News & Views Blog
 

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.

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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.

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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.”

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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

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War of words on union dues suddenly makes 2014 more interesting — and evoke comparisons with Wisconsin battles
March 25, 2014
By Carroll Cagle
 
 “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.
 
For more information on the New Mexico and Wisconsin battles, visit the Albuquerque Journal, the McIver Institute, and the Wall Street Journal.
 
 
 

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.

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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).”

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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.

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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. 

4. Take a closer look at the legislation here.

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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.)

Full details of all those who filed are at the Secretary of State’s office. News and commentary are at the Albuquerque Journal and Joe Monahan’s blog.

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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:

  1. 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.)
  2. 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:

  1. The Senate (three years late) confirming reformer Hanna Skandera as cabinet secretary of education (over the strenuous objections of the teachers’ unions).
  2. $15 million for a “closing fund” to help companies poised to locate in New Mexico pay for needed infrastructure.
  3. 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.
  4. 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
Conclusions

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.

Healthcare:

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.

Solo work:

  • 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.

Forest Restoration:

  • 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.

Procurement development:

  • 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

Workforce:

  • 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.

Bandwidth:

  • Fund a capital outlay set aside that requires telecommunications companies to partner with local businesses for existing fiber optic connections.

Transportation:

  • Fund Department of Transportation for staffing the administration of a rural deployment plan.

Housing:

  • 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.

Power:

  • 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

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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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Legislative Roundup
By:  Greater Albuquerque Chamber of Commerce
January 21, 2014
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.

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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:

  1. $10 million for a program called LEDA (Local Economic Development Act), used to build infrastructure improvements for companies interested in locating in New Mexico.
  2. Funding the Job Training Incentive Program and making it permanent.
  3. 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):

  1. Statewide coordination of various, individual, regional economic development plans.
  2. Simplifying and making more rational the scattered, discordant regulatory procedures at the state level.
  3. Support of Interstate Stream Commission’s effort to clarify and defend New Mexico’s right to water.
  4. 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).
  5. 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.

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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.

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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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