"Capitol Report New Mexico" Latest Blog Postings

Reid and Heinrich: ‘The border is secure’

Capital Report New Mexico Blog Postings - Fri, 2014-07-18 09:23

‘AS SECURE AS IT’S EVER BEEN’: Sen. Martin Heinrich, D-New Mexico, took to the floor of the U.S. Senate to say the border crisis is mainly a refugee crisis.

By Rob Nikolewski │ New Mexico Watchdog

U.S. Senate majority leader Harry Reid, D-Nev., made headlines and raised eyebrows Tuesday when he declared “the border is secure.”

Reid cited New Mexico senator and fellow Democrat Martin Heinrich as the source for his statement as the country deals with tens of thousands of unaccompanied minors. Most are coming from Central America, crossing the border between the U.S. and Mexico.

Wednesday, Heinrich reiterated Reid’s statement.

“The border today is more secure than it has ever been,” Heinrich said on the Senate floor as members of both parties gave speeches about the crisis.

“The notion that lax border policies are somehow responsible for this latest crisis is not just a myth, it’s a willful misrepresentation driven by politicians who would rather create a political issue than to solve a very real problem,” Heinrich said.

Heinrich, who visited the Federal Law Enforcement Training Center in Artesia, N.M., last week and met with Homeland Security Department Secretary Jeh Johnson, sent a statement to New Mexico Watchdog through his press office saying the federal government spent $17.9 billion on immigration enforcement in fiscal 2012.

Earlier this week, Johnson announced that about 40 women and children from the center in Artesia were flown back to their home country of Honduras.

“There are more border patrol agents on the ground and more resources and technology deployed on the border than in any time in our nation’s history,” Heinrich said in the statement. “These resources have been effective.”

Heinrich went on to criticize “those who prefer a border crisis to a refugee crisis” and urged Senate Republicans to pass the $3.7 billion supplemental spending package proposed by President Obama and for House Republicans to vote on the immigration bill that passed the Senate earlier this year.

Some conservative commentators ridiculed Reid.

“When you hear Harry Reid saying the border is secure you got to wonder, you know, whether he’s on his medication or not. That is so detached from reality,” columnist Charles Krauthammer said on Fox News. “How many (unaccompanied minors do) we have now? 60,000 — at least — kids who come over. And we’re completely helpless.”

Here’s video of what Reid told reporters on Capitol Hill Tuesday:


And here’s Heinrich on the Senate floor Wednesday:


Update 7/18: Greg Sargent, a blogger for the Washington Post who writes from a liberal perspective, wrote on Thursday that “Heinrich of New Mexico has been tasked by Senate Dem leaders to take the lead” in countering Republicans on the debate over the border crisis. Democrats “are aware they need to sharpen their case,” Sargent wrote.

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

Capitol Hill buzzes about New Mexican’s ‘unprecedented’ appointment to FERC

Capital Report New Mexico Blog Postings - Fri, 2014-07-18 09:18

NORMAN BAY, MAN OF MYSTERY: Norman Bay’s nomination as future chairman of the Federal Energy Regulatory Commission was accompanied by plenty of political intrigue.

By Rob Nikolewski │ New Mexico Watchdog

Business in Washington D.C. can sometimes be a game of shadows, and this week’s confirmation of New Mexico’s Norman Bay to the Federal Energy Regulatory Commission has Capitol Hill buzzing about what went on behind the scenes.

“This is really unprecedented,” said William Yeatman, who follows energy issues closely as a specialist at the Competitive Enterprise Institute, a free-market think tank. “There’s normally not that much intrigue at FERC.”

On Tuesday, Bay was confirmed in a divisive 52-45 vote in the U.S. Senate to become one of five commissioners at FERC. What’s unusual is that Bay was confirmed with the understanding that he will become the FERC’s chairman — but not right away.

Instead, Bay will serve as commissioner and receive a sort of on-the-job-training for nine months to eventually assume the role of chairman. In the meantime, Cheryl LaFleur will remain as chairwoman until next spring. Then, President Obama is expected to name Bay to the top spot.

“He’s going to have training wheels, I guess,” Yeatman said. “This is not par for the course.”

While most Americans aren’t very familiar with FERC, it regulates the country’s electric grid and energy infrastructure, such as pipelines. The agency 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.

A former prosecutor and law professor in New Mexico, Bay has been the chief law enforcement officer at FERC since 2009, but he has no professional energy experience, which led some senators to oppose his confirmation.

But he was the choice of the Obama administration and Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid, D-Nev., to become the FERC chairman.

It’s unusual for a senator who is not a member of the Senate Energy and Natural Resources Committee to get involved in FERC confirmation hearings, but Reid was especially vocal in pushing for Bay. Reid had earlier blocked two other candidates for the job and was firmly opposed to retaining LaFleur as chairwoman.

Last month, when asked by the Wall Street Journal why he was so interested in an agency that often flies under the political radar, Reid turned sarcastic, saying, “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.”

However, Reid has expressed his desire to grow renewable energy in his home state and there has been speculation Reid and the White House see Bay as being receptive to renewable projects.

New Mexico Watchdog left a voice mail message for Bay, but Mary O’Driscoll, director of media relations at FERC, called and said Bay “is not available for interviews.”

Tuesday’s vote for Bay was contentious, with all but two Democrats voting for Bay and nearly all Republicans voting against his nomination.

“You have to ask the question. ‘what are its terms?’” Sen. Lisa Murkowski, R-Alaska, said. “Will acting chair LaFleur have the opportunity to serve fully and completely as chair? Will it be clear that Mr. Bay is not a ‘shadow chairman’ or ‘chairman-in-waiting’ during this crucial period?”

The only Republican in the Senate who voted for Bay was Sen. Dean Heller, who, like Reid, is from Nevada.

“Clearly there are politics at play,” Yeatman said. “Why a Republican like Heller would buck his party and back Bay and why Harry Reid would go to all these lengths is a good question.”

In the run-up to the Bay confirmation vote, former longtime Senate Republican Pete Domenici of New Mexico endorsed Bay, telling a Senate committee, “I think this is a great appointment.”

Republican Gov. Susana Martinez, who worked with Bay as a prosecutor, endorsed his nomination to the commission in a letter and Sen. Martin Heinrich, D-N.M., introduced Bay at a Senate committee. Sen. Tom Udall, D-N.M., also supported Bay’s nomination.

While LaFleur is scheduled to resign as chairwoman next spring, she will stay at FERC as a commissioner. On the same day the full Senate voted for Bay by just a seven-vote margin, the Senate gave LaFleur a new five-year term as a commissioner, 90-7.

“Clearly, she was a less divisive figure,” Yeatman said. “She’ll be around for five more years and Bay will be around for five years. One wonders what kind of working environment they’ve engendered. You basically tell someone their chairmanship is over in nine months and the guy in the office next to you is going to take over.”

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

Should Redskins change their name? New Mexico says ‘meh’

Capital Report New Mexico Blog Postings - Wed, 2014-07-16 07:57

NICKNAME CONTROVERSY: Critics want the Washington Redskins to change the team’s name but a poll in a state with a large number of Native Americans shows support for the nickname.

By Rob Nikolewski │ New Mexico Watchdog

New Mexico has one of the largest number of Native Americans of any state, but a recent poll showed most people in the Land of Enchantment aren’t demanding the NFL’s Washington Redskins change their nickname.

In a flash poll of more than 500 registered voters in New Mexico published by the Albuquerque Journal, 71 percent said they wanted the Redskins to keep their nickname, 18 percent wanted the team to change it and 11 percent weren’t sure:

“I was surprised,” said Brian Sanderoff, president of Albuquerque-based Research & Polling, Inc. “I just assumed in New Mexico it wouldn’t mirror the nation because of our large majority-minority population, but that was not the case.”

According to the 2010 census, New Mexico has the second-largest percentage of Native Americans in the United States with 9.4 percent. Only Alaska, with 14.8 percent, had a higher proportion of those with American Indian or Native descent.

Sanderoff said the poll about the Redskins nickname was conducted July 10 and the survey approximated the percentage of Native Americans in the state. In fact, Sanderoff said there were “no statistically significant differences” among Hispanics, whites and Native Americans in the results.

State Rep. Sandra Jeff, D-Crownpoint, a member of the Navajo Nation, told New Mexico Watchdog she wasn’t surprised by the poll.

“I think our foremost concerns should be about economic development, our economic welfare,” Jeff said Monday. “We have high unemployment, high poverty. Let’s fix those problems first.”

“That’s probably true,” said state Sen. Benny Shendo Jr., D-Jemez Pueblo who said the nickname is racist. “The Redskins name is pretty far down on the list of things we need to change. It’s not really on people’s radar.”

This spring the Navajo Nation Council, on a 9-2 vote, passed a measure formally opposing the NFL franchise using the name.

“I think the actions of our council clearly show that (members) recognize the negative impacts such derogatory names cause for our people and also for Indian country,” councilman Joshua Lavar Butler told the Indian Country Today Media Network after the vote.

“Some people are concerned about (the nickname) and they say, ‘Hey, that belongs to Native Americans,’” said Jeff. “And then you have those who are Redskins fans, who say, ‘Hey, it’s good that we have the Redskins and their logo.’”

“There are a lot of Native folks who are Redskins fans, which is surprising,” Shendo said.

In fact, Red Mesa High School of the Navajo Nation uses the nickname “Redskins.”

Activists have been calling on Washington Redskins owner Daniel Snyder to change the team’s name. Last month, the U.S.Patent and Trademark Office stripped the trademark status of “Redskins,” ruling the name wasn’t entitled to legal protection.

The office did the same thing in 1999, but the team fought and won in court. The team vows it will fight the current ruling, as well. The decision doesn’t prevent the team from using the nickname, but it would prevent it from challenging anyone else who used it.

Snyder has called the team name “a badger of honor” and has vowed he will never change it.

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

New Mexico’s mouse war escalates

Capital Report New Mexico Blog Postings - Tue, 2014-07-15 14:23

THE MOUSE THAT ROARED: The battle over protecting the meadow jumping mouse, recently listed as endangered, has pitted environmentalists and ranchers against the U.S. Forest Service.

By Rob Nikolewski │ New Mexico Watchdog

SANTA FE, N.M. — New Mexico’s war over the meadow jumping mouse is escalating and moving ahead on multiple fronts.

Ranchers whose permits allow their cattle to graze in the Santa Fe National Forest object to a proposal to erect fencing covering 120 acres in a meadow where the mouse lives. They’re heading to Capitol Hill to plead their case to a House subcommittee.

At the same time, an environmental group instrumental in getting the mouse listed under the federal government’s Endangered Species Act filed paperwork last week to start the process of suing the U.S. Forest Service to protect the mouse’s habitat.

And the Forest Service is catching flak from both sides.

“The time for kind of compromise has long, long since past,” said John Horning, the executive director of WildEarth Guardians-NewMexico. “When a species is endangered, when a habitat is endangered, if anything, I would argue the Forest Service is moving too slowly, too cautiously … I don’t think the agency has any more excuses to keep waiting.”

“It’s the federal government that’s failed us,” said Mike Lucero, of New Mexico’s San Diego Cattleman’s Association and a member of a family of ranchers that has grazed the forest for more than 100 years. “They (the Forest Service) are trying to take the easy way out.”

Forest Service officials say they’re trying to strike a balance.

“What we’re doing is our affirmative responsibility to take care of the mouse, follow the law and, at the same time, assure that we can have a viable grazing program on national forest systems land,” said Robert Trujillo, the acting director of Wildlife, Fish and Rare Plants for the Southwest Region of the U.S. Forest Service.

But so far, neither the environmentalists nor the ranchers are happy.

Last Thursday, the ranchers got ticked off to learn the Forest Service sent a letter proposing to put up fencing in a meadow where the Rio Cebolla creek runs.

Citing concerns that grazing badly damages the habitat where the mice live, the Forest Service in its July 10 letter said it anticipates the fencing proposal falls under a “categorical exclusion” that allows it to skip normal assessment procedure.

THE CREEK IN QUESTION: The Rio Cebolla runs through a meadow in the Santa Fe National Forest, in the Jemez Mountains. The Forest Service is proposing to erect 5-foot-high fencing to keep cattle from grazing there in order to protect the meadow jumping mouse.

Gone was talk of putting up fencing that was 8-feet high that would have kept out most all wildlife from entering the mouse’s habitat. Instead, the Forest Service is calling for fencing that would be 5-feet high, with cables to keep out livestock only. (Click here to read the Forest Service letter.)

The ranchers say they’ve being singled out.

“It’s in black and white now, they’re targeting certain individuals,” Lucero said. “There’s other animals that use the same (area) … They’re targeting just cattle grazers.”

“They’re not being singled out,” Trujillo said. However, Trujillo has also said that “the elk and deer get in there, get water and get out. They don’t tend to lounge around and graze heavily. Cows will sit in there and graze.”

Lucero disagrees, saying that elk graze and lie down along the meadow at night.

At the opposite end of the battle, Horning insists the mouse’s habitat has been abused for years.

“It is badly overgrazed,” he said. “When the cows come off, the landscape comes back to life and surprises people who knew it only as it was grazed. I think the final arbiter of whether it was overgrazed will be, let’s look at how the land looks in a year or two when the fences go up and the cows are removed.”

In 2008 WildEarth Guardians submitted a petition seeking listing for the species and last month, the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service listed the mouse as endangered.

While no final decision on the fencing has been made by the Forest Service, the July 10 letter reiterates that since the meadow jumping mouse was listed earlier this year as an endangered species, federal agencies “must ensure that any action they fund, authorize, or carry out is not likely to jeopardize the continued existence of any listed species.”

“It’s not a final decision,” Trujillo told New Mexico Watchdog, “but it’s a pretty good indication that we need to get some fencing done in there.”

Lucero said he and the ranchers are not opposed to fencing but think the Forest Service is going overboard.

Lucero is heading to Washington, D.C. to appear before the House Public Lands and Environmental Regulations Subcommittee, which is chaired by Rep. Rob Bishop, R-Utah, on July 24. He’ll be joined by New Mexico Cattle Growers Association and a commissioner from Otero County, which is involved in a similar dispute with the Forest Service over a gate that’s blocking cattle from drinking in a creek near the mouse’s habitat.

“We’re looking for a cooperative solution,” said Blair Dunn, one of the attorneys advising Lucero and the San Diego Cattleman’s Association.

Forest Service officials said Monday they were unaware of the congressional hearing until New Mexico Watchdog informed them.

“Why can’t we come to some kind of compromise and give (the mice) a couple of acres,” said Lucero. “But when you’re talking about taking the entire meadow to protect the mouse … we’re getting a one-sided outcome.”

WildEarth Guardians filed a notice of intent last Friday to initiate the lawsuit, aimed at protecting the mouse, which hibernates eight to nine months out of the year and is found in wet, forested areas in New Mexico, Arizona and Colorado.

“If we want to laugh at, marginalize, overlook a mouse, we can do so,” Horning said, “but the message is about all the species that depend on these habitats. And it’s really a travesty that it requires endangered species protection to get the (Forest Service) to say that, oh this 1 percent of the land that’s important for clean water, that’s critical for recreational values, and that’s vital for all sorts of fish and wildlife species ought to be protected.”

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

Gary Johnson: ‘Abolish the IRS’

Capital Report New Mexico Blog Postings - Mon, 2014-07-14 08:01

BUH-BYE, IRS: Former Libertarian presidential candidate and former New Mexico Gov. Gary Johnson calls for replacing income and corporate taxes with a single consumption tax.

By Rob Nikolewski │ New Mexico Watchdog

SANTA FE — For 2012 Libertarian Party presidential candidate and former New Mexico Gov. Gary Johnson, the ongoing controversy at the Internal Revenue Service is further proof the agency should be eliminated.

“Imagine life without having to deal with the IRS,” Johnson told New Mexico Watchdog in an interview just two days after a new development in the IRS story, in which former IRS official Lois Lerner warned colleagues to be careful about what they write in emails amid congressional inquiries.

“None of it surprises me,” Johnson said. “To a higher degree or a lesser degree this is what happens when you have bureaucrats in charge that can manipulate the system any way they so choose.”

A federal judge last Thursday ordered IRS officials to explain under oath how Lerner’s emails disappeared and how they might be recovered.

“Come on, loss of emails? Give me a break,” Johnson said. “If that doesn’t outrage anybody who looks at this, then you’re out to lunch.”

Johnson’s call to abolish the agency dates back to 2009, after he met with a number of economists, including Jeffrey Miron, director of Undergraduate Studies in the Department of Economics at Harvard, who became an adviser in Johnson’s 2012 campaign.

“Let’s abolish the IRS, let’s eliminate income tax, let’s eliminate corporate tax, let’s balance the federal budget and if we need a tax, it can be one federal consumption tax,” Johnson said.

But how would that work?

Instead of collecting taxes from various sources, a consumption tax works from a single point of purchase. It taxes people when they spend money on any given item or service. By eliminating income tax, sales tax and others, the idea is that overall price would not go up and may, according to its advocates, actually decrease the overall tax burden on citizens.

“I think a great starting point for a debate and discussion over a national consumption tax is, let’s start with the Fair Tax, legislation that has been written up and I think signed up on by 80 congressmen and women,” said Johnson.

Critics say that a consumption tax benefits people with higher amounts of savings and, therefore, could hit low-income households harder.

UNDER FIRE: Some officials at the Internal Service have been accused of targeting conservative political groups.

“Under a consumption tax system all savings would be tax-free, it would all be taxed like a 401(k),” said Len Burman, a senior fellow at the left-of-center Urban Institute, in a 2005 interview with PBS. “But the question is, if people don’t get the special tax break will they still be putting money into retirement savings and if they don’t, if they just put it in their regular bank account, are they as likely to keep it until retirement, and a lot of people are concerned that in fact without the special tax breaks you could actually end up with less retirement savings and possibly even less savings overall.”

But Johnson said the advantages outweigh the disadvantages.

“Why would any company, anywhere in the world, locate anywhere but the United States, given zero corporate tax?” Johnson said. “The entire world will change their tax structure to emulate no income tax, no corporate tax, no more filing.”

Would it ever happen? After all, the current tax system is laden with incentives and tax breaks, such as deductions for charities.

“I believe it will take place because at some point all these smart people will actually get with it,” said Johnson, who has a page devoted to tax reform at the website for the Our America Initiative, a political advocacy committee he founded.

Johnson made headlines last week for becoming the president and chief executive officer of Cannabis Sativa Inc., a small company based out of Nevada that sells products that come from extracted oil derived from marijuana plants. But they’re not smoked; instead, they’re packaged as lozenges.

“We sell a product that’s sublingual, so it’s a sucked-on product, very pleasant, and I believe, much safer than alcohol,” Johnson said, adding the lozenges can be used for medical treatment as well as recreational use.

In 1999, Johnson became the first governor in any state to call for the legalization of marijuana.

“I remain the only governor that has ever espoused legalizing marijuana, to this day,” Johnson said.

Since being named CEO, Johnson said the company’s stock jumped two points.

“Tens of millions of Americans use marijuana … those people make up half of everyone we know,” Johnson said. “These are our friends, these are our families, these are our co-workers, and you can label their choice to use marijuana as a bad choice, but I’m going to say it’s not criminal. Our kids are not criminal, our parents are not criminal, our co-workers are not criminal, our friends are not criminal.”

Here’s New Mexico Watchdog video of Johnson talking about taxes:

And here he is talking about his support of marijuana legalization:

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

Editorial: The $3.7 billion Band-Aid for the border

Capital Report New Mexico Blog Postings - Sun, 2014-07-13 13:38

Rob Nikolewski. Photo courtesy of the Santa Fe New Mexican//Clyde Mueller

When you study economics, one of the first things you learn is that people respond to incentives.

And that maxim goes a long way toward explaining the current crisis on the border that has led to the impromptu establishment of facilities across the country to house the flood of migrants from Central America coming into the United States – including the Federal Law Enforcement Training Center (FLETC) in Artesia.

The situation has been called a humanitarian crisis but it’s also an economic crisis. After all, it’s not rich El Salvadorans or Hondurans but impoverished Central Americans who are making the dangerous trip through Mexico and into the U.S.

Some are escaping the drug and gang violence in their countries, some are looking for a better standard of living and many are looking for both.

So the incentive to leave their countries is strong and, given the fact that over the years millions who entered the U.S. illegally have been able to stay, the incentive to make the United States their final destination is powerful.

And, ironically, if the political leaders in Washington ever pass an immigration bill that includes tighter border security measures, that only heightens the incentive to make the journey now before getting into the U.S. gets more difficult.

President Obama has called for $3.7 billion to help handle the crisis in the short term. According to reports, more than half of that is going to handling resettling chores.

Conservatives who want to buckle up the border complain about that – and they’ve got a point about the cost to taxpayers – but it’s a law passed in 2008 under George W. Bush that prevents the government from immediately returning young migrants to their respective countries.

Only children entering illegally from countries contiguous to the U.S – Canada and Mexico – can be sent back immediately.

When it was passed, the law was intended to address human trafficking instead of the current crisis, but that’s the law on the books now.

Furthermore, the 2008 law requires the government to make the best effort possible to reunite unaccompanied minors with a parent or guardian and give them a hearing date.

But the courts are backlogged and – speaking about incentives again – why show up for a court date when you risk getting sent back?

A similar situation may play out at the FLETC facility in Artesia, as New Mexico Department of Public Safety Secretary Greg Fouratt recently pointed out.

“I worry about people who have taken this remarkable step in their life that has to be borne out of desperation, to come to the United States, and then they learn that they’re going back to the place that they left, they might not have the motivation to stick around,” Fouratt told me.

Some say that the U.S. should take in this wave of immigrants but it begs the question, how many more can the country absorb? And, despite the desperate circumstances that inspired many of them, don’t laws need to be respected?

Even House Democratic Minority Whip Steny Hoyer said this week, “The United States cannot be expected to give sanctuary to every child in the world that is exposed to danger in their country because of the failure of the country’s government, or the local municipality’s government, to assist in keeping their own children safe.”

But in order to do that, it takes border enforcement first and foremost. Without it, expect more $3.7 billion payments to come.

“When a parent or relative in those countries just paid … up to $7,000 to smugglers to take that child into the country,” said Republican Sen. Jeff Flake, who supported the Senate immigration bill that stalled in the House, “when they see those planeloads of kids coming back, then it will stop.”

It’s a hard truth, but he’s right.

This editorial originally ran in the July 13, 2014 edition of the Santa Fe New Mexican. You can contact Rob Nikolewski at the website he edits, www.newmexiocwatchdog.org   

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