Thursday, September 29, 2011

Roundhouse Roundup: Donaldson Recalls Old Segregationalists and Warns of Huns

A version of this was published in The Santa Fe New Mexican
September 29, 2011


ALBUQUERQUE — With all its partisan gridlock and people’s growing tendency to demonize politicians with whom they disagree, Washington, D.C., in recent decades has gotten worse in many ways, former ABC News White House correspondent Sam Donaldson observed Wednesday.

But Donaldson, speaking at the New Mexico Foundation for Open Government’s “Your Right to Know” luncheon in Albuquerque, said there’s one area that’s noticeably improved since he first went to the nation’s capital in the 1960s.

Access to government and public information.

He’s not looking at the world through rose-colored glasses. He said politicians are always promising open, transparent governments but backsliding once they get into power. President Barack Obama is an example, he said. Despite campaign promises to the contrary, “the Obama White House is as secretive as any,” Donaldson said.

But things really are getting better, he insisted.

“When I first went to Washington, a bunch of old guys ran the place,” he said. Speaking of Congress, Donaldson said, “Autocratic committee chairmen had absolute power.”

He gave the example of Rep. Howard Smith, D-Virginia, an outspoken civil-rights opponent who chaired the House Rules Committee in the 1960s.
Rep. Howard Smith, D-Virginia

“Nothing got to the House floor without his approval,” Donaldson said. Smith would hold up civil-rights legislation by leaving town and going back to his farm in Virginia, he said.

“The mark-up of bills was all done behind closed doors,” the former reporter said. “You didn’t know what the oil companies were doing.”

Then Donaldson joked, “But I’m sure they were doing wonderful things. I know where I am,” referring to the fact that the oil and gas industry, which is responsible for a huge chunk of state revenues, has enormous political sway in New Mexico.

Donaldson should know where he is. Born in El Paso, he was raised in Southern New Mexico and graduated from the New Mexico Military Institute in Roswell. For years, he’s lived on his ranch in Hondo.

He made lots of comments on the current presidential race. He spoke with dismay how some audience members at recent Republican debates have applauded executions in Texas, yelled that a hypothetical young man without health insurance should be left to die and booed a gay soldier in Iraq asking about the ‘don’t ask, don’t tell’ policy.
Vote Atilla 2012

He said Republicans are in danger of playing too much to the hard-right party base.

But, because of the poor economy, he said, Obama’s chances for re-election are looking dimmer and dimmer.

It seems now that the only way Obama could get re-elected, Donaldson cracked, is “if the Republicans put up Attila the Hun.”

Sunday will never be the same: Since Thanksgiving Day 2001, this column has run Thursdays in this newspaper’s Local section — except during my vacations.

Well, just shy of its 10th anniversary, you won’t find this Roundup in this section more. Or anywhere else on Thursdays.

But don’t cancel your subscription. Beginning three days from now, this column moves to the Sunday Opinion section.

I’ll still be writing about politics inside and outside of the Roundhouse, laced with scuttlebutt and wisecracks. And I’ll still be doing it weekly — except for vacations.

See you on Sunday.

Wednesday, September 28, 2011

A Short Troubled Political Career Comes to an End

The short troubled political career of Public Regulation Commissioner Jerome Block, Jr. came to an end Wednesday as Block pleaded guilty to felony charges and agreed to resign from the PRC and never seek elected office again.

Block was expressionless through a hearing Tuesday in state District Judge Michael Vigil’s courtroom. He made no statement or apology.

Though he potentially faces up to four and a half years in prison as a part of a plea bargain made with the state attorney general’s office, he can avoid serving time if he completes a drug court program and meets other requirements of the plea agreement. Block has admitted he has a problem with prescription drugs.

He pleaded guilty to credit card fraud (making illegal charges on a state gasoline card) and identity theft (falsely using a state credit card issued to another PRC employee.) He also pleaded no contest to a charge of embezzlement. That charge stems from Block taking a car from a Santa Fe auto dealer for a test drive in July and never returning it.

The plea agreement also requires Block to plead guilty to another embezzlement charge, a count of violation of the the campaign reporting act and conspiracy to violate that act. Those charges are related to his 2008 PRC campaign when Block reported spending public campaign finance money on an event that never actually took place.

His resignation from the PRC will forestall any impeachment proceedings by the state Legislature. A House of Representatives panel this month began the process of an impeachment investigation. The Legislature had set aside $1 million for impeachment costs.

Block's resignation also allows Gov. Susana Martinez to choose Block's replacement to serve out the rest of his term, which ends at the end of next year. Martinez is a Republican, while Block's district, which includes Santa Fe and northern New Mexico, is overwhelmingly Democratic.

Block's father, Jerome Block, Sr., a former PRC member, also was charged in the election fraud case. Prosecutors told the judge that the charges against the elder Block will be dropped because Jerome Jr. took responsibility for falsifying the campaign finance report.

More in tomorrow's New Mexican.

Tuesday, September 27, 2011

More Senate Endorsements

There's little argument that Heather Wilson is winning the endorsement battle in the Republican U.S. Senate primary.

But two of her opponents have just received some high profile endorsements this week.
Sen. Rand Paul, R-Ky

Let's start with Lt. Gov. John Sanchez. Today his campaign announced that he's been endorsed by Kentucky Sen. Rand Paul. The son of libertarian GOP presidential candidate Ron Paul, Rand is a Tea Party candidate who upset the establishment favorite in last year's Republican primary.

“I’ve watched the race unfold in New Mexico and it has become clear to me that there is only one rock-solid, Constitutional conservative in the race committed to standing up every day to fight higher taxes, increased spending and unrestrained government growth and that candidate is Lt. Governor John Sanchez,” said Senator Paul. “If the voters of New Mexico want more of Barack Obama, Harry Reid and Nancy Pelosi they have plenty of choices, but if they want a true conservative to look out for the taxpayer, I hope they’ll join me in supporting John Sanchez.”

Sharron Angle
Speaking of Harry Reid, Sharron Angle, the Tea Party Republican who surprised the Nevada establishment last year by winning the GOP Senate primary -- but then lost to Reid in the general election -- has endorsed darkhorse candidate Greg Sowards.

The Hill quote an Angle e-mail saying, "Greg Sowards is our only opportunity to advance conservatism."

Still waiting to see who Christine O'Donnell endorses.

Direct Popular Vote Panel Comes to Santa Fe

The University of New Mexico's Center for the Study of Voting, Elections, and Democracy is hosting a panel discussion panel tomorrow (Wednesday) about the movement to establish a direct popular vote for president.

I did a  Roundhouse Roundup column a few months ago about the organization behind this movement. The group, called National Popular Vote, is promoting for a compact among states that agree to cast their electoral votes to the presidential candidate who receives the most votes nationally.

Nine states, plus Washington, D.C., have signed on, representing a total of 132 electoral votes. (California, with 55 electoral votes signed on, since I wrote that column.)

The compact wouldn't take effect until there were enough states signed on to reach the 270 electoral votes needed to win the White House.

New Mexico, like most other states, uses the winner-take-all system to determine who gets our five electoral votes. So if a candidate wins the state by one vote or a half million votes -- he or she gets all five of our  electoral votes.

During the regular legislative session in March, the state House passed a memorial asking the secretary of state and the attorney general to "study and compare the current electoral college system and the national popular vote system" and to report their findings to the Legislative Council by November.

Gov. Susana Martinez has come out against the idea. Her spokesman told the Associated Press in April that "The current system helps ensure battleground states with independent-minded voters, like New Mexico, play a significant role in electing U.S. presidents. Currently, presidential candidates visit the state frequently and must listen and respond to the unique concerns of the state, from our national labs to our pueblos, and the governor believes that serves New Mexico well."

Proponents of the plan however argue that swing states don't really get much out of our "battleground" status except a few candidate visits and a lot of lip service.

The three-hour forum begins tomorrow at 10 a.m. at the Joseph Montoya Building, 1100 St. Francis Drive in the Bid Room. It's free and the public is invited.

This is the second of three public meetings on the issue sponsored by the Center. After the final meeting in November, the Center will prepare a summary of its findings to present to the Secretary of State to help with that office's mandated study on directly electing the president.

Grade D Psychics

I always figured if journalism didn't work out, I could always get a job as a roadside fortune teller.

However, looking at how we called the chances of various bills for the recent session causes me to reconsider my options for a career as a psychic.

Before the session started, my colleagues Trip Jennings, Kate Nash and myself looked at the various issues Gov. Susana Martinez wanted to be considered during the special.

We rated the chances of  each one -- "Good shot," "Long shot," "No shot." The ratings we arrived at was a consensus.

Yesterday I went back and looked at our original list and compared it to the actual results.

Of 10 issues, we called six of them correctly. That's 60 percent. By any measure, a grade of D.

O.K., D minus!

In general we we too optimistic about those issues we got wrong. Perhaps subconsciously we didn't want to be branded as doomsayers? Who knows?

One issue we didn't look at on the original list, which was late to be added to Martinez's agenda, was consolidating several state agencies. I'm sure we would have rated that "no shot" or "long shot" so that would have improved our average.

Saturday, September 24, 2011

Senate Has Quit, House Heads Toward SIne Death

The Senate called it a Sine Die after passing the capital outlay bill after 1 a.m.

It's all up to the House now.

Besides capital outlay and the unemployment insurance bill, the main thing left on the House agenda is the Senate's congressional redistricting plan. The House itself was never able to get its own bill out of committee. So it's Senate bill or nothing.

For Santa Fe and other Northern New Mexico readers, there were no drastic changes in CD 3. Ben Ray Lujan is still in the district and it would remain safely Democratic in the Senate plan.

Last I looked, the House Democrats were still in caucus. Several Republicans are on the House floor.

There was talk even before the session started that the Legislature would pass the redistricting plans then wait three days before calling it quits to force Gov. Susana Martinez to sign or veto before they left.

I suppose it became pretty clear the governor will veto all the major bills -- and that there aren't enough votes to pass anything she wouldn't veto.

So the money that would have gone to three more days of the special can now go to the lawyers. Onto the courts!

Thursday, September 22, 2011

Johnson at GOP Debate

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


Former New Mexico Gov. Gary Johnson finally got invited to a Republican presidential debate in which all the major candidates participated. But he still wasn’t a major factor in the two-hour, nationally televised event in Orlando, Fla.

Johnson was the last of the nine GOP contenders to get a question from the Fox News moderators. That came 19 minutes into the debate. The next time Johnson was called upon was nearly 20 minutes later. After that the former governor had to wait more than a half hour to get another crack at a question.

But Johnson did get one of the evening’s biggest laugh lines. Talking about the economy, Johnson said, “My next door neighbor’s two dogs have created more shovel-ready jobs than this administration.”

Dave Weigel, a blogger for Slate quipped on Twitter, “Gary Johnson just got himself into some of the debate highlight reels. Mission accomplished.”

Weigel later reported that Johnson in a post-debate interview said he was unaware that conservative radio commentator Rush Limbaugh had made a similar joke earlier that day.

That wasn’t Johnson’s only positive reaction from the Orlando audience. He got boisterous applause when, asked about education policy, he said he’d abolish the federal Department of Education.

But nobody can accuse Johnson of pandering to the crowd. Johnson endured scattered boos from the Florida Republicans when he said trade with Cuba and chartered flights to Cuba are good ideas. “I think trade promotes friendship,” he said.

One of his rivals, Congresswoman Michele Bachmann of Minnesota, quickly jumped in, saying Cuba is a “state sponsor of terrorism,” so there should be no trade with or flights to the communist nation 90 miles from Florida’s shores.

Asked which of the other GOP candidates he’d pick as a running mate, Johnson named Texas congressman and fellow libertarian Ron Paul. But Paul didn’t return the favor when asked the same question. He said he wouldn’t even think about a running mate until he got to be one of the top two candidates.

Johnson used other parts of his brief time in the spotlight to emphasize his promise to balance the budget in his first year as president and to overhaul the federal tax system and replace it with a “fair tax” or “consumption tax.”

He brought up his hundreds of vetoes during two terms as governor (1995 to 2002.) “I think I’ve vetoed more bills than any governor in the United States,” he said, “more than all governors combined.”

Political scientist Larry Sabato of the University of Virginia’s Center for Politics tweeted in response, “Fact checkers going nuts trying to verify Gary Johnson’s veto claim.” Sabato later gave Johnson a grade of C-plus for his debate performance.

That wasn’t Johnson’s most unflattering mention on Twitter. In fact, some national establishment commentators were downright cold.

“Gary Johnson has not gotten better at public speaking in the past few months,” tweeted Rachel Weiner of The Washington Post blog The Fix.

“Did Gov. Johnson’s advisors tell him to do MORE thumb twitching than his last debate?” said Miles Kahn, a writer for the Comedy Channel’s Daily Show with Jon Stewart.

“Gary Johnson reminds me of the [Saturday Night Live] version of Al Gore,” wrote Aaron Blake of The Fix.

Thursday’s debate was co-sponsored by Fox News and Google. The next scheduled debate, at Dartmouth College in New Hampshire, is scheduled for Oct. 11. It’s not clear whether Johnson will be participating.

UPDATE: 11:05 p.m. The Huffington Post has revealed that Johnson's dog joke was provided to him by KOB radio host Jim Villanucci.

HuffPost’s Sara Kenigsberg spoke to Johnson about the joke shortly after the GOP debate ended. Johnson told her that Jim Villanucci, a former "Tonight Show" writer and current radio host on Albuquerque’s KKOB station, sent him several jokes late Thursday afternoon. "He texted me about eight one-liners that maybe I could use so it was one of those things that, 'wow, that was really funny," Johnson said. He didn't know about Limbaugh telling the joke earlier today.



Here's Johnson's big moment Thursday night:

Roundhouse Roundup: The Susana Martinez Defense

A version of this was published in The Santa Fe New Mexican
September 22, 2011


A word of caution for fellow motor-vehicle operators in Santa Fe caught by the unblinking eye of the hated Santa Fe Speed SUV:

The Susana Martinez defense doesn’t work.

Let me explain. One night last June my car was captured by the robot paparazzi inside the sport utility vehicle on Don Gaspar Avenue.

I was going 36 mph, according to the finely tuned, computerized technology inside the SUV. The speed limit was 25, so I was 11 miles over the speed limit — the lowest speed that will get you a ticket from the speed SUV.

When I received notice in the mail of the violation, my teenage son declared that I was the victim of “an Orwellian scam.”

In my heart I agreed, even though I knew that Big Brother wouldn’t torture me with rats over this particular violation.

Instead of just paying the $100 fine, I opted to schedule a hearing, figuring that even if they didn’t dismiss the ticket, I’d probably get a break on the fine. That’s the way it’s worked in the past in Santa Fe since way before I was old enough to drive.

So where does the governor of New Mexico fit in? Early this month, around the same time I received notice for my hearing, there was a news item about Martinez’s driver being pulled over for speeding in Albuquerque. Her state police driver was going 48 mph in a 35 mph zone. That’s 13 miles over the speed limit.

The Associated Press reported, “That violation typically earns the driver a $95 ticket, but the governor’s driver got away with a verbal warning. Albuquerque police said the governor didn’t receive preferential treatment.

“Every day citizens are stopped all around Albuquerque by APD officers and given verbal warnings,” a police spokesman told KOAT news. “It’s all the officers’ discretion. It happens all the time.”

Sounds reasonable.

Courtroom drama: So when I went to my hearing Wednesday morning, I brought up this little tale. If the governor’s driver could get a verbal warning for going 13 miles over the speed limit, shouldn’t others be afforded the same measure of justice?

I explained I wasn’t trying to make some cheap partisan point. Republican Martinez’s Democratic predecessor, Bill Richardson, frequently ordered his state police drivers to go at speeds way beyond 13 miles over the speed limit. Richardson’s drivers never had to pay any fines, either.

But my argument didn’t get very far. In fact, it got the same result as most of the Martinez administration’s arguments in cases argued before the state Supreme Court this year.

Sgt. T.J. Grundler, who attended the hearing for the city, wasn’t dismissive of the fairness argument. And he even mentioned a story by my colleague, Geoff Grammer. Grammer reported last month that 250 citations issued between January 2010 and June 2011 to government vehicles were either rejected or dismissed. The story said that only nine citations issued to drivers of government vehicles were actually paid.

But Grundler insisted that has changed since he became the SFPD officer assigned to the photo enforcement program. In fact, he said, his popularity among some of his fellow officers has suffered because he doesn’t drop their tickets without good reason.

Hearing officer Jamison Barclay added that some legislators have been caught by the speed SUV and had to pay their fines. She didn’t name names.

And so, she ruled I had to pay the whole $100.

I’m not whining. I was in the wrong.

I just wish I’d been pulled over by the cop who stopped the governor’s driver instead of being photographed by that stupid machine.

Tuesday, September 20, 2011

I've Been a Bad Blogger

Sorry, I've been too busy to blog today.

I had the unpleasant duty of going over to New Mexico Magazine today and interviewing several old friends and former co-workers who were laid off today. Some of them -- Emily Drabanski, Arnold Vigil and Walter Lopez have been there for more than 20 years.

The magazine laid off seven of its 17 employees. Also laid off were 16 employees of Expo New Mexico, which is responsible for the New Mexico State Fair.


UPDATE:  Read my story HERE.

But back to my friends ...

I worked with Arnold at the Journal North for three years in the '80s. Walter and I worked together at the New Mexican  for a couple of years when I first came here in 1987. Emily and I never actually worked together, but back in the early '80s we were both covering music (she for the New Mexican, me for the Santa Fe Reporter.) We were "competitors" back then. But at least a couple of times she and her husband gave me rides to the Line Camp to review shows there.

What can I say? I love these guys. They're a talented bunch and I'm sure they will land on their feet.

xxx

I haven't paid close attention to redistricting. I do know the Senate apparently is still tweaking their redistricting plan. The current one pits two southeast Republican senators, Rod Adair and Bob Burt, against each other. And in Albuquerque, Republican John Ryan would be in the same district as Democrat Dede Feldman.

By the time you read this, that plan might be in the dustbin. (And even if it passes, there's no way Gov. Martinez would sign it.)

The Senate Judiciary is supposed to meet later tonight. But a planned Senate floor session has been cancelled. They're coming back in the morning.

And so will I.

Monday, September 19, 2011

Scorecard for Monday

The Senate passed its Congressional plan today -- while rejecting a Republican sponsored plan that would have put Albuquerque's North Valley into CD 3 and the South Valley into CD 2. It was a party-line vote.

The Senate Congressional map is HERE.

Both the House and the Senate passed redistricting plans for the Public Regulation Commission. (In the Senate, three Democrats joined in the opposition.) All Republicans present in both chambers voted against their respective plans -- saying the new districts could create a 4-1 Democratic majority on the PRC. (Currently the body has a 3-Dem, 2-R split.)

The Senate and House plans are very similar but not identical. One of the bills would have to pass both chambers before it's sent to the governor. If the two chambers can't agree on maps, a conference committee made up of members from both chambers would have to hammer out the differences.

The House PRC plan is HERE. The Senate one is HERE

Both plans keep all of Santa Fe County in PRC District 3, which currently is represented by Jerome Block, Jr.. Currently Eldorado and other areas south of the city are in District 5, represented by Theresa Becenti-Aguilar.

Before any plan becomes law, it has to be signed by the governor. Considering that no Republican voted for any of the plans that passed today make a veto by Republican Gov. Susana Martinez seem more likely.

UPDATE: 6:15 pm The initial version of this post incorrectly suggested that the two bills would head straight to a conference committee. The text has been corrected to reflect the actual process.

Friday, September 16, 2011

A Few Things Are Starting to Move in Special Session.

Both the Senate and the House this afternoon passed their versions of the Public Education Commission redistricting plans. I can't say how the two plans differ, if at all.

At least one of the bills would have to make it through both chambers before going to the governor for signature.

The PEC is mostly an advisory board. Its major power is approving charter schools.

And just moments ago the House unanimously passed HB 28, which appropriates the rest of the state's stimulus money (currently at $6.2 million) to the state's Medicaid program and $450,000 from the general fund to shore up the Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program.

This bill was part of Gov. Susana Martinez's agenda -- and is the only non-redistricting bill that's been considered so far.

These are the easy bills. The big fights over redistricting should come in the next few days.

Senate Majority Leader Michael Sanchez dropped by the news room earlier this morning. He confirmed what several other Democratic lawmakers have said -- that the Legislature will pass the redistricting and stay in session three days, so the governor will have to sign or veto the bills while they are still there.

During those three days, Sanchez said, some of the governor's other bills will be debated.

Thursday, September 15, 2011

Bob Gorence Hired as Lawyer For Block Impeachment Panel

The House subcommittee looking into the possible impeachment of PRC member Jerome Block, Jr. has hired a former federal prosecutor as its legal counsel.

According to a news release that just came in the email, former First Assistant United States Attorney Robert J. Gorence has agreed to work for the committee.
.
"We are fortunate to have someone of Mr. Gorence's caliber serve as our special counsel. This is an important undertaking and the subcommittee will be well-served by Mr. Gorence's assistance," Reps  Joe Cervantes and Zach Cook, co-chairs of the panel, said in a joint statement.

Gorence worked in the U.S. Attorney's Office  from 1986 to 2000. He was the first assistant United States attorney from 1994 to 2000. "In that capacity, he was involved in hundreds of major investigations and prosecutions, personally tried 93 jury trials and argued 47 cases before the Tenth Circuit Court of Appeals," the news release said.

Gorence was the lead prosecutor in the espionage case against Los Alamos scientist Wen Ho Lee, who pleaded guilty to one felony after the most serious charges against him were dropped.

Since then, he's been in private practice, concentrating in the areas of criminal defense and plaintiff's civil rights. He's had his share of controversial and colorful clients.

Gorence represents former Secretary of State Rebecca Vigil-Giron, who has been indicted on charges of fraud over unaccounted-for federal money for a voter-education project her office administered.

He was one of the lawyers representing political figure Carlos Fierro in his vehicular homicide case. He represented former state Insurance Superintendent Eric Serna (who never was charged with any crime) as well as Raul Parra, a co-defendant of Manny Aragon's in the Bernalillo County Courthouse scandal -- not to mention and Albuquerque race car driver Bobby Unser.

The subcommittee meets again next week.

UPDATE 7:45 am 9-16-2011: The original version of this post did not include Rebecca Vigil Giron among Gorence's clients.

FORE!

There was an interesting little exchange on the House floor a few minutes ago. Rep. Paul Band, R-Farmington, announced that he and a few other Republican lawmakers spent part of yesterday afternoon at the Santa Fe Country Club playing golf.

Actually Bandy said he's not much of a golfer. He really only likes sports that involve horses. So, he said, he was caddy for Rep. Anna Crook and House GOP Leader Tom Taylor.

Speaker Ben Lujan, in a scolding tone, said that he doesn't think any House Democrats have had time to play golf during the special session.

Bandy replied that because none of the House committees he serves on were hearing any bills, there was nothing wrong in spending the afternoon on the links. House Republicans have been complaining all week that there's nothing to do at the session because the only bills being heard so far are redistricting bills.

When Crook announced that Republicans would caucus after the floor session, Lujan asked whether that caucus meeting would be at the golf course.

The session is costing about $50,000 a day. Lawmakers are paid $171 a day during the session.

I don't think we've heard the last of this.

Roundhouse Roundup:Tensions Between Gov and GOP Senators?

A version of this was published in The Santa Fe New Mexican
September 15, 2011


Gov. Susana Martinez & Chief of Staff Keith GardnerHouse Republicans have been complaining all week about the slow pace of the special session — mainly because, so far, only bills pertaining to the complex redistricting process are being heard, and not the other items on Gov. Susana Martinez's agenda.

But that's the House. We haven't heard much in the way of similar complaints coming out of Senate Republicans.

However, one thing I'm starting to hear — in off-the-record whispers from lawmakers from both parties and staff — is that there are some real tensions developing between the Governor's Office and Senate Republicans.

This, according to the talk, is because the Republican governor doesn't think GOP senators are doing enough to push Martinez's legislative priorities.

Sen. Stuart Ingle
In fact, one senator — to be sure, a Democratic senator — said this week there's even been talk of Martinez getting someone to run against longtime Senate Republican Leader Stuart Ingle of Portales in the GOP primary next year.

Ingle in an interview Wednesday downplayed any tension with the Fourth Floor. He also shrugged off the rumor of a primary challenge,

"You hear those kinds of things in a session," Ingle said. "If she wants to do that, she can."

Ingle remains popular among his caucus. Sen. Clint Harden, R-Clovis, noted that all but two Republican senators signed the redistricting bill for New Mexico Senate districts that Ingle introduced on Wednesday.

"That's a pretty good indication of the support we have for our leadership," Harden said.

A spokesman for Martinez declined to comment Wednesday when asked about reported strains in her relationship with GOP senators.

An independent beast: Martinez wouldn't be the first New Mexico governor to learn that the state Senate is not a very good place to try to find cheerleaders. She found out during her first regular session that the Senate was where many of her pet bills — a proposal to end driver's licenses for foreign nationals being the most notable — went to die. They died even though Senate Republicans voted for them.

Bill Richardson always had House Speaker Ben Luján, D-Nambé, to watch his back — and sometimes pull his proposals out of the fire — in the House. But he almost always ran into trouble in the Senate. What started off as "tensions" in the early years ended up as open loathing in some cases by the end of Richardson's second term.

And some of his most vocal Senate critics were fellow Democrats.

Back in the Richardson era some assumed that he had trouble with the Senate because the political makeup of that chamber was more conservative than the House.

I'm starting to think that's no longer true. For one thing, since the last election, the House has grown more conservative.

But also you have other factors at work. A major one is that the Senate prides itself on its independence.

One lawmaker told The New Mexican on Wednesday that Martinez and the House Republicans might be closer and know each other better because they both ran on the same ticket in 2010. Senators, who serve four-year terms, were not on the ballot last year.

But the senators are close to one another. Perhaps because of their longer terms and because the Senate has no single strong-man equivalent to the House speaker, there's a more clubby atmosphere in the Senate. There are lots of long-term, bipartisan friendships there, the most famous being that of Ingle and Senate President Pro Tem Tim Jennings, D-Roswell.

Like Richardson, Martinez undoubtedly will learn that the Senate is a bronc that's not easily broken.

Tuesday, September 13, 2011

Today's Scripture

Rep. Brian Egolf, D-Santa Fe, reponded on the floor of the House a few minutes ago to yesterday's complaints from Republicans about the slow pace of the special session.

He accused Republicans of reciting "talking points" from the 4th Floor and political party chairmen (Republican, I presume.) He said he had "talking points from a higher power."

Then he read from the New Testament, Matthew 6:1 to 6:4

1 "Be careful not to do your 'acts of righteousness' before men, to be seen by them. If you do, you will have no reward from your Father in heaven.

2 "So when you give to the needy, do not announce it with trumpets, as the hypocrites do in the synagogues and on the streets, to be honored by men. I tell you the truth, they have received their reward in full.

3 But when you give to the needy, do not let your left hand know what your right hand is doing,

4 so that your giving may be in secret. Then your Father, who sees what is done in secret, will reward you.

Is Anything Happening at the Special Session?

That question seems to have become a partisan issue.

House Republicans are accusing House Speaker Ben Lujan and other Democratic leaders of dragging their feet because there haven't been any committee hearings scheduled on bills except those dealing with redistricting. Lujan and others say it's true that redistricting is the priority but there will be time to consider most of the other bills.

My story on that is HERE.


One thing that is happening is that the subcommittee working on the possible impeachment of PRC member Jerome Block Jr. is scheduled to meet in about 30 minutes and hopefully they will announce that they've hired a lawyer for the task. Watch this space.

UPDATE: 11:15 am The Block impeachment panel did not hire an attorney today. Co-chairman Joe Cervantes said there are about a half dozen attorneys under consideration and that more names could be added to the list of possibilities. There might be a selection by Thursday's meeting, he said.

Monday, September 12, 2011

Susana Makes the Onion

The news about Gov. Susana Martinez's grandfather illegally entered the U.S.  from Mexico has made national news.

But it's not really national news until it makes The Onion.

Here's the latest "American Voices," The Onion's "Man-in-the-Street" feature.

(Note to Mary Herrera: The Onion is satire.)

Friday, September 9, 2011

Driver's License Bill Introduced by Speaker Lujan

Some Democrats have complained that the Legislature agenda already is too packed with redistrciting to fool around with issues that Gov. Susana Martinez wants passed, such as repealing the law that allows illegal immigrants to get driver's licenses.

But now House Speaker Ben Lujan has introduced his own driver's license bill.

According to a news release from the House Democrats, the bill would require foreign nationals to provide more information and documentation, would reduce the period for which the license is valid and would increase criminal penalties for those who don't comply.

Says Lujan, "I have introduced this bill for the consideration of the legislature to improve the law already on the books. This is a bill much like the bill introduced during the last regular session that addresses the important public safety issues and other concerns raised by our diverse population. It is our intent to give the legislature a chance to discuss this bill in open committee meetings and on the floor.”

Lujan's bill, House Bill 22, looks somewhat like the substitute bill passed by  the Senate -- and rejected by the House -- in the regular session.

The bill would stop the issuing 8-year and 4-year licenses to foreign nationals who don't have a Social Security number. Instead licenses for these folks would be issued for 2 years.

In order to obtain a driver's license applicants would have to provide additional identification and proof of residency. These applicants without  a Social Security number would have to provide:

1) an individual taxpayer identification or similar number;
2) additional proof of identity such as a passport or matricula consular identification;
3) fingerprints
4) two independent documents proving six months of residency in New Mexico; and
5) a signed and notarized declaration stating the accuracy and authenticity of all the documents provided.

Under this bill. it would be a fourth degree felony to "knowingly or willingly" provide false or fraudulent information or documents to the Taxation and Revenue Department to obtain a license. It also would be a fourth degree felony to conspire with an applicant or to bribe Taxation and Revenue Department employees in order to obtain a driver's license.

Lujan's bill would make it a second degree felony for Taxation and Revenue Department employees to issue a driver's license knowingly to a person who is not lawfully entitled to one.

The Martinez administration didn't like the Senate bill at the regular session. I'm thinking they won't care that much for this one.

Rep. Andy Nunez, I-Hatch, has introduced the license bill favored by the administration, House Bill 18.

Thursday, September 8, 2011

Gary Johnson Would Take the 10-1 Tax Deal

The Capitol press room just got another visit from former Gov. Gary Johnson, who is now running for the Republican nomination for president -- though you wouldn't know it from the way he's been left out of the past several GOP debates.

And, as frequently happens, Johnson said some things that distinguish from all those candidates who do get to go to the debates.

Nobody could ever accuse Gary Johnson of being a tax-and-spend liberal. As governor he was always pushing for tax cuts and he vetoed hundreds of spending bills.

But unlike all of the candidates at a recent debate,  Johnson said he wouldn't have raised his hand in one recent debate question in which candidates were asked who would reject a budget bill that would would raise taxes one dollar for every $10 of spending cuts.

"First of all, it's a hypothetical -- it's never going to happen," he said. "But Come on! You'd reject 10-1 cuts?"

Getting down to New Mexico business, Johnson, who was governor in 2001, the last time the state went through the redistricting process, predicted that Gov. Susana Martinez will veto most the redistricting plans that come out of the Democratic Legislature.

Wednesday, September 7, 2011

Roundhouse Roundup: Keeping Families Together

A version of this was published in The Santa Fe New Mexican
September 8, 2011



I doubt Gov. Susana Martinez would use this in a campaign ad, but she could rightfully claim that her administration has helped bring families together.

This column reported a couple of months ago that the Governor’s Office had hired Alexis Valdez Darnell for the position of operations director. She’s the wife of Scott Darnell, Martinez’s communications director.
Keith Gardner
Now, the state Public Education Department has hired Stephanie Gardner as its National Assessment of Educational Progress coordinator.

She’s a teacher from Roswell. She’s also the wife of Keith Gardner, Martinez’s chief of staff.

Larry Behrens, spokesman for the department, confirmed the hire, which was first reported Wednesday on the website of Independent Source PAC, a liberal political-action committee dedicated to opposition research.

“She was hired after a competitive process where the position was posted publicly,” Behrens said in an email. “There were about 20 applicants for the job, of which PED staff interviewed five. Each interviewee received a score from at least two PED staff members, which resulted in a final score. After that process, Stephanie was clearly the most qualified applicant for the job with her extensive teaching experience in Roswell.”

Behrens said neither Keith Gardner nor Secretary of Education Designate Hanna Skandera was a part of the scoring, interview or selection process.

“On top of that, she does not report to either of them directly as part of her current role,” Behrens said.

Stephanie Gardner is a classified employee with a $67,000 a year salary, which, Behrens said, is less than her predecessor earned.

The National Assessment of Educational Progress, also known as The Nation’s Report Card, collects information and statistics related to academic achievement of students.

As pointed out here previously, the Martinez administration isn’t the first to hire relatives of those who work for the governor.

Bill Richardson employed both Eric Witt as his legislative liaison and point man on film industry issues and Lee Witt, Eric’s mother, as an aide to first lady Barbara Richardson. Meanwhile, Gary Johnson’s chief of staff, the late Lou Gallegos, worked in the Governor’s Office at the same time his wife, Rita Nuñez, did.

Hello, Heather: In his role as the president of the Senate, Lt. Gov. John Sanchez has the unofficial duty of giving a warm greeting to guests of legislators who visit during floor sessions. On Tuesday, the opening day of the current special session, Sanchez did that job well — even with former Congresswoman Heather Wilson, a guest of Sen. Clint Harden, R-Clovis.

Sanchez’s tone was friendly and sincere as he welcomed Wilson. And he didn’t mention once the fact that he and Wilson are running against each other in next year’s Republican primary for U.S. Senate. And he didn’t even allude to the fact that he and Wilson have said some pretty harsh things about each other in recent months.

Wilson was in friendly territory, at least on the Republican side of the Senate. At least 12 of the 15 sitting GOP senators have endorsed her Senate bid.

Out of the doghouse?: Senate President Pro Tem Tim Jennings, D-Roswell, got some chuckles Tuesday when he noted on the floor that Sanchez was sometimes “in the doghouse” with Gov. Martinez.

When Sanchez announced he was running for Senate this year, Martinez released a statement saying, “To prevent this race from becoming a distraction, Lt. Governor Sanchez will not be given responsibilities in my administration beyond the select few provided for in the state Constitution.”

But no one who heard Sanchez speak Monday at a tea party rally outside the Capitol would have suspected that he’d ever even seen the inside of the doghouse.

Sanchez in his speech enthusiastically endorsed every one of Martinez’s issues she wants considered in the special session. “I do support Gov. Martinez’s efforts to reform New Mexico,” he said. “For the governor to have a robust agenda is good for New Mexico.”

Tuesday, September 6, 2011

Speaker Names Impeachment Subcommittee

As expected, House Speaker Ben Lujan named a panel -- a subcommittee of the House Rules Committee, actually -- to look at possible impeachment charges agains Public Regulations Commissioner Jerome Block, Jr.

The panel will be co-chaired by Reps. Joe Cervantes, D-Las Cruces and Zach Cook, R-Ruidoso.

Members include Democrats Al Park, Debbie Rodella, Eliseo Alcon, Gail Chasey and Republicans Anna Crook, Larry Larranaga, Don Tripp and Dennis Roch.

The subcommittee will report its findings by the end of the special session.

The Proclamation

Here it is.

2011 Special Session Proclamation

Santa Fe Being Invaded as Part of Turf War Battle

Back in the '70s there were always rumors that biker gangs were going to descend upon Santa Fe for Fiestas.

This year, another gang is coming to town during Fiestas, one that potentially could do more damage as they fight over turf: The state Legislature, which, among (many) other things are going to be fighting over redistricting, Bystanders beware!

Special session starts at noon.

My story about redistricting is HERE

Friday, September 2, 2011

Jemez Pueblo Responds to Casino Rejection

The Interior Department today rejected Jemez Pueblo’s proposal to build a casino down in Anthony -- nearly 300 miles away from its tribal lands.

The government cited concerns about the pueblo 's ability to oversee a gaming site so far away. It declined the tribe’s request to acquire the land in trust.

Jemez Pueblo proposed a partnership with Santa Fe art dealer Gerald Peters to build a $55 million casino and hotel in southern New Mexico near the Texas border.

The Bush administration first shot down the plan in 2008, saying it was too far from the pueblo to generate jobs for the tribe. The Obama Administration reopened consideration of some off-reservation casino applications.

Responding to the rejection, Jemez Pueblo released a statement saying:

“On the very day when the headlines in major newspapers across the country are dismally reporting that job growth in the U.S. economy is at a halt and that the jobs report for the month of August is one of the worst showings in recent history, it is difficult to understand the Department’s decision to deny an application that will create thousands of jobs on such a technical basis.

“In addition to ignoring the need for jobs, the decision also ignores the express terms of the Agreement. The Pueblo expressly reserves the right to provide all the services, thereby, exercising total jurisdiction over the land. The Agreement does exactly what the letter says is lacking.”

The Pueblo is reviewing the rejection letter and “evaluating its options,” the statement said.

Other New Mexico Indian tribes were among those who opposing the Jemez plan. The project also was opposed by the nearby Sunland Park racetrack, which said the proposed Anthony casino would devastate its business.

UPDATE 4:15 pm I just got an email from Scott Scanland, a lobbyist for Sunland Park. Not surprisingly, it says “Sunland Park Racetrack & Casino is pleased with the action of the Department of Interior. Clearly Asst. Secretary Echo Hawk read the law, understood the law and made the only decision he could make based on the law.”

The Legacy Continues

Well, she wasn't going going 110 mph like certain other governors used to do, but Gov. Susana Martinez's state police driver was stopped for speeding yesterday in Albuquerque.

According to KOAT TV,  her car was going 48 mph in 35 mph zone. The governor was headed for a lunch at the Chama River Brewing Company. Her vehicle was stopped on the I-25 frontage road near Jefferson N.E.

That's a  a $95 ticket, but the driver got off with a verbal warning. Albuquerque police said the governor didn't receive preferential treatment. Channel 7 quoted an APD spokesman saying the officer who stopped them "likely knew the governor was in the car," but this had nothing to do with letting her driver off the hook.

I just hope I get the same treatment when I go to my hearing for speeding tickets I got from Santa Fe's beloved photo enforcement van.

Thursday, September 1, 2011

Election Group Criticizes SOS Investigation

The Fair Elections Legal Network says that Secretary of State Dianna Duran might be undermining public confidence in the election system by having the state Department of Public Safety investigation 64,000 voter registrations.

Duran's chief of staff, Ken Ortiz said the SOS won't be in her office until next week and couldn't respond until then.

The Washington, D.C. based group also said it would be a violation of state law if Duran's office gave the DPS Social Security numbers or dates of birth found on the 64,000 registrations.

The letter is below. More in Friday's New Mexican. 


UPDATE 9-2-11: The story is HERE
FELN Duran