez. The former prosecutor can be a tough adversary, her polling numbers have stayed comfortably high, and already her campaign treasury is in an exceptionally healthy condition, due to her unrelenting fundraising efforts. These have occurred not only within New Mexico, but nationally, where many Republican donors are keenly interested in helping the nation’s first female Hispanic governor.
If Morales turns out to win the D nomination in June, one can easily predict that Governor Martinez will waste no time in painting him as, if not a tool of the teachers’ unions, at the least an adherent to the educational status quo, where dropout rates are abysmal, kids are promoted even when not capable, and graduates are often ill-prepared for jobs, professions or college. Against Webber it might be harder for her to get a handle on how to take him on, but given New Mexico’s traditions, she may not have to because he might prove to be lacking in long-built personal connections that can often play a big part here. Plus no government track record. On the other hand, it is possible voters might think that is a good thing, given the dour mood most citizens seem to have about politics, politicians and government right now.
Let the games begin.
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Why are so many legislative leaders Not running this year? And what Will it mean for 2015 session and beyond?
March 7, 2014
By Carroll Cagle
More than a century’s worth of collective legislative experience will be missing from the New Mexico House of Representatives when the 2015 session convenes in the Roundhouse next January – and that is just among the House leadership. Add less senior members and the number even grows. Plus, already, the total number of representatives who have decided not to run again is at ten.
According to the Legislative Council Service, that ten (so far – there may be more) would be added to the 12 that did not run again last time, in 2012. Thus in addition to the massive loss of cumulative seniority, the total number of voluntary non-returnees in just two cycles is so far 22 — out of a total House membership of 70. (State senators serve four-year terms and are not up for re-election this year.)
The 2015 session and beyond, therefore, is going to look a whole lot different – and possibly have different styles and outcomes – than has been the case for a whole bunch of years. (The modern day record for voluntary retirements was 13, in 1998. Only two cycles ago, in 2010, though, the number was only three.)
A particularly notable feature of this year’s decisions is the sudden loss of the two chairs of the powerful and important “money committees.”
Not around in 2015 will be:
- Representative Henry “Kiki” Saavedra, chairman of the House Appropriations and Finance Committee, who is finishing up his 38th year in the Legislature.
- Representative Ed Sandoval, chairman of the House Taxation and Revenue Committee, who is finishing up his 32nd year.
Saavedra’s district is in the near South Valley and into part of southeast Albuquerque. Sandoval’s district is in the Albuquerque North Valley. Saavedra and Sandoval are both Democrats, since the majority party controls all chairmanships.
Beyond those money-committee departures, also going will be the two top partisan leaders in the House of Representatives:
- House Democratic Leader Rick Miera of Albuquerque’ s North Valley (having served 24 years).
- House Republican Leader Don Bratton of Hobbs, having served ten years.
Nor will former Republican Leader Tom Taylor of Farmington be coming back. Others are listed down below, but first, the question arises: Why are so many of the senior, experienced, leaders deciding not to run again, all in the same year? Why, in particular, are three exceptionally senior Hispanic Democrats from Albuquerque’s North and South Valleys (Saavedra, Sandoval and Miera) not coming back? Is there a pattern, or just randomness?
The human mind tends to want to discern patterns and meaning. Some eager Republicans might harbor the hope that the departure of Saavedra & Co. signals that they sense a G.O.P. takeover of the House this year, after decades (going back to the early 1950s) of D majorities.
Although these are Democratic donkeys, could they be akin to the actual elephants in Indonesia who fled to the high hills when they sensed (unlike the humans on the beaches and lowlands) that a towering tsunami was headed their way? While the Republicans do have some potential, in purely numerical terms, the “coming of the Republican majority” or any other pattern does not, in fact, seem to be the case here. As unsatisfying as the pattern-less image is, it might have to be embraced. Randomness, after all, has generated in recent years an entirely new interdisciplinary scholarly pursuit known as “chaos theory.”
One bit of context in support of the no-pattern premise is that in the case of the Valley Democrats who are departing, it is almost certain that their replacements, in turn, will be Democrats. That is the deep demographic/partisan nature of their districts. Plus, G.O.P. leader Bratton and other Republicans are looking for life outside the Roundhouse as well (and they also are likely to be replaced by Republicans.)
So what are the reasons for this uncharacteristic collective departure amongst the senior members?
- A feeling that “it is time;” that “I have done my share – and then some.” After decades spent driving back and forth to endless meetings in Santa Fe, and sitting in windowless hearing rooms, and listening to colleagues on the floor intoning on every issue under the sun, after a while, well, life out in the sunshine amongst family and friends, and maybe a bit of travel and such, starts to look like an attractive option.
- “It’s not much fun anymore” (Part I). For a long time, the Democrats had ample majorities and even though there were (and are) factions and shifting coalitions even within the party, in recent years the partisan alignment in the House has been much closer, and philosophical disagreements on every darned thing that comes along, so things that used to be easy are now more likely to be aggravating and stressful.
- “It’s not much fun anymore” (Part II). Although the state government’s revenue projections have perked up this year, leading to some more spending, the lingering malaise known as the Great Recession – exacerbated in New Mexico by a growing fear of having the Federal money spigot steadily cranked down – means that the outlandish days of spending on every idea that popped up (as in the “Richardson era” before the recession hit and when the oil and gas fields were sending $$$ by the bushels in tax receipts), are not likely to be repeated anytime soon. Cutting back, and watching the nickels, although prudent and necessary, is less enjoyable to many elected officials than “bringing home (lots of) the bacon.”
Regardless of the interpretation as to “why,” the loss of at least ten incumbents, including many of the most experienced veterans, is going to make things feel, and be, a lot different next January and beyond. Both grassroots citizens and wizened lobbyists are going to have to discern what new leadership dynamics emerge, and how to deal with the new era.
Beyond the senior leadership departures mentioned above, here are the House members who also have said they will not be seeking re-election this year:
- Albuquerque South Valley Democratic Representative Ernie Chavez
- Representative Nate Cote, a Las Cruces Democrat
- Representative Anna Crook, a Clovis Republican
- Representative Jim White, R-Albuquerque
- Representative Bill Gray, a Republican from Artesia
A surprise at R’s first hurdle; D’s free-for-all hinges on 20 percent
By Carroll Cagle
March 5, 2014
UPDATED: March 6, 2014
The Republicans offered up a surprising outcome in a big race, and the Democrats have all eyes on their first hurdle of the 2014 electoral races this Saturday. The balance of power in Santa Fe, and perhaps even in Washington, might be affected by the eventual outcomes (via the June 3 primary and November 4 general election).
In both parties, would-be candidates have to clear these hurdles to be ultimately successful: Get enough registered voters within their party to sign their petitions to be candidates; then get at least 20 percent of the delegate votes at the pre-primary nominating convention; then win the primary; then beat their opponent from the opposing party in November.
Republicans: As we have previously written, the Republicans held their “pre-primary nominating convention” last Saturday in Albuquerque. The fact that former G.O.P. Chair Allen Weh got the most votes for the U.S. Senate candidacy was no surprise; what was surprising that a 34-year-old new face, Las Cruces attorney David Clements, ended up nipping at the heels of the venerable, well-financed Weh. Beforehand, some had wondered if Clements — who as former chair of the Dona Ana County Republican Party did not totally come out of nowhere — would even get the needed 20 percent of the votes. He ended up with 46.8 percent of the votes, compared with Weh’s 53.2 percent.
Clements raised some “process” issues against Weh’s apparatus; he also seems to offer a somewhat Libertarian-leaning take on things, while Weh is considered a more traditionalist staunch conservative.
Whatever the reason for the close delegate vote, the stage is now set for what could be an unexpectedly close battle in the June U.S. Senate primary. Whether it is Weh or Clements who takes on Tom Udall, the incumbent Democrat, the enterprise is part of a national dynamic on whether the Republicans can take control of the U.S. Senate, thus changing the balance of power on Federal/national issues vis-à-vis President Obama. (Republicans already control the U.S. House by a wide margin and are likely to continue to do so.)
Aside from the Weh-Clements contest, the only other contested race at the G.O.P. affair was between Corrales business owner Mike Frese and Albuquerque businessman Richard Priem, in the Albuquerque metro area U.S. House race. Both will be on the June ballot.
Democrats: The Democrats have their pre-primary convention on Saturday, also in Albuquerque, but the dynamic there is going to be more like a free-for all, especially in the contest for the party’s nomination for governor. Given the fact that any candidate must get at least 20 percent of the delegate votes to end up on the ballot for the June 3 primary, the five candidates would have to precisely divvy up all the delegate votes and the odds against that happening are stupendous.
By conventional thinking, Attorney General Gary King, son of the storied four-time Governor Bruce King, might get the most delegate votes. He has many statewide relationships due to the family experience and his own previous races, plus deeper pockets than most.
Like the Weh-Clements outcome, however, could this also be a year for surprises amongst the Democrats? The party activists are hungry for a victory, and want badly to oust Republican incumbent Susana Martinez, seeking a second four-year term. Most energized of all are the teachers’ unions, who exercise an outsize role within the Democratic apparatus, and who are on fire against the relentless education-reform efforts being pushed on many fronts by the governor and her reform-minded education chief, Hanna Skandera.
The well-read political blog by Joe Monahan has put forth an astounding prospect that an entirely fresh face, that of a successful tech entrepreneur, Allen Webber, is ahead in the Democratic delegate vote count, and Gary King dead last. But there is a big caveat from the poll Monahan cites: only 360 of the 1,700 delegates were reached, and even among that small number, 32 percent were undecided. Still, it is a tantalizing peak into a sometimes mysterious and hard-to-predict arena. Monahan says the poll, even given its limitations, shows Webber, Lawrence Rael and Howie Morales all bunched up at the top, with Gary King and Linda Lopez trailing way back.
Nor is the governor contest the only one where the assembled Democrats will see competing candidates. Another is for the 2nd Congressional district (the southern district) now occupied by the hard-as-nails conservative Republican Steve Pearce, a former fighter pilot and oil millionaire. The two D opponents are Roxanne “Rocky” Lara of Carlsbad and Leslie Endean-Singh of Alamogordo.
Congressman Ben Ray Lujan, the incumbent Democrat in the 3rd Congressional District (north-central) has a newcomer, Robert Blanch, whose north-Albuquerque residence puts him narrowly in Lujan’s district, as a challenger. The problem for Blanch is likely to be to get even the necessary 20 percent.
Yet another Democratic contest on Saturday will be for the lieutenant governor’s position. There, Debra Haaland is competing against Marie Julienne.
As if that balloting were not enough, there is going to be a tough battle amongst three candidates seeking the Democratic state treasurer’s nomination. Two of them, Tim Eichenberg, a former state senator, and John Wertheim, a former state party chair and congressional candidate, are strong contenders. The third, Patrick Padilla, is the only Hispanic of the three (sometimes a factor), but his star might have been tarnished by what some think were his misguided investment efforts in the Bernalillo County Treasurer’s office.
All the candidates in both parties may be found at the Secretary of State's website.
First hurdles of this year’s election marathon
By Carroll Cagle
February 28, 2014
Tomorrow (Saturday) at the Marriott Hotel in Albuquerque, Republican delegates from all across New Mexico will gather to hear from, and vote on, their party’s erstwhile candidates for statewide and federal offices.
The idea (true later for Democrats too) is for the party faithful/activists to decide via their own votes who will get on the ballot to take on the Democrats (and any other parties or independents that are up for a challenge) in the June 3 primary election. The candidate who gets the most delegate votes for any particular race gets listed first on the ballot. To get on the ballot at all they must get at least 20 percent of the delegate votes – or else go through a tedious, never-before-successful, gauntlet of rounding up a ton of additional petition signatures from rank-and-file registered Republicans.
For the most part, the Republican event tomorrow is expected to be a relatively uncontentious affair, with many positions presenting only one candidate. (Governor Susana Martinez has no Republican opponent.) The biggest tussle is likely to come between Allen Weh of Albuquerque and David Clements of Las Cruces. Weh has “street cred” within the ranks as a former chair of the state party and, before that, as a candidate for governor in the primary four years ago (losing to Susana Martinez).
Clements has a lot less name recognition but perhaps will attempt to put himself forward as more electable in a general election compared with the often-blunt, undoubtedly conservative Weh, a millionaire businessman and hard-line former Marine Colonel. Less notable but still for a high post — Congress in the ABQ metro district — will be a contest between Richard Priem and Mike Frese, for the right to face Democrat Michelle Lujan Grisham as she seeks her second term. New Mexico Democrats will go through the same process — with a lot more intense battles amongst more candidates — on March 8 at the Route 66 Casino and Hotel west of Albuquerque. Filing day for all other offices is March 11, 2014. The primary election (for both parties) will be June 3. See here for more important election dates.
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“Compromise” marked the close of the 2014 legislative session
By Carroll Cagle
February 21, 2014
Despite, or maybe because of, the exceptionally close balance of power in the Legislature (and between the Legislature and the Administration), the 30-day session closed with compromise on many fronts. Put another way, both “progressives” (rebranded liberals) and conservatives and business advocates came away feeling irritated and aggrieved on some fronts and happy or at least relived on others.
More on some of the details below. But just to reiterate, the State Senate is generally somewhat more center than the House — in some cases more center-right and in others more center-left. The House has generally been more left-leaning than the Senate, but the progressives there have had to grit their teeth and focus intently on maintaining their control, as recent elections in the 70-member chamber have seen more conservatives and moderates gain strength. Largely the indicators are partisan, with the Republicans now within striking distance of control, and a handful of Democrats willing and able to join the R’s on some issues (as was dramatically the case this session). Plus, this session, two Democrats were out throughout for medical reasons.
Then, there is the executive branch headed by Susana Martinez, a Republican who is a staunch conservative and pro-business on most issues but who goes outside the realm upon occasion as in her agreeing to greatly expand Medicaid in an agreement with the federal government.
The legislative outcomes must be seen within the context that this is an election year. Martinez is running for a second four-year term, and all 70 House seats are up for election as they are every even-numbered year. Thus, every speech was uttered and every vote cast with an eye on the upcoming primary and general elections. None of the 42-member Senate seats are up this year, senators serving for four years. Here are some of the major results from the 2014 session:
- The spending bill for next fiscal year was okayed in the final couple of days, put together under the leadership of conservative Democratic Senator John Arthur Smith, chairman of the Senate Finance Committee. The House, after progressives and moderates/conservatives deadlocked on key aspects of the general appropriations measure, finally passed the measure Smith put together on a 58-8 vote. To demonstrate the starkly different dynamics in the Senate, it sailed through there unanimously, 42-0. The omnibus appropriations measure calls for $6.19 billion in spending — a $293 million, or five percent increase over the last fiscal year’s general fund spending. Governor Martinez, although cool to the five percent bump-up, is more or less okay with the results while also promising to use her line-item veto pen to weed out some things the Legislature wants, but she finds unwise or too costly.
- The Governor’s education chief, Hanna Skandera, a nationally known school reformer, will keep pushing for changes to the status quo, and causing the teachers’ unions fits in the process. The teachers’ unions are a mighty force within the Democratic Party apparatus, and in total tandem with the legislative progressives. Together, a number of legislative D’s, supported in their effort by the unions, have managed to keep Skandera from having a full-fledged confirmation vote since she was appointed three years ago by Martinez — until this year when the tightness of the balance of power played out with a tie vote in the Senate Rules Committee. With neither a pro nor con measure thus coming before the chamber, Skandera will continue to rock along, still occupying the cabinet secretary’s chair but with the prefix “acting” affixed to her title. Many business leaders have been in a state of consternation about the poor outcomes of the state’s school system for years and have voiced their support for the Martinez-Skandera reform efforts.
- However, even though Skandera will still be there doing things the teachers’ unions strenuously object to, the pro-reform forces failed, yet once again, to get a bill passed that would put an end to a practice known as “social promotion.” The term means that a third-grader, even if she or he fails the reading test at the level, can still be passed along up to fourth grade for “social” reasons.
- Another now-familiar outcome was the failure, for the fourth year in a row, of Governor Martinez’ plan to repeal a law passed in 2003 as pushed by then-Democratic Governor Bill Richardson that allows immigrants, even those without legal status (“undocumented”), to obtain a license if they “prove” they live in the state. (A number of fraud cases have been brought against “license mills” whereby the miscreants gin up alleged proof of residency for people from countries all over the world – for an outlandish fee.) Martinez and her allies worry that, soon, the hammer will come down from the Department of Homeland Security, rendering existing drivers’ licenses for all New Mexicans to be invalid for air travel – even within the U.S. — because of terrorism threats from the existing license procedures here.
- A proposed constitutional amendment to increase the state’s minimum wage, and tie increases to future inflation, failed to make it on the ballot, partly because some erstwhile supporters did not think such a requirement should be in the state constitution.
- Also going down to defeat was a proposed constitutional amendment to legalize recreational marijuana. Among other things, the pro-marijuana forces noted the financial bonanza that neighboring Colorado is projecting — $1 billion in sales this first year, replete with $100 million in new tax revenue based on the 10 percent tax rate there. But those who are nervous about legalizing marijuana (beyond the existing medical marijuana limitations) joined with those who are interested but objected to it being in the constitution as opposed to statute, combined to deep-six this notion. In both the marijuana and minimum wage instances, a reason for going this route was to avoid the certainty of a veto from the Governor, seeing as how constitutional amendment proposals if passed by the Legislature go straight to the voters.
- Governor Martinez got part of what she wanted on water projects. Motivated partly by severe limitations that have become evident due to both prolonged drought, and last September’s torrential floods, the Governor had asked that $112 million of the annual capital outlay (building projects) program go for water projects — such as flood control and new wells, etc. The Legislature, wanting to keep hold of its cherished plan to allocate some capital funds within their districts for projects they think their constituents need and want (water or not water), ended up giving Martinez $89 million for water efforts instead.
- Job training sought by the Governor and her Economic Development Department got full funding, as did a fund to help “close the deal” for companies interested in locating new facilities in New Mexico.
- Another bill to attract companies here failed, however. It would’ve given the new facilities lower electric rates as an attractant — but legislators squirmed that the rest of the ratepayers would have to pick up the resulting slack. One big deal that is said to be hovering out there is a $2 billion plan to build a manufacturing plant in the Albuquerque area to make batteries for the electric-car company, Tesla.
‘Round third base and headed for home
February 19, 2014
By Carroll Cagle
UPDATE: The House has now passed the Senate bill 58-8 and sent it to Governor Martinez.
It is “almost” inevitable in the annual legislative sessions in Santa Fe that agreement has to be reached on, if nothing else, the state government budget for next year. “Almost” because if that requirement is not met due to argumentation amongst various parties, then the session must adjourn (in this case tomorrow, Thursday, at noon) – and then a “special session” must occur to finally hash out the budget.
Inevitable or not, the 70-menber House of Representatives this session has struggled to get a budget done. Traditionally, the House is where the overall spending bill, the general appropriations act, originates and once cleared there, heads to the 42-member State Senate.
This year, the roles were reversed. On Tuesday, the Senate under the sage leadership (on finance matters) of Senator John Arthur Smith, seeing that the House was struggling and the end was nigh, pulled together its own omnibus compromise appropriations measure – and then sent it over to the House via a resounding 42-0 vote. Unanimous votes are rare except where agreements and compromises already have been reached – in this case obviously amongst liberals and conservatives, Democrats and Republicans, and the Senate and the Administration. Senator Smith, of Deming in the far southwest corner of the state, the veteran chairman of the Senate Finance Committee, with the other key players engaged, got a bill through that is richer than the governor wants but also includes some funding she wants for education reform and economic development, among other things.
The bill now before the House calls for $6.19 billion in spending -- a $293 million, or 5 per cent increase over the last fiscal year’s general fund spending. Governor Susana Martinez is not keen on the fact that the state’s healthy reserves would be reduced some, but the leading Democratic appropriations veteran in the House, Luciano “Lucky” Varela, already is cautioning his colleagues about trying to make any changes in the bill they have received from the Senate, otherwise things will bog down again and a special session (which no one seems to want) would be required.
The role reversal on the appropriations bill came about because the House is virtually in a dead-even tie on most important matters. That is because the partisan divide in the House, already close, became even closer this session with the absence of two Democrats all session for medical reasons.
Given that two or three House Democrats can sometimes line up with the Republicans on an issue, that led to tie votes on the floor and in committees, and the generalized gridlock which prevented agreement on the annual General Appropriations Act.
A footnote: The closeness of the partisan divide played out even on the Senate side in a notable tie vote in the Senate Rules Committee. There, the reform-minded education cabinet secretary-designate, Hanna Skandera, had her confirmation stall out, thus not proceeding to the full Senate. That committee has stalled on dealing with the confirmation for four years, now, while Skandera continues to occupy the post in an “acting” role. Ironically, the tie vote – unlike a definitive up or down recommendation – means
Skandera will keep pushing reforms that the governor and much of the business community wants – and that the teachers’ unions and many Democratic legislators love to hate.
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State budget dynamics
By Carroll Cagle
February 14, 2014
The close balance of power within the Legislature, and between the legislative and executive branches, is exemplified today by the fact that the 30-day session, only six days away from its mandatory end, still has not produced a state budget (spending bill).
Seeing as how that large and complex task is the almost-sole reason for the session in the first place, this calls for analysis.
One aspect is that the House of Representatives, as we and others have reported, is teetering in an exceptionally close balance of power between ostensibly majority Democrats and ostensibly minority Republicans. The “ostensibly” modifier comes into play because two Democrats have been absent all session for major health reasons and one Democrat has voted with the Republicans on some floor issues (and other D’s have done so in committee votes).
Then, there is the familiar, but generally civil, tension between House and Senate, regardless of party; the well-known tension between legislative and executive bodies in all states and in Washington, and also of importance are philosophical differences amongst the 70 (or 68 voting ones this session), the 42 senators, and the governor and her appointees.
In addition to budget differences, there are strong differences this session between education reformers and the teachers’ unions, and between legislators empathetic with hard-working (but undocumented) immigrants who need and can now have drivers’ licenses, and those worried that New Mexicans will have to soon have a passport to fly, even domestically, or make a separate trip to the MVD to get a Federally-approved ID in addition to their driver’s license.
The mandated adjournment time of noon next Thursday (Feb. 20) serves as an anvil of forged steel that will force results one way or the other — bill approval, bill defeat, or compromise. Increasingly, there is talk that a fourth option might be arising — that inability to work out the differences might force a special legislative session afterward.
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From brainpower to the marketplace:
New Mexico’s important mission
By Carroll Cagle
February 14, 2014
New Mexico ranks No. 1 in the nation in one important way: It is at the top of the 50 states in what is called “non-industry investment in R&D.” That’s great, but the New Mexico Economic Development Department and Governor Susana Martinez see the need to do things differently.
New Mexico has some of the most impressive R&D (research-and-development) assets in the nation — or the world for that matter. Yet, a massive percentage of this R&D occurs within the secure gates of the sprawling Federal institutions of Los Alamos and Sandia National Laboratories. So commercializing this knowledge base — turning scientific knowledge into technologies for the marketplace — has been limited, severely so given the potential.
At the same time, the commercializing of strictly private-sector R&D, with some fine exceptions, has been less impressive — the state is No. 42 among the 50 states on industry investment in R&D. Other markers: N.M. is No. 27 in entrepreneurial activity and No. 32 in the number of Initial Public Offerings (IPO’s – stock offerings), and 30 “overall.”
There likely are a number of key reasons why New Mexico lags in the second “D” —“deployment.” One is that the private sector in the state is limited, compared to many of the other 49. Another reason is that the Federal R&D labs have as a major mission nuclear weapons research and “surety” (safety). Although both Los Alamos and Sandia have expanded since the Manhattan Project of the 1940s to do much else besides nukes, the understandable and necessary access restrictions, coupled with a less-than-entrepreneurial mindset of the scientists and engineers there, achieving commercial spinoffs has not been a major part of the pie charts at PowerPoint presentations.
Yet, the looming danger of increasing federal budget restrictions (based on the teetering $17 trillion-plus Federal debt) has caused the N.M. Economic Development Department (E.D.D.) to call for new efforts to improve the state’s economy via a sustained, coherent, commercialization approach.
An E.D.D. paper called “innovation plus enterprise equals economic development” notes that the need has been long-recognized but not suitably addressed:
“A 1982 report states: ‘New Mexico’s historical inability to capitalize fully on its resource advantages threatens…to export high technology to the greater benefit of other states.’ More than three decades later, the same issues are being discussed and the need to address them is more urgent as Federal funding declines.”
The department then makes two primary points:
- Any effort to improve things must “address gaps in every single step of the continuum (or) will fail to result in a sustainable program for success.”
- Failing to grow commercial technology in New Mexico means the state will be “unable to provide career opportunities” and high-paying jobs.
Group made up of execs From 28 local chambers of commerce Supports pro-business and jobs bills
By Carroll Cagle
February 12, 2014
Another business organization has weighed in with its recommendations about what the Legislature should do (or in some cases not do) to help improve New Mexico’s economy.
The group is known as the New Mexico Chamber Executives Association (NMCEA). It is made up of executives from 28 chambers of commerce, which serve 10,000 businesses statewide.
The statewide business group’s list (which can be viewed fully at our website) reveals a strong degree of agreement with others we have reported on, including those of the Greater Albuquerque Chamber of Commerce, the Association of Commerce and Industry, the New Mexico Economic Development Department, and the Legislative Jobs Council.
For example, the state chamber executives endorse:
1. Funding the state job training program at $1.5 million and also making it permanent.
2. Increasing incentives for early-stage (“angel”) investors.
3. Getting a “one-stop” business portal up and running to help ease or eliminate the maddening patchwork of steps businesses have to deal with in the state capitol.
4. Belatedly eliminating the “designee” or “acting” part of pro-reform education cabinet secretary Hanna Skandera’s title by finally confirming her.
5. The group also opposes tapping into the state’s permanent fund to pay for new early childhood education programs.
Other programs from the group that are not necessarily in the wish lists of all the others are for $500,000 for state Main Street programs, and $6 million in capital outlay to build the southern access road to the spaceport south of Truth or Consequences.
Learn more at the New Mexico Chamber Executives Association website.
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A close political arm-wrestling contest in the State Capitol
February 10, 2014
By Carroll Cagle
The vital importance of elections, and each person’s vote, is being revealed by two tie votes in the Legislature late last week and on Saturday.
On Saturday, a House committee in a tie vote (4-4) failed to clear a proposal from the Susana Martinez Administration to end the present system of allowing undocumented immigrants from getting full drivers licenses. The impetus is a looming Federal requirement that bill supporters say could mean New Mexico drivers licenses won’t be good enough to clear airport security for air travel.
On Friday, the full House tied 34-34 on a proposed amendment to implement an Administration plan for education reform and textbook purchases. The tie came about because two Democrats are out all session for health reasons and one Democrat voted with the Republicans in support of the reforms, which are heartily opposed by the teachers unions.
So far this session and last, there are some indicators of cooperation on economic development issues, narrowly defined, but not more broadly defined as in the case of whether drivers license problems might ultimately hinder travel, and whether lack of education reform ends up harming the state's economy. With these issues, the almost equal divide between the parties, and between Governor Martinez and the Democrats who control the Legislature, is starkly evident.
And with votes as close as these, it is evident that the teetering balance of power in the legislative branch can be tilted one way or another by a small number of votes in a small number of districts this election year. Thus the voter education mission of New Mexico Prosperity Project and other groups is visibly highlighted.
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Dairy Producers seek legislation to help close loophole allowing frivolous lawsuits by trial attorneys
By Carroll Cagle
February 7, 2014
A recent national article said what many already know: Melted cheese makes almost any food taste better.
What many may not know is that New Mexico is one of the largest diary states in the nation. The sector has 355,000 cows at 172 dairies mostly in southeastern and southern New Mexico, and much of the milk gets processed into cheese at plants also located here.
But due to some loose language in existing state law, the dairies are under legal attack - being sued by out-of-state law firms as a result. As the Carlsbad Current-Argus puts it: "State Rep. Yvette Herrell, R-Alamogordo, has introduced an amendment to the Right to Farm Act, House Bill 51, which she says brings more clarity to the murky law that is currently on the books."
As the Dairy Producers of New Mexico tells New Mexico Prosperity Project: "We are one of the most highly regulated industries in New Mexico and our country...New Mexico Environment Department, New Mexico Department of Agriculture, United State Department of Agriculture, Environmental Protection Agency, Food and Drug Administration, and Department of Homeland Security, just to name a few. All of these agencies have not said our dairies are in violation of any regulations, laws, or ordinances, but these attorneys have found a loophole in our Right to Farm Act that we are now trying to close."
Specifically, Representative Herrell's bill would strike the word "improperly" from the definition of which agricultural operations of facilities can be sued. The New Mexico Department of Agriculture, in an official comment on the legislation, says: "Striking 'improperly'from (current law) will remove an ambiguous legal term that could be interpreted more broadly than 'negligently' or 'illegally.'"
1. Economic information about New Mexico dairies:
New Mexico dairies employ approximately 4,221 people. The New Mexico State University Cooperative Extension Service estimates that the direct economic impact of the dairy industry state-wide is approximately 1.02 billion dollars and a total impact of approximately 2.6 billion dollars. New Mexico dairies are one of the largest purchasers of agricultural products (feed crops) in the State.
Currently, there are approximately 172 dairies, with the most being in Roosevelt County (41) and Chaves County (40). For more information, check out the New Mexico State University Dairy Extension website.
How many cows?
Approximately 355,000. NM has largest average herd size in the nation with an average of 2088 milking cows per dairy.
How much milk do those cows produce?
Over 7 billion pounds of milk each year.
What happens to all of that milk?
Most of New Mexico milk is now processed in the State because of the cheese plants that moved here for the quality of the milk.
Read more on N.M. dairies from New Mexico Dairy Producers.
2. Melted cheese makes most everything taste better.
News report on the legal attacks on N.M. dairies – and a legislative solution:
3. Dairies out to stop ‘frivolous lawsuits: "New Mexico’s dairy industry is under attack, according to some farmers in the southeastern quadrant of the state, and they hope legislators support proposed legislation they say would end the assault." Read the full article in the Carlsbad Current-Argus.
They're off and running for statewide and federal offices
By Carroll Cagle
February 6, 2014
Who’s running? Now we know. The first hurdle for candidates for major offices – the deadline for filing official declarations of candidacy and (they hope) a sufficient number of signatures by registered voters in their parties — has now occurred.
Republican Governor Susana Martinez is now in the fourth year of what she hopes will be her first of two terms, but five Democrats yesterday filed the petitions at the secretary of state’s office, seeking to be their party’s nominee against her in the November elections. Democrat Gary King, the current attorney general and son of the legendary four-term governor, Bruce King, is the best-known among the D hopefuls but in such a crowded venue, who knows what might happen?
Other major revelations from the filings:
- Tom Udall, a Democrat finishing his first six-year term as U.S. senator (after years in the northern district U.S. House seat and attorney general before that), has no primary opponent but there are two Republicans wanting to oust him including most notably Allen Weh, a hard-nosed millionaire businessman and retired Marine colonel.
- Two of the three U.S. House members from N.M. drew no primary opponents. They are Michelle Lujan Grisham, D, of the Albuquerque metro area, and Steve Pearce, R, in the southern district. Ben Ray Lujan, D, northern district, did draw an unexpected primary challenge from an Albuquerque assistant D.A. All three face general election opposition.
- Candidates for all other statewide offices had to file, as well, and they did -- those seeking their party’s nomination for lieutenant governor, attorney general, secretary of state, land commissioner, state treasurer, state auditor and for a court of appeals post.
Next hurdle for this flash mob of candidates will be each party’s “pre-primary nominating convention,” next month. At that point, the hopefuls must get at least 20 per cent of the votes of the delegates to make it onto the ballot in the June 5 primaries. If they don’t get that 20 per cent, a “Hail Mary” effort involves rounding up even more voter signatures. This is something no one has ever done, but a new face, a deep-pocketed software progressive Democrat now living in Santa Fe named Alan Webber, plans to go this route and he may have the wherewithal to pull it off.
In addition to the statewide and Federal races, another large group of primary candidates must file petitions by March 11. These will be the candidates for the 70 state house of representative seats. (No state senators, who have four-year terms, are on the ballot this year.)
Bill or no bill? Today's the Deadline
By Carroll Cagle
February 5, 2014
Today, February 5, is the deadline for bill introduction in the current 30-day legislative session.
In general, if the bill is not already in play, it will be too late. Now is the beginning of the two-week-long crunch time. There are these exceptions:
1. The governor can send something down in a “message” to the Legislature.
2. Memorials and resolutions can still be introduced.
3. The legislative leaders traditionally keep a few blank ("dummy") bills around whereby they can fill in the blanks even after the purported deadline, if they see fit.
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Who wants what —
Other ideas for the Legislature
By Carroll Cagle
January 27, 2014
The Legislative Reports by New Mexico Prosperity Project in recent days have highlighted what the governor, the legislative jobs council, and the statewide chamber, ACI, have recommended the session now under way do to help the state’s languishing economy and private sector. Here are more:
Think New Mexico
This generally centrist, thoughtful think tank proposes:
- Making it easier for businesses to deal with the state bureaucracy (licensing, regulation, registration, taxation, etc.) by creating a “one-stop shop” online portal. (The governor also advocates this, and the Senate Democratic president, Mary Kay Papen, introduced it.)
- Requiring companies that locate or expand in New Mexico to reach proven benchmarks before receiving state incentives.
Greater Albuquerque Chamber of Commerce
The state’s largest chamber late last week put forth a lengthy shopping list, including recommendations on behalf of:
- The Senate (three years late) confirming reformer Hanna Skandera as cabinet secretary of education (over the strenuous objections of the teachers’ unions).
- $15 million for a “closing fund” to help companies poised to locate in New Mexico pay for needed infrastructure.
- The Administration’s proposal to allocate 60 per cent ($112 million) of the state’s capital outlay budget to handle woefully inadequate local water infrastructure needs.
- Providing funding for performance-based teachers’ pay.
New Mexico Oil and Gas Association
The industry that produces a major portion of state government’s taxes is advocating improvements in the natural gas vehicle (NGV) tax administration system. Compressed natural gas (CNG) and liquefied natural gas (LNG) simultaneously offer the opportunity for $$$ savings in fleet operations, less emissions, and a nod toward the natural gas producing San Juan Basin in northwest New Mexico. As it is, many out-of-state NGV’s may pay little or no taxes under the antiquated system.
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Is there potential for consensus on rational, strategic economic development?
By Carroll Cagle
January 23, 2014
In the state capitol, there seems to be a sober mood of reflection – and the stirrings of a belief in the need for rational, focused, fact-based, determined approaches to improving the state’s economy.
New Mexico has never been at the top of the prosperous states, although, in terms of the private sector, the oil and gas sector’s prolific output (in terms of barrels of oil, millions of cubic feet of natural gas, and in dollar terms of both) have often masked that overall unremarkable status.
Add to that the fact that the Federal government’s yearly infusion of dollars has resulted in many thousands of jobs (directly and via contracts) and billions of dollars in economic activity. Although the Federal activities represented by the BIA, BLM, Forest Service and national parks have always brought some Washington tax dollars our way and continue to, the big influx began in the 1940s with the Manhattan Project being formed as what became the anchor tenant in a national security complex made up of Los Alamos and Sandia National Laboratories, White Sands Missile Range, and Kirtland, Holloman and Cannon air force bases. Finally, beginning in the 1980s, corporate tech giants like Intel, Phillips Semiconductors, Motorola and Honeywell Defense Avionics formed a new private high tech cluster in Albuquerque.
Since the Great Recession that began in 2008 and which continues today for many people and businesses (despite narrow definitions by economists), there seems to have been developing a growing consensus that “something must be done” to pick New Mexico up out of the doldrums and set the state on a long-range path to a diversified, productive economy. Although oil (albeit not natural gas at the moment) continues apace, the real wakeup call seems to have come about as a result of the fact that Uncle Sugar’s credit card is waaaay maxed out and that the Federal $$$ that seemed to be a given may not be, after all. Plus, Motorola and Phillips have long since pulled up stakes, and Intel although still massive (for New Mexico) is a wan shadow of its previously robust self, and reflection is definitely in order.
This year, Governor Susana Martinez and her New Mexico Economic Development Department have put forth to the Legislature now under way a number of measures which represent their take on what needs to happen. Simultaneously and unusually, the Democratic leadership in the Legislature has produced a comprehensive set of bills as a result of the first year of activity by its Legislative Jobs Council.
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Legislative Jobs Council Recommendations
By Carroll Cagle
January 22, 2014
1. New Mexico will need to generate more than 160,000 new economic base jobs in 10 years just to get back to where we were in 2007.
2. It is doable.
3. It requires four heavy lifts simultaneously:
- Get clarity and consensus on the predicament and an job creation agenda.
- Plus up existing program approaches despite diminishing returns.
- Innovate new program approaches for outlier economic base sectors.
- Strategically integrate economic development, tourism, education and workforce development.
Development of a statewide assessment and planning process:
- Continue the IJC process for one more year in order to finish developing process model, get the bottom up local and regional data needed to calibrate the criteria for legislative and policy value judgments. Provide matching funding support for NMARC efforts to integrate the COG and county economic assessments into a statewide model.
- Develop a companion assessment and planning process that accommodates job creation and community development priorities for tier two and three economic development priorities.
- Fund efforts by the New Mexico Department of Higher Education, Workforce Solutions and the employability council to continue their work on the development of a Workforce Gap Forecast model. The model is being designed to predict the number of jobs needed in the future (demand), the skill, knowledge and experience requirements, the education and training pipeline (supply) and calculate gaps.
- Develop a Jobs Impact Model to evaluate the impact of proposed legislation on the potential creation or destruction of economic base jobs.
- Align the state’s economic development commission, workforce council and council of government districts to facilitate data collection, analytics, planning and accountability.
Expanding and Improving proven programs:
- Undertake the rebuilding of New Mexico’s state and local apparatus for sourcing and managing the development of new economic base jobs with proven program approaches.
- Increase funding to NMEDD for the NM partnership for marketing and additional professional FTEs in scale with a detailed pipeline development and case load metrics per target industry sectors under a specific detailed plan.
- Provide funding to NMEDD for a coop marketing program to stimulate local funding of targeted lead generation activities in scale with the region’s job creation metrics for each target industry sector under a specific detailed plan.
Administer the program through a recalibrated Certified Cities Program.
- Provide funding to NMEDD for a coop staff augmentation program to stimulate and leverage the hiring of professional staff for local economic development organizations in scale with a detailed case load metrics for the target industry sectors under a specific detailed plan. Administer the program through a recalibrated Certified Cities Program.
- Create a discretionary closing fund for major economic development projects.
- Provide funding to NMEDD to grow the capacity of the states incubators and enterprise development centers.
- Fund the NM Department of Tourism budget to expand marketing and visitor experience development activities.
- Increase funding to the Sate Investment Council and SBICs to leverage private equity.
Develop new economic base job creation programs:
- Form a consortia of New Mexico based think tanks to focus on development of new program approaches for outlier economic base sectors for which there are no current program approaches or procuring agent organizations in place.
Provide matching funds for development of a statewide strategic response to an expected surge in economic base job creation from the expansion of Medicaid under the Affordable Care Act. Strategic partners include universities, regional healthcare providers, and local economic development organizations.
- Fund a series of pilot programs around the state aimed at starting up, expanding and recruiting individual, independent or mobile workers engaged in economic base activity. This sector is one of the fastest growing and highest paying sectors in the economy. Business model development has been completed. Funding and organizational support is required to test and proliferate the program. Strategic partners in this program would include Tourism agencies, business incubators, EDCs, SBDCs, Chambers of Commerce, Community Colleges and trade organizations.
Exported services and government contractor conversions:
Fund a pilot program designed to expand, recruit and start up small employers that export their services. This would include efforts to pioneer a program to convert New Mexico’s idled federal government contractors to private sector international exporters.
- Fund and support regional efforts to pilot a special program approach to exploiting imminent federal investment in the restoration of national forests for developing a cluster of new economic base enterprises in the bio mass energy and small wood manufacturing sectors.
Nuclear task force:
- Form a statewide taskforce to assess the significant emerging opportunities for New Mexico to help develop and capitalize on the development of the next generation nuclear energy product and services.
- Form a public private task force to develop a statewide strategy to help New Mexico’s product and service providers capture an increasing share of contracts sourced by New Mexico’s healthcare providers, federal government installations and energy producers.General improvements to improve competitiveness, cure factor of production gaps and increase the metabolic rate of entrepreneurship
- Fund an expanded Summer youth employment program.
- Memorial instructing Departments of Workforce Solutions, Higher Education, Public Education and the Employability jobs Council create a soft skills training program for New Mexico students and jobseekers.
- A memorial instructing New Mexico colleges and universities to provide annual reports on hiring, salaries and job offers by major.
- Fund a Physics Early Education Pilot Program for middle schools.
- Fund an online tourism training program.
- Make WorkKeys one of the exit options for high school graduation.
- Fund a capital outlay set aside that requires telecommunications companies to partner with local businesses for existing fiber optic connections.
- Fund Department of Transportation for staffing the administration of a rural deployment plan.
- Memorial to have NMFA and NMEDD study ways to alleviate the workforce housing shortage in rural high jobgrowth areas such as Lee and Eddy Counties.
- Improve transmission access to out of state markets
Tax and regulatory competitiveness:
- Adopt the Utah post performance tax credit program
- Permanently fund JTPA through NMEDD
Keep an eye on the unexpected
As the Legislature proceeds
By Carroll Cagle
January 21, 2014
The 2014 legislature begins today at noon for a 30-day run. Generally, the session is limited to budgetary matters unlike the 60-day sessions in odd-numbered years. That restriction, imposed by the New Mexico Constitution, seems more appropriate than usual this year because this state — never near the top in overall economic health —continues to lag the nation and even the states around it as the Great Recession, which began in 2008 continues to linger.
This session, besides the customary budget legislation, look for these unusual aspects:
1. Introduction of a proposed constitutional amendment allowing recreational marijuana in New Mexico. (Medical marijuana already is authorized.) To an extent this will be promoted as yet another budget item due to the predicted $$$ windfalls predicted for state government budgets in the new “green” states of Colorado and Washington, due to taxes on the newly legal cannabis. Underneath the surface is the prospect that if the measure does get onto the ballot in New Mexico this November, its popularity among young, and/or liberal Democrats and independents will work against the otherwise healthy re-election prospects of Republican Governor Susana Martinez, who looks with disfavor on the measure. (Constitutional amendment proposals do not require a governor’s signature so Democratic majorities, if present, could get this thing right onto the ballot.)
2. Another proposed constitutional amendment would tap the state’s permanent fund to pay for expanded early childhood education programs. Supporters, mostly Democrats, say this would be a wise and humane investment given the $18 billion in the two categories of permanent funds. The conservative Democrat who heads the Senate Finance Committee, and probably most Republicans, some Democrats, and the governor caution against “raiding” the state’s precious nest egg whose investment income already produces about 15 per cent of state government revenues.
3. Two Democratic House members will be out due to health issues, which could make it easier for Republicans to get their bills through the narrowly divided House. In the governor’s first three sessions, she often was thwarted by extremely close floor votes, so look for the two absences to factor in.
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January 21, 2014
By: Greater Albuquerque Chamber of Commerce
Excerpts re. Governor Susana Martinez’ opening address to the Legislature (known as the “State of the State” speech):
In addition to building a diverse economy, the Governor listed education as a top priority. Of course, a skilled workforce is essential to employers and, quite rightfully, is coupled with the goal of growing the private sector. Here are highlights of her proposals:
- Support Senate President Pro Tempore Mary Kay Papen’s legislation to create an online one-stop shop for small businesses to get permits and other assistance.
- Make the Job Training Incentive Training Program (JTIP) permanent in the state budget.
- Expand the number of Early College High Schools that lead to work ready high school diplomas and associates degrees.
- Appropriate $7.5M to create endowed chairs for the universities to attract the best professors especially in STEM fields.
- Fund $2M to help the labs take new technology to market.
- Expand the Angel tax credit to attract investment.
- Increase training and education programs for health care workers at all levels.
- Attract health care professionals from out of state.
- Invest $60M of capital outlay money to improve water infrastructure.
- Increase education funding by $100M.
- Focus education initiatives on teaching children to read by the third grade, tying teacher evaluations to student achievement, raising salaries for new teachers and raising graduation rates.
- Improve the quality of life by focusing on public safety issues requiring significant attention including an array of laws regarding child abuse and driving while intoxicated.
- Honor our veterans by making permanent the Returning Heroes Fire Fighter program and building local veterans cemeteries in rural areas.
Who Wants What — ideas to improve New Mexico’s economy in 2014 session
By Carroll Cagle
January 17, 2014
As we mentioned in our previous newsletter, there is broad agreement that New Mexico’s economy is lagging — and has been for several years. Measures of economic strength show that New Mexico often is far back in the pack, nationally, and that we notably lag neighboring states. As the 30-day 2014 legislative session prepares to begin on Tuesday (January 21), New Mexico Prosperity Project provides a select few of the many recommendations from various entities:
Governor Susana Martinez:
- $10 million for a program called LEDA (Local Economic Development Act), used to build infrastructure improvements for companies interested in locating in New Mexico.
- Funding the Job Training Incentive Program and making it permanent.
- Doubling limits on “angel investment” tax credits. Angel investments typically are earliest-stage investments, by high-net worth individuals, to help launch start-ups.
New Mexico Association of Commerce and Industry (ACI):
- Statewide coordination of various, individual, regional economic development plans.
- Simplifying and making more rational the scattered, discordant regulatory procedures at the state level.
- Support of Interstate Stream Commission’s effort to clarify and defend New Mexico’s right to water.
- Oppose increases in the state minimum wage(New Mexico Democratic Party supports making New Mexico’s minimum wage the highest in the country, at $10/hr., and doing so by constitutional amendment rather than legislation).
- Simplifying the entire state tax code, going more toward a lower, broad-based tax rate rather than a code replete with individual carve-outs and specialized twists.
A look at business and economic development issues
In the 2014 New Mexico Legislature
By Carroll Cagle
January 15, 2014
It is easy to get agreement that New Mexico’s economy is doing poorly – not so easy to get agreement on what are the main things that can be done to help it improve.
Getting 112 legislators, from both parties, to settle on some priorities will be a process worth watching — and participating in. Add the fact that Gov. Susana Martinez on the fourth floor, has a major role as well, and the dynamics become even more complex.
Nor does the dynamic just described even begin to mention what major business and public policy groups think needs to be done to help boost the economy. Many have well-thought-out recommendations which they will push ardently. Not least, many individual companies will have their own issues!
One may be permitted to hope that out of all this potential cacophony may evolve some commonality. But as the saying goes it is hard to get a handful of people to even agree on where to go for lunch. Getting a couple of hundred to agree on policy can be devilishly hard.
The 30-day session begins next Tuesday, January 21, at noon in the fabled Roundhouse. New Mexico Prosperity Project will provide you with “Legislative Reports” — focusing on business and economic development news – as the session proceeds. It will end at noon on February 20. (Deadline for bill introduction is February 5.) We will provide specifics on what the Administration is proposing, plus the "Legislative Jobs Council," the Association of Commerce and Industry, and some others.
Prosperity? Yep — New Mexico
Needs it more than ever in 2014 (Part 2)
By Carroll Cagle
January 2, 2014
Here's a view from a national perch about New Mexico's economic situation:
New Mexico remains unable to improve much on an anemic recovery and officials trace it to one root cause: an overreliance on government jobs. Federal spending has long played a large role in the economy of New Mexico, which boasts numerous military bases and federal laboratories, including the Los Alamos and Sandia national laboratories.
Federal, state, and local government jobs make up about one-fourth of all nonfarm employment in the state of roughly two million people, and many other private New Mexico employers rely on government contracts.
While New Mexico isn't the only state enduring a fitful recovery, its sluggishness in a region of the country that is otherwise enjoying solid growth could signal trouble for years to come if the problem isn't remedied. New Mexico officials said the recent federal shutdown and budget cuts have made them particularly leery of relying on the government sector. — Nathan Koppel, Wall Street Journal, December 27, 2013
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