Thursday, March 31, 2011

Duran Puts SOS Employee on Leave For Racist Joke

Secretary of State Dianna Duran put an office employee on leave for a racist joke that was found on a spreadsheet form for political committees that could be downloaded from the SOS Website.

Duran also said she'd called two African-American legislators -- Reps. Jane Powdrell Culbert, R-Corrales and Sheryl Stapleton-Williams, D-Albuquerque -- who appeared to be the target of the offensive material. She said she had a conversation with Powdrell-Culbert and had left a message for Stapleton-Williams.

A news release from Duran Thursday afternoon said:

“I was shocked and disappointed to learn that a state employee apparently posted what can be interpreted as racially offensive language in a sample finance report,” Duran said, “I find these actions deeply offensive and I immediately ordered the materials removed and I initiated an investigation. The individual involved has been placed on administrative leave while the matter is being reviewed.

"... It is critical that New Mexicans have faith that the Office of the Secretary of State will protect the rights of all New Mexicans equally and that I will not tolerate any form of racism or bigotry in this office. Violations of this policy will result in swift and decisive action.”

Duran just told me that she can't release the name of the employee put on leave has not been released because of state personnel laws.

The material in question, which has been removed since this morning, was on a spreadsheet for use by Political Action Committes in filing their 2011 reports.

What apparently was supposed to be a sample entry listed a fictitious organization called "National Organization of the Beer Drinkers and Guzzlers."

The last name of the "contributor" was "Sheryl Powdrell-Culbertson" while the first name was "Jefferson Davis."

Jefferson Davis was president of the Confederate States of America.

I spoke with Powdrell-Culbert earlier today. She told me she didn't want to comment on "something so stupid." She also said she knows Duran is not a racist. "Dianna's one of the nicest people you're going to find,"  the lawmaker said.

I'm still waiting on a call from Williams-Stapleton.

The matter was first reported by The Justice League, a liberal PAC, which immediately called for Duran's Resignation.

"Secretary Duran should be ashamed of herself," PAC Treasurer Eli Il Yong Lee said in a news release. "We expect more from elected officials. There is no place for racism in New Mexico, much less in a state office."

King vs. Duran

Looks like there's trouble brewing between Attorney General Gary King and Secretary of State Dianna Duran.

On Wednesday, Deputy AG Albert Lama wrote the SOS a letter in which he disagreed with Duran's determination on the issue of Gov. Susana Martinez's campaign committee paying for radio ads about the driver's license bill.

My story about that is in today's New Mexican HERE

But Duran says that nobody in her office received any letter. And she wasn't happy that I knew about it before she did.

"We find it surprising and unlikely that the attorney general would decide to create some unsolicited legal advice for our office and immediately forward it to the media before sending it to us," she said in an e-mail to me Wednesday night.

 "This would seem to be a violation of the ethical obligations of any attorney," Duran said. "... we think it unlikely their office would breach the obligations it owes to this office by producing unsolicited legal advice and sending its advice to the media, and not to its client. If this is authentic, it is a serious matter."

I'm pretty sure it's authentic. I got it from the AG's office, not some guy in the parking lot.

Let's see how this plays out.

Roundhouse Roundup: Don't Text With Texas

A version of this was published in The Santa Fe New Mexican
March 31, 2011

Last week, I took off for Austin, Texas, to visit family, hear some live music, eat some barbecue and Tex-Mex food and basically decompress after the 60-day legislative session.

But, against my better judgment, I couldn't help but pick up the local paper and read about — you guessed it — the Texas state Legislature. (I'm not that big of a political junkie. I just read the paper. I didn't watch their webcast and I didn't set foot in their Capitol to see in person the Texas sausage being made.)

One story that caught my eye was about a bill to require photo identification to vote. This one gave me a bad case of déjà vu. I read quotes from Texas lawmakers making the same arguments, on both sides, that I hear nearly every session in the New Mexico Legislature.

The bill did better in Texas than it's ever done here. While I was in Austin, it passed the House 101-48 on a mostly party-line vote. When I read that the debate lasted until 11 p.m., I literally shuddered. The bill already had passed the Senate.

In at least one version of the bill, an acceptable form of identification would be a concealed-carry license. Now that's how a real Texan votes!

Last I heard, it was in a conference committee where some minor differences were being ironed out. It's expected to go to Gov. Rick Perry, who has advocated for a voter ID bill.

Deep in the Heart of Texting: But the major piece of Texas legislative news that caught my eye was about a bill that never has been attempted here before.

Introduced by Rep. Todd Hunter, R-Corpus Christi, House Bill 2977 would make it illegal for a public official to send text messages during public meetings. The same would go for emails, instant messages and website posting.

Hunter was quoted in the Austin American Statesman saying it's rude for legislators or city councilors to be pecking away on their cellphones while members of the public are speaking.

"I also don't think you should be communicating in a public setting with private interests telling you how to vote, telling you how to think, telling you how to speak without that being open access to the public," Hunter said.

I agree. Call me old-fashioned, but I believe if lobbyists are going to tell a lawmaker how to vote, they ought to buy him or her dinner and cocktails and do it face to face.

The bill hasn't made it out of its first committee yet, but it's received praise in some Texas newspaper editorials.

The American Statesman gave a thumbs-up to the bill. The paper noted the bill comes after "the embarrassing release of hundreds of e-mails between Austin City Council members that contained unflattering comments about people who spoke at meetings and about each other." The paper said the county attorney is investigating whether the council used electronic communications to circumvent open-meetings laws.

There might just be a need for such a bill here if officials are using hand-held devices to make public decisions in secret.

But on a selfish level, I'd hate to see something like this go into effect here. In recent years, I've used texting to contact legislators tied up in committee hearings. It's a quick way to get information and far less disruptive than calling a lawmaker's cellphone or having someone pull him or her out of a meeting.

And honest, I never tell them how to vote.

(Full disclosure: I think I was friends in junior high with Rep. Hunter in Oklahoma. He hasn't answered my email, so I'm not 100 percent certain. If I had his number, I'd text him. If he is the same Todd Hunter, we haven't seen each other in nearly 40 years.)

Tuesday, March 29, 2011

Johnson Insider: It's a Go in April

I just spoke to a Gary Johnson "insider" who confirmed that, as has been reported elsewhere, the former governor indeed will announce he's running for president in mid April in New Hampshire.

As others have reported, there will be no "exploratory committee" song and dance. He'll be announcing his candidacy.

Though Johnson told me "nothing to report" just a few hours ago, the insider said he has to be careful with public statements because of the tax status of his political advocacy group Our America.

My story this morning about Johnson's possible run is HERE.

UPDATE: Just confirmed the announcement date is April 21.

Monday, March 28, 2011

All the Way With GEJ?

Will a former New Mexico governor become the nation's third President Johnson?

According to Politico and Fox News he's gonna try.

UPDATE: Johnson, who was in New York, called me this morning, but wouldn't confirm or deny the recent reports of his impending canidacy. "Nothing to report," he said, adding "I don't know who these leakers are."
My story in today's New Mexican is HERE.

I'm Back ...

Boy that week went by fast, but I got a chance to get out of town, visit family, hear some music and generally decompress from the Legislature.

It doesn't appear that any earthshaking political events happened while I was gone.

Gov. Martinez appointed political ally Darren White to the Judicial Standards Commission, in spite of THIS. There's been some howling from the Dems about that, not to mention the editorial page of The New Mexican.

And speaking of cops, on the local level,  Ray Rael got hired as Santa Fe Police Chief. (I got to know him back when I was a cop reporter and he was a police captain and spokesman for SFPD.)

To me the most interesting story last week was Lt. Gov. John Sanchez's opening fire on Heather Wilson in the upcoming Republican fight for the U.S. Senate nomination.

This occurred in The Hill, a Washington, D.C. publication about Congress.

"I think Heather served honorably," (Sanchez) said in an interview. "But if we consider the choices that were made by former establishment candidates, I think it's clear the choices will be very easy for the people of New Mexico.

"Do they want a return back to the days of moderate-type leaders [whose] conservative compasses [weren’t] pointed in the right direction? Or are they looking for somebody who doesn't have to reinvent himself?" he said. "I think the choice for U.S. Senate is abundantly clear. ... People in the state are looking for new ideas," he said. "They're not looking to return to policies of the past, and decisions and leaders that kind of got us into this mess in the first place."

Unlike Wilson, a former 5-term Congresswoman, Sanchez hasn't yet declared he's running for the retiring Jeff Bingaman's seat. But based on conversations I've had with him and things that I've read -- like this Hill article -- I do believe he'll jump in.

Most are assuming there will be a bloody re-run of the bitter Wilson-Steve Pearce Senate race in 2008. But I can't help but think of late 2007 when former Albuquerque Mayor Marty Chavez was in the Democratic race for a U.S. Senate seat. Very early on in the game Chavez was ripping into fellow Dem Tom Udall.

But by early December 2007, less than two months after he announced he was running for Pete Domenici's seat Chavez announced he was bowing out. reportedly he was under pressure from national Democrats to do so in order to avoid a bloodbath in the primary. Udall went on to win the seat.

A bloodbath like Republicans had in 2008 with Wilson and Pearce.

I can't help but wonder whether national Republicans will step in this year like their Democratic counterparts did in 2007, to avoid a nasty primary.

Sunday, March 20, 2011

Looking Back at The Session ... For the Children

When I arrived at Wood Gormley Elementary School for Gov. Susana Martinez's press conference and saw a bunch of kids lining up to get into what was going to be the background of a photo op, the first thing I thought was, "Oh no! The governor must not have read my Roundhouse Roundup column of Nov. 2, 2006!"

It was there I wrote these words of wisdom.

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

Political rhetoric these days is filled with appeals for “the children.” Politicians of every stripe are always asking, “How does this affect the children?” and “What kind of message does this send to the children?” And politicians of ever stripe love to use children as political props. 

Sometimes I wonder if we’re electing someone to be a public servant or to be Mr. Rogers. ...

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

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

Do it for the children.

Now I'm probably going to be accused of being "insensitive to the needs of our children."

Anywho, my take on how Martinez fared in the 2011 session is HERE.

I'll be on vacation next week, so don't expect very much action on this blog for the next few days. But I'll be back.

Saturday, March 19, 2011


The session is over.

Left to die are HB78, the illegal immigrant driver's license bill; HB21, the social promotion bill; SB218, the capital outlay bill and many many more.

Friday, March 18, 2011

Senate Appoints Conference Committee for Driver's License Bill

After refusing once again to remove its amendments to House Bill 78, which originally intended to prohibit driver's licenses for illegal immigrants, Senate President Pro-tem appointed a conference committee to try to work out a compromise with the House.

The Senate members are John Ryan, R-Albuquerque, Peter Wirth, D-Santa Fe and Howie Morales, D-Silver City.

Something tells me this won't be as easy as the Katie's Law compromise.

Katie's Law: Conference Committee Compromise Goes to House & Senate

All six members of the conference committee on Katie's Law (SB365) -- Democrats, Republicans, House members, Senators -- expressed support for a compromise on the bill, now headed to both chambers for approval.

And members of the governor's staff who attended the meeting were smiling too. Bill sponsor Sen. Verne Asbill, R-Carlsbad, said he couldn't speak for Gov. Susana Martinez. But he said the governor had told him she believes the compromise actually strengthens the bill. This is a major bill on Martinez's agenda for this session.

Under the compromise -- which Asbill said was based on a Colorado law -- DNA would be collected from all felony suspects upon booking. The samples would be mailed to the state DNA lab but would not be analyzed and entered into the state database unless or until at least one of three conditions are met:

1) The suspect was arrested on a warrant;
2) A defendant appears before a judge who determines there is probable cause a felony was committed; and
3) The defendant skips a court hearing.

Asbill said that Sen. Michael Sanchez, who had sponsored an amendment that would have made it easier to expunge criminal records, has agreed to withdraw the amendment.

Jayann Sepich, mother of Katie Sepich whose 2003 murder was the impetus of the original Katie's law, attended the conference committee hearing. She said she was pleased with the compromise saying "Crimes will be prevented, crimes will be solved. Everyone's pleased."

Asbill predicted the Senate will approve the compromise tonight.

UPDATE: 9:49 p.m. Gov. Martinez indeed likes the compromise.

“This is a victory for anyone who wants to make New Mexico’s communities safer for our children and families,” the gov said in a news release just issued.

"I am proud to have worked with the sponsors of the Katie’s Law expansion in the House and the Senate to draft a law that will collect DNA from those arrested for all felony offenses and process that sample after a probable cause hearing or a defendant’s failure to appear after being released on bail," Martinez continued. "I am thankful to Sen. Asbill, Rep. Park, Dave and Jayann Sepich, and the broad, bi-partisan group of legislators from both chambers who came together to support this critical public safety measure; New Mexicans are proud of their work and our families are safer because of their actions."

10 p.m. The Senate has accepted the compromise. The House concurred earlier. It's on its way to the governor's desk.

20,20,24 Hours to Go!

UPDATED:  4:45 pm The first video I posted was blocked. Enjoy this one while you still can  -- even though now it's closer to 19 hours to go

Once again, it's time for that annual tradition on this blog. Here's a special song for everyone involved in the Legislature -- legislators, staff, Capitol workers, lobbyists, activists, news dogs, bloggers, wall-leaners, hangers-on, and you, the gentle readers who have been following the session:

As I've said in the past, if I were king of the Legislature, I'd decree that everything stop at noon the day before the end of the session and play this song in every room of the Roundhouse -- at least in the House and Senate chambers. And this video would be played on the Senate  webcasting feed.

Hang in, friends, just one day left.

Martinez Vetoes Info Sharing Bill

Following in the footsteps of her predecessor Bill Richardson, Gov. Susana Martinez has vetoed Senate Bill 187 sponsored by Sen. Tim Keller, D-Albuquerque and  Rep. Paul Bandy, R-Farmington.

The bill would have required government agencies to share information to a new Program Evaluation Division of the Legislative Finance Committee.

Richardson vetoed a similar bill in 2009, which prompted the Senate last year to override the veto. (The House didn’t go along with the override last year.)

The bill was sparked by the Legislative Finance Committee wanting a wide range of information about Medicaid -- including costs by companies that administer health care services through contracts with the state. The Human Services Department had refused to release the information to the Legislature.

Martinez in her executive order says she agrees with the intent of the legislation. But ....

"First, I am concerned that without the proper safeguards in place, the broad authority given to the Legislative Finance Committee’s Program Evaluation Division could compromise confidential information which is housed in executive State agencies and departments.

While confidential information, like an individual’s tax returns or sensitive law enforcement records, would normally be protected when an executive branch agency is responding to public information requests, there is no language in Senate Bill 187 that guarantees this same level of protection after the LFC receives the information from State agencies or departments. I am also concerned that there are not any penalties for the LFC’s potential release of this information.

In her executive message she also said "my administration will work in a cooperative manner to provide any information the Legislature deems necessary to make credible decisions on behalf of our constituents."

Here's a story about last year's override vote

UPDATE: 12:12 pm. I've been trying to upload a copy of the executive message, but SCRIBD is down for maintenance. Meanwhile, you can see the message HERE

House Passes Pension Swap Bill, Balances Budget

Less than 24 hours after the state House of Representatives voted down the Senate-amended version of  House Bill 628, which would required state employees to pay more into their pensions, the House a few moments ago reconsidered and concurred with the bill.

This means that the budget sent to Gov. Susana Martinez is balanced, in theory at least.

The first vote, about 1 a.m. Wednesday was 30-38 against the bill. Wednesday night's vote was 35-34.

Rep. Jeanette Wallace, R-Los Alamos wasn't present for the first vote but was there Wednesday night. She voted for concurrence. Rep. Bill Rehm, R-Albuquerque of Albuquerque, is one of four who changed his vote. I haven't confirmed the others yet.

Barry Massey of the Associated Press has the whole story HERE

Thursday, March 17, 2011

New Poll in Dem Senate Race

Congressman Martin Heinrich is the leader for the Democratic nomination for U.S. Senate  in a new poll conducted by a San Francisco company.

The poll of Democratic likely voters, conducted March 8-10 by Tulchin Research for the Defenders of Wildlife Action Fund, showed:

Martin Heinrich 32%
Diane Denish 25%
Ben Ray Lujan 15%
Hector Balderas 5%
Undecided 24%

One thing that caught my eye is that the sample size  --213 likely 2012 Dem voters -- seems a lot lower than the numbers I usually see. And the margin of error is higher -- 6.71 percent.

But what's interesting is how I learned about the poll. Heinrich didn't send it out, the National Republican Congressional Committee did. And a spokesman for that organization, Tyler Q. Houlton, implied in a statement that Heinrich is considering the race because he's chicken!

“Martin Heinrich barely won his competitive congressional seat last year due to his support of the $800 billion failed stimulus and the trillion dollar government takeover of healthcare. Instead of risking a loss in 2012, will Heinrich decide to run for U.S. Senate?”

A State Senate Pat 'n' Mike Show

Is it a leprechaun or a state senator from Farmington?

Where's the snake?

Wednesday, March 16, 2011

Roundhouse Roundup: One Healthy Industry

A version of this was published in The Santa Fe New Mexican
March 17, 2011

First it was Gov. Susana Martinez’s radio spots and robo calls urging people to call their legislators to vote for bills prohibiting illegal immigrants from getting driver’s licenses. Democrats in the Roundhouse have been howling over that for weeks.

Then Wednesday, the state Democratic Party struck back, unleashing a radio ad featuring two women dissing the governor.

“Well, obviously she hasn’t been focused on creating jobs. My husband is still out of work, and Governor Martinez is spending all her time on her divisive agenda,” one woman says. “Ugh, thought the campaign was over. Does she even have a jobs plan?”

Actually, there’s one industry that’s likely to be creating a lot of new jobs: The political attack ad industry. It’s thriving in New Mexico. Ugh! The campaign’s never over.

Speaking of ad campaigns: State law requires groups that advertise in favor of or in opposition to legislation to register and report expenses to the Secretary of State’s Office. So far, three have done so. One is the Susana Martinez for Governor Campaign, which on Feb. 28 reported spending $5,648 assumedly for the driver’s license spots.

Martinez’s political consultant, Jay McCleskey, wrote a note attached to the report saying, “We do not believe we are required to file this report, as the campaign committee’s expenditures promoting Gov. Martinez’s agenda promote her considered re-election campaign. However, out of abundance of caution and to be transparent as position, we are filing this report.”

The others filing reports were:

* The American Federation of Teachers, which on March 1 reported spending $38,489 on advertising. Of that, $15,000 went to Adelstein Liston, a political consulting firm based in Washington, D.C., and Chicago. The rest went for newspaper and Internet ads. (Full disclosure — The New Mexican was paid $3,939.)

* The Conservation Voters New Mexico on March 3 reported spending $2,065 for “patch-through calls,” which allowed people to connect with their legislator to protest the Cultural Properties Review bills (HB 422 and SB 421). These bills would have made it harder to designate cultural and historic sites. (Both bills effectively died in committee.)

Hungry like a vote-fraud perpetrator: The restless specter of voter fraud reared its ugly head at the Roundhouse again this week. Secretary of State Dianna Duran testified before the House Voters & Election Committee that a cross-check of voter-registration lists and the list of foreign nationals with driver’s licenses showed that 37 of them had voted, possibly fraudulently, in state elections.

A Tuesday news release from the Secretary of State’s Office said, “These are still under investigation to verify the accuracy of the information.”

I was reminded of the last time the state Republican Party raised a stink about voter fraud, which included a case involving another D. Duran.

In October 2008, right before the general election, the party issued a news release with a subject line that screamed, “Fraudulent Votes Cast in New Mexico: Obama’s ACORN Must Be Shut Down Before Election, All Activities Investigated.”

The party released copies of public records they said demonstrated six specific examples of fraudulent voter registrations, “including one for the well known 80’s pop band Duran-Duran.”

However, two of the people named later showed up at a news conference to declare their legitimacy. And subsequent news reports pointed out that “Duran Duran” was the name of a real person in Albuquerque, who is listed in the phone book.

“Duran Duran” is not a common name, but it’s not unheard of. There’s another one in Ruidoso, plus eight more scattered around the country, according to a popular online phone directory.

Wooly Bully!

Someone just played this Sam the Sham & The Pharaohs classic on the House floor, in honor of Rep. Bob Wooley, R-Roswell, passing a memorial.

Best thing I've heard in the Legislature all day.

Scorecard - 3 Days Out

Here’s an update on the number of bills passed, courtesy of the Senate Democrat communication staff.

(This was sent about 1 p.m., so the numbers have gone up slightly and will go up even more by the end of the day)

The House has introduced 612 bills and passed 243
The Senate has introduced 591 and passed 208
The House has passed 26 Senate Bills
The Senate has passed 20 House Bills

That means the governor has received (or will soon receive) 46 bills

Tuesday, March 15, 2011

HB 78

The House just voted 30-40 to not concur with the Senate amendments to HB 78, the bill, which in its original form would have banned illegal immigrants from getting driver's licenses.

The bill goes back to the Senate, which will have a chance to withdraw its amendments. If they don't, there will be a conference committee on the bill to try to reach a compromise.

Some Miscellaneous Bill Action

I'm a political reporter, but I get tired of predictable political talking points that both sides fall into all too frequently. That's why I appreciated the debate on House Bill 644, which sets a minimum retirement age of 55 and reduces the cost-of-living adjustment for most public employees.

The bill, which was voted down on Sunday, was reconsidered by the House and eventually passed 37-32. But it was hardly a party-line vote. And you couldn't see any other frequent breaking lines such as rural vs. urban. Apparently all these representatives were thinking for themselves, and there were good arguments on both sides.

Here's some other bills that have passed today:

* HB368, sponsored by Reps. Nate Gentry and David Doyle, both R-Albuquerque, which would prevent state officials from sealing their records after they leave office. It passed unanimously This bill was inspired by the uproar early this year over Gov. Bill Richardson sealing his office's documents for eight years, as other governors have done before him. The attorney general ordered the state Archives to allow inspections of the Richardson documents, but this bill would set that into law. It goes on to the Senate.

* SB17, sponsored by Sens. Tim Keller, D-Albuquerque, and Steve Neville, R-Aztec, which would remove the governor from the State Investment Council. Under the bill, which already cleared the Senate, Gov. Susana Martinez could stay on the council for the next two years, until July 1, 2013. The House passed it 50-18. It goes now to Martinez for signature.

* SB11, sponsored by Sen. Peter Wirth, D-Santa Fe. In case you thought this bill had gone to the dogs, think again. This landmark legislation, which would allow restaurants to allow dogs in outdoor eating areas, passed the House 50-17.

I was just disappointed that nobody brought a snake to the floor as Sen. Bill Sharer, R-Farmington did in the Senate last week.

UPDATE: 7:03 p.m. The bill number for SB 17 has been corrected.

Monday, March 14, 2011

Another Annual Ritual: Hear Our Bills or We Won't Hear Yours!

State Senate Majority Leader Michael Sanchez just threw down the gauntlet to the House.

If you don't start hearing more Senate bills, we'll stop hearing House bills.

It's not unusual to hear such threats from one chamber or another at this point in the session.

Sanchez said he'd heard that a House committee chairman was threatening to hold all Senate bills until a certain House bill is heard in the Senate.

At the outset of today's floor session Sanchez said the House had passed 7 Senate bills while the Senate had passed the same number of House bills.

Traffic Tickets Would Go Up Under Bill Passed by Senate

Misdemeanor traffic citations would increase by $5 a pop under Senate Bill 595, which the Senate just passed with little discussion.

The extra revenue would go to create the Emergency Medical Services Protection Fund, which would help EMS services in rural agencies that respond to 1,000 or fewer requests for service per year.

The bill goes on to the House.

An End Run for Voter ID?

Late this morning I heard reports from a couple of sources that Senate Republicans would be attempting to amend Senate Bill 403, a bill to "standardize" election code language, to include a provision to require voters present a photo identification card at the polls before voting.

Now it looks like something is up. SB 403 was the second bill on the agenda. At this writing they've heard two other bills out of order.

If it does happen, it would be the second time Senate Republicans have tried this route. A few weeks ago they attempted unsuccessfully to amend Sen. Peter's Wirth bill on driver's licenses so it would deny licenses to undocumented residents.

Check this post for updates on the Voter ID amendment, if indeed there is one.

Saturday, March 12, 2011

The 4th Floor vs. The Senate: A Tradition That Refuses to Die

So you thought the colorful custom of the governor bashing the Senate and vice versa was going to quietly die at the end of the last administration?

Guess again.

Check out my story in today's New Mexican

Friday, March 11, 2011

Gonzo Journalism Lives

Dr. Hunter S. Thompson is dead, but former State Sen. John Grubesic is alive and kicking. Kicking anyone who gets in his way.

In his latest column in Capitol Reports New Mexico, the former senator makes an impassioned, if backhanded, endorsement of his old nemesis Bill Richardson for the soon to be vacant U.S. Senate seat.

New Mexico needs a senator with the morals of a tapeworm, the energy of a drug-addled mongoose and the cajones of a rutting moose. Somebody who can down a gallon of vodka, bed an intern and finagle funding out of an economy that is sputtering like an accountant with a speech impediment at an IRS audit.

And at this point, he's just getting started.

NM Defamation Suit has been relatively quiet lately, so this is definitely the funniest political writing in New Mexico I've read lately.

Thursday, March 10, 2011

Richardson: Governors Should Be Respected, But She Hasn't Respected Me

Richardson assaulted by a gang of wild reporters
When former Gov. Bill Richardson came out of his cable television news interview at the Capitol newsroom a few minutes ago, he was greeted by virtually the entire Roundhouse press corps.

"Hey, I'm a private citizen, guys," he said, moments after sharing his views on Libya to millions of viewers.

I asked him what he thought of Gov. Susana Martinez's push to end driver's licenses for illegal immigrants. "I said I would not get into commenting on legislative matters. I'm not gonna do it," he said.

Asked my colleague Trip Jennings how he thinks Martinez is doing, Richardson said, "I really am not going to comment. I think that every governor should respect previous governors, although this governor has not respected me."

He wouldn't elaborate. "That's enough, guys. But it's good to see you guys."

Sanchez "Poised" to Run For Senate, Roll Call Says

Lt. Gov. John Sanchez has made no secret that he's considering running for the Senate seat currently held by Democrat Jeff Bingaman. But, as he told me this week,  he's said there won't be any decision until after the current session of the Legislature ends (which is March 19.)

However, Roll Call reports today that, according to "GOP sources" Sanchez "is putting together a campaign team and plans a trip to Washington, D.C., later this month ..." He's be running against former Congresswoman Heather Wilson, who announced her candidacy this week.

Republican sources say Sanchez would position himself to the right of Wilson, who exhibited a somewhat moderate voting record during three terms representing the Democratic-leaning 1st district that includes most of Albuquerque and its surroundings.

While Wilson could be the most viable general election candidate for Republicans in a presidential year, Sanchez — also based in Albuquerque — has previously won two statewide GOP primaries, a feat that has eluded the former Congresswoman.

Roll Call also notes that a Sanchez/Wilson primary "could test the loyalties" of Gov. Susana Martinez.

Wilson was Martinez's transition chief. Sanchez was her running mate, but he was chosen by Republican voters, not Martinez personally. She never endorsed in that race. Martinez hired one of Sanchez's primary opponents, Brian Moore as a deputy chief of staff.

Roll Call rates the race as a "toss-up", as does Larry Sabato, director of the Virginia Center for Politics.

Roundhouse Roundup: Anti-Medical Marijuana Bill Snuffed Out

A version of this was published in The Santa Fe New Mexican
March 10, 2011

A medical marijuana clinic and
 Botox clinic , Venice Beach, Calif. 
Not very many people actually thought that medical marijuana would be a major issue in this legislative session.

True, Susana Martinez, whenever asked by reporters, said during last year's gubernatorial campaign that she opposed the program, which the state adopted in 2009 as a way for people suffering from certain maladies to make medicinal use of the drug. But not long after her inauguration, Martinez made it clear that repealing medical marijuana was not high on her list of priorities.

Some activists became concerned last month, however, when freshman Rep. Jim Smith, R-Sandia Park, introduced House Bill 593, designed to shut down the program. Was there a chance the Legislature might really do it?

No, there wasn't. And by early this week, Smith himself realized it. He issued a news release Tuesday saying as much, and on Wednesday, he confirmed to me that he'd ask to pull the bill, which had been scheduled for a committee hearing this weekend.

"I've spent time talking to (Rep.) Moe Maestas," Smith said, referring to the Albuquerque Democrat who in the past has carried medical-marijuana bills. He also said he'd talked with activists who back the program.

"I think there needs to be more information about the program," Smith said. "We really need to study it and get all the information available."

So instead of HB 593, Smith will be pushing House Memorial 53, which he introduced this week. The memorial calls for the state Health Department to make a report on the program this year after the session is over.

Rep. Jim Smith
The memorial notes that the original bill that established legal medical marijuana in the state called for an annual report on the program. However, the department hasn't submitted any reports, apparently because of lack of funding, Smith said.

The study would consider "new developments in the field of medicine, appropriate age ranges for treatment of debilitating conditions with medical marijuana, the legal status of the unresolved conflicts between state and federal law, whether the use of marijuana for medical purposes has resulted in any increased criminal activity," among other points.

The proposed study, which would be submitted to an interim legislative committee by October, also would look at "unresolved issues, problems and benefits and whether continuation of the program is justified."

Smith emphasized that he wants to hear from all sides of the issue. And he stressed, "I'm not advocating that any medicine be taken away from people who need it."

Emily Kaltenbach, state director of the Drug Policy Alliance — which led the effort to establish the state's medical-marijuana program — said she looks forward to the study and interim committee hearings. "We look forward to having that dialogue, sharing information and educating during the interim."

She said the study should include input from patients in the program: "We could make this a meaningful study."

The bill has been assigned to the House Consumer & Public Affairs Committee as well as the House Appropriations Committee.

Mardi Gras surprise: People attending a couple of recent Democratic fundraisers probably were shocked to see one face in the crowd: State Sen. Rod Adair, R-Roswell.

Adair, one of the most conservative lawmakers in the Roundhouse, confirmed Wednesday that he was given a ticket — valued at $100 — for a recent state Democratic fundraising dinner. Later, a Democratic friend gave him a ticket — valued at $40 — for a Santa Fe County Democratic Party Mardis Gras celebration Tuesday.

The senator stressed that he didn't purchase either ticket.

"They had Cajun food," Adair said. "I had a good dinner and a good time."

He said he enjoyed talking with Santa Fe District Attorney Angela "Spence" Pacheco, who supported Adair's SB 96 to fund a system to warn crime victims when offenders are released from prison. The bill passed the Senate this week.

Wednesday, March 9, 2011

Janice Arnold Jones Looking at CD1

Former State Rep. Janice Arnold-Jones, who ran for governor last year, announced this morning that she's formed an exploratory committee for a possible run for the Republican nomination for  U.S. House of Representatives in New Mexico’s First Congressional District.

From her news release:

“Since the announcement by Senator Jeff Bingaman that he will retire at the end of his term I’ve received numerous telephone calls and emails asking me to run for several different offices,” Janice Arnold-Jones said. “The majority of these calls have been supporters asking me to step forward and run for Congress. Forming an exploratory committee is the first step in a possible run.”

“At this time I am not a candidate for office. I am testing the waters,” Arnold-Jones commented. “The two biggest things that must be tested are whether or not we can raise the financial resources necessary and how much support can be generated. ... The chatter revolving around Congressman Martin Heinrich possibly running for US Senate definitely helped lead to the formation of this exploratory committee.”

My Career as a Psychic in Shambles

In my story in today's New Mexican about various ethics, corruption and campaign finance reform bills, I mentioned Sen. Peter Wirth's SB547.

I boldly proclaimed the bill, "is showing no signs of life in the Senate Rules Committee — which in the past several years has served as the burial ground for various ethics proposals."

I'll stand by my "burial ground" statement. But it's not true for Wirth's bill. The good senator contacted me to inform me the bill passed out of Senate Rules this morning on a unanimous vote.

I wrote about the bill last week. It goes now to the Senate Judiciary Committee.

UPDATES 1:25 pm: Another bill that my story focused on, Rep. Nate Gentry's HB378, passed the House by a unanimous vote a few minutes ago.

7:15 pm: The link I had to last week's story has been changed. Initially incorrectly linked to an editorial that was based on my story.

Tuesday, March 8, 2011

Not Enough Time to Debate Medical Marijuana Repeal, Smith Says

Freshman Rep. Jim Smith, R-Sandia Park apparently realizes that his bill to repeal the state's medical marijuana program doesn't seem to have much traction in the Legislature.

Smith issued a news release in which he's calling for a Health Department study on the program during the interim.

... with the first hearing on the bill not scheduled until late in the session, it is clear there will not be enough time to fully debate the bill. To that end, Rep. Smith has held discussions with those on the other side of the issue and has introduced a Memorial to debate the issue in the interim, and get more information on the program.

“This is a debate that will happen,” said Rep. Smith “there are too many questions about this program that need answers.” Rep. Smith has agreed to bring his measure in the interim so that everyone deeply concerned about this issue can be heard. “I believe this is a debate that should have the time it needs for everyone to voice their opinion.”

Smith's House Memorial 53 notes that the original bill that established the program called for an annual report on the program -- which hasn't happened, apparently due to lack of funding.

Gov. Susana Martinez said during last year's campaign that she'd favor repealing the program. But early this year she said it would not be a priority in this legislative session.

Death Penalty Measures Lethally Injected

A House committee just a few minutes ago effectively killed two measures that would have revived capital punishment in New Mexico were effectively killed Tuesday by a House committee.

The House Consumer & Public Affairs Committees voted 3-2 along party lines to table House Bill 371 and House Joint Resolution 7, both sponsored by Rep. Dennis Kintigh, R-Roswell.

The joint resolution would have put the issue on the 2012 general election ballot.

The committee is chaired by Rep. Gail Chasey, D-Albuquerque, who sponsored the 2009 bill that repealed the law allowing legal executions. Chasey is a long-time opponent of the death penalty.

Bringing back the death penalty was an issue that Gov. Susana Martinez campaigned on last year. She included it as a priority in her state-of-the-state address at the beginning of the session.

After the votes, death penalty opponents pointed out to me that the Illinois Gov. Pat Quinn has said he'll sign a bill outlawing capital punishment in his state.

Historical Relics: The 2008 Attack on the "Liberal" Heather Wilson

In my story in today's New Mexican I mentioned some of the attack ads that Club For Growth ran against Heather Wilson in her 2008 Republican primary campaign against Steve Pearce, as well one that Pearce himself ran.

Wilson called these "ancient history," and as I pointed out in the story, she's making every effort not to be attacked as a "liberal" in the 2012 primary.

When I asked her about these old ads, she referred to them as "ancient history." Well, consider this a little history lesson.

Here's the two old Club For Growth attack ads I mentioned in the article, plus one I just stumbled upon.

And here's an ad Steve Pearce himself approved.

Monday, March 7, 2011

Wilson Makes It Official with Big List of GOP Endorsements.

Former Congresswoman Heather Wilson made it official this afternoon, announcing that she'll seek the Republican nomination for retiring U.S. Sen. Jeff Bingaman's seat.
Heather Wilson at a Tea Party event in Santa Fe last year

She was joined by her mentor U.S. Sen. Pete Domenici, former Congressman and Interior Secretary Manuel Lujan, Albuquerque Mayor R.J. Berry and others.

Among the endorsements she unveiled today are seven current state senators and 13 current state representatives, plus several former legislators.

Wilson also has been endorsed by three of the five 2010 Republican gubernatorial candidates -- Allen Weh, Janice Arnold-Jones and Pete Domenici, Jr.

It's a show of strength obviously meant to discourage challengers. Speaking on the phone with the candidate a few minutes ago, she said she's pleased to have the support of such a wide spectrum of the state GOP.

So far no major opponent has emerged.

UPDATE: 5:35 pm: Wilson's 2010 primary opponent Steve Pearce just sent a response -- saying he's too busy to respond.

“Politics can wait. The business at hand—addressing devastating unemployment rates, obstacles to small business, and a looming debt crisis—cannot. Right now, I am working hard at the job that the people of New Mexico sent me to Congress to do. The filing deadline is still nine months away, and I have plenty of time to make decisions. I’ll reach out to my supporters, but now, for New Mexicans, the stakes are higher than personal ambition.”

Also, earlier this afternoon, I got an email from Gov. Martinez's spokesman saying the governor wouldn't be making a statement on Wilson's announcement.

DSCC Has Good Word for ... Steve Pearce?

A few hours before Heather Wilson makes her announcement -- presumedly that she's running for Senate -- the Democratic Senate Campaign Committee has launched this attack ad.

There's lots of still shots of Wilson with George W. Whazisname -- a theme that will be heard over and over again if Wilson gets the GOP nomination for Senate.

But I was intrigued by the ad using Wilson's own words that in 2008  the voters of New Mexico (actually the Republican primary voters) "just chose the other guy."

The narrator says, "Seems like they had a good reason to."

Is the DSCC saying that Wilson should be more like Steve Pearce, the "other guy" who defeated her?

Saturday, March 5, 2011

Dogs, Snakes & The Senate

Dogs who want to legally accompany their owners who eat on outdoor patios at restaurants won a major battle today as the state Senate passed Senate Bill 11, sponsored by Sen. Peter Wirth, D-Santa Fe. The vote was 29-11.

The Senate had sat on this bill for so long, I thought it probably wasn't going to get a floor hearing. It was the very first Senate bill to make it through committees this session. But word is that some Senate leaders thought it might look frivolous if  this was among the fist Senate bills to pass.
Photo by Diane Kinderwater

But apparently the Senate decided to have a little fun with the bill anyway. Sen. John Arthur Smith, D-Deming, suggested restaurants should have to supply fire hydrants for the dining doggies.

And Sen. Bill Sharer, R-Farmington tried to amend the bill to include snakes and other pets. His "expert witness," who was allowed on the Senate floor was a small ball python named Petunia, aka Kaa Dela Selva. The amendment didn't get anywhere.

The bill goes on to the House.

Friday, March 4, 2011

Six Hours of Arguing -- Then Basketball

There were a lot of jokes in the media room last night about putting money on the state Senate basketball team. The thinking was that there was so much harsh debate and partisan sniping over the driver's licenses bill, the House team would spend most of their energy committing personal fouls on each other instead of scoring baskets.

I'm glad I didn't bet. Despite their differences, the House pulled together and blasted (sorry, I couldn't resist) the Senate 33-26.

Better yet, the event rasised $20,000 to benefit the UNM Cancer Center, double the amount that was raised last year, organizers say.

Thursday, March 3, 2011

Heather to Announce for Senate Monday?

I've been so busy today in the Legislature, I nearly missed this:

Politico is reporting, based on reports by "two Republicans" that former Congresswoman Heather Wilson will announce Monday she'll run for retiring U.S. Sen. Jeff Bingaman's seat.
Manuel Lujan, Jr. & Heather Wilson
(U.S. Rep. Steve) Pearce has been vocal about how his party should come together to select the proper "conservative candidate" to run for Bingaman's seat in order to head off the divisiveness that aided Sen. Tom Udall three years ago.

But GOP insiders believe that Wilson's more moderate profile makes her the most electable candidate in the field. Highly respected on national security issues, Wilson also questioned the cost of the Medicare prescription drug law and wasn't shy about criticizing then Majority Leader Tom DeLay. At one point, Wilson revealed that House Democrats invited her to switch parties.

Wilson's quick entry won't necessarily clear the field. Pearce hasn't ruled out a run and Lt. Gov. John Sanchez is also said to be considering it.
The Politico piece also mentions U.S. Rep. Martin Heinrich and state Auditor Hector Balderas as possible Democratic contenders.

Well THAT Was a Short Investigation

Secretary of State Dianna Duran is sticking by her initial opinion that Gov. Susana Martinez's campaign's recent radio ads did not violate any election laws. The ads were trying to whip up support for bills that would deny driver's licenses to illegal immigrants.

The Martinez campaign had 20 days to respond to a letter sent last week by Duran's office. Obviously, they didn't take that long.

According to a letter sent today to Somos Un Pueblo Unido, which had filed the complaint against Martinez, the campaign committee argues that it now serves as Martinez's re-election committee. The expenditures were made to "produce and air radio spots to promote the governor's issues and ideas and that the promotion of such issues and ideas are standard campaign activity."

Duran also points out that former Gov. Bill Richardson's committee spent $1.3 million during the first four months of his second term. (Duran doesn't mention that early 2007 was the time in which Richardson formally began his presidential campaign.)

Duran said she does not intend to refer the complaint to the attorney general.

UPDATE 7 p.m. Marcela Diaz, executive director of Somos Un Pueblo Unido, responded to the decision. "In her response to this complaint, it seems the Governor is admitting what we've suspected all along, that the true motive for pushing the driver's license issue isn't based on what's good for public safety, but on her re-election campaign. That's extremely unfortunate for New Mexico."

DURAN Letter to Somos

Meanwhile, Over in the Senate ...

Before the House even started trying to blast the driver's license bill out of committee, this morning the Senate Public Affairs Committee voted to kill a similar bill, which also is backed by Gov. Susana Martinez.

Along party lines, the committee voted 4-2 to table SB 518, sponsored by Sen. John Ryan, R-Albuquerque. (Two Republican senators and a Democrat were excused from the meeting.)

Ryan said in a news release, "Even though Senate Public Affairs tabled this critical bill, it is not the end of this. I am hopeful there will be additional debates, additional consideration and additional votes on this issue that is supported by 72 percent of New Mexicans who want to make New Mexico safer.”

What this probably means is that even if Rep. Andy Nunez's bill gets blasted and passes the House, it would have to go through Senate Public Affairs, which would surely take the same action.

UPDATED 2:20 pm: I corrected the vote count. The original news release had it wrong.

Moe's Sources

Rep. Moe Maestas, D-Albuquerque, just quoted from Schoolhouse Rock in the argument over whether the bill to stop giving driver's licenses to illegal immigrants should be blasted out of committee.

Think NM Ethics Bill Makes it Out of First Committee

House Bill 604, which would ban political contributions from people who contract with state government cleared its first hurdle this morning, getting a 10-1 vote for do-pass from the House Voters and elections Committee.

The bill, sponsored by Reps. Brian Egolf, D-Santa Fe and Nate Gentry, R-Albuquerque now goes to the House Judiciary Committee.

A similar bill last year passed the House but collapsed and died in the weird labyrinth known as the New Mexico State Senate.

A news release from Think New Mexico says "The bill would bar registered lobbyists and major government contractors (those seeking or holding contracts worth $50,000 or more) from making political contributions to candidates for state public office. The bill would also increase transparency and accountability in election spending by requiring that anyone – including nonprofit organizations, unions, and corporations – that engages in political advocacy must report and disclose the sources of the funds used for that advocacy."

The question is even if the bill becomes law, would a court strike down the provision that require non-profits to report contributors? So far the one case in which the state tried to get non-profits to disclose was thwarted by federal courts.

Wednesday, March 2, 2011

Roundhouse Roundup: Film Incentives Take Blows from Left as Well as Right

A version of this was published in The Santa Fe New Mexican
March 3, 2011


New Mexico’s film industry has been under attack from conservatives. Republican Gov. Susana Martinez, who wants to reduce the state tax credit for films made here, never misses a chance to say the state can’t afford to “subsidize Hollywood on the backs of our schoolchildren.”

But this week some voices from the nation’s political left have been making arguments similar to those of New Mexico Republicans.

In an op-ed published Tuesday in the Los Angeles Times, liberal pundit Michael Kinsley asked the question, “Why can’t states grasp the absurdity of giving welfare to film and TV producers?”

Kinsley — he was the skinny guy with glasses representing the left on the old CNN political shout-fest Crossfire — cites and derides Gov. Bill Richardson’s recent opinion piece in The New York Times, in which New Mexico’s former governor touted the economic benefits of tax incentives for the film industry.

“In less than a decade,” Kinsley wrote, “the absurd notion of welfare for movie producers has evolved from the kind of weird thing they do in France to an unshakable American tradition.”

Let me reiterate: This is Michael Kinsley. Not Susana Martinez.

He ended his column with a jab at “the Hollywood elite,” as the conservatives call them: “Did you watch the Oscars on Sunday? Did that look like a crowd in need of a government subsidy?”

Local film-industry advocates argue that it’s not fat-cat Hollywood execs who most need and most benefit from this state’s incentive program, but stagehands, techs, construction workers and others who work for small businesses that see gains when movie projects come to town. Filmmakers, they argue, can always take their business elsewhere.

Later Tuesday, Mother Jones — a publication named after a radical labor leader — joined the fray.

Writer Kevin Drum mainly quoted Kinsley’s piece, which he agreed with wholeheartedly. Kinsley, he said, was correct that Richardson’s figures “are almost certainly bogus. Ditto for the same kind of voodoo accounting used to pretend that massive subsidies to millionaire owners of sports teams pay for themselves in increased business.”

SOS investigates: Last week Secretary of State Dianna Duran told me she didn’t believe Gov. Susana Martinez violated any election law by using leftover campaign funds to buy radio ads aimed at whipping up public support for bills to repeal the law allowing illegal immigrants to get driver’s licenses.

But it now appears Duran’s office is conducting some type of investigation of the matter.

The immigrants rights group Somos Un Pueblo Unido complained to Duran and the state attorney general that the state Campaign Reporting Act restricts the post-election spending of campaign funds to “payment of campaign debts, donations to charities or the state’s general fund, contributions to other candidates or political parties and refunds to the contributors.”

Common Cause New Mexico agreed and asked the AG to investigate.

But late last week, Duran’s office sent a letter to Martinez’s campaign manager asking for a written response within 20 days. Ken Ortiz, Duran’s chief of staff, told me Thursday the letter “is the standard process we have established for handling all formal complaints, so that both the complainant and the respondent are offered the opportunity to present their positions in writing.”

The bills Martinez is backing have been stalled in the committee process -- though apparently there will be a vote Thursday on a motion to blast HB 74 out of committee to the House floor.

At any rate. the verbal sniping between the two sides is alive and kicking. In an e-mail about Duran’s letter, Somos’ executive director Marcela Diaz said, “New Mexicans deserve to know how the Governor justifies using campaign funds to pay for inflammatory and misleading ads regarding such a complex public policy issue.”

Danny Diaz, spokesman for Martinez’s campaign, said in an e-mail, “The secretary of state already initially reviewed the matter and made clear that the use of campaign funds was completely appropriate and ‘found no violation of the reporting act.’ The letter from her office is routine, and we continue to believe that it is ironic that a radical special interest group that believes illegal immigrants have a right to New Mexico driver’s licenses does not believe the governor has a right to free speech.”

It's a Blast! (or not)

House Democrats were reminded tonight of the precarious control they have on this chamber when, in a surprise move, independent Rep. Andy Nunez, backed by House Republicans, attempted to blast HB78, his bill to repeal the law allowing driver's licenses for illegal immigrants out of the committee that tabled it and onto the House floor.

The surprise move came at the end of a grueling floor session in which the House passed the budget bill and the film incentive compromise.

Here's my colleague Trip Jennings' account of the raucous vote to adjourn  that ensued:

Moments after Nunez made his motion, House Majority Leader Ken Martinez, D-Grants, jumped up to block Nunez’s procedural maneuver, making a motion to recess the House. Speaker Ben Lujan, D-Nambe, called for a voice vote on Martinez’s motion. Republicans loudly protested that they wanted a roll call, which records a lawmaker’s vote; a voice vote does not. Both camps shouted equally loud on Martinez’s motion, with mostly Democrats supporting Martinez’s motion and Republicans opposing it.

Gov. Susana Martinez issued a statement blasting the Speaker and implying the issue is bound to arise Thursday morning. She said:

“It’s outrageous that Speaker Lujan broke House rules to block an up-or-down vote on the bill to repeal driver’s licenses for illegal immigrants,” said Governor Martinez. “It’s tactics like this that cause the public to lose faith in its elected leaders. Come tomorrow morning, every House member will make a choice – either stand with Speaker Lujan and support driver’s licenses for illegal immigrants, or stand with New Mexicans to overturn this dangerous law.”

UPDATE: 9:29 pm: As promised, here's the statement from Lujan:

The Speaker intends to take up the motion made by Rep. Andy Nuez (DTS-Hatch) to bring House Bill 78 out of the committees to which it has been assigned and onto the House floor during tomorrow’s floor session. According to House Rules, a motion to adjourn takes precedence over all other motions, including the one made by Rep. Nuñez. After a voice vote on the motion to adjourn was taken, it was clear that the vote was in favor of adjournment.

Speaker Lujan expressed concern over inflammatory comments made by Gov. Martinez shortly after the vote. “It is unfortunate that Gov. Martinez chose to issue inflammatory statements to the media that questioned the motives of the House and provided an inaccurate interpretation of House rules,” Lujan said. “The people of New Mexico are not served by this kind of behavior. I only wish that our new governor was as willing to engage the Legislature in constructive discussions regarding the serious public policy issues facing our state as she is to drumming up a media frenzy by issuing misleading and inappropriate comments.”

Here's a video of the proceedings, provided by the Governor's Office:

NM House Bill 78 Attempt to go to House Floor from Governor Susana Martinez on Vimeo.

Trip Is Covering the Film Credit Debate on His New Blog

Check out my New Mexican colleague's Trip New Mexico RIGHT HERE

Ragtime Cowboy Egolf

It's no "Potato Song" but Rep. Brian Egolf just sang a verse of "Home on the Range" on the floor of the House.

Some Republicans had been razzing Egolf, who sponsored House Memorial 27, which declares today "National Day of the Cowboy."

It's true that "cowboy" isn't the first thing you think about when you think of the well-dressed Egolf.

But here's a little secret: I happen to know that the Santa Fe Democrat is a major fan of Marty Robbins' Gunfighter Ballads and Trail Songs.

So here's one for Egolf, Marty and cowpokes everywhere. Happy Cowboy Day!

Another List With NM Near the Bottom: Campaign Finance Transparency Laws

In today's New Mexican I wrote about a report by The Brennan Center for Justice about how many states -- incluidng this Enchanted Land -- are way behind the times in campaign finance disclosure laws.

"Your disclosure laws have not kept pace with the way modern campaigns are run," Ciara Torres-Spelliscy told me when I talked to her yesterday.

She's referring mainly to "independent expenditures" -- in which giant corporations or unions pour millions into groups with happy-sounding names "Citizens For All Things Good" that, in turn, buy ads saying whatever candidate they oppose  wants to destroy the economy and let bloodthirsty criminals run wild in your children's playgrounds.

Both Torres-Spelliscy and Steve Allen of New Mexico Common Cause told me that independent expenditures have not yet been a major factor in state elections in New Mexico. (We have seen some of that action in Congressional races here, but mostly by well-known, established groups like Club For Growth and Defenders of Wildlife)

But it usually takes New Mexico a little longer to catch up to national trends. Torres-Spelliscy says the Supreme Court's Citizen's United decision last year, which prohibits limits on this kind of spending, almost certainly will accelerate that.

Here's a copy of that Brennan Center report

Transparent Elections after Citizens United

Tuesday, March 1, 2011

SOS Duran Launches Investigation of Gov. Martinez's Radio Ads

Last week Secretary of State Dianna Duran said she believed that Gov. Susana Martinez did not violate any election law by using leftover campaign funds to buy radio ads.

But now it appears Duran's office is conducting some type of investigation of the matter.

The ads were aimed at whipping up public support for a bill to repeal the law allowing illegal immigrants to be issued driver's licenses.

The immigrants rights group Somos Un Pueblo Unido complained to Duran and Attorney General Gary King that the state Campaign Reporting Act restricts the spending of campaign funds after an election to “payment of campaign debts, donations to charities or the state’s general fund, contributions to other candidates or political parties and refunds to the contributors.”

Duran's initial response was that the ads were an allowable expense under the law.

Then Common Cause New Mexico joined the fray and asked the AG to investigate.

On Feb. 25 Duran's ethics investigator Christiana Sanchez sent a letter to Martinez's unnamed campaign manager asking for a written response within 20 days.

When I asked for a response last week, Martinez campaign spokesman Danny Diaz said, “It’s ironic that a radical special-interest group that believes illegal immigrants have a right to New Mexico driver’s licenses does not believe the Governor has a right to free speech. We disagree.”

In an email about Duran's letter Somos executive director Marcela Diaz said, "New Mexicans deserve to know how the Governor justifies using campaign funds to pay for inflammatory and misleading ads regarding such a complex public policy issue.”

Here's the letter from the SOS:

Duran Letter to Martinez Campaign

Wining and Dining the Committees

When you get outside of the insular world of the state Legislature, you'll find that one of the major things that makes average citizens cynical about the Roundhouse circus is the idea of lobbyists wining and dining lawmakers at fancy restaurants -- and everyone insisting that nobody expects anything in return.

In today's New Mexican I looked at the practice of the "committee dinners" in which lobbyists treat entire committees -- which routinely vote on bills that affect the interest of the lobbyists' clients --  to private dinners that cost thousands of dollars. I spoke with Rep. Brian Egolf, chairman of the Energy Committee and to lobbyist Mark Duran, who helped pay for a recent dinner at Restaurant Martín  for the Energy Committee.

As I point out in the story, there's nothing illegal about such dinners or anything that would violate any rule of the Legislature. There's no evidence that any vote has ever been bought in exchange for a Grilled Kurobuta Pork Chop or Maple Leaf Farm Duck Breast.

And I believe Egolf and Duran that nothing was asked for and nothing was promised at the Energy Committee dinner. Both say that no issues were discussed at the affair and I bet that's the truth. Egolf mentioned the "rocky start" his committee had in the session, referring to the hearing in which all the Republican members walked out and said the dinner was a good way for the committee members from both parties to get to know each other.

Still, legislators shouldn't be surprised when their constituents, many of whom are unfamiliar with the pleasures of Spice Crusted Ahi Tuna or even Nantucket Bay Scallop Risotto look at such lobbyist-paid shindigs with suspicion.