Sunday, March 30, 2014

ROUNDHOUSE ROUNDUP: The Politix Fireball Saga

After a few stormy days as Congressman Steve Pearce’s press secretary, Rebekah Stevens, better known to New Mexico’s political Tweetosphere as “Politix Fireball,” was forced to resign.

It’s pretty rare for a politician’s spokeswoman to become a news story, much less a campaign issue. But that’s what happened with Stevens.

Her resignation came the day after Pearce’s Democratic opponent for the 2nd Congressional District seat, Roxanne “Rocky” Lara, used Stevens to try to raise funds.

... But I’m going to go out on a limb here. I believe that even though she was far less tactful than most Republicans I know and frequently went over the top in her tweets, I think it’s unfair to label her a racist or anti-Semitic. I’ve followed her tweets and read her blog, and have not found anything to back up such charges.

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

Note: Sometime after I wrote this column late last week, the PolitixFireball Twitter account has gone from "protected" (private) to public again. The online version of the column has been changed to reflect that.

Friday, March 28, 2014

LFC Eulogizes Max Coll

The Legislative Finance Committee this afternoon sent a news release with comments about the death of former Rep. Max Coll.

Here's what they said:

 Luciano “Lucky” Varela, chairman of the Legislative Finance Committee: “Max Coll was a one of a kind New Mexican and a giant in the Legislature. He was a dedicated public servant who always put New Mexico first.”

Sen. John Arthur Smith, chairman of the Senate Finance Committee: “Max was chairman of the House Appropriations and Finance Committee when I started on LFC and he was a stickler for staying on topic when the conversation started to wander. He might have annoyed some legislators when he switched from being a Republican from Roswell to a Democrat from Santa Fe but his colleagues never lost respect for his skills. He was always one step ahead of most when it came to appropriations.”

Sen. Mary Kay Papen, Senate president pro tem: “I didn’t work closely with Max but he had the respect of every legislator while he served. He was fair and he was honest. He always had the best of intentions and always put the needs of New Mexico at the forefront.”

Sen. Stuart Ingle, Senate minority floor leader: “Max’s integrity was never a question and he had the courage to say no.”

Rep. Henry “Kiki” Saavedra, chairman of the House Appropriations and Finance Committee: ““Max came from Roswell and often voted with the Democrats and eventually become one.  As a member of the HAFC for 17 years and the LFC, Max taught me the appropriation process from A to Z.  Max was a true gentlemen, well rounded, and smart and funny as heck and I’m going to miss him.”

David Abbey, Legislative Finance Committee director: “Max was great leader for the finance committee because he was a strong fiscal conservative but also a strong advocate for those who can’t help themselves. The appropriation process is always a struggle between those two and Max was very skilled at the balancing act.”

More on Coll in tomorrow's New Mexican

Politix Fireball Resigns

I just got this from U.S. Rep. Steve Pearce's office:

“I am proud to hire passionate, hardworking, and dedicated congressional staff out of New Mexico,” said Pearce. “When I hired [Rebekah] Stevens, I hoped she could transition from activist to become an asset to the people of New Mexico. It is now clear that major obstacles will prevent this. I asked for and accepted her resignation this morning. I hold myself and my staff to the highest level of accountability, and any distractions that hinder my service to New Mexicans must always be addressed.”

This comes a day after Pearce's Democratic opponent Rocky Lara used Stevens in a political fundraising mailer.

Before she was hired by Pearce this week, Stevens was better known as "Politix Fireball" who used her blog and Twitter account to blast Democrats, "leftists" and some journalist.

I had spoken with her yesterday, but she declined to comment other than to say she apologized to anyone she might have offended.

More later.

R.I.P. Max Coll

Former state Rep. Max Coll, who began his career in the state Legislature as a Roswell conservative and ended it as a Santa Fe liberal, is dead. He was 82.

State Sen. Peter Wirth of Santa Fe, who succeeded Coll in the House of Representatives 10 years ago, said Coll had suffered a stroke last Friday and died Thursday night.
Coll in 2006 Photo by Kathy De La Torre
For The New Mexican

He was one of the true giants of the Legislature. At the time he retired in 2004, his colleague Rep. Luciano "Lucky" Varela said, "He's a mountain. He was my mentor since I've been in the Legislature. I learned a lot of what I know about the legislative process from Max."

Wirth said today, "Max Coll was an extraorindary public servant who became my friend and mentor. He shared his wisdom and lessons learned from thirty two years of legislative service. I will really miss him."

Coll served in the House for 32 years. First elected in 1966 as a Republican from Roswell, he represented that district until 1974, took six years off, went to law school, moved to Santa Fe and won election in 1980 from District 47.

After one term as a Republican, Coll switched parties in 1983 and has run as a Democrat ever since. Though he remained a fiscal conservative, Coll  became more progressive during his Santa Fe years. Some said you could see his political transformation in his hair. While serving Roswell, he kept his hair neatly trimmed, but in Santa Fe he was known for his curly mop.

When he retired he said he’d miss “my skirmishes with the six governors during whose administrations I have served.” Indeed, by the time he left office, he'd established himself as one of the leading Democratic critics of then Gov. Bill Richardson.

He followed the Legislature and was seen often at the Roundhouse for years after his retirement.

In recent years he suffered from diabetes and other ailments. He had brain surgery in 2007, but just a couple of months after he was released from the hospital he was spotted at the Capitol, where he was attending a legislative committee meeting.

His sense of humor was still intact. Talking about his condition, he told a reporter, “I came down with a headache. On a scale of one to 10, this was about a 35.”

In 2011 Coll and his wife Catherine Joyce-Coll helped lobby for a bill that allowed dogs in outside areas of restaurants.

He served as chairman of the Appropriations and Finance Committee from 1987 until his retirement. Previously, he headed the Taxation and Revenue Committee.

More in tomorrow's New Mexican.

UPDATED: 10 am with Wirth quote and other details.

Thursday, March 27, 2014

Espinosa Endorses Oliver for SOS

I normally don't write about a Democrat endorsing another Democrat (or a Republican endorsing a Republican) in an uncontested primary.

But this case is a little different. Four years ago, Democrat Valerie Espinoza, then Santa Fe County Clerk, endorsed Republican Dianna Duran for Secretary of State. Espinoza had been in a running battle with then Secretary of State Mary Herrera, a fellow Democrat.

Espinoza was one of several Democratic county clerks to back Duran, who handily beat Herrera in the 2010 general election.

But this year, Espinoza, now a member of the Public Regulation Commission, has endorsed Democrat Maggie Oliver, who is running unopposed in the primary for the Secretary of State. (Duran is the only Republican running for SOS.)

"I have firsthand knowledge of how well Maggie is suited to become our next Secretary of State!," Espinoza said in her endorsement Thursday. "Whether she's conducting mock elections or informing and training the electorate, she's also a true pioneer in the adoption of Vote Centers in Bernalillo County. I continue to admire her devotion, skills and especially her ability to recite the Election Code to whomever her audience."

Her statement actually goes on longer, but Espinoza never mentioned Duran.

Tuesday, March 25, 2014

PPP Shows Martinez, Udall Leading, King Leading Dem Gov Primary

Public Policy Polling, the North Carolina-based Democrat-affiliated polling company, shows Gov. Susana Martinez and U.S. Sen. Tom Udall handily leading in their respective races for re-election.

This is the first national poll I've seen this year for New Mexico races, and first one I've seen so far not commissioned by a campaign. Democratic gubernatorial candidate Lawrence Rael released one yesterday.

PPP shows Republican Martinez beating Democrat Gary King 47-42 percent, a five percentage point margin. She leads all the other Democratic candidates by double digits.

Democrat Udall, seeking his second 6-year term leads both Republican candidates Allen Weh and David Clement by 20 points or better.

Both Martinez and Udall have approval ratings of more than 50 percent.

In the Democratic primary, King -- who came in last place at the state Democrats' pre-primary convention this month -- is ahead of the pack in the PPP poll.

In this poll, King has the support of 34 percent, Howie Morales is a distant second with 15 percent; Linda Lopez has 13 percent; Lawrence Rael has seven percent and Alan Webber has five percent.

The pollster warns however that the race is far from over. 27 percent of those surveyed are undecided. "But it's a pretty substantial early advantage [for King]," the PPP blog says.

In match-ups with Martinez, Rael is behind by 11 percentage points; both Morales and Lopez are behind by 14 points and Weber by 16 points.

In the general election questions, PPP interviewed 674 registered voters (as opposed to "likely" voters). For the primary race, the poll is based on interviews of 327. The pollsters say the margin of error is 3.8 percent for the overall survey. It doesn't show a number for the Democratic primary poll.

As it normally does, the state Republican Party denounced the poll as "skewed" with "cooked numbers" even though it shows Martinez handily defeating all the Dem challengers. The GOP said the same thing about PPP's polls in the U.S. Senate race in 2012, though the firm was well within the margin of error in its numbers for Sen. Martin Heinrich and Republican candidate Heather Wilson.

The full poll is HERE.

UPDATE: 3:05 pm PPP Director Tom Jensen tells me that the margin of error for the Democratic primary is 5.4 percent.

Monday, March 24, 2014

Rael Poll Shows King Losing Steam and Rael Gaining

I'm about to write about results of a candidate-commissioned poll just announced during a telconference. And I have not yet seen the actual poll, just a polling memo. So take this with the usual grains of salt.

But a poll by the Bruce Donisthorpe organization for the gubernatorial campaign of Democrat Lawrence Rael had the following results.

Gary King 26 percent
Lawrence Rael 21 percent
Howie Morales 12 percent
Linda Lopez 10 percent
Alan Webber 10 percent
Undecided 20 percent.

There were 888 likely Democrats (those who voted in the 2010 and 2012 primaries) surveyed, which gives the poll a 3.2 percent margin of error. The poll was conducted in mid March.

Rael's campaign also released the numbers from a previous poll in November. That poll showed:

King 31 percent
Rael 12 percent
Lopez 9 percent
Morales 7 percent
Webber 7 percent.
Undecided 32 percent.

So if these numbers are correct, King has lost five percent, while Rael has gained nine percent. Morales has gained five percent, Webber 3 percent and Lopez one percent.

The number of undecideds has fallen by 13 percent.

A campaign spokeswoman said the poll didn't include any match-ups with the Democratic candidates against incumbent Susana Martinez. 

I requested to see the cross-tabs, but spokeswoman Yasmine Armstrong said the campaign isn't releasing it.


The sun has set on Sunshine Week this year.

No, that’s got nothing to do with solar energy or John Denver songs or the importance of using sunscreen. According to the Sunshine Week website, it’s “a national initiative to promote a dialogue about the importance of open government and freedom of information. Participants include news media, civic groups, libraries, nonprofits, schools and others interested in the public’s right to know.”

It’s also a time in which reporters like to write stories about examples of government agencies not living up to its stated goals of of open government and freedom of information. Of course, we like to do this as much as possible throughout the year. But somehow it’s more fun to write about the dark clouds of government secrecy during Sunshine Week.

My contribution to the cause this Sunshine Week was a story about trying to get information on how much state money was used to pay for the travel of Gov. Susana Martinez and her entourage for various out-of-state trips last year.

Basically, I’ve waited almost six months to get the first batch of expense reports and more than three months for the rest. While the Governor’s Office has provided me with dates and destinations of the trips, the state Department of Finance and Administration has claimed my requests were too “broad.” So, I’ve been told, more time — months and months more time — is needed to compile the information.

The rest of this column is at The Santa Fe New Mexican site

Friday, March 21, 2014

Martinez Names New Campaign Team

Gov. Susana Martinez today announced top staffers for her re-election campaign.

Melissa Sousa, who managed Albuquerque Mayor Richard Berry’s successful re-election last year, will be the governor's campaign manager. Sousa also worked for Mitt Romney’s 2012 presidential campaign as national voter contact director.

Jessica Perez will continue working fundraising director, as she has for two years. Edith Jorge, who was director of Hispanic outreach in New Jersey Gov. Chris Christie’s re-election last year was named Martinez's political director in charge of grassroots organizing.

Chris Sanchez -- who has worked for other GOP candidates including Allen Weh and Heather Wilson, will be communications director. Sanchez recently stepped down as the Higher Education Department's spokesman. Until now, Martinez's campaign press chores have been handled by veteran Republican operative Danny Diaz, who is based in the Washington, D.C. area.

Thursday, March 20, 2014

Slow Sunshine

Here's my little contribution to Sunshine Week:  A story in today's New Mexican about how I've been waiting for nearly six months to find out how much state money was used to pay for Gov. Susana Martinez, her staff and police security detail for out-of-state travel.

To be fair, I've been waiting six months for info on about half the trips and only three and a half months or so for the other half.

While the Governor's Office has provided dates and destinations of the trips, the state Department of Finance & Administration has claimed my requests were "broad" so more time -- months and months more time -- is needed to compile the information.

The travel for which we still don't know how much taxpayers shelled out are:

* June 28-29: Martinez spoke at an Ohio State Republican Party dinner in Columbus, Ohio

* July 9: Funeral in Prescott, Ariz for 19 firefighters, members of the Granite Mountain Interagency Hotshots who lost their lives fighting a wildfire northwest of Phoenix. (Only days before they died, the team had been in New Mexico battling the Thompson Ridge Fire in the Jemez Mountains.)

* July 12-15: Spoke in Miami at the annual conference for Maverick PAC, a political action committee co-chaired by Jeb Bush Jr.

* July 23-26: Republican Governor's Conference meetings in Aspen, Colo.

* Aug. 22 to 23: U.S. Manufacturing Summit in Orlando, Fla. Martinez was part of a state delegation to attend the event.

* Aug. 23-25: Political fundraiser in Jackson Hole, Wyo.

* Sept. 8-12: Political fundraisers in Philadelphia, New York City and Midland, Texas

* Oct. 7-10: Political fundraisers in Scottsdale, Ariz, and Dallas and Austin.

* Oct. 16-17: Keynote speaker at Texas Federation of Republican Women convention plus political fundraisers in San Antonio

* Oct. 20-21: Political fundraisers in Oklahoma City

* Oct. 22-24: Political fundraisers in Denver and events for Gov. Scott Walker in Wisconsin

* Nov. 3-6: Campaigning in New Jersey with Gov. Chris Christie

* Nov. 19-24 Republican Governors Association meeting in Scottsdale, Ariz.

* Dec. 13-14 Lobo game and political fundraisers in Kansas City

I'll soon be submitting more public records records requests related to the governor's out-of-state travel for dates after Dec. 14.

Sunday, March 9, 2014

The Thrill of Victory, the Agony of Defeat

Morales speaks to the convention
No, yesterday's pre-primary convention for state Democrats at the Route 66 Casino didn't decide who would be running against Republican incumbent Gov. Susana Martinez this year. That, of course, won't be settled until the June primary.

But it had the effect of establishing real momentum for state Sen. Howie Morales of Silver City, who got the most delegate votes, and, to a lesser extent, political newcomer Alan Webber, who came in a distant second, despite being virtually unknown among state Dems just a few short months ago.

And it was a crushing defeat for Attorney General Gary King, who has been running for the office for nearly two years. King, son of the late former Gov. Bruce King, had been considered the frontrunner for the nomination, due mostly to his name-recognition. He's a two-term AG and former state legislator who has run unsuccessfully for governor twice before (1998 and 2002) and for Congress in 2004.

King, who got a little over 10 percent of the delegate vote yesterday, has enough petition signatures to get on the ballot ... if he wants to. That's the big "if" here. To be blunt, yesterday's vote puts the stench of doom on his campaign. I've pointed out many times that nobody who got less than 20 percent of the vote at a pre-primary has come back to win the nomination for governor.
Counting the ballots

State Sen. Linda Lopez, who received less than 19 percent of the vote, also will a rough time in the primary if she files enough petition signatures to stay on the ballot. She told me yesterday that she intends to do that.

Meanwhile, longtime government administrator Lawrence Rael, who barely made the 20 percent cut, still is alive in the race. He's expected to run a tough campaign and I suspect he'll be taking off the gloves.

My story in today's New Mexican about the pre-primary is HERE.

Update: 3-10-14 10:13 An earlier version of this said Alan Webber was "virtually known." I changed it to "virtually unknown." Thanks to a Twitter friend for alerting me.

Personal note: I'm taking a little break from politics this week to go cover the South by Southwest music festival in Austin. Anyone interested in that should check out my MUSIC BLOG. I'll start posting dispatches from the festival in a few days.

ROUNDHOUSE ROUNDUP: My Final Report on Lobbyist Expenses of the 2014 Session

Lobbyist spending on food, drink and fellowship for New Mexico legislators continued into the final week of the session, recently filed lobbyist expense reports show.

Meanwhile, the director of a non-partisan government watchdog group in the state told me last week that that there needs to be a bigger effort to enforce the laws that govern lobbyist spending and reporting.

For the last reports to pop up on the Secretary of State’s Office website, check out the rest of this column at The Santa Fe New Mexican website.

My previous report on lobbyist expenses is  HERE.

An earlier one is HERE

My first one of the 2014 session is HERE

My story about the top 10 political contributors among lobbyists is HERE

Thursday, March 6, 2014

Democratic Gubernatorial Forum

The five candidates seeking the Democratic nod to run for governor didn’t take any serious jabs at one another during a forum Wednesday. But they all took off the gloves when it came to Republican incumbent Susana Martinez.

All five Democrats -- Attorney General Gary King, Sen. Linda Lopez, Sen. Howie Morales, longtime government administrator Lawrence Rael and Santa Fe businessman Alan Webber -- blasted Martinez on a variety of issues.

Martinez's campaign spokesman anticipated this and issued a "pre-butal" that said the five were all trying to appeal to the left "fringe" of the party.

My sgtory on the forum in today's New Mexican is HERE. And I live-tweeted the whole shebang last night. You can read those tweets HERE (and why not go ahead and follow me on Twitter.)

As I said in the story, one of the few differences in the five Dems to emerge last night is that the only one outright opposed to legalizing marijuana is King. One of the things he said about that -- the old argument that most drug addicts start out on marijuana, prompted one of my Twitter followers to quip, "most (Hell's Angels) started out on trikes..."

The first real test of strength for the candidates will be Saturday at the state Democrats'  pre-primary convention. I'll be there.

Wednesday, March 5, 2014

Apocalyptic Drama Coming to NM

No, I'm not referring to the June primary.

A television pilot for a new science fiction drama on The CW network will begin shooting in the state this month.

According to the Television Show Auditions website, the show is called The Messengers, which is
"an apocalyptic drama that starts with a mysterious object crashing down to Earth. A group of seemingly unconnected strangers die from the energy pulse, but then awaken to learn they have been deemed responsible for preventing the impending Apocalypse.""


White Turtle Casting, a New Mexico company is seeking 18 year olds "who look younger," real military, ex military and military types" as well as others for the pilot.

When my friend Matt alerted me to this production, I assumed it was the television series production that Gov. Susana Martinez is set to announce this afternoon.

However, according to Martinez's spokesman Enrique Knell, today's message will not be about The Messengers.

We'll see what's in store.

UPDATE: 3-6-14 10:00 am. What was in store was Manhattan, a series about the Manhattan Project in Los Alamos, to be shot in Santa Fe. My story is HERE

Monday, March 3, 2014

The Gender Card

Mary Bonney, a candidate in tomorrow's municipal election (District 2 City Council)  is making an unusual last-minute appeal for votes:

She's arguing you should vote for her because of the natural moral superiority of women.

A mailer from the Bonney campaign, received by District 2 households over the weekend, makes the following argument why you should vote for her.

When women are elected they:
1) Are more actively involved and advocate more in gender-salient issues: women's health, reproductive rights, child care and the economy (yes, that's a women's issue too.) 
2) Are more responsive to constituents 
3) Are more focused on cooperation, less on hierarchy 
4) Are committed to improving the future for children 
5) They have proven to be more honorable and ethical

The mailer even quotes the late former British prime minister Margaret Thatcher: "If you want something said, as a man; If you want something done, ask a woman."

The District 2 resident who showed me the mailer -- a male, though I still trust him -- said he thought Bonney was taking a chance of offending about 50 percent of the voters.

I doubt they will be offended, because being men, they're probably just watching sports on TV or going to strip bars or doing something dishonorable and unethical. So they won't have time to pay attention to this mailer. And even if it does offend male constituents and they decide to vote for another candidate, they'll have to decide among four male candidates running in that district.

On the flip side of the mailer, Bonney identifies two of her opponents -- Joe Maestas and Rad Acton -- as "Bad Boys"  She blasts Maestas' performance as mayor of Espanola and claims Acton, as co-chair of a task force, cost Santa Fe Public Schools over $1 million by suggesting changes for the Atalaya School project -- which Acton, in an email hotly disputed, saying the changes eventually adopted were cost neutral.

You think this is fun, just wait for the state elections.

Back to Work

Heigh ho, heigh ho, it's back to work I go!
A lot happened while I was off work last week.

There was that scathing audit of the Human Services Department and its handling of the mental health system shakeup. My colleague Patrick Malone covered that.

Democratic gubernatorial candidate dropped his suit to try to disqualify one of his rivals, Howie Morales. That was a sudden decision made after the morning court hearing seemed to go badly for Rael's case. Milan Simonich covered that.

And veteran members of the state House of Representatives kept dropping out, including House GOP floor leader Don Bratton.

While I was out, former Sen. Dede Feldman, D-Albuquerque had some interesting commentary in her email newsletter:

Most of the important Democratic initiatives — minimum wage, early childhood education, marijuana legalization, education restructuring — were constitutional amendments which would go directly to the voters and bypass the Governor’s pen. But barring some break in the lockstep in which the Republicans follow their governor, they were doomed from the start. Such amendments require a majority of both houses, and, with the announcement that two Democratic representatives would be ill and absent for the session, the 36 vote threshold was unattainable, no matter what the Senate did. Now comes the news that the two representatives, Phil Archueleta and Ernest Chavez, have decided that they’re not coming back anyway.  Really?  After all that? After the failure of the minimum wage hike?  Couldn’t they have decided that before the session, and allowed the Democratic county commissions to select a successor in time for those crucial votes? Just wondering.
(To be sure, I haven't received official word that Archuleta has announced he's not seeking re-election, though it's widely speculated that he won't. I'll have to check that out.)

During my week off I did make an appearance on KNME's In Focus with a bunch of fellow journalists. The videos are below.

And speaking of TV, my appearance on Report from Santa Fe, taped in the final hours of the session, can be found HERE.

Now, back to work!