Tuesday, April 30, 2013

Keller's Not a Candidate for Gov, But He Sure is Talking Like One

I couldn't help but notice a tweet today from Justine Freeman, who worked as a flack for the Senate Majority Whip's office -- the whip being Sen. Tim Keller -- during this years legislative session.

It was a link to a Duke City Fix story with the headline "The Six Reasons Tim Keller Will Run for Governor." Freeman altered the headline slightly in her tweet: "The Six Reasons Tim Keller Will (and should!) Run for Governor" (exclamation point hers.)

O.K., you might dismiss that as an over-enthusiastic tweet from a faithful employee. But listen to Keller's speech from the state Democrats' central committee meeting on Saturday.

Keller says he's also considering running for state treasurer or state auditor. But he sure doesn't spend much time talking about the treasurer or auditor's office in this speech.

It's Official: Hector's In for AG

Hector Balderas Running for SenateTo absolutely nobody's surprise, state Auditor Hector Balderas has made it official. He's running for attorney general.

In a letter to supporters, Balderas wrote:

My number one goal as Attorney General will be keeping our families safe. I’ll protect our children and consumers, fight as hard for our Veterans as they fought for us, and ensure that we stop discrimination based on gender, sexual orientation, race, religion, or disability, so that all can pursue the opportunity to thrive. I will also improve and promote greater accountability in the nonprofit and corporate sectors so that all New Mexicans can enjoy a better quality of life

This is what you call your basic "soft" announcement. Balderas said "This fall we’ll have a big campaign kick-off where I’ll more fully articulate my vision for how New Mexico’s Attorney General’s office can move our state forward."

He urged prospective supporters to sign up for news alerts on his website.

Balderas might be facing former Public Regulation Commissioner Jason Marks, a lawyer from Albuquerque in the Democratic primary. He's got a campaign website, but he told me Tuesday afternoon that his campaign is still in "exploratory" mode.

"I'm definitely out there talking to Democrats," Marks said. He said he'll make a final decision in about a month.

UPDATED 2:13 pm. After talking with Marks, I changed the original text to make clear that he has not announced yet.

Monday, April 29, 2013

ROUNDHOUSE ROUNDUP; New Push for Open Primaries

A version of this was published in The Santa Fe New Mexican 
April 28, 2013

Think New Mexico, which in recent years spearheaded efforts to establish full-day kindergarten, get rid of the food tax and reform the Public Regulation Commission, is turning its eye to opening up political party primaries.
Fred Nathan

Last week, Fred Nathan, founder and executive director of the think tank, wrote to the state chairmen of both major parties asking them to consider changing the rules of their respective primaries to allow independent voters to participate.

Full disclosure here. As faithful readers of this column should know, I’m a proud DTS (Declined to State, which is the official designation of independents in New Mexico).

And I have used this column to beat the drum for open primaries (it’s also the editorial position of the newspaper). It’s hardly a radical idea. Democrats and Republicans let unaffiliated voters vote in primaries in a majority of states.

In his letter to the party chiefs, Nathan — also a card-carrying DTS — used familiar arguments for opening the primaries to us Declined-to-Staters. He predicted it would increase participation in primaries, which last year fell to an anemic 24 percent of the total number of registered voters.
Nathan also noted that it’s unfair that all taxpayers, independents included, pay for the primaries in the state, even though independents — who account for 18 percent of all voters statewide, 20 percent in Santa Fe County — are barred from participating.

But he also used an interesting argument I hadn’t thought of before.

“By including and listening to independent voters, you will better position your party to win the general election,” he wrote. “Since independents often comprise the deciding swing votes in close elections, gaining their support early could make the difference in many elections. So there will be an advantage to whichever party moves first to open its primaries.”

How do party leaders feel about this?

Republican state Chairman John Billingsley didn’t sound like he was embracing the idea last week. Through a spokeswoman, he said, “While we will review the request, the idea of open primaries allows for outside groups to organize and disrupt the party’s primary process. As a party, we seek to keep primaries as they are in order to ensure that the best possible Republican candidates are put forth for each race.”

But Javier Gonzales, who was state Democrat chairman until the end of the week, said he likes the idea. “It’s not only healthy for democracy but for the Democratic Party,” he said. “I believe our ideas would resonate for many independents.”

He also said he agrees with Nathan that letting DTS voters into the Democratic primary would help his party in the general elections.

But Gonzales noted Thursday that a new chairman would be elected this weekend. “Hopefully the next chairman will work to adopt this,” he said.

Note that Nathan is going to the party chairmen to try to instigate this change. Not the Legislature. I’m sure he’s well aware of the sad result last year with a proposed constitutional amendment to allow unaffiliated voters to vote in primaries.

Rep. Andy Nunez Changes Registration From Dem to Indie
Rep. Andy Nunez changing his registration to
Declined to State in 2011
The measure was sponsored by Rep. Andy Nuñez of Hatch, who had switched his registration from Democrat to DTS the year before. The lone independent in the Legislature went before the House Consumer and Public Affairs Committee with his joint resolution to put the proposed amendment on the ballot to let voters decide.

Supporters argued that opening the primaries would lead to more participation in the process.

“I would do anything to get more people to vote,” said Rep. Gail Chasey, D-Albuquerque, who at the time was chairwoman of the committee.

Everything but vote for Nuñez’s proposal, it turned out.

Chasey was joined by every present member of her committee, Democrat and Republican coming together in a display of bipartisan unity, voting to table the joint resolution and keep independents from voting in primaries.

Saturday, April 27, 2013

Bregman Elected Dem State Chairman

The state Democratic Party's Central Committee just elected Albuquerque lawyer Sam Bregman as the party's new chairman.

He defeated Roxanne Lara of Carlsbad by about a 2-1 margin.

On his Facebook page, Bregman said:

“The campaign is over. Our party is unified and ready to challenge Gov. Martinez and other Republicans. I congratulate the other candidates for bringing hard work and passion to our state party. The party will be focused like a laser beam on electing Democrats who will support good jobs and improve our economy,”

Thursday, April 25, 2013

Heather Wilson New President of a South Dakota College

Manuel Lujan, Jr. & Heather WilsonFormer U.S. Rep. and Republican senatorial candidate Heather Wilson has been chosen to be the 19th president of the South Dakota  School of Mines & Technology.

According to a news release from the college sent today, Terry Baloun, chair of the board of regents' search committee, said:

“Heather Wilson is a high-energy leader who brings exceptional communication skills and public-sector experience to her new position. At a time when higher education increasingly must make its case for more external funding and sustained research support from the federal and private sectors, our search committee took particular note of Dr. Wilson’s Capitol Hill experience, as well as her connections to decision makers in Washington and throughout the scientific research community. We are excited to have her join our team."

Wilson represented the Albuquerque-based 1st Congressional District for 10 years. She lost to Democrat Martin Heinrich in last year's U.S. Senate race.

Tuesday, April 23, 2013

Garcia: We Had the Votes, But Not the Time

Rep. Miguel Garcia, D-Albuquerque, who sponsored the bill to require background checks for people purchasing firearms at gun shows says he is confident House Bill 77 would have passed the Senate -- and thus cleared the Legislature -- if there had been more time.

As it turned out the bill died on the Senate floor in the last hour of the session.

Here's what Garcia said in a postmortem he emailed last night.

Time permitting, could the Senate have passed HB 77 in our 2013 Session?  Simply put, Yes!  Some of you who were present for the Senate floor debate on HB 77 recall that there was one voice vote to table one of the sophomoric amendments (19 still waiting) put on by Democrat George Munoz of Gallup.  The president of the Senate, Lt. Governor John Sanchez, stated that the “I’s” prevailed and the first amendment was tabled.  

Immediately, a Republican—not sure if it was Sen. Neville or Sen. Sharer—“challenged the ruling of the chair” (the Lt Governor).  It went to a roll call vote.  All 42 senators were present and voted.  If a majority of Senators had voted yes “for” challenging the ruling of the chair, the 1st amendment would have been adopted.  If a majority of senators had voted no “for” challenging the ruling of the chair, the vote to table the amendment would have prevailed.  By a roll call vote of 22 to 20, the Senate voted NOT to challenge the ruling of the chair, thus preserving the affirmation to table the 1st amendment. 

It is my candid perspective that had the Senate tabled all of the frivolous 20 amendments by the same margin, 22 to 20, and had HB 77 gone to a final vote, it would not surprise me that the outcome would have been 22 to 20 for its passage

Garcia, in his email,  praised Senate Majority Leader Michael Sanchez::

We were inspired by the closing statement of Sen. Sánchez who stated, as the clock inched towards 11:59 am, that HB 77 was a crucial legislative initiative that merited real debate by the Senate, and not the political theatrical antics of a few legislators bent on denying the people of New Mexico a sound and sensible gun violence prevention policy. 

Sen. Sánchez further concluded that HB 77 will see the light of day on the Senate Floor in the 2014 Session and also stressed the need that Governor Martínez message the legislation next year complimenting its heroic accomplishment from a good original bill to a bipartisan and bicameral compromise measure that the overwhelming majority of New Mexicans relish.  

R.I.P. Bob Edgar of Common Cause

Bob Edgar
Bob Edgar, a 6-term "Watergate Baby" Congressman from Pennsylvania, a Methodist Minister and most recently president and CEO of Common Cause died this morning in his home.

In a news release from Common Cause, its national board chairman Robert Reich said, “Bob will be remembered for his decency, kindness, compassion and humor. His deep commitment to social justice and strengthening our democracy is his greatest gift to Common Cause and the nation."

I had the pleasure of interviewing Bob twice in recent years when he came to New Mexico. Most recently was last September.

Here's a link to that story. (For some reason it's no longer on The New Mexican's site, but thanks to Sportsmen Vote for re-posting it.)

Monday, April 22, 2013

ROUNDHOUSE ROUNDUP: Gov Makes One List, Left Off Another

A version of this was published in The Santa Fe New Mexican 
April 21, 2013

Gov. Susana MartinezI guess my job just got more important last week. As one of my colleagues in the Capitol newsroom pointed out, I get to cover one of the 100 most important people in the world.

That person, of course, is Gov. Susana Martinez, who was included in Time magazine’s annual list of top 100 “titans,” “icons,” “pioneers,” “artists” and “leaders.” Martinez was included in the latter category.

The governor even got a glowing essay from none other than Karl Rove, who wrote, “If she is re-elected in 2014, her reputation as a reform-minded conservative Republican could grow even more in a second term.”

Is he saluting Susana?
If state Democrats wanted to get all sour-grapesy, they could point out that Martinez shares space on the list with the likes of North Korean dictator Kim Jong Un and Igor Sechin, a former KGB official who now is a top honcho in Vladimir Putin’s Kremlin. Think about what a great attack ad that would make.

However, it probably would backfire because Barack and Michelle Obama as well as Vice President Joe Biden and Pope Francis also are on Time’s list — not to mention another influential person who has spent a lot of time in New Mexico, actor Bryan Cranston of the hit TV series Breaking Bad.

But Martinez did not get a place on another list released last week — political pundit Larry Sabato’s rankings of possible 2016 presidential contenders. Sabato, who directs the University of Virginia’s Center for Politics, listed nine possible GOP candidates, breaking them down into different tiers.

Sabato’s top tier for Republicans included Wisconsin Gov. Scott Walker, U.S. Sen. Marco Rubio of Florida and New Jersey Gov. Chris Christie (who was the only governor besides Martinez on on Time’s top 100 most influential list.)

There were six other GOP leaders. But no Susana.

One of Sabato’s Twitter followers asked him about the absence of Martinez and Nevada Gov. Brian Sandoval, another prominent Hispanic in the party. Sabato responded, “possible, but more likely as VPs?”

Hold your fire: I thought after last week’s Roundhouse Roundup that I was done writing about the failed House Bill 77, the bill that would have required background checks for people buying firearms from unlicensed dealers at gun shows.

But I thought about that ill-fated legislation when, on Wednesday, I received an interesting news release from the state Republican Party with the subject line “Senate Attempts to Limit Second Amendment Rights Fail.”

The email was referring to the U.S. Senate and its votes that day on several gun-control measures, including the compromise by Sens. Joe Manchin, D-W.Va., and Pat Toomey, R-Penn., which, like HB 77, would have required background checks for people buying firearms from unlicensed dealers at gun shows. (Manchin-Toomey would have gone a little further and also would have required background checks for Internet gun sales.)

“We at the Republican Party stand firmly in support of protecting the Second Amendment, and we oppose new laws that will do nothing but limit our freedoms and restrict law abiding gun owners,” GOP Chairman John Billingsly said in the news release.

As I pointed out last week, the final version of HB 77 was a bipartisan compromise that House Republican Whip Nate Gentry was instrumental in crafting. It received several Republican votes on the House floor, and Gov. Susana Martinez said she would have signed the bill unless the Senate made major changes in it.

I asked party spokeswoman Jamie Dickinson about this. She replied, “HB 77, introduced by Rep. Miguel Garcia (D-Albuquerque), was a bad bill with serious implications. We appreciate the work of multiple House and Senate members to make amendments in an attempt to make the bill less harmful; however, the party opposed HB 77, just as we opposed the measures yesterday in the Senate.”

Still, I can’t help but wonder whether the party would have sent a similar news release had HB 77 passed and Martinez signed it into law.

Tuesday, April 16, 2013

Comeback of the Year: Syphilis

This is nothing to clap about.

The state Health Department just sent this news release saying syphilis cases have gone up to the highest level in 25 years.

Here's the release:

The New Mexico Department of Health announced today a spike in syphilis cases in 2012. According to the Department’s provisional data, New Mexico doctors reported 101 cases of primary and secondary syphilis, or 4.9 per 100,000. This is the highest number and rate since 1988.

 In 2000, syphilis, a once common sexually transmitted disease, dropped to its lowest point since reporting began in 1941, and health officials actually talked about its “elimination.”  It returned starting in 2001, especially among men who have sex with men, and sometimes co-occurring with HIV infection. 

 “Syphilis is only infectious in its early stages, so primary and secondary cases are especially significant because that is when it’s easily spread,” said Department of Health Secretary Retta Ward, MPH. “When diagnosed early, syphilis is easily treated, most effectively with shots of penicillin.”

 Syphilis has been called the “great imitator” because it is often confused with other diseases.  Clinicians may rarely see an active case.  It can cause open sores (“chancres”) in the primary stage, and in secondary syphilis it can cause flu-like symptoms, swollen lymph nodes, and a characteristic rash that may cover the palms of the hands and soles of the feet.  

Symptoms can be mild enough to be missed, even by experienced clinicians, and the diagnosis is usually made by blood tests.  If untreated, the disease can persist for years without noticeable signs or symptoms, but can lead to severe damage to the brain and blood vessels.  Congenital syphilis, when a baby is born to an untreated mother, can result in serious and lifelong complications.

 Men are far more likely to contract syphilis.  In 2012, males accounted for 91 percent of the 101 primary and secondary infections.  There is also disparity by race and ethnicity: while almost half of the early syphilis cases in 2012 were among Hispanics, Native Americans had a rate that was 2.6 times higher than state rate for all races, while the rate for African Americans was 1.9 times higher.

 The counties with the highest case rates were McKinley, Cibola, San Juan and Bernalillo. 

In March, the Department of Health’s STD Program launched an indoor media campaign in Albuquerque. It reminds people to get tested and if needed, to get treatment for STDs.

 Anyone who believes they have been exposed to syphilis or any other STD can get tested, and treated if necessary, at their local Public Health Office.  

 Also, to minimize the spread of this infection it is extremely important that all sexual partners are examined and possibly treated.   Sites can be found at www.nmhivguide.org/.

Lopez is Almost In, Keller Still Contemplating Gov Run

DEM LT. GOV. FORUMAfter that tantalizing tweet from Rep. Bill Soules Sunday, I spoke to Sen. Linda Lopez yesterday and she confirmed that she's gearing up to run for governor.

My story in today's New Mexican is HERE.

Lopez will join Attorney General Gary King in the Democratic primary to see who gets to take on incumbent Republican Susana Martinez. King told reporters last summer that he's running.

Meanwhile, Sen. Tim Keller, D-Albuquerque, who also is contemplating running for state auditor or treasurer told me yesterday that he's also considering running for governor. But an event more important than a campaign announcement is coming up for Keller. He's about to become a dad -- due date in July.

Another Democratic senator reportedly running is Joe Cervantes of Las Cruces. But he never got back to me yesterday. Call me, Joe!

UPDATE 4:30 pm Joe called. He said it's "too early" to comment on whether he'll run.

Monday, April 15, 2013

ROUNDHOUSE ROUNDUP: Why Did NM's Gun Compromise Bill Die?

A version of this was published in The Santa Fe New Mexican 
April 14, 2013

In the U.S. Senate last week, something amazing happened. Sen. Joe Manchin, D-W.Va., and Sen. Pat Toomey, R-Pa., got together and worked out a compromise for a gun-control bill, a bill that would expand background checks for people buying guns.

It was a compromise. Unlike the original bill proposed by Democrats, the Manchin/Toomey proposal would only cover unlicensed dealers at gun shows and Internet firearm sales, not sales between individuals.

I felt a tinge of déjà vu when I heard about this. It took me all the way back to February, when something similar happened in the state Legislature.

In its original form, House Bill 77 — introduced by Rep. Miguel Garcia, D-Albuquerque — would have required background checks for all gun purchases. At first, it seemed the measure was dead on arrival. Early in the session, the House Judiciary Committee tabled the bill.
But something remarkable happened. Rep. Nate Gentry, the House Republican whip, worked with Garcia to come up with amendments to satisfy some of the concerns in the original bill.

Like Manchin and Toomey just did at the national level, the state lawmakers took out the provision that would have required background checks for all private gun sales. In this case, they limited the measure to gun shows.

The state bill also was amended to establish a procedure to align the state’s mental health and criminal conviction records with the federal background check system.

Gentry was able to get a few fellow Republicans to go along with the compromise in the Judiciary Committee. And soon after, Gov. Susana Martinez said she would sign the bill in the form it was in. The bill ended up passing the House. It looked as if a bipartisan gun-control bill actually had legs in the Legislature.

But the bill hit the Senate with a thud. Gun enthusiasts began campaigning heavily against it. Senate Judiciary Committee Chairman Richard Martinez, in the last week of the session, didn’t even want to hear it, though eventually, after some public pressure, he did. The bill squeaked out of that committee.

But for reasons best known to Senate Majority Leader Michael Sanchez, HB 77 didn’t get heard until the last hour of the session. At that point, Senate Republicans were successful in running down the clock.

Why did this happen? I don’t really know.

SHOOT THE WOUNDEDThere are a couple of theories that have been kicked around. The governor didn’t seem to be working hard twisting arms to get the bill through the Senate. Could it be that she had second thoughts about being the first Republican governor to sign a gun-control bill in modern times? Signing the bill surely would have made national news and would have received lots of national exposure. This seems unlikely, but is it possible she didn’t really want this national exposure for an issue so widely despised by the GOP base?

Or did Sen. Sanchez sandbag HB 77? He claimed he supported it. If so, why did he wait so long to hear it on the floor? Could it be that he didn’t want the governor to get the national spotlight for signing a gun-control bill?

That might sound petty, but similar things have happened before in the Legislature.

In his last year in office, Gov. Gary Johnson, once a supporter of capital punishment, said he’d consider signing a death-penalty repeal. This was right after the state had executed someone for the first time in more than 50 years, which caused Johnson to rethink his position.

I’m almost certain he would have signed a bill had the Legislature delivered. However, the Democratic leadership at the time didn’t want to let Johnson get the credit and attention he would have received. So they didn’t even try to move a repeal bill that year.

So, even though gun-control advocates are celebrating the Manchin/Toomey compromise as a victory, the New Mexico situation shows it ain’t over till it’s over.

Thursday, April 11, 2013

Keller Testing the Water?

Yesterday morning, Sen. Tim Keller, D-Albuquerque, tweeted a link to a newspaper column about him. The headline was "One Democrat who could beat Gov. Martinez."

Nothing unusual about that. Lots of politicians tweet links to positive press about themselves. Even I re-tweet nice things said about me on Twitter -- or at least I will if that would ever happen.

It was only later, after mentioning it to the author, my office-mate Milan Simonich of Texas-New Mexico Newspapers Group, that I realized the column was published more than a month ago.

Maybe Keller had just seen the column, which said "he is as close to an ideal candidate as any political party will find."

Or maybe he just wants to make sure everyone else didn't miss the piece, which declared "As a businessman from a melting pot district, Keller is the Democrat who can bridge authentic values of his party with a jobs agenda. He stands out as the Democrats' best bet to unseat Martinez."

I asked Keller yesterday whether we should be expecting an announcement.

"Nothing soon," he said.

I say stay tuned.

Wednesday, April 10, 2013

Meanwhile, On the Driver's License Front ...

I just noticed this story from the Associated Press about the Colorado Legislature:

A proposal to grant driver’s licenses for Colorado drivers in the country illegally is expected to get its first vote Wednesday, and one Republican senator said he’s leaning toward voting in favor of the bill.
The bill highlights a changing opinion from lawmakers about immigration in Colorado, a state that seven years ago passed strict enforcement laws.
Democratic Sen. Jessie Ulibarri, the sponsor of the bill, argues that the immigrants living in the country are already on Colorado roads, and that it would benefit if they were licensed, carried insurance, and knew the rules of the road.
Mesa County Republican Sen. Steve King, a former police officer, said the proposal could improve public safety, and he’s leaning toward voting yes. However, he said he wouldn’t commit to a vote until he heard all the testimony in committee.

I saw this right after I read an email from New Mexico's Tax & Revenue Department:

SANTA FE – Two illegal foreign nationals, one of whom is part of a driver’s license crime syndicate, were arrested for fraudulently applying for a New Mexico driver license on Friday in Farmington. Jose Dolores Flores-Bonilla, a Mexican National, allegedly provided fraudulent documents in an attempt to obtain a New Mexico driver’s license. Ivan Jose Gonzales, from El Salvador, allegedly drove Flores-Bonilla from Albuquerque to Farmington in an effort to obtain the driver’s license. Flores-Bonilla, 31, a resident of Georgia, was promised a New Mexico driver’s license for $2,500 by individuals connected to a crime ring that is accused of obtaining New Mexico driver’s licenses for 40 undocumented immigrants living out of state, according to an investigation conducted by the New Mexico Taxation and Revenue Department’s tax fraud agents. Flores-Bonilla reportedly paid $500 advance and was driven, by a yet to be identified individual, from Georgia to Albuquerque. Gonzales, a resident of Los Lunas, then drove Flores-Bonilla to Farmington to get the driver’s license. Both men were arrested outside the Farmington MVD office by the State Police after they attempted to obtain the driver’s license for Flores-Bonilla. Flores-Bonilla was supposed to pay $2,000 to his handlers once he received a New Mexico driver’s license. 
The Department’s Tax Fraud Investigations Division also uncovered that the crime ring has been operating in New Mexico for the past one-and-a-half years by using fake residential addresses and PO Boxes in the Albuquerque, Belen, Los Lunas and Rio Rancho areas. The ring also used fraudulent residential documents to obtain driver licenses to 40 undocumented immigrants from Ecuador, Guatemala, El Salvador, Honduras, Costa Rica, Mexico and Uruguay.
The Department is in the process of canceling the driver licenses fraudulently obtained by the 40 individuals.
Expected reaction from those who want to repeal the state law that allows undocumented residents to have driver's license: "You see, criminals are flocking to New Mexico to take advantage of this bad law!"

Expected reaction from opponents of repeal: "You see, the system is working."

And the beat goes on ...

Monday, April 8, 2013

ROUNDHOUSE ROUNDUP: That's the Ticket!

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

Remember “Tommy Flanagan,” that character played by Jon Lovitz on Saturday Night Live a few decades ago? Flanagan was the guy who tended to make up outrageous stories, then, as if to reassure himself, mutter, “Yeah, that’s the ticket!”

Lovitz as Tommy Flanagan
I thought of Flanagan when reading the Santa Fe Reporter last week. It was the article about New Mexico Prosperity, a new nonprofit classified as a 501(c)4, a “social welfare organization” that by law must be dedicated to “the common good and general welfare of the people of the community.”

So, what’s wrong with that? Couldn’t a poor state like New Mexico use a few organizations dedicated to social welfare?

Sure, but, the Reporter got hold of a 12-page document outlining the purpose for Prosperity New Mexico. Its goals, according to this report, were taking back the Governor’s Office, “protecting” potentially vulnerable incumbent Democratic legislators, candidate recruitment, “rapid response” efforts, polling, focus group, direct mail, etc. Nothing wrong with that — if you’re the Democratic Party. But not a “social welfare organization.”

The “Organizational Structure” section of the document says, “New Mexico Prosperity will be structured as a 501(c)4 entity. This allows us to accept unlimited contributions with limited reporting obligations.”

Oh my.

“Once each election cycle formally begins, we will form a ‘Super PAC’ that will be used for all electoral activities,” the document continued. “We will still not be limited by contribution limits, but at that time, we will need to disclose all contributions received to the New Mexico Secretary of State.”

Another super-PAC. Just what we need for the social welfare of New Mexico.
When confronted by the Reporter about the overtly political nature of the group outlined by the document, Prosperity’s director, Jon Lipshutz — no, not Lovitz — had a quick reply for the Reporter: The nonprofit’s mission had changed sometime between that document was written (which was after the November election) and in mid-February, when the group registered with the Public Regulation Commission. That silly document with all that political stuff was just a “preliminary” document, Lipshutz said. The mission has changed.

I’d have loved to have heard that conversation: “You know guys, there’s something about all this polling and opposition research and protecting incumbents that just doesn’t seem right. Why don’t we just become a group that advocates for the common good and general welfare of the people of the community?”

Yeah, that’s the ticket!

But before the Republicans start their self-righteous dance, which they’re so good at, Prosperity New Mexico wouldn’t be the first 501(c)4, “social welfare organization” to be involved in politics in New Mexico. 

Just to name one, there’s Karl Rove’s American Crossroads, which ran several television commercials for GOP senatorial candidate Heather Wilson last year, is a 501(c)4.

I spoke to Lipshutz last week. He didn’t dispute anything in the other paper’s article. “We’re a 501(c)4, so we’ll certainly abide by regulations laid out by the IRS,” he said.

Asked about the apparent political nature of Prosperity, Lipshutz, who last year worked for the Democratic Legislative Campaign Committee until he started his new organization, said, “There are elected officials in New Mexico who want to prevent New Mexico from moving forward.” He said Prosperity’s goal is to focus on issues, inform the public and engage them to “work for change.”

Which still sounds a lot like trying to get voters to vote for the candidates you like and against the ones you don’t.

In this murky post-Citizens United political world, Prosperity is just one of untold numbers of nonprofits fuzzying up that fine line between issue advocacy and partisan politics. 

Something tells me it’s not going to get much better.

Friday, April 5, 2013

Obama Insults Gary King!

The president might have thought he was giving a compliment to California Attorney General Kamala Harris at a fundraiser this week:

“You have to be careful to, first of all, say she is brilliant and she is dedicated and she is tough, and she is exactly what you'd want in anybody who is administering the law, and making sure that everybody is getting a fair shake. She also happens to be by far the best-looking attorney general in the country..."

Oh, is that so?

What does that say about New Mexico's Gary King?

We await your apology, Mr. President.

Attorney General Gary King

(Thanks for bringing this to my attention, Inez)

Thursday, April 4, 2013

Martinez Signs Tax Bill

Gov. Susana Martinez -- to the surprise of absolutely nobody -- signed the big, last-second tax bill that will cut corporate taxes in the state and provide incentives for manufacturers.

According to Martinez's press release, House Bill 641l:

* Reduces the tax rate on businesses from 7.6% to a much more competitive level of 5.9%,bringing New Mexico below the national average and making us more competitive with our regional neighbors.

* Allows for a single sales factor option for manufacturers in New Mexico, making our state competitive with the 25 other states that already have the single sales factor. New Mexico was recently ranked first in the nation in export growth, and without a single sales factor, New Mexico would continue punishing exporting manufacturers for adding jobs and growing their facilities in our state.

* Includes a combined reporting provision to address tax fairness issues with large retailers, while also providing an incentive for these retailers to bring their non-retail operations to New Mexico, such as distribution centers, warehousing, back-office, and other functions.

* Includes film incentive legislation that preserves the predictability of the budget cap while providing additional incentives to longer-term TV productions that shoot in New Mexico.

* Fixes the high-wage tax credit and tightens the manufacturing gross receipts tax legislation to ensure they apply to the intended activities.

* Slowly phases out the hold harmless subsidy for cities and counties over 17+ years, including a two-year planning period – a very reasonable and prudent approach that differs greatly from the way it had been previously proposed.

Said the governor;“Republicans and Democrats came together and passed a game-changing jobs package that will level the playing field with our surrounding states and help New Mexico compete for new business, new investment, and new jobs.”

So everybody's happy, right?

Well, not exactly.

In a news release, Veronica Garcia, executive director of Voices for Children, said the bill "is bad for New Mexico. Giving tax breaks to corporations with no performance accountability attached to them will not serve the interests of New Mexico’s children and working families. These tax-cuts-for-jobs schemes are known to be ineffective at creating jobs and growing an economy that works for everyone.”

And Gerry Bradley, economist for Voices for Children, added,“What this bill does guarantee is that the state will have tens of millions of dollars less for education, public safety, and health care.

"Another provision in the bill will cost local governments $26 million by fiscal year 2017," Bradley said. "Cities and counties will be either be forced to pass the cost along to working families, or cut services like fire and police protection.”

So, the argument goes on. But the bill is now law.

I wrote a story about some of the bills still awaiting Martinez's signature before tomorrow's deadline. You can scratch this one off that list.

Monday, April 1, 2013

R.I.P. Odis Echols

The Associated Press is reporting that former state Sen. Odis Echols, Jr., a Clovis Democrat, has died at the age of 82.

Stolen from
Joe Monahan's blog
Echols served in the Senate from 1967 to 1976. He ran for governor in 1974, but lost to another senator, Jerry Apodaca, who went on to be elected governor.

Following his tenure in the Senate, Echols went on to become a lobbyist. During those years he was known for throwing large expensive parties -- in 1999 The New Mexican described that year's $40,0000 Echols shindig at Sweeney Center as "a musical and culinary extravaganza."

Some of his parties featured entertainers like the Kingston Trio, the Four Freshman and Johnny Wiessmuller, best known for playing Tarzan in the movies.

Echols had some show biz connections. He and his father, Odis "Pops" Echols were involved in radio and concert promotion in the Clovis area. The elder Echols helped found the influential Louisiana Hayride country music radio program and co-wrote the song "Sugartime." Here's a story from the Clovis News Journal about this side of the late senator.

I didn't know Echols well. Sometimes during his later years as a lobbyist we'd chat about music and radio.

But I remember the first time I became aware of him. I was at a Kris Kristofferson concert in Albuquerque in the spring of 1974. Apparently Echols had been backstage. At one point between songs in the show, Kristofferson came out and endorsed Echols for governor.

"After all this Watergate stuff, if you don't vote Democratic or liberal, you can drink my bathwater," Kristofferson said. (I never saw that on any campaign ads though.)

So long, Odis. This song's for you.

ROUNDHOUSE ROUNDUP: Final Report on Lobbyist Reports

A version of this was published in The Santa Fe New Mexican 
March 31, 2013

One of the things I do during a legislative session is write about all the money lobbyists spend for food, drinks, parties and presents for our citizen legislators.

As I’ve said before, I believe it’s the people’s right to know who’s buying the drinks for their elected representatives.

By law, lobbyists are required to report expenditures larger than $500 within 48 hours of the spending. Because of that $500 minimum figure, some social events for lawmakers don’t have to be reported. For instance, if several lobbyists split the tab and each one’s share comes out to less than $500, no public report is required.

Here’s a look at the most recent lobbyist expense reports filed with the Secretary of State’s Office.

The biggest single event in the final weeks of the session was the 100th Bill Party, which, officially, is hosted by the sponsors of the 100th bill introduced in the House and Senate, but in fact is paid for by various lobbyists. Legislators, staff and guests are invited.

Lobbyists who reported contributing to the shindig, held at the Santa Fe Community Convention Center on March 7, were Michael Miller — a lobbyist for several clients, including the city of Portales, Roosevelt County, Covenant Health System and Permian Basin Petroleum Association — who contributed $2,500; Anthony “T.J.” Trujillo, who gave $2,500 on behalf of his client, Biotechnology Industry Organization; and Josh Rosen, a lobbyist for Albuquerque Studios, who contributed $1,000 to the party.

On March 9, the Navajo Nation Gaming Enterprise held a legislative breakfast at Hotel Santa Fe for lawmakers and staff, costing the group $2,702.54. The breakfast was held one day after Gov. Susana Martinez announced that her office had reached an agreement with the Navajo Nation to amend the tribe’s gaming compact to allow five instead of the current two casinos and would have allowed the Navajos to collect a bigger share of their casino revenue. But even a nice breakfast couldn’t get the new compact approved in the final days of the session.

Lobbyist Larry Horan, on behalf of the city of Las Cruces, paid $2,500 for a catered lunch at the Capitol for House and Senate members and their staff.

On March 4, Floyd Archuleta, lobbyist for Portage Inc., an environmental engineering firm, paid $2,314 for dinner at the Rio Chama Steakhouse for lawmakers and the governor’s staff.

Sandy Buffett of Conservation Voters New Mexico reported spending $434 for dinner at The Compound on March 2 for Rep. Mimi Stewart, D-Albuquerque, and environmental advocates.

Going through the lobbyist reports last week, I spotted a couple of earlier events that I’d apparently missed when looking at the reports.

For instance, Jerry Walker of the Independent Community Bankers Association of New Mexico spent $2,290 for dinner for the House Judiciary Committee at Osteria D’assisi on Feb. 18. (As reported earlier, Walker also paid for dinner for the Senate Judiciary Committee at Rancho Encantado in January.)

Also, Ray Baca, a lobbyist for the New Mexico Building & Construction Trades Council, spent $612 for breakfast at Hotel St. Francis for House leaders on Feb. 21.

Besides having to report on wining and dining legislators during the session, lobbyists also have to report money spent on public relations and advertising campaigns. The latest batch of reports includes one from the Center for Civic Policy, which on March 4 spent $14,839 for radio ads trying to win support for House Bill 286, sponsored by Rep. Gail Chasey.

The bill, which ultimately didn’t pass, would have updated penalties — which haven’t changed in 78 years — for polluting water by the oil and gas industry. The organization previously spent $5,712 on mailers promoting the bill.

Previous stories on lobbyist expense reports for the 2013 session can be found HERE, HERE, HERE  and HERE.