Sunday, September 29, 2013


It's vacation time for Roundhouse Roundup.

I'm off for two weeks, so unless something REALLY BIG happens -- or if I happen to catch any New Mexico politician getting arrested for drunk and disorderly on Bourbon Street next week -- this blog won't be updated for a couple of weeks. And there won't be any Roundhouse Roundup columns in The New Mexican during my break (though I do have one interesting story in the can so keep checking the paper.)

For you political junkies who also are music fans, check my music blog next week for coverage of The Ponderosa Stomp festival in New Orleans.

See you in October!

ROUNDHOUSE ROUNDUP: My Prediction for the House District 50 Seat

A version of this was published in The Santa Fe New Mexican 
Sept. 29, 2013

At a Monday forum sponsored by the Santa Fe County Democratic Party, voters can get their first look at the people who have applied with the county to be appointed to the District 50 state House seat held by the late Stephen Easley of Eldorado.

That number keeps changing, but candidates from both parties will attend, county Democratic Party Chairman Richard Ellenberg said.

However, my instincts tell me that while one of these applicants, obviously, will get the nomination from the Santa Fe County Commission, none will be the next state representative. In fact, this entire process probably is just the first step to see who will run for the seat in the 2014 election.

Let me explain:

Leroy Candelaria
The sprawling District 50 includes parts of four counties: Santa Fe, Bernalillo, Torrance and Valencia. As per the state constitution, the county commissions in each county will make nominations for the appointment by the governor.

Torrance County last week nominated its own County Commission Chairman LeRoy Candelaria. He’s a Republican.

The Santa Fe and Bernalillo county commissions are controlled by Democrats, while the governing bodies of Torrance and Valencia are controlled by Republicans.

Vicki Perea
Valencia County already has nominated Vicki Perea, a former Albuquerque City Councilor who is a Republican. Perea ran for state Senate last year, but lost to Democrat Clemente Sanchez. She also ran for secretary of state in 2008, losing to Democrat Mary Herrera.

Gov. Susana Martinez — in case you haven’t heard — is a Republican. Although she’s shown she doesn’t always appoint members of her own party, with a closely divided House — currently it’s 37-32 — it’s hard to imagine Martinez going with a Dem. I’d have to predict that Martinez is likely to go with Perea or Candelaria.

Yes, it’s possible that the Santa Fe County Commission could choose one of the Republicans who applied, Billy Peterson, Richard Rogers or Debbie Ortiz.

But I wouldn’t count on it. Just like I expect the governor to appoint someone from her own party, I expect the commission to nominate someone from their own party.

If I’m right, however, and Martinez appoints Perea or Candelaria, any of the applicants serious about a career in the Legislature should start gearing up for 2014.

In District 50, Democrats outnumber Republicans by about 46 percent to 33 percent in voter registration as of July 31, according to the Secretary of State’s Office. Easley in 2012 won the seat with nearly 56 percent of the vote. And more than half the votes cast in the district came from Santa Fe County.

The applicants: None of the candidates has ever run for public office before — except filmmaker Cynthia Lukas, who was on the Scottsdale, Ariz., City Council a decade ago. Lukas will not be at the forum because her mother is ill.

The other candidates are Ann Jenkins, a former board member of the Vista Grande Library in Eldorado; Dr. Ann McCampbell, a medical consultant specializing in chemical sensitivity and other environmentally related illnesses; Matthew McQueen, a lawyer and former member of the Santa Fe River Commission and the County Open Land and Trails Planning and Advisory Committee; Peterson, who owns a local frame business; Rogers, a lawyer and executive editor of Santa Fe Monthly, a free-distribution paper; and Ortiz, with the Chamber of Commerce in Edgewood.

Pam Cordova of Valencia County, who originally had applied, has since taken her name out of consideration.

The forum is planned for 6:30 p.m. Monday at the Performance Space at La Tienda, 7 Caliente Road, Eldorado. State Sen. Peter Wirth will moderate.

Thursday, September 26, 2013

The Hunger Games

Move over, Hanna Skandera, it looks like Human Services Secretary Sidonie Squier has replaced you -- at least for now -- as the biggest lightning rod in Gov. Susana Martinez's administration. That's been cemented by Squier's recent email to other administration officials.

It was a response to a draft report by a state hunger task force in which Squier said:

“Since there has never been and is not now any significant evidence of hunger in New Mexico, I would offer that the focus of the report should be on getting proper nutrition for children (and adults).  The idea—which is the easy way out—that we should expand every government food program in existence is not productive, especially if the issue is nutrition and not hunger.  Please consider.”

The New Mexican's story about this is HERE.

Squier's statement, of course directly contradicted the Feeding America report just a few months ago that ranked New Mexico number one in the nation in terms of food insecurity for children.

Squier, once her email made the news, backtracked and said her statement had been "poorly worded" and of course there is hunger in New Mexico.

Gov. Susana Martinez also said Squier's email had been "poorly worded" and in an email listed some ways the administration has tried to fight hunger. Here's Martinez's complete statement:

The governor agrees that Secretary Squier’s e-mail was worded very poorly and inarticulately. Of course there are children who are hungry in New Mexico.  The Governor knows that, and Secretary Squier shares her opinion that there is no excuse for a child in New Mexico to ever be hungry.  

And while we have many struggles, there are many things the governor and her Administration are doing to help close the hunger gap in New Mexico.  

In her first few months in office, she signed into law the Breakfast After the Bell Program, which mandates that schools with 85% or more students who qualify for free and reduced meals must serve breakfast to all students after the bell rings, because we have recognized that students need a meal in the morning to be ready to learn all day.   (As a result, in 2012 the Food Research and Action Center (FRAC) named New Mexico first in the nation for serving breakfast to low-income children; and we were the first state to reach FRAC’s goal to serve at least 70 out of every 100 low-income students breakfast.)  

The Governor organized a Hunger Task Force, which has been meeting over the last year to come up with recommendations on how we can address gaps in our food services, become more efficient in our programs, and market the programs to people who currently are not receiving them.   

This year, we increased the number of summer meal sponsors by 19%, and added 13 new summer meal sites where children throughout the state can eat healthy meals throughout the Summer. (In 2012, New Mexico was ranked 2nd in the nation for Summer Food programs by FRAC.)  

We have the school lunch program, the after school meal and snack programs, and we provide healthy meals to more than 22,000 low-income kids in the childcare assistance program.

Senate Majority Leader issued a statement of his own calling for Squier to resign.

And last night Sen. Linda Lopez, D-Albuqueruqe, who is running for governor, released her own statement in which she concluded:

Putting our heads in the sand – as the Governor seems to do when addressing issues such as child hunger – is ludicrous.  Perhaps next time she does a photo-op with young children, she can ask them what they ate for breakfast that morning.  She might be surprised by the answers.

Monday, September 23, 2013

ROUNDHOUSE ROUND-UP: Election Called in NM. Go Back to Sleep

A version of this was published in The Santa Fe New Mexican 
Sept. 22, 2013

I know it’s more than 13 months away, and there hasn’t really been any serious polling here yet, but national pundits already have called the 2014 election in New Mexico.

The Roll Call/Rothenberg Governors Map
They’re calling it a dud.

The Rothenberg Political Report and Roll Call, which features a hand-dandy, color-coded map on its website, rates all the 2014 races for U.S. Senate and House as well as governor contests around the country.

In the Senate contest, New Mexico is a dark blue, meaning incumbent Democrat Tom Udall is considered safe. In the House races, all three incumbents — Democrats Ben Ray Luján of Santa Fe, Michelle Lujan Grisham of Albuquerque and Republican Steve Pearce of Hobbs — are considered safe by Rothenberg and Roll Call.

And in the governors category, New Mexico is a darkish pink, meaning incumbent Republican Gov. Susana Martinez is considered “favored” to win. That’s not quite as good as being “safe,” but it’s better than “Leans” Republican and far better than “Tilts” Republican.

This isn’t the only such prognostication. Larry Sabato’s Crystal Ball, the website of the director of the University of Virginia’s Center for Politics, rates Udall, Luján and Lujan Grisham as safe bets for re-election and Martinez as a “likely” winner. The chief difference here is that Sabato’s Crystal Ball is telling him that down in the 2nd Congressional District, Pearce is not “safe” but merely “likely” to win re-election.

So if you’re an anti-establishment voter who thinks the best way to keep the government healthy is to routinely “throw the bums out,” this growing consensus on the 2014 election in New Mexico is not a good thing. No sign of an anti-incumbent surge has been spotted.

And if you’re a political junkie who savored the nail-biting, hair-yanking days of yore — like 2000, when Al Gore won New Mexico by less than 300 votes, or 2006, when it took weeks to get all the ballots counted to determine that Heather Wilson beat Patricia Madrid by 800 votes or so for the 1st Congressional District seat — this is really bad news.

But remember, a lot can happen between now and Election Day. After all, we’re 13 months away from the election.

But if something is going to make the upcoming election anything but predictable, it better happen soon. After all, it’s only 13 months until the election.

So what are the New Mexico races to get excited about? Well, there’s always the Legislature. Some believe that Republicans might have a shot at taking the state House, though others say that ship already sailed. Currently, there are 37 Democrats and 32 Republicans in the House with one vacancy (the seat that was held by the late Rep. Stephen Easley, a Democrat).

Assuming the governor appoints a fellow Republican, that would bring the GOP up to 33. (And Martinez might surprise us. Remember, she appointed independent — later turned Democrat — Doug Howe to a vacant Public Regulation Commission seat a couple of years ago.)

Rep. Stephanie Garcia-Richard
Easley’s District 50 likely will be competitive next year, whoever gets appointed. Another is the Los Alamos-based District 43, represented by freshman Democrat Stephanie Garcia Richard. She won a close race against incumbent Republican Jim Hall last year.

During this year’s legislative session, Garcia Richard — who had campaigned saying she would vote for Martinez’s perennial bill to stop issuing driver’s licenses to undocumented residents — voted against a procedural move that would have forced a floor vote on the bill. Republicans immediately paid for robo-calls denouncing her for “flip-flopping.”

I don’t know yet who the GOP is going to run in that district, but expect this issue to rise again.

And then there’s the secretary of state’s race. Even some Republicans have told me that Bernalillo County Clerk Maggie Oliver, a Democrat, will be a tough candidate to beat. But incumbent Dianna Duran, the first GOP secretary of state in decades, will fight hard to keep that job. This contest is one to watch.

UPDATE: 12:30 pm Pardon my fuzzy math. I had the wrong total for the number of Republicans in the House if the governor appoints a Republican to fill Rep. Easley's seat. The correct number would be 33. It's been corrected in the text.

Friday, September 20, 2013

Gary King's Statement About Marriage Equality

In a lengthy statement from the Attorney General's Office, AG Gary King today made his strongest statement yet on same-sex marriage and in the process took a swing at Gov. Susana Martinez -- who King hopes to be facing in the 2014 election.

King said he disagreed with Martinez and anyone else who believes the matter of marriage equality should be decided by voters. He points out that Emancipation Proclamation, the Constitutional amendment that gave women the right to vote and the 1964 Civil Rights Act were not put out for a popular vote.

Here's the statement in its entirety:  

The issue of same sex marriage has enveloped New Mexicans in recent weeks. Clearly, there are cultural, religious, political, and legal concerns that deserve consideration in any discussion of the issue. However, as Attorney General for the State of New Mexico, the legal aspects of this important issue are front and center for me. The extremely knowledgeable and capable staff attorneys in my Office, who have been diligently researching applicable law on the subject, also recognize that same sex marriage is an issue that affects the social fabric of our society. Because the issue is that important, I intend to proceed deliberately and as swiftly as possible to help move it through the legal process toward resolution. I thought it would helpful to give New Mexicans some perspective on what the Attorney General’s Office is doing to address the same sex marriage issue. 

Going back to the beginning of 2011, I was asked by New Mexico State Representative Al Park to provide a legal Opinion as to whether same-sex marriages performed in other jurisdictions are valid in New Mexico. A comprehensive legal analysis by my office concluded that valid same-sex marriages performed in other states are entitled to full faith and credit and should be valid in New Mexico. 

More recently, in July of this year, the New Mexico Supreme Court asked me to weigh in on the legal issues involving same sex marriage. Again, our exhaustive legal analysis concluded that (1) New Mexico's guarantee of equal protection requires that same-sex couples be allowed to marry the same way opposite-sex couples are; (2) NM’s statutory scheme does, in fact, prohibit same-sex marriage; and (3) the NM Supreme Court lacked jurisdiction to order county clerks, through a writ of mandamus, to issue marriage licenses to same sex couples. In the same response I also requested that, should the Court consider the merits of the constitutional argument raised by proponents of same sex marriage, it issue an opinion declaring New Mexico's prohibition on same-sex marriage to be unconstitutional under Article II, § 18 of the New Mexico Constitution. 

Here is where some critics have incorrectly interpreted the legal process. Some have said that I am trying to unilaterally disregard state law by not suing county clerks who have elected to issue same sex marriage licenses. Several District Courts have addressed the issue. Two separate judges essentially ordered two different county clerks to begin issuing marriage licenses to same sex couples. Another judge ruled that the state’s prohibitive statutes are unconstitutional, paving the way for another clerk to start issuing the licenses. I maintain that the best way to resolve this issue is for the NM Supreme Court to decide whether our current law is unconstitutional. 

In the last week of August I sent a letter to a county clerk advising her that my office had received reports that marriage licenses given to same sex couples in 2004 had been marked as “invalid” or “illegal.” I told the clerk that only a New Mexico court has the authority to void a marriage license. 

Finally, some people, including the governor, say that the issue of whether same sex couples should be afforded the same rights as everyone else in our state must be decided by the voters. I urge the reader to consider the following: The Emancipation Proclamation of 1863; The 19th Amendment (Women’s Suffrage) in 1920; the Civil Rights Act of 1964;---none of which were voted upon by the general electorate.

Wednesday, September 18, 2013

Forum for Would-Be Easley Replacements

The Santa Fe County Democratic Party is hosting a forum Monday September 30 to introduce voters to applicants wishing to replace the late state Rep. Stephen Easley in his District 50 seat.

Applicants from any political party are welcome to attend, County Democratic chairman Richard Ellenberg said.

The event is planned for the Performance Space La Tienda, 7 Caliente Road, Eldorado. State Sen. Peter Wirth will moderate.

House District 50 includes parts of Santa Fe, Bernalillo, Torrance and Valencia counties. The county commissions in each county will make nominations for the appointment by Gov. Susana Martinez. Valencia County already has nominated Vicki Perea, a former Albuquerque City Councilor who is a  Republican.

Santa Fe County will be accepting letters of interests and resumes until 5 p.m. on Friday, September 27. Last week the county announced that the following people had applied.

* Cynthia Lukas, a film producer and writer of  "transformative documentaries, " according to her website. Lukas served on the Scottsdale, Ariz., City Council from 1998 to 2004.

* Richard H. Rogers, a lawyer and executive editor of Santa Fe Monthly, a free-distribution paper.

* Billy Peterson, owner of Frontier Frames on St. Michael's Drive.

* Matthew McQueen, a lawyer and former member of the Santa Fe River Commission and the County Open Land and Trails Planning and Advisory Committee.

* Pam Cordova, who taught English for 26 years at Belen and Los Lunas schools before she retired in 2006.

Sunday, September 15, 2013

ROUNDHOUSE ROUNDUP: Get Ready for the Invasion of Independent Expenditure Groups

A version of this was published in The Santa Fe New Mexican 
Sept. 15, 2013

Next year will be the first gubernatorial race in which campaign contribution limits — approved by the Legislature and signed by the governor back in 2009 — will be in effect. Finally, we’ve taken care of the money-in-politics problem.

In your dreams.

It’s true that in the 2014 election, candidates for governor and other statewide office can receive contributions  up to $5,000 for the primary and another $5,000 for general election. That definitely will eliminate those $50,000 contributions from out-of-state billionaires that were becoming commonplace in the past dozen years or so.

But as anyone who knows anything about politics realizes, the U.S. Supreme Court, not long after the campaign contribution law was signed by then-Gov. Bill Richardson, basically knocked the chessboard off the table and started an entire game as far as far as campaign finance reforms go. That decision — which helped fortify the rise of “independent expenditure” groups that can spend all the money they want building up or tearing down candidates without the inconvenience of having to report their donors.

Sen. Peter Wirth, D-Santa Fe, has made several efforts in recent legislative sessions to pass a bill to require disclosure for independent expenditure groups. He’s been successful in getting these bills through the Senate by wide bipartisan margins. But somehow this legislation always seems to stumble in the House.

I saw it as an omen last week that the first radio ads related, if indirectly, to the governor’s race were produced by nonprofit organizations that aren’t connected to anyone’s campaign committee and that do not have to disclose their contributors.

First there was the ad praising Gov. Susana Martinez for her handling of the controversial mental-health system shake-up. This was produced by a group called New Mexico Competes, which turns out to be operated by Sara Lister, a longtime New Mexico Republican operative who has worked in the Martinez administration.

Back in A Las Cruces Sun-News reporter James Staley, “I am not involved in the ongoing affairs of this organization and have no information that may be helpful to you.”
pril, a prominent GOP lawyer in Washington, D.C., named Craig Engle filed the incorporation papers for New Mexico Competes Inc. Engle never returned my phone calls about it, but later in the week he told

So what is Engle’s connection? I can’t say for certain, but the website of his law firm, Arent Fox has this tidbit: “We handle all the corporate aspects of a Super PAC’s operation, from filing the certificate of incorporation; preparing bylaws, articles of incorporation, and preparing and filing your committee’s annual reports.” (Nonprofits, even political nonprofits, aren’t super-PACs. The latter has to disclose their contributors. But perhaps Engle’s firm provided similar services for New Mexico Competes.)

On the opposite side of the issue was an ad blasting Martinez for what it called the “disaster” of the behavioral-health situation. This was by a coalition called “New Mexicans Fighting For Behavioral Health,” which, according to spokeswoman Linda Siegle, is made up of several organizations as well as individuals, including some of the New Mexico behavioral-health providers who had their Medicaid payments suspended after an outside audit reportedly showed possible fraud.

This ad, which used lobbyist and former state Sen. Tom Rutherford for its narrator, seemed somewhat lower-budget than New Mexico Competes spot. For one thing, the anti-Martinez ad didn’t have that piano playing what sounds almost like the theme from The Exorcist. And Rutherford doesn’t sound nearly as intense as the woman on the pro-Martinez ad.

Both Lister and Siegle will tell you that their respective ads are have nothing to do with the governor’s race. But I have no doubt we’ll be hearing more and more of these nonprofit radio messages as we get closer to November 2014.

Thursday, September 12, 2013

Dueling Behavioral Health Radio Ads

UPDATED: 5 p.m. This post now includes more information on some of the organizations behind "New Mexicans Fighting For Behavioral Health."

Here's the ad --  mentioned today in my "staff and wire reports" story (I was the "staff" part of that equation -- produced by a group criticizing the Martinez administrations shake-up of the behavioral health system.

The group is called "New Mexicans Fighting For Behavioral Health." Sen. Bill O'Neill described them as "a group of social workers and service providers."

And no, like the group New Mexico Competes, which produced radio spots praising Martinez for her behavioral health actions --  New Mexicans Fighting For Behavioral Health does not have to disclose its donors. Lobbyist Linda Siegle, said the group is acting through a non-profit called Resource for Change Policy Works that she started several years ago with her wife Liz Stefanics.

Siegle said several individuals, including some of the New Mexico behavioral health providers who were defunded after an outside audit, and groups are part of the coalition. The groups include Health Action New Mexico, New Mexico Voices for Children, the National Association of Social Workers, the New Mexico Psychological Association and the National Alliance on Mental Illness. Of those, the Social Workers group contributed money for the ads.

Siegle said the group has raised about $3,500.

Here's the script:

The shutdown of the majority of New Mexico's  Behavioral Health providers and transfer of their management to Arizona firms, was done without due process, and has severely reduced service delivery to many of our citizens who are suffering from mental illness, alcoholism and substance abuse. 

It has been costly in many other ways: With dozens of jobs impacted.... Reduction of services to families and children, especially in our rural areas.... And gifted professionals now leaving the state. 

The Governor has placed New Mexico's vulnerable citizens in the hands of outsiders whose CEOs are being paid up to $300/hour during the transition, and who are not familiar with our traditions or our culture.

This disaster followed an audit alleging fraud, although the State Auditor says he has seen no "credible allegations of fraud". What's next?  Transfer of the New Mexico Department of Health to Texas?  

The Governor and Legislature must restore funding to New Mexico providers and reverse the takeover, until they get their day in court.  

On September 16, a federal agency is coming to Albuquerque to investigate.  Mark your calendar, and demand that New Mexicans continue to handle New Mexico's challenges!

Siegle said the Sept. 16 refers to a date the group hope that representatives of the federal Center for Medicare and Medicaid Services come to the state to discuss the behavioral-health shakeup. However, she said, the date for that visit is not yet confirmed.

The state Human Services Department has denied any major disruption of services to mental health clients.

Below is the ad for Compete New Mexico.

UPDATE: 9-16-13 2 p.m. An earlier version of this post incorrectly said several organizations had contributed to the New Mexicans Fighting For Behavioral Health ad. This has been corrected in the text.

Wednesday, September 11, 2013

The New Mexico Competes Ad

Blog Updated Below 

It might be something of an omen that what might be the first ad of the 2014 governor's race is paid for by an out-of-state group whose backers may or may not have to report its contributors.

The group is called New Mexico Competes, Inc. and you can see their website ... oh wait, THEY DON'T HAVE ONE! But here's a previous article about the group by The Santa Fe Reporter a few months ago.

My story about the ad, which defends Gov. Susana Martinez's handling of the behavioral-health shake-up can be found HERE.

The text of the ad is as follows:

Medicaid fraud hurts those who need help the most: The poor, the vulnerable. A recent audit exposed $36 million in potential fraud.
The Albuquerque Journal reported one CEO couple pocketed more than $1.5 million a year in a sketchy leasing scheme. But it gets worse. KOB TV reported another CEO used Medicaid funds to fly his private plane to his vacation home in Mexico. Now records reveal the CEO got the loan for his private plane from a company receiving Medicaid funds.
Gov. Susana Martinez is cracking down on Medicaid fraud ordering the audit to root it out and turning over the findings to law enforcement. But now, special interest groups are attacking the governor, wanting her to look the other way. Call Gov. Martinez at 505-476-2200  and tell her to keep fighting the fraud, protecting Medicaid for the most vulnerable.
It should be noted that none of the CEOs mentioned in the ad have been charged with any wrongdoing.

The ad can be heard here:

UPDATE: 4:40 pm: The Associated Press is reporting that Compete New Mexico's executive director is Sara Lister, a long-time New Mexico Republican operative who has worked as former deputy cabinet secretary for the state Department of Workforce Solutions and as a senior adviser to Albuquerque Mayor R.J. Berry.

According to an old organizational list, Lister was a deputy executive director of the 2004 New Mexico Bush-Cheney campaign. She also ran former U.S. Sen Pete Domenici's PAC and worked on congressional campaigns for Republicans Heather Wilson and Darren White.

September 11 at the Roundhouse

I was working at the Roundhouse on September 11, 2001.

I wrote about that day in column a couple of years later, in fact exactly 10 years ago today.

You can see that below:

A version of this was published in The Santa Fe New Mexican 
Sept. 11, 2003

This is an odd little story about Sept. 11, 2001, that was too insignificant to make the news that day, but which was representative of the fear and madness unfolding that terrible day.

Soon after the news of the hijacked planes crashing into the World Trade Center towers and the Pentagon broke, a small army of state police moved to guard the entrances of the Roundhouse, where a special session of the Legislature was taking place. Police cars were on the sidewalk in front of the Capitol.

In retrospect, the police show of force wasn't necessary. But at the time, nobody knew what might be the next terrorist target.

Then-Gov. Gary Johnson called a news conference. His main message was one of reassurance. He'd been in contact with state Office of Emergency Management, the Public Safety Department and the National Guard and there was no evidence of any pending attack in New Mexico.

"We are at a heightened state of readiness, " Johnson said. "State government is up and running."

But at the end of the news conference, as reporters began leaving the governor's cabinet room, I ran into Rep. Ken Martinez, D-Grants. "You haven't been evacuated yet?" he asked.

Evacuated? Martinez explained that state police had told lawmakers they would have to leave the building because of a bomb threat.

It turned out that someone had called the governor's office that morning -- before the news conference, it turned out -- to say there was a bomb in the Capitol. A few minutes later, a sheepish Johnson told a small group of reporters that he hadn't mentioned it because he didn't give much credence to the threat.

Johnson, of course, was correct. There was no real danger. But it was strange having to leave the building for a couple of hours so soon after being reassured all was well.

I don't think police ever caught the little cretin who pulled such a grim joke on such a dark day. If they ever do, I'd like to have a personal word with him.

Tuesday, September 10, 2013

Pearce Co-Sponsors Resolution To Not Fund Attack on Syria

U.S. Rep. Steve Pearce, who is on record as opposing military action against Syria, is co-sponsoring a House resolution that says "No funds available to any United States Government department or agency may be used for the use of force in, or directed at, Syria by the United States Armed Forces unless a subsequent Act of Congress specifically authorizes such use of force or there is an attack or imminent attack on the United States, its territories or possessions, or the United States Armed Forces."

The resolution's chief sponsor is Rep. Ted Poe, R-Texas.

In an email this afternoon, Pearce, who supported the war in Iraq, said eough is enough.

“American soldiers and their families have sacrificed enough,” he said  “American taxpayers have given enough.  The rest of the world needs to step up — America cannot fight every battle.  My office has heard from over a thousand New Mexicans, overwhelmingly opposed to any U.S. military action in Syria."

Pearce, the lone Republican in the state's congressional delegation,  represents the southern 2nd Congressional District, said,

Udall Standing Firm Against Bombing Syria

Sen. Tom Udall isn't likely to change his mind about his stance against taking military action against Syria's Assad regime.

"The president will make his case to the American people in a speech tonight. I will listen carefully," Udall told New Mexico reporters in a short telephone news conference Tuesday morning. "But unless he has new information, I do not believe I will change my mind."

The entire 17-minute press conference can be hear HERE

Udall  predicted that the Senate vote on a resolution authorizing military action will be close.

"I want to be clear: I am appalled and horrified by Assad’s attack against his own people," Udall said. "My heart broke when I saw the footage of women and children being gassed to death. But the administration hasn’t made a credible case that a limited military strike will prevent Assad from attacking again. A few Tomahawk missiles lobbed into Syria are more likely to destabilize the region. I believe President Obama is taking the riskiest option with the least likelihood of success."

Udall said the proposal by Russia, which would have Syria relinquish its chemical weapons in order to avoid a U.S. military strike, is "a positive step" that sprang from "holding Russia's feet to the fire diplomatically."

"I will wait to see the plan before I make a judgement and I will insist we take a strategy of trust but verify with any proposal they make," he said

Asked if he'd spoken with his New Mexico colleague Sen. Martin Heinrich about Syria before Heinrich's announcement yesterday that he would vote for the resolution authorizing military force, Udall said, "I think that I would prefer that any discussion we had back and forth remain private. But I talked to him yesterday after he'd already sent his email out.

"I think every senator must make up his or her own mind up on a vote," Udall said. "I think this really is a vote of conscience."

Monday, September 9, 2013

Heinrich to Vote For Syria Strike

In the article I did for Sunday's New Mexican, Sen. Martin Heinrich was among those who had not made up his mind on how to vote on the resolution for a military strike on Syria.

He's no longer on the fence. He's going to vote for the resolution.

Never thought I'd see the day that Heinrich was the hawk and Steve Pearce was the dove on an issue of military force.

Here's an email he just sent to constituents

Dear Friends,The last week has been the most difficult I have experienced in my more than eight years in public office.  What I share with you now will not win me any popularity awards, and some of you may well never forgive me for my decision today. All I ask is that you read this entire letter and seek to understand how I came to make this decision.  

I have always believed that my decisions in public office should reflect my best judgment and what I believe to be the best course for our nation. Most of the time that leads to votes that are well aligned with most of you as constituents.  Just as importantly, it means that I can look my children in the eye and explain my positions with honesty, never having to explain why a vote was the result of politics or pressure. Today, I am taking a position that I believe is in line with those values.  

From my position on the Intelligence Committee, I have been briefed regularly for eight months now on developments in Syria. Those developments have been very difficult to watch. Most people only hear about these things on a news report, where it is difficult to imagine the scale and intensity of this violence. I have had a much closer view.

Bashar al-Assad is a dictator who has shown a willingness to reduce residential neighborhoods to rubble, to imprison and torture children, and who has watched callously as his actions have killed over a hundred thousand civilians and displaced millions of Syrian refugees.  

Despite that, I remain of the belief that as a nation, we cannot become directly entangled in a civil war that we do not fully understand. It is for this reason that I do not think we should arm the Syrian rebels and I do not support sending American troops into this conflict.  

However, over recent months I also learned of the facts that are now the subject of so much debate here and around the world. What I can tell you from my perspective, having seen the public evidence as well as much that remains classified, I do not have any doubt about the following facts: 

One: a chemical weapons attack occurred on August 21; 

Two: that attack was planned and carried out by Bashar al-Assad's regime; and 

Three: that as a result, hundreds of children and non-combatants were gassed to death in the suburbs of Damascus. 

I have seen how Assad incrementally tests the international community as he employs more and more brutal tactics in order to cling to power. And I can tell you that August 21 was not just some anomaly, but that it is part of a long and predictable pattern of behavior. 

What's more, I believe that when any country chooses to ignore the international norms against chemical weapons, they have made a deeply immoral decision with worldwide implications, implications that the United States and the international community cannot ignore. If you want to understand why chemical weapons were singled out for international actions, you can watch videos that were taken in the aftermath of the Damascus attacks. These videos show the real effects of chemical weapons and are completely consistent with international forensic evidence showing that the agent was Sarin nerve gas.  I would warn you not to view these with children in the room. They are real and they are horrible.  

I know that we are a nation that is not only rightfully weary of war, but also jaded by the dishonest use of cooked intelligence reports that led to terrible mistakes in Iraq. But this is not Iraq and we have a moral obligation to deter Assad and every regime watching him from thinking that they can gas their people with impunity, commit genocide, or employ internationally prohibited weapons.  

It is for this reason, and this reason alone, that I will support President Obama's request for the authorization of use of military force.  

I will seek to make sure that the resolution before the Senate remains narrow in scope and does not put American troops on the ground in another Middle Eastern war. But I believe that President Obama and the international community should be able to send a message to Bashar al-Assad: that he is not above international norms and that he will suffer real, military consequences should he choose to gas civilians. 

I will continue to support additional foreign aid to alleviate the humanitarian and refugee crisis in Syria and neighboring countries, and I will also continue supporting diplomatic options so long as they are credible, verifiable, and enforceable.
While I know that my vote on this matter will be controversial, especially among some of my closest supporters, I want you to know that I have little doubt it is the right decision. 

Sunday, September 8, 2013

Maggie's In for SOS

Bernalillo County Clerk Maggie Toulouse Oliver announced this weekend that she will run to be the Democratic Party’s nominee to run next year against Republican incumbent Dianna Duran for Secretary of State.

State Democratic Party Chairman Sam Bregman confirmed Sunday that Oliver, who is serving her second elected term as clerk, made her run official Saturday at the party’s State Central Committee meeting in Albuquerque.

“She is a tremendous public servant and will make a great secretary of state,” Bregman said. Oliver couldn’t be reached for comment Sunday.

Bregman said he hasn’t heard of any other Democrats seeking the office. “It would be very difficult to take on Maggie at this point,” he said

Democrats have had their eye on that office ever since Duran, a former state senator from Tularosa beat incumbent Democrat Mary Herrera in 2010. “It’s an extremely important race because there’s no more important right than the right to vote,” Bregman said.

Oliver has served as Bernalillo County clerk since January, 2007. She was initially appointed by the commission to fill Herrera’s unexpired term when she was elected secretary of state. Oliver was elected to the office in 2008 then re-elected last year. A native of Albuquerque, she received a masters degree in political science in 2004.

She is married to Alan Oliver, a former CEO of the New Mexico Green Chamber of Commerce and currently executive director of the Thornburg Foundation. The couple have two young sons.

UPDATE: 9-9-13 2:50 pm SOS Duran is from Tularosa, not Carrizozo as stated in an earlier version of this post. Also, Allan Oliver's current job has been added to the text.


A version of this was published in The Santa Fe New Mexican 
Sept. 8, 2013

In last Sunday’s Roundhouse Roundup, I noted that while most of the conservative reaction to several counties issuing marriage licenses to same-sex couples has been muted, there has been some backlash, some of which is outlandish.

But it should be noted that even though most of the public reaction by marriage-equality proponents has been in the spirit of love and joy because they and/or their friends finally can marry the person they love, there have been some nasty exceptions.

Sen. Sharer
Granted — unlike the Curry County clerk I mentioned last week, who said she was worried she’d have to start issuing licenses to couples engaged in bestiality and incest — the pro-gay marriage nastiness I’m going to quote was not by elected officials.

But it’s still nasty, still hateful.

I’m talking about tweets directed toward state Sen. Bill Sharer, R-Farmington, probably the most vocal opponent of marriage equality in the state. Sharer is one of several Republican lawmakers who filed a lawsuit against Doña Ana County Clerk Lynn Ellins, who set the gay marriage bandwagon in motion last month when he started issuing licenses to gay couples.

Sharer also caused a stir with his blog post in which he talked about Alexander the Great, who was known to conquer on the gay side, but advised his troops to get married and “stop whoring around.”

I had a little fun with Sharer and Alexander in last week’s column. But not like these tweets:

“@BillSharer GOD YOU ARE A (expletive deleted) MORON” said one.

“@BillSharer worries if gay marriage is legal his boyfriend might pressure him to leave his wife?” another said.

And one that’s more concerning than the obscene and libelous ones said, “@BillSharer No bigot should ever be permitted to hold gov’t office.NM SenBill Sharer needs to be removed from office BY ANY MEANS NECESSARY.”

It would be easy for a politician to use garbage like this and say, “See! All gay-marriage supporters are rude and profane!” To Sharer’s credit, he didn’t.

In fact, on his blog last week, he gave examples of people who contacted him to disagree. Apparently they didn’t cuss at him or call him a moron.

“The loving manner expressed by these three people moved me,” Sharer wrote — even though they didn’t change his mind.

There was one he identified as “A Ph.d.” Sharer wrote, “While we continue to disagree on the issue of marriage we found common ground on broad issues. He had a positive effect on me.”

There was a “grandmotherly woman” who Sharer said was “by far the most kind and gentle person I have encountered in this debate. She asked me to think about some very specific things, which I did. This woman still has my head spinning. While I still believe marriage is between one man and one woman, I felt great love from her and I wish to express that love in return.”

Lastly, there was a “businessman” with whom Sharer had a “long and wonderful conversation.” Sharer said, “I could tell when I answered the phone that he was scared. He stayed strong, even facing what I am sure he thought was his mortal enemy, and politely told me his story, which was very compelling.”

In 21st-century melodrama politics, everything is boiled down to cheering our heroes and booing our villains. But when you keep in mind that your opponents are human, it tends to make things more interesting.

(Below: Back in 1968, Country Joe & The Fish foresaw the state of 21st Century political discourse.)

I stand corrected: In an Aug. 11 column about “party-hoppers,” I used material from an old story in which Secretary of State Dianna Duran had mentioned a former state Rep. Larry Sheffield, who had changed from Democrat to Republican while in office.

Former state Rep. LEONARD Sheffield
A few days ago, I was contacted by former Rep. Larry Sheffield — who represented Doña Ana County as a Republican in the 1985-86 term. Sheffield, now living in Arizona, told me that was wrong.

“You have me confused with my father, Leonard Sheffield, a [New Mexico] legislator who served for four terms from Otero County, and changed his last-term registration from Democrat to Republican. (I converted him!),” the younger Sheffield wrote in an email.

Sheffield noted that he and his dad were the only father and son team to serve together in the House at the same time.

Friday, September 6, 2013

NM Catholic Bishops: Say No to Syrian Action

Archbishop James Sheehan
The New Mexico Conference of Catholic Bishops has sent the following letter to the state's congressional delegation urging them to vote against using military action in Syria.

"We believe that more lives and livelihoods will be destroyed by military intervention," the letter says.

 "On this question Pope Francis has been clear: "How much suffering, how much devastation, how much pain has the use of arms carried in its wake in that martyred country, especially among civilians and the unarmed!"

The complete letter is below:

Udall on Meet the Press Sunday

U.S. Sen. Tom Udall of New Mexico will appear on NBC's Meet the Press to discuss Syria Sunday morning, his office confirmed.

Udall,  a member of the Senate Foreign Relations Committee voted against the resolution for military action  in Syria earlier this week, one of only two Democrats to vote no.

“We should not take it lightly that the American people are not with us. New Mexicans are tired of war,” Udall said in a statement following the vote. “They know what the administration is proposing won’t provide us assurance that Assad will not attack again – that it won’t ensure that his regime will not retaliate in some way.

“The truth is that we cannot guarantee that even a ‘surgical’ strike will prevent the United States from being embroiled in war,” Udall said. “We should not enter into a conflict until we’ve exhausted every diplomatic and international option. We have not done that. The risks of the actions we are contemplating now are too great.”

Other scheduled guests on Meet the Press Sunday include White House Chief of Staff Dennis McDonough; and U.S. Reps. Michael McCaul, R-Texas, Peter King, R-N.Y., and Loretta Sanchez, D-Calif.

Meet the Press airs at 9 a.m. Sunday on KOB, Channel 4.

Thursday, September 5, 2013

Domingo Won't Run For Auditor

Former State Auditor Domingo Martinez said Thursday  he will not run again for the statewide position next year, despite his announcement of his candidacy in May.

The 60-year-old Democrat, who is finishing his second term as county assessor, told a reporter that health problems related to an old ankle injury are forcing him to the sidelines during this election cycle.

"I'll wait and see if there's some other way I can serve in two years," Martinez said.

The only other announced candidate for the office is state Sen. Tim Keller, D-Albuquerque. No Republicans have announced for the  office

Current State Auditor Hector Balderas, who has announced he will run for the Democratic nomination as state attorney general in 2014, couldn't seek re-election as auditor due to term limits.

Martinez served two four-year terms as state auditor beginning in 1999. He has the distinction of being the first public official to find evidence suggesting corruption on the part of former state Treasurer Robert Vigil, who ended up serving time in a federal prison.

During his first term as auditor, Martinez ordered an audit of Vigil’s years as state auditor in the 1990s. That audit uncovered possible violations of state laws, including the filtering of money to a former assistant through an accounting company and money going to a nonprofit group headed by Vigil’s wife.

King Hires Campaign Manager

Attorney General Gary King has hired a campaign manager for his race for governor next year.

Jim Farrell  is a Las Cruces resident and a veteran of many Democratic campaigns around the country.

Among the successful campaigns he's worked on are U.S. Sen. Jon Tester of Montana, who unseated an incumbent Republican in 2006; Congressman Jared Polis of Colorado, (one of the few openly gay candidates to be elected to Congress); and the U.S. Senate campaign for Mark Dayton of Minnesota (who currently is governor of that state.)

One not-so-successful campaign Farrell worked on was former New Mexico Gov. Bill Richardson's presidential bid. He was deputy campaign manager for Richardson in the Iowa caucuses.

So far the only other Democrat in the governor's race is state Sen. Linda Lopez. (Hey, wasn't Sen. Michael Sanchez supposed to have made up his mind a few days ago?) 

Incumbent Republican Susana Martinez is not expected to have any primary opposition.

The Whistle-blower Suit Against Human Services

I got so busy late last week, I forgot to post the whistle-blower lawsuit filed by the former Human Services Department  lawyer who claims she was fired because she had complained about the agency’s handling of a controversial audit of government-funded mental health care.

Elizabeth Jeffreys says she reported her concerns to the state Attorney General in Fenruary -- months before the public heard anything about the audit that reportedly found credible evidence of massive fraud among 15 New Mexico behavioral health providers.

My story on the suit is HERE. Below is Jeffreys' complaint.

Rep. Jim Trujillo of Santa Fe to Seek Re-Election

State Rep. Jim Trujillo, D-Santa Fe, a 10-year veteran of the Legislature, is running for re-election.

Trujillo, 74, represents House District 45, which includes southwestern Santa Fe.

He is a vice chairman of the House Tax & Revenue Committee and chairs the House committee that oversees capital-outlay projects. "I've carried the capital outlay bill in the House for the last eight years," he said.

He's also carried legislation designed to give early-childhood education more money from the state's permanent fund. "I'll probably introduce that again next year," he said Thursday.

Trujillo also is a member of the House Business and Industry Committee.

Trujillo initially was appointed by the County Commission in 2003 to fill the remainder of the term of former Rep. Patsy Trujillo, no relation, who resigned to take a position in the Bill Richardson administration. Trujillo was elected to the seat in 2004 and re-elected with no primary or general election opposition every two years since.

Trujillo is a former teacher and liquor-store owner who also worked for the state Human Services Department.

Wednesday, September 4, 2013

Former Rep. Brian Moore Joins Think NM Board

Former state Rep. Brian Moore, R-Clayton, who ran the Washington, D.C. office of Gov. Susana Martinez, has just joined the Think New Mexico Board of Directors.

Moore, a grocer by profession, was known as a moderate Republican during his years in the Legislature.

Meanwhile, Roberta Cooper Ramo has been elected chairwoman of the think tank's board, while Edward Lujan, a former chairman of the state Republican Party, is the new vice chairman.

Think New Mexico, based in Santa Fe, is responsible in recent years for pushing legislation repealing the sales tax on food, establishing full-day kindergarten in public schools, reforming the Public Regulation Commission, reducing the amount of state lottery proceeds that go to administration and other dandy stuff.

Other board members are former Gov. Garrey Carruthers (currently president of New Mexico State University); former Attorney General  Paul Bardacke; former New Mexico First Lady Clara Apodaca; David Buchholtz, senior member of the New Mexico office of Brownstein Hyatt Farber Schreck; LaDonna Harris, founder of Americans for Indian Opportunity; and Susan Herter, former chief of staff to Vice President Nelson Rockefeller.

Tuesday, September 3, 2013

SF County Looking for Easley Replacement

Wanna be a New Mexico state legislator?

Santa Fe County just sent a news release looking for a replacement for Rep. Stephen Easley, who died last month. His replacement will serve the remainder of his term and run for election next year.

Easley's District 50 includes parts of four counties -- Santa Fe, Bernalillo, Torrance and Valencia. The county commissions of all four will nominate someone and Gov. Susana Martinez will chose among them.

Santa Fe's County Commission will select a nominee at its Sept.  24 meeting.

Here's the news release:

Santa Fe County is Seeking Individuals to Nominate for State Representative District 50 Santa Fe – September 3, 2013 - The Santa Fe Board of County Commissioners (BCC) is seeking individuals to nominate for State Representative District 50. Representative Stephen Easley passed away on August 16, 2013, leaving the district vacancy. 

 Individuals interested in being considered, by law must be at least 21 years of age, live within the District (Santa Fe, Bernalillo, Torrance or Valencia Counties) and cannot currently hold an Office of Trust or Profit with State, County or National government at the time of qualifying. Individuals seeking nomination do not need to be of the same party as Rep. Stephen Easley. 

Santa Fe County will be accepting letters of interests and resumes until noon, Monday, September 9, 2013. The Letter of Interest should include: 

Why you would like to serve as a state representative and how you plan to incorporate the interest of the entire district. 

Interested residents will need to submit a resume and letter of interest to: 
Katherine Miller, County Manager 
Santa Fe County Manager’s Office 
102 Grant Ave. Santa Fe, NM 87501 

Documentary on Behavioral Health Shakeup

A group called New Mexicans Fighting to Save Behavioral Health has produced a 30-minute video about the shakeup of the state's mental-health system. It features interviews of several lawmakers who have been critical of the state Human Service Department's suspension of Medicaid funds for 14 providers of behavioral-health services and several of the providers themselves.

It does not have any interviews with department officials to explain their actions or discuss the audit that reportedly found evidence of fraud on the part of the providers. So it's one-sided, but they lay out their case pretty well.

Here's a story I wrote about a protest rally at the Capitol Friday over the behavioral-health situation.

And here's a story published Sunday about a whistle-blower lawsuit filed by a Human Services lawyer who says she was fired after she went to the Attorney General to complain about the controversial audit early this year.

The Legislature's Behavioral Health Subcommittee is meeting today in Las Cruces.

Sunday, September 1, 2013

ROUNDHOUSE ROUNDUP: A Big Gay Box of Pandoras

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

Unidentified woman releases several
Pandoras from box
Only a couple of weeks ago, there was no place in New Mexico where gay couples could get married. Things have changed.

At this writing (Friday morning) six counties in the state, including Santa Fe County, allow such marriages.

I’ve observed that the backlash against these developments has been relatively muted. Gov. Susana Martinez, an opponent of same-sex marriage, said in a TV interview that she doesn’t like the patchwork approach and reiterated her belief the issue should be settled by voters. The state Republican Party organization has been completely silent on the issue.

But it would be wrong to say there has been no backlash.

For instance, the Portales News-Tribune reported Thursday that Curry County Clerk Rose Riley said allowing same-sex marriage is like “opening Pandora’s box. If they can force county clerks into giving same sex-marriage licenses, what’s next? Incestual marriage? Bestiality? Where does it stop? … I think it’s wrong. It doesn’t matter what I think. It matters what the law says.”

Doesn’t Riley realize that the proper phrase in New Mexico is “box of Pandoras”? I thought the late Gov. Bruce King settled that decades ago.

Sen. Sharer
What’s so great about Alexander? Meanwhile, state Sen. Bill Sharer, R-Farmington — who was among several GOP lawmakers filing suit Friday against the Dona Ana county clerk for issuing same-sex marriage license — wrote a blog post on his own website that got quoted last week in The Huffington Post.

Sharer wrote, “Alexander the Great (356-323 B.C.) married a Bactrian woman — [from] modern-day Afghanistan. Alexander may have engaged in homosexual activity, but he married a woman.

“He directed his officers to stop ‘whoring’ around and find a local woman to marry. … It is only through blood relations that hatred and war will end.” In other words, Alexander the Great thought that marriage was about creating and raising the next generation.

“This is the reason for Marriage — The creation and raising of children who have the best chance to grow to be peaceful, responsible citizens.”

This prompted Sen. Jacob Candelaria, D-Albuquerque, the only openly gay legislator, to demand an apology because of the “whoring” line.

Gall in the family: Besides Alexander, Sharer’s blog post mentions several other historical figures — not in the context of engaging in homosexual activities, or even for “whoring,” but for being in favor of marriage.

One of these was the Greek philosopher Aristotle, of whom Sharer said, “Aristotle fully believed that marriage, between Greeks, was fundamental for civilization — marriage between a Greek man and a Greek woman to make virtuous Greek babies. It was only with virtuous Greek babies that Greek civilization could succeed.”

I was reminded of the recent CNN documentary Our Nixon, in which the 37th president, on a recently released White House tape, made a different point about Aristotle.

In the tape, Nixon is grumbling with his aides H.R. “Bob” Haldeman and future Santa Fe resident John Erhlichman about a then-new television series called All in the Family. Tricky Dick was not amused.

I’m not sure about the particular episode of the show that set him off, but Nixon said, “The point that I make is that goddamit, I do not think that you glorify, on public television, homosexuality! You ever see what happened, you know what happened to the Greeks? Homosexuality destroyed them. Aristotle was a homo, we all know that. So was Socrates.”

At that point, Ehrlichman chimed in, “But he never had the influence that television has.”

Nixon ignored that. “The last six Roman emperors were fags,” Nixon continued. “You see, homosexuality, immorality in general, these are the enemies of strong societies. That’s why the communists and the left-wingers are pushing it. They’re trying to destroy us.”

Somehow civilization withstood Archie Bunker.

And I’ve noticed that even though hundreds of gay and lesbian couples were married in New Mexico in late August, the sun keeps rising every morning.

Blog bonus: Nixon on Archie Bunker, Aristotle, etc.