Thursday, June 30, 2011

Wilson, Heinrich Leading in PPP Senate Poll

If the New Mexico primary was held this week, Republican Heather Wilson would beat Lt. Gov. John Sanchez by better than a 2 to 1 margin. And Democrat Martin Heinrich would beat state Auditor Hector Balderas by nearly 2-to-1.

This is according to a statewide survey conducted this week by a national polling company, PPP. It's the first public poll done on the Senate race since U.S. Sen. Jeff Bingaman announced he's not seeking re-election.

According to PPP's poll memo, Heinrich, a second-term ccngressman from Albuquerque, is helped by greater name recognition. He leads Balderas in the Democratic Primary, 47 percent to 24 percent.

The poll found 73 percent recognized Heinrich's name enough to have an opinion of him. Fifty three percent had a positive opinion while 20 percent had a negative opinion. More than half the Democratic respondents had no opinion of Balderas.

"Although Heinrich is weaker among Hispanics, who make up 46 percent of the Democratic primary electorate, he still leads Balderas 39 percent to 36 percent among Hispanics," the poll memo says. "However, since a majority of Democratic voters are still unwilling to give an opinion of Balderas, Balderas has more room to grow."

On the  GOP side, Wilson was supported by 52 percent of Republicans polled compared with 24 percent for Sanchez. Las Cruces businessman Greg) Sowards came in a distant third with eight percent, while Bill English of Alamogordo got 4 percent .

"Wilson leads by strong margins across the Republican ideological spectrum," the poll memo said. "She leads Sanchez 48-19 among moderates and 48-31 among very conservatives."

Even though many identify Wilson as a "moderate" Republican, since her defeat to Steve Pearce in the 2008 GOP senate primary -- in which Pearce and his supporters called her a "liberal" -- Wilson has been stressing her conservative credentials.

PPP's blog says, "There's been a lot of talk about whether Wilson is weak with the far right and she is weaker with that segment of the party. ... Maybe she'll have trouble with the Tea Party crowd later in the game but she doesn't start off showing any signs of weakness with them."

PPP is a company owned by Democrats and specializes in polling for Democrats and liberal organizations. However, according to experts, the North Carolina-based company's numbers normally are in line with other national polling firms.

Wilson's campaign didn't seem to mind that PPP is a Democratic company. She posted the poll results on her Facebook and Twitter accounts.

PPP poll results released earlier this week show Heinrich and Balderas with modest leads in match-ups against Wilson and Sanchez.

Heinrich led Wilson 47 percent to 42 percent and Sanchez by 45 percent to 39 percent. Balderas led Wilson 45 percent to 39 percent and Sanchez 39 percent to 35 percent.

The National Republican Senatorial Committee on Tuesday responded those numbers Tuesday in an email saying, "If this is what a Democrat polling firm’s numbers show, than it’s clear that the New Mexico Senate race will be among the most competitive in the country next year."

PPP also polled New Mexico Republican voters on the GOP presidential candidates.

Those results found Minnesota Congresswoman and Tea Party favorite Michele Bachmann with a plurality of 21 percent with former Massachusetts Gov. Mitt Romney close behind with 18 percent. Former New Mexico Gov. Gary Johnson came in third with 13 percent.

"Johnson has the weakest favorability numbers with his home state Republican primary voters at 47 (percent favorable)/40 (percent unfavorable.)" the PPP blog said. "Some of his unorthodox positions aren't playing well with the base, even if they do give him an unusual level of popularity across party lines with Democrats and independents."

The "unorthodox positions" referred to undoubtedly were Johnson's outspoken support for marijuana legalization, and possibly to the fact he supports abortions rights and civil-union rights for same-sex couples.

PPP surveyed 400 usual New Mexico Republican primary voters and 400 usual Democratic primary voters, with a 4.9 percent margin of error, between June 23 and 26. The poll was not paid for or authorized by any campaign or political organization.

UPDATE 9:05 pm : Some gibberish in the lead paragraph in the original version has been cleaned up.

PPP Release NM 630930

Roundhouse Roundup: Tiresome Champions

A version of this was published in The Santa Fe New Mexican
June 30, 2011


Last week in this column, I boldly took a bold stance against politicians overusing the word bold. This week, if I may be so bold, I'd like to talk about another word that politicians love to use but has become tiresome:

"Tireless."

At least he'll never claim to be "tireless."
It seems that everyone running for political office these days seems to think that he or she has to convince voters that they are tireless advocates, tireless champions, tireless workers, tireless fighters.

It's enough to make me bleary-eyed.

Former Albuquerque Mayor Marty Chavez is the latest major New Mexico politician to declare his tirelessness. In his 4 1/2-minute video announcing his candidacy for the 1st Congressional District seat, Chavez says if he's elected, he'll be a "tireless advocate of investments in education."

A quick Google Desktop search of my email shows that U.S. Senate candidate Heather Wilson, according to an endorser, is "a tireless worker, and she knows how to get things done"; former Lt. Gov. Diane Denish is "a tireless fighter for New Mexico families" who has "fought tirelessly for the children of New Mexico"; former Gov. Toney Anaya was "a tireless advocate for everyday New Mexicans" (that's from Judge Linda Vanzi in accepting Anaya's election endorsement last year). GOP gubernatorial contender Janice Arnold-Jones last year traveled the state "in a seemingly tireless effort to introduce herself to voters." Last year's Republican attorney general candidate Matt Chandler displays "tireless service on behalf of (crime) victims."

The list goes on.

Don't these people ever sleep? Do they ever blink or yawn? It's almost as if they want us to believe they are superhuman, that they don't need to slow down like lesser mortals.

Maybe someone should tell these folks to give it a rest. Until then, "tireless" politicians will continue to be a tired political cliché.

Poll talk: In the battle for New Mexico's five electoral votes next year, there's good news and bad news for President Barack Obama in a Public Policy Polling survey released Wednesday.

In the poll, Obama leads most potential Republican candidates by 15 percentage points or more. There are two exceptions. The president is ahead of former Massachusetts Gov. Mitt Romney by only seven percentage points. And, according to the poll, long-shot GOP contender and former New Mexico Gov. Gary Johnson would lose to Obama by a mere three percentage points — which is within the 3.6 percent margin of error. Johnson actually leads Obama among independent voters and those in the 37-to-46 age group.

The bad news for Obama is that while he wins every matchup in this poll, his margins have dropped significantly from the last time PPP polled here — just four months ago. His margin over Romney, for instance, dropped by nine percentage points since February.
P9190034
The poll found 50 percent of New Mexico voters approve Obama's job performance, while 44 percent disapprove. That's down from a 55-40 percent approval rating in February.

The company, which uses automated "robo" calls, surveyed 732 New Mexico voters between June 23 and Sunday.

PPP is a Democrat polling company, but no candidate or political organization paid for the New Mexico poll.

Despite its Democratic ownership, New York Times polling expert Nate Silver has found that, on average, PPP's 2010 surveys slightly favored Republican candidates. Molly Ball in Politico observed earlier this year, "Plenty of conservatives deride PPP as a liberal shop when they don't like its numbers, only to turn around and cite the firm when the results are more to their liking."

Wednesday, June 29, 2011

Los Alamos Fire: Economic Development for Scamsters

If they weren't such twisted jerks you'd almost have to admire the audacity and persistence of the American con artist to make a quick crooked buck off the soft hearts and good intentions of their fellow humans.

This just in from the Attorney General:


SCAM: FRAUDULENT PHONE CALLS PURPORTING TO BE THE RED CROSS SOLICITING MONEY TO BENEFIT LOS ALAMOS FIRE VICTIMS.
COUNTRY OF ORIGIN: Unknown
OVERVIEW: Consumers are reporting to the AG's office and Red Cross New Mexico they are receiving automated "robo-calls" asking for financial contributions to benefit victims of the Los Alamos fire. Personal information is requested during the call.
PREVENTION: Red Cross New Mexico has confirmed they are NOT soliciting funds via robo-calls to benefit victims of the Los Alamos fire. Consumers who receive this type of fraudulent call should not share any private and personal information that is requested.

Scam calls and phone numbers related to these calls can be reported to the New Mexico Attorney General's Office and Red Cross New Mexico.
Contact Red Cross New Mexico directly to find out how to give legitimate donations.
In case you need a reminder, just play it safe. Don't give money to any stranger who calls you on the phone.

Tuesday, June 28, 2011

PPP Poll Says Dems Have a Slight Edge in Senate Race

If the 2012 U.S. Senate election was today either Martin Heinrich or Hector Balderas would defeat Heather Wilson, John Sanchez or Greg Sowards.

That's according to the latest PPP survey, which was released today.

Congressman Martin Heinrich leads former Congresswoman Heather Wilson 47-42 and Lieutenant Governor John Sanchez 45-39. State Auditor Hector Balderas leads Wilson 45-39 and Sanchez 39-35. Either of the Democrats would have a much wider lead over dark horse Republican candidate Greg Sowards: it's a 42-28 advantage for Balderas and a 46-34 one for Heinrich.

Wilson is the best known candidate with 83 percent recognition. On the Democratic side, Heinrich, at 68 percent recognition is better known than Balderas, who is known only by 39 percent.

While the poll shows Wilson and Sanchez getting some crossover support from conservative Democrats, "they're not where they need to be with independents." Among the indies, Wilson is behind Heinrich by 12 points and Balderas by 9 with them. Sanchez has a 2 point edge over Balderas with the independents, but trails Heinrich by 13. "The Republicans will have to step up their performance with independents to have a chance at picking up the seat," PPP says.

A news release from PPP says, "Despite her negative favorability numbers and deficit to Heinrich in this poll there is some good news for Wilson. When we looked at New Mexico in February she trailed Heinrich 50-39 in a hypothetical contest. So she has gained some ground over the last few months."

Also from the news release:

PPP surveyed 732 New Mexico voters from June 23th to 26th. The margin of error for thesurvey is +/-3.6%. This poll was not paid for or authorized by any campaign or political organization. PPP surveys are conducted through automated telephone interviews. PPP is a Democratic polling company, but polling expert Nate Silver of the New York Times found that its surveys in 2010 actually exhibited a slight bias toward Republican candidates.
Below is the poll with crosstabs, etc.
Ppp Nm Senate Poll 6-27-11

Helping Displaced Los Alamos Folks

I just noticed this e-mail from the The Northern New Mexico Central Labor Council spreading the word for people to donate food and other items:
The Food Depot, 122 Slier Road In Santa Fe  --(505) 471-1633, is collecting:
Fire 27 June 2011 053
The Evacuation. (From LANL FLICKR feed)

- Bottled water
- Handheld snacks such as granola and breakfast bars, trail mix, nuts, dried fruit
- Protein items such as peanut butter and beef jerky
- Meal supplies such as dried beans, rice and pasta
- Personal care items such as deodorant, toothpaste/toothbrushes, bar soap, shampoo/conditioner, hand wipes
- Paper products such as toilet tissue, napkins, cups, plates, towels, plastic cutlery
- NO clothing or household items will be accepted


Area Labor Unions and Other Socially Active Organizations Are Being Asked to Donate Money to Help Purchase Some Of These Items … Or Go Out And Buy $100-200 Worth Of These Items And Deliver Them To The Food Depot (Please Click for More Information).


Items should be delivered Tuesday Afternoon (1:00 PM to 4:00 PM, or on Wednesday Morning 9:00 AM to 12:00 Noon, and Wednesday Afternoon From 1:00 PM to 4:00 PM, and Thursday If Necessary)


Earlier today, Gov. Susana Martinez announced that a shelter for the Los Alamos evacuees has been established at Cities of Gold Casino.

“It is important that residents ensure their safety by heeding these evacuation orders and finding a place to stay away from the fire and heavy smoke, whether it’s with relatives, with friends, or at a shelter,” Martinez said.

“Residents can proceed to Cities of Gold where the Red Cross and local officials are coordinating accommodations to residents evacuating as a result of the Las Conchas Fire,” Homeland Security and Emergency Management Secretary Michael Duvall said. “It is important that residents know of the location of the shelter and that evacuation assistance is in place to protect lives.”

As needed, additional shelters may be announced.

In a separate news release, Martinez said that she does not have the power as governor to ban firewords, but urged New Mexicans to cool it.

“There is absolutely no reason to buy, sell, or use personal fireworks in New Mexico this summer,” she said. “The potential consequences are simply too severe and the patriotic thing to do this 4th of July is to attend a public fireworks display, or celebrate the 4th fireworks free.”

Updates on the Los Conchas fire can be found at www.nmfireinfo.com or www.inciweb.org.

Follow the New Mexican's live blog of the fire HERE. It looks like Staci Matlock has some fairly recent updates.

UPDATE: Staci has a list of other places to make donations at the bottom of her latest story HERE.

Monday, June 27, 2011

The Governor on the Los Alamos Evacuation

Here's the news release from the Governor's Office, issued a little more than an hour ago.

With mandatory evacuations ordered for the city of Los Alamos, Governor Susana Martinez is urging residents in the communities surrounding the Las Conchas fire to heed the orders of emergency management officials in order to protect and save lives.


The evacuation will occur in three phases in 30-minute intervals. Group 1 will include Western, Quemazon, and Ponderosa; Group 2 will include North Community, Barranca Mesa, and North Mesa; Group 3 will include areas east of Diamond and the remainder of the town site. While White Rock is not being evacuated at this time, residents in Los Alamos should not go to White Rock to stay in case it is later evacuated. A shelter has been established at the Santa Claran Event Center at 464 North Riverside Drive in Espanola for evacuating residents.


“Local, State, and Federal personnel and assets are in place to coordinate the suppression of the fire and to protect lives, property, and critical infrastructure,” said Governor Martinez. “My administration continues to work closely with emergency management officials to facilitate the evacuation and ensure the safety of Los Alamos residents.”


Sunday evening, Governor Martinez directed the National Guard to assist in the event of evacuations. Ninety-nine National Guardsmen along with the New Mexico State Police are in place in Los Alamos to assist in the evacuations. Cochiti Mesa, Las Conchas, Bandelier National Monument, and campgrounds near the fire were evacuated yesterday. A shelter is available for these evacuees at La Cueva Fire Station.


Emergency and fire crews are monitoring the evolution of the fire and its threat to the Los Alamos National Laboratory. All hazardous and dangerous materials remain secure.


Due to winds and the large amounts of smoke resulting from the Las Conchas Fire, an air quality alert is in place. Poor air quality conditions associated with smoke are especially dangerous for people with underlying health conditions such as asthma, emphysema, and cardiovascular disease. If symptoms associated with these conditions do not respond to the usual recommended medications, see a health care provider immediately.


Evacuating residents should remember the “Five Ps” you need to have ready to go: People, important Papers, Prescriptions, family Pictures and Pets.


The Las Conchas Fire started on private land off of NM 4 at mile marker 35 and has grown to more than 43,000 acres with 0% containment.


Updates on the Los Conchas fire can be found at www.nmfireinfo.com or www.inciweb.org. Tune into 1610 AM for additional updates.

Follow the New Mexican's live blog of the fire HERE

Made Me Look!

Among all the tweets about the Conchas fire I was reading yesterday afternoon, I came upon an intriguing message from state auditor and senatorial candidate Hector Balderas:

"Dianne, Thank you for your support in this race and always being there for me."

I immediately went scurrying all over New Mexico political sites, Twitter feed, Facebook accounts, etc. trying to see whether I'd somehow missed a major endorsement of Balderas. But I found nothing.

This morning, a spokeswoman for Balderas confirmed that the Diane referred to was a personal friend of the auditor's -- and not former Lt. Gov. Diane Denish.

Friday, June 24, 2011

New Mexico Swings

The battle for New Mexico's 5 electoral votes is on. A conservative "advocacy organization" called Crossroads GPS is going to start running anti-Obama ads on TV next week.

Crossroads is a spin-off of the group fronted by Karl Rove and former Republican National Committee  chairman Ed Gillespie.

The basic message: It's the economy, stupid.

Who's paying for the group and its ads? That's none of your damned business. At least that's what the U.S. Supreme Court says. Why do you hate "Freedom of Speech"?

Here's a video of the ad:

Friday Political Misc.

Hector Balderas Running for SenateAccording to State Auditor Hector Balderas, the mysterious lengthy and secret court battle between his office and that of Attorney General Gary King is over. But the records still are sealed.

In a news release, Balderas called for the seal to be broken and the records released to the public.

Attorney General Gary King"Now that this matter is resolved, I hope that the case will be made public in the interest of transparency. I also look forward to strengthening my relationship with the Attorney General in order to ensure greater government accountability in New Mexico.”

King, reportedly, was asked about unsealing those records at a news conference in Albuquerque. His reply was non-committal, I'm told.

XXXXXXXXX

Diane DenishFormer Lt. Gov. Diane Denish basically has been quiet about Gov. Susana Martinez, who defeated her in last year's awful bitter gubernatorial contest.

Until now.

In an op-ed published on Heath Haussamen's site, the former Lt. Gov roars.

Early into her term, Governor Martinez has continued her tough talk and law enforcement focus and released a variety of executive orders to grab power as governors are prone to do. And we can all rest easy now that we have the notary publics under a watchful eye, dogs on restaurant patios legally, and a lieutenant governor with no responsibility.

 She didn't mention me,  but Denish made it clear that she disagrees with the idea I floated in my column a few weeks ago that the office of lieutenant governor be abolished to save money.

XXXXXXX

Republican U.S. Senate candidate got some national attention she probably didn't want in an ABC interview with U.S. Sen. Jim DeMint, a Tea Party bigwig.

Heather Wilson Supports Lawsuit to Stop Healthcare BillDeMint said he plans to get involved, once again, in Republican primaries for the 2012 elections. One race he has his eye on is the open Senate seat in New Mexico, which is being vacated by retiring Democratic Sen. Jeff Bingaman. Republican leaders have recruited former Rep. Heather Wilson to run, but she faces a challenge against the more conservative John Sanchez, New Mexico's lieutenant governor.


"She's a friend, but we've talked to her and I don't think Heather's going to be thought of as a conservative, and she's got a good opponent," DeMint said. "We may get involved with that race, but we haven't made a final decision. I won't commit, at this point, but I think we're going to have a strong conservative there."

Thursday, June 23, 2011

Roundhouse Roundup: Susana: Ya Run, Ya Resign

A version of this was published in The Santa Fe New Mexican
June 23, 2011


I think it's safe to say that Gov. Susana Martinez isn't wild about the idea of people in her administration seeking higher office. In fact, if you work for Martinez, don't even think about sticking around if you decide to run for political office.

Last month when Lt. Gov. John Sanchez announced his candidacy for U.S. Senate, the governor issued a less-than-friendly statement expressing the concern that a Senate race could become a "distraction," and saying she wouldn't give Sanchez any extra responsibilities in her administration.

But that message doesn't apply to Sanchez alone.

Jon Barela
Martinez's Economic Development Secretary-designate Jon Barela, a Republican who lost a tight race for Congress against Democratic U.S. Rep. Martin Heinrich last year, reportedly is thinking of running again in next year's 1st Congressional District race.

When asked what Martinez thought about Barela's possible candidacy, her spokesman, Scott Darnell, replied, "Cabinet secretaries understand that they must be focused on assisting the governor in doing the job New Mexicans elected her to do and know they would need to resign if they choose to run for office."

I asked Barela about that. "I'm not a candidate for Congress," Barela said at the outset of the conversation.

"So you're not going to run?" I asked.

"I didn't say that," he clarified.

Asked about Martinez's statement, Barela said he agreed. "If I do run, I'd resign," he said, adding that he would feel the same way if the governor hadn't issued the statement.

Barela said he's in no hurry to leave the Economic Development Department. "I really love this job," he said.

Barela pointed out that unlike the lieutenant governor, Cabinet secretaries (and Cabinet secretary-designates) serve at the pleasure of the governor who appoints them. Martinez can't force Sanchez out because he was elected to the post — albeit on a ticket with the governor.

It's also worth noting that the duties of Cabinet secretaries are far more extensive than that of the lieutenant governor, whose main job is standing by to take over if the governor dies or leaves office.

So here's a scenario to ponder: If Martinez actually does get tapped to run for vice president on the Republican ticket — as some pundits have been speculating since before she even took office — and she accepts, according to her own rules, she'd have to resign.

Which would make Sanchez — who may or may not be the Republican candidate for U.S. Senate by then — governor.

A long-shot scenario, I realize. But stranger things have happened in New Mexico politics.

Bold new rule: I used to make fun of Bill Richardson all the time for his overuse of the word "bold" when he was governor. Nearly every week Richardson was launching a "bold initiative" taking a "bold position" on something or other.

Then last year, Martinez came along and adopted "Bold Change" as her campaign slogan. "Bringing Bold Change and a Brighter Future" is on the official website of the governor. Martinez even had a "Bold Inaugural Ball" in January.

But New Mexico governors aren't the only politicians out there who use that word to describe themselves. It seems like every other news release or political blog post I read is touting some bold leader whose boldness boldly goes where lesser mortals fear to tread.

Brave, courageous and bold
Just this week, GOP presidential candidate Jon Huntsman, in announcing his candidacy this week, called for "bold changes" in our tax code, and Al Gore criticized President Barack Obama for not using "the bully pulpit to make the case for bold action on climate change."

So here's my bold proposal: Nobody is allowed to use the B-word anymore unless you're singing about Wyatt Earp.

Wednesday, June 22, 2011

Just How Rich Are These Guys?


Three of the state's five representatives in Congress are millionaires. Rep. Steve Pearce of Hobbs is the richest, with Sen. Jeff Bingaman is a close second. Sen. Tom Udall is a distant third.

The poor cousins in the delegation are Reps. Ben Ray Lujan of Santa Fe and Martin Heinrich of Albuquerque. As I said in my story published in today's New Mexican, they are mere "thousandaires."

This all is based on the most recent financial disclosure statements each filed last month.

You can check out and download all New Mexico Congressional financial statements (including those from past years and past members) HERE.

Tuesday, June 21, 2011

Redistricting is On!

Yes, the legislative committee studying ways to change political boundaries to keep with population shifts in the state met for the first time yesterday.

Another reporter and I were joking about starting a law firm to sue over whatever new maps are drawn. As reported in today's New Mexican, after the 2001 redistricting session, lawyers representing plaintiffs were awarded millions in legal fees.

My story on redistricting is HERE. (Those of you who already have read the paper version, I made a mistake in a couple of figures for Santa Fe Senate districts. They've been corrected in the online version.)

I purposely didn't go into very many details on some of the proposed plans. They're going to change a bunch of times between now and the special session. But if you're dying to see  the maps for new Congressional districts that have been drawn up for discussion sake by the Research & Polling company, you can find those HERE.

And for more redistricting info, go HERE.

Friday, June 17, 2011

STOP THAT TRAIN!

This just in. The board that oversees the Railrunner Express just voted to stop all weekend service, beginning in August.

Here's the press release. Watch The New Mexican for more news.


As part of discussions and deliberations concerning balancing the FY12 budget, which is 1.2 million dollars less than the previous fiscal year’s budget, the Rio Metro Regional Transit District Board voted to eliminate weekend service on the New Mexico Rail Runner Express. The board had been considering two weekday schedule options to address the budget reduction, but in a six-to-five vote earlier today, board members instead took action to eliminate weekend service to balance the Fiscal Year 2012 Federal budget.


“This was originally envisioned as a commuter service, and that’s the piece we want to maintain without affecting anybody”, said Steve Shaw, Chairman of the Rio Metro Board. “While we recognize the weekend service from a tourism and convenience point of view, we think it’s more important to support the initial mission of the train without affecting the people who use it to get to and from work.”


When service began to Santa Fe in 2008, a portion of that service was paid for with CMAQ funds – Congestion Mitigation Air Quality Funds - which can only be used for a three-year period to support operations based on federal regulations. That three-year clock runs out in FY12, and has resulted in a 1.2 million dollar budget reduction. To date, there has been no alternative funding source identified to make up the difference.


“We’re having ongoing conversations with the state looking at all options”, said Dewey Cave, Executive Director for the Mid-Region Council of Governments. “We’re partners in this endeavor and we’re looking at every option available to minimize the impact of service cuts”.


Weekend service on the New Mexico Rail Runner Express will continue through mid-to-late August.

Thursday, June 16, 2011

Here's an eMail I Noticed on My iPhone While Driving to Lunch

Just kidding, just kidding ....

Gov. Susana Martinez is touting a "W82TXT" campaign. For those as you not as hip and with-it as Suana Martinez and me, that means "Wait to Text."

No, this has nothing to do with Anthony Weiner. The campaign is mean to discourage New Mexicans from texting while driving.


“This campaign is an important reminder that texting while driving can have devastating consequences,” said Gov. Martinez. “New Mexico’s drivers must know that they are putting themselves and others at risk when they allow themselves to be distracted on our roads. We must make all New Mexicans aware of the dangers of distracted driving and encourage them not to send or read text messages while behind the wheel of a car.”


According to the New Mexico Department of Transportation, studies show that those who text while driving are 23 times more likely to be involved in a critical safety event resulting in severe injury, dismemberment, brain damage, or death. Additionally, NMDOT reports that over 20 percent of fatal car accidents involving teenagers between the ages of 16 and 19 were the result of cell phone usage, with that figure expected to grow. A Harvard study estimated that cell phone activity contributes to 636 motor vehicle crashes, 330,000 injuries, and 2,600 fatalities each year, and almost half of all drivers between the ages of 18 and 24 text while driving.

There have been several bills in the Legislature to criminalize texting while driving. House Bill 197, sponsored by Rep. Antonio Lujan, D-Las Cruces, passed the House 58 to 7 this year but died in the Senate.

The W82TXT campaign is being promoted by the Governor's Office, the Department of Transportation, 2KASA and KRQE News 13.

What Do Eric Griego and Heather Wilson Have in Common?

Eric Griego" "Should I Take This call?"
Another endorsement coming in?
Not that much.

But Democrat Griego, in his bid for Congress, seems to be following Republican Wilson's Senate campaign strategy of racking up a bunch of high-profile endorsements before any primary opponents are even out of the gate.

This morning the Griego campaign announced the endorsements of two of Griego's fellow state senators,  Albuquerque progressives:  Cisco McSorley and Jerry Ortiz y Pino.

From the state House, Reps. Miguel Garcia and Eleanor Chavez also are endorsing Griego. He also picked up endoresements from Albuquerque City Councilors Isaac Benton, and Rey Garduño.

Wednesday, June 15, 2011

Roundhouse Roundup: Will an Old Blue Law Help Susana Win Court Battles?

A version of this was published in The Santa Fe New Mexican
June 16, 2011


Whichever side eventually wins the lawsuits legislators filed last month over certain line-item vetoes by Gov. Susana Martinez should celebrate with drinks — on the following Sunday.

In responses filed this week to both lawsuits, Martinez’s lawyers cite a 1957 Supreme Court decision that upheld line-item vetoes by Gov. John E. Miles in 1939 — pen strokes that kept in place a prohibition against Sunday liquor sales.

In one of the recently filed legal challenges, four Democratic lawmakers sued the Republican governor for reducing a $150,000 appropriation for the state Mortgage Finance Authority to $50,000 by simply striking the numeral “1.”

In the other suit, six Democratic legislators challenged Martinez’s decision to veto a business tax contained in a House bill that would have generated $128 million to shore up the state’s unemployment fund. In that bill, Martinez let stand an $80 million reduction in unemployment benefits. The plaintiffs say she had no right to use a line-item veto on this bill because it was not an “appropriation” bill.

In their legal responses, Martinez’s attorneys cite a decision in a case called Dickson v. Saiz. I’d never heard of it before, but apparently lawyers here and even in other states have used it in cases involving a governor’s power of partial, or “line-item,” veto.

Caesar and God: On one side was Jake Saiz, doing business as Jake’s Market in Riverside, N.M. On the other was Hilton Dickson, chief of the state Liquor Control Division.

The state had revoked Jake’s Market’s liquor license for selling booze on Sunday. Saiz took the matter to court, where a district judge agreed with his argument that the Sunday liquor ban was unconstitutional because of the way Gov. Miles had line-item vetoed a liquor-control bill back in March 1939. The trial court reversed the revocation, saying the governor had nullified the entire Liquor Control Act because of the way he partially vetoed the bill.

Back in 1939, Miles had liked most of what was in the bill. But he didn’t like a provision that would have let individual counties permit Sunday liquor sales as long as county voters approved.

In his veto message, the governor referred to “those provisions which would permit the sale of intoxicating liquors on the Sabbath Day during hours of worship and during periods which the people of the State of New Mexico are recreation bound, during which hours the sale of liquor would be detrimental to the welfare of the people of the State of New Mexico.”

Vetoing those parts of the bill, he wrote, would fulfill “my duty to give unto Caesar that which is Caesar’s and unto God that which is God’s.”

Fast-forward to 1957, when the state Supreme Court apparently agreed that Miles had such authority. The high court said New Mexico has “perhaps, one of the most liberal provisions touching a partial veto of any state in the union.”

The justices also declared, “Our Constitution does not, necessarily, foreclose the exercise by one department of the state of powers of another but contemplates in unmistakable language that there are certain instances where the overlapping of power exists. Indeed, when the Governor exercises his right of partial veto he is exercising a quasi-legislative function.”

Thus, Jake’s Market lost its liquor license. And, 54 years later, Gov. Martinez hopes the Dickson v. Saiz decision will help make her vetoes stick.

Whiskey on a Sunday: In the early 1970s, the New Mexico Legislature made it legal to drink in bars and restaurants on Sundays, though package liquor sales still were forbidden on the Sabbath. That didn’t change until 1995 when Gov. Gary Johnson signed a bill legalizing package sales.
.

Could 10 Percent of Votes Cast in NM Last Year Have Been Illegal?

That's what the Special Investigations Division of the New Mexico Public Safety Department has been asked to look into. The Secretary of State's Office has handed over 64,000 or so cases of possible voter fraud to the DPS for investigation.

You can read my story in today's New Mexican HERE.

How many of these will end up being indicted?  How many of those will end up in convictions?

The answer to those questions are months, if not years, down the road.

I'll let you know if I hear anything.

Monday, June 13, 2011

The Legislative Junket Drought

Every few years I take a look at out-of-state-travel records of state legislators and write up what I find. My latest one, looking at the calendar year 2010, is HERE.

This time I didn't find any outrageous junkets that'll be grist for political attack ads. In fact, it looks like lawmakers have cut their out-of-state travel by more than 50 percent, compared with 2008, the last time I went through the travel vouchers.

An old friend called me this afternoon to talk about the story. He asked whether there was any kind of requirements for legislators who go to out-of-state conferences and workshops to have to file a report to share information they learned with others in state government. The answer is no, there is not. I'm sure many legislators informally share such information. But that might not be a bad idea to somehow formalize such information sharing.

Let me know what you think.

Friday, June 10, 2011

NM Among Top Most-Likely-To Change Senate Seats

Chris Cillizza of The Fix, a Washington Post political blog, includes this Enchanted Land as one of the top 10 states most likely to switch parties in next year's U.S. Senate elections. Here's what he had to say:

The symmetry of the two primaries here is striking. Both Rep. Martin Heinrich (D) and former congresswoman Heather Wilson (R) are seen as strong candidates to replace retiring Sen. Jeff Bingaman (D), but both face Hispanic candidates who hold statewide office — in a plurality Latino state. The jury is still out on just how formidable state Auditor Hector Balderas (D) and Lt. Gov. John Sanchez (R) will be, but if they can run good campaigns, that will make both primaries very interesting. Case in point: Wilson has been extremely aggressive in trying to define Sanchez from day one. Republicans think she’s running a strong campaign, but winning the primary with such a moderate record will be tough (as she found out in her 2008 Senate primary loss) and this is a Democratic-leaning state. 

NM Dems Will Not Be Out-Wienered!

As national Republicans pound the drums for U.S. Rep. Anthony Weiner to resign and for Democrats to return "tainted" campaign cash donated by the New York Democrat, here in New Mexico there's a Republican Wiener and it's the Dems who are taking the umbrage.

In a story that is a natural for my pal Stuart Dyson, (though Wonkette also has picked up on it) Bernalillo County Commissioner Michael Wiener has admitted to some off-color jokes in the office.

As per Dyson, "Wiener admitted to telling a joke about having a Wiener and a Johnson on the County Commission,(Wayne Johnson is another commissioner) but says when he told a woman staffer she was "looking good," he was talking about her office decor and not her appearance."

Earlier this week State Democratic Party Chairman called on Michael Wiener to resign. And Thursday afternoon, the state party called upon Gov. Susana Martinez to return the $700 Commissioner Wiener donated to her campaign last year.

It's not the first time Michael Wiener's humor has gotten him in trouble. Last year he apologized for emailing racist jokes.

Here's the independent investigator's report of the the complaint against Michael Wiener, courtesy the Albuquerque Journal's Scribd page. My favorite part is when Wiener explains the "Wiener and Johnson" joke by saying he was talking about the different kinds of hot dogs, not ... you know.) The report concludes that Wiener's jokes do not meet the legal definition of creating a hostile work enviroment. Besides Wiener is an elected official and is exempt from Title VII of the Civil Rights Act, which deals with discrimination.

Here's Dyson's report:

Thursday, June 9, 2011

Johnson Says His Polling Meets CNN Debate Criteria

This just in from the Gary Johnson campaign:

The Johnson 2012 Campaign released evidence today confirming that former New Mexico Governor Gary Johnson has met the polling criteria to attend the CNN Republican primary debate scheduled for Monday.
Debate sponsors CNN, WMUR and the Union Leader require one of three polling requirements to be reached for a candidate to be included. The Johnson campaign has discovered that the criteria for “an average of at least 2.00 percent in at least three national polls released in May” was achieved using the approved polls below:
• A CNN Opinion Research Corporation Poll released on May 27 shows Governor Johnson at 2% nationally.
• A Gallup poll from May 26 shows Johnson at 3%.
• A Quinnipiac poll released May 4 shows Johnson's support at 1%.
Together the three approved polls total 6%, which is a 2% average, thereby qualifying Governor Johnson for Monday’s debate.

Upon seeing this information, Ron Nielson, Senior Advisor to Johnson's campaign, released the following statement, “It is our hope that CNN will review the criteria that has excluded two-term Governor Gary Johnson from the New Hampshire debate. Now that this information has come to light, we look forward to receiving an invitation for Governor Johnson to participate.”

A couple of qualifications are in order:

In the CNN poll, Johnson is still at 1 percent when all candidates and possible candidates are included. He rises to 2 percent when participants are asked for their second choice and when Rudy Giuliani and/or Sarah Palin are excluded. (Neither Giuliani nor Palin have announced as candidates.)

Likewise inn the Gallup Poll, Johnson is at 1 percent when Palin is listed, but goes up to two percent when she's excluded.

For more on Johnson and his exclusion from the CNN New Hampshire debate, Rob at Capitol Report New Mexico has share this link to The Atlantic.

NM Still Likes Gary Johnson

Former Gov. Gary Johnson
Larry Sabato's Crystal Ball lists former New Mexico Gov. Gary Johnson among the Republican presidential candidates who haven't "broken out." (Rick Santorum and Buddy Roemer also are in that category, Sabato says.)

And he's right. Johnson's poll rankings have been so low that CNN didn't invite him to next week's debate in New Hampshire -- even though Johnson correctly has pointed out that in 1991 a guy named Bill Clinton was polling about the same with Democrats.

But here's some consolation for Johnson. According to a new PPP survey, Johnson is the only GOP candidate with favorable polling in his or her home state.

According to PPP, 44 percent of New Mexicans interviewed have a favorable opinion of Johnson while 32 percent have an unfavorable opinion. That's a 12 percent positive rating. His closest competitor is Newt Gingrich who has an 8 percent negative rating from Georgia voters. The lowest home-state ranking is Michele Bachmann who has a 26 percent negative rating in Minnesota.

Johnson's numbers seem to be based on a poll done in February by PPP, the most recent time they've polled here.

PPP is a Democratic firm, but their results usually are close to those of non-partisan pollsters.

Here's Johnson's video in response to CNN's refusal to include him in the debate, emotional music and all.

Roundhouse Roundup: Conspicuously Absent

A version of this was published in The Santa Fe New Mexican
June 9, 2011



When State Auditor Hector Balderas on Wednesday announced his office’s report on procurement irregularities and funny accounting practices at the state Corrections Department, he not only shed light on an apparent huge mess in a state Cabinet department.

Hector Balderas
State Auditor Hector Balderas
He also may have provided an inadvertent reminder of an old political rivalry.

I’m referring to one routine paragraph near the end of the news release:

“Balderas’ staff worked with the Federal Bureau of Investigation throughout the course of the special audit and provided federal agents special audit documentation. Because the special audit indicates that potential criminal violations may have occurred, Balderas stated that his office has referred the report to the FBI, the U.S. Attorney for the District of New Mexico, and other state law enforcement agencies. Balderas also will refer the report to the governor, the Legislative Finance Committee, and other state oversight agencies.”

Conspicuously missing is the state attorney general, a guy named Gary King.
It might have been just an oversight. After all, Balderas is running for U.S. Senate and surely doesn’t want to needlessly agitate a fellow elected Democratic state official.

And for the record, the Attorney General’s Office is mentioned in the report. It listed the Attorney General’s Office first among the state agencies that would be contacted with the audit findings.

Attorney General Gary King
AG Gary King
Still, the omission brought back memories of two years ago, when King subpoenaed a variety of records from Balderas’ office. Balderas at the time called the action a possible “abuse of the subpoena process.” After a closed-door grand jury hearing on the subpoena, Balderas told a reporter, “I look at it as, ‘They’re obstructing our office.’ ” A spokesman for King declined to comment at the time.

Balderas said the attorney general’s subpoena stemmed from a tip by a disgruntled State Auditor’s Office employee who accused Balderas of making state employees baby-sit his children and complained about a punch clock installed at the Auditor’s Office. It’s not clear what happened to the subpoena because grand jury proceedings are secret. But no charges were ever filed.

Not long after that, Balderas began an investigation into whether King’s office properly spent money set aside by the Legislature for an animal-cruelty task force. Like “Babysitterpunchclockgate,” nothing ever came of the animal task force probe.

That was the last time Balderas and King sparred in public. But perhaps some tensions still are simmering.

Speaking of tensions: The U.S. Senate primary still is nearly a year away, but on the Republican side, former U.S. Rep. Heather Wilson and Lt. Gov. John Sanchez already are duking it out.

GOP Lt. Gov. Candidate John Sanchez
Lt. Gov. John Sanchez
A Sanchez spokesman told the Albuquerque Journal this week that Wilson “is exactly right, we do have a spending problem. But she forgot to mention that she took part in digging the economic hole that we are in. Records matter.”

But on Wednesday, “Wilson allies” told The Politico that Sanchez basically was a darling of union bosses, pointing out that in 2002, he had a 71 percent rating from the AFL-CIO, according to the Project Vote Smart website.

I’m not sure what that really means. In that same year, Sen. Rod Adair, perhaps the state’s most conservative legislator then and now, got a 77 percent rating from the AFL-CIO, according to Project Vote Smart.

But Politico pointed out that in 2001, Sanchez broke with the GOP by voting to reinstate collective bargaining and to raise the minimum wage.

Heather Wilson Supports Lawsuit to Stop Healthcare Bill
Former Congresswoman Heather Wilson
Even worse, at least among the Republican base, Politico dredged up a 2002 quote from a Sanchez speech to the Albuquerque Chamber of Commerce where, trying to distance himself from then-Gov. Gary Johnson, he said, “And I don’t care what you want to say or do. ... You cannot run the state of New Mexico like a business.”

“This is just another example of John Sanchez isn’t who he says he is,” Wilson’s campaign manager said in an email.

Wednesday, June 8, 2011

Moe Says No

Just Say "Moe"
State Rep. Antonio "Moe" Maestas announced this morning that he won't be running for Congress in CD1.

Here's his statement:
After speaking at great length with my family, friends, advisors and constituents I have determined that for the time being the best way I can serve New Mexico is by remaining a voice of reason in the State House of Representatives and continuing to fight for Albuquerque's growing West Side. Therefore, I will not seek my party’s nomination for United States Congress in the First Congressional District.


Contemplating serving New Mexico in our nation’s capital was a truly humbling experience and I greatly appreciate all the support and advice I have received over the past several weeks. The fact that there is an outstanding candidate in the race, Sen. Eric Griego, and other great Democrats preparing to announce their candidacies made this decision easier for me. I commit to work hard for the Democratic nominee, whoever it is, and I am confident that this Congressional seat will be won by a Democrat.

State Auditor targets Corrections Department

State Auditor Hector Balderas says his office has found "numerous contract violations, procurement violations and improper accounting practices" in dealings between the Corrections Department and three state contractors.

He says the department paid at least $3.7 million in unsupported costs to Omni Development Corporation, Advantage Asphalt Seal and Coating, and HEI, Inc.

"For these payments, auditors found that the invoices were not descriptive enough to determine what goods and services NMCD received, or that the contract did not allow NMCD to pay for the goods and services," a news release said.

These payments include:

• $1,294,458 in unsupported costs to Omni, including $860,619 in payments for materials costs even though materials costs were not included in the price agreement, and payments of $190,000 for “contingencies” without any support that detailed what constituted the contingencies;

• Approximately $2 million in payments to HEI where the invoices were not descriptive enough to identify the goods or services provided to NMCD, including $1,331,406 in payments to HEI under one price agreement for equipment purchases that appeared to be unallowed by the price agreement’s terms;

• Advantage Asphalt overbilled NMCD $48,000 for one project. Advantage Asphalt notified NMCD’s former Facilities Manager of the overbilling, but there is no record that NMCD was repaid for the overbilling;

• NMCD made payments totaling $193,970 to HEI for certain goods and services, but auditors found no evidence that NMCD inspected the goods and services prior to making payment;

• HEI charged NMCD $10,036.85 for services and indicated on the invoice that the services occurred on August 12, 2008, but auditors found that HEI’s own records show that HEI performed the work on September 14, 2008 and January 25, 2009 and only incurred labor costs of $532.28 for the services. HEI did not provide auditors any records that supported the remaining charges invoiced to NMCD;

• The New Mexico General Services Department violated record retention requirements by destroying a premise price agreement and HEI’s response to the RFP for the agreement; and

• HEI subcontracted work under one price agreement without NMCD’s approval, which was required by the price agreement.

Some of these names should be familiar. Omni is at the center of a recent criminal bribery case against former Corrections Facilities Manager Laurie Chapman -- although Omni owner Anthony Moya -- who recently got out of prison after serving time for embezzling from an Indian Pueblo -- has not been charged in the case.

Meanwhile, Advantage Asphalt has been at the center of an investigation into allegations of theft and fraud in the Santa Fe County county Public Works Department. The Santa Fe County Sheriff’s office handed over the case to the District Attorney's Office late last year. No charges have been filed.

Gov. Susana Martinez was quick to respond to the audit.

“This audit report describes dishonest and illegal activities that took place in recent years, where taxpayer dollars were spent improperly for personal gain,” she said in a news release “We have taken a number of steps to prevent the same sort of actions from occurring in the future, but this audit report will help to inform our further efforts to root-out government corruption in New Mexico.”

Last month Martinez issued an executive order to forbid the state from doing business with companies that have violated the public trust.

Here's a copy of the audit report:

OSA Special Audit Report of NMCD FINAL

Tuesday, June 7, 2011

DSCC Targets NM in Medicare Ads

National Democrats are targeting Republican candidates running for Jeff Bingaman’s Senate seat in a series of Internet ads about Medicare being released Wednesday.

The Democratic Senatorial Campaign Committee is running ads against Republican Senate candidates in eight battleground states.

The ads, which will appear on Google searches, Facebook and other online sites “demand” that former U.S. Rep. Heather Wilson and Lt. Gov. John Sanchez “tell GOP leaders in Washington to take the Republican plan to end Medicare off the table in ongoing debt-ceiling negotiations.”

The unpopular Ryan budget is stressed in the ads. Ryan's plan would make a drastic change in Medicare, starting with those who turn 65 in 2022. At that time, under the proposal, Medicare beneficiaries would choose a private health insurance plan from a special :Medicare exchange.” The federal government would kick in an average of $8,000 toward the annual premium.

Last month when I asked for their opinions on the Ryan plan, neither Wilson nor Sanchez actually endorsed the proposal. Wilson criticized Democrats for not coming up with what she called a “realistic” plan of their own for Medicare.

Democrats — buoyed by a surprise victory in a special Congressional election last month over a Republican in a heavy GOP district see the Medicare issue as huge stick with which to clobber Republicans.

On one hand, the Ryan budget is poison to older voters, who tend to vote in large numbers. On the other, the Ryan plan is hugely popular with the conservative GOP base — which tends to dominate Republican primaries.

A spokesman for the DSCC declined to say how much money the group is spending for the Internet ads.
In addition to New Mexico, other states with Senate races being targeted in the DSCC online campaign are Virginia, Montana, Missouri, Nevada, Massachusetts (where Scott Brown was one of the few Republican senators to vote against the Ryan budget), Florida and Ohio.

Besides Wilson and Sanchez, lesser known Republicans running for Senate are Greg Sowards and Bill English.

Democrats running include U.S. Rep. Martin Heinrich, state Auditor Hector Balderas and Albuquerque activist Andres Valdez. Bingaman is retiring at the end of his term, which is over at the end of next year.

Wilson Hires Her Former Chief of Staff as Campaign Manager

U.S. Senate candidate Heather Wilson has hired Bryce Dustman as her campaign manager, according to a news release that flew in a few minutes ago. He ran Wilson's Congressional office from 2001 until she left office at the end of 2008.

From the release:

A farmer by vocation, Dustman served U.S. Senators Jack Danforth (R-MO) and Conrad Burns (R-MT), and U.S. Representative Phil Crane (R-IL) prior to joining Wilson as chief of staff in 2001. He served as chief staff for U.S. Representative Dave Reichert (R-WA) from January to May of this year and was Communications Director for GOPAC, a national grassroots Republican organization from 1998-2000.

Earlier this year, Dustman was hired as chiuef of staff for U.S. Rep. Dave Reichert, R-Washington.

“Bryce’s first job out of high school was as a cowboy, and he ran his own farm for seven years before working in Washington," Wilson said in her release "He has a grassroots, small business perspective combined with political experience that makes him one of the best in the business."

In other assorted political news, I should have mentioned yesterday that the Teamsters Union has endorsed Eric Griego in his bid for Congress in CD1. So far Groego is the only declared Democratic candidate to run for the seat now held by Martin Heinrich, who is running as a Democrat for U.S. Senate.

Hall Goes to House

Gov. Susana Martinez has announced that Los Alamos County Councilor Jim Hall will fill the seat of longtime former Rep. Jeannette Wallace, who died in April.
New Rep. Jim Hall,
R-Los Alamos

Hall, not to be confused with the former state district judge from Santa Fe with the same name, is a Republican, as is the governor and as was Wallace.

In a statement, Martinez said, “As we fight to turn New Mexico around by fostering economic growth, reforming education, and promoting public safety, I’m confident that Mr. Hall shares the hope of all New Mexicans to create a brighter future for our families and businesses. His broad experience in both the public and private sectors means that the people of Los Alamos, Sandoval, and Santa Fe counties will be represented by someone who knows what it takes to get our state back on track.”

Hall has long been involved in Los Alamos politics and government, having served on the school board there as well as having worked as a county manager. He has worked at Los Alamos National Laboratories, including 12 years as a group leader. He's also worked as a consultant for the U.S. Department of Energy.

Former Judge Jim Hall
(from New Mexican Archive)
Under Gov. Gary Johnson, Hall was head of the state Information Technology Management Office. Martinez had previously chosen Hall for another job. He was on her transition team for information technology. At the time of that appointment, Wallace herself told The Los Alamos Monitor that Hall was a good choice for that task.

He's also been vice president of Oso Grande Technologies, an Albuquerque-based IP technology company.  Hall graduated from Macalester College and earned a Master’s Degree in Management from the University of New Mexico.

“I look forward to joining Governor Martinez in the fight to turn our state around,” Hall said in the governor's news release. “I will do my best to honor Jeannette Wallace’s outstanding record of public service and I’m honored to be selected to serve the people of the 43rd District. I’m eager to get to work to tackle the challenges in front of us.”
Rep. Jimmie Hall,
R-Albuquerque :
Not the same guy

Assuming he seeks election to the seat in 2012, Hall is expected to face Democrat Stephanie Richard in the general election. Richard came within about 200 votes of defeating Wallace last year. She was on the short list of nominees from which the governor chose, having been nominated by the Sandoval County Commission last month.

One looming question: Will the new lawmaker form a two-man James Hall Caucus with Rep. Jimmie Hall, R-Albuquerque?

NY Times Looks at Turkish Groups Who Sponsor Lawmaker Trips

The New York Times in a lengthy article today looks at the charter schools that have popped up in Texas that were built by and operated by a foundation associated with the same  Turkish-American friendship group that has been sending New Mexico legislators (and lawmakers from other states)  to Turkey.

You can read it HERE.

Most of the article is a detailed look at the Harmony Schools, which is associated with the Turquoise Center, a Houston complex that houses several foundations established by followers of Turkish-born theologian Fethullah Gulen.

Gulen, who now lives in Pennsylvania, has been a controversial figure. He's been praised by many top political figures here -- Bill Clinton, former Secretary of State James Baker, etc. He's been an outspoken opponent of terrorism and Osama bin Laden.

But he's got lots of detractors -- some whom seem to be on the edge of hysteria. One Gulen-movement paper in Turkey pointed out that in the U.S. his critics claim that Gulen, beneath his public statements, is an extreme Islamic fundamentalist who wants to bring Sharia law to both Turkey and the U.S. But in Turkey, his enemies portray him as a Zionist puppet of the CIA and Israel.

The Gulen movement in Turkey includes many in the current government. And as the Times article points out, " ... recently, the arrests of Turkish journalists critical of the Gulen movement have led to accusations of retaliation by followers in the current government, which has a more religious leaning."

The Harmony Schools, by many accounts, do an excellent job of educating students in science and other subjects. But there have been controversies, as The Times points out, about Harmony Schools giving preferential treatment in issuing contracts to other  Gulen-associated companies and for importing hundreds of teachers and administrators from Turkey who work in the U.S. on special visas.

This section, near the end of the article gave me a little deja vu:

Dozens of Texans — from state lawmakers to congressional staff members to university professors — have taken trips to Turkey partly financed by the foundations.


One group, the Raindrop Foundation, helped pay for State Senator Leticia Van de Putte’s travel to Istanbul last year, according to a recent campaign report. In January, she co-sponsored a Senate resolution commending Mr. Gulen for “his ongoing and inspirational contributions to promoting global peace and understanding.”
There have been a couple of non-binding memorials backed by The Turquoise folks that have passed our Legislature in the past two sessions that express support for expanding cultural relations between New Mexico and Turkey.

Apparently there is at least one Harmony-affiliated school here in New Mexico. The Albuquerque Journal did a story last October.

UPDATE 7-8-11: An earlier version of this post incorrectly said there were no Harmony schools in New Mexico.

PBS earlier this year did a report on the Gulen movement, the Harmony Schools, etc. It's pretty glowing. You can watch below and read the transcript  HERE.


Monday, June 6, 2011

Game Change Shooting in NM

Here's something for political junkies and film buffs.

The state Film Office just announced that the HBO film Game Change will shoot in New Mexico later this month. The news release doesn't say what part of the state.

 The story, based on the book by John Heilemann and Mark Halperin,  follows John McCain’s 2008 presidential campaign, from his selection of Sarah Palin as his running mate through election day. It stars Julianne Moore, (no, not Tina Fey), Ed Harris and Woody Harrelson.

The production began principal photography in Maryland earlier this spring.

PA260024
Is that Ed Harris or McCain in Albuquerque?

Friday, June 3, 2011

NM Political Tidbits

Just some catching up on my part.

First of all, I looked a little more into the free trips to Turkey taken by several  New Mexico lawmakers in recent months, which I first reported in my column Thursday. In today's paper I explain that accepting the trips does not  violate the state Gift Act, because the group paying for the trips does not lobby the Legislature and is not seeking state contracts.

The story points out that unlike the free ski passes they get and the various golf junkets from lobbyists in past years,  lawmakers are not required to report such travel under current state law. Also I explain a little more what the Turkish organization called The Turquoise Council of Americans and Eurasians is all about.

By the way, I'm not disputing the educational value of foreign travel or anything like that. I just believe the public has the right to know when someone or some group is providing free overseas travel. And somehow, despite all the noble intentions, politicians never seem to write press releases when they accept such freebies.

You can read today's story  HERE.

***

In other news, The Washington Post has a very complimentary story about Democratic U.S. Senate candidate Hector Balderas. You can find that HERE.

However, there is one glaring factual error that probably wouldn't be noticed by many outside of the small circle of New Mexico political junkies.

Hector Balderas Running for SenateThe Post wrote, "In the 2006 Democratic primary (for state auditor) , Balderas was cast as the underdog until his rival, Jeff Armijo, dropped out over sexual misconduct allegations."

In reality however, Balderas and Armijo were not "rivals." Balderas did not run in the state auditor primary that year. He didn't get on the ballot until Armijo, who did win the primary, was forced off the ticket over those allegations. Until that point, Balderas was seeking re-election to his seat in the Legislature. Here's an old column about the craziness of the Armijo mess.

***

Finally, if you were looking forward to seeing former Gov. Gary Johnson in the June 13 Republican presidential candidate debate, here's some bad news.

Johnson in Santa Fe in January
CNN has said no to Gov. No.

Johnson responded: "I respect the right of CNN and the other sponsors of the June 13 New Hampshire Republican presidential primary debate to apply their own criteria and invite who they choose. It is, however, unfortunate that a significant segment of the Republican Party, and more importantly, millions of independent voters who might be Republican voters, will not have a voice on the stage in Manchester."

Apparently Johnson was snubbed because he has fallen short of the magic 2-percent in the polls threshhold required. Looks like he's left out in the cold with Buddy Roemer, Vermin Supreme and other lesser-known candidates

***

Finally, Democrats are jumping all over the fact that U.S. Senate candidate Heather Wilson recently appeared at a campaign event -- in Colorado Springs -- with former George W. Bush political guru Karl Rove. Both were speakers at a GOP Lincoln Dinner.

Bringing back ugly memories of the 2006 U.S. Attorneys scandal, the Huffington Post noted that Rove testified that Wilson pushed him to fire former U.S. Attorney David Iglesias. Wilson has disputed that, saying she only mentioned Iglesias once to Rove and that was after the 2006 election. (Here's an old story where I talked about Wilson, Rove and Iglesias and here's a better one from Politico.)

One interesting item about the dinner where Rove and Wilson spoke. It attracted protesters. Not from lefties who detest "Bush's Brain," but from right wingers who hate the fact that Rove is so liberal. The Colorado Independent has that story.

Thursday, June 2, 2011

And to Absolutely Nobody's Surprise ...

The American Federation of State, County and Municipal Employees has endorsed U.S. Rep. Ben Ray Lujan's re-election bid.

This can only be seen as a crushing blow to Lujan's Democratic primary opponent .... wait a minute, there is no primary opponent, at least not yet. There's not even a Republican general election opponent yet.

One thing the union's financial support means is that a primary challenge is less likely -- not that I've heard the slightest rumbling of any such challenge.

But, for the record: “Ben Ray has proven himself time and time again. He’s one of the hardest workers out there, and he always takes time to listen to us” said Paul Linville, AFSCME’s PEOPLE Committee member elected to represent Northern New Mexico State Employees.

AFSCME earlier this year also endorsed Martin Heinrich for Senate. That was a little more exciting because he does have a major primary opponent in Hector Balderas.

Back to what you were doing.

Roundhouse Roundup: Lawmakers Enjoy Trips to Turkey

A version of this was published in The Santa Fe New Mexican
June 2, 2011


Some Roundhouse regulars' heads were turned in January when they saw the flag of Turkey flying above the Capitol in place of the New Mexico flag.

I jokingly suggested in my blog that the state was trying to fix the state budget problem by renting out our flagpoles to other countries. But the truth is that seven Turkish congressmen were in town to meet with the governor, legislators and other state officials.

Turks seemed to be everywhere during the session. During the past two sessions, there have been "Turkish-New Mexican Friendship Receptions" in Santa Fe with host committees that included several state officers and legislators.

And in recent months, the Turkish-New Mexico connection has grown stronger. State Sen. Jerry Ortiz y Pino, D-Albuquerque, who recently got back from a 10-day Turkish trip with several New Mexico journalists, said Wednesday that he's just one of several legislators who have traveled to Turkey courtesy of a private group.

Sens. Dede Feldman and Cisco McSorley, both Albuquerque Democrats, are currently in Turkey, Ortiz y Pino said. And another Albuquerque Democrat, state Sen. Eric Griego, even took time off of his campaign for Congress to make the trip.

Earlier this year, another group of lawmakers including Rep. Debbie Rodella, D-Española, went, he said. And last fall, Ortiz y Pino said he made his first trip there along with Senate President pro-tem Tim Jennings, D-Roswell, Sen. George Muñoz, D-Gallup, and others.

Raul Burciaga, executive director of the Legislative Council Service, confirmed Wednesday that the state isn't paying for any of the Turkish trips. Legislative leaders in recent weeks have been talking about cutting back on out-of-state travel because of the budget crunch.

So who is paying? The cost of the travel isn't readily available. Because the state isn't paying for it, lawmakers don't have to file travel vouchers or other records with the state, Burciaga said.

The group that instigated the Turkish trips is the Turquoise Council of Americans and Eurasians, which on its website describes itself as "a leading independent and an umbrella organization committed to advancing the interaction among American and Turkish, Turkic and Eurasian people to promote and encourage continuing good relationship and understanding through its affiliate organizations regardless of their ethnic origin, religion and other preferences."

The council "brings people together by hosting public programs and private events featuring leaders and experts with diverse views on a wide range of global and regional topics through task forces, executive forums, luncheons, conferences, studies and leadership dialogue."

Phone calls to the Houston-based group weren't returned Wednesday.

The group plans to build a Turkish cultural center in Albuquerque, which would be affiliated with the Raindrop Turkish House in Houston. The Turkish community in New Mexico is relatively small — only about 500 people, according to information on the council's website.

"They approached us about a couple of years ago about sending trade delegations," Jennings said in a telephone interview Wednesday. "A lot of people think that everyone in the Middle East hates America. They wanted to show us that's not true." He said he learned that Muslims, Christians and Jews live together in Turkey without strife.

Jennings said he and other legislators were allowed to go wherever they wanted in Turkey. "It wasn't like the government only allowed us to see what they wanted us to see."

Ortiz y Pino said the main motivation for the Turks wooing American legislators and journalists is that Turkey is trying hard to join the European Union. But the senator said a Turkish journalist told him even if Turkey doesn't get accepted in the EU, the effort has been worth it because of the reforms undertaken by his nation in seeking membership.

Ortiz y Pino said there's a lot to be learned from Turkey. "It's the world's third-fastest-growing economy," he said.

So if you begin noticing an influx of Turkish coffee, tobacco and bathhouses into New Mexico — and if Istanbul suddenly develops a hunger for green chile and tortillas — you'll know why.