"Capitol Report New Mexico" Latest Blog Postings

New Mexico shoots down drones for hunting

Capital Report New Mexico Blog Postings - Fri, 2014-06-27 10:58

DRONES GET GROUNDED: New Mexico’s Game Commission unanimously approved a proposal banning drones to help hunters track down big game.

By Rob Nikolewski │ New Mexico Watchdog

SANTA FE— New Mexico is a no-drone zone.

Thursday, the state Game Commission, in a 5-1 vote, passed “a prohibition against the use drones to harass wildlife and a prohibition against using drones to take or assist in hunting protected wildlife.”

“It was a growing problem,” Bill Montoya, the vice chairman of the commission, told New Mexico Watchdog.

Under the new rule, “drones can’t be used for looking for game, locating it, seeing where they are,” Montoya said. “We’ve got what we call fair chase, and I think we’re getting to the point where using drones and so forth doesn’t give the animals a chance. It’s not sportsmanlike.”

Using drones for hunting may not be widely used, but hunters in New Mexico say they’re seeing it more often.

Oscar Simpson, of the New Mexico chapter of Backcountry Hunters and Anglers, points to one example from fall 2013, when which a trophy bull elk was taken down by hunters using drones in the Cruces Basin Wilderness, near the Colorado border.

“A guy used a remote-controlled drone to move a big bull elk down to where they were and shot it,” Simpson said. “Three accounts of that happened in New Mexico … They’re harassing animals and it’s not fair chase.”

Under the prohibition, hunters caught with drones face fines ranging from $50 to $500 dollars but can risk getting their license revoked and getting vehicles and weapons confiscated as well, depending on the severity of the infraction.

For those who may try to skirt the law, field colonel Robert Griego of the New Mexico Game and Fish Deparetment said, “Be careful. We have lots of sportsmen who believe very strongly in fair chase and they’ll report ‘em.”

“It’s hard to regulate the technology, but this is a very good idea,” Simpson said.

New Mexico now becomes the fourth state in the nation to ban drones for hunting, joining Alaska, Colorado and Montana.

Just last week, officials at the National Park Service sent a policy memorandum to its 401 park superintendents banning the launching, landing or operation of unmanned aircraft. The move was partly inspired after volunteers at Zion National Park in Utah saw a group of people using a drone to buzz desert bighorn sheep, causing younger sheep to get separated from their herd.

“It began a few years ago and it had been growing, so we just don’t want to see it be used as an everyday thing when you’re hunting,” Montoya said.

Click here to read the provisions of the ban New Mexico passed Thursday.

Contact Rob Nikolewski at rnikolewski@watchdog.org and follow him on Twitter @robnikolewski

Ride-sharing companies fight New Mexico regulators

Capital Report New Mexico Blog Postings - Thu, 2014-06-26 05:55

IN NO MOOD TO SHARE: The New Mexico Public Regulation Commission insists that ride-sharing outfits like Lyft must follow the state’s Motor Carrier Law.

By Rob Nikolewski │ New Mexico Watchdog

SANTA FE — It’s called ride-sharing, a way to catch a ride using 21st century technology, embraced by millennials and free-market advocates as efficient and entrepreneurial, but regulators in New Mexico aren’t jumping on board.

On Wednesday, the state Public Regulation Commission voted 3-2 to deny a request from a company connected to one of the largest ride-sharing outfits in the nation, Uber, for a certificate to provide “specialized passenger service.”

The move comes a little more than a month after the PRC issued a cease and desist order against Lyft, which is trying to establish a presence in the Albuquerque market.

The fight centers on whether companies like Uber and Lyft essentially offer the same services as taxis or vans. The ride-sharing companies say they’re fundamentally different, but a majority of the commissioners insist they should be regulated under the Motor Carrier Act.

“We’re not exactly a taxi service,” said Paul Melendres, an attorney for a company named Hinter-NM for its UberX program, to PRC commissioners. “We don’t own the vehicles. (Customers) don’t stand in a taxi line, you don’t hail us.”

But commissioners Ben Hall, Valerie Espinoza and Theresa Becenti-Aguilar were unmoved and denied the certificate.

“Quit skirting the law,” Espinoza told Melendres.

Ride-sharing works by allowing customers to download a free smartphone app, which they use to request a ride.

The app connects them to the nearest available driver and tracks the length of the trip in distance and time, calculates the cost and automatically transfers the fee from the user’s credit card (already entered into the app at the beginning of the process) to the driver’s account. No cash changes hands.

Lyft spokeswoman Katie Dally said Lyft drivers work their own schedules and use their own personal vehicles and are properly vetted, licensed and insured.

“Trying to regulate a ride-sharing service like Lyft as if it were a taxi service is trying to put a square peg into a round hole,” said Dally in a telephone interview from San Francisco.

Ride-sharing fans accuse cab companies in cities such as Los Angeles and San Francisco as trying to wield influence to snuff out competition. Earlier this month, the Department of Motor Vehicles department in Virginia fined Uber and Lyft for not having “proper operating authority” to do business in the state.

“Regulations are meant to protect consumers, not create a mythical ‘level playing field,’ “said Paul Gessing, president of the Rio Grande Foundation, a free-market think tank based in Albuquerque. “If taxis aren’t competitive with Lyft and Uber, then the obvious thing to do is reform regulations to help them compete, not to force Lyft and Uber to adhere to onerous regulations.”

For now, the majority of New Mexico’s regulation commission disagrees.

“As a commissioner, I welcome anybody who wants to come in and compete against somebody else as long as they’re doing it legal,” Hall told New Mexico Watchdog after Wednesday’s meeting. “If they don’t want to do it legal, then they’re not welcome here as far as I’m concerned.”

Commissioner Pat Lyons, joined by Karen Montoya, voted the other way.

“I wouldn’t mind giving them a temporary service, a temporary solution,” Lyons said. “The people seem to want this. It’s a new, innovative system.”

The issue isn’t over, though. PRC staff is looking into adjusting its rules to accommodate ride-sharing companies, but it’s also considering stricter enforcement measures against Lyft and Uber.

Lyons said ultimately the state Legislature needs to hammer out a statute for ride-sharing companies. “Competition is good,” Lyons said. “Let’s create jobs.”

Contact Rob Nikolewski at rnikolewski@watchdog.org and follow him on Twitter @robnikolewski

Questions surround NM immigration detention center; “They should incur all costs,” governor says

Capital Report New Mexico Blog Postings - Tue, 2014-06-24 15:56

YOUNG DETAINEES: As many as 700 children and parents are about to be processed at a detention center in Artesia, N.M.

By Rob Nikolewski │ New Mexico Watchdog

SANTA FE — Trying to stem a tide of thousands of undocumented immigrants, as many of 50,000 of them children, the U.S. Department of Homeland Security is about to convert a training center for the U.S. Border Patrol in the southern New Mexico town of Artesia into a detention center.

But Gov. Susana Martinez said Tuesday morning she’s concerned about a host of questions, ranging from how the children and their families will be cared for to making sure state and local agencies aren’t stuck picking up part of the bill.

“It is a federal facility and it’s their facility so they should incur all costs,” Martinez told New Mexico Watchdog. “But at the same time, we’re not going to leave a child hungry or without medication because of the failed (immigration) policy in Washington. We’re just not going to do that.”

Elected officials across the state are still getting answers about the Federal Law Enforcement Training Center in Artesia, which is being converted to house as many as 700 immigrants, nearly all of them from Central America.

Officials from the Department of Homeland Security, Immigration and Customs Enforcement and FLETC met with state and local officials at the training center Monday and Tuesday.

Dennis Kintigh, the mayor of Roswell, located 41 miles from Artesia and just eight miles from the county line, was among those at Tuesday’s meeting and told New Mexico Watchdog what was shared by federal officials:

TRANSITION: The Federal Law Enforcement Training Center in Artesia is expected to start taking in immigrant families who entered the U.S. illegally as early as Thursday or Friday.

*The facility will not be taking unaccompanied minors

*Families may be entering the facility as early as Thursday or Friday, with officials expecting as many as 50 individuals being housed at first

*Federal officials expect the facility, made up of 20 family units, to be open for 6-12 months. “I think it’s going to go longer than that, though,” Kintigh said.

*Immigrants will be coming in and out on a rotating basis, with new arrivals replacing those who are processed out of the facility. The average processing time will be 30 days.

*The immigrants will be housed in modular dormitories that are already on site

*Kintigh said federal officials told state and local representatives the facility will house “only the lowest-level risk” immigrants. “They’re not going to be gang-bangers, they said,” Kintigh said, “although they will be sending up to 17-year-old males with a mother.”

*Chain-link fences are being constructed around the dormitories, but there will be no wires atop the fences

*Training around the facility will continue for those enrolled in the Border Patrol academy

“My concerns were more from a law enforcement perspective than about (immigration) policy,” Kintigh said. “Before this meeting, there was no coordination with law enforcement in our area or with Chaves County.”

“My main concern is, we have children who are a very young age being held in immigration camps where children don’t belong,” Martinez said, adding, “That facility is meant to keep people out, not to keep them in.”

New Mexico Watchdog emailed a list of questions to the public affairs office at DHS Tuesday afternoon. We received a fact sheet (click here to view), but the response didn’t answer questions about financial concerns or specific safety questions about the converted facility.

Rep. Bill Gray, R-Artesia, said he was impressed by the federal officials at Tuesday’s meeting. “I felt they were very honest with us,” Gray said. “I don’t know if I’m feeling better about it because there’s not much we can do about it.”

But Rep. Candy Spence Ezzell, R-Roswell, said, “I have plenty of concerns.”

Ezzell said an ICE official at Tuesday’s meeting estimated that 90 percent of those sent to the facility will eventually be sent back to their country of origin.

“But that means 10 percent will be given asylum,” Ezzell said. “Unless we see a change in our immigration policy, I can see this going on forever … We can’t take care of our veterans, we can’t take care of our elders, we can’t take care of people who can’t help themselves and I am very bothered by this.”

Contact Rob Nikolewski at rnikolewski@watchdog.org and follow him on Twitter @robnikolewski

A Great Green Boondoggle? Retired Navy pilot says biofuels waste millions

Capital Report New Mexico Blog Postings - Tue, 2014-06-24 10:50

GAMBLING ON BIOFUELS: The U.S. Navy is spending millions to use biofuels to power its fleet. But a former Navy pilot with a degree in physics says it’s a waste of money and endangers national security. Photo by the U.S. Navy.

By Rob Nikolewski │ New Mexico Watchdog

The U.S. Navy boasts that it’s well on its way to creating a “Great Green Fleet” powered by biofuels.

But a recently retired Navy captain is making waves of his own, saying the project is a complete waste of taxpayer money and that politics is trumping national security.

“I don’t want to see us throwing away billions of dollars, and we’re doing it in a vain pursuit of something that is indefensible,” said T.A. “Ike” Kiefer, an Annapolis graduate who majored in physics. He’s a 25-year Navy pilot with a master’s degree in strategy from the U.S. Army Command and General Staff College.

“We really have to think this through and not rely on feel-good assumptions,” Kiefer said in a telephone interview with Watchdog.org from his home in Mississippi.

In an 86-page academic paper he takes dead aim at cultivated crop-based liquid biofuels such as algae, biodiesel and corn ethanol. The provacative title: “Twenty-First Century Snake Oil: Why the United States Should Reject Biofuels as Part of a Rational National Security Energy Strategy.”

The Navy has made biofuels the centerpiece of its commitment to get 50 percent of its energy from alternative sources by 2020.

In an interview four years ago, Deputy Assistant Secretary to the Navy (Energy) Tom Hicks said the newly dubbed “Great Green Fleet” would include a strike group run completely on alternative fuels by 2016.

But Kiefer insists biofuels can’t get the Navy where it wants to go.

Kiefer says biofuels can’t generate enough of an economic return on investment to justify the expense. Biofuels, Kiefer’s study says, lack power density, and that limitation can only be overcome by using such vast amounts of land that it becomes counterproductive.

BIOFUEL CRITIC: Todd “Ike” Kiefer wrote an 86-page paper claiming that millions of dollars are wasted on biofuel programs.

“The assumptions that somehow biofuels can remove dependence on foreign resources turns out not only to be false but inverted,” Kiefer said. “It actually makes you more dependent and more vulnerable.”

Kiefer’s paper came out 1 1/2 years ago but, he said, the Navy delayed it from publication and never directly contacted him about his findings. “That was a conversation I was hoping for, but it never happened,” Kiefer said.

The Department of Defense and the Department of Energy offered rebuttals.

DOD said Kiefer’s paper “has been tailored with literatures with negative points of views and results for biofuels” and said Kiefer’s critique of high fuel costs dismisses the potential for technological breakthroughs.

“If one uses the status quo to decide what society should or should not do, many technology innovations and civilization advancements would not have occurred.” the DOD response said.

There’s no debate government is spending a lot of money.

Since 2007, the military has spent $67.8 million on 1.35 million gallons of biofuel, averaging more than $50 a gallon or $2,100 a barrel. Kiefer says that cost taxpayers $60 million more than if conventional fuel was purchased.

Citing figures from the Energy Information Agency, Kiefer says the federal government is paying more than $10 a barrel in biofuel subsidies and, according to the Department of Energy’s own numbers, it pumped $603 million into biofuel refinery construction in 2010 alone, as part of a $7.8 billon in annual biofuel spending.

All this is coming, Kiefer writes, “while scores of failed bio-refineries are on the market today in bankruptcy fire sales.”

It’s not just the Navy that’s entranced by the allure of biofuels.

A glance across the country shows nearly every state has biofuel regulations, incentives and grants.

In New Mexico, for example, the state provides a blending tax credit for producers of biodiesel.

“Biodiesel is a superb fuel if it’s made correctly,” Colin Messer, Clean Energy Program Manager at the New Mexico Energy Minerals and Natural Resources Department, told New Mexico Watchdog.

Corn ethanol subsidies flourish for states in the Midwest, and the Obama administration has awarded contracts worth $16 million to three biofuel plants in Illinois, Nebraska and California.

But Kiefer says those programs are also throwing good money after bad.

“There’s this feel-good perception of what biofuels are,” he said. “But if your biofuel, when you actually trace out all its component ingredients, and all the energy that went into making it and it turns out that 50 to 90 percent of the energy in that gallon of biofuel in the end is fossil fuel energy, then you really don’t have a green fuel, a clean fuel or a renewable fuel.”

Kiefer’s paper includes a chart showing the cost of government subsidies for various biofuels and alternative energy sources vastly outweighs the subsidies of conventional energy sources such as coal, oil and natural gas:

Kiefer isn’t against investing in alternative energy. For example, he advises the military to offer monetary incentives for achieving milestones in more promising fields, such as direct fuel photosynthesis and improved PV solar panel performance. “Solar panels can do much better than algae can ever do,” Kiefer said.

It should be noted that Kiefer is not alone with his criticism of the military’s biofuel program.

In 2011, a study initiated by Congress by the Rand Corporation concluded, “There is no direct benefit to the Department of Defense or the services from using alternative fuels rather than petroleum-derived fuels.”

Navy Secretary Ray Mabus, a big fan of the program, said he “vehemently” disagreed with the report.

A year later, Sen. John McCain, R-Ariz., took his own shot at Mabus, saying in a letter, “You are the Secretary of the Navy, not the Secretary of Energy.”

As for Kiefer, 48, he retired in June of 2013 and now works as a manager at a power company in Meridian, Miss. He may not be on active duty anymore, but he believes the Navy’s alternative energy program is not only wasteful but endangers the fleet.

“It’s a recipe for unrest and disaster,” Kiefer said. “We need a sanity check.”

Read Kiefer’s paper by clicking here.

Contact Rob Nikolewski at rnikolewski@watchdog.org and follow him on Twitter @robnikolewski

More controversy for a New Mexico town that thrives on it UPDATE: Judge sets Aug. 12 hearing date on disputed election

Capital Report New Mexico Blog Postings - Mon, 2014-06-23 09:26

IT LOOKS QUIET ENOUGH: The town of Sunland Park, N.M., is once again at the center of a political controversy.

By Rob Nikolewski │ New Mexico Watchdog

When you think about political mischief in New Mexico, the border town of Sunland Park springs right to mind.

After all, it’s the place where a mayor once said an agreement he signed should be voided because he was too drunk at the time to know what he was doing.

And home to a recent voter fraud conviction as well as charges of extortion and prostitution.

Now, another fracas has broken out with a longtime member of the state Legislature claiming she lost a close re-election race because of what she alleges are questionable absentee ballots that came from Sunland Park.

“Right now, we’re just diligently trying to collect the facts of what occurred during absentee balloting down in Sunland Park,” Rep. Mary Helen Garcia, D-Las Cruces told the Las Cruces Sun-News of the legal papers she filed in district court for a recount in the Democratic Party primary she lost by just 16 votes to Bealquin “Bill” Gomez.

According to Doña Ana County Bureau of Elections figures, Gomez won an overwhelming number of absentee votes in the June 3 primary. Gomez finished with 88 absentee votes, compared to just 15 for Garcia. A third Democrat, Christian Lira, received just one absentee vote and finished in a distant third place overall.

The secretary of state’s office, which oversees statewide elections, confirmed to New Mexico Watchdog it’s investigating a complaint filed about the House District 34 election. “The Office of the Secretary of State is conducting an investigation into the issues raised in that complaint,” spokesman Ken Ortiz said in an email, but didn’t offer any more specifics.

“I think it’s a bunch of bull,” Gomez said of Garcia’s challenge. “I got the most votes and that’s the way it goes … I think she’s a sore loser … I ran a clean campaign. I won and that’s the way life is.”

But Garcia isn’t the only candidate complaining about absentee ballots coming from Sunland Park.

Merrie Lee Soules also lost a close race in the Democratic primary — by 137 votes — to Sandy Jones for the Public Regulation Commission in District 5, which covers the southwest part of the state.

Although Soules said she hasn’t made up her mind whether to file for a recount, she is questioning what she says is an inordinate number of absentee votes from the Sunland Park area that went against her.

“Yes, there are some questions,” Soules told New Mexico Watchdog in a brief phone interview Friday. Soules didn’t give more specifics, saying she preferred to wait until she made a decision on filing for a recount.

JUST 16 VOTES: Incumbent state Rep. Mary Helen Garcia, D-Dona Ana County, alleges that suspicious absentee ballots helped put challenger Bill Gomez over the top in their Democratic primary election June 3.

Garcia’s challenge is before 3rd Judicial District Court Judge Jim Martin, who has not set a date for the recount.

While Garcia lost by just 16 votes, the margin was not small enough to trigger an automatic, state-mandated recount. For that to happen, a race must be decided by 0.5 percent or less. The margin between Gomez and Garcia in the House District 34 race was 1.8 percent.

As a result, Garcia has to pick up the cost of the recount, which is estimated to be about $2,000 to $3,000. Should Garcia eventually win the race, the county will pick up the tab.

Gomez said voters simply preferred him over Garcia, who has served in the Legislature for 17 years, and said he’s confident his edge in absentee ballots will hold up.

“She’s complaining about the signatures,” Gomez said. “How does she know? Does she have a handwriting expert? I hear she and her people are harassing voters in Sunland Park. That just makes voters upset and less likely to vote.”

Update 9:12 p.m.: Judge Martin set an Aug. 12 hearing date to hear arguments over the dispute election results.  On Monday night, Garcia told New Mexico Watchdog that she will not call for a recount but will try to toss out a number of absentee ballots she claims are invalid. “That’s what we’re zeroing in on,” she said in a telephone interview. Garcia said she has hired a forensic handwriting expert to back up her claims. “There has to be integrity in our elections,” she said.

Garcia chastised Sunland Park city council members after a series of chaotic meetings at city hall in 2011 and called for the state to take over the city government — something the state eventually did in 2012.

This latest controversy is the just the latest in a string of scandals for the town of 20,000 that’s located just north of the Mexican border and west of the Texas state line:

*In August 2011, then-mayor Martin Resendiz admitted in a deposition he was drunk when he signed nine contracts with a California firm that sued the city government for not paying for services rendered.

*In February 2012, extortion charges were filed against a mayoral candidate who allegedly tried to blackmail an opponent who was shown receiving a lap dance from a topless woman on videotape. Daniel Salinas — the alleged blackmailer — defeated Gerardo Hernandez — the lap dance recipient — in city elections, but couldn’t assume office because the charges against him stipulated he couldn’t step foot into city hall.

*Later in 2012, Salinas and city manager Jaime Aguilera entered the equivalent of not guilty pleas to extortion charges.

*In May 2012, State Auditor Hector Balderas said his office confirmed that Salinas spent more than $42,000 from the city’s Border Crossing Fund to “pay for prostitutes for Salinas and the City’s former public information officer, Arturo Alba, during a trip to Mexico.”

*In March 2013, former city employee Silvia Gomez admitted to multiple charges of voter fraud for inducing non-residents to vote in the 2012 Sunland Park elections, which were marred by allegations of voter tampering.

*Salinas is still awaiting trial on multiple charges that include bribery, extortion and receiving illegal kickbacks.

After spending two years and hundreds of thousands of taxpayer dollars to help run Sunland Park’s dysfunctional city government, the Department of Finance and Administration on June 5 returned complete control of the city’s management to Sunland Park officials.

Contact Rob Nikolewski at rnikolewski@watchdog.org and follow him on Twitter @robnikolewski

Why there’s a federal land dispute brewing out West

Capital Report New Mexico Blog Postings - Mon, 2014-06-23 09:23

WHOSE LAND IS THIS LAND? Unlike states in the East, vast swaths of acreage in the West is owned by the federal government.

By Rob Nikolewski │ New Mexico Watchdog

ALBUQUERQUE – Glance at a map showing the percentage of state land owned by the federal government and you’ll see a remarkable difference between the East and the West.

East of the Rocky Mountains, the feds own no more than 13 percent of the land in any state. West of the Rockies, in the continental U.S., the federal government owns at least 29.9 percent of the land in each state. In eight states — California, Oregon, Idaho, Nevada, Utah, Arizona, New Mexico and Wyoming — the feds own more than 40 percent of the land.

When Alaska (69.3 percent) is included, that number grows to nine.

Take a look:

Carl Graham thinks that should change. He’d like to see the federal government transfer some — but not all — of those vast swaths of territory to the states themselves.

“What we’d like to see is shifting that balance back to where we have more state and local governments, who are much more accountable to their people, making those decisions that affect people’s lives,” said Graham, director of the Sutherland Coalition for Self-Government in the West, based in Salt Lake City.

Graham says in a domestic economic situation rife with sequesters and budget deficits, Western states in particular are too dependent on the federal government. The title of his group’s website makes no secret of that: www.EndFedAddiction.org

There was a time when the federal government owned most of the land in the Eastern states. But in the early 19th century, those lands were transferred to the states through grants, sales and homesteading.

But the same thing didn’t happen for states in the West.

“What happened in the late 19th century was, Teddy Roosevelt and others looked out to the West and said, ‘Hey, nobody’s out there yet really using these lands. Let’s start fencing them off and preserving them and keeping people off of them,’ ” Graham told New Mexico Watchdog.

As a result, there’s a marked difference between the amount of federally owned land between one border state and another, such as Montana (29.9 percent) and North Dakota (just 2.7 percent), even though both states entered the Union in the same year — 1889.

“It’s a matter of fairness,” Graham said. “A promise has been broken.”

Advocates like Graham say states can do a better job of managing land and believe Western states are losing millions of dollars in revenue each year. They’re calling for a Transfer of Public Lands Act to shift some federal land now managed by the U.S. Forest Service and the Bureau of Land Management to state and local control.

“We’re not talking about national park land or wilderness areas, national monuments, military installations or tribal lands,” Graham said during a speech in Albuquerque. “We’re talking about multiple-use land,” totaling about 640 million acres in various Western states. “Nobody is talking about drilling for oil in Carlsbad Caverns.”

But the idea has generated opposition, especially among environmental groups.

“It’s laughable,” John Horning, executive director at WildEarth Guardians New Mexico, said when the subject came up last fall. “Public lands are a birthright for all Americans … I think the state is probably in over its head, acquiring federal land and managing it.”

There’s also the legal question about whether Western states can get federal land transferred to them at all.

For example, the Enabling Act of 1910 that eventually saw New Mexico and Arizona admitted into the Union defers all public land issues to the federal government.

The act states “that the people inhabiting said proposed state do agree and declare that they forever disclaim all right and title to the unappropriated and ungranted public lands lying within the boundaries thereof.”

But the movement has generated momentum.

Utah passed a land transfer bill calling on the federal government to give back 20 million acres; a quick analysis by the Idaho’s State Management of Federal Lands estimated a net gain of at least $51 million if 16.4 million acres of federal land was transferred to state control.

Nevada recently became the fifth Western state to establish a task force to look into the potential benefits of transferring federal land. In one of its early findings, a study showed BLM land in Nevada operated at a loss of 91 cents per acre, while the average of state land operated by four states earned more than $28 per acre.

“That’s an enormous difference per acre when you’re talking about, literally, millions and millions of acres,” Graham said.

But critics question the numbers.

The Southern Utah Wilderness Alliance said advocates of public land transfers are “prepared to waste millions of taxpayer dollars in their quixotic quest to send the federal government ‘a message.’ ”

But Graham says what was good enough for Eastern states such as Maryland should be good enough for Western states, such as Montana.

“It’s not a loss,” he said. “There’s going to be money to fight fires, to maintain roads, to take care of recreational facilities. The revenues that can responsibly taken from these lands while still conserving them are more than adequate to manage them.”

Here’s New Mexico Watchdog’s interview with Graham before he spoke Tuesday night at a conference sponsored by the Rio Grande Foundation:

Contact Rob Nikolewski at rnikolewski@watchdog.org and follow him on Twitter @robnikolewski

Senate committee offers compromise on NM’s Norman Bay

Capital Report New Mexico Blog Postings - Wed, 2014-06-18 15:13

NOT SO FAST: It looks like former New Mexico attorney Norman Bay will have to wait until next year to become the new chairman of the Federal Energy Regulatory Commission.

By Rob Nikolewski │ New Mexico Watchdog

Norman Bay is on target to head to the Federal Energy Regulatory Commission, but he’s going to have to wait.

In what could lead to the end of a Capitol Hill turf battle, the former New Mexico prosecutor and law professor was part of a compromise hammered out Wednesday by a divided Senate Energy and Natural Resources Committee. It intends to see Bay become the chairman of FERC, but only after serving as a commissioner for nine months.

In the meantime, Cheryl LaFleur will remain acting chairwoman.

In a 13-9 vote, the committee elected to promote Bay from his current position as director of FERC’s Office of Enforcement to become one of its three commissioners. It also voted, 21-1, to keep LaFleur on until next year.

Sen. Joe Manchin, D-WVa., said there would be “a nine-month time period that Cheryl LaFleur will stay, but she will be the chairman in full, with full privileges of a chairmanship. That gives Mr. Bay, who’s a good man, a chance to get the experience needed on that commission, as far as with regulatory experience.”

“That nine months will start at the point of confirmation on the Senate floor,” said Sen. Mary Landrieu, D-La., who chairs the Senate committee. Landrieu is recommending Bay’s nomination be considered by the Senate in September.

Bay has been the choice of the Obama administration and Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid, D-Nev., but he received opposition from some committee members who said he lacked experience in the energy industry.

“I do understand that he’s a smart man, and that smart people can learn the ropes, if you will,” said Sen. Lisa Murkowski, R-Alaska. “But I’m not interested in the chairman of the FERC being somebody that is doing on-the-job training, particularly when we have a woman (LaFleur) — the only woman on the Commission — who has been at the helm as the acting head of this commission, and by all reports, from Democrats and Republicans alike, she has been doing a good job.”

Reid is opposed to keeping LaFleur as chairwoman. There’s speculation Reid wants Bay to become chairman of FERC because Bay may be more open promoting renewable energy, an industry with ties to Reid’s home state.

“Norman Bay is a close ally of Majority Leader Harry Reid and President Obama — and I’m concerned he will serve as a rubberstamp for the president’s new unworkable cap-and-trade rule that will drive up electricity prices and hurt our economy,” Sen. David Vitter, R-La., was quoted as saying to the New Orleans Times-Picayune.

But retired Sen. Pete Domenici, R-N.M., himself a former chairman of the Senate Energy and Natural Resources Committee, says Bay would be an excellent choice to run the agency that oversees the nation’s electrical grid.

“The job that (Bay) is seeking demands somebody just like him,” Domenici said before the committee last month. “I’m not a great fan of the president of the United States and people know that, but I think this is a great appointment. So I am on his side on this. I don’t see how you can miss.”

Contact Rob Nikolewski at rnikolewski@watchdog.org and follow him on Twitter @robnikolewski

Albuquerque Tea Party reacts to lost IRS emails: ‘There is no rule of law’

Capital Report New Mexico Blog Postings - Wed, 2014-06-18 12:37

GONE: The Internal Revenue Service says a crashed server is to blame for lost emails from former IRS official Lois Lerner but an official with a Tea Party group in Albuquerque, N.M., says he thinks the IRS isn’t telling the truth.

By Rob Nikolewski │ New Mexico Watchdog

SANTA FE — An official with the Albuquerque Tea Party isn’t buying the explanation from the Internal Revenue Service about missing emails.

“It’s just lies,” said Rick Harbaugh, former president and current secretary of the group that has waited 4 1/2 years to receive nonprofit status. “I don’t know what to say. Either they’re absolutely incompetent or they’re absolutely violating the law constantly and don’t give a damn.”

The Internal Revenue Service said Friday it can’t find two years’ worth of emails from Lois Lerner, former head of the IRS exempt organizations division.

Then, on Tuesday, congressional investigators said the IRS “cannot produce records from six other IRS employees involved in the targeting of conservative groups.”

”I think people are getting to the point where they expect their government to lie to them and they don’t care,” Harbaugh said in a telephone interview with New Mexico Watchdog.

Lerner has been the heart of a scandal that broke more than a year ago. IRS Commissioner John Koskinen in March assured congressional investigators the emails were “stored in servers.” But now, the IRS blames a crash of Lerner’s hard drive in 2011 for its inability to retrieve emails that came primarily from outside the IRS, including the White House and other major offices and departments.

Republicans on the House Ways and Means Committee say the IRS knew as early as February that emails were missing but were not told until late Friday.

“It looks like the American people were lied to and the IRS tried to cover-up the fact it conveniently lost key documents in this investigation,” committee chairman Dave Camp, R-Mich., and Rep. Charles Boustany, R-La., said in a statement.

“I think it’s entirely reasonable. And it’s fact,” incoming White House press secretary Josh Earnest told reporters Monday. Earlier this year, President Obama said there was “Not even a smidgen of corruption” surrounding the IRS controversy.

Harbaugh says the IRS has become a political arm: “It’s a tool to intimidate. It’s a tool to abuse.”

But what about reports that liberal political groups were scrutinized, too?

“You can say that, it’s true,” Harbaugh said. “But they looked at eight to 10 of them and did nothing. They’ve looked at tea party organizations throughout the United States and are abusing them unmercifully.”

Harbaugh said it would be “wonderful” for a special prosecutor to be appointed to determine what happened and to retrieve the missing emails.

“The information is still there,” Harbaugh said. “It’s just more difficult to find now. It’s on servers somewhere. You just have to do better investigating.”

The Albuquerque Tea Party, which first applied for tax exempt status as a 501(c)(4) social welfare group in December 2009, is one of a number of conservative political groups that accuses the IRS of hassling them and delaying their approval as nonprofits.

Harbaugh says his organization’s voice has been muted. “We have this big pile of money that we can’t do anything with because the Internal Revenue Service is behaving so poorly.”

The Albuquerque Tea Party has joined 41 organizations in 22 states in filing a lawsuit in Washington, D.C., with the American Center for Law and Justice, taking on the IRS, the Department of Justice and other federal officials. In its filings the ACLJ pointed to a IRS letter from its D.C. office in 2010 to the Albuquerque Tea Party asking the group a series of 10 follow-up questions. Among them was information into Marianne Chiffelle’s Breakfasts.”

New Mexico Watchdog later discovered that “Marianne Chiffelle’s Breakfasts” was not a restaurant or business, but an 83-year-old great-grandmother and former World War II internment camp survivor who is active in Republican politics in Albuquerque.

“There is no rule of law and we’re in a situation of tyranny and something needs to be done to restore the American values that have kept us alive for 250 years,” Harbaugh said.

The Albuquerque Tea Party held two big taxpayer rallies in 2010 and 2011 in front of the IRS building in Albuquerque that, Harbaugh said, drew between 8,000 to 11,000 people. He said a rally this year drew just 300.

“They’ve given up,” Harbaugh said. “They’re hiding. They don’t trust their government anymore.”

Democrats on Capitol Hill dismissed talk about government-inspired plots and schemes.

“It is unfortunate that the IRS experienced equipment failure that resulted in several computers crashing and some email data being lost from Lois Lerner’s hard drive between 2009 and 2011,” Rep. Sander Levin, D-Michigan, the top Democrat on Ways and Means said. “But every equipment failure is not a conspiracy.”

Contact Rob Nikolewski at rnikolewski@watchdog.org and follow him on Twitter @robnikolewski

Should New Mexico make a pension switch?

Capital Report New Mexico Blog Postings - Wed, 2014-06-18 12:23

TIME FOR A CHANGE?: More states are converting to 401(k)-style pension plans. Should New Mexico lawmakers at least consider a change?

By Rob Nikolewski │ New Mexico Watchdog

SANTA FE — Three weeks ago, Oklahoma became one of a growing number of states switching from traditional retirement systems for new state employees to plans that resemble 401(k)s.

The New Mexico Legislature so far hasn’t moved to follow the trend.

“I wouldn’t support it,” state Rep. Jim Trujillo, D-Santa Fe, and chairman of the Investment and Pension Oversight Committee, said Tuesday. “Our plan is doing well … A 401(k) would work, but the risk would be there, greater than what we have in our pension system.”

But Rep. Alonzo Baldonado, R-Los Lunas, is open to the idea.

“I think at least we need to look at it,” Baldonado told New Mexico Watchdog. “Not only as a state but as a nation, for years, we had these really nice pension plans, but the truth is … with improved medical technology, we have people living well into their 70s and 80s … You don’t want to end up where everyone’s bankrupt and nobody gets anything.”

Signed by Republican Gov. Mary Fallin on May 30, the new Oklahoma pension plan will see new state employees go from what is called a defined-benefit plan — in essence, a pension plan in which employees receive a fixed amount of money each month — to a defined-contribution plan, such as Oklahoma’s. Under that plan, workers will contribute a minimum of 3 percent to their retirement, and the state will match contributions up to 7 percent.

The bill signed by Fallin makes exceptions for teachers and “hazardous duty” employees such as cops and firefighters.

The law goes into effect next year and will affect all newly elected officials.

“Oklahoma pension systems currently have $11 billion in unfunded liabilities,” Fallin said upon signing the law. “The system as it stands today is not financially sound or sustainable. Moving future hires to a 401(k)-style system helps to ensure we can pay our current retirees and employees the benefits they have already earned.”

As state pension plans became more generous in recent years and a higher percentage of state employees reached retirement age, states have struggled to meet their increasing financial burdens. One estimate reports the U.S. has racked up $4.1 trillion in unfunded liabilities in public pensions.

As a result, more states are switching to 401(k)-style plans to save money.

All told, Oklahoma joined 19 states that have made the switch or at least offer options or hybrid systems for state employees.

Here’s an interactive graphic from the Illinois Policy Center, a free-market think tank in favor of 401(k)-style plans:

To do something similar in New Mexico, the Legislature would have to get the ball rolling.

“Around here, you’re going to get a little more pushback,” said Rep. Tim Lewis, R-Albuquerque.

In 2013, Gov. Susana Martinez signed a bill aimed at shoring up an estimated $12 billion hole in the state’s two giant state employee funds — the Public Employees Retirement Association and the Educational Retirement Board. Some critics say the fixes didn’t go far enough. PERA and ERB officials say the plans are back on solid financial ground.

“I think we should wait and see for at least the next three or four years and see how (the 2013 pension fix) works out,” Trujillo said.

Baldonado said it would be prudent to at least discuss making changes.

“If you worked all these years and then the system you paid into is not able to pay back, then you’ve got a bigger mess on your hands,” Baldonado said. “Look at the city of Detroit. That’s a disaster.”

Detroit is trying to climb out of a $18.5 billion bankruptcy filing, driven primarily by unsustainable retirement-benefit liabilities and mounting general-obligation debt.

Contact Rob Nikolewski at rnikolewski@watchdog.org and follow him on Twitter @robnikolewski

Former campaign official pleads guilty to hacking emails of NM governor

Capital Report New Mexico Blog Postings - Mon, 2014-06-16 18:10

PLEADS GUILTY TO HACKING EMAILS: Former campaign manager Jamie Estrada leaves the U.S. District Courthouse in Albuquerque after pleading guilty to hacking the email account of Gov. Susana Martinez. Photo by New Mexico Watchdog.

By Rob Nikolewski │ New Mexico Watchdog

ALBUQUERQUE – Federal prosecutors say it was a 21st political crime with an old-fashioned result.

The former campaign manager for Republican Gov. Susana Martinez pleaded guilty in federal court of hacking into the emails belonging to the Martinez camp, passing them on to political opponents and then lying about it to FBI agents.

“We as citizens in the community, we have an expectation of privacy when we receive an email, when we send an email, and it’s wrong for anybody to unlawfully intercept that email and redirect it, which is what occurred in this case,” U.S. Attorney Damon P. Martinez, District of New Mexico, told New Mexico Watchdog after Jamie Estrada entered into a plea agreement to unlawful interception of wire communications intended for others and false statement charges — each felonies.

Estrada faces up to one year and one day in prison plus potential fines. Sentencing is expected within the next 75 days in Albuquerque.

Why did he do it? Estrada did not speak to reporters after making his plea before federal magistrate Judge Lorenzo Garcia.

“I can’t speak for Jamie Estrada,” Damon Martinez said.

But when Estrada was first indicted last year, Gov. Martinez accused him of hacking into the email account after he was let go by the Martinez campaign and then passing the intercepted emails to her political opponents out of spite.

“I knew the defendant to be a man of suspect character,” Martinez said in a statement May 30, 2013. “That is why I fired him from my campaign in 2009 and why I rejected him for a position within my administration after being elected.”

Estrada at first pleaded not guilty, saying that the Martinez administration officials were trying to “divert attention from their own improper actions,” including charges of trying to rig the bid for a contract at the Albuquerque Downs racino, something the Martinez administration vociferously denied.

In Monday’s plea agreement, Estrada admitted, “I gave the emails to Governor Martinez’s political opponents knowing that certain emails would be disseminated to others.”

Damon Martinez would not say whether any of the recipients of the intercepted emails are being investigated.

“We’re here to talk about the Jamie Estrada case,” he said.

According to the U.S. Attorney’s office, Estrada accessed the email account in July of 2011 by using a fictitious name and renewed the account using a prepaid gift card to cover his tracks. He then changed the domain’s settings so that he would receive the emails instead of the recipients in the Martinez camp. The Attorney’s Office says the intercepted communications included personal emails, internal political communications and emails from ordinary citizens.

“That violation is very similar to wire tapping,” Special Agent Carol K.O. Lee of the Albuquerque Division of the FBI, said.

In one of the strange offshoots of the Estrada case, former Democratic Party employee Jason Loera is facing child pornography charges.

Federal agents say they were investigating whether Loera had received some of the stolen emails. When FBI computer specialists looked at the computers and compact discs found at a house they say was occupied by Loera, “the examiners identified four writable CDs which appeared to contain images of child pornography,” according to an affidavit.

Loera has pleaded not guilty in U.S. District Court and a trial is scheduled to begin in two weeks before Judge James O. Browning.

Loera at one time worked for congressman Ben Ray Luján, D-New Mexico, and former Democratic activist and now chairman of the Democratic Party of New Mexico Sam Bregman.

“We are shocked to hear about the indictment,” Luján spokesman Andrew Stoddard said after news of the arrest of Loera was made. “These are very serious charges and they deserve to be fully addressed through the legal system.”

Here’s New Mexico Watchdog video of U.S. Attorney Martinez talking about the Estrada plea on Monday:

Contact Rob Nikolewski at rnikolewski@watchdog.org and follow him on Twitter @robnikolewski

Federal energy nominee from NM runs into static

Capital Report New Mexico Blog Postings - Mon, 2014-06-16 12:26

NOMINATION AT BAY: Norman Bay of New Mexico has been nominated as the new chairman of the Federal Energy Regulatory Commission but he’s running into resistance.

By Rob Nikolewski │ New Mexico Watchdog

SANTA FE – The nomination of New Mexico’s Norman Bay is hitting turbulence on Capitol Hill, even though President Obama wants Bay as chairman of the Federal Energy Regulatory Commission and U.S. Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid, D-Nev., is lobbying for him.

“I’m not opposing his nomination, but there are legitimate questions about his ability to lead FERC,” said William Yeatman, a specialist on environmental regulation and energy markets at the Competitive Enterprise Institute, a free-market think tank based in Washington, D.C.

Bay’s potential chairmanship also has received pointed questions from Democrats as well as Republicans on the Senate Energy and Natural Resources Committee.

“I think he needs the experience to have regulatory experience to become an effective chairman,” Sen. Joe Manchin, D-West Virginia, told the Wall Street Journal last week. “I don’t think anyone has been in that position who hasn’t had regulatory experience.”

Since 2009, Bay has served as the head of FERC’s law enforcement division but has never served as a commissioner at FERC.

Sen. Lisa Murkowski, R-Alaska, has expressed her own reservations about whether Bay has the relevant experience to run the commission. Bay comes from a legal background, serving for 11 years as an assistant U.S. attorney and spending one year as U.S. attorney in the District of New Mexico in 2001.

“I don’t know if that’s the sort of bedrock experience one wants,” Yeatman said.

While most Americans aren’t very familiar with FERC, it regulates the country’s electric-grid and energy infrastructure, such as pipelines, and is going through what Yeatman calls “seismic shifts” as the Obama administration plans on expanding renewable energy sources — and contracting the use coal — as part of the country’s energy portfolio.

The committee was supposed to vote on Bay’s nomination Thursday, but that was delayed until this coming Wednesday. The hearings have become an inside-the-Beltway fight between pro-energy members of the committee and Reid, who is not on the committee but exerts great influence as Senate leader.

FERC’s current chairwoman is Cheryl LaFleur, but Reid is opposed to keeping her on. In fact, Reid has blocked two potential nominees to FERC’s top spot before settling on Bay.

“He’s been pushing hard for Bay for chairman,” Yeatman told New Mexico Watchdog in a telephone interview Monday. “That’s been acknowledged” by committee chairwoman Sen. Mary Landrieu, D-Louisiana. “He’s exerted a similar degree of control over the Nuclear Regulatory Commission … There’s a lot of mystery to that. Nobody is quite sure what his motivations are.”

Reid has expressed his desire to grow renewable energy in his home state.

When asked by the Wall Street Journal whether his influence has been appropriate, Reid turned sarcastic.

“Oh really? No kidding,” Reid said. “Wow, that is amazing — that a majority leader who has a responsibility of selecting people would have some opinion as to who he suggests to the White House.”

There’s speculation that, as a compromise measure, the committee will bring back LaFleur as chairwoman for up to one year while Bay could be nominated as a commissioner until he gains enough experience to take over as chairman.

“It would seem that the stars are aligned for (Bay to get voted as commissioner instead of chairman),” Yeatman said, “and for the committee to say, ‘You can get on FERC, no problem, but given these times, you shouldn’t be the chairman of FERC. We’re going to keep Cheryl LaFleur in charge of that.”

Complicating things for Bay are accusations from former FERC General Counsel William Scherman that the agency’s law enforcement division — headed by Bay — has failed to produce legal documents concerning investigations. Bay says that’s not true.

“This is a former FERC general counsel (Scherman), a lawyer, he’s not allowed to lie,” Yeatman said. “Norman Bay’s a lawyer, he’s not allowed to lie. But one of the two is lying.”

Contact Rob Nikolewski at rnikolewski@watchdog.org and follow him on Twitter @robnikolewski

VIDEO: What now for Mora County’s fracking ban?

Capital Report New Mexico Blog Postings - Sun, 2014-06-15 17:06

WHAT NOW?: The defeat of a commissioner in a rural New Mexico county could mean big trouble for the fracking ban the county passed a year ago.

By Rob Nikolewski │ New Mexico Watchdog

One of the country’s strictest — and controversial — bans on hydraulic fracturing may be in jeopardy.

Earlier this month, voters in Mora County ousted the man who spearheaded an ordinance giving the local government the power to permanently keep the entire county’s 1,933 square miles off-limits to any development of hydrocarbons — something critics say eradicates private property rights. The ban also prohibits hydraulic fracturing, also known as “fracking.”

The defeat of commissioner John Olivas by more than 25 points to George Trujillo, could mean trouble for the ban, which has plunged the county into two potentially expensive lawsuits.

Rob Nikolewski, editor of New Mexico Watchdog, talked about the implications the Olivas defeat may have on the ban while appearing last Friday on the public affairs program, New Mexico In Focus, seen across most of the state on New Mexico PBS.

Nikolewski was joined by Julie Ann Grimm, the editor of the Santa Fe Reporter, and host Gene Grant:

Click here to read more about the Mora County election and what it may mean for the fracking ban.

Contact Rob Nikolewski at rnikolewski@watchdog.org and follow him on Twitter @robnikolewski

Editorial: NM House races are where the action is this fall

Capital Report New Mexico Blog Postings - Sat, 2014-06-14 22:01

Rob Nikolewski. Photo by Santa Fe New Mexican/Clyde Mueller

By Rob Nikolewski │ New Mexico Watchdog

SANTA FE – The Democratic donkey in New Mexico may be feeling little like Eeyore, judging from some of the comments from the blue end the political spectrum in the wake of Gary King taking the party primary.

Here’s a sample of the comments posted on the Santa Fe New Mexican website accompanying stories of King’s November matchup with Republican Gov. Susana Martinez:

“Maybe the TV commercial bombardment from Martinez will lighten-up, being that she won’t need to spend even half her millions to beat King.”

“I think the state would be better off with anyone else [than Martinez], although I admit I am not crazy about King.”

“I am a long term Democrat, and I will not vote for this self-serving incompetent.”

Ouch.

But there’s plenty of time between now and November and, in a state where Democrats outnumbered Republicans in 2012, 49 percent to 35, King still has a puncher’s chance of delivering a knockout, even if the two-term attorney general doesn’t exactly inspire Beatlemania among party regulars.

But while the governor’s race may move to the background, the fight for control of the state House of Representatives figures to take on greater significance.

Republicans haven’t held the majority in the House since 1953 — when Dwight Eisenhower swept into the White House with coattails so long they extended all the way to Santa Fe. I should say I’m making that presumption about Ike’s influence because I’m hard-pressed to find any members of that Roundhouse class who aren’t dead.

Put it this way: It’s been so long since the GOP had the majority that Nick Salazar wasn’t even serving in the House then.

The Martinez camp would like nothing more than to cap a victory in November by seeing Republicans take control of the House but it’s an uphill climb.

Talking privately last week, a retiring Republican in the House told me the chances of a GOP takeover are “about 25 percent.”

Right now, Democrats have a 37-33 lead in the House. A net gain of two for Republicans would mean a 35-35 tie and a net gain of three would get them to the majority.

That sounds simple enough but it’s a lot harder than it looks.

First, 21 of those seats are held by Democrats who are running unopposed. Sixteen Republicans are unopposed.

That leaves 33 races up for grabs. Of that, 13 are Democratic incumbents, many from safe districts.

There are two Democrats who are running for the first time (Matthew McQueen in District 50 and Mariaelana Johnson in District 53) but they’re looking to succeed Democrats who used to hold those seats (Stephen Easley and Nate Cote, respectively).

Plus, Republicans can’t afford to lose any seats they already have.

Three House Republicans won very close elections in 2012 (Kelly Fajardo, Paul Pacheco, Terry McMillan) and figure to have tough fights ahead of them this year too.

In addition to that, Sharon Clahchischilliage won two years ago up in the Four Corners area after Democrat Ray Begaye self-destructed following a scandal over double-billing expenses. Democrats are running a different candidate this year so the road for Clahchischilliage figures to be tougher.

GOP loyalists counter by saying a number of Democrats (Emily Kane, Stephanie Garcia Richard and Elizabeth Thomson, for instance) escaped with close wins in 2012 and a big Martinez victory could carry Republicans over the top.

But here’s something to ponder: The elections could be so close that that one party could conceivably win six or seven of those toss-up races. If that happened in the Democrats’ favor, their lead in the House could grow to 40-30 or more. Conversely, if Republicans got all the breaks, they could get the majority with one or two seats to spare.

So while the governor’s race may seem a bit dull right now, the Roundhouse race for the House figures to be intense. And that will mean plenty of hardnosed campaigns — with plenty of money getting spent — between now an Nov. 4.

This column originally appeared in the Santa Fe New Mexican on June 15, 2014. You can contact Rob Nikolewski at rnikolewski@watchdog.org and follow him on Twitter @robnikolewski

New Mexico’s debate over a chicken and a mouse

Capital Report New Mexico Blog Postings - Fri, 2014-06-13 09:04

A CHICKEN, A MOUSE AND A CONTROVERSY: The federal government’s listings to protect the lesser prairie chicken and the meadow jumping mouse have angered some in New Mexico.

By Rob Nikolewski │ New Mexico Watchdog

SANTA FE — Welcome to New Mexico, where a colorful chicken and a very small mouse are causing a big ruckus.

On Tuesday, four counties in New Mexico joined in a lawsuit complaining about the U.S. Department of Interior and U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service listing the lesser prairie chicken as a threatened species.

The announcement came just one day after the Fish and Wildlife Service declared the meadow jumping mouse should be protected under the Endangered Species Act, giving it greater habitat protection but angering ranchers in a southern New Mexico county who are odds with the federal government over water and property rights.

“Yes, New Mexico has become a focal point,” said Bryan Bird, program director for WildEarth Guardians, an environmental group based in Santa Fe that hailed both decisions. “On the one hand, we’re blessed to have these beautiful, unusual animals in our state, but on the other hand, we’ve mistreated our lands so badly that they require” listings to protect them.

Critics of the meadow jumping mouse listing say the federal government moved too quickly.

“Once again, the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service chose to cater to big-city radical special interests instead of protecting our jobs, and ignored the fact that conservation and economic growth are not mutually exclusive,” Rep. Steve Pearce, R-New Mexico, said in a statement.

In the meantime, officials from Eddy, Roosevelt, Lea and Chavez counties — in the heart of New Mexico’s oil patch — joined a lawsuit filed in federal court in Texas by the Permian Basin Petroleum Association, claiming the decision to protect the lesser prairie chicken puts too heavy a burden on the industry and accusing the feds of not following correct procedures when they made the listing.

“Historically, there have been at least three times when scientists have believed the bird was truly on the verge of extinction,” Ben Shepperd, president of the Permian Basin Petroleum Association, told KWES-TV. “What the data shows now is that the birds’ numbers and range of habitat have continued to grow although they’ve slowed down some during this period of extended drought.”

The Fish and Wildlife Service says the population of the chicken — known for its energetic clucking and strutting during mating — has been reduced by 50 percent since 2012.

Protecting the habitat for the meadow jumping mouse led the U.S. Forest Service in Otero County, in southern New Mexico, into an ongoing dispute with local ranchers.

The Forest Service reinforced the padlocks at a creek to keep cattle from drinking, saying the herds risk trampling on the area where the mouse lives.

But a group of ranchers say while the Forest Service may have access to the land along the creek, it doesn’t hold the water rights and complain the federal government is overstepping its authority.

“It’s extremely frustrating,” Blair Dunn, an attorney for Otero County, told New Mexico Watchdog after a meeting last month failed to reach a compromise. “In the past when we’ve had drought and problems the Forest Service came and opened the gate … but they didn’t have any interest in doing that.”

LAY OFF THE LIZARD: In 2012, the federal government decided not to list the dunes sagebrush lizard as an endangered species.

“Some might say, ‘why do we need to worry about a mouse?’” Bird said. “This mouse is like the canary in the coal mine. It represents the health of our streams and rivers in the state of New Mexico. If we don’t have healthy streams and rivers, nobody will thrive in the state.”

Just two years ago, many of the same parties were fighting over a different species — the dunes sagebrush lizard.

Efforts to protect the three-inch lizard, whose habitat stretches from southeastern New Mexico to West Texas, threatened to put restrictions on oil and gas production in the area.

But in June 2012, then-Secretary of the Interior Ken Salazar decided against listing the lizard as endangered after the industry and local ranchers agreed to a series of conservation agreements.

So far, the kind of compromise that worked for the lizard hasn’t been reached for the chicken or the mouse.

Contact Rob Nikolewski at rnikolewski@watchdog.org and follow him on Twitter @robnikolewski

NM judges get a pay raise … from other judges

Capital Report New Mexico Blog Postings - Wed, 2014-06-11 15:06

PAY HIKE: A special panel of the New Mexico Supreme Court ruled that judges in the state — including Supreme Court justices — will get a 5 percent raise.


By Rob Nikolewski │ New Mexico Watchdog

SANTA FE — It was a complicated case but in the end, a specially selected panel of the New Mexico Supreme Court gave judges throughout the state a 5 percent pay raise.

Included in that group getting the pay hike? The justices of the Supreme Court.

“I want to acknowledge the somewhat extraordinary circumstances” surrounding the case, Justice Richard Bosson said upon announcing a unanimous decision Wednesday morning over a dispute about a line-item veto issued by Gov. Susana Martinez earlier this year.

It was an unusual case, that’s for sure.

In one corner was Albuquerque attorney Ray Vargas, representing a group that included state court judges who wanted an 8 percent pay raise — a 5 percent bump for judges that was part of the state budget passed earlier this year, plus a 3 percent increase for all state employees.

In the other corner was Jessica Hernandez, the general counsel for Martinez, who argued the two separate raises couldn’t be divided. Therefore, the governor’s office argued, the entire pay raise package was no good.

Complicating things? The fact that the state Supreme Court justices — just as all judges across the state — would benefit from the pay raise, if upheld.

Adding to any appearance of a potential conflict of interest was the fact that Martinez administration said Justice Petra Jiminez Maes personally lobbied the governor’s office during the legislative session to give judges across the state a raise.

But if the state Supreme Court didn’t hear the case, who could?

It was decided that four of the five members of the high court would recuse themselves, leaving Bosson as acting chief justice. He was joined Wednesday by four recently retired judges — former Supreme Court Justice Patricio Serna, former Court of Appeals Judges A. Joseph Alarid and Celia Foy Castillo and former state District Judge James Hall.

In arguments that lasted an hour and nine minutes, Vargas contended Martinez was distorting the intent of the what lawmakers passed. “What the governor is attempting to do is step on the toes of the Legislature,” he said.

Hernandez countered by saying the Legislature didn’t make itself clear. “In the end, if the Legislature wants to give the judiciary a raise, it has to put it on the table … It’s not OK to hide the ball,” Hernandez said.

After deliberating for just under an hour, the judges ruled that the 3 percent raise was out but the across-the-board 5 percent raise for judges was in.

“We regard this as two appropriations,” Bosson said. “Therefore, the pay raises will go into effect.”

“We’re pleased with the ruling,” Vargas said. “Obviously, it’s not everything that we asked for but it was appropriate, soundly reasoned and fair for all.”

Hernandez worried the decision may increase friction between the Legislature and the executive branch, as well as opening the door for potential special sessions of the Legislature, which taxpayers pay for. “If legislators and the governor have to try to speculate about what language courts may read into a statute, it will cost the taxpayers more money,” Hernandez said.

Regardless of the legal issues addressed Wednesday, the fact remains that state Supreme Court justices are included in the group getting a raise — including Bosson, acting as the hearing’s presiding judge.

“You can also argue that four people who had absolutely no dog in this fight and it was unanimous,” Vargas said, “and I think the court did the right thing,”

“Justice Bosson, you’re right, stayed on (the case) and today issued a ruling that gives himself a 5 percent pay raise,” Hernandez said.

Here’s New Mexico Watchdog video of each attorney after the ruling Wednesday morning:

Contact Rob Nikolewski at rnikolewski@watchdog.org and follow him on Twitter @robnikolewski

Rolling through a town near you: Cops driving mine-resistant vehicles

Capital Report New Mexico Blog Postings - Tue, 2014-06-10 16:20

MRAP NATION: Mine-Resistant Ambush Protected vehicles like this one in New Mexico are quickly moving from the battlefield into the hands of local law enforcement agencies.

By Rob Nikolewski │ New Mexico Watchdog

SANTA FE — For years, they’ve been used as armored vehicles for U.S. troops in places like Afghanistan and Iraq.

But Mine-Resistant Ambush Protected vehicles are now being operated by law enforcement agencies across the country and don’t be surprised to see them patrolling the streets in towns across New Mexico.

In fact, many of the armored vehicles that weigh up to 30 tons and cost about $658,000 are here now.

New Mexico Watchdog filed an Inspection of Public Records Act request with the New Mexico Department of Public Safety and learned that nearly 20 law enforcement agencies across the state — from the biggest city to some of the smallest — have received MRAPs.

Even the campus police department at New Mexico State University applied for, and received, an MRAP.

How does a vehicle designed originally to fight the Taliban and Iraqi insurgents end up on the streets of, say, Bloomfield — population 7,968?

Because the federal government has created what’s called the 1033 program, which allows the Department of Defense to essentially give away spare military equipment to local law enforcement agencies that qualify.

In the past, the inventory available for local police departments consisted of old military weaponry, Humvees and, in special circumstances, a used helicopter.

But with the conflicts in Iraq and Afghanistan winding down, and sequestration cuts, the 1033 program has offered police departments the bullet-proof, diesel-powered vehicles that run on four-to-six wheels, seat up to 20 people and are fast enough to comfortably zoom on the freeway.

The specially designed MRAPs were produced to protect American troops from improvised explosive devices planted by enemy combatants in places like Fallujah and Kandahar.

“The only cost we incurred was the gas it took to drive it back,” Ruidoso Police Chief Joe S. Magill told New Mexico Watchdog of the practically mint-condition MRAP the Ruidoso Police Department picked up a little more than a month ago from a base in Sealy, Texas. “The cost was zero dollars.”

The situation is not unique to New Mexico. Across the country, states have 1033 state coordinators who work with law enforcement divisions and the federal government to get the inventory.

“Being down here in a desert area, along the border, we have a lot of remote areas,” said Brandon Gigante, the chief of police in Deming, population 14,793. “We can offer assistance to agencies like the Border Patrol and help move people out, evacuate or rescue (people) out in the desert (who may be) dehydrated.”

Deming is one of 18 communities in New Mexico that received an MRAP, according to documents obtained by New Mexico Watchdog:

But not everyone is happy with the sight of an MRAP coming down a city street.

Civil libertarians worry about the potential for abuse. Fiscal conservatives complain about the hidden costs of the 1033 program.

The rollout of an MRAP in South Carolina prompted one critic to write, “Though the vehicle was ‘free’ (it was) purchased by taxpayer money. Five-hundred surplus military vehicles costing $658,000 each adds up to $329 million of surplus (Department of Defense) spending on vehicles which are so unnecessary to the military they are being given away to American cities. Though this wouldn’t fix the debt, it is yet another multi-million dollar piece of wasteful spending by the American federal government.”

PROTECTION OR INTIMIDATION?: Even relatively small communities, such this one in Los Lunas, N.M., are picked up MRAPs.

Earlier this year, the Hobbs Police Department came under fire for broadcasting a TV advertisement that aired across the state featuring aggressive police tactics and the department’s MRAP turning a corner to the sound of pulse-pounding music.

“It’s kind of disturbing, the way they play up these militaristic tactics,” said Tim Lynch, director of the Project on Criminal Justice at the Cato Institute, a think tank based in Washington, D.C. “It seemed more like they were looking for people who wanted to join the Army instead of a police department.”

But Ruidoso’s chief, Magill, said he jumped at the chance to get an MRAP.

“We here in Ruidoso have had several natural disasters,” Magill said, pointing to a large flood in 2008 and three wildfires, including the Little Bear Fire that destroyed more than 240 homes. “Because of those natural disasters, I thought this vehicle would be a great vehicle to provide us a mobile command post.”

Los Lunas is home to one of the smallest communities equipped with an MRAP. Police Chief Naithan Gurule said the vehicle potentially saved lives when a domestic violence call in May escalated and a suspect fired an estimated 70 rounds from his house.

“We used the MRAP, first to rescue four officers across the street who were having to take cover behind, you know, regular cars,” Gurule said. “Also, the neighbors were rescued using the MRAP.”

The thought of an MRAP on a college campus may seem a bit alarming, but New Mexico State University Chief of Police Stephen Lopez said the armored vehicle his department picked up two months ago will be used for emergency situations, and not for SWAT teams.

“That’s very understandable,” Lopez said about critics of civilian use of MRAPs. “But I will point out that in the North Hollywood shooting (in 1997), officers were left to appropriate an armored vehicle from a bank … That took an hour. As we saw in Columbine (High School in Colorado), if you lose an hour, some people don’t make it.”

In the month since the MRAP has arrived at Ruidoso, Magill said the vehicle is getting a fresh coat of black paint and is being readied to hit the streets.

“I know in some communities they catch a little flak because (they’re accused of having) the government militarize the police,” Magill said in a telephone interview. “It is not going to have a .50-caliber machine gun mounted in it. It is not going to have a bazooka on it. We’re going to use it for police purposes. We’re putting radios in it. We’re putting maps in it. We’re putting dry boards in it so we can use it effectively for emergencies.”

Contact Rob Nikolewski at rnikolewski@watchdog.org and follow him on Twitter @robnikolewski

Six months after NM cavity search case, half the cops still on job

Capital Report New Mexico Blog Postings - Mon, 2014-06-09 16:51

STILL ON THE JOB: Two members of the Deming, N.M., police department and one member of the Hidalgo County Sheriff’s Office cited in a $1.6 million lawsuit are still on the job.

By Rob Nikolewski │ New Mexico Watchdog

SANTA FE — Half the officers involved in an anal cavity search of a man wrongly suspected of carrying drugs are still on the job, a New Mexico Watchdog investigation shows.

Three officers for the Deming Police Department were never even disciplined.

Two of the three officers in Deming remain on the job, documents obtained through Inspection of Public Records Act requests reveal. One of the three officers in the Hidalgo County Sheriff’s Office is still working for the county.

The officers were listed in a lawsuit filed by David Eckert, a Lordsburg, resident, who, officers thought, was carrying drugs. In January, Eckert received a $1.6 million settlement, with the city of Deming paying Eckert $950,000 and Hidalgo County, $650,000.

“If officers are not fired for this level of abuse, particularly after such a huge settlement in damages, it sends a rather chilling message,” legal scholar Jonathan Turley told New Mexico Watchdog earlier this year. “It suggests that there is no abuse that will cost an officer his or her job.”

In January 2013, Eckert was pulled over by Deming cops for allegedly failing to make a complete stop in a Walmart parking lot in Deming. Hidalgo County sheriff’s officers were there, too.

Authorities suspected Eckert was carrying drugs inside his anal cavity and over a 14-hour period subjected Eckert to two rounds of X-rays and three enemas. They then took him to a hospital in Silver City — in another county — where Eckert was forced to undergo a colonoscopy. No drugs were found and Eckert was later charged $6,000 for the hospital bill.

Officials at the Deming Police Department and the Hidalgo County Sheriff’s Office have refused to comment.

“That is a personnel matter,” Deming Police Chief Brandon Gigante said.

But after filing IPRA requests about the case, New Mexico Watchdog received documents from Deming and Hidalgo County.

The $1.6-million lawsuit listed three Hidalgo County Sheriff ‘s officers — Robert Rodriguez, Patrick Green and David Arrendondo — involved in the Eckert incident. But in the records obtained by New Mexico Watchdog, only Arrendondo is now listed as a sheriff’s office employee.

Deming Police Officers Bobby Orosco, Robert Chavez and Maricela Hernandez were listed in the original lawsuit.

An attorney for the City of Deming, Jim Foy, said in a letter to New Mexico Watchdog that Orosco and Chavez are still employed by the Deming Police Department — Orosco as a captain and Chavez as a patrolman — while Hernandez is not. The letter failed to elaborate.

In addition, Foy wrote, “be advised that none of these officers were disciplined for matters involving the David Eckert case.”

Hidalgo County officials would not disclose whether any of their officers were disciplined, claiming that such information doesn’t have to be disclosed because “they are considered matters of opinion in personnel files.”

That’s a subject of debate, with a member the New Mexico Foundation for Open Government legal panel saying, “discipline is not a matter of opinion.”

In his letter to New Mexico Watchdog, Foy elaborated on some of the details of the case.

“Given the uncertainty of any outcome and cost of litigation, both sides Eckert and the City of Deming mutually agreed to settle Eckert’s claim against the City of Deming each agreeing that the City of Deming was doing so without admitting any wrong doing,” Foy’s letter to New Mexico Watchdog said.

Foy also included a letter he wrote to the local paper, the Deming Headlight, in which he described the Eckert case as “a systemic failure.”

At the same time, Foy said, “The line officers in question followed all policies and procedures in place at the time.”

Foy’s letter contends the incident was complicated.

“It was not as though Deming Police Officers grabbed Mr. Eckert and unilaterally took him to Silver City for a series of anal cavity searches,” the letter reads.

Foy wrote that the Deming police “relied upon information from an out of county” police expert who said a drug-sniffing canine indicated the presence of narcotics on Eckert’s car seat. Plus, “this police expert” told the cops that Eckert had a history drug trafficking and “was known to carry narcotics in his anal cavity.”

Furthermore, Foy pointed out the 6th Judicial District Attorney’s Office signed off on a warrant to OK an anal cavity search.

“At present, the Assistant District Attorney who prepared and presented the affidavit in support of the search warrant is no longer working for the Sixth Judicial District Attorney’s Office,” Foy’s letter said.

“The Chief of Police, who at the time was unaware until the following day of the anal cavity search has retired and a new chief of police has been appointed subsequent to this unfortunate event. With a new chief of police in place, the City of Deming has implemented new policies and procedures and is continuing to implement new polices and procedures so this type of event will never happen again.”

Click here to read the copy of the $1.6 million settlement with Eckert.

And here’s the response to New Mexico Watchdog’s IPRA request from the city of Deming’s attorney, as well as the attorney’s interpretation of some of the details of the case:

IPRA 5-30-14 Rob Nikolewski request for Deming documents by Rob Nikolewski


Contact Rob Nikolewski at rnikolewski@watchdog.org and follow him on Twitter @robnikolewski

Seventy years on: Remembering D-Day

Capital Report New Mexico Blog Postings - Thu, 2014-06-05 20:55

STORMING THE BEACH: Friday marks the 70th anniversary of the D-Day invasion. Photo by the National Archives.

By Rob Nikolewski │ New Mexico Watchdog

It was the largest land, air and sea operation before or since June 6, 1944.

And its success hinged on a weather forecast.

Friday marks the 70th anniversary of D-Day, the historic assault by Allied forces on the windswept beaches of Normandy.

Anyone with a cursory knowledge of history understands its significance: The remarkably well-coordinated operation that transported soldiers and military vehicles under intense German fire eventually led to victory in the European Theater and World War II.

But the passage of time often obscures the risks involved.

Had D-Day had failed and the element of surprise been lost, the Nazi war effort would have been given new life. The result, as author John Ross argues, might have been the Soviet Union eventually taking control of the European continent.

It almost certainly would have meant more dying in concentration camps like Buchenwald and Auschwitz.

The weather on the French coastline in early June was terrible.

With rain pouring down for days, Dwight Eisenhower, the Supreme Allied Commander, agonized over the decision to go ahead with Operation Overlord, the code name for the invasion.

Any delay would have pushed the invasion back to at least June 19, due to tides and logistics. Eisenhower might have been forced to call things off until the following year.

It was his chief weatherman, predicting a break in the weather that would last about 36 hours, who spurred Eisenhower to tell his generals and admirals, “Okay, let’s go.”

Eleven years after Normandy, Eisenhower’s brother, Milton, invited the president of the United States to give a graduation speech:

“In the spring of 1955, when I was president of Penn State, Ike was the commencement speaker. As the time for the outdoor ceremony approached, storm clouds formed.

“I was distressed at the possibility of moving the commencement to an indoor facility that was too small to accommodate all of the guests.

“When I asked my brother for advice, he said, ‘Milton, I haven’t worried about the weather since June 6, 1944.’ ”

Contact Rob Nikolewski at rnikolewski@watchdog.org and follow him on Twitter @robnikolewski

Mora County’s controversial fracking ban may be in jeopardy

Capital Report New Mexico Blog Postings - Thu, 2014-06-05 07:43

FRACKING BAN IN JEOPARDY: A controversial ordinance in a small New Mexico county banning hydraulic fracturing is up in the air after proponents lost in local elections.

By Rob Nikolewski │ New Mexico Watchdog

A primary election in a small New Mexico county could have a big effect on one of the country’s most restrictive bans on hydraulic fracturing.

In fact, Mora County’s controversial law could go away altogether.

“I think the ordinance needs to be rescinded,” said George Trujillo, who won the Democratic primary in for a seat on the Mora County Commission in a landslide — 59.7 percent to 34.2 percent — over John Olivas, who spearheaded the fracking ban as commission chairman.

The ordinance, which passed on a 2-1 vote last year, has led to lawsuits from the energy industry opposed to the ban and help from environmental organizations that support it.

The pending legal proceedings could expose Mora County, one of the state’s poorest, to court costs.

“Taxpayers having to pay for the lawsuits, that’s what bothered me,” Trujillo told New Mexico Watchdog on Wednesday, the day after the primary. “I feel we need to repeal that ordinance and go other routes.” Trujillo has no Republican opposition in November and will take office Jan. 1.

Paula Garcia was the sole commissioner who voted against the anti-fracking ordinance; she received 76 percent of the vote Tuesday night over a Democrat who staunchly favors the ban.

Garcia will face Republican Tim Fresquez in the general election in November, and she’s considered a heavy favorite in a county where Democrats far outnumber Republicans.

When asked if the combination of her victory and Trujillo’s might mean the ordinance could be overturned, Garcia said, “It’s early to be speculating about that at this time.”

As to how the election results could affect the lawsuits, Garcia said, “That’s really a question I wouldn’t be able to answer without some legal consultation.”

Garcia has long insisted she opposes fracking, but when the ban passed she worried the ordinance and its attendant legal issues put the county at financial risk.

“There’s a very strong sentiment (among voters) that this is a very special place and we have to protect it,” Garcia said in a telephone interview. “They want to have safeguards that are checked and being upheld by the courts.”

The commission’s third member, Alfonso Griego, is not up for re-election until 2016. He voted for the ordinance.

Trujillo said he did not run for commissioner because of the fracking ban — “There are other issues in the county to take care of,” he said — but acknowledges it’s a hot topic for the fewer than 5,000 people who live in Mora County.

“I’m here to protect our water and our land,” Trujillo said, adding that he’s open to the idea of a limited amount of drilling in the eastern edge of the county, which is in the northern part of the state.

Other communities across the country have passed fracking bans, but one of the things than makes Mora’s Community Water Rights and Local Self-Governance ordinance different is it gives the local government the power to permanently make the entire county’s 1,933 square miles off-limits to hydraulic fracturing — something critics say eradicates private property rights.

The ordinance also bans citizens as well as corporations from extracting “oil, natural gas, or other hydrocarbons within Mora County.”

Mora County, New Mexico

That debate has prompted two federal lawsuits against the county: one filed by property owners and the Independent Petroleum Association New Mexico and another by Shell Western E&P, a subsidiary of oil giant Royal Dutch Shell.

The lawsuits claim the county is exceeding its authority and wants the court to overturn the ordinance. In addition, the IPANM suit wants the county to pay legal fees while Shell seeks both legal fees and damages for lost revenue.

While there is no drilling in Mora County now, the State Land Office has executed 122 leases.

Commissioner Olivas, who is also a community organizer with the New Mexico Wilderness Alliance, worked with the Community Environmental Legal Defense Fund, based in Pennsylvania, to help pass the ban.

The New Mexico Environmental Law Center is defending the county in the IPANM case, but the financial uncertainty surrounding the litigation put Mora County voters on edge.

“I know it’s going to be an issue, and all three commissioners are going to have to sit down and work on something that will really protect the water and the land and the air,” Trujillo said. “It’s common sense to me, but the lawsuits bother me and it bothers a lot of people.”

“It’s not only about the uncertainty and the costs that could come about as a result of lawsuits,” Garcia said, “but it’s my view that the laws that we do enact should have a good chance of being upheld by the courts. That’s my primary concern here.”

Two phone call to Olivas, ousted after one term on the commission, went unreturned.

Update: Karin Foster, the executive director of the Independent Petroleum Association of New Mexico told New Mexico Watchdog on Friday that under the provisions of the anti-fracking ordinance that the Mora County Commission passed last year, it would take a unanimous vote from the commission to get a repeal on the ballot. Plus, the ballot measure would then need two-thirds majority from Mora County residents in order to take it off the books.

However, when asked if Mora County commissioners could simply withdraw from the two pending lawsuits, Foster acknowledged that could be a potential avenue for the commission to take.

“But I think they the easiest way (to reverse the ban) is to have a court or a judge to say they whole thing is unconstitutional,” Foster said.

Contact Rob Nikolewski at rnikolewski@watchdog.org and follow him on Twitter @robnikolewski

Weh beats Clements going away, takes on Udall next

Capital Report New Mexico Blog Postings - Tue, 2014-06-03 23:30

WINNING BIG: Allen Weh (left) greets a voter Tuesday night. The Marine Corps veteran won the Republican primary handily over David Clements. Photo from the Weh campaign.

By Rob Nikolewski │ New Mexico Watchdog

SANTA FE – What started as a potential battle to see which direction the Republican Party in New Mexico was heading didn’t turn out very close after all.

Allen Weh, a well-known figure in New Mexico politics and considered — for lack of a better term — the “conventional” Republican, easily outdistanced David Clements, running for the first time and considered a libertarian Republican in the mold of Rand Paul, to win the GOP primary for the U.S. Senate.

The 71-year-old Weh now takes on Democrat Tom Udall, who is running for re-election, in November.

“This election is going to be a referendum on jobs,” Weh said in a statement. “In 25 years as a career politician, Tom Udall hasn’t done a thing to bring a job or save a job in New Mexico. But I will. Neither has he done anything to strengthen our national defense. And I intend to change that as well.”

As of 11:18 p.m., Weh led Clements 62.9 percent to 37.0 and was declared the winner by media outlets as early as 8:30 p.m.

“While I may have come up short tonight, the grassroots of this party has demonstrated that we will not automatically accept any Republican candidate, and that voters desperately want someone who will fight for limited government and the message of individual liberty,” Clements said in a statement.

A former state party chairman, Weh came into the race with greater name recognition and deeper pockets. According to the most recent Federal Election Commission reports, Weh had $583,372 in campaign money while the 34-year-old Clements had $40,578.

But back in March, at the state GOP pre-primary convention, Clements came within six points of Weh among Republican delegates. That led to speculation that Weh was vulnerable but on Tuesday night, the 38-year Marine Corps colonel and CEO of CSI Aviation in Albuquerque won without breaking much a sweat.

The campaign between Weh and Clements was pointed, with Clements complaining that Weh refused to take part in debates while the Weh campaign pointed out missteps in the Clements campaign, such as Clements sending out a news release claiming to have an “A” rating from the National Rifle Association when he had not. Clements called it a “flub.”

In his statement Tuesday night, Clements said he would “work to see that Republicans up and down the ticket are successful this November” but did not mention Weh.

Contact Rob Nikolewski at rnikolewski@watchdog.org and follow him on Twitter @robnikolewski

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