Thursday, May 31, 2012

"Independent" Attacks in the House District 46 Race

I wrote a story in today's New Mexican about a couple of interesting attacks on on the canes vying to replace House Speaker Ben Lujan in House District 46.

Some of you might have heard the radio spots on KSWV blasting Carl Trujillo. Those were paid for by a group calling itself "Concerned Citizens for an Honest Debate."

No, I'd never heard of them either. I couldn't even find anyone from Concerned Citizens for a Dishonest Debate for a reaction. But because this group  spent less than $500 for the ads, it doesn't have to file a report with the Secretary of State or disclose any of its contributors.

Meanwhile some voters received mailers this week ripping on Santa Fe Mayor David Coss. These were from a conservative Albuquerque-based called the New Mexico Business Coalition. Now this is a real group. They have a website and everything.

But, because they are a 501c(4) nonprofit corporation, they don't have to report their contributors. And those anti-Coss mailers ... they're not political. They're "voter education."

The primary's almost over, but the general election is only going to get worse.

Sunday, May 27, 2012

Roundhouse Roundup: Dust-up in Clovis

A version of this was published in The Santa Fe New Mexican 
May 27, 2012

It's not as if this area doesn't have enough interesting legislative races to follow. But still my attention keeps getting drawn eastward toward the Clovis area. And that's true of political junkies all over the state. That's the Republican primary race where two political newcomers, Angie Spears, director of a Clovis counseling agency, and rancher Pat Woods are vying to fill the Senate District 7 seat being vacated by Sen. Clint Harden.

Angie Spears
At first glance it would appear that Spears would have a clear edge. She's raised the most money in the race with about $28,000 in the bank as of the last campaign finance report. Woods had about $500 going into the last days of the campaign.

Spears' uncle is Public Regulation Commissioner Pat Lyons, a former state land commissioner who held that state Senate seat for 10 years. She's also related by marriage to Clovis District Attorney Matt Chandler. But most significantly, Spears has the enthusiastic endorsement of the most popular Republican politician in the state, Gov. Susana Martinez.

But that's where it's been interesting. Spears jumped in the race right before the end of the legislative session. Harden dropped out a few days later. About 10 minutes after Harden's announcement (OK, I might be exaggerating a little), Martinez endorsed her. Martinez's political director Jay McCleskey was hired by Spears' campaign. The guv's political action committee contributed $5,000 to Spears.

Shortly after he dropped out, Harden told me he suspected that the governor recruited Spears to run against him. (He also suspected Lyons might be behind it because of a recent disagreement. Lyons vehemently denied it.)
Pat Woods

At the time, Spears was the only announced candidate. By filing day, Woods had emerged. Martinez this week was asked about getting involved in a contested Republican primary. She said the Legislature needs people "who are going to reform New Mexico, who are going to change New Mexico. ... And I have no apologies for doing so."

Some believe that the race will be a real test of the governor's power to mold the Legislature and its Republican caucuses.

Predictably, the race has gotten nasty. Blogger Joe Monahan has published a couple of mailers from the District 7 race. Spears sent one pointing out that Woods in the past has contributed money to Democratic legislators -- or in the language of the mailer, "He funds liberal Democrats who support giving driver's licenses to illegal immigrants."

The mailer also ties Wood to the "liberal" Senate president pro-tem. That "liberal" is Sen. Tim Jennings, D-Roswell, who won the post a few years ago by forging a coalition between all Senate Republicans and a handful of conservative Democrats.

This reminds me of a classic McCleskey attack on another Clovis Republican. When former Lt. Gov. Walter Bradley was running for governor in 2002, McCleskey was handling the campaign of his rival, John Sanchez. Sanchez unleashed ads and mailers implying that Bradley was in league with Senate Democrat powerhouse Manny Aragon.

But Woods struck back, sending a mailer with an unflattering photo of McCleskey, whom he called a "slick ABQ political consultant" whom Spears has paid $10,000 for "mudslinging and negative attacks."

Some believe the conservative but independent-minded Republicans of District 7 might indeed resent the big city political types telling them how to vote.

But a former Republican lawmaker not involved in the battle doesn't think so. Average GOP voters don't care about political consultants and the stuff that political junkies do. Martinez is very popular, especially among his party, the Republican noted. That'll be enough to get Spears elected, he said.

He might be right. But it's still a race worth watching.

Note: On Saturday, the Clovis News Journal published a poll showing Spears seven percentage points ahead of Woods. But here's some big grains of salt: The paper cautioned that the margin of error was 6.8 percent (only 201 Republicans were surveyed) and 31 percent were undecided.

Here's  those flyers, stolen from Joe Monahan. Click either to see slightly larger copies.

Friday, May 25, 2012

On The Line Tonight

Gene Grant
I'm on the panel on The Line this week on KNME's New Mexico in Focus to discuss various state House races and other issues.

Also on the panel are host Gene Grant, former state Rep. Dan Foley, former U.S. Commerce  official Jamie Estrada and environmental lawyer Laura Sanchez.

 The show airs 7 p.m. on KNME, Channel 5. The show repeats 7 a.m. Sunday.

Securing Susana

Following Gov. Martinez's landing without landing gear at the Santa Fe Municipal Airport Wednesday night, some have raised the question why there were none of her state police security detail with her on the plane.

I know from covering Bill Richardson political events around the state during his time as governor -- as well as in Boston at the 2004 Democratic National Convention and several trips to New Hampshire and Iowa in his presidential bid -- there were at least of couple of state cops with the governor all the time.

So I asked her office today what the deal was and if there was any policy related to this. Spokesman Greg Blair replied, "... there is no specific policy in this case. The governor made stops in Clayton and Tucumcari before returning to Santa Fe and there was security on the ground at each location."

Have a great Memorial Day.

Thursday, May 24, 2012

Governor Talks About Her Rough Landing

Gov. Susana Martinez this morning talked to reporters about her rough landing on a plane last night.

She  told reporters, following an event reading to children at the Espanola library, that the incident wasn't as scary as one might expect.

"We were coming in from Clayton," she said. "we were coming in from Santa Fe. We had a lot of cross winds. ... So the pilot decided not to land as we got closer to the ground. ... So he made a loop around one more time. And when he did that he raised the landing gears so it would not slow the plane down. When he came back around, he was concentrating so hard on balancing the plane that, with those crosswinds he did not drop the landing gear, and so we landed on the belly of the plane.

Gov. Susana Martinez
"It was really not as eventful as one would think," Martinez said when asked how she felt during the landing. "We knew we were going around. I actually had stopped reading some material I had ...

"I'm used to having bumpy (plane) rides, so when it landed, I thought we'd had a blow out and that we were on metal because you could see sparks flying on the side, just like when you have a blow out on a vehicle and you end up with no tire and just the rim. But it was a balanced landing once we landed on the belly and we slid as he immediately came to a stop and turned off all the machinery. "

"... We were buckled in," she said. "it didn't rattle the plane it, it didn't move us around, we didn't bounce around. We didn't feel a sudden thump. Nothing. Truly what gave us the hint that something went wrong was the sound of metal on the asphalt and the sparks along the side on the outside of the plane. And shortly thereafter you could smell kind of a burning smell.

"But it was't that eventful," she insisted. "Once we walked away and looked at it, you went,  'Wow. That just happened to us. ... So I put on my flip flops and we trekked along the desert because we landed on a landing strip away from the airport." Asked about the flip flops, Martinez said, "Well, I wasn't go to do it in my high heels."

Martinez laughed when she talked about leaving the plane. "We didn't have to take several steps down. We just sort of hopped over the door. "

She said the pilot, Sid Strebeck, a Clovis businessman, has flown former Govs. Garrey Caruthers and Gary Johnson. She said she doesn't blame him for the rough landing and would fly with him again.

"Mistakes happen," she said.

The incident won't stop her from flying again, Martinez said this morning. "No, my next plane I'm getting on in a couple of hours," the governor said. She said she was going to Farmington for another reading event as well as a political function.

Monday, May 21, 2012

Egolf Starts PAC for House Dems

State Rep. Brian Egolf, D-Santa Fe, is worried that the Republicans might take over the state House of Representatives this fall. And he's planning to do something to try to prevent it.
Rep. Brian Egolf

 In a  guest blog at the Democracy for New Mexico site, Egolf wrote that Democrats have only a thin majority over Republicans in the House. The numbers are 36 to 33, with one independent.

"With the upcoming November election, that slim majority is under dire threat. Democrats already lost one seat in redistricting, so we must gain seats in November or there will be a Republican Speaker of the House, and Gov. Martinez will have the rubber stamp legislature she wants."

In the blog Egolf announced he's starting a political action committee called New Mexico Defense Fund. "All funds raised will directly support Democratic State House candidates in critical seats this fall," Egolf said.

Gov. Susana Martinez has her own PAC that is raising funds for Republicans in legislative races. In the most recent reporting period, that PAC raised nearly $78,000 and had more than $273,000 cash on hand.

Egolf himself faces no re-election in his safe-Democrat Santa Fe district. However, he does have a personal stake in the election of other House Democrats. "If Republicans pick up even one seat, I will lose Chairmanship of the House Energy & Natural Resources Committee and be replaced by an anti-conservation Republican," he wrote.

Egolf has scheduled a kickoff fundraiser May 29 at the Santa Fe home of Debbie Fleischaker & Kathleen Fontaine

Sunday, May 20, 2012

The Race For the U.S. Senate

My colleague Trip Jennings and I put together a package of coverage for the U.S. Senate race in today's New Mexican.

The main story is HERE

A look at the campaign finances of the four candidates is HERE

My profile of Martin Heinrich is HERE (Bio box HERE)
My profile of Hector Balderas is HERE (Bio box HERE)

Trip's profile of Heather Wilson is HERE (Bio box HERE)
Trip's profile of Greg Sowards is HERE (Bio box HERE)

The New Mexican's 2012 Elections page is HERE

Roundhouse Roundup: Tell 'em Erik & Richard Sent Ya

A version of this was published in The Santa Fe New Mexican 
May 20, 2012

Last week was a hard one.

Two good friends of mine died.

For one of them, Erik Ness of Las Cruces, I wrote an obituary for The New Mexican. He was the longtime communications director for the state Farm & Livestock Bureau. He and I go back 40 years. We met in 1972 when both of us were crazy college kids. We remained friends long after we both became crazy adults.
Erik Ness

Like me, Erik had an intense interest in politics — two New Mexico governors from different parties paid tribute to him in the obit I wrote. And, like me, he was obsessed by music. He was a songwriter and guitar picker. He’d often call me out of the blue when he got some wild idea or scheme to promote the music he loved.

The day after Erik died, Richard Sandoval left us as well.

Richard Sandoval
He was an artist and a co-founder of Santa Fe’s Contemporary Hispanic Market. I met him almost 30 years ago through cronies at New Mexico Magazine, where he was an editor and art director. I’ve worked, at different times, with his sister and his daughter.

Erik and Richard moved in different circles, so I’m not sure whether they knew each other. But I wouldn’t be surprised if they did. Each of them seemed to know everybody, and I know they had several mutual friends who are grieving.

Both had wonderful, devilish senses of humor. Both of them always made me laugh. Both of them left behind great families.

And both of them died of the same terrible disease: pancreatic cancer.

A couple of days after my obituary for Erik, I received an email from an Albuquerque woman named Nancy Murphy Bowles. She didn’t know Erik.

“I am the community representative in Albuquerque for the Pancreatic Cancer Action Network,” she said. Bowles said she and her husband will be going to Washington, D.C., next month to visit Sens. Jeff Bingaman and Tom Udall, as well as Rep. Martin Heinrich. “We are trying to convince them to cosponsor the bills S. 362 and H.R. 733.”

Those bills, known as the Pancreatic Cancer Research and Education Act, Bowles said, would require the National Cancer Institute to come up with a five-year plan on treating pancreatic cancer.

According to the website for Pancreatic Cancer Action Network, the disease is “one of the most deadly cancers. 94 percent of patients will die within five years of diagnosis — only 6 percent survive more than five years and 74 percent of pancreatic cancer patients die within the first year of diagnosis. These statistics have changed little in the last 40 years.”

The website continues, saying pancreatic cancer is “severely under-researched and under-funded. Unlike many cancers, there are no early detection tools or effective treatments for pancreatic cancer. Part of the problem is that the National Cancer Institute allocates approximately 2 percent of its $5 billion budget for pancreatic cancer research.”

Pancreatic cancer is “behind in nearly every important grant mechanism funded by the NCI,” the website says.

The good news for the bill is that more than half of all House members and nearly half of all senators have signed on as co-sponsors. It has bipartisan support.

But strangely, none of New Mexico’s delegation has signed on.

So when Mr. and Mrs. Bowles come knocking next month, I hope Bingaman, Udall and Heinrich give them a serious listen. And I hope the couple pays a visit to Reps. Ben Ray Luján and Steve Pearce as well.

And maybe the couple should say that Erik Ness and Richard Sandoval sent ’em.

UPDATE: 4:30 p.m. Friends of Erik Ness should check out the tributes from Karl Moffat and Bill Divan HERE

Saturday, May 19, 2012

Some Legislative Races

Last week I wrote a couple of stories about state House races in Northern New Mexico.

My coverage of the increasingly intense District 46 race to replace House Speaker Ben Lujan -- in which Carl Trujillo is up against Santa Fe Mayor David Coss -- is HERE

My coverage of the District 40 race, in which 40-year incumbent Nick Salazar, running in a radically different-shaped district,  faces colorful former lawmaker Bengie Regensberg and former Mora County Commissioner Peter Martinez is HERE.

Meanwhile, Kate Nash has filed stories about some legislative races like the Pete Campos/Tomas Garcia Senate contest HERE and the House District 50 race HERE.

Check out lots of election coverage from The New Mexican HERE

UPDATE: 5-22-12 A bad link above has been fixed.

Monday, May 14, 2012

R.I.P. Erik Ness: Cowboy Bon Vivant

One of my best friends, Erik Ness, died this weekend. We've been buddies -- some might say unindicted co-conspirators -- since 1972 when we were both students at UNM.

I wrote his obituary for the paper.

Erik Ness, 2006, Placitas, NM
A version of this will be published in The Santa Fe New Mexican
May 15, 2012

Erik Ness, a longtime champion of the state agriculture industry, friend to politicians of every stripe, husband, father, grandfather and cowboy bon vivant, is dead.

Ness, 57, died Saturday at his home in Las Cruces following a struggle with pancreatic cancer.

Ness, who grew up in Alamogordo, attended the University of New Mexico and New Mexico State University from which he graduated. He briefly worked as a reporter for KOB radio in the early 1980s.

But in 1982 he was hired by the New Mexico Farm & Livestock Bureau to be its communications director. In that job, which he kept until his retirement in 2010, Ness served as a press spokesman, produced radio programs and wrote and edited magazine articles for the organization.

An article published after his retirement in 2010 in New Mexico Farm & Ranch, the official publication of the bureau, quoted Ness talking about the agricultural community.

 “The people we work for are a colorful cast of characters,” he said. “They are real people with pioneer backgrounds, their ancestors came here in wagon trains, and that is interesting,”

Ness told the publication that through the years he’d been offered jobs in Albuquerque and Washington, D.C. but he turned them down saying, “... it is hard to hunt antelope in Albuquerque and D.C.”

His death prompted political figures to issue statements of praise.

"I had the privilege of knowing Erik for many years,” said Gov. Susana Martinez on Monday. “He was a kind and energetic person who served as a strong advocate for New Mexico's farm and ranching communities.  He will be sorely missed."

U.S. Rep. Steve Pearce, R-Hobbs in a news release Monday called Ness “a good friend,” and said, “His service to the community and to the state of New Mexico and his life will long be remembered by all who had the pleasure of knowing him.”

In a phone interview Monday, Public Regulation Commissioner Pat Lyons said he’d been friends with Ness for perhaps 25 years. “He made friends with everybody,” Lyons said. ”I did some of his radio shows, maybe three or four times. They went out nationwide and got played a lot on radio stations in the Corn Belt. I’d get calls from friends in Kansas saying, “I just heard you on the radio with Erik Ness.”

But it’s not only Republicans who are mourning Ness.

Former Gov. Toney Anaya on Monday recalled that Ness — who was a staunch Democrat before he worked for the Farm Bureau — served as his campaign spokesman in 1978 when he tried to unseat Republican U.S. Sen. Pete Domenici. “When I was governor, I appointed him to a state board,” Anaya recalled. “He remained a good friend.”

Kentucky Club 87
Ness and me outside of The Kentucky Club in
Juarez, Mexico, circa 1987
When news of his death was posted on Facebook and Twitter Saturday, two of the first people to respond were former state Democratic Chairman Brian Colón (”What a loss,”  Colón tweeted. “Erik was a good man and friend to many.”) and former Albuquerque Mayor Marty Chavez.

Chavez posted on Facebook, “He had a tremendous amount to be proud of — the tragedy is that he was just starting to blossom as a writer and musician — his real love ...”

Ness’ love for music, especially country music, was a major passion. He played guitar and wrote songs. Among his friends was singer Michael Martin Murphey, a former Taos County resident, who he helped promote.

In a telephone conversation last month, Ness was in good spirits and said he wasn’t suffering physical pain. But he said he realized his time was near.

Friends have planned a celebration of Ness’ life beginning at 1:30 p.m. Friday at the state Farm & Ranch Museum in Las Cruces.

He is survived by his wife Sharon Sumner-Ness of Las Cruces, Daughter Emily Ness Gaffney of Albuquerque, sons Erik and Garrett of Las Cruces, one grandchild and another on the way.

ROUNDHOUSE ROUNDUP: Has a Wedge Issue Lost Its Edge?

A version of this was published in The Santa Fe New Mexican
May 13, 2012

I have this bad habit of starting my day off checking my email every morning on my iPhone before I even get out of bed.

So most mornings, the first thing I see are emails from the Republican National Committee blasting the president for, well, whatever they feel is blastable for that day. A frequent RNC favorite is “The Big Fail.”

So when I woke up Thursday, I thought I knew what to expect. This was the day after President Obama announced his support for same-sex marriage, so I predicted something along the lines of “The Big Gay Fail.”

I was wrong. There was nothing. I almost was tempted to check the calendar to make sure this was a weekday. Later in the morning, the RNC sent a release attacking Obama over the economy, but nothing on gay marriage.

I have to think that this is just one little sign that recent polls are correct and attitudes about this issue really are changing. Perhaps the email I didn’t get says more than the ones I do.

Maybe there was another clue on Wednesday. I’d asked Republican Gov. Susana Martinez’s spokesman for comment about Obama’s announcement. Scott Darnell said Martinez had “no particular reaction,” adding, “The governor has been very clear about where she stands on this issue.” (She’s said she’d veto any bill that would allow gay couples to enter into domestic partnerships.)

One way of looking at Martinez’s reaction could be, she hasn’t changed her mind, but she’s not going to dig herself in any deeper. Or maybe she doesn’t want to lose another hairdresser.

A few weeks ago, I talked to former Gov. Gary Johnson — once a Republican, now the Libertarian Party candidate for president — about gay marriage. Like Obama, he said his opinion on the matter has “evolved” through the years. Linda Siegle, a lobbyist for Equality New Mexico, told me last week that her group couldn’t even schedule a meeting with Johnson for years to talk about gay-rights issues.

But Johnson now is a vocal advocate for marriage equality — and in fact was blasting Obama for not embracing gay marriage the day before the president’s announcement.

It’s wrong to assume that all Republicans have a knee-jerk reaction against same-sex marriage.

The December Public Policy Polling survey that showed a plurality of New Mexicans supporting gay marriage also showed that 41 percent of Republicans in the state supported some kind of legal recognition of homosexual couples — civil unions or marriage.

And some of those Republicans live in Santa Fe. Two years ago, I did a column about the fact that the Santa Fe County GOP tried to get the state party to drop its opposition to gay marriage.

“Presently, the state Republican platform supports vigorous enforcement of Civil Rights laws that prohibit discrimination on the basis of race, gender, handicap, religion, and national origin,” a news release from the local Republicans said. “The Santa Fe County Party recommended adding sexual orientation to this list. ... The county party also showed their support of  ‘civil unions,’ ” the news release continued.

When I called then-county party Chairman Paul Morrison about this, he said, “Why are you surprised that Republicans would be in favor of equal rights?”

Of course, the state GOP overwhelmingly voted against these changes. And earlier this week state party Chairman Monty Newman reiterated his party’s opposition, calling Obama’s position a “political pander from our country’s campaigner-in-chief.”

But it should be noted: Newman was responding to my request for a response. The state GOP didn’t initiate the discussion to exploit a wedge issue.

Could it be the times really are changing?

More Veep Chatter for Susana

Gov. Susana MartinezThe latest national look at Gov. Susana Martinez is in Newsweek, via The Daily Beast.

Most of it is the biographical stuff most New Mexicans already know, plus the usual rundown of what makes her attractive as a vice presidential candidate. (She's a woman. She's Hispanic. And Republicans aren't polling very well in those categories.)

But here's some interesting talk about immigration reform, and actual mocking of one of likely GOP presidential nominee Mitt Romney's suggestions in that area:

... what comes next is surprising: a battle plan that contradicts nearly everything the GOP has been doing and saying since 2007, Romney’s “self-deportation” strategy included. “‘Self-deport?’ What the heck does that mean?” Martinez snaps. “I have no doubt Hispanics have been alienated during this campaign. But now there’s an opportunity for Gov. Romney to have a sincere conversation about what we can do and why.”

Naturally, Martinez has some suggestions. First, Republicans should remind Latinos that Obama pledged to pass comprehensive immigration reform by the end of his initial year in office, but “didn’t even have the courage to try.” Next, the GOP should outflank the president--on the left--by proposing its own comprehensive plan. “I absolutely advocate for comprehensive immigration reform,” Martinez says, , sipping a caramel macchiato. “Republicans want to be tough and say, ‘Illegals, you’re gone.’ But the answer is a lot more complex than that.” Martinez envisions an approach “with multiple levels”: increased border security; deportation for criminals; a guest-worker program for people who want “to go freely back and forth across the border to work”; a DREAM Act-style pathway to citizenship, through the military or college, for children brought here illegally by their parents; and a visa (coupled with a “penalty” or a “tagback”) that allows rest of the illegal population to remain in the U.S. while they follow standard naturalization procedures.

Martinez’s point is not that Republicans should peddle so-called “amnesty.” In New Mexico, she’s taken a lot of heat from Latinos for repeatedly pushing to repeal a state law that allows illegal immigrants to obtain driver’s licenses; she also opposes a standalone DREAM Act, arguing that politicians can’t “fix [immigration] by saying, ‘Here’s the DREAM Act and we’re done. It has to be part of a larger plan.” She simply believes that a more pragmatic approach will help Republicans in the long run ...

Read the whole article HERE

Thursday, May 10, 2012

Kokesh Says Assassinating Romney Has Crossed His Mind -- But It's a Bad Idea

Adam KokeshIn his video program called Adam vs. The Man this week former New Mexico Congressional candidate Adam Kokesh read a letter from an unnamed  young man from Mississippi who brings up the idea of assassinating Republican front-runner Mitt Romney to help Ron Paul get the presidential nomination and to stop what he says is an inevitable war with Iran.

Kokesh in the video stresses that he's not endorsing the idea , but says, "I cannot deny that the thought hasn't crossed my mind as well as so many other libertarians and Ron Paul supporters of late."

He then proceeds into a lengthy monologue in which he justifies his conclusion that violence against Romney wouldn't be a good thing.

He ends the video saying, "Whatever you do, please, please, please, don't forward this video to the Secret Service."

Kokesh, an Iraq War veteran,  founded a group called Veterans for Ron Paul. Paul endorsed Kokesh when he ran for the Republican nomination for the Third Congressional District in 2010 (Kokesh lost to Tom Mullins of Farmington)

But Jesse Benton, a spokesman for a Paul political organization told the website Buzzfeed that the Texas Congressman has nothing to do with Kokesh these days.

"Mr. Kokesh is a deeply troubled individual with whom we cut off contact a long time ago," said Benton when told of Kokesh's video. "We have a very cordial and respectful relationship with Gov. Romney and his campaign and reject anyone who would think or talk this way. I hope the Secret Service investigates and takes all appropriate action they find necessary."

The Secret Service told Buzzfeed they are aware of the video and are conducting "the appropriate follow up."

Tuesday, May 8, 2012

More Signs NM is No Longer Swingin'?

CNN is reporting that the Obama campaign has purchased TV time for several Spanish language ads in "three battleground states with lots of Spanish speaking voters that both Democrats and Republicans are likely to heavily court ahead of November's presidential election."

 Those states: Colorado, Nevada and Florida.

Not New Mexico.

But will Republicans take advantage of the Democrats ignoring the state? Can't say yet.

In March the Karl Rove-associated super PAC Crossroads GPS spent $650,000 in three media markets -- Columbus, Ohio, Las Vegas, Nevada and Albuquerque. All were cities where Obama was pitching his energy plan.

But last month the PAC announced it spent $1.2 million on "issues" ads targeting "reckless Senate spending, Obamacare, and tax increases" in "five key states."

Those are Nevada, Virginia, Missouri, Montana and North Dakota.

Wait a minute ... Montana and North Dakota are more "key" than New Mexico? Granted, both states have hotly contested Senate races.

But I thought New Mexico did too.

Monday, May 7, 2012

Roundhouse Roundup: Peeps and Chirps

A version of this was published in The Santa Fe New Mexican 
May 6, 2012

It always starts with pleasant little peeps and chirps. But within a few short months — maybe not even that long — it’ll gradually turn into monstrous shrieks and howls.

I’m talking, of course, about campaign advertising on television. And in recent days, we’ve begun hearing the peeps and chirps of the three major U.S. Senate candidates, Democrats Hector Balderas and Martin Heinrich and Republican Heather Wilson.

The ads for the three candidates are remarkably similar. Each deals mainly with the candidate’s biography. Balderas grew up poor in Wagon Mound. (“Most senators don’t come from places like this,” a woman’s voice informs us at the start of the ad.) Heinrich bused tables, washed dishes and sacked groceries. Wilson joined the Air Force, like her father and grandfather before her.

And each of the three learned valuable lessons from humble origins that would guide the candidate in the Senate.

Balderas’ background — becoming the first person from Wagon Mound to graduate from law school — taught him the importance of education.

Bagging those groceries and watching his parents work hard taught Heinrich the “dignity of work” and made “fighting for people’s jobs” personal.

Wilson says that the things she learned in the military — “leadership, responsibility and integrity” to be exact, are qualities that Washington needs today.

Some pundits noticed that Wilson, who spent a decade in the U.S. House of Representatives, never mentions her congressional service in her initial ad.

“If you want an idea of how unpopular Congress is right now, check out the first ad from ... Wilson,” wrote Rachel Weiner in The Washington Post blog The Fix. “No surprise, given that the most recent polling puts Congress’ approval rating around 13 percent.”

In fairness, Heinrich’s ad doesn’t directly mention the fact he’s been a House member for nearly four years. He says he’s proud of extending unemployment benefits, a reference to votes in Congress he’s made.

Last week, Heinrich assured me he’s not trying to hide the fact that he’s a member of Congress and said that future campaign ads will focus on specific issues he’s pushed in Congress. (I suspect the same is true of Wilson.)

Balderas also didn’t talk about his time in Congress — because he’s never been a congressman. His ad did, however, mention his current job as state auditor. (“As auditor, Balderas stopped corrupt officials who stole from schools.”)

So it’s all positive now — and both Balderas and Heinrich have told me that they will not go negative on each other in the primary. But after that, it’ll get a lot louder and a lot meaner.

And by the time it’s over, I wonder if anyone will remember all this wistful talk of busing tables, the streets of Wagon Mound and military honor.

(I'd already blogged about this first round of Senate ads. For Heinrich and Wilson CLICK HERE. For Balderas CLICK HERE)

Richardson advises Romney: It’s not in an official capacity, but in an interview in National Journal, former Gov. Bill Richardson offered some free advice to probable Republican presidential nominee Mitt Romney on choosing a running mate. His suggestion is go with Sen. Rob Portman, a choice that’s popular with Washington insiders, though he’s not well known outside of political junkydom and his home state of Ohio.

Richardson said picking Portman, who served for a year as U.S. trade representative under President George W. Bush, “could reduce Romney’s foreign-policy vulnerability.”

The former governor, who was considered as a possible running mate by President Barack Obama in 2008, said Romney should avoid a couple of other frequently mentioned possible veeps. “If he picks [Marco] Rubio or he picks [Chris] Christie, they’re totally without foreign-policy experience,” he said. “In a close race, that could make a difference.”

UPDATE 10:08 am I just got this column posted and I learn Heinrich has a new ad up on Facebook. In it, he admits that he's a member of Congress, but says he doesn't hang out with those guys and clears out of DC every chance he gets.

Thursday, May 3, 2012

State GOP Files Fed Complaint Against Independent Source PAC

The state Republican Party has formally complained to the Federal Election Commission about Independent Source PAC, an Albuquerque-based political organization that has produced ads and reports critical of Gov. Susana Martinez.

According to a news release emailed this afternoon:

* ISPAC is committing fraud by stating to the FEC that it is making independent expenditures to promote President Obama, when the clear purpose of its expenditures and commercials is to smear Republican elected officials and candidates at the state and local level, and on issues that have nothing to do with the Presidential campaign, such as the law to repeal driver's licenses for illegal immigrants.

* ISPAC committed the fraud in order to avoid New Mexico state laws, which places limits on PACs engaged in these activities at the state level.

* ISPAC has illegally failed to file numerous required disclosure reports with the Federal Elections Commission.

* ISPAC's commercials break federal law by failing to make proper disclosures to the public.

 The complaint, as well as the press release can be found HERE,  

Independent Source PAC is headed by Michael Corwin, a private investigator who has worked for former Gov. Bill Richardson and other Democrats. According to filings with the FEC, it is funded entirely by the Communications Workers of America.

I've asked Corwin for comment and will post that when I receive it.

UPDATE: 5:40 pm I still haven't heard from Corwin, but I should add that in addition to being registered as a federal PAC, the group also is registered with the state. Last month the PAC reported to the Secretary of State that it collected just over $11,000 between October and March from several contributors. The PAC reported spending $3,275 on radio advertising in October.

According to the most recent FEC report, the PAC spent nearly $129,000 on cable TV advertising. The report says it was for President Obama, which the state GOP says is false.

Another UPDATE 9:15 pm.  Here's what Corwin told me earlier tonight:

He said that the ads that ran this year criticizing Martinez were for the purpose of helping Obama. The governor, he said, has been touted as a potential GOP vice presidential candidate and also was being groomed to be a key Republican spokeswoman to try to lure Hispanic votes away from Obama.

Corwin contended that his PAC’s ads — especially one claiming the administration improperly awarded a state fair horse racing contract to political supporters — ensured Martinez would not play a major role in the presidential campaign.

He also argued that federal courts have ruled that independent groups like his aren’t bound by such caps.

Johnson's Looking Good to Win Libertarian Nomination

I had a telephone chat yesterday with former New Mexico Gov. Gary Johnson, who most believe is about to come out on top this weekend at the Libertarian Party convention in Las Vegas, Nev.

My story is HERE.

As I say in the story, even though getting the nomination might not be that difficult, the rest of Johnson's road to November will be rocky. Johnson knows that if he has any chance of seriously competing with President Obama and Mitt Romney, he'll have to get a spot in the presidential debates, which begin Oct. 3 in Denver.

And he also has to overcome the institutional obstacles any third party faces, which historically have caused even the most robust third party efforts to dwindle before election day.

One interesting thing Johnson told me about his running mate, retired Judge Jim Gray of Orange County, Calif., is that even though Gray has been a long time critic of the war on drugs, when he first met Johnson around the turn of the century, he chided Johnson for "going too far" on the issue.

"He was for harm reduction and treatment instead of incarceration, which are all good things," Johnson said. "But at that point he was not for legalizing marijuana."

Gray has since come around to that viewpoint, Johnson said.

Tuesday, May 1, 2012

The Best Letter Written by a State Senator I've Read Lately

When I first began reading this letter from state Sen. Lisa Curtis, D-Albuquerque, concerning the embattled Bernalillo County Commissioner Michael Wiener, my first thought was that Curtis was leaving the legal profession and becoming a noir novelist.

The fat guy smoking Pall Malls, he says he almost married one of those girls. Honest. He met her in a bar one of the last times he was in the Philippines and fell in love, almost bought her a ring and took her home.

I also thought, "Weiner's not that fat ..."

The letter goes on like that for four paragraphs, before a reader realizes that Curtis is quoting from an article about sex clubs in the Philippines by writer Sean Flynn, published in 2007 in GQ.

If you haven't been following the Wiener controversy, the commissioner caused a stir when this and other photos of him in a red light district in the Philippines emerged.

Curtis joins a long list of officials including Gov. Susana Martinez and Albuquerque Mayor Richard Berry in calling for Wiener to go. The commissioner has refused, leaving it up to voters this year.

Curtis Letter

Balderas Also Launches New Ad

I posted Monday about the new ads for U.S. Senate candidates Martin Heinrich and Heather Wilson. Well, Hector Balderas, who is running against Heinrich in the Democratic primary is joining the fray as well. His spot will begin running Wednesday.

Like the other two, Baldera's ad stresses his background -- growing up poor in the small village of Wagon Mound. But this one focuses on the area of education -- how because of that background, he knows the power and importance of education.

No great plan for education is unveiled in the 30-second ad. It just says that as state auditor Balderas went after people who stole from school districts and that he will "invest" in education, which the candidate says is "the road to the middle class."

Watch it below: