Thursday, August 29, 2013

County Clerks Intervene in Gay Marriage Case

A district judge iu Albuquerque today approved a motion by New Mexico county clerks to intervening in the case the American Civil Liberties Union filed early this year on behalf of several lesbian couples denied marriage license in Bernalillo County.

Here's a news release from Santa Fe County Clerk Geraldine Salazar:

All 33 County Clerks voted yesterday via a Clerk’s Affiliate teleconference to move forward requesting the New Mexico Association of Counties (NMAC) to intervene on their behalf.  The NMAC Executive Board  voted (20 in favor, 0 voting against, with one abstention) to authorize Steve Kopelman and Daniel Ivey-Soto to file a motion to intervene in the Griego v. Toulouse Oliver and Salazar lawsuit in Bernalillo County involving the issuance of marriage licenses to same-gender couples.”   
       
Santa Fe County Clerk, Geraldine Salazar states, “today New Mexico County Clerks filed an unopposed motion to intervene requesting guidance from the New Mexico Supreme Court regarding same-gender marriage in New Mexico.”  The two major questions the Clerks have, “are all counties legally bound to issue marriage licenses to same-gender couples as a constitutional matter; and requesting clarification on whether Clerks have the authority to change the statutory marriage application form to gender neutral language.   “The Clerks also agreed to be named as interveners under the umbrella of the NMAC.” 

... Salazar states, “We want direction from the New Mexico Supreme Court.  I have been ordered by two district courts to issue same-gender marriage licenses and not ordered to change the statutory marriage application to gender neutrality.  I want clear judicial authority to do so.” 

Today at 2:27 p.m., the Clerks received information that Judge (Alan) Malott approved Intervenor status by NMAC and the 31 County Clerks not in the Griego v. Toulouse Oliver and Salazar case.  Daniel Ivey-Soto stated, “This is the first step on our way to the Supreme Court.” 
UPDATED 4 p.m. The American Civil Liberties Union just issued this response to the clerks' intervention:
“We believe that the county clerks intervening in our lawsuit puts New Mexico on an expedited path towards a statewide marriage solution which would provide more certainty for the same-sex couples who married in our state. We are hopeful that the Supreme Court will agree with the lower court decision which held that denying marriage to committed, loving same-sex couples is unconstitutional.”

One Announcement, One No-Announcement-Yet

Former state Democratic Party Chairman Javier Gonzales announced this morning that he will make the crowded race for mayor even more crowded.

Sen. Michael Sanchez
He made it official at a crowded Cafe Castro's on Cerrillos Road surrounded by family -- including his father, former Mayor George Gonzales -- friends and supporters. You can read my first report on that HERE and there will be more in tomorrow's New Mexican.

Some reporters, including me, thought state Senate Majority Leader Michael Sanchez might be making his announcement that he'll seek the Democratic nomination for governor this morning at a scheduled interview at KUNM.

But we were wrong. Sanchez said he hadn't come to any decision yet but promised to announce whatever he decides by Labor Day.

Sanchez, D-Belen, was blunt about the fact that he's been going back and forth on his decision. "Had you asked me Monday, I'd have said `no,' but if you'd asked me yesterday, I'd have said `yes.'" He later said that when he left his driveway this morning, he was thinking he'd make the announcement on the radio today.

But he didn't.

Sanchez said he has had some discussions with possible campaign staff members and has looked at polling that indicates Republican Gov. Susana Martinez -- who has had public polls showing her having an approval rating better than 60 percent -- could be vulnerable.

But one of the factors giving him hesitation is the fact that he'd have to spend a whole year campaigning. Sanchez, a lawyer by trade, said he has cases with clients who might need his attention past the November 2014 general election.

He noted that he's used to running local, not state, races, in which going door to door is the chief method of campaigning. He said he would hate to give that up. Sanchez also said he wouldn't want to trust a statewide campaign to out-of-state campaign professionals.

Sanchez, 63, was hospitalized twice during this year's legislative session. The first time, he underwent an angioplasty stent procedure. But this morning, the senator he's feeling fine and had gotten a clean bill of health from his cardiologist.

When I told Sanchez that he didn't sound like a man who was going to run for governor, he said, "My wife tells me just the opposite."

I guess we'll know by Monday.

UPDATE: 3:10 pm Here's a video released by Gonzales' campaign. That green chili in the first frame reminds me I've got to get another bag roasted this weekend.


Wednesday, August 28, 2013

Robert Nott's Learning Curve

A big welcome to Robert Nott, my colleague at The Santa Fe New Mexican, to the world of blogging.

His new education blog Learning Curve launched this week,

You can find it HERE

The blog will feature news about education in Santa Fe, links to national stories about education and sometimes disturbing tales of his personal childhood trauma like this one:

When I was an elementary-school age kid, I used to bring lunch in those cool old lunch boxes that are now worth thousands of dollars (I gave ‘em all away) until one of my least favorite teachers, who we shall call Mrs. Friedelholz, came by one day and, upon spying my home-made peanut butter and jelly sandwich, said to everyone at my table, “Doesn’t that look delicious?” as she stuck her middle finger in the middle of the bread. I have no idea why she did that, but she also did that to cupcakes I brought from home, diminishing my appetite for them considerably.
Check out and subscribe to Learning Curve.

Common Cause Honors Rep. Jim Smith

Common Cause New Mexico is honoring Rep. Jim Smith, R-Sandia Park, with its Best in Government Award.

According to a news release, Smith, a high school science teacher, was "an obvious choice" because of "his commitment to Common Cause New Mexico priorities and our work to secure an open, transparent government and access to voting for all qualified voters."

Damn, I thought he was getting the award because he brought Dog the Bounty Hunter and robots to the Roundhouse this year.

 Viki Harrison, the group's executive director said,  "CCNM is proud to work with a leader who crosses the aisle to get work done for the people. Rep. Smith exemplifies what true leadership is in New Mexico, and he is a pleasure to work with for open and accountable state government.”

In the news release Smith is quoted:

“Transparency in government is an issue that is important to all New Mexicans, and I am proud to receive this award from CCNM for my part in making New Mexico more open and accessible for our citizens. CCNM has been a great partner along the way, and I am thankful for their support as we pass legislation that makes all government in New Mexico more accountable to the public. Together we are making great strides towards transparency, but our work isn’t complete.  We will continue listening to our citizens to ensure they have confidence in their government, and that the confidence is well-deserved.”

This is interesting to me because Common Cause has been accused by some state Republicans as being a "liberal" or even "Democratic" group. (Actually its founder John Gardner, was a Republican.)  

Common Cause New Mexico will honor Smith at its annual luncheon on Oct. 5. For more information CLICK HERE

Tuesday, August 27, 2013

Taos County Latest to Allow Gay Marriage

Hard to imagine that just a week ago there was no gay marriage in New Mexico. Now there are six counties in the state that are issuing or about to start issuing marriage licenses to homosexual couples.
Dale Schuette, center, and his partner Reg Stark, right,
rush to hug Taos County Clerk Anna Martínez.
Photo by Tina Larkin, Taos News 

Hopping on what has become a gay marriage bandwagon Tuesday morning were San Miguel and Valencia counties. And later in the afternoon, according to my paper's sister paper The Taos News, Taos County had joined them.

According to the story by reporter Andrew Oxford:

Taos County Clerk Anna Martínez will begin issuing marriage licenses to same-sex couples Wednesday morning (Aug. 27) following an order from the Eighth Judicial District Court. 
Dale Schuette and Reg Stark were turned away when they applied for a  marriage license at the clerk's office Monday morning (Aug. 26). 

The clerk cited the ambiguity of New Mexico law in rejecting the couple's request.
The couple filed a petition for a writ of mandamus seeking a court  order Tuesday (Aug. 27) and were granted a hearing that afternoon. ... 

During the hearing, (Judge Jeff) McElroy said Schuette and Stark had legal  standing to marry in Taos County but were only denied a license due  to their gender. McElroy said New Mexico law did not prohibit the couple from marrying and signed the writ of mandamus commanding Martínez to issue the couple a license or present a legal argument why she could not. 

Martínez said she did not intend to challenge the ruling. ...

Meanwhile, I spoke with two county clerks today -- Sharon Stover of Los Alamos County and Eileen Garbagni who said they would not be issuing licenses to same-sex couples until they receive a court order. But Garbagni added, "I'm sure eventually, I'll be doing it."

In case you've lost count, the other counties allowing gay marriage are Santa Fe, Dona Ana and Bernalillo.

Monday, August 26, 2013

Wertheim Running for Treasurer

Former state Democratic Party Chairman John Wertheim said Monday he will run for state treasurer.

"I've been looking at all these economic headlines, about New Mexico being ranked 50th for child welfare and New Mexico being the only state in the Rocky Mountain region with negative job growth," he said in an interview. "All this stuff is unacceptable.

He said he would use the treasurer's office as a "bully pulpit" to push progressive economic policies. He pointed out that the treasurer is the only state official to sit on all state economic boards and commissions — such as the state Board of Finance, the state Finance Authority and the State Investment Council — which means the treasurer has influence in several areas dealing with economics.

One priority, he said would be to promote a proposed constitutional amendment to fund early childhood education by taking more money from the state's permanent fund. Such proposals have been derailed in the Legislature in recent years.

A Santa Fe native, Wertheim, 45, is a lawyer. He's a 1990 graduate of Yale University who earned his law degree at the University of New Mexico in 1995.

Other declared candidates for treasurer include Democrats Tim Eichenberg, a former state senator and former Bernalillo County Treasurer Pat Padilla.

Here's a campaign video:


Two Couples in ACLU Lawsuit Are Getting Marriage Licenses

Rose Griego and Kim Kiel Photo taken in March on the
day the ACLU filed a lawsuit against the Bernalillo County
clerk for denying them and another couple marriage licenses
Following a court ruling this afternoon at least two couples in a gay-marriage lawsuit filed by the American Civil Liberties Union and other organizations say they plan to get their marriage licenses.

State District Judge Alan Malott ruled that Bernalillo and Santa Fe counties cannot discriminate against same-sex couples seeking marriage licenses.

Kim Kiel and her partner Rose Griego, both of Santa Fe, will get their license, though they won't be married right away. "We're not sure when," Kiel told me after the  court hearing. "Possibly in October."

Likewise,  Tanya Struble and Therese Councilor of Jemez Springs told The Associated Press that they’re unsure whether to be married immediately or wait for a ceremony that can be attended by family and friends. “We’ve never done this,” Struble said after the hearing.

Malott's decision means the three largest counties in the state -- Bernalillo, Dona Ana and Santa Fe -- are allowing gay marriage.

Peter Simonson,  executive director ACLU-NM said in a statement,  “This is a great day to be a resident of New Mexico.  Our state is now on the brink of joining the growing list of states who live and honor the values of family, liberty and love.  Every family in this state is made richer by this step toward justice for all.”

However state Sen. Bill Sharer, the most outspoken opponent of gay marriage in the Legislature also issued a statement that said, “Our legal team continues to review how to stop the usurping of the legislative function by some district court judges in regards to marriage in the state; and it continues to review how to stop the lawless actions of the Dona Ana County Clerk.

"It is up to the New Mexico State Legislature, with the consent of the Governor of New Mexico, to make laws and for county clerks and district court judges to abide by them," Sharer said. "They do not make the laws."


Sunday, August 25, 2013

ROUNDHOUSE ROUNDUP: What a Difference 9 Years Make

A version of this was published in The Santa Fe New Mexican 
Aug. 25, 2013

Note: This column was written Thursday, before Santa Fe County Clerk Geraldine Salazar began issuing marriage licenses to same-sex couples. The main points of this column still stand. For more on what happened in Santa Fe  CLICK HERE



Dona Ana County Clerk Lynn Ellins
There’s no doubt that attitudes toward gay marriage have shifted rapidly in recent years. That shift was on display last week once again in New Mexico with the story of the defiant Doña Ana County Clerk who began issuing marriage licenses to same-sex couples.

As most news organizations noted, a similar thing happened nine years ago in February 2004, when Sandoval County Clerk Victoria Dunlap — a Republican — began issuing marriage licenses to gay couples. Before the state put a halt to it, 66 same-sex couples, including nine from Santa Fe, had a license to wed.

“It was the same issue right at the forefront,” said Paul Livingston of Placitas, Dunlap’s attorney, in an interview Thursday. “It’s very clear that the Constitution provides protection against gender discrimination, and there’s nothing in state law that prevents [gay couples from getting married].”
While the issue and the legal argument of both Dunlap and Doña Ana County Clerk Lynn Ellins are the same, the reactions by elected officials have been quite different.

Last week, Attorney General Gary King made it clear that while he personally prefers the courts decide the issue, he wasn’t going to do anything to stop Ellins — or any other county clerk who follows suit — from issuing marriage certificates. Other politicians, including Santa Fe Mayor David Coss and Democratic Party Chairman Sam Bregman, enthusiastically praised Ellins.

As has been the case with other recent advancements of marriage equality, there was no opposing statement coming from the state Republican Party — although some GOP legislators were talking about filing a court action to try to stop the licensed being issued.

In fact, public opposition to Ellins’ action has been relatively muted, the rhetoric low-key. The Catholic bishops sent out a statement against it. Republican Gov. Susana Martinez released a statement reiterating her belief that marriage was for one man and one woman and that voters should decide the issue.

Actually, Martinez’s reaction basically was similar to Gov. Bill Richardson’s in 2004. “I do believe that marriage is between a man and woman. So I oppose same-sex marriage,” Richardson said at a news conference, according to an Associated Press story at the time.

In 2004, Republicans and Democrats were denouncing Dunlap’s action. Leading that charge was King’s predecessor, Attorney General Patricia Madrid. An Associated Press story that ran Feb. 21, 2004, the day after Dunlap started issuing the licenses, said that “hours after the nuptials began,” Madrid “declared invalid the 26 licenses that had been issued.”

That wasn’t quite true. The only time the validity of one of those Sandoval County licenses was ever tested in court was a 2010 divorce case in Santa Fe. State District Judge Sarah Singleton ruled the marriage was valid. Later in 2004, Madrid won a temporary restraining order against Dunlap, stopping any more licenses from being issued.
SF County Commissioner Liz Stefanics & long-time
gay-rights lobbyist Linda Siegle say their wedding vows Friday.
They were the first same-sex couple to be issued a marriage license in SantaFe County.

Republicans also denounced Dunlap. The Sandoval County GOP punished her a few months later in the 2004 primary by overwhelming voting against her bid for a County Commission seat.

In a January 2005 interview with The Associated Press, Dunlap — who at that point was living in Ohio — insisted she’d been correct about marriage equality. “It is not illegal in New Mexico,” she told the wire service.

“The law is wide open, and it is embarrassing that the attorney general can’t figure it out. Those couples need to get together and sue the hell out of Patricia Madrid,” Dunlap said.

Livingston said Thursday that back in 2004, Dunlap had very little support. Even some gay-rights advocates were suspicious of her, he said. Some advocates even accused her of being part of some plot to set it up so that the Legislature would pass a definitive law against gay marriage, he said. “It was very weird,” he said.

Indeed, there was at least one “Defense of Marriage Act” introduced in the Legislature the next year. But, as has been the case with all such legislation, it didn’t get very far.

And if there’s any legislative backlash next year to Ellin’s move in Doña Ana County, it has even less of a chance for success.

Friday, August 23, 2013

Same-Sex Marriage Begins

County Commissioner Liz Stephanics & Linda Siegle
Newlyweds
The floodgates have opened. Same-sex marriage has begun in Santa Fe.

County Clerk Geraldine Salazar this afternoon began issuing marriage licenses to same-sex couples following an order from state District Judge Sarah Singleton that said Salazar should immediately start issuing the licenses or appear at a court hearing to show good cause why she shouldn't.

There was almost a party atmosphere at the  County Administration building as couples lined up to get marriage licenses -- the first time in New Mexico in which the issuance of such licenses was backed up by a court order. Friends and loved ones hugged each other in the hallways while some  of the couples decided to get married right away in the County Commission Chambers upstairs.

One person who wasn't happy, however, was state Sen. Bill Sharer, R-Farmington, a long-time opponent of gay marriage. "This isn't about marriage, it's about who makes laws," Sharer said in a telephone interview. "It shouldn't be a county clerk or a district judge. If this is how we make laws, one person deciding, we all should be scared to death."

Shortly before 5 p.m. a staffer in the clerk's office said 41 same-sex couples had been issued licenses. "And they're still coming," he said. The clerk's office is staying open until 7 p.m. to handle the line gay couples flocking in to get licenses.

The clerk's office began issuing the licenses around 2 p.m. Friday.

The first couple to take advantage of the new licenses was County Commissioner Liz Stephanics and her partner of 23 years, Linda Siegle, who is a longtime lobbyist for gay rights as well as a member of the Santa Fe Community College board. They were married minutes later in the commission chambers by Santa Fe Probate Judge Mark Basham.

Among those attending the quickly were County Manager Katherine Miller, City Councilor Patti Bushee, Santa Fe's first openly gay elected official and District Attorney Angela "Spence" Pacheco -- who was married to her partner in 2004 when the Sandoval Country clerk decided to issue licenses to gay couples. (That stopped after then attorney general Patricia Madrid obtained a restraining order.)

The next same-sex couple to receive a license were Alexander Hanna and Yon Hudson, a Santa Fe couple whose lawsuit prompted the order from Singleton. Both said they intend to wait on their wedding until family and friends from out of town can attend.

That also was the plan for Carolyn Dechaine, a local psycotherapist and her partner Kristina McKeown, who works as a prototype machinist for Los Alamos National Laboratory. "We want to take our time and plan it," Dechaine said soon after getting the license.

Dechaine and McKeown decided to go to the courthouse Friday afternoon after seeing a Facebook post by Bushee.
Neuman and Roper

Another couple to get a license and get married Friday was Jen Roper and Angelique Neuman of Pojoaque. Earlier this week, Roper, who is suffering brain cancer, filed an emergency court request for a marriage license because of her deteriorating health. They got married at the Christus-St. Vincent Cancer Center, where Roper was being treated with chemo therapy.

Santa Fe Mayor David Coss served as a witness on two of the marriage licenses. He signed licenses for Howard K. Rogers and Jerry D. Permenter, both of Santa Fe and Krista Turner from Albuquerque and Lisa Hunsicker from Denver, Colorado. Those couples were marriedin a joint wedding with seven other couples.

Performing that ceremony was Rev. Talitha Arnold and Rev. Brandon Johnson of United Church of Santa Fe. Arnold told a reporter that her church has supported equality for gay people since the early 1970s. "Jesus calls us to love and seek justice and equality for all people," she said.

Early in the day Salazar said she wouldn't immediately start issuing licenses. But by early afternoon, she changed her mind..

“I am a fervent supporter of same-sex marriage in New Mexico and have always believed that the restrictive and antiquated statutes in our state must fall to principles of equal protection embodied in our constitution," Salazar said in a statement. "I have been frustrated recently wanting to issue licenses but being confronted with long standing statutes that do not permit it. Now that Judge Singleton has ordered me to issue a license to Messrs. Hanna and Hudson on constitutional grounds, I intend to do so and to issue a license to any same-sex couple who desires one and are otherwise qualified. By complying with the Judge’ s order we will be issuing licenses legally and will not continue to use limited county resources on further litigation.”

Sharer said he and 28 other Republican legislators had planned to file a legal action against Dona Ana County Clerk Lynn Ellins, who this week began issuing marriage licenses to gay couples.

However, the fact that the Santa Fe situation came about due to a court order threw a monkey wrench in those plans. He said he hopes to challenge Singleton's order and Ellins' decision, but he's not sure what form that challenge will take.

More in tomorrow's New Mexican
UPDATE 6:30 p.m. The original version had the wrong year for Spence Pacheco's marriage. It has been corrected.

Jim Terr: Viva Las Cruces

In the early '90s when "Gays in the military" first became a big issue, my friend, Santa Fe musician/satirist Jim Terr released a song called "The Ballad of the Queen Berets." Cassette tapes were his medium then. Now he's got the magic of YouTube.

He's still reading the news. Here's his latest:


Thursday, August 22, 2013

Chemical Industry Backs Udall

Udall: Better living through chemistry
Yes, it's still well over a year until the 2014 election and the Republicans don't even have a candidate for U.S. Senate. But the first ad for incumbent Sen. Tom Udall already is running.

Some environmentalist group or labor union? Nope, it's The American Chemistry Council, which is running a nice, positive ad for the Democrat in Albuquerque, Santa Fe, El Paso and Amarillo, Texas. (I understand El Paso, but I'm not sure how many New Mexico voters watch Amarillo TV.)

“As representatives of one of America’s largest manufacturing industries, ACC and its members want to acknowledge Sen. Udall’s leadership on issues that encourage strong domestic energy policy, support small businesses and promote rational, science-based chemical regulation—policies that will foster innovation, stimulate our economy and put people in the state and across the country in good-paying jobs,” Cal Dooley, president and CEO of the organization said in a news release.

 “In a time when so much of the political discourse in America is negative, it’s important to highlight the positive work Sen. Udall is doing to promote the two most important issues facing our country – economic growth and job creation, ” Dooley said.

The Chemistry Council also is running similar ads for Sen. Kay Hagen, D-North Carolina and Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell of Kentucky, as well as two Republican House members.

Here's the Udall ad:



Wednesday, August 21, 2013

King Won't Move Against Dona Ana County Clerk

EI just got off the phone with Attorney General Gary King, who said that that even though he's cautioned county clerks not to issue marriage licenses to same-sex couples until a court rules on the issue, he will not intervene to try to stop the Dona Ana County clerk, who on Wednesday began issuing licenses to gay couples.

King noted that he has filed briefs in a lawsuit in which he expressed the belief that the state's prohibition against same-sex marriage is unconstitutional. It would be hard to argue the other way in an action against Dona Ana Country Clerk Lynn Ellins, he said.

Who might have standing in court to file an action if the Attorney General can't?

King said legislators or Dona Ana officials — the county attorney or county manager — might have such standing he said.

The Associated Press reported that same-sex couples began arriving at the clerk’s office in Las Cruces soon after learning of the announcement by Ellins.

The wire service quoted Char Ullman, 51, saying, “I was in a coffee shop grading dissertations when my partner sent me an email saying,‘you want to get married?’I went home to brush my teeth and headed to the courthouse."

King said it's possible that other county clerks around the state might follow suit. (Santa Fe County Clerk Geraldine Salazar told the AP Wednesday the she would wait until the issue is settled in court.) There could be a situation where same-sex couples in counties that don't allow same-sex marriage would travel to counties that do to get married.

"It leaves the state in an uncertain position," King said. "I think there's still some risk that there will be some people who think they are married when they aren't."

More in tomorrow's New Mexican

Tuesday, August 20, 2013

Easley Honored in Rotunda

About 200 people, including legislators from both sides of the aisle, came to the Capitol Rotunda Tuesday to pay their respects to Rep. Stephen Easley, D-Santa Fe, who died unexpectedly last week.

Easley, a freshman lawmaker who lived in Eldorado, was praised by his colleagues for his hard work, his analytical mind his dedication to serving his constituents and his sense of humor.

He died from what his family described as “complications related to an infection.” House Speaker Kenny Martinez, who presided at the memorial service, told a reporter that Easley had been hospitalized twice in recent weeks, but had thought he was "on the mend."

Martinez praised Easley for his work on a subcommittee looking into mental-health issues. "In the midst of his own crisis, he was most concerned about the crisis for New Mexico's most vulnerable citizens," Martinez said, referring to Easley's health problems.

Martinez described Easley's humor as "high-level," "bright" and "highly infectious." He joked that he was the "victim" of Easley's wit more than once.

He recalled Easley's barb after the controversial last-minute vote on the tax-cut package that passed the House in the final seconds of the session last March. “Does the speaker have an atomic clock? I think not.” Easley said to Martinez that day. (Some opponents, including Easley, believed the vote was taken after the session should have ended.)

Rep. Brian Egolf, D-Santa Fe, praised Easley for not giving on trying to pass a bill that requires insurance to cover "telemedicine" — the use of audio and video technology to deliver healthcare services over a distance."This is essential for physicians reaching out to the Indian Pueblos and to rural New Mexico," Egolf said.

He described how it looked as if the bill was going to be defeated by the insurance lobby. But, Egolf said, Easley teamed up with Rep. Terry McMillian, R-Las Cruces, who is a physician, to fight for the bill.

Gov. Susana Martinez signed a Senate version bill that passed, not Easley's. But Egolf said it wouldn't have become law without Easley's effort.

So far no candidates to replace Easley in the Legislature have come forth. Because the sprawling District 50 includes more than one county, the boards of commissioners in all four counties will nominate possible replacements to serve out the remainder of Easley’s term. The governor will make the appointment from among the nominees sent to her by the commissions.

Monday, August 19, 2013

Political Consultant Gutierrez Gets 10 Years in Federal Pen

Political consultant Armando C. Gutierrez sentenced to 10 years in prison plus $2.5 million in restitution for misusing federal funds from a contract with the New Mexico Secretary of State's office. Gutierrez was convicted in February on charges including conspiracy, theft of government property, obstruction of justice and money laundering.

Former Secretary of State Rebecca Vigil-Giron hired Gutierrez -- a former Albuquerque resident who worked on several campaigns of prominent Democrats -- to produce voter-education TV ads. He received more than $6 million in federal election money between 2004 and 2006.

But audits showed he could not account for more than $2.5 million of work under his contracts.

Vigil-Giron initially was indicted in the case in state court, but the charges against her eventually were dismissed.

Others convicted in the case were lobbyist Joe Kupfer and his wife Daisy. Gutierrez paid Kupfer's company more than $746,000, the government said, but never produced any documentation for hiring the company.

Daisy Kupfer was sentenced in May to three years in prison. Joe Kupfer is scheduled for sentencing next month.

As a political consultant, Gutierrez produced Spanish-language ads for former President Bill Clinton's 1996 campaign and Al Gore's 2000 presidential race. He also worked on Gov. Bill Richardson's 2002 gubernatorial campaign.

Before his contract with the Secretary of State's Office, he had two contracts with then-state Attorney General Patricia Madrid's office in 2000 and 2001, and another with the state tourism and transportation departments in 2004.

His 2000 contract with Madrid's office, which appears to be for media work, was amended six times during five fiscal years, former New Mexican reporter Kate Nash reported in 2009. The original contract was worth $150,000, but amendments boosted the contract's worth to as much as $1.108 million, records show.

In announcing the sentence, Acting U.S. Attorney Steven C. Yarbrough said in a news release, “Those who do business with the government must be held to the same high standards as government officials.  When private citizens enter into contracts to provide services paid for with taxpayers’ monies, they become duty bound to provide honest services for the monies they receive. ... When individuals – whether public officials or government contractors – abuse the public’s trust in this way, they corrupt the system and erode the public’s confidence in their government."

King said in the same news release, “I am pleased that the fruits of our investigation were used to help secure convictions against those who violated the public trust.  I highly commend our AG investigators for their hard work in tracking down the misuse of public funds that led to this prosecution.  I very much appreciate the cooperation extended to my office by the U.S. Attorney’s Office.”


ROUNDHOUSE ROUNDUP: David Roybal's Chief of Police

A version of this was published in The Santa Fe New Mexican 
Aug. 18, 2013

I’ve seen lots of funny things in the 13 legislative sessions I’ve covered. But I’ve never seen a cop rappel down to the House chambers from the gallery above to deal with protesters who had breached security and barged into a floor session.

But apparently that happened in 1966, shortly after the Roundhouse was built. The incident is documented in Chief of Police, a new biography of former state public safety secretary and former state police chief Richard CdeBaca by my former New Mexican colleague David Roybal.

The book, published by Sunstone Press, is subtitled The Career of Richard CdeBaca During Extraordinary Times in New Mexico 1956-1994.

Extraordinary is right. CdeBaca’s state police career gave him a front-row seat at some of the most notorious events in state history, including the 1967 raid on the Tierra Amarilla courthouse; the 1969 peace demonstrations at The University of New Mexico that ended up with 11 people bayoneted by the National Guard; the 1980 prison riot in which 33 inmates died gruesome deaths; and the still-unsolved murder of Father Reynaldo Rivera in 1981.

But while CdeBaca’s perspective on big events like riots and rebellions indeed are compelling, it’s the insight offered in some of CdeBaca’s lesser-known stories that makes Roybal’s book a treasure.

There are tales of car chases, including an Alamogordo officer who ordered his 70-year-old partner to shoot at the tires of a fleeing vehicle. The codger cop succeeded only in blasting the police car’s spotlight and hitting his own fender.

CdeBaca in 1956
There are encounters with LSD-crazed hippies, such as the guy in a Gallup trailer who claimed to be Hercules and used barbells to attack police.

And there’s the time when CdeBaca met Fats Domino at a roadblock near Gallup.

CdeBaca tells of his experience with the old justice-of-the-peace system when he was a young patrol officer in the late ’50s and early ’60s. CdeBaca calls that system “one of the most embarrassing forms of justice.” But he admits fondness for some of the JPs he dealt with. One was Nelson Naylor, who held court in his gas station on U.S. 54 in Orogrande, south of Alamogordo.

Author David Roybal
Quoting CdeBaca’s notes, Roybal writes, “When a violator would appear with a ticket, Judge Naylor would have him wait until he finished servicing a car: checking the oil, water, tires and cleaning the windshield. … When he banged his gavel on top of his desk, his sleeping cat would jump off the desk and land on top of one of the shelves.”

Naylor later was tried for murder after he shot and killed a man during a confrontation at his service station. The JP claimed self-defense and was acquitted.

There is plenty in Chief of Police for political junkies as well.

CdeBaca, who was providing security for the Legislature in the late 1960s, tells how then Lieutenant Gov. E. Lee Francis demanded that state police provide him with round-the-clock police protection as well as a restraining order against then Gov. David F. Cargo.

Francis claimed his running mate had threatened him because of his tie-breaking vote to kill a liquor-reform bill Cargo was backing. (Cargo would deny the accusation and, according to CdeBaca, the state police brass didn’t believe Francis anyway.)

CdeBaca talks of driving a McKinley County lawmaker to his hotel room during that era. “Inside his room, he showed me a case of hard liquor, which he said had been given him by the liquor lobby.”

The Legislature, as described by CdeBaca, seemed a little rowdier back then.

Tommy only wanted to salute the
jackalope flag on the House floor
Not only was there that incident that prompted CdeBaca to get a rope and rappel down to the House floor to get rid of those protesters.

There was another incident in which the late Santa Fe artist and frequent political candidate Tommy Macaione stormed onto the House floor and bellowed, “Mr. Speaker, I rise on a point of personal privilege.”

CdeBaca personally escorted Macaione out of the Capitol. “The man’s clothing was covered with dog hair and I got it all over my uniform,” he said of Macaione, infamous for keeping dozens of dogs and cats.

Friday, August 16, 2013

NM High Court Won't Immediately Hear Marriage Equality Cases

The New Mexico Supreme Court today declined to immediately consider two cases involving several New Mexico same-sex couples who were denied marriage licenses. But, according to a news release from the American Civil Liberties Union, the high court said the couples have the right to an “expedited review” of their district court case.

“While we would have liked for the court to hear this issue immediately, we are encouraged that the court recognizes that this is an important case that should be decided promptly," said  Laura Schauer Ives, legal director of the state ACLU. "We look forward to moving this case through the courts as quickly as possible.”

The ACLU and the National Center for Lesbian Rights, filed a lawsuit Thursday in state District Court on behalf of two lesbian who were denied marriage licenses in Bernalillo County. Other couples have since joined the suit. The organization later filed a petition to the state Supreme Court in order to expedite the case.

The court action against Bernalillo County Clerk Maggie Toulouse Oliver says the state constitution and statutes on marriage do not prohibit same-sex couples from marrying and do not expressly recognize or ban same-sex relationships through marriage or civil unions.

Rep. Brian Egolf, D-Santa, a lawyer, filed a similar but separate suit on behalf of a gay couple from Santa Fe. The Supreme Court also declined to hear that case.

Below is the denial of Egolf's case.



UPDATE: 3:51 pm  I just spoke with Egolf, who said he would be re-filing his case in district court. He said he was not too discouraged by the Supreme Court's action -- and in fact was encouraged by the fact the court granted a right to an expedited hearing in the lower court.

"It might not happen by Thanksgiving, but it might by Christmas," he said.


Thursday, August 15, 2013

R.I.P. Rep. Stephen Easley

Rep. Stephen Easley, a freshman legislator who represented a state House district that included southeastern Santa Fe County, is dead, legislative sources have confirmed. He was 60.

Details of his death are not immediately known. Easley, who was vice chairman of a subcommittee on behavioral health, had been active in recent weeks trying to find answers in the controversy over the suspension of Medicaid funds for 14 mental health providers under investigation for possible fraud.

A native of Indiana, Easley was married and had two grown daughters. On his Facebook page, a nephew, Mark Easley wrote, “He was a good man, kind and with a gentle heart he hid under snide humor during my childhood. … He was my Dad’s cohort and fellow adventurer. He was an explorer and a scientist. He was a loyal husband and father. He embraced new cultures and new lands far from his Indiana home and furthered the Easley name to new arenas.”

Easley, a Democrat who lived in Eldorado, was elected last year to represent District 50, which stretches into Bernalillo, Torrance and Valencia Counties. He quickly became known as a progressive Democrat

Before moving to Santa Fe, Easley served as an elected city commissioner in Alamogordo.

With a PhD in biological anthropology, Easley had worked as a university professor, later moving into the information technology industry and forming his own company.

Easley also worked for seven years in ex-Gov. Bill Richardson’s administration in a series of posts, including as deputy chief information officer.

During his time in Santa Fe, he served for eight years on the executive committee and board of the Santa Fe Railyard Community Corp., the nonprofit that manages the Santa Fe Railyard on behalf of the city of Santa Fe.

UPDATE:

Here's a video of Easley made by House Democrats early this year. House Speaker Ken Martinez sent the link to this in a statement about Easley's death.


Wednesday, August 14, 2013

NM Congressional Dems Call for Public Hearing on Behavioral Health Upheaval

U.S. Sens. Tom Udall and Martin Heinrich and Reps. Ben Ray Luján and Michelle Lujan Grisham, are calling on the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services to hold a public forum in New Mexico "to give constituents the opportunity to provide detailed input and feedback about their access to quality behavioral health services as a result of recent changes in Medicaid service providers."

The four Congress members sent a letter to U.S. Health Secretary Kathleen Sebelius calling for "department officials from Washington visit New Mexico to conduct a public forum and hear firsthand from local stakeholders." They want that forum to take place within the next two weeks.

Here's a copy of that letter:

Dear Secretary Sebelius, As you are aware, the State of New Mexico is in the process of investigating allegations of fraud against 15 behavioral health providers that offer Medicaid services and has suspended payments to those organizations. We want to thank you for your ongoing involvement to protect the integrity of the process and the needs of beneficiaries. As your staff has indicated, this is a unique situation involving almost the entire behavioral health system in the state (87% of services are rendered by the providers from whom payments have been suspended pending outcome of the investigation) and will require a unique solution. As you may know, the state has entered into a contract with outside companies from Arizona to assume operations and services. Numerous constituents have reported to us that this process has disrupted the system of care across communities for this vulnerable population. Such an infrastructure takes decades to build in our largely rural, underserved state and necessarily includes many sole providers vital to the fabric of community infrastructure. We appreciate and support the need to stamp out fraud and abuse where it occurs. We also believe that such a sweeping change warrants immediate and comprehensive oversight by the Centers for Medicare and Medicaid Services (CMS) to ensure that the integrity of this process is maintained.  

We understand that CMS has been in daily communication with the State since at least June to ensure that appropriate transition plans are in place. We appreciate this ongoing assistance and request that you broaden the scope of your efforts. While the State has publicly affirmed on a number of occasions that there have been no gaps in service due to this issue, we are alarmed by the increasing reports to the contrary from advocates, providers, consumers, and families regarding significant disruption to access to quality care. We have heard from constituents and their caregivers, all of whom are anxious, fearful and confused about what to expect. They have had appointments delayed and cancelled, and changes in providers with whom they had relationships of trust. We have also heard from multiple sources that a significant number of clinical staff have left the programs and, in some cases, have left the state entirely. While these occurrences are expected in a time of transition, the extent of the change warrants careful oversight.  

Your staff at CMS has told us they would like to hear directly from New Mexico stakeholders and beneficiaries about their experiences and that they plan to start reaching out to groups by phone. We will gladly continue to provide your department with the names of stakeholders who can provide detailed input. However, we also request that department officials from Washington visit New Mexico to conduct a public forum and hear firsthand from local stakeholders. We further request that such a visit take place within the next two weeks given the time-sensitivity of the concerns including reports of disruption to services needed for school-age children prior to the start of the school year in mid-August. We understand that you are monitoring a number of systemic impacts of this transition, including changes in call center volume, emergency room visits, referral trends and clinical staff turnover, but hearing directly from our constituents will offer additional data and stories of personal experiences with service disruptions.  

As New Mexico’s behavioral health system undergoes this transition and Medicaid expands its eligibility this fall, we would appreciate being informed of your department’s plans to assure continuity of care. We appreciated the confirmation from CMS that the State is not in jeopardy of losing its Medicaid funding during this process. We also understand that CMS explicitly communicated to the State that it has discretion and flexibility in granting good cause exemptions from suspending Medicaid payments in cases of credible allegations of fraud. We know that you have received several letters from members of the New Mexico State Legislature expressing similar concerns and we urge you to respond to them as soon as possible so that they may weigh their options for intervention, should they feel it necessary and appropriate.  

Thank you for your prompt attention to this matter.

The four who signed are all the Democratic members of the state's congressional delegation. Missing is Rep. Steve Pearce, the delegation's only Republican. The most vocal critics of the Martinez's administration's moves in the behavioral health controversy have been Democrats.

AFL-CIO Targets GOP Govs: Susana Not Among Them

Gov. Susana Martinez apparently doesn't have to fear the American Federation of Labor-Congress of Industrial Organizations pumping big cash bucks into New Mexico to try to unseat her next year.

But is this a major blow to the Democratic ticket in New Mexico? Probably not. The Dems may be facing an uphill battle here to recapture the Fourth Floor, but the news that Martinez isn't among the labor group's targeted governors isn't that earth-shattering for them.

At a news conference Tuesday, Michael Podhorzer, political director of the AFL-CIO told reporters that his organization will focus on state races in 2014 because Congress is so entangled in gridlock, state government is "the area that is going to be most consequential for people's lives." According to the report in USA Today:

Podhorzer singled out six Republican governors the unions are likely to focus on: Scott Walker of Wisconsin; John Kasich in Ohio; Tom Corbett of Pennsylvania; Michigan's Rick Snyder; Maine's Paul LePage and Rick Scott of Florida. All of the governors have had battles with unions in their states, most notably Walker, who survived a recall vote after pushing though legislation to curtail bargaining rights of public employee unions.

USA Today noted that the governors mentioned are in states with a strong union presence.

In 2010, in which the governor's race here was very competitive, Democrat Diane Denish received more than a million dollars from labor unions, which was more than 17 percent of her support.

However, according to the National Institute on Money in State Government, the AFL-CIO was not a contributor. Public sector unions were the main source of Denish's labor money, more than a third of those comes coming from the American Federation of State, County and Municipal Employees.

The national AFL-CIO did spend $27,750 in New Mexico that election cycle. $8,000 went to the state Democratic Party.

The  AFL-CIO wasn't a major player in Bill Richardson's gubernatorial races either. In 2006 the organization gave Richardson $5,000, while in 2002, they only gave him $1,000. Of course, both those elections were easy sprints for Richardson.

The only two announced 2014 Democratic candidates so far are Attorney General Gary King and state Sen. Linda Lopez of Albuquerque.


Tuesday, August 13, 2013

Virginia-Class Submarine Docks in Connecticut: Why Is This News in NM?

Because she's the USS New Mexico and she just completed her inaugural deployment.

 According to a news release from the U.S. Navy, the attack sub traveled more than 34,000 miles over six months while conducting national security operations in the European region.


"New Mexico's performance on her inaugural deployment was exemplary," said Commander George Perez. "I could not be more proud of the way the crew, families, friends and supporters of New Mexico came together over this last year to make this first deployment a success." 

It was the first deployment for more 70 percent of the boat's crew members, the Navy said.

The sub visited three ports while deployed:  Haakonsvern, Norway; Faslane, Scotland; and Rota, Spain.

USS New Mexico was commissioned March 27, 2010 and is the second Navy vessel to be named for the Land of Enchantment.

"Virginia-class" refers to a classification of American nuclear-powered submarines that are considered a less expensive alternative to the Seawolf-class attack subs.

Sunday, August 11, 2013

ROUNDHOUSE ROUND-UP: There's No Stoppin' Party-Hoppers from Hoppin'

A version of this was published in The Santa Fe New Mexican 
Aug. 11, 2013


Nuñez changing party registration in 2011
It was a jolt of déja vu. Last Tuesday was the second time in two years that I rushed over to the Secretary of State’s Office to see Rep. Andy Nuñez of Hatch change political parties.

In 2011, Nuñez -- after a public spat with then House Speaker Ben Lujan--  changed his party to “Declined to State,” the official term for independent. But even though many pundits have talked about the declining strength of political parties, the fact is, facing an election without a party to back you up isn’t easy.

Seeking re-election last year, Nuñez came in third, a distant third behind the Democratic and Republican candidates. So, in hopes 0f having a better chance of beating incumbent Democrat Rep. Phillip Archuleta next year, Nuñez changed again, this time to Republican.

But will the party-hopping itself hurt Nuñez? A look at other party-hoppers in New Mexico shows that in most cases, the registration changes didn’t help.

To be sure, there have some politicians here who have done well after switching parties. Look at former state Rep. Max Coll. He served in the House as a Republican from Roswell in the 1960s and early ’70s. After moving to Santa Fe in the 1970s, he won a House seat here — as a Republican. However, after his 1982 re-election, Coll announced he was becoming a Democrat. The move — which effectively ended the rule of the “Cowboy Coalition” of Republicans and conservative Democrats in the House — was controversial at first. But it didn’t hurt Coll’s re-election efforts over the following 20 years.

There are others, such as state Sen. Phil Griego, who was a Republican when he was elected to the Santa Fe City Council in the mid-1980s. Not long after, he became a Democrat.
And going way back, there was our fourth governor, Octaviano Larrazolo, who in 1928 became the first Hispanic elected to the U.S. Senate. Larrazolo began his political career as a Democrat, but switched to GOP in 1911 because the Democratic Party refused his proposal that one-half of all statewide nominees be Hispanic.

These are the exceptions.

Just last year, several party-hoppers lost political races. Former state Sen. Shannon Robinson of Albuquerque switched from D to R and tried unsuccessfully to win back his old seat from Sen. Tim Keller. Meanwhile, former state Sen. Joe Carraro, who’d switched from Republican to independent in 2008, came up short in his race against Sen. John Ryan, R-Albuquerque.

Also, former Albuquerque City Councilor Vickie Perea, a Democrat until 2004, lost the general election as the Republican candidate for a Cibola County state Senate seat to Democrat Clemente Sanchez of Grants. And former Albuquerque City Councilor Hess Yntema, who had served as a Republican but later switched to independent, lost the general election to incumbent Rep. Sheryl Stapleton Williams, D-Albuquerque.

Last year’s most prominent party-hopper was former Gov. Gary Johnson, who left the Republican Party to run for president as a Libertarian. He didn’t win.
Then-Republican Joe Carraro, former Democrat David Pfeffer
and Allen McCulloch at a 2006 GOP Senate forum

Going back a few years, state Republicans were grateful in 2005 to then-Santa Fe City Council David Pfeffer when he joined their side and publicly denounced his former party, the Democrats, in 2005. But they weren’t grateful enough the next year, when Pfeffer ran in the GOP for a U.S. Senate seat. He came in last in the three-man race.

And let’s not forget former state Sen. Tom Benavides of Albuquerque, who left the Democratic Party after his re-election defeat in 1996. In later years, Benavides ran unsuccessful races for U.S. Senate as an independent and a Republican.

And there was former Santa Fe Sheriff Eddie Escudero, who was elected sheriff as a Democrat in the late 1970s. In the ’80s and ’90s, Escudero ran unsuccessfully several times for county office as a Republican and later as a prodigal Democrat.

Does any of this portend anything for Nuñez’s race next year? Maybe not. But as these examples show, party-hopping usually doesn’t help.

The ones that got away: After I filed this column for Sunday's New Mexican, a fellow journalist reminded me of a couple of major New Mexico party-hopper I'd left out.

One was former Sen. Les Houston of Albuquerque. He began his political career as a Democrat, but in the early '80s, after losing a gubernatorial primary to Toney Anaya, Houston switched to Republican. Houston as a Republican was re-elected three more times to his Senate seat. He eventually became Senate GOP floor leader and even served briefly as Senate president pro-tem in the late '80s.

I discovered this interesting little tidbit in The New Mexican's The Past 100 Years column, published a few years ago:

Oct. 12, 1985: For a little more than nine hours Friday, Sen. Les Houston, president pro-tem of the state Senate, was governor of New Mexico. As soon as Houston found out that he was in charge, he was quick to take the reins of government -- he called a press conference at the governor's office. Houston ran for governor as a Democrat in 1982 and was defeated by Anaya in the primary election. As president pro-tem, Houston is third in line to fill in for Governor Toney Anaya, who was giving a speech in Chicago at the Midwest Hispanic Voters' conference. Next in line, Lt. Gov. Michael Runnels, is in the Soviet Union on vacation, and second in line, Secretary of State Clara Jones, was in Keystone, Colo. This was the second time in 15 months the Senate president pro-tem has served as acting governor.
Houston made another stab at running for governor in 1990 -- this time as a Republican -- but he lost the GOP primary to former state Rep. Frank Bond of Santa Fe. After his Senate career, Houston was elected as a Republican to the Bernalillo County Commission in the 1990s.

But in 2002 he angered many members of the state GOP when he publicly endorsed Democrat Bill Richardson for governor.

The other party-switcher my friend reminded me of was the late Anderson Carter, a former state representative from Roosevelt County. He was elected as a Democrat but became a Republican in the early 1960s. He ran for U.S. Senate in 1966. but lost to Democratic incumbent Clinton P. Anderson.   And, in 1970 Carter defeated the late David Cargo, then a sitting governor, in the U.S. Senate primary. Cater went on to lose to incumbent Sen. Joe Montoya in the general election.

Also I should have re-read my 2011 article about Nuñez's switch, because in that, Secretary of State Dianna Duran mentioned other party hoppers, including former Rep. Larry Sheffield, who went from Democrat to Republican and former Rep. Bill Vandergriff, who went from Republican to Democrat in the '80s; and former Rep. Patricia Baca switched from Republican to Democrat in 1992.

I've probably left out even more N.M. party-hoppers feel free to add others to the comments section.


Friday, August 9, 2013

Rep. Cote: Save the Prairie Dogs

I haven't been covering the recent controversy over the planned prairie dog shoot organized by a Los Lunas gun store (A recent wire story is HERE)

But I just got this piece by Rep. Nate Cote, D-Las Cruces.

There is probably no more ruthless predator than man; yet as far as we know man is the only being with a spiritual conscience.  Then why does man do unconscionable acts such as the mass killing of wildlife?  I guess the answer is that man has had the ability to turn killing into a competitive sport so that conscience may be set to one side.  Man has shown time and time again that personal pleasure, no matter how twisted, justifies certain behavior.  Much of man’s actions such as animal killing contests are without regard for our ecosystem and the natural order of things. 

The calls and emails I’ve received from concerned citizens about Gunhawk Firearms' upcoming prairie dog killing contest reminds me of the historical mass killings of other wildlife, which drove them to the brink of extinction.  I urge Gunhawk to reconsider feeding man’s greed and brutality because of their selfish desire for profits over a good sense of humanity.  I have reviewed  important data concerning the Gunnison's prairie dog's severely diminished numbers; their status being reviewed for listing under the Endangered Species Act by the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service; their keystone role in New Mexico's ecosystem, and the concerns of hundreds of citizens dedicated to their preservation and am troubled by the answer.  I am persuaded that these contests could harm both the prairie dogs' existence and other species that depend on their colonies for survival.

The message to our children by these animal killing contests is the wrong message.  The example we need to set for our children should be one of respect for our ecosystem and the important role our wildlife plays within that system.  I join the protest and encourage Gunhawk to abandon its killing competitions. 

Nathan “Nate” CoteState Representative, District 53

Wednesday, August 7, 2013

Martinez Speaks at Koch Brothers Retreat

A version of this was published in The Santa Fe New Mexican 
Aug. 7, 2013

Somehow this didn't make it to the New Mexican website this morning, so I'll post it here.

The Brothers Koch
Gov. Susana Martinez attended a political gathering at Santa Ana Pueblo this week that also was attended by national Republican leaders, including House Majority Leader Eric Cantor of Virginia and Paul Ryan, the Wisconsin congressman who was the GOP’s vice presidential candidate last year.

But no official would say whether she met with billionaire Republican activists David and Charles Koch, who reportedly sponsored the Monday event at Hyatt Regency Tamaya Resort and Spa.

“Gov. Martinez attended a private political event at the Tamaya, where she gave brief remarks and had casual meetings with several national political leaders, including Majority Leader Eric Cantor and Congressman Paul Ryan,” said Jay McCleskey, Martinez’s political consultant on Tuesday. Ryan reportedly is considering a 2016 run for president.

But McCleskey, who wasn’t present at the event, said he couldn’t say whether the Koch brothers were there.

Earlier, a spokesman for the Governor’s Office had referred questions about the Koch brothers to McCleskey.

Joe Montes, president of the New Mexico chapter of Americans for Prosperity, a Koch-affiliated group, referred questions about the event to a spokesman for Koch Company Public Sector, who couldn’t be reached for comment Tuesday night.

KOB TV reported Monday that the resort had been completely rented out for an event. The report quoted an unnamed “Tamaya insider” saying the entire hotel had been rented to the Koch brothers and that a private jet parked at Cutter Aviation in Albuquerque was registered to Koch Leasing, which is part of Koch Industries in Wichita, Kan.

xxxx

According to a story in Politico this morning: "The meeting featured some discussion of the unfolding GOP Senate primary challenges to Minority Leader Mitch McConnell of Kentucky and Sen. Mike Enzi of Wyoming, but no consensus opinion emerged, a source who attended the event told Politico. The source said that Cantor and Ryan both delivered presentations that were well-received by donors, as was (American Enterprise Institute President Arthur) Brooks’s speech on work as a source of happiness."

Tuesday, August 6, 2013

Andy Nunez is a Republican Now


Former Rep. Andy Nunez of Hatch made shockwaves back in 2011 when he changed parties at the outset of a legislative session after a public dispute with then Speaker Ben Lujan. Nunez at that time changed from a Democrat to an Independent. He said at the time that the Democrats had become more liberal, but that he wasn't right-wing enough to be a Republican.

About an hour ago, Nunez switched parties again. Now he's a Republican. And he says he'll run again for his old House seat.

State Republican Party Chairman John Billingsly through a spokeswoman said, "We welcome Andy Nunez as a member of the Republican Party, and we appreciate that he has been a longtime conservative leader in New Mexico."

Last year, as a man without a party, Nunez tried to win re-election but came in a distant third, losing to Democrat Phillip Archuleta. In that race, Nunez was attacked by a PAC associated with Gov. Susana Martinez. The issue was his vote for a bill in 2009 to abolish the death penalty.

“Andy Nuñez puts the welfare of convicted murders above keeping our families safe and supports Bill Richardson’s ban on the death penalty,” said one mailer from Reform New Mexico Now.

The vehemence of the attack surprised many Legislature regulars because Nunez in the two previous sessions had sponsored Martinez's bill to repeal the law that allows the state to issue driver's licenses to undocumented immigrants.

Nunez said today that he voted for the death penalty bill because he was "mislead" by Democrats.

Asked today about Nunez's registration, Martinez's political director Jay McCleskey said, "I think it's great, as Andy Nunez has always been his own man and will make the Republican party stronger."

Nunez changing parties in 2011
At a news conference Nunez, a rancher by profession, said he doesn't trust Archuleta and said the Democrat was "anti-ag." He declined to name any specific agriculture bill that shows Archuleta is against the farming industry. But he said Archuleta had been involved with "Cesar  Chavez's group."

Reached by telephone, Archuleta denied he was "anti-ag"

"We're trying to find ways to fix the water problem," he said. "The farmers are one of my biggest concerns."

He also denied that he was involved with Chavez's United Farm Workers."

"I have a lot of respect for Cesar Chavez, but I never was in United Farm Workers and I never even met him," Archuleta said.

As for being untrustworthy, Archuleta said, "I think changing parties every election isn't very trustworthy."

Since leaving the Legislature, Nunez has worked for a lobbyist for the Elephant Butte and the Carlsbad irrigation districts. He's also served as the mayor of Hatch.

Nunez said his wife Carolyn doesn't want him to run again, but she doesn't mind him changing parties. She's been a Republican all along, he said.





Monday, August 5, 2013

Gov. Martinez Has "Casual Meeting" with Paul Ryan

Two Republican politicians who have been mentioned as possibilities for the national GOP ticket met Monday in New Mexico.trying to find out where

U.S. Rep. Paul Ryan, R-Wisconsin flew to Albuquerque on Sunday. On Monday he met with our own Gov. Susana Martinez in the Albuquerque area.

"Gov. Martinez had a casual visit with Congressman Ryan while he was in the state and appreciates the opportunity to discuss issues confronting New Mexico with our national leaders," said the governor's spokesman Enrique Knell in an email.

Ryan, chairman of the House Budget Committee, was Mitt Romney's running mate in the 2012 election.

A poll last week by Public Policy Polling, which is owned by Democrats, found U.S. Sen. Rand Paul, R-Ky., leading the GOP field with 16 percent followed by Ryan, former Gov. Jeb Bush of Florida and Gov. Chris Christie of New Jersey, who each had 13 percent. Martinez, who has downplayed any national ambitions, polled last in the pack with two percent of those polled.

Committee Wants Sebelius to Intervene in Behavioral Health Controversy


A legislative committee has sent a letter to US secretary of Health & Human Services Kathleen Sebelius asking her to intervene to resolve the controversy over the behavioral health providers whose Medicaid funds were frozen during fraud investigation.
Sebelius

"We fear that within days or weeks, New Mexico's existing and already fragile statewide behavioral health system will be the casualty of the misapplication by the (Human Services Department) of these new ... Medicaid fraud and abuse laws and regulations," the 9-page letter from the interim Health & Human Services Committee says.

The regulations, according to the letter gives "the state executive Medicaid agency broad discretionary powers to impose sanctions that may put a provider out of business before any adjudication of wrongdoing and it gives that same agency a powerful tool to intimidate those who provide service to Medicaid recipients and stifle any constructive criticism from this same group."

The letter lists the current financial status — which ones have run out of funds, which are furloughing employees, etc. —  of most of the 14 de-funded providers.

The letter says that the committee believes Sebelius' department and the Center for Medicare & Medicaid Services are "the only parties capable of resolving this crisis in a timely manner and in a way that preserves access and services for thousands of New Mexico's most vulnerable people while fraud investigations are under way. We urge you to take swift action to bring this crisis to an end."

The letter is signed by Committee Chairman Rep. James Roger Madalena, D-Jemez Pueblo and Vice Chairman Jerry Ortiz y Pino, D-Albuquerque. Copies were sent to all members of the the state's Congressional delegation and other federal officials.

Below is the letter, plus about 120 pages of other documents related to the controversy. More in tomorrow's New Mexican.

Sunday, August 4, 2013

ROUNDHOUSE ROUNDUP: Big Hourly Wages for Arizona Providers

A version of this was published in The Santa Fe New Mexican 
Aug. 4, 2013

For my analysis in today's New Mexican of the accusation that New Mexico mental health providers were targeted because of their "past ties to Democratic governors" CLICK HERE



Sec. Sidonie Squier
When the Boston company Public Consulting Group performed its audit on 15 New Mexico behavioral-health providers — the audit that provided “credible allegations of fraud” that led to the state suspending Medicaid payments for the providers — one of the findings involved “unusual compensation and/or benefits for key stakeholders” in the nonprofits.

Or, in the words of Human Services Secretary Sidonie Squier in a recent op-ed, chief executive officers of the providers were “improperly getting rich off Medicaid funds. … This money was supposed to pay for treatment for low-income New Mexicans …”

So, no, we don’t want behavioral health administrators serving poor people in the state to get rich off Medicare funds.

But a quick glance at the contracts of the five Arizona behavioral health firms being brought in to fill in for the New Mexico companies under investigation seems to indicate that none of the CEOs or other administrators from any of those companies are going to go broke.

All five of the Arizona providers — La Frontera, Agave, Valle del Sol, Turquoise Health & Wellness and Southwest Network — have agreements where the state will reimburse their chief executive officers $300 an hour between the time they are eligible to start billing OptumHealth New Mexico, the company that oversees the state’s managed care system.

That’s not a typo. $300. An hour. Should they work 40-hour weeks, that would be $12,000 a week.

Personally, I don’t make half that.

Of course, these CEOs might not bill the state for a full 40 hours, assuming they still have operations in Arizona to oversee.

In the contracts, the CEOs make the most. Both other administrators won’t be hurting very much. Chief operating officers and chief financial officers will be paid $275 an hour. Managers, system analysts, transition consultants and clinical leadership will be paid $250 an hour. Associate managers, business analysts and clinical trainers will get a mere $200 an hour.

At least one of the contracts, the one for Southwest Network, carves out hourly wages for other positions as well. That contract specifies that Southwest’s psychiatrists will make $275 an hour, nurse practitioners will be paid $250, clinicians will get paid $100 an hour, behavioral health technicians will get $75.

The contracts require that any single expense in excess of $10,000 “for tangible personal property” must have prior approval by Human Services.

Asked about the rates for the Arizona CEOs and others, Human Services spokesman Matt Kennicott said, “These are base hourly rates that are only a part of the initial contract, based on the need for emergency support under unique circumstances. We do not foresee paying out up to the capped contracted amounts.”

The state has budgeted up to $17.8 million for the Arizona providers.

What the audit found: So what examples of excessive compensation for New Mexico providers did the audit find?

A summary of the audit released by Human Services gives the example of an unnamed provider whose CEO and family allegedly were making $1.5 million a year when you add up salaries and “related transactions.” If this turns out to be true, that’s even more than $300 an hour.

The summary also tells of a New Mexico behavioral-health CEO who had a deferred compensation plan that would provide $60,000 a year for seven years (10 years after June 2014). This, the summary says, would go into effect after the executive had been terminated for any reason.

Of course, we don’t know who these executives are or which providers they work for because the actual audit has been kept secret by Human Services and the state Attorney General’s Office, which is investigating the providers for possible fraud.

Friday, August 2, 2013

Links, Documents for Recent Behavioral Health Stories

I've been pretty busy this week with stories related to the investigation and de-funding of New Mexico's behavioral health providers.

Here's my story in today's New Mexican about a former OptumHealth executive saying the Martinez administration targeted the 15 providers because of ties to past Democratic governors. The BehavioralHealthcare.net story in which Jana Spalding made the remarks is HERE (She's quoted on page 2 of the article.)

In my story, Human Services spokesman Matt Kennicott quotes a recent KUMN interview with Attorney General Gary King. That portion of the interview is on the Youtube at the end of this post.

I also wrote about a news conference in Albuquerque earlier this week.

In it, Sen. Jerry Ortiz y Pino refers to an article by Human Services' deputy counsel Larry Hyeck about freezing funds of providers during fraud investigations that was published in a legal journal last year. That article is HERE.

Finally, here's the "primer" on the behavioral healthcare controversy that ran in Sunday's edition.


Thursday, August 1, 2013

Santa Fe Resident Nominated for Director of National Science Foundation

Who knew that Santa Fe -- where we've spent countless hours in courtrooms and City Council meetings debating whether wi-fi will kill you -- would one day be home to a director of the National Science Foundation.

But it's true. President Obama has nominated France Anne Cordova to that position.

Cordova, a former Los Alamos National Laboratory scientist, was president of Purdue University between 2007 to 2012. She's also chairman of the Smithsonian Institute Board of Regents and is a member of the National Science Board.

According to a news release:

From 2002 to 2007, Dr. Cordova served as Chancellor of the University of California at Riverside, where she was a Distinguished Professor of Physics and Astronomy. Previously, Dr. Cordova was the Vice Chancellor for Research and Professor of Physics at the University of California at Santa Barbara from 1996 to 2002. She served as NASA’s Chief Scientist from 1993 to 1996. She was on the faculty of the Pennsylvania State University, where she served as Head of the Department of Astronomy and Astrophysics from 1989 to 1993. Dr. Cordova served as Deputy Group Leader in the Earth and Space Sciences Division at Los Alamos National Laboratory from 1988 to 1989 and Staff Scientist from 1979 to 1989.  ... Dr. Cordova received a B.A. from Stanford University and a Ph.D. from the California Institute of Technology.

Since leaving Purdue , she has lived in Santa Fe with her husband Christian Foster, who she met here years ago.