Monday, July 29, 2013

More National Publicity for Susana

In case you're not one of the people who read People magazine, there's a story in the current issue about Gov. Susana Martinez taking care of her sister Lettie, who is developmentally disabled.

This comes about a week after another "soft" feature about the governor,  the Albuquerque Journal's sad story about Martinez losing her father as well as six pets in the past six months.

Is this just a coincidence, or is this someone's conscious effort to soften the gov's image?

I'll let others decide that. Below is the People story, sent to me by the Republican Governor's Association.

Also, Martinez is featured, along with Nevada Gov. Brian Sandoval in a story in Politico. This one is about how a couple of Hispanic, western governors aren't facing the same kind of Hispanic backlash over immigration issues as other Republicans.

Politico says, "Martinez has also tacked to the center on some key issues: After she took office, she opted not to cut education funding in the state and was, after Sandoval, one of the first GOP governors to accept the Medicaid expansion. Both decisions played well with voters. But she’s also built up her GOP credentials by working to turn the state’s deficit into a surplus and leading the successful push to lower state corporate income tax rates."

I'm sure state legislators might have  something to say about the deficit, since they have a pretty big role in crafting the budget.

And here's something that will really irk Gary King and Sen. Linda Lopez: "...neither Martinez nor Sandoval has a serious 2014 reelection challenger in sight."

Sunday, July 28, 2013

ROUNDHOUSE ROUNDUP: NSA Vote Jumbles Party Lines

A version of this was published in The Santa Fe New Mexican 
July 1, 2013

In this corner, Ben Ray Luján, Michelle Lujan Grisham and Steve Pearce. And in this corner, John Boehner, Michele Bachmann and Barack Obama …

I love an issue where the normal, predictable partisan lines are jumbled and strange bedfellows are the order of the day. And that’s exactly what happened with last week’s vote in the U.S. House of Representatives on a measure that would have defunded the National Security Agency’s domestic mass surveillance program.

All three members of New Mexico’s delegation — Democrats Luján and Lujan Grisham as well as Republican Pearce — voted in favor of an amendment to the Defense Department’s annual appropriations bill sponsored by Rep. Justin Amash, R-Mich., and co-sponsored by his Democratic home state colleague, Rep. John Conyers.

The amendment failed by only 12 votes. It got the support of 94 Republicans, which is a pretty major chunk of the House GOP and 111 Democrats, which was a majority of their caucus.

All of this is fairly amazing when you consider that the leadership of both parties, not to mention the White House, fought hard against it. All three New Mexicans can brag that they stood up to their party bosses.

In case you’ve been held hostage by space aliens for the past few weeks and missed all the news and commentary about the issue, the NSA has routinely over the past several years collected the daily phone records of millions of Americans. It’s “metadata” which means they’re not actually listening in on all these calls (or so they tell us), they’re just looking at who and where we’re calling.

One surprising aspect of the Amash Amendment vote is that none of this state’s congressional delegation — who normally are not shy about flooding reporters’ in-boxes with statements about their positions and votes on all sorts of issues big and small — sent news releases on this one.

So I contacted the press spokesmen for all three to get the reasons for their vote.

“I have long been opposed to the overly broad powers established by the Patriot Act,” Luján said. “This amendment would have prevented the widespread collection of information regarding the telephone calls of Americans here at home. This program raises serious concerns that the NSA has gone too far toward infringing upon the privacy of American citizens.”

Lujan Grisham said, “While Americans recognize that we must make some sacrifices in the interest of national security, the NSA’s broad surveillance practices go too far. We owe it to the American people to ensure that intelligence agencies have the tools they need to keep us safe without spying on law-abiding Americans.”

And Pearce said, “The Amash Amendment protected the rights, liberties and freedoms of each and every American by prohibiting the NSA and other agencies from blanket collection of every American’s information — while still providing the agencies with the ability to protect our nation from terrorists both foreign and domestic.”

His spokesman, Eric Layer, told me this doesn’t contradict Pearce’s support of the Patriot Act and other legislation dealing with counterterrorism surveillance. “This amendment would have gotten the Patriot Act back to its original purpose and limits,” he said.

By the time you’re reading this, I’m sure nearly all members of Congress have gone back to their regular corners and resumed their obligatory partisan head-bonking. But it’s heartening to know that there are some important issues that can throw a monkey wrench into business as usual.

Friday, July 26, 2013

New VA Clinic To Be Built in Santa Fe

U.S. Sen. Martin Heinrich and U.S. Rep. Ben Ray Lujan announced today that the U.S. Veterans Administration will build  a new outpatient clinic on the outskirts of Santa Fe.

The new 7,000-square-foot clinic will be located in the Las Soleras developent off Cerrillos Road near I-25. (That's the same area where the state government has been contemplating putting a new state office complex. That proposal has been on hold for several years.)

The new clinic will be twice the size of the current clinic on Brothers Road.

Heinrich and Lujan recently met with VA Under Secretary for Health Dr. Robert Petzel two weeks ago to discuss problems with clinics in Northern New Mexico. Those problems are outlined in the letter below. Complaints mentioned include quality of care, patient confidentiality, a limited range of services, accessibility issues for disabled veterans and "antiquated phone equipment" that makes it difficult to make appointments and take care of prescriptions.

Both Congress members expressed appreciation for the VA taking this action.

The contractor, Beckner Road Equities of Albuquerque, will begin a schedule for design and construction in August.

Thursday, July 25, 2013

Judge Denies Restraining Order for Behavioral Health Providers

Federal District Judge Christina Armijo has denied a petition from eight behavioral-health providers under investigation for possible fraud. The petition attempted to force the state Human Services Department to restore their Medicaid funding.

The department froze the funding for 15 providers last month after an outside audit reported possible fraud.

"The Court concludes that Plaintiffs' deprivation of property claim has no realistic likelihood of success on its merits," Armijo wrote.

Referring to the audit by the Boston-based Public Consulting Group that last month found evidence of over-billing and "credible allegations of fraud," Armijo wrote, "Plaintiffs' principal line of attack has been to attack the credibility of PCG based on the results of an audit PCG conducted for the State of North Carolina. [swt note: See my story on that HERE] Although this evidence would be fodder for cross examination at trial, it is insufficient to establish that PCG's New Mexico audit was unreliable."

Armijo noted "since the suspension of payments has not been shown to be wrongful, the consequences of the suspension are not legally cognizable harm."

The judge, however, expressed concern for the thousands of clients of the providers.

The providers' "clients include individuals with homicidal and suicidal ideation, children in foster care homes, and individuals dependent on psychotropic drugs," Armijo wrote. "Many of these clients have developed beneficial therapeutic relationships with Plaintiffs’ health care clinicians, who have not been accused of any wrongdoing by (Human Services). ... it is a concern of this Court that despite (Human Services') efforts to ensure continuity of care ... there could be a disruption of the delivery of critical mental health services in some instances. The Court is not insensitive to this outcome, but is constrained by the prevailing law and the credible allegations of fraud against Plaintiffs, all as explained above."

Below is a copy of Armijo's decision (Hat tip to New Mexico Watchdog whose Scribd link I'm using)

Marks Suspends AG Campaign

Former Public Regulation Commissioner Jason Marks, an Albuquerque Democrat, has suspended his exploratory committee for the attorney general because of difficulty in fundraising.

This leaves an open road for state auditor Hector Balderas in the Democratic primary.

So far no Republican has announced for the race, though many expect Clovis District Attorney, who lost to incumbent Gary King in 2010, to run again. King can't seek a third term and is instead running for governor.

Marks sent this letter to supporters today:

Dear Friends and Supporters: 

 When I began an exploratory campaign for Attorney General of the state of New Mexico in January, it was with great anticipation and determination.  We spoke with many friends and supporters.  The consensus was that I had a strong record to run on from my eight years as a PRC Commissioner, and the ability to garner support around the state based on that record and a platform emphasizing consumer protection, government accountability, and environmental protection.   While we understood from the beginning there would be serious competition, we very much believed we would ultimately win. 

These past six months have confirmed many of our positive expectations for the race.  I gained commitments of support from a large number of Democratic Party State Central Committee members (including approximately half of the members from Bernalillo County).   We were successful in garnering significant support outside of my Albuquerque-area PRC District, from Las Cruces to Taos.  Our activist, issues-based campaign generated positive feedback from both the grassroots and opinion leaders in the Party (and beyond).  We have a cadre of experienced volunteers ready to go to work across the state.  But we fell short of our goals for fundraising, which is unfortunately of critical importance in today’s political environment. 

After much consultation and consideration, it has become clear that the fundraising gap has put our campaign in a position where the prospects of winning are slim under most scenarios.  It would be unfair to my friends and supporters - and to my family -  to ask for continued commitments of time, money, and energy to the race under these circumstances.  So, with disappointment, I am suspending my campaign for Attorney General.

It has been my honor to serve the people of New Mexico, Bernalillo County and Albuquerque as a two-term PRC Commissioner.   Public service is a driving force in my life, and I remain dedicated to protecting the public and improving our state.  We are considering my political options and keeping all doors open.  I will stay in touch to let you know what develops.   

Thank you for your generous and kind support over the years.  It has truly meant the world to Maxine and me.

Wednesday, July 24, 2013

Fun With State Officials' Salaries

Did you know that Gov. Susana Martinez makes $28 more a year than the governor of South Dakota, but Lt. Gov. John Sanchez makes more than twice the salary of the lieutenant governor of Arkansas?

Neither did I until I stumbled upon this nifty document from the Council of State Governments, which lists the salaries of governors and other state officials from around the country.

New Mexico pays its governor $110,000 a year, which is on the low end of the scale. Only 10 states pay their governors lower salaries.

They are Arizona ($95;000); Arkansas ($86;890); Colorado ($90;000); Kansas ($99;636); Maine ($70;000); Montana ($108;167); Nebraska ($105;00); Oregon ($93;600); South Carolina ($106;078); South Dakota ($100;972); Utah ($109;470); and Wyoming ($105;000).

And currently Alabama is not paying Gov. Robert Bentley any salary. He has said he won't accept any pay until not accepting a salary (normally $120,000-plus)  until the unemployment rate in Alabama drops to 5.2 percent.

Governors in New Mexico make less than 17 lieutenant governors around the country. And more than half of the top fish and wildlife administrators in other states make more than the governor of New Mexico.

The highest paid governor is Pennsylvania's, who gets $187,256.

It's Official: This is a Second-Rate Blog

Please join me in a round of self-congratulations.

Thanks to the readers of The Santa Fe Reporter for voting Roundhouse Roundup: The Blog the second-place spot in the "Best Local Blog" category of the 2013 Best of Santa Fe contest.

In first place is Chasing Santa Fe, an arts blog and eating my dust in third place is something called New Mexico Politics with Joe Monahan.

This, I believe, is the first time any of blogs have placed in this contest since I split up my old blog into music and politics blogs. So, I appreciate it.

Sunday, July 21, 2013

ROUNDHOUSE ROUNDUP: Independent Source PAC Suddenly Fades

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

For the past couple of years, several times a week a group called Independent Source PAC has mercilessly pounded the administration of Gov. Susana Martinez on issues big and small.

Pumping out press releases, blog posts, a newsletter and “in-depth investigative reports,” the political action committee — led by former Gov. Bill Richardson’s former opposition research private detective Michael Corwin — made a big splash on New Mexico’s political landscape.

But that’s about to change. Independent Source PAC was great at digging the dirt, but not so good at raising funds. Corwin said last week that he has to earn a living. So the PAC, which was funded almost entirely by the Communications Workers of America union, will no longer be active.

“We operated for as long as we could, but like many organizations, you have to move onto other things when funding dries up,” he said in an email. “I have returned to case preparation for attorneys as a result.”

ISPAC actually was two political action committees, one state and one federal. Corwin said he’s already shut down the state PAC but has to keep its federal counterpart open because of a still-open Federal Election Commission complaint by the state Republican Party.

My main dealing with ISPAC was last year’s revelation that top members of the Martinez administration were using private emails to communicate with each other about state business.

Corwin — who never objected to being named as a source — personally handed me the email from the Public Education Department spokesman who had compiled a list of non-union teachers for Martinez’s political consultant Jay McCleskey.

A deluge of other administration emails — sent to and from private email — would follow. Months later, a federal grand jury indicted Jamie Estrada, who had worked briefly as Martinez’s campaign manager, on charges of hijacking the emails. That case is pending in federal court. Though email correspondence with one ISPAC official showed up up in the FBI investigation of Estrada, nobody from Corwin's PAC was charged in the case.

Martinez ordered an end to the the practice of using private emails for state business after it was revealed by the press.

Independent Source PAC was one of the loudest voices blasting the administration for the way the 25-year lease on the State Fair Race track was handled.

Independent Source PAC’s website will remain up. “We will continue to post occasional pieces as the opportunity arises,” Corwin said.

The rest of my column this week also included a slightly rewritten version of this blog post about Gov. Martinez being on Citizens for Responsibility and Ethics in Washington's "worst governors list

Friday, July 19, 2013

SF Behavioral-Health Provider Gives 30-Day Notice

TeamBuilders, one of 15 behavioral-health companies whose Medicaid funding was frozen by the state Human Services Department after an audit last month, has informed the department and its own staff that it will be terminating its contract in 30 days and discontinuing its services to Medicaid clients.

In a memo to all of its staff, company executives Shannon and Lorraine Freedle wrote:

It is with overwhelming sadness that we must inform you that the TeamBuilders Governing Board met last night to discuss the situation and due to the unexpected complete cut off of funding, under their direction we have today provided 30 day notice of breach and 30 day notice of termination to HSD and United Healthcare/OptumHealth New Mexico, the State’s behavioral health single payer. We have again asked for immediate assistance in transitioning all of you and those you care for to new management so that the vital services we provide will not be interrupted.

Around the state, some of the other providers whose funding was suspended have begun furloughing employees or stopping services.

Last month's audit by a Boston company claims to have found credible evidence of fraud for the 15 providers whose funding was suspended. The report has been handed over to the Attorney General's Officer for possible criminal charges.

The state is in the process of contracting with five providers in Arizona to take over for the companies whose funding was suspended.

Thursday, July 18, 2013

Background Docs for Behavioral Health Contoversy

Below are a couple of documents related to State Auditor Hector Balderas' subpoena of the Human Service Department's outside audit that found alleged "credible allegations of fraud" against 15 behavioral-health providers. (See my story HERE or HERE)

First there's the letter from Sen. Benny Shendo, D-Jemez Pueblo and Rep. Stephen Easley, D-Santa Fe, the leaders of an interim legislative behavioral-health subcommittee, to Balderas asking his office to audit that special audit.

There are many questions they want answered including the methodology used by Public Consulting Group, the Boston firm that performed the special audit; the role of OptumHealth, the company in charge of overseeing the behavioral health providers; and how the five Arizona companies — with which the state is contracting to take up the slack of the providers under investigation — were chosen.  

Below that letter is the state auditor's letter requesting the subpoena but correspondence between
Balderas' office and Human Services Secretary Sidonie Squier.

Meanwhile. Human Services spokesman Matt Kennicott has been posting documents too. The news release on Squier testifying before the Legislative Finance Committee yesterday is HERE and what he calls the "real story" about Public Consultant Group is HERE. In it, the company declares "PCG’s auditing experience in North Carolina has been mis-characterized in the media."

I wish the companywould have gotten back to me last week when I was writing my real story about PCG's experience in North Carolina.

Wednesday, July 17, 2013

Balderas Subpoenas Squier for Behavioral Health Audit

State Human Services Secretary Sidonie Squier has refused to give State Auditor Hector Balderas a copy of the special audit that found evidence of alleged overcharging and possible fraud on the part of 15 behavioral-health providers.

But on Tuesday Balderas got a state district judge to subpoena the audit.

Meanwhile, on Wednesday a federal judge in Albuquerque heard arguments by lawyers for Human Services and eight of the providers whose Medicaid funding was frozen because of the special audit. The eight firms are seeking an injunction to force Human Services to resume the payments. However federal District Judge Christina Armijo took no action on the request.

“It is necessary that my auditors fully review the report issued by Public Consulting Group, Inc. in order to assess the risks to public funds and the potential impact on the Human Services Department’s financial affairs,” Balderas said in a written statement. “I formally requested the report from Secretary Squier pursuant to state law, but unfortunately the Department refused to comply with my lawful request. I am disappointed that I have been forced to take legal action to prevent the obstruction of a thorough audit of these taxpayer dollars.”

Public Consulting Group, a Boston company, was paid more than $3 million to audit the providers.

In a July 11 letter to Squier, James Noel, lawyer for the State Auditor’s Office, said that the State Audit Act requires his office to “thoroughly examine and audit the financial affairs of every state agency.”

Noting that Human Services has said the special audit showed credible evidence of fraud, Noel said the department is required to “report immediately, in writing, to the state auditor any violation of a criminal statute in connection with financial affairs.”

Squier on July 12 responded in a letter to Balderas saying she was declining to release the audit to him.

“At this time no determination has been made that any individual or entity violated federal or state criminal statue, nor does (Human Services) have the authority to make such a determination.

Of the federal laws and regulations that require the department to turn “credible evidence of fraud” over to the state attorney general for investigation, Squier said “Such a referral is not a finding of fraud by this agency.” She said she had to decline Balderas’ request because it could jeopardize the attorney general’s investigation.

State District Judge Sarah Singleton on Tuesday signed a subpoena requiring Squier to permit the state auditor to inspect the Public Consulting Group audit at 10 a.m. July 22.

Department spokesman Matt Kennicott said Wednesday that Squier and department lawyers will have to look over the subpoena before deciding on their course of action.

Earlier in the week Rep. Stephen Easley, D-Santa Fe and Sen. Benny Shendo, D-Jemez Pueblo, who chair a legislative subcommittee on behavioral health, delivered a five-page letter to Balderas requesting his office examine the Public Consulting Group audit.

The letter raised issues including the role of OptumHealth, the company in charge of overseeing the behavioral health providers, and how the five Arizona companies — with which the state is contracting to take up the slack of the providers under investigation — were chosen.

Susana on "Worst Govs" List, GOP Says "Partisanship"

The Washington, D.C. group known as Citizens for Responsibility and Ethics in Washington today named New Mexico Gov. Susana Martinez as one of the "worst governors" in the U.S.

But Republicans critics cry "partisanship" and point out that the overwhelming majority of CREW's targets -- this year and in the past -- are Republicans.

The report blasts Martinez for her administration using private emails to communicate about state matters (a practice she ordered to end last year after it was revealed by the press) and for allegations that the Downs at Albuquerque contract was awarded improperly.

Martinez isn't the first New Mexico governor to make this list. In 2010, Gov. Bill Richardson was there.

Going back in history, CREW listed New Mexico's Republican U.S. Reps. Heather Wilson and Steve Pearce, as well as U.S. Sen. Pete Domenici, among the 22 "most corrupt" members of Congress. Wilson and Domenici were there for their roles in the U.S. attorney scandal, specifically for calling then-U.S. Attorney David Iglesias about the corruption investigation into former state Sen. Manny Aragon. Pearce was included for financial dealings. All three denied wrongdoing.

On this year's "Worst Governors" list, there are only two Democrats -- New York Gov. Andrew Cuomo and Kentucky Gov. Steven Beshear -- and 16 Republicans.

Former Martinez spokesman Greg Blair tweeted this morning that CREW is "a blatantly partisan (organization) using low hanging (Democrat)fruit as cover to attack GOP. Always has been their (modus operandi), always will be."

Adam Feldman, former executive director of the state GOP tweeted, "They attack every prominent or swing-race GOP (governor)."

I haven't heard back yet from Martinez's current spokesman. I'll add his comments when I do,

Tuesday, July 16, 2013

Gov Defends Provider Funding Suspensions

Gov. Susana Martinez this afternoon defended her Human Services Department's suspending Medicaid funding last month for 15 behavioral-health providers and insisted that low-income clients of the providers wouldn't go without services.

Referring to the $36 million that a Boston auditing firm said was overpaid to the providers, Martinez said, "...that is a big figure. And if there is fraud, if there is waste, if there is mismanagement, then we need to make sure we take care of it. But we're also taking care of the client at the same time and not leaving them without the services while the attorney general decides what to do next."

The move to defund the providers has been criticized by some legislators as well as the president of the National Council for Behavioral health, who called it a "witch hunt."

The Human Services Department handed the audit by Public Consulting Group over to the state attorney general for possible criminal prosecution.

The audit is the subject of a lawsuit filed by eight of the providers. A hearing in that case is scheduled for Wednesday.

The state is in the process of contracting with five behavioral-health companies from Arizona. at a cost of up to $17.8 million, to fill in for the companies under investigation.

I asked Martinez why all those companies come from Arizona. She said, "They've done this before. They've been able to pick up services when there have been problems in other states. where there have been other allegations of fraud or misuse or mismanagement. ... So they have that history and certainly the proximity (of Arizona to New Mexico) is a benefit. And we want to make sure those patients have quick access."

Here's a video of the governor's conversation with reporters courtesy of Rob Nikolewski at New Mexico Watchdog.


Sunday, July 14, 2013

Feds: NM Human Services Acted Within Federal Regs

A little earlier tonight, state Human Services Department spokesman Matt Kennicott forwarded an email to me (and I assume others) from the director of media relations at the federal Centers for Medicare and Medicaid Services. The message is an apparent response to an inquiry on whether Human Services was in compliance with federal regulations when they suspended payments to 15 behavioral health providers last month.

The email, from Brian Cook of CMS said:

"Based on information currently available, CMS believes HSD acted in accordance with federal regulation and CMS guidance in imposing the temporary payment suspension."

I probably wouldn't get very far trying to follow this up on a Sunday night. But I'll look more into this on Monday.

Meanwhile, my story in today's New Mexican about the company that conducted the audit that led to suspending the payments can be found HERE. 

ROUNDHOUSE ROUNDUP: Cargo: Both Sides Loved Him, Both Sides Felt His Barbs

It’s no secret that the late Gov. David F. Cargo, a lifelong Republican, strongly believed that the modern GOP had drifted way too far to the right.

“The Republicans have gone far enough to the right, they’re going to fall off the cliff,” he told me back in 2004.

A few years ago, Cargo told me about a conversation he said he’d recently had with a state Republican leader. “The problem with you, Cargo, is that you’re a socialist,” his way-more conservative friend told him.

To which Cargo, according to the story, shot back, “Well, the problem with you is that you’re a National Socialist.”

But just because he loved to tweak his own party didn’t mean Cargo was in love with the Democratic Party.

Bill Richardson, who soundly defeated Cargo in the 1986 congressional race, had been governor of New Mexico for less than a week in 2003 when Cargo lodged one of the first pay-to-play accusations against him.

Cargo had applied for a position on a commission overseeing the Cumbres & Toltec Scenic Railroad. Despite being active in trying to save the 64-mile narrow-gauge railroad, he didn’t get the appointment.

“Brian Condit told me that I wasn’t being chosen because I hadn’t contributed to the campaign,” Cargo told me. “He’ll deny it, of course, but that’s what he told me.”

Cargo’s prediction came true. Condit, at the time Richardson’s legislative liaison, indeed denied Cargo’s charge, saying he hadn’t even talked to the ex-governor in several weeks. Condit said it was hard to appoint Cargo after he’d “slammed” Richardson on TV after a debate.

Later, however, Richardson did appoint Cargo to a couple of boards, so the rift didn’t last very long.

Fishing for redemption: Cargo went fishing while a riot exploded at The University of New Mexico. That wasn’t exactly true, but that story broke just weeks before Cargo lost a Republican Senate primary to Anderson Carter in 1970. Cargo never again would win a political race.

Back in 2000, I did a 30-year anniversary story on the UNM riot, interviewing various people involved, including Cargo and one of the people who was stabbed by the National Guard during the incident.

Cargo was going to be host to a Republican governors conference in Santa Fe in early May 1970. However, after the May 4 Kent State killings, campuses around the United States became battlefields. One by one, the governors who had planned to attend canceled. Cargo announced the conference was canceled.

He was friends with ABC newsman Bill Lawrence, who had come to Santa Fe for the governor’s conference. Lawrence, Cargo said, persuaded him to go fishing with him and Mike Wallace in Chama. However, before they arrived, Lawrence began having chest pains. “We turned around and took Bill back to St. Vincent Hospital,” Cargo said.

Meanwhile, all hell was breaking loose at UNM. The New Mexico National Guard — called in to help state police clear the Student Union Building, which had been occupied for several days by demonstrators protesting the invasion of Cambodia — used bayonets on protesters, journalists and bystanders.

When local reporters called for Cargo that day, a press aide said he’d gone fishing. Thus began the charge that Cargo was fishing while the UNM campus ran with blood.

“I caught it from both sides,” Cargo said in 2000. “The country was so divided, left and right. There weren’t very many of us in the middle.”

Though Cargo was vilified by some, one of the UNM stabbing victims years later said Cargo actually was something of a hero.

“There’s no doubt in my mind that Cargo saved lives,” John Dressman of Santa Fe said in 2000. “We named him in the lawsuit at first, but then, during depositions, we learned that Cargo had ordered [National Guard Gen. John Jolly] not to have bullets with them when they came to campus. So we dropped him from the suit. It had only been four days, but Cargo had learned the lesson of Kent State.”

BLOG BONUS: Here's a tribute video created by Las Vegas musician Jim Terr

Friday, July 12, 2013

Congresswoman Re-united with Runaway Dog

Normally, I wouldn't describe any press release from a Congressional office as heart-warming.

But one I received earlier this afternoon truly was.

U.S. Rep. Michelle Lujan Grisham has been reunited with her dog Kiwi, who had been missing for 13 months. Kiwi, a Shih Tzu mix, turned up at the VCA Veterinary Care Animal Hospital and Referral Center in Albuquerque.

“Words cannot express how thrilled I am to have Kiwi home,” Lujan Grisham said. “I love her unconditionally and have welcomed her back with no questions asked. I’m not sure why she left, but as far as I’m concerned, that's water under the bridge now. What matters is that Kiwi is home.”

According to the release, Kiwi ran away on June 9, 2012 after being frightened by a hot air balloon.

"Lujan Grisham, her two daughters, her friends and the community feverishly searched for the dog – they posted flyers, put a notice on Craigslist, canvassed door-to-door, sent out robo-calls and visited the city pet shelter daily. Lujan Grisham even worked to streamline the local system for finding lost pets, hoping to help others facing similar losses. Despite everyone’s best efforts, Kiwi remained on the lam.

"Kiwi serendipitously entered Lujan Grisham’s life on a rainy day in 2004, just a few months after Lujan Grisham’s husband, Gregory, suddenly passed away from a ruptured cerebral aneurysm. As Lujan Grisham opened her car door after parking in her driveway, the adorable pup jumped into her lap and into her heart. Kiwi’s presence helped Lujan Grisham cope with the loss of her husband, and Kiwi quickly became a member of the family."

Now isn't your heart warmed too?

Wednesday, July 10, 2013

Racetrack Deal Will Be Issue in Dem Governor Primary

At least one potential challenger to Gov. Susana Martinez is making the controversy over the Downs at Albuquerque an issue in the campaign.

Sen. Linda Lopez, D-Albuquerque, released a statement Wednesday evening that said:

Sen. Linda Lopez
“A dark cloud hangs low over the grand opening of the Downs at Albuquerque. ... Individuals close to the governor have been questioned by the FBI regarding the billion dollar contract pushed through by the governor’s men, and which largely benefits a small group of individuals who made massive political contributions to the governor’s campaign and political action committees. 

It is long past the time for the governor to disclose to the public the role the governor’s men played in awarding the contract.  This includes her Political Director Jay McCleskey, Former National Republican Committeeman Pat Rogers, Downs at Albuquerque Manager Darren White, Downs at Albuquerque Principal Paul Blanchard, State Fair Commission Chairman Larry Kennedy, State Fair Manager Dan Mourning and the Governor’s husband, Chuck Franco.  

“Additionally, I am calling on the Governor to release all documents, including e-mails from her private e-mail account, that pertain to the awarding of the contract.  Gov. Martinez ran for office promising transparency and an end to political favoritism and corruption.  With the awarding of the contract, the Governor continues the secretiveness and behind-closed-doors dealing she so adamantly condemned while running for office.” 

Martinez and many of the others named in Lopez's statement have long maintained that there was no wrongdoing in awarding the 25-year contract to operate the racetrack and casino at the State Fairgrounds.

Andrea Goff, a former finance director of Martinez's 2010 campaign and the governor's political action committee, SusanaPAC said in June that she had been interviewed by the FBI about the Downs deal. A lawyer for Martinez's former Personal assistant Anissa Galassini Ford, who was investigated (but not charged) in the case of the governor's hijacked emails, told the Albuquerque Journal that she also was questioned by the FBI about the Downs.

However, a spokesman for Martinez has said that nobody in the administration has been interviewed by the FBI concerning the Downs contract.

With Lopez going on the attack, however, the issue will be getting some discussion as the campaign unfolds.

Another Funny Cargo Story

A lot of people have expressed a lot of love for  the late former Gov. David F. Cargo since he died last week.

But my former colleague David Roybal just shared a story with me about a contemporary of Cargo's wasn't that fond of him -- at least one day in the heat of a legislative session 40 some years ago.

You think there's tensions between Gov. Susana Martinez and Lt. Gov. John Sanchez? According to  former secretary of Public Safety and longtime state police officer Richard CdeBaca -- who is the subject of Roybal's new book --  Cargo’s lieutenant governor demanded that state police provide him with round-the-clock police protection as well as a restraining order against Cargo.

This came following a vote on controversial liquor reform legislation that , the late Lt. Gov. E. Lee Francis helped kill contrary to Cargo’s wishes.

Roybal quotes from CdeBaca's notes:

“One morning … I got paged to report to Lt Gov. E. Lee Francis’s office. He was livid and told me that he wanted to get a restraining order on Gov. Cargo. When I asked him why he wanted to do that, he told me in a straight face, ‘Because the (SOB) threatened me and I don’t appreciate it.’ I didn't know what to say so I told him, ‘I’m sure whatever Gov. Cargo said, he didn't mean it,’ and the lieutenant governor replied, ‘The hell he didn't.’ He added, ‘I demand full State Police security around the clock.’”

CdeBaca wrote that he informed then-Chief Joe Black of the conversation with Francis and that Black “had a good laugh.”

“He told me that he would call the lieutenant governor and address his concerns,” CdeBaca wrote.

CdeBaca told Roybal that he suspected Black took it upon himself to calm Francis down and that he doubted Black found it necessary to inform Cargo of the situation.

Indeed, that apparently is what occurred. “I never heard about the incident,” Cargo told Roybal. “I got after Lee when he cast the tie-breaking vote on a bill to change the old pricing system on liquor. I talked to him about the measure before he went down to the Senate chamber. When the vote came up, it was a tie and Lee voted against the bill to break the tie. He told me later, ‘That’s the most popular thing I ever did. I was getting congratulations from (liquor lobbyist) Pancho Padilla and liquor dealers and on and on.’”

“I said, ‘Listen, Mr. Lieutenant Governor, tomorrow you’re going to get words that aren't quite along that line and they’re going to come from the Albuquerque Journal and The Santa Fe New Mexican.”

Here's a link to Roybal's book'  Chief of Police, The Career of Richard CdeBaca During Extraordinary Times in New Mexico, 1956-1994.

Monday, July 8, 2013

Cargo to Lie in State at Capitol Thursday

Former Gov. David Cargo, who died last week, will lie in state in the Rotunda of the state Capitol on Thursday, July 11, before he is laid to rest in Santa Fe.

Albuquerque City Councilor Janice Arnold-Jones, a friend of Cargo and his family, said Cargo’s body will be at the Roundhouse beginning at 10 a.m.. A memorial service in the Rotunda will begin at 4 p.m.

Cargo served as governor between 1967 and 1970 and previously he served two terms in the state House of Representatives.

A Mass of Christian Burial for the former governor will be celebrated Friday, July 12, 2013, 10 a.m., at Cathedral Basilica of St. Francis of Assisi, 131 Cathedral Place. Cargo will be laid to rest in Santa Fe National Cemetery following the services.

The Cargo family asks that memorial contributions be made to the New Mexico Library Foundation, P.O. Box 30572, Albuquerque, NM 87109-0572 or to “Friends of” your local library.

There is an online guest book for Cargo HERE.

In the meantime, here's a 2010 interview with Cargo by Lorene Mills. This was around the time his autobiography Lonesome Dave was published. (Sorry, I can't figure out how to embed the video.)

4th Floor Shut Down Due to Suspicious Envelope

After someone in Gov. Susana Martinez’s office opened what was described as a “suspicious envelope,” state police on Monday closed the fourth floor of the state Capitol.

The Santa Fe Hazardous Material Team was called to investigate the situation, John Yeager of the Legislative Council Service said.

Yeager said “something fell out” of the envelope after it was opened, but added that he didn’t know if the substance was a powder.

He said he didn’t know whether the governor was in the office when the envelope was opened.

UPDATE 4:50 pm I just got this statement from the governor's spokesman:

Our front office staff was processing and sorting incoming mail this afternoon.  Shortly after 3pm, a white powdery substance came out of one of the envelopes. Staff immediately isolated themselves, then called the
Department of Public Safety and State Homeland Security Department for directions on how to respond.

Santa Fe Fire Department Hazmat is on the scene.

A second suspicious piece of mail has also been identified.  This case has been adopted by the FBI, and any further inquiries should be directed to them, or the NM Department of Public Safety.

UPDATE: 5:59 pm Assistant Santa Fe Fire Chief Jan Snyder just told reporters that tests determined that the powder wasn't toxic. The envelopes have been sent tot the FBI for further eavaluation.

Sunday, July 7, 2013

ROUNDHOUSE ROUNDUP: Fizzled Fireworks at the Roundhouse

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

Here’s a heartwarming little tale this Fourth of July weekend that might give you just a little more faith in this Land of the Free and Home of the Brave.

One cynical truism that haunts the American political landscape is that our government officials at all levels basically are for sale. Powerful lobbies get their way and stop good legislation simply by flashing campaign contributions in front of Congress members, state legislators or whoever.

That might be true in some cases. But here in New Mexico, I’ve found one case where that doesn’t seem to apply.

And what more appropriate issue to provide that example than fireworks restrictions.

Remember back in the summer of 2011, when Gov. Susana Martinez called for a bill that would give the governor the legal authority to impose a ban on all fireworks in the state? Her plea was sparked (sorry!) by major forest fires in the state that summer, especially the Las Conchas Fire near Los Alamos. (Fireworks wasn’t the cause of that fire or any of this year’s forest fires.)

I reported at the time that the last major fireworks legislation in New Mexico had been passed in the late 1990s. The law was changed then to allow cities to ban “aerial” fireworks such as bottle rockets and Roman candles, as well as “audibles” (loud firecrackers).

Dede Feldman, who at that time was still a state senator, told me then how she had introduced a bill in 2004 that would have given the governor the power to ban fireworks in emergency drought conditions. Although the state fire marshal testified in favor of the bill and Feldman said “every firefighter in the state was for it,” the bill didn’t even make it out of Feldman’s own Public Affairs Committee.

Yes, owners of fireworks stands around the state as well as fireworks manufacturers testified against the bill and lobbied hard against it.
But one factor that that didn’t come into play was contributions from the fireworks industry.

In fact, according to records available at the website operated by the Institute on Money in State Politics, as of 2011, New Mexico’s largest fireworks company, American Promotional Events — which does business in the state as TNT Fireworks — dropped just over $42,000 in campaign contributions on our politicians in the previous 10 years. That might seem like a big chunk of money for most of us, but keep in mind, it amounted to just a little more than $4,000 a year spread out among dozens of state officials.

In the 2012 Legislature, there was indeed a fireworks bill that the governor backed. It had bipartisan support, with Feldman, D-Albuquerque, as the main sponsor and Rep. Nate Gentry, R-Albuquerque, prepared to carry it in the House. But it didn’t make it to the House. It was killed by the Senate Corporations Committee.

Campaign contributions for the 2012 cycle from TNT and affiliated companies were up compared to previous years — $7,500 from the company. (And checking last week, there’s no records of any contributions since.)

Records show that two of the six senators on the committee who voted to table the bill — Sen. Phil Griego, D-San Jose, and Sen. Bill Sharer, R-Farmington — received $500 contributions from American Promotional Events. Another who voted to table, Sen. George Muñoz, D-Gallup, received a $250 contribution.

But another senator who received a $500 contribution from the company, David Ulibarri, D-Grants, (later defeated for re-election) voted against tabling the fireworks bill.

Griego last year laughed at the idea that the contribution affected his vote. “Five hundred dollars? Give me a break. Five hundred dollars isn’t going to change my vote on anything.”

I believe him. However you feel about fireworks legislation and whether Griego’s committee made the correct choice in stopping that bill, the campaign contributions made by the fireworks lobby is bird feed compared with the big cash bucks routinely dropped by other sectors like oil and gas, real estate, pharmaceuticals and public sector unions in recent years.

God bless you, and God bless the United States of America.

Friday, July 5, 2013

R.I.P. Former Gov. Cargo

David F. Cargo, who was governor of New Mexico from Jan. 1967 until the end of 1970, is dead.

Longtime friend and Albuquerque City Council Janice Arnold-Jones said Cargo died this morning at 5:15 a.m. He was 84.

Cargo, a Republican, was known as a moderate, or sometimes even a progressive Republican. He often was at odds with his own party, which helped earn him the nickname, “Lonesome Dave.”

Cargo for several months had been living in an Albuquerque nursing facility following a stroke.

Arnold-Jones frequently visited him in the home. "He was so frustrated," she said. "His brain was going 90 miles a minute but his body would not cooperate.

Services for Cargo are pending, she said.

More in tomorrow's New Mexican.

My review of Gov. Cargo's 2012 autobiography can be found HERE

UPDATE: The time of Cargo's death has been corrected.

Gov. Susana Martinez with Gov. Cargo in 2011

Tuesday, July 2, 2013

Martinez Near Last in Job Creation

A national business publication has ranked Gov. Susana Martinez next to last among governors in terms of job creation.

The Business Journals -- the online media division of American City Business Journals, which consists of 40 weekly print papers around the country specializing in business news -- published what they call an  On Numbers report last week.

Martinez's page is HERE.

Report author G. Scott Thomas cautions, "Experts can (and do) argue about the the ability of any governor to manipulate a state's economy. Many are downright skeptical. Economist Justin Wolfers, for instance has written that governors often benefit from lucky breaks such as the energy boom that is driving the current growth in North Dakota and Texas."

North Dakota Gov. Jack Dalrymple was ranked number one in the job-creation report, while Texas Gov. Rick Perry was number two. (Both are Republicans,)

"But the On Numbers study reflects a basic fact of political life," Thomas said. "Governors routinely take credit for economic growth (regardless of their actual level of involvement) and are equally certain to be blamed for economic decline."

The five governors who took office this year aren't rated, Thomas explained. The overall rankings were based on the difference in private-sector employment growth rates.

UPDATE: 4:45 pm Here's the response from the Governor's Office:

For too long, New Mexico's economy has been far too dependent on federal spending. This is why Gov. Martinez is determined to diversify our economy.  Gov. Martinez took office during a period of financial turmoil. In her first legislative session, she showed job creators that we could balance the budget with no tax increases and without doing it on their backs.  For her second session she reformed the gross receipts tax by eliminating the double taxation on our construction and manufacturing industries.  And in her third and most recent session, we successfully enacted game-changing tax reform to make New Mexico more competitive with our neighbors.   

Unemployment remains below national average, we’ve seen unprecedented border development, and are now first in the nation in export growth, up from 38th.  

We face challenging times as we recover from the national recession, with federal budget cuts making recovery even more difficult.  ... we’ve sustained a steady loss of federal government jobs, at the rate of at nearly 4 percent  monthly. At the same time, we’ve experienced flat or incremental private sector job growth, which is remarkable given that in New Mexico so much of our private sector is tied to federal spending.   

Gov. Martinez is dedicated to creating jobs in New Mexico and will continue working with the Legislature to strengthen our state’s economy.