"Capitol Report New Mexico" Latest Blog Postings

Lopez and King staying in race for governor

Capital Report New Mexico Blog Postings - Tue, 2014-03-11 12:22

STAYING IN THE RACE: State Sen. Linda Lopez, D-Albuquerque, says she will collect more signatures to get on the ballot in the run for governor. Photo by Rob Nikolewski.

By Rob Nikolewski │ New Mexico Watchdog

SANTA FE – They may have finished below the 20 percent threshold at last Saturday’s Democratic pre-primary convention but Attorney General Gary King and state Sen. Linda Lopez are staying in the race for governor.

“My message still resonates with voters and I will continue to go out and speak and make contact with people to move my message forward,” Lopez told New Mexico Watchdog on Tuesday morning.

“Gary King enjoys the strong support of Democrats at the grassroots across New Mexico, but who do not count among the convention insiders,” King campaign manager Jim Ferrell said in a statement to reporters.

The announcements by Lopez and King mean that all five Democrats fighting to win the party’s nomination for governor will remain in the race. The primary is set for June 3.

STILL IN: Attorney General Gary King will remain the race for governor. Photo by Rob Nikolewski

Candidates who do not receive at least 20 percent of the vote from delegates at the pre-primary convention must collect additional signatures from registered Democrats to get onto the ballot.

King, who finished in last place in last Saturday’s pre-primary convention, received 10.51 percent of the vote. But his campaign says the two-term state attorney general has collected 10,361 signatures — well over the 4,373 petition signatures needed to get on the ballot.

“All we have to do as a procedural matter is file a new declaration of candidacy,” Ferrell told New Mexico Watchdog on Tuesday morning . “We’ll file that 1-pager today to the Secretary of State and we’re on the ballot.”

Lopez finished just short of the 20 percent plateau on Saturday, coming in with 18.48 percent of the vote from Democratic Party delegates. The state senator from Albuquerque said she needs only 179 more valid signatures to reach the requirement. “There will be supporters out in the community collecting signatures for me and I’ll be out there as well this week,” Lopez said.

State Sen. Howie Morales, D-Silver City, came in first place last Saturday, with 29.28 percent of the vote. Santa Fe businessman Alan Webber came in second with 21.58 percent and former City of Albuquerque administrator Lawrence Rael came in third with 20.13 percent.

The winner of the primary will take on Republican Gov. Susana Martinez in November.

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

Santa Fe has spent nearly $34,000 on its ban on plastic bags

Capital Report New Mexico Blog Postings - Mon, 2014-03-10 11:44

THE BAG BAN: The city of Santa Fe is spending nearly $34,000 in taxpayer dollars for costs associated with banning plastic grocery bags.

By Rob Nikolewski │ New Mexico Watchdog

SANTA FE – The Santa Fe City Council has recently instituted a ban on plastic grocery bags and New Mexico Watchdog has learned the city has spent nearly $34,000 to implement the program — including $10,000 on a public relations and advertising campaign.

The city signed a personal services agreement with HK Advertising for $10,818 — including gross receipts tax — that went into effect at the end of last year to develop a logo, branding ideas, a website and graphics, as well as a campaign “for educating the greatest number of citizens possible.”

Here’s a look at the expenses racked up, according to city officials:

“All I’ll say is, I could find something better to do with $33,000,” said Santa Fe Councilor Ron Trujillo, the only member of the council to vote no when the plastic bag ban was approved in a 7-1 vote in August.

As for the hiring an advertising agency, Lawrence Garcia, acting division director for Environmental Services of the City of Santa Fe, said, “We were trying to put out a media strategy together to educate as many people as we could.”

But Santa Fe resident Jolene Lockhart is annoyed with the news of money spent on a PR push.

“It’s a waste of money and a waste of my taxpayer dollars,” said Lockhart. She’s a critic of the plastic grocery and thinks the switch to reusable cloth bags may cause more problems in the long run.

“The cloth bags get filthy-dirty and full of bacteria … I’m disabled, and the other day I was at the grocery store and the meat that I bought fell through the paper bags. They say, ‘Use the reusable bags,’ but you have to wash them. But isn’t that using more water?”

Garcia defended the $10,000 advertising campaign.

“It was well-spent money to inform the public,” Garcia said. “It’s a new ordinance. Anytime you do that, you have to have a campaign to educate the public.”

BAG TO DIFFER: The logo created for campaign to ban plastic grocery bags in Santa Fe.

HK Advertising came up with a slogan — “Bag to Differ” — and a logo that has been splashed across the city’s website touting the ban as a means of reducing litter and encouraging the use of reusable shopping bags.

Garcia said the $1,800 for buttons will go to residents who pick up the 20,000 free reusable cloth bags, which the city bought for $21,200.

The city is also running radio spots promoting the campaign. Garcia said the spots are part of a regular rotation of commercials, and the bag spots aren’t costing taxpayers additional money.

“There was a need in the community,” Garcia said.

“I think it’s a waste of money,” Lockhart said.

The ban on plastic carry-out bags less than 2 1/2 mils thick was supposed to go intoeffect Feb. 27, but it hit a series of snags.

For customers who didn’t use reusable bags and wanted paper bags, there was supposed to be a 10-cent per-bag fee.

But the Santa Fe City Attorney has questioned whether the fee amounts to an illegal tax, and there are worries the fee could be challenged in court, which could lead to undetermined legal costs for the city. As a result, the fee was waived, and most grocery stores in the city are providing paper bags.

Others, including councilor Trujillo, complain the bag ban is unfair because restaurants are exempt, as are nonprofits that serve the needy.

“The concept is good, but let’s be fair to the entire community,” Trujillo said. “The higher-end stores downtown can still use the thicker plastic bags.”

New Mexico Watchdog left a voicemail with one of the ban’s sponsors, Councilor Rebecca Wurzburger, but we have not heard back.

Defenders say the ban, which follows the lead of cities such as Los Angeles; Seattle; Boulder, Colo.; and Berkley, Calif.; will help clean up the environment. “Plastic does not biodegrade, it just gets smaller and smaller, and can get into our bodies through soil, air and water,” said one post on the website of the local chapter of the Sierra Club.

Garcia says about 8,000 of the reusable bags remain. They can be picked up at three locations in town:

*City Hall, 200 Lincoln Avenue

*the city’s Environmental Services Division, 1142 Siler Road, Building A, and

*at 901 W. San Mateo

As for the details of the city’s contract with HK Advertising, click here to look at the contract.

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

Editorial: Here’s one way to deal with Putin

Capital Report New Mexico Blog Postings - Sun, 2014-03-09 00:31

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

By Rob Nikolewski │ New Mexico Watchdog

Vladimir Putin may be a bully, but he’s no dummy.

He has sent Russian forces into Ukraine and has taken control of the Crimean Peninsula — Ukraine’s strategic warm-water port — and he likely won’t give it back.

In 2008, Putin did roughly the same thing in Georgia. The U.S. and European nations may have complained, but now it’s six years later and Russian troops still maintain a forceful presence there.

Last Tuesday, President Obama said Putin’s actions were “not strategically clever.” Try telling that to the Ukrainians.

Only the most naïve could miss that Putin’s dream has always been to reconstitute the remnants of the former Soviet Union. His power grab involves some risks but he sized up the likely reaction from his neighbors and determined the rewards were greater. Unfortunately, he appears to be right.

From Putin’s point of view, what are the downsides of going into Crimea?

Well, the U.S. has threatened to boycott the G-8 Summit that Russia is scheduled to host in June. You can just imagine Putin mulling that one over: Hmmm, hosting a soiree in Sochi or taking control of a peninsula that has been prized by every Russian leader since Peter the Great? Come on.

What’s more, within moments of the U.S. diplomatic contingent floating the idea of a G-8 walkout, the foreign minister of Italy went wobbly, telling reporters that G-8 members weren’t even discussing a boycott.

Yes, economic sanctions can be leveled against Putin but no sooner was that threat made than the foreign minister of Spain told reporters flat-out last Monday that sanctions would be unjustified.

EU nations have shown no willingness to get tough and Putin certainly figured as much when he rolled the troops into Ukraine.

Secretary of State John Kerry keeps talking about how Russia’s behavior has no place among 21st century countries but that’s seeing the world the way it should be and not the way it actually is — especially when you’re dealing with a cunning former KGB agent who perfectly understands the realpolitik of 21st century Europe.

In that same speech on Tuesday, Obama uttered what figures to be the 2014 frontrunner for political understatement of the year when he said, “Countries near Russia have deep concerns and suspicions about this kind of meddling.”

Meddling? Mr. President, meddling is when I tell my next door neighbor how to discipline his bratty kid. Sending troops into another country is not meddling; it’s an act of war.

While foreign relations isn’t Obama’s strong suit (e.g., Syria and his “red line” declaration and subsequent walk-back), to be fair, Obama doesn’t have many options in this crisis, given the flaccid response from the Euros.

But he does have one card to play: energy.

Russia’s state-run monopoly Gazprom supplies Europe with more than one-third of its crude oil and 31 percent of its natural gas. Simply put, that is why Europe won’t stand up to the Bear.

In a study released with ominous timing this week, guess which of the 25 largest energy users in the world is most dependent on foreign (in this case Russian) sources of energy? Ukraine.

However, the U.S. is in the midst of an energy boom. An announcement by Obama to fast-track liquefied natural gas exports to Europe, as well as speeding up the permitting process for refineries, could certainly concentrate the mind of a troublesome adversary.

True, it would take 1-2 years to get the infrastructure in place to displace even a portion of what Gazprom produces but it would send Putin a strong message that bad behavior will not be tolerated and, more important, that Russia’s days as the only energy sheriff on the Continent are receding if he doesn’t shape up.

Of course, such a move would drive Obama’s environmental flank crazy because an increase in oil and gas exports involves the “f” word — fracking.

But in a nasty geopolitical fight with the likes of Vladimir Putin, such are the wages of leading from behind.

This column originally ran in the Santa Fe New Mexican on March 9, 2014. Contact Rob Nikolewski at rnikolewski@watchdog.org and follow him on Twitter @robnikolewski

Archuleta has leg amputated but will still run for re-election

Capital Report New Mexico Blog Postings - Sun, 2014-03-09 00:20

Rep. Phillip Archuleta, D-Las Cruces

By Rob Nikolewski │ New Mexico Watchdog

ALBUQUERQUE – A political associate of state Rep. Phillip Archuleta, D-Las Cruces, told delegates at Saturday’s Democratic Party pre-primary convention that the 64-year-old has had one of his legs amputated but still intends to run for re-election in November to the House of Representatives.

“Rep. Archuleta is not going to give up,” said Jessica Martinez, later telling reporters, “He is running and he’s running unopposed” in the Democratic primary, scheduled for June 6.

However, Archuleta has at least one Republican opponent — former state Rep. Andy Nuñez of Hatch, who announced his candidacy last year.

Martinez had few details about Archuleta’s condition but said he is recuperating at rehab facility. Archuleta missed the entire 30-day legislative session that wrapped up on Feb. 20 while recovering from a broken hip and femur.

There has been speculation that Archuleta may join the 10 other Democrats and Republicans in the House who have announced they are retiring but Martinez said Archuleta will stay in the race.

“He’s gone to rehab and he’s ready to fight,” she said.

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

VIDEO: Howie Morales wins NM Democratic pre-primary nod for governor

Capital Report New Mexico Blog Postings - Sat, 2014-03-08 23:40

MORALES WINS A CLOSE ONE: State Sen. Howie Morales, D-Silver City, edged out four others to win the most delegate votes in the gubernatorial race at the New Mexico Democratic pre-primary convention. NM Watchdog photo.

By Rob Nikolewski │ New Mexico Watchdog

LAGUNA PUEBLO – Howie Morales got a big boost on Saturday while Gary King has some decisions to make.

At the New Mexico Democratic Party pre-primary convention at the Route 66 Casino Hotel, Morales — a state senator from Silver City — came in first place in a competitive, five-way race for the most delegates in the gubernatorial race leading up to the Democratic primary on June 6 while King — the state’s attorney general — finished in last place.

Here are the results from more than 1,400 votes cast:

*Howie Morales 29.28 percent

*Alan Webber 21.58 percent

*Lawrence Rael 20.13 percent

*Linda Lopez 18.48 percent

*Gary King 10.51 percent

One of the important numbers to keep in mind is 20 percent. Candidates who reach that number are automatically placed on the statewide ballot. Candidates who don’t must submit additional signatures from registered voters to get on the ballot.

King was not on hand in the auditorium by the time party leaders announced the results after taking about three hours to count Saturday’s pre-primary ballots but his campaign said earlier in the day that King has already picked up 10,361 signatures — enough to put him on the ballot.

But a last-place finish by an AG in his second term who’s from a prominent political family with high name recognition across the state had many at the convention wondering if King will stay in the race. King is looking to follow in the footsteps of his father, Bruce King, who was elected governor three times in the 1970s, ’80s and ’90s.

“I’m not Bruce King but I’m Bruce King’s son,” King said in his speech to delegates, “and he taught me to be ethical and help make people’s lives better and that’s why I’m running for governor.”

State Sen. Linda Lopez of Albuquerque fell just shy of the 20 percent mark. “I don’t have a comment right now,” Lopez told a pair of reporters after the vote totals were announced. “I need to talk to my (campaign) people.”

As for Morales, who has served in the Legislature since 2008, he said he was not surprised by his first-place finish.

“I expected to win,” said Morales, a former high school baseball coach. “That’s because I knew the preparation going in there, the amount of work, but that’s the competitor in me, that’s the coach in me, to always expect the best.”

Webber, a businessman from Santa Fe who has never held political office in New Mexico, told delegates, “I know what it takes to turn bold ideas into new realities … I’ve signed both sides of a paycheck. I’ll create 70,000 new jobs in my first term.”

Rael, a former chief administrative officer for the City of Albuquerque, cleared the 20 percent mark by just a handful of votes. Party officials said the results won’t be certified until Tuesday.

“The stakes are very high in this race,” Rael told the crowd. “I’m running for governor because I care. I care deeply.”

All five candidates took plenty of shots at Republican Gov. Susana Martinez.

“After I’m elected governor I will sign an executive order to get rid of teacher evaluations right then and there,” Lopez said. “And then, a few minutes later at 12:02 or 12:03, I’ll sign another executive order that suspends all the testing that our children are going through.”

“I’m hungry and I’m angry and I’m not talking about that Tea Party hate,” Morales said in his speech, adding, “Gov. Susana Martinez, you have violated our trust and haven’t lived up to your obligations.”

“Susana Martinez does not have record to run on,” Rael said. “She has a record to run away from.”

“For three and a half years we’ve been forced to play by Susana Martinez’s rules and Jay McCleskey’s rules,” said Webber, referring to the governor’s political advisor.

“We need to make Susana Martinez a one-term governor and I’m the one to do it,” King said.

Update 3/9: Danny Diaz, spokesman for the Martinez campaign, responded by referring to a recent letter sent to the governor’s supporters that said, in part: “Democrats had very little to offer regarding a plan to create new jobs or how they intend to challenge the status quo and improve education in the state; instead, their political rhetoric will concentrate on the most radical elements of their party and incorporate a venomous tone that divides people.  In one way or another, they are all promising to return to the failed policies of Bill Richardson.”

Here are the results in the other contested races Saturday:

US House of Representatives, Congressional District 2

Roxanne “Rocky” Lara 85.18 percent

Leslie Endean-Singh 14.82 percent

When approached after the results were announced Endean-Singh said he had no comment about whether she’ll stay in the race.

US House of Representatives, Congressional District 3

Ben Ray Luján 98.43 percent

Robert Blanch 1.57 percent

 

State Treasurer

Tim Eichenberg 52.75 percent

John Wertheim 40.07 percent

Patrick Padilla 7.18 percent

The state’s Republicans had their pre-primary convention last week. Click here for the details.

And here’s Morales after his victory Saturday night:

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

Gov. Martinez says she’s OK with 3 percent raises for all state employees

Capital Report New Mexico Blog Postings - Thu, 2014-03-06 17:10

ACROSS THE BOARD RAISES: Gov. Susana Martinez told New Mexico Watchdog she will not line-item veto 3 percent raises for all state employees from the budget on her desk. NM Watchdog photo.

By Rob Nikolewski │ New Mexico Watchdog

SANTA FE – All state employees in New Mexico are about to get 3 percent raises.

She may not have signed the recently-passed state budget into law yet, but Gov. Susana Martinez told New Mexico Watchdog she will not veto across-the-board 3 percent raises for all teachers and state employees.

“All teachers will get their 3 percent (increases), the classified employees of the state will receive their 3 percent and I don’t intend to disrupt the classified employees in anyway,” Martinez said.

The pay raises are part of a larger budget compromise bill that is on the governor’s desk.

As governor, Martinez has the right to line-item veto specific sections of the budget bill. ”We’re still going over everything line by line,” Martinez said Wednesday but added she would not line-item veto the portion of the budget dealing with pay raises.

Going into the session, the respective budgets from the governor’s office and the Legislative Finance Committee were at odds.

The LFC budget called for pay raises of 1.5 percent for all state employees while the Martinez administration’s budget called for targeted increases instead of across-the-board raises.

State Sen. John Arthur Smith, D-Deming, told New Mexico Watchdog on Thursday he wasn’t really surprised that the governor will approve pay increases, “given the fact that revenue forecast is going to be improved by a couple percentage points than what was in the January forecast.”

“There was an agreement there would be some pay raises,” Smith said of the budget deal he was instrumental in crafting after negotiations broke down in the House of Representatives. “My take on the whole thing is, this is an election year. I don’t think she’s a whole lot different than most other politicians on that count.”

Smith said in addition to the 3 percent across-the-board raises, the budget also calls for 6 percent raises for state law enforcement employees, including the Department of Public Safety.

The governor has until March 12 to sign bills the Legislature passed in the 30-day session that ended Feb. 20.

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

‘Manhattan’ TV series comes to Santa Fe, promises to spend $40 million

Capital Report New Mexico Blog Postings - Wed, 2014-03-05 19:15

NEW MEXICO TAKES MANHATTAN: Gov. Susana Martinez talks to the lead director of the TV series “Manhattan,” Tommy Schlamme, from the show’s Santa Fe location. Accompanying the governor is Mica, her newly-adopted 7-month-old Weimaraner.

By Rob Nikolewski │ New Mexico Watchdog

SANTA FE – A television series based on the people behind the Manhattan Project is about to start production in a matter of days in New Mexico and one of show’s producers says he estimates spending about $40 million in the state.

“That’s a pretty decent amount of money,” said Iain Paterson shortly before taking Gov. Susana Martinez on a tour of the studio lot on the grounds of the Santa Fe University of Art and Design.

The show is called “Manhattan” and will air on WGN America, a new cable network that launches on April 1. Skydance Television president Marcy Ross says first episodes will air at the beginning of August and will focus on the scientists who developed the atomic bomb in Los Alamos. “It is a New Mexico story, it is an American story,” Ross said.

The show’s lead director is Emmy-award winner Tommy Schlamme and will star John Benjamin Hickey, who recently won a Tony Award on Broadway, and Daniel Stern.

Martinez pointed to the so-called “Breaking Bad bill” that passed the Legislature last year and she signed into law as one of the reasons why shows like “Manhattan” are being filmed in the state.

“I think bringing $40 million, spending it here, people spend it to buy groceries, houses, whatever it is they’re buying, and that’s a boost for our economy,” Martinez told reporters. “I think it’s exciting; I love it.”

The 2013 legislation increased the rebates New Mexico gives for television series production from 25 to 30 percent for qualified expenses producers run up while filming in the state.

Right after taking over as governor in 2011, Martinez said she didn’t want to hurt the movie industry but called for reducing a cap on qualified expenses because she said a higher limit “subsidizes Hollywood on the backs of our children.”

“I never took shots at Hollywood,” Martinez said Wednesday. “We had a budget that had a big hole in it and we had to have some predictability with our budget. When the incentives were not predictable, year after year … That’s why we put a cap on it … I welcomed Hollywood. I just didn’t want to have that unpredictability, or put it on the backs of our kids and take that money out of the classroom so those incentives could remain at those high rates that they were going.”

The current cap on productions in the state is at $50 million a year.

Incentives for TV shows and movies has been a hotly-debated topic in recent years, with supporters citing a 2009 study from Ernst & Young while critics point to a 2010 study completed by the left-leaning think tank Center on Budget and Policy Priorities that referred to claims that film subsidies lead to job and income creation as “a Hollywood fantasy.”

As for “Manhattan,” filming will be split between Santa Fe and Rio Rancho. A crew estimated at 200 is already nearing completion of sets on the Art and Design campus and the show’s producers say the series will lead to 3,000 roles for local talent.

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

Make it 10: Another NM state rep retires

Capital Report New Mexico Blog Postings - Wed, 2014-03-05 14:31

ANOTHER BITES THE ROUNDHOUSE DUST: State Rep. Jim White, R-Albuquerque, is the 10th member of the NM House of Representatives to announce his retirement.

By Rob Nikolewski │ New Mexico Watchdog

SANTA FE – We’re at 10 … and we still may not be done.

State Rep. Jim White, R-Albuquerque, has made it official. He’ll join nine other members of the New Mexico House of Representatives who will not run for re-election this year.

“I’m getting older, and this is a campaign year,” White told the Albuquerque Journal. “Campaigns are strenuous and expensive.”

White says he’ll endorse Albuquerque attorney Jim Dines as his successor in District 20, which is located in the eastern part of the city and has historically remained in Republican hands.

According to the most recent numbers, Republicans outperform Democrats 55 percent to 44 percent in District 20 but the voter registration numbers are very close — 40.8 percent Republican, 39.0 percent Democrat and 17.1 registered as Decline To State.

White, who says he will serve on interim committees until his term is up at the end of 2014, has held the seat since 2009 and ran unopposed in the last two elections.

With White’s announcement, five Republicans and five Democrats have announced they are retiring from politics. That represents one-seventh of the 70-member House.

There are rumblings that one other House Republican will step down. There’s also been speculation that Democrat Phillip Archuleta of Las Cruces, who missed the entire 30-day legislative session this year while recovering from a broken hip and femur, may retire too.

Here’s the list of the 10 House members who are stepping down at the end of this year:

Jim White, R-Albuquerque

Don Bratton, R-Hobbs

Edward Sandoval, D-Albuquerque

Ernest Chavez, D-Albuquerque

Rick Miera, D-Albuquerque

Henry “Kiki” Saavedra, D-Albuquerque

Anna Crook, R-Clovis

Tom Taylor, R-Farmington

Bill Gray, R-Artesia

Nate Cote, D-Organ

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

Ukraine crisis bolsters calls to send US natural gas to region – and what it may mean for NM

Capital Report New Mexico Blog Postings - Tue, 2014-03-04 17:47

HOLDING SWAY: Seen here inspecting a gas transmission line, Russian president Vladimir Putin and the state-run natural gas giant Gazprom control much of the natural gas that is supplied to Ukraine.

By Rob Nikolewski │ New Mexico Watchdog

SANTA FE — As the Russian incursion into Ukraine creates an international crisis and unsettles international markets, a call is being raised to send U.S. oil and gas into eastern Europe as a way to blunt Vladimir Putin‘s influence in the region.

Russia is “a tremendous energy power” and it’s “not afraid of using its energy power for geopolitical ends,” Steve Eule, vice president of Institute for 21st Century Energy, said in a conference call with reporters Tuesday. “And that argues for greater U.S. imports to Europe.”

The Russian power play has provided momentum for industry supporters, who have called on the Obama administration to approve free-trade agreements to export liquefied natural gas to markets all over the world.

“The Department of Energy’s approval process for LNG exports is unnecessarily putting our allies at the mercy of Vladimir Putin,” House Energy and Commerce Committee Chairman Fred Upton, R-Michigan, said in a statement. “Now is the time to send the signal to our global allies that U.S. natural gas will be an available and viable alternative to their energy needs.”

Increased production could mean very good news for states like New Mexico, which is home to the San Juan Basin, one of the largest natural gas reserves in the world.

Greater global demand likelywould increase the price of natural gas, and it’s been estimated that a simple 10-cent increase would generate $10 million more to the New Mexico’s general fund due to a windfall in oil and gas severance tax revenue.

“Because the price has been so low for the last five years or so, there’s only about four or five rigs up there (in the San Juan) operating today,” Wally Drangmeister, director of communications at the New Mexico Oil and Gas Association, told New Mexico Watchdog. “So that would be an opportunity, if the price were to come up a little bit … It could definitely encourage drilling activity there.”

On the other hand, it’s not a question of simply turning on a spigot.

“Yes, I agree the president should expedite the permitting of liquefied natural gas exports,” Bernard Weinstein, associate director of the Maguire Energy Institute at Southern Methodist University, told New Mexico Watchdog. “But we’re talking about two to four years from the time the permit is granted until the facility is constructed and the infrastructure is in place to export this stuff.”

Russia raised the economic pressure on Ukraine on Tuesday when Putin announced he’s canceling price discounts on natural gas to Ukraine.

PRESSURE: Russia’s Vladimir Putin on Tuesday canceled discounts on natural gas sold to Ukraine.

“The U.S. needs to get its LNG exports in place sooner rather than later,” Zach Allen, president of Pan Eurasian Enterprises Inc., which tracks LNG cargoes, told Bloomberg News. “Any supply source of LNG to increase the resilience of European markets to short-term swings would be a good thing.”

The Obama administration and Secretary of State John Kerry have been working on a $1-billion loan guarantee to Ukraine that would help offset higher energy prices. There’s no mention in the aid package of a plan to wean Ukraine from its dependence on Russia, which supplies nearly all of Ukraine’s natural gas through its state-run energy giant Gazprom.

In a study released Tuesday, Ukraine had the worst score among the top 25 energy users in an International Index of Energy Security Risk.

On Capitol Hill, U.S. Sen. Ron Wyden, D-Ore., chairman of the Senate Finance Committee, said he plans to ask Treasury Secretary Jacob Lew on Wednesday how the United States can respond economically to Russia’s actions in Ukraine.

“There are other sources (of natural gas), but it would be very difficult to replace the supplies that Russia provides the European market,” Weinstein said. “They are by far a domineering force.”

“I think an excellent principle is that the free flow of energy in a free-market system does a lot economically and to help at last mute countries that would like to use energy as a weapon,” Drangmeister said.

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

Santa Fe candidate says women elected to office are “more honorable and ethical” UPDATE: Candidate finishes fourth

Capital Report New Mexico Blog Postings - Mon, 2014-03-03 19:03

PLAYING THE GENDER CARD: A candidate for city council in Santa Fe says female elected officials are more cooperative and ethical than men.

By Rob Nikolewski │ New Mexico Watchdog

SANTA FE – A candidate for the Santa Fe City Council has sent out a flier, urging voters to support her over her two male opponents — in part — because she says women make better public servants.

Mary Bonney, an art gallery owner on trendy Canyon Road and candidate for District 2 in the state capital, cites five reasons to vote for women, including that they are “more responsive to constituents,” “more focused on cooperation” and “have proven to be more honorable and ethical.”

Here’s the flier:

The flier also quotes Margaret Thatcher, who said, “If you want something said ask a man; if you want something done, ask a woman.”

When asked if the flier may alienate men in her district, Bonney said, “It certainly wasn’t meant to intend to offend men, for sure.”

But if a male candidate had sent out a flier saying that when men are elected they are more responsive to constituents, more focused on cooperation and are more honorable and ethical, wouldn’t that risk the ire of female voters?

“I don’t agree it’s sexist,” Bonney told New Mexico Watchdog. “I don’t agree with it but I don’t think it would be seen as sexist. I think you’re reading way too much into this, into the gender part of it.”

On the front of the flier, Bonney attacks opponents Rad Acton and Joe Maestas, labeling them as “Bad Boys.”

Santa Fe’s municipal elections will be held Tuesday.

Update 3/5: Bonney ended up finishing fourth in a field of five candidates.

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

A Republican battle in New Mexico that mirrors a national debate in the GOP

Capital Report New Mexico Blog Postings - Mon, 2014-03-03 17:00

REPUBLICAN VS. REPUBLICAN: David Clements (left) and Allen Weh are facing off in the GOP primary for the U.S. Senate in a battle that reflects some of the tension in the Republican Party on a national, as well as state, level.

By Rob Nikolewski │ New Mexico Watchdog

SANTA FE — A fight is taking shape in New Mexico that mirrors a political battle playing out across the country — the struggle over the direction of the Republican Party.

In one corner is Allen Weh, a 71-year-old Marine Corps veteran and business owner who is well-known across the state and, for lack of a better term, considered a “conventional” Republican.

In the other corner is little-known lawyer David Clements, 34, a self-described “strict constitutionalist,” who has been labeled an “unconventional” Republican for some of his more libertarian views.

Both men will square off June 3 in the Republican primary, with the winner facing U.S. Sen. Tom Udall, a Democrat from a well-known political family who won his U.S. Senate seat in 2008 by getting more than 61 percent of the vote.

Weh beat Clements at the GOP pre-primary convention Saturday. That wasn’t a surprise. The close vote was, however.

Weh got 53.17 percent of the vote. Clements received 46.83 percent.

“My opponent was telling people they had a 70 percent to 30 percent advantage going in so … we’re quite encouraged,” Clements told New Mexico Watchdog a few minutes after the results were announced.

Weh, meanwhile, huddled with his campaign team behind closed doors for about 45 minutes before talking to reporters.

“I tell you what, 53 (percent) wins this thing, and I was very happy because I’ve only been a candidate for 52 days and that’s the instructive, relevant point to the win in my view,” Weh said.

What’s also relevant are the distinctions between Weh and Clements and how much their race may determine the direction for the Republican Party in New Mexico.

Just as Rand Paul is considered a standard-bearer for a more libertarian wing of the GOP — which has clashed on foreign affairs issues with long-time Capitol Hill Republicans such as John McCain or social conservatives such as Rick Santorum — Clements is seen by some as representing the new guard.

Weh, then, represents the old guard.

“That’s probably true,” said state Rep. Bill Rehm, R-Albuquerque.

“Weh is a known product,” said state Rep. Larry Larrañaga, R-Albuquerque. “Clements is a contrast with Weh since he’s not the known product … The key to the race is who will put out the best message to the people and who will move New Mexico in the right direction.”

Larrañaga and Rehm said they haven’t made up their minds between Weh and Clements.

To be sure, Clements and Weh see eye-to-eye on a host of issues — such as balancing the budget — but there are marked policy differences in other areas.

Upon entering the race in the fall, Clements said he hoped to appeal to voters of all stripes who “are sick of perpetual war.”

“They (libertarians) tend to be isolationists in their views and the United States’ role in the world, and I don’t believe in a dangerous world we can be an isolationist nation,” Weh said Saturday.

Like many libertarians, Clements has spoken out against the National Security Agency’s data collection program and what he calls the “invasion of privacy rights” on the part of the government. At Saturday’s pre-primary convention, Clements said he would fight against “a government surveillance program that’s out of control.”

But Weh defends the intelligence-gathering program, and said Edward Snowden, the former NSA contractor who leaked documents to media outlets, is no hero.

“Most Americans — Republicans, Democrats and independents — see what (Snowden) did as a treasonous act against this country that put American lives in danger … You don’t jeopardize people’s lives that are serving for the country,” Weh said. “That man was treasonous for what he did, and he ought to go to jail.”

In addition to policy differences, there is plenty of antagonism between the staffers on the Weh and Clements campaigns.

Last week, Clements officials accused a Weh political adviser of hacking into their email accounts. This came after Weh received more delegates than Clements in a Bernalillo County Republican delegate election leading up to Saturday.

“Our campaign’s email was hacked and compromised and we were able to trace it back to Allen’s campaign manager, Diego Espinoza,” Clements said Saturday. “So yeah, there’s some friction there.”

Weh denied the charges, saying, “The simple fact of the matter is there were more Weh supporters in Bernalillo County than Clements supporters.”

So is the tension more personal than political?

“I’m not really sure what it is,” said Clements. “I don’t really assign a label to myself. I just kind of go out and fight for what we believe in.”

“I never knew this man until I declared my candidacy,” Weh said. “I live in Los Ranchos, N.M., he lives in Las Cruces, N.M., 200 miles away. I’ve never encountered him, so there’s nothing personal there.”

Then there’s the money difference.

Founder and CEO of an aviation company in Albuquerque, Weh spent more than $1 million in self-financing when he ran and lost the Republican nomination for governor in 2010. With much less name recognition, Clements said Saturday his campaign has spent just $26,000 so far. He has gotten no indication he’ll get a significant contribution from national Republican donors.

“We’re not counting on it,” Clements said. “We’re counting on grass-roots support. It’s not something we really have any control over but I think we might surprise some people.”

“You don’t get votes at a pre-primary convention with a bankroll,” Weh said. “You get it the old-fashioned way — talking to people. Money has nothing to do with this pre-primary election.”

Eventually, one candidate will win the primary in June and one will lose, and there’s some concern among statewide Republicans that bad feelings may cause a rift within the GOP.

“I’m hoping that doesn’t happen,” said Rehm. “Whoever wins this, we’ve got to get behind.”

“I don’t think it will be a bloodbath,” Larrañaga said.

****

Here’s New Mexico Watchdog video of each candidate talking about their differences:

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

VIDEO: Weh wins a close one as NM Republicans prepare for June primary

Capital Report New Mexico Blog Postings - Sat, 2014-03-01 21:00

By Rob Nikolewski │ New Mexico Watchdog

ALBUQUERQUE – The battle for the right to take on U.S. Senator Tom Udall was officially joined Saturday.

Now Allen Weh and David Clements have a little more than three months to convince New Mexico Republicans which one of them represents the best hope to knock off Udall, an incumbent Democrat, in the November general election.

The Weh-Clements race was the marquee matchup Saturday at the New Mexico Republican pre-primary convention in Albuquerque, with Weh taking the majority of the votes from GOP delegates.

A BATTLE BREWING: Allen Weh (left) defeated David Clements in a close race at Saturday’s state Republican pre-primary convention, indicating a close race heading into the June primary election. Photos by NM Watchdog.

But it was a close race, with Weh winning 53.17 percent of the delegates and Clements taking 46.83 percent.

“I tell you what, 53 (percent) wins this thing and I was very happy,” Weh said. “Because I’ve only been a candidate for 52 days and that’s the instructive, relevant point to the win in my view. And I’m the guy that had to go through these 52 days ago with nothing.”

“A lot of people were saying we weren’t going to get on the ballot and we weren’t going to reach 20 percent of the delegates,” Clements said. “My opponent was telling people they had a 70-30 percent advantage going in so … we’re quite encouraged.”

The pre-primary convention carries no electoral weight (provided candidates receive 20 percent of the vote) but is a good measure to see how candidates in contested primaries stack up against each other.

The statewide primary elections are set for June 3.

In 2010, Weh lost the GOP nomination for governor to Susana Martinez and as a former chairman of the New Mexico Republican Party, he’s a well-known figure across the state. As founder and CEO of CSI Aviation, Weh is considered to have deep pockets.

“You don’t get votes at a pre-primary convention with a bankroll,” Weh said. “You get it the old-fashioned way — talking to people. Money has nothing to do with this pre-primary election.”

A former prosecutor, Clements is making his first run for statewide office, has much lower name-recognition across the state and is considered to represent the more libertarian wing of the party.

“I don’t really assign a label to myself,” Clements said. “We just go out and kind of fight for what we believe in and the response has been pretty overwhelming.”

In the only other contested race for delegates on Saturday, Mike Frese (pronounced “freeze”) defeated Richard Priem 63.46 percent to 36.53 percent as the delegates’ preferred choice to carry the GOP standard against Democrat Michelle Lujan Grisham in the 1st Congressional District in the U.S. House of Representatives, which is made up of Albuquerque and the central part of the state.

“I’m thrilled to have the support of the delegates,” Frese told New Mexico Watchdog. “Now that election is behind us and it’s time to win the primary and win the general.”

“I have the message, I have the organization and I have the vision to win in November,” Priem told the delegates.

Gov. Martinez and Steve Pearce, of the 2nd Congressional District in the U.S. House of Representatives, have no primary opposition and delivered remarks to the crowd at the Albuquerque Marriott.

Among the others giving speeches and getting formally nominated by acclamation were:

*Lieutenant Gov. John Sanchez

*Jefferson Byrd, running for a second straight time against incumbent Ben Ray Luján in the state’s 3rd Congressional District in the northern part of the state

*Judge Miles Hanissee, running for the New Mexico Court of Appeals

*Susan Riedel (pronounced REED-el), running forAttorney General

*Dianna Duran, running for re-election as Secretary of State

*Rick Lopez, running for State Treasurer

*Robert Aragon, running for State Auditor, and

*Aubrey Dunn Jr., running for State Land Commissioner

Democrats will have their pre-primary convention next Saturday outside Albuquerque.

Here’s video of Weh and Clements after Saturday’s vote:

And here’s Frese talking about his win on Saturday and his chances going forward:

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

Republican NM House leader Don Bratton retiring

Capital Report New Mexico Blog Postings - Fri, 2014-02-28 13:58

BRATTON CALLS IT A CAREER: Minority Leader Don Bratton, R-Hobbs, is the ninth member of the New Mexico House of Representatives to announce retirement.

By Rob Nikolewski │ New Mexico Watchdog

SANTA FE – A ninth member of the New Mexico House of Representatives announced his retirement on Friday and it’s a biggie: House Minority Leader Don Bratton, R-Hobbs.

“I’m not getting any younger and it’s time to re-establish some personal priorities,” Bratton told New Mexico Watchdog in a telephone interview.

The decision caught House Republicans off-guard when they received the news Friday morning.

“I’m completely surprised,” said House Whip Nate Gentry, D-Albuquerque. “I hate to see him go. He’s been a great statesman … He did an excellent job of maintaining decorum. He’s not a bomb-thrower. He brought a level-headedness and common sense approach to the House.”

“I’ve been thinking about this for more than a few months,” Bratton said. “Since there’s so much attention focused on the priorities during the (just-completed 30-day session), I didn’t want to play my cards out until the session was over.”

A former energy executive, Bratton turns 67 in June and has served in the House since 2001. In 2012, Bratton replaced Tom Taylor as minority leader.

Bratton said Friday he’s endorsing Larry Scott, an engineer and consultant in the energy industry, to succeed him District 62 in southeast New Mexico. “We need expertise in the oil and gas industry in the Legislature because it has such an impact on the New Mexico economy,” Bratton said.

The district is a GOP stronghold, with 56.3 percent of voters registered as Republicans and 27.7 percent registered as Democrats.

As for a replacement for Bratton’s leadership position among House Republicans, Bratton did not suggest any names. “There are a lot prospects with the requisite qualifications,” he said.

When asked if he’s interested, Gentry said, “My sense is we’ll see where we are after the next election.” House Republicans are outnumbered 37-33 by Democrats going into the November general elections and have not held a majority since 1953.

Bratton joins a growing number of House members who have announced they will not seek re-election this year. Bratton’s retirement means that nearly 13 percent of the 70-member House of Representatives are stepping down — four Republicans and five Democrats.

A member of the Legislative Council, Bratton said he’ll remain active at the Roundhouse through the end of his term on Dec. 31 but said he’ll look forward to spending more time with his family, that includes five grandchildren and his parents, who live in Hobbs.

“I’ll miss the friendships, the people you meet from all walks of life and the friendships you make across party lines,” Bratton said.

Before coming to the Roundhouse, Bratton spent eight years on the Hobbs City Council and was mayor from 1996-1998.

“He has a lengthy history of public service, and he deserves quality time to be with his family and enjoy retirement,” said Republican Party of New Mexico chairman John Billingsley in a statement.

Here’s a list of the other eight House members who have announced their retirements from politics:

Edward Sandoval, D-Albuquerque

Ernest Chavez, D-Albuquerque

Rick Miera, D-Albuquerque

Henry “Kiki” Saavedra, D-Albuquerque

Anna Crook, R-Clovis

Tom Taylor, R-Farmington

Bill Gray, R-Artesia

Nate Cote, D-Organ

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

NM’s Human Services Department accused of mismanagement

Capital Report New Mexico Blog Postings - Thu, 2014-02-27 20:23

By Rob Nikolewski │ New Mexico Watchdog

SANTA FE, N.M. — New Mexico‘s Human Services Department yanked the Medicaid funding for 15 behavioral health care providers last summer, citing credible allegations of fraud in their respective companies.

Now, the department itself is fighting accusations of poor oversight and mismanagement.

TURNABOUT: After citing an audit that accused 15 health care providers with mismanagement, the New Mexico Human Services Department has its own audit to worry about.

On Thursday afternoon, State Auditor Hector Balderas released an audit of the HSD’s handling of the transition of the 15 providers, claiming the department made a series of financial mistakes — ranging from failing to collect $60.2 million in federal Medicaid funds to approving duplicate per diem reimbursements totaling $115 in alcoholic beverages to a contractor hired by the department.

HSD “should hold itself to the same high standard of accountability that it demands from organizations that receive federal funds,” Balderas said in a statement.

HSD spokesman Matt Kennicott refuted the charges, said the most serious allegations predated the current administration of Gov. Susana Martinez and began during the administration of former Gov. Bill Richardson and accused Balderas — who is running for New Mexico Attorney General – of playing politics.

“This is just another sad example of an announced political candidate using his office to make politically motivated statements,” Kennicott said in an email to New Mexico Watchdog. “The information released by the State Auditor is fraught with misstatements and inaccuracies. HSD received a clean opinion by external auditors and the State Auditor is doing nothing more than making hay out of non-issue findings or old items from years past.”

The controversy has been a bitter and complicated one ever since HSD Secretary Sidonie Squier suspended funding for the behavioral health providers last June.

The decision came after a Boston-based audit firm, Public Consulting Group, Inc., alleged $36 million in potential fraud on the part of the 15 health care providers across the state.

HSD officials say they have been safeguarding taxpayers as well as clients of the behavioral health facilities, but critics say the department has been heavy-handed at best and at worst, has run some of the providers out of business.

The providers say they haven’t been able to defend themselves against the charges because they haven’t been able to see the details of their cases, which have been handed over to the New Mexico Attorney General’s Office, which has kept them confidential while it investigates the case.

In November, two providers agreed to pay a combined $4.24 million due to alleged improper billing and were reauthorized to treat clients by HSD.

On Thursday, Balderas announced the results of his office’s own review of HSD for the 2013 fiscal year, which was done by CliftonLarsonAllen LLP, an independent auditing firm working with the state auditor’s office.

The audit included accusations that HSD:

*improperly paid $620,383 to five behavioral health providers from Arizona that were hired by HSD to replace the 15 suspended providers and approved advance payments to two of the Arizona providers totaling $187,896

*improperly paid $7,000 to Public Consulting Group Inc., for “certain inappropriate costs,” including a reimbursement of $115 for alcoholic beverages

*failed to make timely requests for federal reimbursements that totaled $60.2 million in federal funds that were not collected

*in its referrals regarding the 15 providers, HSD “circumvented established requirements” when it made its accusations of credible allegations of fraud

HSD “created additional fraud risks by violating state contracts and approving advance payments to private contractors for services not rendered,” Balderas said.

In a point-by-point response, Kennicott refuted each allegation.

Regarding the charges of improper payments to the Arizona providers, Kennicott said, “The funds were paid out to keep paying employees from the audited agencies and keep services in place.”

As to the $60.2 million in federal funds, Kennicott said the problem started during the Richardson administration, was detected by the Martinez administration and is being addressed. “Had the books been reconciled back then, it’s an issue that would have been identified immediately,” he said in the email.

The auditor’s office has no law enforcement authority, but Balderas said his findings will be turned over to the office of New Mexico Attorney General Gary King.

The findings will also be sent to the federal Centers for Medicare and Medicaid Services and the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services, as well as to Roundhouse members of the Legislative Health and Human Services Committee. Democrats on the committee have been harshly critical of Squier and HSD.

Here’s a link to the news release sent out by the State Auditor’s Office.

And here’s a link to the response from HSD’s Kennicott.

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

It’s complicated: Ban on plastic grocery bags in Santa Fe hits snags

Capital Report New Mexico Blog Postings - Thu, 2014-02-27 13:57

TANGLED UP IN PLASTIC: This sign outside a Santa Fe grocery store bids farewell to plastic bags but the citywide ban is proving difficult to implement. NM Watchdog photo.

By Rob Nikolewski │ New Mexico Watchdog

SANTA FE — In a town that pats itself on the back for environmental sensitivity, a ban on plastic bags in grocery stores in Santa Fe seemed pretty straightforward.

But implementing the program has become harder than anticipated.

“I hate to say it, but I told you so,” Santa Fe city councilor Ron Trujillo told his colleagues Wednesday, the night before the ban on polyethylene bags was supposed to go into effect.

As originally planned, as of midnight Feb. 27, grocery stores weren’t supposed to give customers plastic carry-out bags less than 2 1/2 mils thick.

But the ban has run into a series of problems since the City Council voted in August to ditch the plastic. The ban began after advocates said Santa Fe needed to get on the green bandwagon and join cities such as Boulder, Colo., and Berkeley, Calif. in ditching plastic.

First, a hassle has come up over a 10-cent, per-bag fee, which customers would be charged if they did not bring in their own reusable bags.

As the ordinance was designed, if customers tried to check out without their own bags, the store would put the groceries in a paper bag and charge the shopper 10 cents each.

But the Santa Fe City Attorney has questioned whether the 10-cent fee amounts to an illegal tax, and there are worries the fee could be challenged in court, which could lead to undetermined legal costs for the city.

“Who’s to say this (10-cent fee) isn’t going to cost the city a lot more down the road?” Trujillo said at Wednesday night’s council meeting, which dragged on for six hours.

Second, some complain the plastic bag ban is unfair because restaurants are exempt, as are nonprofits that serve the needy. In addition, grocery stores can still use plastic bags for meat, produce and bakery items.

At 11 p.m., bleary-eyed city councilors, in a 7-1 vote, decided to split the plastic bag baby in half: They’ll go ahead with the ban but will postpone enforcement of the 10-cent per-bag ban for at least one month.

The decision doesn’t satisfy Dena Aquilina, the general manager of Beneficial Farms, a group that works “only with farms that use sustainable farming methods,” according to its website.

“The real goal of this ordinance was for people to bring reusable, washable bags,” Aquilina told the Santa Fe New Mexican before the vote. “Just switching to paper (bags) doesn’t really solve the problem.”

In the meantime, different grocery stores in the city are using their own policies.

A spokesman for Albertson’s supermarkets said it won’t use plastic bags anymore, but it will give shoppers free paper bags.

Phil Wofford, a manager at Trader Joe’s near downtown Santa Fe, told New Mexico Watchdog his store has already discarded plastic grocery bags and does not charge for paper bags. Wofford says if the city requires the 10-cent fee, the store would comply. “We’ve got it set up in our computers, we’re just waiting to hear from the city,” he said.

Santa Fe bought 10,000 reusable bags to hand out to residents and launched a campaign and website called “Bag to Differ Santa Fe,informing people about the plan.

How much has the campaign and the purchase of the 10,000 reusable bags cost taxpayers? That’s a good question, but four phone calls to the city’s public information officer have gone unreturned.

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

Tesla looking at ABQ for $5b battery factory — with clawbacks in the offing?

Capital Report New Mexico Blog Postings - Wed, 2014-02-26 18:38

ABQ IS IN THE RUNNING: Albuquerque is on the short list as a site for a proposed $5 billion battery plan to be built by the electric car company, Tesla.

By Rob Nikolewski │ New Mexico Watchdog

SANTA FE – Albuquerque is on the short list for a proposed $5 billion battery factory to be built by Tesla Motors, Inc., the maker of electric cars priced at more than $70,000 each.

According to regulatory filings made late Wednesday afternoon, the California-based carmaker reported it is looking at Albuquerque, Reno, Nev., and two undisclosed locations in Arizona and Texas for a 500-1,000 acre site for what the company calls a “gigafactory” that expects to employ 6,500 employees.

The factory is scheduled to launch in 2017 and be fully operational by 2020, turning out up to a half-million cars a year.

“We would covet a project like this,” New Mexico Economic Development Department Secretary Jon Barela told New Mexico Watchdog. “It would be a transformational opportunity for this state … Tesla is a fantastic company, it’s a forward-thinking company that fits into our R&D and technology culture.”

Barela said he did not have a timeline on when Tesla plans on making it decision.

In an email to New Mexico Watchdog, Tesla Director of Global Communications Liz Jarvis-Shean did not give specifics but in a blog produced by the company, a projected timeline for “zoning, design and build” of the plant is slated for 2014.

According to the filing, Tesla would raise $1.6 billion through a bond issue to help finance the factory and the auto maker said it plans to contribute $2 billion toward the proposed battery factory. Tesla also said it was in discussions with Panasonic about investing in the facility, something Panasonic officials confirmed Wednesday.

“This would be a huge economic benefit for Albuquerque and New Mexico to get us out of the recession,” state Rep. Jason Harper, R-Rio Rancho, told New Mexico Watchdog Wednesday afternoon, pointing out that Intel’s plant in Rio Rancho employs 1,400 people — about one-fourth the number of employees estimated to work at the Tesla plant.

But at the same time, Harper says that should Albuquerque land the contract, it’s important that “clawback” provisions be put in place should a deal involve public dollars as an enticement for Telsa to come to New Mexico.

“That way we’re protecting any taxpayer investment,” Harper said.

In the 2013 legislative session, Harper sponsored a bill that passed through the Legislature and signed by Gov. Susana Martinez that attached provisions to financial deals so that if the companies fail to make good on their promises, municipalities and the state can recoup some of the losses.

The law went into effect following cases involving two high-profile companies:

*Hewlett-Packard received $2.2 million in incentives from the city of Rio Rancho and promised it would hire 1,350 people for a customer support center. HP hired just 860 people and later cut 200 of those jobs by Oct. 31. HP was required to repay just $71,000, something Harper called “a slap on the wrist.”

*In 2012, Schott Solar declared bankruptcy after it received $16 million in state taxpayer money to break ground on a facility in Albuquerque. According to the terms of the deal OK’d by the administration of then-Gov. Bill Richardson, no claw-back provisions existed, although the New Mexico Finance Authority managed to wrest $3.3 million from Schott.

Barela says he thinks the clawback law won’t scare off Tesla. “That won’t have an impact,” he said.

Harper agrees, saying reliable companies have nothing to fear. “Besides,” Harper said, the New Mexico law “is a proportional clawback. I think it’s very fair.”

A story late Wednesday from the Wall Street Journal cited “a person familiar with the discussions in Nevada” saying that Tesla is looking at Reno because of the northern Nevada city is home to a mining and production plant that creates lithium carbonate, a key ingredient in making the lithium-ion batteries Tesla uses.

Barela said he didn’t know if Reno has the inside track on the deal and instead focused on the fact that Albuquerque is on the short list.

“We’ve been making great strides to make New Mexico more business-friendly and tax competitive,” Barela said. “The key message is that now New Mexico can compete with these kinds of projects. A couple years ago, this could not have happened.”

***
Here’s the blog posting from Tesla outlining some of the details of the proposed battery factory:

Tesla’s “Gig a Factory” by Rob Nikolewski

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

Eight is enough? Yet another NM House member retires

Capital Report New Mexico Blog Postings - Wed, 2014-02-26 15:12

GOODBYE TO THE ROUNDHOUSE: Rep. Edward Sandoval, D-Albuquerque, is the eighth member of the NM House of Representatives to announce he’s retiring.

By Rob Nikolewski │ New Mexico Watchdog

SANTA FE – And the retirements just keep on comin’.

On Wednesday, longtime Democrat Edward Sandoval of Albuquerque became the eighth member of the 70-member New Mexico House of Representatives to announce he won’t run for re-election in the fall.

“It was a very hard decision,” the 67-year-old Sandoval told New Mexico Watchdog. “I’ve been (in the Roundhouse) 34 years — 32 in the House and two years in the Senate. I was 26 at that time and now I think it’s about time” to step down.

Sandoval said he’s heard that at least two Democrats have expressed interest in taking his place in District 17 in Albuquerque’s North Valley but Sandoval said he doesn’t have a hand-picked successor in mind.

“It should be up to the community,” Sandoval said, adding, “I’m not going to endorse anyone anytime soon.”

District 17 is considered a solid seat for Democrats. Nearly 55 percent of the district is registered Democrat, compared to 25.9 percent Republican and 15.6 percent Decline To State.

Between now and the end of this year, Sandoval will continue to serve during the interim legislative session as chairman of the Revenue Stabilization and Tax Policy Committee.

“I bleed the North Valley,” said Sandoval, 67, who added that he wants to spend more time with his three grandsons. “I wasn’t born here but I came here when I was five years old. I just love it here.”

Of the eight House members who have announced their retirements, Sandoval is the fourth Democrat from Albuquerque to step down. Here’s the list of the seven members Sandoval joins:

Ernest Chavez, D-Albuquerque

Rick Miera, D-Albuquerque

Henry “Kiki” Saavedra, D-Albuquerque

Anna Crook, R-Clovis

Tom Taylor, R-Farmington

Bill Gray, R-Artesia

Nate Cote, D-Organ

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

Now it’s up to seven: Another state rep retires

Capital Report New Mexico Blog Postings - Tue, 2014-02-25 20:50

MAKE IT SEVEN: Rep. Bill Gray, R-Artesia, is retiring from the NM House of Representatives, becoming the seventh member to step down this year.

By Rob Nikolewski │ New Mexico Watchdog

SANTA FE – One-tenth of the 70 members in the New Mexico House of Representatives are retiring from public life.

On Tuesday, Rep. Bill Gray, R-Artesia, announced that he will not seek re-election in November and will step down when his term expires at the end of the year, joining six other House members who have wrapped up their political careers.

“It is the retirees group, I guess,” Gray told New Mexico Watchdog with a laugh in a telephone interview.

At age 73, Gray wants to spend more time with his wife of 53 years, LaNette, and his three grown children and two grandchildren. Another factor in Gray’s decision, he said, came after he spent more than two months on his back recovering from spinal fusion surgery last summer.

The surgery was successful but Gray said, “You only have so much energy to spend in this old world and I don’t know how much of that energy I wanted to spend in Santa Fe.”

Gray won his seat in the Roundhouse in 2006 when he succeeded long-time conservative Democrat Joe Stell, who retired.

(Note: A previous version of this post mistakenly stated that Gray defeated Stell in 2006.)

In the last three election cycles, Gary ran unopposed in District 54, which is considered a solid GOP seat, with Republicans leading Democrats in performance numbers there by a 60.7 to 39.3 percent advantage.

Gray said he has a successor in mind that he’ll endorse as his replacement but wouldn’t disclose the name, saying the candidate is expected to make an announcement Wednesday morning.

A retired energy executive, Gray sits on the influential Legislative Finance Committee and will continue attending committee hearings until the end of the year.

Gray joins six other House members who have announced their retirements:

Ernest Chavez, D-Albuquerque

Anna Crook, R-Clovis

Tom Taylor, R-Farmington

Rick Miera, D-Albuquerque

Henry “Kiki” Saavedra, D-Albuquerque

Nate Cote, D-Organ

“I’ll miss the people on both sides of the aisle,” Gray said. “I liked serving on committees. The floor sessions, not so much. You know what it’s like. Listening to all those memorials wasn’t much fun.”

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

Analysis: How two missing NM Democrats changed the 2014 legislative session

Capital Report New Mexico Blog Postings - Mon, 2014-02-24 23:16

DEMOCRATS NEEDED THEM: The absence of state Reps. Phillip Archuleta (left) and Ernest Chavez affected the 30-day legislative session.

By Rob Nikolewski │ New Mexico Watchdog

SANTA FE – Reps. Ernest Chavez, D-Albuquerque, and Phillip Archuleta, D-Las Cruces, missed the entire 30-day legislative session that wrapped up last Thursday and that appeared, in the words of Robert Frost, to make all the difference.

Chavez and Archuleta are two reliable Democratic Party votes in the state House of Representatives but without each of them, it took the steam out of a slew of constitutional resolutions Democrats introduced to bypass Republican Gov. Susana Martinez, led to a budget deadlock in the House and indicated just how differently the Roundhouse would function if Republicans manage to win control of the House after this November’s elections.

“They are not only ‘Democrat’ Democrats, (Chavez and Archuleta) are top-of-the-line guys for Democrats’ core values,” Speaker of the House W. Ken Martinez, D-Grants, said right after the session ended. “They’re so frustrated that they could not be here.”

Without the 77-year-old Chavez — who missed the session reportedly recovering from a bite from a recluse spider – and the 64-year-old Archuleta — recovering from a fall that broke one of his hips and a femur – the Democrats’ advantage on Republicans in the House dropped from 37-33 to 35-33 and influenced a series of votes on the floor.

“Oh, it was huge,” House Minority Leader Don Bratton, R-Hobbs, told New Mexico Watchdog. “The closer the numbers, the fewer votes you have to convince to change the outcome on a piece of legislation.”

Before the session, Democrats were optimistic they could get resolutions raising the state’s minimum wage and bringing back a state board of education (which would have delighted teachers unions because it would eliminate Public Education Department secretary-designate and Gov. Martinez appointee Hanna Skandera) through both chambers.

There was even hope that a constitutional amendment dipping into the $13.1 billion Land Grant Permanent Fund could get through the pesky Senate Finance Committee and head to the House floor.

Such a legislative trifecta would have had liberals in the state dancing down Paseo de Peralta.

Republicans were fuming, calling the constitutional resolutions an end run around Gov. Martinez. Democrats countered by saying they were merely following an approved avenue in the legislative process.

Since Democrats held a comfortable 25-17 edge in the Senate, getting the resolutions through that chamber posed no real problem. But once it became clear that Chavez and Archuleta weren’t going to appear, the numbers weren’t adding up for Democrats.

And that’s because of a supreme irony:

The very constitution Democrats wanted to amend with these resolutions stipulated that resolutions needed to be approved by a clear majority of those elected to each chamber — not just a majority who were seated on a given day.

In the House, it meant that 36 votes would be needed to move the resolutions past the governor and onto the ballot in November for New Mexico voters to have the final say.

It proved to be a hurdle too large to overcome for Democrats.

They would need all 35 of their remaining members to vote “yes” (and Reps. Sandra Jeff and Dona Irwin were iffy at best) and somehow lure at least one House Republicans to defect.

It never happened and the Democrats’ Big Three resolutions foundered.

“Am I disappointed? Absolutely,” said Senate Majority Leader Michael Sanchez, D-Belen, who sponsored the early childhood/Land Grant Permanent Fund resolution. “But when you don’t have the numbers in one chamber” it’s difficult.

The loss of Archuleta and Chavez also led to a 34-34 deadlock on a budget deal. Almost always, the budget bill originates in the House but because of the tie vote, we saw the unusual development of the Senate taking over the chore.

“I’ve never seen this before,” said 19-year Roundhouse veteran Rep. Larry Larrañaga, R-Albuquerque. “There was one or two times when Manny Aragon was running the Senate where they came up with their own budget bill that ran alongside the House bill but I don’t ever recall the Senate coming up with a budget bill because the House couldn’t get one.”

In the end, the budget crisis was averted but it showed how a closely-divided House composition altered things.

With all 70 House seats up for grabs in November (at least theoretically, since some members will run unopposed), Republicans are dreaming of taking over the majority for the first time since 1953 – when Dwight Eisenhower won his first term.

On Monday night, Gov. Martinez campaign advisor Jay McCleskey posted on his Facebook page a story in the Washington Post that pointed to a chart showing that since 1902, the party in the White House lost seats in legislatures in 26 of the 28 mid-term elections. “That’s worrisome for Democrats,” The Post’s Chris Cillizza wrote.

Here’s the chart from the National Conference of State Legislators:

But taking the House majority figures to be a steep climb. While House Republicans can point to a number of races they barely lost in 2012, they also squeaked out a couple victories that could have gone the Democrats’ way.

In Rio Rancho, Rep. Paul Pacheco won his race by just 78 votes and in Doña Ana County, Rep. Terry McMillan won in a recount by a mere eight votes.

And in Silver City, Rep. Dianne Hamilton, R-Silver City, announced before the 30-day session that she would run for re-election. But the 80-year-old ended up missing most of the last two weeks of the session with respiratory problems.

“I think we will increase our numbers in the House because we will put up better candidates,” House Majority Whip Antonio “Moe” Maestas, D-Albuquerque, told the Santa Fe New Mexican.

As of Monday night, two Republicans and four Democrats in the House announced they will not run for re-election, including Chavez. Archuleta has not returned phone calls from reporters for more than a month.

Whatever the individual races, this last legislative session showed just how high the stakes — and how strong the impact — can be.

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

Make it six: Ernest Chavez steps down as NM state rep

Capital Report New Mexico Blog Postings - Mon, 2014-02-24 18:06

ADIOS TO ERNIE” Rep. Ernest Chavez, D-Albuquerque, will not seek re-election this year.

By Rob Nikolewski │ New Mexico Watchdog

SANTA FE – The New Mexico legislative session has been over for just four days but on Monday, Rep. Ernest Chavez, D-Albuquerque, became the sixth member of the House of Representatives to announce he will not be running for re-election.

Ya es tiempo, it’s time to move on,” Chavez said in a news release put out by House Democrats Monday afternoon.

The 77-year-old Chavez missed the entire 30-day legislative session, reportedly recovering from the effects from being bitten by a recluse spider. Chavez did not address why he missed the session in the news release but said, “Being a Representative requires so much time and energy. I tried to do as much as I could during my recent illness, but the healing process is much slower because of my age. I feel the best thing I can do for my constituents is to step aside.”

Chavez has represented southwest Albuquerque for 10 years and has easily won re-election in the last three elections, gathering as much as 71.8 percent of the vote in the 2012 race.

District 12 is 80.5 percent Hispanic and Democrats perform twice as well as Republicans there so it’s considered a very safe seat for Democrats, who hold a 37-33 advantage in the House.

Other state reps who have announced they won’t run for re-election this year are:

Anna Crook, R-Clovis

Tom Taylor, R-Farmington

Rick Miera, D-Albuquerque

Henry “Kiki” Saavedra, D-Albuquerque

Nate Cote, D-Organ

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

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