Tuesday, December 31, 2013


Have a safe holiday and don't forget: Give all your money to politicians.

That's the message I'm getting in my email inbox. Tonight is the FEC deadline for the quarterly reports! If we don't collect enough, our opponents will shame us, then ruin America!!!! Please give give GIVE ...

Even politicos I normally like are driving me nuts with all their begging.

But don't worry. I'll be back to complain more next year.

Meanwhile, enjoy a short message from Allen Sherman:

Monday, December 23, 2013

Christmas Vacation and a Holiday Wish

I'll be gone for the next week, so this blog, baring anything totally earthshaking, will be dark during that time.

My Christmas wish is that everyone on all sides of the political fence come together and work in peace and harmony, putting aside all petty differences and resisting all temptations to take cheap political shots and underhanded partisan maneuvering. Instead of crass competition, let all sides joyfully strive to uplift one another and work for the public good.

Wait a minute, I'm wishing myself out of a job. Never mind. Talk to you in January.

(If you want some truly crazy holidaze music, check out my Christmas podcasts, all free.)

ROUNDHOUSE ROUNDUP: First Shot Fired in SOS Race

Rod Adair
The first shot in the race for Secretary of State’s Office has been fired. Not surprisingly, it was by the challenger, Democrat Maggie Toulouse Oliver, the Bernallilo County clerk who is trying to unseat incumbent Republican Dianna Duran. But the target was not Duran herself, but one of her employees, Rod Adair, a former state senator who is an administrator in Duran’s Elections Bureau.

In a fundraising letter Friday, Oliver said, “Two days ago the Republicans won again in their battle to ensure that dark money continues to pour into New Mexico.”

The 10th Circuit Court of Appeals ruled that the contribution limits the New Mexico Legislature adopted on “independent expenditures” were unconstitutional based on the Supreme Court’s ruling in Citizens United.

“And who was leading the charge to get this law overturned? Why, it was the Republican Party of New Mexico and none other than former State Senator Rod Adair, who happens to be in charge of elections and campaign finance enforcement in the Secretary of State’s Office. Unbelievable!"

But Adair, of course, shot back ...

For the rest of this column go to The Santa Fe New Mexican

Thursday, December 19, 2013

NM Supremes Rule Same Sex Marriage is a Constitutional Right

UPDATED BELOW With comment from the governor

NM Supreme Court hears case in October
Most observers, even opponents of same sex marriage, predicted this would happen, but this morning the state Supreme Court unanimously ruled that same sex couples have the same right to get married as anyone.

Justice Edward Chavez wrote in the court’s opinion that while none of New Mexico’s marriage statutes specifically prohibits same-gender marriages, existing state laws have had the effect of prohibiting same-gender couples from civil marriage.

“Because same-gender couples … are a discrete group which has been subjected to a history of discrimination and violence, and which has inadequate political power to protect itself from such treatment, the classification at issue must withstand intermediate scrutiny to be constitutional. Accordingly, New Mexico may neither constitutionally deny same-gender couples the right to marry nor deprive them of the rights, protections, and responsibilities of marriage laws, unless the proponents of the legislation — the opponents of same-gender marriage — prove that the discrimination caused by the legislation is substantially related to an important government interest.”

The national Human Rights Campaign said in a news release, "With lesbian and gay couples having married over the past several months in many New Mexico counties, today the state Supreme Court ruled to allow same-sex couples throughout the state to continue making lifelong commitments through marriage.  This makes New Mexico the first state in the Southwest with marriage equality and the 17th state nationwide."

Update: 3:30 pm Governor Susana Martinez's office just sent me this statement from the governor about the decision:

 “My personal views on this issue are well-known, and I’m confident that most New Mexicans believe, like I do, that it should have been settled by a vote of the people. Instead, the Supreme Court stepped in and rendered their decision. While there will surely be intense debate about this decision moving forward, I encourage New Mexicans to continue to respect one another in their discourse, as this is an important issue for many New Mexicans on both sides. As we move forward, I am hopeful that we will not be divided, as we must come together to tackle very pressing issues, like reforming education and growing our economy, in the weeks and months ahead.”

There will be more on this in tomorrow's New Mexican.

The complete decision is below:

McWilliams Resigns from Human Services

Diana McWilliams, acting director of the Behavioral Health Services Division and acting CEO of the New Mexico Behavioral Health Collaborative, has resigned.

She told me last night that she's taken a job in Philadelphia to head a non-profit agency dealing in behavioral health and child welfare.

My story in this morning's New Mexican is HERE.

Her resgination letter is below.

Tuesday, December 17, 2013

Wirth Pre-files Some Familiar Bills

The Legislature's web site now has the (growing) list of pre-filed bills. The first day of pre-filing was yesterday.

Wirth speaking in Rotunda during a previous session
Among the first batch are a couple of bills from Sen. Peter Wirth, D-Santa Fe, that repeatedly have failed in past sessions. That's not a knock on the senator. Sometimes it takes years for a bill to squeeze through.

There's Wirth's texting while driving bill, (Senate Bill 19) which died a lonesome death on the Senate calendar, where it stayed for weeks and weeks this year. (I recently wrote about that issue.)

Then there's SB 18, Wirth's bill that would require independent expenditure groups to disclose their contributors. Several times this bill has passed the Senate with unanimous or near-unanimous bi-partisan support, only to get lost in the maze of the House of Representatives before getting a vote. Someone over there just doesn't want this to pass.

Both the texting and the campaign finance bill would have to be on the governor's call in order to be discussed during the upcoming 30-day budget session, which starts Jan. 21

Wirth also has a bill, SB 17, which would require out-of-state "unitary corporate banks" to file combined state income tax returns. This year Wirth finally got the governor to sign his "combined reporting" bill for large retail stores. It was part of the big tax bill that passed in the closing moments of the Legislature. That one, which was kicked around in the Legislature for years, is a good example of Wirth's persistence paying off.

I did a story in Tuesday's paper about Think New Mexico's job bills getting pre-filed. You can find that HERE.

Monday, December 16, 2013

ROUNDHOUSE ROUNDUP: Expect to See More Activity by Social Welfare Groups in NM Politics

The murky world of “social welfare” organizations with a political bent was in the news here last week. First, State Democratic Party Chairman Sam Bregman filed a complaint with the Internal Revenue Service against an entity known as New Mexico Competes, claiming it was illegally coordinating with Republican Gov. Susana Martinez.

But there will be others competing with New Mexico Competes during the upcoming political season.

But the Dem-friendly New Mexico Prosperity won't be among them.

See more in my Sunday column HERE.

Thursday, December 12, 2013

Bamboozled with Skuldugery

The New Mexican looks for a "Quote of the Day" during legislative sessions. We don't do that for interim committee meetings, but if we did, yesterday would have provided a doozy.

At yesterday's Legislative Finance Committee hearing, Sen. Carlos Cisneros, D-Questa, perked up everyone's ears when he accused the state Human Services Department of "skulduggery."

 “I’m more confused, baffled and bamboozled today more than any time in the past several months. This is the greatest extent of skulduggery I’ve witnessed in decades.”

Special props to the senator for fitting "bamboozled" and "skulduggery" into one sentence. I was just disappointed that he didn't call anyone a "rapscallion" or "ne'r-do-well." Or perhaps talk about "dastardly deeds" and the dastards who commit them.

I looked up "skulduggery on World Wide Words, and it turns out it's hardly the first time it's been used in the context of state politics:

This means underhand or unscrupulous behaviour or trickery. ... The first recorded instance appeared in 1867 in Beyond the Mississippi by Albert D Richardson: “From Minnesota had been imported the mysterious term ‘scull-duggery’, used to signify political or other trickery”. ...

The word was still mysterious a few years later. One of its very early sightings is in this splendid political exchange, which I have gleaned from the Official Report of the Proceedings and Debates of the Third Constitutional Convention of Ohio, 1873-1874:
Mr. WEST. It is urged upon the assumption that there has been what some gentlemen here have characterized as “smouzling”.
Mr. HOADLY. What is that?
Mr. WEST. Skulduggery.
Mr. HOADLY. Well, what does that mean?
Mr. WEST. I do not know what it means, but that is what I heard talked about here.

I think Mr. Hoadly was bamboozled.

My story about yesterday's LFC meeting and a scathing report on the behavioral health situation that prompted Cisneros' remark is HERE.

Wednesday, December 11, 2013

Gary Johnson: Super PAC Man

Former Gov. Gary Johnson, a former Republican now titular head of the Libertarian Party, has started a new Super PAC aimed at helping "Liberty-minded" candidates across the land.

It's called Our America PAC and is set up as a 527 political organization, which plans to support candidates through independent expenditures.

In a news release this morning, Johnson said, “From the realities of government-run healthcare setting in to the continuing disclosures of the breadth of NSA’s domestic spying, more Americans than ever are ready to take a serious look at candidates who offer real alternatives to business-as-usual.

"However, the reality of our political system is that voters must first have the opportunity to learn about those candidates and their plans for smaller government and greater freedom.  That is the purpose of the Our America PAC.  Through independent efforts and funding in support of credible, qualified candidates, we plan to help put liberty on the ballot in a meaningful and competitive way."

Johnson added, “Voters deserve real choices beyond varying shades of big government, and helping provide those choices is our goal. We intend to make a real difference in the upcoming 2014 elections.”

There are things for both Democrats and Republicans to love -- and hate -- about the issues Johnson is pushing. Liberals can love the libertarian stances on marriage equality, legalizing marijuana and downsizing the military, while conservatives can embrace significant cuts to government spending, repealing Obamacare and opposition to gun control.

The trick, of course, is finding those who want both gay marriage and big cuts to government programs, drug legalization and no gun control, etc.

Our America PAC is not to be confused with the Our America Initiative, Johnson's 501(c)(4), which is an issue advocacy group.

Honorary board members of Our America Initiative include Johnson's 2012 running mate, retired California judge Jim Gray, Barry Goldwater, Jr., son of the late Arizona senator and 1964 GOP presidential nominee, Whole Foods co-founder & co-CEO John Mackey, former Louisiana Gov. Buddy Roemer who ran as a moderate Republican for the GOP nomination last year, and Alex McCobin, president of Students for Liberty.

There are several state organizations for Our America PAC, though none yet for New Mexico.

Monday, December 9, 2013

ROUNDHOUSE ROUNDUP:Richardson and his Pals on the Right

BILL RICHARDSONFormer Gov. Bill Richardson, in an interview with Newsmax last week, admitted that he’d “screwed up” in trying to negotiate a hostage release in Cuba a few years ago.
There are a couple of things about this that are pretty amazing:

• Bill Richardson admitted that he’d made a serious mistake. That never comes easy to any politician.

• Bill Richardson gave an interview to Newsmax, one of the most conservative online news sites out there. ...

But maybe I shouldn't be surprised about that last one. Richardson actually had pretty good relations with some national conservative media figures and entertainers throughout most of his administration.

For more, see the full version on the Santa Fe New Mexican website,

Friday, December 6, 2013

Another "Susana For Veep?" Story

The latest national profile on Gov. Susana Martinez is in The Washington Examiner,  a right-leaning publication.
Gov. Susana Martinez
The article by reporter Rebecca Berg is pretty glowing and there's not much that New Mexicans haven't seen before about the gov.

She's a  "popular governor, with approval ratings in the mid-60s, and she is a Hispanic and a woman, two demographics that have so far eluded Republicans on the national level." and "She’s maintained a tough-but-compassionate persona through her career ..."

The story also gives examples of how Martinez has differed with prevailing GOP positions on some issues.

Martinez, whose husband is in law enforcement, supports a national gun registry to prevent sales to people with proven histories of mental illness. And she approved an expansion of Medicaid in New Mexico that was an option under President Obama's signature health care law, a step some conservative Republicans have likened to embracing the law in its entirety.

Despite the headline -- "Is New Mexico Gov. Susana Martinez a Republican VP candidate?" -- the piece includes what might be Martinez's most recent denial that she would accept a spot on the national ticket. First she talked about why she declined to be considered for Mitt Romney's running mate last year.

“I had no intentions of leaving my state, and no intentions, vetted or not, offered or not, of that position,” Martinez explained in an interview with the Washington Examiner at the Republican Governors Association conference in Scottsdale, Ariz., last month. “So it would have been a waste of their time.” 

Asked whether she would consider being vetted for the job in 2016, her response was no less Shermanesque, if more succinct: She shook her head “no,” somewhat wistfully, followed by a firm, “Nuh uh.”
Berg gave a couple of prominent New Mexico Democrats a chance to share their feelings on Susana Martinez.:

Were her state record subjected to further scrutiny, New Mexico Democrats say, it would not hold up.
“Anyone considering her as a running mate should be aware, she will be the Sarah Palin of New Mexico,” said New Mexico Democratic Party Chairman Sam [Bregman].
Martinez’s predecessor, former Democratic Gov. Bill Richardson, declined an interview because he has “a very negative opinion of Martinez,” a spokesperson said.
(The story actually identifies Bregman as "Sam Bernalillo.")

I have the feeling we haven't seen the last of such articles.

Thursday, December 5, 2013

Manny Probably Gone to a Halfway House

Former state Sen. Manny Aragon, known for years as the most powerful force in the state Legislature, was released from federal prison in Colorado Thursday.

Aragon, 66, was serving time since June, 2009 in the federal correctional facility at Florence, Colo. for his role in skimming money from an Albuquerque courthouse project.

It's not clear exactly where he is going in the immediate future, but a spokesman for the federal Bureau of Prisons told The New Mexican that it's normal for inmates to be released to a halfway house "for a period of transition and readjusting to society."

Aragon's lawyer, Ray Twohig had no comment about Aragon. An employee of Twohigs confirmed that Thursday was Aragon's release day. Originally sentenced to five and a half years, Aragon's original release date was May 2 next year.

Aragon, pleaded guilty in federal court in 2008 to three felony counts of conspiracy and mail fraud. All counts were related to a scheme to defraud the state of nearly $4.4 million in the construction of the Bernalillo County Metropolitan Courthouse in Albuquerque. The crimes took place while Aragon was serving as state Senate President Pro-tem.

More in tomorrow's Santa Fe New Mexican

Wednesday, December 4, 2013

Health Exchange Blues

No this isn't about some technical problems with some website. It's a song recorded by a bunch of New Mexico musicians, part of The New Mexico Blues Society, to plug NMHIX, the state's health-insurance campaign.

Musicians here include singer Hillary Smith, guitarist Chris Dracup, Bob Andrews on keyboards, David Barclay on accordion, Jeff Sipe on bass and drummer Chuck Lucero.

Remember, if you like the blues you have, you can keep 'em.

Enjoy the video:

Tuesday, December 3, 2013

The Morales IPRA Battle

UPDATE: 12-2-13 9 a.m. More on the "IPRA Battle" at the Santa Fe New Mexican site

Two campaigns for gubernatorial candidates are using the state Inspection of Public Records Act to bludgeon each other.
Sen. Morales

Last week state Sen. Howie Morales of Silver City, who is seeking the Democratic Party nomination for governor sent an official public-records request to several state agencies for all emails between state employees and Jay McCleskey, Gov. Susana Martinez's political consultant, for records of “meetings of state officials, and or staff with Mr. McCleskey regarding public information which official state business was discussed.”

That was Nov. 26. The very next day, McCleskey hit back. An employee Stephen Dinkel, sent an IPRA request to the Legislative Council asking for  "Any and all emails to or from Sen. Morales that discuss public business, including public business emails sent to the gmail address Morales lists on the legislative website of, "hcm260[at]gmail.com"

The request asked for any calendars or schedules used by Morales and "Any and all records of meetings with anyone outside of state government regarding public information in which official state business was discussed, including any and all meetings with lobbyists."

In an email to potential donors, Morales described this move as " a counterattack" saying the request was "for my personal correspondence, for no reason other than the hope of finding a way to slander me."

Indeed, the gmail address listed in Dinkel's request was a private address for Morales. But that's what is listed on Morales' official page on the Legislature's website. He's hardly alone in doing this. Dozens of lawmakers use personal email accounts to conduct business.

Team Susana's request probably won't get very far. Earlier this year the Legislature voted to approve a new rule that shields lawmakers' private emails from public records requests. It passed by a huge bipartisan vote, one of those issues where legislators put aside petty partisan politics and vote for the good of all New Mexicans. (For those with an irony deficiency, I was being sarcastic there.) Morales voted in favor of shielding lawmakers' emails.

I spoke with Morales last night. He said he hadn't yet actually seen the request for his records.

The state agencies that Morales asked for information regarding McCleskey aren't off the hook. I predicted in my column Sunday itprobably take a long time for the administration to produce these records.

Monday, December 2, 2013

Martinez on Cover of Moderate GOP Mag

Gov. Susana Martinez, along with her running mate, uhhh..., I mean fellow GOP governor Chris Christie of New Jersey, is on the cover of the latest issue of The Ripon Forum with a caption that labels them "Role Models"

The magazine is published by The Ripon Society, an organization of moderate Republicans, started in the mid 1960s by a group of Rockefeller Republicans.

The cover story, by GOP consultant Leslie Sanchez, talks about how Republican Christie, who called on Martinez to go campaign for him at the close of the campaign, won a majority of Hispanics in his recent landslide re-election.

Sanchez basically follows the prevailing national media line on Martinez, which some Democrats dispute. ("... built support by reaching across party lines to seek compromise wherever possible ... worked with a Democratic-controlled legislature to fashion a workable agenda that governs from the center-right." etc.)

The Ripon Society, according to its website, was the first major Republican organization to endorse the Civil Rights Act. "We believe that the future of our party lies not in extremism, but in moderation," said the first public statement by the Ripons in 1964.

Conrad James Wants to Reclaim House Seat

Conrad James
Former Rep. Conrad James, R-Albuquerque, who lost his seat to Democrat Liz Thompson last year after serving one term, wants a rematch.

An announcement, sent by House Republican Whip Nate Gentry, points out that James lost the 2012 by less than 300 votes.

The announcement says:

During his term in the legislature, James was a stand-out – he carried important legislation that reduced tax pyramiding in the manufacturing and construction industries, and he received the Spirit of Bipartisanship Rising Star Award from New Mexico First and the Soaring Eagle Award from the New Mexico Association of Counties.  In January of 2013, Gov. Susana Martinez appointed James to the New Mexico Board of Regents where he serves as Vice-Chair of the Finance and Facilities Committee.
James, who works at Sandia National Laboratory, has a PhD in applied and engineering physics.

ROUNDHOUSE ROUNDUP: McCleskey Himself Becomes an Issue.

Thanksgiving for the New Mexico Democrats running for governor came early this year in form of a scathing article in the Washington, D.C.-based National Journal targeting Gov. Susana Martinez’s political consultant, Jay McCleskey.

As I pointed out in the paper, the lengthy article written by Daniel Libit — with the headline “The Man Who Discovered Susana Martinez Could Also Be Her Downfall” — was one of, if not the only national media piece on Martinez that wasn’t entirely flattering. Using entirely Republican sources, including former GOP state Chairman Harvey Yates and current Chairman John Billingsly, it portrayed McCleskey as a divisive, slash-and-burn Svengali who has way too much influence over Martinez.

It looks like the Democrats felt a little left out. The candidates who want Martinez’s job all have had something to say.

For more see The New Mexican website.

Wednesday, November 27, 2013

More Would-Be Dem Lt. Govs.

Marie Q. Julienne
Yesterday I blogged that Debra Haaland was the only Democrat so far was the only Democrat running for lieutenant governor.

Apparently, I was wrong.

A local Dem official this morning directed me to the county party's website, where down in the right-hand corner, two other candidates are listed. (You have to scroll down a little.)

These are Marie Q Julienne and Peter Zollinger. Like Haaland, neither Julienne nor Zollinger have contacted me or, as far as I know, other political reporters.

Except for his listing on the party website, I can't find any internet traces of a Zollinger candidacy. Julienne however, has a Facebook page called Marie Q. Julienne for Lt Governor 2014. It says she's "officially announced."

According to the page, she's:

an institutional researcher and Ph.D. candidate at the University of New Mexico. Her research interests include the critical examination of public education institutional structures, processes, and policies that impact educational pathways for underrepresented groups. Topics concerning tribal education and the social and political implications of technology are also of special interest. 

A graduate of the Emerge 2013 class, Marie is a strong, intelligent and accomplished single mother of two daughters (Sa'angna "Ana," 12, and Jasmine Uchme, 13) with strong ties to the Native American community. She lives in Albuquerque's EDO (East Downtown) and is a marathon runner who enjoys morning runs on the Bosque trail.

I probably should mention that Santa Fe candymaker Chuck Higgins, who in January announced he was running for the lieutenant governor's job as a Democrat, has since decided not to run.

Tuesday, November 26, 2013

Lucky Wants Just Two More Years

State Rep. Luciano "Lucky" Varela, D-Santa Fe just told me that he's seeking re-election -- which he had said several months ago, but added and said this would be his final term.

"I've been there 28 years," he said. "Serving 30 years would be good."

Assuming he wins, it would be his 15th term in the House representing District 48.

It could be an important term for Varela. He's currently the deputy chairman of the House Appropriations Committee and the current current, Rep. Henry "Kiki" Saavedra, D-Albuquerque isn't seeking re-election. The speaker of the House makes all committee appointments in that chamber.

So far no opponent in either the primary or the general election have emerged.

Democratic Lt. Gov. Candidate to Announce

Debra Haaland, a longtime activist in the state Democratic Party who currently serves as chairwoman of the state party's Native American Caucus, is running for lieutenant governor. And she's already touting a bunch of endorsements.

An email to potential supporters as well as a campaign Facebook page quotes Senate Majority Leader Michael Sanchez saying he and his wife are supporting her:

“Lynn and I are pleased to pledge our support for Democrat Debra Haaland for Lt. Governor of New Mexico. Debra has worked hard for the people of New Mexico, the Democratic Party, and will be an asset in the 2014 gubernatorial race. As a Native American, she will bring a fresh, new perspective to the office of Lt. Governor.”

Her Facebook page also lists former U.S. Sen. Fred Harris as well as state senators Tim Keller and Jacob Candelaria as supporters.

Haaland is the only Democratic candidate so far for the position. Incumbent Lt. Gov. John Sanchez has said he'll seek reelection. 

According to a bio sent to Democrats, Haaland, an enrolled member of Laguna Pueblo, is chairwoman of Laguna Development Corp. She's also worked as tribal administrator for San Felipe Pueblo. She also worked as Native American vote director for the Obama campaign last year.

Haaland will formally announce her intention to seek the Democratic Nomination on Tuesday, December 10th at the Pueblo of Laguna. The campaign will host a press conference and reception at Route 66 Casino starting at 6 PM.

Monday, November 25, 2013

Corwin Writes About Campaign Investigations for Trade Publication

Michael Corwin, the private investigator who has worked as an investigator for several state Democrats, including former Gov. Bill Richardson, hasn't been in the news much since his Independent Source PAC went inactive a few months ago.

But one thing that's kept him busy for at least part of that time is writing an article for a national magazine. No, not True DetectiveCorwin just published in Professional Investigator, a trade publication for his profession.

His story, "Creating a Specialty: Investigating for Political Candidates" talks about the often misunderstood role of private investigators in campaigns. "The reality is that the leaders of some campaigns worry about what their opponents will do when they learn that a private investigator is performing their research," he writes."

But, Corwin says, "I have yet to lose a single race that I worked on where the opponent tried to make an issue out of the hiring of a professional investigator."

In the article, Corwin -- without actually naming the candidates -- writes about his work for Ben Ray Lujan's first Congressional race, in which Lujan's main primary opponent was Santa Fe developer Don Wiviott. In that contest, Corwin turned up some old dirt on the opposition, which Corwin said helped turn the race for his candidate. Though Wiviott criticized Lujan for hiring a private eye, according to Corwin, the Wiviott campaign paid an out-of-state "opposition research" company that cost  several times what Corwin charged Lujan.

You can read the article below:

Sunday, November 24, 2013

Roundhouse Roundup: Ironic That Abortion Issue Sunk Janice Arnold-Jones

Republican Janice Arnold-Jones lost a close Albuquerque City Council race Tuesday. And one of the major reasons for that defeat — the abortion issue — strikes me as ironic. During her years in the Roundhouse, she never really was known as a social conservative.
Arnold-Jones in her outlaw webcasting days

Jones served eight years in the state House of Representatives. And she was highly regarded by the Capitol press corps. She’s smart and accessible. She had a real independent streak. She once voted against her own GOP floor leader for House speaker. She was one of a handful of Republicans to vote to repeal the death penalty.

And, on the government transparency front, she became known for an outright act of rebellion — using her own laptop computer to live-stream meetings of committees on which she served and doing so without seeking official permission. This helped open the floodgates. Four years later, we all take for granted legislative webcasting and the fact people no longer have to travel to the Capitol to watch their elected officials make laws.

But webcasting at the Roundhouse probably wasn't on the minds of Albuquerque voters last week. ...

For the rest of this column go to The New Mexican's website

Friday, November 22, 2013

Dendahl Memorial Service Set

Dendahl in 2006
A memorial service for former state Republican Party Chairman John Dendahl have been scheduled for Friday Nov. 29.

Debra Hadley, one of Dendahl's daughters, said the service would be at 2 p.m at The Great Hall at Peterson Student Center at St. John's College.

Dendahl, a Santa Fe native who had been living near Denver for several years, died Nov. 9 from complications from treatments for leukemia. He was 75.

He was GOP chairman for about 10 years beginning in 1994. He was the Republican nominee for governor in 2006.

National Journal Looks at "The Fifth Floor"

The one story that's going to be dominating political conversations in New Mexico for the next few days is the National Journal's profile of Gov. Susana Martinez's political consultant Jay McCleskey.

The headline of the lengthy piece is direct: The Man Who Discovered Susana Martinez Could Also Be Her Downfall.

In the article, writer Daniel Libit writes about several state controversies involving McCleskey -- the Downs at Albuquerque deal, complaints by former state GOP Chairman Harvey Yates, the divisive 2012 GOP state Senate race in Clovis, and in general, McCleskey's influential role in the administration.

It's one of the only national stories concerning Martinez that has been  anything less than flattering. After cataloguing some of the praise Martinez has received in the national press, Libit writes:

But back home, some of her key allies were finding that courage in short supply. They had begun to see Martinez not as a fresh-faced technocrat, but as a callow figure who had placed far too much trust in a single political aide, the 39-year-old McCleskey, whom many here view as the "Karl Rove of New Mexico." Yes, he discovered her and transformed her from a county district attorney into a national force. But these Martinez allies say that his mercenary, dog-eat-dog style of politics now superseded the act of governing, and that he had effectively walled off any other voices from pricking the governor's eardrums, let alone her conscience. 

McCleskey responds in the story:

"As is the job of any political consultant, my role is not to be loved, but rather to be effective at winning campaigns and garnering support for the policies pursued by those who have been elected," McCleskey says. "I am proud of that record of success, and the petty whining, sniping, and resentment of malcontents doesn't bother me. ... Any leader who breaks the mold and challenges the status quo, like Governor Martinez does, will face criticism, even from within her own party."

One Martinez loyalist already has trashed Libit as a "liberal columnist" who merely reprinted Martinez critic Joe Monahan's "tired blog material."

But libertarian Republican Aaron Henry Diaz tweeted a link to the article saying, "Think you know New Mexico politics? So it begins... the rest of the story."

Wednesday, November 20, 2013

Rael Makes It Official

Lawrence Rael
Last week Lawrence Rael told me he would soon be announcing that he's running for governor. He made good on that this morning.

Rael became the fifth Democrat to enter next June's primary when party members will decide who should take on incumbent Republican Susana Martinez in the 2014 general election.

Rael, 55, resigned in October as executive director of the federal Farm Service Agency in New Mexico. Previously he served as the executive director for the Mid-Region Council of Governments for eight years -- a job in which he helped start the Railrunner railroad line between Santa Fe and Belen. He also worked 12 years as chief administrative officer for the city of Albuquerque.

"I get things done," Rael said today.

In 2010 he finished second in a field of five in the Democratic primary for lieutenant governor, placing behind former state party chairman Brian Colon. "I barely lost that race," Rael said. "People remember that campaign. I have people from all around the state who are supportive."

As he has been with several other Democratic challengers, Gov. Susana Martinez's political spokesman was quick to have a statement about Rael.

"Gov. Martinez has worked in a bipartisan manner to pass meaningful reform legislation. ..." said Danny Diaz. "We are confident New Mexicans would rather have a results-oriented former prosecutor serving as their governor than a lobbyist and partisan like Lawrence Rael who would take the state backward.”

Other Democratic candidates for governor include Attorney General Gary King; state senators Linda Lopez of Albuquerque and Howie Morales of Silver City; and Santa Fe author and consultant Alan Webber.

Monday, November 18, 2013

ROUNDHOUSE ROUNDUP: There Oughtta Be a Law ...

Much of the time when a new problem pops up in society, the simplest way for our political system to deal with it is simply to make it illegal. Never mind that this type of knee-jerk mentality tends to clog the courthouse and fill the jails.

That’s one reason why a subcommittee of eight legislators soon will begin the task of rewriting the state’s criminal code, which has been amended piecemeal over the years. This, some lawmakers say, has led to inconsistent, sometimes unfair penalties.

As explained to me recently by the co-chairwoman of this group, Sen. Lisa Torraco, R-Albuquerque, one of the tasks of the subcommittee will be to find laws on the books that are obsolete, unnecessary or just plain weird. (That’s my characterization, not the senator’s.) Many of these are misdemeanors, which means there’s little if any jail time involved. But as Torraco pointed out, technically, someone could serve more jail time for a “silly” crime than for a first-time drunken-driving offence.

Read more, including a few words on the state's valient effort to protect children from obscene drive-in movies, on The New Mexican's site

Friday, November 15, 2013

Watch Me on In Focus Tonight

Once again, I'm a guest panelist on The Line segment on KNME's New Mexico In Focus. I'll be discussing current issues along with host Gene Grant, former state Rep. Dan Foley, University of New Mexico political scientist Lonna Atkeson and Associated Press reporter Jeri Clausing.

I don't want to give away anything, but look out for a short clip featuring one of my appearances on the show circa 2006.

That's tonight at 7 pm on KNME, Channel 5 and repeating 7 am (!) Sunday.

Wednesday, November 13, 2013

Lawrence Rael: "I'm Going to Announce"

I had a quick chat with Lawrence Rael today and he confirmed that he will soon be announcing his candidacy for governor.

“I’m going to announce,” Rael -- a Democrat and longtime government administrator who ran for lieutenant governor in 2010 -- said. “We’re heading in that direction. It will be pretty soon. I’m just making calls and talking to people.”

Rael, 55, last month resigned as executive director of the federal Farm Service Agency in New Mexico. Previously he served as the executive director for the Mid-Region Council of Governments for eight years and worked 12 years as chief administrative officer for the city of Albuquerque.

In 2010 he finished second in a field of five in the Democratic primary for lieutenant governor, placing behind former state party chairman Brian Colon.

Rael will join what's evolving into a large field of Democratic candidates for governor next year. Announced candidates include Attorney General Gary King; state senators Linda Lopez of Albuquerque and Howie Morales of Silver City; and Santa Fe author and consultant Alan Webber.

The winner will face incumbent Republican Gov. Susana Martinez, who is not expected to have a primary opponent.

Rael was born in Santa Fe and raised in rural Sile, N.M. He currently lives in Los Ranchos near Albuquerque with his wife Kim Rael and their three children.

The Race Is On in House District 50

Matthew McQueen
Matthew McQueen, a 46-year-old lawyer from Galisteo who has been involved in various environmental and community groups, announced today that he's running for the Democratic nomination for the House District 50 seat.

In his announcement news release, McQueen took a swipe at Republican Vickie Perea, who Gov. Susana Martinez recently appointed to fill out the term of the late Rep. Stephen Easley, a Democrat.

"Despite the governor's decision to appoint a right-wing politician that is more in line with her own agenda than the district's values, I am ready to offer the residents of House District 50 the independent leadership that they have consistently chosen in the past," he said.

He promised to "provide the residents of House District 50 with an independent voice equal to that of the late Rep. Stephen Easley ..."

McQueen had applied for the vacant House seat after Easley's death. However, the Santa Fe County Commission instead nominated another applicant, Ann Jenkins, a Democrat from Eldorado who is a retired information manager for a pharmaceutical company. Jenkins, who also was nominated by the Bernalillo County Commission, said at the time she might run for the House seat even if Martinez didn't chose her.

Currently, McQueen serves as a member of the Board of Directors for the Santa Fe Green Chamber of Commerce, the Galisteo Mutual Domestic Water Consumers Association, and the Galisteo Community Association.

He has previously served on the Santa Fe River Commission, the Bureau of Land Management Resource Advisory Council, the Santa Fe County Open Land, Trails & Parks Advisory Committee, and the Galisteo Community Planning Committee.

McQueen lives with his wife, Caroline Seigel, in the village of Galisteo.

More in tomorrow's New Mexican.

Updated 2:05 pm An earlier version of this post misstated McQueen's age.

Tuesday, November 12, 2013

ROUNDHOUSE ROUNDUP; Spilt Milk and Backpay

(I'm late posting this. I was off yesterday.)

Just a few days, a state employees union, on its website and on fliers, was saying that the administration of Gov. Susana Martinez was “crying over spilt milk” and encouraging members to send letters to the governor demanding she “show us the money!”

But by the end of the week, a union spokesman was sounding more conciliatory and was expressing optimism that back pay for a long-promised raise could be coming soon.

“We’ve dropped that line about the spilled milk,” Miles Conway, a spokesman for the America Federation of State, County and Municipal Employees, said Thursday.

It’s hard to say exactly when the milk was spilled, but the issue goes back to the second term of Martinez’s predecessor, Bill Richardson, who didn’t follow union contracts in distributing money provided by the Legislature for raises for thousands of state employees.

For more, go to the full version on The Santa Fe New Mexican's site.

Saturday, November 9, 2013

R.I.P. John Dendahl

Dendahl in 2006
John Dendahl was a reporter's dream. The former state Republican Party chairman always was friendly and had a great sense of humor. He always returned reporters' phone calls and he always had something interesting, often provocative, to say.

Dendahl died this morning in a Colorado hospital from complications from treatments for leukemia. His widow Jackie Dendahl said he'd been in the hospital for a month. He was 75.

He ran for governor in 1994 but lost to political newcomer Gary Johnson, who went on to win the general election that year. That same year Dendahl was elected as state Republican Party chairman, a position he held until 2003.

Toward the end of Johnson's administration, Dendahl publicly agreed with the governor's position that the drug war had been a failure and that marijuana should be legalized. This angered many members of his party including the then-powerful U.S. Sen. Pete Domenici, who initially called for Dendahl's resignation.

Though Dendahl lost his final bid for the party chairmanship, in 2006 he became the GOP's candidate for governor against incumbent Bill Richardson after Dr. J.R. Damron of Santa Fe, who'd won the Republican primary, stepped down.

At that point Richardson was very popular, however, and Dendahl had a hard time raising money. He lost in a landslide.

Not long after that election, he and his wife moved to Colorado. He continued his interest in politics, writing columns and letters to the editor.

Jackie Dendahl said he recently had been helping Tom Tancredo, a former Republican congressman from Colorado who is running for governor.

Political consultant Jay McCleskey, who served as executive director of the state GOP during part of Dendahl's tenure as chairman, said in statement, "John Dendahl was a unique person who was as tenacious in politics, as he was competing as an Olympic skier and deserves a lot of credit for helping end one-party dominance in the state. For as tough as he was in political debates and campaigns, I knew him as a warm man who truly cared about people and almost always had a smile on his face. He will be missed."

Earl Potter of Santa Fe, who was state chairman of the Democratic Party during Dendahl's early years as GOP chairman said he was saddened by Dendahl's death. "He knew how to insult without being offensive," Potter said. "He knew how to make people mad, but on a personal level, he was extremely gracious." Hearing of Dendahl's death, Potter said, "makes me homesick for the day when parties could fight in public, then come together on important issues."

The current state GOP chairman John Billingsley issued a statement saying, “Dendahl advocated for conservative principles and was a strong leader for our Party during his time of service. As a former athlete and competitor, he carried his competitive spirit throughout his leadership role with the Party, working hard to make positive changes. He was known for boldly expressing his convictions and standing for what he believed was right. During his time as Chairman, he worked hard to combat the corruption that existed within individuals within our state government at the time, successfully lead and grew the Party, and left a lasting legacy here in the state of New Mexico.”

More in tomorrow's New Mexican.

Wednesday, November 6, 2013

Did Orrin Hatch Read My Story Today?

Sen. Orrin Hatch
U.S. Sen. Orrin Hatch, R-Utah, is the latest to tout the Chris Christie/Susana Martinez "dream ticket" for 2016, a political meme that I wrote about in today's New Mexican.

In a story in The Politico, today Hatch said, “I think that the man really is an exceptionally tough, smart, good conservative who literally appeals across the board, which is what the Republicans need to have. And let’s face it, Susana Martinez has a lot of qualities that would help a lot of people to understand that the Republican Party is a broad base party.”

As I pointed out in my story, there has been a lot of talk in the national chatter class since Gov. Martinez went to New Jersey Monday to campaign for Christie. I wouldn't be surprised if the Christie/Martinez idea intensifies considering Christie won 51 percent of the Hispanic vote in New Jersey in his landslide victory last night. (I don't think Martinez can take full credit for that, but her appearances Monday couldn't have hurt in that area.)

But a word of caution: President Giuliani hadn't chosen a running mate at this point before the 2008 election.

Monday, November 4, 2013

Two Behavioral Health Providers Get Funding Restored

Human Services Secretary Sidonie Squier
(See below the Human Services release)

 In the latest development in the behavioral health shakeup, the state has agreed to restore Medicaid funding to two New Mexico providers under investigation. 

Here's the press release from the state. . 

Santa Fe – Today, the New Mexico Human Services Department (HSD) announced the release of two additional Medicaid pay-holds to agencies audited by the State earlier this year.  Both agencies are severing ties with TeamBuilders and its various corporate and non-profit affiliates and will together agree to repay $4,240,000 in behavioral health funding alleged to have been improperly billed to the Medicaid system.  

Presbyterian Medical Services (PMS) and Youth Development, Inc. (YDI) received the lift on their pay-holds after agreeing to pay back overpayment amounts found by a recent audit of behavioral health companies in New Mexico.  PMS will repay $4,000,000 and YDI will repay $240,000.  PMS and YDI will also be subject to intensive new training and oversight of its management until billing and management systems are fully operational and determined to be sound.  

Each of the companies will continue to provide behavioral health services to their clients, though Valle del Sol will provide temporary oversight of YDI and La Frontera will provide temporary oversight of PMS.  Among other tasks, Valle del Sol and La Frontera will train and provide technical assistance to staff members at each company, ensure program compliance with state and federal laws and rules, require accurate and timely billing (including pre-submission review of claims), and assist in developing new performance measures.    

“We have a responsibility to protect taxpayer dollars and to ensure that consumers are receiving continued access to care. This is a positive outcome that allows us to recoup a significant portion of the Medicaid funding that has been identified as overpayments,” said HSD Secretary Sidonie Squier. “PMS and YDI should be commended for working with the State from the get-go to improve service delivery, acknowledge the need to repay overpayments assigned to their work, and sever ties with other troubled entities.” 

PMS and YDI are not among the behavioral health companies with the most serious or numerous whistleblower complaints against them, which include allegations that, in other companies, employees were told to intentionally up-code services as a means of siphoning extra money out of the Medicaid system, told to bill for services never provided, or told to obstruct the reporting of critical incidents to proper authorities and regulators. 

Additionally, neither PMS nor YDI are as deeply engrained in the complex financial relationships and potential conflicts of interest that exist around the entities that comprise the seven Rio Grande behavioral health care companies and the numerous not-for profit and for-profit companies that are closely related to TeamBuilders.  

Today’s announcement is separate and distinct from, and has no bearing on, the continuing criminal investigation being conducted by state and federal authorities into the conduct of all 15 companies audited this year.

UPDATE 3:35 p.m. Some new information since I first posted this.

Human Services spokesman Matt Kennicott said that there are no other settlement negotiations with any of the other providers under investigation.

Unlike other providers under investigation, both PMS, which operates statewide, and YDI, which has facilities in Albuquerque and in Valencia County, have remained open seeing their clients for the past several months. Kennicott said they have been using their cash reserves to stay afloat.

PMS serves 3,400 behavioral health clients on Medicaid, while YDI serves about 260.

Sen. Bill O'Neill, D-Albquerque, who has been one of the leading critics of the administration over the mental-health shakeup, had the following statement about today's developments:

"To me, this is just more of the same attempt at positive spin by the Martinez Administration. Whatever the ultimate resolution of this (Human Services Department) induced audit crisis is, there was absolutely no reason to destroy our existing state's mental health system in the process. The 15 non profit behavioral health providers were not given the chance to review the findings and respond accordingly. They were denied due process. We still do not know what the actual allegations are -- none of us do. I have also noticed that (Human Services) is very fond of the word `siphon.' Well, how about the word, `hijacked'? Or `hostile takeover', by out-of-state, Arizona companies?"

Youth Development Inc. just sent this news release:

After four months of working with the Human Services Department on the behavioral health audit conducted by PCG, YDI and the Department have reached a settlement.    However, YDI did not fully agree with the processes employed by the State and PCG.  Seeking resolution, YDI fully cooperated with HSD in this matter and continued to provide services while payments to it were suspended. 

In the interest of resolving all differences between YDI and HSD amicably, and in order to avoid the time, trouble, expense, delay and uncertainty of the time litigating this matter we believed this was the most prudent path for YDI to take. 

The amount settled for is about 8 percent of the amount billed over the last 3 years.  According to the GAO, the National average claim failure rate is between 3 percent  and 9 percent .  We are working diligently with the State and Valle del Sol to improve to our behavioral health systems in order to reduce that rate to zero.   

We look forward to continue to serve the many people who are our consumers and who have put their faith and confidence in the critical services YDI has provided for over 42 years.
UPDATE: 5:15 pm  PMS just issued a statement quoting CEO Steve Hansen saying, "While we have never agreed with the State’s contentions, allegations, or actions, PMS’s primary motivation in settling was to preserve its critical safety net behavioral health services and over 200 New Mexico behavioral health jobs.”

The statement also said, "This settlement resolves all potential civil and administrative disputes with the State. PMS was unwilling to sacrifice services to so many New Mexico communities, choosing resolution instead of a long legal battle."

More in tomorrow's New Mexican.

Susana Martinez: Jersey Girl

So where in the world is New Mexico Gov. Susana Martinez today?

New Jersey, of course. After her recent swing through the South, Martinez is in Jersey campaigning for Gov. Chris Christie, who is up for re-election tomorrow. Republican Christie is expected to win big and start immediately campaigning for president.

Martinez will join him at campaign stops in Nutley, Hillside, Freehold, South Plainfield, Morris Plains, and Union City, according to NJ.com.

In 2010, Christie campaigned for Martinez here in New Mexico.

The report from NJ.com says Martinez's appearances is Christie's
... latest attempt to reach out to the Hispanic community, a constituency he has courted often throughout his campaign and one Christie will need should he jump into the 2016 presidential election.

"As we enter the final days of the campaign having her on the trail is going to help us tell our story and bolster our vision for the next four years," said Christie campaign spokesman Kevin Roberts. It also makes another statement about what we are doing and the non-traditional support we are getting."

New Jersey Democrats aren't happy about this. In a news release the state party wrote, "... Christie and Martinez have a lot in common. Both governors are former prosecutors with records of abusing their official powers to reward their political allies and tank their state economies."

Sunday, November 3, 2013

ROUNDHOUSE ROUNDUP: More Fun With Common Cause's Lobbyist Report

What industry had the most lobbyists working the New Mexico state Legislature this year? Was it the oil and gas industry, which is responsible for a huge portion of state revenues? Was it the big pharmaceutical companies? The liquor industry? Ranchers? Chile farmers?

None of the above, actually. According to the study released last week by Common Cause New Mexico, the special interest that hired the largest number of lobbyists was government, including local and tribal governments as well as public educational agencies.

The study found (based on information from the Secretary of State’s website and the Institute of Money in State Government) that there were 250 lobbyists hired by government agencies working the Roundhouse halls during the last session, which ended in March.

Look at it this way: There are 112 legislators, so there were more than two government lobbyists for every lawmaker.

For more check out today's New Mexican.

For my story on the lobbyist report last week CLICK HERE

For the Common Cause report itself CLICK HERE

Friday, November 1, 2013

Governor Chooses Vickie Perea for Easley's Seat

If you predicted that Gov. Susana Martinez would chose a fellow Republican to replace the late Stephen Easley in the state House of Representatives, you were right.

Martinez went with Vickie Perea, a former Albuquerque city councilor. This means the political composition of the House will be 37 Democrats and 33 Republicans in next year's session. Perea will have to run for election to the seat next year if she wants to stay.

Here's the governor's statement:

Today, Governor Susana Martinez appointed Republican Vickie Perea to the State House of Representatives District 50 seat. Perea will fill the vacancy created by the passing of State Representative Stephen Easley. She will assume the term that ends December 31, 2014. 

Perea, a former Democrat, is a  native New Mexican, wife, mother, and grandmother with a varied, life-long history of public service. As an employee and administrator at the City of Albuquerque, she served for twenty-five years. After her retirement from the City, Perea served for four years as a City Councilor, which included service as Council President. In addition to her tenure as an elected official, Perea has devoted much of her time to service in other capacities, including past work as a Regent for Trinity International University, as a member of the Board of Directors and Chairperson of New Mexico First, and as Vice-Chairperson of the Unification Charter Commission for the City of Albuquerque/Bernalillo County.  She has previously also been involved with the New Mexico Municipal League and the Hispano Chamber of Commerce. Perea attended the University of New Mexico and completed the program for executives in state and local government at the John F. Kennedy School of Government at Harvard University and holds an Honorary LLD, Doctor of Laws from Cohen University and Theological Seminary.  

“I had an opportunity to speak with all three nominees for this position and appreciate their willingness to serve,” Governor Martinez said. “In Vickie, the citizens of House District 50 have a passionate public servant who will bring a fresh voice to the Legislature.  She is capable of working across party lines and is well-qualified to help craft public policy that will benefit New Mexico’s economy, schools, and families.” 

More in tomorrow's New Mexican

Tuesday, October 29, 2013

SF County Commission Nominates Jenkins for Easley's House Seat

Ann Jenkins
The Santa Fe County Commission on Tuesday nominated Ann Jenkins, a retired information manager who worked for a pharmaceutical company for 27 years, to complete the term of the late Rep. Stephen Easley in the state House of Representatives.

Jenkins, also has been nominated for the position by the Bernalillo County Commission. Two other counties in the sprawling District 50 have nominated other candidates. Valencia County nominated former Albuquerque City Councilor Vickie Perea while the Torrance County Commission chose its own chairman, LeRoy Candelaria.

Both Perea and Candelaria are Republicans, as is Gov. Susana Martinez, who will make the final selection. If she picks a Republican to replace Democrat Easley, the political makeup of the House would be 37 Democrats to 33 Republicans.

A spokesman for Martinez said the governor is expected to make a decision by Friday.

Jenkins in an interview Tuesday described herself as a centrist Democrat. "I'm fairly conservative on financial issues but liberal on social issues," she said.

Her husband of 43 years, Jim Jenkins, is a Republican, she said.

More in tomorrow's New Mexican

Another Potshot From Linda to Gary

As my colleague Robert Nott reported in today's New Mexican, it looks like Public Education Secretary Hanna Skandera finally will get a confirmation hearing in the Legislature.

AG King
If you're skeptical, you have every right to be. After all, Skandera actually did get a hearing last year -- one that lasted umpteen hours over several days -- but no Senate vote.

One thing I noted about the letter Lopez, who chairs the Senate Rules Committee, sent to Skandera, which Nott mentions in his story, is that Lopez takes another subtle shot at Attorney General Gary King, one of her rivals in the Democratic primary for governor.

Lopez said she requested certain information from the AG back in March, but "As of this date I have not received a response from Attorney General Gary King."

Didn't some wise columnist predict this sort of thing only a few days ago?

Here's the letter:

Common Cause's Lobbyist Report

Common Cause New Mexico on Monday released its long-promised report on lobbying in the state Legislature. My story in today's New Mexican can be found HERE.
Where the campaign contributions from oil companies
 to NM politicians come from

With former state Sen. Dede Feldman, D-Albuquerque as one of the researchers, the report looks at lobbying efforts for four bills in the past sessions. (I wrote about two of those in my story.)

Among the findings in the report:

•  Six top lobbyists in the legislature have 20 or more clients

• 26 former legislators are now lobbyists.

• Lobbyist have spent three-quarters of a million dollars feeding, entertaining, and giving gifts to candidates for state office, over the past year and a half.

• Representatives opposing a bill to regulate oil and gas operations received three and one half times more contributions than those voting for it.

• Two thirds of oil and gas contributions to legislators come from companies based outside New Mexico.

• Special interests representing bankers and lawyers spent heavily on key committee members to block legislation over several years.

You can read and/or download the entire report below