Thursday, December 24, 2009

I'll Be Home For Christmas

Oh Christmas tree ...
And I won't be back to work until after New Year. (At least that's the plan. Last year my holiday break got cut short.)

If any political development really grabs me, you might see a blog post on it here next week. But most likely, Roundhouse Roundup: The Blog probably will be pretty quiet for the rest of the year.

Everyone have a great Christmas and happy, happy New Year.


Roundhouse Roundup: I Blogged the Sheriff

A version of this was published in The Santa Fe New Mexican
December 23, 2009

Virtually every political figure in 2009 has Twitter and Facebook accounts in addition to their regular Web sites. Some have blogs. And, as I've said in the past, nearly all of the ones I've seen are painfully dull.

So I like to call attention to political webcraft that rises above the ordinary.

One political blog that's often fun to read is Santa Fe County Sheriff Greg Solano's . Solano, who is a Democratic candidate for lieutenant governor, has maintained a personal blog for several years. He's taken some ribbing from some in the law enforcement community for being "the blogging sheriff," but that hasn't stopped him.
This week I engaged in a little extracurricular debate on Solano's blog. He had a post in which he defended the governor's refusal to release the names of the 59 exempt employees who were laid off because of the budget crisis.

As a reporter, I normally don't take stands on issues — except freedom of the press, policies on open records, government transparency, etc., where any claim of objectivity is inherently false. So I responded to Solano.

It was a friendly, respectful exchange. Unlike the old Saturday Night Live spoof, neither of us called the other an "ignorant slut."

What I really like is seeing a politician willing to engage in such conversation with the press and the public in general — using his own words, not the language of press releases.

And I like when a politician is willing to publish views directly challenging his own. (Solano moderates the comments, which means he can delete any he doesn't like. But he apparently isn't deleting comments on the basis that someone merely has a contrary opinion.)

As politicians get more involved on the cyberspace front, I hope more of them use the Web to directly engage the public — not to just push a canned message.

Essential services: While the Governor's Office won't say which exempt employees were laid off, we know one who wasn't. That would be Sharon Maloof, state Film Museum director.

Both myself and my New Mexican colleague Robert Nott have written about the fabulous film museum — which has no exhibits and only infrequent programs. (It does have a Web site, though, which appears to have been updated as recently as September.)

But the museum has not completely escaped the budget hatchet. Recently, state Cultural Affairs Secretary Stuart Ashman told Nott that Maloof's salary has been drastically reduced — from $88,000 to $55,000.

Maloof, who previously worked as deputy secretary of the state Tourism Department, plans on retiring in June, Ashman said. After that, Filip Celander, former curator of CCA Cinematheque, will take over the day-to-day operation of the old Jean Cocteau theater at the Santa Fe Railyard, where the Film Museum is housed.

"If the economic situation improves any, we will then bring in a director more closely connected to the film industry," Ashman said. "With a neutral operations manager like Felipe and his experience at CCA, we will be able to incorporate more programming than has been seen in the past."

Ashman said the state isn't going to close the museum.

But it is closed today. This is the first of five furlough days for state employees and all state museums are closed. So if you want to go to the Film Museum to not see exhibits, you'll have to wait until next week.

King of all media: I've recently recorded a couple of 2009 wrap-up programs in the broadcast media.

Next week on KUNM, 89.9 FM, you can hear me along with several other New Mexico journalists discussing the events and issues that kept us busy the past 12 months. The show airs at 8 a.m. Dec. 31.

Then, at 10 a.m. Jan. 8, I'm the guest on Issues and Answers with Diane Kinderwater. That's KCHF-TV, Channel 11. The show will be rebroadcast at 10:30 that night, 10 p.m. Jan. 9 and 6:30 p.m. Jan. 10.

Tuesday, December 22, 2009

Denish to Suspend Fund-raising During Session

Lt. Gov. Diane Denish, who already has raised more than $ 2 million for her re-election campaign, announced today that she voluntarily will suspend fund-raising during the 30 day Legislative session that begins in late January, as well as during the 20 days preceding the session and the 20-day bill-signing period following the session.

She doesn't have to. The state law banning the solicitation of contribution only applies to legislators and the governor.

“When the legislature is in session, I believe our focus must be solely on the issues important to New Mexico families, not campaign fundraising," Denish said in a news release.

As lieutenant governor, Denish has a role in the Legislature. She presides over the Senate and casts the deciding vote in the infrequent case of a tie.

She also challenged her Republican counterparts. "There is nothing stopping the Republican candidates in the race from taking the same voluntary steps to level the playing field. This is an opportunity for all of the candidates to take the high road.”

One of the four will have to do that. Janice Arnold-Jones is a sitting member of the state House of Representatives.

Don't Let a Payday Loan Company Be Your Santa Claus

That's the basic message of Lt. Gov. Diane Denish and Attorney General Gary King at a Tuesday press conference.

"During this holiday season, many New Mexicans will be looking for a few extra dollars to buy last minute gifts, but before taking out a predatory title or installment loan, it’s important to know the facts. I encourage all New Mexicans to seek other options before getting trapped in a never-ending cycle of debt,” Denish said in a press release.

King said, "Earlier this year my office filed lawsuits against two lenders who were using a loophole in the law to continue to charge extremely high rates, in some cases, more than one-thousand percent. These practices take advantage of consumers and are against public policy and will be vigorously challenged by the Attorney General's Office.”

Ho ho ho ...

Looking beyond the holidays, Denish endorsed a bill prefiled by Sen. Peter Wirth, D-Santa Fe. Senate Bill 33 would:

* Cap interest rates for all payday loans. For loans of $2,500 or smaller, the APR must not exceed 45 percent. For loans larger than $2,500, the APR must not exceed 36 percent.

* Establish a statewide database to track the number of loans issued, rates of loans issues, interest rates and specifics of the loan. This will put additional oversight on the predatory loan industry and so the state can protect vulnerable citizens from unfair and illegal loan agreements

A Candidate as Good as Gold

Apologies to lobbyist Bob Gold who used a variation of that headline as a slogan when he ran for governor back in 1990.

This actually is about Adam Kokesh, Republican candidate for Congress in the 3rd District. He's asking supporters to make campaign contributions not in the form of checks, but in gold and silver.

Kokesh, remember, is a supporter of U.S. Rep. Ron Paul, R-Texas, who supports returning U.S. currency to the gold standard.

"Unlike the U.S. dollar, real money is supposed to be worth something, backed by more than promises and wishful thinking," Kokesh said in a news release Monday. "Returning to a system based on honest, commodity-backed currency, would take away the federal government's book of blank checks and prevent bankers from stealing from us by printing claims to wealth, without creating anything of real value."

I asked the Federal Election Commission about this. The verdict: it's unusual but legal, as long as the precious metal is reported as an in-kind contribution and the contributor doesn't exceed federal limits.

Read my story about this HERE

Kokesh faces Farmington oilman Tom Mullins in the Republican primary in June. The winner will face incumbent freshman Congressman Ben Ray Lujan, a Democrat, in the general election.

UPDATE: I corrected the date of Bob Gold's gubernatorial run.

Sunday, December 20, 2009

Bills Starting to Trickle in for 2010 Legislature

Some legislators already have begun to file bills for the next session.

I did a story about a few of the handful of bills appearing so far. You can find that HERE.

Hopefully we can all unite behind HB23 and stop once and for all the scourge of bubblegum cigars.

UPDATE: Link to HB23 has been corrected

Saturday, December 19, 2009

PSA Memories

Gov. Bill Richardson's proposal of a ban on politicians making state-paid public service announcements and Lt. Gov. Diane Denish's subsequent decision to get the Health Department to stop her PSA on flu prevention reminded me of a column I wrote three years ago.

That piece was sparked by a parent of a girl who had appeared in a campaign ad for Land Commissioner Pat Lyons. The girl's elementary school apologized saying they thought the TV spot was going to be a PSA.

My take:

Any time an elected official gets a film crew together the real purpose is political — whether it’s for a “public service” announcement or an actual campaign commercial. Lets not kid ourselves.

And I'll stand by my observation in that column that besides office holders using PSAs to get their names and faces out there, I wish politicos would take Pink Floyd's advice and "leave those kids alone."

... while many wring their hands over “negative” ads, it’s some of the “positive” ads that give me the willies.

I know this appeal probably is useless, but I wish the politicians would leave the kids out of it. Surely there’s some brave candidates out there who would pledge to refrain from using youngsters as political props.

Do it for the children.

Friday, December 18, 2009

Speaker Urged Lundstrom to Drop Fight Charges

House Speaker Ben Lujan said Friday that he encouraged a state legislator who reported to police that another legislator had attacked her in the Capitol to withdraw her complaint.

Lujan was referring to the Dec. 4 incident in which Rep. Patty Lundstrom, D-Gallup, said that Rep. Sandra Jeff, D-Crownpoint, confronted her after leaving a committee meeting, called her some “pretty rough names,” then punched her in the arm three times to make her point. Lundstrom reported the incident to state police but decided not to pursue criminal charges.

Jeff has denied Lundstrom’s account but hasn’t offered her own version of the incident.

The Speaker was upset at a media account that Jeff’s lawyer “painted the representative’s request to withdraw the complaint as evidence of insincerity.”

Lujan said, “I asked her to do this, so I could arrange to meet with both members together in an effort to resolve the dispute amicably in the interests of their constituencies and the institution.”

Denish Yanks PSAs

One day after Gov. Bill Richardson proposed a new bill prohibiting political candidates from appearing in state-paid public service announcements, Lt. Gov. Diane Denish has asked the state Health Department to stop running a recent PSA in which she advises parents how to keep their kids from getting the flu.

Denish, as most readers of this blog are surely aware, is running for governor. Her chief of staff Josh Rosen said Denish had already pledged not to do any PSAs during an election year. He said she decided to stop the PSAs to avoid any confusion.

A spokeswoman for the department said they have pulled the Denish ad. The department had planned to stop the PSAs in January anyway.

A companion ad featuring Richardson will keep airing. Richardson, of course, isn't running for anything next year.

Political experts say 30-second spots are one of the best ways to build name recognition for a candidate -- even if the candidate isn't overtly saying "vote for me."

Read my story in today's New Mexican HERE. And check back on Saturday for more information.

Below is the ad. (Warning: The spot doesn't really start until about 17 seconds in.)

Thursday, December 17, 2009

Governor Pushing New Ethics Package

Gov. Bill Richardson just announced a package of ethics reforms in the 2010 legislative session in January.

The proposals include some old ideas and new. Among them:

* An independent Ethics Commission to provide independent oversight of the executive and legislative branches and all state employees. It would receive and investigate complaints by concerned citizens and whistleblowers. The commission would also have strong powers to investigate and discipline, including the ability to fine, censure, and reprimand public officials, state employees, lobbyists, contractors and officials.

* PSA Prohibitions-Prohibit candidates from using taxpayer money or state resources, for advertisements or public service announcements, except in the case of an emergency when the announcement is directly related to the candidate’s official function.

Governor Richardson voluntarily stopped appearing in PSA’s during his successful 2006 re-election campaign.

* Campaign Contribution Prohibitions-Bans campaign contributions from corporations, state contractors, and lobbyists.

* State Contractor Disclosures-Requires potential state contractors to disclose any campaign contributions of $250 or more made during the two years prior to entering into any bid solicitations.

* Legislator to Lobbyists Rules-Bans former lawmakers from being paid to lobby the legislature for one-year after they leave office or their term expires.

* Whistleblower Protection Act-Prohibits retaliation against whistleblowers.

Task Force Will Attempt to Webcast Again

The Balanced Budget Task Force will once again attempt to webcast its meeting today between 1 p.m and 5 p.m.

The webcast of last week's meeting in Farmington worked fine.

Except the video.

And at least one person reported the audio was pretty hard to hear.

I did a story about the task force HERE

This is the final meeting of the 40-plus member group, which is discussing possible tax increases.. It's being held at Santa Fe Community College. If the webcast works this time, it'll be HERE.

Wednesday, December 16, 2009

Roundhouse Roundup: Protect a Politician, Jail a Journalist

A version of this was published in The Santa Fe New Mexican
December 17, 2009

Here’s my nightmare of the week.
It’s the year 2011, and I’ve just gotten a hot tip that the new state Ethics Commission is investigating a state legislator on allegations that he’s running an illegal cockfighting pit with laundered campaign contributions from child porn publishers. I find a source who quietly slips me reams of documents the commission is looking at, documents that basically prove the case. I get a “no comment” from the accused’s lawyer and go to press with the story.

Then I end up in the same jail pod as the sleazy politician I wrote about.

That might sound far-fetched, but a bill to establish a state Ethics Commission, which recently received unanimous approval by a legislative interim committee, includes a provision intended to keep all material related to an investigation confidential.

Quoting from Section 16 of the proposed bill: “A person who discloses any confidential complaint, report, file, record or communication in violation of the State Ethics Commission Act is guilty of a misdemeanor and upon conviction shall be punished by a fine of not more than one thousand dollars ($1,000) or by imprisonment for not more than one year or both.”


As Jim Scarantino pointed out recently in his New Mexico Watchdog blog, this prohibition of disclosure is even more broad than the laws governing grand jury secrecy.

Steve Allen, executive director of New Mexico Common Cause — who was part of the subcommittee that drafted the bill — said part of his work was to check other states that have ethics commissions.

Allen said the secrecy in this proposal goes well beyond confidentiality provisions in other states. “Confidentiality and protecting the rights of the accused is a valid concern,” Allen said Wednesday. But this bill, he said, goes much further in protecting politicians than ethics commission laws in other states.

“I am concerned this would bar reporters from publishing or broadcasting information that might be leaked from the commission,” said Sarah Welsh, executive director for New Mexico Foundation for Open Government.

Welsh told me Wednesday that if the commission wanted to keep its investigations confidential, there are other ways of doing that. They could limit the penalties to the commission staff and/or commissioners. They could make the documents confidential and not subject to public records requests.

But, Welsh added, “I don’t like to see the shadow of secrecy extended to a whole class of documents. Those provisions are rarely repealed.”

State Sen. Peter Wirth, D-Santa Fe, who co-chairs the interim committee on Courts, Corrections & Justice, which endorsed this bill, said in an e-mail this week, “The commission is set up to operate in a confidential manner until it finds that an ethics violation was committed. At that time, the report goes public. … The idea is to protect respondents from unfounded allegations that could harm their livelihoods, reputations or careers and to prevent the commission from becoming a vehicle for personal vendettas.”

Wirth continued, “Although the bill does everything it can to maintain confidentiality, there is certainly an argument that a complainant, and even more so a reporter, would be protected by the First Amendment when disclosing documents or information. At the very least, there is a tension with First Amendment rights.”

But does that mean a reporter would have to go to court to argue his First Amendment rights — praying that the judge will agree?

That sounds like a tension most of us could live without.

Hopefully our wise Legislature will see clear not to pass a bill that has foreseeable constitutional violations.

More hazy history: Political blogger Joe Monahan pointed out to me that an item last week in this column about the few New Mexico lieutenant governors who have gone on become governor had one glaring omission.

The state’s very first “lite guv,” Ezequiel C. de Baca, was elected governor in 1916 while sitting as lieutenant governor. But shortly after he was elected and took office, C de Baca died and — as I wrote last week — his lieutenant governor Washington Lindsey became governor.

Monahan’s right. I checked it out in the state Blue Book.

As previously reported, the other two lieutenant governors who became governor were Andrew Hockenhull, who became governor in 1933 when Gov. Arthur Seligman died, and Tom Bollack, who replaced Gov. Ed Mechem after Mechem resigned so Bollack could appoint him to the U.S. Senate.

Here's a copy of the proposed ethics bill:


Tuesday, December 15, 2009

Frito Pies for the Furlough Fund

HOME OF THE FRITO PIEI just received this e-mail from an offical with the Communications Workers of America Local 7076, which represents about 3,000 state workers. The union has started a fund to help state employees who earn $10 an hours or less cope with the pending work furloughs.

The union will be selling Frito pies to raise money for the fund. That will be 11:30 am to 1 pm Thursday at the Montoya Building. (The price includes a soft drink.)

Donations to the furlough fund may be sent to the First Community Bank in the name of CWA 7076 Furlough Relief Fund, or directly to the CWA Union Hall at 460 St. Michael’s Drive, Bldg. 1000, Ste. 1001, Santa Fe, NM 87505

Monday, December 14, 2009

The Politico on Denish

Here's some stray news that's crossed my path earlier today.

First off, The Politico did a feature on Lt. Gov. Diane Denish and how she's taken steps to distance herself from Gov. Bill Richardson.

This paragraph caught my eye:

And she’s played a lead role in proposing ethics reforms — in what New Mexico observers see as indirect criticism of the Richardson administration, which has taken heat over allegations that leading political donors received preferential treatment during the governor’s tenure.

However, in past legislative sessions Richardson himself has proposed or at least endorsed several pieces of ethics legislation. Does that mean Richardson has given indirect criticism of the Richardson administration?

Friday, December 11, 2009

Webcasting the Tax Committee?

I was off Thursday so I didn't watch the webcast of the Balanced Budget Task Force meeting in Farmington.

Apparently nobody else did either.

One lobbyist I know told me, " ... you could sort of hear the meeting by phone but I don't think that they ever got the video up and going."

Tax and Revenue Department spokesman confirmed that the video never worked during the meeting. "But people could hear the meeting and see the presentations." He was referring to various reports on the task force's Web site.

Mahesh said the task force will attempt to webcast the final meeting, which starts 1 p.m. Thursday at Santa Fe Community College.

Thursday, December 10, 2009

Gary Johnson's New 527 Web Site

A few weeks ago when I talked to former Gov. Gary Johnson he told me this was coming.

It's a Web site for his new political committee called "Our America: The Gary Johnson Initiative."

You'll find it HERE.

Note the disclaimer: "Gary Johnson is not a current candidate for any federal political office."

That word "current" seems rather pregnant, doesn't it.

At this point the site mainly consists of several videos about various issues. Here's one of them:

Roundhouse Roundup: Yes Virginia, There IS an Ethics Committee

A version of this was published in The Santa Fe New Mexican
December 10, 2009

As lawmakers continue the debate on whether to establish an independent ethics commission to investigate possible bad behavior, one can only hope that the state doesn't use an existing state ethics panel as a model.

I'm talking about the Interim Legislative Ethics Committee, which has been around since 1993.

In a story in Wednesday's paper about the alleged altercation between Reps. Patty Lundstrom, D-Gallup, and Sandra Jeff, D-Crownpoint, I mistakenly said the committee hadn't met in more than 10 years. That's inaccurate. But not by much.

It is accurate to say that the committee has never taken action against any legislator. In fact, the last time the Legislature itself took action against one of its own was in 1992 in the case of Rep. Ron Olguin, D-Albuquerque. The Legislature voted to censure him. A jury later found him guilty of accepting a bribe.

According to the state Legislature's Web site, the committee has opined — or declined to opine — on a few ethical questions brought to it by legislators. Listed on the Web site are a total of 11 advisory opinions and letters. That's 11 since 1994.

In fairness, these don't include cases of possible misconduct considered by the committee. And it's not public information how many cases there have been — if indeed there have been any at all. If ILEC decides to dismiss a case, it is kept secret. Obviously if the committee has looked at alleged misconduct through the years, all of them have been dismissed.

I would wager that there have been very few such cases before that committee at least since I've been covering the Capitol. There are 16 lawmakers on this committee. That's a lot of people to keep a secret.

So what do they do? According to ILEC documents posted on the Web site, many of the questions raised deal with when it's appropriate and not appropriate to use Legislature letterheads, etc. One, answering a question by former Sen. Leonard Lee Rawson, R-Las Cruces, dealt with when it's appropriate to use the state seal.

No, there's no mention in the committee's response of the decorative piece hanging in former Sen. Manny Aragon's bedroom.

Bipartisan love: The roads froze over in Santa Fe this week. Now I'm worried about Hell.

First there was an item on the Rio Grande Foundation's blog, Errors of Enchantment, that praised — yes praised — Gov. Bill Richardson. The conservative think tank likes the governor's recent idea for a committee to look at ways to cut waste in government. "We at the Rio Grande Foundation applaud Gov. Richardson for his willingness to look beyond tax hikes in closing New Mexico's massive budget deficits," foundation director Paul Gessing wrote. "The naming of this commission is a good first step."

Then Internet reporter Heath Haussamen got a surprise on his Facebook page this week. In response to a post about State Auditor Hector Balderas, conservative Republican blogger Mario Burgos wrote, "I've got to admit I was a pretty vocal critic when Hector was being considered for the position since he lacked an accounting background, but I've been impressed with his commitment and performance to date," Burgos wrote. "I may be partisan, but I'm more than willing to put politics aside when someone is doing a great job. Keep it up Mr. Auditor."

Haussamen also quotes House Minority Whip Keith Gardner, R-Roswell, also praising Balderas' job as auditor.

Hazy history: A little mea culpa here. Recently in a story about Lt. Gov. Diane Denish's candidacy for governor, I left out the name of one of the state's lieutenant governors who went on to become governor. That would be Andrew Hockenhull, who became governor in 1933 when Gov. Arthur Seligman died.

So that makes three, the others being Washington Lindsey, who became governor in 1917 when the state's second governor, Ezequiel C. de Baca, died a month after taking office, and Tom Bollack, who became governor in November 1962 and served less than two months after Gov. Edwin Mechem resigned and was appointed by Bollack to fill a vacant U.S. Senate seat.

None of the three ever won election as governor, so the point stands that the lieutenant governor's post is not a traditional stepping stone to the New Mexico governor's office.

Wednesday, December 9, 2009

Prukop Out, Goldstein In at Energy, Minerals and Natural Resources

One of Gov. Bill Richardson's longest serving cabinet secretaries is leaving. The Governor's Office just announced that Joanna Prukop will retire from the Energy, Minerals and Natural Resources Department on Dec. 31. She's been hired for an executive position with a new national conservation organization called Freedom to Roam.

“Joanna Prukop helped lead New Mexico’s efforts in strengthening environmental protection, conserving natural lands and protecting critical wildlife habitats while supporting energy development,” Richardson said in a news release. “She will be missed, but I wish her well in her new position where she will continue these same efforts on a larger scale.”

Prukop has been secretary of the department since Richardson’s first term began in 2003.

Richardson is appointing Jon Goldstein to replace Prukop. He's been working as deputy secretary at the state Environment Department for two years.

We reporters know Goldstein as a former public information officer for Richardson. His prior experience includes two years covering business, politics and breaking news for the Baltimore Sun’s Web site and two years as a technology reporter with Time magazine in New York.

UPDATE: An earlier version of this post mistakenly said Goldstein has been working at the ENRD for the past two years.

Jeff Responds to Roundhouse Fight Allegation

Rep. Sandra Jeff, D-Crownpoint, just said that she did not assault Rep. Patty Lundstrom, D-Gallup at the Capitol last week as Lundstrom has said.

“These allegations by Rep. Lundstrom are untrue and I look forward to giving my side of the story in the appropriate venue,” Jeff said in a brief telephone interview.

Jeff declined to elaborate or to say what the appropriate venue would be.

Tuesday, December 8, 2009

State Police Investigate Lawmaker Altercation

A version of this was published in The Santa Fe New Mexican
December 9, 2009

State police are investigating an altercation that allegedly took between two legislators at the state Capitol last week.

State Rep. Patty Lundstrom, D-Gallup, on Friday reported to police that state Rep. Sandra Jeff, D-Crownpoint, confronted her by a third-floor elevator as she was leaving a meeting of the Indian Affairs Committee, yelled at her and called her “some pretty rough names,” then punched her in the arm to make her point.

Both lawmakers serve on the committee, which meets during the interim when the Legislature is not in session.

Jeff couldn’t be reached for comment Tuesday.

State police spokesman Lt. Eric Garcia said Tuesday that police have taken a “partial statement” from Lundstrom and have not yet interviewed Jeff.

“Regardless of their place positions, we are going to conduct a thorough investigation,” Garcia said.

Lundstrom said Tuesday that she hopes not to have to resolve the matter in criminal court. “If there’s a way we can solve it internally, I’d prefer that,” she said. She said she’s going to talk with the Legislative Council today to see if she can file a complaint to the Legislature’s Ethics Committee — which hasn’t met in more than 10 years — to investigate the incident.

Garcia said even if Lundstrom doesn’t press charges, police still intend to complete the investigation.

Investigators spent part of Monday at the Capitol looking at security tape. But Garcia said there is no view of the small room area directly in front of the private elevator used by legislators, where the incident allegedly occurred.

Sen. Nancy Rodriguez, D-Santa Fe, a committee member who was at that meeting, said Tuesday she had spoken with Lundstrom moments before the incident allegedly occurred.

Rodriguez also said she spoke on the phone with Lundstrom several minutes later as Lundstrom was driving back to Gallup. It was then Lundstrom told her that Jeff had punched her on the arm three times right before the elevator doors opened. Rodriguez said she encouraged Lundstrom to call police when she got home, which Lundstrom did.

“I was in shock,” Lundstrom said. A member of the Legislature since 2001, Lundstrom said, “Nothing like this has ever happened to me before.”

The committee on Friday discussed a capital outlay bill carried by Jeff, a first term legislator. Rodriguez said Lundstrom and other committee members had expressed some concerns about the bill — mainly because there’s no money for new capital outlay projects because of the state’s revenue shortage.

Both Lundstrom and Rodriguez said the discussion of Jeff’s bill never became heated. “It was a cordial, kind of boring meeting,” Lundstrom said.

Rodriguez said she hopes for some kind of disciplinary action. “It’s not acceptable for a legislator to initiate an altercation just because you disagree with someone,” she said.”

Balanced Budget Task Force to be Webcast

A state task force looking at ways to balance the ailing state budget will Webcast its remaining meetings, the head of the panel announced today.

Rick Homans, secretary of the state Taxation & Revenue Department said in a news release the web camera will be in place for the next meeting Dec. 10 — which is being held in Farmington, as well as the final meeting, Dec. 17, which is taking place at Santa Fe Community College. Both meetings are scheduled for 1 p.m. to 5 p.m.

“We want to open this discussion on possible revenue options to as many New Mexicans as possible and this technology provides access far beyond the rooms where we are meeting,"

Homans said. “I also encourage people to go to our Web site and to use it to provide comments, opinions and suggestions so that we can include all of this information in our final report to the governor.”

The live stream will be available on the task’s force’s Web site,

The task force has been considering a number of possible tax increases to offset diminished revenues. Among taxes that could be affected are personal income tax and, excise taxes on alcohol and cigarettes. The group also has been debating whether the state should again start imposing gross receipts taxes on food. That tax was lifted in 2004.

The panel, which was appointed by Gov. Bill Richardson last month, is scheduled to submit its final report to Richardson on Dec. 21. The Legislature convenes about a month later.

NM Budget Cuts Affect Governor's Joke Writers

Gov. Bill Richardson was in California yesterday for the unveiling of the Virgin spaceship VSS Enterprise.

According to an account by The Los Angeles Times, Richardson and California Gov. Arnold Schwarzenegger were on hand and they "bantered with each other as though they were on the rubber-chicken circuit."

But it looks as though Arnold scored best in the snappy banter show.

Noting that passengers will have four minutes of weightlessness, Schwarzenegger joked: "No one is more happy than Gov. Richardson about that."

The more rotund Richardson laughed as hard as anyone, but then needled Schwarzenegger later: "Governor, you should join me in going to space, but I want you to go first."

That has to be the weakest comeback since the last Doobie Brothers reunion.

Monday, December 7, 2009

Weh Wins!

... the Reindeer Run Saturday in Roswell, that is.

That other race, the Republican gubernatorial primary is still in progress.

Here's the press release from Camp Weh:

New Mexico businessman and gubernatorial candidate Allen Weh won first place in the 10K for his age group in Saturday’s Reindeer Run in Roswell, and all four members of his campaign team who participated earned first place prizes in their respective age groups.

Despite a vicious snow storm that blanketed Roswell, the Allen Weh for Governor campaign team competed in the annual Reindeer Run, braving the snowy and icy conditions. Weh was the only gubernatorial candidate to compete in the race and was joined by more than 100 brave Roswellians.

“While we trudged through the ice and snow, my opponent sent a pickup truck to represent her,” Weh said, referring to a pickup truck that sported a Diane Denish campaign sign at the finish line. “Some days the weather’s tough, but that can’t stop me from running for New Mexico.”

Whitney Cheshire, campaign manager, noted that it is only fair to point out that almost every campaign staffer who earned first place in their respective age group wouldn’t have accomplished such a feat if they hadn’t been the only person representing their age group.

“Even 24-year-old Chris Sanchez, campaign press secretary, won his event for his age group. It was a challenging two-mile walk, and we’re fairly certain that had the weather not kept his opponents home, he would have had a much more difficult time earning a victory,”

Cheshire said. “But we’re proud of the team’s efforts and Allen’s first place finish in the 10K and the fact that so many others showed up to walk and run for a good cause.”

Weh, a cancer survivor and lifelong distance runner, continues to advocate healthy lifestyles on the campaign trail and says good health and well-being will be a hallmark of his administration when elected.

Upon returning from military service in Iraq in 2004, Weh was diagnosed with prostate cancer. After undergoing treatment, he was declared cancer free in mid-2004 and remains so today.

Singleton Appointed Judge

Santa Fe lawyer Sarah Singleton will replace Judge Jim Hall as a 1st Judicial District judge in Santa Fe, Gov. Bill Richardson announced today.

“Ms. Singleton is bringing with her more than thirty years of legal experience and I am confident she will serve the 1st Judicial District Court and the people of New Mexico justly,” Richardson said in a news release.

Singleton was appointed by President George W. Bush and confirmed by the Senate in 2006 to serve on the Board of Directors for the Legal Services Corporation. LSC is the leading provider of civil legal aid for the poor in the United States. She is one of 11 members on the bipartisan board, appointed by the President.

Singleton has worked at the Montgomery & Andrews law firm in Santa Fe since 1985. She previously worked in her own private practice as well as the office of the Public Defender in Santa Fe.

She earned her bachelors degree from Sarah Lawrence College and her J.D. from Indiana University School of Law. Singleton has been a member of the New Mexico Bar Association for 35 years, serving as president of the organization from 1995-1996.

Singleton will have to face an election next year.

Hall is retiring at the end of the month.

Manny's Castle

Jim Scarantino is having some fun at former Sen. Manny Aragon's expense in a New Mexico Watchdog video report on Aragon's ornate South Valley palace.

Indeed it does look much nicer than Aragon's current habitat.

Here's the video itself. Note the guest appearance of an actual New Mexico watchdog.

Native American Veterans Tax Refund

I have a story in today's New Mexican about the fact that Native Americans from New Mexico who served in the military between 1977 and 2007 may be owed state income tax refunds. This applies only to those who lived on Indian land when they enlisted.

My story is HERE.

Those who think this might apply to them can file for the refund HERE.

It's not really chump change we;re talking about either. In the class action lawsuit that prompted the state to start its refund program the payments to the defendants who qualified ranged between $856 and $7,500.

The state performed a study that showed about 7,000 Native military members in the state had their state taxes improperly withheld during that 30 year period. That study is below.

Native Vet PIT Report

Friday, December 4, 2009

Let the Debates Begin!

I know, it's not even Christmas yet and we're still about seven months before the primaries, but the first of (I bet) several debates among the gubernatorial hopefuls is scheduled for next Wednesday.

It's sponsored by the conservative think tank The Rio Grande Foundation and scheduled for 6 pm in the auditorium at the Albuquerque Museum 2000 Mountain Road NW near Old Town. Candidates from both parties are invited.

Actually, a news release says, it's not a formal debate format, "rather it is an informal question and answer discussion that will allow average citizens, regardless of party affiliation, to `kick the tires' and find out more about the candidates who have declared for New Mexico’s highest office."

You can kick the tires, but I'm guessing that kicking the candidates is discouraged.

Admission is $5 payable at the door. Those who want to attend can send an e-mail to:

The discussion will be moderated by RGF president Paul Gessing. The event will be filmed by the foundation with footage posted at their Web site.

I haven't checked which candidates are coming and which aren't. But I know one who is. I just got an e-mail from the Janice Arnold-Jones campaign saying "Janice is Ready!"

Wednesday, December 2, 2009

Roundhouse Roundup: Keeping Up With Congressional Expenses

A version of this was published in The Santa Fe New Mexican
December 3, 2009

If you ever wondered how much members of Congress spend maintaining their offices — and who and what they spend it on — that information just became much easier for the average citizen to track. For the first time, the U.S. House of Representatives this week published its quarterly log of expenditures by all members — salaries, travel, office equipment, rent and other expenses for district offices, postage and more.

You can find it at the official government site, in the form of large, rather unwieldy PDFs , or in a handy, dandy searchable database courtesy of The Sunlight Foundation .
Ben Ray Lujan, Dem
Think locally: According to the report, U.S. Rep. Ben Ray Luján of Santa Fe spent more than $337,000 on his office between June and September and $808,000 in the first nine months of the year. That seems like a lot, but it’s less than New Mexico’s other two congressmen. Martin Heinrich of Albuquerque spent more than $343,000 for the quarter and $908,000 for January through September, while Harry Teague of Hobbs spent more than $352,000 the last quarter and more than $899,000 as of the end of September.

The most expensive offices in Congress are those of Reps. Steve Kagen, D-Wisc., who spent $452,000 in the last quarter, Alan Grayson, D-Fla., who spent $449,000, and Bart Gordon, D-Tenn., who spent $445,000.

Luján’s biggest expense is salaries — $569,552 for 23 employees in the first nine months of the year. In that time period, he spent more than $56,000 on rent, utilities and other expenses for his six district offices here in New Mexico; more than $45,000 on printing; more than $36,000 on travel; nearly $35,000 on postage and more than $35,000 on “other services” including security systems and computer software.

Keep on the Sonny side: One name in Luján’s expense records caught my eye. Santa Fe contractor Sonny Otero is paid $3,295 a month for rent of Luján’s Santa Fe district office on St. Michael’s Drive.

Otero is a major financial supporter of Gov. Bill Richardson, and in 2006 he made $3.2 million on a controversial land deal with the state shortly after contributing $50,000 to Richardson’s re-election campaign. All involved have denied the land sale had anything to do with the campaign cash.

He’s also contributed some money to Luján. Otero and his wife gave Luján’s 2008 campaign a total of $5,850.

The space was previously used by former Rep. Tom Udall, who moved into former Sen. Pete Domenici’s old office downtown after being elected to the Senate. When Udall first began renting the St. Michael’s Drive office about 10 years ago, it was owned by the Molnar family, a spokeswoman said. Otero bought it later.

A spokeswoman for Udall said Wednesday that Luján set up shop in several of Udall’s old district offices “for both continuity and convenience for his constituents” and to save time and money.

Run Allen Run: Apparently Republican Allen Weh is taking the phrase “running for governor” literally. His campaign announced Wednesday that Weh will participate in the 10K Reindeer Run in Roswell this Saturday. In October, Weh ran the Duke City Marathon’s 5K race in Albuquerque.

Is this a not-too-subtle appeal to supporters of former Gov. Gary Johnson, who always seemed to be competing in events like this?

Weh, himself a lifelong long-distance runner, says it’s to make a pitch for healthy living. He’s a prostate cancer survivor who says promoting proper nutrition and exercise is a priority.
Cargo Cult: The recent death of former Gov. Bruce King has prompted me to re-reread his autobiography, Cowboy in The Roundhouse. In recent months, I’ve also read former Senate Majority Leader Fabian Chavez’s autobiography, Taking On Giants.

And this week I learned there’s another book in the works from another New Mexico politician who was a contemporary of King and Chavez — former Gov. David F. Cargo.

Veteran Albuquerque journalist Dennis Domrzalski posted on his Facebook page this week that he “Just finished the final edit of former New Mexico Gov. Dave Cargo’s memoir, Lonesome Dave.”

It will be published by Sunstone Press in Santa Fe, which also published King’s book.

Speaker Seeks Re-election

House Speaker Ben Lujan announced today that he's seeking re-election to his District 46 seat in the state House of Representatives.

Lujan, a former Santa Fe County Commissioner, was first elected to the House in 1974. He was elected speaker in 2001.

I can't remember the last time he had an election opponent.

He's the father of U.S. Rep. Ben Ray Lujan.

I have to kid Lujan a little here. A few years ago I asked him how long he intended to stay in the Legislature. He answered jokingly, "I'll retire when Pete Domenici retires.

I guess that answer was premature.

UPDPATE: A gentle reader reminded me of the last time Lujan had opposition.

Here's a clip from a Nov. 8, 2000 story by my former colleague Mark Hummels:

Rep. Ben Lujan, D-Nambe, fought off a challenge by independent Robb Young Hirsch, a Santa Fe educator who ran an unconventional race, campaigning from the seat of a mountain bike and refusing all monetary donations. ...

Lujan, a retired iron worker who serves as House majority leader, will enter his 14th term in office. He won 64.3 percent of the vote Tuesday, compared to Hirsch's 35.6 percent.

Shortly after that, Lujan was nominated to be speaker by the House Democratic Caucus.

Tuesday, December 1, 2009

Denish Takes Political Balancing Act on the Road

Lt. Gov. Diane Denish is in Washington, D.C. today at the Democratic Governor's Association. Apparently she met with some reporters who raised some of the same issues about her candidacy that I did in a story this week.

"Denish said simply that she already is `distinctly different' from Richardson -- and she is," wrote Erine McPike in Hotline Oncall. "Where the Hispanic Richardson is back-slapping and outspoken, Denish is a soft-spoken woman, and the first female lieutenant governor of the state; her history of public service took a different route than Richardson's. Denish rose through state government ranks, whereas Richardson served in Congress and the Clinton administration."

The Politico, in a story headlined "Diane Denish: The anti-Bill Richardson" quotes Denish saying, "I’m a different kind of leader, and I think it’s well established in New Mexico that my style is distinctly different than Governor Richardson’s. I’ll be running on my own record, I want to be clear about that… I don’t think I have to say I’m going to be different than Bill Richardson. I am different than Bill Richardson.”

The Republicans, of course, have a different take. Yesterday they had a news release referencing my balancing act article with a Denish quote from The Albuquerque Journal last year. The lieutenant governor was quoted saying "I’ve been a good, loyal solider and we’ve worked well together."

I predict we'll be seeing more of that quote.